Showing posts with the label Dramedy

Bunheads: A Nutcracker in Paradise (2012)

Let's be real. Here's what I want you to take away from this review: BUNHEADS IS STREAMING AGAIN. It's on Hulu. Go. Get thee to Hulu. If you are a musical theater nerd like me, go watch the first couple episodes of Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop snarking at each other and see if you don't fall hard.

I'll pause here for a quick moment of silence for the fact that this show only received one season.

The basic premise is that Foster plays Michelle, a professional-dancer-currently-slumming-as-a-Vegas-showgirl who decides to change her life by getting married and moving to a tiny upscale California town, where she helps her mother-in-law (Bishop) run a dance studio. The show is by the woman behind Gilmore Girls and features her standout themes: intergenerational female friendships and pop-culture snark. I prefer this to the earlier show because this one is also about dance and art and living a creative life. (I promise The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on my to-watch list. …

Almost Christmas (2016)

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…

We Bare Bears: Christmas Parties (2016)

The past seven years have seen a renaissance in TV animation, largely thanks to the success of Adventure Time and its peers. Nostalgia for 60s, 70s, and 80s science-fiction and fantasy lies at the core of most of this wave. We Bare Bears differs in that respect. It's far closer to Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and perhaps even the Berenstain Bears. Sometimes, it even reminds me of old edutainment shows; as though the characters are about to teach us about geography or math.

They don't, incidentally. When the show does communicate a point, it's usually about subtle cases of systemic racism, the difficulty of interacting with a society that views you as an outsider, or - in at least one case - the toxic nature of male entitlement in perceived romantic situations.

If all of that sounds a little heavy, rest assured the show mixes in three or four parts comedy to one part moral. Throw in some surprisingly affecting drama, and you wind up with something that feels like a kid'…

Un conte de Noël (2008)

Un conte de Noël, or "A Christmas Tale," is a French movie about a dysfunctional family reuniting for the holiday due to Junon, the matriarch, contracting leukemia, the disease that killed her firstborn son, Joseph. She's hoping to avoid this fate herself, but for that she needs a bone marrow donor. There are two candidates: her middle child, Henri, who's something of a drunken failure, and Paul, the mentally ill son of her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who despises Henri.

What else can we throw into the mix? Well, her other surviving son's wife has been loved from afar by her husband's cousin, Henri's girlfriend seems to take great joy in watching him get beaten up, and there might be some sort of ghost wolf wandering around the house.
Of all the movie's unanswered questions, I regret not finding out more about the ghost wolf the most. Is it the spirit of Joseph? Or maybe it's the matriarch's mother's ghost. It's unclear.
Also unclear …

Hey Arnold: Arnold’s Christmas (1996)

I saw this episode was available on Hulu, read the description about reuniting a family, remembered that this show might be decent, but nothing else about it, and clicked play.

I got a bit more than I bargained for.

First, a little background. Hey Arnold is a late-90s product of Nickelodeon, and it focuses on a group of kids in a fictional city that’s sort of a hybrid (according to the creator) of Seattle, Brooklyn, and Portland (Oregon). Arnold lives with his grandparents, who own a boarding house.

This episode starts off simply enough - scenes of urban holiday fun, kids playing in a snowbound street, that sort of thing. Helga and her friend are walking down the street. (Helga is generally a bully, although she has a secret crush on Arnold.) Helga explains that she’s been asking for the hottest present of the season, official “Nancy Spumoni” snowboots, for months, and if her parents know what’s good for them, she’d better get them.

We switch over to Arnold and his best friend Gera…

6Teen: Deck the Mall (2004)

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.


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

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…

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

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…

Shirobako: The Little Key Frames Girl, Exodus Christmas! (2015)

I love running across unexpected Christmas!

Shirobako is a series following a group of young women who are trying to start careers in the anime industry. The main character is Miyamori Aoi, who works as a production assistant at Musashino Animation.

The series has a slow start and a huge cast of characters, but I like how well it portrays the tension between wanting to work in an artistic field and the reality of trying to make that happen. It’s also really fun to see how many people it takes to make an anime series.

“The Little Key Frames Girl” is the eleventh episode of the series.

Over the first twelve episodes, the company Aoi works for produces an anime called Exodus, and at this point she’s in charge of making sure the final episode is completed on time. She needs animators to work on the most difficult key frames for the final climax, but everyone she calls is busy, and she’s running out of contacts.

