Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Santa Clause (1994)

I don't recall having liked The Santa Clause when I saw it years ago (probably when it aired on TV sometime in the 90's), nor do I recall thinking it was a "good" movie.  But I have vague recollections of seeing it and thinking it wasn't an excruciatingly painful experience.

Turns out my memories were distorted, because that was kind of awful.  I mean, I was expecting it to be an obnoxious vehicle for Tim Allen.  And I was expecting the fat jokes as the new Santa took shape.

What I wasn't expecting was the abysmal acting from just about every minor character.  Nor was I ready for reindeer fart jokes or anything of the sort.

The movie has an interesting premise, which is almost certainly lifted from Piers Anthony's "Riding a Pale Horse," save that Tim Allen becomes Santa instead of Death.  Portraying "Santa" as an office rather than an individual has merit, though it certainly doesn't get enough exploration.  Actually, the movie was showing some promise in the first third.  I laughed a few times when Allen stumbled through his first night as Santa, telling kids off and destroying property.  Plus, the design for the North Pole was somewhat inspired, at least when compared to most of the live-action interpretations I've seen this year.  While the majority of the elves were obnoxious, the two main ones were kind of cool.

Yeah, the movie was almost amusing for about fifteen minutes.  It was never good, but it was mixed for that duration.

Then we move on to fat jokes, a plot dependent on a legal system denying a father visitation rights because his kid believes in Santa, and characters so two-dimensional my refrigerator magnets are more developed.

So.  While there are a few watchable minutes, they're buried in an unwatchable heap of garbage.  Don't waste your time trying to dig for them.

We ordered this from Netflix.  If you really want to see this for yourself... you know what?  Just don't.

Animaniacs Holiday Episodes (1993)

Now this show holds up.  There's an occasional dated reference, but in general Animaniacs is still really fun to watch.  There were two fully holiday-themed episodes released in 1993.

Animaniacs: A Christmas Plotz / Little Drummer Warners (1993)

Most of this episode is a cute riff on A Christmas Carol, with the CEO playing the role of Scrooge and the Warners as the ghosts. It has a nice ironic twist that I enjoyed quite a bit, and an assortment of short original songs.

The second short in this episode is more or less a musical medley of Christmas Carols, loosely plotted around the Nativity. Now I'm often downright allergic to religion in my Christmas specials, but I actually found this fun and quite sweet.  The music is really well done, and a nice mix of spinning the lyrics into comedy and playing it straight.

Animaniacs: Twas the Day Before Christmas / Jingle Boo / The Great Wakkorotti: The Holiday Concert / Toy Shop Terror / Yakko's Universe (1993)

As you can tell from the title, this episode is an assortment of shorts. It is a pretty great assortment, with the highlights being the first and last.  Twas the Day Before Christmas is an amusing take on Twas The Night... which stars almost every Animaniacs character, and rhymes throughout.  Yakko's Universe is of course a classic, although it was in an earlier episode as well.

There's another holiday-ish short: "A Gift of Gold", in a later episode, which is cute, but slightly sappy.

There were at least two more Animaniacs Christmas shorts, but those episodes haven't been released on DVD yet.  I was able to find "Noel" on Youtube, and it's a fantastic short that both parodies and celebrates the season.  It's right up my alley.

I recommend these episodes without reservation.  Almost anyone will find something to enjoy here.  "Noel" you can look for online, and the two full episodes are on the Volume 2 DVD Box Set.

Never Make an Elf Angry

Apparently, the war on Christmas just took a turn for the worse.  A pastor in Denmark executed a stuffed Christmas Elf by hanging.  He soon found a collection of garden gnomes in his front yard, which the media has dismissed as being from neighbors upset at the statement.

That's because they don't know the code.  Christmas Elves don't operate within the law; that doesn't mean they're without order.  You make a Christmas Elf mad, you can expect to hear about it.  For the little things, they'll mess with your shoes.  Cross a line, and they'll hire a team of dwarves to go to town on your plumbing.

But if you go after them personally - if you cross the elf family - they send you a message in gnomes.  Then it's just a matter of time.  Maybe days.  Maybe weeks.  Maybe years.  Sometimes they like to do it quick; sometimes they like to let their enemies sweat.

But in the end, they'll demonstrate what those gnomes are for.

For hundreds of years, Christmas Elves have perfected the art of shoving candy, presents, and coal into stockings.  They've learned to stuff the world's fattest toymaker down every chimney in the world.

Do you really want to know what they can do with garden gnomes?

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

I have really fond memories of this movie, and I was convinced I'd regret watching it again.  I'm happy to report that not only does the movie hold up, it's actually a bit better than I remembered.  This one really deserves its status as one the best Christmas movies out there.

I appreciate that a spoiler warning is fairly absurd for a movie that came out in 1947 and that almost everyone's seen a dozen times on TV, but... I want to be sure for this one.  If, for whatever reason, you've never seen this, stop reading now and go see it.  Find it on TV, put it on your Netflix queue, or buy it on Amazon.  You can buy the digital download for four bucks.  Do what you have to, but make sure you see it.

What really impresses me is that this is a fantasy without the supernatural.  There's ostensibly nothing magical that occurs in the movie, and yet it's magic to the core.

The movie never confirms that Kris is the real deal.  Sure, he found a house for sale matching the one in the picture, and he obviously left his cane for them to find, but that doesn't mean he's thousands of years old or has a team of flying reindeer.

They could have done this.  They could have forced in a shot of him in a sleigh or done something similar.  And it would still have been a good movie.  But it wouldn't have been brilliant.

The genius of Miracle on 34th Street is that they don't tell you Kris is Santa.  They convince you.  By the end of the movie, there's no question in the viewer's mind, despite the fact there's no proof.  And that's kind of the point.

I also love that Kris arranges for people to get the gifts they want.  He directs parents to where they can find what they're looking for.  Hell, he even makes sure to promise the son of the DA prosecuting him a football helmet while his father's listening, ensuring that the kid will get his helmet one way or another.

I don't think there's any question this is the best interpretation of Santa Claus ever put on film.  If you haven't seen this in a while, do yourself a favor and track a copy down.

Hercules and Xena Holiday Episodes (1996)

I remember watching these episodes in high school; they often aired back-to-back.  I remembered the basic plot of each, but little else.

Both of these shows are obvious, campy, melodramatic and purposely anachronistic.  I love them.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: A Star to Guide Them
(Season 3, Episode 9)

The premise here is that Iolaus and two other guys are called to attend something special (the birth of Jesus, obviously.) On the way they stop to save a country full of babies by deposing a Herod-like king.  It's basically just a normal week.

