Thursday, December 14, 2017

FRED CLAUS

My next Christmas review is one that I remember seeing in theaters when I was in Middle School, which is a Santa film starring Vince Vaughn titled..

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When I was about to see it in theaters I thought the film was going to stink, but after viewing it I remember enjoying it okay. It wasn't something that I thought was brilliant, but I didn't think it was unwatchable either. But after having not seeing it since I was a kid, how exactly does the film hold-up? ON WITH THE REVIEW!

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What surprised me when I was a kid, and even now as an adult is rather than the film starting out with Vince Vaughn where it's later revealed that he's related to Santa Claus, the film starts out when he was a kid way before the 20th century. A young Fred meets his new born baby brother Saint Nick, who he promises to look after and take care of. But it turns out that Nick is not just any ordinary baby, but is actually a very jolly and plump little soul who laughs "Ho-ho-ho" as opposed to crying. And as he gets older, he starts giving away his birthday presents to the orphans, makes himself a red-suit, and learns how to slide down chimneys. Because of Nick's good nature, Fred's parents favor his little brother over him. And when Nick cuts down the tree that his brother loves to place it into the living room, unknowing that Fred loves that tree because it's the place where he goes  to be alone and interact with the bird that lives there, Fred completely turns his back on his brother. This whole opening sequence is one of the very few nice things that the film has to offer. Although the back-story is short and at times a little corny, the relationship between a young Santa and his older brother Fred is cute and kind of sad, mainly because of the performances from the kids portraying them who give their characters plenty of charm. You do know that Nick only means well and are adored by it, but you also find yourself sympathizing with his brother as he slowly becomes the black-sheep of his family since all the attention and praise is on his little brother, and that all the good deeds he's done is hurting poor Fred from an emotional stand-point. The only downside to this sequence is despite connecting to the story; the environment, acting, and whimsical presentation feels out of place with the rest of the movie's tone and atmosphere since nearly everything about the film is over the top cartoony, where this sequence for the most part isn't. Just by watching how cute and fairy-tale like everything is, I almost forgot that this film stars Vince Vaughn, and that we're going to get plenty of slapstick and gags for the rest of the film.

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So after getting rushed and poorly written exposition of how Nick, Fred, and their parents are suddenly immortal, but never bother to explain to us how Nick got his magic, how he met the Elves and started a charity business for children, or why Nick becomes an old man despite being immortal, and yet Vaughn who is his older brother remains in his 40s; we fast-forward to Chicago in the 21st century as a now older Fred (Vince Vaughn) becomes a selfish and arrogant man who works as a repossession agent. After getting arrested for conning people into give him their money, he calls his brother who is now referred to as Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) to pay his bail, and give him $50,000 so that he can run a gambling business. Santa agrees to bail him out, but he tells Fred to come to the North Pole to work for the 50,000. Upon reluctantly arriving to the North Pole to get work from his brother so that he can start a business of his own, efficiency expert Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey) comes to inspect the place as he plans to shut-down Santa's operation for good by using Fred's hatred towards his brother to his advantage.

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Vince Vaughn is a very hit and miss actor, who can be funny when given the right material and direction, but when he fails, it just becomes painful, and his performance here is not horrible, but it's not good either. It mainly has to do with the fact that he's just playing the obnoxious jerk that we all know him best for, which would be fine if it were funny, but it isn't. I hardly found anything in his performance to be charming, funny, or endearing, nor did I found myself buying that this is the same kid who we saw in the opening as an adult. I just saw Vince Vaughn playing Vince Vaughn, which is a huge downer, not to mention the fact that the character's immortality is never addressed or talked about again. I mean after living and hating his brother for centuries, he acts like he's only lived a mortal life instead of an immortal life. You'd think that his immortality and past experiences with the people that he's encountered and the world around him may have also contributed to his selfish and arrogant personality, and hatred towards Christmas; but no, he just acts like your typical every day Christmas hating asshole with nothing interesting about him at all apart from who he's related to! And when you see him start changing to be good to help out his brother willingly, it never seems effective or rewarding for how blank his reactions are, and phoned in his change of heart is through the cliched writing, quick pacing, and corny music. The only scene I thought was pretty nice is when he visits an orphan boy he knows as he's dressed as Santa to gives him a speech about the world being what he makes of it, after previously giving him negative advice, but even then I still felt like it wasn't earned since his transformation of being good felt so rushed and hammered in.