She starts walking through the city, and I suddenly realized that it was C…

Santa's Apprentice (2010)

This is an animated French/Australian/Irish production that was produced (in part) by Cartoon Saloon, the company that made the brilliant, groundbreaking films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. And if there's one thing I learned watching this, it's that not all of Cartoon Saloon's work is brilliant and/or groundbreaking.

This is actually based on an animated series called SantApprentice. I'm not entirely clear on whether this is a reboot or a prequel, since information on the forty-eight episode show seems hard to come by.

Either way, the premise is pretty old hat at this point: Santa's titles and responsibilities are passed down from one Saint Nicholas to the next. If this deviates from the norm, its in failing to offer a reason why. Typically, movies that go this route use provide the obvious explanation - that not even Santa can live forever. But that doesn't seem to be the case here - the previous incarnations are alive, relatively well, and make an…

The Muppets: Single All the Way (2015)

You know how sometimes I use the existence of a Christmas episode to talk at length about the series it's part of? Yeah, this is definitely going to be one of those times.

For decades, The Muppets have been severely hampered by their own past. The 70's series remains one of the television's all-time greatest series, their first movie was brilliant and whimsical, and their early Christmas specials are legendary. But for several decades, the franchise has lived in those shadows. At best, new productions offered a faithful homage to past successes; at worst, they were cheap cash grabs. This is true even of the specials I've loved - basically, anything after Henson passed felt it was retreading old ground.

The 2011 movie deviated slightly by devoting some attention to considering the nature of the Muppets' relationship to their fictitious world, but by and large it was still more a tribute than a new chapter.

Last year's series, however, was fresh and modern. Sure…

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I read and watch a lot of things. Most of us do, today. Which is why it's so special to find something I've never seen that is this magnificent.

I had a general awareness of Meet Me in St. Louis. I know the Trolley Song. I know the history of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (more on that later). But I'd never sat down and actually watched the movie.

Now I want a copy to put into permanent rotation. This isn't just me speaking as a lifelong fan of movie musicals; Erin loved this film as well.

For one thing, it's beautiful. The Technicolor is sumptuous, the use of light and shadow evocative and delicate. The sets and costumes are extremely detailed (it is a period piece, after all).

The writing and performance is wonderful. The script is clever and quick and the comedy hasn't diminished with time one smidgen.

The plot is simple and charming. It's based loosely on a series of short reminiscences about living in St. Louis in early 1900's, and follows o…

The Christmas Candle (2013)

Fuck this movie.

I know, I know. I generally try to keep this site in PG-13 territory. Though it's generally agreed you can say the F-word once before something stops being PG-13, so I guess I'm still fine.

You know what? Fuck it. This fucking movie distributed by Rick-Fucking-Santorum's fucking production company can go fuck itself. Because, for about half its run time - maybe more - we were on board. We were engaged, intrigued, and curious to see where it was going. Then, in the last act, a magical Christmas angel gathered up all the good-will the movie had pulled together and took a steaming Christmas shit on it.

There. I just synopsized the whole movie for you without dragging you through the bullshit plot twists and reveals. Now go. Get out of here. Stop reading.

Seriously. Get. Why are you still here? Why are you still reading? Is it because you heard Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor and Radagast the Brown has a minor role in this thing? Or are you really curious…

Four Christmases (2008)

This is the tragic story of a couple, leading happy if unexamined lives, who get sucked back into the drama of their dysfunctional families and thereby are re-indoctrinated into old-fashioned scripts for what adults should want out of life. They make irrevocable choices based on the trauma of this experience that they will surely regret. Conveying the soul-crushing pain of acquiescing to their broken families' value systems is truly a masterful performance by both leads, and...

Oh, someone is telling me this was supposed to be funny. Well, that's just sad.

In seriousness, Four Christmases is a boring holiday rom-com that was dated when it came out. Now it's just painful, all the more so because it doesn't just suck. There could have been an interesting movie here, but it's full of missed opportunities: both narrative opportunities for the audience and health/self-care opportunities for the characters. In that spirit, I'm going to sneak a little internet therap…

Call Me Claus (2001)

Call Me Claus is a made-for-TV movie about an aging Santa Claus recruiting a home-shopping network executive to take his place. The concept, as these things go, could have been worse. The execution really couldn't have been.

