Showing posts from December 11, 2016

A Fairly Odd Christmas (2012)

"A Fairly Odd Christmas" is the live-action made-for-TV sequel to the similarly live-action made-for-TV movie "A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner!" which is itself a sequel to the Nickelodeon series "The Fairly OddParents," which had a Christmas special of its own, though that featured an entirely different version of Santa Claus and therefore doesn't seem to be in continuity with this film.

I should probably add that I've never seen the first live action movie or any of the animated series other than the aforementioned Christmas special.

This apparently opens where the previous movie left off: the now grown-up Timmy, Tootie, and the CG fairy godparents are circling the world in a magic flying van granting wishes to anyone who's sad. They give one young girl a magic unicorn, another a monster truck, they turn a boy's small toy into a giant monster and set it loose on Tokyo, and they help a bunch of robbers empty out an electronics …

Podcast: Studio 360 on A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack

I don’t have much time these days for Studio 360. A radio show from WNYC about art, creativity and culture, I have loved some episodes and been bored by others.

Even if I wanted to listen to it more often, it’s a weekly show that’s an hour long in full, and that’s a time commitment.

I do sometimes check out the podcast feed to see what’s been on recently. I have always loved the shows they’ve done about great American art and artists.

This year, the podcast replayed a fantastic interview from 2012 about the composition of the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Even a Grinch like me likes the music to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Even if you’ve never been curious about the composition of “Christmas Time is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” the piece is only 7 minutes, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Hear from Jean Schulz, Jerry Granelli (the drummer who played with Guaraldi), and Lee Mendelson, the producer who worked closely with Schulz on the Christmas special, on Studio 360.

The Great British Baking Show: MasterClass: Christmas (2016 PBS)

I have enjoyed what I’ve seen of The Great British Bake Off (aired as The Great British Baking Show in the U.S.). I love how friendly and good-hearted the competition is.

It’s an elimination-based baking competition that takes place over ten weeks. This is one of the spin-off specials that are formatted more like a cooking show. The two judges from the show, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, make recipes to inspire the viewer.

I’m not sure whether I was inspired to try any of these, but if nothing else, it was interesting to see some British holiday desserts. There’s no pudding here, but nearly all of the desserts involve fruit and custard and I think everything involves alcohol.

The six recipes outlined in this hour are a pavlova (meringue and custard); spiral buns containing dried and fresh fruit and jam; a fancy trifle, a turkey, ham, and leek pie; a ridiculously pretty thing made of sponge cake, pastry cream and candied orange slices; and a pandoro (Italian sweet bread/cake).

The f…

The O.C.: The Chrismukk-huh (2006)

This is by the far the strangest of the Chrismukkah episodes. It starts out in a mundane enough fashion - Ryan is mourning his deceased ex-girlfriend and is having a crisis that his new relationship with Taylor is getting serious. The two of them have an argument on the roof, fall off, and wake up in an alternate universe where neither of them ever existed.

A few caveats to this. First, this isn't my interpretation: Taylor identifies it as such. Also, based on her knowledge of science-fiction, she decides they need to fix the problems of the characters in this bizzaro-verse before they can return home. Of course, everything's mixed up: Seth's parents are divorced, and his father's new wife is having an affair with Summer's fiance, who is played by a young but very recognizable Chris Pratt.

They manipulate and influence everyone with mixed results. In the episode's best scene, Seth demands Ryan tell him who he is and what's happening. Finally, Ryan just blu…

Holiday Comic: Gwenpool Holiday Special: Merry Mix-up

Last year’s special was fun, so I was excited when I heard there would be a sequel.

I was more excited when I opened to the table of contents and saw a story by Ryan North called “I Saw Spidey Kissing Galactus, The Bringer of Gifts.” That gives you a little taste of what you’re in for.

The book opens with the beginning of Gwenpool’s story. (Gwenpool, in case you aren’t up on your Marvel trivia, is Gwen Poole, a comic fangirl from a “real” world who is stranded in the Marvel Universe. She is basically unbeatable because she understands the fictional nature of the world.)

Gwen is getting ready to celebrate Christmas with her teammates, but they seem to be preparing for a very different holiday. One where Galactus brings presents to good children and you express your caring for others by giving and wearing hot pants. She quickly determines that something is screwy and heads off to the North Pole to get to the bottom of it.

