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163. Klaus – This Just In/Christmas 2020 (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a belated Christmas treat. Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López’s Klaus.

Exiled to the remote island of Smeerensberg, postal employee Jesper comes up with an elaborate plan to inspire the locals to write the six thousand letters that he’ll need to earn back his life of luxury. However, Jesper doesn’t count on the ways in which he’ll change the lives of the island’s inhabitants, including a lonely and isolated woodsman named Klaus who makes children’s toys.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 176th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Klaus

Around midway through Klaus, the film’s title character has an introspective moment. The film’s protagonist, a wiry and self-interested postman named Jesper, has decided that Klaus need not settle for delivering the toys that he has already handcrafted. Instead, Klaus could fashion new toys for all the boys and girls of the local community. Klaus’ mood darkens. He stares off into middle distance. “I don’t make toys,” he tells Jesper, in an understated manner. After a beat, he clarifies, “Not anymore.”

It is a very strange moment for a family-friendly animated movie that promises a glimpse at the origin story of Christmas. It obviously hints at a dark and traumatic back story for the muscular woodsman. Klaus has experienced things. It is the children’s movie equivalent of the shell-shocked combat veteran, of Sylvester Stallone retreating from his failure at the start of Cliffhanger or Sergeant Powell having sworn off the use of his sidearm in Die Hard. What horrors could Klaus have experienced that would have made him stop designing adorable handcrafted toys for children?

Snow bad ideas.

It’s a very weird beat, one that feels all the weird for the way in which it tonally clashes with the more openly absurd slapstick elements of the plot or the occasional nods to contemporary pop culture. Klaus is a very odd film, which seems to have little idea of what it actually wants to be. It is a mishmash of themes and influences, awkwardly bouncing between various extremes and never settling on any one long enough to find a grove. It’s a film that really needed more time on the original story break and scripting phases, requiring a stronger vision of what exactly Klaus is supposed to be.

This is a shame, because Klaus looks absolutely gorgeous.

Making a play for the animation market.

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Non-Review Review: The Christmas Chronicles

The Christmas Chronicles is corny, clumsy, cheesy. It is more than a bit naff, to the point that it frequently seems to run on naff.

It is not especially inventive or creative with its premise, and often seems to have opted for the easiest manner of jumping from one set piece to the next. The Christmas Chronicles is incredibly broad, to the point where it even includes a weird castration joke about a computer-generated elf wielding a chainsaw in what had been (up until that point) a completely non-lethal. The film takes a fairly standard Christmas movie premise – what if a bunch of kids have to work with Santa to save Christmas? – and goes through the motions with it.

No Claus for concern.

Truthfully, that is about enough. It isn’t just that Christmas is a time for generosity and cheer, it is that Christmas is also a time to welcome very simple and very striaghtforward entertainment designed to be consumed by families with across a broad range of ages, in varying degrees of consciousness and sobriety. There is a time and a place for the broadly-drawn hijinx that drive The Christmas Chronicles, and Christmas itself would seem to be it. It is an affectionate old-fashioned family movie throwback to a time when emotional arcs could be drawn in crayon and a handful of creative juxtapositions could sustain a film.

The Christmas Chronicles pulls it off. Just about.

Filed by letter.

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 (Review/Retrospective)

You know that The Spirit is in a state of declining health when even the back cover concedes that, “by the second half of 1951, The Spirit was winding down.” Still, having read the collection from cover-to-cover, I find it quite difficult to disagree. The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 provides an interesting study of a comic strip coming to terms with its own mortality, but there’s also a sad sense that the magic is slowly evaporating from Will Eisner’s iconic creation. We are no longer watching a beloved comic strip missing a few steps. Instead, we’re watching a slow and painful deterioration.

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips...

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips…

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Reckless Guardians: The Rise and Fall of Cinematic Responsibility…

I actually quite enjoyed The Rise of the Guardians. It is probably the most visually assured animation from Dreamworks to date, the cast are all having a great time and the plot is simple but effective. However, I just didn’t wind up feeling an emotional connection to the central character, Jack Frost. Jack is an embodiment of an abstract concept – a “guardian” appointed by “the Man in the Moon” (or “Manny” to his friends). The bulk of Rise of the Guardians is about Jack learning to embrace his new position and everything that comes with it – to swallow his insecurity and to accept that he has been chosen to do a kick-ass job.

Still, it remains quite difficult to connect with Jack Frost, and I wonder if it’s the same problem that made Pixar’s much-maligned Cars 2 so difficult to swallow. Rather than learning to temper his unreliable inconsistency, the movie asks an irresponsible character to effectively embrace the flaw completely.

Note: This article contains a few spoilers for Rise of the Guardians.

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Non-Review Review: Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians might be the best-looking addition to the Dreamworks canon. It’s a visual feast, a testament to the imaginations of those working behind the scenes, with a vivid visual aesthetic that is often breathtaking. Even with the colours toned down by the 3D glasses, it still looks good, and the particles of snow and dust lends themselves to an immersive 3D presentations. The cast is also charming bringing the titular fairy tale team to life, with a wonderful group dynamic  and an enthusiasm that’s hard to dismiss.

Just in the Nick of time!

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