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It's not just Vaughn's obnoxious and mean-spirited personality that makes the humor in the film fail so miserably, but it's also the writing and direction. Most of the physical abuse that Vaughn suffers are either from the Elves, or a mob of people dressed up as Santa, that are awkwardly choreographed as we get out of place cartoony sound effects to make it all sound safe and painless for younger audiences. And the Christmas songs that are played for many of these scenarios hardly even match-up with the comedic tone or visuals, where they seem shoehorned just to make the film appear to be Christmassy. The only time I thought the use of a song worked for a goofy scene in the movie was when they played ironically a none Christmas related song "The Bird Is The Word" as Vaughn is fighting against guys dressed up as Santa. It wasn't funny, but at least fits the craziness and timing of this fight. There are even plenty of jokes in the film that just don't make sense. For example, why would an Elf disc jockey played by Ludacris be playing nothing but "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" non-stop when there are clearly other Santa songs out there, let alone different renditions of that particular song? The only reason why (at least to my knowledgeable) is because we need a reason for Vaughn's character to break-down and have a cheesy dance scene with him and the elves so the film can appeal to the hip crowd. However, as unfunny as most of the humor is, that doesn't mean that I didn't get a few laughs out of this film. The reveal of the restaurant that Fred was planning to take his girlfriend out without actually knowing what this "romantic" place really is since he came up with the idea at the last minute when he saw it on a billboard was funny. Fred going to the wrong house as he's taking his brother's job got a giggle out of me. But the real priceless scene in the movie is when he goes to a Siblings Anonymous meeting, with cameos of Stephen Baldwin, Roger Clinton, and Frank Stallone lamenting about how successful their brothers are when compared to them. That scene was clever in both humor and in terms of the plot, but aside from that, the film offers very few laughs.


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Though Vaughn doesn't help the film, the supporting cast hardly ever do so as well, and that's a real shame because these are some of the best people in the business. They aren't horrible performances, if anything they’re serviceable, but barley anything stands out about them or their character. Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Claus, and Kathy Bates and Trevor Peacock as the parents are very forgettable for how boring their delivery is, and bland they are as characters. Rachel Weisz as Fred's girlfriend is downright annoying since all she does is pretty much just yell and nag, though I really can't blame her character for that either since Fred is not that likable of a character to begin with. John Michael Higgins as the Elf Willie lacks being funny or cute, as he's given a forced and pointless love interest played dully by Elizabeth Banks. And the kid playing the orphan that Fred watches was decent, but doesn't leave much of an impression on you.

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For me the biggest disappointment in terms of performance is two time Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey as the film's antagonist. His character is nothing more than just the greedy businessman archetype that we see constantly in films, and that would be fine as long as he gives a performance that's delightful to watch. But as much as he plays up how cold and dastardly mean that this man is, I just found him dull and at times a little too silly where it isn’t funny or enjoyable. I was so bored by this performance, that I found myself in constant wonder of who sent Spacey to inspect the North Pole, and how he has the power to shut-it down, as well as the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunnie's operations? We never find out who he works for, we just know that there's a board that knows about Santa, but never why? And the crazy thing is when we find out that he has a softer side towards the finale, while well acted mostly from the actor opposite of him, and tying into one of the film's morals, there's never a scene that makes him feel human, since he's too busy hamming it up as we assume a one dimensional antagonist, so it doesn't feel earned, or come off as a shocking surprise for that matter. It just feels there to be there.

