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Showing posts with the label Dramedy

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…

In the Bleak Midwinter (US Title: A Midwinter’s Tale) (1995)

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There are many Christmas movies about families, and many about found families. This delightful black-and-white dramedy from Kenneth Branagh shows that the bonds between the members of a theater company are every bit as dysfunctional and poignant as any other family, if a bit more dramatic.

This is a movie that rewards close attention. It’s absolutely hilarious, but many of the jokes, and nearly all of the character beats, are played so straight and subtle that you’ll miss important details if you’re trusting the movie to telegraph when something is funny.

It also rewards some familiarity with theater people and their habits, although I think it would be enjoyable even without that context. It has a lot in common with the 2003 Canadian television show Slings and Arrows - I suspect this film was an inspiration for that series.

The movie follows Joe, an unemployed actor nearing the end of his rope. He talks his agent into helping him bankroll a passion project: an experimental Christmas…

Angela's Christmas (2017)

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Presented with a CG special with a cute kid and a generic title, we didn't have high hopes when we started this. However, fairly quickly we knew we were looking at something different than your average holiday fluff.

The narrator tells us that the story takes place in the Irish city of Limerick in 1914, and the adult male voice identifies a young girl as Angela, who would grow up to be his mother.

Angela's family is poor, and in the opening scene the four siblings each have to pass down their coats so the baby will be warm as they head out for Christmas Eve Mass. Angela and her brother Pat fight like crazy and almost cause an accident, but the family finally reaches church. Pat continues to pick on Angela and their mother has to separate them.

It's extremely cold in the church, and Angela becomes worried for the baby Jesus in the nativity scene - after all, he's not wearing very much. After the service, she makes an excuse to sneak back inside, and she steals the stat…

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…

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…

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

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I knew going into this movie that despite the title, it wouldn't exactly be a straight adaptation of the book. However, I was surprised how many elements of the well-researched biography made it into this somewhat fantastical film. Plus the heart of the work, the enthusiasm for the subject, definitely transferred.

The movie is a dramatization of the writing of A Christmas Carol with a large dollop of artistic license. I think the liberties taken with the truth are mostly reasonable for the sake of drama, but they are certainly present. For example, it's true that Charles Dickens' father always had trouble with money, that he was always asking for loans and sometimes selling Charles' correspondence, etc. without his knowledge. They did not, to my knowledge, reconcile over the same Christmas when A Christmas Carol was written. A Christmas Carol, along with much of Dickens' other work, was influenced by the times he had worked as a boy when his father was in debtor&#…

Bunheads: A Nutcracker in Paradise (2012)

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Let's be real. Here's what I want you to take away from this review: BUNHEADS IS STREAMING AGAIN. It's on Hulu. Go. Get thee to Hulu. If you are a musical theater nerd like me, go watch the first couple episodes of Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop snarking at each other and see if you don't fall hard.

I'll pause here for a quick moment of silence for the fact that this show only received one season.

The basic premise is that Foster plays Michelle, a professional-dancer-currently-slumming-as-a-Vegas-showgirl who decides to change her life by getting married and moving to a tiny upscale California town, where she helps her mother-in-law (Bishop) run a dance studio. The show is by the woman behind Gilmore Girls and features her standout themes: intergenerational female friendships and pop-culture snark. I prefer this to the earlier show because this one is also about dance and art and living a creative life. (I promise The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on my to-watch list. …

Almost Christmas (2016)

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As far as sub-genres go, "dysfunctional family at Christmas" may have one of the lowest hit rates out there. Most of the ones that work do so by incorporating alternative genre elements to make the concept fresh: The Lion in Winter, Arthur Christmas, and Fred Claus all spring to mind. Those are technically great Christmas movies about a dysfunctional family over the holidays, but the dysfunctional family isn't the part of the synopsis most people would focus on.

