Klaus


This is not your daddy’s Santa Claus.

(2019) Animated Feature (Netflix) Starring the voices of Jason Schwartzmann, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Norm McDonald, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, Sergio Pablos, Mila Brener, Neda Margrethe Labba, Sydney Brower, Teddy Blum, Emma Shannon, Kendall Joy Hall, Julian Zane, Amanda Philipson, Finn Carr, Tucker Meek, Hailey Hermida, Jaeden Bettencourt. Directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez López

 

We’ve all seen origin stories of the big guy in Red before. No, I’m not talking about Shazam! I’m talking about the real big guy. Santa. Claus, even.

This delightful animated feature has the distinction of being the first animated feature to be distributed by streaming giant Netflix (after a brief theatrical run) and it will have the added bonus of making animated feature aficionados wish that Netflix would have made it more widely available in theaters, because the animation is that gorgeous, with a hand-painted look that hasn’t been seen since the halcyon days of Disney, which is where director Sergio Pablos cut his teeth, by the by.

The film is about Jesper (Schwartzmann), the indolent scion of a politically connected and wealthy family. Jesper, the son of a Central European country’s postmaster general, is coasting his way through life, shirking work whenever possible and looking forward to using his family’s political connections to maintain his lifestyle of personal butlers, espressos on demand and silk sheets. However, his father has different ideas. He exiles his son to Smeerensburg (which is based on a Finnish town that no longer exists), a town above the Arctic circle where no letters have been mailed in years.

It turns out there’s a reason for that. The town is run by two families that have been feuding for centuries, the Krum family whose matriarch (Cusack) absolutely hates the patriarch (Sasso) of the Ellingboe family. The two family heads have recruited the children into a vicious cycle of hate and pranks which gives the film a kind of Looney Tunes feel and also a kind of warped satisfaction as the lazy Jesper is often the butt of the children’s tricks.

Through a convoluted set of circumstances, Jesper meets Klaus (Simmons), a lonely and isolated woodsman who has deliberately isolated himself for reasons that are made clear later. He has a gift for wood carving and eventually delivers a toy to a young child whose melancholy drawing touched his heart. Jesper, recognizing a scam when he sees one, induces the kids to write letters to Klaus to get him to send them toys; he just needs six thousand of them to be released from his exile. He utilizes Alva (Jones), a teacher who came to a town where none of the kids attend school, to teach the kids to write letters. She has resorted to converting the school to a fish market in order to make ends meet and save up enough to get out of that crazy town. But as the kindness of Klaus begins to affect the children, Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe begin to plot to end this change which threatens the status quo.

The movie starts out a bit slowly and the early Looney Tunes section might pale in comparison with classic cartoons, but it picks up steam as it goes along and never fails to charm. Kids will be entranced with the lovely images and adults will find the movie heart-tugging – the ending in fact is likely to generate more than a few tears from sensitive viewers. I, myself, loved it.

As Christmas films go, this one is certainly superior to the glut of direct-to-home video projects that make up the bulk of what’s available at this time of year. Klaus is the kind of movie you and your kids will want to see again and again, year after year. That’s the kind of Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

REASONS TO SEE: The animation is magical. The film is charming throughout, with the ending being absolutely wonderful.
REASONS TO AVOID: It’s a bit of a slog during the first third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude humor as well as mild animated action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first hand-drawn animated film to make use of CGI lighting techniques to give it almost a 3D feel.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews: Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Santa Claus is Coming to Town
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Boy, The Dog and The Clown

The Ridiculous 6


The Old West was never this wild.

The Old West was never this wild.

(2015) Western Comedy (Netflix) Adam Sandler, Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, Nick Nolte, Jorge Garcia, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Julia Jones, Saginaw Grant, Lavell Crawford, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Kattan, Norm McDonald, Jackie Sandler. Directed by Frank Coraci

With Westerns making a bit of a comeback lately, it’s inevitable that there would be movies that poke fun at the genre. With Adam Sandler involved, that means there are a segment of people who will tune in no matter what. Others will stay away in droves.

White Knife (Sandler) is an orphan, taken in by the Apache when his mother was murdered. The Apache chief Screaming Eagle (Grant) teaches the young white boy how to fight, and the ways of the Apache warrior, which turn out to be somewhat more Zen than Caucasian culture gave them credit for. He is engaged to Smoking Fox (Jones), the most beautiful woman in the tribe. When a would-be outlaw (Zahn) tries to make trouble with her, White Knife makes short work of him.

