Showing posts from November 27, 2011

Scrooged (1988)

I see this movie about once every five years, enjoy it quite a bit, then promptly forget every joke in the film. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - in a way, the fact that Scrooged is so forgettable gives it re-watch value it wouldn't otherwise have - but it also puts a limitation on the film's impact.

Scrooged attempts to ride a line between tones and genres and pulls it off well enough to be entertaining, but not so well as to leave a lasting impression. The movie's concept is ambitious: a cold-hearted network executive in the middle of producing a live televised production of Scrooge is visited by the three legendary ghosts of the story. There was a lot of potential here to build a sense of vertigo by playing off the inherent surreality of the situation. Unfortunately, the movie didn't fully embrace this. At no point did the main character reflect on the similarities between his experiences and Scrooge's: he seems completely unaware he's living A Chri…

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1993)

Hey, it turns out that totally by accident we saved the best for last! First we saw the pretty mediocre Nutcracker: The Movie, then a version with pluses and minuses starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. This one, though, was definitely our favorite. I should mention here at the front that one of the stars is Macaulay Culkin. It was good anyway, I promise.

That's not to say it doesn't still have some problems, but the balance between film and stage is much better here. This one was actually enjoyable to watch for the whole first half!

The first act is very strong. Stage magic is used instead of movie magic 99% of the time, the camera angles are well chosen, the makeup works in closeup, and overall the balance between movie-realism and the stylized nature of ballet is very well handled.

The costumes and sets are great, but most important of all, it's well shot. Plus there's a plot! Sort of. The young dancers are surprisingly good. Drosselmeyer is fun, the story, such as it is,…

The Sith who Stole Christmas

I've seen the Star Wars Holiday Special. Twice.

I've heard the 1980 album, Christmas in the Stars more times than anyone should have to.

This is the direction they should have gone instead.

A Johnny Bravo Christmas (2001)

Lindsay came across a DVD at the local library from Cartoon Network called Christmas Yuletide Follies. Or maybe it's supposed to be Cartoon Network Christmas: Yuletide Follies. I don't know.

Anyway, only about half the cartoons on it are actually Christmas related; the rest are tangentially related at best. This one's a full half hour (well, American TV half hour, which translates to about 22 minutes), and it's certainly Christmas themed.
Of my thirty-two years on this planet, I subscribed to cable TV for exactly one, and that was the year of 2002-2003, my first year out of college. During that time I watched almost exclusively Cartoon Network. When Johnny Bravo came on, I generally lost interest. It wasn't that the show was bad; it just didn't grab my attention the way Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, or Courage the Cowardly Dog did. However, when I actually did sit through a few episodes, I remember liking them quite a bit.
This one blew those all a…

Courage the Cowardly Dog: The Nutcracker (2002)

I have fond memories of Courage the Cowardly Dog. The show handled tone extremely well, delivering a surreal mix of horror and comedy. I haven't seen much in years, but I remember being really impressed with some of the episodes.

While this wasn't one of the best episodes, it was entertaining. The premise was particularly strong: Courage and his family were "shopping" at the dump, when they got locked in. Courage winds up with an antique nutcracker, and they're besieged by ROUSes out to make a meal of Eustace and Muriel.
The entire thing quickly devolves into a tribute to Tchaikovsky's ballet (fortunately, the rats are excellent dancers). It's quirky and interesting, and it maintains the series' dark style and disturbing designs. It's only a half-episode, so it ends before the gag gets too old.
We found this on a Cartoon Network Christmas Yuletide Follies DVD Lindsay found at the library. I'm not sure whether this was originally intended as a…

Make Your Own Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments

Okay, I think we can all agree that Hallmark makes some cool Christmas ornaments. If you don't agree with this statement, then you probably haven't been to a Hallmark store in a while, which really isn't something you need to be embarrassed about (in fact, it's a sign of good character).

But, like it or not, Hallmark produces some extremely awesome pop-culture ornaments. Unfortunately, they charge a crap load of money for the things. We're talking $17 for the "cheap" ones and $35 if you want something with lights and music.

Or you could make your own, in just three easy steps.

1. Go to Toys R Us (or Walmart, Target, or any other large, corporate owned superstore) and buy some toys. It doesn't really matter what you buy, so long as it's small, from a recognizable property, and isn't too expensive.

Here are several examples I found lying around my apartment.

