Reviews: ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Shift’ make for cinematic weak sauce

Joel Kinnaman in Silent Night (Courtesy/Lionsgate)

John Woo is an amazing action director that almost single-handedly redefined the genre in the 1990s and early 2000s with amazing work in films like “Hard Target,” “Broken Arrow,” “Face/Off,” Mission Impossible II,” and “Windtalkers.”

Without the first three Woo films, we almost certainly would not have had 1999’s “The Matrix,” an action film whose long shadow is still influencing Hollywood a quarter of a decade later. Woo’s influence on the last three decades of action films is incalculable.

Until the recent opening of “Silent Night,” Woo had not made an American film since 2003, and while his return to our cinemas is welcome, his latest film is a creative near miss.

The revenge-quest film stars Joel Kinnaman as Brian Godlock, a California electrician whose son is violently killed in a drive-by-shooting that’s a part of a gang war during the holiday season. In trying to apprehend the ones responsible for his sons’ death, Godlock is also shot in the throat and loses his speaking voice.

Godlock spirals down a whole of depression, and only escapes it by training himself to pursue the revenge he was originally denied.

Since he was shot in the throat, Godlock cannot speak, and nor does anyone else on screen for the entirety of the movie. There is some dialogue from televisions and a few other sources in the movie, but no speaking from the characters, hence “Silent Night.”

The movie follows the classic revenge pattern that everyone has seen before. The action is mostly strong throughout its relatively short running time. It’s a John Woo movie, but the gimmick the movie hinges on becomes old well before the end of the film.

“Silent Night” would have been a better movie with more dialogue, even if that made the film less true to its title.

The movie might not be a bad watch on cable, but unless you are just a die-hard Woo fanatic, there is no reason to bother seeing this movie in theaters.

(R) 1 hr. 44 min.
Grade: C-

The Shift (Courtesy/Angel Studios)

The new faith-based movie “The Shift” isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

The film takes the essence of the plot from the Old Testament book of Job and places it in a present-day or a near present-day dystopian setting.

Kristopher Polaha, best known for his Hallmark films and “Wonder Woman 1984,” portrays the Job character Kevin Garner, while Neal McDonough plays the Benefactor, the Satanesque role, in the film.

Sean Astin (“Rudy” and “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”) plays Gabriel and Elizabeth Tabish plays Molly Garner, Kevin’s wife.

As in the ancient Old Testament book, which is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, Kevin is tested to renounce his faith in God by the Benefactor, who destroys his family, reputation, and wealth in an attempt to make Kevin renounce God and everything he loves.

The film certainly deals with some interesting ideas such as the multiverse, and while the performances are solid, particularly McDonough, the movie was too esoteric and outlandish for my taste.

Writer-director-producer Brock Heasley might have reached too far with his ambition for the film than what his budget and talent would allow. Or maybe, I’m just too dense to get it.

Had I not been writing a review, I probably would have skipped out early on this film.

Heasley does achieve the surreal feel of movies like “12 Monkeys,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or “Blade Runner 2049” yet the movie unraveled for me early on, never truly locking in on the story with any clarity.

All the gobbledygook about the multiverse was a waste. Trying to graft a sci-fi angle onto the classic temptation story, proved to be too much for the talent at hand. The story could have been told more easily and better without the multiverse angle.

A case in point is the 2016 movie “Greater,” a fanciful biography about Razorback All-American football player Brandon Burlsworth — which coincidentally also starred McDonough. It grafted a stronger and more apt adaptation of Job’s temptation into its story than what Heasley managed with “The Shift.”

If you want to know the story of Job, just read the Bible.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 55 min.
Grade: D

New in Local Theaters – Dec. 8, 2023

  • The Boy and the Heron (PG-13) 2 hr. 4 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback)
  • Eileen (R) 1 hr. 37 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback)
  • The Oath (PG) 1 hr. 44 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
  • Waitress The Musical (PG-13) 2 hr. 25 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

Classic Corner: ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Love Actually’ make merry return to theaters this week

Two “classic Christmas” movies return to theaters this week to bolster the box office since very few new films are opening this week.

Both “Die Hard” and “Love Actually” are classics in my book, and if time permits, I will try to catch them again on the big screen as I did when each originally opened more years ago than I would like to count.

While neither are ranked in my personal top 25, both are very entertaining and excellent examples of the action and romantic comedy genres.

Here’s a look back at each film.

Die Hard

The 1980s was the decade of the action hero with stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and a host of others righting wrongs, dealing death, and wreaking havoc in cineplexes all across America.

It was an awesome time to be a teenage movie buff, but as much as I love Chuck, Arnie, and Sly, for my money, the best action flick of the 1980s starred Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in career-defining roles of John McClane and Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.”

Director John McTiernan’s action-thriller is a classic among classics that catapulted Willis from being a TV personality on “Moonlighting” to an out and out movie star of the first order. The script allowed Willis’ charm, charisma, and humor to shine while still allowing McClane to be relatable as a hard-working cop who uses all his wits, guile, and physicality to flaunt a terrorist attack on the Nakatomi Corporation, which employs his wife.

Rickman is just as strong as Willis as Gruber, a German criminal who is masterminding the terrorist heist. For my money, Gruber is one of the best villains in all of movie filmdom. He’s right up there with Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Darth Vader from “Star Wars,” and Hannibal Lector from “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Since it’s Christmastime, there might be a debate among movie fans whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.

The film certainly takes place at Christmas, although Los Angeles doesn’t really warm the cockles of my heart as the most Christmasy of settings. The movie was released in the summer, but so were definitive Christmas movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Holiday Inn.”

While I enjoy revisiting “Die Hard” every four or five years because of the aforementioned performances by Willis and Rickman, it’s not necessarily December when I do.

So for me, “Die Hard” is just a fun action picture, and not really a “Christmas movie.” But who am I to say what is or isn’t a “Christmas movie” for you.

The best thing about Christmas is that its traditions bring family and friends together. If that gathering happens to include watching Bruce Willis save the day in “Die Hard,” then as John McClane might say, “Yippie-Kai-Yay…”

“Die Hard” is playing this week at the Malco Razorback and the Malco Pinnacle.

Love Actually

With “Love Actually,” writer-Director Richard Curtis crafted a winning Christmas film that’s as poignant as it is charming, and as sexy as it is funny.

Unlike many Christmas-set movies, “Love Actually” isn’t for the whole family. It’s decidedly adult-themed as it looks at love as well as infatuation, attraction, friendship, and loss from a number of different angles with multiple storylines that twist, intermingle, and go their separate ways during a single Christmas season.

The ensemble cast includes Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley among others, with each offering solid to exceptional performances with Thompson and Linney shining in two of the more heartbreaking roles.

The movie deals with a number of burgeoning romantic relationships as well as the loss of a beloved wife, the wandering eye of a distracted husband, the thrill of puppy love, the anguish of unrequited love, the dependability of platonic love, as well as the tug of responsibility that familial love often brings.

Just as the love that we experience changes throughout our lifetimes, it shifts between the mini-episodes that dovetail together in Curtis’ film. The movie is 20 years old now, and while it would not pass the smell test of being politically correct today, its charm still works on me.

Each time I watch it, I come away with a new favorite vignette.

The film has been criticized for being a mile wide and inches deep. That’s probably a fair assessment, but during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’m not sure I want to process much more.

The movie is thoughtful enough to tug at my heartstrings without being overwhelming, and funny enough to give me a few smiles along the way.

Love Actually is playing at the Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne, and Skylight theaters.