Showing posts with the label 2015

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

The Peanuts Movie somewhat breaks our litmus test for Christmas movies, in that it objectively passes despite the fact it's pretty clearly not a holiday film in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

For those of you who don't want to read through my treatise on the subject, there are a handful of binary questions we can ask, and any movie receiving a "yes" on one or more those questions is considered, for the purposes of this blog, a Christmas movie. The most basic of those questions is whether or not more than 50% of a movie is clearly set at or around the holidays, and The Peanuts Movie passes. In fact, the vast majority of the film - everything except the ending - is adjacent to Christmas.

But the reason for this is, well, pretty trivial. As far as I can tell, The Peanuts Movie's setting is just an homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Beyond that, the holidays really don't come up.

I've seen a few other movies where Christmas seemed to be more a referen…

Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine is somehow both a broad comedy and a subtle, true-to-life drama. It focuses on one madcap day (Christmas Eve) in the lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-dee and Alexandra.

Sin-dee has just returned from a month in prison, and she finds out her pimp/boyfriend cheated on her while she was gone. She spends the day seeking out the other girl (Dinah) and the boy, intent on settling the situation. Alexandra, meanwhile, tries to blunt her friend’s more extreme impulses while she invites everyone (seriously, everyone but the cops) to a holiday cabaret performance she’s giving that evening.

The third plot thread belongs to Razmik, an Armenian cab driver who’s a frequent patron of Alexandra and Sin-dee. He struggles with the vicissitudes of his job and then skips out on Christmas Eve dinner, risking his marriage, to try to see Sin-dee after he hears she’s back in town.

The plot is almost an old-fashioned farce - woman scorned, attempting over-the-top revenge, takes the man back at…

Danger Mouse: The Snowman Cometh (2015)

I'm only marginally familiar with the original Danger Mouse series, but I've been enjoying the 2015 reboot. It's not one of my favorite shows or anything, but the series's willingness to embrace surrealism and cartoon physics makes it a lot of fun. Both in tone and style, it feels a lot like Powerpuff Girls, albeit with less drama. The show is ultimately a farce, through and through - there's no real character development or emotional stakes (at least not in the first season).

While most installments are only half-episode length (i.e.: 15 minutes minus commercial breaks), the season one Christmas episode runs for the full half-hour (again, exempting those meddlesome advertisements).

This isn't the Snowman's first appearance in the reboot - the character shows up periodically to be soundly humiliated by Danger Mouse - but it's the first in which he's the main villain or in which he poses any kind of meaningful threat.

This is remarked on in-world, i…

Cutthroat Kitchen: Naughty Vs. Nice (2015)

Okay, okay. I know we've already reviewed a holiday episode of this show, and it seems a little odd to spend the time writing up another installment of a cooking show: these aren't exactly driven by characters or plot, after all.

We watch these on Hulu, incidentally, which is why we're a few years behind. They're basically our dinner entertainment during the non-holiday-rush portion of the year, when we're not forced to binge every Christmas special we can come across for fear of awakening the Old Gods should we stop.

When I saw a couple "new" holiday installments popped up, I was originally going to leave them be. But then I saw this one, and...

...It's interesting.

Not just in itself - the series is a lot of fun to watch, thanks to the sabotage gimmick that brilliantly upsets the level playing field most cooking competitions obsessively cultivate. Sure, that's interesting enough on its own, but Lindsay covered that when she reviewed the 2014 ho…

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Surprisingly good for a TV movie that first aired on Lifetime, this ghost story/romance still had a few missteps.

First, we follow a man through the show. He sees a house in the distance; a woman comes out. A man comes out and appears to embrace her. And then THWACK. He's dead.

And then an opening sequence! I'm ashamed to admit that after so many movies featuring B-roll of New York City in snow, I failed to notice that this sequence is actually supposed to be Boston. We just thought it was surprisingly snowy.

