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Showing posts from December 2, 2018

The Christmas Dinosaur (2004)

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The Christmas Dinosaur was a made-for-TV special about a boy who receives a dinosaur as an early Christmas present. Information about the special is sparse and inconsistent - I'm not even 100% certain this premiered in 2004. It was produced by PorchLight Entertainment, whose only credit I recognize is A Martian Christmas, another forgettable special we reviewed way back in 2010.

This seems to have aired a few times on Cartoon Network before vanishing into obscurity. Like a great deal of what we review, we found it on a clearance shelf and grabbed it out of morbid curiosity.

The story doesn't get much more elaborate than the premise. Basically, a boy who's been fighting with his younger brother receives a dinosaur egg in the mail. He opens it before Christmas, and it hatches into a pterosaur, which the kids hide from their parents. Working together, they raise the animal, which grows up in a week or so. There are a bunch of side plots that go nowhere involving the kids'…

Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (2013)

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This review definitely needs to start with an aside:

What Tyler Perry, the creator and actor behind Madea, managed to accomplish is nothing short of awe-inspiring. He created a series of plays, films, and television shows that appealed to grossly under-represented audiences, and as a result, he's become one of the most successful producers in entertainment. His personal story is inspiring.

The fact I felt I needed to open with all of that isn't a great sign. God, I wanted this movie to surprise me. I went in knowing that Perry's work has never appealed to critics, but I really, really wanted to be able to offer a dissenting opinion.

No such luck - aside from a handful of good jokes and one or two compelling dramatic beats, this was an awful movie.

The film opens with Madea working in a department store along with her great-niece, Eileen. This segment is basically a prolonged excuse for Perry to ad-lib Madea farcically interacting with customers. The jokes didn't land …

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

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We already reviewed The Christmas Chronicles on the podcast, but I wanted to collect some more spoilery thoughts I had on the plot and overall structure. Which means, if you haven't see the movie yet, you should hold off on reading this until you do. The Christmas Chronicles is a good holiday fantasy you're better off experiencing without knowing where it's going.

The movie opens by introducing its two main human characters, Kate and Teddy, through a montage of home movies. We also get a brief look at their parents, only one of which survives past the opening. In a refreshing change of pace, the parent still breathing is their mother (it's disturbing this is as rare a choice as it is).

Teddy and Kate's dad was a firefighter, and he died between Christmases, making this the family's first season without him. Their mom is a nurse, so she's stuck working long hours. And of course it doesn't help that her kids are at each other's throats. She just want…

Book Review: In Peppermint Peril

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In Peppermint Peril
Joy Avon, 2018

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

I almost didn’t write a review for this book, because I sort of felt bad. Unless it’s a new pseudonym (completely possible) this is the first book by a new author. And it’s not horrible, it’s just sort of broken. It’s a mishmash of mystery tropes that doesn’t recognize why some work together and others don’t.

It’s a holiday mystery that has little to do with the holiday. It has Agatha Christie elements but only sometimes. It has many, many side elements that read like references to previous books (that don’t exist). Worst of all, it’s a cozy mystery with a boring main character.

Cozy mysteries live and die by their leads. Almost always female, commonly bakers or small business owners, most modern cozy leads have romantic plots with happy endings or they have husbands who endorse their part-time mystery solving. Not every mystery lead has to be a winner - usually you …

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

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Just want to nip this one in the bud, in case anyone skimmed the title of the post - this is the 1994 remake, not the 1947 classic. I reviewed the classic (albeit briefly) back in the first year of the blog.

That said, you can't examine this remake without considering the original, so I rewatched the '47 film before putting this on. And... wow, there's a noticeable difference. It's like comparing apples to oranges after one of those two pieces of fruit passed through the digestive track of a reindeer.

Let me slow down. I'm being unfair to the '94 movie, which actually does have several merits. The two key cast members, Kris and Susan, are well cast in Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson. Both did good work in their roles and manage to salvage the experience of watching this...

