Showing posts from December 3, 2017

Music Review: Phineas and Ferb Holiday Favorites (CD 2010)

This is not only a really solid album as far as cartoon-character-driven holiday music goes, it's also solid for holiday music in general. This shouldn't be a surprise; much like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, one of the major attractions of the Phineas and Ferb series is the music.

The first eight songs are all from the Christmas special. Well, including one that was apparently written for the special but cut for time. These include the more show-centered songs which won't make much sense to those who haven't seen at least some of the series.

"Winter Vacation" is a parody of the usual theme song.

"What Does He Want?" Candace is singing about her boyfriend, but this actually works fine as a standalone song about the difficulty of shopping for someone you want to impress.

"That Christmas Feeling" A solid original Christmas tune.

"I Really Don't Hate Christmas" This song by series villain Dr. Doofenshmirtz is a lot of fu…

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Santa Pac's Merry Berry Day (2014, 2015)

I've long championed the theory that any premise, regardless of how seemingly juvenile or misguided, can be elevated to greatness if the core concept is simply taken seriously and complex emotion is added. Movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lend credence to this idea.

It is a good theory, or - more accurately - it was a good theory. In the space of 44 minutes, this idea was tested and soundly, undeniably refuted by a corporate cash grab so cloying, the very core is beyond salvation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.

This is a CG science-fiction/superhero adventure based on the characters from the 1980 arcade game. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to adapt Pac-Man into a television series, but it might be the first time someone tried giving it a relatively serious tone.

Note I said relatively serious - this is still supposed t…

Toy Review: Diamond Select Nightmare Before Christmas: Santa Claus

Those of you with unusually good memories still won't recall that I reviewed Jack from Series 1 of Diamond's Nightmare Before Christmas line a few years ago, because - frankly - it wasn't that memorable. So, given that, let's take a moment to recap.

We're now around thirteen years out from when NECA produced the first wave of their Nightmare Before Christmas line. Over a few years, they produced damn near every significant character (along with several insignificant ones) from the film. With one notable exception.

For whatever reason, they didn't make Santa. They did Jack in a Santa suit, but skipped the big guy himself. Fortunately, Diamond decided to rectify this omission, which brings us to today's review.

If you remember my write-up of Jack (which we've already established you don't), you know I wasn't overly impressed with the quality control. The arms and legs were too thin to support sturdy joints, so we were left with something that cou…

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

I've been meaning to get around to this for a few years now. All I really knew about it was that it was set around the holidays, and it's something of a cult classic. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Where to begin? This was written and directed by the Coen Brothers, along with a little help from Sam Raimi. It's sort of a love letter to classic Hollywood love stories - I'm pretty sure I caught echoes of Christmas in July, Meet John Doe, and The Apartment - delivered with a twisted sense of humor.

The movie doesn't hold back on style - from the beginning, this is unapologetically grandiose and stylized. Everything from the music to the acting to the set design sets out to create a world that's a living, breathing caricature of its source material.

For those of you who don't know me, all that means I absolutely loved this bizarre, quirky movie.

I'm not going to delve into quite as much detail around the plot this time, both because it…

Book Review: Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas

Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas
Terry Spear, 2017

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

I sort of hate that I'm spending any more time and energy on this godforsaken turd of a book.

The heroine starts out on a camping trip, where she's bitten by what honestly sounds like a fluffy puppy. After some terrible description and confusion on my part, I guess that must have been a wolf because now she's a werewolf. She sees a mysterious wolf across a river. And that's the set-up.

Two years later, she has abandoned her friends and family to live alone and write paranormal romance. The author spends endless pages introducing the male lead by recapping what sounds like at least a dozen earlier books, none of which have any bearing on the events of THIS book.

The male lead is a PI who's been hired to find her because her adoptive parents died and left her money. It's mentioned a few times that the heroine is adopted, which…

Toy Review: Holiday Joker

Christmas With the Joker, the second episode made of Batman: The Animated Series, is something of a guilty pleasure. I know there are some fans who consider it among the series's worst, but I love the episode's spin on the Joker. There's something both endearing and unsettling about his attempts to crack jokes involving destruction and danger. We see him playing more in this episode than we ever would again, poking at Batman with jokes only he seems to understand.

Over the past few years, DC Collectibles has been producing six-inch figures based on the show. Last year, I was pleasantly surprised to see them add a version of the Joker from that episode. It's branded "Holiday Joker," despite the episode's name having "Christmas" in the title (quick! Call Fox News!).

