12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Final Part)

It’s time, ladies and gentlemen. The final part in my 12 Films of Christmas series. And honestly, it’s most likely not only for this year. While fun has been had with this series, I do feel that it’s getting a little stale. Plus, it is a little draining cranking out themed content at this rate. So consider this series retired… at least for the time being, I might get the urge to bring it back in a few years. But seeing as it’s the alleged final 12 Films of Christmas post, I thought it only appropriate to bring out the grandfather of all holiday films.

So today we’re talking about “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the acclaimed 1946 holiday drama. It follows George (James Stewart) and the many ups and downs of his life. Yeah, it’s basically this man’s life story from child to depressed businessman. It’s a fascinating little holiday tale with sads and happies and other emotions. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t find the story perfect. I do feel that it does drag a little at times, mainly in the first two acts. It’s not film-breaking, but it does bring it down a little for me. While I generally think George is a fascinating fella, and the story an intriguing and pretty nuanced one, I do feel that the film’s weird pacing hurts it to some degree.
But I can’t deny just how fucking good that final act is. That’s when the story truly kicks into high gear. That’s where the film really starting hitting me in the ol’ heart. The final act is perfect.
So yeah, I don’t love this as much as the rest of you… but I still think it’s really solid and I’m definitely glad I watched it.

On the twelfth day of christmas, this series it did die
But to this blog Markus he’ll never say goodbye

Merry fucking christmas, friends. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna take a few days off.

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 11)

Only one more of these left after today. THANK GOD. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing for you guys. But writing for 12 days straight is a bit draining. So when this is over I’m gonna take a few days off. But until then, let’s talk about the penultimate movie for this series.

So for today we’re talking about a brand new movie (oh my god). That movie is “Happiest Season”, a christmas dramedy about Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a young woman who is bringing her girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) along for christmas with the family… except they don’t know that Harper isn’t gay, so the pair have to keep it a bit of a secret until Harper feels ready to come out of the proverbial closest. Cue the sneaking around, misunderstandings, emotional baggage, and personal demons. While I wouldn’t say that “Happiest Season” is the best movie I’ve seen this year, I still think it’s really solid. It handles its subject matter with a fair bit of tact, giving us a pretty nuanced take on this premise. While the movie primarily acts as a comedy, it isn’t afraid to get a bit more serious, really letting us sit with the characters and their emotions for a bit. And while I do think it gets the balance of comedy and drama down quite well, it doesn’t always hold up perfectly in that regard. When you have serious contemplations about the nature of your relationship one minute and awkward slapstick the next, it can get slightly jarring. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, but it did take me out for a sec.
Also, I just have to go off on one thing for a second. Dan Levy. Dan god damn Levy. This guy is gutbustingly funny. Any time (bar one more serious part) he was on screen he made me absolutely lose it. The rest of the cast is great too, there’s not a weak link in that department… but Levy is definitely the MVP here.
So in conclusion, “Happiest Season” may not be perfect, but it’s still a really solid holiday dramedy that both made me laugh, and made me care about these characters. I’d happily watch it again next year.

On the eleventh day of christmas, I watched something gay
And hey guess what, it was truly quite good, yay

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 10)

Hello there, friends, I hope you’re doing great. Not many more of these to go. So soon enough you’ll get a break from my holiday rambling. Just gotta be a little bit more patient. Also, this post is dedicated to my good friend over at iamjacsmusings. He’s not dead or anything, he just helped me pick this one.

So today we’re talking about “Anna and the Apocalypse”, a British indie musical-horror-comedy released in 2018. It’s about Anna (Ella Hunt), a young woman who finds herself trying to survive the zombie apocalypse along with a group of other people, while also trying to find the group’s loved ones. And how will they accomplish this? By bashing the zombies of course! And also SINGING! So it’s a holiday zombie movie that also features people singing and prancing around. It’s one of the most unique mixtures of elements I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, we’ve seen holiday musicals. Yes, we’ve seen British zombie comedies. But we’ve never seen all those four combined before… I think, I could be very wrong. Either way, “Anna and the Apocalypse” was my first exposure to it. And it’s a fun time. It’s a breezy jaunt filled with endearing characters, fun jokes, and some really boppin’ tunes.
Now, it does struggle a little bit in the tonal department. I get that a zombie apocalypse is gonna have some serious shit going on (even “Shaun of the Dead” had that), but the shifts in tone don’t feel quite as seamless. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, but it does bring it down a little bit. But with this said, it’s still a fun time.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” is a fun little zom-com-holiday-musical, and definitely worth checking out this holiday season if you haven’t already. And with that, I’ll just leave you with one of the catchy tunes in its soundtrack.

Series Review: Dragon’s Dogma – Season 1 (2020)

I love animation. I love video games. So the two smashed together should be heaven, right? Right? Why are you so quiet?

