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The Addams Family 2: new kooky characters gone wrong

Cousin Itt’s synthetic CG likeness owes more to Dawk than it does Feliz Silla’s hair suit.

The Addams Family 2: Nipplearoo and Fester too!
The Addams Family 2: Nipplearoo and Fester too!

Who ya got: The Munsters or The Addams Family? I had just turned ten the season both shows made their network debuts, so the choice became the subject of raging schoolyard debate. It wasn’t a clear cut leaning, not an obvious preference like Bugs over Mickey, 007 over Napoleon Solo, or Groucho over all. But it was a leaning, all the same: my loyalties will forever find me garrisoned at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. But even with almost sixty years behind them, neither sitcom has lost its comic luster. It’s a testament to their staying power that to this day, both shows air nightly in syndication and, fittingly enough, on opposing networks. The animated reboot released a few years back was designed in the spirit of Charles Addams, artist and biological father of the House of Addams. The film hit big enough to warrant The Addams Family 2, a third of which follows its predecessor to the black letter before crumbling under the weight of workaday lightheartedness.

America fell in love with Uncle Fester’s nipples. Why else would a topless Fester be there to greet audiences at the outset, the first big guffaw in a rapidly narrowing field of laughs? Inked across his back is “No Regrets” — it’s one of the few toppers in a sequel that, according to the press release, promised “many new kooky characters” before asking “What could possibly go wrong?” New kooky characters could go wrong, for starters. (Wallace Shawn makes a dismal substitute for Allyn Joslyn’s unflustered small-screen truant officer.) Were all of the gags involving Casa Addams milked dry the first time around? Was the goal of animators Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon to pluck the family from their comfort zone, send them on a cross-country vacation in which Wednesday takes the lead, and close on a sinisterly satiric inversion of a dark Disney Princess switched at birth? If so, two out of three’s not bad.

In order for the environmental flip-flop to succeed, no matter where the family goes, clouds of gloom must follow overhead, and always to their delight. It’s the universe conforming to their macabre household, not the other way around. The darker it gets, the more apparent a need for the Addams’ influence becomes: Wednesday’s PC teachers declare no winners or losers for those competing in the science fair, teaching the tots that participation alone makes them special. Her classmates say “Baa!” but Wednesday says “Nah!” and refuses to settle for a trophy-less victory. Why leave home to find humor, where there’s an abundance waiting to be unearthed here in your own backyard?

Niagara Falls is introduced as the great wonder of the world that kills the most tourists, but other than that, the fun stops almost as soon as the family hits the road. Still, it was the electric pink, purple, and antifreeze green color scheme that dragged me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone. A commonplace musical number set to the uplifting beat of “I Will Survive” felt as out of place as would a visit from Grandpa Munster. And forgive me for not referencing this in my review of Part One: I must not have been paying close enough attention to detail when it came to the character design of Cousin Itt. Itt’s synthetic CG likeness owes more to Dawk — the Lloyd Thaxton “silent protest” doll — than it does Feliz Silla’s hair suit. (Google “Thaxton” and “Dawk.” You’re welcome!) Digitally hempen mane notwithstanding, Itt’s payoff justifies the means. Seeing as how no one can decipher what comes out of the spectacled furball’s yap, a future in rap music couldn’t be more appropriate.

Itt's history starting with Felix Silla on the left.

