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Showing posts with the label 00's

2000AD Holiday Specials

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This year, I bought a handful of 2000AD Christmas specials. This is a long-running comics magazine from Britain, and it's the origin of Judge Dredd. It's an interesting format that's quite different from the way most Western comics are published today. Longer stories are serialized in small pieces, but short one-offs are featured as well. Because each issue features many short stories and chapters (and there are more than normal in these holiday annuals), you're bound to find something intriguing even if one or two of the pieces aren't to your taste. Most of the stories seem to share a sense of heightened reality: dystopias, sci-fi blending with other genres, crime and punishment in very stylized worlds. Each issue was 100-ish pages and featured over a dozen stories, of which only some were seasonal. Here are a few of the more Christmassy stories in the issues I read: 2007 Special Sinister Dexter: Christmas Time Sinister Dexter is a long-running serie

Music Review: Care Bears Christmas Eve (CD 2006)

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I knew this was going to be bad from the first track, but I didn't realize how bad. The music is generic overproduced "kid-friendly" stuff. It reminded me of the old commercials for Kidz Bop. (Side note: I can't find the CD case right now, but all the cover art I see online says "instrumental" on it. It isn't instrumental music.) There seem to be at least three singers: a male generic pop voice, a female generic pop voice, and a female voice doing a somewhat androgynous/generic "kids show" sound. The music production is terrible: the balance is off, the vocals sound overly digitally tweaked, yet still have prominent hissing "s" sounds. The album includes a few generic versions of traditional carols. These are mostly notable because one is set so low in the male singer's range that his voice disappears under the artificial, 80s-keyboard-demo-grade percussion. It's also strange that all three are explicitly religious cho

Malcolm in the Middle: Christmas (2001), Christmas Trees (2003), Hal's Christmas Gift (2004)

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Malcolm in the Middle probably owes its existence to The Simpsons. While the characters and premise aren't the same, there's a notable similarity in the show's energy, humor, and tone. The characters on Malcolm in the Middle feel animated, in a similar way. That's not to say they're shallow - I don't think that's the case for either series - merely that their emotions are exaggerated to the same degree. This isn't the first live-action show I've seen try and capture this kind of tone. The recipe for success seems to be pretty straightforward - good writing and a commitment to the premise. Shows that try to wink at the audience while building a surreal world usually come off hokey; ones that explore their world and characters honestly have a chance to create something great. Malcolm in the Middle revolves around a family of four (eventually five) sons, their irresponsible father, and their very angry mother. The series started airing in 2000, wh

Will and Grace Holiday Episodes (Part 2: 2003-5)

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Fanilow (2003) The season six Christmas episode begins at Grace's company holiday party. (Since it's just her and Karen, does it really count as a company party?) Will doesn't show, claiming some sort of charitable appointment, but really he's in line for tickets for a special Barry Manilow Christmas concert. Grace discovers him there and holds his spot while he goes to use a restroom. Then she spots her mother having dinner with Jack, after telling Grace she wasn't coming into town for their Hanukkah dinner. Grace deals...poorly with this, first making a scene about how she's glad her mother isn't taking up her time, and then breaking down over missing their traditions. Meanwhile, Will is in line at Subway to use the restroom and a man flirts with him awkwardly. Will brushes him off, only to discover later that he's Manilow's road manager. He tries to strike the flirtation back up, and the guy basically blackmails him into a date. This epi

Will and Grace Holiday Episodes (Part 1: 2001, 2002)

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Sometimes the best way to start a review is with words of wisdom from my Mainlining Christmas partner. Erin’s take: “These are all good comic actors wasting their time. These scripts really wish the show was Seinfeld.” Will and Grace was notable at the time as one of many forces that helped some people understand that gay people are just like everyone else. Now anyone can be featured in mediocre, dated sitcoms, but it was (sadly) a big deal then. Jingle Balls (2001) The first Christmas episode is in season four. Grace has found out that Will is dating a mysterious man named Robert, but he refuses to arrange for them to meet, claiming that it’s too early in the relationship. Sometime later, when Will picks up Robert for lunch, he finds out that Grace has invited him for dinner. He’s concerned, but decides it’s no big deal. When Robert comes, though, Will is incredibly self-conscious. Robert is a dancer, and he's demonstrative, flashy, and sensitive/artsy as can be. Rober