...Assuming you've never seen the original film. Because if you've seen the original, it's physically painful to sit through this thing. It's not so much a question of t…

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: Lobster Claus Is Coming to Town (2017)

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According to Wikipedia, the series this is from is a prequel to the movies set when Flint Lockwood was in high school, that Sam Sparks is an intern, and that the pilot implied the reason they didn't know each other in the movie was that at some point between the show and the film, Flint invented a memory eraser.

We realized literally none of that while we were watching this, and it's technically a double-length episode (i.e.: a full half hour rather than the usual 15 minutes).

The animation is stylized to a degree that characters' ages are impossible to decipher, and the plot of this installment takes place when no one's in school. As a result, we just assumed it was intended as a sequel. Apparently not!

I suppose the plot makes more sense if this is a prequel. In it, Sam's new to Swallow Falls, and this will be her first Christmas. Her excitement turns to agitation, however, when she learns no one in town has heard of Santa Claus. Instead, they celebrate the adve…

Karroll's Christmas (2004)

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This made-for-TV comedy focuses on Allan Karroll, a man who hates Christmas because... Wait! Come back!

I know, I know. Christmas comedies made for TV are almost universally terrible. But while this one isn’t a work of cinematic brilliance, it’s definitely exceptional among its type.

I was skeptical of the beginning too. It seems like so many of this genre, presenting a protagonist who has to learn a lesson because they don’t unconditionally love Christmas to an unreasonable degree. However, while Allan’s irritation with a work presentation going poorly and a confrontation with his nasty neighbor are exacerbated by the Christmas season, he’s just average prickly until dinner with his girlfriend Carrie. Then he becomes downright unlikeable, as he can’t let his irritation go and doesn’t even notice that said girlfriend is trying to be romantic (and secretly planning to propose to him).

They go home together, but his neighbor starts stealing his electricity (via Christmas lights) to run…

Blizzard (2003)

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Attempting to outline the plot of the 2003 Christmas/fantasy/comedy/drama is akin to unraveling a Geordian knot. And, no, that wasn't a typo - it was something far worse: a pun. This was directed by LeVar Burton, who also gets a brief cameo. It stars Christopher Plummer, Kevin Pollak, Whoopi Goldberg's voice, and a bunch of Canadian actors you've never heard of.

The movie opens with a sledding montage showing a pair of kids enjoying a winter day together. Eventually, they head home and say goodbye forever - one is moving away. The other is so devastated, she retreats to her room. A week later, and her parents are still unable to get her to cheer up. In an attempt to salvage Christmas, they call in the mother's globetrotting sister, Aunt Millie, who flies in and starts telling her depressed niece a story about another friendship, long ago...

It's around this point that it becomes apparent the characters we've been following for the last ten minutes (give or tak…

Susan Slept Here (1954)

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Susan Slept Here is a lighthearted romantic comedy from the classic age of cinema about statutory rape. And here I thought romantic comedies from the nineties were problematic.

The movie's two leads are Mark, played by Dick Powell, and the titular Susan, played by Debbie Reynolds. Mark is a Hollywood screenwriter with an Oscar to his name. Said statuette narrates the movie via voice-over. Think of it as a running gag devoid of humor or point.

Despite some success in his past, Mark's in a rut. He's not satisfied with the work he's doing, and he's not satisfied with his beautiful, rich girlfriend. On Christmas Eve, a police officer shows up with a seventeen-year-old delinquent, explaining that Mark had expressed interest a few years earlier in making a movie with a character like this. The cop caught the girl (Susan, obviously) after she attacked a sailor with a bottle, but he doesn't want her to spend the holidays in jail. Instead, he has the idea of relinquish…

We Bare Bears: The Perfect Tree (2017)

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This is the second Christmas episode from the show We Bare Bears - we reviewed the first last year. Without retreading more ground than necessary, We Bare Bears is a fantastic animated show that defies easy explanation. Its themes are complex and nuanced, while still being completely appropriate for young audiences. This is the kind of show that can actually be watched and enjoyed by everyone.

