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Showing posts from 2019

That's a Wrap on Our First Decade

This wraps up ten seasons of Mainlining Christmas. Yup, a full decade down, and we've got nightmares brimming with sugarplums to prove it. In theory, this probably should have been our biggest year, the one we went all out to celebrate. But, frankly, we've had way bigger things occupying our attention than holiday movies and songs. I hope this doesn't dispel the magic too much, but the vast majority of content we reviewed this year was watched and written up prior to the birth of our daughter over the summer. Since then, we've been busy. And tired. Also sick.

Turns out, having a kid is hard.

But it's also all kinds of incredible. I won't rehash all the cliches: I think everyone knows this is life-changing in more ways than one. If you've got the inclination and ability to bring a small human into your life, I recommend it.

This Christmas... it's been weird so far. I wasn't joking about the sick part: all three of us have had one virus or another ove…

I Trapped the Devil (2019)

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I Trapped the Devil is a low-budget, direct-to-streaming horror film with a clever premise, some great atmosphere, and a script that could really have used a few more passes before filming. That said, it's fairly good (though not quite great), so if you're into this genre, feel free to drop out now before the spoilers start flying.

The plot centers around four characters, and one of them spends more than 99% of the movie off-screen. There are also a pair of cops who show up at the start and end, but they're fairly inconsequential.

The three named, significant characters are Matt, Karen, and Steve. Karen is married to Matt, who's Steve's brother, and the couple show up out of the blue at Steve's house on Christmas Eve, expecting him to be happy to see them. There's been some sort of falling out or something, and everyone has secrets.

At least, I think they have secrets. None of that really comes up or gets explained: we're just kind of told there's …

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

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Before I get started, I should specify I saw the three-hour theatrical cut of Fanny and Alexander. After watching, I learned there's also a five-hour version that was re-cut as a miniseries then screened in theaters. Honestly, there's a part of me that really wants to see that five-hour cut for comparison.

That's not happening anytime soon, though.

Fanny and Alexander is a Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, director of [checks notes] some of the greatest and most influential movies ever made. According to Wikipedia, this was a fictionalized version of Bergman's own childhood and was intended to be his final film. His actual last film came out twenty-one years later, so take that with a grain of salt.

Before I get to plot, theme, and, well, CHRISTMAS, I should mention this movie is a goddamn work of art and probably among the most beautiful cinematic works I've ever put in front of my eyes. It's a wonder to behold, it deserves its Academy Awar…

Guardians of the Galaxy: Jingle Bell Rock (2016)

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My continuing quest for more science fiction holiday content led me to this episode of the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series. The series uses the team from the movies, but as far as I know, it isn't in continuity with anything else.

The episode opens with the team tracking down a fugitive alien. Peter Quill is in a bit of a funk because it's Christmas back on Earth (how or why he knows this isn't clear from this episode), but he still gets the drop on their bounty. The alien begs for mercy and claims that the charges against him aren't fair, but they set off for their reward.

The other team members do some research on Earth Christmas in the meantime, but other than briefly decorating Groot, this doesn't come to much. Quill claims that everything is fine, Christmas isn't worth being upset about anyway.

When they deliver the fugitive to a snowy planet, he asks once more for their help, then asks them to at least tell his family where he's gone. The G…

Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas (2014)

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I've wanted to see this since its release, but that compulsion kept being thwarted by an even stronger compulsion to not give any money directly to the people who made it. There didn't seem to be any easy way to watch this - Netflix didn't even carry the DVD last I checked - so I mostly gave up.

However, Saving Christmas has now appeared on multiple streaming platforms, so I was finally able to watch it. As a public service to readers of this site, I will not be specifying which streaming services, in the hopes none of you have to endure what I just went through.

I went in expecting this to be a very bad movie, but I have to say I was mistaken. Despite everything you may have heard, Saving Christmas is not really a movie. It's closer to a documentary, but I don't think it really meets the criteria for that, either. Really, it's a piece of propaganda.

