Showing posts from November 20, 2016

Masterpiece Mystery: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994)

I know I read the book this is based on, I have the review to prove it, but I have no memory of it. A quick read of my review tells me it’s a common Christmas mystery plot - family gathering, locked-room murder of the head of the family. See also: The Santa Klaus Murder, 8 Women...

The episode opens with some unnecessary backstory to establish the twist ahead of time and confirm that Simeon Lee is a murderer and a rake, so we won’t care when he gets murdered. Then it jumps ahead to Simeon as an crotchety old bastard bent on emotionally torturing his spineless kids over the holidays. Everything is very by the numbers and all of these characters are morons.

Simeon made his money in diamonds, and a lot of the red herrings in the plot follow some uncut gems he receives. It’s funny, because uncut diamonds don’t look like much, so it’s hard to remember why everyone’s so wound up over them.

Finally we bring in Poirot, who is invited along to the holiday party because Simeon claims he “fears…

The Muppets: Single All the Way (2015)

You know how sometimes I use the existence of a Christmas episode to talk at length about the series it's part of? Yeah, this is definitely going to be one of those times.

For decades, The Muppets have been severely hampered by their own past. The 70's series remains one of the television's all-time greatest series, their first movie was brilliant and whimsical, and their early Christmas specials are legendary. But for several decades, the franchise has lived in those shadows. At best, new productions offered a faithful homage to past successes; at worst, they were cheap cash grabs. This is true even of the specials I've loved - basically, anything after Henson passed felt it was retreading old ground.

The 2011 movie deviated slightly by devoting some attention to considering the nature of the Muppets' relationship to their fictitious world, but by and large it was still more a tribute than a new chapter.

Last year's series, however, was fresh and modern. Sure…

Toy Review: Hallmark Northpole Good Deed Sender

God, Hallmark is producing the hell out of this stuff.

I reviewed the Northpole Communicator last year. If you're too lazy to click on that link, it's a toy old-fashioned radio communicator that supposedly connects you to Santa's operation for a quick daily chat. The toy is kind of ridiculous, but in a good way: I thought they did a decent job with it.

The Good Deed Sender is a similar concept, only it's pared back to a handheld device. Also, I was much less impressed with the content of the messages.

Obviously, the selling point is the price. This is substantially cheaper than the larger, superior communicator. How much cheaper?

Honestly, I don't know. I can't even tell you what we paid for it, and I can promise you it was less than retail.

The instructions on the back are all this comes with - there's no "secret instructions" for parents this time. You just tear it off, pull out the plastic tab that limits its function to the generic sale pitch…

Il Capital Umano (Human Capital) (2014)

A movie set (at least mostly) at Christmas, focused on a car crash, told multiple times from multiple perspectives. If you feel like you’ve heard this one before, you’re not alone.

Il Capital Umano, however, is a very different animal.

It’s about class struggles, love and the lack of it, and attitudes around the value of human life. I mostly dug it through the first sections; Erin liked it a bit less.

It’s a combination mystery and social commentary, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to learn what happens.

It starts out in the aftermath of a fancy holiday party. The caterers are working late into the night to clean up. The camera follows one particular gentleman; we learn that he’s cynical, tired and happy to clock out as soon as he can.

He mounts a bike and heads home through the dark, snowy countryside.

He is struck by a car on a back road.

At this point the movie jumps back six months and introduces our first viewpoint character: Dino. Dino is bringing his daughter (Serena…

Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight! (2015)

I haven't seen enough recent animated programming from Marvel to know whether or not this 73 minute special is in continuity with Avengers Assembled and the like, but I have seen enough to know I don't care. The last generation of Marvel cartoons - Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Spectacular Spider-man, and the short-lived Wolverine and the X-Men - was fantastic, but it all got cancelled when Disney took over. While Mickey has been a great overlord for Marvel's comics, movies, and live-action productions, their animated series have been far less impressive.

This bizarre holiday special does not reverse that trend. To be fair, it has an intriguing premise - Santa Claus, re-imagined as a half-elf/half-ice giant who delivers gifts to all the nine realms, is being hunted by Loki, who's trying to steal his powers. In the right hands, this could have been a fun, zany adventure.

But these are not the right hands. It's pretty clear the people making this wanted to…

Misadventures with Bargain Light-Up Miniature Buildings

Today, I'm looking at a pair of bargain light-up miniature buildings I found in drug stores last year. The larger is actually lights up AND plays music, while the smaller, cheaper one just lights up.

Let's start with the large, red thing labeled "Holiday Town." This was a fairly good looking piece (the snow, characters, building, and assorted decorations were all fused together), though it was quite a bit more pricey than the other. If memory serves, I found this at a Bartel, where it had at one point been $20. I'm sure I paid no more than $5 (probably less). Also, if memory serves, this had a fairly interesting light/music set-up.

Note how everything in the last paragraph is written in the past tense.

Every year, I buy crap like this and tell myself I'll take it right home, unbox it, and get my pictures. And every year I wind up shoving it into a box. Hell, I'm not 100% sure I picked this up last February and not the year before.

Did I mention this came…

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (2004)

After much whining, I had an American Girl doll as a kid. I did not have Samantha. I had Kirsten, because yes, I read a lot of Little House on the Prairie, and my second choice would have been Molly, because I thought Samantha looked stuck-up.

I believe young me’s choice is somewhat justified by this stultifying mess of a “film.”

Apparently, long after my Kirsten had started collecting dust on my childhood bedroom bookshelves, the company decided to introduce companion dolls for some of their classic dolls, and what better way to sell new toys than with a made-for-TV movie?

The best thing I can say about this is that some of the costuming and sets are decent. Not really Samantha’s, though; those dresses look silly on an actual girl. On to the story.

Samantha is an orphan who lives with her rich grandmother in upstate New York in 1904. She’s feuding with the boy next door and eagerly awaiting the return of her rich uncle who dotes on her when a family joins the next-door household: …

Millions (2004)

What the hell is wrong with America? Annually, we watch movies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story again and again, as if our sheer, culturally mandated refusal to admit they're crap will somehow elevate them to the status of genuine classic.

Meanwhile, England's been cranking out genuine holiday brilliance at a breakneck pace, and no one here notices. Arthur Christmas, Get Santa, and The Snowman are almost entirely unknown in the US, and they're all incredible. Add Danny Boyle's 2004 surrealist comedy, Millions, to that list - this thing is amazing.

The movie's main character is an eight-year-old who's just lost his mother. His name is Damian, and he's obsessed with Catholic saints. Also, he sees them. Arguably, he merely hallucinates meeting and interacting with them, but I'm not buying that. They seem to have knowledge he lacks, and they're capable of affecting the world in at least minor ways.

He's just moved…

Christmas is CANCELLED

So. Everything is awful.

President Elect Meisterburger has pledged to orchestrate a complete and total shutdown of elves entering the country, and the Winter Warlock is heading up his transition team. Once again, Kris Kringle is public enemy number one.

This is as dark as it gets. As cold and bleak and empty. This is the point in the special some kid's supposed to shed a tear and say Christmas is going to be cancelled.

But that's backwards. Christmas isn't supposed to be bright and sunny - it never was. Christmas thrives in this shit. It was born here, in the darkest season, when it seems like the light's gone for good. For millennia, humans have celebrated in order to spite the darkness. We've come together to drive the cold winter away or, barring that, to get drunk on eggnog and exchange sweaters.

And nothing's going to change that. If President Meisterburger starts a war that leaves the planet a radioactive wasteland, we'll crawl out of our sewer sanct…