Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 Draws to a Close

It's that time again. Time to cut down the Christmas lights, knock over the tree, and throw out whatever mistletoe didn't get eaten before it goes bad. It's Christmas again, and you know what that means: it's time to say good-bye to Mainlining Christmas for another year.

Granted, the next year starts in a week, and we typically post reviews whenever the hell we feel like it, so it's not like we'll be out of your lives entirely. But we'll be out of holiday-mode, so the 3 to 10 posts a day pace is over and done with for the foreseeable future.

I'm relieved to get the holidays behind me, but - as is always the case - it makes me a little sad, as well. Sure, the near-constant barrage of Christmas specials and movies gets a bit much, but it's also tradition.

On top of all that, this has been a pretty good Christmas. We've excavated a whole other level of holiday movies and found a number of unexpected gems. We saw old, forgotten films: Beyond Tomorrow, The Bishop's Wife, Prancer, and Christmas in Connecticut; episodes we enjoyed from Moonlighting, Leverage, and The Flash; and newer, less famous movies we enjoyed: Joyeux Noël, Happy Christmas, Young Sherlock Holmes, In Bruges, I am Santa Claus, Go, and All is Bright. We also finally got around to The Lion in Winter, which deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time great Christmas films. Meanwhile, The Snowman and the Snowdog wound up being an unexpected pleasure, and both Peace on Earth and its remake, Goodwill to Men, were phenomenal shorts that we should have gotten to years ago.

That's not to say it was all great. We endured all three Santa Paws films, the last two made-for-TV Home Alones, and things so bad, I'd rather not list them all here (I didn't initially realize how many awful things we saw).

But let's just put those behind us.

Overall, it was a pretty good year. In addition to an - okay, let's go with "mixed" - assortment of specials and movies, we also put together thirteen Nerdtivities, one of which is, in fact, now officially award-winning. Yup. A pretty good year overall. Can't wait for next Christmas.

No. No, wait. I can wait. In fact, eleven months sounds like a reasonable stretch of downtime.

Damn, I'm tired.

Said The Night Wind...

We’ve come to the end of another season of Mainlining Christmas. This is our fifth year, and we’re running out of pithy things to say to close out the holiday.

However, even now, even year five, we’re still learning new things.

Long-time readers may remember my complicated relationship with Christmas carols. I’ve been sporadically looking for a version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” that matches the ideal version in my head for years. And I’ve always felt especially uneasy about my love for this song. It’s a weird one for me to get hooked on; much of the time I tolerate the semi-religious songs and only really latch on to more secular tunes. But “Do You Hear What I Hear” has always been an exception.

Last weekend, we were in the car, listening to Christmas radio, and a version came on. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. For one thing, it had a lead singer, and I really wanted a chorus. But it reminded me that I hadn’t tried to look up my ideal version of the song in a few years, so I pulled out my phone.

And I was startled to discover that this song, that sounds, to my ear, like a classic carol, was written in 1962.

And it’s about the threat of global nuclear annihilation.

The Christmas story, in this case, is being used as a story, a story that shifts as the speaker changes, but one that culminates in a plea for peace among all people.

It was first recorded by the Harry Simone Chorale, and it turns out that arrangement is the one I was looking for. A steadily building harmony of voices, changing to evoke the wind, the song, the people, leading to the final call for unity and light.

Now, don’t be misled. I’m still not Christian, and I don’t find the story of Jesus any more inspirational than most any enduring myth. But to quote one of my favorite holiday specials: “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning.”

And it can mean a lot of things. Holiday specials and songs bring us many of the options. Christmas can be about childlike wonder, the end of childhood, forgiveness, compassion, family of origin, family of choice, stress, depression, good fortune, generosity, and more.

We live in a media-saturated age, so let’s embrace it. I hope that all of you find a movie or a song or an animated special this year that speaks to you, that helps you find some good cheer, feel less alone, or brings hope for the future.

You don’t have to be religious to wish for peace on earth. Here’s to goodness and light in 2015.

Father Christmas (1991)

Absolutely charming. Father Christmas is an animated special based on two more of Raymond Briggs’ children’s books. It features a very stereotypical-looking Santa Claus who acts very un-stereotypically.

Father Christmas is exhausted, and decides to take a holiday in the off-season. He first tries France, only to be put off by the food (the resulting bathroom humor, while extremely tame by today’s standards, is not for everyone. Then goes to Scotland, only to be put off by the weather. He finally stays in Vegas for most of the summer months.

