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12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #9: ‘A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas’

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas review movie stoner John Cho Kal Penn claymation

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?

With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

With its gratuitous 3D effects (including loads of CGI pot smoke), A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas definitely feels like another entry in the stoner franchise. Consider the low humor, munchies, and plenty of Neil Patrick Harris (once again, reprising his man-whoring caricature) as damning pieces of evidence. The third installment even ups the ante, anticipating stoner expectations with psychedelic WaffleBots, newspaper headlines that explode like motion comics, and even a full-on claymation sequence. But how much is this a Christmas joint?

That a franchise like Harold and Kumar could A) actually be a franchise and B) stumble into its own mythology is a tough burger to bite, but for the less stoner-inclined, it’s been six years since the events of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Harold (John Cho), now sober, is a successful Wall Street business type while Kumar’s (Kal Penn) failed his medical profession, gaining twenty pounds and a gnarly breakup beard while toking away in grimy, stoner solitude. Oh, and “NPH” is presumed dead after he’s shot down by a gang of angry prostitutes. Not exactly rosy stuff. Thankfully the holidays should bring some warm back into everyone’s spirits — even if A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas is set in the middle of the Occupy protests and the aimless Kumar’s just learned he’s fathered a child.

In wholly expected fashion, Kumar crashes a mall santa’s (Patton Oswalt) gig looking for a Christmas Eve weed hookup, and the pair blaze up in Oswalt’s “sleigh” while trading names of punny holiday strands like “Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer” and “It’s a Weederful Life.” Kumar’s not having any of it, wondering why everything’s gotta be related to Christmas. (for the record, the Jewish schoolboys bought up all the “Hanukkah Hash” already.) Kumar may be a scrooge, but Harold’s in the full swing of Christmas trappings, going for broke on lawn ornaments and lights in the hopes of impressing his wife’s (Paula Garcés) intimidating father (Danny Trejo), who just so happens to be a Christmas nut; growing his own Christmas firs each year is but a taste of how serious he is about this stuff. Harold’s serious too, though — as he might put it, a prim and proper “adult” — and his weekend hinges on impressing his in-laws. Things get a little awkward when Kumar shows up at his doorstep to return a package, mysteriously addressed to Harold when the pair still lived in the same dingy apartment.

Like in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the story pitches a lot of crap at its tightly wound “square” counterpart, and also like the original, Harold eventually snaps under the pressure. Out all night chasing after an elusive “perfect tree” to replace the one Kumar burns down is a weak MacGuffin, and all the ugly Christmas sweaters in the world couldn’t make a holiday nut out of Danny Trejo’s rock solid bad ass persona. Likewise, Kumar cruises by on the knowledge that he could pursue a profession in the medical field — he resuscitates a concussed and bleeding Santa Claus after Harold shoots him out of the night sky — but he’d rather just kick back and smoke weed all day. The crassness is the same (kids on cocaine, poop jokes, boobs galore) and the jokes just as crude, but only sparing parts of A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas have a deliberate holiday bent to them. At least Santa wants the two to make amends and start hanging out again.

The trouble is, Cho and Penn are at their best when their stoner alter egos are at odds. If only by comparison, the more singular narrative in White Castle gets a kick to the groin here. It’s the series’ way of telling its two crutches to get over themselves. Stressed about landing the perfect weekend? Can’t get your shit together? Relax. How exactly Harold’s highstrung mentality and Kumar’s “devil may care” worldview align is a bit perplexing, but it’s a hazy kind of logic the films have run on for two installments already. There’s a weed for whatever ails you, but ya still need to get it together on your own. We can’t all be pals with Neil Patrick Harris.

Way #1: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)

Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)

Way #5: Jingle All the Way

Way #6: Santa’s Slay

Way #7: Scrooged

Way #8: The Ref

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To Boldly Go Where Only Batman Has Gone Before

If you were bummed that last December’s Dark Knight Rises Prologue would be the final time you got a nice bonus for buying an IMAX ticket, you can take your negativity and stick it straight up your bum. With the impending Holiday release of the first of seven Hobbit films, a whole nine minute preview of Star Trek Into Darkness will play for moviegoers who fork up the ca$h for an IMAX 3D ticket or about $ 37.50.

