Showing posts from December 18, 2011

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

I just watched an awesome movie. Here's what I knew going in: It's a Horror/Fantasy movie about Santa, it's from Finland, and everyone on the internet loved it.

If that is enough to convince you, be off with you to your Netflix queue or your to-watch list! It has occasional bits that are slower than any film made in America would have, but it's a fantastic film.

Want a few more details? Still skeptical?


Tone spoilers and minor plot spoilers below!

The more detailed premise runs as follows: Pietari is a young boy in a remote town on the Russian border. As the movie opens, he and his friend are spying on some Americans who are excavating something on the other side of the fence. Pietari becomes convinced that the site is where Santa Claus (old-school baby-eating Santa) was trapped, and that they'll all be in danger if he gets out.

Of course no one believes him, but Christmas is getting closer...

Even though you've passed a set of spoiler tags by coming this…

Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

A lot of people speak negatively about the spectacle of drying paint. I'm really not sure why that is. When I reflect on the gradual transition between its initial shimmering, almost glass-like surface to its final matte state - which is in itself brighter and more vibrant than it will ever appear again, before the dirt and grime settles, before years of greasy fingerprints and scuff marks - it hardly seems tedious at all: if anything, drying paint symbolizes the fleeting beauty of youth maturing into stability.

In fact, given the choice between the two, there is no question in my mind that I would far rather watch paint dry than see Ernest Saves Christmas again, and would - without hesitation - recommend the same to anyone else faced with a similar set of options.

The central problem with this movie is that, at its core, it is a pointless, boring sequence of events, a vapid and uninspired waste of time devoid of humor, meaning, or entertainment. I do want to stress that this is …

Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (LP 1984)

I adore this album, so I saved it for last. This was a ridiculously large part of the holidays of my childhood, maybe only eclipsed by John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. This is a much more solid work, though, every song here is good. There's such energy and good cheer here, I just grin whenever I hear it.

The structural premise is simple enough: it's a sing-along. So you sing. Along. Got it?

Song List:

Christmas Sing-Along / Deck the HallsSanta Claus is Coming to TownCounting the DaysLet it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!The Twelve Days of ChristmasJingle Bells / Silver BellsRudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerFrosty the SnowmanKeep Christmas With YouWe Wish You a Merry Christmas

The first song introduces the Sing-Along, welcomes us all in, and includes some blank Fa La La La Las in the Deck the Halls portion to encourage said singing along.

All these tracks do a great job balancing just doing a good version of the song, and adding in little character moments. For ex…

Fiction: Sleigh, by: Erin L. Snyder

It’s not like we were looking for it. But I’m not going to lie, try to make it sound like we were out on a roof at 1:00 AM on December 24th and weren’t up to no good. Look, we were kids, punks. That’s just how it is. We weren’t thinking of our futures, our families, our girlfriends: none of that, none of what was on the line if we got caught, or worse. We were out to make some mischief, grab some cash, and score some revenge.
See, Mr. Colmoore, he’s our bio teacher, was going away for Christmas break, down to the Bahamas. How’s a high school science teacher afford a trip to the tropics? His wife’s a scientist, too, but while he spends his days making our lives hell, she spends hers raking in the dough at some research firm or something.
Colmoore’s got it in for us. I don’t know, he’s a scientist, so he’s a nerd, so he probably got his share of swirlies back in the day. So now he’s got to take it out on all jocks. I’m just guessing, but there’s not a guy on the team getting better tha…

Holiday Inn (1942)

You could make a case that Holiday Inn isn't actually a Christmas movie, since it actually takes place over an entire year and devotes a substantial amount of time to several different holidays. The movie does begin and end at Christmas (actually, it encompasses three Christmases, thanks to a sort of preface starting a year before the real action starts), but the film's real credentials are a tad more specific.

Holiday Inn's real claim to fame comes from one of its songs, a short piece called "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Maybe you've heard of it.

The movie's plot centers around a pair of entertainers competing for the affections of a woman. The movie's title (and gimmick) revolves around an inn opened by one of the two competitors which is only open during holidays.

The movie has some decent twists and turns, and some good song and dance numbers. It cleverly pushes against the boundary of the fourth wall when movie producers create a supp…

Have yourself a Mythic Little Christmas

I've spoken here before about my long-standing struggle with Christmas music. I like a lot of it as music, but I don't get on board with the whole Jesus thing, so I feel awkward about the fact that I like it.