This is a very grounded Father Christmas. He’s old and crotchety, and prone to using ‘blooming’ as an all purpose word in every sentence. He loves Vegas because he can swim and tan, gamble, drink and watch the showgirls. But eventually he has to fly his homemade camper (pulled by reindeer, naturally) home, retrieve his pets from boarding, and prepare for Christmas.

The special follows him all the way through Christmas deliveries, with a side reference to The Snowman, as he greet the boy at the snowman party. (Technically this little scene breaks the logic of the Snowman in a not dissimilar way to The Snowman and the Snowdog, but it was just a side note and didn’t bother me nearly so much.)

The main gift delivery sequence features a fun montage and a catchy song: Another Bloomin’ Christmas.

Finally he gets home for some well deserved rest. I found this special so endearing not just because Father Christmas was amusingly grumpy, but because he was so real and also so… Santa. He was grumpy, and annoyed when people recognized him, and cranky, and he cared very much about his work, and about the kids, and his dog and cat and reindeer.

He was a bit lonely and tired, but he had purpose. It’s a very warm feeling, for the dark time of the year.

You can track this one down on Youtube, but BE WARNED, there is apparently a terrible American version loose somewhere. Make sure you’re getting the British cut. (26 min, copious use of the word “bloomin’”).

Elves (1989)

In this world, there are bad horror movies. There are crappy horror movies. Then there are horror movies so unbelievably awful you honestly can't tell whether they were intended to be comedic or not. Since those categories aren't mutually exclusive, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Elves is all three.

I first heard about this on Red Letter Media's Christmas Special. I immediately rushed to Netflix to add it to the yuletide queue, only to discover that Netflix has never heard of the movie. It turns out this isn't too surprising, since - as far as I can tell - it has never been released on DVD.

Unfortunately, someone had converted an old VHS copy and uploaded it to Youtube.

The movie is about a girl named Kirsten, whose grandfather is a Nazi scientist who impregnated his daughter to create a pure woman, so that one day she could be mated with an elf and give birth the master race and/or the Anti-Christ (the movie is slightly unclear on this point).

There's also a former detective who takes a job as a mall Santa after the elf (contrary to the movie's title, there is only one) murders the prior Santa by stabbing him repeatedly in the groin. This character says almost 100% of his lines in a calm, almost sedated tone. Even when Nazi enforcers are shooting at him, he seems kind of bored.

Elves, in the context of this movie, are more like what we think of as trolls. The characters seem to agree: they call it a troll several times until they're corrected. Even then, there's not much to connect this to Christmas elves (there's a scene that might imply some sort of connection with toys, but it comes off as more of Easter Egg than an actual story point). A generous assessment of the monster's design would be that it plays off of European folklore about evil elves. A more accurate assessment would be that it looks like there was a sale at the costume shop after Halloween. I'd have preferred a movie about killer Christmas elves to go with Gremlins and Rare Exports, but that's life.

It's difficult to convey how bad the acting and writing were. It really did reach the point where you couldn't tell whether the filmmakers thought they were being funny, scary, shocking, or dramatic.

That said, the movie was nowhere near as boring as most of what we watch. It didn't cross into "so bad it's good" territory, but it was definitely scratching at the door. There was one scene involving a car bomb that had both me and Lindsay laughing out loud.

We think that particular scene was supposed to be suspenseful. But we're really not sure.

Nerdtivity: Ceramics


Tonight's Nerdtivity is meant to remind us that, whatever else they represent to people, Nativity figurines are fundamentally ceramic containers. And you never know what you'll find inside.

Don't worry, though: as soon as Link leaves the room, I'm sure the guard will replace the figurines.

In case anyone's wondering, all the Nerdtivity scenes we're posting were done without digital alteration beyond cropping and/or minor color correction. All objects were physically present at the time the image was taken (and yes, that includes the heart).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nerdtivity: The Way of the Dead


I have to admit I'm breaking a self-imposed rule on this one. When I started, I planned not to re-use the same figure in the same role. But this is the second time I've had Skeletor stand in as a shepherd. I could have side-stepped this by swapping him out for one of the three kings, but all three of them are kings, while he's just an overlord. I decided technical accuracy was more important than arbitrary rules, so here you go.
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