Almost Christmas, on the other hand, embodies the more traditional trappings of the sub-genre through and through. If you were to sit down and make a list of tropes you'd expect to find, you'd wind up checking most of them off. There are the siblings who despise each other, the family member with a drug problem, food getting destroyed, a decoration mishap, a wedged in love story... you get the idea.

The substance of this movie certainly isn't original. However, there is one fairly original element: i…

We Bare Bears: Christmas Parties (2016)

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The past seven years have seen a renaissance in TV animation, largely thanks to the success of Adventure Time and its peers. Nostalgia for 60s, 70s, and 80s science-fiction and fantasy lies at the core of most of this wave. We Bare Bears differs in that respect. It's far closer to Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and perhaps even the Berenstain Bears. Sometimes, it even reminds me of old edutainment shows; as though the characters are about to teach us about geography or math.

They don't, incidentally. When the show does communicate a point, it's usually about subtle cases of systemic racism, the difficulty of interacting with a society that views you as an outsider, or - in at least one case - the toxic nature of male entitlement in perceived romantic situations.

If all of that sounds a little heavy, rest assured the show mixes in three or four parts comedy to one part moral. Throw in some surprisingly affecting drama, and you wind up with something that feels like a kid'…

Un conte de Noël (2008)

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Un conte de Noël, or "A Christmas Tale," is a French movie about a dysfunctional family reuniting for the holiday due to Junon, the matriarch, contracting leukemia, the disease that killed her firstborn son, Joseph. She's hoping to avoid this fate herself, but for that she needs a bone marrow donor. There are two candidates: her middle child, Henri, who's something of a drunken failure, and Paul, the mentally ill son of her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who despises Henri.

What else can we throw into the mix? Well, her other surviving son's wife has been loved from afar by her husband's cousin, Henri's girlfriend seems to take great joy in watching him get beaten up, and there might be some sort of ghost wolf wandering around the house.
Of all the movie's unanswered questions, I regret not finding out more about the ghost wolf the most. Is it the spirit of Joseph? Or maybe it's the matriarch's mother's ghost. It's unclear.
Also unclear …

Hey Arnold: Arnold’s Christmas (1996)

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I saw this episode was available on Hulu, read the description about reuniting a family, remembered that this show might be decent, but nothing else about it, and clicked play.

I got a bit more than I bargained for.

First, a little background. Hey Arnold is a late-90s product of Nickelodeon, and it focuses on a group of kids in a fictional city that’s sort of a hybrid (according to the creator) of Seattle, Brooklyn, and Portland (Oregon). Arnold lives with his grandparents, who own a boarding house.

This episode starts off simply enough - scenes of urban holiday fun, kids playing in a snowbound street, that sort of thing. Helga and her friend are walking down the street. (Helga is generally a bully, although she has a secret crush on Arnold.) Helga explains that she’s been asking for the hottest present of the season, official “Nancy Spumoni” snowboots, for months, and if her parents know what’s good for them, she’d better get them.

We switch over to Arnold and his best friend Gera…

6Teen: Deck the Mall (2004)

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Before watching an episode, I'd never heard of the Canadian animated series, 6Teen. After, I found myself nostalgically missing the innocent years in which I'd never seen it.

The series's premise is simple: six teenagers work at the mall, hang out with their friends, and deal with life's challenges. By engaging with relatively serious subject matter and cutting back on slapstick, the show manages to masquerade as something intelligent and mature, while in reality being as superficially hollow and pointless as Saved by the Bell. At least, that's my read after seeing this episode.

The plot concerns the six leads trying to maintain some modicum of holiday spirit despite dealing with last-minute shoppers. Plus, a couple of their parents are dating, which is creating tension around conflicting holiday traditions.

Bored out of your mind yet? Did I mention one gets a job working as one of Santa's elves? Oh, then they all get locked in the mall on Christmas Eve.

