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Showing posts from December 8, 2013

The Christmas Shoes Part Two

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Erin and I are on the same page with this one, I mainly want to add two small observations to Erin’s excellent write up.

Patton Oswalt was right
If you’ve ever heard the horror that is the Christmas Shoes song, hopefully you’ve also seen Patton Oswalt’s hilarious take-down (NSFW!!). One thing that I noticed watching this extended version of the story is Patton Oswalt's complaint about the moral of the song is even more pronounced here. The poor woman’s death is there, primarily, to benefit the rich couple. If what’s-her-name hadn’t been sick, would Kate ever have found her true calling taking the poor woman’s place as the volunteer music teacher? Would she ever have been truly fulfilled? And of course the whole kid+shoes scene causes Robert (Rob Lowe) to reevaluate what’s important in life, and fix the incredibly minor made-for-TV-style problems with his marriage.

I mean, for their part, I guess the widower learns that he should let his son have a puppy.

Those are some ugly shoes.

The Christmas Shoes (2002)

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The Christmas Shoes: the legendary song by NewSong which has topped numerous lists for the all-time worst Christmas song ever recorded. As we all know, nothing this bad can go unadapted. Even before the song was finished being written, it was being turned into a book, which in turn became a televised movie in 2002.

And now, eleven years later, we sat down to watch it.

This movie is manipulative. It is not subtle about being manipulative, either: it's quite up-front about its intent. It wants you to empathize with its characters. It wants you to cry.

It probably did not want us to laugh our asses off for most of the movie. Oh, well: you can't get everything you want.

The Christmas Shoes starts out so bad it's good, then gets aggressively worse as the TV-movie goes on. I can't imagine watching this alone: you need someone with you, to help you retain your sanity. It's incredibly, amazingly - almost impressively - stupid. Written without a shred of nuance or actual d…

Spongebob Squarepants: Christmas Who? (2000)

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This is the first Spongebob Christmas episode made, but the second we’ve seen. It features a bizarre framing device and a plot about bringing Christmas to the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom. It’s actually hilarious.

The episode opens with a holiday-ized version of the theme song, and then launches into a live action framing sequence with a “pirate”, similar to classic children’s TV. This guy recurs throughout the episode with a terrible puppet and commentary on the episode. It’s surreal, and ludicrous. We laughed a lot.

The main plot follows Spongebob himself. After Sandy the squirrel explains about Christmas and Santa, Spongebob spreads the word to the other people of the town, and helps everyone decorate and write letters to Santa (via bottle-messages). There’s a funny musical number as they prepare for Santa’s imminent arrival. Squidward, of course, doesn’t believe Spongebob, and says that everyone will be angry when Santa doesn’t arrive after all.
The resolution of the plot is pretty f…

The Ref (1994)

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It's strange that it took me so long to see The Ref. It's relatively well known, but somehow it always slipped below my radar. But it finally came up on my Netflix queue.

The plot revolves around a thief who takes a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve to hide out from the cops. By and large, comedies about families with issues are just about the worst genre holiday entertainment has to offer, but miraculously, The Ref is actually pretty good.

While there's a long list of things this movie did wrong, the filmmakers made several extremely smart decisions that elevate this to something worth watching. First of all, they cut the slapstick down to a minimum. Second - and maybe more important - they wrote some depth into the main characters. If the husband and wife had been two-dimensional, this thing would probably have been as bad as Surviving Christmas. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

Fortunately, the husband and wife were well cast (Judy Davis and…

Extreme Christmas Trees (2011)

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We came across this on Netflix and watched it on a whim. It's essentially a series of segments about Christmas trees and Christmas tree-inspired displays judged by TLC to be "extreme."

The first segment is about a thirty-two foot tall Christmas tree that gets wedged into the Biltmore House by hand. There was a ridiculous amount of pageantry surrounding this: they actually drove it up the house in a horse-drawn carriage, a choice that almost led to disaster because horses, unlike trucks, don't have an emergency brake.

The narration was particularly egregious while the tree was going up: they tried to ratchet up the tension. "With victory just a few feet away, the unimaginable happens." For those of you following along, the unimaginable was that they ran into a moderate snag which they quickly corrected before any damage was done. Of course, they did - these people are professionals, and they can get the job done even if they have to do so without machines, …

Dexter’s Laboratory: Dexter Vs. Santa’s Claws (1998)

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This isn’t a full episode, just a short. The nice thing about shorts is they don’t overplay their gimmick. In this piece, Dexter disbelieves in Santa, while DeeDee says he’s real.