WordGirl: Oh, Holiday Cheese (2009)

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WordGirl is my go-to example when I want to argue good superhero stories can be told at any level of maturity. The series is unequivocally targeted at young kids - it's edutaiment, through and through, complete with vocabulary lessons repeated multiple times to the viewer. It's the kind of show you'd expect to be tedious and pedantic. Instead, it's ridiculous fun. The reason WordGirl works is it understands its genres. The writers clearly understand the conventions of both kids television and superheroes, and they're eager to play with both. They're willing to mock PBS conventions in a good-natured way, and they're more than happy to embrace comic book tropes. The result is a series that plays like a pureed homage to Sesame Street, Powerpuff Girls, and Superman. The holiday episode is a fine example. After the narrator introduces the episode's special words (curmudgeon and festivity, in case you were interested), the episode shifts to a brief b

Lark Rise to Candleford: Christmas (2008)

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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 ma

Sid the Science Kid: Sid's Holiday Adventure (2009)

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Sid the Science Kid is an animated show for preschoolers, so there are specific questions you might need to ask before judging it. Question 1: Is it at all interesting for adults without kids? I enjoy a lot of children's television, but this is not a show that holds any value for adults who don't deal with children, except on a technical artistry level. The show is produced by the Jim Henson Company, and the animation is actually generated in real time from motion capture and digital "puppeteering." This allows them to film fast and give the characters a lot of physicality. On the other hand, it doesn't always translate to fine control. for example, I noticed one secondary character manipulating a prop in a particularly clunky way. Question 2: Is it interesting for the target group? I haven't polled anyone, but it's won some awards. I was rather struck with how real the kid characters' dialogue seems: the kids respond too literally or somew

Un conte de Noël (2008)

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Un conte de Noël, or "A Christmas Tale," is a French movie about a dysfunctional family reuniting for the holiday due to Junon, the matriarch, contracting leukemia, the disease that killed her firstborn son, Joseph. She's hoping to avoid this fate herself, but for that she needs a bone marrow donor. There are two candidates: her middle child, Henri, who's something of a drunken failure, and Paul, the mentally ill son of her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who despises Henri. What else can we throw into the mix? Well, her other surviving son's wife has been loved from afar by her husband's cousin, Henri's girlfriend seems to take great joy in watching him get beaten up, and there might be some sort of ghost wolf wandering around the house. Of all the movie's unanswered questions, I regret not finding out more about the ghost wolf the most. Is it the spirit of Joseph? Or maybe it's the matriarch's mother's ghost. It's unclear. A

6Teen: Deck the Mall (2004)

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Before watching an episode, I'd never heard of the Canadian animated series, 6Teen. After, I found myself nostalgically missing the innocent years in which I'd never seen it. The series's premise is simple: six teenagers work at the mall, hang out with their friends, and deal with life's challenges. By engaging with relatively serious subject matter and cutting back on slapstick, the show manages to masquerade as something intelligent and mature, while in reality being as superficially hollow and pointless as Saved by the Bell. At least, that's my read after seeing this episode. The plot concerns the six leads trying to maintain some modicum of holiday spirit despite dealing with last-minute shoppers. Plus, a couple of their parents are dating, which is creating tension around conflicting holiday traditions. Bored out of your mind yet? Did I mention one gets a job working as one of Santa's elves? Oh, then they all get locked in the mall on Christmas Eve.

