Showing posts with the label Dramedy

Dear Santa (2011)

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, 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…

Family Ties: A Christmas Story (1982), A Keaton Christmas Carol (1983), and Miracle in Columbus (1987)

In 1985, I was six years old, Family Ties was my favorite show on television, mostly because of Michael J. Fox's Alex Keaton. Re-watching a few episodes three decades later, I can't really tell why I liked the show all that much, though Fox's deliveries seem to be the highlight.

The show's premise revolved around a couple of liberal ex-hippies raising kids who were more in tune with 80's materialism and conservative politics. As a meditation on the power of the instinct to rebel, even when that means rebelling against the very concept of rebellion, I'd expect them to have enough material to fill two or three hours. The fact this show lasted seven seasons (including the three holiday episodes below) plus a made-for-TV movie doesn't bode well for its watchability.

A Christmas Story (1982): This episode starts on Christmas Eve while the Keatons are getting ready to drive to a ski lodge for the holiday. A blizzard forces them to change those plans, and they win…

Rocky IV (1985)

After Rocky's friend, Apollo Creed, is killed in the ring fighting a Russian boxer, Rocky flies to the Soviet Union, where he trains then defeats the Russian on Christmas Day. And... that's pretty much everything that happens. Huh. Usually the synopsis takes longer to write.

If you're confused how the above could fill 90 minutes, you are seriously underestimating just how many rock montages can be fit in a single movie. To be perfectly honest, I lost count. There's an argument to be made that this might qualify as a musical. James Brown shows up at one point.

Beyond the plot and montages, Sylvester Stallone (who wrote and directed the film) managed to find time to work in a robot helper which looks a little like a stereo system on top of a coffee maker. Also, it might be sentient. And Paulie may or may not be sleeping with it - the movie was somewhat ambiguous on this point.

Likewise, it is unclear whether Rocky and Apollo were lovers. 1980's sexual conservatism w…

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…

Happy Christmas (2014)

This is a Christmas dramedy starring Anna Kendrick. It's a small movie, focused on a handful of characters and their relationships. The dialogue was improvised, which results in very believable interactions.

There's less a story than a premise behind the picture. A woman in her twenties who's just broken up with a boyfriend goes to stay with her older brother, his wife, and their infant for the holidays. Obviously, the younger sister's irresponsible nature creates conflict, but they sidestep sitcom shenanigans. Instead, we're shown the fundamental disconnect between someone still fixated on what happened and grown-ups more concerned with what could have happened.

There are a handful of other factors. The wife's desire to write more, the brother's attempt to juggle the various aspects of his life, and the sister's issues coming to terms with her new life. None of it really slides together in much of a story, but that's kind of the point. The charact…

Doogie Howser, M.D.: Doogie the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1989)

First off, a disclaimer: I have never before in my life seen an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. I knew of it later, when NPH hit the spotlight, but didn't hear much when it was on.

Can anyone tell me why the theme song is MIDI? It’s… I can‘t explain it.

Anywho, we’ll take the premise as presented in the opening: kid genius becomes a doctor, deals with being both a practicing physician and a teenager. I don’t know whether that’s the plot of every episode, but ot was the plot of this one.

The episode opens with a lot of establishing material: Doogie (I’m sorry, side note. I cringe every time I type this. It’s terrible. Why on Gaea’s green earth would anyone call another human being Doogie when they weren’t actively shoving said person into a locker at the same moment? Okay, we’re back.) talks a lot of medicine and runs about being efficient and reminding the audience that he’s good at his job and his colleagues like him.

I was actually surprised and happy to see that he’s just good…

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

I found Beyond Tomorrow listed on a list of theatrically released Christmas movies I found on Wikipedia that we're using as a checklist. I didn't remember ever hearing about it, so I added it to my Netflix queue. But before it came up, I found a copy in one of our bins of unwatched Christmas DVD's. Actually, I found two copies; one in a compilation, and another remastered version.

I'm starting to think we should invest the time to re-organize our collection.

I should probably mention that the remastered version was also re-branded as "Beyond Christmas." That was released in 2004 and included a color version along with the original. I'm not sure if their were legal reasons for the title change or if they just thought it would sell better with the word "Christmas" stamped across the top.

The movie has a lot in common with Bell, Book and Candle and The Bishop's Wife, though it seems to be even less well known. It's a shame, because - aside…

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…

The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012) [Nice List]

Lindsay and I reached dramatically different conclusions on this; probably as extreme as anything we've ever seen for this blog. That said, we can't actually point to many details we're in complete disagreement on: we simply weighed the positive and negative aspects of the special differently.

