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Showing posts with the label Drama

Collateral Beauty (2016)

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Collateral Beauty wasn't really marketed as a Christmas movie, but then its marketing was baffling in several respects. For one, the whole "he's interacting with Love, Time, and Death" thing permeating the advertising was quickly undercut by the fact that, in the movie, these three are actually actors hired by the lead's coworkers to portray Love, Time, and Death.

I mean, sure, the ending reveals they were actually Love, Time, and Death masquerading as actors masquerading as Love, Time, and Death (and it's pretty obvious all along), but it still makes for an even more bizarre experience than it would otherwise.

Let's back up.

Will Smith plays "Howard," the CEO of a successful NY advertising agency. A few years before the movie, he loses his daughter to cancer and falls apart emotionally. His friends are executives at the agency, and they're trying to keep it from going under. In order to do that, they need to prove Howard's emotionally …

Lark Rise to Candleford: Christmas (2008)

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At first glance, this seems to be the type of historical melodrama that the BBC does so well. At second glance, it's still that, but includes a ghost.

The show is based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels about a teenager who moves from a very small village (Lark Rise) to the nearby larger town (Candleford) to work at the post office near the turn of the century. It seems to be notable because it's a microcosm of the changing cultures and economy of the time.

This extra-long Christmas special features at least five plots involving a talented ensemble cast.

Laura (the teen referred to above) is thriving in Candleford, under the wing of her mother's cousin, Dorcas, who is educated and independent. It seems that Dorcas will be alone for Christmas, and Laura feels guilty and wants to keep her company. Laura's mother, meanwhile, is worried that Dorcas is replacing her in Laura's heart. Attempts to be polite ("No, it's fine!") on all sides make e…

Almost Christmas (2016)

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As far as sub-genres go, "dysfunctional family at Christmas" may have one of the lowest hit rates out there. Most of the ones that work do so by incorporating alternative genre elements to make the concept fresh: The Lion in Winter, Arthur Christmas, and Fred Claus all spring to mind. Those are technically great Christmas movies about a dysfunctional family over the holidays, but the dysfunctional family isn't the part of the synopsis most people would focus on.

Almost Christmas, on the other hand, embodies the more traditional trappings of the sub-genre through and through. If you were to sit down and make a list of tropes you'd expect to find, you'd wind up checking most of them off. There are the siblings who despise each other, the family member with a drug problem, food getting destroyed, a decoration mishap, a wedged in love story... you get the idea.

The substance of this movie certainly isn't original. However, there is one fairly original element: i…

Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

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Apparently, Mon oncle Antoine is considered one of the best Canadian films ever produced. Honestly, I lack anywhere near enough cultural background to offer an informed opinion on that claim. For what it's worth, I found the movie interesting enough, despite an intentionally slow pace and meandering point-of-view.

For all intents and purposes, the plot doesn't even kick in until about halfway through. Prior to that, it feels like you're watching a series of vignettes about a few different groups of people living in rural Quebec in the 1940's. An asbestos mining operation serves as the backdrop and is pretty clearly significant to the movie's point, but you really need some knowledge of Canadian history to understand the connection. I skimmed a few Wikipedia articles after watching the movie, but I suspect the film would have had more impact if I had a more personal connection.

The short explanation is that there was a major asbestos strike in 1949 that effectively…

Sense8: A Christmas Special (2016)

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We just watched the new Sense8 Christmas Special, and we’re mentioning it because they literally titled the episode “A Christmas Special,” although only about a quarter or so of it was actually set at Christmas.

I’ll start off with the most important point - if you haven’t seen the first season of Netflix’s Sense8, this would be a terrible introduction. I have seen the first season, and I still spent the first fifteen minutes thinking: “Okay, wait, what was going on with that character? I guess that happened, okay… and that, and...right, right, I sort of remember that plot.”

This means I’m not going to synopsize this. I’ll just give you the premise: Sense8 is about eight people from around the world who are mentally connected. They can share memories, thoughts, and abilities, and other people from various shadowy government/corporate agencies, some with similar powers, are after them.

