Friday, September 26, 2014

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

This shows up on several lists of Christmas movies, but I think that's a stretch. Several key scenes take place at Christmas, but they're all at the beginning and don't amount to more than fifteen or twenty minutes of the total run time. Most of the movie revolves around Valentine's Day. That said, there's enough holiday cheer to warrant some feedback from Mainlining, so here we are.

After a quick prologue taking place a year and a half beforehand, the movie opens with a Christmas dinner with Meg Ryan's character's family where she announces her engagement to Bill Pullman's character. The scene features some foreshadowing that her relationship won't work (just in case you missed the fact Tom Hanks is headlining). I'd add that all the foreshadowing revolves around shockingly superficial issues. We're talking things like food allergies and a dull story on how they met: there's nothing wrong with this guy, Ryan just doesn't find him "magical."

In case it wasn't obvious, this isn't the best movie to turn to for relationship advice.

Once the Christmas party's over, Ryan drives across town to another party. Her and Pullman take different cars for contrived symbolic and even more contrived plot reasons. On the way, she listens to a radio station, which ties into the other half of the movie's plot. Tom Hanks's character recently lost his wife. His son calls up a radio psychologist and says he's worried about his father, who's quickly pulled onto the line.

Meg Ryan's character immediately falls in love, because of magic.

This set-up is more or less a perfect microcosm for the entire movie. Meg Ryan plays a borderline psychopath who stalks Tom Hanks. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks's son, also a borderline psychopath, interferes with his father's life at every turn, sabotaging a relationship, contacting strangers without his father's knowledge, and running away to New York to lure his father into meeting a woman he's selected.

Remarkably, the movie isn't all bad. In fact, it's almost exactly half bad. Tom Hanks's character is believable and sympathetic as someone dealing with grief and trying to hold his life together. It's the stuff about Ryan's character that's horribly twisted.

Seriously twisted. At one point, she hires a private investigator to spy on Tom Hanks. Keep in mind, this is before she's even met him. Also, she really does seem to love Pullman's character. Ultimately, she leaves him because their narrative isn't romantic enough. What the hell kind of message is that?

The Christmas elements are used for tonal juxtaposition. The characters are in dark and conflicted places, and this is contrasted with the decorations and holiday music. Basically, the same reason Lethal Weapon is set at Christmas. Only the villains in Lethal Weapon have nothing on Meg Ryan's character in this movie. And even she comes off as human in comparison to Tom Hanks's kid, who's sadistic, selfish, and manipulative.

It sets out to be a quirky love story, but winds up a hair's breath from a horror movie. I can't help but think Pullman's character was the lucky one.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's Here....

Toys R Us, 9/16/14. Front of the store, right beside the Halloween Merchandise
If you're tired of waiting for the holiday's, we've got some good news: Christmas is already here. It's still small. It's still hiding in the shadows, biding its time while it grows. Sort of like in Alien, when the xenomorph skittered off after bursting through John Hurt's chest. Now it's out there somewhere. Waiting. Watching. Preparing to leap out and wish you a Merry Christmas.

It's September, so it's no surprise the Lego Store was eager to devote their front window display to their new Christmas offerings. 9/19/14
But you don't have to wait. You can go see it for yourselves. Corporate stores everywhere have begun strategically setting holiday products in their aisles. And as the world's premier Yuletide website, we here at Mainlining Christmas felt it was our responsibility to document the occasion.

K-Mart, just getting started on 9/9/14. Even with a significant portion of their shelves bare, there's already a respectable selection available.
If we have one complaint it's that many of these stores were wasting valuable real estate on Halloween costumes. Halloween, as you well know, won't roll around until October 31st. Shouldn't they wait until the remaining back-to-school supplies have been unloaded then sell the costumes there, rather than impinge on Christmas's shelf space?

Fred Meyer, 9/6/14. The front line in the battle of the holidays. Word to the wise: don't bet on Halloween.
Of course, there's no reason you can't go out and see for yourself. The stores in these photographs are chains located all over the country - I'm sure you can find similar sights in your own hometown. Just take care: Christmas has acid for blood, and it's very, very hungry.

One of Michael's many aisles devoted to Christmas, 9/16/14.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Wrath of the Krampus (2012)

Do not make the same mistake we made: do not start with this episode.

I've always kind of liked Scooby-Doo as a concept and as an early attempt at animated horror/comedy. But I've never actually seen an approach that worked. The originals had some cool designs on some of the monsters, but the stories were never interesting.

