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Showing posts with the label Highly Recommended

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Of all the movies we've discussed on this blog, Fruitvale Station's relationship with the holidays (specifically New Year's Eve) is by far the most tragic. The film takes place almost entirely over the course of that day and the following morning, when Oscar Grant was killed by police on his way home from celebrating. The movie is less concerned with plot than with painting a picture of the 22-year-old victim, showcasing his relationships with his mother, daughter, and girlfriend. That's not to say there isn't a story - the events are absolutely structured into a narrative - but the real takeaway isn't how or why this occurred so much as the implications they have for the characters. Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan, lost his job a few weeks before the movie started and has been keeping this from his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melanie Diaz) and his mother (Octavia Spencer). Sophina is already upset with him after catching him having an affair, so he's r

Last Christmas (2019)

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So, technically I should probably open this with a spoiler warning, because structurally this is one of *those* movies where the entire plot hinges on a single misdirect, but... here's the thing. If you've ever seen a movie before - quite literally any movie - you will see the twist coming. Not near the end: from the moment the "twist" character shows up. Hell, I mostly figured it out from the trailer. By the time the obligatory realization montage plays and the main character realizes the truth, I literally said to the screen, "You don't have to do this - everyone gets it." But here's a twist you might not have seen coming: I love this movie. I love it unironically. Also, I love it ironically. This might be the first movie reviewed on Mainlining Christmas to earn both a "highly recommended" and a "so bad it's good" label. It feels like someone made a computer program watch 10,000 hours of Christmas movies and spit out a scrip

White Reindeer (2013)

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White Reindeer is a Christmas dramedy written and directed by indie filmmaker Zach Clark and largely financed through Kickstarter. The only famous actor in this is Joe Swanberg, who directed  Happy Christmas , which was made with a similar focus on realism over conventional narrative. That said, White Reindeer occasionally drifts into the surreal - maybe even the supernatural, though that's ambiguous. As I often do with movies I like, I'm going to cut to the chase and let you know this is absolutely a movie I recommend. By design, it's a tad light on payoff, and it's certainly not a feel-good movie, but it's a fascinating, honest look at how alienating and difficult the Christmas season can be for anyone who isn't in a position to appreciate cheer and goodwill. A few caveats before anyone starts streaming, though: this movie should have a warning upfront for flashing lights, and I don't remember seeing one. I don't think I've ever seen the kind of fu

3615 code Père Noël (1989)

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Occasionally, I have the rare privilege of watching a movie that not only widens my appreciation for the scope of the grander Christmas canon, but potentially explains lingering questions about existing holiday classics. Not only is this one of those movies, it is an absolutely fantastic film in its own right, a horror/action/comedy/adventure in the vein of Rare Exports and Krampus made decades before either of those films. But for the purposes of history, it's more significant that it was made one year after Die Hard and two years before Home Alone. A lot of people have joked about similarities between those films - I've done so myself. But deep down, I always assumed those similarities were ultimately due to similar holiday tropes being used in initially divergent ways that became similar due to the movies' premises. Convergent cinematic yuletide evolution, if you will. After watching 3615 code Père Noël, however, I'm less certain. This 1989 French masterpiece (so, ye

The Proposition (2005)

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Every now and then we come across a Christmas movie and find ourselves a little ashamed it took us this long to discover it. The longer the blog goes on, the less and less common this phenomenon becomes, but when it does occur, it's all the more embarrassing. This is absolutely one of those times. I assume I must have seen this on numerous lists of movies set at the holidays and most likely glanced at the title, dismissed it as yet another rom-com, and figured we'd get to it eventually. This is not a romantic comedy. It's a highly realistic, brutally violent western set in Australia. It's beautifully shot, darkly tragic, and thematically driven. In short, we're absolutely recommending this - it's by far the best Christmas western we've seen. Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. We're recommending this with a giant caveat: this isn't an adventure film or a campy comedy or anything you'd call "fun." It reflects the horror of the time,

DuckTales: Last Christmas (2018)

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The worst thing I can say about the DuckTales reboot is that nothing about the show feels particularly revolutionary. Obviously, there's no reason it should, but it's the only thing that differentiates it from any of the best animated shows of all time. It's not subversive and dark like Batman TAS; it's not shocking and cerebral like Mystery Inc.; it's not progressive like Steven Universe or as profoundly optimistic as Phineas and Ferb. It's just... nearly perfect in every way imaginable. I apologize for being so harsh. So is this just the level of quality we should expect going forward? If so, I'm not complaining - the DuckTales reboot is fantastic, and I'm loving every minute. It's just... I'm kind of bewildered. Given the significance of the IP coupled with the money thrown at this (I mean, just look at the voice cast), shouldn't this have been shredded through meddling studio notes or something? How the hell did this series not only r

Happiest Season (2020)