Swear…

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't (2004)

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I know, I know. We usually collect things like this into one big post and do them all together. But even with The O.C. being quite a bit better than I'd expected, it still takes some effort to make it through a series this far outside of our wheelhouse (I mean, seriously - this show doesn't have one single superhero). Plus, this is an hour long; not a measly thirty-minute sitcom. And, to top it all off, we're still unpacking from our move and need to stretch this stuff out.

At any rate, the second installment of The O.C.'s annual Chrismukkah specials is at once better and worse than their first. Or maybe it's better because it's worse. It feels like the writers have realized and embraced the fact the show's dramatics are hilarious, because it feels like they've stopped trying to hide it. This episode features some ridiculously melodramatic concepts, but I never had the sense anyone was pretending otherwise. It helped that several minor characters invol…

The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever (2003)

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Until watching this, my impression of The O.C. was that it was some sort of 90210 rip-off. Actually, having never seen an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, that may still hold true. There's got to be a holiday episode of that show....

Sorry. Getting off track.
The point is, my impression of The O.C., a show I knew only through hazy memories of promo spots from the early 00's, was not a positive one. I'd have associated the series with soap opera melodrama. And that was certainly present in this, but there was also a large volume of comedy mixed in: much more than I'd have expected.
In short, it's more a dramedy than a soap opera. And I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the comedic bits were. Granted, they were nowhere near as funny as most of the dramatic bits, but that would have been a high bar to clear.
Apparently, one of the things this show's known for is popularizing the term "Chrismukkah" through a series of annual specials. In case it's…

Shirobako: The Little Key Frames Girl, Exodus Christmas! (2015)

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I love running across unexpected Christmas!

Shirobako is a series following a group of young women who are trying to start careers in the anime industry. The main character is Miyamori Aoi, who works as a production assistant at Musashino Animation.

The series has a slow start and a huge cast of characters, but I like how well it portrays the tension between wanting to work in an artistic field and the reality of trying to make that happen. It’s also really fun to see how many people it takes to make an anime series.

“The Little Key Frames Girl” is the eleventh episode of the series.

Over the first twelve episodes, the company Aoi works for produces an anime called Exodus, and at this point she’s in charge of making sure the final episode is completed on time. She needs animators to work on the most difficult key frames for the final climax, but everyone she calls is busy, and she’s running out of contacts.

She starts walking through the city, and I suddenly realized that it was C…

Santa's Apprentice (2010)

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This is an animated French/Australian/Irish production that was produced (in part) by Cartoon Saloon, the company that made the brilliant, groundbreaking films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. And if there's one thing I learned watching this, it's that not all of Cartoon Saloon's work is brilliant and/or groundbreaking.

This is actually based on an animated series called SantApprentice. I'm not entirely clear on whether this is a reboot or a prequel, since information on the forty-eight episode show seems hard to come by.

Either way, the premise is pretty old hat at this point: Santa's titles and responsibilities are passed down from one Saint Nicholas to the next. If this deviates from the norm, its in failing to offer a reason why. Typically, movies that go this route use provide the obvious explanation - that not even Santa can live forever. But that doesn't seem to be the case here - the previous incarnations are alive, relatively well, and make an…

The Muppets: Single All the Way (2015)

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You know how sometimes I use the existence of a Christmas episode to talk at length about the series it's part of? Yeah, this is definitely going to be one of those times.

For decades, The Muppets have been severely hampered by their own past. The 70's series remains one of the television's all-time greatest series, their first movie was brilliant and whimsical, and their early Christmas specials are legendary. But for several decades, the franchise has lived in those shadows. At best, new productions offered a faithful homage to past successes; at worst, they were cheap cash grabs. This is true even of the specials I've loved - basically, anything after Henson passed felt it was retreading old ground.

The 2011 movie deviated slightly by devoting some attention to considering the nature of the Muppets' relationship to their fictitious world, but by and large it was still more a tribute than a new chapter.

Last year's series, however, was fresh and modern. Sure…