Saturday, December 21, 2013

Power Rangers Super Samurai: Stuck on Christmas (2012)

There are other Power Rangers Christmas episodes, but this is the one that Erin found on Netflix. It’s a humdinger.

I knew something was drastically wrong after the Rangers defeated a monster in the first 5 minutes of the episode. Then their giant robot loses power and it becomes an excuse for a really crummy clip show.

You can have no idea how terrible this was. The acting was beyond ridiculous. The ‘comic relief’ was horrible, and the action/drama was hilarious. There is tons of terrible, extraneous Christmas-pun flavored banter. Only it’s not banter when you’re just yelling ‘quips’ (using that term extremely loosely) at a red-and-green monster. Yes, the monster is red-and-green, and has what looks like a giant ear around one shoulder and a mouth on the other. I laughed a lot and very loudly while watching this episode, but it was not at anything that the creators intended to be funny.

The kids say over and over how sad they are to be trapped in their giant robot on Christmas Eve. They recap plot bits we’d never heard of. However, we could follow everything, because the plots were extremely thin and the exposition was laid on so thick. “Hey, what do you want to wear for Christmas? Remember that time we went to the mall and you bought that dress?” *Flashback* “I’m sure you can fix the robot, you come up with lots of great ideas! Remember that time you fixed that thing that needed to be fixed?” *Flashback* “Hey, maybe particularly slow three-year-olds missed that we’re the comic relief, remember the time we got stuck up a tree?” *Flashback* You probably think I’m joking with that last one, don’t you. You poor optimistic fool.

Moving on, there’s a lot more plugging things into other things to activate powers than I remember from early Power Rangers. I guess the toys got more complicated, and based on these attacks, I bet they shoot foam disks. The combination of CG, suitmation, explosions with no provenance and rather over the top ‘martial arts’ is silly as ever, but it’s the awful dialogue that really makes this something special. That and the terrible ‘acting’ in those costumes.

Being curious, I looked up the Samurai Sentai Shinkenger episode that the fighting scenes are from (because yep, that’s still how they make this show). It’s called Act 15: The Imposter and Real Deal’s Arrest.

And hey! That thing that the Green Ranger did that came out of nowhere and looked dumb? That was the plot of the original episode, him learning to catch swords and the red-and-green guy disguising himself as Green Ranger to make him look like an idiot in front of the others. Huh. It is fairly amusing - by turns light and superly over-dramatic, but the young Japanese actors act much more like people who actually give a shit about something other than themselves than the American cast.

Also, all that insipid business in the cockpit with the over acting was only filmed with the American cast. I thought, since we never see their faces, that it was from the original and maybe there would be some better dialogue that would make it make sense, but nope! That set was built for the American version.

Avoid Power Rangers Super Samurai. You can watch Samurai Sentai Shinkenger if you like that tone (you know the tone, it’s a particularly Japanese blend of light-action-fantasy). But while it’s no surprise, the original has nothing to do with Christmas.

Dollar Store Nativity Scene

What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a crappy statuette of the Nativity purchased at a dollar store?

The Thin Man (1934)

As a fan of Dashiell Hammett I was excited to see The Thin Man on a list of movies set at Christmas. It’s always been one of those eventually-I’ll-get-to-it kind of movies. The movie is lighter in tone than the book, which in turn is already one of Hammett's lighter works. So this is less noir than it is comedy-mystery.

The Thin Man focuses on Nick and Nora Charles. He’s a former detective, she’s an heiress, they’re in New York for the holidays to look up old friends and throw lavish parties. One of Nick’s former clients goes missing, then the bodies start piling up, and before you know it everyone from the daughter to the cops are asking for his help looking into the case. Nora thinks it’s terribly exciting, and happily says so.

To put it shortly: I loved this.

I loved the banter between the main characters. I loved the dialogue, the lighting, the film's style and the setting. I loved the holiday party with gangsters rubbing elbows with cops and reporters and everyone getting delightfully drunk. The minor characters have enough bluster and quirks to satisfy the greatest appetite for red herrings and fantastic flavor, and the plot keeps adding characters until the very end. The Charles’ chemistry is perfect though, just the right amount of genuine affection under layers of fond snark and smart-assed remarks.

The climax is a little overblown and silly, and some of the humor is dated and broad, but I just sank into the classic mystery tropes like a cozy dressing gown.

Oh, and the dresses that Myrna Loy got to wear! Fabulous. Plus there’s solid acting from Skippy the dog, playing the Charles’ terrier, Asta.

Nora would be more active in the plot were the movie made today, but she has sass and fortitude and I found her all around fantastic.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like a little murder with your holidays, check out this classic.

(P.S. I'm tagging this one "Highly Recommended" because I really enjoyed it. Erin liked it less than I did, and I usually like us to agree on that rating, but I thought A Midnight Clear was kinda boring, so this is me evening the score!)

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)

Unlike the first two installments of The Santa Clause, part three is consistent. I'm referring, of course, to the fact the others each had a solid 15 minutes that weren't entirely horrible. You may be tempted to dismiss this as a flaw, but I encourage you to look at it as a boon. At no point does this movie give you hope and wrench it away.

Besides sucking consistently, I'll say one other positive thing about The Santa Clause 3: it doesn't abandon the character of Mrs. Clause from part 2. She's still here and she's still a major part of the plot. It's a common trope to introduce a love interest then relegate her to a cameo in the next installment, so... kudos to the no-talent hacks who made this for not falling victim to that particular awful cliche.

I'm pretty sure they checked off all the others.

The movie takes place as Christmas approaches. Mrs. Clause is about to have a baby, and she's missing human companionship. Tim Allen flies her parents to the North Pole after drugging them with the help of the Sandman. There's a bizarre subplot about the elves trying to make the in-laws think they're in Canada, because of... magic or something. Oh, Santa's ex-wife comes as well, along with her husband and their young daughter.

The villain of the movie is Jack Frost, played by Martin Short. Frost is pissed that he's a minor character in the scope of legendary figures, and he manages to fast-talk his way into an internship at Santa's workshop. His actual plan is to sabotage the operation and trick Santa into invoking "the escape clause," a convenient plot device that would have rendered the first movie moot (wait - Tim Allen could have gone back in time and NOT killed the previous Santa?).

Eventually, he manipulates events to accomplish this and changes the past so he took over instead. This drops us into an alternate timeline where everything has changed. Well, not everything: the movie still sucks.

The alternate timeline could conceivably have been an interesting premise to explore, had they actually invested some effort. Frost Claus has gone public and turned The North Pole into a tourist destination: it's an absurd twist, but with a good designer, it might have been visually interesting. Instead, everything looks the same, but everyone is miserable (especially me).

Tim Allen saves the day and sets everything back to normal, the Frost gets redeemed with just about the crappiest call-back I've ever seen. The movie ends, and - after some idiotic outtakes played over the credits - I'm left praying they never make a fourth.

Grimm: Twelve Days of Krampus (2013)

We had never seen an episode of Grimm before this. From this viewing, it’s… okay.

I mean, it’s a quirky procedural, spin the dial and land on a quirky procedural these days. A show like this depends on viewers getting invested in its particular set of actors/characters and its particular gimmick. Without that investment, it’s just a mediocre mash up of tropes from X-Files and Buffy about a guy pretending to be a cop in between monster hunting.

The monster of this week is Krampus, which we were excited to see. While the visual design is very nice, the plot is sort of blah.

The episode opens with a couple of punk kids stealing presents, then Krampus sneaks up on them under a bridge. He snags one, but the other is just injured and hides in a car. Cut to the next morning, when the cops are investigating a dead kid. Only the kid isn’t dead. He’s really, obviously, not dead. This is the point where we started to really doubt the professionalism of the emergency responders on this show.

Main dude and black sidekick talk to the kid and figure out that he’s scared of Santa, so they go looking for monsters in Santa suits. They find one, but he’s not the one stealing kids.

