Showing posts with the label Dark Comedy

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Alright, cards on the table. This is one of those movies where spoilers are going to matter. But before we can get to things that shouldn't be spoiled, we need to address a handful that should. And by that, of course, I'm talking about the elements of this 1942 comedy that don't play so well in 2018.

We've got a couple brief but not minor racist sequences, a touch of misogyny, and at least one moment where - despite the anachronistic impossibility - you almost expect a character to pull out a smartphone, open Twitter, and type #MeToo. The moments in this movie that aged poorly aged very poorly.

But if you can look past them, the rest of this is a hilarious, fascinating, and unique holiday film. I'll get to why in a moment, but first I have to deliver on my promise:

*Spoiler Warning*

If you like old movies - hell, if you like comedies in general - this is worth tracking down. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have with each twist and turn. And if …

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

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…

Book Review: Holidays on Ice

Holidays on Ice
David Sedaris, 2008

I haven't been subjected to this unpleasant an attempt at "humor" in some time.

I thought I knew what I was getting into with this, and I expected it to be mixed. Erin spoke in the past about how much he disliked most of the Sedaris segments on This American Life.

The first story is the most famous: the author's lightly fictionalized account of working in Macy's Santaland. It's not bad, I guess. Aspects of it are amusing. However, I have a certain personal affection for the hardworking Macy's elves, the flagship store itself, and the young aspiring theater folk of New York, so I found the author's "ironic" cynicism unamusing and tedious.

The narrators in the four stories that follow are universally unlikable. Even though the point is often for the reader to therefore feel superior to the humorless adult who misses the point of a children's play or the murderous, racist grandmother, that doesn't act…

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (2010)

If you really like Bad Santa but feel betrayed by the movie's fundamentally positive message of hope, have I got a recommendation for you...

I've heard of this show before, but I'd never actually seen it. Even after watching the two-part Christmas special, I'm not entirely sure what to think. I tried watching the first episode to get a little context, but I turned it off about five minutes in - it was just too painful. Not bad, mind you - painful.

I didn't have the same reaction to the Christmas special, and it's easy to see why. The comedy in the pilot was largely based on making the audience uncomfortable seeing the characters undergo shameful and awkward situations. By the time the Christmas special aired six seasons in, the characters were completely devoid of shame. Or souls, for that matter.

They're empty husks trying desperately to reclaim their humanity and feel some semblance of happiness at the holidays. Bleak, sure, but it's far easier to wa…

Camp Candy: Christmas in July (1989)

Camp Candy was, apparently, an animated series where John Candy voices a character based on himself at a fictitious summer camp he runs. I don't recall ever having seen or heard of this series before in my life, though if I still remember this episode an hour from now, I'll be both surprised and disappointed.

The Christmas in July episode opens the same way Wikipedia assures me every episode in this series starts, with Candy trying to teach the kids a sport, leading to a flashback of something that happened earlier in the summer. This is portrayed as a story being told by Candy, though it's unclear why he's telling the kids about an adventure they were present for. It's also unclear how he's able to provide descriptions and commentary for other characters' dream sequences.

Actually, this episode features dreams within dreams within a story. But don't get excited: it was all crap.

Once we're firmly entrenched within a flashback, the kids and Candy d…

A Cadaver Christmas (2011)

We've had this one sitting in our DVD stack for more than a year after picking it up for a buck or two at a dying video store. We meant to watch it last year, but decided at the last minute we didn't want to devote our limited time and energy to something that looked quite this unpleasant.
We assumed too much. A Cadaver Christmas is far better than I'd seriously hoped for. It's not a great movie - 'good' might be pushing it - but it's a solid low-budget indie horror/comedy. In fact, as long as you preface it with 'low-budge' and 'indie,' you don't have to qualify the label 'good' any further. Within its limitations, it's a resourceful, fun movie.
The back of the packaging describes it as "A cross between 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'Night of the Living Dead'", which I think is more than a little misleading. I'd describe the zombie aspects as being more in the vein of Evil Dead 2 than Night o…

8 Women (2002)

Stop me if you've heard this one: a family gathers for Christmas, but there's tension in the house. A person is murdered, and everyone in the house is a suspect. The denizens of the house are cut off from help, so they investigate each other, where all secrets, sexualities, and torch songs will be revealed.

That last bit was a little different than you expected, maybe?

8 Women (aka 8 Femmes) is a French movie, and, if nothing else, it is artful, passionate, surreal at times, and fascinating. It's adapted from a play, and obviously so: it takes place in one location, with a cast of just eight women. There is also the one man at the center of the mystery, but the focus is on how all the women orbit this man, and he remains a cipher. The actor has no lines and is never seen from the front.

The play is set in a Hollywood version of the 1950's, and it shows in the costumes, the story and the music. The costumes and set are sumptuous, and the setting may also prepare you fo…

We're No Angels (1955)

We're No Angels opens on Christmas Eve, 1895. in a small coastal town where three fugitives are hiding out, having just escaped from Devil's Island prison. As a brief aside, I kind of love that this movie was set exactly 60 years before it was made, and we're watching it exactly 60 years later.

