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Showing posts with the label 2020

Retfærdighedens Ryttere [Riders of Justice] (2020)

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Over the past few years, I've been transitioning towards favoring original titles over translations when reviewing foreign films when practical, both in the header and in the text. Well... I've got limits, so I'm going to be referring to this film from Denmark by its English title from here on out: Riders of Justice. Sorry, Danish speakers: your word for "justice" is just a tad too righteous for me to type out. I'm seeing this referred to as an action/comedy, which feels like a bit of a stretch. Maybe it's because I'm overly familiar with American action movies, which almost invariably include comedic beats, but I'd almost classify this as drama before comedy. Sure, it's funny, but - again - I expect that of action films. The presence of trauma is a bit more surprising. Before considering whether it's either - hell, even before I'd bother with "action" - I'd consider this an existential film. Riders of Justice is fundament

Wir Können Nicht Anders [Christmas Crossfire] (2020)

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I'm fairly certain Wir Können Nicht Anders is the first German movie we've looked at. I should probably note you won't have much luck finding this under that title - it was released in the US as "Christmas Crossfire," with the "Crossfire" part written in blood. I understand badly translated titles is kind of a foreign language Christmas movie tradition, but this one feels particularly egregious. While there is some violence and a touch of suspense, this isn't horror or even action: it's a comedy. A dark comedy, certainly, but nothing like that title implies. A closer translation (at least according to Google Translate) would be "We Can't Help It," which makes infinitely more sense. I'll be sticking with the German name, because I can't bring myself to keep typing Christmas Crossfire. Tonally, this bears some similarities to US dark comedies (think movies by Martin McDonagh, such as In Bruges ). If I knew virtually anything a

Angela's Christmas Wish [Angela's Christmas 2] (2020)

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A few years ago, we were surprised and delighted by Angela's Christmas , which was a joy in basically every way. I actually remember seeing that this sequel existed last year, but I was hesitant about it. No more source material plus a lot of good press for the first one could easily lead to something rushed and poorly written. And even in the best-case scenario, what could possibly live up to the first special?  Well, not this, but it's still very good. Funny, charming, adorable, uplifting, and really grounded in ways that animation often isn't. It's just not, you know, transformative children's media. If you liked the first one, I recommend you check this out. If you didn't see the first one, go watch that! Angela's Christmas Wish (also marketed as Angela's Chrismas 2) starts with an introduction that takes place before the events of the first movie, in which we see Angela's dad get on a boat for a job in Australia. (Reminder that this all takes pl

ÜberWeihnachten [Over Christmas], Season 1 (2020)

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Over Christmas is a German dramedy miniseries streaming on Netflix. It's getting a little hard to tell, but I believe this was actually a Netflix production, rather than a series they picked up after the fact, though I suppose that's kind of academic, anyway. Supposedly, there's a second season in the works. The story centers around Bastian, a former resident of a small German town who moved to Berlin after high school to pursue a career as a musician. To put it mildly, things haven't been going well - he's still pining over a breakup the year before, he's working in a call center, and his auditions haven't been going well. But despite everything, he's excited to return home for Christmas. So you already know that's going to go poorly. Really poorly, in fact, beginning with the rather abrupt discovery the ex he's pining over shows up to spend Christmas as his brother's guest. Bastian then hooks up with one of his brother's exes, he and hi

Dear Santa (2020)

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Not to be confused with either of the crappy low budget holiday flicks of the same name we looked at six years ago, Dear Santa is - at least ostensibly - a documentary about Operation Santa , the US Postal Service program that connects letters written by children with volunteers eager to fulfill those requests. I say "ostensibly" because I honestly don't think "documentary" is at all an accurate description, or at the very least not a complete one. While aspects of this qualify, I think the majority is closer to both reality television and a public relations video. That isn't to say it's bad - I actually think it's both technically well made and emotionally effective - it's just not really being truthful about the program or - unless I miss my guess - its participants. The lie around the program itself is understandable. They want this to be viewable by kids, so both the origins of Operation Santa and its current policies are explicitly connect

Hilda: The Yule Lads (2020)

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Hilda is an animated Netflix series adapted from a series of graphic novels inspired by Scandinavian folklore. The art style mimics the feel of the comics it's based on, building a world that honestly looks like drawn pictures come alive. Depending on the episode, you might end up seeing something wacky and fun, magical and awe-inspiring, or even a little dark and unnerving. It's an absolutely phenomenal show, beautifully written and animated, and we recommend you watch it at once. Which of course poses a bit of a problem. The holiday episode I'm about to discuss is towards the end of the second season, so while I absolutely recommend it, I'd suggest watching the rest of the series first. This isn't so steeped in continuity that you'll be spoiled or confused: it's just better in context. The main character of the series, unsurprisingly, is Hilda, an adventurous preteen girl who moves to Trolberg, a cross between a modern city and a walled medieval village. T