To prove his sister wrong, Dexter sets up a series of elaborate traps to prove that their father is Santa. I, uh, may sympathize with this a little too much.

Due to classic cartoon logic, Santa is real, and Dexter ends up chasing him all over town using a rocketship built in their chimney. He’s convinced until the very end that it’s his dad, breaking out the special effects to trick the kids. This ends badly for all involved.

It’s not brilliant, but it’s an amusing few minutes. If you want to hunt it down, it's part of Episode 37 in Season two.

Fox News Discusses Santa

In what may be the single greatest Fox News clip ever recorded, Megyn Kelly hosts a frank discussion about race with a bunch of white people. This video is required viewing:


To recap, Jesus and Santa Claus are historical figures. And they were white. This actually contradicts the prevailing view that Jesus's precise ethnicity is unknown (though probably not "white") and Santa Claus is a mythical being representing an amalgamation of figures from folklore, as well as stories about a fourth-century bishop.

But according to Kelly, both are historic figures, both are white, and this is a "verifiable fact."

Break out the champagne, people, because this is the best news we could have hoped for. You see, there's only one way she could possibly be that certain about Jesus's skin color: time-travel must have been invented.

That's right. Time travel.

Because no self-respecting journalist - really, no human with even a shred of integrity - would ever say somet…

Book Review: The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by: Lemony Snicket, Illustrations by: Lisa Brown

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This is a neat little book. It does a good job simultaneously existing as a children's book and a mock-children's book, which isn't an easy feat. We wound up getting this as a Christmas present from my parents, which was a good guess on their part: we'd been wanting to track it down for a while.

The story is about a Hanukkah latke who's made, then winds up running around in pain and frustration, in part because of the boiling oil he was initially cooked in, but also because he can't find a place where he belongs in a world built around Christmas. The humor is sharp and dark, but not quite as dark as you might expect. Like Roald Dahl, Snicket has a good sense of what kids find funny and adults find horrific, and he exploits that line proficiently. Depending on the reader's tone of voice, this could easily be read as a silly storybook to a young kid or dark satire to an older crowd.

The story works metaphorically for the sense of alienation felt by Jewish ki…

Christmas Cupid (2010)

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Wow, what a terrible movie. I mean, we knew it was almost certainly terrible going in, but it descended to unanticipated levels of terribleness.

It’s a TV movie from ABC Family. Do I need to say more?

Okay, here goes. A rising-star publicist by the unlikely name of Sloane faces a ridiculous riff on Christmas Carol when her recently deceased client shows up to fix her love life. It’s… almost cute in places, but the whole package is just horrible.

Characters who are supposed to be “awful” are immediately and obviously “awful” in the most stereotypical ways. Oh, and the main character used to date a cute doctor? Guess who she’ll end up with? The whole beginning is ridiculous as they try to establish a ludicrous status-quo. Sloane is dating the boss’ son and has a rivalry with an ex-boyfriend! Sloane sometimes doesn’t have time for everyone in her life because she has a busy job! Wow, sounds… normal. Sloane deals absurdly poorly with the whole haunted-by-the-ghost-of-your-client thing, i…

Saturday Night Live Christmas Past (1999)

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The name on this thing is somewhat ambiguous - the DVD is simply labeled "Saturday Night Live Christmas", but the special includes the word "Past." I'm going with that, because it's a more interesting name.

I'm pretty sure I saw this compilation when it aired in 1999 (the selection of shorts was really familiar). It's a mix of old stuff, along with stuff that was new when it aired, but is now just slightly less old. In total, there are 18 skits on this DVD, which comes out to around an hour-fifteen. They didn't bother including any extras, which is a little baffling.

The skits aren't all great, but with twenty-four seasons of holiday shows to pick and choose from, they were certainly able to find some entertaining bits. Like most SNL compilations, this makes the show look a hell of a lot better than it's ever actually been.

