Saturday, December 24, 2016

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas Episodes (2013-2016)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is essentially a parody of every other cop show on TV. In that sense, it's sort of an update of Police Squad. Based on the holiday episodes I just saw, that comparison might actually be fair - this was surprisingly good.

"Christmas" (2013)

The episode's A-plot concerns death threats made towards Captain Holt. His boss commands him to accept a protection detail, so he assigns Detective Jake Peralta (the series' lead, played by Adam Samberg) the job, assuming he'll blow off protocol as usual. However, the assignment gives Peralta total control over the movements and activities of his Captain, so he instead abuses the situation.

There are some hi-jinks involving a safe house, where Peralta handcuffs himself to the captain and tosses the key down a grate; the sort of stuff that would normally be tiresome and dull. But the cast pulls it off, selling the slapstick through their bizarre characters. The same commitment and skill allow the B-plots to work: Terry Crews's Sergeant Jeffords spends most of the episode in therapy, while Detective Santiago tries to find a loophole in the Captain's "no gift" rule (which is a running gag in future holiday installments).

By the end of the episode, Peralta convinces the captain to accept help tracking down the man threatening him, and the precinct manages to catch the would-be killer, though one of the detectives is shot in the butt in the process.

The holiday elements here are more pronounced than the synopsis makes them sound: the show opens with an unrelated bit where Samberg and his partner fight a pair of disgruntled Santas, the gift gags come up several times, and there are quite a few decorations. All that said, there's nothing about the premise of the main plot that demanded it take place at Christmas - the setting is mostly incidental.

"The Pontiac Bandit Returns" (2014)

This episode opens with Peralta undercover as a Salvation Army Santa staking out a stretch of sidewalk where Doug Judy, the "Pontiac Bandit," was spotted. Apparently, the bandit was a criminal who escaped Peralta in an earlier episode. Despite blowing his cover, Peralta follows Judy to a Christmas Tree lot, where he manages to apprehend him. He also manages to set the trees on fire, but he's too thrilled at having finally caught his nemesis to care.

However, Judy doesn't go quietly. Instead, he arranges a plea deal: he'll help them catch a major drug lord in exchange for a reduced sentence. As usual, this spirals into absurdity - this time, they end up partying in a hotel room before Judy finally sets up the meeting.

They manage to shut down the drug ring and arrest the leader, but Judy escapes with the help of an accomplice. Despite catching the far more dangerous criminal, Judy's escape grates on Peralta.

Once again, the B-plots are more holiday-centered than the A. Two characters' parents are in a relationship they worry is getting serious: a Christmas gift seemingly defuses then confirms their concerns. Meanwhile, Santiago attempts to subvert the captain's gift ultimatum by making him a scrapbook of his career, only to uncover an error from his early career.

Like before, the actors sell the entire thing, even the stuff that should be too over-the-top.

"Yippie Kayak" (2015)

The previous two Christmas episodes were set at the holidays but weren't significantly connected. This one breaks the pattern in a major way. After forgetting to buy a gift for Boyle, Peralta ropes Gina into helping him, only for Boyle to tag along, thinking they're looking for a gift for Santiago. This leaves them in a department store at closing time on Christmas Eve.

That's when the robbers show up and start taking hostages.

Instead of being scared, Peralta is exhilarated: finally, he's getting a chance to live out a life-long Die Hard fantasy. He starts naming the criminals after villains from the film and taking them out using action movie-style antics. His utter dismay at discovering they're Canadian and not German is wonderful to watch.

At the end, he sacrifices his chance of getting a real John McClane moment in order to protect his friend, and Boyle gets to shine. Peralta comes clean about forgetting a gift, and Boyle points out that giving up his chance to be a hero was a gift. But by that time Peralta is more fixated on the fact Boyle screwed up the catch phrase.

While I felt that Peralta's character shifted between seasons (and preferred him in one and two), the premise of this was wonderful. This took a Christmas classic and ran with it in an original way - I really enjoyed this one.

"Captain Latvia" (2016)

Once again, Brooklyn delivered a quirky, fun holiday episode. The characters shifted again: Boyle is married with an adopted son now, and the captain's competency level and dedication definitely weren't on par with what I saw in earlier seasons, but I didn't really care. I get the feeling the show has quite a bit of continuity, but I didn't need context to enjoy it.

The A-plot for this revolves around Boyle and Jake trying to track down a missing gift for the aforementioned son. Only the present was part of a shipment stolen by a Latvian gang the two go up against. Boyle taps into - and he's extremely specific about this - his maternal instinct, which he's able to weaponize to incredible effect.

As the episode progresses, he gets more and effective and driven, until he's about to risk his life to get the present back. Jake stops him, however, not wanting to get his partner killed on Christmas Eve. In the end, they take down the gang but fail to save the toy. Not that it matters: it's just a stupid toy.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is competing in an annual caroling competition that a group of MTA employees always win. They scheme, cheat, and ultimately make fools of themselves - just what you'd expect. If you handed this premise to most casts, I doubt the results would be watchable, but once again, this group pulls it off.

Overall, I really enjoyed watching these. I suspect I'd like the series, too, but - honestly - I just don't have the time. Nevertheless, if you're looking to kill thirty minutes this season, any of these episodes are well worth the time.

Plus, they're all streaming on Hulu.

Pokémon: Holiday Hi-Jynx (1998)

Yes, there’s a Christmas episode of Pokémon. Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t know, though. This episode is actually a little challenging to get your hands on in America. It was dubbed and aired with the original run, but not much since.

The episode opens with Jessie of Team Rocket pretending to be asleep until a snare net goes off, trapping Santa, who had been coming in through the window. Of course, this was a test run, and “Santa” was actually James. Jessie is pleased how well her trap works, and indulges in a brief flashback to being a bratty child, waiting for Santa, only to have a Jynx Pokémon dressed as Santa come in and steal her favorite doll.

Meanwhile, Ash and friends are on the beach when they spot a Jynx, holding a boot.

Now, Jynx is the reason for the problem with this episode. Jynx is vaguely female-person-shaped, and has black skin with big eyes and giant pink lips. Yeah, you probably know why this episode isn’t aired now. It’s unclear how much blackface iconography contributed to the design, but actually the fact that these Jynx are Santa’s helpers implies that the connection is intentional. (See Black Pete.) In later anime seasons and later games, Jynx is purple to sidestep this.

Anyway, Ash sends in Pikachu and then Charmander to fight the Jynx and tries to catch it. It doesn’t work, and Brock and Misty speculate that it might have a trainer already and just be lost. The Jynx comes over and tries to express a need for help, and helpfully the boot has a picture of Santa inside, indicating that of course, the Pokémon belongs to Santa.