Corny?  Hell Yes.  These shows in general treated history like one big fun toy chest they could mix and match things from, so I'm not really bothered by the timeline problems inherent in the story.  Nor do I care that they mixed up Herod with a little Macbeth and a little Oedipus to create the main plot, and then it isn't even related to the Jesus part.


Xena: Warrior Princess: A Solstice Carol 
(Season 2, Episode 9)

The premise here is a cute mash-up of Scrooge and Santa.  A greedy lonely king has banned celebration of the Solstice.  Xena and Gabrielle object to him foreclosing on orphans on Solstice Eve, so they reenact A Christmas Carol using the Fates as the Spirits, and enlist a former toymaker as their back-up.

There's a Toy-based fight scene!  Costume play!  Zaniness galore! Earnest monologues!  You have to just let it wash over you.  Baby Jesus gets to be in this one too, very briefly and nonsensically.  Again, no respect is paid or expected for anything resembling historical accuracy.

I had been watching a few early episodes of Hercules and Xena here and there since I discovered they were on Netflix, and I had been enjoying them, but not really loving them.  However, by the time these episodes were filmed, the whole franchise was really hitting its stride.  Its completely unabashed stride.

I love these episodes, but if you aren't already a fan of the tone of the shows, these maybe aren't the holiday specials for you.

All of both Hercules and Xena is currently streaming on Netflix, or the shows are both available on DVD.

Yes, Virginia, Macy's is cashing in

I'm underwhelmed by Macy's "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" themed window display. Technically, it's actually quite impressive: there's some ingenious design and use of movement and perspective at work, and, thanks in part to a voice over, they actually manage to convey the story in a manner you can follow.

No, my issue here isn't technical: it's personal. "Yes, Virginia," in all its incarnations, grates on me. It brings out my cynical nature.

Oddly enough, I actually kind of like the editorial itself. Sure, its got logic problems (the burden of proof always lies on the party proposing the existence of the entity in question: come on, that's obvious!), but it's also really pretty. Plus, in the part everyone cuts, Church talks about fairies.

And I've always really liked fairies.

No, my real issues aren't with the editorial: they're with the story itself, starting with the deification of Virginia O'Hanlon. That isn't to say there was anything wrong with the girl who wrote the infamous letter - as far as I know, she was a fine kid. But, frankly, she's just a kid who wrote a letter asking if Santa was real.

The interesting person was Church, who composed a beautiful (if somewhat exaggerated) reply. It's telling that the editorial makes no mention of religion, considering how often Church's writing is read as an affirmation of faith. He certainly uses the word, but given the context, along with his repeated discussion of fairies, I don't think he's using it the way a lot of people would prefer.

Over the years, this relatively simple and commonplace interaction - Virginia is hardly the only child to write into a newspaper - has taken on mythic proportions. Any reality has been ignored, as the story's been exploited for personal, religious, or monetary (looking at you, Macy's) gain. Meanwhile, any fantasy of the kind Church was trying to inspire is passed over in favor of melodrama.

You can read the original editorial on Wikipedia, which also has some interesting details about the history in question. Did you know Virginia was a single mother? Or that she got her doctorate from Fordham and worked in the New York City School System? Or that the letter she wrote was lost, believed destroyed in a fire, only to show up on an episode of Antiques Roadshow in 1998?

Tell me that isn't more interesting than the drivel in the legend.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater: How Scrinchip Stole Christmas (1987)

Until now, I've never seen an episode of Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater.  Hell, I'd never heard of the show.  Ignorance, of course, is bliss.

I'm going to ignore the second half of this episode - a boring and unfunny riff on Phantom of the Opera - and focus exclusively on the first short, a boring and unfunny riff on "How the Grinch stole Christmas."

There are myriad things wrong with this.  The jokes are trite, the animation is crap, and so on and so forth.  But the real issue here is that they're not so much adapting or paying tribute to the original as they are outright stealing the idea.  Yeah, they're doing it openly, but that doesn't change the fact it's still basically a version of the Grinch.

If they'd changed either more or less, it wouldn't be pissing me off as much.  If they'd done it as either a parody or a straight up adaptation, it would have had a point.  But doing the basic premise with a few irritating changes just feels like plagiarism.

This is garbage.  If your time is really worth so little, Hulu has this up for the holidays.

Merry Christmas.

Batman TAS: Christmas With the Joker (1992)

While Christmas With the Joker was the second episode made of Batman: The Animated Series, it didn't air until after about a dozen others.  So, while viewers already had opportunities to see the show's take on the Clown Prince of Crime, this was really the show's first try.

As in everything in this continuity (Batman: TAS, Superman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League), the Joker was voiced by Mark Hamil.  You always get the sense he's having fun with the role, but I'm not sure he ever had THIS much fun again.  There's a spastic intensity, a cruel joy, in his laugh that's kind of infectious.

As a whole, the episode's pace is a little off, but that's a lot of what gives this its charm: there's room for a lot of bizarre Joker moments they wouldn't spend time on later; it's a fantastic exploration of his character (though they'd refine and improve that character over time, giving him more complexity than he showed here).

In part because it's early, there are quite a few hiccups.  Scenes with the Joker's hostages are just weird... not funny, not scary; just odd.  Plus there are things like the "Operation Cause and Effect" scene.  This is the command Batman gives to Robin which causes Robin to blow something up.  It doesn't really involve causes or effects, at least not in a manner that makes sense.  It feels like there was supposed to be a more complex solution that got cut.

Likewise, the Joker escapes from prison by riding a giant Christmas tree outfitted with a rocket.  I'm neither clear on how that worked, how he set it up, nor how he survived the landing.  It's the sort of thing that would only have happened in the first season, while the show was still getting its footing.

Still, I really like this one.  I've been watching it every Christmas for years now, and I associate it closely with the holidays.  It's got some issues, but overall it's a lot of fun.

Recommended, though, if you're only going to see one of the holiday episodes of Batman The Animated Series, you're probably better off with Holiday Knights.  You can find Christmas With the Joker on Season One of Batman: The Animated Series, which you should be able to find in your DVD case.  If you don't own this set, there's not much I can do to help you, save pointing you in the right direction.

Fifth Avenue Walk, Part One: all fantasy girl window displays should include a kraken

Okay, I love window displays.  Macy's windows, by the way, are highly overrated.  Check out Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for some of the best displays.  I recently took a walk up Fifth Avenue, starting at around 48th street (just beside Rockefeller Plaza) and heading uptown.  

These first windows are from Saks Fifth Avenue.

