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Showing posts with the label Drama

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Of all the movies we've discussed on this blog, Fruitvale Station's relationship with the holidays (specifically New Year's Eve) is by far the most tragic. The film takes place almost entirely over the course of that day and the following morning, when Oscar Grant was killed by police on his way home from celebrating. The movie is less concerned with plot than with painting a picture of the 22-year-old victim, showcasing his relationships with his mother, daughter, and girlfriend. That's not to say there isn't a story - the events are absolutely structured into a narrative - but the real takeaway isn't how or why this occurred so much as the implications they have for the characters. Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan, lost his job a few weeks before the movie started and has been keeping this from his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melanie Diaz) and his mother (Octavia Spencer). Sophina is already upset with him after catching him having an affair, so he's r

White Reindeer (2013)

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White Reindeer is a Christmas dramedy written and directed by indie filmmaker Zach Clark and largely financed through Kickstarter. The only famous actor in this is Joe Swanberg, who directed  Happy Christmas , which was made with a similar focus on realism over conventional narrative. That said, White Reindeer occasionally drifts into the surreal - maybe even the supernatural, though that's ambiguous. As I often do with movies I like, I'm going to cut to the chase and let you know this is absolutely a movie I recommend. By design, it's a tad light on payoff, and it's certainly not a feel-good movie, but it's a fascinating, honest look at how alienating and difficult the Christmas season can be for anyone who isn't in a position to appreciate cheer and goodwill. A few caveats before anyone starts streaming, though: this movie should have a warning upfront for flashing lights, and I don't remember seeing one. I don't think I've ever seen the kind of fu

Ma nuit chez Maud [My Night at Maud's] (1969)

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I'm going to be upfront about this: I'm a little out of my element here. French New Wave isn't a genre I'm familiar with, so if you stumbled across this review searching for any kind of informed analysis of this classic film, you might want to look elsewhere. That being said, this is absolutely a Christmas movie, so our quest to watch and discuss literally every important holiday movie in existence wouldn't be complete without it. So whether it's a good idea or not, I'll dust off my philosophy degree and try to describe the 1969 French film, Ma nuit chez Maud  or My Night at Maud's, as the subtitles helpfully explain. The movie is... well, let's start with this: it's good. It's very good, very well made, and - if you're used to literally any other kind of movie - very slow. I wouldn't personally use the word "boring," but I suspect it's an adjective commonly invoked in reference to this film. Stylistically, the movie is

One Magic Christmas (1985)

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I've got a lot to say about this movie - about its themes, plot, and its use of classic holiday tropes - and I'm going to cover a lot of ground. But before I get into all that, I want to take a moment, step back, and summarize this as a whole. This movie is bullshit. I know that raises more questions than it answers. So let's roll up our sleeves and dig in to explore the depths of the bullshit that define the experience of watching "One Magic Christmas," a 1985 attempt by Disney to push out a Christmas classic by transparently tossing cliché after cliché against the screen and hoping it somehow coalesces into something worthwhile. To be fair, not everything in this movie is bad - some of the component pieces are actually pretty good. But that's true of bullshit, too. Cows eat a lot of different vegetation, including some lovely flowers. In the end, though, that doesn't change what's left over. The movie's plot is absurdly convoluted, largely becaus

Remember the Night (1940)

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Remember the Night is the third film written by Preston Sturges we've looked at here and, in my humble opinion, the least interesting. It's widely considered a romantic comedy, but I'd argue it's closer to a romantic melodrama with bits of comedic relief. More on that later. The movie opens with Lee Leander (played by Barbara Stanwyck) getting arrested for stealing a bracelet right before Christmas. The prosecutor assigned to the case is John Sargent (Fred MacMurray, two decades before he'd appear in a supporting role in one of the best Christmas movies ever made). When Lee's defense attorney tries to claim she was hypnotized into stealing the bracelet, John uses it as an excuse to have the trial delayed until after Christmas, when the jury will be less reluctant to sentence a woman to prison. John realizes he just ensured Lee will spend the holidays in jail, since she can't pay for bail, so he arranges to have her released until her hearing. But then he d

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

The Christmas Star (1986)

