FreeForm 25 Days of Christmas

Thanksgiving is now over, meaning that it is officially the holiday season.  Stores are decorated, the radio is playing festive music, people are now buying gifts for the upcoming festivities, and TV channels are playing their holiday movies and TV episodes.  A staple TV holiday movie schedule is ABC Family, now FreeForm, 25 Days of Christmas movie schedule.  This is a month long event that people look forward to starting in October.  FreeForm posts the movie schedule in November for their viewers to get excited and mark their calendars and DVRs for when their favorite movies are playing.

The 2017 schedule is out and it is starting in 3 days, so it’s time to look at it now and prepare for a month of nonstop holiday movies and entertainment.  Starting on December 1st everyday from 7:00am to 1:00am there will be nonstop holiday movies.  There are hundreds of holiday movies to choose from for FreeForm to put on the schedule, but they mainly stick to the same 50 or so movi

Buddy the elf showing his holiday spirit

es each year.  The classics like Home Alone, Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol are always played several times throughout the month so that everyone can get a chance to watch the show.  The most popular holiday movie in recent years is Elf.  Elf is playing 20 out of the 25 days, so don’t worry about missing it because there are plenty of opportunities.

With FreeForm being owned by Disney, there are also a lot of Mickey Mouse appearances throughout the month.  Disney takes classic stories like A Christmas Carol and replace the characters with the familiar faces of Mickey and his friends.  Movies like these will be played several times throughout the month along with non-Disney versions as well so people can watch it both ways or just pick their favorite version and watch that.

The movies throughout FreeForms 25 Days of Christmas range from animated to live action, child to adult movies, and old to new.  Claymation movies are sprinkled in throughout the new animation remakes.  The classic Rudolph The Rednose Reindeer claymation is generally played at least once during the month.  This year The Little Drummer Boy will be played 5 times throughout the month for all those who enjoy classic claymation movies.  These claymation movies are generally more for adults who grew up watching them, children now enjoy the animation in the Polar Express and A Christmas Carol more than the claymation animation style.

FreeForms 25 Days of Christmas is a nonstop holiday party for the entire month of December.  Whenever people are feeling festive they can put it on and know that it will deliver.  It shows movies for every age to enjoy and for families to watch together.  Check the schedule now to make sure that you don’t miss your must watch holiday movie.

When Comedy Films Are Scary

I love a good laugh, but I’m a tough critic. As a result, it can be hard for me to find a nice comedy to watch when too many that get heavily promoted are gross or overtly problematic. What has shocked me in my question to find smart comedy is when the comedy doesn’t look like comedy at all.

My first experience with this paradox was in 2003, when I was around four. One afternoon my parents, cultured as they were, mistakenly rented the French animated film “The Triplettes of Belleville” for me and my even younger brothers to watch. They had rented “Finding Nemo” as well. I clearly remember my parents leaving my brothers and I with my grandmother with the request that we try to watch the French film first since we had already seen so many Pixar movies. I eagerly put on “The Triplettes of Belleville”, wanting to not only obey my parents but to watch that little clownfish be found by his dad again.

I was horrified by the French film. The bleak world depicted by animator Sylvain Chomet was depressing, and most of the characters looked evil. The French song featured in the film “Belleville Rendez-vous” was unintelligible to me at the time, but the wailing notes matched with the nightmarish art of the movie was enough to send me over the edge. I stopped the movie within five minutes and made my case that he movie was horrifying to my parents. I watched it all of 14 years later at age 20 and was again scared watching it, not surprised to learn that it is rated PG-13.

The plot is notably minimalist with little if any dialogue: a presumably French cyclist raised by his supportive grandmother has his chance to make his dream of becoming a champion cyclist come true, until he is kidnapped by what looks like the French mafia and held captive in Belleville, a faux New York City filled with stereotypical fat Americans. His grandmother comes to his rescue, accompanied by three aged, former singers known as the titular triplets of Belleville.

What kept my attention throughout the movie was the varied yet scary character designs. They are hellish, from the deformed cyclist’s incredibly muscular legs legs somehow connected to his terribly thin torso, to the closed eyes and hunched shoulders of the witch-like triplets of Belleville. The dark colors and sketchy figures present in this world, from sexualized prostitutes to grim-faced gunmen who kill in cold-blood, added to the fear factor. And yet, to my surprise, the film is labelled a comedy! I concede that the whimsical way the plot is developed in “The Triplets of Belleville” explains its classification.

