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Showing posts from December 9, 2012

The Simpsons: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace (1997) and Grift of the Magi (1999)

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A few years ago, I looked at Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, the series' pilot/Christmas special. It held up incredibly well. But while that was the first, the series has certainly racked up some additional Christmas episodes in its twenty-four seasons on the air.

The two I'm looking at today were included on a DVD called "The Simpsons Christmas," along with the pilot and two others which really shouldn't count as Christmas episodes at all. But the DVD was released in 2003, back when they only had a handful of actual holiday episodes to choose from.

First up, we've got "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace," from season nine. I remember those years: we used to debate whether it was time for the show to wrap up. It seems almost quaint now. At any rate, Bart accidentally destroys the family's presents and Christmas tree, hides the evidence, and blames their disappearance on a burglar. While the plot meanders from there, the jokes are solid and the cha…

It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (2012)

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We got a tip (thanks, Mom!) that this new special was going to be airing on network TV, so we sat down to check it out.

Now, I’m only passing familiar with Spongebob, although that’s more than Erin is. My takeaway from this is mostly that I respect the attempt, but don’t think it fully came together. Maybe it’s funnier if you know the show better.

This episode was entirely filmed in stop-motion, and the effort is appreciated, although it’s not an unusual choice these days when one wants to evoke the feeling of Christmas specials past. (See Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas for a better example.) However, I’m not sure all the character designs really make sense in three dimensions, particularly when they tried to replicate some visual tropes of the usual animation. The sets were neat, though, and while I didn’t ever think the voices completely matched the fuzzy little dolls, the aesthetic of the thing overall was kind of cool.

The story follows the villain Plankton trying to get on San…

Christmas Do-Over (2006)

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The short explanation for Christmas Do-Over is that it's a made-for-TV Christmas rip-off of Groundhog Day. The longer explanation is that it's a quasi-remake of a made-for-TV movie called "Christmas Every Day," that's almost certainly also a rip-off of Groundhog Day, but is also a quasi-adaptation of a 19th century story of the same name.

But I'm pretty sure the only thing important here is Groundhog Day.

The premise of Christmas Do-Over is that the main character is visiting his ex-wife's family on Christmas to see her and his son. Due to a boulder falling on the only road out of their town (which isn't nearly small enough to plausibly have only one road out), he's forced to spend the entire day, instead of just a few minutes. He meets his ex's new boyfriend, who gives her a car for Christmas, goes to a Christmas fair where his ex-father-in-law is competing, has Christmas dinner, goes caroling with the family, and watches his ex agree to mar…

Fiction: The Perfect Gift

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Today's installment of holiday cheer in our "25 Christmas Eves" series is a nice little zombie survival tale, set in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Just in time for the holidays.
By: Erin L. Snyder
Deb woke up while Keeve was strapping the shotgun to his back. She stood up, stretched, and came towards him. There wasn't a lot of light in the room - just what seeped through the boarded up window - but it was enough to see she was worried. Keeve, satisfied the shotgun was secured, held her and kissed her on the lips.

“Uh,” he said, laughing. “Your breath’s not too good.”

“Yeah,” she laughed back, before growing serious. “Where are you going, babe?”

“Oh. Yeah. I left you a note. Thought I’d grab some supplies from town, you know.”

“Jesus. I should come,” she said.

“No. Look, I love you, but we both know I’m faster.”

“I can outrun any bee,” Deb replied.

“I know you can, but I don’t want them following us back here, clawing at the door and all that. Remember October? We had…

Phineas and Ferb's Family Christmas Special (2011)

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Phineas and Ferb's second Christmas special was quite a bit smaller and less ambitious than their first. I also liked it quite a bit more.

This is essentially a half-episode, which is a format the series is used to: most Phineas and Ferb episodes are broken into two unconnected 11 minute shorts. This differs from the norm in that it's a standalone: there's no "second short" following it. My guess is it was produced to be aired along with the much longer special from the prior year (with commercials, they should fill out an hour together).

The plot to this episode is intentionally thin: the boys are putting on an old fashioned Christmas TV special in the middle of summer. While this ostensibly uses the show's normal formula, it doesn't really commit to it. The sequences with Perry and Doofenshmirtz are far shorter, and Candace's attempt to bust Phineas and Ferb is tacked on. I don't think this is a problem: in fact, it demonstrates the writers'…

Toy Review: Arthur Christmas Figures

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One of last year's best surprises was Arthur Christmas, a brilliant movie which re-imagined the Santa myth and told a nuanced holiday story. Like most big budget production, this one included toy tie-ins. At the time, these were going for around four bucks a pack, so I waited until they were less than a buck.


I bought these several months ago, so I wouldn't swear my memory's accurate but I think I paid ninety cents for each of these 2 packs. And, honestly, that might be a bit more than they're worth. I love these characters, but these toys are kind of pitiful.


