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Showing posts from December 5, 2021

Gawain and the Green Knight (1973)

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Seeing The Green Knight (2021) was a good reminder that the root story is set during and thematically linked to the holidays. Obviously, that makes the new movie a Christmas movie, which is why we just posted a pretty extensive review. The thing is, David Lowery isn't the first director to adapt Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into a feature film. In 1973, Stephen Weeks took a swing at the myth. The movie seems to be mostly forgotten - it's most notable as being Nigel Green's final role, as he passed away prior to the movie's release. The other thing about this that makes it somewhat notable is its proximity to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I can't seem to find concrete information about which Arthurian films Holy Grail was directly parodying, but both the timing and content make me suspect this was high on the list. Sir Gawain came out just two years ahead of Holy Grail, so it's likely Python's members saw it while planning their movie. This has title ca

The Green Knight (2021)

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This movie is sitting at the crossroads of several subjects I'm obsessed with, which fascinates me but concerns me on your behalf. I'm not entirely sure how long this review is going to be, but "excruciatingly" isn't out of the question. Because of that, I'm going to approach this out of order and start with a summary of my thoughts in the hopes it will give you enough information to make up your mind about whether or not to watch The Green Knight without having to endure God knows how many thousands of words ranting about Arthurian legends, modern fantasy, myth theory, Christmas media, and the point at which these subjects intersect. The movie is absolutely breathtaking to watch. Everything from the score to the sets to the costumes and makeup is beautifully designed, shot, and edited. This uses new and old filmmaking techniques (including at least one matte painting) to create something that looks and feels truly unique. It's a dream of a fairytale cross

Robin Robin (2021)

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Has animation ever looked this cuddly before? I know there has been other stop-motion work in felt, but this is simply exceptional. A new musical holiday special from Aardman Animations and Netflix, Robin Robin is available on Netflix, and it's just so dang adorable! The whole thing is animated with fluffy soft felted characters, and the artistry on display is amazing. The premise is simple: a robin has been raised by mice. The business of mice is to sneak into human houses to steal food. During the first of many delightful songs, it quickly becomes clear that Robin's chirpy, fluttery nature doesn't lend itself to sneaking, but she doesn't understand why it goes wrong for her.  This is a sweet special. There isn't anything unexpected about the resolution, but the humor and music ensure that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. I'm going to sum up the rest of the plot below, but if you like stop-motion animation or musicals or all-ages media (or all three, like me),

Book Review: The Mice Before Christmas

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The Mice Before Christmas Anne L. Watson, Wendy Edelson, 2021 New Release! A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for the purpose of review.  Summary of my review: Awwwwwww! This cute little book posits that those mice who weren't stirring the night before Christmas must have had an awfully busy day. Playful verse and charming illustrations follow a sprawling mouse clan coming together for a massive party. It's a bit reminiscent of the opening of The Nutcracker and dozens of other stories that feature a party in a grand family house.  The writing is sweet, but the art is the real star here. Big illustrations full of tiny details, down to the patterned fabric of tiny mouse frock coats.  In case it isn't already clear, this leans heavily into a prosperous European image of Christmas in which a holiday party features hundreds of participants, multiple courses for dinner, plus live music and dancing. I think the art is adorable, but I wanted to point that out. Many stori

Hilda: The Yule Lads (2020)

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Hilda is an animated Netflix series adapted from a series of graphic novels inspired by Scandinavian folklore. The art style mimics the feel of the comics it's based on, building a world that honestly looks like drawn pictures come alive. Depending on the episode, you might end up seeing something wacky and fun, magical and awe-inspiring, or even a little dark and unnerving. It's an absolutely phenomenal show, beautifully written and animated, and we recommend you watch it at once. Which of course poses a bit of a problem. The holiday episode I'm about to discuss is towards the end of the second season, so while I absolutely recommend it, I'd suggest watching the rest of the series first. This isn't so steeped in continuity that you'll be spoiled or confused: it's just better in context. The main character of the series, unsurprisingly, is Hilda, an adventurous preteen girl who moves to Trolberg, a cross between a modern city and a walled medieval village. T

Nisser [Elves] (2021)

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Nisser is a Danish TV series, just six half-hour episodes long, released as "Elves" in the US. It looks and feels a lot like Stranger Things, both in terms of tone and content, which is both a recommendation and a warning not to watch this with young children (teenagers used to horror should be alright, though - this is scary, not terrifying). The premise is rooted in European folklore and tradition, and while the creatures here have been updated with a modern aesthetic, their portrayal isn't entirely subversive. Traditionally, nisser aren't typically this scary or monstrous, but the older stories about them tend to get dark. I'm going to have a lot - and I mean A LOT to say about this, as well as the US title, but I'll save that for the end, so readers bored by the nerdy stuff have the option of checking out. First, a spoiler warning. This isn't one of the cases where the impact depends on some kind of major twist, but I'll be going over the plot in a

The Miracle on 34th Street (1955)