This year I have found a solution to my problem.

It occurred to me that there are plenty of Kings and Princes and Lords whose birthdays I would be happy to sing about. Won't you join me?

Come they told me, Pa rum pa pum pum The newborn King to see, Pa rum pa pum pum

We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar,  Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!

(Hallelujah Chorus) ...And he shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining It is the night of the dear Savior's birth 

O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear

Said the night wind to the little lamb, "…

DIC Christmas Specials: Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas (1992) and Sonic Christmas Blast! (1996)

We watched these two specials back to back – they're actually packaged together on Amazon Instant Video – and I feel that I should talk about them together.

They have a lot in common: both revolved around the main character unmasking a villain standing in/taking over from Santa Claus, and both were made as a sort of afterthought to their affiliated series.

Both were really awful.

It's hard to identify one as being worse, though, because in that respect they were different.

The animation was far worse on Inspector Gadget, as well as its egregious use of badly recorded singing. The voice recordings were so poor that I really thought they'd gotten different voice actors.

The plot was arguably stupider on Sonic, the misuse of supporting characters worse, plus it added “X-treme” winter sports for no good reason.

I know I haven't seen any Inspector Gadget in a while, but in this one they basically said flat out that if Dr. Claw hadn't sent agents after Gadget, NO ONE WO…

Dinosaurs: Refrigerator Day (1991)

God, this series is weird. Part of me wants to see more, just to see if my memories are accurate. There's no question that this show had guts (the last episode ended with the extinction), but without seeing more I'm not quite ready to render a verdict on whether the show was actually good.

This is the only episode of Dinosaurs I've seen in years, but it provides a good example of the dilemma I run into when thinking about this show. On one hand, it's a fairly scathing criticism of capitalism and consumerism. On the other, it's about as subtle as a rampaging T-rex.

The premise is that, due to its importance in their lives, the dinosaurs celebrate the invention of the refrigerator with the same significance (and more or less all the same trappings) as Christmas.

When Earl's Refrigerator Day bonus doesn't materialize, the family winds up having to make some hard choices between material objects (represented by gifts) and spiritual fulfillment (symbolized by t…

Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah (1996)

Shari Lewis, the late ventriloquist and puppeteer behind Lamb Chop, was a beloved entertainer. That makes this a tad awkward, because this special was a steaming pile of shit.

To be fair, Lewis is a phenomenal ventriloquist. But her sock puppets kind of suck, the writing is idiotic, and this thing makes little to no sense. The main plot revolves around Charlie Horse trying to win a contest by designing a superhero using a computer program which brings his creations to life. There's a subplot about Lewis and Lamb Chop trying to put on a Chanukah party for some washed-up guest stars, but that seemed fairly inane.

The characters are astonishingly stupid, the jokes aren't the least bit funny, and the lessons drag even more than you'd expect.

I appreciate the need for holiday options for Jewish children, but it seems tragic this is the sort of thing trying to fit that niche. Lewis comes off as genuinely talented, and I appreciate that there are people out there who are nostalg…

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Watching these movies as an adult is a surreal experience. By all rights, Kevin's actions should have killed those two burglars several times over. And never mind the fact that he leaves his uncle's house a literal deathtrap.

But, to be fair, neither this movie nor its predecessor were intended to be realistic. No, they're supposed to be comedies, which is how they should be judged.

Hey. You know what would have helped? If these movies had actually been funny.

I'm going to try to separate this from part one, which is actually pretty difficult, since they're the same damn movie. I mean, sure, this one's set in New York, but other than that, there's not really a single discernible difference in the plot. Even the jokes are reused.

The movie starts with Kevin and his family getting into another ludicrously unbelievable fight over his behavior. They oversleep... again... but all make it to the airport together. He winds up separated and on his own in New York …

Community Christmas Episodes (2009, 2010, and 2011)

To date, Lindsay and I have actually only watched four episodes of Community, three of which were about Christmas. To give you a sense of where this is going, we just bought the season one and two DVD sets on the strength of two of the Christmas episodes.

The episodes in question are completely different - in fact, each of the three is fundamentally in a different genre - but they're absolutely fantastic, both as Christmas episodes and as comedy. I'm going to look at them starting with the oldest, which is completely different from the order we actually watched them in.