The detail work just isn't here: if anything, these remind me of toys you'd expect to get out of a vending machine. The plastic is cheap and rubbery: Arthur barely stands up straight and requires occasional adjustment.


The paint work, while partially hidden by the scale, is still below expectations. There's not a lot of detail here.


The best of the bunch is Santa, who at least has some mass. I don…

Book Review: Letters to Father Christmas

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Letters to Father Christmas
J. R. R. Tolkien, 1976, 1999

Premise: This whimsical volume reproduces a series of letters that Tolkien’s children received from “Father Christmas” between 1920 and 1943.

This was very interesting, as a student of early fantasy writing and as someone with interest in different ideas of Santa. It is not, however, exciting to read.

These letters were clearly never intended to be published. They were purely a gift from a father to his children, and while they are often elaborate and entertaining, there is very little in the way of plot here. Plus we are only getting half the story, as Father Christmas often thanks the children for their letters or answers their questions.

The time and skill involved in creating these mementos is obvious. Most letters came with an enclosed drawing, all reprinted in lovely color here. As more characters were introduced over the years, they developed their own writing styles. Happily, the text is transcribed for ease of reading, …

Fiction: 25 Christmas Eves, part 4

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This is the conclusion of the title story of '25 Christmas Eves'. Please note this only concludes the STORY, not the series: there will be more fiction tomorrow night, same Christmas channel, same Christmas time. If you missed parts 1, 2, and 3, you'll want to give those a read before proceeding.

By: Erin L. Snyder

PART 4 The following year was even better than the one before. Hector took a job in the video store just as business took off. He was promoted to manager soon after. And, even better, he met Laurie.

Laurie was one of their best customers. She came in almost daily to rent some old monster movie or science-fiction flick. She’d ask him questions about films he’d never heard of, and he found himself pretending he’d seen them, just so he’d have something to talk to her about. Then he found himself taking home movies as soon as she returned them. And then it was movies he thought she’d be interested in before she got to them.

Pretty soon, they were going to the movies…

I Don't Want To Hear It

Sure, Christmas is largely about tradition, but there are some I can do without. You know what I'm talking about: every year, some jackass has to go repeat the same Christmas cliches, as if they've got something worthwhile to say. Well, here are a few "holiday reflections" I can do without, along with my standard response for the offending perpetrator:

"It's not ______ and stores are already putting Christmas displays up?"
How often I hear it: Every year
Proper response: Yeah, Christmas starts earlier every year. You know what that means? It means those of us with a preschool-level understanding of mathematics were expecting it to start earlier this year than last. So why don't you shut the hell up, start charting this shit, and brace yourself for the holiday season to overtake Memorial Day by 2016.

"I like Christmas, but I hate how commercialized it's become."
How often I hear it: Every damn year
Proper response: Nothing pisses me off m…

Seattle Winter Train and Village

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The other day we stopped by Seattle Center to see what our new home has in the way of Christmas cheer. We found a pretty sweet model train village decked out for the holidays.


The carousel spun and lit up, and there were two flying vehicles suspended from the ceiling.


Not sure what's going on here, but we think that's a widowed doll coming out of the graveyard.
I liked the bits of wreckage at the bottom of the canyon.






It was slightly odd that the dollhouse scale people didn't match the scale of the trains and some of the vehicles, but it wasn't too noticeable.






Not a bad little set-up, overall.

What's New, Scooby-Doo?: A Scooby-Doo! Christmas (2002)

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This is one of those specials that comes a hair's breath from being "so bad it's good," but can't quite overcome the aspects that are just bad.  The series it's from is about a decade old, which puts it well past the era when Scooby-Doo seemed ahead of its time.

The plot centers around a mystical living snowman which can remove its head and is obsessed with destroying chimneys. It's about twelve feet tall and has supernatural powers, meaning the "guy-in-suit" won't work this time. Well, unless it's a guy in a robot suit using stupidly unrealistic science to pull off the effect.
Spoiler alert: it's a guy in a robot suit using stupidly unrealistic science to pull off the effect.
Here. Have more back story. There's a local legend about a headless snowman who's animated by the ghost of a robber who died a century ago after hiding some gold in the town. There are a couple of townsfolk acting as red-herrings: a sheriff who always …

Fiction: 25 Christmas Eves, part 3

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This is part three of '25 Christmas Eves'. If you missed parts 1 and 2, you'll want to give those a read before continuing.

By: Erin L. Snyder
PART 3 When they met a year later, Hector was renting an apartment with two friends, both of whom were fortuitously attending a Christmas Party Hector had feigned a stomach ache to avoid attending. Things were going well with Vanessa, and they’d started talking about moving in together. They hadn’t figured out next year yet - she was applying to colleges in the area, and he’d already dropped out of high school to work at a department store - but they were optimistic they’d figure it out.