The special is two hours long, but I’m not sure that more actually happened than would have happene…

6Teen: Deck the Mall (2004)

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Before watching an episode, I'd never heard of the Canadian animated series, 6Teen. After, I found myself nostalgically missing the innocent years in which I'd never seen it.

The series's premise is simple: six teenagers work at the mall, hang out with their friends, and deal with life's challenges. By engaging with relatively serious subject matter and cutting back on slapstick, the show manages to masquerade as something intelligent and mature, while in reality being as superficially hollow and pointless as Saved by the Bell. At least, that's my read after seeing this episode.

The plot concerns the six leads trying to maintain some modicum of holiday spirit despite dealing with last-minute shoppers. Plus, a couple of their parents are dating, which is creating tension around conflicting holiday traditions.

Bored out of your mind yet? Did I mention one gets a job working as one of Santa's elves? Oh, then they all get locked in the mall on Christmas Eve.

Swear…

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't (2004)

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I know, I know. We usually collect things like this into one big post and do them all together. But even with The O.C. being quite a bit better than I'd expected, it still takes some effort to make it through a series this far outside of our wheelhouse (I mean, seriously - this show doesn't have one single superhero). Plus, this is an hour long; not a measly thirty-minute sitcom. And, to top it all off, we're still unpacking from our move and need to stretch this stuff out.

At any rate, the second installment of The O.C.'s annual Chrismukkah specials is at once better and worse than their first. Or maybe it's better because it's worse. It feels like the writers have realized and embraced the fact the show's dramatics are hilarious, because it feels like they've stopped trying to hide it. This episode features some ridiculously melodramatic concepts, but I never had the sense anyone was pretending otherwise. It helped that several minor characters invol…

Party of Five: S'Wunnerful Life (1997)

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Seinfeld famously referred to itself as the show about nothing, a somewhat self-deprecating title meant to imply an absence of premise, plot, and purpose. But I've seen almost every episode of Seinfeld, and I don't ever recall seeing an episode where nothing significant happened. Actually, I'm having a hard time thinking of a single episode of any show deserving of that distinction.

Save, perhaps, this one. We just finished watching this episode from the fourth season of Party of Five, an hour-long drama from the 90's, and I'm already finding it difficult to retain shards of story in my memory. It's not that nothing happened - characters did and said stuff - but none of it felt at all meaningful or important. I can attempt to tell you some of what happened, but I can't tell you what it was about. Honestly, it didn't seem to be about anything.

There were a bunch of characters living their lives, and they experienced different events around the holidays.…

The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever (2003)

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Until watching this, my impression of The O.C. was that it was some sort of 90210 rip-off. Actually, having never seen an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, that may still hold true. There's got to be a holiday episode of that show....

Sorry. Getting off track.
The point is, my impression of The O.C., a show I knew only through hazy memories of promo spots from the early 00's, was not a positive one. I'd have associated the series with soap opera melodrama. And that was certainly present in this, but there was also a large volume of comedy mixed in: much more than I'd have expected.
In short, it's more a dramedy than a soap opera. And I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the comedic bits were. Granted, they were nowhere near as funny as most of the dramatic bits, but that would have been a high bar to clear.
Apparently, one of the things this show's known for is popularizing the term "Chrismukkah" through a series of annual specials. In case it's…

Black Nativity (2013 Film)

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First, I would like to state for the record that about fifteen minutes into this musical movie, I started thinking that it wasn’t that it wasn’t awful, but there was a disconnect between the style of the music and the style of filmmaking that made it unconvincing and boring. But if either the music/singing were more grounded or the acting/set/cinematography more surreal, it might work. And then later in the film I was proven right when it suddenly got good.

The movie follows a young man named Langston (after the poet), when his mother sends him to her estranged parents’ home for Christmas. He’s never met his grandparents, but his mother’s jobs aren’t bringing in enough to make rent, so she ships him from Baltimore to New York.

