Posts

Showing posts with the label 2013

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Image
Of all the movies we've discussed on this blog, Fruitvale Station's relationship with the holidays (specifically New Year's Eve) is by far the most tragic. The film takes place almost entirely over the course of that day and the following morning, when Oscar Grant was killed by police on his way home from celebrating. The movie is less concerned with plot than with painting a picture of the 22-year-old victim, showcasing his relationships with his mother, daughter, and girlfriend. That's not to say there isn't a story - the events are absolutely structured into a narrative - but the real takeaway isn't how or why this occurred so much as the implications they have for the characters. Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan, lost his job a few weeks before the movie started and has been keeping this from his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melanie Diaz) and his mother (Octavia Spencer). Sophina is already upset with him after catching him having an affair, so he's r

White Reindeer (2013)

Image
White Reindeer is a Christmas dramedy written and directed by indie filmmaker Zach Clark and largely financed through Kickstarter. The only famous actor in this is Joe Swanberg, who directed  Happy Christmas , which was made with a similar focus on realism over conventional narrative. That said, White Reindeer occasionally drifts into the surreal - maybe even the supernatural, though that's ambiguous. As I often do with movies I like, I'm going to cut to the chase and let you know this is absolutely a movie I recommend. By design, it's a tad light on payoff, and it's certainly not a feel-good movie, but it's a fascinating, honest look at how alienating and difficult the Christmas season can be for anyone who isn't in a position to appreciate cheer and goodwill. A few caveats before anyone starts streaming, though: this movie should have a warning upfront for flashing lights, and I don't remember seeing one. I don't think I've ever seen the kind of fu

Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Book Two: Spirits, "Chapter One: Rebel Spirit" and "Chapter Two: The Southern Lights" (2013)

Image
I'll try and keep the context brief, because... there's a lot. The Legend of Korra is an animated series that's a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is... it's great. Like, astonishingly great. If you've never seen The Last Airbender, go watch it now (just don't bother with the abysmal live-action movie). It's a fantasy inspired heavily by martial arts movies and the films of Miyazaki. The series is funny, dramatic, and beautiful. Korra is set decades after The Last Airbender, when the main characters of that show are either old or, in some cases, dead (Korra herself is the reincarnation of the titular character of the preceding show). Technology has evolved, allowing the showrunners to remake the world with a steampunk aesthetic. As a whole, The Legend of Korra doesn't live up to its predecessor. To be fair, virtually nothing compares with The Last Airbender, so that's less an indictment of Korra than an acknowledgment of how good Airbender

Saving Santa (2013)

Image
Saving Santa is a 2013 direct-to-DVD computer animated movie that's something of a paradox. I suppose that's appropriate, since the movie is about "a time-traveling elf," but that's not the kind of paradox I'm referring to - I'm talking about the writing, which is at once utter crap and impressively nuanced. More on that in a moment. First, the plot. Bernard D. Elf, astonishingly only the second-worst-named character in this movie, wakes up late for an appointment showing off his new invention to the North Pole's tech company. He races across town and gets them to watch, but in the process momentarily blacks out the elf city's power. The time the grid's down is just enough for Neville Baddington (and that'd be #1) and his evil package delivery company to determine the cloaked location of Santa's operation. Unaware they're on their way, Bernard heads to his day job, shoveling reindeer dung out of Santa's stables.

Teen Titans Go!: Second Christmas (2013) and The True Meaning of Christmas (2015)

Image
In case you're not a cartoon aficionado, Teen Titans Go! is a wacky comedy starring highly stylized versions of the characters from the original Teen Titans show. It's much, much sillier, and has no or next-to-no continuity. It is not connected to the previous shows Young Justice (a serious action show about young superheroes) or Batman: The Brave and the Bold (a mix between wacky tropes and serious superhero action), or the current show Justice League Action (mostly comedic superhero action). Erin covered some of the mixed feelings we, and many fans, have about this show. I'll only add that I am personally inclined to give this a good deal of leeway. I loved the original Teen Titans, but I also like having the option of complete zaniness. Anything that punctures the self-important grimdark that has recently been a big part of DC comics is a good thing. Okay, on to the episodes! Second Christmas (2013) The Titans are celebrating Christmas with enthusiasm: food

Comedy Bang! Bang!: Zach Galifianakis Wears a Santa Suit (2013)