Well, this is where that changes.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated updates the concept and characters in a way that remains true to the show's original concept and history, while simultaneously offering extremely intelligent writing, complex character and relationship development, as well as multi-season plot arcs with satisfying payoffs along with way. I don't just mean "satisfying for a cartoon," either: this is the kind of in-depth, multi-dimensional story telling that's rare on live-action TV.

We, of course, stumbled across it because of the Christmas episode. Only it's not really a Christmas episode, at all. The hook is that Krampus is attacking misbehaving children of Crystal Cove, and the gang are trying to trap him.

Yes, Krampus, the demon who drags away bad children to torture them is around. It's summer, so his presence is a little odd (they do acknowledge that, by the way). The show did a good job depicting him, tongue and all, and he's a little scary. Nowhere near as scary as the abandoned doll factory they chase him into at the end, though: that place is the goddamn stuff of nightmares.

In the end, it turns out Krampus was a robot. It's not immediately clear who's controlling him or why. When they reveal who's really behind the mask, the explanation is completely ludicrous (intentionally so: this trend dates back to the 60's, and the writers of Mystery Incorporated are very conscious of what they're doing). It's also awesome.

That said, everything having to do with Krampus is really more a B-plot. The episode is far more focused on a massively complex story line that's been in development since the first episode.

This is a lot of fun. On top of that, the comedy was witty and entertaining, particularly in the resolution. The horror elements are even decent. But I can't stress enough how important it is not to start with this. This show is absolutely amazing. Lindsay and I immediately jumped back to the first episode after watching this one, and we're working our way through the series.

I'm dropping a "highly recommended" label onto this episode, but - as is often the case for TV shows - it applies to the series as a whole. This is the Scooby Doo you probably never realized you always wanted. But hey, uncovering secrets is what the gang does.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Prometheus (2012)

If you're like most people who have seen Prometheus, you're likely wondering why I'm talking about it on a blog devoted to Christmas. Actually, if you're like most people who saw the movie, you're probably more interested in when you're going to get the two hours you wasted watching it back. Well, I can't help with the second question, but I can shed some light on the first:

I'm talking about Prometheus here because it's a Christmas movie. No, really. The crew of the ship wake from cryo-sleep a few days before Christmas. One of them sets up a Christmas tree. There's some subtle Christmas music in at least one scene. The sole survivor flies away on New Years Day.

Oh, and the movie is about Christmas.

That last statement is 100% true and at least twice as meaningless. This is because Prometheus is about a lot of things. It's about faith as it pertains to God and the concept of God as it doesn't pertain to faith. It's about sacrifice; death from life and life from death. It's about childbirth and the act of creation. It's about the drive for answers and the search for truth.

And, on some level, it's about a once-brilliant director obsessing over a bunch of first-year comparative religion questions, sticking them in a blender and hitting puree (this is what the black goo* was supposed to represent).

More specifically, the movie focuses heavily on the nativity story. In fact, Prometheus can be described as a re-imagining of the nativity story in space. Only this time Jesus is an alien starfish-squid monster which dies to give birth to a weird proto-xenomorph. Other than those tweaks, the story is pretty much unchanged.

While we're describing Prometheus as things, I'd like to add boring, badly written, and childish. And, (sigh) also beautifully shot. He might not be able to tell a compelling story anymore, but Ridley Scott is still able to handle atmosphere and design.

Where were we? Oh yeah, the miraculous birth of the alien monstrosity that occurs on Christmas. Actually, I might want to adjust my earlier description of this as a re-imagining. It's actually more of a sequel. You see, all of this is kind of intended to tie back to Jesus. Only, in this version, his origin has been retconned to make him one of the space giants. It's a notable twist, though I think the retcons Prometheus imposes on the original Alien are actually more extreme.

The movie doesn't come out and say any of that stuff about Jesus being one of the giants, but it's surprisingly thorough about implying it. I should add this interpretation started as a theory on the internet, but has since pretty much been confirmed. The movie basically lays out the elements: something happened about 2000 years ago that caused the "engineers" to want to destroy humanity, but they were mostly killed off by... something... before they could. That "something" is strongly implied to be xenomorphic in nature, but the movie provides frustratingly few details, nor does it explain the connection between the death of Jesus and the catastrophe that hits the aliens.

The real problem with Prometheus isn't that the background isn't properly explained, though. It's easy to mock the Jesus aspects, but they don't really hurt the film. The real issues are much more mundane: the vast majority of the movie simply isn't that interesting to watch, the dialogue is badly written, and the character motivations are outright silly.

Yeah, there are some great sets, and some of the action sequences - when we actually get to them - are fairly solid. But these moments are the exceptions. The vast majority of the movie is a tedious exercise in vague theological statements and philosophical musing. There aren't many reasons to bother sitting through this one.