There’s a couple of side plots interspersed through this. One is about whatever the season plot arc is, and this is mostly dudes being dramatic in Vienna. You know it’s Vienna because every time they cut to this plot the word VIENNA comes up on the screen in big letters. You know it’s dramatic because of the really obvious music choices. It’s something about clans of supernaturals fighting or something, I didn’t really understand.

The second sub-plot is about the show’s Giles and his girlfriend. Schlubby-not-Giles surprises his lady with a crazy Christmas display. She has sadface because she used to love Christmas, but then she had a tragic Christmas once in her childhood. I did not have the sympathy for this that the show intended me to have. The display was stupidly over-the-top, her reaction was unreasonable, his reaction was unreasonable. This whole side plot was nothing but tedious.

Anywho, back in the main plot, the star and the sidekick come to see schlubby-not-Giles and he explains about Krampus, and how the kids were stolen and beaten for being ‘naughty’ but are probably still okay if they can find them by that night. Or else Krampus will eat them.

Okay, so of course the main characters win, and the climactic sequence is okay, but then the denouement is dumb as they try to fit Krampus into the mechanic of how monsters work in this world. Going by this example, it’s weirdly boring and overly rational for a show about monsters. It couldn’t just be magic.

I don’t want to talk about the fact that this was doubled up on Hulu with a NON-CHRISTMAS episode about really annoying snake-men that we sat through. The two episodes didn’t even have anything to do with each other. That’s dirty pool.

While this wasn’t a horrible piece of television, I can’t really recommend this episode. However, as I alluded at the top, if you are already invested in this show, I’m sure it’s a very different experience.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually is to romantic comedies what absinthe is to spirits. It represents the essence of a genre distilled to a point where it no longer tastes likes a romantic comedy, but even in small doses will still mess with your head.

For better and for worse, Love Actually does not come packaged in small doses.

This clocks in at around two hours and fifteen minutes. While I did enjoy the movie on this viewing, I would have thanked its editor for amputating forty-five minutes of that.

I say "this viewing," because this is the second time I saw the film. I didn't care for it much after the first, though I slid it into that rare category of movies I didn't like but thought were quite good. I was actually someone distressed to find myself enjoying it this time, as I like having a handful of movies fitting that description I can whip out in conversation.

Love Actually is about love. The theme is "love." The plot is "love." The characters are all in love. Very few have last names; some don't have first names.

The characters all have individual stories. In total, there are nine or ten sub-plots, none of which are very complicated. The stories are all ostensibly intertwined, but only in the most superficial ways. If anything, it feels like characters from different stories share the screen to conserve the limited run time and convey as much back story as possible.

Structurally, the movie is designed using a relatively simple approach: the individual story lines each establish a sort of emotional anchor. This is the same thing most movies do. The difference is, instead of leading down individual stories to wait for the payoff, this sets up several others. By the time it gets around to delivering the punchline, you feel like a lot of time has passed. If you were watching any of these pieces start to finish, they'd feel cheesy and obvious: spread apart, they come off as charming.

You can see what it's doing - there's no real mystery to the magic trick on display here - but it does it with such style, it's hard not to appreciate.

Elements of the holiday play into various subplots - the annual competition for the number one Christmas single (apparently a big deal in England) forms the backbone for one of the stories, while a Nativity Scene is used as a nexus for several others. The rest of the movie is full of holiday music, decorations, parties, and references, but none of it is especially significant. It uses the holiday's trappings to ratchet up some additional emotional resonance, but the situations feel contrived.

Love Actually is kind of a contradiction: it's a great movie, but also a missed opportunity. The structure and concept feel unique, and - thanks to some great dialogue, acting, and directing - the movie is a lot of fun. At the same time, the movie doesn't add up to anything more. There's no larger frame story, despite having a perfect setup to tell one. Likewise, there's no more depth to the theme than the opening narration suggests.

All that said, it's easier to pick apart than to dislike. And, all things considered, I'd feel remiss if I didn't award it the "highly recommended" label. After all, this is likely the high water mark for Christmas romantic comedy, so it might as well get credit.

Craft: Angel Re-Paint: Horrors

Let me preface this one by saying that I'm not sure the final product is more horrifying than the original figurines.  Here's what I bought:

Scary, right? I added some sculpture with Crayola Model Magic. This was a bit of an experiment, but it worked okay. I had to use super glue to reattach the dried pieces to the little ceramic figures, though.

After some layers of paint and gloss, here's the final results:

Aww, now they're cute little tentacled monstrosities from beyond space! 
Much improved, I think.

Babes in Toyland (1986)

Hey, did you guys know there's a tipline on the right of the page you can use to email us suggestions of things we should watch? Yeah, we didn't, either. Well, one of our readers found it and convinced us to try something she loved when she was young. Thanks for the suggestion, Loquin. And, uh... sorry in advance for the damage to your childhood memories.

This is the 1986, made-for-TV re-imagining of Babes in Toyland, starring Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, and Pat Morita. It is bad. Astonishingly bad, in fact. But, between the iconic statuses its leads would go on to achieve and the utter lack of talent behind the camera, it's kind of hilarious.

The producers must not have believed in the source material, which has been heavily modified. To their credit, the premise of Babes in Toyland is utter crap. However, the logical reaction would be not to adapt it, rather than trying to shoehorn in the frame story from The Wizard of Oz.

Drew Barrymore, 11 in 1986, is essentially playing Dorothy. First, we're introduced to her family, friends, and a cruel toy store owner who sexually harasses her older sister. Also, it's Christmas Eve, there's a storm, and a whole bunch of other stuff is going on that serves no purpose other than to introduce a bunch of characters who will be double-cast in Toyland.

Drew falls out of a moving truck, slides down a hill, then hits her head. She's on a sled at the time, and she sort of drops into Toyland and crash lands into a cake. And no, I'm not going to explain that any better. Though I will add everyone was singing a song about Cincinnati before she fell. I mention this because it's vitally important later on.

Toyland is made up of a small number of uninspired sets. The actors are wearing costumes about on par with what you'd see if you Googled "Easter Bunny costumes."

From here, the story morphs into a more familiar form. There's a woman about to marry an absurdly evil villain, despite the fact she's really in love with Keanu Reeves. You know, the plot we all sort of remember from the version made in '61. Drew Barrymore interrupts the wedding, which earns her the enmity of the bad guy. He leaves and takes his two goblins with him.

Oh, did I forget to mention there are goblins? The villain also has a weird bird-monster and an army of trolls, but those don't come up until later. He kind of dresses like a very low-rent knock-off of Jareth from Labyrinth. Oh, didn't that come out in 1986, too? What a remarkable coincidence!

At this point, it's really just the Jareth rip-off and two goblins standing between the people of Toyland and a joyous existence. Did I mention the goblins aren't armed? They don't seem particularly strong, fast, or intelligent, either, nor does their master. So my real question is why haven't the citizens of Toyland risen up and killed this jackass? There are rocks on the ground, people: this isn't rocket science.

I know what you're thinking: it would be wrong to use violence. Well, I have a few thoughts on that subject. First of all, screw that hippy bullshit. Second, this thing's ending in war, anyway, so why drag this out? Besides, there's no real authority they need to be concerned with: Toyland is a self-governing city-state, so there's no one to press charges. The Toymaster might be disturbed, but he's powerless at this point.

The real problem, as I see it, is that the people of Toyland don't seem to be familiar with the concept of violence. Even the villain seems to be faking it - he clearly wants to be violent, but there's little indication he knows how. I'm pretty sure it wasn't intentional, but this actually forms the backbone for the entire movie.

It's like Drew Barrymore has been summoned to Toyland to teach the nursery rhyme characters how to use violence to solve their problems. Keep in mind, this is more than a decade before she was in Charlie's Angels.

There are really just two more pieces of the plot we need to address: the Toymaster and the jar containing most of that world's evil. The Toymaster, played by Pat Morita, is the old, wise ruler of Toy Land. And when I say "ruler", I'm exaggerating. He's really more of a figurehead until the end, when he has the villain executed horribly.

