Showing posts from December 4, 2016

Santa Claws (2014)

While Santa Claws wasn't intended to be confused with the 1996 horror movie with the same name, it was almost certainly intended to be confused with the direct-to-DVD Santa Paws movies. This was produced by "The Asylum," the low-budget production company that produces cheap knock-offs of big-budget pictures and pushes them onto the market early and often. They're also responsible for the Sharknado franchise (which gets name-checked in Santa Claws).

This is a difficult movie to approach. While it was one of the most boring, pointless productions we've ever had the misfortune of sitting through, it did include a sequence where someone had to shove an EpiPen into Santa's chest to save him from a peanut allergy. While this scene wasn't good, it was certainly a unique moment in Christmas entertainment.

It wasn't entirely alone - the movie offered a couple more shots or jokes that implied a subversive streak in the producers. But saying these were few and …

Music Review: Solitudes Christmas Albums

I got a full-time job as an editor this year, which means that I often want to listen to music without words. This has lead me to many soundtracks and atmospheric albums, and eventually to rediscovering Solitudes.

Solitudes are a lengthy series of albums that mostly combine new-age-ish instrumentals with recordings of wildlife and natural soundscapes. The series was created by Canadian Dan Gibson, who created new techniques and equipment to improve wildlife sound recording.

I had a compilation in the 90s (Favorite Selections), but I’d forgotten all about it until recently. I think they make great background music for office work, particularly if, like me, you’d rather be out in the woods than in a cubicle.

And there are Christmas albums! Here are three you can easily access on Amazon (or YouTube. Seriously, there are a ton of quality long instrumental tracks on YouTube).

Christmas Wonder (1996 CD)

Overall this is my favorite of these three. The songs often evoke a melancholy frost or, …

ThinkGeek Build On Brick Holiday Wreath

Ah, the magic of Cyber Monday. I've been wanting to get my hands on one of these for a year now, but the $20 price tag was more than I wanted to pay for something I knew almost nothing about. But then Cyber Monday rolled around, and ThinkGeek marked it down to $5, with free shipping to boot. That price point was more palatable, so I placed an order and waited for it to arrive. And now that it's here, I'm really, really happy I didn't pay $20 for it.

That feeling is the true magic of Cyber Monday.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The concept behind this is pretty fun: it's a building-block wreath intended to be used with other building blocks (i.e.: LEGO's). You can snap the wreath together, make LEGO decorations, and create your own masterpiece.

I really had no idea what to expect from this in terms of size or complexity. The box measures about six inches squared, but the wreath comes disassembled. Once it's complete, it has a diameter of about eleven …

The Night Before (2015)

For those of you trying to place this, it's the mid-budget, raunchy, R-rated Christmas comedy you skipped last year. Most years offer at least one such movie, and they have a tendency to blend together.

This stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie as Ethan, Isaac, and Chris, three friends who have been spending Christmas Eve together for years, ever since Ethan's parents were killed right before the holidays. Now that they're older, Isaac and Chris feel like they've gotten too old for the traditional pub crawl. Before the movie opens, they've already made it clear that this is going to be the last year, though the other two doubt Ethan, who's accomplished very little in his life, is comfortable with this.

To the movie's credit, Ethan is a little more complex than that. While he's not entirely prepared to move on with his life, he's not oblivious to where the others are coming from. Besides, they've got problems of their own: …

Book Review: A Big Sky Christmas

A Big Sky Christmas
William W. Johnstone* and J.A. Johnstone, 2013

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

*As I discovered at the end of the book, this was one of many books written from notes/unfinished manuscripts by another after this author’s death.

Premise: Famous frontiersman Jamie McCallister hadn’t intended to get involved, but someone had to get the pilgrims to Montana by Christmas.

I told Erin I read a Western. I said it was boring. He said, “Yup, then it’s a Western.”

This book wasn’t terribly written, I guess, but I found it quite dull. All the characters are either good or evil. All the evil characters end up dead, mostly after surprisingly short, not-very-tense action scenes. All the obvious plot hooks are followed up with almost no surprises.

It must be odd, to write a Western today. If someone’s just writing a straight W…

The Holiday (2006)

The Holiday tells the heart-wrenching story of unrequited love, specifically that between the producers of this movie and the film, Love Actually. You see, the people who made The Holiday watched Love Actually, loving its success from afar for three long years. But The Holiday's producers were American, largely based in California, a world apart from the English production they so desired.