At any rate, the "movie" opens with Kirk Cameron sitting on what appears to be the set of an old-fash…

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a farcical comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's in the National Film Registry and ranked on AFI's 100 Funniest Films list, so it's well-regarded. I'll give you my thoughts in a moment, but let's get through the plot first. This one's... weird.

Filmed and set during World War II, the plot centers around the character of Trudy Kockenlocker, a policemen's daughter deeply concerned for soldiers heading off to war. Against her father's wishes, she meets six soldiers at a farewell dance then winds up having too much to drink (and maybe slightly concussed from an impact with a hanging decoration) and wakes the next morning a little uncertain as to what occurred. She pieces the night together a little later and realizes she got married to one of the departing soldiers, but - due to her foggy memory - isn't sure which one or what his name was. The matter becomes more pressing when she discovers she's …

M*A*S*H Holiday Episodes (1972 - 1981)

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M*A*S*H is a little before my time. I have memories of it existing, but I don't recall actually watching it. That said, I'm familiar enough with some of the characters, so I must have caught a handful of episodes from repeats through the 80s. And of course I've seen it referenced damn near everywhere - this was an influential series.

If you're somehow not familiar with it, M*A*S*H is a series about an army medical base stationed in Korea during the Korean War. It's based on a movie I've never seen, which was in turn based on a book I've never read, so don't expect a lot of context on that end.

Actually sitting down and watching through the Christmas episodes (along with a few tangential episodes we'll discuss in a minute) was a fascinating experience. First, it's not hard to see why it left a footprint: this show has a fascinating tone, striking a careful balance between the hardships of war with the comedic absurdity of the characters. The sho…

How the Toys Saved Christmas (1996)

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I have to start this review by explaining a big, giant, caveat. I was unable to obtain a version of this holiday special in the original Italian (or even verify that a subtitled version exists). In Italian, this special is called La freccia azzurra (The blue arrow) and the story is apparently somewhat different. Hopefully, it's better in Italian.

I knew that we would be watching a kludgy anglicization, but I held out some hope. I sought out this special because I knew it featured Befana, who is a character we'd love to see more of. Befana is a witch who brings gifts to Italian children on Epiphany (Jan 6). In the English version, this character is nonsensically renamed "Granny Rose" and is demoted to being one of Santa's helpers. At least she's still a witch.

The following description is based on the English version.

For some reason, Granny Rose has a shop where children can come to drop off their wish lists. One boy (Christopher, your requisite virtuous orp…

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (2017)

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Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a Canadian documentary/musical ostensibly chronicling the influence several Jewish songwriters had on the holidays. I say "ostensibly" because - somewhat appropriately - the documentary itself seems to go through an identity crisis. It's difficult to summarize what the final product is, since it feels like the purpose and core idea must have changed a few times during production.

I'll back up. This opens with a quick introduction from the filmmaker, Larry Weinstein, who grew up fascinated by Christmas, a holiday he never felt like he could participate in. But from the start he lets us know this isn't quite accurate: his family had Christmas traditions built around avoiding the obvious trappings. He briefly explores the roots of the traditional Chinese meal enjoyed by many Jewish families at the holidays.

A little too briefly, frankly. This is an interesting topic in itself, but Weinstein glosses over the history. This is going t…

A Cosmic Christmas (1977)

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I stumbled upon this early Nelvana production and immediately knew we had to watch it. (I’m mostly familiar with Nelvana because they produced all the Care Bears material in the 80s, but they’re a prolific children’s media production company based in Canada.)

Apparently, when the young studio was trying to break into commercial animation, market research indicated a need for new Christmas television specials. Given a UFO sighting in Toronto and excitement for a then-upcoming movie about some wars in the stars, a sci-fi tinted holiday story must have seemed like just the ticket. And it worked! According to Wikipedia, the popularity and sale of this special put Nelvana on the map.

It's hard to imagine, now in the era of Peak TV, that long-ago time when networks were so starved for content that this quirky, hit-and-miss piece would cause a stir.

Our main character is Peter, a totally generic kid except for the fact that he has a pet goose. Why? We’ll get there.

