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Showing posts from December 1, 2013

A Midnight Clear (1992)

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This was highly ranked on a list over at Rotten Tomatoes, so I decided to check it out. It's a Christmas war movie, which seems to be a fairly sparse sub-genre, especially when compared to the almost absurdly large Christmas action movie genre. It's a stark and fascinating film, at times sad, beautiful, and funny. It's got some issues which hold it back from being a bona fide classic, but it's still worth watching.

The movie follows a unit of "whiz kid" soldiers in World War II who are sent to gather intelligence. When the movie opens, half of their unit is already dead and most of the rest are sick of combat. Every synopsis I've seen focuses on the movie's second act, when they have a series of bizarre encounters with a German squad culminating in a Christmas celebration. There's some good film making on display here. These scenes are tense, funny, and engaging.

Gradually, we learn the Germans want to surrender, but there are some complications.…

Book Review: Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, by: Sarah Palin

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Sarah Palin's new book is, more or less, a long-winded, nonsensical rant from someone who has absolutely no idea what she's talking about.

I'll pause to let the shock sink in.

The book is largely driven by a pervasive misunderstanding of the war on Christmas, who's fighting it, and what it's over.

In her worldview, those fighting Christmas are offended atheists who want to push Christ out of Christmas and replace it with a Solstice festival, ceremonies venerating sun gods, and even Islamic holidays. She doesn't mention push from Jewish households - both liberal and conservative - who are bothered by the holiday's status in schools, nor does she acknowledge the sizable numbers of conservative Christians who boycott the holiday because of its pagan roots.

She seems to have at least a passing familiarity with those roots. There's a brief mention that Jesus probably wasn't born on 12/25, and that the holiday's date was likely co-opted from Saturnal…

Crazy for Christmas (2005)

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Once you’ve seen one Christmas dramedy with a side of romance, you’ve seen… well, you’ve probably seen a horrible movie, but isn’t that why we’re here? To come together, in this joyous season, over the wonders and horrors that Christmas inspires in us all.

Mostly horrors.

Crazy for Christmas is a tv-movie about a single-mom limo-driver who gets a last-minute job on Christmas to drive an old rich guy around while he gives copious amounts of money to strangers and acts suspiciously excited about getting to know her. You already know he’s her dad, right? I mean, I knew from the first scene they had together. Erin thought maybe the guy was Santa. No such luck.

Shannon (limo-driver) spends an hour and a half trying not to take the guy’s money and pitching awkwardly written emotional fits. I mean, they could have built a structure here where her reactions made sense, but no. She doesn’t trust him from the start, and then when he finally levels with her, she freaks out over something that ha…

Book Review: The Ice Harvest

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The Ice Harvest
Scott Phillips, 2000

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

Premise: Charlie Arglist is making the rounds on Christmas Eve, 1979: the bars he likes, the strip joint he runs and the one that he patronizes. He’s not telling anyone that he’s leaving town in the morning. Charlie’s not having a good night.

I didn’t like the movie of this as much as Erin did, but I did really enjoy the book. It’s got a bleak humor that places it firmly in the best noir tradition.

Charlie’s a lawyer, and he works in the machinery of the mob that runs much of the town, managing businesses like porn shops and the Tease-O-Rama. He’s skipping town in the morning. That’s all you know at the start of the book, and I really liked the slow build. The movie hits you right at the start with Charlie’s partnership with Vic, and why and how they plan to leave town, but for fully half of the book, all you know is that Charlie’s leaving, and he has to meet Vic at two.

The book takes place over less than…

The Ice Harvest (2005)

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For a sub-genre that's not widely discussed, there is a hell of a lot of Christmas noir out there. The Ice Harvest is a long way from the best of the bunch, but it's an interesting flick.

The movie stars John Cusack as a lawyer who makes lawyers look good. I haven't seen a lot of movies which make Cusack seem unlikable, but this manages. Fortunately, the movie doesn't hinge on his likability: he's a desperate and pitiful man in a desperate and pitiful world.

The whole thing is set on Christmas Eve, right after Cusack's character (along with his partner, played by Billy Bob Thornton) steals two million dollars from his boss, a mobster who owns several strip clubs. He's played by Randy Quaid, who - along with Thornton - are fairly iconic Christmas movie actors at this point.

The movie does several things right and a few wrong. I liked the visuals - the world depicted here is a pale blue; you almost get cold just watching the movie. The actors do a decent job…

The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Billy & Mandy Save Christmas

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The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy was a bizarre show. Not quite as bizarre as Courage the Cowardly Dog, but it seemed to be trying. It ran from 2001 to 2007 on Cartoon Network, which makes it a contemporary of some the network's best programming: Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and so on.