Dance Dreams: The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2020)

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We've watched a lot of Nutcrackers over the years, but nothing like Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.  Created as a showcase and fundraiser for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker appears to follow the rough outlines of the traditional ballet (girl gets toy at party, toy breaks, magic happens, crazy tour through fantastical realms), but replaces the standard dance and music with dialogue, comedy, and a vast and ever-evolving variety of musical and dance styles.  I say "appears to" because this documentary follows the rehearsal and backstage information about the show. It's not a recording of a full performance, so we only get to see snippets.  Interspersed with clips of rehearsal and interviews with young performers, we also get basic background on Allen's career, the founding of DADA, and some of the ongoing barriers facing Black dancers, particularly in ballet.  I felt the film was fairly well-balanced between showing t

De Familie Claus [The Claus Family] (2020)

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Just as a number of Hollywood productions with 2020 release dates got pushed to streaming, quite a few foreign films intended for theaters were picked up by streaming services hoping to expand their customer base internationally. A side effect of this is a number of movies that would otherwise never have seen US releases are readily available, offering a glimpse into how other countries view Christmas media. In this case, that apparently boils down to a fairly by-the-numbers knock-off of English language holiday fare. De Familie Claus (I'll call it "The Claus Family" going forward, since the title isn't getting mangled) is a live-action Dutch language kid's fantasy/dramedy from Belgium about a kid discovering he's the secret heir to the Santa dynasty. If that sounds like Arthur Christmas, you're both right and wrong: there's a hall of Santas set more or less directly lifted from that movie, but they've otherwise deviated from the formula, particula

Fatman (2020)

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I held off on this one when it came out last year, because I didn't want to contribute anything towards salvaging Mel Gibson's career. He's had more chances than damn near anyone, and he doesn't deserve another. At the same, this is a bizarre spin on Santa, so I felt like I had to get to it eventually. And of course, I was incredibly curious. If you missed the trailers, Fatman is a dark comedy-action-drama-superhero movie about an aging Santa and Mrs. Claus trying to keep their Alaskan factory afloat through difficult times, and also Santa's being hunted by a sociopathic hitman hired by a kid seeking revenge over a lump of coal. So, yeah, that at least sounds like something I'd be interested in. The problem for me is the movie works so hard doing all that competently, it doesn't actually get around to justifying the premise in the first place. In other words, this movie is fine but ultimately forgettable, which is kind of a major failing in a premise that ba

Hjem til Jul 2/Home for Christmas: Season 2 (2020)

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In a lot of ways, the second season of Hjem til Jul (Home for Christmas, in English), feels more like the sequel to a movie than a continuing television series, despite technically picking up the instant the first season ended. To be fair, season 1 ended on a cliffhanger with Johanne answering the door and smiling as she sees... someone... who surprises her. That someone, it turns out, isn't someone she knows but is instead a flower delivery person carrying 100 roses, the origins of which form something of a mystery through the season. More immediately, she later encounters a coworker and the two date for a year, the story of which is presented over the course of the first episode. The relationship is nice at first, but by next Christmas, they've grown distant. Meanwhile, Johanne's parents are having their own issues, and it appears they'll spend Christmas apart, leaving the family without a spot to gather and celebrate. Johanne refuses to concede the holidays, so she d

Holidate (2020)

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Recently, I've noticed a change in the way I watch and think about movies. I'm fairly certain that several movies I've watched over the past month would have received a far less charitable review even a year ago, but now... I don't know. I think I've been growing as a person, and my perspective's shifted. When something doesn't work for me, I've become more likely to dig deeper for elements that were well constructed; I've become more interested in seeking out aspects of competent filmmaking than in ripping apart something I dislike, even if I think it's bad. Fortunately, I think sitting through this pile of shit cured me, because I'm feeling nothing but disgust right now. Kind of refreshing, if I'm being honest. Holidate is a romantic comedy about two people who meet in a mall while returning terrible Christmas presents and agree to become each others' "holidate" for the following year - in other words, they go out essentia

Godmothered (2020)

