Film Review: KLAUS (Spain 2019) ***1/2

Klaus Poster
Trailer

A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg’s new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions.

Directors:

Sergio PablosCarlos Martínez López (co-director)

Writers:

Zach Lewis (screenplay by), Jim Mahoney (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

From director Sergio Pablo’s animation studios come his feature debut, a toy friendly feature animation that runs like a Santa Claus story.  Serving as a fictional origin story to the myth of Santa Claus, the plot revolves around a postman stationed in a town to the North who befriends a reclusive toy-maker (called Klaus).

Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) comes from a wealthy family in the postal business, and is a selfish brat with no life ambitions whatsoever.  When Jesper’s father puts him in the royal postal academy in an attempt to teach him that hard work pays and being from a rich family is not a shoo in to wealth, he deliberately distinguishes himself to be the academy’s worst student, and so his father comes up with another plan to teach him a lesson: he is stationed on a island above the Arctic Circle by his father, with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t post 6,000 letters in a year, he will be cut off from the family.

Jesper gets into the island’s town of Smeerensburg and is shown around by a sarcastic ferry boat skipper who tricks him into ringing a bell to start the reception, instead revealing that the town inhabitants hardly exchange words let alone letters; they are divided, feuding locals filled with anger, bitterness, hatred and animosity. Trying desperately to come up with a way to get the town locals to send letters, he notices on the map in his office a far off little establishment. Investigating, he finds a woodsman named Klaus (J.K. Simmons), with a skill of woodworking and a house with lots of handmade toys.

The film works in different ways, with charm of a different nature from those expected from the Disney studios.  The film pays a little tribute to the Road Runner/Coyote cartoons in the segments where Klaus has problems with different deliveries – chased by chickens and other assorted animals; climbing up steps.  Charm also occurs with play of the Santa Claus legend.  Klaus delivers toys through chimneys unnoticed by the kids and love cookies.  The wonder of young love: ‘the heart palpitations, the intense looks… ‘ are experienced by Klaus and the female schoolteacher (Rashida Jones).

The humour is strictly of the goofy type, more suitable for children but would also be able to grab a few smiles from adults.  A lot of humour also plays to the Klaus story: “Do you still want to throw that snowball and be on the naughty list?” tells Klaus to a child.  The film also reveals the origin of Santa Claus ‘Ho-ho-ho” laugh.

The villain of the piece is a hunched over old lady (Joan Cusack) with bad teeth.  She is head of a warring clan.  The town’s main two fighting clans have to create peace to destroy the peace of the town, to maintain their clan traditions.

The originals score by Alfonso G. Aguilar is impressive and  the original song “Invisible” writer by Justice Tranter isn’t half bad either.

With a message like “An act of goodwill always sparks another…” it is hard to dislike KLAUS with its over-bearing charm and catchy cheer.  

The animation is an original Netflix feature that opened beginning of November.  It is still available on Netflix for the Christmas season.  KLAUS turns out an over-feel good different version of TOY STORY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taE3PwurhYM

1997 Movie Review: GROSSE POINT BLANK, 1997

 

GROSSE POINT BLANK, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed By George Armitage

Starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven
Review by Christopher Upton

SYNOPSIS:

Finding himself dissatisfied with his life as a professional killer, Martin Blank returns home to take stock of his life, visit his high school reunion and make one final hit. Nothing could ever be simple though and while he attempts to make it up to his jilted date before the big reunion, he has to contend with a large collection of men trying to kill him.

REVIEW:

Contract killers aren’t known for being the warmest of characters. As such you’d think it’d be difficult to get a whole load of laughs from them, unless of course Dan Aykroyd and John Cusack play them. Sarcastic and silly combine to create a hilarious situation comedy with the added bonus thrill of knowing that either of the two leads could be killed at any moment. Talk about edge of your seat comedy.