However, there is trouble on the horizon. White Knife’s biological father, whom he never knew, shows up at the camp. His name is Frank Stockburn (Nolte) and he wants to make get to know the son he never knew. Just then, his old outlaw gang led by the notorious Cicero (Trejo) shows up and Stockburn hides his stash with the tribe, knowing Cicero will take it. Instead, Cicero takes Frank who tries to lead the gang away from the peaceful Native Americans by saying the stash is buried by an old windmill. White Knife knows that unless Cicero gets the $50,000 that Frank had taken, the old man would be killed.

Having just met his dad, White Knife isn’t willing to let him die. He heads out after them, vowing to obtain the money one way or another to rescue dear old dad. However, it turns out Dear Old Dad was very busy. White Knife discovers he has five half-brothers of other mothers – Ramon (Schneider) the Mexican bandito with the amazing diarrhea donkey, Lil’ Pete (Lautner) who’s the village idiot for more than one village but has a curiously strong neck, Chico (Crews) a saloon pianist who doesn’t use his fingers to tickle the ivories but something a little more genitalia-like, Herm (Garcia) the nearly unintelligible moonshiner and Danny (Wilson) who was Abe Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ford’s Theater who inadvertently showed John Wilkes Booth (Kattan) the road to infamy.

All six of these men have peculiar talents. All six are eager to rescue their father. And all six are incredibly, incredibly ridiculous. The Old West will never be the same once they’ve hit town.

Sandler as I alluded to earlier seems to affect people in extreme ways; either they are utterly devoted to him, or they hate him with a passion. He seems to inspire no middle ground. I try to be as objective as I can about him but I find that when he tends to be a little more serious I actually appreciate him more; his humor tends to be a little more scatological and quite frankly, a bit more juvenile-appealing than is my own personal taste.

He has assembled an impressive cast, several of whom (Crews, Schneider, MacDonald) are all veterans of SNL or of Sandler films, as well as folks like Nolte – who does a fine job here unsurprisingly – and Lautner, who does a really good job here, surprisingly. The latter hasn’t really exhibited much in the way of comedy chops previously, having done mostly action roles in movies that weren’t all that good. However, he proves to have some timing and comic presence, neither of which are easy tasks. I found myself liking him here, which isn’t my usual reaction to his performances.

Part of the problem here is that a lot of jokes fell flat for me, and it appears to a lot of other critics as well (see scores below). The whole thing about the amazing crapping donkey is humor at the level of five-year-olds and I know Sandler is better than that. Still, one can’t argue with success and most of the movies of his that reap box office gold have been the ones that have been, to me, the most childish. I think that says a lot more about the movie-going public than it does about Sandler.

Westerns tend to lend themselves to wonderful vistas and extraordinary cinematography and this movie was no different as veteran Dean Semler gives us some pretty pictures to look at. This is one of Sandler’s most cinematic films which makes it a bit ironic that it was released directly to Netflix as part of his four-picture deal with the streaming giant. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying; the film was in development at three different theatrical studios until Netflix finally came in and got it made.

There has been some controversy about the portrayal of Native American culture and I don’t intend to ignore it. While some outlets got nearly hysterical about it to the point of knee-jerkiness, the fact is that that several Native American extras had some concerns about the jokes made at the expense of their culture and eventually walked off the set when those concerns weren’t addressed. The initial reports made it sound like there was an uprising the size of Little Big Horn; in actuality the affair involved four extras, far less than the 150 Native American extras who were employed by the film. Watching the movie, I didn’t see anything that was more than culturally insensitive but the movie seemed to be that way to nearly everyone, in particular the white culture itself. Perhaps if the movie had been better written the insults would have seemed less egregious.

REASONS TO GO: A really good cast with Nolte and Lautner actually doing some good work. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily dumb gags and situations. Attempts at parody miss the mark.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor, mild profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A group of Native American extras walked off the set due to what they perceived as negative and inaccurate portrayals of their culture; while initially the number of extras involved was reported to be about a dozen, sources close to the film put the number at four actors.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Angels Crest