Jynx uses a psychic power to confirm this and show them how it got lost. (It has a creepy kissing-sleep power, too, that it keeps trying to use on them.) Ash declares that they’ll get Jynx and the boot back to the North Pole. At first Misty has her water Pokémon pull them on a raft, but they get tired. (They have to be pretty far south - sunshine and warm weather in December, so it’s really weird that they just decide to swim for it.)

Then Ash pulls the raft for a while, but he gets tired too. They are rescued by a Lapras, a big friendly telepathic water Pokémon, who pulls them the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Team Rocket is following in a pedal-powered submarine. It’s really unclear why they decided to go look for Santa instead of just waiting with the trap like they said they were going to.

Everyone arrives and Santa is reunited with his boot and his Jynx. Team Rocket take Santa hostage, forcing the (multiple) Jynxes to load all the gifts into their submarine. It comes out that the Jynx who took Jessie’s doll all those years ago was just going to fix it and bring it back, but she stopped believing in Santa, so he couldn’t return it.


She declares that they’re stealing all the gifts anyway, but the submarine is frozen with them inside by Lapras. Then Ash stupidly fries them with Charmander, but that just melts the ice. Then Santa calls on the Jynx army and they use crazy powerful psychic powers to levitate the sub, shake all the gifts back out, and fling Team Rocket into space. One wonders why they didn’t do that in the first place.

One wonders a lot of things about this show. I always thought there should be a rights-for-Pokémon revolution. It’s more than a little screwed up that children are encouraged to roam the countryside to capture and train sentient creatures to fight each other.

Anywho, Santa heads off to bring presents to the world, and Team Rocket gets a sleep spell, courtesy of a Jynx. The End.

Even putting aside the kind-of-racist, definitely weird character design, this isn’t an especially interesting or good episode.

On Horror at Christmas

There's an article up on offering a brief look at a handful of Christmas horror movies. It's a good read with some interesting insights into the sub-genre, but it doesn't really delve into the origins. Instead, it points out the more horrific aspects of modern Christmas, which are of course worth exploring. But it got me thinking about the depth of horror as it relates to Christmas, and I wanted to dig in a little deeper.

Over the last century or so, pop-culture and entertainment has mainly embraced the funny and whimsical aspects of Christmas, leaving things like horror seeming subversive. It hasn't helped matters that the vast majority of Christmas horror has been extremely campy, giving the genre the sense it's trying to mock or parody the season from the outside. All but one of the movies the article I linked to above fits that mold (the exception being Black Christmas).

But this is all pretty new. Pull off a layer or two of cheer, and you find horror at the very core of Christmas.

It's easy to forget that A Christmas Carol is a horror story. Sure, it gives its protagonist a happy ending, but only after showing him a world of supernatural torments lying just beyond the one he sees. The only way he can escape a fate beyond imagination is by embracing friends, family, and community. Because that's how we get through this - that's how we drive the darkness away.

It's fascinating to me that the genre of family comedy has subsumed horror as the face of Christmas, because we're missing a crucial connection. Our ancestors huddled together at Christmas not out of joy but out of fear. The nights grew long, the weather turned cold, and it was easy to wonder if warmth and light would ever return. That's how all this started.

Look at the prevalence of demons and witches in Christmas and midwinter folklore: Krampus, Frau Perchta, Befana... the list goes on. Supernatural horror is rooted in the holidays.

But at some point we forgot that. We lost the core for why we were coming together, and our attention turned to the trappings of the festival itself. Our stories stopped being about dark forces outside and instead focused on warm feelings inside or drama related to our issues with one another.

Last year's Krampus was about this shift in our understanding of Christmas. It starts out as a modern family comedy then devolves back into a tale of a family trying to fight back primordial demons. The same theme can actually be found in Hearth's Warming Eve, a holiday episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as well as countless other places.

But that shouldn't surprise us: we're really just talking about the solstice, after all. In its purest form, this is what Christmas is about.

So light the fire, gather together with the ones you love, and hope nothing gets in. When it comes to horror, Halloween has nothing on Christmas.

Fiction: Sheriff Wanted

Sheriff Wanted
By: Erin L. Snyder

A light dusting of snow lay scattered across the street. Rare for December, but not unheard of. The bitter cold, though, that was something else. In all his years in Silver Falls, Clemont had never known a Christmas Eve like this.

No. That wasn’t quite true. He’d known one.

He shook off the thought and stepped towards the building. Between the wind and drinking and just the overall strangeness of it all, Clemont wasn’t seeing clearly. His eyes ached, and he strained to try and see the sign clearly. It slowly came into focus: “Sheriff Wanted,” it said. But he already knew that - he’d been the one to paint those letters on, one by one. And he’d been the one to lean it against the office. Someone else had boarded up the windows and door.

But that’s not the part that Clemont Holcomb had left the warm tavern and walked a quarter mile through the cold to see. He hadn’t believed it when Harrison had come in mumbling, but here it was in front of him. A bare nail, curled up and rusting, remained, but the object it had held was gone. Clemont sniffed and wiped a sleeve under his nose. He glanced over his shoulder, as if worried someone was waiting to shoot him in the back, but there was no one around. No one he could see, anyway.

“I know you’re there!” he called out, in case someone was hiding. “You know what’s best for you, you’ll take that star and put it back.” He swung his left hand, and the bottle he was holding struck the sign with a thud. The remaining whiskey sloshed around the bottom. There was only about a third of the bottle left. “You hear?”

The wind answered; nothing but the wind.

“If it ain’t back in the morning, you know where I’ll be!” he shouted. “Don’t matter it’s Christmas. Don’t matter who you are,” he added, pausing to sneeze. The wind was picking up, tossing frozen dust and sleet at him. “I’ll find you if you’re not where you should be. And I won’t make it quick, if you make me come looking for you.” He was barely muttering now, and his teeth were chattering.

He made his way through the snow as the wind began to pick up. He tilted his head, so his hat would block the worst of it. Then, slowly, he grew aware of a presence. It was nothing he’d heard, but something he felt. He reached under his coat with his right hand and wrapped his fingers around the handle of his Colt 1860.

“Draw!” The word came out of nowhere, and he spun, pulling his revolver free as he did so. It was reflex, honed by years living on edge. The barrel was aimed at the speaker before Clemont’s eyes settled on him.

Then laughter. A bitter laugh, colder than the storm. And he recognized that laugh before his eyes could make sense of what they’d settled on.

The laugh of a dead man spilled out of a dead man’s lips. Marvin Lauden, still wearing the same coat he’d worn when Clemont pushed him down the mine shaft. “Good evening, Partner,” he said, looking Clemont over with an eye half rotted. “Or should I wish you a happy Christmas?”

