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Showing posts with the label Drama

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 Academy Awar…

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 sho…

I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

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To really age well, an old movie really needs to overcome two hurdles time throws at everything: it needs themes or ideas that hold up, and it needs to deliver those in a form that doesn't feel too dated. Plenty of movies fail both tests, but if a film is going to pass just one, it's usually the latter. It's more common for a movie to still be funny or touching than for it to feel relevant.

I'll Be Seeing You, directed by William Dieterle and starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple, is an exception. The politics, themes, and ideas in the movie are astonishingly relevant. It's the experience that feels dated. Not too dated, mind you - there are several compelling moments and sequences - but as a whole, I found the film more impressive than enjoyable.

I'll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to address the genre and tone. This is actually a little difficult, because the movie walks a tightrope between romantic drama and romantic comed…

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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The Holly and the Ivy is a black and white British movie about a dysfunctional family coming together at Christmas to work out their differences. It's adapted from a stage play, which is fairly obvious watching the film: it's almost entirely set in a single building, and the dialogue is, well, actually good.

Like many plays, this is less driven by plot than by character interaction. Almost everyone's got a secret, and it all comes out as they talk to each other. Fortunately, the script has some solid characters, and the cast does good work.

The closest the movie comes to a main character is Jenny, a woman looking after her father, a parson with an academic mind. Unbeknownst to her father, Jenny wants to marry her boyfriend, but he's about to move to South America for work. She's unwilling to abandon her father, since he's got no one else to look after him.

Also in the mix is her younger sister, Margaret, who's harboring quite the secret backstory. Five yea…

Fargo: Season 3 (2017)

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The following is a review. The season being reviewed originally aired on FX between April and June of 2017. At the request of those who haven't seen the show, this review will keep spoilers to an absolute minimum. Out of respect for the series's creator and stars, the descriptions and discussions that are included will be presented as accurately as possible.
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Only this isn't just a review: it's a murder scene.

The victim is in their late seventies, and the manner of death was asphyxiation. They may have gone by several names throughout their life, but around here they were known as the "Christmas episode." In life, they were a concept of an episodic holiday installment of a television series. They stood out from their peers in only one respect: they were set at or about Christmas.

Anything else could change. Maybe they were a self-contained narrative, or maybe they were an episodic installment of a longer series playing out in real time. Hell, the…

Lost Christmas (2011)

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Lost Christmas was a made-for-TV holiday movie, but because it was made in England, it's actually pretty good. "Pretty good" may be underselling it: this is, in many ways, a fantastic film, though there is a bit of a catch. I'll get into that a bit, but first...

This is one of those movies where spoilers do make a difference, and it's worth seeing, assuming you enjoy this sort of thing. It's a melancholy fairy tale exploring cycles of alienation and guilt before setting things right. Imagine a low-budget urban fantasy reimagining of It's a Wonderful Life and you'll have some sense of what you're in for. If that sounds good, by all means stop reading now and go stream it.

The story centers around two characters. The first is an orphaned boy called Goose living with his grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's. His parents died in a car crash the year before, which was caused indirectly by Goose. Since then, the boy's become a petty thief.

Th…

The Detective (1968)

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First of all, The Detective is not in any way, shape or form, a Christmas movie. It's not set at Christmas, and it isn't about Christmas, and I'm not claiming anything to the contrary.

So. Why am I talking about it?

While this isn't a Christmas movie, it is indirectly connected to one of the most significant Christmas movies ever made. The Detective is based on a book by the same name, and that book has a sequel called Nothing Lasts Forever which would be adapted into a movie two decades after this one. Unlike The Detective, the name "Nothing Lasts Forever" didn't survive the adaptation: they changed it to Die Hard.

In other words, The Detective is John McClane's origin story. Well, sort of. The main character in The Detective was named Joe Leland, and several details about his relationship with his wife were notably different. But other details, like him being a New York police detective who breaks rules, are consistent.

In some ways, I found the di…

Cash on Demand (1961)

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It's a few days before Christmas and bank manager Harry Fordyce (played by Peter Cushing) is making his employees' lives hell. It's not difficult to see the connections between Scrooge and Harry - hell, it's impossible to miss them as he quibbles over every trivial discrepancy and outright ignores their planned holiday party.

Instead of a ghost, he gets visited by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. The thief reveals his true identity to Harry and also tells the manager why he should cooperate: his conspirators have abducted Harry's wife and son and are threatening to torture them. If Harry wants them released safely, he'll have to ensure the robbery goes off without a hitch.

The movie is set almost entirely inside the bank, as Harry is forced to help the criminal outmaneuver his own security protocols. But in the process, Harry also realizes the same lessons Scrooge did a century earlier: that people matter more than money.