You don't have to worry about being consistent in terms of style, size, or anything …

The Nutcracker w/Mikhail Baryshnikov (1977)

Overall, this is a better version of The Nutcracker, but it still isn't great.
After our experiences with Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, I was leery of anything that crossed the line between filming a stage production and making a movie. This special made this error less, but I yelled at the screen several times anyway. “Stop with the poor special effects and just film the dancing!”or something. Maybe Erin recalls, I was somewhat incoherent in my frustration.
Happily, when they did film the dancing here, the dancing is very strong. The costumes were better, the choreography was better, it was just overall better done than the blatant cheesiness of the first one we watched.
Now, there are a few aspects of the costuming that make it clear that this is ballet, filmed in the 1970's. There is no hiding of bodies, no shying away from ridiculously tight shiny pants. So be aware of that.
This version does actually manage to get across my favorite thing about professional ballet:…

NewsRadio, Season 2 Ep. 10: XMas Story

I only saw a fraction of the episodes of NewsRadio when they originally aired, but I saw enough to have a positive impression of the show. Most times, when you're nostalgic for something you saw years ago, the show's nowhere near as good as you remember. If this episode is any indication, it might be a whole lot better. The show has a cynical undercurrent bordering on a sort of cheerful nihilism. If that isn't perfectly suited for a Christmas episode, I don't know what is and probably shouldn't be writing a blog about the holiday. Certainly not a blog children could stumble across and accidentally learn there's no Santa Claus. Or God.

The main plot, largely centered on the boss getting presents for the office, seemed predictable at first, but the writers sidestepped the obvious twists. There was also a subplot involving Phil Hartman and a Salvation Army Santa that almost had me falling over laughing.

The episode was dark without being depressing, and funny wit…

Playmobile Santa Playset

This is all this guy's fault. I saw that review and became obsessed with getting my hands on a Playmobile Santa. One trip to Toys R Us later, I had this carrying case, containing a slightly different Santa Claus, an elf, sleigh, reindeer, tree, snowman, and gifts. All for about $12.50, which seems pretty good in today's market.

The case seems relatively sturdy. I'm not sure it's going to be much use to me, but it never hurts having storage options around. The biggest surprise for me was the sheer number of pieces and amount of construction required. The figures come mostly complete (other than their hats), but just about everything else requires some work.

Here's the main man, Santa Claus. I like this figure overall, though I'd have preferred the other version for the beard. Still, this is kind of awesome. The arms, wrists, and neck move, and the figure's legs move in unison, allowing him to sit. In addition, his beard has a little articulation, helping it…

Disney's Twelve Days of Christmas (CD 1991)

I'm sure that if I didn't have memories of this album, I would find it pretty weird. I mean, it is really cornball. However, I do have fond memories of listening to this music as a kid, so now I find it charmingly cornball, rather than annoyingly so.

This is an album with a premise: a bunch of Disney characters get together to practice caroling, then they decide that they're going to actually celebrate Twelve Days of Christmas with a new activity each day. Most of the songs are prefaced by a little riff of "On the ____ day of Christmas, we play in the snow/go shopping/visit Santa/etc." It's odd today to listen to an album like this, which is heavily designed to be listened to in order, which was easier on the cassette tape of this I had originally than it is on my iPod.

So all the songs are sung by actors (there are few specific credits on the CD, just a list of Vocals By:...) doing character voices, backed up by a studio choir keeping them on key. The profe…

An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998)

Watching An All Dogs Christmas Carol feels like watching a bizarre relic of a long forgotten era. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd ever seen either of the All Dogs Go To Heaven movies or a single episode of the TV series (which, prior to visiting Wikipedia, I didn't know existed). I assume there are people who are nostalgic for this series, though I don't think I've ever met a single one.

I actually find it a little disquieting that this made-for-TV movie isn't all bad. It has plenty of bad parts and cheap animation, but it also has a few clever puns, some decent voice acting, and a script that someone at least put effort into.
The story begins fairly generically, with what Wikipedia assures me were the main characters to the All Dogs movies and TV show celebrating the holidays. The villain, Carface, shows up with a magic dog whistle, and uses it to hypnotize the dogs and steal their stuff.
All of this ties back to another villain Wikipedia assures me comes…

It's a Wonderful Life? Not for that guy.

I haven't been feeling too Grinchy yet this year, but bashing It's a Wonderful Life feels like a good place to start. I have such oddly mixed feelings about this movie.

I sympathize.

I appreciate the overt message: each of us touches others' lives in ways we can never imagine, and you don't have to have a perfect life for life to be worth living. I'm just not as fond of the packaging.

Spoilers follow.

First off, of course I find all the beginning narration with the talking nebulas completely idiotic. I actually considered for a while whether the movie might be better without the supernatural elements, which is an odd idea for me. But Erin gave me a horrified look when I floated the idea by him, so I guess I can't say that.

It's well done. Well filmed, mostly well acted, parts were funny, but I just didn't enjoy watching the film. I found the pace slow, and the characters felt always on the edge of slapstick, never like real people. Like the people in Roc…

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

This was probably the biggest omission in last year's lineup of Christmas classics. Easily one of the top three most famous Christmas movies of all time (along with A Miracle on 34th Street and the grossly overrated A Christmas Story), It's A Wonderful Life is a quirky, stylish flick.

Ironically, I think this movie is probably best the way it's least viewed: beginning to end. As one of the mainstays of holiday television, I suspect most people have seen this in bits and pieces. But the movie's most effective when you see how the pieces snap together, and to do that, you've actually got to sit through the whole thing. At two hours and change, you'll want to avoid the extra padding added by commercials. This movie has a reputation for being slow - I suspect most of that comes from the fact so many people grew up watching it with commercial interruption. Most of it: to be fair, there are plenty of slow parts left over.
It's A Wonderful Life is fundamentally a…

Christmas Notes: A to Z

So, I entered this holiday season with 1049 holiday songs, and I decided it only made sense to start out by listening to each and every one of them.