I believe “The Triplets of Belleville” is an anomaly as far as comedy films go, as other comedy films I have watched that have been questioned for their humor have made me laugh. One is this year’s smash success “Get Out”, which has recently stirred controversy because it was entered as a submission to the comedy category for best picture at the Golden Globes. The plot was so nuanced and developed that it did not feel like it depended on humor to succeed per se, but it did make the film incredibly unique by masterfully intertwining the two genres. And, every joke was uproariously on point. But it is a horror film at heart, and I can understand why the comedy label may feel a bit of a stretch, even though there is no horror category that it can be submitted to.

Chris under a trance in “Get Out”. Source: Bago Games via Flickr.

This made me think of another film that was deemed too dark for a comedy: the 1971 film “Harold and Maude”, a romantic comedy-drama about a 20-year-old man obsessed with death and a 79-year-old woman who loves life (an old manic pixie dream girl, if you will). Roger Ebert panned the film, giving it one and a half stars out of four saying: “Death can be as funny as most things in life, I suppose, but not the way Harold and Maude go about it.” I was horrified by the beginning when our protagonist simulates hanging himself, and would jump when I saw how his subsequent suicide “attempts” become increasingly outlandish as he scares off potential girlfriends arranged by his unfazed mother. And yet the comedy of seeing the varied reactions from the interested girls was captivating, and built up to the climax when (spoiler alert) Harold loses the love of his life to suicide. This was the moment I learned the meaning of black comedy, as I pealed with laughter at the same time I cupped my mouth in horror and sank in my seat out of sadness. I respect Ebert’s opinion informed by his near-encyclopedic knowledge of film, but I do believe more credit is due to a movie that pulls off such a remarkable feat.

Harold and Maude. Source: Craig Duffy via Flickr.

In conclusion, I do not know what to make of these comedy films that struck me as unusual. Their dark styles do not hinder the message of their plots, but still made me uneasy while watching. I believe this is symptomatic of merging different elements of the comedic with the tragic, and I look forward to seeing even more genre-bending comedies as I continue my quest for a good laugh.

When Art Horror Isn’t Scary

This October I enthusiastically got into the spirit of the holidays by catching up on highly-acclaimed art horror films that have been released within the last decade. These included “The Babadook” (2014), “It Follows” (2015) and “The Witch” (2015). But there was one problem: these scary movies weren’t really that scary. Disappointed by this revelation, I looked up movie reviews of these films and was surprised to find out they were all belittled as “not scary” by people on the Internet when they first came out. It made me wonder what  I expected from scary movies in the first place that made these otherwise excellent films disappoint me.

The main issue was jump scares. I had always considered myself a refined movie goer who could stand the lengthy plot development that puts my parents to sleep. But the 90 minutes that these three films clock in at don’t live up to the anticipation I had when I started watching them. In all three cases, we are given a horrific illustration of the antagonist’s evil powers right at the beginning that captures your attention immediately. But little information about these supernatural creatures is then given. The main characters are then left to debate about whether or not these monsters even exist as they confront fate and encounter these evil forces. This puts the viewer in an awkward position. We see the witch use baby Samuel for his blood. We see the Babadook worm his way inside the mother’s body. We see “it”, in a shocking turn of events, follow.

And yet the movie suffers from not letting the monster at the center breathe life into the plot by rearing their ugly head. You cannot deny how real and scary the threat posed by the antagonists in these films are. You know that the main characters are wrong to shake it off. And yet their false hopes that nothing is out of the ordinary carries weight. They have not yet encountered their demons head on, and since we see what they see we can understand why they would not consider the possibility they are being haunting by the supernatural. By not including jump scares to make the antagonists’ constant threat palpable, these movies force you to focus on the character development as the conflict fueling the plot comes to a climax.

The antagonist always returns at the end of the film, proving the dread that I felt the entire time I was watching these movies was valid. This confrontation at the end allows for the protagonist to unlock their true power, concluding with the main characters overcoming obstacles in making peace with their flaws that sparked the antagonists’ haunting in the first place. Thomasin in “The Witch” dives in to her lack of faith, only to become capable of supporting herself when her struggling family is unable to. The mother and son in “The Babadook” learn to coexist with the grief manifested in the Babadook. Jaime brazenly ignores “it” following her at the end of “It Follows” when she walks with her arms linked with Paul, demonstrating a sense of strength that comes from feeling supported by people who care about you. These endings may have left me unsatisfied as a horror fan. What’s the point of spending the entire movie with the protagonists defending themselves from the monsters if they are unsuccessful anyway? And yet by making the plots of these horror movies more nuanced, it allows film to depict deeply human emotions in a creative way.

