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Showing posts from December 17, 2017

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire (1999)

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Hooves of Fire is a BBC claymation special about the son of Rudolph joining Santa's team. Rudolph's name is never explicitly spoken due to copyright issues, but there's no ambiguity about Robbie's heritage. The same can be said about Aardman animation - their name isn't on this, but their style permeates the special. Also, this was directed by Richard Starzak, who'd later go on to create Shaun the Sheep.

Overall, I enjoyed this, thanks to some clever jokes and fun designs. That said, the concept was a bit one-note, there were some unfortunate character directions, and the tone needed work. In short, it was good but not amazing.
The special starts with Robbie arriving at the lodge where Santa's reindeer live and train. Instead of glowing, Robbie's nose functions as a sort of navigator. Also, he later learns to bounce off it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The nose is basically all Robbie has going for him - he's lazy, out of shape, and self-ob…

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003)

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Calling this made-for-TV movie "bad" doesn't really address the magnitude of just how awful it actually is. To even begin to do so, I'll try something a bit counter-intuitive: I'm going to compliment the filmmakers. Perhaps "compliment" is too strong a word - I'm going to acknowledge a possible explanation for the movie that's ultimately generous.

Having just watched through Vacation 2, I am honestly unable to dismiss the following possibility: the movie was intentionally made as bad as possible either as an attempt to mock the audience, screw over the studio, or both.
This is, of course, not the only possibility. Indeed, Occam's Razor would slice through this theory and leave us with a simpler one: that the filmmakers responsible for this mess are so bad at their jobs, they were unable to produce anything better. Those of you who haven't seen this movie are doubtlessly drawn to that explanation. But you don't yet understand just ho…

A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

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When we finished watching this new special from Netflix, we were left with a conundrum. Had we just experienced a kids show with a surprising scattering of subversive humor and references? Or a hit-and-miss parody of children's entertainment? Or a piece of tedious moralizing aimed at the very very young?

If it sounds like all those things couldn't possibly be contained in one 25-minute special, you understand why we were perplexed. We didn't hate it, but we didn't enjoy it either. We spent most of it staring at the television, heads slightly cocked to one side, saying, "Huh?"

The best I can put together without doing any research is the Storybots are animated characters from a children's series of the same name, and they answer questions from videos of young kids. They live in a place that is either another dimension or a hollow-earth world, which is connected to Earth via a series of vacuum tubes. In their own world, they're two-dimensional animatio…

Black Mirror: White Christmas (2014)

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People have been telling us for years we should check out Black Mirror, a British (well, formerly British now Netflix-produced) science fiction anthology series, but we've been busy. We finally got around to at least watching the Christmas special, and we were... I don't know. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. I guess we were whelmed.

The production values were certainly impressive. The writing was solid, though I didn't find this special spectacular. The holiday elements felt tacked on - I wouldn't be at all surprised if this were originally written for another purpose than altered to fit a holiday mold.

This is really three short bits tied together by a frame story about two men ostensibly living and working together in some snowbound environment. It's meant to be ambiguous at the start, but I doubt I was alone in assuming it was some sort of purgatory or hell.

And I was right. It's essentially a digital purgatory, which becomes pretty obvious quite a while…

Book Review: The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man

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The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York
Alex Palmer, 2015

Premise: In the early 1900s, more children began to write letters to Santa, and the Post Office asked for help. Enter John Duval Gluck Jr. and his creation: The Santa Claus Association.

This was an interesting book overall, although the payoff is smaller than I would have preferred.

The book paints a complex and intriguing picture of New York in the first few decades of the twentieth century, particularly around Christmas. The specific story of Gluck and his various "charities" is only the largest thread; the book also explores early influences on the image of Santa, how various staples of Christmas (public tree-lightings, parades, etc.) started or became notable in New York City.

I actually thought the information about how children came to write to Santa in the first place and how it was affected by the spread of efficient mail service was one of the mo…

Blossom: It's a Marginal Life (1991)

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Blossom is one of those shows I remember watching, but I don't actually remember specifics about. It was about a girl, who wore big hats, and her friend? Watching this episode only convinced me that I'm probably better off forgetting it.

