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Showing posts with the label Romance

Holiday Affair (1949)

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The question I most often confront when looking at old romantic comedies is how much of a curve I should grade them on when it comes to overlooking both the use of now cliched tropes and pervasive sexism. Is Holiday Affair good? Well, depending on whether we mean "good for 1949" or "good for 2020," we'll reach distinctly different conclusions. This movie aged... well, fine, relative to most of its contemporaries (or at least the ones I can think of). But it's still dated in ways I found difficult to ignore. I'm not sure if anyone's put together a comprehensive taxonomy for the genre yet, but Holiday Affair would be classified with modern entries like Sleepless in Seattle. The "will they/won't they" tension is built around an illusionary question of whether the character will take a risk for love or settle for the more readily available partner/human obstacle. Really, this is all an update of the old "marry for love or money" c

The Christmas Setup (2020)

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This year saw a seismic shift in Christmas romantic comedies, which had been almost universally heteronormative (the possible exception being Carol , assuming you're willing to use an incredibly forgiving definition of "Christmas movie" and the classic definition of "comedy"). Gay characters have certainly appeared in other Christmas rom-coms, but until 2020, we didn't really see them presented as romantic leads. Depending on how you want to define "Christmas rom-com," this is either the second or third such new movie we've seen, and there's at least one more we didn't get to. That's obviously a great step, though I feel like the impact is undercut by how absurdly late it is. Sitcoms were willing to feature gay characters back in the '90s. By now, you can find representation in cartoon shows. Movies, both driven by big studios and made-for-TV, are behind the times. Still, it's nice to see them taking those first steps. The C

A New York Christmas Wedding (2020)

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A New York Christmas Wedding opens with narration that feels cribbed from Love Actually and informs you right off the bat there's magic heaven-stuff going on. It introduces some characters who get in an argument, then it leaps ahead twenty years and starts throwing exposition at you to catch you up, letting you know two of the three characters you just met are dead. I found myself pitying actors as they recited dialogue that would have been cut from a soap opera... A question dawned on me: were they doing this on purpose? Were they trying to make something so astonishingly bad it becomes a cult favorite? Were they trying to make a Christmas version of The Room? But as the movie started layering its message, it became apparent the opposite was true. Someone believed in this. They were trying. They wanted to make a good movie... I feel bad about this. I'm no stranger to honestly discussing astonishingly bad movies, but they're typically studio productions where the creatives

12 Dates of Christmas (2011)

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I find this movie somewhat perplexing, and not because the premise is a knockoff of Groundhog Day, complete with unexplained temporal paradox. What's weird about this campy made-for-TV romcom is... it's kind of good. Don't get too excited - it's only mostly kind of good; there's still quite a bit that just isn't . Either someone turned in a screenplay too good for the format, and a third got rewritten into schlock, or someone rewrote two-thirds of a schlocky screenplay and forgot to fix the rest. I have no clue which. Granted, that's a hell of a lot better than what you'd expect for an ABC Family Christmas flick. The plot centers on Kate, a woman pining over her ex and planning to try and reconnect for the holidays. Meanwhile, her stepmother has set her up on a blind date, and Kate feels obligated to put in a brief appearance. Before we follow her through her first iteration of interactions with a random cast of people, she briefly faints in a department

Book Review: Tudor Christmas Tidings

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Tudor Christmas Tidings Blythe Gifford, Jenni Fletcher, Amanda McCabe, 2020 This is a new book, but I did not get a copy through NetGalley for review, because Harlequin's standards for reviewers are apparently higher than this website.  Three holiday-themed historical romance novellas. I decided to give this a try when I saw it was available through my local library. I've been more interested in romance this year than previously, but my time could probably have been better spent.  Christmas at Court by Blythe Gifford I did not expect this to go into history as fast and hard as it did. The novella provided very little background information about the politics of the time, but the plot hinged on those same politics. Eventually, I was driven, ashamed, to Wikipedia to refresh my knowledge of Richard III and Henry Tudor.  The main characters in this one (Alice and John) are heirs to important noble houses, and they are semi-secretly betrothed by their parents to seal an alliance bet

A Christmas Movie Christmas (2019)