I support the trend of these art horror films resisting cheap scares to further develop their characters and their struggles instead. While it may take away from the visceral roller coaster of emotions you have while watching a horror movie, the quieter, more intimate moments of human emotion that are being tapped into make it worth it.

Bonding through Bad Movies

Watching TV and movies is a good way to bond with friends. Many of my friendships originally began because we shared an enthusiasm for a particular show—I still have go-to friends to text when I watch a new show that I love. But let’s be honest: when it comes to being close friends with someone, you need to have more than just a couple shows you watch in common. To take that final step to becoming close friends, you have to talk about something other than the newest episode of Jane the Virgin. (That said, the season premiere of Jane the Virgin, which aired yesterday, was emotional and hilarious, and I’ll love anyone who watches that show.)

I went on a ‘retreat’ this past weekend with a few of my friends for fall break. We stayed a night at my friend Christian’s parents’ cabin on Sage Lake. There may have been some drinking going on—not that I partook, obviously, since I won’t be of legal drinking age for another two months. But in terms of actual activities, we played some card games, played a game of sardines, and mostly just hung around by the lake or in the cabin. It was definitely a fun way to spend a day, with lots of good company.

Toward the end of the night, we settled down to watch a movie. The movie was largely fun—it was Avalanche Sharks, one of the terrible Syfy schlocky movies about poorly rendered sharks terrorizing civilization. (One of my chief complaints was that there weren’t enough sharks! There should’ve been more gore! At least we got to hear the phrase “it’s spring break” uttered 30 times.) I’m of the firm opinion that if you’re aiming to bond with friends, it’s much more fun to watch a shitty movie than to watch a good one. A couple people wanted to watch Blue Velvet, which I’ve been meaning to see, but on a night when we’re supposed to be having a bunch of fun, is watching a quality neo-noir drama really what we want?

Some of my best experiences with watching movies have been watching dumb shit. My brother and I regularly quote Birdemic, the famously terrible amateur movie about a bird attack. I still smile remembering the night in high school when I got together with some friends and watched Mega Shark Versus Crocasaurus. (We also watched Paranormal Activity 3 that night, but high-quality horror movies might be the exception to the ‘good quality = bad for fun’ rule.) The thing is, most good movies you can watch anytime. You don’t need to be with friends to do it. In fact, I’d probably prefer to watch Blue Velvet alone; it’d probably be more impactful that way. When I’m with friends, on a night kind of meant for bonding, I don’t just want to check off something on my movie list. I want to do something fun.

Maybe that’s why I started to get bored after Avalanche Sharks, when we decided to just watch some TV on Netflix. I get it. It’s a comforting default to put on an episode of Parks & Rec or 30 Rock, especially when everyone is tired. But one of my few disappointments of the retreat was that we started to fall back on TV when we could’ve made more of an effort to connect. Then again, maybe a trip where the explicit purpose is to ‘bond’ is a little forced from the beginning.

I’ve just learned more and more recently that most good TV and good movies I prefer to watch alone. There are no variables—I don’t have to deal with possible spoiler sources, or the slight self-consciousness that prevents me from really physically reacting the same way I might alone. (For example, I actually said ‘what the fuck’ many times when I was alone watching Dogtooth. If I’d watched that with a friend, I probably would’ve said the same thing, but more for their benefit, for the social aspect, than as a genuine reaction.) I don’t have to have my opinion influenced by someone else and what they might be thinking. I don’t have to get pulled out of the experience by some annoying theatergoer who’s laughing a little too hard, or a crying baby, or a guy who’s pointing out the logistical issues in the third act of Finding Dory. I can react the way I want to.

So yeah, there are a lot of reasons I don’t usually like watching high-quality movies and TV with friends. It’s usually better to just pop in something stupid. Sure, it’s sometimes fun to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when I hang out with friends from home. But every time I’ve watched Caillou, I’ve had a much more memorable time.