The fugitives find their way to a shop with a leaking roof, which they offer to fix as a ruse to rob the place. From the roof, they hear the shopkeeper talking with his wife and daughter, and piece together that the family is trouble. The store isn't doing well, and the owner, who is the shopkeeper's cousin, is coming to inspect the books. The criminals gradually change their plans, using their talents to help out the family instead of themselves.

From the premise, it shouldn't be surprising to hear this was based on a play. Aside from a brief intro and epilogue, the entire movie took place in the shop and attached home, and the cast list is a short one. Pull out a coup…

The Apartment (1960)

What an unexpectedly bizarre and brilliant movie.

We found this on some list of holiday movies or another and added it to our Netflix queue. By the time it reached us, we couldn't remember whether we'd added it because it was supposed to be good or bad - just that it showed up and was 55 years old. It actually feels a little older thanks to a decision to shoot in black and white, something of an anachronism at the time. We popped it in the DVD player, having no idea what we were about to see.

And, for more than half of the movie, we still didn't know. It was interesting from the start, though its tone was so unusual and its subject matter so precarious, we weren't sure whether to expect the best or the worst. Tonally, it walked a line between comedy and drama - I honestly wasn't sure whether it was heading towards a happy ending or a tragedy.

The premise, put simply, is that C.C. Baxter, a single office worker, loans out his apartment to his married superiors, who…

BoJack Horseman Christmas Special: Sabrina's Christmas Wish (2014)

BoJack Horseman is a Netflix animated series about a washed-up actor with a horse's head who had a successful sitcom a few decades earlier. I have, to date, seen exactly one episode, and that's this one. After watching it, I have no plans to watch any more.

To be fair, it was difficult to get a read on the series from just the Christmas special, which - based on episode descriptions on Wikipedia - seems to be extremely different from the rest of the show. This one almost entirely consisted of two characters watching a Christmas episode of BoJack's old show. Given the premise is that the sitcom in question was abysmal, you can probably guess how that went.

The frame story just focused on BoJack and his roommate at Christmas. BoJack's depressed, his roommate eats giant candy canes, and... that's about all you get until the end, when BoJack suddenly realizes the importance of spending the holiday with someone.

Heart warming, I know.

The sitcom episode concerns the th…

Krampus (2015)

After some careful consideration, Lindsay and I agree that Krampus is our second favorite dark comedy/horror/fantasy movie released this year that features the famous Christmas demon. To be fair, there was some stiff competition.

Honestly, Krampus is only nominally comedy or horror - I'd describe the film as a fairy tale before referring to either of those genres. And fairy tale is where Krampus's strength lies: it's a fantasy about Christmas magic and the darker implications of that concept. In realizing this side of the holidays, the movie employs some amazingly beautiful visuals. When we first set eyes on Krampus, we're too busy staring in awe to be afraid.

Which doesn't mean there aren't some jump scares and the like. But there's less horror than wonder, even when the things on screen are anything but friendly.

The movie opens somewhat gratuitously on dramatized imagery of shoppers battling each other for sales. It's here both to establish the degr…

South Park: Black Friday, A Song of Ass and Fire, and Titties and Dragons (2013)

South Park has always been hit or miss for me, though I've never been sure whether it's the show's quality that's uneven or my tolerance for its twisted subject matter. At any rate, they've produced episodes that rank among the funniest works of animation I've ever seen and others that I would rather have a dentist appointment than re-watch.

This three parter from 2013, fortunately, falls closer to the former. It's a mash-up of Black Friday, Game of Thrones, and the console wars that fits together seamlessly into a hilarious - albeit warped - holiday tale. In addition, its focus on Black Friday is a welcome deviation from the norm: I find it odd more shows haven't played with the day.
The premise is a bit convoluted, but the three episodes give them time to develop it. In order to maximize interest in Black Friday, the mall is planning to offer a massive discount to only the first thirty customers. This discount can be applied to anything in the mall, …

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

A Christmas Horror Story's title might undersell the content: this is at least four distinct stories, not one, each with a different tone. The stories are told in tandem, cutting back and forth over the film's hour and forty minute run time. All occur simultaneously on Christmas Eve. They're technically connected, but not significantly. Some of the characters know each other or have some background tying them to another story, but none of what happens to them in their own tales is impacted by what's going on elsewhere.

Despite being distributed direct to video on demand, this anthology was impressively well shot, written, directed, and acted. It balances the horror and comedy well, juggling between a genuinely unsettling horror/fantasy, a creature feature, a ghost story, and a campy horror tale. None of these - not even the camp - fall into the pitfalls that usually trip up this genre. The movie never forgets it's horror first, and it has no interest in settling fo…

Go (1999)

If you've never seen Go, here's what you need to know: it's a fantastic movie that's better experienced than described. Even though I'm barely going to mention the plot, I'm about to spoil the whole movie. So stop reading, watch the thing, then come back.

We good? Good.

The genius of Go is its tone. What tone is that? Well... that depends whether it's your first time watching it. If you've never seen it before, Go is a disturbing, twisted, suspense movie broken up by bits of dark comic relief. On subsequent viewings, it's a fun and lighthearted comedic romp. It all comes down to point-of-view, which is exceedingly appropriate, since it's about point-of-view.