Then you’re treated to three short stories set in this alternate …

Twinings Holiday Teas

With the cold weather comes an uptick in tea-drinking, at least for me. The third or fourth time I saw a display with these Twinings holiday varieties, I decided we should try them.

Christmas Tea
This is described as a spiced black tea. Unfortunately, it mostly just tastes of black tea, although it smells of cloves and cinnamon. It also seems to smell faintly of citrus, but that might just be a mental association with cloves.

It’s not bad for black tea with a slightly spicy aftertaste, but if I wanted something that mostly tasted of black tea I’d just buy black tea.

Winter Spice
I love herbal teas, and I love apple-flavored tea, so this should have been a slam dunk.

It smelled nicely of apples while it steeped, but once done, it only smelled faintly of apple and something floral. The taste is too mild for me, at least when steeped for only the recommended time.

I don’t mind chamomile, but the chamomile overwhelmed the apple and spice notes.

These are both okay teas, but they are not …

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah (2005)

You've got to admire the audacity of a show that's willing - eager, even - to undercut a dramatic moment where one character is trying to stop another from throwing their life away in a desperate robbery attempt by cutting to a bar-mitzvah-themed fundraiser where a couple of other characters lead the room in a chorus of Deck the Halls.

This is the third Chrismukkah episode of The O.C., and even more than the second, it's crystal clear the show's dropped the pretense that it's anything other a comedy. And, once again, we're better off for that.

The premise is built around a developing story-line. Some new character who lives to surf got hit by a car in an earlier episode (those "last time" openings really help here). If he ever wants to get better, he'll need an expensive surgery he can't afford. So his friends decide to put on a fundraiser/Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah for the not-at-all-Jewish Ryan. This will also give Seth a chance to make fo…

Doc McStuffins: A Very McStuffins Christmas (2013)

If you don't have small children or regularly shop for toys, you may be unaware of this popular show. On a moral and personal level, I think it's awesome that this show is popular. It wears its feminism and positivity on its sleeve, which is great. It's kid-friendly to a fault, though, and the songs weren't very good.

The main character, “Doc,” is a little girl who has a knack for fixing broken toys. (She is following the example of her mom, who is a doctor.)

With that premise, of course there's a Christmas episode. As someone who spent a lot of time and love fixing toys as a kid, I found this show somewhat charming, despite the simplistic writing. Erin felt less charitable toward it than I did.

The main premise of the episode is that an elf named Tobias dropped a toy he was supposed to deliver for Doc’s little brother, breaking it. He's distraught about the implications for his career, (seriously, he won’t shut up about it) and Doc and her cadre of stuffed a…

Podcast: The Allusionist: Winterval

I love podcasts, and one that I quite often find charming is The Allusionist, a series about language, etymology, verbiage, puns, and other wordy pursuits.

The most recent episode is a bit of a holiday special.

It’s all about Winterval, a portmanteau invented in 1997 in the British city of Birmingham to market all of their winter and winter-holiday events together in a grand festival. Of course, someone took it the wrong way, someone was quoted out of context, and a poisonous myth was born about “political correctness gone mad.”

This is an interesting entry in the history of Christmas, culture, and a timely example of how repeating a story doesn’t make it true, but it can make people believe it.

All that in 15 minutes. Check it out at:

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't (2004)

I know, I know. We usually collect things like this into one big post and do them all together. But even with The O.C. being quite a bit better than I'd expected, it still takes some effort to make it through a series this far outside of our wheelhouse (I mean, seriously - this show doesn't have one single superhero). Plus, this is an hour long; not a measly thirty-minute sitcom. And, to top it all off, we're still unpacking from our move and need to stretch this stuff out.

At any rate, the second installment of The O.C.'s annual Chrismukkah specials is at once better and worse than their first. Or maybe it's better because it's worse. It feels like the writers have realized and embraced the fact the show's dramatics are hilarious, because it feels like they've stopped trying to hide it. This episode features some ridiculously melodramatic concepts, but I never had the sense anyone was pretending otherwise. It helped that several minor characters invol…

2016 Holiday Ads

I do like a well-done television spot; it’s like a tiny short film trying to get you to like a brand. I appreciate that Britain and other parts of the world really get into impressive Christmas ads, rather than wasting their money and effort on ads for some sporting event.

I’ve seen a lot of Christmas ads making the rounds this year; here are the ones I’ve liked the most so far. And if you haven’t seen these yet, you’re welcome.