I ordered it and waited, hoping to get it in time for a Christmas review. Unfortunately, I missed it by a few days. Oh, well - there's always this year.

The line this is from is fa…

Loose Canon: Santa Claus (2016)

I stumbled across Lindsay Ellis's YouTube channel somewhat randomly, and it almost immediately became one of my favorites for essays on movies and pop culture. Stylistically, I'd describe it as a blend of a great college lecture and an energized barroom discussion.

Like most successful YouTube channels, it's broken into several ongoing series. One of these, Loose Canon, examines a character or concept as it reoccurs in media. Ellis has made installments on figures as diverse as Starscream and Hades - she's not constraining herself to any specific type of character.

Of course, we're a tad more limited in our focus here, so we'll be looking at her episode on Santa Claus.

It opens with some backstory on the character, summarizing three of the most significant figures who were compiled into the modern day incarnation. She condenses the history and origin of Santa Claus about as succinctly as I've ever seen. Then she moves onto The Night Before Christmas before…

Lark Rise to Candleford: Christmas (2008)

At first glance, this seems to be the type of historical melodrama that the BBC does so well. At second glance, it's still that, but includes a ghost.

The show is based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels about a teenager who moves from a very small village (Lark Rise) to the nearby larger town (Candleford) to work at the post office near the turn of the century. It seems to be notable because it's a microcosm of the changing cultures and economy of the time.

This extra-long Christmas special features at least five plots involving a talented ensemble cast.

Laura (the teen referred to above) is thriving in Candleford, under the wing of her mother's cousin, Dorcas, who is educated and independent. It seems that Dorcas will be alone for Christmas, and Laura feels guilty and wants to keep her company. Laura's mother, meanwhile, is worried that Dorcas is replacing her in Laura's heart. Attempts to be polite ("No, it's fine!") on all sides make e…

Toy Review: Santa's Helpers Snowball Battle

This differs in two notable ways from nearly every toy I look at. First, I actually paid full retail price for this. Second, I think it's actually worth it.

Granted, full retail doesn't mean a lot - this went for $4.94 at Walmart prior to Christmas. I'm not sure why they felt that $4.94 was the precise amount they wanted to charge, as opposed to $4.95, $4.99, or an even $5, but they seemed committed. The fact the price tag is a removable sticker is presented as a selling point, as it simplifies gifting this (and, for the little it's worth, I was able to peel off the sticker without difficulty).

The box features a "touch me" section, which was smart - more of this in a moment. I'm not too impressed with the graphics or the back, but that's hardly a deal breaker.

Note that the front and back photo are identical but flipped on the y-axis. Pretty lazy, guys. Pretty damned lazy.

But none of that matters, nor do the ridiculous claims and selling points. Le…

The Real Ghostbusters: X-Mas Marks the Spot (1986)

The Real Ghostbusters has been largely forgotten, which is kind of a shame. The series started in 1986 and serves as something of a missing link between the comical, kid-friendly cartoons of the 80's and the more adult story-driven adventure shows of the 90's. This certainly isn't Batman: The Animated Series, but it's not Scooby-Doo, either. There were some creepy villains and monsters in this show, along with some cool concepts. The story editor was J. Michael Straczynski, who also wrote a vast number of episodes, including this one.

"X-Mas Marks the Spot" was the last episode of the first season. It's set on Christmas Eve, or more accurately on two Christmas Eves. After bungling a job in upstate New York, the Ghostbusters wander through a time portal and find themselves in Victorian London. Not realizing what they're doing, they help Ebeneezer Scrooge with a haunting and wind up capturing the three Christmas ghosts.

Still unaware where they are, th…

Cutthroat Kitchen: Sabotage Is Coming to Town (2014)

Cutthroat Kitchen is a cooking competition show about invention, adversity, and screwing over your opponents. We really enjoy it.

Like many competition shows, one contestant leaves after each round. Each round consists of a challenge and a set of sabotages. Each contestant starts with $25,000 that they can use to bid on these sabotages and disadvantage other contestants. The winner gets bragging rights and whatever money he or she has left. Winning (or doing well) is usually a combination of bidding strategy, luck, and the inventive skill to change your plan on the fly and MacGyver weird foodstuffs into something that's both edible and fancy-looking.