“Marv,” Clemont stuttered, too frightened to think straight.

“You gonna do it, Clem. Then do it.” Marvin gestured down at Clemont’s revolver, still outstretched in his hand. Clemont looked down at the steel barrel and stared. Against the white snow, it seemed to shine silver, even in the dim light. Marvin began laughing again.

“No. No, Marv. I don’t believe I’ll be shooting you tonight.”

“Why not?” The gray skin cracked in the corners of his mouth as he smiled. “You going soft on me now, Clem? I still got the last one you gave me. Still in there, and it burns hot as the day you pulled the trigger. Hot as all hell.”

“I’m sorry, Marv. I’m real sorry.”

“What have you got to be sorry for? It’s the only thing keeping me warm!” He laughed again, while Clemont holstered his revolver and pulled his coat tight around him.

“If… if you’re real, and you came here to do what I think you came to do, then I’d rather it be done with,” Clemont said.

“If I’m real,” Marvin replied, sarcastically. His voice grew stern. “I’m no lump of beef, Clem. I ain’t even a swallow of whiskey,” he nodded towards the bottle. “No, I’m what’s left of your partner, ten years gone. Ten years to the day, almost. And I ain’t come to put a bullet in you. I’m not the one who took the badge.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Clemont asked.

“Guess you’d say I’m here with news,” Marvin said.

“You gonna tell me there’s three ghosts coming for me, then?” Clemont asked. He snickered, but Marvin’s dead eye just stared back at him.

“You lived your life out here, Clem. Might have thought you’d put more stock in stories.”

“That’s just some Englishman’s fairytale,” Clemont replied. “Some Christmas thing to scare kids. This ain’t London.”

“No,” Marvin agreed. “This sure ain’t. But the core of it’s the same. Three spirits, one night. Ghosts of Christmas future, past, and present.”

“Then what? I’m supposed to put down my guns? Maybe write the Marshal and say what I done?” He scoffed. “I’d hang if I did that, Marv. I don’t got the luxury of being a better man. Not no more, anyway. What’s any of this for?”

“Sorry there, Clem. Telling you that ain’t part of my job. All I had to do was tell you what was going to happen. The why ain’t part of it. I waited ten years to deliver that message, but it’s delivered. Ten years. Now I’m free as a soul damned can be. Damned to what, I don’t know, but it’s got to be better than this. Better than the waiting.”

The wind picked up and Clemont raised an arm to shield his eyes from the flakes of snow and sleet. When it died down a moment later, Marvin was gone.

Clemont stood alone for a moment, bottle still hanging from his off hand, and he stared at the empty road. Had it been real? Some sort of dream? He didn’t know what to think. With a shiver, he turned to look back at the sign. The sheriff’s star was still missing. That at least was real.

He had to get inside, try to warm up and prepare for the morning. Tomorrow would be Christmas day, and he had a man to kill, ghosts or no.

He made it about halfway down the street before he felt it. The wind seemed to go still, even as the air grew colder. He breathed, tightened his jaw, and turned. “I ain’t scared of you,” he said to the ghastly apparition before him.

“Splendid!” the ghost replied. In appearance, he looked like a coachman, though his body was pale and wisps seemed to drift off him. He wore a vest, or at least the image of one, and held a long pole topped with a lantern. “I am to take you onward, and fear will help neither of us.”

“Then you’re the ghost of the past?” Clemont asked. “That’s how the story goes, right?”

“I am a spirit of Christmas past,” the ghost corrected him. “One of many honored with the role. If you’ll step in and take a seat,” he said, bowing.

“Step in where?” Clemont demanded.

The ghost stood tall. “The coach, of course,” he said, gesturing with his nose.

Clemont turned to find a large coach, wreathed in mist, just feet behind him. At the front, a pair of skeletal horses stood ready. He jumped back, startled. “I ain’t getting in there!”

“I thought you were unafraid,” the spirit said, skeptically.

“It’s not fear. I just ain’t stupid.” He stared in an empty socket on the polished skull of one of the horses. “I’m not riding with your horses.”

The spirit sighed, exhaling a cloud of vapor. “These are not my horses, nor is it my carriage. Please, do not make this more difficult.”

“What if I won’t go? What if… what if I’d rather take my chances.”

“I am afraid you chose to ride in the carriage a very long time ago,” the spirit replied. “I am authorized to press the point, but I hope you will not force me into such a predicament.”

Clemont swallowed and took a deep breath. He raised his bottle to his lips, gulped down a mouthful, then tossed the bottle to one side. “Fine then. I ain’t scared of any horse, alive or dead.” He reached for the door of the carriage, but it swung open before him. He stepped in and said, “Let’s get this done with. I have an appointment at dawn.”

In response, the door slammed shut. A moment later, the coach began to move. At first, he felt the wheels kicking up rocks and wobbling in the snow, but after a moment, the ride became smoother - impossibly so, as if he were in a boat gliding over water. He tried to look out the window, but all he could see was white mist. He stared at it for a moment and felt himself growing tired. His eyes ached, and he folded his arms over his chest to keep out the cold. He felt his eyes shut and memories begin to flood over him.

“Here, sir,” the coachman said, swinging open the door. Outside, little had changed: it was still snowing, and the air remained dark. But the spirit had changed - no longer did he look like a being of mist, but of flesh and blood.

Clemont said nothing as he stepped out of the carriage, but he looked at the horses, expecting them to have transformed into their living counterparts. But they remained as before, skeletal monstrosities.

“This way, if you please,” the spirit said, still holding his lantern, dangling from its pole.

Clemont looked around. He was outside of town, near the creek, which was frozen over. “Why’d you bring me here?” he demanded. “I thought you were supposed to be, you know, Christmas past.”
“But, Mr. Holcomb, this is the past,” the spirit replied. “Take a moment to acclimate yourself. It can be disorienting at times.”

“This ain’t the past. I know ‘cause of the storm. It’s never stormed like this on Christmas Eve.”

“Never?” the spirit asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Clemont felt himself freeze up as a chill overtook him. Slowly he turned around to study the creek, the ground, and the road. “Not since that night,” he whispered.

“There are places in this world where time always seems to move forward. This is not one of them. The past, present, and future can grow muddled in a place like this - sometimes they don’t fall the way we’d think. It makes our job all the more difficult. But if you’ll lead on, we can bear witness to what we’ve come to see and get you on your way.”

“I’m leading now?” Clemont asked.

“In a sense, you have been leading since this night. Go on with the knowledge you and I are as spirits here. You cannot interfere with what’s before you, nor can they--”

“I get it,” Clemont said, abruptly. “They can’t see me or hear me. It’s all memories or something.”

