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Mini Reviews (May 2016)

Krampus, Life with Mikey, De Palma, Visions

Krampus (May 11/16)

A woefully misguided horror effort, Krampus details the chaos that ensues after the title creature and its minions attack a family gathering on Christmas. It's not difficult to see what director Michael Dougherty is attempting to accomplish here, as Krampus boasts a mix of comedy and horror that's reminiscent of similar-themed fare from the 1980s - with this vibe certainly perpetuated by a fairly pronounced use of practical (rather than digital) special effects. And while the movie admittedly does hold some promise in its early stages - Dougherty kicks things off with an impressively conceived and executed slow-motion sequence - Krampus suffers from an overall atmosphere of rampant silliness that's compounded by a total lack of scares. It doesn't help, certainly, that Dougherty and cowriters Todd Casey and Zach Shields offer up an obnoxious roster of supporting characters that make Randy Quaid's National Lampoon's Vacation brood look subtle and restrained by comparison, with the viewer's inability to work up an ounce of sympathy for or interest in these people ensuring that it becomes awfully difficult to care once they begin fending for their lives. (This is true also of the woefully underdeveloped protagonists.) By the time the overstuffed and aggressively frenetic third act rolls around, Krampus has solidified its place as a decent premise in search of a compelling execution (with the movie's underwhelming final few minutes certainly perpetuating that feeling).

out of

Life with Mikey (May 12/16)

Life with Mikey casts Michael J. Fox as Michael Chapman, a former child star whose role as a talent scout for kids is threatened by various complications (money, mostly) - with redemption arriving in the form of a promising new client named Angie Vega (Christina Vidal). There's nothing really wrong with Life with Mikey - Fox is as charming as ever here, for example - and yet the film remains hopelessly uninvolving for the duration of its padded-out running time. It's primarily the sitcom-level bent of Marc Lawrence's screenplay that accelerates Life with Mikey's downfall, as the narrative, which progresses at a decidedly plodding pace, boasts few attributes designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest. Vega's abrasive turn as Michael's would-be protege certainly doesn't help alleviate the less-than-compelling atmosphere, certainly, nor does director James Lapine's ongoing emphasis on the auditions of stereotypically terrible child performers. The predictably sentimental third act is, not surprisingly, unable to make the heartwarming impact that Lapine and Lawrence are aiming for, and it's ultimately clear that Life with Mikey has earned its place as a forgotten relic within Fox's spotty body of work.

out of

De Palma (May 15/16)

Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma consists entirely of Brian De Palma discussing his life and, mostly, his movies without the aid of any other speakers or talking heads - which does ensure that, for fans of the venerable filmmaker, the picture boasts a decidedly fascinating vibe that persists for the duration of its 107 minutes. Baumbach and Paltrow generally avoid their subject's personal life and instead focus on his cinematic endeavors, although the movie, perhaps predictably, does begin with an emphasis on De Palma's admittedly colorful upbringing and early years. (It's revealed, for example, that a young De Palma spied on his father in an effort at catching him with his mistress.) It's clear, however, that De Palma goes from watchable to engrossing once the director begins chatting about his movies, with Baumbach and Paltrow rigorously going through De Palma's filmography from start to finish and eliciting a number of thoroughly engrossing stories from the man. And as captivating as much of this is - De Palma's tale of working with an obnoxious (and overly tan) Cliff Robertson on Obsession is an obvious highlight - De Palma's intense focus on one individual can be somewhat exhausting from time to time (ie it's a lot of De Palma). This is an incredibly minor complaint for a movie that is predominantly engrossing and enthralling, with the film, though geared primarily to De Palma's fans and followers, compelling enough to warrant a recommendation even to those unfamiliar with the subject's rocky body of work.

out of

Visions (May 16/16)

Visions follows Isla Fisher's Eveleigh Maddox as she survives a horrific car crash and subsequently attempts to get her life back on track, with the movie detailing Eveleigh's growing suspicion that said crash has left her with paranormal abilities. There's little doubt that Visions suffers from an overly familiar atmosphere that's compounded by a painfully-deliberate first half, as director Kevin Greutert, working from Lucas Sussman's screenplay, hits all of the beats one has come to expect from stories of this ilk - with the most egregious example of this Eveleigh's eventual investigation into her new house's apparently murderous past. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie's midsection is often excessively repetitive, as sequence after sequence follows Eveleigh as she experiences some kind of horrific vision and attempts to figure out what it could mean. And while Greutert attempts to liven things up by surrounding Fisher with eclectic supporting figures - including Eva Longoria's Eileen, Gillian Jacobs' Sadie, and Jim Parsons' Dr. Mathison - Visions remains stagnant and uninteresting until it moseys into its comparatively electrifying third act. It's during this portion that the movie, buoyed by a thoroughly unexpected plot twist, becomes the engrossing thriller it should've been all along, although it's nevertheless not quite enough to compensate for the lackluster nature of everything that came before - which is a shame, certainly, given the visceral energy and excitement of that final stretch.

out of

© David Nusair