The characters and their various incarnations have morphed throughout the years. Oscar Isaac’s Gomez owes more to Raul Julia than it does John Astin. Uncle Fester looks the part as drawn by the artist and later co-opted by Jackie Coogan and Christopher Lloyd. Nick Kroll’s slobbering puberphonia does both actors one better. Charlize Theron’s sudden flights of French, the sort that drive Gomez wild, date back to Carolyn Jones’ Morticia. And if Hollywood were ever to decide on an Addams update set 20 year into the future, Paul Walter Hauser has a lock on the adult Pugsley. ★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Candyman — What is the first thing that separates this from Bernard Rose’s original, a film that posited as its monster a housing project located on the brink of Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast area? For one thing, there’s Sammy! One mention of the nauseatingly saccharine chart-topper in a 1992 horror film would have set audiences giggling. Here it acts as a faint reminder of the past. It’s not the only difference. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s latest isn’t so much a remake, as most sequels are, but a continuation, an update. It’s the same housing project — the CG recreation of Chicago’s Cabrini Green is so precise that it looks like documentary footage — with the horror emerging from a different hole in the tenement wall. This time, it takes less than five minutes for the titular boogeyman to appear, and the handling of white guilt is much more pointed. Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is quick to state the obvious: “White people built the ghetto and erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” Giving equal time to arrogance, Brianna lives on the very gentrified spot where the infamous housing project once stood. One drawback of contemporary thinking is the establishment of a seemingly upstanding character who goes south if for no other reason than two bad guys are better than one. Other than that, there’s enough here to give your nerves a good rattling. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Coming Home in the Dark — Who is that man seated atop the hill, contemplating a circus-peanut-orange sky? It will take 93 minutes for writer-director James Ashcroft’s punishing saga to come full circle, more than enough time for the probie to amass an impressive body count. We’ve seen this premise play out in one form or another at least a dozen times before: an anti-social baddie with a score to settle terrorizes a family in transit (Cape Fear, Funny Games, Hot Rods to Hell, Cape Fear, Funny Games). Hoaggie’s (Erik Thomson) wife (Miriama McDowell) and sons are forced to pay the ultimate price when Papa’s past sins catch up with him. From out of nowhere, two drifters appear — one mute, the other overly articulate — and proceed to pick off Hoaggie’s pride. All this killing makes a man want to ramble, and Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is no different from many a workaday movie psychopath. To compensate for his accomplice Tubs’ (Matthias Luafutu) mute demeanor, Mandrake works doubletime to deliver the dialogue. I’m all for pursuing a revenge motif, but this one lost me the minute Mandrake blew away an innocent gas station attendant and the genre shifted from stylish revenge thriller to just another doggone slasher picture. For the same story better told, I offer up In a Glass Cage. (Digital Gym Virtual Theater.) 2021. — S.M.

Ema — In the “Love at First Sight” Department, it’s been twelve years since the Latino Film Festival introduced me to Pablo Larrain via his second feature Tony Manero, a picture I never tire of watching and championing. Now Larrain acquaints audiences with Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), the reggaeton sensation with the Shinola mane drawn so tightly across her crown one could use her skull to keep the beat. Ema, like her driven cinematic Uncle Tony, wants to hold her family together in the worst way, which is precisely how she goes about doing it. Time away from rehearsing for her husband/choreographer’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) latest dance ensemble finds Ema drilling solo before a dusky CinemaScope cityscape, practicing the flamethrower — we open memorably on a smoldering stoplight — partaking in indiscriminate sex, and doing her best to convince CPS that she was wrong for returning Polo (Cristian Suarez), her 7-year-old adopted son of one year, to the orphanage simply for torching his aunt’s face. (The lad does take after his mother.) Once again, we have Larrain to thank for sticking his arm down the throat of convention and delivering a rigorously everted melodrama. Films that individualize feelings of abandonment generally associated with the subject of adoption are usually told through the eyes of a child, not exclusively from the viewpoint of the fostering parents. (Polo isn’t seen until halfway into the picture; I can’t recall the boy saying a word.) Nor would a CPS agent stop and deliver a stunning dressing down to both overly absorbed parents. And what better way than in bed (and one at a time) for Ema to get to know Polo’s replacement parents? Di Girolamo delivers as frank and assured a debut performance as any we’ve seen in ages, but I’d be loath to recommend Ema to those expecting something along the lines of Larrain’s Jackie. 2019. — S.M. ★★★★★

In Balanchine’s Classroom — Prior to George Balanchine’s opening of the School of American Ballet in 1934, toe-dancing was a decorous, rigidly-staged proposition. His arrival on the scene was the choreographic facelift dance needed, and Balanchine’s influence was such it earned him the byname Father of American Ballet. Not everybody was built for Balanchine’s class. Success came from prodding students to see just how far they would go. He used his dancers as guinea pigs, modeling clay shaped by the hands of a master sculptor. Legs cramped, stomachs turned, and there were certain dancers who swore he was going to ruin their body. But in order to dance in one of his ballets, one had to also learn and swear by Balanchine’s technique. Prior to this, my familiarity with the choreographer was limited to seeing his name pop up occasionally in movie credits. (The ballet in Goldwyn Follies is a stunner.) What biographical information there is is scarce, with little mention of his work outside the homonymous practice space. Worse yet, little of Balanchine’s panache or flair for experimentation found its way into first time filmmaker Connie Hochman’s narrative, a by-the-numbers procedure that intercuts home video shot inside Balanchine’s teaching space with modern day testimonials from adoring students. Documentary or 89-minute infomercial? You decide. 2021. — S.M.