Ladies and gents… “Dragon’s Dogma” season 1.

Ethan (Greg Chun) lives a nice, relatively quiet life with his wife. This peace doesn’t last however when the entire town is destroyed and Ethan’s heart gets eaten by a giant dragon. Shortly after our hero finds himself resurrected by a mysterious magical lady (Erica Mendez), and vows to find and slay the dragon that ruined his life. It’s a mostly classic fantasy/revenge setup with elements that we’ve seen before. Where it tries to stand out somewhat though is in its storytelling… keyword being tried. The idea with each episode is that as Ethan travels the country in search of the big spooky lizard, he encounters different monsters and situations mirroring the seven deadly sins (which can even be seen in each episode title). And while they have some wonderful ideas for how that will work, I feel like they undercooked this heart steak a bit. While the show’s fast pace keeps it from getting too stale, it does hurt the storytelling. Nothing really gets to simmer. They have interesting developments and ideas within each episode, but I never feel as invested as I could be given the interesting subject matter. So instead of getting the nuanced fantasy narrative that I know the crew’re striving for, we get a story that never reaches its full potential, bar one thing in the final episode.

Where the story does falter… the characters don’t do much to help. I will say that Ethan, our main protagonist, does have some interesting stuff going on. Each episode we see some mild developments on his side, and it does make him a somewhat compelling character. And Greg Chun does a great job with his voice work there. Then we have the pawn (also known as Hannah), the mysterious magical lady I mentioned earlier who resurrected Ethan. She is a little bit of a blank slate, only there to serve as a somewhat logic-driven sidekick to Ethan. There is great potential with her character, but it’s never fully achieved. At least Erica Mendez does a good job with her performance. The rest of the cast aren’t necessarily as great though, because most of them attempt some form of British accent (‘ullo gov’nah), with a majority sadly falling flat on their face.

The score for the show was composed by Tadayoshi Makino, and I think his music here is great. It is of course based in a lot of the brass, strings, and piano we have heard in fantasy before. But Makino puts his own spin on it to some degree, making for a score that is exciting, emotional, and ear candy of the highest degree.

Based on the 2012 video game from Capcom, “Dragon’s Dogma” was animated by studio Sublimation for Netflix, with Shinya Sugai handling direction. Aaaaaand I have mixed feelings. Lookign at the overall shot composition, you can tell that these guys have a good eye, there’s a lot of good “camera” movements and nice ideas for stills. This is however brought down by the studio’s choice to go with a pseudo 3D style of animation. Now, in the few instances I’ve seen this styles pop up in other things, it hasn’t been very good. And while it certainly looks slightly less shit than some other instances of this weird 2D/3D amalgamation, it still doesn’t work. All the characters look lifeless dolls, and movements look really janky. This is almost even worse with some of the creatures in this show, who get these pretty murky textures draped over them, which makes them look really bad. There are moments of good animation however. Fleeting moments of regular, hand-drawn 2D animation. And it’s a shame that these are such brief moments, because those instances look amazing. But overall, the animation here isn’t great.

This show’s gotten some mixed reception. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a critic rating of 100%, but an audience rating of 50%. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6.3/10.

While it has a lot of potential for greatness, Netflix’s “Dragon’s Dogma” sadly doesn’t live up to the potential. It has a mediocre plot, okay characters, good acting, great music, and bad animation. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Dragon’s Dogma” is a 4.89/10. So sadly I’d have to recommend skipping it.

My review of “Dragon’s Dogma” is now completed.

Hopefully the game’s better…

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 9)

After today’s post there will only be three parts left. Almost there, we can power through this, friends. So let’s go.

So today we’re talking about “Holiday Rush”, a 2019 Netflix dramedy about Rush Williams (Romany Malco), a popular radio DJ who gets fired just before the holidays. So he plans to find new ways to get back on the air, but in the meantime grabs his spoiled kids and moves in with his aunt (Darlene Love) just to stay safe over the holidays. Considering the cast, I expected this movie to be a straight up comedy. But no, it’s more of a dramedy, which in itself is fine. But hoo boy, I found myself bored. Due to none of the writing being particularly nuanced, along with poor pacing, you get a narrative that had me checking my watch every few minutes. Which is a shame, because there are some incredibly talented people in this cast. From Romany Malco, to Sonequa Martin-Green, to Darlene Love, to Deon Cole, you have a lot of genuine talent in this… that said, they don’t feel like they get properly used. Take Deon Cole for example. He can be extremely funny. But he gets no good jokes here at all. And before you ask, yes, there are a few genuinely chuckle-wrothy lines/moments in this. I counted three. But still, that kind of just reiterates what I said. The cast feels somewhat wasted on an undercooked script that otherwise has some decent potential.
So in conclusion, “Holiday Rush” isn’t great.