“Not memories,” the spirit said. “This is what happened and what will happen. Past and future share a bond the present does not.”

Clemont ignored the spirit’s prattle and hurried on down an old path splitting away from one of the roads. A moment later, he found himself following footprints in the snow, though he himself left none. There were two sets, side by side, along with a trail left by something being dragged. Or more accurately, someone.

“Hurry it up, Clem. If we don’t get this done soon, they’re gonna find the three of us frozen out here together.” Marvin chuckled at the idea.

“I’m going fast as I can,” Clemont heard his own voice say. “Never thought Bart’d be this heavy.” Clemont hurried forward, running towards the man he’d been and his partner. He caught up with them just as they reached the old mine shaft.

Marvin worked to pull the boards covering the opening free, then him and Clem hoisted the body they’d carried onto the lip. “Well, I guess this is it,” Marvin said, gleefully. “So long to you, Sheriff. You were a bastard, and not a man in forty miles’ll miss ya!”

He was about to push him over when the younger Clemont called out, “Wait!” He reached to the body’s coat and tore the badge he’d been wearing off. He pocketed it, grabbed the body’s leg, and pushed it in. The sound of it striking the walls on its long drop down echoed. “All the way down to hell,” the young man said.

“What’d you do that for?” Marvin demanded, pointing to the badge. “You got to throw that in with it. They ever find the body, there’s going to be questions as it is. They find you holding that star, there’s going to be answers.”

“Easy, Marv. I have an idea. A way we can run this town.”

Marvin shook his head. “I got no inclination to be sheriff.”

“That’s just it,” the young Clemont said. “Don’t need anyone to be sheriff. Anyone tries to take over where Bart left off, we send ‘em down to meet him. The two of us could do it. Folks around here are sick of the law, anyway.”

“No,” Marvin replied. “I’m not taking that kind of risk. Give me the badge.”

“Just hear me out,” Clemont said.

“I ain’t hearing anything,” Marvin said. “I’m cold and tired, and I just put a lawman in the ground. I pulled the trigger, and it’d be my neck in the noose if the marshal finds out.”

“No marshal coming here. Hell, Bart took care of that for us. All we got to do is--”

“Clem!” Marvin shouted, shoving him. “Give me the badge!”

It was a blur and a thunderclap as Clemont’s hand appeared, gun smoking. Marvin reeled back in shock, clutching his stomach, while Clemont looked down at what he’d done. For a moment, he looked almost more surprised than Marvin, then he took a deep, uneasy breath, holstered his revolver, and grabbed his partner. “You should’ve listened, Marv,” he said.

“You… you shot me,” Marvin gasped. His hands, cupped around the wound.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Clemont said. But immediately he scoffed. “Ah, hell with it. You’d have never treated me as anything more than a kid, anyway.” He shoved the wounded man back, and Marvin toppled over the lip of the shaft and was swallowed by darkness.


Clemont watched the scene play out with the spirit. “That’s not… that’s not how it happened,” he whispered.

“That is exactly what happened, Mr. Holcomb.”

“It ain’t how I remember it, then,” Clemont said.

“I would imagine not,” the spirit said. “That’s why we’re here. To strip away the past and see this moment for what it was.”

“Why?” Clemont demanded. “Why’s it so damn important for me to see this one? This Christmas? Shouldn’t you be showing me… I don’t know, the things I lost? People I loved?”

“If you were a man of love, perhaps,” the coachman replied. “If underneath it all, you were just a good man who’d lost his way, I imagine we’d be in a very different place.”

“But there have been… Jenny Sackett. Knew her when I was sixteen. Left her to make my fortune panning for gold. I loved her.”

The spirit sighed and furrowed his brow. “Love isn’t for good men alone,” he said, softly. “And I am not the one who chose this destination. I’m only the driver. Only this once.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Clemont asked.

“I’m sorry Marvin didn’t explain it to you,” the spirit said. “And I haven’t the time. We need to get you back to the carriage.”

“Marvin,” Clemont said, repeating the name. He turned back to where his younger self had killed his onetime partner and friend, but a white fog had risen and blocked his line of sight.

“We need to hurry, Mr. Holcomb, if we’re to get this finished in the allotted time.”

Clemont wanted to understand. He wanted to know why he’d been taken to see this. But he was cold and tired, so he went along with the coachman. The air seemed to grow colder and colder, and the fog seeped towards them, until only a ring remained, kept at bay by the spirit’s lantern. Finally, they reached the carriage, and the spirit hurried to open the door. As Clemont started to step inside, the spirit stopped him.

“A moment, if you please. There is a piece of business you must attend to.” He tilted the pole, until the lantern was between them “It must be extinguished, you see.”

“And if I don’t?” Clemont asked.

“Then you will remain here as a shade until our allotted meeting, ten years from now, when you will need return once more and witness it all again. It is of course your decision, sir, but waiting will not ease what comes next.”

“No,” Clemont said, opening the glass door. “I imagine it won’t. Will I see you again?”

“I serve only in the past, Mr. Holcomb. We will not meet again.”

“Then good riddance to you!” He extinguished the flame with a breath, and with it the stars, moon, and sky went black. There was nothing but the sound of the horse’s grinding bones and creaking wooden boards. Then, behind him, he heard what sounded like a hiss. He turned to see a spark and small flame appear in the pitch black air. Only the space around it was illuminated, showing a woman’s fingers clutching a wooden match, which drifted upward, finally showing a face, cigarette clenched in her jaw. The flame seared the end of the cigarette, which flared red, casting ten times the light it should have. The inside of the carriage glowed red, centered at the tip of the small cylinder the second spirit now held in her hand.

“Clemont Holcomb, I presume,” she said, looking him over quickly.

“You’re… you’re a whore,” Clemont said, in shock, glancing at her dress.

She sneered, though Clemont could only guess whether she was sickened by the word or the way he’d said it. “Tonight, you’ll know me as the spirit of Christmas present.” She reached up to the wall and tapped against the wooden panel. At once, the carriage lurched into motion.

“You’re riding in here. With me,” Clemont said, surprised.

“The present is always with you,” the spirit said, taking a long drag on her cigarette. “Even when you don’t see her, she’s there.”

“Then… you’ve been with me since I was born,” Clemont said. “Every minute of my life.”

“I’m not that present,” the spirit said. “I’m present for one Christmas and one only, then I go on.” She glanced back at him and added, “It’s something of an honor. To be a Christmas.”

“Congratulations,” Clemont said sarcastically, leaning back in his seat. His head ached, and he felt more tired than ever.

“It’s the same with the past,” the spirit said. “They serve longer, sometimes decades or centuries, but it’s considered a blessing.”

