Showing posts from November 29, 2015

Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Holiday Chills and Thrills (2012)

This DVD compilation includes Christmas or winter themed episodes from across the dozen or so incarnations of Scooby Doo over the years. Unfortunately, the majority are less Christmas than winter, and we already reviewed one episode, A Scooby-Doo Christmas, a few years ago. We're going to review the other two Christmas centered episodes, Haunted Holidays and The Nutcracker Scoob, on their own. That leaves ten of dubious holiday connection.

We almost didn't write these up at all, but a few included some holiday allusions or references, plus the snowy visuals were certainly evocative of Christmas. Ultimately, we decided to cover them together, along with some discussion of how each ties to the holidays, if at all.

First, though, let's talk about this "13 Spooky Tales" line. They released several of these DVD sets with different themes about the same time, each collecting ostensibly similar episodes throughout the years. In this case, even the math to get to 13 epi…

Holiday Home LED Touch Globe With Icon (Santa Claus)

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.- A Visit from St.Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore

Before you ask, the answer is yes - that is a plasma ball built into Santa's stomach. We found this in early November at Fred Meyer on sale for 50% of its suggested retail price. If I even have to explain why we bought it, you're reading the wrong blog.

The tag on this calls it an "LED Touch Globe With Icon". The "Icon" part is to keep things ambiguous, since they also had ones with a snowman motif. Between the two, I can't imagine anyone picking up the snowman.
Other than a tag connected to a "try me" button and a bagged set of warnings and instructions, there was no packaging. The tag was branded, "Holiday Home," which is about as generic as you can get. The back says it was distributed by "Inter-American Products," which sounds nothing like a soulless multi-national conglomerate …

The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: The Nutcracker Scoob (1984)

The Nutcracker Scoob is notable for being the final episode of The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, which is primarily significant for being the last time the character of Scrappy-Doo was inflicted on audiences as a series regular.

As such, it was a tad anti-climatic. At the very least, they could have re-enacted the resolution of Old Yeller than turned on the laugh track. Now that would had gotten some ratings.

Instead, they told a relatively straight-forward Scooby-Doo tale centered around a Christmas pageant at a children's home. Of course, the place is in danger even before the faux ghost shows up: a cruel, oddly Victorian businessman named Winslow Nickelby is trying to force them to sell him the building on Christmas Eve. It would be easier to feel for the owners if there was some indication the home contained anything other than a theater.

Pretty soon, the monster of the week shows up. This one is called the "Ghost of Christmas Never," and she's cloaked in white with…

A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

On the page for their new Christmas special, Netflix tags A Very Murray Christmas as "Witty, Quirky, Irreverent, Deadpan." This is probably as good a description as any I'm going to offer, but the internet isn't going to fill itself up with inane blather.

If I weren't copying off of Netflix's test answers, the other way I'd describe it would be a traditional Christmas special from a post-modern perspective. It's almost a deconstruction of the classic formula that doesn't actually want to give up that formula. Sound weird? It is.

I'm sorry. Not weird - quirky.

The quirky special opens with Bill Murray in his hotel room with Paul Shaffer, both playing themselves. After a quick blues tune, Amy Poehler and Julie White barge in, somewhat confusingly not playing themselves. They're producers, here to drag Bill downstairs to perform for a live TV special, despite the fact all their other guest stars canceled due to a storm. He's under contra…

Game Review: Christmas Trivia Game

We picked up this card game on sale at a Go! Games and Toys in the mall after last Christmas.

It's as simple as can be: just a deck of cards and some very brief instructions. Each player selects one of four categories and another player reads the selected question off the top card. The first person to get two right in every category wins (you need to keep track on a piece of paper, not provided). It serves as many players as are willing to sit around the table with you.

Warning: the difficulty of the questions seems rather random. The cards are numbered subtly on the bottom and the group I played with had the impression that higher numbered cards were more difficult, but it’s hard to be sure. On each card the difficulty can vary wildly: A low-numbered card I just pulled up asks what year Silent Night was written (multiple choice), how tall a poinsettia can grow (multiple choice), asks you to know a specific line from the Visit from St. Nicholas poem, or asks what reindeer like m…

Book Review: A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas, 1950-1955 (depending on how you count)

I have seen this book on lists of classic Christmas stories for years now, but it just kept falling to the bottom of the to-read list.

It probably could have stayed there.

There's nothing wrong with it. It's a short story's worth of words poetically describing the activities and feelings of the holiday at a very particular place and time. It's pretty, especially the version I had with big color illustrations. But there's just not much to it other than nostalgia and pretty phrases. There are some very pretty phrases, admittedly.

There's food, and weather, and an amusing story about a fire scare fought with snowballs, and a brief interlude where young boys sing carols outside a creepy house. Whether the narrator is speaking to a general audience or one person was unclear; it seemed to shift without clear demarcation of any sort.

It comes from a piece originally written for radi…

Angels Sing (2013)

I can't even remember for sure where we caught the trailer for this thing. It was some DVD or another. At any rate, we saw this starred Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, and were morbidly curious what that combination would yield in a low-budget family-friendly Christmas dramedy.