This special Christmas episode features Chefs Keith, Kelley, Angelo, and Phillip. The set is decorated, and the challenges and sabotages all follow the holiday theme.

In round one, the challenge is "ham dinner." Angelo spends a good amount of his starting cash to win all the sabotages (sold together as a set). This means tha…

Game Review: Holiday Helper

What's your opinion of humanity? I ask, because it's about to be lowered.

Holiday Helper isn't really a "game" in any meaningful sense of the word. It's not really ANYTHING in any meaningful sense of any word, though it seems to be masquerading as a party planning assistant. That's what I get from the back, anyway:

The box is almost seven by five inches and one and a half inches thick. There's room for quite a lot in here. Only, in this case, it's a lot of air.

In case it's unclear just how ridiculous this is, here's a picture with everything - yes, everything - unpacked.

Turns out, when the back makes a big deal about how the cards include 12 contests, 12 party themes, and 12 drink recipes, it neglects to mention these are crammed into the same 12 cards. That, two dice, and some cheap knickknacks are all that's included.

The cards are ludicrously stupid. I'm not really sure who the target audience is for these. It's 2017 - fr…

The Golden Girls: Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (1986) and Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas (1989)

The Golden Girls was influential, remembered, and - in some ways - fairly progressive, but that doesn't mean it holds up all that well. We found two Christmas episodes (there could be more - sometimes sitcoms set episodes over the holidays without calling it out in the title).

Neither was especially bad (the first was fairly funny), but there wasn't much of significance, either. A lot of 80's sitcoms went for a sort of vapid inoffensive tone, even when they approached social issues (more on that in a moment). That was definitely the case here. The problems were minor, the stakes were low, and there was never a hint of suspense, even when the leads were being held at gunpoint.

Sorry - getting ahead of myself.

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (1986)

The first holiday episode, Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (seven years before the stop-motion classic), is sort of a disjointed comedy of errors. Ostensibly, there's a story tying this together, but really it's str…

Last of the Summer Wine: Whoops (1981)

Every so often, I run across something that reminds me that despite a lot of overlap, Britain and America do not actually share one culture. After sitting through this incomprehensible mess, I discovered that the show went on for some 30-ish years... I can't even imagine.

So far as Wikipedia and I were able to put together, this show follows three elderly men through a kind of second childhood. (I had sort of hoped it was just this episode, but from the premise description online, that seems to be the show.)

In this episode, they use Christmas as an excuse to try to reclaim their youth by playing pranks, doing various implausible physical feats, and reconnecting with old school chums. They reminisce about the old days, walk on their hands (obviously fake), jump off a (slowly) moving bus, and visit a few other men who aren't exactly pleased to see them.

The actors aren't terrible, but the characters haven't aged well, so to speak. It was especially repulsive this year …

Toy Review: Team Elves Oregon State Beavers Doll

Aside from the toys themselves, the worst thing to come out of the "Elf on a Shelf" fad is the endless pile of imitations. These things have been popping up everywhere over the past few years. I kept meaning to grab one when they got ridiculously cheap, but for some reason they vanished from the shelves before dropping below 50%. And, given these start at fifteen bucks, that's not nearly enough of a discount.

We found this one while vacationing in Oregon last August. A Walgreens had him (and plenty more) at 75% off, which still seemed high. But we decided to make the $3.74 investment, so here we are.

Let's start by looking a little closer at the packaging.

The back of the box has some artwork showing elves playing various sports, along with a crappy poem explaining the elf's purpose. It's actually a bit ambiguous - it says he's been sent to determine if you're "Nice enough to make Santa's team," but it's unclear if your "nicene…

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (2010)

If you really like Bad Santa but feel betrayed by the movie's fundamentally positive message of hope, have I got a recommendation for you...

I've heard of this show before, but I'd never actually seen it. Even after watching the two-part Christmas special, I'm not entirely sure what to think. I tried watching the first episode to get a little context, but I turned it off about five minutes in - it was just too painful. Not bad, mind you - painful.

I didn't have the same reaction to the Christmas special, and it's easy to see why. The comedy in the pilot was largely based on making the audience uncomfortable seeing the characters undergo shameful and awkward situations. By the time the Christmas special aired six seasons in, the characters were completely devoid of shame. Or souls, for that matter.