Image
Comedy Bang! Bang! is a bizarre program, even by skit show standards. The show is ostensibly a mock talk show (mock show?), though that barely begins to describe it. Episodes can feature bizarre twists, character death, or reality warping premises. Stylistically, the twists are reminiscent of Monty Python, albeit in a far more controlled environment. Other elements, such as talking furniture, evoke Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Every episode’s title is a mundane description of the main guest’s outfit. The Christmas Episode breaks a bit in this convention by having Zach Galifianakis play Santa Claus – usually the titular guests play themselves, leaving the fictional guests to famous comedians. This one actually has a slightly more coherent plot than most episodes, though that’s really not saying much – telling a coherent story is not the series’s primary goal. The Christmas episode starts with Reggie Watts, the show’s band leader (and sole member), bringing Scott Aukerman, the host, a ba

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas Episodes (2013-2016)

Image
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is essentially a parody of every other cop show on TV. In that sense, it's sort of an update of Police Squad. Based on the holiday episodes I just saw, that comparison might actually be fair - this was surprisingly good. "Christmas"  (2013) The episode's A-plot concerns death threats made towards Captain Holt. His boss commands him to accept a protection detail, so he assigns Detective Jake Peralta (the series' lead, played by Adam Samberg) the job, assuming he'll blow off protocol as usual. However, the assignment gives Peralta total control over the movements and activities of his Captain, so he instead abuses the situation. There are some hi-jinks involving a safe house, where Peralta handcuffs himself to the captain and tosses the key down a grate; the sort of stuff that would normally be tiresome and dull. But the cast pulls it off, selling the slapstick through their bizarre characters. The same commitment and skill allow the B

Doc McStuffins: A Very McStuffins Christmas (2013)

Image
If you don't have small children or regularly shop for toys, you may be unaware of this popular show. On a moral and personal level, I think it's awesome that this show is popular. It wears its feminism and positivity on its sleeve, which is great. It's kid-friendly to a fault, though, and the songs weren't very good. The main character, “Doc,” is a little girl who has a knack for fixing broken toys. (She is following the example of her mom, who is a doctor.) With that premise, of course there's a Christmas episode. As someone who spent a lot of time and love fixing toys as a kid, I found this show somewhat charming, despite the simplistic writing. Erin felt less charitable toward it than I did. The main premise of the episode is that an elf named Tobias dropped a toy he was supposed to deliver for Doc’s little brother, breaking it. He's distraught about the implications for his career, (seriously, he won’t shut up about it) and Doc and her cadre of stuf

Black Nativity (2013 Film)

Image
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 d

Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land/Hook on Ice, F-F-Frozen Never Land, Captain Scrooge (2011-2014)

Image
As an aficionado of both Disney and children’s television in general, I have to believe that there is something of quality in the Disney Junior lineup. But this made us want to scurry back to the complex plots and emotions of Sofia the First. It has some of the repetition and talk-to-the-camera of Blue’s Clues, without any of the charm. In between, it’s a series of thin premises and slapstick scenarios that aren’t in the least interesting or funny. It’s also, of course, a crime against a treasure of art and literature, although I’ve seen Disney’s Captain Hook in enough contexts that I can divorce it somewhat from Peter Pan in my brain. Even if he seems to have a little safety knob on his hook in this. The show stars three kids and a parrot who live on “Pirate Island” and go on simplistic adventures in Never Land. (Yes, it’s “Neverland” in Peter and Wendy, but the show’s title card clearly reads “Never Land.”) The kids are “pirates” where pirate has been redefined to mean be

The Magic Snowflake (2013)

Image
Depending on where you see this film listed, it might also be called "Santa's Apprentice: The Magic Snowflake," since it's a sequel to that film, a fact we didn't realize until after watching this. At the time, we assumed that was why we didn't understand what the hell was going on, but after seeing part one, I'm really no closer to understanding. Maybe if I track down the animated series they're based on, it'll all make more sense. Eh. Probably not. Like part one, the plot of this thing is an incoherent mess. Actually, compared to this incoherent mess, the plot of part one looks rational and considered. This opens by introducing a new character, a Intuit boy who delivers mail to the North Pole. He meets up with Beatrice, who I guess is living at the North Pole while the hours tick away towards her prophesied marriage to Nicholas. The whole thing is really kind of creepy. At any rate, it's against the rules for kids to be at the North