But look at that - I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Toymaster has collected a bunch of evil and locked it in a cabinet. The bad guy naturally steals this, so he can use it to make his army of trolls unbeatable. First, he tries to use it on the main characters to turn them into monsters. It almost works, but is countered by Drew Barrymore's song about Cincinnati. You see, it turns out that the evil of the world is no match for the power of Cincinnati.

No, I'm serious. That's pretty much how it was explained.

The protagonists go to get the Toymaster's help. Meanwhile, the army of trolls, enhanced by the green evil gas, invade. The Toymaster explains that all he has are toys, and toys are powerless if anyone disbelieves in them. Since Drew Barrymore never got to experience childhood (I'm assuming because she was a child star - they didn't really explain this part), there's nothing the Toymaster can do. Drew Barrymore has a musical number in which she converts to a personal faith in toys, which allows the Toymaster's ARMY OF HUMAN-SIZED TOY SOLDIERS to function.

Did I mention the army is armed to the teeth?

The battle doesn't take long, presumably because the soldiers have guns and cannons, while the trolls are entirely unarmed and don't seem to know how to fight. Apparently, the elixir of evil released by the villain just makes things more evil, which isn't particularly useful on its own. Really, you want "evil and strength" or "evil and speed" or "evil and invulnerability". Just evil on its own doesn't make an army more powerful; it just makes them more likely to prolong your death when they inevitably turn on you.

Again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm not really sure why the good guys needed the toy soldiers at all. Couldn't they just have grabbed their guns and slaughtered the troll army? The soldiers didn't even seem to hit the trolls: they just kind of blew up the ground and scared them off. I'm pretty sure the main characters could have grabbed the guns and taken out the slow-moving trolls.

Regardless, the trolls were forced out the town. One of the protagonists I didn't mention beat up the goblins and tossed them out, and Keanu slugged the villain. As far as I can tell, the theme of the movie was that you must truly embrace the joy of childhood, then realize that violence is the only solution and beat the crap out of your enemies.

So, the battle is won, and the villain is defeated. He's defiant at first, but then his tone changes when the Toymaster passes judgement: he's to be banished from the town forever. At this point, it's important to note that the army of trolls is just outside the gate, and they're pissed about this whole thing. Drew just shouted to them and told them that the villain is responsible for this debacle, and they seemed to listen.

Drew Barrymore, age 11, has turned the trolls on their master. I want you to keep that in mind.

The villain pleads for his life, saying he's lost control of the trolls. But the Toymaster orders him thrown out, and the toy soldiers do as commanded. The trolls grab him and pull him into their midst. His screams are drowned out by the cheers of the townsfolk.

Good times.

With Toyland saved, Keanu Reeves marries his girlfriend, and Pat Morita reveals he's actually Santa Claus. He takes Drew Barrymore on his sleigh, and she wakes up at home. She tries to explain her experiences, but no one believes her ramblings.

What's interesting is there's no reason they should. The only validation she gets is seeing a toy soldier move at the end, and given her current state, it seems likely she's hallucinating that. Really, you can interpret the entire movie as a story where a girl falls out of a truck and suffers brain damage. In fact, that's essentially the only logical way you can interpret it.

A Krampus Christmas (2013)

This one's short - very short. And that's a shame, because I could really watch hours of this. It features very fantastic character design, beautiful stop-motion animation, and an awesome spin on Krampus. The short is between 50 seconds and five minutes long, depending on how many times you re-watch it. Enjoy!

"A Krampus Christmas" eCard from Screen Novelties on Vimeo.

Christmas Comes to PacLand (1982)

Back in 1982, there was an animated series based on Pac-Man. You might think there's not enough material to justify an entire series, but I can assure you that's a faulty opinion: there wasn't even enough to fill a single episode.

The episode begins with Pac-Man and family going out for a sleigh ride. It's Christmas Eve, but they have no idea since no one in PacLand has heard of the holiday. They run into some ghost monsters, which they drive back with snowballs before eating power-pellets and "chomping" them.

I should add that "chomping" is a very popular activity in PacLand. The ghost monsters (I'm not sure why they're "ghost monsters" instead of "ghosts," but the show seems adamant) are obsessed with "chomping" Pac-Man. More on this later.

Between getting chomped and putting on new ghost outfits, the floating ghost-eyes run into Santa Claus and inadvertently spook his reindeer and cause him to crash. By far the best moment of the special is a direct result of this. Santa's sleigh is buried in the snow, his deer are impossibly mangled, and Claus starts whipping the reins in a futile attempt to get them moving.

Lindsay and I almost fell over laughing. At that moment, we were ready to award this a "so bad it's good" designation. But sadly, it was not meant to be. For some reason, the special dragged on and went from hilariously awful to just plain awful.

Soon, Santa and the deer are sitting in the Pac's home teaching everyone about Christmas while Pac-Man goes looking for Santa's sack of gifts. He runs into the ghosts, and this time there are no power pellets to save his ass.

This time, he gets CHOMPED.

And it turns out, that's not a huge deal. The ghost monsters chomp him quickly then take off. He gets up and heads towards home. Sure, he's hurt, but considering he gets disintegrated in the video game, I'd say he gets off pretty easy here.

By now, it's too late to save Christmas... until Pac-Man the brilliant idea to get Santa's reindeer hopped up on power-pellets. I was really hoping they'd drop dead from radiation poisoning, but no such luck. Instead, he flies off and everyone learns the true meaning of Christmas, even the stupid ghosts (and, no, it's nowhere near as cool as that time Skeletor learned the meaning of Christmas).

You can find a copy of this thing on Youtube, but don't waste your time. If you want Christmas to come to PacLand, just drink a quart of eggnog and play the stupid video game.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chantilly Lane Duets Musical Cats

I just posted a review of a Christmas novelty toy we found on clearance in a gift shop. Check it out now and enjoy repeats in your worst nightmares:

Photos: Candy Cane Lane

In my search for more holiday cheer, I heard that there is a street in Ravenna (a neighborhood here in Seattle) which goes all out for Christmas.

Looks promising.

Now, the big thing you have to know about this is how busy it was. It's a small, residential street, and you can either drive through or park nearby and walk. It was around 9 p.m. on a Saturday when we stopped by, and the line of cars to get there was blocks and blocks long.

We parked and walked.

Almost all the houses had pretty cute decorations. Giant candy canes and the word "peace" in many languages were prominently featured.

The most impressive bit was the centerpiece, a 'carousel' around a hedge:

In motion:

The houses were very cute, although I'm not really sure why anyone would wait in that line of cars to drive through.

When we left after about 15 minutes, we saw that the line had died down a little.
However, some of the cars that we had been behind in line before we turned down a side street to park - the same cars we walked by on the way down to the display - were still waiting.

Always park and walk, my holiday-cheer-seeking friends. Always park and walk.  

Snow 2: Brain Freeze (2008)

If you were reading the blog last year, it's conceivable you may remember my review of the ABC Family made-for-TV movie, Snow. But seeing as Lindsay and I barely remember it, it's not too likely.

So, let's start this out with a quick recap: Snow is a movie about Nick Snowden, the new Santa Claus. He's trying to find a lost reindeer, and on the way he meets the girl of his dreams, Sandy. They rescue the reindeer from Sandy's ex-boyfriend and get married. Also, the first movie was essentially a worthless pile of crap.

I want you to pay special attention to the "pile of crap" part. That's going to come up again.

Snow 2: Brain Freeze takes place the next year. Snowden and Sandy are having difficulties, mainly due to him being a jackass. He teleports to the city to get some time away, hits his head, and promptly gets amnesia. One commercial break later, and he's in the hospital with a convenient news crew there to broadcast his condition over the air.

The show is improbably seen by both Buck (the villain from part one) and Sandy, who is apparently watching that particular local news station from the North Pole. Buck reaches him first, convinces him he's an old friend, then sneaks him out of the hospital, hands him a train ticket, and tries to get him to leave the country.