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The Addams Family 2: Nipplearoo and Fester too!
The Addams Family 2: Nipplearoo and Fester too!

Who ya got: The Munsters or The Addams Family? I had just turned ten the season both shows made their network debuts, so the choice became the subject of raging schoolyard debate. It wasn’t a clear cut leaning, not an obvious preference like Bugs over Mickey, 007 over Napoleon Solo, or Groucho over all. But it was a leaning, all the same: my loyalties will forever find me garrisoned at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. But even with almost sixty years behind them, neither sitcom has lost its comic luster. It’s a testament to their staying power that to this day, both shows air nightly in syndication and, fittingly enough, on opposing networks. The animated reboot released a few years back was designed in the spirit of Charles Addams, artist and biological father of the House of Addams. The film hit big enough to warrant The Addams Family 2, a third of which follows its predecessor to the black letter before crumbling under the weight of workaday lightheartedness.

America fell in love with Uncle Fester’s nipples. Why else would a topless Fester be there to greet audiences at the outset, the first big guffaw in a rapidly narrowing field of laughs? Inked across his back is “No Regrets” — it’s one of the few toppers in a sequel that, according to the press release, promised “many new kooky characters” before asking “What could possibly go wrong?” New kooky characters could go wrong, for starters. (Wallace Shawn makes a dismal substitute for Allyn Joslyn’s unflustered small-screen truant officer.) Were all of the gags involving Casa Addams milked dry the first time around? Was the goal of animators Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon to pluck the family from their comfort zone, send them on a cross-country vacation in which Wednesday takes the lead, and close on a sinisterly satiric inversion of a dark Disney Princess switched at birth? If so, two out of three’s not bad.

In order for the environmental flip-flop to succeed, no matter where the family goes, clouds of gloom must follow overhead, and always to their delight. It’s the universe conforming to their macabre household, not the other way around. The darker it gets, the more apparent a need for the Addams’ influence becomes: Wednesday’s PC teachers declare no winners or losers for those competing in the science fair, teaching the tots that participation alone makes them special. Her classmates say “Baa!” but Wednesday says “Nah!” and refuses to settle for a trophy-less victory. Why leave home to find humor, where there’s an abundance waiting to be unearthed here in your own backyard?

Niagara Falls is introduced as the great wonder of the world that kills the most tourists, but other than that, the fun stops almost as soon as the family hits the road. Still, it was the electric pink, purple, and antifreeze green color scheme that dragged me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone. A commonplace musical number set to the uplifting beat of “I Will Survive” felt as out of place as would a visit from Grandpa Munster. And forgive me for not referencing this in my review of Part One: I must not have been paying close enough attention to detail when it came to the character design of Cousin Itt. Itt’s synthetic CG likeness owes more to Dawk — the Lloyd Thaxton “silent protest” doll — than it does Feliz Silla’s hair suit. (Google “Thaxton” and “Dawk.” You’re welcome!) Digitally hempen mane notwithstanding, Itt’s payoff justifies the means. Seeing as how no one can decipher what comes out of the spectacled furball’s yap, a future in rap music couldn’t be more appropriate.

Itt's history starting with Felix Silla on the left.