On the ninth day of christmas, I watched something quite dull
But at least no one bashed in my damn skull

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 8)

Hey there, friendos. Time for another christmas movie post. So yeah, let’s talk about it.

I can already imagine at least two of you furrowing your brow. “But MAAAAAAARKUUUUUS, Lethal Weapon is not a christmas movie, it’s a detective thriller”. Watch and learn, kids.
It’s December in Los Angeles, and aging police detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) gets forced to team up with volatile detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) to solve a complex case. Okay, the immediate plot may not strictly be about saving christmas, but there’s holiday iconography littered all over the god damn place. Christmas trees, colorful lights, other stuff… yeah. Oh, and the movie opens with “Jingle Bell Rock” playing. That aside, I do love the story here. It’s exciting and suspenseful and surprisingly heartwarming. And in the end, isn’t warmth in our hearts something we want to feel during the holidays?
I think it goes without saying how great the characters in this are. They’re nuanced and endearing and I love them to death. And so must other people too, considering this god damn movie got three sequels. Part of this comes down to Shane Black’s pitch perfect script, a dark and emotionally charged affair with hints of black humor. But largely we also love the main characters because of the excellent chemistry between Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. What they have in “Lethal Weapon” is unparalleled to this day. And the supporting cast is brilliant too, with people like Darlene Love and Gary Busey being standouts among them.
So maybe “Lethal Weapon” isn’t the traditional definition of a christmas movie, but I feel that it has enough iconography and relevant themes to warrant its status as one. It’s one of my favorite movies and I never tire of watching it.

On the eighth day of christmas, Markus watched a classic hit
 Meanwhile Danny Glover’s too old for this shit

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 7)

Only five days until this little series is over. Which also means only five days until christmas… it’s celebrated on the 24th here in Sweden, don’t argue with me. Anyhow, shall we get on with today’s holiday film?

So today we’re talking about “Arthur Christmas”, a 2011 animated holiday film from Aardman animation. Except you’d be forgiven for not realizing it was Aardman, because this doesn’t use their traditional claymation style. Anyhow, “Arthur Christmas” is about Arthur (James McAvoy), the clumsy son of the current Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent). However, when Santa misses one present, Arthur teams up with his grandfather (Bill Nighy) to deliver it, despite being told that it’s a futile quest. What we get is a charming little fantasy adventure with themes of legacy and overcoming your fears and all those other familiar things we’ve seen in family holiday films. But the execution here is really good, giving us a fast-paced and generally well-written story that I had fun with. It’s also very funny, especially whenever grandsanta (the grandfather) is on screen. He is a goofy, hammy, and a little crazy old man that serves as a comic relief, and does so really well. And with Bill Nighy hamming it up with his vocal performance, you get some absolute fucking gold from grandsanta. The rest of the cast is great too, with people like James McAvoy, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, and many other awesome people filling out the cast list.
I guess I should also briefly touch on what I said at the start. This is an Aardman film, except it doesn’t look like it. “Arthur Christmas” is completely CGI, with hints of the typical Aardman visual style. And while I am slightly sad about that, I’m not complaining. The movie still looks good, it’s a very well animated movie, filled with plenty of nice colors and movements.
But yeah, “Arthur Christmas” is a charming and funny little holiday adventure. I’d recommend sticking it on if you got 90 minutes to kill and want something lighthearted.

On the seventh day of christmas, Markus spent no money
Lucky for him, he could still watch Bill Nighy be funny

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 6)

Can you believe we’re halfway through this little series of themed posts already? Time sure flies when things happen. I was gonna say “when you’re having fun”, but frankly as I’ve gotten older, days just fly by like a coked up hummingbird. So anyway, let’s talk about something green and nasty. And no, I’m not talking about that moldy loaf of bread you have on your counter.

So as you probably figured out from the header image, we’re talking about “The Grinch”, a 3D-animated reimagining of the Dr. Seuss classic. It was released in 2018 and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular green git. And as in the other adaptations, he’s a little cranky about Whoville being excited and cheerful about christmas. So he may or may not start plotting to ruin it. But then you also have Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) as she plots to find a way to talk to Santa Claus. Superfluous subplot much? This suffers from some of the same issues as the Jim Carrey movie, but somehow manages to still be way less interesting than that. At least the Carrey movie was weird and batshit insane enough to be interesting. This one plays it like a lot of modern kids’ films with some pop culture schtick, lazy dialogue, and no sense of edge or personality.
And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch. I like Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s a terrific actor. But good grief, he is actually kinda bad here, and I’m not entirely sure it’s his fault. But his performance here can never truly know what it wants to be. Is it a scheming, dickheaded affair? Sometimes. But it’s also really wacky and goofy and not befitting of either the title character of Cumberbatch’s skillset. The Grinch doesn’t feel like the Grinch, and the lead actor (who I think could make a great Grinch) feels off. Also, his design here is too cute and visually appealing. Grinch is a monster, not a plush- oooooooh, now I get it… merchandise.
So yeah, “The Grinch” 2018 is a toothless, dull, overlong, and frankly unfunny reimagining of a classic story. Maybe if you have kids or grandkids they might enjoy it… but it’s not exactly what I’d call good.

