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Showing posts from December 16, 2018

Prince of Peoria: A Christmas Moose Miracle (2018)

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Prince of Peoria is a new Netflix series attempting to replicate the formula of Disney's tween-focused sitcoms. Which means, right off the bat, it's going to be bad. That being said, it's sort of trying to be bad, so that makes it... still bad, but maybe successful?

The premise of the series - at least insofar as I've been able to tell - is that the teenage prince of a fictional island nation is roommates with an American, and they're living together in a bowling alley. So... Perfect Strangers meets Coming to America meets Boy Meets World.

It's certainly ambitious - and bizarre. Tonally, it's mostly farcical due to the absurd customs of the titular prince. In addition, he's accompanied by a bodyguard of... questionable mental ability. Actually, several characters are played as comically idiotic.

The series sidesteps a lot of issues by casting white actors using British accents as the exotic foreigners and a diverse cast as the Americans. Using British …

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

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Alright, cards on the table. This is one of those movies where spoilers are going to matter. But before we can get to things that shouldn't be spoiled, we need to address a handful that should. And by that, of course, I'm talking about the elements of this 1942 comedy that don't play so well in 2018.

We've got a couple brief but not minor racist sequences, a touch of misogyny, and at least one moment where - despite the anachronistic impossibility - you almost expect a character to pull out a smartphone, open Twitter, and type #MeToo. The moments in this movie that aged poorly aged very poorly.

But if you can look past them, the rest of this is a hilarious, fascinating, and unique holiday film. I'll get to why in a moment, but first I have to deliver on my promise:

*Spoiler Warning*

If you like old movies - hell, if you like comedies in general - this is worth tracking down. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have with each twist and turn. And if …

Neptune's Daughter (1949)

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This is not, by any reasonable definition, a Christmas movie, but we're going to cover it anyway. Why? Because while Neptune's Daughter isn't a Christmas movie, it had a significant impact on Christmas tradition, namely by introducing the song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to the world.

Baby, It's Cold Outside has been debated heavily in recent years, and this year's no different. It's arguably become the single most controversial holiday song in existence. Rather than retread points others have made, I thought it would be interesting to go back and actually look at it in its original context.
Okay, this wasn't actually its original context. Before being sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams on the big screen, it was sung privately by Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland at dinner parties. If anyone has a time machine I could borrow, I'd love to go back and hear it performed in that context, as well. I'll also need to borrow a tux. And…

Book Review: Plum Pudding Murder

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Plum Pudding Murder
Joanne Fluke, 2009

I have been known to pick up Christmas-themed books on the cheap pretty often and this is one of those cheap reads. It's another cozy mystery, and this one not only reads like a Hallmark movie, it was turned into a literal Hallmark movie.

It's the twelfth book in this series, so while all the backstory and name-checking earlier events and established relationships is boring, it's at least excusable.

Okay, I said it was a cozy, right? Let's check off the tropes: Hannah owns a cookie shop, is dating a law enforcement guy, and is known to stumble into murders. I was briefly intrigued by the fact that she is also dating a dentist and all three parties seemed happy enough with their relationships. It seemed like a sympathetic portrayal of people who didn't feel the need to lock down a monogamous heterosexual marriage and were comfortable with that. Of course, later the guys both showed little jealousies, and the narrative clearly c…

All I Want for Christmas Is You (2017)

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Oh, great. Someone else thought basing a kid-friendly animated special on a romantic Christmas song was a good idea.

Okay, first let’s be clear. I actually like this song. It’s sappy as heck, but it’s bouncy and fun and easy to sing. But it is clearly about a lover. Not a dog. I mean, we love pets and all, but this is a bit much.

The special is based on Ms. Carey’s book of the same name, also based on the lyrics to her hit song. It’s about a little girl named Mariah and her Christmas wish for a puppy. The Mariah of the special has some things in common with the actual Mariah, but this is clearly much more fiction than memoir.

Anyway, Mariah wants a puppy more than anything, but her dad is allergic and her mother is a neat freak. Her grandmother brings her to the pet store, however, and introduces her to a dog. Quickly dubbed “Princess,” this dog is small but no longer a puppy, well-trained and hypoallergenic. Mariah begins an all-out campaign to convince her parents to let her adopt …

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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I never saw the original Bad Moms, though it's worth noting that the synopsis on Wikipedia makes it sound as though it has something resembling an actual plot, which already sets it above its holiday sequel.

Usually, when I say a movie is difficult to describe in terms of genre, it's a compliment. In most cases, I'm saying a movie transcends boundaries or exists in its own space. Sadly, that's not the case here. A Bad Moms Christmas is a mangled mess of tones, ideas, and tropes. It attempts to be three movies in one, and I'm not even referring to the three distinct storylines following three grown women and their mothers.

That would have been a far better approach - write one woman's story as a farce, the second's as a light comedy, and the third's as a grounded drama - then play with blending these tones when the characters come together. That could have been interesting.

Instead, they just kind of write each scene using one of three tones. If there&#…

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Best Gift Ever (2018)

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After eight seasons, a theatrically released movie, a series of spin-off movies and shorts, comic books, and soundtrack albums including a non-canonical Christmas album, you’d think My Little Pony had done everything. But what it hadn’t done until this year was a holiday special.

Best Gift Ever is that hour-long (45-ish minutes) special, and I’m happy to report that it’s so good that we’re thinking of adding it to our standard holiday rotation. It’s charming, funny, and sweet. It features interlocking plotlines that build on everything we know about these characters without being so complicated that you have to have seen every episode to understand. It’s on Netflix, and if you’re a fan of the show, go check it out now, before I get into the plot.