It starts with a little girl and a cabinet.  There's some text somewhere about how her fantasies create the rest of the windows.  It's like Labyrinth crossed with high fashion.



The cabinet opens, and there's a model inside! This makes sense so far, right?

Lobo's Paramilitary Christmas (2005?)

This one isn't an official release: instead, it was put together as a fan video and released on YouTube. At thirteen minutes, it's pretty substantial, and the production values are pretty solid, all things considered.

I've never read the comic this was based on, but it's a pretty safe bet they adapted it more or less faithfully. This is more or less exactly what it should be. I'm not really sure that's a good thing, though.

Whether or not you should press play comes down to whether you like Lobo. Personally... I don't, at least not when he's the protagonist. As a supporting character, he can be a lot of fun, but on his own, I find the attempt to shock and repulse me kind of tedious.

That said, I can understand the appeal of twisted humor. If you're a fan of the character, you'll want to check this out: it's probably the closest thing you'll get to a movie for a long, long time.

If you don't know who Lobo is or what I'm talking about, I strongly urge you not to watch this. You've been warned.

Card: Because Christmas Snow is Magic

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

I liked this quite a bit. It's been quite a while since I'd seen it, although a lot of it came back to me as I watched.

In case you are very young and deprived, this special is a sweet retelling of Christmas Carol starring all Disney characters.

The animation is beautiful and detailed, the one song is pleasant and uplifting. The adaptation has to sprint through the plot to get to the end in half an hour, but it hits all the pertinent bits.

I appreciate that they "cast" established characters in the roles of the ghosts, as well as all the others. That was something I felt was a poor misstep in The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Scrooge definitely makes the special work, and he doesn't need any extra narration to keep viewers interested.  This Scrooge is short-sighted and greedy, but never evil.  His completely manic glee upon his transformation is an absolute joy. Of course, Scrooge McDuck playing Ebenezer Scrooge is hardly a stretch for the character. All of the others are mostly interesting as they intersect his orbit, and that's as it should be. Scrooge is the heart of the story, and this version gets that spot on.

If you haven't seen it recently, track down Mickey's Christmas Carol.  It's a sweet and seasonal half-hour.

Available on DVD at Amazon, or you might be able to track it down online if you're lucky.

A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (1995)

I knew a little of what we were getting into with this one.  I knew that this episode had won an Emmy, and I'd seen a bit of it online when I was making lists of specials to track down.

Even I didn't expect it to be this good, though.

From a reworked holiday-specific title sequence through to the last joke, this is a great episode.  Not quite 100% pitch perfect, but one of the best we've seen yet.

I don't want to give too much away, but Brain's current plan involves conning Santa's elves into making large numbers of hypnotic dolls.  There are one or two awkward jokes, but the climax makes up for it.  One part made even my Grinchy heart melt a little.

Check this one out if you can.  I think you'll be glad you did.

Sadly, WB's been patrolling Youtube, and I could only find short clips online.  It's available for a couple bucks on Amazon On Demand, or on Volume One of the DVD release.

The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982)

I saw this about eight years ago on Cartoon Network, and I never forgot it.  When we were listing specials we had to track down, this was high on my list.  Very high, in fact.

Why?  Is it good?  Of course not: little - if anything - about the Smurfs is deserving of that title.  No, it's not good.  But I'll be damned if it isn't gloriously and hilariously bad.

This is one of those specials you need to see to believe.  You see, it's Christmastime in Smurf village, some kids are lost when their sleigh overturns, and Gargamel is up to his old tricks.  Then the devil shows up.

Oh, they never call him that, and he doesn't look like the devil: he looks like a Snidely Whiplash in a cape.  But he's the devil, complete with infernal power, contracts, and rules limiting his actions.  And he's kind of scary.

And what have the Smurfs to contend with cosmic evil?  A song.  Not just any song: they have what's easily the most grating, obnoxious, and stupid song ever written for any cartoon show.  You know that "la la, lalala la" crap they usually spew?  That's Beethoven's 5th Symphony compared to this.

The last 30 seconds of this special make no sense.  In fact, the sheer volume of irrationality in the final scene is so great, that logic cannot escape its gravitational pull.  If you set a calculator down next to the television when this is on, that calculator will never work again.

On the other hand, the kids think Papa Smurf is Santa Claus, which makes a weird degree of sense.

Overall, this is so bad, it's not even good: it's smurfing hilarious.  Track this down on YouTube or something.  It's awesome.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

You know, if it weren't for Halloween's pending lawsuit for custody, I think I could just proclaim this the best Christmas movie of the past fifty years and be done with it. As it is, I'm pretty sure this is the only full length movie in color I'll be seeing this season I like more than Elf.*

I find it interesting that both this and Elf share the same inspiration: both movies are set in worlds extrapolated from Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, and both take those settings surprisingly seriously. While Nightmare Before Christmas and Elf couldn't really be described as being in continuity with each other, either could easily be imagined in continuity with Rudoph.

At any rate, there's a long list of reasons for why Nightmare has become the classic it has. In addition to its ties to existing classics, it's brilliantly designed, beautifully animated, and the music is amazing. I'm always a little surprised by just how much of the movie is devoted to songs: there's actually very little dialogue or silence. To put it in context, I can't think of a single Disney musical with as high a percentage of song (unless, of course, you want to count Fantasia). Ultimately, Nightmare Before Christmas is closer to an opera.

I doubt there are many people out there who need to be convinced to see this. If you're trying to track down a copy, I suggest checking on your DVD shelf: it should be there. If you can't find it, you can order a replacement copy here.

* Past FIFTY years? Movies in COLOR? As of writing this, I haven't seen Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life in quite some time, and I have fond memories of both. Until I get around to those and watch my illusions come crashing down, I'm going to cover my bases.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Celtic Celebration (CD)

A Celtic Celebration
Steve Schuch and The Night Heron Consort

With all the holiday music we've been listening to, the time is right to tell you about one of my favorite holiday albums.

This is a CD I've had for about as long as I've had CDs and the music (now MP3s of course) goes into my rotation every year.

It's an instrumental CD with a great style. All the songs have very strong "vocal" lines done on various instruments, like the penny whistle or the fiddle.  The number of instruments used is impressive, and includes a huge amount of unique percussion.  (The liner notes say: Traditional Christmas Songs played on fiddle, whistles, guitar, harp, pipes and more.)  They use the tone of each instrument to bring out different parts of each song.  The verses build upward in most of the tracks, providing an arc sometimes missing when carols are done without words.  It's very effective, and the intricate counterpoints and unique arrangements add an enormous depth to the music.

The style overall has an acoustic, warm feeling.  The tracks are a good mix of quick and gentle tempos, of songs I know and songs I am less familiar with. 

