Maybe it's because I just sat through the lazy, depressing Fred Claus. Maybe it's because I was expecting Tyler Perry in drag. Maybe it's because my holiday spirit is at an all-time low. Whatever the reason, This Christmas came as a complete surprise. I kinda loved the thing.

Loretta Devine plays Ma Dear, the matriarch of a sprawling Los Angeles-based family with a whole lot of secrets. A whole lot. There's Quentin (Idris Elba, Stringer Bell on The Wire -- the best show on television), a musician who owes big money to some bookies. There's Lisa (Regina King), trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage with the hissable Malcome (Laz Alonso). There's Kelli (Sharon Leal), a sexually frustrated businesswoman. There's Claude (Columbus Short), in love with a woman (Jessica Stroup) he's scared to introduce to his family. Ma Dear has a secret of her own regarding Joe (Delroy Lindo), something of a surrogate father to the Whitfield clan. Oh, and Baby (R&B sensation Chris Brown)? He wants to sing, damn it!

That's a lot of stories to keep afloat, and writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II handles that list and many more mini-dramas with ease. It's quite the balancing act. Whitmore has written and/or directed several smaller projects since 1995's Vietnam drama The Walking Dead, but Christmas will put him on the map in a big way.