Love the Coopers

For F*** Magazine

LOVE THE COOPERS

Director : Jessie Nelson
Cast : Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Anthony Mackie, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacy, Steve Martin
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 10 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

Family reunions are often where grinning and bearing it is the order of the day. This Christmas comedy-drama follows four generations of the Cooper clan as they reunite to celebrate Christmas as one big, not-so-happy family. Sam (Goodman) and Charlotte (Keaton) have been married for 40 years but on the brink of calling it quits, both reluctantly agreeing to put on a brave front for everyone coming over. Their son Hank (Helms) is recently divorced from Angie (Borstein) and is looking for a job, having to provide for his kids Charlie (Timothée Chalamet), Madison (Blake Baumgartner) and Bo (Maxwell Simkins). Hank’s sister Eleanor (Wilde), a struggling playwright, meets military man Joe (Lacy) at an airport bar and they kind of hit it off. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Emma (Tomei) gets arrested for shoplifting by Officer Percy Williams (Mackie). Grandpa Bucky (Arkin) befriends diner waitress Ruby (Seyfried). Christmas dinner doesn’t go according to plan as a series of events unfolds, events that could drive the family further apart or bring them together in the spirit of the holiday.

            Every Chinese New Year, we get star-studded comedies like All’s Well that Ends Well, with posters that have Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fatt, Cecilia Cheung or Carina Lau grinning and holding their chopsticks up in the air. Well, Hollywood has movies like Love the Coopers. This is the kind of film which one can bring grandpa and grandma to during the holidays and it’s meant to please everyone, naturally pleasing nobody in the process. The goings-on are at once mundane and over the top, with the Coopers depicted as dysfunctional in a relatively pedestrian manner. Before everyone gets together a little after the halfway mark, the film flits from character to character, stringing the vignettes together. Every line of screenwriter Steven Rogers’ dialogue sounds like stock romantic comedy-drama drivel and it’s altogether very cloying and syrupy. There are attempts to temper this with some cynicism, but it seems like Rogers and director Jessie Nelson are constantly asking themselves “we can be a little bitter here without alienating all the grandparents, right?”

            We’re going to dust off that old chestnut one hears whenever there’s a movie that entirely wastes the collective talents of its cast: “imagine what Robert Altman could do with these actors.” Indeed, the collective wattage of the star power could eclipse even the Star of Bethlehem itself. Love the Coopers manages to be tolerable in the slightest because many of the actors are innately watchable, Goodman in particular. While he and Keaton are believable as a squabbling elderly married couple, the material is still very rote. At one point, Sam even asks Charlotte “what happened to us?” Excuse us if we can’t gather up the sympathy. There are flashbacks to every single character when they were kids and it feels more like a cheap heartstring pull than a worthwhile storytelling device.

Wilde and Lacy have decent chemistry and there is a degree of development to their relationship, even though it is heavy on the “oh, he’s a Republican and she’s a Democrat!” jokes. Tomei is shrill and casting the usually-engaging Mackie as a stoic police officer and the token black guy is a crying shame. Arkin mopes about and looks sad a bunch with Seyfried playing opposite him as the diner waitress anyone would have a crush on. There are hints of romance in their interaction, which given the 52 year age difference, is creepy in spite of both actors’ best efforts. Helms is pretty much a non-entity and Squibb is the doddering senile aunt whose dementia is played for laughs. While nobody is sleepwalking through the movie per se, it’s obvious that Love the Coopersdemands precious little from its cast, literally half of whom have won or been nominated for Oscars.

While Love the Coopers isn’t an insufferable gag-heavy Christmas comedy in the Deck the Halls mould, it still provides plenty of cringe-worthy moments. All of this is tied together by painfully on-the-nose narration by Steve Martin, with an end reveal as to the mystery narrator’s true identity that is worthy of an almighty eye-roll. This isn’t one of those films that’s joy and cheer from start to finish and it does take stabs at drama, albeit very ham-fisted ones. Make no mistake, with the fluffy St. Bernard and the adorable moppet granddaughter, this is still engineered for maximum “aww” factor and that’s going to make a significant portion of the audience throw up in their mouths a little. It’s not even cheesy and corny in an endearing, old-fashioned manner. Love the Coopers oozes insincerity and sitting through it ends up being quite like being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you’re not entirely fond of.