Super Why!: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (2008)

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At one point while we were watching this, Erin turned to me and asked in disbelief, “You’ve watched this before?” What can I say, I used to work a lot of nights before we had Netflix; on many afternoons PBS was my background-noise companion. Super Why! is one of the least interesting of the PBS kids shows that I’m familiar with from this era. It’s not so annoying that I would necessarily turn it off, you know, if my hands were covered in paint or something, but I wouldn’t seek it out. The show follows Whyatt and his fairytale friends who live in Storybrook Village (which is a CG land hidden behind a secret door on a library bookshelf). In each episode, Whyatt (his big brother climbed a beanstalk), Pig (of the Three Little), Red (Riding Hood), and Princess Pea have a question to answer. They seek the answers by becoming the Super Readers, magically flying into another storybook, and helping the characters there. And yes, we’ve got a bit of book-within-a-book-world going on. The

The O.C.: The Chrismukk-huh (2006)

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This is by the far the strangest of the Chrismukkah episodes. It starts out in a mundane enough fashion - Ryan is mourning his deceased ex-girlfriend and is having a crisis that his new relationship with Taylor is getting serious. The two of them have an argument on the roof, fall off, and wake up in an alternate universe where neither of them ever existed. A few caveats to this. First, this isn't my interpretation: Taylor identifies it as such. Also, based on her knowledge of science-fiction, she decides they need to fix the problems of the characters in this bizzaro-verse before they can return home. Of course, everything's mixed up: Seth's parents are divorced, and his father's new wife is having an affair with Summer's fiance, who is played by a young but very recognizable Chris Pratt. They manipulate and influence everyone with mixed results. In the episode's best scene, Seth demands Ryan tell him who he is and what's happening. Finally, Ryan just

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah (2005)

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You've got to admire the audacity of a show that's willing - eager, even - to undercut a dramatic moment where one character is trying to stop another from throwing their life away in a desperate robbery attempt by cutting to a bar-mitzvah-themed fundraiser where a couple of other characters lead the room in a chorus of Deck the Halls. This is the third Chrismukkah episode of The O.C., and even more than the second, it's crystal clear the show's dropped the pretense that it's anything other a comedy. And, once again, we're better off for that. The premise is built around a developing story-line. Some new character who lives to surf got hit by a car in an earlier episode (those "last time" openings really help here). If he ever wants to get better, he'll need an expensive surgery he can't afford. So his friends decide to put on a fundraiser/Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah for the not-at-all-Jewish Ryan. This will also give Seth a chance to mak

The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever (2003)

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Until watching this, my impression of The O.C. was that it was some sort of 90210 rip-off. Actually, having never seen an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, that may still hold true. There's got to be a holiday episode of that show.... Sorry. Getting off track. The point is, my impression of The O.C., a show I knew only through hazy memories of promo spots from the early 00's, was not a positive one. I'd have associated the series with soap opera melodrama. And that was certainly present in this, but there was also a large volume of comedy mixed in: much more than I'd have expected. In short, it's more a dramedy than a soap opera. And I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the comedic bits were. Granted, they were nowhere near as funny as most of the dramatic bits, but that would have been a high bar to clear. Apparently, one of the things this show's known for is popularizing the term "Chrismukkah" through a series of annual specials.

The Holiday (2006)

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The Holiday tells the heart-wrenching story of unrequited love, specifically that between the producers of this movie and the film, Love Actually . You see, the people who made The Holiday watched Love Actually, loving its success from afar for three long years. But The Holiday's producers were American, largely based in California, a world apart from the English production they so desired. The Holiday is an allegory for this passionate love, told with two crossing stories centered on women who trade homes - one in Los Angeles and the other in the English countryside. "Why only two?" you might ask. After all, Love Actually juggled nine tales of romance. Presumably the people behind The Holiday partially understood their limitations and decided to aim for something more manageable. Unfortunately, two-ninths still proved an overly-ambitious goal. The worst sections of Love Actually still manage to deliver escapist romance that's orders of magnitude better than wha

Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas (2007)

