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Showing posts with the label Drama

Black Nativity (2013 Film)

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First, I would like to state for the record that about fifteen minutes into this musical movie, I started thinking that it wasn’t that it wasn’t awful, but there was a disconnect between the style of the music and the style of filmmaking that made it unconvincing and boring. But if either the music/singing were more grounded or the acting/set/cinematography more surreal, it might work. And then later in the film I was proven right when it suddenly got good.

The movie follows a young man named Langston (after the poet), when his mother sends him to her estranged parents’ home for Christmas. He’s never met his grandparents, but his mother’s jobs aren’t bringing in enough to make rent, so she ships him from Baltimore to New York.

And up to this point it’s just slow and schmaltzy, and it has that music problem I alluded to at the start. The music is full of autotune and style that doesn’t match the very realistic filming of characters walking and riding buses. The result is thereby defl…

Run All Night (2015)

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Run All Night is an action/drama vehicle for Liam Neeson. The fact that it came out last year and you haven't heard of it provides a far better overview than I could ever hope to achieve. But, in the interest of pumping the internet full of content to drive it towards self-awareness, let's have a go at this.

The movie is set in New York a little before Christmas. The majority of the story, as the title implies, plays out over a single night - probably not Christmas Eve, but who knows? This movie was vague as hell.

The main character is Jimmy, a burnt out mob enforcer played by Liam Neeson. He's a drunk, tormented by memories of the people he's killed and the mistakes he's made. His best friend is Shawn, a mob boss trying to go legitimate. Both men have a son: Jimmy's son, Michael, hates him and wants nothing to do with his father, who was absent most of his life, anyway. Shawn's wants to be successful, like his father, and gets involved with drug dealers.

The Dead (1987)

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The Dead is an adaptation of a James Joyce story about an Epiphany party, which I suppose we're now annexing as part of Christmas (to be fair, January 6 would have been considered the conclusion of Christmastime when the movie was set, a fact outright stated in the film).

This is John Huston's last film before his death, and it seems to be widely beloved with a 92% Freshness rating and several honors. While this isn't unfair - the movie is well constructed and acted - it's definitely not for everyone.

For example, it definitely wasn't for me or Lindsay: we found it boring as hell.

The plot is essentially contained in the last five minutes of an hour and twenty minute long film. Until then, the entire thing takes place at a party being thrown by three women I'm assuming are sort of standing in for the three wise men. If you want to know whether this is a heartfelt ode to Irish culture or some sort of ironic mockery of tradition, you'll have to go find a Joy…

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a Japanese/British film about a POW camp during World War II directed by the controversial Japanese film maker Nagisa Oshima. I have a few complaints, but overall it's a well-made, engrossing movie exploring some fairly large questions about culture and human nature.

The movie centers around four characters: two prisoners and two jailers. The titular Mr. Lawrence is the sole English character who speaks both languages, and he has a fairly good grasp of Japanese culture. Also held prisoner is a South African soldier, Jack Celliers, notably played by David Bowie, who the camp commandant, Captain Yonoi, becomes obsessed with. Also key is Sergeant Hara, a man who oscillates between cruelty and compassion.

The movie's plot is somewhat murky, as the events are intricately linked to the complex motives of its characters. I'm not going to try to offer a complete synopsis - I don't think it would begin to make sense - but I'll focus instead…

Carol (2015)

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Erin decided we should watch this based purely on the Santa hat in the trailer. And sure enough, it fits our rubric for a Christmas movie.

Carol is a romance that takes place at Christmas, and over 50% of the movie’s run-time takes place directly before or after the holiday.

It stars Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Terese. After a chance meeting in a department store (Carol is shopping, Terese is a clerk) the two become inseparable, causing strife with Terese’s lukewarm fiance and risking Carol’s custody arrangement with her ex-husband. They eventually travel cross-country together in an attempt to run from their troubles for a while.

The movie is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952, when material about gay characters was often subject to obscenity laws. The plot elements are inspired by the real experiences of Highsmith and friends of hers, struggling with their sexuality in a culture that was entirely …

Meet John Doe (1941)

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Even going by our standards, Meet John Doe qualifies as a Christmas movie on something of a technicality. Only the last few minutes actually occur around the holidays, and even then they're almost incidental. However, the movie goes out of its way to tie the season into its premise in order to build something of a heavy-handed metaphor.

I'll cut to the chase: Meet John Doe is a Christmas movie because "John Doe" is Jesus.

Well, sort of. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not as much as I'd have liked. The movie has a relatively strong opening, centering on Barbara Stanwyck's character, Ann. She plays a newspaper columnist who's just been laid off. As her final act, she writes a fake editorial letter written by an average Joe, who's fed up with the way "the little guy" is treated in society. The letter concludes with "Joe" vowing to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve.