I don't think Billy & Mandy reached those heights. The premise was kind of awesome, though: two kids essentially enslave death and force him to do their bidding. Billy is an idiot (though he usually has almost superhumanly good luck), and Mandy is a cruel, sadistic, and calculating child who routinely frightens Death himself.

No one watched this show for Billy.

It's been a while, but I seem to recall Mandy's power-level starting a lot higher than it was in this episode. If I'm remembering correctly, the original gag was that the monsters and demons they encountered were never as frightening or dangerous as Mandy. In this one... that wasn't really the case.

The specia…

Ten Reasons To Celebrate Christmas

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Christmas


10. Technically, there's no real evidence Jesus wasn't born on December 25th.

9. In a pinch, glass bulbs make excellent projectiles. It's good to have them around, in case of home invasion.

8. Millions of trees are cut down every year as decorations. Trees are assholes.

7. Retail employees need at least one holiday off, now that they're all scheduled to work Thanksgiving.

6. To celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Dionysus.

5. Irony.

4. It pisses off a lot of people who aren't Christian.

3. It REALLY pisses off a lot of people who are Christian.

2. Having a drying pine tree in your house for a month and half ensures you gets your money's worth from your fire insurance.

1. Presents.

Santa Delivers an Urgent Christmas Message from Greenpeace! (2013)

I stumbled across a story for this on CNN and thought it needed to be shared. This is a commercial ostensibly addressing kids. Since that's the intended audience, you should probably call them into the room if they're home. In fact, you should do that NOW, before you've viewed the video yourself to ensure it won't traumatize them for life or ruin this Christmas and future Christmases to come.

I mean, if Greenpeace put this on Youtube where anyone could come across it, it must be appropriate for all ages, right?


I'm going to set questions of morality, politics, and whether or not we're irreparably destroying the planet aside and focus on the video. In particular, I want to focus on this interpretation of Santa Claus.

I've long been a fan of more realistic versions of Saint Nick, and this certainly fits that description. I like the actor's take here - he seems to be taking this seriously, which is a nice change of pace from what we usually get.

With a lit…

Angelina Ballerina: The Nutcracker Sweet (2010)

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I’ve seen a few episodes and half-episodes of this show before, and it’s usually at least inoffensive and fluffy. It’s okay CG with cute stories about friendship and such, starring a bunch of young mice who go to a special performing arts school. This special is made up of five short half-episodes, only two of which were Christmas themed, so those are the two I’ll address here.

“Angelina and the Front Row Ticket” In this piece, Angelina has to try to decide which of her friends to invite along to a special performance of the Nutcracker. Frankly, this felt really padded. There were musical interludes that really contributed nothing and not enough plot for 12 minutes. The resolution was pointless and obvious. Plus, it was laughable how much better this same plot was on My Little Pony.

“Angelina’s Holiday Treats” This was a better short. Angelina and Marco eat too much junk food on the day of the holiday showcase and risk ruining their performance. And you know what? Nothing magically sav…

It's a Very Star Trek Christmas this morning.

Just spotted this clever example of video editing via Fashion It So, a STNG fashion blog.  (You can stop watching after the song, unless you're really into the author plugging his video game project.)




If you're wanting a dash more Trek today, you can also jump over to the webcomic Larp Trek for last year's holiday special.

Don't forget, boys and girls, Star Trek is an integral part of Christmas. Hallmarksaysso.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future (2002)

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Well, the good news is that this is the best best episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force I've ever seen. The bad news is that doesn't mean much.

The premise of the show - if you've never seen an episode - revolves around anthropomorphic fast food items living in New Jersey. I've seen several episodes and have never really figured out what they're going for, if anything. Maybe there's a statement about fast food icons like Ronald McDonald. Or maybe the showrunners just got high and put this together. Regardless, the comedy generally comes off as weird for the sake of weird. This episode is no different, but it is kind of Christmas themed. So here we are.

The plot centers around a robot alien showing up at the home of Carl (the next door neighbor of the main characters). The robot claims to be the ghost of Christmas and fills Carl's pool with blood. The majority of the episode is devoted to the robot providing a nonsensical explanation as to why he's done so.…

So You Don't Want to Celebrate Christmas

I've spoken to a lot of people who don't celebrate Christmas. No, that's not right. I've spoken to a lot of people who say they don't celebrate Christmas. They represent a very diverse group with different backgrounds and beliefs, but they all had two things in common: they all celebrate Christmas, and they all didn't know it.

It's not that they want to celebrate Christmas, nor were they betraying their beliefs. It's simply that Christmas is too big to be ignored, and recognition of Christmas is, by default, a sort of celebration. It's impossible to opt out of Christmas, at least in America, no matter how much someone might want to.

You might not celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas (I certainly don't), but you still celebrate the holiday, whether you want to or not.