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Before we get into this, I want to start with a spoiler warning of sorts. Sometimes we come across a movie that's surprisingly good for reasons that are best viewed in the context of the movie. This is not one of those times. The Christmas Star isn't good. At all. It's badly paced, dull, and tedious for the vast majority of its runtime.  But then... See, to finish that sentence, I'd need to go into the finer philosophical details of the phrase "so bad it's good," which you'll note is being used as a label for this review. While most movies earning that title win it through a constant level of entertaining badness, The Christmas Star takes a different tack, one I'll discuss later in this review. In the meantime, allow me to propose a drinking game. If you were to sit down to watch this with a bottle of your favorite holiday spirit and take a shot anytime you became bored out of your goddamn mind, you'd be in a *perfect* state to fully enjoy the

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

The Proposition (2005)

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Every now and then we come across a Christmas movie and find ourselves a little ashamed it took us this long to discover it. The longer the blog goes on, the less and less common this phenomenon becomes, but when it does occur, it's all the more embarrassing. This is absolutely one of those times. I assume I must have seen this on numerous lists of movies set at the holidays and most likely glanced at the title, dismissed it as yet another rom-com, and figured we'd get to it eventually. This is not a romantic comedy. It's a highly realistic, brutally violent western set in Australia. It's beautifully shot, darkly tragic, and thematically driven. In short, we're absolutely recommending this - it's by far the best Christmas western we've seen. Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. We're recommending this with a giant caveat: this isn't an adventure film or a campy comedy or anything you'd call "fun." It reflects the horror of the time,

Full-Court Miracle (2003)

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Full-Court Miracle is a 2003 Hanukkah movie produced for The Disney Channel loosely inspired by a true story of a man whose life sounds like it was a hell of a lot more interesting and inspiring than what I just watched. I'll get to the plot in a minute, but first I do want to call attention to one thing legitimately noteworthy about this movie. We've watched and reviewed a handful of movies that were ostensibly about Hanukkah before, but every one of them was really a movie about being Jewish at Christmas. There are some specials and episodes of TV shows that break that mold, but this is the first movie I remember seeing which was unambiguously about Hanukkah itself. I'm still waiting on a Hanukkah movie that's, you know, good , but I view this as a step in the right direction. The movie's main character is Alex Schlotsky, a student at a Jewish private high school. Alex is obsessed with basketball, despite the fact his team consistently loses. For reasons I won

Ben is Back (2018)

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I'd better open by recommending this movie, because if I start with the premise, you'll probably dismiss it without reading through the review. Also, it's worth seeing unspoiled - it's marketed as a drama, but it's got more than a little suspense mixed in (think In Bruges, minus most of the dark comedy), and knowing where it's going would undercut the impact. So if you like drama, suspense, and/or good movies, stop reading and go watch it. It's really not hard to track down. I'll warn you in advance the synopsis for Ben is Back is going to read a lot like an afterschool special, so you'll have to trust me when I say this is something exceptional. The titular Ben is a recovering addict who leaves rehab to spend Christmas with his family. His mother, Holly, is both overjoyed to have him home and terrified he'll relapse. Some of the family is more cautious - the oldest of his siblings doesn't trust him, nor does his stepfather. Apparently, incid

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

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Before I get started, I should specify I saw the three-hour theatrical cut of Fanny and Alexander. After watching, I learned there's also a five-hour version that was re-cut as a miniseries then screened in theaters. Honestly, there's a part of me that really wants to see that five-hour cut for comparison. That's not happening anytime soon, though. Fanny and Alexander is a Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, director of [checks notes] some of the greatest and most influential movies ever made. According to Wikipedia, this was a fictionalized version of Bergman's own childhood and was intended to be his final film. His actual last film came out twenty-one years later, so take that with a grain of salt. Before I get to plot, theme, and, well, CHRISTMAS, I should mention this movie is a goddamn work of art and probably among the most beautiful cinematic works I've ever put in front of my eyes. It's a wonder to behold, it deserves its Academ

M*A*S*H Holiday Episodes (1972 - 1981)

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M*A*S*H is a little before my time. I have memories of it existing, but I don't recall actually watching it. That said, I'm familiar enough with some of the characters, so I must have caught a handful of episodes from repeats through the 80s. And of course I've seen it referenced damn near everywhere - this was an influential series. If you're somehow not familiar with it, M*A*S*H is a series about an army medical base stationed in Korea during the Korean War. It's based on a movie I've never seen, which was in turn based on a book I've never read, so don't expect a lot of context on that end. Actually sitting down and watching through the Christmas episodes (along with a few tangential episodes we'll discuss in a minute) was a fascinating experience. First, it's not hard to see why it left a footprint: this show has a fascinating tone, striking a careful balance between the hardships of war with the comedic absurdity of the characters. The