The letter gets a huge amount of publicity. I…

Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within: Christmas (2002)

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This was a Canadian reality television show about several Cirque du Soleil performers in Montreal. I expect the part of that sentence that leapt out at you was "Cirque du Soleil". Sadly, the part you should be focusing on is "Canadian reality television," which - judging by this - is roughly analogous to a PBS documentary about the production and distribution of toothpicks.

Perhaps this series would be better seen from the beginning. Or perhaps the Christmas episode was unusually dull. But, whatever the reason, this was far more boring than you'd imagine anything about people performing in a Cirque could possibly be.

By its nature, the plot was extremely thin. Several characters appeared, but I only recall two threads that could even generously be called "plots". To be fair, I could easily be forgetting something, as the episode has almost entirely faded from my mind in the five minutes that passed between watching it and writing this review.

First, …

Il Capital Umano (Human Capital) (2014)

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A movie set (at least mostly) at Christmas, focused on a car crash, told multiple times from multiple perspectives. If you feel like you’ve heard this one before, you’re not alone.

Il Capital Umano, however, is a very different animal.

It’s about class struggles, love and the lack of it, and attitudes around the value of human life. I mostly dug it through the first sections; Erin liked it a bit less.

It’s a combination mystery and social commentary, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to learn what happens.

It starts out in the aftermath of a fancy holiday party. The caterers are working late into the night to clean up. The camera follows one particular gentleman; we learn that he’s cynical, tired and happy to clock out as soon as he can.

He mounts a bike and heads home through the dark, snowy countryside.

He is struck by a car on a back road.

At this point the movie jumps back six months and introduces our first viewpoint character: Dino. Dino is bringing his daughter (Serena…

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (2004)

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After much whining, I had an American Girl doll as a kid. I did not have Samantha. I had Kirsten, because yes, I read a lot of Little House on the Prairie, and my second choice would have been Molly, because I thought Samantha looked stuck-up.

I believe young me’s choice is somewhat justified by this stultifying mess of a “film.”

Apparently, long after my Kirsten had started collecting dust on my childhood bedroom bookshelves, the company decided to introduce companion dolls for some of their classic dolls, and what better way to sell new toys than with a made-for-TV movie?

The best thing I can say about this is that some of the costuming and sets are decent. Not really Samantha’s, though; those dresses look silly on an actual girl. On to the story.

Samantha is an orphan who lives with her rich grandmother in upstate New York in 1904. She’s feuding with the boy next door and eagerly awaiting the return of her rich uncle who dotes on her when a family joins the next-door household: …

Millions (2004)

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What the hell is wrong with America? Annually, we watch movies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story again and again, as if our sheer, culturally mandated refusal to admit they're crap will somehow elevate them to the status of genuine classic.

Meanwhile, England's been cranking out genuine holiday brilliance at a breakneck pace, and no one here notices. Arthur Christmas, Get Santa, and The Snowman are almost entirely unknown in the US, and they're all incredible. Add Danny Boyle's 2004 surrealist comedy, Millions, to that list - this thing is amazing.

The movie's main character is an eight-year-old who's just lost his mother. His name is Damian, and he's obsessed with Catholic saints. Also, he sees them. Arguably, he merely hallucinates meeting and interacting with them, but I'm not buying that. They seem to have knowledge he lacks, and they're capable of affecting the world in at least minor ways.

He's just moved…

The Good Son (1993)

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Once again, our tolerance for what constitutes a "Christmas movie" has been put to the test. This time, it's for entirely different reasons. Strictly speaking, The Good Son should meet our litmus test, as it seems to take place entirely around the holidays. However, that's really a technicality, as the producers don't seem to have realized that Christmas should be going on.

See, there's a line early in the movie establishing that the events unfold over "winter break." I'm assuming this was done to explain why no one needs to go to school. Unless there's another "winter break" I'm unfamiliar with, that means this should be set at Christmas. But at no point is the holiday referenced, nor are there any decorations or lights shown.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the winter break line was either an error or an artifact of an earlier draft, and that for all intents and purposes the movie was set over some mysterious …

Road to Avonlea: Christmas in June (1995)

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When we borrowed this DVD from the library, I wasn’t sure whether I had seen this show. It turns out that my confusion is because the Disney Channel just called this show “Avonlea,” because the opening sequence was definitely stored in my deep memories.

Avonlea, or Road to Avonlea, is sort of a spin-off of Anne of Green Gables, based loosely on other L.M. Montgomery stories and produced as a joint production between a Canadian television station and the Disney Channel. That should be enough to give you an idea. It’s a melodrama, a soap opera safe for children, following the citizens of Avonlea through the vagaries of their lives.

However, I don’t remember this episode at all. It mostly focuses on Cecily King. I have some memory of her mother as a character, but I don’t remember her. (Aha, Wikipedia tells me that the character’s actress switched around this time.)