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It's always awkward to jump into the middle of a plot-heavy series for a holiday installment. Supernatural is a long-running genre show with a pretty passionate fan base. This is the first time we've seen an episode. This one's from the third season, and it's packaged as a full special, despite really only being an episode. The producers arranged to start with the old CBS "A Special Presentation" title card as an homage to holiday fare from the 80's. And, naturally, they end with snow falling. There are a few story lines playing out simultaneously. A monster-of-the-week mystery forms the backbone, while a series of flashbacks to a Christmas Eve when Sam learned the truth about their family's legacy provides some heart. The episode opens with another flashback, this one just a year prior, showing a man being pulled up the chimney on Christmas Eve while his son watched. A year later, and the situation is repeated in another state, but this time m

Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within: Christmas (2002)

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This was a Canadian reality television show about several Cirque du Soleil performers in Montreal. I expect the part of that sentence that leapt out at you was "Cirque du Soleil". Sadly, the part you should be focusing on is "Canadian reality television," which - judging by this - is roughly analogous to a PBS documentary about the production and distribution of toothpicks. Perhaps this series would be better seen from the beginning. Or perhaps the Christmas episode was unusually dull. But, whatever the reason, this was far more boring than you'd imagine anything about people performing in a Cirque could possibly be. By its nature, the plot was extremely thin. Several characters appeared, but I only recall two threads that could even generously be called "plots". To be fair, I could easily be forgetting something, as the episode has almost entirely faded from my mind in the five minutes that passed between watching it and writing this review. F

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (2004)

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After much whining, I had an American Girl doll as a kid. I did not have Samantha. I had Kirsten, because yes, I read a lot of Little House on the Prairie , and my second choice would have been Molly, because I thought Samantha looked stuck-up. I believe young me’s choice is somewhat justified by this stultifying mess of a “film.” Apparently, long after my Kirsten had started collecting dust on my childhood bedroom bookshelves, the company decided to introduce companion dolls for some of their classic dolls, and what better way to sell new toys than with a made-for-TV movie? The best thing I can say about this is that some of the costuming and sets are decent. Not really Samantha’s, though; those dresses look silly on an actual girl. On to the story. Samantha is an orphan who lives with her rich grandmother in upstate New York in 1904. She’s feuding with the boy next door and eagerly awaiting the return of her rich uncle who dotes on her when a family joins the next-door hou

Millions (2004)

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What the hell is wrong with America? Annually, we watch movies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story  again and again, as if our sheer, culturally mandated refusal to admit they're crap will somehow elevate them to the status of genuine classic. Meanwhile, England's been cranking out genuine holiday brilliance at a breakneck pace, and no one here notices. Arthur Christmas , Get Santa , and The Snowman are almost entirely unknown in the US, and they're all incredible. Add Danny Boyle's 2004 surrealist comedy, Millions, to that list - this thing is amazing. The movie's main character is an eight-year-old who's just lost his mother. His name is Damian, and he's obsessed with Catholic saints. Also, he sees them. Arguably, he merely hallucinates meeting and interacting with them, but I'm not buying that. They seem to have knowledge he lacks, and they're capable of affecting the world in at least minor ways. He's

Baby Looney Tunes: Christmas in July (2002)

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We all remember Muppet Babies. Even those of you who have never seen Muppet Babies seem to know it exists and remember it in some strange way. That's the magic of Muppet Babies. That's its power . But no one remembers Baby Looney Tunes. And, having just seen an episode, I can unequivocally assert that it's better that way. Because this show is awful . Not just awful; it's humorless, tedious, boring, and pointless. It drags on, offering no justification for existing nor even seeming to try. You feel as though every step of its creation was undertaken in a dimly lit room, that the people working on it had a scotch in one hand and a pencil in the other, and the words, "What have I done with my life?" must have been scribbled around the margins of every script, every character design. It could have better, is what I'm saying. The premise of the series is almost precisely the premise of Muppet Babies, to the degree that I can only assume they weren