One of my favorite tracks is a energetic medley of Good King Wenceslas and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I also enjoy this Away in a Manger, a song I often dislike, because they break up the simplicity of the main vocal line with a beautiful counterpoint melody.

My favorite track might still be the Twelve Days of Christmas, though.  It's a fantastically original version in which each present is played by a different appropriate sound.  In other words, "geese a'laying" is played by a wind instrument that sounds somewhat like a goose, "maids a'milking" includes actual recordings of cowbells and a cow, and the lead 'vocal' throughout is on a partridge-like whistle.

Check out this great interview about the recording (from the release in 1996, sound is a bit off here and there): http://www.nightheron.com/media/mov/kerrycow.mov  
(Alternate Link: http://www.nightheron.com/video.html )

The whole CD is fantastic.  If you have affection for both Carols and Celtic harmonies, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Some of the songs from this album are available on Amazon MP3 along with some selections from the sequel album, or the CD is available both on Amazon and on Night Heron Music's own site.

Let's Hope the Naughty-Nice Standards are Calibrated Properly

Is anyone surprised that Robot Santa was made by Japan?  Anyone?



Thanks to Gwynne for drawing our attention to this robot monstrosity.

Early Window Dressing

Here are some of the earliest window decorations I saw this year.  

Up and active more than a week before Thanksgiving, here are some selections from the animatronic windows at Lord & Taylor in Manhattan.

Overall they aren't bad, kind of classic looking.  They remind me of the displays I used to love as a child.  As such, though, they are a little boring.





The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Hooray!  Now I'm in the Halloween spirit.  Uh, Christmas spirit, Christmas spirit, that's what I said, right?

Seriously, the scene in which Jack discovers Christmas Town I find to be one of the most holiday-cheer inducing scenes on film.  I get a big stupid grin on my face just listening to the song.

It's a modern classic.  The animation is outstanding, the writing brilliant, the music amazing, the story inspired.  I have basically no complaints.

I really sympathize with Jack. He discovers this wonderful thing that makes him feel warm and happy, and he starts out by trying to share it with his friends.  Everything spirals out of control, but it starts with a both selfish and unselfish instinct: Jack wants to have Christmas for himself because it makes him feel good, and he wants to share it, so his friends can feel it too.

It doesn't work out, because despite their best efforts, the residents of Halloween Town just don't understand the whole "spreading happiness" thing.  I sympathize with the idea that you try to do Christmas the best way you can, and all you get for it is shot down.  That feels accurate to some of my experiences with the holiday.

By the end, Santa helps the others understand a little of the merry holiday feeling, but more importantly, the experience shows Jack that everything he needed, he had the whole time.  He reclaims the strength in his own identity, and finds love.  Which is a pretty great ending, I would say.

You know you love it, so make some time to watch it.  If you don't have it on DVD yet (who are you?) you can pick it up on Amazon.

Here, you all can grin along with me:


Card: Refreshing

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For Better or For Worse: The Bestest Present (1985)

You know how you've never heard of the 1985 For Better or For Worse Christmas special? Yeah, there's a reason for that.

Now, first I want to make a couple quick disclaimers. I've never followed the comic strip this is based on, and don't know any more about it beyond what I've gleamed over the years from news reports and skimming the Wikipedia article. From what I can tell, the comic incorporated some brilliant, long-term storytelling techniques and was probably massively influential, bla, bla, bla.

The special wasn't actually bad. It was just... simple. Direct. As inoffensive as it was unfunny. You know something? I'd have preferred outright bad. Really bad specials are still fun. They hold my attention and move along at a clip. Before I know it, they're over, and I'm laughing and thinking of all the interesting things I'm going to say about them.

But this... this was just boring. It wasn't sweet or endearing, regardless of how hard it was trying to be. You could tell that this really wanted to be the next "It's Christmas, Charlie Brown," but it the result wasn't even as worthwhile as the Peanuts special's sequels. The story was your typical, contrived "true meaning of Christmas" nonsense. The animation was fine, the voice acting (some of which was apparently provided by the comic's creator's family) was good, and the music wasn't bad; the production values and heart were in the right place, but as a whole, it was just vapid and void of inspiration or comedy.

Unless you're a big fan of the comic, I suggest staying clear of this one. I know my situation is a bit different than yours, but after about thirty specials over two weeks, mediocre specials like this are the ones that are the hardest to get through.

This was released on VHS, but at $22... yeah. Why don't you just head over to YouTube and watch it there?

Or, better yet, you could just do something else.

Short Fiction: The Worst Gift

The Worst Gift
By: Erin Snyder

Edwin Thorester had given up on ever finding the best gift, or even a good gift, for that matter, long before he stepped into the For Corners Gift Emporium.  The fact of the matter was simply that a “good gift” was an adult equivalent to Saint Nicholas; namely, that it existed in the heart, that many believed in its power, but no matter how much you were willing to delude yourself, it simply wasn't real.

The problem, as he saw it, was that the alternative was a gift that was not memorable.  This was the one ideal he couldn’t bear to abandon.  He’d already purchased a dozen potential gifts.  A potential gift, as defined by Edwin Thorester, was similar to an actual gift, save that rather than being given, it resided in a state of rest.  More specifically, his potential gifts were resting in a large, cardboard box labeled, “X-Mas Decorations.”  One day, he swore, he would replace that box with a newer, better one, and label it “Christmas Gifts in Waiting,” and that the poetry of the thing would compel him to give out as many or more potential gifts each year as the number he took in, a feat he’d never once achieved in the five years since he’d conjured the theory and begun his collection.

The larger issue he now faced related to the potential recipient, Elena Jones, the Northeast Regional Manager of Distribution for Klipsin Inc., the subsidiary Edwin worked for.  What, specifically, Klipsin was a subsidiary of was a point of some contention.  Its current owner, Liir System International, which had itself purchased Klipsin not four months prior from Irksi Syrus Enterprises for slightly less than two hundred million dollars, was negotiating to sell the subsidiary to any one of three possible buyers (one of which being the aforementioned Irksi Syrus Enterprises, which, having realigned their corporate structure and rewritten both their mission statement and goals, had reassessed and reconsidered the subsidiary and was now interested in reacquiring it).

But none of that was of any importance to Edwin, who would have felt equally obsessed and anxious purchasing a gift for Elena whether she was the NRMD for a subsidiary of Irksi Syrus Enterprises, a secretary for Liir SI, the reigning dictator of a European nation state, or a line-cook at McDonalds.

