Showing posts with the label 2022

Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery (2022)

Murderville is essentially a blend of a cop show parody, a gameshow, and an improv performance. The setup involves a scripted murder mystery in which a celebrity guest, playing the character assigned to solve the crime, is NOT shown the script or provided any sort of preparation. This guest host then needs to stumble through the story while the rest of the cast improvs around them. The show typically uses only one guest, but this isn't a normal episode. For the Christmas special, we get two or three, depending on whether you count a brief surprise spot from Pete Davidson as a real guest. Jason Bateman is around from the start, with Maya Rudolph added about halfway through. Guiding the guest star(s) is Will Arnett, playing Detective Terry Seattle, a parody of the typical hard-as-nails lead. Seattle has an ongoing subplot involving his ex-wife, who's also his boss, though this is less of a factor in this episode. Seattle gets a few scenes with side adventures in this episode. Arn

Violent Night (2022)

Is there a word for movies that obtain cult status despite being box-office successes? Violent Night occupies a somewhat awkward place in the pop-culture landscape between studio production and weird outsider. Depending on your opinion of the film, you can either view it as the best of both worlds or the former masquerading as the latter in an attempt to appear edgy. I had a somewhat mixed reaction to the film myself. As an action flick with a nasty sense of humor (I resisted the urge to say "naughty"), I found it incredibly satisfying. It's essentially a take on the slasher Santa formula with the premise inverted, so the gruesome kills are cathartic rather than horrific, and I had a lot of fun with it. At the same time, I found the story and underlying lore lacking, and the politics of the thing kind of awful, both on its own merits and even more so as part of the larger holiday media tradition. Let's talk premise before we get into all that, though. The main charact

Elvis (2022)

I'll start by acknowledging what I assume is obvious: Elvis is not, by any reasonable definition, a Christmas movie. Despite that, there are aspects of the movie that use holiday imagery and associated plot points in ways that are unusual and interesting enough to be worth exploring here. That said, there's a reason this is getting written and posted in the "off-season:" this film is Christmas-related, rather than Christmas media. I'll start where I usually finish: with an assessment. The movie is good, though I'm not convinced it's quite in the same league as most of this year's best picture nominees. I found the movie technically impressive and intellectually interesting, but not at all emotionally engaging. I should probably acknowledge I'm not a huge fan of Elvis - this might play much differently to someone with more of an initial attachment to the singer. More importantly, I don't think this was trying to engage emotionally. Its approach

Christmas Past and Future

We're closing out 2022 a little differently than past years, because this one's been different for us. We've done themes before, but not to the degree of this season, where we allowed A Christmas Carol to more or less overrun the blog. I'm covering my thoughts about that in a separate post , so they don't overwhelm everything else, because - even though it might not feel that way - our holiday this year wasn't just  about Charles Dickens. In fact, that wasn't supposed to be the theme at all. Last spring, I had a very different objective in mind: I wanted to check off every full-length Christmas movie made in the 1930s, in part to explore the differences between how those films treat the holidays compared to later movies and television shows. If you were wondering why we wound up reviewing Bright Eyes , Hell's Heroes , Love Finds Andy Hardy , and  And So They Were Married  in rapid succession, well... that's what was going on. But on the way, I also w

Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock: Night of the Lights (2022)

Okay. First the simple. At time of writing, I've seen two episodes of the Fraggle Rock reboot including this holiday special, and they are really quite good. It's a lot like the original, just gently made more modern feeling. However, this special episode is dancing in the shadow of one of the all-time great holiday episodes, and that means there's a lot to live up to. I think the fairest thing is to talk about it on its own first, and then address the larger context. (I'll mark the sections ahead.) If somehow you are ignorant of Fraggle Rock's premise, here's the quick pitch: A race of cheerful creatures (Fraggles) live in a system of underground caves, in a sort of symbiosis with a race of tiny hardworking creatures (Doozers) and in fear of a family of giant pompous fools (Gorgs). The tunnels also open into a workshop owned by a human who is unaware of the Fraggles and often has a parallel plot line going on. The episodes are usually comic adventures that touc

A Christmas Karen (2022)

There are two main problems with A Christmas Karen, a new streaming adaptation of Dickens's classic set in modern-day Florida with a stereotypical "Karen" replacing Ebenezer. The first problem is that the premise felt dated before the movie even came out - the whole "Karen" thing has mostly come and gone. The second problem is that the movie is kind of good. Conceptually, this should basically be a farce in the vein of comedies from the early '00s and before. The first fifteen minutes or so embrace this, with over-the-top exaggerated humor designed to distract the audience rather than draw them in. But as the ghosts start showing up, the jokes become more and more sporadic, so this can focus instead on character and story. Because - and here's what's surprising - this really is an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, rather than a parody or homage. Sure, the names are different and there are quite a few changes (we'll get to that in a moment), but a

My Little Pony: Winter Wishday (2022)

Here we are, back in Equestria for the holidays again, but not the same holiday we knew from Friendship Is Magic . This special is from a series of follow-ups to the 2021 movie that rebooted the My Little Pony continuity with a huge time jump (MLP: A New Generation). I saw that movie, and I remember it being enjoyable enough, if not amazing. All you need to know about this new special is that it's not terrible, but it's so bland that it's just sort of a time waster for kids.  Ok, all you need to know to follow the plot of the new special is that in the movie a group of young ponies met and became friends: earnest earth pony Sunny, ditzy artsy unicorn Izzy, neurotic rule-following earth pony Hitch, and the princess pegasus sisters Pipp (bubbly pop star) and Zipp (sardonic tomboy). They ended up working together to restore lost magic to Equestria. By the time of the special, people are still figuring out what that means.  The ponies have been living together in Sunny's l