That adds up to about 59 hours, in case you were curious.

I decided to go in alphabetical order by song title (I actually put a lot of thought into this beforehand and came to the conclusion it would actually break up the slow parts more than going by artist or album name).

I had so much "fun" doing this, I decided to share the experience with all of you. What follows is not meant to be comprehensive. It's just a series of notes I compiled highlighting, by letter, the songs that left an impression. Because I was listening while doing other things, I'm sure I glossed over some good and bad songs while I wasn't paying attention. Further, because I was busy, many of these notes were written at the end of the day (or even a few days later), when I got around to it, so I'm sure I'm forgetting things that seemed s…

The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1988)

I liked this more than Erin did, I think, but it eventually grated on me as well. This is also known as the Seattle Ballet Nutcracker, and that is a more appropriate name, as the largest problem with this was the tension between whether you were watching a dance piece or a movie.

I found the beginning rather charming, but eventually it was just long and strange. The surreal narration doesn't add much. The dancing is decently done, most of the time, and I'm sure it was fun to see live. The energy of the dancers just doesn't translate to film. The camera is often filming the least interesting part of the dance, and occasionally it seemed to me that the visuals were out of sync with the music.

Adding a few moments of awkward bluescreen does not change a piece intended for the stage to one suited for the screen. I had trouble staying interested through the Land of Sweets dances; some of the costumes and dancers were good, most just did not work on film. There were moments tha…

Book Review: Christmas: A Candid History, by: Bruce David Forbes

Reading this book was an odd experience for me, kind of like overhearing a conversation where you're familiar with the subject matter, but are coming at it from a drastically different point of view. I started out really disliking the book for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but ended on a more positive note.

Since it's the Christmas season, I'd like to start with the negative, which is easily done since it means starting at the beginning.
The book is billed as a history of the holiday, and indeed it opens with pre-Christian festivals. However, right from the start, Forbes defines Christmas as a Christian holiday which was inspired by pre-existing celebrations. While he's open about the significance of Roman festivals like Saturnalia, he's fairly dismissive of them. The term he uses for pre-Christian celebrations is "party," and he never explores a spiritual side to these events.
The reason, it seems, is that the book is written by a Christian for a…

Macy's Parade Balloon Inflation

This year we went the day before Thanksgiving to see the Parade Balloons being inflated. It's free to go, but you have to enter at a particular place and deal with huge crowds.
The first few balloons we saw:

Kung Fu Panda's ass:

I liked seeing how many sandbags it took to stabilize the balloons:

Here's a look up the street:

Here's the head of the Kung Fu Panda balloon, and a small vehicle for size comparison:

A bunch of smaller round balloons:

Here some workers are securing SpongeBob Squarepants. I did notice that his arm was oddly bent by the straps, and still kind of bent the next day:

The sidewalks the crowd walked on surround the Natural History Museum. There were big floodlights set up so that the balloons could be easily seen.

Kool-Aid Man was being moved to a new position as we walked by, at first we thought he was deflating.

Erin took this picture of a balloon dog's butt.

All the balloons have spots where their tie-downs are secured

The Aflac Duck:

That pi…

X-Men: Evolution, Season 2: On Angel's Wings (2001)

X-Men: Evolution is a strange show. It started out with one of the worst premises imaginable: having the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants as students with secret powers enrolled in the same public high school. And, frankly, it didn't even do that premise justice for more than a year.

However, over the seasons, the show evolved into something else. Somehow, the characters and the setting evolved until it actually made sense calling them the X-Men. In a sense, most of the series wound up functioning as an extended and in-depth origin story, which is sort of cool.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad episodes to sit through before the series picks up.

This episode is after the worst of them, but it's still got a lot wrong with it. As the title implies, On Angel's Wings focuses on Angel, who inexplicably hides his powers in shame, despite the fact his mutation is more likely to get him laid then hunted (to be fair, this bizarre bit of illogic is lifted right from th…

Book Review: Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Cross-Posted from The Blue Fairy's Workshop

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Agatha Christie, 1939

I find Agatha Christie to be an acquired taste that I've never quite acquired. I enjoy her work, usually, but it takes me a long time to get into each book.

This was no exception. Once the story got going I quite liked it, but there were a lot of character introductions to get through first.

Once the extended family was all together at the manor house, they got right down to the business of Christmas: acrimonious backstabbing, awkward flirting, and murder. Poirot is brought along to assist the local police when patriarch Simeon Lee is found dead in a locked room. He'd assembled his clan of children together for the holidays to emotionally torment them, then threatened to make a new will.

So everyone has a motive, but only Poirot can peel through the misdirections and lies to figure out what happened. I especially enjoyed Poirot's amusement at the very British nature of the L…