The Holiday is an allegory for this passionate love, told with two crossing stories centered on women who trade homes - one in Los Angeles and the other in the English countryside.

"Why only two?" you might ask. After all, Love Actually juggled nine tales of romance. Presumably the people behind The Holiday partially understood their limitations and decided to aim for something more manageable. Unfortunately, two-ninths still proved an overly-ambitious goal. The worst sections of Love Actually still manage to deliver escapist romance that's orders of magnitude better than what The…

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

I'm counting this as a Christmas movie, even though it means watering down the litmus test we've used in the past. The lead-up to Christmas itself only requires a third of the movie's 90 minute run-time, while New Years Eve falls at the halfway mark. Still, Christmas decorations are present until the end, so I'm giving it a pass.

I should probably mention I've only seen the first Jaws and this one. In theory, that should mean I'm missing two movies from the story, but Wikipedia assures me the third installment was excised from continuity.

The Revenge opens with a holiday celebration in Amity, where the original was set. At some point, Martin Brody, the protagonist of the original Jaws movie, died of a heart attack (i.e.: wasn't interested in making another of these damn movies). His wife and older son, Ellen and Michael, take over as the leads, while his younger son, Sean, is killed off in the first few minutes.

There are two culprits resonsible: the first…

Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures: Happy First Frost (2010)

This is only a Christmas episode if you squint, but we think it counts. The characters specifically say that it’s the shortest day of the year, that everyone has different traditions to celebrate, and theirs involves gift-giving. One or two of those wouldn’t do it, but all three and we’ll give it a pass. This is despite the fact that the animation company didn’t bother to give any of the backgrounds or characters any sort of winter look.

The plot mostly follows the aforementioned gift-giving. Strawberry Shortcake and her candy-colored friends have a Secret-Santa-like tradition where they pick names out of a hat and give secret presents. They are preparing for this when a caterpillar (named, I kid you not, “Mr. Longface”) visits, and they invite him to join in.

Strawberry picks his name and sets out to find the perfect gift. Blueberry has Lemon’s name, and decides to give her a huge book about organizing books. Unfortunately, this is a terrible gift for Lemon, who owns only two other…

Toy Review: NECA Home Alone 25th Anniversary Kevin McCallister

I picked up the Harry Lime figure from this line last February on clearance, assuming I'd find Kevin cheep if I waited long enough. So I waited. And waited. And waited, as the figures began disappearing from store shelves.

Then I cracked.

I don't like Home Alone, but I feel like there's something seriously wrong with the world if Mainlining Christmas lacks a review of this action figure. Plus, I figure I'll be using it in Nerdtivities and the like for decades to come. So... investment?

Just to recap, this is a NECA action figure in the style of the old 70's Mego line.

Kevin stands about five and a half inches tall, which looks about right beside an eight inch adult. I'm glad they got the scale right, though it does make me question whether he's objectively worth the $30 I paid. It doesn't help that the sculpt and paint - while definitely good - are below the level of quality on Harry.

Here's Kevin standing beside an eight-inch "Weird" Al …

Run All Night (2015)

Run All Night is an action/drama vehicle for Liam Neeson. The fact that it came out last year and you haven't heard of it provides a far better overview than I could ever hope to achieve. But, in the interest of pumping the internet full of content to drive it towards self-awareness, let's have a go at this.

The movie is set in New York a little before Christmas. The majority of the story, as the title implies, plays out over a single night - probably not Christmas Eve, but who knows? This movie was vague as hell.

The main character is Jimmy, a burnt out mob enforcer played by Liam Neeson. He's a drunk, tormented by memories of the people he's killed and the mistakes he's made. His best friend is Shawn, a mob boss trying to go legitimate. Both men have a son: Jimmy's son, Michael, hates him and wants nothing to do with his father, who was absent most of his life, anyway. Shawn's wants to be successful, like his father, and gets involved with drug dealers.

Very British Problems at Christmas (2015)

Very British Problems is a show based on a book based on a Twitter account, but don’t write it off because of that. It stars an array of comedians and celebrities, mostly British with a few from elsewhere who frequently work or live in Britain. These folks give short accounts to the camera of their experiences of the unwritten social rules of British society. A narrator provides context and ties the different interviews together under various broad subjects.