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Murder Under the Mistletoe (2013)

Image
I’ve had this on my radar for a while, but this is actually a Christmas Murder Mystery in July! The series is filmed and set in Australia, and while Australia celebrates Christmas in December like the northern hemisphere, many people also celebrate in July, when it’s actually cold out. This story is not directly based on the book series but was written for television. Private detective Phryne Fisher is traveling to a fancy Christmas in July party with her Aunt Prudence. Also attending are Phryne’s maid/assistant/friend Dot and her lesbian doctor friend Mac. They arrive to find that someone is already dead (killed by an unseen figure in the cold opening) and soon realize that one of the guests has murder on their mind. Aunt Prudence is partially there to sell a closed gold mine owned by her late husband, and the history around a Christmas cave-in from ten years earlier means that many of the guests have motive for murder. (One woman’s husband was killed there, along with another

The Christmas Candle (2013)

Image
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

Arrow: Year's End (2012), Three Ghosts (2013), The Climb (2014), and Dark Waters (2015)

Image
This is one of those times I stumbled across a few Christmas episodes while watching a series. I saw Arrow's pilot back when it originally aired. I actually liked it quite a bit on its own merits, but was underwhelmed by the move away from comic book tropes. It felt like a really good dark and gritty take on a superhero origin, but I'd kind of had my fill of those. I decided not to follow it but to pick it up later if I heard it was worth it. What actually got me back on board was The Flash, which was much more in line with what I wanted from the genre. A handful of crossovers convinced me Arrow would head in a more interesting direction given time. Besides, like I said before, the pilot was actually quite good for what it was. Years End (2012) The first Christmas episode occurs a little less than halfway through season one. The season started strong with a few missteps. But a few episodes before Christmas, it took a dive for the worst, and this one doesn't do muc

Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Christmas Special (2013)

Image
I'm still a little unclear what we just sat through. I understood the basics, of course. It was an episode of a reality show about a wealthy family who somehow managed to catapult themselves into cultural relevancy without offering anything of real value - no art, no philanthropy, nothing but a series detailing their attempts to stay in the public eye. But I don't understand why it was put on television, or why anyone turned it on. Was it some kind of a freak show? The editing seemed to portray the Kardashians that way, though it's difficult to make that assessment after just one episode (and I have no intention of ever sitting through another). It was an hour and five minutes, and that's without commercials - God, how I longed for the sweet respite of a merciful commercial break. Every time the streaming paused to buffer was a gift. A GIFT. Are they really as vapid as they seemed, or were they simply acting like dimwitted socialites for the camera? I have no idea

Angels Sing (2013)

Image
I can't even remember for sure where we caught the trailer for this thing. It was some DVD or another. At any rate, we saw this starred Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, and were morbidly curious what that combination would yield in a low-budget family-friendly Christmas dramedy. The plot centers around Connick's character, a middle-aged college professor with a vendetta against the holidays. Turns out, when he was a kid, his brother died after saving his life on a lake they were skating on with their new Christmas skates. The flashback scene depicting this, incidentally, was  hilarious . At any rate, he's a father now, and his son, who's about the same age he was when he lost his brother, loves Christmas. He wants to spend the holiday with his grandparents, presumably because his grandfather used to hunt vampires with Blade, but his dad's too horrified with the whole thing. Meanwhile, their family needs a new house. After narrowly

Sofia the First: Holiday in Enchancia (2013)

Image
Aww, Sofia. I wanted you to be fun. I wanted you to be clever. I like the idea of a Ur-princess narrative. But you were only sticky-sweet and not-too-terrible. Sofia the First is an animated series from Disney Junior, about a girl whose mother marries into the royal family of a fairy-tale kingdom. According to Wikipedia, she is the bearer of a mystic amulet that connects her to advice from other Disney princesses. In this episode, we're introduced to their traditional winter-gift-giving holiday: Wassailia! It's a fairly simple fantasy Christmas. There are presents, decorated evergreen trees, and traditional foods. The most prominent point unique to Wassailia is the lighting of a special candle in honor of the season that...it's not quite clear, but it seems to bring blessings on the family. The kids (Sofia and her step-siblings James and Amber) sing about how they celebrate the holiday to open the episode. Sofia is excited for her first Wassailia in the castle, but