The characters and their various incarnations have morphed throughout the years. Oscar Isaac’s Gomez owes more to Raul Julia than it does John Astin. Uncle Fester looks the part as drawn by the artist and later co-opted by Jackie Coogan and Christopher Lloyd. Nick Kroll’s slobbering puberphonia does both actors one better. Charlize Theron’s sudden flights of French, the sort that drive Gomez wild, date back to Carolyn Jones’ Morticia. And if Hollywood were ever to decide on an Addams update set 20 year into the future, Paul Walter Hauser has a lock on the adult Pugsley. ★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Candyman — What is the first thing that separates this from Bernard Rose’s original, a film that posited as its monster a housing project located on the brink of Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast area? For one thing, there’s Sammy! One mention of the nauseatingly saccharine chart-topper in a 1992 horror film would have set audiences giggling. Here it acts as a faint reminder of the past. It’s not the only difference. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s latest isn’t so much a remake, as most sequels are, but a continuation, an update. It’s the same housing project — the CG recreation of Chicago’s Cabrini Green is so precise that it looks like documentary footage — with the horror emerging from a different hole in the tenement wall. This time, it takes less than five minutes for the titular boogeyman to appear, and the handling of white guilt is much more pointed. Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is quick to state the obvious: “White people built the ghetto and erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” Giving equal time to arrogance, Brianna lives on the very gentrified spot where the infamous housing project once stood. One drawback of contemporary thinking is the establishment of a seemingly upstanding character who goes south if for no other reason than two bad guys are better than one. Other than that, there’s enough here to give your nerves a good rattling. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Coming Home in the Dark — Who is that man seated atop the hill, contemplating a circus-peanut-orange sky? It will take 93 minutes for writer-director James Ashcroft’s punishing saga to come full circle, more than enough time for the probie to amass an impressive body count. We’ve seen this premise play out in one form or another at least a dozen times before: an anti-social baddie with a score to settle terrorizes a family in transit (Cape Fear, Funny Games, Hot Rods to Hell, Cape Fear, Funny Games). Hoaggie’s (Erik Thomson) wife (Miriama McDowell) and sons are forced to pay the ultimate price when Papa’s past sins catch up with him. From out of nowhere, two drifters appear — one mute, the other overly articulate — and proceed to pick off Hoaggie’s pride. All this killing makes a man want to ramble, and Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is no different from many a workaday movie psychopath. To compensate for his accomplice Tubs’ (Matthias Luafutu) mute demeanor, Mandrake works doubletime to deliver the dialogue. I’m all for pursuing a revenge motif, but this one lost me the minute Mandrake blew away an innocent gas station attendant and the genre shifted from stylish revenge thriller to just another doggone slasher picture. For the same story better told, I offer up In a Glass Cage. (Digital Gym Virtual Theater.) 2021. — S.M.

Ema — In the “Love at First Sight” Department, it’s been twelve years since the Latino Film Festival introduced me to Pablo Larrain via his second feature Tony Manero, a picture I never tire of watching and championing. Now Larrain acquaints audiences with Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), the reggaeton sensation with the Shinola mane drawn so tightly across her crown one could use her skull to keep the beat. Ema, like her driven cinematic Uncle Tony, wants to hold her family together in the worst way, which is precisely how she goes about doing it. Time away from rehearsing for her husband/choreographer’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) latest dance ensemble finds Ema drilling solo before a dusky CinemaScope cityscape, practicing the flamethrower — we open memorably on a smoldering stoplight — partaking in indiscriminate sex, and doing her best to convince CPS that she was wrong for returning Polo (Cristian Suarez), her 7-year-old adopted son of one year, to the orphanage simply for torching his aunt’s face. (The lad does take after his mother.) Once again, we have Larrain to thank for sticking his arm down the throat of convention and delivering a rigorously everted melodrama. Films that individualize feelings of abandonment generally associated with the subject of adoption are usually told through the eyes of a child, not exclusively from the viewpoint of the fostering parents. (Polo isn’t seen until halfway into the picture; I can’t recall the boy saying a word.) Nor would a CPS agent stop and deliver a stunning dressing down to both overly absorbed parents. And what better way than in bed (and one at a time) for Ema to get to know Polo’s replacement parents? Di Girolamo delivers as frank and assured a debut performance as any we’ve seen in ages, but I’d be loath to recommend Ema to those expecting something along the lines of Larrain’s Jackie. 2019. — S.M. ★★★★★

In Balanchine’s Classroom — Prior to George Balanchine’s opening of the School of American Ballet in 1934, toe-dancing was a decorous, rigidly-staged proposition. His arrival on the scene was the choreographic facelift dance needed, and Balanchine’s influence was such it earned him the byname Father of American Ballet. Not everybody was built for Balanchine’s class. Success came from prodding students to see just how far they would go. He used his dancers as guinea pigs, modeling clay shaped by the hands of a master sculptor. Legs cramped, stomachs turned, and there were certain dancers who swore he was going to ruin their body. But in order to dance in one of his ballets, one had to also learn and swear by Balanchine’s technique. Prior to this, my familiarity with the choreographer was limited to seeing his name pop up occasionally in movie credits. (The ballet in Goldwyn Follies is a stunner.) What biographical information there is is scarce, with little mention of his work outside the homonymous practice space. Worse yet, little of Balanchine’s panache or flair for experimentation found its way into first time filmmaker Connie Hochman’s narrative, a by-the-numbers procedure that intercuts home video shot inside Balanchine’s teaching space with modern day testimonials from adoring students. Documentary or 89-minute infomercial? You decide. 2021. — S.M.

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