The executive is played by Whoopie Goldberg, and Nigel Hawthorne plays the old Santa. This was Hawthorne's last role: he passed away a few weeks after this premiered. It's really hard not to make a joke right now.
The movie opens in 1965. A young girl asks a mall Santa to bring her father, who's serving in the military, home for Christmas. He waffles, but lets the kid try on his hat. The hat glows, but no one notices. When the girl returns home, a pair of army officers are waiting to give her mother some bad news. This entire sequence was shot with all the emotional resonance of an online tax tutorial. Maybe less, now that I think about it.
The story jumps ahead to the present day. Well, it jumps to 2001, which used to be the present day. The girl…

Dear Santa (2011)

I am unprepared for this review. It's not easy for me to admit as a writer, but I'm just not ready for this: my language skills aren't up to the task. So I'm going to need you to give me a moment. I just have to duck out of this tab, go over to, and look up as many synonyms as I can find for the word "stupid."

Alright. I think we're ready to get started.

The opening credits are in a font that's supposed to mimic a child's handwriting, but the bright green color makes them nearly indistinguishable from comic sans. At this point, we thought we had a pretty good idea what kind of movie we were sitting down to watch, but we were wrong: this montage was, inexplicably, the most thoughtful section of the film. Everything that came after was significantly more idiotic.

We're introduced to the movie's star, played by Amy Acker making the most dunderheaded decision of her career. She's portraying Crystal, a vapid and naive daughte…

Family Ties: A Christmas Story (1982), A Keaton Christmas Carol (1983), and Miracle in Columbus (1987)

In 1985, I was six years old, Family Ties was my favorite show on television, mostly because of Michael J. Fox's Alex Keaton. Re-watching a few episodes three decades later, I can't really tell why I liked the show all that much, though Fox's deliveries seem to be the highlight.

The show's premise revolved around a couple of liberal ex-hippies raising kids who were more in tune with 80's materialism and conservative politics. As a meditation on the power of the instinct to rebel, even when that means rebelling against the very concept of rebellion, I'd expect them to have enough material to fill two or three hours. The fact this show lasted seven seasons (including the three holiday episodes below) plus a made-for-TV movie doesn't bode well for its watchability.

A Christmas Story (1982): This episode starts on Christmas Eve while the Keatons are getting ready to drive to a ski lodge for the holiday. A blizzard forces them to change those plans, and they win…

Rocky IV (1985)

After Rocky's friend, Apollo Creed, is killed in the ring fighting a Russian boxer, Rocky flies to the Soviet Union, where he trains then defeats the Russian on Christmas Day. And... that's pretty much everything that happens. Huh. Usually the synopsis takes longer to write.

If you're confused how the above could fill 90 minutes, you are seriously underestimating just how many rock montages can be fit in a single movie. To be perfectly honest, I lost count. There's an argument to be made that this might qualify as a musical. James Brown shows up at one point.

Beyond the plot and montages, Sylvester Stallone (who wrote and directed the film) managed to find time to work in a robot helper which looks a little like a stereo system on top of a coffee maker. Also, it might be sentient. And Paulie may or may not be sleeping with it - the movie was somewhat ambiguous on this point.

Likewise, it is unclear whether Rocky and Apollo were lovers. 1980's sexual conservatism w…

In Bruges (2008)

Nothing says Christmas like violence and bleak depression. This was a fantastic movie.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are professional hitmen. After a job, they’re sent to the Belgium city of Bruges to lay low and await instructions at Christmastime. Ken enjoys the city, the younger Ray chafes at being in the middle of nowhere. But something deeper is eating at Ray, and…

You know what?

We usually do a bit of a synopsis in our reviews here, but I really enjoyed watching this twisty plot unfold, so I’m not going to give too many more specifics. One of the final twists, I saw coming (and Erin didn’t! Call the papers, that might be a first), but watching it was still incredibly compelling. Suffice to say that this movie contains quiet, atmospheric scenes, emotional breakdowns, public brawling, graphic violence and lots of historic buildings.

The cast does a fantastic job portraying the complexities of the characters. The subtlety of the performances was just lovely. Mos…

Happy Christmas (2014)

This is a Christmas dramedy starring Anna Kendrick. It's a small movie, focused on a handful of characters and their relationships. The dialogue was improvised, which results in very believable interactions.

There's less a story than a premise behind the picture. A woman in her twenties who's just broken up with a boyfriend goes to stay with her older brother, his wife, and their infant for the holidays. Obviously, the younger sister's irresponsible nature creates conflict, but they sidestep sitcom shenanigans. Instead, we're shown the fundamental disconnect between someone still fixated on what happened and grown-ups more concerned with what could have happened.

There are a handful of other factors. The wife's desire to write more, the brother's attempt to juggle the various aspects of his life, and the sister's issues coming to terms with her new life. None of it really slides together in much of a story, but that's kind of the point. The charact…