movieguru (2007-46)

Holiday SmearCasshern

Movie Guru

Vince Vaughn drags Fred Claus down the chimney hole

by Coury Turczyn

And so it has come to this: We now must seek our fake holiday cheer from the likes of Vince Vaughn and his leather jacket. Used to be we could trust Hollywood to accommodate our guilty yearnings for glossy Christmas schlock with annual visits from obsequious actors desperate to win our favor: Tim Allen in a fat suit, Will Ferrell as an elf, Michael Keaton reincarnated as an animatronic snowman. Preposterous, calculating pieces of trash, yes; but for approximately nine seconds each year, we could fool ourselves into feeling the high we got from seeing Itâ’s a Wonderful Life for the first time.

Not so with Fred Claus. The problem with Fred Claus is that Vince Vaughn clearly doesnâ’t care what we think. Christmas movie or not, heâ’s Vince Vaughn, dammit, and he will not lower himself to act like any of this really means anything. So why should we?

Worse than the starâ’s trademark jadedness, however, is the fact that Fred Claus thinks itâ’s a real movie. Consequently, it destroys any illusion of holiday spirit by constantly reminding us that this isnâ’t just your regular nonsensical, overblown Christmas comedy; no, this is a movie with big themes and subtle nuances. Perhaps feeling a rush of importance after the inexplicable success of Wedding Crashers, director David Dobkin piles all the in-jokes, digital effects, and meaningful speeches he can onto this simple fable of Santa Clausâ’s asshole brother.

It must have been considered a major coup when the pitch line was whispered in the Burbank offices of Warner Bros. Pictures: â“Vince Vaughn is Santa Clausâ’ older brother.â” Who knows how many millions of dollars were sacrificed in vain once those seven words were uttered? After all, itâ’s a canâ’t-miss idea. Combine Vaughnâ’s fast-talking jerk with the beloved holiday icon (played by Oscar-nominated Paul Giamatti!), and itâ’ll surely be comedy goldâ"youâ’ll draw the families plus the teens. Boo-yah!

Thus, naked greed melds with self-importance for a bitter cup of nog. You know youâ’re in for a long ride when our dumb holiday comedy begins in a painstakingly detailed fairy-tale cabin from medieval Europe. It is there we must witness Kathy Bates give birth, huffing and screaming as she pushes out the future Saint Nick. â“Show us the pain of childbirth!â” we can imagine Dobkin yelping through his official directorâ’s megaphone. â“More sweat! Scream louder!â” After sharing her disturbingly realistic agony, we must then experience the misery of an overlong prelude that reveals how Nick â“Santaâ” Claus and his brother Fred became estranged despite Fredâ’s poignant promise to be the â“best older brother ever.â”

But to deliver this exhaustively wrought scenario, the script must land the narrative equivalent of a triple Axel. How, you may ask, does the movieâ’s story take place in modern-day New York City if these brothers were growing up in, say, the 16th century? Very simple, according to the kindly voiceover: Saints and their families live â“frozenâ” in time. Which is to say, they are granted immortality. Once you consider the ramifications, itâ’s no wonder that Vaughnâ’s Fred is such a bitter, self-destructive creep. Imagine life without end as your friends wither and die, your soul trapped, no relief in sightâ"just because your brother got sainted for passing out presents.

But even with this metaphysical sympathy, Vaughnâ’s smart-ass hipster is mostly unlikable. Vaughn canâ’t quite pull off Scrooge-like redemption; he is an unapologetic dickhead to the end even though weâ’re supposed to believe in his sudden acceptance of love and family.

Despite the many humorous possibilities of picking fights with elves, Fred Claus never really takes flight, let alone rewards us with any gifts worth keeping.

Movie Guru Rating:

Rental Floss

A few years ago, a mysterious movie trailer began making its way around the Web. The Asian characters, sumptuous visuals, otherworldly design, lush gardens and monolithic industrial sets, superheroic cyberpeople, and robot battlesâ"robot battles!â"sent certain types of nerd scouring for information. But the only thing non-Japanese-speakers were likely to learn was that the movieâ’s title was Casshern, and that it didnâ’t appear to be coming to a theater near them anytime soon.

Now Casshern comes to U.S. DVD, more than three years after its Japanese debut, and what a difference those three years make. Kazuaki Kiriyaâ’s directorial debut was one of the first features shot entirely with green-screen technologyâ"the gardens and sets werenâ’t really there, not to mention the robots. All-green-screen Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sin City beat it to American theaters and consciousness, and even the most ordinary looking films now use rampant green screen to get that just-so ordinary look (Zodiac). Casshernâ’s visuals are still an eye-popping treat, but theyâ’re no longer a mysterious novelty.

How much Casshern is going to appeal to you, then, is likely down to your enthusiasm/tolerance for anime storytelling and conventions, since the film is a live-action remake of a vintage animated tale. Typical of anime, the story of Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) and his transformation from dutiful son and fiance to soldier in a brutal war to inadvertent reanimated superhero out to save his civilization from domineering fellow â“neo-manâ” Burai (Toshiaki Tarasawa) and his robot army is laid out in two-dimensional archetypes and convoluted plots and subplots. The storyâ’s endless war and declining, corrupt empire certainly carry some resonances, though, and the eye candy is still pretty sweet. â" Lee Gardner


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