Extremely differently.

This is a sequel to The Snowman, a British Christmas special that's been around for three decades. The original is hands-down the best animated holiday special that I've ever seen, and I've seen damn near all of them. If you haven't seen The Snowman, just... no. Stop reading this, track it down, and watch it. I don't care if it's late, if you're tired, if you came across this write-up in the middle of April, or any other excuses. It is required viewing.

It's also something that, by all rights, should never be touched again. Before we put this on, the very notion of a sequel didn't just feel unnecessary: it was blasphemous. An…

The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012) [Naughty List]

So once upon a time there was a gorgeous piece of art, The Snowman.

And some people saw The Snowman, and thought, hey, we should do a sequel! We’ll get the creator on board, it’ll be great.

Two years later, The Snowman and the Snowdog was born.

And.. it’s not terrible. GOD F*CKING D*MN IT.

Because if it were terrible, I could just tell you it was terrible and we could all move on. But no.

I enjoyed it.

However, as I told Erin after the movie: “I liked it the way I feel emotional at Pixar movies even if the scene isn’t actually any good.”

The writers did an excellent job checking off all the boxes and twisting the emotional beats to create a perfect facsimile of The Snowman. It’s like the uncanny valley. It’s almost perfect, but there’s something unsettling. Something wrong.

This version stars a new little boy, which I liked. And I liked a lot about the animation. The building of the snowman especially was very well done. This was clearly carefully created. I was emotionally move…

A Very Brady Christmas (1988)

I haven't seen very many episodes of The Brady Bunch, but from the little I remember, A Very Brady Christmas managed to capture the stone and style of the show perfectly. Incidentally, I believe the previous sentence ranks among the all-time most condemning insults I've ever lobbed in a review for this blog.

It should be noted that this was produced in 1988, which was about nineteen years after the series had started. By this time, the Bradys had actually expanded into something of a cinematic Universe. Most of the kids had gotten married in earlier reunions and spin-off series, opening up a whole new generation of cloying Brady children.

The best description for the plot is that of a blender. What little story exists does so in brief, unrelated chunks. The impetus for the reunion revolves around Mike and Carol Brady trying to surprise each other with a Christmas vacation. The special sets this up as a potential major plot point, before defusing the tension in a scene about t…

The Lion in Winter (1968)

The Lion in Winter is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family coming together for the holidays. There are a series of mishaps, comic interactions, and details laid out about the character's histories and relationships. The parents are separated but still have feelings for each other, the children have long since chosen sides, and someone's ex-boyfriend shows up and humiliates everyone. Without a doubt, it's firmly entrenched in the sub-genre of dysfunctional family Christmas dramedies.

The first element that makes it infinitely more watchable than almost every one of its competitors is that it's set in 1183, and the family in question are the British royalty. The more important factors are that it's brilliantly written and features a cast of legendary actors. Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton... it doesn't get much more impressive than that.

The script is adapted from a play of the same name which only predates the movie b…

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, …

A Baby Blues Christmas Special (2000)

Remember the show Baby Blues? Of course you don't. Apparently, it was one of the myriad animated sitcoms that was produced in the past two decades that producers hoped would miraculously obtain the kind of success The Simpson enjoyed, but that wound up being cancelled after half a season. When you think about it, it's a lot like the gold rush. Sure, every now and then a show like Family Guy or King of the Hill will inexplicably pull a nugget of gold out of a mountain stream in Colorado, but for every one of them a dozen Family Dogs and Capital Critters drown while trying to cross the Mississippi River.

Baby Blues was sort of like a cross between Dr. Katz and Dilbert. It was based on a comic strip of the same name, which I've also never heard of.

The Christmas Special was also the series's pilot. At least it was supposed to be: the WB produced it then sat on it. They wound up airing five other episodes then cancelling the series. It was eventually aired late night on Ca…

Prancer (1989)

I started watching Prancer with quite a bit of trepidation. Erin said, “Well, think of it this way, it’s at least probably better than any other lost reindeer movie we’ve seen.”

While that’s a low bar, I’m happy to report that Prancer not only passes, that it’s overall a pretty good movie despite a lame ending.

I liked the main character from the very first scene. Jessica is a little girl with a big imagination and a bigger mouth. She’s stubborn and angry. She fights with her friends and with her brother and with her dad. She sticks to her guns and never gives up. I really liked her.