“And future? Is that the biggest honor of them all?” Clemont asked.

In response the spirit burst out laughing, holding her cigarette away for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said, still chuckling. “Truly I am. It’s not funny, not really. The ghost of Christmas future is shackled to his role. Trapped, as punishment. Makes him a hard fellow to deal with, way I hear.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Clemont said, resting his fingers on his holster. This only made the spirit laugh louder, so he withdrew his hand.

A few minutes later, the carriage came to a gradual halt, and the spirit opened the door. “Hop out,” she said.

As before, the night hadn’t changed. It was still cold, snowy, and windy. Clemont blew into his cupped hands to try and keep warm and stepped onto the street. “Cobbler Street,” he said, glancing back and forth. “This supposed to mean something?”

“This way,” the spirit said, moving by him. She went towards the Split Oak, one of the boarding houses run by old man Allred.

“What’s this about?” Clemont asked.

“Death,” she replied, moving through the closed door as if it was a mirage. Clemont approached it and reached out to touch the handle, but his hand passed through.

“Figured,” he said, walking through. An instant later, he was inside, following the spirit up a flight of stairs. A group of boarders were gathered at the top singing, and for a moment Clemont thought this was what she’d wanted to show him. But she kept moving beyond them, and he followed.

Finally, she led him into a small room, passing through the closed door as easily as before. Sitting at a table was a young man staring at an object in his hands: the sheriff’s star that should have been nailed to the sign in front of the abandoned station. Beside him stood a young woman looking anxious.

“Sam Weyl,” Clemont said, sadly. “Never even thought it’d be Sam.”

The spirit just motioned towards the couple. The woman, Angie Keffer, placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “There’s still time. If you put it back, no one needs to know.”

Sam just shook his head. “No way. That bastard’s gonna pay for what he did to Silver Falls. Enough men have died wearing this star. No one will do anything about it, but I had it. Clem dies in the morning.”

“Clemont’s fast,” Angie said. “He’s too fast. He’s killed… what? A dozen men? You never killed anyone.”

“That changes tomorrow. Town’s been without a sheriff for too long.”

Clemont cleared his throat and turned to the spirit. “I wish he’d come to me. Talked to me, man to man. I’d have set him right. He didn’t know how it was before, under Bart. Son of a bitch swore to uphold the law, and what’d he do? Sell us out. Bribe the marshals. Work with bandits. Silver Falls is better off without a sheriff. I take care of the people here, and I never killed a man who didn’t deserve it.”

In response the spirit took a long draw on her cigarette. Clemont felt as if the room was warming up quickly. A minute before, he’d been freezing, but now he felt himself starting to sweat beneath his coat. The spirit said nothing, but she turned back towards the young man near them.

“Okay. Fine. Not everyone deserves to die. But kids like Sam here, or Lars Caster, or Edwin Pettuck… they were upsetting the order of things. I don’t like it, but that’s how it is.” He looked back at her, waiting for her to challenge him. When she didn’t, he sighed, angrily. “I ain’t saying I’m better than other men, but I’m no worse. I done what I can in this life. I’m a survivor, is what I am, and a man’s got a right to survive and make a living. And this changes nothing. Tomorrow morning, I’ll meet Sam Weyl in front of the sheriff’s office. I won’t feel good about it, but I’ll do it. Same as before. So unless there’s more you got to show me, send me on to the last one.”

“There’s no more for you to see,” the spirit said, softly. “We can leave if you’re ready.”

“Damn right I’m ready,” Clemont said under his breath, following her her through the doorway into the hall. As soon as he was out of the room, he was confronted with the carolers again, gathered together to sing some German Christmas song. He hurried past them, not wanting to get separated from the spirit.

“Listen,” Clemont said, pausing to clear his throat. “I don’t mean to be short. Just under a lot of stress is all.” She ignored him and continued on down the stairs. Behind him, the singing grew faint quickly, and the air seemed to change as they went. As they neared the bottom of the stairs, he asked, “What’s he like then? This last fellow. The one I’m supposed to be afraid of. The one who’s supposed to change everything.”

She simply shook her head. “The future out here, it’s not always laid in a straight line. Sometime the path loops around. Forms a circle.”

“The last spirit said something like that,” Clemont replied. “Didn’t much explain it.”

She took another drag on her cigarette, and the hallway around her grew lighter. A she exhaled, the light remained. “Me, I just do this for one Christmas, and it’s a gift. Christmas is always a gift when it’s happening. And the past, that’s memory. A spirit holds the post until he’s ready to move on. But the future… the future’s death. You know what that means, Clemont?”

“Yeah. I know death alright.”

She exhaled sadly, but smiled as she did so. “That you do,” she agreed. “The last spirit, he did this for ten years. That was his sentence, showing the worst of mankind the worst of their fates. There’s no joy in that, no rest.”

“So he’s a mean sort,” Clemont reasoned. “I should watch my tongue.”

She shook her head and stepped through the closed door, passing through the wooden panels. Clemont hurried after her, only to smack into the door. The force was enough to knock him off his feet, and he leapt up, startled and confused. He climbed back up and explored the door with his palms.

“Spirit?” he asked, confused. “Lady? You there?” Then he took in a deep breath and whispered, “Spirit of Christmas yet to come?” But no one answered. He felt himself sweating in the humid air, then opened the door to find himself engulfed in light. He stumbled out, feeling nauseous, dizzy, and tired. His head ached, and his stomach churned, perhaps from what he’d seen and perhaps from the whiskey he’d drank earlier that night.

But it was no longer night. The sun, still low in the east, filled his eyes, and he squinted to soothe the pain. Then he stumbled forward onto the deck, then into the road. A light layer of snow remained underfoot. “Spirit,” he whispered. “I know you’re here.” Then, louder, he called out, “Show yourself!”

“I’m right here, Clem,” A voice called back from up the street. The speaker was standing in line with the morning sun, and he was approaching slowly. Clemont raised a shaking arm over his eyes to block the brunt of the sun, and he stumbled forward.

“I ain’t afraid!” he called back, but he doubted it would sound any more convincing than it was true. “When is this? What day is it?”

“Didn’t expect you’d still be drunk,” the speaker said, spitting to one side. “It’s Christmas, Clem. It’s Christmas Day.”

“Wait a minute. I know that voice. You’re… you’re no spirit. You’re Sam.”

“That I am. New sheriff of Silver Falls. You surprised?”

“This ain’t… listen to me, Sam. This is ain’t right. It ain’t real. This is going to happen tomorrow, not now.”

“Why? Cause it’s Christmas? Hell, you killed the last sheriff on Christmas, didn’t you?”

“No,” Clemont said. “I didn’t kill him. That was…” But his voice trailed off. Marvin had killed the sheriff, ten years ago to the day.