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If there's one performance in this movie that doesn't make-up for the others, but is at least enjoyable and more emotional when compared to the performances in this movie, it's Paul Giamatti as Santa. Unlike the other actors (not counting the kids in the opening) that were annoying, forgettable, and corny, where there was maybe 1 or 2 scenes where a few of them shined despite not feeling earned, Giamatti (for the most part) shined all the way through. When you look at this guy right from his first scene where he's trying not to completely give into his brother's selfish demands because of his kindness, you buy that he's one of the most humble human beings in the world. From start to finish as you enjoy his presence for how friendly he is, he continuously shows signs of constant stress and fear of losing a job he loves doing as he tries to keep his self-centered brother in line where you feel his pain. And when he has given up on hope he looks incredibly miserably, as if all the life and joy that we saw earlier was sucked right out of him which is heartbreaking to see. My favorite scene involving Giamatti as Santa is when he taps into Clyde's childhood when all seems bleak, that to me really brought out the feeling that he is Santa despite how out of the blue this scene is. If I had one problem with his performance, the scene when he finally breaks down did seem too comical, as opposed to sad, and him trying to run over Fred when the two fight just seemed way too out of character. I don't care how angry he is, this is Santa, he should know better not to injury his brother in a way that would nearly kill him!



And incase if you're wondering about what I think about the film's depiction of the North Pole, well aside from how they visually explain how their system works, and having a cool room and device for how they find out who is naughty and nice, it overall looks pretty generic. It looks like a mix between the sets from the Santa Clause sequels, and Hogsmeade from "Harry Potter"; it doesn't look too original, or hardly stands out as anything different. In terms of visual effects well I thought they did a nice job placing John Michael Higgins' head on a little person's body since it did look convincing half the time. But on the other hand I did find it a bit unnecessary since this role can be easily played by a little person. The effects for the reindeer, well it isn't as cartoony as say the reindeer in the Santa Clause 2, but they still look pretty fake.



The thing that I truly admire of what the film was trying to do was it's moral of being no such thing as a naughty child, since kids go through troubles in their life and don't know how to deal with them, as others are just not raised right which is why they behave so naughty and maybe in need of some kindness in return to give them a sign of hope. And the character who learns that in the process is actually Santa himself through his brothers actions! I really felt like the film had such a wonderful moral going for it, a moral so powerful and unique for a Christmas film about Santa that it just hurts me that it wasn't executed quite right since almost everything supporting it fails to get us emotionally invested. For me the biggest offense when it comes to the actors trying to emote is the music supporting them. I'm not necessarily talking about the Christmas songs we hear (though they don't help the scenes when they are used in the film), I'm talking about the score itself, where the music constantly keeps signaling us of when we should feel bad or get an emotion from them, but can't for how corny and obviously manipulating it is. We get some scenes that work the film's emotions fine, but they're very far apart and only happen in the prologue and the film's third act.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

"Fred Claus" is a corny, generic, and stupid Christmas movie, with forgettable characters, bland and obnoxious performances, lazy writing, dreadful use of music, and humor that's more awkward then it is funny. BUT, I wouldn't label it as one of the worst Christmas flicks that I've ever seen. The opening was sentimentally charming. Paul Giamatti does a fantastic job as the overworked Santa. I did get some good laughs out of the film (though there are so very few of those). And I heavily admire of what the film was trying to teach, even though it isn't carried out as strongly as it should've been. If the film had stronger characters carried through powerful performances, thoughtful writing, humor that wasn't so childish, and better direction this could've been a Christmas classic. I'm not saying it's not worth watching because it is for the few things that I mentioned, and will in the very least entertain you, but it's not something that I recommend you check out right away. If you so happen to see it on TV, or have watched all of your favorite Christmas movies and Specials and are seeking to watch something different, then I say that seeing this film isn't such a bad option.

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