Mickey Saves Christmas (2022)

Well, this is the worst thing I've seen this year. I mean, okay, the year isn't over yet, and I'm playing a little fast and loose with the term "worst". They poured time, money, and effort into this stop-motion special, and the finished project reflects that. It's just... that's part of the problem. If you're going to invest in this art form, I expect something notable about the end result. And this... it's just empty. Soulless. Pointless. It feels like executives went over the script with a magnifying glass and meticulously removed anything anyone could conceivably find objectionable. What's left is less a story than a branding exercise showcasing the studio's intellectual property in the least interesting way imaginable. To the limited extent it matters, let's talk about the plot. This special starts with Mickey decorating a cabin for Christmas and picking up his friends, who have been celebrating in town. Through it all, Mickey's

Hanukkah on Rye (2022)

Okay. Going to need a big old disclaimer for this one. I'm Jewish. Also, I'm not Jewish. Depends on what you mean by "Jewish", really. My mother is Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household. My father was raised Christian, though I don't believe he ever identified as such in my lifetime. I was raised celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, both in a secular context. I grew up thinking of myself as Jewish. I even got to experience some antisemitism in grade school in rural Maine (lucky me). I never learned to speak Hebrew, I didn't have a Bar Mitzvah, I wasn't raised in a Jewish community, and I've only stepped into synagogues for weddings and funerals. When I was a kid, I didn't think these were relevant as far as my identity was concerned. And depending on who you ask and what the term means, they may not be. However, from a cultural perspective at the very least, I am most certainly not Jewish. The reason I'm bringing all this up is I'm about

Holiday Heritage (2022)

Over the past year or so, Hallmark has been quietly rebranding itself in an attempt to offer at least the appearance of representation. The area they've been attracting the most attention has been their recent pivot towards including same-sex couples, but that's hardly the only change in programming. After years of fixating only on Christmas, the company has finally decided to keep focusing on Christmas. But, you know, also toss in a Kwanzaa movie. That's also about Christmas. So a Christmas/Kwanzaa movie. That's where Holiday Heritage, a family dramedy with a side of romance, comes into the picture. The movie's main character is Ella, a successful Boston graphic designer planning to open her own company and go into business for herself. But that's an "after the holidays" thing - first she's going to return home to the small town in Pennsylvania where she grew up, because there's no way in hell Hallmark's going to make a movie about Kwanzaa

The Santa Clauses, Season 1 (2022)

Well, I didn't entirely hate it, which makes this my favorite installment in the Santa Clause franchise by a wide margin. To be fair, I haven't seen the trilogy this is sequeling since reviewing them, which was between nine and twelve years ago, so it's possible I'd have a more favorable reaction now. Possible, but unlikely: the stuff I recall disliking about those movies isn't the kind that tends to age well. Regardless, the new Disney+ limited series picks up in real time, sixteen years after the end of the third movie. Santa and Mrs. Claus have two kids: Buddy (who was born at the end of the third movie) and Sandra. Mrs. Claus - or Carol, as she used to be called - is going through an identity crisis, Buddy dreams of seeing the human world, Sandra seems completely uninterested in anything that isn't an animal or a witch, and - due to declining Christmas spirit - Santa's magic seems to be failing. When he learns about a "Secessus Clause" which wo

The Holiday Sitter (2022)

I'm not sure Hallmark deserves much credit for producing their first Christmas romcom centered around a same-sex couple this late in the game. Lifetime, Netflix, Hulu, and virtually everyone else beat them to this, so the gesture feels a bit hollow. Still, late is better than never, and it really seems like they're taking steps to rectify their historic trend of focusing almost entirely on straight, white couples. The good news is that, to the extent these kinds of TV movies can meaningfully be called "good," this is pretty solid. It's still beholden to the usual ridgid formula, is forbidden from including any actual tension, and is as aggressively G-rated as the rest of Hallmark's annual yuletide offerings, but within the confines of the template, it's charming, sweet, and amusing. "Good movie" is a higher bar than "good Hallmark movie," and while it sails over the latter bar, I'm honestly on the fence as to whether it clears the f

A Unicorn for Christmas (2022)

By their nature, movies with titles like this always fall into one of three buckets: either they're inexplicably amazing, bad in an amazing way, or just borderline unwatchable. I went in hoping for that middle option, as those are the most fun, with "amazing" as a second choice. Unfortunately, neither was to be, so we were stuck watching just a godawful low-budget kids' flick. The primary issue here isn't the story or dialogue, though neither is particularly good. Rather it's the pacing that makes this drag. Most of the time when I refer to pacing as an error I mean structural pacing: the length, arrangement, and layout of scenes. Typically, pacing complaints fall on the writer and editor. But Unicorn for Christmas doesn't even reach that point: the problem here is how each and every scene is directed and acted. Characters speak slowly, as if concerned the audience will be unable to follow along. Running this movie at 125% speed would honestly help. Becaus