Peter and Lucy the …

I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

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To really age well, an old movie really needs to overcome two hurdles time throws at everything: it needs themes or ideas that hold up, and it needs to deliver those in a form that doesn't feel too dated. Plenty of movies fail both tests, but if a film is going to pass just one, it's usually the latter. It's more common for a movie to still be funny or touching than for it to feel relevant.

I'll Be Seeing You, directed by William Dieterle and starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple, is an exception. The politics, themes, and ideas in the movie are astonishingly relevant. It's the experience that feels dated. Not too dated, mind you - there are several compelling moments and sequences - but as a whole, I found the film more impressive than enjoyable.

I'll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to address the genre and tone. This is actually a little difficult, because the movie walks a tightrope between romantic drama and romantic comed…

Comic Book Review: Klaus (1-7)

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Klaus (Issues #1-7)
Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, 2015-2016

I remember seeing this title about a reimagined Santa hit stores. I've always been intrigued but also very tentative about it.

A big part of why I never read this book before now is that I've been burned before on Santa retellings, and the cover art was fairly realistic/Conan in style, making me think it would be too dark. I have strong opinions on what is appropriate Santa behavior and what is not. I have a history with this character that I'm protective of. In short, I have FEELINGS about this topic.

Now I've read it, and... y'all, this might be a new favorite.

I love the ridiculous line the book tries to walk from the first page. It's not actually realistic in any sense, but it's treating ludicrous situations and characters seriously. It's practically pulling from Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, with a town under the thumb of a cruel ruler who has outlawed toys and joy. Klaus lives outside of…

The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

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The Knight Before Christmas is another of this year's Netflix entries in their growing collection of Hallmark inspired, tween-friendly romantic comedies. Although it deviates from the formula and contains no princesses or royalty, I'd also group it in the sub-sub-genre of "Christmas Princess" films, due to tonal similarities.

The premise, that a medieval knight gets transported through time to the present day, where he meets a woman who doesn't believe in storybook romance and convinces her otherwise, feels as though it started with the pun in the movie's title and the rest was haphazardly developed around it.

I'm guessing it won't surprise you to hear this thing is, first and foremost, astonishingly stupid, even for this genre. What might surprise you is this: I didn't hate this. I'll get to why in a moment, but first let's synopsize.

The knight in question is Sir Cole (played by Josh Whitehouse), a fourteenth-century knight seeking to b…

Klaus (2019)

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Last year we were big fans of Netflix's entry into the family-friendly fray, but this new movie fell flat for us.

The plot follows Jesper, the spoiled rich son of the Postmaster General. His behavior and attitude are cribbed so closely from The Emperor's New Groove that we thought the voice actor was David Spade (it's actually Jason Schwartzman). To shock him into acting like an adult, Jesper's father banishes him to a remote city on a far north island, tasked with re-establishing the post office there and stamping at least 6,000 letters over the next year.

When he gets there, he discovers the town is home to two feuding clans, and everyone is only interested in making each other miserable. After trying and failing to encourage anyone in the town to send a single letter, he ends up at a solitary house on the far end of the island. Here he is terrified to meet Klaus, a huge woodsman with a house full of mysterious toys. He flees but drops a drawing he had been trying …

Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas (2018)

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Aggretsuko is an anime series I quite like based on a Sanrio character. Yes, that's the Hello Kitty company, but with this character they are shifting their target consumer fairly significantly - from young girls to adult women dissatisfied with the modern world. The lead character, a red panda named Retsuko, has a boring job with a chauvinist jerk for a boss, annoying co-workers, and no romantic prospects, so she releases her rage at the world through singing death metal at a karaoke bar.

This Christmas special is an extra-long episode that doubles as an epilogue for the first season, so I'm not sure how enjoyable it would be to watch without that context. The main plots of the special are Retsuko's attempt to seek validation by becoming popular on social media and her coworker Haida's continuing crush on her.

At the beginning of the special is a missing scene from the end of the prior episode that reveals that Haida did ask Retsuko out, but she turned him down, at …