It's an incredibly generic-feeling sitcom, featuring the broadest acting imaginable. You're on film, you don't need to play to the cheap seats.

The titular character lives with her father and two brothers, all of whom spend this episode bumbling around to an impressive degree. There's an early subplot about Blossom being a terrible student driver. Her grandfather takes her driving, only for them to just barely luck out of a ticket for driving 7 miles per hour on a main road. The punchline is that her grandfather is a terrible driver too (no one knows how he got to their house, he doesn't seem to live there) and they're all in danger/recklessly endangering others. Laugh track, fade to commercial.

The more holiday-ish pl…

Collateral Beauty (2016)

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Collateral Beauty wasn't really marketed as a Christmas movie, but then its marketing was baffling in several respects. For one, the whole "he's interacting with Love, Time, and Death" thing permeating the advertising was quickly undercut by the fact that, in the movie, these three are actually actors hired by the lead's coworkers to portray Love, Time, and Death.

I mean, sure, the ending reveals they were actually Love, Time, and Death masquerading as actors masquerading as Love, Time, and Death (and it's pretty obvious all along), but it still makes for an even more bizarre experience than it would otherwise.

Let's back up.

Will Smith plays "Howard," the CEO of a successful NY advertising agency. A few years before the movie, he loses his daughter to cancer and falls apart emotionally. His friends are executives at the agency, and they're trying to keep it from going under. In order to do that, they need to prove Howard's emotionally …

Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)

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There's something I find especially frustrating about specials like this. The production values are high, the design and animation and voice acting all well done. But the writing is idiotic, so it's still a boring, tedious slog.

Unlike the specials affiliated with the Dreamworks movies Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, I went into this one never having seen any of the movies in the franchise.

Although I hesitate to admit it, the only things I didn't find dull as a dead tree discarded for trash pickup were some of the Scrat sections (you've seen the prehistoric squirrel obsessed with acorns if you've ever seen a trailer for one of these films). The silent animation was decently paired with Christmas music. Of course, I also hated those sections because a character being beat up constantly through no fault of their own is a form of animated "comedy" that I particularly despise.

The story opens with Manny (the mammoth. Get it?) hauling ou…

Will and Grace: A Gay Olde Christmas (2017)

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Despite being off the air for a decade, Will and Grace was recently resurrected by NBC. Let this be a lesson to you - never assume the monster is dead. Even if you think you saw its body, even if there's no conceivable way it could have escaped alive... always be ready.

The Christmas episode is sort of a dream sequence/flashback to four characters in 1912 played by the cast. There's a brief frame story involving the actual characters and the bathroom of a historical society, but none of that's actually relevant.

The dream sequence is set at Christmas. Karen's alter-ego is a poor Irish immigrant raising a large family in a dilapidated apartment owned by a rich landlord (Will). Jack is a sailor boarding with Karen, and Grace is married to Will.

The plot basically boils down to Will wanting to throw Karen out at Christmas until Jack sleeps with him to change his mind.

That's... that's it. It's stretched out to fill thirty minutes and padded with jokes about I…

Family Matters Christmas Episodes (1990 - 1997)

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I remember this show, of course. I think everyone who grew up in the nineties at least remembers Family Matters.

What I hadn't remembered was that Family Matters is actually part of the Mypiot Cinematic Universe, which is to say it's a spin-off of Perfect Strangers. Harriet Winslow was a series regular on Perfect Strangers before getting her own show, along with her husband, Carl, who'd appeared in a handful of episodes.

And speaking of Carl... he's played by eternal police officer actor, Reginald VelJohnson, who played a similar character in the perennial holiday favorite, Die Hard (assuming they're not, in fact, the same man).

But any discussion about Family Matters is ultimately going to fixate on the series most famous character, Steve Urkel. Arguably television's most famous nerd, Urkel represents the personification of the stereotypical nerdy character years before Big Bang Theory would whitewash the concept and build an entire sitcom out of the idea.

