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Showing posts with the label 2016

Trolls (2016) and the Trolls Holiday Special (2017)

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We watched the Trolls Holiday Special and walked away with one big question: Is Trolls a Christmas Movie? After we got around to watching the movie itself, we decided the answer is ehhh... not really? Probably not?

However, its one holiday element is unique enough that we wanted to catalog it.

The movie Trolls (based somehow on the plastic dolls from back in the day) is a surreal confabulation of light, color, and pop music. The trolls are small and brightly colored, and the favorite snack of a larger creature that looks much more like your stereotypical common troll. These "Bergens" believe that the only way to be happy is to essentially steal the trolls' happiness (by eating them).

However, (and this is where the holidays come in) they only eat trolls once a year, on a holiday called Trollstice. Other than being a pun on solstice, Trollstice has very little in common with Christmas though. There is one very early scene in which the bergen prince wakes his father on Tr…

Better Watch Out (2016)

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I found Better Watch Out on a list of well-reviewed Christmas movies posted by Rotten Tomatoes and added it to my Netflix queue. Turns out, it's well reviewed because it's a good (arguably great) horror flick. Unfortunately, the bulk of what makes it great are the movie's twists, which I really can't avoid discussing.

So. If you're a fan of horror - particularly the psychological variety - you might want to stop reading until you've had a chance to track this one down. In particular, if you love Christmas movies AND horror, seriously: STOP READING NOW.

Last warning, and this one's going at the end for a reason. If you're a fan of the Home Alone series who also enjoys horror movies, for the love of God, I hope you never made it to this sentence, because I just gave away way more than I wanted to.

For the rest of you, here's a synopsis. Ashley is a seventeen-year-old babysitter looking after Luke, a twelve (almost thirteen) year-old boy. After his pa…

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

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I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor.

After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story.

Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters.



Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction. A magica…

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 …

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

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If either Bad Santa or its sequel were 1% lower on Rotten Tomatoes, their sum total would be exactly 100%. It's a shame this isn't the case, as there'd be a certain poetry to having this occupy the space its predecessor does not; a symbolic representation of how it is the empty husk of what it tries to copy.

Ultimately, the one positive thing I can say about this pointless exercise is that it serves to emphasize how surprising it remains that the original was any different.

The plot of Bad Santa 2 follows a fairly routine heist formula. The same could almost be said about part one, except there the heist mainly served as a backdrop for a story of a nearly irredeemable man discovering the importance of a found family. Here, the focus is inverted - there's some lip service paid to the same theme, but the movie's attention is planted firmly on the crime. When the movie does drift off-topic, it's to exploit moments of depravity and gross-out jokes in an attempt to…

Fuller House: Nutcrackers (2016)

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It took eight years for civilization to kill off the original Full House, but some monsters just won't stay dead. In a twisted perversion of nostalgia, the concept and characters were resurrected, along with the stale jokes. If you're looking to place blame (and you really should be), Netflix is responsible for this abomination.

The series seems to center around DJ Tanner, her sister Stephanie, and their friend, Kimmy, from the original show. Joining them are a pack of kids, love interests, and pet animals you won't care about. Supposedly, the three leads from the original (Joey, Jesse, and Danny) show up from time to time, but all were mercifully missing from the holiday installment.

By my count, there were three main stories going on. First, DJ's middle child finds love on a play date with the daughter of one of DJ's ex-boyfriends from when she was young. The kids are around six or seven - I think this was supposed to be cute, judging by the canned cooing sounds…

Tree Man (2016)

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Tree Man is a documentary about one of the merchants who travel into New York City every year to run a Christmas tree stand. The movie is difficult to review because it's more an exploration of character and place than a story. It would work well as a companion piece to I am Santa Claus or Becoming Santa - this aims to do for tree salesmen what that did for Santas.

To its credit, it mostly succeeds. The central character, Francois, is intriguing, as is the expanded cast of seasonal help and rival sellers. There's a seemingly endless line of loyal customers ready to tell the camera why they keep returning to buy from Francois - he's energetic, enthusiastic, and friendly in public. In private, the movie gives a glimpse of the toll this lifestyle's taking. He's been at this for years, which means he's missed those holidays with his family.

A large portion of the movie focuses on New York itself, and it does a better job than most films in capturing some of the co…

Loose Canon: Santa Claus (2016)

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I stumbled across Lindsay Ellis's YouTube channel somewhat randomly, and it almost immediately became one of my favorites for essays on movies and pop culture. Stylistically, I'd describe it as a blend of a great college lecture and an energized barroom discussion.

Like most successful YouTube channels, it's broken into several ongoing series. One of these, Loose Canon, examines a character or concept as it reoccurs in media. Ellis has made installments on figures as diverse as Starscream and Hades - she's not constraining herself to any specific type of character.

Of course, we're a tad more limited in our focus here, so we'll be looking at her episode on Santa Claus.

It opens with some backstory on the character, summarizing three of the most significant figures who were compiled into the modern day incarnation. She condenses the history and origin of Santa Claus about as succinctly as I've ever seen. Then she moves onto The Night Before Christmas before…

Music Review: It's a Pony Kind of Christmas (CD 2016)

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It's time for some new installments in my periodic series on Novelty Character Albums! (Oh gosh, I last did these back in year two?)

You can cleanly break this album into two halves, and, in fact, the first half was initially released alone. Part one is mostly versions of traditional Christmas music, and part two is music from the 2016 holiday episode. There's one track that straddles the divide, but we'll get there.

Let's remember one thing up front: ponies do not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Hearth's Warming. (In fact, the composer clarified this point on his Facebook page.) So it's a little odd to listen to pony voice actresses singing about Christmas.