There are a handful of high points, including "The Lost Ending of It's a Wonderful Life," where SNL …

Craft: Angel re-paint: Vampire

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After I had so much fun last year re-painting angels intogeekicons, I thought this year I'd create a few monsters. 
I bought this little statue (just under 4") at a thrift store. Here's the before pictures:


Really all I did to this was clean it and repaint it. The white wash on her skin looks better in person, but the rest of it photographed well. 


Back view:

The Gift that Keeps on Analyzing

Freakonomics did a 15-minute podcast on Christmas gifts last year.



It features an extended interview with Steve Levitt, who offers some surprisingly sweet advice on gift-giving. In addition, you get a handful of clips with other economists on the subject, most of which serve as good reminders that economists are extremely intelligent creatures which shouldn't interact with humans.

It's certainly worth a listen, but then Freakonomics usually is.

Rugrats: The Santa Experience (1992)

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It turns out I remember Nicktoons better than I thought I did, because I remembered this episode as we watched it. That’s always an odd feeling. It was also odd that it never once came up in this heavily Christmas-themed episode that one of the adults is Jewish, and the main kid is thus half-Jewish.

At first I thought: maybe they hadn’t decided that about the characters at this point in the show (The Rugrats Chanukah special didn’t hit ‘til 1996) but a little googling tells me that it was in the first episode. So… that’s weird. I guess they didn’t think the viewing kids could handle more than one religion at a time.

And anyway, this one’s all about Santa.

For most of the episode, it’s actually quite well done. The episode is just packed with intertwining plots. Angelica’s dad is concerned about her being traumatized by the unmasking of a mall Santa (she’s just pissed that the toys the store gave her for her temper tantrum aren’t the expensive stuff she wants). Chuckie is afraid of an…

Holiday Products: Unexpectedly Peppermint

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In our quest to experience the full breadth of Christmas, this year we purchased a good number of products that were slightly... unexpected. 
This is not an exhaustive list by a long shot of things going candy-striped for the holidays, just some of the ones we came across.


First we'll take a look at a Limited Edition ice cream. Dreyer's (Edy's east of the Rocky Mountains) has a seasonal flavor: Peppermint Wonderland.

This is the low-fat version. The full-fat variation has more explicitly Christmas packaging, with candy canes and all. I really couldn't say why the low-fat is more 'generic winter' looking...
In any case, it's peppermint flavored ice cream with slightly gooey peppermint candy bits.

I liked it, although it was a bit strong. Erin was less enthusiastic.

 With the addition of a little Hershey's syrup, however, even he pronounced it "fine".  And then he ate the rest.

Next, let's add mint to something that is already a mint.

Take …

Trading Places (1983)

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If you haven't seen it, Trading Places is a comedy directed by John Landis about two men, a white commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a black conman (Eddie Murphy), whose lives are switched by a pair of rich businessmen in the service of a twisted bet. It's sometimes described as a take on the Prince and the Pauper, which is a bit of a stretch but not entirely inaccurate.

It's not a bad movie, but it's nowhere near as good as Landis's previous two films (it was made right after Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London). Trading Places works better the less you think about it: there's some solid comedy here, largely thanks to the actors. The satire never builds to much of a message other than the obvious lip-service to racial inequality being cultural rather than genetic. I don't know if this was a controversial idea at the time (I certainly hope not, but I'd don't want to credit the decade which popularized trickle-down economics with an …

Danny Phantom: The Fright Before Christmas (2006)

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This is the second episode of Danny Phantom I've seen, the first being the pilot. Had the pilot been more interesting, I might have watched a few more. The series is about a kid who winds up with ghost powers (flight, phasing, the ability to shoot blasts from his hands for some reason, and a handful of others) in a lab accident. He uses these abilities to battle actual ghosts, like you do.

From what I've seen, the show's biggest problem is its uneven tone: the premise leans towards superhero, but the style is aiming for Hanna-Barbara. It's a mix that can work in the right hands (Powerpuff Girls being the obvious example), but this lacks a distinct voice and interesting characters.

That's a critique of the series, not the episode. Actually, thanks to a cool premise, "The Fright Before Christmas" sidesteps these pitfalls and delivers something that's actually pretty cool.