If you’ve seen the first season, there isn’t much in this Christmas special that isn’t addressed elsewhere, but if you haven’t, it’s probably a fine sample of the series.

The accounts of ridiculous social awkwardness around gift exchange or hosting a party are amusing because all the speakers have a sense of humor about it. It can also be heartening to those that have been there. I’ve read accounts of folks who have social anxiety finding this show reassuring -- hearing that other people (most of a country) feel the same way abou…

Shimmer Noel Decorative Filler

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that Michaels sells some weird shit.

Seriously. I love the store (I even worked there once, long ago), but they sell things that simply defy explanation. This is a good example of that phenomenon.

We found these sold with other seasonal decorations. This is a pack of round, furry balls - nine for $12.99, if you pay full price.

If there's a second thing I've leaned over the years, it's that you should never pay full price for seasonal merchandise at Michaels.

We got these at 70% off in some sort of post-black-cyber-buy-our-crap-Friday-doorbuster-sale. I'm not entirely clear on why there was a sale going on, but it brought the price below $4 for the set, which is something like $0.43 per unit.

But none of that's important, because there's a far, far, FAR more immediate question elicited by these: WHY?

Actually, "Why?" is itself merely a starting point. Why were these designed? Why were …

Murder, She Wrote: The Christmas Secret (1992)

The secret of the title is half obvious and half boring. Just putting that up front.

Murder, She Wrote can sometimes be charming, and sometimes it can just be tedious. This is one of the latter. Angela Lansbury does her best to maintain unflappable enthusiasm and charm, but the story is downright dull.

We open in that deceptively peaceful Maine town, Cabot Cove, which is welcoming Charlie, a young veteran who is engaged to Beth, the daughter of a prominent family. Charlie is thrilled to be so embraced by the community, as he and his sister grew up in foster care. He has something important to tell Beth, and gives her a key to his hotel room so they can meet up later. Except they don’t.

Instead he finds a tape with a blackmail message on it, and he has dinner with Beth but doesn’t talk to her about anything important. We know that the son of Beth’s father’s business partner resents Charlie’s presence in town, but he’s a red herring.

There’s also another sketchy young man (Floyd) who…

Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land/Hook on Ice, F-F-Frozen Never Land, Captain Scrooge (2011-2014)

As an aficionado of both Disney and children’s television in general, I have to believe that there is something of quality in the Disney Junior lineup.

But this made us want to scurry back to the complex plots and emotions of Sofia the First.

It has some of the repetition and talk-to-the-camera of Blue’s Clues, without any of the charm. In between, it’s a series of thin premises and slapstick scenarios that aren’t in the least interesting or funny.

It’s also, of course, a crime against a treasure of art and literature, although I’ve seen Disney’s Captain Hook in enough contexts that I can divorce it somewhat from Peter Pan in my brain. Even if he seems to have a little safety knob on his hook in this.

The show stars three kids and a parrot who live on “Pirate Island” and go on simplistic adventures in Never Land. (Yes, it’s “Neverland” in Peter and Wendy, but the show’s title card clearly reads “Never Land.”)

The kids are “pirates” where pirate has been redefined to mean believing i…

Toy Review: NECA Home Alone 25th Anniversary Harry Lime

This is from a wave of three figures released by NECA last year in recognition of Home Alone's 25th anniversary. I came across this on clearance in February and picked him up. I'm not a big fan of the film it's based on, but I figured I could always use a generic thief. Besides, I was curious about the style.

This is a little larger than most action figures produced these days. Or rather it would be if Joe Pesci wasn't a little shorter than most actors. The scale is designed for an average character to ring in at around eight inches, but Harry measures in at 6.5 - more or less the same as most 6-inch action figures these days.

Here's a comparison shot with a few other NECA figures. The Weird Al is in the same style and comes in at 8-inches, while the fully sculpted Terminator is about 6.5:

The 8-inch figure with a cloth outfit is something of an homage to Mego, one of the most influential action figure companies in the history of the industry. A lot of toy collect…

Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas Movie

Last year, Public Policy Polling asked 1,267 Americans a series of idiotic questions about the holidays. Among them was whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie. Much to our nation's shame, the vast majority claimed it wasn't.