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First off, whatever version of Miracle on 34th Street you think this is, you're almost certainly mistaken. This isn't the 1947 classic , nor is it the sickeningly melodramatic 90's remake . In fact, it's not really a movie at all, at least not in any sense I'd use the word. No, this was a TV special attempting to remake the original movie at a breakneck pace to fit neatly into an hour timeslot. That's an hour with commercials - the special itself is around 45 minutes. What's odd about this is that, with a couple exceptions, the parts that aren't cut for time are nearly a word-for-word copy of the original. Hell, the leads even appear to be mimicking the original actors, albeit at a faster clip. Think understudies in a stage play filling in. Since we're more or less using a pared down version of the '47 script, the plot is virtually identical. Kris takes a job as a Macy's Santa (though the scene with the drunken Santa he's hired to replace

Stash Holiday Teas

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As soon as the weather started to get wet and cold around here, I started thinking more about tea. On a whim, I picked up a six-flavor assortment from Stash Tea Company called "Holidays Are Here." The six flavors include two caffeinated black tea blends and four decaf herbal teas. This is this year's selection, although it seems that the company has offered slightly different combinations of flavors in other years.  Cranberry Pomegranate This has a nice fruity smell, similar to other berry teas I've had. It was a bit more tart than I expected from the smell, but it grew on me. I did find the flavor a little thin alone, but a touch of honey balanced it nicely. Cinnamon Vanilla The tea bag smelled strongly of cinnamon, although mostly I tasted the rooibos tea base. Happily, I like rooibos. It is a nice blend with a mildly spiced aftertaste, although definitely not much vanilla at first. The flavors deepened as the tea cooled, which I found to be the case with most flavo

Dance Dreams: The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2020)

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We've watched a lot of Nutcrackers over the years, but nothing like Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.  Created as a showcase and fundraiser for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker appears to follow the rough outlines of the traditional ballet (girl gets toy at party, toy breaks, magic happens, crazy tour through fantastical realms), but replaces the standard dance and music with dialogue, comedy, and a vast and ever-evolving variety of musical and dance styles.  I say "appears to" because this documentary follows the rehearsal and backstage information about the show. It's not a recording of a full performance, so we only get to see snippets.  Interspersed with clips of rehearsal and interviews with young performers, we also get basic background on Allen's career, the founding of DADA, and some of the ongoing barriers facing Black dancers, particularly in ballet.  I felt the film was fairly well-balanced between showing t

Six Weeks (1982)

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It's rare to come across something that tries this hard and misses so spectacularly. Six Weeks is a 1982 drama about a man running for Congress who forms a deep emotional connection with a precocious, talented 12-year-old girl dying of cancer and her wealthy mother. So... not a premise you want to screw up. The movie stars Dudley Moore as Patrick, the Congressional candidate, and Mary Tyler Moore as Charlotte, the mother. Nicole, the dying kid, is played by Katherine Healy. Katherine and Dudley do good work. As for Mary Tyler Moore... let's just say she EARNS her Razzie nomination. The plot is thin, which isn't in itself a bad thing, since this is really supposed to be more about tone than story. Unfortunately, it screws that up, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's expand on the premise. Nicole's a talented dancer who dreams of performing in the Nutcracker, but she worries how her mother will react to her death. She also wants to know what it's like to ha

De Familie Claus [The Claus Family] (2020)

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Just as a number of Hollywood productions with 2020 release dates got pushed to streaming, quite a few foreign films intended for theaters were picked up by streaming services hoping to expand their customer base internationally. A side effect of this is a number of movies that would otherwise never have seen US releases are readily available, offering a glimpse into how other countries view Christmas media. In this case, that apparently boils down to a fairly by-the-numbers knock-off of English language holiday fare. De Familie Claus (I'll call it "The Claus Family" going forward, since the title isn't getting mangled) is a live-action Dutch language kid's fantasy/dramedy from Belgium about a kid discovering he's the secret heir to the Santa dynasty. If that sounds like Arthur Christmas, you're both right and wrong: there's a hall of Santas set more or less directly lifted from that movie, but they've otherwise deviated from the formula, particula

Book Review: A Christmas to Fight For

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A Christmas to Fight For Jessica Frances, 2021 New Release! A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for the purpose of review. I was amused enough by the premise of this book to request a copy for review: a romance between a krampus and a Santa Claus (both appear to be magical races in this world).  And on reading it, I was amused by the book and overall enjoyed it, but I need to address a couple problems.  First, the author advertises the fact that the book was professionally edited, but the book needs another edit. Or better editors. The copy I read had enough typos and mistakes in the beginning that I almost stopped reading (and likely would have were I not planning to review it for this site). Missing words, incorrect verb tenses, and awkward phrases all abound early on. The errors drop off at some point, although they did appear occasionally all the way to the end. I did get this from Netgalley - maybe this copy wasn't final? However, the file didn't say advance or u

Fatman (2020)

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I held off on this one when it came out last year, because I didn't want to contribute anything towards salvaging Mel Gibson's career. He's had more chances than damn near anyone, and he doesn't deserve another. At the same, this is a bizarre spin on Santa, so I felt like I had to get to it eventually. And of course, I was incredibly curious. If you missed the trailers, Fatman is a dark comedy-action-drama-superhero movie about an aging Santa and Mrs. Claus trying to keep their Alaskan factory afloat through difficult times, and also Santa's being hunted by a sociopathic hitman hired by a kid seeking revenge over a lump of coal. So, yeah, that at least sounds like something I'd be interested in. The problem for me is the movie works so hard doing all that competently, it doesn't actually get around to justifying the premise in the first place. In other words, this movie is fine but ultimately forgettable, which is kind of a major failing in a premise that ba