There are a lot of people who protest the holiday. There are really only two reasons for doing so: some people fight the holidays because they're not Christian, others d…

Code Name: Kids Next Door: Operation N.A.U.G.H.T.Y. (2005)

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If you glanced away from Cartoon Network in the mid-00’s, you might have missed Code Name: Kids Next Door. A show about a group of kids who fight as a spy team against corrupt, bumbling and evil adults, it's exactly the sort of premise I loved as a kid. However, given that it premiered when I was was in my 20’s, I always found the premise more fun than the execution.

The holiday episode has been on our to-watch list for a while now, and I finally found it on a Cartoon Network holiday compliation DVD.

The premise is simple enough on the surface: The KND's arch-enemies (the Delightful Children from Down the Lane) are sick of being on the naughty list, and they're willing to destroy Christmas to get presents for themselves. Where it gets downright odd is that the whole thing is a Marvel comics parody. Tons of minor characters are thrown in as references, Santa's sleigh has a Cerebro-esque interface, and the narration that keeps breaking in (panning out to a page of comic…

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

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I'm pretty sure it's been at least twenty years since I last watched this thing. I actually had positive associations with it going in, though everyone around me set less optimistic expectations when I said I'd be watching it. I'm glad they did: this was pretty bad.

It wasn't terrible, exactly, at least not when compared to its peers, but sitting through it wasn't a pleasant experience. The movie is the third in the series, which focuses on the Griswold's vacations. Christmas Vacation actually has a direct-to-video spin-off of its own starring Randy Quaid. I'll... uh... I'll go add that to my Netflix queue.

Anyway, like I was saying, this one wasn't especially awful, as far as uncomfortable Christmas comedies go, but it didn't exactly transcend the genre, either. The movie centers around Chevy Chase, who's obsessed with giving his family the best possible old-fashioned Christmas ever for absolutely no reason. The movie rests on the shou…

The Magic School Bus: Family Holiday Special (1996)

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This special episode of The Magic School Bus was equal parts awesome and awful; a bizarre work of propaganda that removes the education from edutainment, yet is strangely intriguing.

There's a moment in this episode where the titular vehicle is hit by its own recycling-nullification ray and transforms into junk. That's an absolutely perfect metaphor for the episode. Maybe for the series. But damned if it isn't fun to watch.

The episode begins right before holiday break. It's definitely a 90's conception of the "holiday," too, complete with pine trees, green and red decorations, multicolored lights, and an near endless number of Christmas tunes with new recycling-themed lyrics. I don't think they said the word, "Christmas" once, though they did mention Hanukkah several times. My favorite shot in the special is one of a chalkboard with a picture of a menorah and other Hanukkah paraphernalia surrounded by a Christmas garland. They tried so har…

More Holiday Flash Games

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What’s this, what’s this, here at the bottom of the internet? Why, it’s an early present just for you! Some games to play. Otherwise you’ll just work on that end-of-year report, and you’ve got plenty of time for that…

Monkey Go Happy Christmas 

PencilKids has made a cottage industry out of short silly games about monkeys and clicking. Choose your monkey, give him or her a holiday hat, and just click to explore. Find all the Christmas items to make the monkey happy. It only takes a minute. You don’t want the monkeys to be sad!


Infectonator: Christmas Edition

Like most of these games, this had a non-Christmas version first. Click to start a holiday zombie apocalypse, collect coins from dying citizens to upgrade your zombies, and do it again!


Sugar, Sugar: The Christmas Special

Sugar Sugar is a clever game of physics and patience with a pleasant mellow soundtrack. Draw lines with your mouse to direct falling sugar sprinkles into a mug. This game is all that in a holiday wrapper.


Plexus: A Pi…

Christmas Time in South Park (1997 - 2004)

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This is a collection of South Park episodes I found on Netflix. I guess it was released on DVD originally.

I'm not the world's biggest South Park fan, but I've seen a handful of episodes, some of which were brilliant. Others... not so much.


Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo (1997)
Jesus, really? All right, the premise of this episode revolves around magical, talking Christmas poop. I think there's supposed to be some sort of message about political correctness or something, but mostly it's just juvenile humor about poo.

Oh. Okay. Wikipedia sheds some light on this. Apparently, Mr. Hankey was supposed to be the main character of the show. Not this episode; I'm talking about South Park as a whole. An earlier version of their pitch was for "The Mr. Hankey Show."

Yeah. That would have been much, much worse.


Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson (1998)
This was a little better, thanks in no small part to Mr. Hankey playing a far smaller role. The episode revolved aro…

Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular (2013)

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Let's take a moment to ponder, in all its complexity and multitude of facets, the phrase, "missed opportunity."

I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga, but I respect her for what she is. I just don't really think she's a singer. It's not that she can't sing - she can. It's just that there's nothing special about her singing, and less than nothing special about her songs. Her music is generic, and her lyrics are gibberish. But that's okay, because - like I said - she's not a singer.

