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Showing posts with the label Erin Snyder

That's a Wrap on Our First Decade

This wraps up ten seasons of Mainlining Christmas. Yup, a full decade down, and we've got nightmares brimming with sugarplums to prove it. In theory, this probably should have been our biggest year, the one we went all out to celebrate. But, frankly, we've had way bigger things occupying our attention than holiday movies and songs. I hope this doesn't dispel the magic too much, but the vast majority of content we reviewed this year was watched and written up prior to the birth of our daughter over the summer. Since then, we've been busy. And tired. Also sick.

Turns out, having a kid is hard.

But it's also all kinds of incredible. I won't rehash all the cliches: I think everyone knows this is life-changing in more ways than one. If you've got the inclination and ability to bring a small human into your life, I recommend it.

This Christmas... it's been weird so far. I wasn't joking about the sick part: all three of us have had one virus or another ove…

I Trapped the Devil (2019)

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I Trapped the Devil is a low-budget, direct-to-streaming horror film with a clever premise, some great atmosphere, and a script that could really have used a few more passes before filming. That said, it's fairly good (though not quite great), so if you're into this genre, feel free to drop out now before the spoilers start flying.

The plot centers around four characters, and one of them spends more than 99% of the movie off-screen. There are also a pair of cops who show up at the start and end, but they're fairly inconsequential.

The three named, significant characters are Matt, Karen, and Steve. Karen is married to Matt, who's Steve's brother, and the couple show up out of the blue at Steve's house on Christmas Eve, expecting him to be happy to see them. There's been some sort of falling out or something, and everyone has secrets.

At least, I think they have secrets. None of that really comes up or gets explained: we're just kind of told there's …

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…

Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas (2014)

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I've wanted to see this since its release, but that compulsion kept being thwarted by an even stronger compulsion to not give any money directly to the people who made it. There didn't seem to be any easy way to watch this - Netflix didn't even carry the DVD last I checked - so I mostly gave up.

However, Saving Christmas has now appeared on multiple streaming platforms, so I was finally able to watch it. As a public service to readers of this site, I will not be specifying which streaming services, in the hopes none of you have to endure what I just went through.

I went in expecting this to be a very bad movie, but I have to say I was mistaken. Despite everything you may have heard, Saving Christmas is not really a movie. It's closer to a documentary, but I don't think it really meets the criteria for that, either. Really, it's a piece of propaganda.

At any rate, the "movie" opens with Kirk Cameron sitting on what appears to be the set of an old-fash…

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a farcical comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's in the National Film Registry and ranked on AFI's 100 Funniest Films list, so it's well-regarded. I'll give you my thoughts in a moment, but let's get through the plot first. This one's... weird.

Filmed and set during World War II, the plot centers around the character of Trudy Kockenlocker, a policemen's daughter deeply concerned for soldiers heading off to war. Against her father's wishes, she meets six soldiers at a farewell dance then winds up having too much to drink (and maybe slightly concussed from an impact with a hanging decoration) and wakes the next morning a little uncertain as to what occurred. She pieces the night together a little later and realizes she got married to one of the departing soldiers, but - due to her foggy memory - isn't sure which one or what his name was. The matter becomes more pressing when she discovers she's …

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…

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (2017)

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Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a Canadian documentary/musical ostensibly chronicling the influence several Jewish songwriters had on the holidays. I say "ostensibly" because - somewhat appropriately - the documentary itself seems to go through an identity crisis. It's difficult to summarize what the final product is, since it feels like the purpose and core idea must have changed a few times during production.

I'll back up. This opens with a quick introduction from the filmmaker, Larry Weinstein, who grew up fascinated by Christmas, a holiday he never felt like he could participate in. But from the start he lets us know this isn't quite accurate: his family had Christmas traditions built around avoiding the obvious trappings. He briefly explores the roots of the traditional Chinese meal enjoyed by many Jewish families at the holidays.

A little too briefly, frankly. This is an interesting topic in itself, but Weinstein glosses over the history. This is going t…

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 Knight Before Christmas (2019)

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The Knight Before Christmas is another of this year's Netflix entries in their growing collection of Hallmark inspired, tween-friendly romantic comedies. Although it deviates from the formula and contains no princesses or royalty, I'd also group it in the sub-sub-genre of "Christmas Princess" films, due to tonal similarities.

The premise, that a medieval knight gets transported through time to the present day, where he meets a woman who doesn't believe in storybook romance and convinces her otherwise, feels as though it started with the pun in the movie's title and the rest was haphazardly developed around it.

I'm guessing it won't surprise you to hear this thing is, first and foremost, astonishingly stupid, even for this genre. What might surprise you is this: I didn't hate this. I'll get to why in a moment, but first let's synopsize.

The knight in question is Sir Cole (played by Josh Whitehouse), a fourteenth-century knight seeking to b…

The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

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When we talk about movies from the 1940s or 1960s, we often fall back on the adage "it was of its time" as sort of an explanation for problematic content or offensive cultural norms that have since evolved. Today, I want to look at a comedy from 2003 that I believe was "of its time."

Comedy at the turn of the millennium was largely dominated by two titans. On television, South Park had achieved almost unimaginable success by combining crass humor with rough animation. Meanwhile, Austin Powers continued to cast a long shadow across film.

If someone in 2003 were to attempt to replicate surface-level properties of those two franchises without actually understanding what made either work, you'd expect the result to be something very similar to The Hebrew Hammer, an independent production that wound up getting a heavily edited release on cable television.

The movie's title character is more or less an attempt to answer the question, "What if Shaft were Jew…

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…

Noelle (2019)

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Noelle, one of a handful of made-for-streaming movies released with Disney+, feels like a derivative premise mulched by a committee that's still mostly redeemed by Anna Kendrick's presence and likability.

Kendrick plays Noelle Kringle, daughter of Santa Claus and therefore (Disney) princess of the North Pole. They're not afraid of using the p-word, either. Her servant elf calls her "Princess" as a nickname, and Noelle uses it herself at least once. Also, she has a pet reindeer she calls using the generic Disney princess song. Honestly, it was kind of nice to see a Disney movie where they embrace the term again instead of treating it like a insult.

Ever since she was a child, Noelle's wanted to do something important, but all the attention was placed on her brother, Nick (Bill Hader), heir apparent to the family legacy. Oh, I should probably have mentioned we're doing the whole Santa-bloodlines-thing they did in Arthur Christmas. In fact, there's a lo…

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

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We missed this one in theaters last year, mainly because it wasn't playing anywhere we could get to without a hassle. At the time, we regretted it quite a bit. Anna and the Apocalypse was getting good reviews and had an intriguing premise: a horror-comedy-zombie-Christmas-musical. That's the sort of thing we love!

Well, it can be the sort of thing we love. In this case, it turned out to be the sort of thing we like, which - given our arguably unreasonable expectations - meant it was kind of a disappointment.

The story, absent the musical gimmick (and unfortunately I do mean gimmick) follows fairly well-trod zombified ground. The main character and her friends are dealing with mundane problems and issues that have strained relationships with loved ones and each other. Then the apocalypse hits, and they spend the movie trying to reconnect with family and friends, growing as people along the way. And, of course, almost everyone dies horribly, usually after or while resolving the…