Star Wars, Nostalgia, and Creativity

So, okay, let’s be real for a hot second: I loved the new Star Wars movie. Even though I will forever be mad that I didn’t see it at midnight, I loved this movie with a passion. I can prove it to you too. I saw it the weekend it came out with some friends while I was still in Ann Arbor…then I saw it a week and a half later, with my best friend back in Houston. And then when my mom wanted to go see it, I told her we should go again. I saw this movie three times. And if you asked me to go this weekend I’d just ask what time?

I know this isn’t a minority opinion. I was honestly glad that I saw it opening weekend because that meant that I didn’t have to wait until Monday, when I was back in Houston, to read/watch/listen to/breathe any spoilers. I didn’t even rewatch the trailer before going to see it – the last time I’d seen the trailer was back in November, when it first came out, and a lot of finals had happened between then and the time I’d seen it. I wanted to come in with a fresh experience.

But even though I loved it, I’m not sure if that’s what I got. When we walked out of the theatre my friend pointed out how the plot was the same as the plot for A New Hope: they blew up a big gun. This sentiment was echoed in other posts I read, including a podcast (with major spoilers) by some of my favorite YouTubers, Funhaus, where James said he was reserving judgement on the new franchise as a whole for that very reason.

Nostalgia, ironically, isn’t an abstract concept anymore, but a business, and a booming one at that. People are shelling out money for reboots and sequels of their favorite shows and movies. And they do well, too, and the public goes crazy for them. One recent example that’s been all over the entertainment news sphere is the new Full House reboot on Netflix, duly named Fuller House.

In a blog post a couple of years ago, I wrote an open letter to Pixar about how excited I was for the second The Incredibles movie because, of course, I freaking love that movie, but also a wariness – Pixar has been devoting a lot of its time and resources to sequels that I don’t think merit the work put in. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with this summer’s Inside Out, but they still have sequels slated for release in the coming years (Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2). Let’s just hope Inside Out doesn’t turn into Inside Out 2  in 2018.

I definitely think that J.J. Abrams made the right decision when it came to the plot. The original trilogy, as well as parts of the newer trilogy, are about archetypes, time, and the endless circle. It is, of course, a family story, and Abrams kept it that way, if only because he borrowed a lot from the original trilogy. I’m so excited to see where our new characters go – especially Finn and Rey – and I think the first movie did its job in setting them up for the next two movies.

But as a writer, and one that values creativity over her own fangirl instincts, I have to ask at what cost did he do it?

Don’t take this the wrong way – I saw the movie three times for crying out loud – and every time I love discovering something new that I didn’t notice before. But I also want to be openly, honestly critical of an already fantastic movie so that it can become an even better one that will go down forever in the pages of film history.

So while we not-so-patiently wait for the next movie, may the force be with you (or does the force not really work that way?).

Saying Goodbye

Although there’s many things that I could write about this week for my post, and I went through all of them in my head, trust me, my heart wasn’t in any of them. Why? Because today, I feel like I lost a friend.

For those of you that don’t know, Alan Rickman passed away today at the age of 69. If you don’t know Alan Rickman, though I will be very surprised if you don’t, he is known for his iconic roles in Die Hard, Love Actually, Robin Hood (yes, the terrible one with Kevin Costner), and, the one closest to my heart, Severus Snape in all of the Harry Potter movies.

When I was younger and watching Harry Potter for the first time, I had no idea who Alan Rickman was. But when I read the books, I realized that he was the embodiment of Snape, straight down to the hair and nose. He was just menacing, and you knew it, and yet for all his one-dimensionality, you knew Snape wasn’t all bad. That was Alan Rickman, and his brilliant acting.

Only when I got older did I realize this, though, and the respect he was given. I learned about Dame Maggie Smith, and I looked up to these figures, as I was dreaming of becoming an actor, and realizing that the roles these people played were the ones I wanted to play. I respected them, and I’d even say I loved them.

I still remember when I went and saw the last Harry Potter movie at midnight. It was the end of an era for me, and for millions of other teenagers. But I didn’t cry about it, because while it was an end, I knew the books and the movies would always be there for me, just as they had in the past. I knew I might cry during the movie, but not for that.

Instead, when I saw Snape curled around Lily, crying himself, unable to face the truth, I started crying as well. I’m not even that big of a fan of Snape, but that loss, that pain – you could see it all. And that was Rickman. That was what he made people felt.

There comes a time when you have to let go of something when you’re in a fandom. That’s what happens when you become a fan of something. You watch it, you read it, you hold it dear, and when it’s gone, you mourn it. And today, we mourn Alan Rickman.

Rest in Peace, Alan. Always.