A point of clarity: Buck knows that Nick owns at least one flying reindeer, but doesn't know this has anything to do with Santa Claus. You may be trying to wrap your head around how the character can be that inhumanly stupid. Let me assure you, EVERY character in this thing is that dumb.

For example, Sandy reaches the hospital, finds out Nick's vanished, then immediately runs into Buck. She then accepts his offer of help to try and track down Nick and never suspects he orchestrated the encounter. Despite this, Nick and Sandy are soon together, but Nick is still missing his memory. She can't simply explain that he's Santa Claus and teleport him to the North Pole to prove it, because... some guy who fell out of a book assured her this would destroy Christmas for some reason.

Forty minutes later, she tells him anyway. Fortunately for her, in the meantime the writers forgot there were supposed to be consequences. By this point Buck has stolen her magic teleporting snow and is collecting magical artifacts from the North Pole. He shows up to kidnap Sandy, which convinces Nick he's really Santa. He fixes everything by believing in himself, and the thing mercifully ends.

Jesus, this was bad.

Look. When you sit down to watch a sequel to something as idiotic as Snow, you don't expect greatness or goodness or even mediocrity. You expect something that's about as bad as the original. There is no reason anyone shouldn't have been able to deliver that. If you found someone who actually had amnesia, handed them a camcorder and two hundred bucks, they'd almost certainly deliver a product that kicks Snow 2's ass.

I mean, come on. The bar was so low here, you've got Christmas elves filing workers' comp claims because they keep tripping over it. This wasn't hard to clear: all you had to do was not instruct every actor to spend every other second on screen grinning like a moron.

Did this thing even have a director? If not, it seriously needed one. If so... it would have been better off without.

Here's hoping they never make a third installment.

The Fairly OddParents: Christmas Everyday! (2001)

This is the first and only episode of The Fairly OddParents I've seen. The premise of the series is that the main character has a pair of fairy god-parents who grant his wishes, leading to mayhem. I have a hard time imagining how the producers have been able to wring nine seasons out of this premise, but I have to admit I found this special inventive and fun.

The episode starts right before Christmas, Timmy's favorite day of the year. There's some generic toon chaos involving his babysitter (apparently, she was the regular villain at this point, so they shoehorned her into the episode), followed by Christmas itself. At the end of the day, Timmy makes the classic wish: for every day to be Christmas.

The next few minutes are pretty predictable: the quality of each successive Christmas diminishes, and the world grows more and more irritated at the now seemingly eternal holiday. It takes Timmy a while to catch on, and by that time things are really bad. The military's out to get Santa, the world economy is tanking, his father can't get eggnog... you know how it is.

Once he realized the damage he's caused, he attempts to reverse the wish, only to discover that's not an option. By this point, the special has been mixed: there's been some good humor, but everything's been relatively straightforward. That's when a busload of other holiday icons show up, led by a mafioso version of the Easter Bunny. They're pissed that their holidays are on hiatus, and they're planning to solve the problem by taking out Claus.

The episode shifts into a race to the North Pole, with Timmy trying to warn Santa before the holidays banish him from Earth. The resolution is surprisingly effective. The solution feels like an extension of the setting's rules, rather than simple deus ex machina.

I can't speak for the series, but I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. It's definitely worth your time. There's also a Fairly OddParents Christmas movie out there: we'll add that to our list and let you know if it's anywhere near as good.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Simon's Cat Shorts!

Hey, look, two new holiday shorts from Simon's Cat!


Holiday Goldfish Crackers

I love Goldfish crackers. I think the classic cheddar fishes are a practically perfect food.

Of course, there are special holiday Goldfish varieties; we'll look at the four I was able to find today.

Let's start simple:

Standard Cheddar, but holiday shapes. 

Here's the back of the bag, with a game to play with Finn (the cheddar goldfish) and Gilbert (the pretzel). 

Gilbert didn't have his own holiday product, so he's playing second fiddle here.

Here are the crackers. Not that exciting, really.

They taste basically like normal Goldfish, if a little less fluffy because of the flattened special shapes.

Next up:

Holiday Graham Goldfish, in exciting Holiday Vanilla Cupcake and Hot Cocoa.

The back of both bags is the same. You might not be able to tell, but that's a lady graham goldfish named Coral that looks almost the same as the pretzel, but is not the pretzel acting as Finn's lackey on these.

Once again, you can play a fun game with the goldfish. Here, they need help finding toys to fill the sleigh. HINT: They are not actually hidden: they're just... sitting there on the goddamn package.

One more point about these bags: despite the happy little "Reseal Here" sticker, these are not resealable. The packaging material tears so easily that we just dumped the bags into a big ziploc for storage.

You can tell these are HOLIDAY cupcake flavored because of the tiny red-and-green sugar sprinkles. They actually were pretty good, although they just tasted like butter cookies or any other generic butter and sugar cookie-like dessert. Still, no harm in that.

These were tasty enough, although I'm really unsure of the point of adding tiny marbits in with the chocolate just for the hot cocoa theme. They don't taste like much. The fish tasted basically like chocolate graham crackers. No surprise there; they were pretty tasty.

Okay, at this point you might not be impressed. But Lindsay, you say, this is Mainlining Christmas. What's with just eating some okay holiday-themed crackers?

To that I say, Wait for it....

Fun Holiday Colors.

You'll note this is the same exact "game" as on the grahams, except Gilbert is back, even saying the same line as Coral - now vanished as though she had never supplanted his place as second in command to the leader of the Goldfish.

These look.... utterly disgusting. I think they look better in the photo than in real life. They are not cheery bright colors. They are old eggplant and slime. 

They taste odd, to me: either burnt or something...? I tried closing my eyes, thinking that it might just be the result of expecting something that looks so utterly unlike a Goldfish to taste different. 

That didn't seem to help.

The package claims that the colors are from natural ingredients.  This worries me. This worries me because it means that the weird aftertaste might not be my imagination.

There might be something there to taste.

Something... Christmas.

Santa with Muscles (1996)

Life is sometimes unfair. So it serves to reason that Christmas is sometimes unfair. If this were not so, if we truly lived in the best of all possible Christmases as Leibniz thought, then Jingle all the Way would have no defenders, and Santa with Muscles wouldn't be entirely unknown.

While it probably doesn't need to be said, I will state it now for the record: Santa with Muscles is not a good movie. It is - objectively - pretty bad, a vehicle for Hulk Hogan produced years after the wrestler's fame had waned. When it opened, it made $120k in its opening weekend and closed after two weeks. However, unlike 99% of zany holiday comedies, it is absolutely watchable. There are even moments when the filmmakers attempted to be funny that resulted in funny scenes. If you don't watch many movies in this genre, you'll be forgiven for not realizing how rare this is.

The movie opens with a girl writing a letter to Santa. The girl's town is being terrorized by some sort of crime lord / businessman names Ebner Frost, and she's worried that she'll lose her home at the... wait for it... orphanage.

Meanwhile, billionaire playboy, Blake Thorn (Hogan), is enjoying a life of energy drinks and impromptu kung fu matches with his gardening staff. While being chased by police, he ducks into a mall and disguises himself as Santa Claus. Naturally, he sustains a hit to the head and loses his memory.

Soon, he winds up defending the orphanage against a team of supervillians assembled by.... seriously, I'm not making this up. There's a team of evil scientists led by a psychotic doctor trying to take over the orphanage by force so Frost can get the MAGIC EXPLODING CRYSTALS IN A CAVERN UNDERNEATH THE TOWN.

Also, the cast includes a small-time grifter / mall elf played by Donna's father on That 70's Show AND an extremely young Mila Kunis as one of the three orphans.

Like I said before, this isn't a good movie. But it's not the third worst Christmas movie ever made, either. It's not boring, it's funny (occasionally when it means to be), and the surrealism of watching it play out is... is.... Words fail to describe the experience of watching this movie. Come to think of it, watching this movie fails to describe the experience of watching this movie. It's strange beyond strange, like some unknowable Christmas film that's fallen through a portal from another universe.

By now, you might be wondering if you should track this down. The answer might be yes. Like anything in this ballpark, you'll want to approach it on its own terms (that means drunk), and preferably not alone. But, unlike Deck the Halls, Jingle all the Way, Eight Crazy Nights, Ernest Saves Christmas, the Santa Clause trilogy, the live-action Grinch, the Home Alones, and dozens of other movies in this genre we've sat through... this one is kind of fun to watch.

How I Met Your Mother Christmas Episodes (Part Two)

Read Part One

Symphony of Illumination (2011)
Theres a nice punchline on the cold opening on this one and some pretty okay jokes about Christmas music. Unfortunately, the episode drags badly in the middle and the B plot is awful. Many of the characters drifted into over-caricaturization here, it was jarring and boring. The end of Robin’s plot has a really nice dark tone though.

The Over-Correction (2012)
There are three, count them three, episodes set at Christmas that ran back-to-back-to-back in 2012. Unfortunately, our early thought on this episode was: ‘Hey, we found where the show jumped the shark,’ There’s a lot of bad randomness in the early parts of this episode. (WHY IS COBIE SMULDERS CRAZY NOW? Also, the lack of coherency in the emotional arcs isn’t just me with no context: AVClub gave this one a C+.) Finally the plot of the episode comes together and it builds for a while into some honest laughs. Christmas ornaments featured heavily in the best running gag of the episode.

By the end of the episode we weren’t as ready to give up on the series as a whole as we had been a few minutes in, but there were enough cringe-worthy moments and uncomfortable awkwardness that I went into the next episodes hesitantly.

The Final Page (Two-parter!) (2012)
Huh. I am somewhat impressed. There wasn’t NEARLY enough Christmas in these two episodes, but the writers managed to pull out of a potential characterization nosedive. Everyone but Robin is handled much MUCH better here, and it’s not her fault the writers stuck her with the suck part of the plot. Part one features Seth Green in a hilarious cameo, and a great non-speaking gag. Part two features awkward subplots that feel like catastrophe waiting to happen. There’s a long emotional scene that almost works, which is to the credit of the actors, because it doesn’t make any sense for them to do X, except that they needed to do X for the next part of the plot. It’s pulled together in the end by the charm of NPH, without whom that whole plotline would have crashed and burned.

Whew. I could have used more Christmas in those later episodes, although overall it was pretty good in the end. It’s still not something I’m going to seek out specifically, though.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How I Met Your Mother Christmas Episodes (Part One)

How I Met Your Mother is one of those shows that I’ve seen a few minutes of here and there, and I know it’s decent, and I know people who really enjoy it. It seems like exactly the kind of show that I would watch if it were on, but I wouldn’t seek it out.

You know the show I mean, you turn on the TV and flip around, and say “Hey, it’s How I Met Your Mother/The Simpsons/Seinfeld/Scrubs/Good Eats/NewsRadio That’s usually okay, let’s watch the rest of that.” The problem with that is I never turn on ‘actual’ TV these days unless I know exactly what show I’m tuning in for, so shows that I would watch haphazardly like that aren’t shows I end up seeing at all.

I really enjoyed the chance to get a sampling from across the seasons by watching just the Christmas episodes. Sure, I’m missing some running gags, but I’m also getting a crash course in how the show changed over time.

How I Met Your Mother: How Lily Stole Christmas (2006)
This is almost really great. The big (BIG) problem for me is the laugh track. It’s downright oppressive, and makes me not want to find anything funny. This episode does manage to end up being funny, though, particularly due to the cuteness of Alyson Hannigan and the central gimmick of the episode, which involves a very bad word. The conceit of the show (that the whole thing is being told after the fact by the main character as a story to his kids) allows for some fascinating ways to tell really dirty jokes on prime time tv by letting you infer the operative words. It’s an episode that’s funnier depending on what you assume they’re not saying.

Little Minnesota (2008)
Okay, this plot, about NPH’s character maybe trying to seduce the main character’s little sis? This is funny. The laugh track has already been pulled back by this season. It’s still present, but much less obvious and annoying. There’s not a ton of Christmas here beyond the backgrounds, but it’s a fun episode. Oh, I almost forgot, the B-plot was really good, too, and closes with a great sight gag.

The Window (2009)
Christmas is mostly set dressing here, and I found the humor a little too awkward. The premise started pretty strong, but despite the cast’s best efforts, this one fell flat for me. It’s trying too hard to be sweet and poignant. It comes closer than most sitcoms dream, but is still trying too hard.

False Positive (2010)
This is my favorite episode of this show so far. Marshall and Lily briefly think that they’re pregnant, and all the characters react. The split to focus on different characters, the constant flashing back and forth in time: from my limited understanding, now we’re getting to see how clever and inventive this show became as it embraced the potential in its premise. Plus it is just plain entertaining television.

Part Two Coming Soon

Christmas Notes 2013: Another Year, Another Pile of CDs

Once you've heard every Christmas song ever recorded, you've heard them all. I'm not sure whether I'm quite there yet, but I'm a hell of a lot closer than most people would ever want to be.

Since last year, I've assembled quite a few additional holiday CDs from the clearance racks of used book stores, yard sales, and occasionally from Amazon. Now that everything's been ripped, I'm ready to start the annual tradition of listening to the new and reporting what how it's different from what I already had.

Spoiler alert - with very few exceptions, it isn't.

So, without further ado, here's the "new" music:

We Wish You A Metal XMas and a Headbanging New Year (Various)

This is exactly what it sounds like - metal versions of Christmas songs. It's a compilation which includes Alice Cooper, along with a bunch of musicians I've never heard of because I don't own a lot of metal.

My one complaint is that some of the songs aren't really altered enough. I far prefer the tracks where the songs are utterly transformed. Fortunately, there are quite a few fitting that description, including good versions of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silver Bells, and Rocking Round the Christmas Tree.

I'm always trying to expand the amount of "high energy" holiday music in my collection, so this is a welcome addition. Several of the songs have already found their way into various playlists.

A Heavy Metal Christmas (Christopher Lee)

In case there was any doubt, yes: THAT Christopher Lee. Saruman sings Heavy Metal Christmas songs. This only contains two tracks, Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night, but they're kind of amazing. I've always felt like Heavy Metal was missing something, and it turns out what it was missing was Lee's vocals.

In hindsight, it's kind of obvious.

Happy Holidays: A Very Special Christmas Album (Billy Idol)

I was excited to pick this up: I like all of Billy Idol's work I can think of, which is really just another way of saying I like the song, White Wedding.

This album isn't what I was hoping, but there are several good tracks. Too many are more or less traditional versions, but there are enough deviating from the norm to make it worth owning. I love his version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (but then I love almost everyone's version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, so take that with a grain of salt).

I'll never understand why musicians produce so many generic versions of classic songs instead of putting their spin on them. This isn't the time to demonstrate your range.

I'm sure that's the last time I'll be complaining about that.

Christmas with Solid Brass (Solid Brass)

This isn't a bad album of classical holiday music, but it is an album of classical holiday music, which means it's not exactly a new experience.

Love Actually (Various)

This is the soundtrack to Love Actually, which means it's almost entirely made up of love music, the majority of which doesn't have anything to do with Christmas besides being used in Love Actually.

I'd feel more conflicted about listening to this if I didn't despise love songs. Besides, if a song's used in something that's Christmasy enough, it becomes a Christmas song. The music behind Carol of the Bells didn't start out associated with Christmas, either.

Still, I'm going to remove everything from this CD other than the "pure" Christmas songs from my Christmas master list - I don't think they belong here. In the end, I guess that means I ended up with a couple crappy holiday pop songs and with a fake holiday pop song sung by Bill Nighy that's so intentionally crappy, it's actually awesome.

A Christmas Carol: A Dramatic Retelling of Dickens' Classic Tale featuring Lionel Barrymore and Orsen Wells

I picked this up on CD for a dollar, which is actually a dollar more than it's technically worth: the internet seems to think this is public domain. That said, it's a decent recording of the story with good voice acting. If you're looking for an audio recording of A Christmas Carol, this is a good one to choose. Of course... who needs a recording of A Christmas Carol?

I am Santa Claus (Bob Rivers)

This is definitely an album of mixed quality. As a rule of thumb, Christmas parody songs based on Christmas songs tend to be bad, while Christmas-versions of other songs are more promising. There are exceptions on both sides, but not many.

The standout, besides "I am Santa Claus" (which I already own), is a version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" that's sung to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun." Is that funny? No. But it's kind of awesome.

There are a few comedy bits worth hearing once, including a surprisingly clever commercial for "Manger 6." But, for each entertaining section, there are two tracks of filler. Do we really need "The 'What's it to Ya' Chorus"? Even with decent production values, parodies like these are humorless and pointless.

The Christmas Album (Neil Diamond)

Maybe my ears are just growing more discriminating as the season progresses, but I feel like this has a bit more of a distinctive sound than most "traditional" Christmas albums. There's definitely a lot of Neil Young's style in these versions, which gives them some value.

It'd have more value if I like Neil Diamond, but in the scheme of things, that's a relatively minor issue.

Joyous Christmas (Joyful Strings)

Oh, good. More generic classical holiday tracks. I was worried I was going to get bored listening to the thousand or so I already have, as opposed to getting bored listening to new ones.

This isn't bad - most classical holiday tunes aren't - but there's nothing distinctive about it.

Christmas (Chris Isaac)

Yet another attempt to recreate the magic of classic Christmas albums by singing classic Christmas songs in the same manner they've classically been sung for the past sixty years.

Sometimes I wonder if musicians realize we can still buy those albums. If I want to hear someone sound like Elvis singing Blue Christmas, I have the option of listening to Elvis, who does a better impression of Elvis than just about anyone.

I don't really want to listen to Elvis sing Blue Christmas, but that's not the point.

That aside, there's a version of "Hey Santa!" on here I like quite a bit and a few other tracks that are solid. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity: I love to have seen Issac do his own version of Christmas.

Santa Claus Lane (Hilary Duff)
My instinct is of course to complain about this being teen pop swill, which I think is a fair description. However, in the defense of pop stars like Duff, at least they don't try to redo sixty year-old tunes in the original styles. This is, for all its many faults, high energy, which was appreciated.

Not enough to listen to it again, but still.

A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (Kristin Chenoweth)
Not every song on this album is about Jesus, but there's definitely a trend. The album covers several genres of music. It's not all bad, but there's nothing on here that really interests me.

Christmas in the City (Various)

This is a compilation of 70's Motown Christmas tracks, featuring several tracks by Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and others. Shockingly, I think all but one or two of these tracks are new to my collection. That's rare these days, given how much holiday music I've collected.

There are a handful of songs sung traditionally, but most are original or remade in the artists' style. There are quite a few I like and a few I absolutely love - Marvin Gaye's Purple Snowflakes is fantastic, as is The Funk Brothers's Winter Wonderland.

I can't remember where I found this CD used, but I'm glad I came across it. There's some great music on this thing.

Miracles: The Holiday Album (Kenny G)

It's easy to hate Kenny G. I'll demonstrate: I'm doing so right now. But the upside of playing tepid elevator music is that at least his music is no more offensive than elevator music. It's not good, but it's not really annoying if you don't pay attention.

Innocuous is a good word for this album. There are plenty of bad ones that apply, too, but I'll save those for truly cloying CD's. I'm sure I've got quite a few of those coming up.

The Harlem Nutcracker (Dave Berger & the Sultans of Swing)

This is a good album, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. Apparently, this version is expanded from the Duke Ellington original to fill more time. The tracks that seem to point to Ellington are exactly what I want, but most of the others deviate too much from the source material. Don't get me wrong - I want these to sound distinctive - but I feel like I should be able to tell what they're from.

Regardless, Danse of the Floreadores, Peanut Brittle Brigade, and Sugar Rum Cherry are all incredibly cool.

Elton John's Christmas Party (Various)

This is a collection of Christmas songs done by various rock and pop bands. Most are classics, but there are a few that are either new or obscure. The Ronettes do a pretty cool version of Frosty, there's a great instrumental version Jingle Bell Rock from the Ventures, The Crystals have a cool spin on Rudolph, 

Not every track is great (I could certainly do without Jimmy Buffett's Christmas Island), but there are a decent number of good songs on this thing; more than I'd have expected. It's about a 50/50 split between songs I'm glad to have and those I hope stay out of the rotation.

That's actually pretty good for a compilation.

A Contemporary Gospel Christmas (Various)

This is exactly what it sounds like, for better or worse. I'm not really a fan of Gospel music, so this didn't appeal to me. That said, anything fast paced is preferable to slow, peaceful music. Taste in music aside, I need to stay awake.

The 30 Greatest Christmas Movie Songs (The Hit Crew)

Let's make sure we're perfectly clear on how they're defining a "Christmas movie song." It seems to mean, any Christmas song that's been in one or more movie. By my math, that limits things down TO EVERY GODDAMN CHRISTMAS SONG EVER RECORDED.

About a quarter of these can reasonably be described as being associated with a particular movie. The collection includes such classics as "All I Want for Christmas is You" and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." They slap "from Love Actually" and from "Scrooged" in the title to make it clear these are movie Christmas songs.

But they try to pass "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" off as being from A Miracle on 34th Street. Right.

Most of the tracks don't even make the effort. Sure, O Christmas Tree and  Greensleeves have been in holiday films - hundreds, I'm sure - but that doesn't make them "Christmas movie songs."

I'd also be remiss in omitting the fact that these are sung by "The Hit Crew," which I'm sure is a studio assembled collection of out-of-work singers. Hey, they're a hell of a lot cheaper than the people who made these songs famous.

Anyway, some of the recordings are God awful; others are fine for what they are, which isn't saying much.

A Christmas Album (Amy Grant)

Amy Grant's first Christmas album contains mostly synth-pop versions of classic (generally religious) Christmas songs. At least I can't claim Grant isn't putting her stamp on these tunes. I just wish it was a more interesting stamp. There are several new songs on here, as well. These are also synth-heavy, and they're even more religious.

Later on, I'll get to compare this to some of her later work. Can't wait for that....

Glee: The Music: The Christmas Album

There's something awful about Glee. I know some of you like this thing, but I find it... difficult to watch. Hearing the music removed from the show is even worse. It feels like everything bad about pop music condensed into a single point. Sure, some of it is fast paced - that's appreciated - but the music itself feels absurdly over produced.

Christmas in America (Kenny Rogers)

I don't know what's worse: this album, the title song of the album, or the fact I've actually heard worse songs with the same name.

I wasn't expecting anything great or even good. I mean, let's be clear: I was expecting this album to be physically and psychologically draining to listen to.

My expectations were too high.

Doctor Demento: Holidays in Dementia (Various)

This is a collection of novelty songs, some of which date back to the 40's. I went in not knowing what to expect, but - for the most part - I was pleasantly surprised. While most aren't all that funny, I found a good number to be charming. Part of that may be due to the fact I remember a handful from when I was young - nostalgia forgives a lot. But there are several that are at least decent. "Christmas Wrapping" by Waitresses is on here: I already have it, but it's a great holiday song regardless. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh during "Christmas is Coming Twice this Year," about kids excited they're getting double the presents because their parents are divorced.

All in all, not a bad collection.

Christmas Roses: A Celtic Woman's Christmas (Various)

This compilation includes 24 songs, each by a different singer. I'm not sure what the background behind this thing is, but most of the singers' names seem formulaic and the three or four I searched for at Amazon only displayed the song on this album (in all cases, the same song appeared on other compilations).

No surprise that the quality isn't anything to get excited about: these songs are pretty generic. I've got a lot of "Celtic Christmas" music, and I don't hear anything to distinguish this over the others. In fact, I don't even hear much to identify these as "Celtic." I suppose some of the singers either have an accent or are faking one, but most of the songs haven't really been altered.

There are a handful of good tracks, but they're generally the songs that are always good (The Holly and the Ivy, God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen, etc.).

The Christmas Album (Air Supply)

Air Supply really isn't what I want to be listening to right now. Or ever, for that matter. I'm not sure they're any worse than other soft rock groups, but it's not a genre of music I'm particularly fond of. There's just something that sounds fake about this music, like the singers aren't even trying. Though maybe I'm just being generous.

To be fair, this probably wouldn't bother me if it was the first Christmas album I listened to this year. But right now, a dozen or so CDs into the season, this is tedious beyond belief.

Home for Christmas (Amy Grant)

Huh. I dreaded this after hearing her first album, but... what a difference a decade and super-stardom makes. The first was extremely religious in nature and utilized bad synthesizers. This one has much better production values and much less Jesus. That isn't to say Grant's Christian music background is entirely absent: there's a new song in here that's very religious, and there are several classics which have Christian elements... but it no long comes off as the point of the album. This is more a traditional Christmas album than an attempt to pack as many references to the baby Jesus as possible on one disc.

Most of the music isn't great, but for the most part I don't find it cloying. It's a pretty standard mix of holiday songs done in a 90's pop style and old-fashioned tunes. There's even a few standouts, including a surprisingly cool instrumental version of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring I'll be dropping in a set list or two. I actually also like the religious song Grant co-wrote, Breath of Heaven.

That said, this does include a version of "My Grown Up Christmas List," the song I sometimes think was robbed of its rightful title as the worst Christmas song ever written.

Still, this really wasn't a bad album, which is far more than I can say for her first Christmas release.

Christmas Wishes (The Statler Brothers)

I had no idea who The Statler Brothers were when I picked up this album, and the picture on the front didn't fill me with confidence. I was pretty sure this was going be one of those situations where I expose myself to an hour of pain then, you know, complain about it in an interesting manner.

Turns out, these were the back-up singers for Johnny Cash, and the album is pretty good. There's a version of Jingle Bells on here that's particularly memorable.

That said, no one should ever sing "Whose Birthday is Christmas." Well, I'd make an exception if the singer made it perfectly clear the correct answer is Horus, but they didn't do that here.

Family Christmas (The Barklay Christmas Orchestra)

Who could ever have too much orchestral Christmas music?

That wasn't a rhetorical question. The correct answer is me. I have way too much classical Christmas music. WAY too much.

This is, like the vast majority of what's out there, fine. Nothing special, nothing memorable, nothing awful, just... fine.

I am so sick of fine.

New Country: Holiday Special 1995 (Various)

There were one or two songs on this compilation I liked: the rest didn't really leave me impressed or irritated. That probably counts as a win, all things considered.

Home Alone Christmas (Various)

This is a compilation of songs from Home Alone 1 and 2. I already have a bunch of these tracks, but not all of them and not on the same album. This way I can finally relive the experience that was the Home Alone movies anytime I want to. Granted, I've never wanted to relive that experience, but at least now I have the choice.

Big Band Christmas - Holiday Swing (Northstar Musicians)

This is just what it sounds like: swing versions of holiday classics. You'll notice I've got a lot of these this year - I found a small pile at a yard sale. I like this album. It's nothing surprising, but the songs are pretty good and high energy.

The Original Big Band Christmas (Various)

These are older Christmas big band songs, some of which I own. But some sound new to me, and there are definitely some great tracks. There's a version of "Merry Christmas Baby" by Sonny Parker that's fantastic.

In the Nutcracker Mood (Glenn Miller Orchestra)

This is a compilation containing swing versions of songs from the Nutcracker, along with a handful of classic Christmas songs. So far, it's my favorite of the big band jazz/swing holiday albums I picked up this year. At least in my opinion, it does a better job maintaining the feel of the source while transforming the style.

Christmas Songs by Sinatra (Frank Sinatra)

Thanks to dozens of compilations albums, I've already got about half of these tracks. The others are new to me. I'm not a huge fan of Sinatra, so these don't do a lot for me. Still, the completist in me is glad to be a little closer to owning every significant recording of Christmas music ever made.

A Fisherman's Christmas Carols (North Pole Fisherman's Association)

This is an album full of fishing-related Christmas song parodies intended to be given as a holiday gift to fishermen. It's a gimmick and a cash grab, but then again, isn't that the true meaning of Christmas.

To someone who doesn't like fishing (or fish, for that matter), the album isn't exactly all that relevant. I can't imagine I'd find it funny even if I loved the activity. On the other hand, the music is blue-grass and isn't badly done. Even better, the entire album clocks in at less than twenty minutes, so it's relatively painless.

In addition to the Christmas song parodies, there are a handful of songs about fishing that don't directly relate to the holiday. Overall, these are a little better than the others. I'm removing them from my Christmas set list, though: can't dilute the magic, after all.

Because it's Christmas (Barry Manilow)

I've never really known Manilow as anything other than a punchline in a joke. I'm not sure whether or not that's fair: he seems to be one of those singers who became successful to a such degree, he became an icon, and as a result couldn't be seen as anything else.

Regardless, I mainly find this album boring. It feels like a random mix of holiday songs. There are religious tunes alongside a very unambiguous Baby, It's Cold Outside: I'm not sure if that should be seen as brave or cheesy. Maybe both.

Almost all the songs are slow paced and lack energy. My understanding is that's kind of Manilow's style. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but quiet holiday music isn't exactly in short supply.

This Christmas (98 Degrees)

Apparently, 98 Degrees is one of those bands I would have hated in the late 90's, if I'd known who they were. Wikipedia describes them as an " adult contemporary boy band," which seems like an apt contradiction.

Personally, I find this music tedious and uninspired, but that's just my opinion. Objectively, it's fairly slow and straightforward. Keep in mind I'm disinclined to give music that fits that description much of a shot, so take my complaints as you will.

Naughty or Nice (Various)

I'm not actually certain about the title - I don't really feel like digging through a box of CDs to double check, so I'm just trusting the title as it appears on the MP3's. Regardless, this is a compilation containing both new (yet more Amy Grant) and old songs (Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, etc.).

I'm not sure what percent of this disc is new to my collection, but I'm pretty sure it's not more than 50%. The fact there's anything on here I don't have is impressive, though: it'd be more impressive if there was anything on here particularly good, but I'll take my victories where I can get them.

Christmas by Pianolight (Guy Maeda)

Classical Christmas piano music: I suppose there's much worse music out there. But, when you really think about, isn't it the absolute epitome of the word generic?

Christmas in Europe (Various)

More classical. Overall I found these a little more interesting to listen to, though that might just be a reflection of my mindset.

Christmas Songs - Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms)

Helms was a classic country rock singer. Nothing wrong with this album: I'm dropping the songs into my holiday country set list.

A Putumayo World Christmas (Various)

This is a collection of world music with a focus on performers from tropical areas. As a genre, world music is extremely hit-or-miss, probably because its a manufactured category that can encompass anything that's foreign and not immediately identifiable in another popular category.

This collection is pretty cool, though. There's a track or two I don't care for, but most of the rest I at least enjoyed. A few are downright fantastic.

An Imperials Christmas (The Imperials [not really])

The Imperials are a gospel group that's been around since the 60's. They have a famous Christmas album called "Christmas with the Imperials."

This has nothing to do with that. This appears to be some kind of local recording of teenagers playing Christmas songs made about a decade ago. It looks like it was recorded for some sort of charity. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

The quality is decent for what it is, which - let's be honest - isn't saying a lot.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Floyd Cramer)

Even more classical Christmas music. Is it a good recording? Sure. Are the musicians talented? Obviously. Does this album offer anything to differentiate it from the countless others I've already sat through?

Hahahaha. Of course it doesn't.

Eight Crazy Nights (Adam Sandler)

I know what you're thinking: "Why in the name of all that's holy would you do this to yourself?" you're wondering. "Why would you buy the soundtrack to what may very well be the single worst movie you ever saw?"

Those are all very good questions, but they ignore one very important fact: this is Christmas. Okay, so technically it's Hanukkah, but isn't Hanukkah really part of Christmas, anyway?

Yes, the movie is awful. And the songs are awful. And they remind me of the movie, which is even more awful. But we can't pick and choose the elements of the holidays we like and ignore the others. I mean, if we did that, we'd... I mean, you can't just...

Wait a minute. Why the hell did I buy this piece of crap?

Nightmare Revisited (Various)

I first heard this album at a holiday gathering several years ago. It's a compilation of songs from A Nightmare Before Christmas redone by various bands and musicians. At the time, it was expensive, so I held off on buying the full album. I did pick up a few of my favorite tracks, then I got a few more on the Special Edition CD.

I came across the CD used for a few bucks earlier this year and grabbed it. I'm kind of regretting not getting this a few years ago. Even at full price, it would have been worth it to have had these tracks. This is the kind of thing that makes listening to an endless string of holiday music bearable.

The album ages well, too. As time goes on, the songs from Nightmare become more closely identified as Christmas classics, and these versions are distinct reinterpretations. I don't think there's a single bad track: this is quickly becoming one of my favorite new holiday albums.

Wrangle Cowboy Christmas, Vol X (Various)

Every year, I find I like more and more country music. Five years ago, I'd have hated this stuff. Maybe it's just that country music lends itself well to Christmas songs.

This short compilation features eight tracks, each by a different singer. Some I've heard of (Toby Keith, Reba McEntire), and others I haven't (SHeDAISY). It's a solid collection, over all. My favorite track is SHeDAISY's "What Child is This," though I enjoyed the entire album.

Holiday Traditions: Winter on the Moors (Jeff Victor)

The album itself is about as generic-looking as you can get. The music could be described as new age. But it's not entirely worthless. A few of the tracks are pretty cool. The rest... not so much. But that's how it usually goes.

Rockin' Christmas (Various)
I found this in a bargain bin at Fred Meyer for $2.50. I only had a few of the tracks, so I picked it up. This contains a wide range of music, everything from classic rock to blues to hard rock.

Highlights include "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles, "Feels Like Christmas" by Cyndi Lauper, and "Merry Christmas Darling" by The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

All in all, this is a solid album, and I'm glad I picked it up.

Christmas Sax (Various)
This is a smooth jazz Christmas album. I'm not sure it qualifies as bad, but it certainly is boring. I think I've heard some of these tracks playing in department stores.

Christmas (Jaci Velasquez)
I don't know what's worse: that this album features a song with Alvin and Chipmunks, or the realization that song was actually a pleasant break from the monotony of the slow-paced pop that permeated almost every other track.

This Winter's Night: A Celebration of the Winter Solstice (MotherTongue)
This is a neo-pagan Winter Solstice album. The Winter Solstice, as we all know, is an antiquated name for what we now call, "Christmas."

I'm sorry. I have to stop for a brief rant. If there are any wiccans, neo-pagans, druids, witches, vampires, beast-masters, or werehamsters reading this, pay attention: if you want Christmas to be pagan, you don't have to change anything. Christmas, as it is, couldn't be any more pagan if a magical elf drove around the world in a flying sleigh to place gifts beneath the branches of trees. You don't have to take this holiday back: it's already yours. YOU ARE ONLY STEALING FROM YOURSELVES.

Ah. That's better. Now, where was I? Oh yes. The album.

It's pretty good, actually. Or at least most of the tracks are: there are a few featuring spoken stories that are extremely idiotic, and there are a couple of tracks about the solstice that are essentially the neo-pagan equivalent of bad Christian music.

But the rest is basically supposed to sound like medieval music, which I can get behind. I made a new set list called "It's a Renfaire Christmas" and dumped the good stuff from this along with everything from the Medieval Baebes holiday album in it.

Christmas Caravan (Squirrel Nut Zippers)

This is a great album, though it's not quite what I expected. The style of the music varies greatly from song to song. There are few blues songs, along with several different types of jazz. I don't think there are any tracks I dislike, though some are more interesting to me than others.

Green Hill - Christmas Music Sampler (Various)

This is a new free Green Hill Christmas sampler, not to be confused with any of the free Green Hill Christmas music samplers they've given away in previous years. Actually, this might be better described as an update: some of the tracks are ones they've given away before. Is this a new album or a revision?

The album is filled with a hodgepodge of holiday elevator music, new age, smooth jazz, and similar tracks. Most of this threatens to put me to sleep, but there are a few tracks I like, starting with a version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Matt Belsante. There's also some solid songs by David Arkenstone, some of which I have from previous compilations.

What baffles me is what they hope to accomplish by giving this away. Some of it is as good as this kind of music can be, but I find it difficult to imagine anyone listening to the sampler and thinking they need more of the same. Even if you like the style, I'd think 20 free tracks of it would suffice for the holidays.

If you're looking for a collection of soft holiday music to play in the background, this album does have the advantage of being free.

Orthodox Hymns of Christmas (St. Vladimir's Seminary Chorale)

More choir music. At least I don't recognize these songs: they're traditional religious hymns, as opposed to the more popular music you get on most church choir arrangements. It's decent music, but... yeah. I've already heard enough Christmas classical and choir music to last a lifetime.

Traditional Celtic Christmas (Eric Rigler)

"Featuring Braveheart Uileann Piper, Eric Rigler" is printed on the front of the CD, which isn't the subtlest attempt I've ever seen to get attention. According to Wikipedia, Rigler's done a lot more than that: supposedly, when you hear recorded bagpipes on TV, he's usually the performer.

The tracks vary in quality. Overall, I like the bagpipe music the best, because it sounds a tad less generic. There's a track called "Baloo Lammy" I really like, largely because I don't recognize it, at all.

This is a decent album, but it's certainly more Christmas than Celtic. If you're looking for Celtic holiday music, there are far better options, starting with anything by The Night Heron Consort.

Happy Christmas, Vol.2 (Various)

This appears to be a compilation of Christmas songs performed by Christian Punk bands. I looked a few of the bands up on Wikipedia to try and figure out what the hell "Christian Punk" is: it sounds like these were primarily punk bands who got classified as Christian music because their members were, you know, Christian. That seems... odd to me, but then Contemporary Christian music has always been more about marketing than anything else.

There's not much "Christian" about this music: these are just rock and punk versions of Christmas songs, only about a third of which are religious in nature (and that's including things like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen).

On top of that, the music is good. Really good, in fact. There's a fantastic version of "Santa Claus is Back in Town" by The Deluxtone Rockets, and the aforementioned "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Viva Voce is awesome. Sixpence None the Richer also have a great take on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

The whole album is pretty cool, in fact. There are a few weak tracks (there almost always are on compilations), but the majority are very good. I might have to track down some of the other volumes from this series: this is one of the best albums I got this year.

Apparently, Christian Punk Christmas music is a sub-sub-subgenre I should look into. Who knew?

A Santa Cause: It's a Punk Rock Christmas (various)

Hey! More punk! This compilation has some decent tracks - quite a few, in fact - but it's nowhere near as good as the punk Christmas album I just listened to. There's at least one band that appears on both: MxPx. They're singing about zombies this time (it's a good song: I think it'll become my second favorite zombie Christmas carol after Zombie Christmas, by Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler).

Beside "Christmas Night with Zombies", I also liked The Mighty, Mighty Bostones "This Time of Year", Jason Gleason's "Sleigh Bells and Wine", and the A.K.A.'s "Christmas in Hollis." Most of the other tracks are solid, too: this is a good album... it's just not as good as the Happy Christmas, Vol 2.