Cecily has tuberculosis, like you do if you live in the early 1900s and need some extra drama. She has been taken into a p…

The Apartment (1960)

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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…

Winter on Watership Down, Parts 1 and 2 (2000)

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We live in a strange world. It turns out there was a Watership Down animated series that ran for thirty-nine episodes between 1999 and 2001, including a two-part Christmas episode.

First, some background. The novel, Watership Down, is a seminal work of epic fantasy starring rabbits in the British countryside. If you're unfamiliar with the story, you may think the premise sounds humorous, but it's a tale of prophecy, war, death, and legend. The book functions as a meditation on mythology, exploring how the rabbits' society is built on the tales it tells. Without it, it's unlikely we ever would have gotten Redwall, Mouse Guard, or numerous other fantasy stories about animals at war.

Watership Down was adapted into an animated movie in 1978. This one goes on a list with Secret of NIMH and The Last Unicorn of animated features that traumatized kids in the 70's and 80's. The Watership Down movie didn't pull many punches: rabbits literally tore each other's …

The Little Match Girl (2006)

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This Disney short was originally supposed to be part of a 2006 version of Fantasia that Disney abandoned. This segment was produced anyway, and we saw it as part of the Disney Short Film Collection.

It's a surpisingly faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name, even incorporating the original visions of the Match Girl as she freezes to death in the cold. Good times, all around.

The original story makes it clear that the events transpire on New Year's Eve, though the girl hallucinates a Christmas tree. This short seems to have shifted the story to Christmas itself, as evidenced by her watching a family climb into a sleigh with a handful of wrapped gifts.

The story is relatively bare bones: a poor girl fails to sell matches. Ignored by the world around her, she retreats into an alley, where she lights her matches and sees beautiful visions in the fire. The last light to go out is her own, when her grandmother's spirit whisks her away t…

Angels Sing (2013)

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I can't even remember for sure where we caught the trailer for this thing. It was some DVD or another. At any rate, we saw this starred Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, and were morbidly curious what that combination would yield in a low-budget family-friendly Christmas dramedy.

The plot centers around Connick's character, a middle-aged college professor with a vendetta against the holidays. Turns out, when he was a kid, his brother died after saving his life on a lake they were skating on with their new Christmas skates.

The flashback scene depicting this, incidentally, was hilarious.

At any rate, he's a father now, and his son, who's about the same age he was when he lost his brother, loves Christmas. He wants to spend the holiday with his grandparents, presumably because his grandfather used to hunt vampires with Blade, but his dad's too horrified with the whole thing.

Meanwhile, their family needs a new house. After narrowly missing a…

Dear Santa (2011)

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I am unprepared for this review. It's not easy for me to admit as a writer, but I'm just not ready for this: my language skills aren't up to the task. So I'm going to need you to give me a moment. I just have to duck out of this tab, go over to Thesaurus.com, and look up as many synonyms as I can find for the word "stupid."

Alright. I think we're ready to get started.

The opening credits are in a font that's supposed to mimic a child's handwriting, but the bright green color makes them nearly indistinguishable from comic sans. At this point, we thought we had a pretty good idea what kind of movie we were sitting down to watch, but we were wrong: this montage was, inexplicably, the most thoughtful section of the film. Everything that came after was significantly more idiotic.

We're introduced to the movie's star, played by Amy Acker making the most dunderheaded decision of her career. She's portraying Crystal, a vapid and naive daughte…

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010)

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Easily my favorite of the Doctor Who Christmas specials, this episode from 2010 kicks off the second season with Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor. This starts in the future on a distant world that's essentially a steampunk version of Victorian London. Only in space with flying sharks. Oh, and of course it's Christmas. Well, more accurately it's the winter solstice, but the opening monologue states the obvious: they're the same thing, anyway.

One of the things that makes this work as well as it does is that it really doesn't give you time to stop and question its logic. That's probably a good thing, because the premise is more than a little haphazard.

For example, Amy and Rory are honeymooning on a space cruiser that's about to crash into the planet of street urchins and fish-clouds, and the Doctor is unable to save them with the TARDIS. It's not remotely clear why this is beyond his capabilities (I think there might have been some BS tech-babble explana…

First Blood (1982)

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Add one more to the list of movies you probably didn't know were set during the Christmas season - until rewatching it, I really didn't notice. It's easy to miss: I didn't notice it coming up even once in conversation, and the majority of the film is set in the wilderness, where it's irrelevant. I'll have some more thoughts about the holidays in a moment, but first I want to talk about something else I'd forgotten.

This is a great movie. I remembered it was good, but that really doesn't do it justice. This is an incredible achievement - one of the best action movies out there, possibly on par with Die Hard.

If you don't recognize the name of the movie, you'll recognize the name of its protagonist: John Rambo. Like Die Hard, it's easy to understand why there was a demand for sequels, though - also like Die Hard - the first installment is the only one that's required viewing.

First Blood opens with Rambo in a rural Washington town trying …