“Mell Franslar was digging around the old mines yesterday, came across the bodies. You killed the sheriff and your partner both and tried to bury them.”

“That’s not what happened,” Clemont said.

“You killed a lot of men since then,” Sam said. “Cause people were too scared to stand up to you. But you don’t look so scary now. I’m sheriff now, and I’m putting you under arrest.”

“Like hell you are,” Clemont said. “You’re a kid. You ain’t never shot a man.”

“Not yet I haven’t,” Sam replied. “Either that’s about to change, or you’re coming with me. I already opened the office. Cells have seen better days, but they’ll hold you till the trial.”

Clemont shivered uneasily. He coughed once and felt more like throwing up than fighting. But he knew he’d hang if there was a trial. Besides, drunk or not, he was still faster than this kid. He had to be. “One last chance, Sam. Take that damn badge off and walk away.”

“No, Clem. Last chance for you. Toss down your holster and surrender.”

“What’s this supposed to prove?” Clemont bellowed. “I know you’re listening! Answer me! Is this what happens tomorrow if I don’t change? You think I care? You think it matters?” He reached for his gun, but his heart wasn’t in it. As he grabbed it, he felt a twinge in his gut, and the sun blinded him. He forced his eyes open and pulled his revolver free from its holster, but it was too late.

Sam Weyl had already drawn, already aimed. A cloud of smoke appeared, accompanied by a thunderclap, and Clemont felt his body shake. For a moment, he blacked out, but he came to as he struck the ground. He felt pain and cold, and wet blood in his hand when he reached to touch his wound. He was no longer holding his gun, but that hardly seemed to matter.

“This isn’t… this isn’t happening,” he tried to gasp, but there was no one to hear him. Sam was approaching, but he wasn’t close enough yet, and there were no spirits here: not of the past, present, or future.

Ten years. That’s what she’d said. The last spirit served from ten long years without rest. A bringer of death and horror.

The past and future our here, they don’t always fall in order. The spirit of Christmas future had been first. Marvin hadn’t come to warn him of the others. He’d come to do his part. This was always to be his future. Maybe because of the spirits, but then they were always going to come here. Ten years after the first man he’d murdered. To the day.

Sam Weyl was standing over him now, looking down. “You should have come quietly,” he said.

Despite the pain, Clemont felt himself smile. “I’ll see you… I’ll see you in ten years,” he stuttered. He could no longer hold his head up, so he let it fall to the ground. As his gaze turned, he saw the coach pull up, driverless, and the two skeletal horses turned to look at their new master.

Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

Apparently, Mon oncle Antoine is considered one of the best Canadian films ever produced. Honestly, I lack anywhere near enough cultural background to offer an informed opinion on that claim. For what it's worth, I found the movie interesting enough, despite an intentionally slow pace and meandering point-of-view.

For all intents and purposes, the plot doesn't even kick in until about halfway through. Prior to that, it feels like you're watching a series of vignettes about a few different groups of people living in rural Quebec in the 1940's. An asbestos mining operation serves as the backdrop and is pretty clearly significant to the movie's point, but you really need some knowledge of Canadian history to understand the connection. I skimmed a few Wikipedia articles after watching the movie, but I suspect the film would have had more impact if I had a more personal connection.

The short explanation is that there was a major asbestos strike in 1949 that effectively kicked off a cultural revolution. The movie doesn't deal with this at all: it's trying to paint a picture of the state of the area just before all that went down and - assuming I'm interpreting the movie correctly - provide a sense of the burgeoning generational divide that would fuel the oncoming revolution.

Functionally, this means you spend the first twenty minutes with a bunch of incidents that are relatively tangential to the story. There's a man who quits his job with the asbestos company to go work as a lumberjack, a funeral for one of the workers, and some time spent with the clergy. This feels mostly tonal, though - to be fair - it's a well constructed tone.

Around this point, we jump ahead to December 23rd and get acquainted with the main characters. They work at a general store whose owner (Antoine, from the movie's title) doubles as the local undertaker. His nephew, a boy named Benoit, gradually becomes our POV character, but it takes quite a while before that's clear. Two other employees seem like they're going to be significant at first. Fernand, the grown-up (and more than a little creepy) helper, plays a major role for a while, as does Benoit's love interest, Carmen, a girl about his age whose father is implied to be abusive.

While the aforementioned lumberjack is away, his son becomes ill and dies on Christmas Eve. The mother calls for Antoine, who reluctantly brings Benoit. They collect the body and start back in their horse-drawn sleigh, but Antoine, who's been drinking more or less the whole movie, falls unconscious, leaving Benoit to drive. The boy isn't careful enough, and the box holding the body falls off. He tries to recover it, but he's unable to get it on the sleigh alone. His uncle, meanwhile, is too drunk and confused to be much help - he offers some unwelcome insight into his dissatisfaction with his life. It takes all of Benoit's focus just to get his uncle home.

When he finally gets there, he finds his aunt embracing Fernand and realizes they slept together. Traumatized by everything he's seen and exhausted by the day, Benoit falls asleep and dreams of a woman he saw topless earlier. He's woken by Fernand, who realizes the business could be in jeopardy if they fail to locate the lost body before someone else comes across it. He takes Benoit, who's too tired and shocked to even remember which road they took.

They wind up arriving back at the farmhouse where the body had come from. By this time, it's Christmas morning, and Benoit looks through the window. He sees the entire family, including the father, who'd returned, standing around the box and morning their son. The movie ends on a frozen image of Benoit looking in at them, focusing on his eyes.

The ending has a very dreamlike quality, to the point I wondered if it was supposed to be a hallucination. But I think it's more likely they were trying to demonstrate Benoit's disillusionment with his family and community as he realizes the adult world is one of disappointment, lies, and death. But the character doesn't offer much in terms of a reaction, so I could easily be misreading that. It's not hard to imagine how that might tie in with the upcoming cultural revolution, though, when a generation decided they wanted more than the world their parents offered them.

At any rate, the vast majority of the movie occurs between the twenty-third and twenty-fifth, and holiday decorations and preparations play a big role throughout, even if these ultimately feel hollow. Plus the death of a child right before Christmas serves as a disturbing counterpoint to the birth of Christ, which is likely the reason it played out when it did.

I enjoyed this overall and found it interesting, despite the fact very little actually occurred. This is one of those movies that feels like it intentionally leaves you watching very little in order to force you to try and interpret the details. It's a style of film making that's mostly gone out of fashion these days now that studios want to make money.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sense8: A Christmas Special (2016)

We just watched the new Sense8 Christmas Special, and we’re mentioning it because they literally titled the episode “A Christmas Special,” although only about a quarter or so of it was actually set at Christmas.