For you see, Edwin Thorester deeply loved Elena Jones, which is of itself a point of very little significance, as at any given time no fewer than fifteen men and two women were in love with Ms. Jones, not including the dashing, charming, and brilliant Mr. Jones, who no one could deny had won her hand fair and square.

Elena, it should be noted, feared and despised the Christmas season and had her entire life.  A holiday whose only purpose seemed to be the opening of the floodgates for gifts from admirers she had no interest in collecting and whose affections brought her only grief and guilt, as though she were in some way responsible for their affliction.  She'd made her thoughts on the subject crystal clear, even going so far as to order custom “thank you” notes with her philosophical musings on the subject explained in some detail.

Every year, after leaving his present on her desk (or beside it, when the existing pile already occupied every inch), Edwin would wait patiently for the thank you card to appear.  These were the only things from Elena he'd ever received, other than a pen she'd given him on his first day, and he kept them in a sealed plastic bag which was, in turn, kept in a fireproof safe in his basement.  The pen he kept on his person at all times, a favor from his lady.  Well, from Mr. Jones's lady, but from a lady nonetheless.

Like any cold war, the search for a perfect gift for Elena had escalated dramatically over the years.  Three years earlier, Jonathon Karter, a receptionist from billing, had spent two weeks' pay to purchase Elena a diamond necklace.  She pawned the necklace at her first opportunity and donated every penny to charity.  For overstepping his bounds, Jonathon wasn't given so much as a “thank you” note, nor did she ever mention it in passing.  She withheld even the scolding he desired, for what could be better than her attention and emotional reaction?

The event had soured the annual competition for the rest of them.  No longer could they outdo each other through expense; now they had no choice but to seek out something thoughtful, something memorable, a gift that would embed itself in memory and withstand the ebb of time.

While the For Corners Gift Emporium had already provided several additions to Edwin's box of potential gifts, including (but not limited to) one mug advertising a Broadway show which had already closed, a die-cast replica of a New York City Cab complete with a miniature driver sticking his finger out the window, two T-shirts (one bearing the slogan “I [apple] New [heart],” the other with the image of Marilyn Monroe), and no less than three bobble head dolls – any of which might serve as gifts for superficial acquaintances – he was no nearer to finding a present suiting Elena.  The die-cast cab came closest, but even this was too trivial for unrequited love.

However, after determining that none of the snow globes were worth his time, a miraculous event occurred.  It happened in the bobble-head aisle, and it happened because Edwin had discovered a paint smudge on the bobbing nose of the Hillary Clinton doll he'd selected.  This could not stand, so he headed back to swap it out for a one without such an imperfection.  The dolls weren't in any kind of order, though, so he found himself pulling specimens off the shelf and setting them on the floor as he tried to find what he was looking for.  He came across three other Hillary Clinton bobble-heads, but they all contained the same paint error, and he began to suspect the store had procured a box of irregulars at a discount.

But Edwin wasn't one to give up, so he kept digging deeper, until his hand grasped something in the back.  Even before pulling it out, he could tell this wasn't a bobble-head.  When he got it free he nearly dropped it in disgust.  Even though he nearly lost his grip, the object, being slightly sticky, did not.  Edwin set on the floor, surrounded by the cult of bobble-heads.  He stared at it in awe and shock.

It was gaudy.  Gaudier than anything Edwin had seen in his entire life.  He'd never thought of gaudiness as a quantifiable metric before that moment, but he could see that it was gaudier than the entire remaining contents of the For Corners Gift Emporium combined.

But it wasn't just gaudy.  It was also chintzy, in that way only the cheapest trinkets are.  It radiated chintziness: the bobble-head dolls nearest seemed chintzier by far than those further away.

It even smelled funny.  A faint but detectable odor of imitation pine and cinnamon wafted off of its plastic sides and into the air.  It met Edwin's nose like caustic gas – it seemed like an imitation of an imitation, bearing no resemblance to the original at all.

It had lights and made noise.  It performed no useful purpose, nor filled any niche or need.  And yet, it reflected Christmas in its entirety.  It was the holiday, as captured in some funhouse mirror, bent and skewed almost – but not quite – beyond recognition.

It was, without a doubt, the worst gift anyone could ever give or receive.

And that made it memorable.  More memorable than a hundred diamond necklaces or Tiffany vases or cashmere sweaters.  More noticeable than a four-foot tall lit artificial Christmas tree.

He paused for a moment, trying to imagine Elena's reaction.  She would hate it.  She would hate him for getting it for her.  But then she would think of him.  She would bring him into her thoughts, hold him in her mind, if only to spite him.  Was it worth it?

He looked down at the cult of bobble-heads before him, and everyone of them nodded in agreement.

He wrapped the gift in one of the T-shirts he'd picked out so he wouldn't have to touch it again, then hurried to the register.  The clerk cocked an eyebrow as Edwin unrolled the shirt to reveal his find.

The clerk gasped.  “Did you want to buy this?” he asked, after staring for almost a minute in silence.

“Yes,” Edwin said without hesitation.

The clerk swallowed and slowly nodded his head.  “It's been here longer than I have,” he said.  “No one ever asked about it before.  Ever.”

He reached for it, but paused before touching it, investing a moment to find the least offensive way to touch it.  Finally, using his thumb and index finger and holding it at arm's length, he raised it to the scanner, which spit out a shrill screech.  The words “item not found” appeared on the register.

The clerk set the item down at once.  “I'll need to get the owner,” he said, after some consideration.  Edwin nodded, and the clerk headed into the back room, glancing back over his shoulder as though he expected Edwin to be gone.

The clerk was only gone a few seconds before reemerging with the owner, an overweight, elderly man, who walked with a limp.  He made his way to the register and looked down at the items Edwin had chosen.  “You're here to buy it,” he said.

“Yup,” Edwin replied.

“For a gift, right?” he asked, watching Edwin's face for any sign that he might be lying.

“Yup,” Edwin said again.

The old man drew a deep breath.  “I... can't just give it to you for free,” he said, sounding like he wanted to, more than anything, but some force or geas prevented him.  He thought for a moment.  “Nine ninety-nine,” he said at length.  “Yes.  It's nine dollars, ninety-nine cents.”  He stopped breathing for an instant while he waited.

“Okay,” Edwin said shrugging.  The clerk worked the register to add the other items, and the entire purchase came to fifty-four, eighty-nine (the T-shirts were two for ten dollars, and the cab was half-off; everything else was full price).

Edwin paid with three twenties, and the clerk bagged his purchases, saving the worst gift in all the world for last.  He opened a plastic bag and lowered it around the object so he wouldn't have to touch it again, then he handed it to Edwin.  His body was tense until Edwin took it, and he relaxed the instant his burden was gone.