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When making a Christmas movie, it's important not to take too much on. It's fine to try and blend a couple subgenres or ideas, but if you were to, say, attempt to fuse three distinct premises into a single movie that's already destined to be unfairly judged as the first mainstream lesbian romantic Christmas comedy, then one of two things is going to happen. Either something isn't going to work and your gingerbread house of cards is going to collapse, or... ...Or you're going to inexplicably pull off a goddamn miracle of a film that puts damn near every other Christmas movie ever made to shame and causes everyone else working in Hollywood to resent you for making them look bad. Yeah, so, if I were director Clea DuVall, I wouldn't expect to get invited to a lot of holiday parties this year, but that's fine because there's a pandemic. Besides, she could probably use some time to start drafting acceptance speeches, because this movie is the real deal. In cas

Dash & Lily: Season 1 (2020)

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Dash & Lily is an 8-episode-long Netflix series set entirely around the holidays. Now that binge-able shows are the norm, I suppose it was inevitable that these would start popping up (I speculated as much while talking about season 3 of Fargo last year). I'll acknowledge I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what Dash & Lily is, or at least what it's best described as. At the time I'm writing this, I don't know for sure if it's intended as a limited series, the first season of an ongoing show, or what. But even beyond that, it kind of exists in a gray area between television and film. It doesn't conform to either medium, but rather incorporates elements as needed. Which is great, honestly. I sometimes think we get overly attached to conventions to the point that entertainment is forced into boxes it doesn't belong in. The vast majority of what defines a "television show" or a "theatrical film" is based on the limita

Ben is Back (2018)

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I'd better open by recommending this movie, because if I start with the premise, you'll probably dismiss it without reading through the review. Also, it's worth seeing unspoiled - it's marketed as a drama, but it's got more than a little suspense mixed in (think In Bruges, minus most of the dark comedy), and knowing where it's going would undercut the impact. So if you like drama, suspense, and/or good movies, stop reading and go watch it. It's really not hard to track down. I'll warn you in advance the synopsis for Ben is Back is going to read a lot like an afterschool special, so you'll have to trust me when I say this is something exceptional. The titular Ben is a recovering addict who leaves rehab to spend Christmas with his family. His mother, Holly, is both overjoyed to have him home and terrified he'll relapse. Some of the family is more cautious - the oldest of his siblings doesn't trust him, nor does his stepfather. Apparently, incid

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 Academ

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'

Comic Book Review: Klaus (1-7)

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Note: Image not actually a good representation of the story. Klaus (Issues #1-7) Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, 2015-2016 I remember seeing this title about a reimagined Santa hit stores. I've always been intrigued but also very tentative about it. A big part of why I never read this book before now is that I've been burned before on Santa retellings, and the cover art was fairly realistic/Conan in style, making me think it would be too dark. I have strong opinions on what is appropriate Santa behavior and what is not. I have a history with this character that I'm protective of. In short, I have FEELINGS about this topic. Now I've read it, and... y'all, this might be a new favorite. I love the ridiculous line the book tries to walk from the first page. It's not actually realistic in any sense, but it's treating ludicrous situations and characters seriously. It's practically pulling from Santa Claus Is Coming to Town , with a town under the t

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. ------------ 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.

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

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The Peanuts Movie somewhat breaks our litmus test for Christmas movies, in that it objectively passes despite the fact it's pretty clearly not a holiday film in any meaningful sense of the phrase. For those of you who don't want to read through my treatise on the subject , there are a handful of binary questions we can ask, and any movie receiving a "yes" on one or more those questions is considered, for the purposes of this blog, a Christmas movie. The most basic of those questions is whether or not more than 50% of a movie is clearly set at or around the holidays, and The Peanuts Movie passes. In fact, the vast majority of the film - everything except the ending - is adjacent to Christmas. But the reason for this is, well, pretty trivial. As far as I can tell, The Peanuts Movie's setting is just an homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas . Beyond that, the holidays really don't come up. I've seen a few other movies where Christmas seemed to be more a

Shazam! (2019)

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Before I get started, I just want to take a minute and acknowledge how surreal it is that you can go to the movie theater this weekend and watch both Captain Marvel and Shazam. Billy Batson and Carol Danvers are two characters I never thought we'd see on the big screen - Batson because he's silly and Danvers because I'd have sworn the one line Marvel would never cross would be putting out a movie with their company name embedded in the title - but here we are. And both of them are good. Really good, in really different ways. But not for different reasons: both Shazam! and Captain Marvel were made with respect and love for the characters being adapted, and it comes through in the finished products. I'll set Captain Marvel aside. Aside from sharing a convoluted history with Shazam! (if you have no idea what I'm referring to, pour yourself a Scotch when you've got an hour to kill and go read the Wikipedia histories on the characters calling themselves "