I’ll start off with the most important point - if you haven’t seen the first season of Netflix’s Sense8, this would be a terrible introduction. I have seen the first season, and I still spent the first fifteen minutes thinking: “Okay, wait, what was going on with that character? I guess that happened, okay… and that, and...right, right, I sort of remember that plot.”

This means I’m not going to synopsize this. I’ll just give you the premise: Sense8 is about eight people from around the world who are mentally connected. They can share memories, thoughts, and abilities, and other people from various shadowy government/corporate agencies, some with similar powers, are after them.

The special is two hours long, but I’m not sure that more actually happened than would have happened in a normal hour-long episode.

That isn’t to say that we didn’t enjoy it. It provided exactly what I expect and want from Sense8 at this point: beautiful cinematography of a) enthusiastic sex and parties and b) weaponizing the sensate powers.

It picks up all the threads left hanging after season one, although most characters’ plot lines didn’t end the special in a very different place than they began it, even as small amounts of progress or change happened. Lito probably had the most developments and screen time, followed by Will, Kala, and Wolfgang, then Sun and Nomi. If you’re bad with names, (and I sympathize - they don’t use them all frequently on this show,) that means that the bus driver from Nairobi and the DJ from Iceland got shortest shrift this time.

The last quarter or so, as I said, was Christmas and New Year’s, and featured the characters visiting each other’s celebrations, the currently obligatory singing of “Hallelujah,” some lovely scenes of family and found family, a villain threatening a character’s father, and a New Year's shootout.

If you loved the first season, you’ve probably already watched this, but if you’re stuck someplace with prudish relations, don’t worry, the Christmas scenes are few enough that it’ll be just as good next week.

The Flash: The Present (2016) and Arrow: What We Leave Behind (2016)

I thought I'd package this year's WB DC superhero Christmas episodes together instead of doing them individually. Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow didn't produce holiday episodes, so that leaves us with the original two: Arrow and Flash.

The Flash: The Present (2016)
While the previous seasons of The Flash focused on season-long plot arcs built around evil speedsters trying to kill Barry, the third is built around Savitar, an... ugh. Yeah. At least this time the evil speedster looks different.

I'm going to skip the rehash of Flashpoint, the timeline-breaking event that kicked off the third season. The only part that's actually relevant is that Cisco's brother is dead now.

The episode opens with a flashback to Julian discovering the artifact that turns him into Doctor Alchemy and allows Savitar to manifest (or whatever the hell is going on with that). After that, we jump the present day where Earth-3 Harrison Wells (again, I'm not going to bother) is decorating for Christmas. Meanwhile, Cisco starts seeing visions of his dead brother.

Jumping over to Earth-2, the Flash (Jay Garrick) is fighting the Trickster, allowing a reunion of the stars of the 90's series. It's a short sequence, but it's easily the best part. Barry shows up and lends a quick hand before recruiting Jay to help him with his inter-dimensional, cyber-demon problem (still not going to explain).

They head back to Earth-1, where they find and apprehend Dr. Alchemy, though not before Savitar nearly kills Jay. In the process they discover Savitar can only appear when Dr. Alchemy's magic rock is open.

They take it and Julian back to Star Labs and start investigating. Gradually, they realize Julian has no memory of being Alchemy, and they're able to get his assistance. But while Barry's talking with him, the fake ghost of Cisco's dead brother is convincing him to open the box, even going so far as to promise a Christmas miracle that will reunite them. Cisco caves and opens it, allowing Savitar to appear and almost kill Barry and Wally. At the last minute, Caitlin convinces Cisco to close the box, which forces Savitar out of this dimension.

In an attempt to prevent him from returning, Barry and Jay hurl the magic box into the Speed Force, assuming it will be gone for good. In the process, however, Barry is briefly thrown months into the future, where he witnesses Savitar killing Iris. Jay pulls him back and tells him what he saw was just one of many possible futures and that he shouldn't go through time again.

Instead of doing something drastic like telling Iris what he saw, Barry interprets the incident as a "live in the moment" sort of way. For Christmas, he reveals that he's selected and rented an apartment in both their names and that they're going to move in together, which is for some reason treated as a wonderful act of love, rather than grossly overstepping his boundaries.

Oh, and everyone got Wally a super-suit: he's officially Kid Flash now (in this timeline, I mean, he was already Kid Flash in the alternate Flashpoint timeline, at least until... you know what? Just forget I said anything).

On top of the decorations and obvious elements, the "ghost" motif may have been an allusion to A Christmas Carol. Same goes for the leap forward in time, which could have been a play on the Ghost of Christmas Future.

As far as quality is concerned, this season has been something of a disappointment so far, and this episode's no exception. There's still a lot of fun stuff, but rather than grow or evolve, the series just keeps rehashing the same old tropes. Another speedster, more drama due to secrets and people not trusting each other, more plots centered around complications with Barry and time-travel... we've done all this already. The Flash has quite a few villains capable of supporting a season-long arc who aren't evil versions of Barry: if the series wants to stay fresh, it should try incorporating some of them.

Arrow: What We Leave Behind (2016)
Unlike Flash, Arrow hasn't dropped substantially in quality since last season. Unfortunately, that's mostly because last season wasn't all that good.

This episode is bogged down by fallout from the previous episode, a 4-series crossover with Supergirl, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow involving an alien invasion. The Arrow episode involved a bunch of characters from that show (along with a few others) getting abducted and put into a machine that simulated an alternate reality where they were living different lives. There were a few light "It's a Wonderful Life" parallels alluded to in this episode - it's almost a shame they didn't find a way to do that as the Christmas episode. Or, you know, not tell that idiotic story at all, since it didn't move the alien invasion plot line forward in any meaningful way.

This one opens with a Christmas party and concerns family. Pretty early on the new team Arrow catches up with Prometheus, only to be betrayed by Artemis, who we learned in an earlier episode is secretly working with the super-villain.

We also probably get Prometheus's backstory, assuming this isn't yet another red herring. The reveal is that he's the son of a corrupt businessman Arrow killed back in his first season days. If so, this is a way less interesting origin than the one from the comics.

At any rate, Prometheus also attacks Curtis, forcing him to tell his husband about his crime-fighting hobby. Then he kidnaps Felicity's boyfriend, lures Oliver into a trap, and tricks him into killing the hostage, who Prometheus has dressed in an identical super-villain costume. I guess the goal was to get Felicity to blame Oliver for the death, but she seems to understand it was Prometheus's fault here. We'll have to wait and see whether that remains the case over time.