“Thank you,” the clerk said, handing over the receipt.  “You can bring anything back within seven days with receipt for returns or exchanges.”  It was a mantra, spoken quickly and without meaning.

The owner butt in.  “Anything except....”  He didn't finish his sentence, nor did he point or lower his gaze from Edwin's eyes, but it made no difference.  The meaning was clear.

Carrying his bags, Edwin hurried out and headed to the subway.  The platform and train were crowded, but no one came near Edwin or his bags.

When he reached his apartment, he emptied his other objects into his box of potential gifts, with the exception of the T-shirt he'd used to carry it in the store – that, he threw away.  Then, laying out a newspaper on his floor, he tipped the last bag over, using it like glove to set down the worst gift.  The plastic of the bag peeled away with the sound of tape coming off a roll.  It was as though the gift didn't want to let go.

In some ways, it didn't seem as awful anymore, and Edwin wondered if perhaps he'd been swindled.  But the longer he stared at the gift, the worse it seemed.  After the first five minutes, he felt himself grow dizzy, and he almost fell.  After that, he brought a chair, so that he could sit and look at it.

It was as though the gift looked back.

Then, at last, he went to his closet and emerged with a roll of wrapping paper printed with green holly leaves.  Wrapping the gift was an endeavor.  The paper kept tearing and sticking to the present, but after four layers he managed to get it on.  The package still bore its shape, but nothing else - not even the smell – came through.  Whatever power the gift had, it was suppressed by the paper.  Finally, Edwin found a label and wrote, “To Elena, From Edwin, may you never forget me,” and he stuck it on.

He brought it with him to work the next day, but did not give it to Elena.  He could not have said why he hesitated or what he was frightened of – after all, the worst case scenarios were the best outcomes he could hope for – but, whatever the reason, he found himself hiding it in his own desk drawer for the better part of a week, all the while tokens from other admirers appeared and disappeared from the area around Elena's chair.

Finally, on the day before Christmas Eve, he came in a half hour early, took it to Elena's desk, and returned to his own.  Immediately, he ran back to her desk, made sure no one was looking, and stole it back.  This repeated six times in as many minutes, until the woman who sat next to Elena came in and turned on her computer.  For better or worse, and perhaps by the whim of fate, she'd entered while the gift rested in front of Elena's computer, and there it remained until Elena arrived herself and brushed it, along with four others which had been left late the previous day, into the large canvas bag she took to the office for just this purpose every day for two weeks before and one after Christmas.

She didn't open the gift until she got home, when her husband asked what she'd been given.  “They sure love Christmas at Klipsin,” he said, as though everyone received as many presents as she did.  He knew better of course, but he did his best to help her feel normal.  She shrugged, and pulled the paper off the first of her presents, an ornament of an angel riding a muskrat, an animal she'd once made the mistake of jokingly remarking was her favorite.  Her husband looked it over, made a note of who'd given it to her, then dropped it into one of the muskrat boxes.

Next was a set of simple holiday glasses, which her husband convinced her were decent enough to go in the kitchen and see use.  She silently resolved, then and there, never to let the giver, Fredrick Ulrich, know he given her something of use, as she was unsure how he'd react.

“Here's a weird one,” her husband chuckled, holding out a peculiarly shaped gift.  “Says it's from... Edwin.  He the one who got you the framed picture of the wolves last year?”

Elena shrugged.  She seldom kept track of such things.  She pulled at the paper and found it fighting her, as if glued down.  In the end, she wound up peeling it off like an orange, to reveal the thing within, which she quickly set down, pushing it away from her.  Neither she nor her husband said a word.  They simply sat there, staring at it.  The other gifts, both those she'd opened and those she hadn't, were entirely forgotten.

“I don't... I don't get it,” her husband said in the barest of whispers.

She didn't react or speak.  She just sat completely still, hardly blinking, until her husband covered it with extra wrapping paper and convinced her to go to bed.  The second she'd left the room, he threw it in the trash and dragged it to the curb.  As far as either of them were concerned, that should have been the end of it.

Four days passed before Elena had to be back at work.  When she returned, she discovered that Edwin was wisely keeping his distance, never approaching or even daring to look at her.  She resolved not to send him a “thank you” card, even as she realized that she'd forgotten to write any such cards up, despite the fact she'd always given those out right after the holiday.

When she returned home that evening, she noticed the trash was piling up at the curb.  She asked her husband about this, and he replied that the garbage men had forgotten to pick it up that morning, but that they'd certainly remember on Tuesday.

Of course, they didn't remember on Tuesday, and her husband swore he'd call their councilman to complain.  She stopped him and looked him in the eye.  “Would you have taken it?” she asked.  When he looked away, she nodded.  “I have a favor,” she said, immediately regretting her words.  Her husband would never refuse doing her a favor, and she'd wanted him to do this of his own freewill or not at all.  “Would you go to the curb and recover Edwin's gift for me?  I've decided....”  She'd meant to say she'd decided she wanted it or something of the sort, but she couldn't force the words past her lips.  Instead, she said, “I'll go, if you won't, but we can't leave it there.”

He nodded, knowing full well she was right.  When he reached the curb and removed the lid, he found that the garbage bag was torn open and the gift was poking through.  This didn't surprise him in the least, nor did he wonder how this had happened.  He was wearing work gloves when he picked it up, having resolved to never touch it again.  Briefly, he considered driving to the river and throwing it in, but he became convinced that, should he do so, it would somehow kill every fish on the Eastern seaboard.

Besides, Elena hadn't asked him to do this; she'd asked him to bring it to her, so he did so.  He almost stopped by the bathroom to clean it, but in the end he decided the trash had made it somehow less repulsive and presented it as is.  With her permission, he locked it in the shed before they both went to bed.

Neither of them slept a wink that night.  They merely laid in bed staring at the ceiling.

Elena went to work the next day and spent most of her time glowering at Edwin, who seemed both horrified and gratified by her reaction.  She told this to her husband in passing that evening, while they both watched the shed door through an open window, as if at any moment it would explode open.

He simply nodded when he told her this, then he went to their bedroom to recover her address book, stopped by the closet to recover his hunting rifle, and, without a word, walked to his truck.  Elena cried while she watched him go, but she couldn't bring herself to stop him.  As soon as he'd driven off, she shook off the reverie which held her and grabbed her phone.  She pressed the key marked nine and even got as far as the first one before she stopped.  By this time, she'd looked up at the closed shed door, and it seemed to hold her.  She didn't set down the phone, nor did she complete her call.  She merely remained where she was, unaware that time was passing or anything might be happening.

