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Showing posts with the label Movie

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 "Captai…

Lost Christmas (2011)

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Lost Christmas was a made-for-TV holiday movie, but because it was made in England, it's actually pretty good. "Pretty good" may be underselling it: this is, in many ways, a fantastic film, though there is a bit of a catch. I'll get into that a bit, but first...

This is one of those movies where spoilers do make a difference, and it's worth seeing, assuming you enjoy this sort of thing. It's a melancholy fairy tale exploring cycles of alienation and guilt before setting things right. Imagine a low-budget urban fantasy reimagining of It's a Wonderful Life and you'll have some sense of what you're in for. If that sounds good, by all means stop reading now and go stream it.

The story centers around two characters. The first is an orphaned boy called Goose living with his grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's. His parents died in a car crash the year before, which was caused indirectly by Goose. Since then, the boy's become a petty thief.

Th…

Santa Jaws (2018)

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Santa Jaws is a made-for-TV Syfy comedy/horror movie about a magical Christmas shark targeting a specific family during the holidays. So... basically it's an unofficial remake of Jaws: The Revenge. Okay, that's not really true - this honestly has more in common with Krampus than Jaws, and it probably owes more to Stranger Things than either. I figure it's a flip of the coin whether this started with someone coming up with the punny title or listening to the Duffer Brothers talk about how they envisioned the Demogorgon as a shark while making season one.

Shockingly, this has a plot. The main character is Cody, a high school student with dreams of becoming a comic artist. Along with a friend, he's created a one-shot story about "Santa Jaws," a great white shark which devours an evil Santa and wears his red hat on her fin.

His family, however, doesn't seem to understand him. To them, he's just an angsty, inactive teenager unable to fit in. When his prin…

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…

The Nutcracker in 3D/The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (2010)

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So, turns out this year's Nutcracker and the Four Realms wasn't as original as I'd thought. Eight years ago, someone else had the idea of flushing 80 million dollars down the toilet trying to merge Nutcracker with Narnia.

According to Box Office Mojo, The Nutcracker in 3D (a.k.a. Nutcracker: The Untold Story) was budgeted at an estimated 90 million dollars. Its total US box office was a little less than two hundred thousand dollars, and its worldwide total was just over 16 million. It's currently sitting on a Freshness rating of zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Somehow, both that and its box office total feel oddly high to me.

The movie is, in all senses of the word, a fiasco, which I honestly mean as a compliment. Somewhere around the time the Nazi Rat King (John Turturro wearing some astonishingly weird prosthetics) finished his jazz solo by electrocuting his pet shark, I realized I was watching something gloriously bad.

I'm getting ahead of myself. The movie st…

The Detective (1968)

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First of all, The Detective is not in any way, shape or form, a Christmas movie. It's not set at Christmas, and it isn't about Christmas, and I'm not claiming anything to the contrary.

So. Why am I talking about it?

While this isn't a Christmas movie, it is indirectly connected to one of the most significant Christmas movies ever made. The Detective is based on a book by the same name, and that book has a sequel called Nothing Lasts Forever which would be adapted into a movie two decades after this one. Unlike The Detective, the name "Nothing Lasts Forever" didn't survive the adaptation: they changed it to Die Hard.

In other words, The Detective is John McClane's origin story. Well, sort of. The main character in The Detective was named Joe Leland, and several details about his relationship with his wife were notably different. But other details, like him being a New York police detective who breaks rules, are consistent.

In some ways, I found the di…

Christmas in the Clouds (2001)

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Modern romantic comedies are hard to do well without either deconstructing the format or tossing in elements from contrasting genres. Christmas in the Clouds takes neither of these paths - at its core, it's just a romcom. It's fundamentally absurd, funny without being hilarious, and almost too sweet.

But I'll be damned if it wasn't charming. This one works.

It helps that it's set a long way from the typical locations these movies play out in. It's also featuring a very different cast: with only a couple exceptions, every character (and actor) is a Native American.

The movie's two leads are Ray and Tina. Ray manages a ski resort owned by his tribe. He's expecting an anonymous reviewer from an influential guidebook to stay over Christmas and write up the resort. When a woman (Tina) shows up traveling alone from New York, his staff assumes they've identified the guide. They give her the best room and bend over backward to make her stay comfortable.

Ti…

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

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Alright, cards on the table. This is one of those movies where spoilers are going to matter. But before we can get to things that shouldn't be spoiled, we need to address a handful that should. And by that, of course, I'm talking about the elements of this 1942 comedy that don't play so well in 2018.

We've got a couple brief but not minor racist sequences, a touch of misogyny, and at least one moment where - despite the anachronistic impossibility - you almost expect a character to pull out a smartphone, open Twitter, and type #MeToo. The moments in this movie that aged poorly aged very poorly.

But if you can look past them, the rest of this is a hilarious, fascinating, and unique holiday film. I'll get to why in a moment, but first I have to deliver on my promise:

*Spoiler Warning*

If you like old movies - hell, if you like comedies in general - this is worth tracking down. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have with each twist and turn. And if …

Neptune's Daughter (1949)

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This is not, by any reasonable definition, a Christmas movie, but we're going to cover it anyway. Why? Because while Neptune's Daughter isn't a Christmas movie, it had a significant impact on Christmas tradition, namely by introducing the song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to the world.