*Not to be confused with the black goo from X-Files which was created by a different alien race which also bio-engineered humanity.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Brain Scoop: The Nondenominational Holiday Botanical Celebration (2013)

Christmas is past, but we're still working our way through a backlog of online holiday shorts. The Brain Scoop is a Youtube series hosted by Emily Graslie, the Field Museum of Natural History's "Chief Curiosity Correspondent," a custom-made title that makes a lot more sense after you watch a few episodes.

The series is sort of a science education show on speed. It delivers everything you loved about shows like Bill Nye, but doesn't dumb down the subject matter. The show feels like it's primarily aimed at adults who grew up watching PBS, though - for the most part - the subject matter's appropriate for kids, as well.

This episode focuses on various decorative Christmas plants, with a focus on toxicity levels and side effects. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, I don't know what you're doing on this blog.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Doctor Who: Time of the Doctor (2013)

I found the final Matt Smith Doctor Who episode to be engaging, though it lacked a satisfying payoff. That is to say, it's a good example of his entire run. Fortunately, it was a Christmas special, so I can discuss it here.

Oh, and just so no one complains later, discussing it will include details. So then. Spoiler. Warning. Got it? Good.

They certainly went to great pains to establish this as Christmas-related. The doctor follows an unknown transmission to a planet besieged by all his enemies. Once he gets down, he finds a town named Christmas. They play with this quite a bit: there are no shortage of lines about how the Doctor is protecting or saving Christmas. This is in addition to a Christmas dinner playing out in Clara's apartment in the present.

In some ways, a Christmas special is the perfect time for a regeneration, at least from a symbolic standpoint. They play with this, as well: the days in Christmas are almost impossibly short.

In the town, he comes across a crack in reality and discovers the Time Lords are trying to break back into the Universe. With a word, he could bring them through, however this would precipitate an attack by the combined forces in orbit. Likewise, an assault would trigger the Doctor bringing back the Time Lords. Oh, and he discovers the world he's on is Trenzalore, the planet that will one day house his corpse.

Those of you who aren't following the show will have to take it on faith that the above makes some semblance of sense.

So the Doctor tricks Clara into leaving and decides to stay and defend Christmas. She gets back, but three hundred years have passed (he looks about ten or fifteen years older). This occurs once more, and she finds the Doctor dying of old age. They don't quote a number, but it seems likely the Doctor's overall age must have doubled in the middle of this episode - I wonder if they'll address that next year.

By this time the war is going poorly, the Daleks are attacking, and the Doctor knows he's going to die. The Time Lords are still shouting "Doctor Who?" through the crack in reality, but the real question is why the Doctor doesn't answer. I can think of several possible explanations, but I feel a little cheated Moffat didn't provide one.

Regardless, he goes to face his death, and Clara answers the Time Lords, though not like I'd expected. She should actually know the Doctor's original name thanks to "The Name of the Doctor," so it seems odd she doesn't give it to them. Instead she essentially says "The Doctor" is his name, and they should help him.

Of course they do, which resets his exhausted regenerations and allows the show to swap out leads.

I liked a lot of elements here. The Silence were cool as something other than a villain, and I like the new character, Tasha Lem (hopefully she'll be back in the future). Likewise, there were a few answers provided to lingering questions about The Silence. Plus, the parallels between Clara skipping centuries (if not milennia) as the Doctor fought a long war on Trenzalore and the tenth Doctor episode, The Girl in the Fireplace, were fascinating.

But, as a resolution to the eleventh Doctor, it was a bit of a letdown. Moffat's been teasing Trenzalore for years now, and this was nowhere near satisfying enough. The war wound up feeling small and dull. There was some narration implying the war had been great, but the idea that "Christmas", a single small village, could withstand the vast armies around it is absurd. Where were the fields of vanquished armies?

Still, we got some good moments between Clara and the Doctor. We even got some great scenes between the Doctor and a re-purposed Cyberman head. The episode grew sappy at times, but that's long been part of the series's charm.

Overall, not a bad episode of Doctor Who, though they clearly bit off a lot more than they could chew. Between fulfilling their Christmas obligations, attempting to resolve the Silence plot, giving Matt Smith an emotional sendoff, and setting up the next series, they didn't leave themselves much breathing room.

Super Santa in Jingle Bell Justice (1998)

I just came across this 7 minute short on Youtube. Stylistically, it feels a lot like Powerpuff Girls, with some great homages to the Adam West Batman and 60's spy shows. I particularly like the super-spy spin on Mrs. Claus, who isn't stuck at the North Pole this time.