The Perfect Tree, like most episodes of this series, is only about eleven minutes. That said, they pack a lot into that time. The episode opens with Chloe, a child prodigy who's friends with the bears, being given control over her family's Christmas decorations for the year. She enlists the bears' help, giving Grizzly and Panda the job of decorating the outside of her house while she and Ice Bear go in search of the "perfect tree" alluded to in the episode's title.

The home decorations are at most a B-plot (really they're more of a series of recurring gags), while …

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

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We didn’t know much about this movie when we turned it on, but I was met with two delightful surprises right in the opening credits. First, Peter Falk is in it. Cool, I thought, I love Peter Falk! Second, the movie is based on a previous screenplay, which was in turn based on a short story by Damon Runyon. Immediately I knew what to expect.

Damon Runyon, for the uninitiated, wrote short stories in the 20s and 30s about New York City under Prohibition. These stories are generally about gangsters and other people on the illegal side of society, often somewhat sentimental with a rough edge, and highly stylized. Adaptations generally turn up the sentiment slightly and enjoy leaning into the style. The most well-known adaptation is probably the musical Guys and Dolls.

Most of the characters from this movie could be dropped right into that show with no problem.

The lead is Dave the Dude, a speakeasy owner and gang leader who’s on the rise, possibly due to his habit of buying “lucky” apples…

Book Review: The Cricket on the Hearth

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home
Charles Dickens, 1845

This is the only one of these stories that I had heard the title of before doing any research. Like The Chimes, it’s not explicitly a Christmas story (it’s set in early January), but it was released in December as part of Dickens’ sequence of illustrated holiday novellas. Unlike The Chimes, there’s a lot to enjoy about this one.

The Cricket on the Hearth is sort of like if Dickens wrote a romcom. There’s a little supernatural stuff and a little moralizing, but most of it is just delightful character studies and misunderstandings that get resolved to everyone’s happiness at the end.

The story starts with Dot Peerybingle, a young woman happy in her home and her life with her …

The Star (2017)

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At this point, I'm fairly certain the entertainment industry has invested more time in trying to tell the story of the donkey who attended the birth of Christ than the story of Joseph and Mary.

While this attempts to wedge in a bastardized version of the nativity, The Star continues this tradition by focusing its attention on Bo, a donkey with big dreams of one day joining the royal caravan and doing something important. His friend, Dave (a dove), also plays a role, as does Ruth, a sheep obsessed with following the star of Bethlehem.

Opposing them are an assassin sent by Herod and his two hunting dogs.

I'll admit I kind of like the idea that a bunch of kids are going to be devastated when they learn there's no canonical justification for a bulky cave-troll getting pushed off a cliff by a flock of sheep. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Or am I? There's really not a lot to say about this in terms of plot, because - spoiler alert - it's mostly just the goddamn n…

Tangerine (2015)

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Tangerine is somehow both a broad comedy and a subtle, true-to-life drama. It focuses on one madcap day (Christmas Eve) in the lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-dee and Alexandra.

Sin-dee has just returned from a month in prison, and she finds out her pimp/boyfriend cheated on her while she was gone. She spends the day seeking out the other girl (Dinah) and the boy, intent on settling the situation. Alexandra, meanwhile, tries to blunt her friend’s more extreme impulses while she invites everyone (seriously, everyone but the cops) to a holiday cabaret performance she’s giving that evening.

The third plot thread belongs to Razmik, an Armenian cab driver who’s a frequent patron of Alexandra and Sin-dee. He struggles with the vicissitudes of his job and then skips out on Christmas Eve dinner, risking his marriage, to try to see Sin-dee after he hears she’s back in town.

The plot is almost an old-fashioned farce - woman scorned, attempting over-the-top revenge, takes the man back at…