It takes place either the day after the season eight holiday episode or the next year, depending on how much handwaving you want to do around the end of that episode. (The multi-species student characters featured in that episode are seen br…

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Hearth's Warming Club (2018)

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This is the fourth holiday episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, so it's no surprise that they decided to expand the focus a bit more. A quick warning: this is less of a standalone episode than the other seasonal offerings, as it focuses almost entirely on new characters.

In the latest season, the show takes advantage of the world that has been building up over the previous seasons and the movie. Twilight opens a school to teach friendship lessons to both ponies and creatures from beyond Equestria. There is a group of core young student characters representing all the various species, and they're the focus here.

It's almost Hearth's Warming, and the school is going on a holiday break. All the students are getting ready to head home. Then a mysterious figure pours a substance onto the spell at the top of the tree in the common area, and it explodes into a mass of sticky purple goo all over the room. Twilight and Rainbow Dash chase after the perpetrator, but t…

Nailed It! Holiday! (2018)

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Nailed It! Holiday! is the third season of a tongue-in-cheek baking game show streaming on Netflix. The title and premise reference the meme in which abject artistic failures attempted by amateurs are ironically celebrated. In keeping with that theme, each episode (with one exception) features three amateur bakers who compete for $10,000 cash.

We watched through all seven episodes in this holiday-themed season. I know we typically break these out into episode-by-episode chunks, but the structure doesn't change from one to the next, and - aside from a few thematic shifts and guest judges - there's not a lot to discuss. With a few exceptions, everything kind of blends together.

I'll get to those exceptions in a moment, but first I want to touch on the season (and presumably series, though these are the only episodes I've seen) as a whole. To its credit, it's nowhere near as negative as the premise implies. Yes, the contestants are trying (and failing) to recreate co…

Great British Bake-Off Holiday Specials (2017)

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For several years now, The Great British Bake-Off (Great British Baking Show in the U.S.) has produced special holiday episodes. Only one set of these episodes has been made easily available here across the pond that I know of.

These two episodes had all the charm and warmth of the standard GBBO with a holiday flair. Each episode is a four-person competition with one winner. One episode wouldn’t be enough time to get to know new contestants, but they are all from recent seasons of the show, so it’s nice to see them again with another chance to shine.

It’s not just the holiday vibe that had contestants supporting each other, admiring each other’s work, and taking pride in personal bests. This is a ridiculously feel-good show.

Like a standard episode, the competition consists of three rounds: a signature challenge where the contestants must execute their spin on a specific assigned baked good, a technical challenge where they each attempt to follow a bare-bones recipe they’ve never see…

Office Christmas Party (2016)

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Office Christmas Party was an R-rated holiday farce, which at this point is really a sub-genre in itself. Blame the success of Bad Santa if you like - I'm pretty sure at least one of these has been made every year for the last decade or so.
This one falls somewhere near the middle of the pack. If you can make it through the first two acts, the film's climax is actually quite a bit of fun, but getting there is a commitment. Nothing in here is awful, but until the plot fully spirals out of control, it's fairly tedious.
And...
I feel like I've written this before. I mean, this is basically what I said about A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas: the set-up was boring; the payoff was solid. Same with The Night Before (though that didn't take quite as long to pick up). I guess it's a common issue with these movies.
Let's get to the premise. It's about, well... an Office Christmas Party. Okay, there's a little more meat, but not much. The party is being t…

Book Review: The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

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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 Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time
Charles Dickens, 1848

For the final one of his “Christmas Books,” Dickens returns both to Christmas and firmly to the supernatural.

If The Chimes is a morality play, The Cricket on the Hearth is a romantic comedy, and The Battle of Life is a soap opera, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain is an episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s a well-done, if straightforward, “be careful what you wish for” tale.

The story follows Professor Redlaw, who is said to look “haunted.” He was wronged as a young man when a friend married his sister, leading to her death (I think - this part of the plot is fairly vague), and he thinks constantly about this. One year at Christmas, a phantom who lo…

Cash on Demand (1961)

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It's a few days before Christmas and bank manager Harry Fordyce (played by Peter Cushing) is making his employees' lives hell. It's not difficult to see the connections between Scrooge and Harry - hell, it's impossible to miss them as he quibbles over every trivial discrepancy and outright ignores their planned holiday party.

Instead of a ghost, he gets visited by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. The thief reveals his true identity to Harry and also tells the manager why he should cooperate: his conspirators have abducted Harry's wife and son and are threatening to torture them. If Harry wants them released safely, he'll have to ensure the robbery goes off without a hitch.

The movie is set almost entirely inside the bank, as Harry is forced to help the criminal outmaneuver his own security protocols. But in the process, Harry also realizes the same lessons Scrooge did a century earlier: that people matter more than money.

It turns out the th…

Angela's Christmas (2017)

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Presented with a CG special with a cute kid and a generic title, we didn't have high hopes when we started this. However, fairly quickly we knew we were looking at something different than your average holiday fluff.

The narrator tells us that the story takes place in the Irish city of Limerick in 1914, and the adult male voice identifies a young girl as Angela, who would grow up to be his mother.

Angela's family is poor, and in the opening scene the four siblings each have to pass down their coats so the baby will be warm as they head out for Christmas Eve Mass. Angela and her brother Pat fight like crazy and almost cause an accident, but the family finally reaches church. Pat continues to pick on Angela and their mother has to separate them.

It's extremely cold in the church, and Angela becomes worried for the baby Jesus in the nativity scene - after all, he's not wearing very much. After the service, she makes an excuse to sneak back inside, and she steals the stat…