Like many terrible rom-coms, this movie introduces its female lead by establishing that she "doesn't know how to love" and "works too much." Like few of them, this sequence is actually delightful. Kate is much better off without her wanna-be psychoanalyst boyfriend and seems to get real satisfaction from her job.

Said job, for a law firm, is sending her out of town to visit a historic inn. The woman who owned it has passed away with no heirs, and …

PJ Masks: Gekko Saves Christmas/Gekko's Nice Ice Plan (2015)

The only thing we knew about the animated show PJ Masks before turning on this episode was that it has a lot of toys targeted at the preschool set.

The premise is that three kids turn into animal-themed superheroes at night (once they don the pajamas of the title) and defeat super-villain kids while learning simplistic morals. It's based on a series of French picture books, and the show is a collaboration between Canadian and French animation companies and is distributed in the U.S. by Disney.

It's visually and structurally somewhat reminiscent of Super Why. Each 15-minute story has a clear moral from the beginning and a repetitive structure that will have some kids yelling at the characters in frustration.

In Gekko Saves Christmas, the villain Luna Girl is stealing all the Christmas decorations and presents. Catboy and Owlette easily stall the villain several times, but they need Gekko to take her hoverboard. He's too frightened of failing to really try to stay on the bo…

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

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, decorations, …

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Santa Pac's Merry Berry Day (2014, 2015)

I've long championed the theory that any premise, regardless of how seemingly juvenile or misguided, can be elevated to greatness if the core concept is simply taken seriously and complex emotion is added. Movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lend credence to this idea.

It is a good theory, or - more accurately - it was a good theory. In the space of 44 minutes, this idea was tested and soundly, undeniably refuted by a corporate cash grab so cloying, the very core is beyond salvation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.

This is a CG science-fiction/superhero adventure based on the characters from the 1980 arcade game. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to adapt Pac-Man into a television series, but it might be the first time someone tried giving it a relatively serious tone.

Note I said relatively serious - this is still supposed t…

My Love Story!: My Christmas (2015)

I've been enjoying the show Ore Monogatari!, released in English as My Love Story! The show follows Takeo, a high school student navigating love, friendship, and life. He's a huge person with a lot of physical ability, but that means girls generally think he's "weird" or "scary." In the first episode, that changes, as he and Yamato fall for each other immediately. The series follows the ups and downs of their relationship and their friendships in a way that's sweet, sensitive, and surprisingly complicated for two characters who are so good-hearted.

In this episode, it's Christmastime, and Yamato suggests having a party with her friends from her all-girls school and Takeo's friends. This isn't the first time they have all gotten together, and Takeo's friend Kurihara confesses to Takeo that he wants to date Yamato's friend Nanako. At the same time, Nanako confides in Yamato that she and Kurihara have been out together, but she'…

Fresh Off the Boat: The Real Santa and Where Are the Giggles?

Here's what I knew about this show going into the first Christmas episode: It's a sitcom about a Taiwanese family in America, and it's based loosely on an autobiography. I had read this piece about the author's...let's say complicated... feelings about Hollywood back when it came out.

Here's what I know now: It's about a family with three young sons, the dad owns a restaurant, they're friends with their neighbors, and on a certain level it's nice to see that today a sitcom that doesn't star white people no longer has to be exceptional to succeed.

Apparently the first season of this show was more Wonder Years-esque and focused on Eddie (the young version of the chef whose autobiography I mentioned above), but there wasn't a Christmas episode in that season. Both these episodes are more about the youngest brother, Evan, and his relationship with his mom, Jessica.

The Real Santa (2015)

There was a lot of decent humor in this episode. I loved Je…

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas Episodes (2013-2016)

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-plots t…

The Last Man on Earth: Secret Santa and Silent Night (2015)

Well. That was weird.

I've seen ads for this show before, but I never actually watched an episode. Now that I have, I'm still a little unsure what to think of it.

The Last Man on Earth is a series about a small group of survivors living in the empty, desolate remains of a planet where disease has killed off the human race. Also, it's a farcical comedy.