However, these are some of the sweetest, most fun Christmas songs I've heard in a while, so I'll easily let that go. Many of them are unique or special rewrites of classic Christmas tunes. They aren't written to be Hearth's Warming songs, but they are otherwise completely tweaked to fit…

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…

We Bare Bears: Christmas Parties (2016)

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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'…

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

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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…

Why Him? (2016)

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Why Him? is a raunchy farcical version of a story the movie industry loves to tell over and over: father disapproves of daughter's boyfriend, shenanigans ensue. In this case, the father is played by Bryan Cranston, and he's the owner of a now-struggling printing business, while the boyfriend, played by James Franco, is an eccentric self-made app-store mogul.

The daughter (Zoey Deutch) gets her family to visit her and the boyfriend in California for Christmas, and awkwardness follows. Franco's character swears unstoppably and is emotionally needy, relentlessly sexual, and socially clueless. Once the father finds out that the boyfriend intends to propose and the daughter is contemplating dropping out of school to run a nonprofit the boyfriend will supposedly fund, he goes into a progressive freakout where his attempts to undermine and find evidence against the younger man provoke an all-out breakdown.

All this between jokes about complex high-tech toilets, too-realistic AI …

The Snowy Day (2016)

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This new special based on the classic children’s book is a sweet, simple celebration of multiculturalism. It’s really targeted at young kids and those patient enough to watch with them, but it was pleasant enough for us to watch sans children.

It follows Peter through his adventures on a snow-filled afternoon. He wakes up to discover the huge piles of snow, and after snowman pancakes for breakfast (a new tradition, his mother points out) he heads out on a quest down the block to his grandmother’s apartment.

He encounters many denizens of the block, including shopkeepers and shoppers, friends and relations. Everyone is kind and friendly, even if some of them don’t have time to play in the snow.

Erin pointed out that this feels like it comes from the same place as some earlier Sesame Street: it’s an idealized version of New York City, where every nationality, race, religion, age, etc. lives together in harmony.

After Peter and his friend Layla chase off a cookie-eating dragon and bu…

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas Episodes (2013-2016)

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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…

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…

The Flash: The Present (2016) and Arrow: What We Leave Behind (2016)

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I thought I'd package this year's WB DC superhero Christmas episodes together instead of doing them individually. Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow didn't produce holiday episodes, so that leaves us with the original two: Arrow and Flash.

The Flash: The Present (2016)
While the previous seasons of The Flash focused on season-long plot arcs built around evil speedsters trying to kill Barry, the third is built around Savitar, an... ugh. Yeah. At least this time the evil speedster looks different.

I'm going to skip the rehash of Flashpoint, the timeline-breaking event that kicked off the third season. The only part that's actually relevant is that Cisco's brother is dead now.

The episode opens with a flashback to Julian discovering the artifact that turns him into Doctor Alchemy and allows Savitar to manifest (or whatever the hell is going on with that). After that, we jump the present day where Earth-3 Harrison Wells (again, I'm not going to bother) is decorat…

Son of Zorn: The War on Grafelnik (2016)

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The strangest thing about the sitcom Son of Zorn might be that it doesn't air at midnight on Cartoon Network. Stylistically and conceptually, this would be right at home with any of the late-night Adult Swim shows, which were clearly an major influence on the program.

The premise centers around Zorn, an animated - literally animated, in the style of He-Man - warrior from a magical island nation, who moves to California to reconnect with his teenage son. Everything from Zorn's homeland is animated against a live-action setting full of real actors. It's a bizarre show, but both the writing and production values are quite a bit better than you'd expect.

In "The War on Grafelnik," both Zorn and Edie (Zorn's ex) want to spend the holiday with their son, Alan. This year, December 25th is both Christmas and Grafelnik, a holiday built around themes of vengeance. Taking an accidental cue from Edie's new fiance, Craig, Alan tries to play his parents off agains…

The Real O’Neals: The Real Christmas (2016)

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A sitcom aired this year that I’ve never heard of? That… that sounds right. I'd be more surprised if I had heard of it.

So, this new sitcom is about an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago who, after propping up appearances for too long, are forced to deal with a series of reality checks. This includes the parents’ divorce, and one of the sons (Kenny) coming out as gay.

In this episode, the mother, Eileen, is determined to lead the church choir to victory in a caroling competition. Kenny is part of the choir, and supports her efforts at first. She also sends her athletic, if dim, older son Jimmy to spy on the Episcopalian competition.

Meanwhile, the father Pat is with their youngest, Shannon. (All of the kids are teenagers, close in age.) She is a sardonic, intelligent kid, excited that her boyfriend has given her what she considers an excellent Christmas present: a watercolor of her hero, financial adviser Suze Orman.

She declares that she has to give him a great present in return…

The Simpsons: The Nightmare After Krustmas (2016)

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We definitely haven't seen every Christmas episode of the Simpsons, though we've discussed the original holiday special, along with a few other early Christmas installments. Eventually, we may track down the others, but that could take some time - the series is on its 28th season, after all. But we stumbled across this recently aired episode on Hulu and decided to cross at least one more off our list.

The plot, in classic Simpsons fashion, is more than a little disjointed. Attendance is down for Reverend Lovejoy's services, leaving him unsure how to proceed. Meanwhile, Krusty the Clown is trying to bond with his daughter (I'm assuming this was from a season I haven't seen). Krusty is wounded by a wind-powered machine, which leads to further difficulties in their attempt to find common ground: he's a Jewish clown, while she's a Christian with no interest in show business. In an attempt to help, Marge invites them both to celebrate Christmas with the Simpson…