The plot centers around Connick's character, a middle-aged college professor with a vendetta against the holidays. Turns out, when he was a kid, his brother died after saving his life on a lake they were skating on with their new Christmas skates.

The flashback scene depicting this, incidentally, was hilarious.

At any rate, he's a father now, and his son, who's about the same age he was when he lost his brother, loves Christmas. He wants to spend the holiday with his grandparents, presumably because his grandfather used to hunt vampires with Blade, but his dad's too horrified with the whole thing.

Meanwhile, their family needs a new house. After narrowly missing a…

Toy Review: North Pole Express Christmas Train Set

There are numerous holiday train sets on the market. This is one of the absolute cheapest, retailing for $65. If you can't find it on sale for half the retail price or less, don't waste your money.

I may have gotten a slightly better deal than that. Was in a Toys R Us last January buying some clearanced stuff, including a cheap Christmas game comically marked down to $0.03 in their system. When I got the front of the store, this train set was behind the register. Someone had returned it, and they'd yet to move it back to the floor. Since all their holiday stuff was marked way down, the associate ringing me up asked if I'd be curious what the train set was going for. Of course I was, so he scanned it: $0.03.

I love automated discount systems.

In case anyone's wondering, I'm fairly certain that the 99.95% discount I received (before tax) sets a record for the best deal I've gotten in more than a decade of toy collecting. Unless you count rebates, in which ca…

Christmas Card: Together for the Holidays

Don't you love the holidays? The way Christmas can bring us altogether? That's the thought that inspired this photo. Well, that and a piece of fruitcake that feels like it's gnawing its way through my rib cage, about to burst out with my intestines dangling off like... like...

Like tinsel on a freshly decorated Christmas tree. God, I love this time of year.

This picture, like those Nerdtivities we did last year, hasn't been adjusted beyond a little cropping. All props were present, and a blacklight was used to create the effect.

Of course, I had to take about a hundred different versions to get the one I wanted. Which actually has a few advantages - here's a little bonus Google generated automatically.

"Look, Ma! I found an ornament!"
Happy holidays, from your friends at Mainlining Christmas.

The Hard Nut (1991)

Yup, this might be another year for versions of the Nutcracker. This one is now our favorite. If you’re going to watch a film of a ballet, skip this boring one, and this better, but still dull one and probably even this one in favor of The Hard Nut.

This production does suffer from the same problem that plagues almost all attempts to film a live performance: the person choosing the shot sometimes chooses the most boring part of the stage, or hides a transition that would actually be interesting to watch, or focuses on one character when something interesting is happening across the stage as a whole. This film version was produced for PBS in 1991, and the intro pieces with choreographer Mark Morris are clearly a bit dated.

That said, the design, story and energy of this version lifts it well above others we’ve seen.

The first act, especially, is glorious, in no small part due to the marvelous design. The style is based on the cartoonist Charles Burns; it uses strong black and white c…

Dear Santa (2011)

I am unprepared for this review. It's not easy for me to admit as a writer, but I'm just not ready for this: my language skills aren't up to the task. So I'm going to need you to give me a moment. I just have to duck out of this tab, go over to, and look up as many synonyms as I can find for the word "stupid."

Alright. I think we're ready to get started.

The opening credits are in a font that's supposed to mimic a child's handwriting, but the bright green color makes them nearly indistinguishable from comic sans. At this point, we thought we had a pretty good idea what kind of movie we were sitting down to watch, but we were wrong: this montage was, inexplicably, the most thoughtful section of the film. Everything that came after was significantly more idiotic.

We're introduced to the movie's star, played by Amy Acker making the most dunderheaded decision of her career. She's portraying Crystal, a vapid and naive daughte…

Graphic Novel Review: Batman: Noel

For a dark avenger, there are a surprising number of famous Batman Christmas stories, including well regarded episodes from severalanimatedseries, a holiday movie, and even a video game. There have been quite a few Christmas comic issues, as well, over the years, but you wouldn't expect anything else from a character who's been around for seventy-five years with multiple titles a large portion of that time.

One of the more iconic Batman holiday stories in his original medium is Batman: Noel, a graphic novel from 2011 that attempts to adapt A Christmas Carol using the Dark Knight as a stand-in for Scrooge and supporting characters in other roles.

This was written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, who's best known as an artist. After reading Noel, I'm a little torn on whether I think he should have stuck with that. On one hand, there are some great ideas in this story and some clever twists. But there are also a huge number of missed opportunities, poor choices, and a gen…

Dear Santa (1998)

That, that was a thing that we sat through. Erin swears that he doesn’t remember why it was on our Netflix DVD queue. After watching it, we agreed that evidence suggests it was on some ‘worst holiday movies’ list.

I thought it wasn’t going to be much from the opening credits, frankly, but the acting in this movie ended up being truly remarkable. The acting, the writing, the special effects and the production values: all of these were at a level that is hard to describe. I’ll try, though.

Picture a bunch of fifth graders who have been brought up in a room with no contact with the outside world. They only learned about how people behave from two sources: only the most cliche and flat television from the 40’s and 50’s, and from one adult who has kind of a sadistic vibe. These kids write, direct, design and act in a holiday play. This is that play.