And up to this point it’s just slow and schmaltzy, and it has that music problem I alluded to at the start. The music is full of autotune and style that doesn’t match the very realistic filming of characters walking and riding buses. The result is thereby defl…

Run All Night (2015)

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Run All Night is an action/drama vehicle for Liam Neeson. The fact that it came out last year and you haven't heard of it provides a far better overview than I could ever hope to achieve. But, in the interest of pumping the internet full of content to drive it towards self-awareness, let's have a go at this.

The movie is set in New York a little before Christmas. The majority of the story, as the title implies, plays out over a single night - probably not Christmas Eve, but who knows? This movie was vague as hell.

The main character is Jimmy, a burnt out mob enforcer played by Liam Neeson. He's a drunk, tormented by memories of the people he's killed and the mistakes he's made. His best friend is Shawn, a mob boss trying to go legitimate. Both men have a son: Jimmy's son, Michael, hates him and wants nothing to do with his father, who was absent most of his life, anyway. Shawn's wants to be successful, like his father, and gets involved with drug dealers.

The Dead (1987)

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The Dead is an adaptation of a James Joyce story about an Epiphany party, which I suppose we're now annexing as part of Christmas (to be fair, January 6 would have been considered the conclusion of Christmastime when the movie was set, a fact outright stated in the film).

This is John Huston's last film before his death, and it seems to be widely beloved with a 92% Freshness rating and several honors. While this isn't unfair - the movie is well constructed and acted - it's definitely not for everyone.

For example, it definitely wasn't for me or Lindsay: we found it boring as hell.

The plot is essentially contained in the last five minutes of an hour and twenty minute long film. Until then, the entire thing takes place at a party being thrown by three women I'm assuming are sort of standing in for the three wise men. If you want to know whether this is a heartfelt ode to Irish culture or some sort of ironic mockery of tradition, you'll have to go find a Joy…

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a Japanese/British film about a POW camp during World War II directed by the controversial Japanese film maker Nagisa Oshima. I have a few complaints, but overall it's a well-made, engrossing movie exploring some fairly large questions about culture and human nature.

The movie centers around four characters: two prisoners and two jailers. The titular Mr. Lawrence is the sole English character who speaks both languages, and he has a fairly good grasp of Japanese culture. Also held prisoner is a South African soldier, Jack Celliers, notably played by David Bowie, who the camp commandant, Captain Yonoi, becomes obsessed with. Also key is Sergeant Hara, a man who oscillates between cruelty and compassion.

The movie's plot is somewhat murky, as the events are intricately linked to the complex motives of its characters. I'm not going to try to offer a complete synopsis - I don't think it would begin to make sense - but I'll focus instead…

Carol (2015)

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Erin decided we should watch this based purely on the Santa hat in the trailer. And sure enough, it fits our rubric for a Christmas movie.

Carol is a romance that takes place at Christmas, and over 50% of the movie’s run-time takes place directly before or after the holiday.

It stars Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Terese. After a chance meeting in a department store (Carol is shopping, Terese is a clerk) the two become inseparable, causing strife with Terese’s lukewarm fiance and risking Carol’s custody arrangement with her ex-husband. They eventually travel cross-country together in an attempt to run from their troubles for a while.

The movie is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952, when material about gay characters was often subject to obscenity laws. The plot elements are inspired by the real experiences of Highsmith and friends of hers, struggling with their sexuality in a culture that was entirely …

Meet John Doe (1941)

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Even going by our standards, Meet John Doe qualifies as a Christmas movie on something of a technicality. Only the last few minutes actually occur around the holidays, and even then they're almost incidental. However, the movie goes out of its way to tie the season into its premise in order to build something of a heavy-handed metaphor.

I'll cut to the chase: Meet John Doe is a Christmas movie because "John Doe" is Jesus.

Well, sort of. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not as much as I'd have liked. The movie has a relatively strong opening, centering on Barbara Stanwyck's character, Ann. She plays a newspaper columnist who's just been laid off. As her final act, she writes a fake editorial letter written by an average Joe, who's fed up with the way "the little guy" is treated in society. The letter concludes with "Joe" vowing to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve.