In the last few minutes of the episode, there's essentially a montage of bad things happening to Team Arrow. Curtis's husband leaves him, and John Diggle is captured by the military. Then, at the very end, Oliver finds the seemingly resurrected Laurel waiting for him. More likely, it's her evil doppelganger from Earth-2 who showed up on The Flash last season, but we'll see.

They did a decent job playing up the desolation of the holidays while stripping away Oliver's connections to others and faith in himself, and there were plenty of holiday elements tossed in.

Overall, this is very much a part of a longer story, and that story... is kind of annoying so far. The writers keep throwing cliched melodramatic moments against the screen, as if trying to find something that will stick.

Maybe, just maybe, they should try heroic adventure for a change. It would be a nice change of pace.

Book Review: St. Nicholas and the Valley Beyond: A Christmas Legend

We bought this on clearance at a used bookstore, mainly because it was pretty, shoved it in a box for a few years, then came across it while unpacking. I finally sat down and read it, and...

...I already mentioned the art was pretty, didn't I? Because it is. Really nice fantasy artwork in an large picture book (about 15 inches tall) designed to invoke illuminated manuscripts or something. Pretty.

There's also a story inside, written by Ellen Kushner.

Once more, the artwork is quite pretty.

Ugh. Let's talk plot. There was none, and the art was pretty. Okay, that's an overstatement. There was less than no plot. There was, in fact, negative plot.

The story opens with a poor, cold, hungry orphan named Nicholas following mysterious voices that lure him into a magic valley. He finds a party, goes in, magically transforms into a grown man, meets a woman, and gets married.

They get to know everyone in the valley - they're all artisans (toy makers, mostly) - and none of them knows there's a world beyond their borders. Not even Nicholas knows this: he forgets his past. Also, he moves into a castle with his wife.

Also, there's a riddle: "No hands can make me, two hands can shape me, all hands can take me." It's an ancient riddle connected to a prophecy that someone will come into the valley and save it from sinking.

Then a kid appears. Magically. He just kind of materializes from Nicholas's imagination or something. Nicholas takes the kid around on a train, and the kid does a bunch of random magic. Eventually, they learn that all the toys the valley is producing are weighing it down, and eventually the valley will sink if they're not taken out.

The kid is Nicholas's child aspect or something, and he vanishes at the border of the valley. Then Nicholas is almost lost there, as well, but he follows the same voices back he did the last time to find a bunch of talking flying reindeer who serve as the valley's guardians. They fill in the holes, and he realizes he's supposed to fly around the world delivering gifts.

Oh, remember the riddle? The answer is an apple cut in half, so the interior resembles a star. Doesn't make a damn bit of sense in context, either - I can only imagine the quantity of drugs the people who made this must have been on.

This is essentially a variation on L. Frank Baum's Life and Times of Santa Claus with all the interesting elements excised. The mythic elements are tuned back to low-magic fantasy, maybe in the hopes of making the story more palatable to older kids.

It's not as short a book as you might expect (or hope). There's an excruciating amount of detail about the residents of the valley, none of which serves much purpose. It's described so well, I almost feel like I've been to this mystical valley.

Mainly because I have. Literally. The acknowledgment section basically admits it's the Snoqualmie Valley, and according to one of the book's two Amazon reviews, it's based on people who live there. So, if you're from the area and remember what it was like in the 90's, this might make for an interesting read. For the other 99.999% of the planet, it does not.

But. The art is nice. This is a decent book to have around during the holidays to flip through and enjoy the paintings. Just don't bother reading it.

If you care, you can find used copies on Amazon going for $0.01, plus shipping.

100 Christmas Movies to See Instead of Watching A Christmas Story

Every year, A Christmas Story is aired non-stop on Christmas Day, despite the fact that it's an over-rated piece of humorless drivel. One of the reasons it's shown is that people continue tuning in, likely because they're unaware there are better options available. This, in turn, incentivizes its continued airing.

In an effort to combat this vicious cycle, we here at Mainlining Christmas have generated an alphabetical list of one hundred alternative holiday movies and specials, each vastly superior to A Christmas Story.

To be clear, this is not in any way an exhaustive list: there are certainly numerous other options out there far better than the swill that is A Christmas Story.

Also, this list can also be used to find alternatives to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and The Santa Clause, as these movies are likewise inferior to each of the movies listed below.

1  A Charlie Brown Christmas
2 101 Dalmatians
3 3 Godfathers 
4 8 Women
5 A Cadaver Christmas
6 A Christmas Horror Story
7 A Fairly Odd Christmas
8 A Merry Friggin' Christmas 
9 A Midnight Clear
10 A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa
11 A Muppet Family Christmas
12 A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
13 All is Bright
14 Arthur Christmas
15 Bad Santa
16 Batman Returns
17 Becoming Santa
18 Bell, Book and Candle
19 Blackadder's Christmas Carol
20 Brazil
21 Carol
22 Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales
23 Children of Men
24 Christmas in Connecticut
25 Christmas in July
26 Christmas with a Capital C
27 Die Hard
28 Die Hard 2
29 Edward Scissorhands 
30 Elf
31 Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
32 Father Christmas
33 First Blood
34 Fred Claus
35 Frosty the Snowman
36 Frozen
37 Get Santa
38 Ghostbusters II
39 Go
40 Gremlins
41 Happy Christmas
42 Holiday Inn
43 I Am Santa Claus 
44 Il Capital Umano
45 In Bruges
46 Iron Man 3
47 It Happened on Fifth Avenue
48 It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
49 It's a Wonderful Life
50 Joulutarina [Christmas Story] 
51 Joyeux Noël 
52 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
53 Krampus
54 Lethal Weapon
55 Love Actually
56 Meet Me in St. Louis
57 Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
58 Millions
59 Miracle on 34th Street
60 Mr. St. Nick 
61 Mrs. Santa Claus 
62 Nutcracker Fantasy
63 On Her Majesty's Secret Service
64 Prancer
65 Prep and Landing
66 Prometheus
67 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
68 Rise of the Guardians
69 Ronin
70 Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July
71 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
72 Santa with Muscles
73 Santa's Slay
74 Scrooge
75 Scrooged
76 Stalag 17
77 Stalking Santa
78 The Apartment
79 The Bishop's Wife
80 The Christmas Toy
81 The Hard Nut 
82 The Ice Harvest
83 The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
84 The Lion in Winter 
85 The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
86 The Long Kiss Goodnight
87 The Muppet Christmas Carol
88 The Night Before
89 The Nightmare Before Christmas
90 The Ref
91 The Snowman
92 The Snowman and the Snowdog
93 The Thin Man
94 Tokyo Godfathers
95 Trading Places
96 Unaccompanied Minors
97 We're No Angels 
98 White Christmas
99 Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration
100 Young Sherlock Holmes