They're empty husks trying desperately to reclaim their humanity and feel some semblance of happiness at the holidays. Bleak, sure, but it's far easier to wa…

Book Review: If the Fates Allow

If the Fates Allow
Edited by Annie Harper, 2017

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

Premise: Five stories of love, hope, and forgiveness at the holidays.

Do you need some warm and fuzzy holiday cheer? Do you love love?

This new collection features five LGBTQ holiday romances that make your heart feel full of sugarplums. I smiled and sighed and giggled. It's seriously sweet, without being too sweet.

The first author, Killian Brewer, starts off strong with "Gracious Living Magazine Says It Must Be a Live Tree." Marcus wants his first Christmas with his boyfriend to be perfect, and his grandmother's friends are there to help.

"True North" by Pene Henson follows a WNBA star who goes home for the holidays with a friend, only to navigate her family's misguided assumptions and her high school crush.

Erin Finnegan brings us "Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grill," in which a young political advise…

My Love Story!: My Christmas (2015)

I've been enjoying the show Ore Monogatari!, released in English as My Love Story! The show follows Takeo, a high school student navigating love, friendship, and life. He's a huge person with a lot of physical ability, but that means girls generally think he's "weird" or "scary." In the first episode, that changes, as he and Yamato fall for each other immediately. The series follows the ups and downs of their relationship and their friendships in a way that's sweet, sensitive, and surprisingly complicated for two characters who are so good-hearted.

In this episode, it's Christmastime, and Yamato suggests having a party with her friends from her all-girls school and Takeo's friends. This isn't the first time they have all gotten together, and Takeo's friend Kurihara confesses to Takeo that he wants to date Yamato's friend Nanako. At the same time, Nanako confides in Yamato that she and Kurihara have been out together, but she'…

Comedy Bang! Bang!: Josh Groban Wears a Blue Blazer and Shiny Black Shoes (2015)

This is a weird holiday episode, even for this show. The premise is that global warming, driven by Aukerman's burning of styrofoam cups, causes the sea levels to rise until a beach literally bursts through the wall of the Comedy Bang! Bang! set. A bunch of teenagers dressed and acting like they're out of the 1960s spill in and proceed to start celebrating the holidays. Scott starts trying to shut them down, but he has a change of heart when he falls madly in love with Ahoop, one of the teenagers.

But he's not her only admirer - the episode's secondary guest, a fake British rock star named "The Beetle, acts as a romantic rival. The character's actually played by Aukerman, too, making for some odd sequences.

If you're a little shaky on the references, you aren't alone - I spent the episode trying to figure out what, exactly, they were parodying. Lindsay, fortunately, is enough of a Disney nerd to connect "Ahoop" back to Annette Funicello. That…

Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Lonely Island Wear Holiday Sweaters & White Pants (2014)

Comedy Bang! Bang!'s second Christmas episode is a big improvement over their first. Having already tried the "kitchen sink" approach, this one picks a reference and focuses in on it. Even better, that reference is Die Hard.

The episode opens just before Christmas. Scott is depressed, because he feels like the holidays are too commercial. Making matters worse, the air conditioner is out of order, causing the set to be extremely hot. Xenophobic ex-marine Ray Starksy (played by Alan Tudyk) climbs into the air ducts to fix it minutes before a group of international terrorists break in and take the show hostage.

Their demand: they want a hard-to-find toy to give to their daughters as a Christmas present. And if they don't get them, they'll kill everyone.

The terrorists are a constant presence, though their disruptions are fairly minimal, aside from one bit when the leader (James Urbaniak doing a decent impression of a generic Die Hard villain) takes over as host to …

Comedy Bang! Bang!: Zach Galifianakis Wears a Santa Suit (2013)

Comedy Bang! Bang! is a bizarre program, even by skit show standards. The show is ostensibly a mock talk show (mock show?), though that barely begins to describe it. Episodes can feature bizarre twists, character death, or reality warping premises. Stylistically, the twists are reminiscent of Monty Python, albeit in a far more controlled environment. Other elements, such as talking furniture, evoke Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Every episode’s title is a mundane description of the main guest’s outfit. The Christmas Episode breaks a bit in this convention by having Zach Galifianakis play Santa Claus – usually the titular guests play themselves, leaving the fictional guests to famous comedians.

This one actually has a slightly more coherent plot than most episodes, though that’s really not saying much – telling a coherent story is not the series’s primary goal.

The Christmas episode starts with Reggie Watts, the show’s band leader (and sole member), bringing Scott Aukerman, the host, a bag of g…