It turns out the th…

The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)

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Based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence, The Rocking Horse Winner is a black-and-white movie straddling the line between drama, horror, and fantasy. I found it on a few lists of Christmas movies, though I'm not 100% certain I agree with its inclusion.

The movie either qualifies or fails to qualify solely based on its first twenty minutes, in which one of the lead characters, Paul, receives a rocking horse for Christmas. Granted, that's not entirely dissimilar to our justification for including Sleepless in Seattle. And there's something to be said for a movie that revolves around a haunted Christmas toy.

The tag attributes the gift to Father Christmas, though the movie never directly addresses where it comes from. Presumably, it was purchased by one or both of his parents or his uncle, though it's not an entirely unreasonable interpretation to take the tag at face value. That said, the rocking horse seems to be evil, so that's not the most generous reading towards…

Some Girls (1988)

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I spent the entire runtime of Some Girls trying to figure out what the movie was, and I'm still not remotely certain. The best description I can muster is: Victorian drama crossed with raunchy 80's comedy. That doesn't really convey the experience of the movie, though, since the description sounds inventive and fun.

The plot... uh... Okay, I'll do my best here, but there's not a lot of meat to this thing. The movie opens with a voice-over from the film's lead, Michael, who's flying to Quebec for Christmas to reunite with his college girlfriend, Gabi, who dropped out due to her ailing grandmother, Granny.
That's her name in the credits, and she's easily the third most important character behind Michael and Gabi. Arguably, she's more significant than Gabi and deserves the #2 spot. She doesn't appear immediately, however. First, we're introduced to the rest of her family, who live in a sprawling massive gothic mansion full of musty librari…

A Holiday to Remember (1995)

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I'm not trying to be clever when I call "A Holiday to Remember" forgettable: it's honestly just the first adjective that pops into my mind. It's been less than twelve hours since I subjected myself to this made-for-TV movie, and I'm already having a hard time recalling details.

A Holiday to Remember belongs to a sub-genre best called the Christmas melodram-rom-com. It sounds specific, but - trust me - there are millions of these things. It tries to appeal to everyone by encapsulating all genres simultaneously, but forgets to do any of them even halfway well.

If there's a reason this was made, it was likely to serve as a vehicle for country music star Randy Travis. This isn't quite his first acting credit, but it shows up early in his filmography. He plays Clay, one of the two romantic leads, though the narrative follows Carolyn, who's played by someone you've never heard of (Connie Sellecca is actually pretty good, at least compared to the ov…

The Family Stone (2005)

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The Family Stone is a dramedy about... God, I can't believe I have to type these words again... a dysfunctional family celebrating the holidays together.

There are several things the movie does wrong, but one in particular is going to make it astonishingly hard to synopsize: it lacks a solid POV character. I think they were aiming for an ensemble cast, but the goal in those movies is to have multiple points of view - I'm not sure The Family Stone has any.

The closest actually might be Meredith, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. She's the new girlfriend of the titular family's oldest son, Everett Stone. The movie opens with her, and she gets a lot of screen time. But practically, she's closer to the comic relief than the lead. Parker plays Meredith to an over-the-top excess - she feels like she stumbled out of a farce without realizing everyone else is in a drama. And structurally, she's the false love interest, the wrong girl for Everett. He wants to marry Mered…

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

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Just want to nip this one in the bud, in case anyone skimmed the title of the post - this is the 1994 remake, not the 1947 classic. I reviewed the classic (albeit briefly) back in the first year of the blog.

That said, you can't examine this remake without considering the original, so I rewatched the '47 film before putting this on. And... wow, there's a noticeable difference. It's like comparing apples to oranges after one of those two pieces of fruit passed through the digestive track of a reindeer.

Let me slow down. I'm being unfair to the '94 movie, which actually does have several merits. The two key cast members, Kris and Susan, are well cast in Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson. Both did good work in their roles and manage to salvage the experience of watching this...

...Assuming you've never seen the original film. Because if you've seen the original, it's physically painful to sit through this thing. It's not so much a question of t…

Blizzard (2003)

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Attempting to outline the plot of the 2003 Christmas/fantasy/comedy/drama is akin to unraveling a Geordian knot. And, no, that wasn't a typo - it was something far worse: a pun. This was directed by LeVar Burton, who also gets a brief cameo. It stars Christopher Plummer, Kevin Pollak, Whoopi Goldberg's voice, and a bunch of Canadian actors you've never heard of.

The movie opens with a sledding montage showing a pair of kids enjoying a winter day together. Eventually, they head home and say goodbye forever - one is moving away. The other is so devastated, she retreats to her room. A week later, and her parents are still unable to get her to cheer up. In an attempt to salvage Christmas, they call in the mother's globetrotting sister, Aunt Millie, who flies in and starts telling her depressed niece a story about another friendship, long ago...

It's around this point that it becomes apparent the characters we've been following for the last ten minutes (give or tak…