This is hardly the first time I've seen Die Hard's holiday credentials called into question. It's a pervasive idea that seems to show up at least a few times every year. Most of the time, the argument boils down to an arbitrary distinction between a Christmas movie and a movie that's incidentally set at Christmas, which is a can of worms that shouldn't be opened lightly. I mean, there's actually no reason It's A Wonderful Life has to be set at Christmas.

Hell, if you move it to the states and change their names to the ghosts of Thanksgiving Past, Present, and Future, you can swap out the season of A Christmas Carol without impacting the plot or moral, if that's how low a bar you want to set.

But I'm actu…

Book Review: Murder in Christmas River

Murder in Christmas River
Meg Muldoon, 2012

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: Cinnamon Peters is determined to win this year’s gingerbread house competition. It’s good press for her pie shop, and showing up her rival is just icing on the proverbial cake. But when one of the judges turns up dead behind her shop and an old flame cruises back into town, she’ll have more than a contest to worry about.

This is one of those cozy mysteries that’s closer to the romance end of the spectrum, but I think it works.

Cinnamon is a likable protagonist: emotional without being too sappy, short-tempered at times, snarky but overall kind. Other characters include her friend Kara, her grandfather she’s looking after, her rival in the competition, her new/old crush, her jerk ex-husband, and other townsfolk. They are each interesting without be…

The Dead (1987)

The Dead is an adaptation of a James Joyce story about an Epiphany party, which I suppose we're now annexing as part of Christmas (to be fair, January 6 would have been considered the conclusion of Christmastime when the movie was set, a fact outright stated in the film).

This is John Huston's last film before his death, and it seems to be widely beloved with a 92% Freshness rating and several honors. While this isn't unfair - the movie is well constructed and acted - it's definitely not for everyone.

For example, it definitely wasn't for me or Lindsay: we found it boring as hell.

The plot is essentially contained in the last five minutes of an hour and twenty minute long film. Until then, the entire thing takes place at a party being thrown by three women I'm assuming are sort of standing in for the three wise men. If you want to know whether this is a heartfelt ode to Irish culture or some sort of ironic mockery of tradition, you'll have to go find a Joy…

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a Japanese/British film about a POW camp during World War II directed by the controversial Japanese film maker Nagisa Oshima. I have a few complaints, but overall it's a well-made, engrossing movie exploring some fairly large questions about culture and human nature.

The movie centers around four characters: two prisoners and two jailers. The titular Mr. Lawrence is the sole English character who speaks both languages, and he has a fairly good grasp of Japanese culture. Also held prisoner is a South African soldier, Jack Celliers, notably played by David Bowie, who the camp commandant, Captain Yonoi, becomes obsessed with. Also key is Sergeant Hara, a man who oscillates between cruelty and compassion.

The movie's plot is somewhat murky, as the events are intricately linked to the complex motives of its characters. I'm not going to try to offer a complete synopsis - I don't think it would begin to make sense - but I'll focus instead…

Carol (2015)

Erin decided we should watch this based purely on the Santa hat in the trailer. And sure enough, it fits our rubric for a Christmas movie.

Carol is a romance that takes place at Christmas, and over 50% of the movie’s run-time takes place directly before or after the holiday.

It stars Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Terese. After a chance meeting in a department store (Carol is shopping, Terese is a clerk) the two become inseparable, causing strife with Terese’s lukewarm fiance and risking Carol’s custody arrangement with her ex-husband. They eventually travel cross-country together in an attempt to run from their troubles for a while.

The movie is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952, when material about gay characters was often subject to obscenity laws. The plot elements are inspired by the real experiences of Highsmith and friends of hers, struggling with their sexuality in a culture that was entirely …

Celebrate It Merry Minis: Mini Garden Sets

Are mini gardens really popular enough to justify the mass production of these holiday-themed decorations? The presence of these in the Michaels's clearance section last year suggests the answer is no.

But they're weird. And fascinating. And useful to toy collectors. And, most importantly, Christmas.

So I picked them up. This is two sets, incidentally: I stacked one on top of the other in the above photograph. The backs contain detailed information about the product, the company that produces it, and other items they make.


Aside from one having "5 pc" stamped on the top sticker and the UPC, there's no difference in the label - not even a unique name for the different sets.

The first set contains six items: Santa, a snowman, a cabin, a table, and two stools. I like the pieces well enough, though the collection seems somewhat arbitrary. Why are we getting chairs and a table with figures who can't sit in them? If the set's meant to represent the ou…