Season One: Comparative Religion

This was actually the last one we watched, because we didn't even realize it existed until we bought the DVD sets. Unlike the other two, it doesn't have a major hook or gimmick - ostensibly, it's just an episode of a sitcom. However, it's also just about the funniest goddamn half-hour of television I've ever seen in my life. As much as I enjoyed the other two …

Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special (2010)

I am so glad that this was wonderful. So much of what DreamWorks puts out is awful, except for this one franchise. But this franchise is absolutely fantastic.

This half-hour special, set between the two movies, deals with the same themes as the series as a whole: family, choices, self-knowledge, parents and mentors. Shifu assigns Po to host an important fancy holiday dinner for a group of Master martial artists. Po is excited and stressed with the responsibility, but also dealing with his father's disappointment that he's leaving behind their holiday traditions.

It's sweet and touching, and also absolutely hilarious. There's a fantastic frenetic montage as the pace of preparations for the holiday picks up, and some completely silly sub-plots that I loved. The animation is wonderful, the voice acting delicate and lovely.

The ending gives me the warm-and-fuzzies, which is really what you're looking for in a holiday special. This is a strong addition to the series, a…

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Blue Carbuncle (1984)

Yeah, I sort of suckered Erin into doing this one. But it is a Christmas episode! So it COUNTS.

Despite an early misstep with an unintentionally silly montage running under the opening episode credits, this is a fantastic episode. A solid adaptation of the story, like most episodes of this series, it stays true to most of the original, while breaking up monologues into more entertaining dialogue and expanding the roles of the minor characters. A highlight here is that John Horner, the man accused of stealing the jewel, is given a wife and kids and a little emotional plot of his own, to give the episode a bit more holiday poignancy.

The Blue Carbuncle (about a stolen jewel found in a Christmas goose, and how Holmes traces it back to the culprit) is not one of my very favorite Holmes stories, but it is a solidly entertaining one.

I loved re-watching this episode; it really showcases why Jeremy Brett was, in my opinion, the ultimate Holmes. All his charm, his wit, his hypnotic presence,…

Toy Review: Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

I'm tagging this a toy review, even though it isn't really a toy. Actually, it's a replica. Granted, it's on the low end of low end replicas, but that's still what it is.
It's also a commercially sold artificial version of a pop-culture symbol of the importance of not giving into the artificial or commercial aspects of the holidays. But then, isn't selling out what Christmas is REALLY about?
I first came across one boxes of these things last Christmas in the local CVS. I held off on buying one, despite morbid curiosity, then when I came back a few days later, they were gone. They didn't reappear last Christmas, but lo and behold, they're back now, and still dirt cheap. This was marked at $9.99, and a general 25% sale on all Christmas crap brought that down to an entirely reasonable seven-fifty.

I'm not sure what I expected this to actually be like, but I was a little surprised when I opened the box. The tree itself is basically a two-foot long …

Scrooge (1951)

There have been many, many adaptations of A Christmas Carol. This isn't the first we've looked at, and assuming this blog pops up again next Christmas, I don't think it'll be the last.

The 1951 version starring Alastair Sim is generally recognized as the best of the bunch. I haven't seen nearly enough to render that verdict, though this is certainly better than the Jim Carrey vehicle that came out a few years ago. If we're counting parodies, though, it's not even close to Blackadder's Christmas Carol or Scrooged, and I actually prefer Mickey's Christmas Carol if only because it's shorter.

But if we're just talking about versions that are relatively accurate to the source, aren't parodies, and don't replace the characters with anthropomorphic animals, then yes: this is the best I can think of.

The depiction of the various characters is about as close as is humanly possible. Sim's Scrooge is particularly well done, both as the cur…

TaleSpin: Jolly Molly Christmas (1990)

Not much to this little Santa-themed episode. In my opinion, TaleSpin holds up better than many of the Disney Afternoon offerings, mostly because, like Duck Tales, it's spinning its tone and plots out of a old-fashioned pulp sensibility. In other words, it's dated on purpose, not by accident.

TaleSpin also fascinates me because it's loosely based on a live-action television show from the 80's (set in the 30's) called Tales of the Gold Monkey. Only with the character designs and voices from The Jungle Book. Why did someone think that was a good idea? Why does it actually kind of work? I admit, I love Sher Khan the ruthless businessman and Baloo as a layabout pilot/adventurer. I like the new characters: Becky and Molly, Kit and Wildcat. I like that the plots are big and pulp-a-licious: hidden temples and secret spy missions and pirates.