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For the past thirteen years, more or less every Disney fairytale has started with the same premise: deconstruct and subvert tropes from "classic" Disney fairytales in a way that's progressive enough to deflect criticism but not so progressive that it threatens the bottom line. This formula was established by Enchanted, which I'd argue remains the high-water mark in terms of actually carrying through on that promise. Godmothered, a direct-to-streaming fantasy/Christmas movie that just premiered on Disney+, is easily the most overt ripoff of Enchanted I've seen to date. The twist is instead of focusing on a princess, the main character is a fairy godmother-in-training trying to help a woman find her "happily ever after." And the theme of the movie is the concept of the happy ending is broken, so fairy godmothers should try to help people be happy, instead of attempting to morph that into a preconceived princess narrative. Note this moral is specifically fo

The Christmas Setup (2020)

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This year saw a seismic shift in Christmas romantic comedies, which had been almost universally heteronormative (the possible exception being Carol , assuming you're willing to use an incredibly forgiving definition of "Christmas movie" and the classic definition of "comedy"). Gay characters have certainly appeared in other Christmas rom-coms, but until 2020, we didn't really see them presented as romantic leads. Depending on how you want to define "Christmas rom-com," this is either the second or third such new movie we've seen, and there's at least one more we didn't get to. That's obviously a great step, though I feel like the impact is undercut by how absurdly late it is. Sitcoms were willing to feature gay characters back in the '90s. By now, you can find representation in cartoon shows. Movies, both driven by big studios and made-for-TV, are behind the times. Still, it's nice to see them taking those first steps. The C

Cup of Cheer (2020)

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Cup of Cheer is a Canadian spoof of generic made-for-TV Christmas movies. Reading that, your first question should be, "Where does it fall on the Airplane/Scary Movie Scale?" The answer is somewhere around the middle - funny at times, far from the best in the genre, but a hell of a lot better than the Scary Movie films. I assume. I never actually watched those. It's at least better than the Scary Movie trailers. Cup of Cheer is at its best when it remembers its premise and adheres to holiday rom-com tropes and conventions, which it does about 60% of the time. It does a decent (though not entirely even) job playing with elements lifted from Hallmark and its imitators. The problem is the other 40%, which goes for generic, lowbrow shock humor - dick and fart jokes, in other words, and I do mean that literally. Hell, there's a character who's basically a walking fart joke - I haven't seen every Hallmark movie out there, but I'm pretty sure that's not lifte

Alien XMas (2020)

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I want to start off by acknowledging there are almost certainly people out there who'd really get a kick out of this new stop-motion Netflix special. There are things to like about this - I'll get to those in a moment - and I really like how dedicated this is to capturing the spirit of 1950s B-movie sci-fi features. But while I like what it was going for, the special fell short for me. And unfortunately, I think this is one of those concepts where "almost good" isn't good enough. The premise relies on a species of alien marauders called klepts, who go from world to world stealing resources. These beings were once brightly colored, but their cruelty transformed them into grey lifeforms, devoid of compassion. So far, so good. One of the two main characters is X, the smallest of the klepts, who's dispatched to the North Pole to construct a device that will nullify Earth's gravity, making it easy for the alien ships to gather up the planet's possessions. T

A New York Christmas Wedding (2020)

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A New York Christmas Wedding opens with narration that feels cribbed from Love Actually and informs you right off the bat there's magic heaven-stuff going on. It introduces some characters who get in an argument, then it leaps ahead twenty years and starts throwing exposition at you to catch you up, letting you know two of the three characters you just met are dead. I found myself pitying actors as they recited dialogue that would have been cut from a soap opera... A question dawned on me: were they doing this on purpose? Were they trying to make something so astonishingly bad it becomes a cult favorite? Were they trying to make a Christmas version of The Room? But as the movie started layering its message, it became apparent the opposite was true. Someone believed in this. They were trying. They wanted to make a good movie... I feel bad about this. I'm no stranger to honestly discussing astonishingly bad movies, but they're typically studio productions where the creatives

Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square (2020)

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The problem with movies like Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square is that, once you watch them, you invariably find yourself in the position of having to write a scathing review of something created by and starring Dolly Parton, who is a national treasure. When we started watching this, we did so hoping - praying, even - that it would be fantastic, and that we'd be able to sing its praises. And, for what it's worth, there are good aspects to this movie. Christine Baranski plays the lead role, and she's amazing. Hell, it might be worth watching this for her alone. In addition, there are some good musical numbers and even more good musical moments. They got a cast who could sing, and it paid off. And for all the issues I'll have with the writing in a moment - just wait for it - this was structured the way a musical should be structured. The songs (or at least the vast majority of them) serve a purpose in the narrative, either moving the story forward, exploring char