She's a performance artist. And a damn good one, if her popularity is any indicator.

Hell, she's practically a Muppet herself. She should be juggling porcupines with Gonzo - she'd be awesome at that. Why didn't she hang out with Animal or hire the Swedish Chef as a costumer? Her interactions with Miss Piggy should have been legendary, not trivial.

Like I said: missed opportunity. Instead, we got an hour of her singing songs off her new album, broken up …

Book Review: Christmas on Ganymede and Other Stories

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Christmas on Ganymede and Other Stories Edited by Martin H Greenberg, 1990

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

I was so excited when I found this book! A collection of sci-fi themed Christmas stories, just the thing to break up the Christmas monotony, right?

Now I know why I kept finding copies of it for a dollar.

It’s not all bad. There are some stories I liked, but most of the authors are phoning it in here. It’s like everyone had one mediocre holiday story in them, and instead of reading it in a collection of other good stories on other topics or other good stories by the same author, it’s bundled with every other author’s one mediocre story.

But let’s be more specific, shall we?

“To Hell with the Stars” Jack McDevitt, 1987
To hell with your pessimistic cliche attitude, Mr. McDevitt, warp drive might still be possible - 1 Star

“A Midwinter's Tale” Michael Swanwick, 1988
A nicely creepy Solstice tale, well done - 4 Stars

“Christmas on Ganymede” Isaac Asimov, 1968
Cute humor …

The New Woody Woodpecker Show: A Very Woody Christmas / It's a Chilly Christmas After All / Yule Get Yours (2000)

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I don’t have a love-hate relationship with Woody Woodpecker. I have a hate-hate relationship with these characters. I found them annoying and abrasive as a child, and the slightly tamed version from the early 2000’s didn’t exactly make a great impression here. This isn’t an out-and-out terrible episode, but it’s pretty boring.

In the first segment, a couple villains are stealing presents with a fake gift-wrapping scheme. Woody gets involved when he gets tricked by them, and he then tricks the dumb henchman into helping him take back the gifts by pretending to be Santa. The writing is obvious, and the show seems to be uncomfortable with its characters, not sure whether Woody is a loveable prankster or a semi-sadistic trickster, instead trying to have it both ways.

The second segment is maybe a little better, just because there’s less voice acting, and the animation’s not awful. Chilly Willy (the mute penguin character) is trying to catch a ride on Santa’s sleigh to the Bahamas for th…

The Frank Sinatra Show: Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank (1957)

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This episode of "The Frank Sinatra Show" was included as an extra on a DVD set of Bing Crosby Christmas specials. I went to Wikipedia to determine what "The Frank Sinatra Show" was, and learned there's no clear answer to that question. It sounds like it was basically a thirty minute segment where ABC gave Sinatra free reign to do whatever the hell he wanted to. Apparently, what he wanted to do this week was hang out with Bing Crosby and sing Christmas songs.

There's some quipping between songs, but no real story. They exchange gifts - each gives the other a Christmas album they recorded - and then go caroling in a grey sound stage that's supposed to be an English street... I think. That section was pretty odd.
The outside set was blatantly fake: elements were less developed than you'd want to put in a live stage performance. I suspect it would have been less conspicuous in black and white - this episode was filmed in color, though I can't imagi…

Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The last, and possibly the most famous, of Crosby’s Christmas specials. Between the time that it was filmed and the time that it aired, he passed away.

It takes some inspiration from that first 1961 special: Crosby and family are invited to England by a distant relative for the holidays, and it’s mostly an excuse to have a group of British stars pop in and out. One of them plays 3 or 4 different characters, half of them in drag. That’s… slightly odd. I’m guessing there’s a reference that we’re missing.

This special is filmed on an actual set, which is a nice change, although it feels sort of like it should have a laugh track. The fact that it doesn’t actually adds an odd poignancy, because it’s unclear whether some things are intended to be funny. Crosby seems markedly older, but also more invested in his songs and scene partners.

Early on you get the scene that you’re watching the special for, if you’re w…

Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas (1971)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The third Bing Crosby special we watched, and it’s a doozy. At least I guess this one had a coherent theme.

This time around, Crosby is joined by his second wife and kids. I’m glad the trend of show business families performing together has gone mostly out of style. It just feels so forced. Just cast some dang kids! Also appearing are Mary Costa and Robert Goulet.

Everyone’s on deck for a boring opening number, in some of the ugliest costumes yet. The lighting design and set work are pretty decent though. There’s an interesting tension here between the idea of “live” television and scripted. Obviously this is all pre-recorded and a lot of it is lip-synced, but certain cuts and set moves are purposely intended to mask the fact that you’re not watching live.

Robert Goulet sings a boring, but booming, “Do You Hear…”, and then he and Crosby do an extremely odd extended song/sequence based loosely on an O’Henry …