The episode opens the day before Christmas. Everyone's in the holiday spirit …

O Christmas Tree (2005)

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"O Christmas Tree" is a PBS documentary made in 2005 (or 2006 - it's seems to be a little difficult to get the date clarified). Lindsay and I found it at the local library and picked it up on a whim. The description claims it "traces the history of the Christmas through the ages - from its origins as a pagan symbol of fertility to a Christian symbol of rebirth." Technically, there is a section of the DVD devoted to that, but it's about as in depth and comprehensive as the sentence above: there's very little meat to that or anything else the documentary touches on. It's slightly less educational than the Frosty sequels with a fraction of the production values.

But that's not important. All you need to know is that this thing is the Plan 9 of Christmas documentaries. It's completely fucking hilarious.

First of all, it's narrated by Richard Karn. Don't bother with IMDB: he's Al from Home Improvement. And he just phones this in. Eve…

Book Review: Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

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Miracle and Other Christmas Stories Connie Willis, 1979

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

Awww, man! More disappointing Christmas stories. I went into this one with high hopes, because Willis’ story “Pony” was one of my favorites in Christmas on Ganymede. Unfortunately, it was one of my favorites here, too.

It starts strong, with an introduction that was worth borrowing the book from the library for, just for the snark about Hans Christian *overrated hack* Andersen and the list of other recommended stories and movies, some of which weren’t on our radar yet! Sure, she thinks The/A Christmas Story is actually quality, and that's just wrong, whether you’re talking about the myth as literature or the movie as cinema (she likes both). But Willis is a Hugo winner! Surely, there are some good genre stories in here, right?

Sort of.

Lets run through the contents, shall we?

“Miracle”
Starts strong, woman receives visit from accidentally conjured hippy Spirit of Christmas Presents, m…

All Grown Up!: The Finster Who Stole Christmas (2004)

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This was one of several holiday episodes and specials we got when we picked up a DVD titled "Nick Picks Holiday." I've heard of most of the series represented on the disc, but this is an exception. Apparently, this is a sequel to Rugrats, picking up ten years after the original series left off. Wikipedia informs me it lasted fifty-five episodes over five seasons, which is pretty impressive for an animated spin-off.

I can't help but wonder if this would have made more sense if I'd ever actually seen an episode of Rugrats. I guess I'll find out soon enough - there's a special later on the disc.

The first word I'd use for this is bizarre. And that applies to every level of the episode. The animation is extremely weird, likely a side-effect of being based on a show about toddlers and committed to making the characters identifiable ten years later.

The writing might be even stranger. Note I didn't say "bad": just... strange. The comedy and d…

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)

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Much like It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown, this is a compilation of shorts. It’s an odd length though - 17 minutes - because it was initially produced to fill out an hour along with the original Charlie Brown Christmas.

That just means it’s short and sweet.

The vignettes start slow, each focusing on a different character, and I think the best one is Sally, who’s in the middle. They’re overall cute, but nothing amazing, and not as clever as the other collection.

Not much more to say about this, really. If you’ve a hankering for more short Peanuts tales after It’s Christmas Time Again, you can probably find this one on Youtube or Netflix.


Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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Whoa.

WHOA.

We just watched the epitome of stop-motion Christmas specials. I know, I know, you don’t believe me yet. Just give me a minute.

You know Rudolph, and Frosty, and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. But did you know that every last one of these takes place in a vast shared universe, which involves still more epic figures deserving of winter myth-making? No? Then you haven’t seen this one.

For me, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July retroactively improves all the specials that came before it.

The premise is straightforward on the surface. An evil wizard who used to rule the Arctic wants to destroy Santa’s hold on winter, and to do so, he decides to take down Rudolph, using his friendship with Frosty as a lever against the young reindeer.

Oh, and we happen to establish the source and purpose of Rudolph’s magic, which I don’t want to spoil for you. What? You didn’t think Rudolph…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys (2001)

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys was a direct-to-video CG sequel to the original stop-motion special. Before we go on, I'd like you to stop for one moment, close your eyes, and count in your head all of the direct-to-video CG movies made in a five year period around the year 2000 that didn't utterly and completely suck.

Take your time: make sure you're not forgetting any.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say you were able to think of zero examples. Once you add Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys to the potential pool, you'll find the final tally hasn't changed.
Let's start with the animation. I appreciate this was a different era and CG animation was still new. But this was just pathetic. The characters were lifeless, the movement was constricted, and even elements you'd expect to be easy - camera movement and crowds - were lacking. I'd be extremely surprised if this thing's director had…