The devil gave him a brief rundown of political developments in hell, of how various demons were vying for power and of how the economy there was tightening. “None of it really adds up to much. It gets repetitive after a while. Not so bad as in heaven, but close some days.” He sat down on Hector’s couch, taking care not to damage the upholstery with…

Merry Madagascar (2009)

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Urgh. I tried to give this the benefit of the doubt. And at the beginning, it actually seemed like it might be good.

And then the “jokes” started.

Another sub-par mess from Dreamworks. No big surprises there. With the notable exception of the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special, which is excellent, I don’t think anything we’ve seen from Dreamworks for this blog has been very good.

This tried. It had moments of greatness, but the sum total wasn’t even good.

The plot runs as follows: Santa gets shot down over Madagascar by the crazy Lemur army (that part was definitely the highlight), bumps his head and gets amnesia, and the main characters take it upon themselves to deliver the presents and, on the way, deliver themselves home to New York for the holidays. It comes close to being funny a few times, it comes close to being sweet, but most of it was dull as dishwater and as predictable as paint drying.

The characters are divided neatly into categories: funny and heartwarming. Never shall a charact…

Musical Interlude, Part 7

You know that part in a horror movie when the supposedly dead monster isn't dead at all? Welcome to part SEVEN of my increasingly longer investment in holiday tunes.



Album: Big Christmas Box
Artist: Various

I bought this collection containing 13 hours of classical Christmas music on Amazon for and because it was two bucks. It's a decent collection, all things considered, provided you're looking for background music that won't constantly repeat the same few tracks.


Album: Mistletoe & Wine
Artist: Mediaeval Baebes

Some friends recommended this one, so I listened to a track on Youtube, decided it was worth owning, and picked it up. The group performs medieval songs in sort of a modern/classical fusion. The album's quite good. While I have plenty of classical Christmas tracks, these are some of the best.


Album: Chanukah at Home
Artist: Dan Crow, Various

When we started this blog, we initially set out to focus as much as possible on Christmas, to the point that I sp…

Holiday Comics: Marvel Universe

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Marvel Holiday Special (1991)
Various Writers and Artists, including Scott Lobdell, Walter Simonson, Dave Cockrum, and many more.

There are eight short pieces in this double-size special, plus a selection of art pieces. Some I think might have been reprints, but it’s unclear. They’re a mixed bag, overall. The X-men story is rushed and strange, the Fantastic Four one is kinda nice and kinda heavy-handed. There’s a short Punisher piece with a nice melancholy tone, and a corny-fun Thor piece which is quite explicit about the Asgardians’ roles as gods, and Odin’s connection to Santa. After that is a sweet little story about Captain America meeting Bucky’s elderly sister, and a zany tale about a blind kid who mistakes Ghost Rider for Santa. There’s some badly written Marvel-themed lyrics to be sung to the tunes of various carols, and a farce about Captain Ultra (yeah, I don’t know who he is either.) The issue closes out with a piece about Spiderman visiting a children’s hospital over the h…

Repetition

This isn't a full post, but I wanted to mark a milestone. Today is December 12th, 2012, a day of significance to many people. Let me spell it out for you: this is 12/12/2012. Or, to put it another way, today is the 2000th anniversary of 12/12/12, the last repetitive date the Universe ever saw. If anyone claims today's date is repetitive, it's likely because they're unaware that when we drop the 20 from 2012, it's just shorthand.

If that made a difference, we could just start writing dates without the placeholder for ten in the year. Then we'd get repetitive dates all the time. March third, 2013 would be 3/3/3, as would the same day in 2023, 2033, 2043, and so on. Of course, we'd all know it would be BS: dropping a placeholder doesn't mean it doesn't exist: it just means we're lazy.

On an unrelated topic, you've got less than 2 weeks of shopping before Christmas.

Fiction: 25 Christmas Eves, part 2

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The title story of 25 Christmas Eves continues. If you missed last night's installment, you'll want to start this story from the beginning, which you'll find here.

By: Erin L. Snyder
PART 2 Turning fifteen brought a host of disappointments to Hector’s life, not the least of which being his failure to make the cut for his school’s baseball team. His more athletic classmates seemed to experience life far fuller than he, and he began to consider - quite seriously - whether this might be a direction worth pursuing. But trading one’s immortal soul, he reasoned, was not something to be undertaken lightly.

When the devil appeared, Hector was ready with elaborate checklists, notes, and charts. He began grilling his visitor right off the bat.

“What can I expect to be bench-pressing?”

“That depends how hard you work at it. I can guarantee more than triple your current maximum.”

Hector made a note. “What about throwing?”

“I can improve eye-hand coordination at least fifty-five percen…