Christmas with love from Mrs Claus

This is from Marks and Spencer, a British retailer which sells clothing, home goods and some food items. It’s pretty great, giving Mrs. Claus a Christmas wish to grant and a whole set of shiny secret toys of her own. The story of the family she visits isn’t surprising, but I thought the acting sold it. Also, I laughed out loud at the title of the book she’s pretending to read at the end.

Czego szukasz w Święta? | English for beginners

This one is from Polish online auction website Allegro. You will see the emotional punch comi…

Party of Five: S'Wunnerful Life (1997)

Seinfeld famously referred to itself as the show about nothing, a somewhat self-deprecating title meant to imply an absence of premise, plot, and purpose. But I've seen almost every episode of Seinfeld, and I don't ever recall seeing an episode where nothing significant happened. Actually, I'm having a hard time thinking of a single episode of any show deserving of that distinction.

Save, perhaps, this one. We just finished watching this episode from the fourth season of Party of Five, an hour-long drama from the 90's, and I'm already finding it difficult to retain shards of story in my memory. It's not that nothing happened - characters did and said stuff - but none of it felt at all meaningful or important. I can attempt to tell you some of what happened, but I can't tell you what it was about. Honestly, it didn't seem to be about anything.

There were a bunch of characters living their lives, and they experienced different events around the holidays.…

The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever (2003)

Until watching this, my impression of The O.C. was that it was some sort of 90210 rip-off. Actually, having never seen an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, that may still hold true. There's got to be a holiday episode of that show....

Sorry. Getting off track.
The point is, my impression of The O.C., a show I knew only through hazy memories of promo spots from the early 00's, was not a positive one. I'd have associated the series with soap opera melodrama. And that was certainly present in this, but there was also a large volume of comedy mixed in: much more than I'd have expected.
In short, it's more a dramedy than a soap opera. And I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the comedic bits were. Granted, they were nowhere near as funny as most of the dramatic bits, but that would have been a high bar to clear.
Apparently, one of the things this show's known for is popularizing the term "Chrismukkah" through a series of annual specials. In case it's…

Sofia the First: Winter’s Gift (2014)

Sweet, another fantasy holiday revisited! The first holiday episode strained our tolerance, but this one was actually adorable.

Sofia is excited that it’s Wassailia once more, and she’s made a special gift for Cedric, the court magician. It’s a wand case she made by hand. When she and her rabbit Clover approach his study to deliver the gift, however, she overhears him ranting to himself about the useless trinkets people burden him with every Wassailia. Sofia decides that her gift isn’t special enough and she’ll need to find something better.

A chance comment tips her off to a magical flower - an Ice Lily - that sounds like a great gift, so she and Clover head out. Clover calls on a friend who knows the forest, a fox named Whiskers. (I don’t know why the fox and the rabbit are friends either, but you forget about that because the fox is busy being super sassy about the rabbit’s cushy life in the castle.)

On the way to find the Ice Lilies, they hear some beautiful music and stop to in…

Ambient Mixer Christmas Sounds

When I’m bored of instrumentals, sometimes listening to “noise” helps me concentrate. has tools for building your own atmospheric mixes, and while I haven’t gotten into building my own, sometimes I like to see what other people have come up with. Of course I noticed that there was a section of holiday ambiances.

Here are the three most popular of the featured mixes:

Christmas Time

Well… this is unique. The most popular comment reads: “You've successfully combined Christmas and Halloween,” and I think that person is on to something.

There’s a creepy music box on the verge of running down, very loud footsteps and door sound periodically, and an oddly ominous Santa voice every so often.

This has many more views than anything else on the Christmas page, but I wouldn’t listen to it for long. I guess you could turn off the Santa phrase and use it for the background of a Christmas horror story.

Cosy Evening in the Winter Cottage

This is okay, I guess. The cat is a litt…

Mainlining Christmas 2016 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

It's time for the annual Mainlining Christmas Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide! Okay, so technically we've never actually written one of these before, but tossing the term "annual" onto the front just gives it some much needed gravitas. Besides, if ever there was a year the public needed some help finding that perfect gift, this is it.

I mean, what do you get the person who already has everything in their fallout shelter? It's a tough nut to crack, but we've been wracking our brains to come up with the best holiday solutions.