The letter gets a huge amount of publicity. I…

Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within: Christmas (2002)

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This was a Canadian reality television show about several Cirque du Soleil performers in Montreal. I expect the part of that sentence that leapt out at you was "Cirque du Soleil". Sadly, the part you should be focusing on is "Canadian reality television," which - judging by this - is roughly analogous to a PBS documentary about the production and distribution of toothpicks.

Perhaps this series would be better seen from the beginning. Or perhaps the Christmas episode was unusually dull. But, whatever the reason, this was far more boring than you'd imagine anything about people performing in a Cirque could possibly be.

By its nature, the plot was extremely thin. Several characters appeared, but I only recall two threads that could even generously be called "plots". To be fair, I could easily be forgetting something, as the episode has almost entirely faded from my mind in the five minutes that passed between watching it and writing this review.

First, …

Il Capital Umano (Human Capital) (2014)

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A movie set (at least mostly) at Christmas, focused on a car crash, told multiple times from multiple perspectives. If you feel like you’ve heard this one before, you’re not alone.

Il Capital Umano, however, is a very different animal.

It’s about class struggles, love and the lack of it, and attitudes around the value of human life. I mostly dug it through the first sections; Erin liked it a bit less.

It’s a combination mystery and social commentary, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to learn what happens.

It starts out in the aftermath of a fancy holiday party. The caterers are working late into the night to clean up. The camera follows one particular gentleman; we learn that he’s cynical, tired and happy to clock out as soon as he can.

He mounts a bike and heads home through the dark, snowy countryside.

He is struck by a car on a back road.

At this point the movie jumps back six months and introduces our first viewpoint character: Dino. Dino is bringing his daughter (Serena…

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (2004)

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After much whining, I had an American Girl doll as a kid. I did not have Samantha. I had Kirsten, because yes, I read a lot of Little House on the Prairie, and my second choice would have been Molly, because I thought Samantha looked stuck-up.

I believe young me’s choice is somewhat justified by this stultifying mess of a “film.”

Apparently, long after my Kirsten had started collecting dust on my childhood bedroom bookshelves, the company decided to introduce companion dolls for some of their classic dolls, and what better way to sell new toys than with a made-for-TV movie?

The best thing I can say about this is that some of the costuming and sets are decent. Not really Samantha’s, though; those dresses look silly on an actual girl. On to the story.

Samantha is an orphan who lives with her rich grandmother in upstate New York in 1904. She’s feuding with the boy next door and eagerly awaiting the return of her rich uncle who dotes on her when a family joins the next-door household: …

Millions (2004)

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What the hell is wrong with America? Annually, we watch movies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story again and again, as if our sheer, culturally mandated refusal to admit they're crap will somehow elevate them to the status of genuine classic.

Meanwhile, England's been cranking out genuine holiday brilliance at a breakneck pace, and no one here notices. Arthur Christmas, Get Santa, and The Snowman are almost entirely unknown in the US, and they're all incredible. Add Danny Boyle's 2004 surrealist comedy, Millions, to that list - this thing is amazing.

The movie's main character is an eight-year-old who's just lost his mother. His name is Damian, and he's obsessed with Catholic saints. Also, he sees them. Arguably, he merely hallucinates meeting and interacting with them, but I'm not buying that. They seem to have knowledge he lacks, and they're capable of affecting the world in at least minor ways.

He's just moved…

The Good Son (1993)

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Once again, our tolerance for what constitutes a "Christmas movie" has been put to the test. This time, it's for entirely different reasons. Strictly speaking, The Good Son should meet our litmus test, as it seems to take place entirely around the holidays. However, that's really a technicality, as the producers don't seem to have realized that Christmas should be going on.

See, there's a line early in the movie establishing that the events unfold over "winter break." I'm assuming this was done to explain why no one needs to go to school. Unless there's another "winter break" I'm unfamiliar with, that means this should be set at Christmas. But at no point is the holiday referenced, nor are there any decorations or lights shown.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the winter break line was either an error or an artifact of an earlier draft, and that for all intents and purposes the movie was set over some mysterious …