Meanwhile, her husband had located the address of Edwin's apartment in Brooklyn in Elena's considerably large index.  It was late at night, and there was no traffic on the road: he made the drive in less than twenty minutes.  He got out, rifle in hand, and marched to the door, well aware that someone behind him was already backing away and calling the police.

He buzzed Edwin's apartment and heard a hopeful voice say, “Hello?”

“It's Cory,” he said.  “Sorry.  I'm Elena's husband.”

“Oh,” the voice said through the intercom, sounding disappointed.  A second later, the door buzzed loudly, and the lock disengaged.  Elena's husband strolled up the stairs to Edwin's apartment and found the door unlocked.

Edwin was sitting in the center of the room.  He looked at the rifle and nodded.  He stood slowly and only said, “I'd hoped... I hoped she'd come herself.”

“I'm sorry,” Elena's husband said, not because of what he was about to do, but because she hadn't.  He shut the door behind him.  Then he shot Edwin in the chest and waited to make sure he was dead.  He walked to the kitchen next and used the wash cloth to clean his prints from the gun.  Then, deciding that was stupid, he grabbed the rifle to make sure his prints were back on it, and he used Edwin's phone to call the police.  He knew they were already on the way, but he wanted to make sure they went to the right apartment and didn't disturb anyone in the building more than they'd already been disturbed.  His constant concern for others was one of the qualities that had convinced Elena to marry him.

The police came and arrested Elena's husband with very little fanfare.  In the end, he was so helpful, polite, and direct, they forgot to handcuff him when they drove him to the station, where he explained, in some detail, why he'd killed Edwin Thorester, a man he'd never previously met.  His story baffled them, of course, as they'd never seen the gift in the question, and moreover hadn't met his wife.

His court-appointed lawyer, a man by name of Ulther Wilkins, wound up recovering the artifact from the shed.  He drove it to the courthouse himself and introduced it as evidence during the trial.  That, along with testimony from Elena, moved the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, which surprised neither the judge nor prosecuting attorney.

It should be added that Uther paid a heavy price for this victory, as he felt obliged to get rid of his car afterward, and was never able to find a buyer who'd pay anywhere near its full value (though no one could point to any flaw or reason for this).  The Joneses didn't escape unharmed, either, as the court required them to retake ownership of their property.

Elena made the decision to display the gift on their mantle, and there it would stay.  Though it continued to cause the couple grief, the gift did find some rest in its new home, and it haunted them significantly less than when they'd tucked it out of view.  In their will, they decided the gift should remain in their house, and that the house should go to whoever among their friends or family might claim it.  However, as they're still alive, there's no telling who – if anyone – might take that offer.

As for Edwin's funeral, he'd never had much in the way of friends, and he came from a small and distant family.  His father was too sick to leave Charlotte, and his brother was unable or unwilling to pull himself away from work to attend.  But the event was not without mourners: the seventeen men and women who shared his infatuation, along with dozens of others who had at one point, went in their stead, and every one of them was jealous of Edwin, who would stay in Elena's thoughts until the day she died.

None of Elena's admirers ever bought her a gift again, not out of a sense of propriety or fear, but rather because they knew it had always been a competition.  And none could doubt that, at long last, the contest had found its winner.

Elf (2003)

Erin loves this movie.  I just 'like' it.  So I'm going to take a moment to talk about my specific problems with the film, and there will be spoilers.  If you want someone to inspire you with all the reasons to see the film, read Erin's take.

I always like Elf more than I expect to and less than I feel like it deserves. On this viewing I tried to put my finger on what bothers me about it.

The beginning is great, to be fair.  The sets, the costumes and the effects all combine to set this firmly in the world of the classic Rankin-Bass specials. Everything with the elves is pretty good. Much of the rest of the movie is funny or cute, and most parts work well.

First you should know that I don't like Will Ferrell in almost anything.  I don't like his style of comedy; I don't like his line delivery.  I don't think he's awful in this (which is a step up) but in general he grates on me.

But on this viewing I realized that more than anything else, my uneasiness about this film comes down to the music.

Whenever Buddy does another joke where he sings ridiculously, I lose all built-up sympathy for the character.  I can't stand anyone singing badly on purpose, even an actor.  It's too far, it's stupid, and my pitch-trained ears cry out for revenge.

Then, in the big climax, music is an integral part, because singing builds the spirit they need to run the sleigh.  Which is fine, except that the song they choose is Here Comes Santa Claus.  This is not a rousing tune at the best of times.  It's repetitive and boring, and doesn't build to a climax.  Also the lyrics are chiding!  I don't find this song inspirational at all.  I know the writers must have been in a bind, to find a song that it was reasonable to assume the crowd would know, that's about Santa, and isn't total crap.

For all my problems with Christmas Carols, on average they are better songs than the tripe that's been written about Santa.

It's a shame, because a lot of the music choices are good, and the music under the opening credits is fantastic.  But those few problems just leave me with a bad taste in my mouth and stop me from really enjoying this film.

Elf is available on DVD.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree (1979)

We saw this on a VHS tape we dug out of a box in Lindsay's parents house in Massachusetts.  It wasn't the worst thing we saw that weekend, but it certainly deserves an honorable mention.
 
First up, this deserves a spot on the list of unintentionally creepy animated production.  Some of the expressions the bears display are downright horrific.  Also, there's a scene towards the end where an eagle, upset that Papa Bear was considering turning his home into a Christmas tree, chucks an axe at the Bear family.  Almost got them, too.
 
For what it's worth, that eagle wound up having a change of heart.  After Papa Bear realized the inherent hypocrisy in cutting down someone's home for a holiday that was supposed to honor all life, the eagle, along with a brigade of other animals, did some Christmas decorating to ensure the Bear family had the best Christmas ever.
 
I think if I have to watch another special where a family, down on their luck, miraculously winds up having the "best Christmas ever," I might throw up.  We'll see.
 
Anyway, the cheap moralizing didn't go as far as the Bears' Christmas dinner.  In a particularly bizarre moment, they brought up the contradiction, and Papa laughed it off as an exception.  I'm not sure whether it's better they at least acknowledged this hypocrisy or not, to be honest.

If you're an adult, there's no reason you should be watching this.  If you have positive memories of these from your childhood, keep the memories: they're far better than this special.

If you happen to have young children, and you're looking for something they'll find fun... you know something?  You can still do a lot better than A Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree.

Elf (2003)

I'm convinced that Elf was supposed to be a bad movie, but that, somewhere along the line, someone screwed up and wound up creating something brilliant.