The Fondoodler

Ever want to write with melted cheese using what amounts to a caulk gun? If so, the Fondoodler is what you've been waiting for. The Fondoodler can turn almost any cheese into whiz. Perfect for the foodie on your list!

A Digital Subscription to the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.
Now that we're on the precipice of living in a nation where the free press is threatened at every turn, the news media needs money and s…

Book Review: Silent Night (A Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)

Silent Night (A Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)
Donna Ball, 2011

Christmas crossposting!

(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: Raine Stockton runs an obedience school, or she would if the contractors would finish upgrading her facility. She trains dogs, keeps dogs, and sometimes that means she follows their noses right into trouble.

This is another cozy mystery that’s more what I would call romantic slice-of-life with a pinch of mystery. Raine’s friends, job, and trouble with men are, if not interchangeable with others I’ve read, certainly of a type.

The mystery isn’t much of the story - someone is stealing nativity Jesuses and some puppies are abandoned. Also a teenager’s abusive father turns up mysteriously dead, but Raine and company only briefly feel like they are in any danger, and she only gets involved because her trained sea…

The Last Man on Earth: Secret Santa and Silent Night (2015)

Well. That was weird.

I've seen ads for this show before, but I never actually watched an episode. Now that I have, I'm still a little unsure what to think of it.

The Last Man on Earth is a series about a small group of survivors living in the empty, desolate remains of a planet where disease has killed off the human race. Also, it's a farcical comedy.

I actually like that premise quite a bit. Protagonists in post-apocalyptic stories tend to be abnormally capable; the best of humanity. Conceptually, there's value in subverting this assumption. But maybe they pushed things a little too far with Will Forte's Tandy, who I found entirely unlikable. To be fair, I think that was the intention, but still, it might have been a bridge too far.

These two episodes were part of a much longer plot arc. The first, Secret Santa, centered on the group celebrating Christmas together with a Secret Santa gift exchange. This made for some entertaining interactions due to different ch…

Roseanne Christmas Episodes (1991 - 1996)

Roseanne's one of those shows I watched sporadically growing up. I remember finding it funny and knowing intellectually it was supposed to be significant for some reason, but I didn't fully appreciate it back when it was airing (hey, I was only a teenager).

Looking back, it's incredibly impressive. Casting a pair of leads more closely resembling the average American than Hollywood stars was courageous. Also, ingenious: they clearly got their pick of undervalued comedians, since they wound up with two of the best.

The episodes are formulaic, but not in a bad way. There's an impressive balance here between slapstick comedy and serialized storytelling. Even jumping from year-to-year, I found myself getting caught up in the character and plot developments.

Santa Claus (1991)

This episode from season four seems to kick off the annual Christmas episodes, assuming there aren't earlier holiday installments hiding under unassuming titles. The cold opening establishes that th…

Black Nativity (2013 Film)

First, I would like to state for the record that about fifteen minutes into this musical movie, I started thinking that it wasn’t that it wasn’t awful, but there was a disconnect between the style of the music and the style of filmmaking that made it unconvincing and boring. But if either the music/singing were more grounded or the acting/set/cinematography more surreal, it might work. And then later in the film I was proven right when it suddenly got good.

The movie follows a young man named Langston (after the poet), when his mother sends him to her estranged parents’ home for Christmas. He’s never met his grandparents, but his mother’s jobs aren’t bringing in enough to make rent, so she ships him from Baltimore to New York.

And up to this point it’s just slow and schmaltzy, and it has that music problem I alluded to at the start. The music is full of autotune and style that doesn’t match the very realistic filming of characters walking and riding buses. The result is thereby defl…

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

I think this movie was recommended on some list of little-known Christmas films, even though Christmas doesn’t fully show up until after the halfway point.

We open on a tour bus traveling down Fifth Avenue, with an announcer pointing out the houses of New York’s wealthiest families. A man in a shabby outfit with a dog and a cane is walking down the street. Once the bus passes, he sneaks through a loose board into a backyard and down through a manhole, coming up (somehow) inside the boarded-up mansion.

It turns out this is Aloysius McKeever, a homeless man with high class taste. He lives in this house secretly while the owner, real estate and business mogul Michael O’Connor, is in Virginia for the winter.

Meanwhile, the last tenant is being thrown out of a building scheduled to be torn down for one of O’Connor’s projects. This is Jim Bullock, a young unemployed veteran with nowhere to go. McKeever runs across him in the park and takes him back to his secret mansion. Jim thinks McKee…