I actually like that premise quite a bit. Protagonists in post-apocalyptic stories tend to be abnormally capable; the best of humanity. Conceptually, there's value in subverting this assumption. But maybe they pushed things a little too far with Will Forte's Tandy, who I found entirely unlikable. To be fair, I think that was the intention, but still, it might have been a bridge too far.

These two episodes were part of a much longer plot arc. The first, Secret Santa, centered on the group celebrating Christmas together with a Secret Santa gift exchange. This made for some entertaining interactions due to different ch…

The Night Before (2015)

For those of you trying to place this, it's the mid-budget, raunchy, R-rated Christmas comedy you skipped last year. Most years offer at least one such movie, and they have a tendency to blend together.

This stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie as Ethan, Isaac, and Chris, three friends who have been spending Christmas Eve together for years, ever since Ethan's parents were killed right before the holidays. Now that they're older, Isaac and Chris feel like they've gotten too old for the traditional pub crawl. Before the movie opens, they've already made it clear that this is going to be the last year, though the other two doubt Ethan, who's accomplished very little in his life, is comfortable with this.

To the movie's credit, Ethan is a little more complex than that. While he's not entirely prepared to move on with his life, he's not oblivious to where the others are coming from. Besides, they've got problems of their own: …

Run All Night (2015)

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.

Very British Problems at Christmas (2015)

Very British Problems is a show based on a book based on a Twitter account, but don’t write it off because of that. It stars an array of comedians and celebrities, mostly British with a few from elsewhere who frequently work or live in Britain. These folks give short accounts to the camera of their experiences of the unwritten social rules of British society. A narrator provides context and ties the different interviews together under various broad subjects.

If you’ve seen the first season, there isn’t much in this Christmas special that isn’t addressed elsewhere, but if you haven’t, it’s probably a fine sample of the series.

The accounts of ridiculous social awkwardness around gift exchange or hosting a party are amusing because all the speakers have a sense of humor about it. It can also be heartening to those that have been there. I’ve read accounts of folks who have social anxiety finding this show reassuring -- hearing that other people (most of a country) feel the same way abou…

Carol (2015)

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 …

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic: Hearthbreakers (2015)

Whoo! Another holiday episode! (The first one was Hearth’s Warming Eve.) This is one of the first times (if not the first) we’ve seen a repeat of an ‘analogue’ holiday. Lots of shows set on Earth have a Christmas episode every year, but fantasy shows that make up their own stand-in holidays tend to just have one-off episodes.

It also deals with an issue that is completely appropriate for a kid’s show, but I don’t see all that often. It’s about how different families celebrate the same holiday. Not how some families celebrate holiday A and some celebrate holiday B - that’s all over children’s television. Rather this episode explores how even when we celebrate the “same thing,” our traditions can be completely different.

Applejack and her family (Granny Smith, Big Macintosh, and Apple Bloom) have been invited to spend Hearth’s Warming Eve with Pinkie Pie and her family. Pinkie is sure it’s a match made in heaven, the Apples are excited and looking forward to the holiday, and everythin…

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…

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…

Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight! (2015)

I haven't seen enough recent animated programming from Marvel to know whether or not this 73 minute special is in continuity with Avengers Assembled and the like, but I have seen enough to know I don't care. The last generation of Marvel cartoons - Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Spectacular Spider-man, and the short-lived Wolverine and the X-Men - was fantastic, but it all got cancelled when Disney took over. While Mickey has been a great overlord for Marvel's comics, movies, and live-action productions, their animated series have been far less impressive.

This bizarre holiday special does not reverse that trend. To be fair, it has an intriguing premise - Santa Claus, re-imagined as a half-elf/half-ice giant who delivers gifts to all the nine realms, is being hunted by Loki, who's trying to steal his powers. In the right hands, this could have been a fun, zany adventure.

But these are not the right hands. It's pretty clear the people making this wanted to…