Martin Blank (Cusack) is having an existential crisis; he’s girlfriendless, childless, his therapist is scared of him and he’s lost the taste for his work, which just so happens to be shooting people in the head. All of this is bought home to him when he receives an invitation to his ten-year high school reunion. Though he refuses to go fate conspires to send him back to Grosse point to face the music for abandoning the town and its inhabitants.

It’s not all existential though as he has a very real crisis to contend with. His colleague Grocer (Aykroyd) is trying to get him to join his killers union and he’s very insistent that they join forces. So insistent in fact that he has hired government-contracted killers to take him out if he refuses. On top of this there is a bounty on his head for a job gone wrong involving an over friendly dog and some explosives.

Being killed strangely becomes the least of Martin’s worries though, when he runs into an old flame that he abandoned on prom night ten years ago and feelings are reignited. So now he must win back the girl and re-evaluate his life while at the same time trying to remain bullet hole free. Not many people would be able to tie so many strings together so convincingly but John Cusack as Martin Blank is such a brilliantly sarcastic and quick-witted performance that you know if anyone can, he can.

The character maintains a near constant narration of his life telling everyone his anxieties, almost Woody Allen-esque. While this might seem like an annoying trait if handled by anyone else, Cusack manages to make it endearing, making Martin Blank very relatable if you ignore the killing part.

Outside of Pulp Fiction professional killers are all portrayed in a pretty similar way; they have some variety of deep inner torment and they are remorseless, lonely, psychopaths. In Grosse Point Blank the killers have personalities and ingratiate themselves to the audience; something that is particularly difficult to do when your job is to get rid of people. In fact, Grocer and Blank don’t just make you feel comfortable with them; you actually end up in a bizarre way emphasising with them because of their charisma. As Martin Blank says, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.”

It isn’t just the leads that perform excellently though. The shockingly overlooked Jeremy Piven plays an old friend of Martin Blank, still living in the town that he hates and is hilariously bitter because of it. The blasÈ government guns for hire, in the form of Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman, are so laid back that the only thing that can get them out of their job inspired stupor is making fun of these violent killers. This makes them equally funny and monstrous and every bit as bad as the people they are after.

One of the most impressive things about Grosse Point Blank is there isn’t really a bad performance in it. Even the smallest characters are perfectly formed little caricatures that manage to squeeze laughs out of every inch of the film. This also has a lot to do with the script, which is frenetic in it’s pacing, rarely passing a scene without inserting some kind of witty one liner or aside. This means that if you aren’t paying attention a lot will go past you, but it also means that if you miss one joke there’ll be another one along in a second.

The script excels in making mockeries of some very dark situations and deriving a lot of laughs from things you really shouldn’t be laughing at. It’s not just through assassinations where the guilty laughs come either. You can’t help but laugh as the reunited lovers insult all their old classmates, most of which have become depressing caricatures of small town life. The coked up bully who runs his own dealership, the small town cop desperate to enforce some variety of law or the girl desperate for approval are easily what you could imagine your old classmates turning into.

Mention must also be made of the incredible soundtrack. Put together in part by the late Joe Strummer, the music flows throughout the entire film creating a solid backbone and allowing for some of the most memorable scenes; like a fight to the death to the tune of 99 Luftballons. The addition of the radio station playing hits of the day is a great choice, not only in terms of story but also in allowing the directors obvious love of music come through.

There aren’t a lot of bad points to aim at Grosse Point Blank, but if you were looking for them then the immediate one is the fact that this is very much a nineties film. In terms of look, scripting and storyline it is very much of its time, but this is an exceptionally small complaint against such a strong film. The combination of quality soundtrack, outstanding performances and a viciously tight script means that this is one of the best, is not one of the most overlooked, romantic comedies of the decade.

grosse point blank

 

Happy Birthday: Joan Cusack

joancusack.jpgJoan Cusack

Born: October 11, 1962 in New York City, New York, USA

Married to: Richard Burke (1993 – present) (2 children)

I was never the ‘babe,’ so I knew I’d never get those big roles. I’d always be the best friend or the quirky sidekick.

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