Star Trek Into Darkness. I still feel like that’s missing a colon. Shouldn’t there be a colon? There should probably be a colon.

This is big news. Not only am I able to reference Warner Brothers, MGM, New Line, and now Paramount in the same sentence buuut I get to rub Batman stuff in everyone’s face again which is my favoritest of things to rub. Along with Iron Man 3, ‘Into Darkness’ looks to be one of the biggest releases for summer 2013 and Paramount is gittin’ right to the gettin’ on this. As far as I can tell, this will mark the first time a non-Batman-related preview plays before IMAX audiences. Then again, an insanely successful superhero franchise probably isn’t the best model to measure a potential box office boost from showing people nine minutes of your movie.

What I would hope is that this generates more buzz for the sequel while reinforcing the glaring inevitability that IMAX is a truly superior film format to standard screens and of course 3D. If forced at phaser point to choose which ticket price hike I’d rather live with in 2013, I’d shell out the extra bucks for IMAX in a heartbeat. It isn’t even close either, something a second viewing of Skyfall on a standard Marcus Theatres screen painfully screamed to me — to the point of noticeably downgrading my viewing experience. Oh poor baby.

This is obviously good news for anyone who got pissed at J.J. Abrams and his Conan O’Brien dupe back in October. Not funny you sonofabitch.

The even bigger news though, as I mentioned, is that this marks the first time a studio outside of Warner Bros. has explored with a prestige format for a sneak preview. If this takes off… who knows? To clarify, that’s not counting any peaks at nature documentaries or what have you. And if anyone out there can disprove me on this, please include a snarky, self-entitled comment below, but I used the 3 Google Boolean operators I know and found nothing else.

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Judge Dead

According to HitFix, Dredd placed sixth this past weekend at $6.3 million, behind End of Watch, Trouble With the Curve, and House at the End of the Street. Those were all new to theaters. But Dredd also managed to lose out to Finding Nemo 3D — rereleased eight years after its initial run — and last week’s Resident Evil installment. Looking at its earnings, you’d think Dredd came out in August. You might also think ‘What the hell is Dredd?’

Neither of those thoughts are good.

In a genre overstuffed with repetitive, formulaic cash grabs, Dredd stands out as a simple and entertaining example of a comic adaptation that really works. Oh, and its 3D is worth the ticket price, which is also a sentence I never thought I’d type. Most critics dug it (17/28 positive Metacritic reviews, 77% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and audience reactions have been even more positive. So what’s the problem?

  • Judge Who? – Now I was pretty excited to watch Eomer, son of Eomund deliver some ruthless justice to Mega City-One’s miscreants, but as my Star Wars novel collection likes to remind me: I’m a beautiful and unique flower. The vast majority of people don’t know who Dredd is, and on the off chance they do, they’re likely still forgetting Sly Stallone’s cringeworthy middle finger to the source material.
  • We Won’t Say A Thing – People don’t necessarily need to have some past familiarity with a character to enjoy it, but Dredd was facing decent competition already. Shouldn’t Lionsgate have done a little more to introduce him?

  • There’s a vague mention of what a “Judge” actually does, and we get a few shots of ‘that mean lady from Game of Thrones’ but other than that? I still wouldn’t know what this is, and I’m not just being unfair to 60 second TV spots.
  • I dug Dredd’s theatrical trailer, but again, that’s because I already knew who he was. To most people, he looks like another one-note antihero with a bucket on his head. At least draw a connection to Avengers or Batman. DO SOMETHING. Spoiling action set pieces or making bad judgment puns is no way to go about selling this. Though in hindsight this is all very ‘duh.’
  • Is it the 3D? Maybe it’s the 3D – Yes, those studios love to tag on the extra $2.50, but it’s actually worth it. Director Pete Travis does some cool things with three dimensions here, and the effect never feels cheap. I know, I can’t believe it either.