Summary:A monumentally talented cast by any standards is entirely squandered in this schmaltzy holiday flick which repeatedly attempts to trick us into thinking it’s making wise observations about family.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Krampus

For F*** Magazine

KRAMPUS

Director : Michael Dougherty
Cast : Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

This Christmas, the weather outside is far from the only thing that’s frightful. Tommy (Scott) and Sarah (Collette) Engel, along with their children Max (Anthony) and Beth (Owen), are gearing up for the annual torture that is their relatives visiting for Christmas. Sarah’s sister Linda (Tolman) arrives with her husband Howard (Koechner), their four children and Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) in tow. They’re stuck inside with no electricity due to a ferocious blizzard. Tommy’s mother (Stadler) begins acting strangely, as she usually does around Christmas, and soon the family is terrorised by some particularly nasty uninvited guests. It turns out that Max has inadvertently summoned the Christmas demon Krampus, Santa Claus’ evil counterpart, and good cheer is not on the agenda.


            Krampus, the cloaked, horned figure from Germanic folklore who punishes misbehaving children during Christmas, has only recently entered American popular culture. Krampus seems like a natural antagonist for a film of the holiday horror subgenre and we’re getting two this festive season, the other one being a Canadian anthology movie called A Christmas Horror Story. Michael Dougherty, who helmed the acclaimed cult anthology horror film Trick ‘r Treat, wrote and directed Krampus. While he does ensure the film is tonally consistent and doesn’t stray too far into campiness, Krampus is far from the hearty Christmas meal horror fans have been hoping it would be.  

            The Krampus mythology is one that most American audiences wouldn’t be familiar with, and the inclusion of a slightly creepy German grandmother figure hints that the film will dive headlong into the trove of tales surrounding this dark anti-Santa. We do get a haunting animated flashback sequence, but there is very little that makes Krampus and his minions stand out from being run-of-the-mill horror movie monsters. There are some fantastic creature effects furnished by Weta Workshop, but apart from CGI gingerbread men attacking David Koechner with a nail gun, there aren’t any particularly inventive set-pieces to be had. The justification that is given for Krampus selecting this particular family as his target is quite flimsy, and the moral of treasuring one’s relatives in spite of how annoying they might be comes off as half-hearted. The film’s scathing opening sequence is set to Bing Crosby’s It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas and depicts crowds violently jostling each other in a frenzy while Christmas shopping at a mall. It suggests a bitter satirical edge which is not followed up on.

            Scott and Collette play it straight and their steadfastness in refusing to wink and nod at the audience does help the material. Anthony, memorably loveable as Jon Favreau’s on-screen son in Chef, is a convincingly earnest good kid. While none of the performances are terrible, everyone here is a family comedy cliché: we have the harried mother who has to hold the fort when the relatives descend on her home, the teenage daughter who is never more than a minute away from rolling her eyes, the boorish uncle, and the belligerent, alcoholic grandaunt. Austrian actress Krista Stadler does lend the film some texture, keeping “Omi” from being a full-on “creepy grandma” type ala The Visit.



            The first half of Krampus has dysfunctional family members squabbling, the second half has said family members chased through the house by an assortment of Christmas-themed monsters and the ending is vague at best, a howl-worthy cop-out at worst. The Krampus legend has all the makings of a terrific horror flick, showcasing the dark side of a holiday that’s associated with commercialised cheeriness. There are some effective atmospheric touches, such as the incorporation of the already-kinda creepy Carol of the Bells into the soundtrack. At times, the film almost feels like it could be something in the vein of Gremlins, though it lacks the demented energy to reach that level. Unfortunately, Krampus doesn’t make optimal use of the legend and its PG-13 rating does somewhat hamper the scares it can provide.

Summary: There’s talent behind this horror comedy, but the rich, fascinatingly spooky Krampus legend is left largely unmined.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong