Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Search for Santa Paws (2010)

The Search for Santa Paws is, obviously, the spin-off prequel to the fourth spin-off sequel of the direct-to-video fifth installment of the Air Bud series. It has a sequel, but we're not there yet. This was directed by Robert Vince, who - according to Wikipedia - "specializes in directing movies that feature animals playing sports". His parents must be so proud he ignored their advice and followed his dreams.

This movie differs from its predecessor in several ways. First, while it still features talking animals, their role is much less central to the film. Unless you count humans as talking animals. There are a lot of talking humans in this movie. Also, singing.

I'm sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, which takes place at the North Pole. The producers were unable to get George Wendt back to portray Santa, so they replaced him with Richard Riehle, who has a very different take than Wendt's. In the last movie, Wendt's Santa seemed like he was perpetually in danger of falling asleep. In contrast, Riehle is... well... let me put it like this: I've seen at least a half-dozen different takes on the "psycho-killer Santa" motif, and none of them are a tenth as terrifying as this Santa is in the opening scene. To be fair, the make-up artist deserves at least as much credit as the actor for this effect.

Anyway, Santa's revels are interrupted by the appearance of a gift and message. Mr. Hucklebuckle, a good friend of his, has passed away, presumably of complications related to his stupid-ass name. He's sent Santa Claus a stuffed dog for a present, because apparently Santa Claus doesn't have enough stuffed dogs at his massive warehouse full of toys. For some reason, the magic Christmas icicle transforms the stuffed dog into a real puppy, which Santa names, "Paws."

Paws and Santa visit New York for reasons I don't remember or give a shit about. When Paws runs into the street to retrieve something, Santa jumps in front of a cab which wouldn't have hit the dog anyway. Santa is struck, which causes him to lose his memory, and Paws is separated from him. Santa gets robbed, as well, losing a case containing a slice of pie. He also loses his magic crystal, which has more of a bearing on the plot. Eventually, he winds up wandering into Hucklebuckle's old toy store, which has been passed to his grandson, who has to keep the shop open for one Christmas in order to take legal possession of the property. He hires amnesiac-Santa to play his store's Santa.

Oh, Hucklebuckle's grandson's wife is around, too. She's happy to stay in New York for the holidays, but she's extremely depressed that they don't have any kids. Because apparently that's the only way a woman can live a fulfilling life.

Did I mention the obligatory orphans living nearby? There are two orphans we need to focus on: the others are just around to sing and dance, and I assume they all die of polio after the movie or something. The first important orphan is new to the hard-knock life. She's young, short, and shows up sad that her parents just bit it.

Lindsay can verify this next part for me. The second she was introduced - before she opened her mouth - I took one look at the character and surmised she was going to be this movie's Tiny, the small homeless dog in the last one of these we saw. Lindsay then looked up the actress and informed me she'd actually voiced Tiny in Santa Buddies.

The other orphan is a slightly older girl, who's given up on getting adopted. Long story short, they end up finding and taking in Paws, until the evil overseer of the orphanage catches them. She steals Paws's magic crystal, and he eventually turns back into a stuffed dog.

Eventually, Mrs. Claus sends the elf and elf-dog from the last movie to go sort all this shit out. When they arrive, Santa's in the hospital and the orphanage overseer has tossed Paws into the furnace. The short orphan rescues the stuffed dog and turns him back into a puppy, and they all go collect Santa from the hospital.

Only Santa's been away from his magic crystal for too long: not even its crappy magic is enough to revive him. Paws instructs the elf to give Santa his crystal, as well, despite knowing that he'll revert back to a stuffed dog, and for some contrived reason they probably won't be able to transform him a third time. Santa takes the plush toy to the Christmas icicle, which can't do the job. Santa Claus sheds a tear, which explodes with Christmas magic and transforms the dog back, albeit as an adult.

Jesus. Santa's been alive for 1600 years, and he never realized that his tears were goddamn magic? By this time, he should be bottling and weaponizing that stuff in case Martians invade again. Get in the game, Santa.

Regardless, Santa renames his dog Santa Paws, and they go deliver presents to New York. The orphanage is passed to someone who isn't evil, and the two orphans we're supposed to care about get adopted by the Hucklebuckles, who decide to keep running the barely-profitable toy store. Seriously: it's a plot point that the store makes a single penny over the holiday season, which is by far the best period of the year for retail. If those kids thought they had it bad at the orphanage, wait until they try living below the poverty line now that the Republicans control the Senate.

Like I said, this movie spends far less time with animal characters, though Diedrich Bader did take a break from Batman: The Brave and the Bold to voice Comet. There were also four talking dogs who kind of filled in for the Buddies, though they only had a few minutes of screen time. In that time, they did manage to be surprisingly offensive, mostly thanks to the poodle with long black fur being played as a stereotypical Jamaican Rastafarian.

Shockingly, the absence of the annoying animals actually made this movie a little less watchable than its predecessor. The difference between the movies is sort of reminiscent of car wrecks. Santa Buddies was like a car wreck with dead bodies, while this was like one without. Technically, the crash with dead bodies is far worse, but the one without is just boring.

Static Shock: Frozen Out (2002)

Ugh. I feel for the folks who made this, and the folks who love this character, but I cannot recommend you watch this. It’s incredibly dull.

The episode opens with Static bemoaning the busy life of a superhero when he has holiday festivities to attend. Of course, no sooner does he get there, but the power goes out, and he’s off to melt the mysterious ice engulfing the substation. He conveniently ignores the girl on the scene, and then rinse, repeat. Whining, Mysterious Ice, and then he finally figures out it’s the girl.

We are treated to some tedious backstory about Permafrost. She lost her mom at a young age and is living on the street. Sad story, right? Not the way it’s animated here. Instead, it’s boring.

Static finally goes looking for some information about her and learns her sad story. When she shows up again, he reaches out in compassion, and she agrees to accept help. That should be a good story, but the writing is so pedantic that any emotional impact is muted.

It sounded to us as though a lot of the characters were voiced by the same actor run through a voice modulation, which didn’t help us connect to the acting. And I cannot say enough that the writing was boring. It checked all the boxes: multiculti interfaith holidays, learning to give to others, compassion and caring, but it told this story in such a bland way that everything fell flatter than the animation style.

I’m glad that this show existed. Static can be a great character, and all the Milestone characters are important to comics. Just… this episode is not worth your 20 minutes.

Moonlighting: It's a Wonderful Job (1986)

This episode I liked less than the first. One problem, as I see it, is that many shows which attempt to adapt either It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol (or sort of mash them up, as this one does) need to bend their characters so far out of shape to do it, that the resolution has no sentiment or weight.

Also, the premise here is really dumb. Maddie needs to keep everyone in the office over what would be their Christmas break to keep a case active. They stage a petty, whiny revolt, and David gives her a moralistic speech of nastiness. Then she learns that her aunt, sick in a nearby hospital, has died before she had time to visit because she’s been so busy. Cue regret, wishes, vague suicidal impulses, and a pudgy angel in a suit.

Maddie gets to see a world in which she didn’t keep the agency open. The lives of the other characters are boring, and the writing attempts to make us believe that we should care, but no. They’re caricatures anyway, so being a different caricature doesn’t really seem to matter. Her life, however, is inescapably worse without the agency, as she is a lonely suicidal drunk.

She manages to wake up from ‘it was all a dream’ in time to head back to the office to receive the condolences of her employees and give them back their vacation.

Now wait a minute. See, the episode was just sort of plodding and dull up to this point, but here’s where it goes down the tubes. Either this case was important to the agency or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, then why was she making a big deal out of it? But it seemed important earlier. So why can she just cancel it now? All those idiots cheering over getting a couple extra days off will feel pretty dumb when they’re all out of work after New Years if the whole enterprise tips too far into the red.

(Plus they all worked Christmas Eve the year before in the last Christmas episode…)

So while I would have appreciated and accepted a compromise, maybe Maddie finds a way to let some people have some extra time or take work home or otherwise pull the team together and both respect her friends’ feelings and keep the doors open. But instead, shaken by the asshole angel, she folds like a bad hand of cards. And all those Christmas-loving assholes get to go on in their short-sighted little lives.

Bah, Humbug to that.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Santa Buddies (2009)

To even begin to entertain a serious discussion about the movie Santa Buddies, we must first explore the greater cinematic universe it inhabits, as well as the origins of that universe. And for that, we need to talk about Full House. Or more specifically, the star of Full House, a golden retriever named Buddy.

Buddy was a stray who was adopted and taught sports by his owner. He was so famous, he appeared on two shows starring Bob Saget, Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos. He even starred in a film adaptation of his life called Air Bud.

He died a few weeks after Air Bud's sequel, but his legacy has endured. In total, there were two theatrical Air Bud movies, along with three direct-to-video sequels.

Like most people, I haven't seen any of these movies, nor do I intend to.

Rather than putting the franchise to sleep, Disney shifted the focus to the next generation. While I suspect the real Buddy was neutered, the theatrical version was more prolific: his children had already appeared in the later Air Bud movies.

The movie Air Buddies elevated them to top billing and (for some inexplicable reason) gave them the power to speak. It must have been successful, to date there have been seven Air Buddies films released with an eighth planned for next year. It's the fourth in this series that interests us now, however, the 2009 film, Santa Buddies.

Santa Buddies opens at the North Pole, where Santa Claus (played by George Wendt) and Santa Paws solemnly travel to gaze on the sacred Christmas Icicle, a repository harnessing the Christmas magic needed to power the North Pole.

At this point, you may be realizing that I typed the words "Santa Paws" in the previous paragraph. It is imperative that we fully explore this concept, as it is essential for understanding the foundation of this movie. You see, the Christmas magic harnessed by the Christmas Icicle comes from the belief of the world's children and puppies. It of course naturally follows that the inhabitants of the north pole would be elves and dogs. Oh, and CG reindeer.

Santa Paws' son, Puppy Paws, isn't interested in inheriting his father's legacy, so he runs away to meet the Buddies.

This brings us to the established cast: Rosebud, Buddha, Budderball, Mudbud, and B-Dawg. Rosebud, the sole female character, is defined by stereotypically female interests and traits. Buddha is a dog named after a religious and spiritual figure: he talks like a hippie surfer. Budderball has an eating disorder, and B-Dawg is a wannabe gansta. In contrast, Mudbud's interest in rolling in dirt comes off as relatively innocuous.

Pretty soon we're introduced to Cruge, a mean dogcatcher who.... Who....


Sorry. Moving on. Cruge, whose name is pronounced like "Scrooge" with a silent "S", is played by Christopher Lloyd, who I hope was very well compensated for being in this thing. Wendt seemed to be bored or drunk in all his scenes, but Lloyd actually seemed to try to salvage something from his role. It was a futile effort, of course, but you've got to respect the man for trying.

At any rate, Puppy Paws hangs out with the Air Buddies and manages to get each of them into trouble or to destroy something they care about. This burns up about fifteen minutes, but doesn't have much bearing on the plot. Cruge captures Puppy Paws and brings him to the pound.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole, all the magic around Christmas is gone, because for some unexplained reason, if Puppy Paws doesn't believe in the holiday, it'll all go down the shitter. It doesn't really seem to matter what the rest of the world thinks: everything will be lost if this one dog doesn't learn a lesson and get back to the North Pole.

Fortunately, Puppy Paws learns the true meaning of giving a shit when a small dog sings a song about Christmas at the pound. He's broken out by the Air Buddies, along with an elf-dog who came looking for him. Meanwhile, a Christmas elf explains the importance of the position to a teenager who dresses up as an elf as a seasonal job.

But things aren't so easily solved. The magic Christmas mail truck that brought the elves (humanoid and canine alike) to Washington state isn't running. So the only way for Puppy Paws to get back is if he uses the magic crystal on his Christmas leash to give the Air Buddies the power of flight and they pull a sleigh they steal from the place the aforementioned elf works (the teenage one, not the other one).

So that's how Christmas is saved by a bunch of puppies representing the most disgusting stereotypes seen outside a Michael Bay movie in years.

Want some resolution? Tough shit: you're going to get it anyway. Santa's reindeer are sick, so the puppies'll need to travel around the world and distribute gifts with Puppy Paws - why the hell not? And Cruge should probably find a heart and give Tiny to that poor kid. Maybe they can even invite him over for dinner. And the Air Buddies' owners are all worried about them? I guess they should go home and demonstrate they're not dead. But first they need Santa hats in thanks for saving Christmas, because apparently Santa sucks at giving rewards.

At least they're not going to give the female character a pink hat, because if they did that it would be utterly... oh. Yup: check that off your list.

Let's move on to the effects. A surprisingly high percentage of this movie is dogs somehow being coached to sit or stand perfectly still while talking mouths are imposed over them. The effect is somewhat akin to wandering around the uncanny valley, slipping on some dog shit, then falling forty feet into the uncanny crevice, breaking your leg, and waiting for the wolves to close in and finish you off. In other words, it's a bit disconcerting.

But there's more computer effects than dogs' lower jaws. There's also the reindeer, which are entirely computer generated using state-of-the-art Playstation quality graphics. The North Pole, on the other hand, is closer to the N64.

In addition to digital effects, they also needed real dogs. Conveying how poorly they captured these dogs on film is almost impossible: they clearly used dogs of different ages and breeds for some characters, and there was no attention paid to continuity. You'd see Puppy Paws walking, the camera angle would shift, and there'd be an entirely different animal on camera.

In summation... this movie was awesome. I mean, it was also horrible, but it was unintentionally hilarious. I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I realized that Christmas in the movie's universe was built 50% for human children and 50% for puppies, and that Santa Paws was more or less equal in importance to Santa Claus.

This movie was so bad - so egregiously, unbelievably and hilariously bad - it was good. The real question is whether they'll be able to maintain that level of quality through the Santa Paws spin-off movies.

That's right: the Santa Buddies spin-off left something behind: a prequel focusing on the origin of Santa Paws himself. And that has a sequel. Because why the hell not?

And make no mistake, Mainlining Christmas will be reviewing them both.

Book Review: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Part Two)

This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. This is section two.

A Funny Little Christmas

  • The Burglar and the Whatsit, Donald E. Westlake - Short and clever, got great style.
  • Dancing Dan’s Christmas, Damon Runyon - Enjoyable. Nothing unexpected.
  • A Visit from St. Nicholas, Ron Goulart - Cute style, decent use of irony.
  • The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing, Thomas Hardy - Solid tale, not really a mystery. Almost fairy tale style.
  • Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas, John Mortimer - Ugh. I guess youre supposed to enjoy the humor and ignore the horrid classism.
  • A Reversible Santa Claus, Meredith Nicholson - Longest story so far, pretty enjoyable.

These were mostly pretty fun, with a couple of exceptions. The Thomas Hardy piece was fine, I guess, but it was so different. It follows a man who is waylaid on the road, and then he manages to expose the burglars in the midst of performing a second robbery. The points of the plot are very strange, and it has more in common with most fairy tales than most mysteries. The Rumpole story is another case of ‘wow, I have zero desire now to read anything else about that character’. It would be one thing if the style or the plot was good enough to make it worth slogging through, but it’s all about lawyers bartering over a case only for their own sakes, and with no care at all for the actual people involved. Wikipedia says that the character is characterized by sympathy for the ‘criminal classes’, but I’m not sure I saw that here.

I expected to enjoy "Dancing Dan’s Christmas", and I did, although anyone who isn’t already familiar with the work of Damon Runyon would surely get more out of it than I did. "A Visit from St Nichola"s opens with this line, “THE MEDIA, AS USUAL, GOT IT completely wrong. The corpse in the Santa Claus suit hadn’t been the victim of a mugging and therefore wasn’t an all too obvious symbol of what’s wrong with our decaying society.” It’s pretty fun throughout.

"The Burglar and the Whatsit" may now be one of my favorite examples of the ‘burglar dressed as Santa Claus’ trope. "A Reversible Santa Claus" is the longest story in the book so far, a tale of a family of retired criminals accidentally kidnapping a baby and then getting tangled in the affairs of the upper class family he belongs to.

I’m not that surprised the the comedy stories were a bit more fun than the ‘traditional’ stories, but I am really looking forward to some of what’s still to come.

Moonlighting: 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas (1985)

Neither of us had actually, to our recollections, watched an episode of Moonlighting before today. Just to set a baseline. Our reactions: “That was really kind of good. Also dumb in bits, but quite enjoyable.” “Well, now I know why no one believed Bruce Willis would be an action star.” “I guess I see why it was so influential.” “Huh, the first episode was much better.”

We’ve got two Christmas episodes to talk about, and yes, this first one was much better.

It’s a good thing that the Netflix DVD sleeve explained that these characters run a private detective agency, because it is really hard to figure that out from this episode. The episode opens with the plot hook: a random dude gets killed by a bad guy he once testified against, but his wife and child escape. Said wife leaves her baby for safekeeping with no explanation in the apartment of a secretary who works for Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) and David (Bruce Willis). Said secretary brings the baby to work, and the main characters dash about trying to figure out who left a baby like a present under a tree, interspersed with sweet little scenes of Christmas and a happy infant.

It’s a good thing that all the answers fall into their laps, because going by this episode, these characters are terrible detectives. However, the dialogue is snappy and wonderful as advertised, and the fourth-wall breaking is used extremely well. I especially enjoyed the intelligence of the writing, the little references and clever wordplay.

Eventually the bad guys are defeated and the baby returned to his mother. I will believe that the fourth-wall business may have gotten a bit overused by the end of this series, but for a Christmas episode, this was a really nice touch: the characters figure out they’re in a Christmas episode, but one says that it can’t be, there’s no snow. So it begins to snow indoors. And then the camera pulls back, and back, and it’s fake snowing on what looks like the entire production staff and their families, singing The First Noel. The song stretches on in a way that only makes sense if it was intended as a gift to their staff. Complete with shots of bored teens, guys awkwardly lip-syncing and little kids playing with the fake snow. It’s very real, and I really liked it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House (2002)

I'd like to begin with a thought experiment for those of you who haven't seen Home Alone 4. I'm assuming that includes you, since - as far as I can tell - no one alive has actually seen this movie and only a handful have even heard of it.

So then, imagine that, after the disappointing third installment (which, to be fair, isn't really much worse than the first two), the Home Alone franchise didn't disappear entirely. Imagine instead that the IP transitioned to a made-for-TV movie aired on ABC. Now imagine that the character of Kevin McCallister, the protagonist from the original two, returned, albeit recast, along with every other character. Now ask yourself, how bad would you expect this to be? How abysmally awful, how utterly vapid, how monumentally stupid do you think a movie like that would be?

What you're picturing right now is what we'll call, "The Expectation." Before we go on, you'll have to lower that expectation.

Before we get to the twist, before we reach the plot or even the premise of this installment, let's begin with this: in the original Home Alone, Kevin McCallister was supposed to be eight years old. Home Alone 2 took place two years later. We know this movie took place at least two years after that, because Kevin watches video from his previous Christmas which does not align with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

In Home Alone 4, Kevin McCallister is nine years old.

Now then. Let's talk about the premise. Kevin's parents have been separated for about a year, and his father is getting engaged to a comically wealthy heiress who lives in a gigantic mansion where every door and window is voice activated using portable remote microphones. Marv, the dumber of the two bandits from Home Alone 1 and 2, is now married to a character dumber than he is. They're preparing to kidnap a prince, who is coming to visit Kevin's dad's fiance on Christmas for no discernible reason.

Incidentally, your expectations are still not low enough.

Kevin goes to visit his father and his fiance for Christmas to escape his siblings. Incidentally, Kevin is never "home alone" at any point in this movie, mainly because there are a pair of servants, one of whom, we learn, is working with the kidnappers.

Oh, and it's obviously the one he doesn't suspect. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Kevin runs into Marv almost immediately and does several hundred thousand dollars of damage to the house, which is fixed between scenes. Everyone blames Kevin, of course, assuming he's trying to sabotage his dad's new relationship. Throw in some relatively tame sadism compared to the horrors Kevin unleashed in Home Alone 1 and 2, and that's the movie in a nutshell.

If you're really concerned with spoilers for this, you should probably stop reading now. I'm not referring to this review: I mean, if you're the kind of person who'd want to see this movie after everything I just told you, you're clearly too stupid to gain anything from reading, and you might as well just stop bothering altogether.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the conclusion.

Kevin winds up locked in the cellar with the butler, who isn't the heartless monster he thought, but is actually a kind man. Meanwhile, the seemingly gentle maid is actually... wait for it... the mother of Marv. The moral from this is that we can't judge a book by it's cover. Unlike this DVD, which you can tell is a piece of crap by looking at its cover.

Fortunately, they have a cell phone. Which they use to try and call Kevin's mother several times, despite the fact she isn't the police, nor is she all that close. After the phone runs out of batteries without them having managed to explain to anyone what's going on, they use the dumbwaiter to escape. Kevin hurts people some more, then everyone arrives, realizes they should have listened to him, and so on and so forth.

Are we done? Not yet - not quite yet. We haven't resolved Kevin's parents' relationship issues yet. "What relationship?" you might ask, confused. "People get divorced and move on: it's sad sometimes, but it happens," you might point out. "For a TV movie to turn around and have someone ditch their fiance - on Christmas, no less - to move back in with their ex, particularly on the same day the fiance's house was invaded by kidnappers, would be downright psychotic, not to mention the fact it would be utterly unconscionable to give millions of children across the world whose parents have gotten divorced false hope they could reconcile their differences at a moments' notice," it's possible you'd add.

Now we've established the appropriate expectation for this movie.

A Christmas Memory (1997)

Please begin by noting, I read and enjoyed A Christmas Memory.

I have a small, tiny, miniscule amount of sympathy for the person who thought this was a good idea. I mean, Breakfast at Tiffany’s doesn’t seem like a filmable story either at first glance. But at least that story has things, and these things happen to the characters.

Is this tv-movie adaptation irredeemable? Probably not. It might have been a lovely 15 minutes, though, and instead it is a dragging, tedious, bloated 96.

The only strength is in the visuals. The production values are strong enough that everything looks period-accurate and has depth and texture. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the writing. Adapting a stream-of-consciousness piece that’s all setting and emotional vignettes to live action is not a light task to undertake. Despite the actors giving it a good shot, words that lilt and float as thoughts on the page fall dead when spoken aloud.

Also, they tried very hard to give it a plot. And it’s a melodramatic mess of a ‘plot’. In the original story, the parting of the friends is melancholy and just provides a coda. Here, the fact that the boy is being sent away to school becomes the main point of contention, to a downright histrionic degree.

It’s not touching, it’s eye-rolling.

Also also, they add a tough-as-nails next-door kid to be an enemy-turned-friend B-plot. No, it’s not the kid from “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, it’s a girl. Really. You really thought this story needed an entire B-plot, in a adaptation of a piece that’s one of TRUMAN CAPOTE’S freakin memoirs, just to put a little hint of heterosexual gloss on it. I just… ARGH. Oh, the 90’s. You really had a complex, didn’t you?

Final Verdict: Kinda pretty, but pretty dang dull.

Bonus: the kid playing “Buddy” (all the context of the name is gone, however. WTF, screenwriters?!) does give this thing extra Christmas cred! It’s Eric Lloyd, better known as the kid in The Santa Clause.

Beneath the Tree: Cosmic Hat

Check out the "Cosmic Hat," a variation on the Santa hat for people who like annoying lights and sounds.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

All is Bright (2013)

All is Bright centers around a paroled thief played by Paul Giamatti, who returns to his home in Quebec to discover his wife is seeing his best friend (Paul Rudd). She's told his daughter that he died of cancer, and doesn't want her to learn otherwise. Despite being furious with his friend, Giamatti's character approaches him for a job. Together, they drive to New York City to sell a truckload of Christmas trees.

It sounds like a premise with some comic potential, but the movie goes in a different direction. It's generally described as a dark comedy, but it doesn't really fit in that category. It has a handful of jokes - some of which are hilarious - but they're few and far between. For the most part, the movie skews closer to drama.

This is a Christmas movie about poverty and desperation. It's about people who want to put their lives back together, but have no real chance of succeeding. Even if the world wasn't completely apathetic to their situation, they wouldn't know where to begin.

Giamatti plays his character with surprising realism. You believe he just got out of prison and is at the end of his rope; at times, he's downright scary. At the same time, you can't help sympathizing with him. He wants to do something good for his kid. He thinks that means buying her a piano: by the end, he realizes it means giving her a lot more.

The critics weren't kind to this one: it pulled a score in the mid-40's on Rotten Tomatoes, and the positives are generally lukewarm. I'll chock that up to critics wanting something that fits more cleanly in the comedy category - I find professional reviewers have trouble when movies don't clearly belong in one genre or even a cross-section of genres.

All is Bright does a great job building a tone that mirrors Christmas at its worst. It's a good glimpse into what it's like being miserable at the holidays and trying desperately to reclaim some sense of meaning out of the time.

It's not for everyone, but if you can appreciate a sadder, darker, look at the holidays, you might want to check this out. We enjoyed it quite a bit.

Comic: Winter Soldier: Winter Kills

Issue originally from 2007
Writer: Ed Brubaker, Art: Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano

I was pretty excited to stumble across this holiday-themed one-shot in time for the Mainlining season, but it’s probably too embedded in comics continuity for new readers to appreciate.

It takes place in the midst of Civil War, although that plotline only comes up in the background. The main plot follows Bucky Barnes, as he tries to process his first real Christmas since the 40’s, and reflects on holidays then and now.

The flashbacks are pretty fun, especially the contrast between the warm sepia tones and the blue-black colors of the modern scenes.

Bucky’s seasonal depression is interrupted by a summons from SHEILD, who ask him to stop a squad of Young Avengers - Hawkeye (Kate), Patriot and Vision - from accidentally blowing a SHIELD operation because of bad intel. They end up fighting a bunch of HYDRA goons, and Bucky acts toward the young heroes like the older professional that he is mentally, if not physically.

Ed Brubaker’s writing, so the dialogue is snappy and satisfying, although I have to seriously question Kate’s clothing choices for snowy reconnaissance. That’s just sloppy design.

One of the interesting things about this issue is that it isn’t just embedded in Civil War, but it significantly references the very early Marvel Universe. In the final scenes, Bucky meets with Namor to reminisce about the first Human Torch. If that last sentence made sense to you, look up this little melancholy tale.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this old-school romantic comedy, but enough dated bits that I can’t recommend it without reservation.

Discharged soldier (and ‘hero’ for some unspecified reason) Jefferson Jones is recovering in hospital and dreaming about solid food. He flirts with a nurse to get better treatment, but she takes him seriously and proposes they get married. He claims to not have any context for a real home, and she decides to call in a favor to send him to the cozy farm home of matronly author and famous cook, Elizabeth Lane, for Christmas.

Cue the twist that sets up the plot.

Elizabeth Lane is not a woman with a family on a Connecticut farm. She’s a single writer living in a tiny New York apartment. She gets her ‘brilliant’ recipes through an arrangement with a friend, the chef at the restaurant downstairs, because she can’t so much as boil water. She and her manager try to get her out of the host-a-soldier-for-Christmas deal, but her publisher doesn’t know that her articles are fiction and invites himself along for the holiday as well. Add in a persistent suitor who actually does own a farm in Connecticut and the cast of characters is almost complete.

Naturally, they try to pass off her phony life as real. Plus she agrees to marry the suitor, but can’t...quite...ever go through with it. Which is handy once she meets the soldier.

It’s fairly predictable from there, but I found it charming. I enjoyed the reasons Elizabeth is attracted to Jones (his easy friendship and generosity, his skills with infants). I really liked Elizabeth’s attitude and her wit, and the fact that no character the viewers were supposed to agree with saw anything wrong with her pieces being fiction. It’s a light farce, and we laughed quite a bit while watching it.

However, at the beginning and, most unfortunately, at the end, were beats that played more heavily into the sexism of the time. Jones knows before Elizabeth that both of them are free of their respective romantic entanglements, and his taunting of her gets downright unpleasant.

Still, it’s a happy ending, and a nice change of pace for us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beneath the Tree: Creatology Foam Deer Kit

What better way to celebrate the magic of Christmas than by mounting the severed head of Comet to your wall?

I Am Santa Claus (2014)

I am Santa Claus is a documentary exploring a number of professional Santas' lives throughout the year. The subject matter is very reminiscent to that explored in Becoming Santa, though the perspective is slightly shifted. Both are fantastic documentaries, but I actually think this was a little more interesting.

There were five primary Santas in the movie, in addition to countless minor characters. The movie chose some fairly unique subjects to help you keep them straight, no easy feat given that everyone in the movie is working to become the same character.

The most famous subject is Mick Foley, a professional wrestler with a lifelong love of Christmas and St. Nicholas. Like Jack Sanderson in Becoming Santa, he's playing the part for the first time. The documentary introduces the juxtaposition between his former image and his new role, though it's hard to lend much credence to his violent performance: the man comes off as infectiously nice and gentle-hearted. In addition, while the documentary didn't dwell much on the fact that professional wrestlers are as much actors as athletes, it was clear he knew how to inhabit a character. Despite being presented as a newcomer, it was obvious he could hold his own with the professionals. On top of that, his joy and wonder were apparent.

The next subject was, quite literally, Santa Claus, at least legally. The man formerly known as "Frank" was an aspiring barbecue chef with a thick Long Island accent. Seeing him out of character, it was difficult to imagine him filling the shoes of the character who's name he was taking. But when he put on the suit and stepped into the role, he felt as authentic as any Santa Claus I've seen.

The movie is especially interested in highlighting the idea that people playing Santa Claus have personal lives and problems that stay with them all year, just as their seasonal jobs remain a core part of their identity. This is especially relevant with Jim, an elderly antiques dealer who's active in the bear community. The movie doesn't shy away from exploring this side of his life, either: the cameras follow him to a bear convention. Oh, and he's being photographed stripping when they introduce him. But make no mistake, Jim is the sweetest of this movie's Santa Clauses. It's like the filmmakers are daring anyone to say they'd never bring their kids to him, when he's clearly the kindest, gentlest man we meet in a profession defined by those qualities.

Likewise, the movie goes into the life of Rob Figley, the president of an organization of Santas. He and his wife are swingers, and he works at a sex club in Portland, OR. Not surprisingly, he's also a controversial figure in the organization he oversees. Several members, including the last main Santa we've yet to discuss, question the wisdom in having Rob serve as the leader of their organization. While it's easy to understand what his critics are scared of, it's difficult to take them seriously. Rob comes off as articulate and knowledgeable, the exact qualities you'd want in a leader. What's more, attempts to cast his life as shadowy seem laughable: he's very open about his lifestyle. In addition, his passion for helping sexual minorities navigate a world that often ostracizes them feels extremely relevant to his love for playing Santa.

At one point, a few of the other Santas debate whether Rob's lifestyle is problematic. The Santa who expresses reluctance to the idea is Russ, the only one of the main characters I haven't discussed. If the movie paints any of its subjects in a negative light, it's him, though it's difficult to tell whether that's due to his personality or to editing choices. He seems to be the least successful of the Santas, and he's one of the older subjects. It's difficult to sympathize with him by the end, however, when he seems unable to relate to kids. Again, it's impossible to know whether that phenomenon was magnified by editing decisions.

The movie offers a fascinating look at the lives of five men who transform into Santa Claus (or in some cases, who have decided to become Santa Claus completely). While the movie certainly doesn't seem fixated on their sex lives, these are a key point for two of the Santas. The film seems to be daring its viewers to object while simultaneously exploring how it's part of who they are and how they approach life. Both Rob and Jim are fantastic Santas due to who they are, and their sexualities and backgrounds are a huge part of that. The movie's tagline, "Whose lap is your child sitting on?", implies something sinister, but the movie delivers the opposite. These Santas are wonderful people with complex lives: I can't imagine anyone finding them objectionable.

More importantly, I am Santa Claus is a lot of fun. It's at times heartwarming and heartbreaking. I highly recommend anyone interested in the actors who portray Santa check this out as soon as possible.

Rosemary and Thyme: The Cup of Silence (2005)

I should start by saying that I like this show, although I like it more in a ‘turn on while I clean or knit or otherwise multitask’ sort of way, rather than a ‘sit down and pay close attention’ sort of way. I first ran across this Christmas-ish episode earlier this year when I was doing just that.

I say Christmas-ish because while there are several references to the upcoming holidays and the episode originally aired in December, that’s all there is, and the setting and main plot have nothing to do with the subject of this blog.

It’s a standard episode of this show, which means the plot follows gardeners Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme while they attempt to solve a plant problem for a client and solve a mysterious death at the same time. In this case, the deceased is a critic visiting a struggling hotel, and the protagonists are there to help the adjacent struggling winery. The hotel and the winery are run by estranged brothers, one of whom of course turns out to be the killer, while the other spends some time as a red herring. Meanwhile, the place is overrun by both a wedding reception and a group of film buffs who are recreating scenes of old B-movies filmed on the property.

It’s a bit slow paced, but still a decent cozy mystery. I like the friendship between the main characters, highlighted in this episode as Laura’s children change their plans for Christmas and Rosemary tries to cheer her up. This leads to the funniest scene in the episode, in which Rosemary tries to buy a Christmas present in the only shop convenient to where they’re staying: a donkey-themed gift shop.

This is on Netflix, should you be in need of something pleasant that is technically Christmas related, but won’t hit you over the head with mistletoe.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mainlining Christmas Gift Guide - 2014

Other gift guides start from the assumption that there's a brilliant gift out there waiting for you to find, a gift that will convey a sense of emotional gravitas or communicate a message of gratitude or love, or simply convey an expression of goodwill around the holidays. These guides try to give you ideas in the hopes that they'll introduce you to something you haven't thought of or jog your memory into recalling that perfect gift idea.

Here at Mainlining Christmas, our starting assumption is that if you're trying to find an interesting, thoughtful gift at a reasonable price for an adult, you're pretty much screwed. Sure, at one time there were gift ideas ripe for the picking, but that ship has sailed, been retired from active service, was forced to go out on one last adventure in order to rescue a bunch of orphans shipwrecked on Christmas Eve, then sunk off the coast of Gibraltar in a storm. Presumably the metaphorical orphans were then rescued by Batman - he does have a Christmas movie, after all.

The problem is that the world moves on, and as it does so, it takes its junk with it. Since we can't offer any actual ideas for presents, we thought we'd dig through the corpses of classic Christmas gifts that were once mainstays but have since become obsolete relics of bygone eras.

How will this help you? Well, our hope is that this exercise will demonstrate just how bleak the outlook is, leading you to give up on finding that great present and resign yourself to picking up a handful of gift certificates. Incidentally, a gift certificate is not, technically speaking, a gift, but rather a codified apology for failing to find a gift. This should save you hours of frustration, as well as a trip to the mall at the busiest, most intolerable time of the year.

With that in mind, we hope you'll keep reading for our seance of the Ghosts of Christmas Presents Past.

For decades untold, the calendar was the go-to gift for anyone we knew well enough to guess their preference for pictures of kittens, firefighters, or Frank Frazetta artwork, but not well enough to realize they already owned a half dozen calendars for the following year. Even so, there was always the hope you'd find the perfect calendar if only you went early enough. Due to demand, styles would sell out early, leaving only a selection of landscapes and Van Gogh paintings, both of which would still be available come January for a dollar or less.

Calendars were essential to survival in the wild cities and schools of years past, but the best calendars were so much more. Once their time had elapsed, a single cut along the spine left the owner with a 12 pack of miniature posters to hang around their house. For these reasons and more, the calendar was the perfect gift.

Until we got cell phones. And email accounts with built-in calendars. And cell phones capable of syncing with our email calendars which can be set up with alarms to go off every December to remind us to never waste our money on a calendar ever again. Calendars certainly aren't the only things which have been rendered utterly superfluous by technology, but they do have the distinction of being the ones we miss the least. People are nostalgic for newspapers, for Christ's sake, but when is the last time you heard anyone bemoan the fact the calendar companies were closing down?

Remember when there were stores that sold nothing but calendars in the mall? Remember when we'd all get three or four or ten calendars every Christmas, because no one knew what else to buy us? Of course you don't. And a year after the last holdout calendars vanish from that rack you always walk by in Barnes & Noble, you'll have forgotten these ever existed at all.

Books have gone from a thoughtful fallback gift to something that will almost certainly be extraneous matter in your friends' and coworkers' apartments, and not just because a quarter of them have given up reading altogether. No, the larger issue is that e-books are gradually taking over. Unless you know for certain that a friend still prefers print because they live in a cave and like sniffing the pages, you risk buying someone an ugly paperweight, which they don't even need since they've given up on paper. All of this is assuming you happen to pick out something they haven't read and would actually like, which is itself pretty unlikely.

You could, of course, still buy someone an e-book as a gift. For those of you who have retained too much of your soul to have even contemplate this as a possibility, allow me to explain. Gifting an e-book is a lot like buying someone a gift card, minus the sentimental connection attached to the physical piece of rectangular plastic.

Magazine Subscription
On the hierarchy of anachronistic gift ideas, only the calendar is less relevant than the magazine subscription, and even then it's a close race.

Magazines aren't just obsolete as Christmas presents: they're obsolete in general. This isn't a new phenomenon, either. By the late nineties, paying money for outdated webpages in print form was beginning to feel antiquated. By the time the new millennium rolled around, magazines were only useful for reading in the waiting room of the dentist's office. Then we all got smartphones, and it became increasingly unclear why dentists still bother.

It's 2014, and no one needs or wants a magazine subscription.

You know what compact discs are? They're digital music. You know what everyone does with them? They rip them to MP3 and upload them to their iPhones so they have something to listen to while browsing Facebook while they wait for the dentist to see them. Or, more often than not, they don't bother. Because if it's a song they actually wanted, they already downloaded it, legally or otherwise.

As a compressed file, the WAV files on CDs are vastly superior to MP3s. But as something that's going to be exclusively listened to as an MP3, MP3s are vastly superior due to the fact you don't have to go through the added hassle of ripping them to MP3 first.

This is assuming your friends still maintain a music collection. A lot of people have shifted to streaming services, rendering the situation moot.

This one is a relatively new addition. Just a few years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to go to Best Buy or Target, root through their bargain DVD bins, and pick up something you knew someone would appreciate. It was a low-cost way to find a solid Christmas gift, the last refuge after calendars, books, magazines, and CDs had become obsolete.

Then everyone got Netflix. Now, half of those movies are available at the press of a button. And the ones that aren't..,. well... who cares? They'll have something just as good in the same genre. Besides, you won't even have to go through the hassle of getting up, finding the DVD on the shelf, prying open the case, opening the DVD player, realizing there's already a disc in there, looking around for that DVD's case, giving up, placing the removed DVD on your living room counter beside two dozen similar discs covered in a thin layer of dust, placing the selected DVD in the player, then making your way back to the warm embrace of your couch.

Kids today will never realize the hardships we went through back in the old days.

Everything Else
It's impossible to account for every kind of gift out there. Nah - I'm just kidding. When Christmas is concerned, nothing is impossible. We've created a useful flow chart to help you analyze whether any gift is right or wrong for any potential recipient. Here you go:

So then. How do you find a gift that someone will like that they don't have? Ha! You kidder. That is literally impossible.

We hope our exhaustive look at gift ideas has helped you realize that there is no hope this holiday season, and that you're better off just buying a gift certificate to whatever wine shop or cheese emporium your friends frequent.

You're welcome, holiday shoppers. You're welcome.

Book Review: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Part One)

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
editor: Otto Penzler, 2013

This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. Shall we begin?

Section One: A Traditional Little Christmas

I actually need to start with a general formatting note. I am not a huge fan of the way the biographies of the authors are presented. Each story is prefaced by a quick explanation of the standing or fame of the author, often including whatever work they are most famous for, and the source of the story. Honestly, I’d rather simply have the source of the story and save the plaudits for afterward or the footnotes.

I started to skip or skim these pages after the third time that I felt disappointed by a bait-and-switch. For example, from the bio I see that such and such an author was famous for his comedies, but I discover upon reading that this piece is a drama. Or this one is known for this character, who stars in stories known for this style, but the story that follows has nothing to do with either of those things.

I would like either more context about why this particular story is important or less context about other works of the author before reading, and in the absence of magic editing powers, I’ll keep skipping them unless I have a question.

Okay, back on track, let’s run through the first group of stories. I’m sorry to say we don’t get off to a great start.

  • The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, Agatha Christie - Cute, but unnecessarily convoluted.
  • Gold, Frankincense and Murder, Catherine Aird - Fine, a bit dry.
  • Boxing Unclever, Robert Barnard - Pleasant enough, the style is tangled.
  • The Proof of the Pudding, Peter Lovesey - Dark and savage, very nice.
  • The Adventure of the Dauphin’s Doll, Ellery Queen - Can’t say I think much of this.
  • Morse's Greatest Mystery, Colin Dexter - Maybe this is better with context. As it is, far too saccharine.
  • More than Flesh and Blood, Susan Moody - First one with any real style. Ending’s a bit flat.
  • The Butler’s Christmas Eve, Mary Roberts Rinehart - I'm not sure why it ends so suddenly. Other than that I liked it, very evocative.
  • The Trinity Cat, Ellis Peters - Best of the lot.

The ones I liked the most in this section were: "The Proof of the Pudding", which is a dark story about a family where horrible abuse is going on, and how one person twists a Christmas tradition to save the innocents, and "The Trinity Cat", which is a lighter story about how a cat’s odd behavior leads to the solving of a murder-robbery.

"More than Flesh and Blood" had nice style, although the Christmas connections were a little thin. It wasn’t much of a mystery, either, just a dark story about a man looking for the truth of his family and making a dark discovery. "The Butler’s Christmas Eve" was pretty decent, too, although I think the end is supposed to be a twist, and I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of it.

Despite some nice turns of phrase, I was the most disappointed with "The Adventure of the Dauphin’s Doll" and "Morse's Greatest Mystery", both stories starring the respective author’s most famous character. Both of these were dated in a tedious way and seem to require foreknowledge of the characters to get any enjoyment out of them. And from these samples, I am not in the least bit interested in knowing more about these characters. Similarly, "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" is a Hercule Poirot story, and it’s dull but not nearly so annoying.

The Six Million Dollar Man: A Bionic Christmas Carol (1976)

Let's say you're a TV producer in the 1970's, and you're holding the rights to a science-fiction/spy thriller novel you want to adapt for television. Do you go with the original title of the work, "Cyborg," or do you name it "The Six Million Dollar Man?"

That, in a nutshell, is why most TV sucked in the 1970's.

This episode opens the day before Christmas. Steve Austin, the Cyborg Six Million Dollar Man, is sent on a mission to investigate possible sabotage at a company contracted to develop gear necessary for a mission to Mars.

Just so no one gets any ideas, no on goes to Mars in this episode. That probably would have been cool.

The company's problems, surprisingly, aren't due to sabotage. Instead, they're caused by the owner's adherence to the absolute minimums specified by the contract.

Also, he's Scrooge. His name is changed to Budge, but he's clearly Scrooge. He even lives in a mansion built to resemble every version of Scrooge's mansion you've ever seen. And his chauffeur/nephew is named Bob Crandall. I'm not even going to justify that "Budge" nonsense: I'm calling him Scrooge from here on out.

There's back story, but I'm not going to bother: Cratchit (I mean Crandall - NO! SCREW IT! CRATCHIT) is effectively owned by Scrooge, and Scrooge keeps Cratchit (and by extension his family) in poverty as punishment. Technically, Scrooge isn't breaking any laws by producing defective equipment for the US government, so Steve Austin can't do a damn thing. Around this time, Scrooge OD's on his meds and falls off a banister.

Austin is conveniently around to kick in the door, run over, and catch him. Interestingly, if he had not been there, Scrooge would almost certainly have died, and his company would have almost certainly passed to his next of kin, Cratchit, who almost certainly would have changed the organization's practice to be good instead of evil. Scrooge Corp would then have been out of business in a few years, because everyone knows the invisible hand of the market will crush anything that doesn't do the Devil's bidding. But the government would have gotten working Mars equipment first, thus making the mission a success.

What I'm saying is that the only person working for the US government who could possibly screw this up is Steve Austin, since he's the only one with the power to save the villain. Other than the Bionic Woman, of course, but I assume she'd have had enough sense to let the bastard die.

At any rate, Austin did save Scrooge, so there's more plot. Since Scrooge was delirious, he doesn't realize that Austin caught him. He also doesn't realize that he's still alive: he's hallucinating, stating he's dead, and if he falls unconscious, he could slip into a coma. It is imperative that he's kept awake.

For some reason, Austin takes this as an invitation to pull a Dickensian con based on A Christmas Carol. However, instead of three ghosts, he dresses up like Santa Claus and takes Scrooge caroling. He then brings him to his nephew's house, sneaks over to the window, then opens it so Scrooge to spy on Cratchit and his wife conveniently talking about him. Since this clearly wasn't creepy enough, Austin super-jumps him up to the second floor, so he can spy on Cratchit's children, also conveniently talking about him.

It's worth noting that Austin opens a window both times and continues to converse quietly with Scrooge. There is absolutely no logical reason that no one notices they're there.

Scrooge buys the vision and decides to keep Christmas in his heart or something. He mends his ways, buys his family presents, sends his workers home, and agrees to pay the medical bills of someone who was injured on the job earlier in the episode.

If you've never seen an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, you might be unaware of just how phenomenal the special effects were for the era. If they want to show Steve Austin jumping, they show him getting ready to jump IN SLOW MOTION then cut to him landing a hundred feet away. If he's running at super-speed, they show him running IN SLOW MOTION.

I never realized that they could afford slow motion on TV. How did they even manage this without computers? The mind reals at the brilliance that must have been required to SLOW DOWN THE TAPE to communicate the fact that the character was running really, really fast.

Also, there was a moronic sound effect. Sorry, people who grew up with this: the sounds are objectively crappy. It's better if you accept this and move on.

As a whole, the episode occupies a midpoint between boring and unintentionally hilarious, occasionally hinting at both extremes but never really embracing them. It wasn't awful, but it certainly isn't worth tracking down unless you're interested in it as an artifact. Or, you know, if it was an integral part of your childhood. If so, you have my sympathies. This was even worse than the crap I grew up with in the 80's.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Toy Review: Gremlins: Santa Gizmo

All Gremlins merchandise is Christmas-themed, but this one's doubly so. It's a Toys R' Us exclusive from a few years back. I wanted one for the blog, but it started around $17, which was quite a bit higher than I was willing to go. I was actually regretting not picking one up after they vanished from the shelves, though my patience was rewarded when one miraculously reappeared in March, clearanced for a measly $5.99.

Gizmo appears in a Santa hat in the movie, though it's a full-sized one as opposed to this "Gizmo-sized" version. I don't think that would have worked as well visually, so I don't mind the change.

The toy is about four inches tall. I'd say that's about quarter-scale, though that's just an estimate. The sculpt is fantastic, though the paint is a little sloppy in spots. It's still better than you see from most toy companies, but it's a long way from the most meticulously painted NECA figures I own.

The articulation is impressive, though the character design limits its function. Gizmo has a ball-jointed head that gives you a hair more control than a cut would. His arms each feature three ball joints: one on the shoulder, one on the elbow, and one on the wrist. These are intricately engineered, though the stubby nature of the figure means you get a fairly limited range (the elbow and wrist joints are barely more than cuts. Still, the design conceals the joints well from almost any angle.

The legs appear to be simple pin-and-swivel joints. You won't get a huge range out of them either, but they do allow you to balance the figure.

My favorite joints are the ears, more ball-joints, but they give you some real options for bringing out the character's personality or conveying different emotional states.

Last, the eyes move thanks to a trackball. The back of the package makes a point of bringing up this feature: I guess they thought it would be a selling point. This concept was big in collectible toys a few years ago, mainly with more expensive figures. It works alright here, though finding a look you like is almost more trouble than it's worth. The trackball is difficult to control and easy to hit unintentionally. Still, it's a fun gimmick.

The hat isn't removable. I'm not entirely sure why they went that way, since I'd actually think it would have been cheaper for them to use an existing head sculpt and include it as an accessory. He does come with a pair of items, though: a candy cane and a trumpet. Both are fantastic for the scale. He can hold them alright, but don't expect him to be able to play the trumpet.

This is fun, though I still think the original price was a bit absurd for something so small.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1988, 2005)

We recently watched two versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I know, I know, gluttons for punishment.

One was the movie from 2005, one was a BBC version from 1988. I freely admit that I am partial to the BBC version as it is the one that I grew up with and the music just makes me happy. The BBC version is also slightly longer and uses its extra time for character and world development and not just for people throwing things at each other.

The main problem with adopting The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is that you are bound by the source material. Things that kinda work in the book if you don't think too hard about them are brought into stark relief on film. Things like that the kids spend all of 48 hours there before the climactic battle. Logic flaws and poetic license are less forgivable once you make a half hearted attempt to make the story feel realistic. This source material does however include some Christmas which is why we're here today.

Let's take a quick look at the differences between the versions.

First up, obviously, are the kids.

Peter, Edmund and Susan are all better served by the BBC, in my opinion. The miniseries has more time than the movie, so it's not surprising that they all have more character. Peter is more than just a prick, Edmund more than just a whiny brat, and Susan actually has some motivation and character to speak of. None of that is true in the 2005 movie, which probably suffered more than a bit from the fact that most talented young British actors were already very busy that decade.

Lucy’s situation is more complicated. The actress in the BBC is clearly trying to play much younger than she actually is. This means while she is a more accomplished actress, it's obvious that her motivation and reactions would make much more sense with a younger girl, so her performance is awkward overall. The actress in the 2005 movie looks the part more, but is less consistent.

Overall, I'd give this round to the BBC.

Next let's talk about villains.


Both versions of the White Witch are over the top, make extremely odd costume choices and chew plenty of scenery. Her army in the movie has more extras which makes for a more credible threat, although I still don't find her convincing.


The Faun.

In 2005, Mr. Tumnus is played by James McAvoy, and I kept being distracted by that. The actor in the BBC has what I consider to be a superior costume, despite lacking CG legs.

The other animals.

Okay, yeah, CG is better at this part, and the movie wins this round.

The Lion.

The BBC clearly put their entire budget into this big animatronic puppet. The movie version has better lip sync, however I do not think that the interactions with the other actors are as clean. Practical effects are great, especially when working with child actors.

However, enough about small, meaningless matters, we're here today to talk about Christmas!

The spell of the White Witch, as I'm sure you recall, makes it always winter and never Christmas.

Putting aside for the moment that this reflects Lewis's particular worldview and immunity to anachronism - the idea the citizens of a non-Earth place would give a shit about Christmas when not all the citizens of Earth do - let's assume that this is shorthand for eternal winter. If you never reach the solstice, you'll never reach the spring.

However, remember what I said about being hampered by the source material. Fools adapting this book can't just cut Christmas, even if they wanted to. After all, the kids have to get their magic weapons from someplace.

If Narnia deserves nothing else, here at Mainlining Christmas we believe that it deserves credit for being a story in which Santa gives deadly weapons to young children and sends them to war.

Sure, there's some piffle about the girls only getting weapons for self defense, but the fact remains. Weapons. Children. War.


The dialogue in the BBC is closer to the book which unfortunately means that the whole girls aren't allowed to fight thing is still kind of there. However, Santa in the movie looks like he ran away from a Ren Faire which is kind of odd.

Also the BBC gets extra points for including the scene in which a bunch of animals are turned to stone by the White Witch because they were having a Christmas party. I do love that scene.

I don’t feel like I can give a recommendation overall. You already know if you want to see a Narnia movie. But if you don’t mind cheesiness in the effects, I recommend you check out the BBC version.

If you want to know whether you watched it as a child, go ahead and listen to the beginning, see if you get chills.

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

"A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas." That's a title only a marketing executive could love. Break it down and you get two titles, each equally uninspired: both "Harold and Kumar 3D" and "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas" represent jokes so cliched you have to wonder if the producers were relying on the memory-damaging properties of marijuana to cover their lack of creativity.

In case there was any question, we saw this on our TV in a mere two dimensions. I can't imagine the effect was sufficiently different in 3D. It was pretty obvious where it was put to use.

This is the third and - to date - the last in the franchise. We've seen the first, which I found to be a relatively clever take on racism. We skipped part two, but it was only a matter of time before we got to the Christmas installment.

If I'd looked this up on Rotten Tomatoes, I'd probably have gone in with higher expectations - for some reason, I was under the impression it was widely despised. Turns out, it's at 68%, a respectable score for a stoner comedy.

I almost want to review this movie in two parts. The difference in quality between the first and second half of the film is startling. The film opens with a series of sequences designed to bring us up to date with where the title characters are in their lives. We're also introduced to some side characters and threads that can be called back later.

I should mention that none of this is interesting, subtle, or remotely funny. There are a lot of cartoonish gags built around the 3D, most of which were about as original as shooting the third installment of a series in the format in order to fuse part 3 and 3D together. The characters, new and old, lacked any subtlety or depth, and the dialogue was tedious. The movie doesn't have much to say on the subject of racism, which is unfortunate given the original.

Then a funny thing happened, both literally and figuratively. After spending the first half of the film tossing out set-up, the movie began to deliver payoffs. It would be an absurd overstatement to say all or even most of these worked, but more than enough were legitimately funny to make the second half entertaining.

The high point was probably NPH, despite the fact "lecherous Neil Patrick Harris" is now as tired a joke as any. They took the joke in some interesting directions, though. They also went into some dark territory with the character. Maybe a little too dark, depending on your tolerance level. Neil's husband, David Burtka, also makes a fantastic appearance.

The movie's last act was funny and - shockingly - somewhat sweet. The movie pulled off a late twist that, despite being another cliche in this kind of movie, I didn't expect.

I found enough to enjoy to just barely make the overall experience a positive one. I'd be remiss in not mentioning that Lindsay's experience was less favorable. While her appraisal of the individual jokes was similar to mine, her final analysis came up negative.

As far as R-rated raunchy Christmas movies go, this doesn't hold a candle to Bad Santa. But if you've already seen that five or six times and you enjoy this style of film, there are worse films out there. If you find it playing on TV and it's already halfway through, even better.