On the sixth day of christmas, Markus watched another Grinch
A version that didn’t grow his heart an inch

12 Films of Christmas 2020 (Part 5)

Ho ho hoMYGOD, DID I LEAVE THE STOVE ON!? Nah, I didn’t, I was just messin’ with ya. So anyway, who’s up for more holiday hijinks with Uncle Markus? Let’s go!

So today we’re talking about “A Very Murray Christmas”, a Netflix christmas special directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill god damn Murray. The story is about Bill Murray, famous actor and comedian, as he tries to host a christmas variety show. His plan get halted however when a horrible snowstorm prevents his friends/guests from coming to New York to join him. So we follow him as  he tries to make the best of this horrible night, singing, dancing, and just generally having a good time with the people he can find. There really isn’t much of any story here, it’s just Bill Murray goofing around with various people he meets, which includes some pretty notable names making cameos throughout. But yeah, there isn’t really much I can say.
Do you like christmas songs? Do you like Bill Murray? Then you might enjoy this. It’s only like 55 minutes long, and it’s on Netflix. So it’s not really that much of a commitment/investment. It’s a decent way to kill an hour this holiday season.

On the fifth day of christmas, Bill Murray sang some songs
Because he wanted to fix the night’s wrongs

Series Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 5 (2000 – 2001)

Don’t worry, there will be more christmas content coming your way. Just thought I’d give you a palate cleanser. And what better than a continuation of my “Buffy” rewatch? So let’s go! Oh, and brief spoiler for the end of season 4 in the plot section.

Ladies and gents… “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 5.

With Adam dead and gone, it seems that Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends can finally go back to some kind of (ab)normal. This however does of course get a bit interrupted when a strange and powerful woman (Clare Kramer) starts causing chaos in the town. So Buffy has to find a way to stop her, all while dealing with the usual monsters of Sunnydale, and also trying to keep her mother (Kristine Sutherland) and sister (Michelle Trachtenberg) safe. People who’ve followed along with the show up until now probably ask “Wait, sister? Dafuh?”. And yes, Buffy has a sister now. While that seems strange and forced at first, over the course of the season we find out why she’s suddenly there, and I think that narrative thread is pretty interesting. And the stuff with Glory (the aforementioned strange and powerful woman) is pretty good too. It’s some of the one-off monster of the week stuff inbetween that isn’t great. The season does overall feel more focused than season 4, it’s a generally better package. But that doesn’t stop it from having some duds throughout, which does bring it down a bit. But I do still like this season’s story quite a bit. It has some great highs, and it has some really harsh moments that hit hard. Yes, the lows are definitely low, but the story this season generally has enough highs to be well into the positive side of things.

The characters in this remain the absolute highlight. The returning cast of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, Kristine Sutherland, Emma Caulfield, and Amber Benson are all great, and they all (for the most part) do great stuff with them. So let’s talk about some newer people. First up we have Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn, Buffy’s little sister who totes mcgotes has been in the show all this time and wasn’t added this season for the sake of a new plot. Okay, I joke. But seriously, the way they implement the character is pretty interesting. And Trachtenberg does an okay job with her performance. Next we have Clare Kramer as Glory, the new big bad. She’s a chatty, charistmatic, and fun villain, a breath of fresh air after the dullness of the previous season’s antagonism. And Kramer is great in the role.

The score for this season was composed by Thomas Wanker (I do not envy that name), with a little additional help by Christophe Beck. And the music here is really good. It’s not as top tier as Beck’s older scores, and often falls back on slightly more generic stings and such. But it’s still enjoyable enough and works decently well for this season.

Season 5 of “Buffy” was written and directed by a whole bunch of different people, and they generally did a good job with it. Scenes flow pretty well, and shot composition is generally quite pleasing. There’s even some decently impressive use of restraint in a few certain moments in the season. You can tell that they’ve perfected their craft here. Even in the weaker episodes, the directin, effects, and such are still really good.

The show/season has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes the season has an 82% positive rating. On Metacritic the season has an audience score of 5.6/10. And on imdb.com the show has a score of 8.2/10.

While still not able to recapture the magic of seasons 2 or 3, season 5 of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is still a really good season of tv, and a major step up from the 5th iteration. It has a good story, great characters, really good performances, really good music, and great directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 5 is an 8.32/10. So while flawed, it’s still worth watching.

My review of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 5 is now completed.

Two more seasons to go.