The film is set on Christmas Eve, a fact that feels almost incidental at times. There's a number of holiday decorations, but nowhere near the quantity most holiday-set movies incorporate. There are a few bits of dialogue alluding to the season, but by and large no one seems to care. Chr…

In Bruges (2008)

Nothing says Christmas like violence and bleak depression. This was a fantastic movie.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are professional hitmen. After a job, they’re sent to the Belgium city of Bruges to lay low and await instructions at Christmastime. Ken enjoys the city, the younger Ray chafes at being in the middle of nowhere. But something deeper is eating at Ray, and…

You know what?

We usually do a bit of a synopsis in our reviews here, but I really enjoyed watching this twisty plot unfold, so I’m not going to give too many more specifics. One of the final twists, I saw coming (and Erin didn’t! Call the papers, that might be a first), but watching it was still incredibly compelling. Suffice to say that this movie contains quiet, atmospheric scenes, emotional breakdowns, public brawling, graphic violence and lots of historic buildings.

The cast does a fantastic job portraying the complexities of the characters. The subtlety of the performances was just lovely. Mos…

Brazil (1985)

The title of Brazil is drawn from its theme song, despite the fact the movie is not set in Brazil, and the nation of Brazil has absolutely no bearing on the movie, nor is it even mentioned. It should be noted that they considered several alternative titles while the movie was in development, and - miraculously - Brazil seems to have been the best they thought of. You can read a bunch of the others on Wikipedia.

If I could be so bold, I might suggest calling this the Metropolis Christmas Special, which is how I'm going to think of it from now on.

Recently, I found this on a couple of lists of science fiction Christmas movies, which surprised me, since I didn't recall it having taken place at Christmas. Granted, it's been more than a decade since I saw this, and I didn't think much of it at the time. For years, my summation was simply: any ten minutes of Brazil is gorgeous, but there's no reason to watch more than that.

Maybe I'm just mellowing as I age, but I …

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)

A Merry Friggin' Christmas is a direct-to-video movie starring Robin Williams and Joel McHale. It's one of Williams's last films, which netted it some publicity prior to its release.

If you've seen the trailer, you're likely expecting a slapstick comedy in the vein of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. That's certainly what I was anticipating, and I hateNational Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. If you skim the one-sentence blurbs over on Rotten Tomatoes, you get the sense that's what the reviewers were expecting, too. Those reviews are almost uniformly negative - only 18% Fresh at the moment - and the primary issue seems to be that this movie just wasn't that funny.

In my opinion, this is another case of critics missing the point. This wasn't all that funny, because it wasn't slapstick: it was a Christmas dramedy. And I thought it was a pretty decent one.

The movie focuses on the relationship between its two leads. Williams and McHale p…

Wilfred: Confrontation (2013)

There are the Christmas episodes you seek out, then there are the ones you trip over. I've been slowly making my way through the series, Wilfred, and I stumbled across a holiday episode in season 3.

First a few words about the series. More specifically, this is the American remake of an Australian show with the same name. It follows Ryan, played by Elijah Wood, a disturbed former lawyer who perceives his neighbor's dog as a grown man in a dog suit.

Just describing the bizarre premise doesn't do the series justice. This is far stranger and darker than it sounds. It regularly delves into existential questions, as Ryan attempts to determine whether his experiences are mystical in nature or if he's simply losing his mind. The series's tone oscillates between dark comedy and psychological horror.

This episode is surprisingly restrained, though it ventures into some dark territory. It's Christmas, and Ryan's family is reuniting for the first time in years. Wilfr…

All is Bright (2013)

All is Bright centers around a paroled thief played by Paul Giamatti, who returns to his home in Quebec to discover his wife is seeing his best friend (Paul Rudd). She's told his daughter that he died of cancer, and doesn't want her to learn otherwise. Despite being furious with his friend, Giamatti's character approaches him for a job. Together, they drive to New York City to sell a truckload of Christmas trees.

It sounds like a premise with some comic potential, but the movie goes in a different direction. It's generally described as a dark comedy, but it doesn't really fit in that category. It has a handful of jokes - some of which are hilarious - but they're few and far between. For the most part, the movie skews closer to drama.

This is a Christmas movie about poverty and desperation. It's about people who want to put their lives back together, but have no real chance of succeeding. Even if the world wasn't completely apathetic to their situation, …

The Ref (1994)

It's strange that it took me so long to see The Ref. It's relatively well known, but somehow it always slipped below my radar. But it finally came up on my Netflix queue.

The plot revolves around a thief who takes a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve to hide out from the cops. By and large, comedies about families with issues are just about the worst genre holiday entertainment has to offer, but miraculously, The Ref is actually pretty good.

While there's a long list of things this movie did wrong, the filmmakers made several extremely smart decisions that elevate this to something worth watching. First of all, they cut the slapstick down to a minimum. Second - and maybe more important - they wrote some depth into the main characters. If the husband and wife had been two-dimensional, this thing would probably have been as bad as Surviving Christmas. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

Fortunately, the husband and wife were well cast (Judy Davis and…