The acting isn’t just wooden, it takes wooden to a whole new level of flat and unbelievable. It’s actually almost enough to believe it’s ba…

Toy Review: Northpole Treeluminator

The Treeluminator is part of Hallmark's Northpole line, which ties into a made-for-TV movie they released last year, which we need to track down at some point. The movie looks awful, but - so far - I'm actually kind of liking most of the merchandise.

This is a neat, albeit simple, concept. Essentially, the Treeluminator is a wireless on/off switch toggled by a battery-operated detonator. When you press down on the plunger, the red box plays one of five short sound effects, the three LED lights on top flash, then whatever's plugged in on the other end - presumably Christmas lights - activates. Press the plunger again to turn off the power.

Here's what it looks like in action:

While it's intended as entertainment for kids who will likely be all too eager to press it over and over again, it actually strikes me as potentially handy. Like most people, we've been managing Christmas lights by plugging and unplugging them as needed. While that certainly doesn't qu…

Lilo and Stitch: The Series: Topper (2003)

Oh, right. That era when Disney tried capitalizing on every movie they'd ever made by producing an endless sea of direct-to-video sequels and spin-off TV series: I remember that.

The original Lilo and Stitch movie is pretty great, though it's always seemed derivative of The Iron Giant to me. Not this episode though: it feels derivative of Dora the Explorer.

The premise of the series, according to the internet, seems to involve Lilo and Stitch trying to locate a bunch of experiments, like Stitch. Apparently, this was connected to the direct-to-video sequel no one saw. I guess that sort of fits what I just watched. Sort of.

The episode opens with Lilo explaining Christmas to Stitch. The results are less humorous than depressing. Also, it seems like like Jumba and Pleakley are living with them, for some reason. Also relevant is Gantu, who has an experiment pellet wrapped as a gift. Again, I'm not entirely clear on why he did this. Fortunately, I don't care in the least.

Scooby Doo: Haunted Holidays (2012)

For better and for worse, I found a DVD at the library called Scooby-Doo: 13 Spooky Tales - Holiday Chills and Thrills. It’s interesting, at least, containing a mix of ‘winter’ episodes and actual Christmas content from several of the various Scooby-Doo series. (For example, it included this one.)

Haunted Holidays is a special that was produced direct-to-DVD for this compilation, and I rather liked it. Or at least it wasn't awful.

The premise is more than a bit sketchy: Fred, Daphne and Velma are helping with a Christmas parade for a big toy store, for some reason, when it’s attacked by a crazed evil snowman. The thing has freezing breath and shapeshifting; it’s actually almost scary when it turns into a snow-spider-beast or a snow-alien-mouth-tentacle-thing.

Despite Shaggy and Scooby’s reluctance, as usual the gang tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, which involves a supposed ‘curse of the sinister snowman’ placed on the toy store by the guy who owned the old-fashioned h…

Family Ties: A Christmas Story (1982), A Keaton Christmas Carol (1983), and Miracle in Columbus (1987)

In 1985, I was six years old, Family Ties was my favorite show on television, mostly because of Michael J. Fox's Alex Keaton. Re-watching a few episodes three decades later, I can't really tell why I liked the show all that much, though Fox's deliveries seem to be the highlight.

The show's premise revolved around a couple of liberal ex-hippies raising kids who were more in tune with 80's materialism and conservative politics. As a meditation on the power of the instinct to rebel, even when that means rebelling against the very concept of rebellion, I'd expect them to have enough material to fill two or three hours. The fact this show lasted seven seasons (including the three holiday episodes below) plus a made-for-TV movie doesn't bode well for its watchability.

A Christmas Story (1982): This episode starts on Christmas Eve while the Keatons are getting ready to drive to a ski lodge for the holiday. A blizzard forces them to change those plans, and they win…

Food: Christmas Spice Tea

We picked up this special tea blend at 'An Afternoon to Remember', a cute tea shop in Bothell, WA. It smells just like Christmas.

It's a loose tea, so you need an infuser of some kind. The mix smells amazing even before you steep it, it's full of spices.

When you make the tea, it smells, as I said, like Christmas. You can tease out apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. It tastes lovely as well, of tea and spice and just enough of a hint of fruit.

Happily, although this is a local shop, the magic of the internet means that you can buy your own amazing Christmas tea. Enjoy!

Book review: Silent Nights

Silent Nights
Edited by Martin Edwards, ebook release 2015

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Another collection of Christmas Mystery stories, this one from the British Library Crime Classics series. Fifteen tales of murder and thievery at the holidays.

I know, you'd think I would be sick of short mysteries after last year's lengthy read of the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. However, in this book I discovered a well-balanced selection that was enjoyable overall . I think I may be giving extra credit for being of a manageable length, though.

Here's what you'll find, with stories that I've read previously noted:

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (repeat) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A classic, I would never fault anyone for adding this to a Christmas compilation. It remains charming on whatever number re-read this is.

Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A cute, simple story of a man amusing a group of …