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I didn't mistype the movie's name - A Christmas Movie Christmas is a meta made-for-TV Christmas movie in which two sisters are pulled into the world of made-for-TV holiday movies. They realize where they are, have some understanding of the tropes and clich├ęs around them, and try to make the most of their circumstances. It's a fun concept, which is sort of a mixed blessing, because - while this certainly isn't a total loss - it left me more than a little disappointed no one else could take the same premise and do it better. The two protagonists are Eve and Lacy. Eve loves Christmas romances, while Lacy is more pragmatic. After a brief intro, they run into a Salvation Army Santa, give him a few bucks, and make Christmas wishes. Eve wishes for a perfect, old-fashioned Christmas, while Lacy makes her wish silently. No surprise, but it turns out that's the real Santa, and they wake up in "Holiday Falls," an absurdly cheerful village where everyone's full of

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

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 c

Let It Snow (2019)

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Netflix has been trying for a few years to encroach on Hallmark’s dominance of the disposable holiday rom-com. One of this year’s attempts is this adaptation of a set of YA short stories. The film starts and ends with narration by Joan Cusack. She is, of course, awesome, but the narration itself is so corny and obvious that I was literally laughing out loud, and not in a good way. Taking place over December 24, the movie follows four and a half separate stories and features an array of attractive young actors, many of whom have history working for Netflix or Nickelodeon. I have already forgotten all the characters' names. Many major plot moments take place at a restaurant called Waffle Town. The plots each fall into a basic romance trope or two: Pining for the girl next door Too-practical girl has meet-cute with celebrity in search of "something real" One-night stand (maybe one-night hangout, it's ambiguous) turns out to be true love Girl dumps cheating b

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 comfortab

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 l

A Holiday to Remember (1995)

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I'm not trying to be clever when I call "A Holiday to Remember" forgettable: it's honestly just the first adjective that pops into my mind. It's been less than twelve hours since I subjected myself to this made-for-TV movie, and I'm already having a hard time recalling details. A Holiday to Remember belongs to a sub-genre best called the Christmas melodram-rom-com. It sounds specific, but - trust me - there are millions of these things. It tries to appeal to everyone by encapsulating all genres simultaneously, but forgets to do any of them even halfway well. If there's a reason this was made, it was likely to serve as a vehicle for country music star Randy Travis. This isn't quite his first acting credit, but it shows up early in his filmography. He plays Clay, one of the two romantic leads, though the narrative follows Carolyn, who's played by someone you've never heard of (Connie Sellecca is actually pretty good, at least compared to th

Susan Slept Here (1954)

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Susan Slept Here is a lighthearted romantic comedy from the classic age of cinema about statutory rape. And here I thought romantic comedies from the nineties were problematic. The movie's two leads are Mark, played by Dick Powell, and the titular Susan, played by Debbie Reynolds. Mark is a Hollywood screenwriter with an Oscar to his name. Said statuette narrates the movie via voice-over. Think of it as a running gag devoid of humor or point. Despite some success in his past, Mark's in a rut. He's not satisfied with the work he's doing, and he's not satisfied with his beautiful, rich girlfriend. On Christmas Eve, a police officer shows up with a seventeen-year-old delinquent, explaining that Mark had expressed interest a few years earlier in making a movie with a character like this. The cop caught the girl (Susan, obviously) after she attacked a sailor with a bottle, but he doesn't want her to spend the holidays in jail. Instead, he has the idea of relinq

Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special

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Back in late July, when only the obsessed started thinking about Christmas, Hallmark aired a program which is perhaps the purest expression of the holiday we’ve seen in some time. It is all anticipation and no substance, and it makes you feel somewhat unsatisfied and nauseated. It is the Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special. This is a half-hour program broken up into chunks with their own little intros and outros. It's very similar to the promotions that play in the theater before a movie, and I suspect these are intended to be broken up and used that way. The host is here to introduce us to a selection of this year’s new Hallmark Christmas movies. She is wearing a Christmas red cold-shoulder dress with rhinestones around the holes and wondering where her career went so wrong. The first movie they’re teasing is called Christmas Joy . The premise, so far as we can tell: young woman comes to town to help sick aunt, takes over a cookie compet

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

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Surprisingly good for a TV movie that first aired on Lifetime, this ghost story/romance still had a few missteps. First, we follow a man through the show. He sees a house in the distance; a woman comes out. A man comes out and appears to embrace her. And then THWACK. He's dead. And then an opening sequence! I'm ashamed to admit that after so many movies featuring B-roll of New York City in snow, I failed to notice that this sequence is actually supposed to be Boston. We just thought it was surprisingly snowy. Like many terrible rom-coms, this movie introduces its female lead by establishing that she "doesn't know how to love" and "works too much." Like few of them, this sequence is actually delightful. Kate is much better off without her wanna-be psychoanalyst boyfriend and seems to get real satisfaction from her job. Said job, for a law firm, is sending her out of town to visit a historic inn. The woman who owned it has passed away with no hei