Un…

Bunheads: A Nutcracker in Paradise (2012)

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Let's be real. Here's what I want you to take away from this review: BUNHEADS IS STREAMING AGAIN. It's on Hulu. Go. Get thee to Hulu. If you are a musical theater nerd like me, go watch the first couple episodes of Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop snarking at each other and see if you don't fall hard.

I'll pause here for a quick moment of silence for the fact that this show only received one season.

The basic premise is that Foster plays Michelle, a professional-dancer-currently-slumming-as-a-Vegas-showgirl who decides to change her life by getting married and moving to a tiny upscale California town, where she helps her mother-in-law (Bishop) run a dance studio. The show is by the woman behind Gilmore Girls and features her standout themes: intergenerational female friendships and pop-culture snark. I prefer this to the earlier show because this one is also about dance and art and living a creative life. (I promise The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on my to-watch list. …

2000AD Holiday Specials

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This year, I bought a handful of 2000AD Christmas specials. This is a long-running comics magazine from Britain, and it's the origin of Judge Dredd.

It's an interesting format that's quite different from the way most Western comics are published today. Longer stories are serialized in small pieces, but short one-offs are featured as well. Because each issue features many short stories and chapters (and there are more than normal in these holiday annuals), you're bound to find something intriguing even if one or two of the pieces aren't to your taste.

Most of the stories seem to share a sense of heightened reality: dystopias, sci-fi blending with other genres, crime and punishment in very stylized worlds.

Each issue was 100-ish pages and featured over a dozen stories, of which only some were seasonal. Here are a few of the more Christmassy stories in the issues I read:


2007 Special

Sinister Dexter: Christmas Time

Sinister Dexter is a long-running series about a pair …

Full House: Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1994)

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Can you sense it? Sitting there, reading this on your computer screen or your smartphone, can you sense the relief embedded in every word I type?

There's no great mystery - it's simply the sense of freedom that comes with the realization that, in all probability, I will never again find myself watching another episode of Full House in my entire life.

Of course, I've said that before. About once a week, since the early 90s, the thought has echoed through my head. Sometimes I've feared otherwise. Woken up in the dead of night in a cold sweat with the thought of an episode hanging over me. Then, after decades, I felt the weight of existential dread as I realized I'd have to watch and write up the Christmas episodes.

But with those out of the way, it should be smooth sailing here on out.

Sorry - I'm getting off track. Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen is a holiday episode from the series's eighth and final season. And, despite the rather ominous introduction written a…

Perfect Strangers: A Christmas Story (1986) and The Gift of the Mypiot (1988)

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Despite not having seen an episode since the early nineties, I actually remember Perfect Strangers fairly well. I recall the main characters' names, their relationships, and even the plots for several episodes. All that's a roundabout way of saying I was a little worried going into this - I have some lingering positive associations with this show from my childhood, and I was more than a little worried they were about to be shattered.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn't the case. Overall, I found both these holiday-themed episodes enjoyable. More significantly, Lindsay - who's never seen an episode before and is thus free of the clutches of nostalgia - agreed.

All that being said, it's worth taking a moment to acknowledge the show's problematic aspect: Balki Bartokomous is an immigrant played by a white American using a heavy, intentionally absurd accent. He hails from the fictitious nation of Mypios, but for all intents and purposes he's Greek. A…

PJ Masks: Gekko Saves Christmas/Gekko's Nice Ice Plan (2015)

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The only thing we knew about the animated show PJ Masks before turning on this episode was that it has a lot of toys targeted at the preschool set.

The premise is that three kids turn into animal-themed superheroes at night (once they don the pajamas of the title) and defeat super-villain kids while learning simplistic morals. It's based on a series of French picture books, and the show is a collaboration between Canadian and French animation companies and is distributed in the U.S. by Disney.

It's visually and structurally somewhat reminiscent of Super Why. Each 15-minute story has a clear moral from the beginning and a repetitive structure that will have some kids yelling at the characters in frustration.

In Gekko Saves Christmas, the villain Luna Girl is stealing all the Christmas decorations and presents. Catboy and Owlette easily stall the villain several times, but they need Gekko to take her hoverboard. He's too frightened of failing to really try to stay on the bo…

Full House: A Very Tanner Christmas (1992)

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You know what I want? More than anything? I want a cut of this episode where every time they cue up the laugh track, we instead hear sounds of people weeping. Sobbing. Pleading for mercy.

