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Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

When it comes to movies themed around Christmas, there are an infinite number of heartwarming films and a surprising number of horror movies. But, unless you are among those who count Die Hard as a Christmas movie, there are almost no holiday action films, and even fewer where Santa Claus is the hero at the center of it.

That makes Violent Night a unicorn of a film, one in which Santa (David Harbour) is a disillusioned, drink-addled mess whom we first meet downing beers in a bar on Christmas Eve. After stumbling through house after house, complaining all the while about kids’ obsession with video games, he makes his way to the estate of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo).

Instead of seeing a happy family, he encounters two jealous siblings and their families, and a coordinated attack by an outside group led by a man nicknamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo) looking to steal $300 million in cash. Somewhat reluctantly, Santa uses his holiday magic – and long untapped military experience – to take on the bad guys and ensure a merry Christmas for those who deserve it.

Written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller (the team behind the two Sonic the Hedgehog movies) and directed by Tommy Wirkola, the film more than lives up to its title, splattering much of its running time with enough blood to satisfy any hardcore action fan. The creative ways in which villains are killed or maimed are numerous, including a fantastic final death and an homage to Home Alone that’s only slightly more graphic than the sequences in that classic kids movie.

Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

David Harbour in Violent Night.

It’s surprisingly easy to accept Santa Claus as a vengeance-seeking action hero. Harbour is clearly having a ball in the role, and because he plays Saint Nick as grizzled and grumpy, there’s no disconnect between the kindly version we know and love and this more intense one. He also gets the majority of the laugh lines in the film, with a good number (though less than expected) giving a fun twist on holiday clichés.

The problem with the film is that it can’t sustain the momentum of the Santa mayhem scenes. The filmmakers try to have it both ways, pairing ultra-violence with a (dysfunctional) family story, using a cute girl who still believes in Santa as the bond between the two tones. The lack of attention paid to the dialogue of the Lightstone family is glaringly evident, especially since all of their roles, with the exception of D’Angelo, are filled by relatively unknown actors.

Anytime Santa Claus is on the screen – which is less than you might think – the film works. But any other time, it’s clear that they’re just trying to come up with something – anything – for the characters to do until they can get back to Santa kicking ass. And most of the time, what they’ve come up with is so eye-rollingly stupid or poorly written that you wonder why they included it in the first place.

Harbour is the glue that keeps the film watchable, committing himself 100 percent to the idea of the role. He doesn’t go overboard with the typical Santa elements, and the fact that he looks different from your typical Santa Claus also helps with the believability factor. Almost no one else is worth mentioning, save for maybe Leah Brady, the aforementioned cute girl who shines amid the depravity.

The potential for an alternative holiday classic was there with Violent Night, but the filmmakers focused too much on balancing the film instead of delivering on what the concept promised. If there is a next time, they should just let go of the reins and let Santa Claus go completely loose.

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Violent Night opens in theaters on December 2.

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The "world's rudest" diner is coming to Austin, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. A diner with the "world's rudest service" is coming to Austin...like, whenever. Karen’s Diner provides the worst service for the best experience, at least according to cheeky clientele who appreciate the campy comedy of a long-suffering server.

2. Award-winning New York pub brings Irish hospitality to Austin's Sixth Street. The Dead Rabbit pub is bringing Ireland to Texas, opening a new location in downtown Austin.

3. Where to see the once-in-recorded-history green comet approaching Austin. The comet will be closest to Earth (thus, likely the most visible) on February 1, and its most recent appearance was 50,000 years ago.

4. 6 Austin restaurants score coveted James Beard Award nominations. Austin restaurants and bars earned both national and regional recognition, with three national nominations and three nominations for Best Chef: Texas.

5. 2 Austin suburbs cash in among the richest places in Texas for 2023. Lakeway has been renamed the fifth richest place in Texas for 2023 in a recent study, while Bee Cave moved from No. 13 in 2022 to No. 9 this year.

Austin's flagship Kendra Scott store transforms into mini-Museum of Ice Cream for Valentine's Day

Sweet On You

Roses are red, violets are blue, and it's almost February, which means the season of love is upon us. Whether you're looking for the perfect Instagram backdrop or the perfect gift for your Galentine, Valentine — or just a treat for yourself — one particularly sweet collaboration has you covered.

Starting February 1, Austin's own Kendra Scott is partnering with the Museum of Ice Cream to "spread joy, inspire human connection, and reimagine the way we experience ice cream and jewelry just in time for Valentine’s Day," according to a release.

An extension of Scott's “Sweet on You” Valentine’s Day campaign, the partnership will feature an immersive, experiential retail component in the bustling Kendra Scott flagship location on South Congress, as well as a custom ice cream flavor, opportunities to give back, and more.

For an immersive retail experience, the event space at the flagship store will be transformed into a mini-Museum of Ice Cream appropriately dressed with bananas, baubles, and hearts galore. If you've never made it to the renowned museum housed at the Domain, this is your chance to get a literal taste of the experience, while shopping for trinkets and treasures at the same time.

Both companies prioritize giving back as key pillars of their brand, so it's only fitting that the duo will be surprising three schools in Austin, Chicago, and New York with February ice cream parties as part of their partnership. Children at participating schools will be able to enjoy the exclusive Kendra Scott x Museum of Ice Cream flavor while crafting their own Museum of Ice Cream cardboard truck. Each classroom will also receive an Amazon gift card to offset teaching supplies, and Kendra Scott will provide each student with a yellow rose to give alongside Valentine’s messages for their friends, family, teacher, or crush.

Taking place from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, a public event on Febuary 1 will formally celebrate the launch of the partnership. Guests will be able to check out the collaborative, immersive shopping experience while shopping Kendra Scott’s new Valentine's Day Collection, enjoying free ice cream and treats from the Museum of Ice Cream and the Sips & Sweets Café.

RSVP to the public event here, and start shopping the Valentine's Day collection here.

Texas-based Cinemark theater chain hosts Oscars-themed movie marathon

Awards News

The Cinemark movie chain is giving movie buffs an opportunity to brush up on the Oscars.

Plano-based Cinemark Holdings, Inc. will host its annual Oscar Movie Week festival, this year running from Monday, March 6 through Sunday, March 12, in anticipation of the 95th Oscars ceremony, which airs on March 12 on ABC.

The theater chain will air all of this year’s Best Picture and Best Live Action and Animated Short Film nominees, at more than 120 participating Cinemark theaters nationwide.

According to a release, passes are now on sale now at Cinemark.com/movieweek.

A full Digital Festival Pass is $40 and includes showings for all Best Picture and Best Live Action and Animated Short Film nominees. There's a perk! If you purchase a festival pass, you get 50 percent off any size popcorn during Oscar Movie Week.

Individual showtime tickets will be available starting January 27 at standard pricing, with showtimes beginning March 6.

All Best Live Action and Animated Short Film nominees are bundled into one viewing for just $10 from March 10-12.

For other brushing up, take a look back at what CultureMap’s film critic, Alex Bentley, had to say about each of the nominees (listed in alphabetical order) when they were originally released.

Cinemark has been hosting other similar marathon events such its collaboration with ESPN to bring college football games to the big screen.

The event takes place at these theaters across the U.S., including the following locations in Texas:

  • Austin: Cinemark Southpark Meadows
  • Denton: Cinemark 14
  • Fort Worth: Ridgmar Mall
  • Grapevine: Cinemark Tinseltown
  • Houston: Cinemark Memorial City
  • Plano: Cinemark Legacy
  • Plano: Cinemark West Plano
  • San Antonio: Cinemark San Antonio 16
  • The Woodlands: Cinemark 17