Unfortunately, this episode was basically none of those things.

This episode was about Molly trying to ask Santa to make it snow fo…

Macy's Windows 2011

I wasn't overly impressed with the Macy's Window Displays this year, although the elf-like marionettes photographed fairly well.

The cover story about what all these fellows are doing is something rather thin about magical ornaments. I found it particularly crass that the windows are anchored at most corners with ornaments labeled with whatever celebrity contributed them to the display.

Don't misunderstand, the marionettes are pretty.

At the last window, there are touch screens, encouraging people to make their own digital ornament and/or contribute to the Make a Wish Foundation. At least, I think that's what the window is. I couldn't actually tell from where I stood:

Fiction: The Sixth Stave, By: Erin L. Snyder

London, 1894
There was a breeze through the door as Timothy slammed it shut and made his way through the foyer. He walked slowly, with intent, never letting his weak leg drag behind, but forcing it in a natural arc. He was old but was no cripple, nor had he a stomach for pity. A man once called Timothy lame, thinking him out of earshot, and received a kick to his shin so hard he limped for a week. Timothy fared worse: the kick left him off his feet three days, and it had been a month before he could move naturally once more, but the message had been sent.

Timothy sneered at his wife’s portrait, hung over the fireplace. She’d commissioned the painting herself, a gift from some long-ago Christmas. That she’d commissioned it with his money would have meant nothing to her. Never had a woman more accustomed to comfort and wealth walked the Earth. She’d never known a cold winter’s night, a barren stove, an empty plate. She’d never known disease that went untreated, never a Christmas morning…

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

What an odd film. I think I enjoyed it, although it certainly had its share of boring, slow, and inexplicable bits.
The Lemon Drop Kid is a holiday film starring Bob Hope based loosely on a Damon Runyon story. It's mostly notable for being the source of the song “Silver Bells”.
I've read some Runyon stories, and find them fascinating. His work is the inspiration for Guys and Dolls, and The Lemon Drop Kid plays off similar tropes: gangsters both fierce and puppyish, money owed, bets, strong-minded dames, and tangled schemes. The Lemon Drop Kid is closer to the tone of the original stories than Guys and Dolls; it's more bloody-minded, though not by too much.
The central plot follows con-man Kid (Hope) as he tries to raise ten thousand dollars he owes to a murderous mobster named Moose Moran. The scheme he finally hits on involves establishing a charity for elderly women so he can get a license to collect on the street, then conning a bunch of soft-hearted grifters into rais…

Christmas in the Stars (LP 1980)

A 'supportive' friend gave us a ton of random holiday music, compiled from who knows where, near the end of last year's Mainlining project. Much of it was unique, or terrible, or - like this - both. So, uh, "Thanks", I guess.

This is one of the weirdest, most nonsensical things I've ever listened to. The fact that this even exists blows my logic circuits, so to speak.

Okay, lets start off by saying that all of these songs are awful. I could have written better Star Wars Christmas songs as age six. Because even at six I was reluctant to make rhymes just by repeating the same words over and over again.

Also I feel bad for Anthony Daniels, the only voice actor with the misfortune to be involved with this. Maybe he really got a bad deal in his initial contract? It seems like he did a lot of these sorts of odd appearances.

This is also horrible because it even dispenses with the Life Day cover story, and just decides that droids make presents for Santa, and ever…

Yes, Virginia (2009)

There is, inside of me, a swell of rage and hatred, and it's all thanks to the 2009 CG production, "Yes, Virginia."

Now first off, I want to acknowledge what's good about the special. And, as much as I hate to admit it, there's a quite a list. The animation looks good, the designs are generally inspired, the dialogue was competently written, and the voice acting - featuring both Doctors Horrible and Octopus - was pretty solid.

So why then does this special make me angrier than anything else I've seen this year? Because of what it is, what it does, and why it exists. I appreciate that most Christmas specials are designed to make money - hell, it's part of what I love about the holidays - but generally those specials are direct in their strategy. A special's produced and sold to a network, advertising revenue changes hands, and on the back-end maybe DVDs are produced. It might not be charitable, but at least there's something honest about the syste…