Studios, in general, do not like ‘new.’ Of course, when running a top entertainment enterprise with millions of dollars to keep track of, dependability is understandable; executives want profit, ROI, recognition, as they should. But dependability too often leads to predictability on the consumer’s end. There are those who enjoy going to a movie on a Saturday night and getting exactly what they expected, and that’s perfectly fine. But less variety is usually a bad thing.

Since Dredd likely won’t get a sequel, a reboot, a rehash, or a remake, the ever present ‘comic book’ movie genre has lost a little something. It wasn’t a huge hit to the superhero boom, and Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers will keep right on chugging along. But we definitely lost something.

So if you’re looking to avoid all the Paul Thomas Anderson pretension this week, maybe consider thinking about possibly seeing this movie?

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Weekly Recap 9/16 – 9/22

9/16/12 For a Good Time, Call… (2012)

9/18/12 Chungking Express (1994)

“Some things need time to sink in.”

Quentin Tarantino loved Wong Kar-Wai’s breakout film so much he picked it up for distribution through his short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures. Though debate persists as to why the film was such a box office disappointment in the U.S., Chungking Express might not have been a film for the masses. Period. That screen cap isn’t shoddy frame stopping on my part; the director is painting. The step-printed images are meant to be blurry. Wong Kar-Wai’s samples colors, melodramatic actors — some of whom are cloyingly romantic — 90’s urban soundscapes and low-lit street corners and back alleys, the dingy places where smuggling deals are made. Everyone dwells on the past. The seedy, midnight shroud is reminiscent of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, and that’s probably not a coincidence. Its structure and dissections of love — one on memory, the other, time — are less disjointed as they are deliberately segmented. There are thematic connections here of course, but any story links are fleeting, like a bump of strangers in the bustle of Hong Kong night life.

9/19/12 Haywire (2011)

In some respects, Steven Soderbergh’s commercial tryst from his experimental indulgence of, really doing whatever the hell he wants, feels influenced by what’s come before. I haven’t seen Magic Mike, but Haywire rejects the Bourne series and its influence on Hollywood fare. Haywire’s story isn’t nearly as essential: something about contracted killers hired out by Uncle Sam and something about a double cross. And really that’s all you need there. More importantly however, Soderbergh’s style is an affront to Greengass’ reviled/imitated shaky cam style from Supremacy and Ultimatum. You’ll find few quick cuts, and Soderbergh’s long takes and deep focus shots elevate routine chase sequences and an amazingly okay performance from MMA amazon Gina Carano. Couple that with its authentic fight sequences and David Holmes’s retro horn sex, and baby, you got a stew goin’!

9/21/12 Dredd 3D (2012)

I could go on about how much I loved Karl Urban’s perma-scowl, the film’s hyper-violence, Lena Headey’s smart villain, the intricate world building so foreign to most actioners, the script’s commitment to a simple premise, or the actual ingenuity of 3D in a film. But I won’t, because there probably won’t be another Dredd movie.

9/22/12 Magnolia (1999)

Is anything clear after only one viewing of a Paul Thomas Anderson film? Maybe I’m buying too much into the critical cult here. Or maybe I just didn’t care for the ridiculously sprawling and cumbersome Magnolia. Its daunting long takes put everything this side of Pulp Fiction and Children of Men to shame with their rigorous coordination. What is apparent is Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackey and his ability to be loathsome and fascinating and magnetic all at once. But PTA’s style almost insists upon itself here. Along with those long takes, Anderson’s original screenplay is impenetrable to tackle against its scope and massive runtime. From The Master stretching back to Boogie Nights, Anderson’s been fascinated with family issues and relationships, and I was certainly entranced, even with its trudging pace. PTA’s pre-millennium mass probably deserves a second take. I’m just not looking forward to setting aside another three hours anytime soon.

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