Consider the concept for a moment: this was obviously green-lit to be a Will Ferrell vehicle, where he plays a human raised in Santa's workshop who travels to New York to meet his family.  In addition, the script included one or more jokes based on each of the following: belching, vomiting, and eating disgusting and/or discarded food.

Yeah.  Clearly, this wasn't supposed to be a good movie.  It was supposed to be the lowest level of childrens entertainment: something that comes out, parents brings their five year-olds to see, then everyone - kids included - goes home disappointed.  That's all it had any right to be.

But apparently some producer at New Line didn't get the memo, because they hired Jon Favreau to direct it.  By the way, if you're looking for evidence that Favreau is a visionary, don't point to Iron Man (any director worth a damn could have churned out a solid flick with Downey, Jr. and that source material); point to this.  Because, like I said, by all rights this should have been awful.

It certainly shouldn't have been a classic.  Or one of the best Christmas movies ever made.

I've given this movie a lot of thought over the years in an attempt to figure out how Favreau managed to get the movie he ended up with.  After this viewing, I think I've finally got it.

The obvious approach to this movie would have been to treat it like a parody.  But Favreau approaches it like a fantasy film, then approaches that fantasy film as a character-driven drama.  Sure, the setting is derived from Rudolph, Miracle on 34th Street, and dozens of other holiday classics.  But he treats that setting - and the people living within it - with respect.  He takes the movie seriously, trusting the comedy to emerge on its own.  And it does - this is one the funniest holiday movies out there.
It also might be one of the most touching.

I've spoken to quite a few people who have told me they're reluctant to give this movie a shot because they - and I'm quoting here - "hate Will Ferrell."  I appreciate that sentiment (until I saw Elf, I used to share it).  But trust me on this one: Elf is a film you need to track down.  If not for me, do it for Jon Favreau: that guy gave us two Iron Man movies, as well as the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens: he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

Card: The Natural Beauty of the North

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Awww.  This is a sweet movie, with a few weaknesses.

Casting Gonzo and Rizzo as tag-team narrators was the main stroke of genius here.  It worked so well that they were asked to carry the next few movies as well.  Their comedy is pretty great, and as a fan I appreciate that their personalities are consistent, not drastically changed to play "Dickens".  Without them, this could have been pretty dour.

Also it gives surprising gravitas to Dickens' words to hear them coming out of Gonzo.  Or maybe that's just me.

Erin appreciated that Michael Caine could be playing Scrooge in any version of A Christmas Carol.  He resists the temptation to ham it up for the Muppets and plays it just as straight as could be.  Erin didn't much like the music, though. I like the songs: I think they're sweet, but that could easily be due to long familiarity.

Also, the TV edit we saw cut "When Love is Gone", the most boring song in the movie, but that did put a hiccup in the emotional momentum of the film.

Now, it's not a flooring, amazing film.  The Muppet troupe was trying something new here, and it feels like the performers' hearts aren't all the way in it, not compared to things like The Muppet Movie, Fraggle Rock, etc.  It's not their best work.

I'm not too impressed with the ghosts designed specifically for this, but all the Muppet casting is pretty fantastic.  I particularly like that young Scrooge works at "Fozziewig's" Rubber Chicken Factory.

It is plenty of fun, and for a version of A Christmas Carol, it's pretty great.  This is to be expected, it's the Muppets, after all.  But it's not my favorite Muppet Christmas movie.  We'll be getting to that later in the month.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is available on DVD.

Simon's Cat in 'Santa Claws'

This pretty much just tells it like it is.  At two minutes and change, you can't lose.



Special thanks to Beth for pointing this out.

Comfort and Joy (2003)

At one point during this Lifetime Original made-for-TV movie, Lindsay pulled my hand away from my head to keep me from literally pulling my hair out of my head.  I tried to explain that I knew what I was doing, that it was distracting me from the pain.  She stopped me anyway.  I think, in time, I'll come to forgive her.

This one was hard for me.  It's not that I'm a guy: I can take dramas, chick flicks, what have you.  But the thing is, I'm also a writer.  And, as such, there's a level of bad dialogue that will hurt me.  In high enough doses, it might even kill me.

Like most Christmas dramas, this was actually a science fiction film, though it buried that fact beneath five metric tons of melodramatic nonsense.  Even so, the plot was a pretty straightforward time jump: the main character, a self-obsessed career woman, jumps forward ten years in her life to find herself a wife and mother, dutifully living out her husband's philanthropic dreams.

We spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to determine whether this was in fact a time jump or alternate Earth.  While character interactions implied the former, it ultimately didn't work - why wasn't anyone (including her parents) any older, why didn't the date ever come up, what about technological developments, major news events, and so on.

Well, it turned out it was a time jump, and the movie's writers just ignored these issues.

I can overlook that.  However, I have a harder time forgiving everything else about this movie.  First, there was absolutely no internal consistency or logic in how characters behaved.  The movie would swing from sappy melodrama to awkward comedy with such force, I couldn't tell which they were going for half the time.

Is that all?  Oh, not even close.  Stupid cliches about life being about more than money, I can overlook.  But when they're incorporated into cheap philosophical debates about sacrificing money for things that matter while the characters are buying hundred-dollar toys for their kids, I start having to stifle screams.  Add to that an evil stepmother who makes the queen in Snow White seem well-rounded in comparison, children whose mental capacity shifts from scene-to-scene, and a "perfect husband" who's too stupid to remember his wife has amnesia because someone thought it would be funny.

Okay.  When I review a movie I love, I almost always nit-pick a couple details.  Here's the flip side: there are two moments this movie did right.  No, I take that back.  They handled two scenes not entirely wrong.

First, when the main character arrived in her future, while it took her a little too long to figure out what was happening, her reaction to overwhelming evidence felt realistic.  Secondly, there was one scene - when her kids woke her in bed Christmas morning - that was actually funny.  I found myself laughing a couple times in that scene.  These were the only times I laughed with the movie instead of at it for its entire hour and a half run time.

You can find this on Amazon if you want to, sure.  But...Don't.  Seriously.  Don't buy it, don't watch it.  Just... don't do this to yourself.

Seriously.

Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010)

This is a BRAND SHINY NEW Prep and Landing short.  It's only about 7 minutes, but it's 7 minutes of pure win. If you didn't see Prep and Landing last year, you missed the best new Christmas special probably for decades.

It's from Disney, now that they've had a heart and charm upgrade courtesy of Pixar.  What else would you expect? This new addition to the world introduces Betty White as Mrs. Claus, and she's got a special mission for our favorite Prep and Landing team.

So see the original first, and then add to your cheer with Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa.

Streaming on both Hulu and abc.com