One of the big strengths of this movie is that the dialogue feels strangely real, especially the kids’ dialogue. The child actors are fantastic. Jessica’s dad (Sam Elliot) is having economic troubles and trouble caring for her since her mom died, but their relationship is never schmaltzy. It’s full of things unsaid and words said in frustration, then awkwardly taken back. Her aunt has offered to take her…

I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003)

This is an hour-long Peanuts Christmas special from a decade ago. I wasn't expecting much, on account of the fact it's fairly recent, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The special focuses almost entirely on Rerun van Pelt, Linus and Lucy's younger brother. I know that sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it actually had a pretty neat effect, particularly on Charlie Brown. For once, he's not a martyr: in fact, Rerun envies the fact he has a dog. It has the effect of making the Peanuts' world less one-dimensional, while providing some sense that these characters are starting to grow up.

There's not a lot of plot here, but Rerun's desire for a pet holds this together. There's a sort of kid-friendly existentialism at play here, as Rerun ponders the unfairness of the universe. The whole thing has a very melancholy tone you wouldn't expect, either. There are a lot of jokes - most of which are genuinely funny - but at it's core, this is about alienati…

Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually is to romantic comedies what absinthe is to spirits. It represents the essence of a genre distilled to a point where it no longer tastes likes a romantic comedy, but even in small doses will still mess with your head.

For better and for worse, Love Actually does not come packaged in small doses.

This clocks in at around two hours and fifteen minutes. While I did enjoy the movie on this viewing, I would have thanked its editor for amputating forty-five minutes of that.

I say "this viewing," because this is the second time I saw the film. I didn't care for it much after the first, though I slid it into that rare category of movies I didn't like but thought were quite good. I was actually someone distressed to find myself enjoying it this time, as I like having a handful of movies fitting that description I can whip out in conversation.

Love Actually is about love. The theme is "love." The plot is "love." The characters are all in love…

Christmas with a Capital C (2010)

I want a documentary about the making of this movie.

It would start with Brad Stine, a conservative Christian stand-up comedian doing a routine mocking people for saying "Happy Holidays." If you want to get the most out of this review, I recommend watching this before going on - it'll help offer some important context. If you can't make it through the whole thing, at least watch the first minute and a half:

Well, Stine's routine got the attention of a Christian rock band, Go Fish, who wrote a song about it. I'm embedding their music video.

And. Yes, you should really watch some of this, too. I know, I know... but this is important. This is going somewhere.

Ugh. Yeah, I'm pretty sure they were serious.

So, I guess that was popular in the Christian music scene, because a Christian production company decided to make a movie based on it. That song plays during the closing credits, and Stine has a supporting role where he delivers a rant based on his routine …

Christmas Cupid (2010)

Wow, what a terrible movie. I mean, we knew it was almost certainly terrible going in, but it descended to unanticipated levels of terribleness.

It’s a TV movie from ABC Family. Do I need to say more?

Okay, here goes. A rising-star publicist by the unlikely name of Sloane faces a ridiculous riff on Christmas Carol when her recently deceased client shows up to fix her love life. It’s… almost cute in places, but the whole package is just horrible.

Characters who are supposed to be “awful” are immediately and obviously “awful” in the most stereotypical ways. Oh, and the main character used to date a cute doctor? Guess who she’ll end up with? The whole beginning is ridiculous as they try to establish a ludicrous status-quo. Sloane is dating the boss’ son and has a rivalry with an ex-boyfriend! Sloane sometimes doesn’t have time for everyone in her life because she has a busy job! Wow, sounds… normal. Sloane deals absurdly poorly with the whole haunted-by-the-ghost-of-your-client thing, i…

Rugrats: The Santa Experience (1992)

It turns out I remember Nicktoons better than I thought I did, because I remembered this episode as we watched it. That’s always an odd feeling. It was also odd that it never once came up in this heavily Christmas-themed episode that one of the adults is Jewish, and the main kid is thus half-Jewish.

At first I thought: maybe they hadn’t decided that about the characters at this point in the show (The Rugrats Chanukah special didn’t hit ‘til 1996) but a little googling tells me that it was in the first episode. So… that’s weird. I guess they didn’t think the viewing kids could handle more than one religion at a time.

And anyway, this one’s all about Santa.

For most of the episode, it’s actually quite well done. The episode is just packed with intertwining plots. Angelica’s dad is concerned about her being traumatized by the unmasking of a mall Santa (she’s just pissed that the toys the store gave her for her temper tantrum aren’t the expensive stuff she wants). Chuckie is afraid of an…