Because I honestly think that would be far more synchronous. It's what we, as the audience, are feeling after all.

This episode was set in season six of the show, and I found it far more trying than the one we watched from season 2 (which was already pretty awful). The central plot seems to revolve around DJ and her high school boyfriend, Steve, who's just been accepted into a crappy college in Florida.

That's all the way across the country, which leaves DJ shaken. He's excited, since it means he actually got into a school, but she's convinced it means he's not serious about their relationship. This escalates when he gives her a sweatshirt bearing the school's name for Christmas. Meanwhile, she spent a fortune on a leather coat he wanted. They have a fight, he accuses her…

Full House: Our Very First Christmas Show (1988)

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This was tough.

Here's the thing - this is bad. Really bad, even. But, if I'm being totally honest, it was slightly less awful than I expected. That doesn't mean I liked it. In fact, I hated it. But I think I understand why the show caught on.

This was, in short, quite a bit better than the episode of the rebooted "Fuller House" we saw earlier.

That's not thanks to the writing. Although this one at least had some structure (Fuller House couldn't even manage that), the jokes were flat, and the emotional beats were hollow. It wasn't the characters, either - there was nothing about them that was in the least bit rounded.

But... and it kills me to even give them this... I think this was well cast. DJ and Stephanie, in particular, were able to hit their marks (again, more than I can say for their counterparts in the new series), and the two actresses were adorable. The adult actors also managed to come off as somewhat charming, despite that the dialogue a…

Book Review: Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus

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Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus
Edited by Kate Wolford, 2014

Premise: Twelve short stories about Krampus. Variously known as the Christmas demon, the punisher of naughty children, and the star of severalrecent horror movies, Krampus has been having a bit of a moment recently.

Anthologies are generally hit and miss, and in attempting to please many tastes, this one definitely had some misses for me.

It starts fairly strong. "Prodigious" by Elizabeth Twist straddles myth and contemporary fiction tropes decently with a young man who plays Krampus at a toy store. "The Wicked Child" by Elise Forier Edie follows with something akin to a fairy tale, blending aspects of St Nicholas and Black Peter.

"Marching Krampus" by Jill Corddry was not short or funny enough for its thin "bratty sibling revenge" concept.

"Peppermint Sticks" by Colleen H. Robbins has some strong ideas about a darker interpretation of Christmas elves, but I didn't …

Funko: Pop! Holidays: Krampus

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If you're not familiar with Funko's line of Pop! figures, it's probably been a while since you've stepped foot in a Hot Topic. Or Barnes & Noble. Toys R Us, Target, Gamestop, Walmart, Walgreens... these things are everywhere. Usually in large numbers, too.

These are vinyl figures, which is different than normal plastic for reasons that after fifteen years of collecting toys as an adult, I still don't remotely understand. They're stylized to look cartoonish and fairly uniform. The toy line stretches across more properties than I can count - if it is or has been part of pop culture in the past three decades, there's a very good chance it's been made as a Pop! figure (possibly with a dozen or so variants).

As a rule of thumb, I don't pick these up. There's too many to bother with, and while I like the look of them well enough, they're not really the sort of thing I go after. I made an exception when I heard they were making this one, thoug…

Saving Santa (2013)

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Saving Santa is a 2013 direct-to-DVD computer animated movie that's something of a paradox. I suppose that's appropriate, since the movie is about "a time-traveling elf," but that's not the kind of paradox I'm referring to - I'm talking about the writing, which is at once utter crap and impressively nuanced.

More on that in a moment. First, the plot.
Bernard D. Elf, astonishingly only the second-worst-named character in this movie, wakes up late for an appointment showing off his new invention to the North Pole's tech company. He races across town and gets them to watch, but in the process momentarily blacks out the elf city's power.
The time the grid's down is just enough for Neville Baddington (and that'd be #1) and his evil package delivery company to determine the cloaked location of Santa's operation. Unaware they're on their way, Bernard heads to his day job, shoveling reindeer dung out of Santa's stables.
No, really.
Wh…