Baby, It's Cold Outside has been debated heavily in recent years, and this year's no different. It's arguably become the single most controversial holiday song in existence. Rather than retread points others have made, I thought it would be interesting to go back and actually look at it in its original context.
Okay, this wasn't actually its original context. Before being sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams on the big screen, it was sung privately by Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland at dinner parties. If anyone has a time machine I could borrow, I'd love to go back and hear it performed in that context, as well. I'll also need to borrow a tux. And…

All I Want for Christmas Is You (2017)

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Oh, great. Someone else thought basing a kid-friendly animated special on a romantic Christmas song was a good idea.

Okay, first let’s be clear. I actually like this song. It’s sappy as heck, but it’s bouncy and fun and easy to sing. But it is clearly about a lover. Not a dog. I mean, we love pets and all, but this is a bit much.

The special is based on Ms. Carey’s book of the same name, also based on the lyrics to her hit song. It’s about a little girl named Mariah and her Christmas wish for a puppy. The Mariah of the special has some things in common with the actual Mariah, but this is clearly much more fiction than memoir.

Anyway, Mariah wants a puppy more than anything, but her dad is allergic and her mother is a neat freak. Her grandmother brings her to the pet store, however, and introduces her to a dog. Quickly dubbed “Princess,” this dog is small but no longer a puppy, well-trained and hypoallergenic. Mariah begins an all-out campaign to convince her parents to let her adopt …

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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I never saw the original Bad Moms, though it's worth noting that the synopsis on Wikipedia makes it sound as though it has something resembling an actual plot, which already sets it above its holiday sequel.

Usually, when I say a movie is difficult to describe in terms of genre, it's a compliment. In most cases, I'm saying a movie transcends boundaries or exists in its own space. Sadly, that's not the case here. A Bad Moms Christmas is a mangled mess of tones, ideas, and tropes. It attempts to be three movies in one, and I'm not even referring to the three distinct storylines following three grown women and their mothers.

That would have been a far better approach - write one woman's story as a farce, the second's as a light comedy, and the third's as a grounded drama - then play with blending these tones when the characters come together. That could have been interesting.

Instead, they just kind of write each scene using one of three tones. If there&#…

Office Christmas Party (2016)

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Office Christmas Party was an R-rated holiday farce, which at this point is really a sub-genre in itself. Blame the success of Bad Santa if you like - I'm pretty sure at least one of these has been made every year for the last decade or so.
This one falls somewhere near the middle of the pack. If you can make it through the first two acts, the film's climax is actually quite a bit of fun, but getting there is a commitment. Nothing in here is awful, but until the plot fully spirals out of control, it's fairly tedious.
And...
I feel like I've written this before. I mean, this is basically what I said about A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas: the set-up was boring; the payoff was solid. Same with The Night Before (though that didn't take quite as long to pick up). I guess it's a common issue with these movies.
Let's get to the premise. It's about, well... an Office Christmas Party. Okay, there's a little more meat, but not much. The party is being t…

Cash on Demand (1961)

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It's a few days before Christmas and bank manager Harry Fordyce (played by Peter Cushing) is making his employees' lives hell. It's not difficult to see the connections between Scrooge and Harry - hell, it's impossible to miss them as he quibbles over every trivial discrepancy and outright ignores their planned holiday party.

Instead of a ghost, he gets visited by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. The thief reveals his true identity to Harry and also tells the manager why he should cooperate: his conspirators have abducted Harry's wife and son and are threatening to torture them. If Harry wants them released safely, he'll have to ensure the robbery goes off without a hitch.

The movie is set almost entirely inside the bank, as Harry is forced to help the criminal outmaneuver his own security protocols. But in the process, Harry also realizes the same lessons Scrooge did a century earlier: that people matter more than money.

It turns out the th…

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

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The Shop Around the Corner is an extremely influential black and white romantic comedy. It's based on the same source material that was updated and adapted into "You've Got Mail," which I should probably watch one of these days.

Like most movies of its era (or at least the ones that have endured), The Shop Around the Corner is a bit complicated. It's well regarded - Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% - but it's also dated. Do I even need to say that the gender politics in a movie made in 1940 are less than ideal? I suppose they could be a lot worse. The male lead manipulates and lies to the woman for half the movie, and in the end, she's just glad to end up with him. But aside from that, she's generally portrayed as intelligent and capable. The premise requires that the two fall in love with each other's minds, rather than their bodies, though there are definitely some awkward jokes around their concerns as to what their mysterious love interests loo…

The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)

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Based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence, The Rocking Horse Winner is a black-and-white movie straddling the line between drama, horror, and fantasy. I found it on a few lists of Christmas movies, though I'm not 100% certain I agree with its inclusion.

The movie either qualifies or fails to qualify solely based on its first twenty minutes, in which one of the lead characters, Paul, receives a rocking horse for Christmas. Granted, that's not entirely dissimilar to our justification for including Sleepless in Seattle. And there's something to be said for a movie that revolves around a haunted Christmas toy.

The tag attributes the gift to Father Christmas, though the movie never directly addresses where it comes from. Presumably, it was purchased by one or both of his parents or his uncle, though it's not an entirely unreasonable interpretation to take the tag at face value. That said, the rocking horse seems to be evil, so that's not the most generous reading towards…

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…