Showing posts with the label 2011

Cupcake Wars: The Nutcracker, Hollywood Christmas Parade (2011)

Cupcake Wars is a food competition show. I watch, let's be honest, a decent number of food competition shows, and I place this one squarely in the lower-middle tier of such fare. It’s fine background noise that’s somewhat entertaining, but it lacks the theatricality of shows like Cutthroat Kitchen or Beat Bobby Flay, the impressive flexibility and talent on shows like Chopped or Iron Chef, or the personal drama of shows with a continuing cast like Great British Bake Off or even Next Food Network Star.

Even so, it is amusing enough to pass the time with when tied to the couch under a feeding baby. On my maternity leave earlier this year I watched a lot of reality shows, including two Christmas-themed episodes of Cupcake Wars. In this show, people who make cupcakes professionally (most either own a cafe or do catering) try to outdo each other to win a cash prize and a contract for a specific fancy event. In these episodes, said events were the opening night of the New York City Bal…

Lost Christmas (2011)

Lost Christmas was a made-for-TV holiday movie, but because it was made in England, it's actually pretty good. "Pretty good" may be underselling it: this is, in many ways, a fantastic film, though there is a bit of a catch. I'll get into that a bit, but first...

This is one of those movies where spoilers do make a difference, and it's worth seeing, assuming you enjoy this sort of thing. It's a melancholy fairy tale exploring cycles of alienation and guilt before setting things right. Imagine a low-budget urban fantasy reimagining of It's a Wonderful Life and you'll have some sense of what you're in for. If that sounds good, by all means stop reading now and go stream it.

The story centers around two characters. The first is an orphaned boy called Goose living with his grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's. His parents died in a car crash the year before, which was caused indirectly by Goose. Since then, the boy's become a petty thief.


The Simpsons: Holidays of Future Passed (2011)

This episode from the twenty-third season of The Simpsons was originally intended as the series's finale, in effect book-ending the holiday special that served as the pilot.

Holidays of Future Passed opens with a Christmas-themed intro, followed by a brief Thanksgiving sequence that transitions into a Christmas photo, which in turn transitions into a montage showing the family growing older over the years. This may have been my favorite part of the episode, honestly - there are numerous clever jokes hidden in this sequence, and I found the vignettes of these characters aging endearing.

When we catch up to the present (or more accurately the future), Bart is a 40-year-old renting an apartment in the ruins of his old elementary school. He's a deadbeat father to a pair of boys who typically live with their mom but are sent to him for the holidays.

Lisa is doing marginally better - she seems to have a successful career and a relatively okay marriage (she's married to Milhouse…

Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)

There's something I find especially frustrating about specials like this. The production values are high, the design and animation and voice acting all well done. But the writing is idiotic, so it's still a boring, tedious slog.

Unlike the specials affiliated with the Dreamworks movies Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, I went into this one never having seen any of the movies in the franchise.

Although I hesitate to admit it, the only things I didn't find dull as a dead tree discarded for trash pickup were some of the Scrat sections (you've seen the prehistoric squirrel obsessed with acorns if you've ever seen a trailer for one of these films). The silent animation was decently paired with Christmas music. Of course, I also hated those sections because a character being beat up constantly through no fault of their own is a form of animated "comedy" that I particularly despise.

The story opens with Manny (the mammoth. Get it?) hauling ou…

Happy Endings: Grinches Be Crazy (2011) and No-Ho-Ho (2012)

According to the internet, a lot of people were devastated when this series was cancelled after its third season. This knowledge leads me to one of three conclusions:

1. This is one of those shows you need to watch for a while before it gets good.
2. This is a case where some episodes are much stronger than others.
3. This show's fan are extremely generous viewers.

We absolutely hated these two episodes. The characters felt two-dimensional and dull, the stories were absurdly idiotic, and the tone didn't gel with the writing. I kept thinking I was watching a live-action show set in the world of Family Guy.

This is (yet another) circle-of-friends sitcom in the vein of, well, Friends. It goes for a farcical, over-the-top tone, like the far superior Community, but I didn't feel like it committed enough to sell it. As a result, it came off as unrealistic people behaving unrealistically. I knew intellectually that was supposed to be funny, but I just didn't enjoy it.


Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land/Hook on Ice, F-F-Frozen Never Land, Captain Scrooge (2011-2014)

As an aficionado of both Disney and children’s television in general, I have to believe that there is something of quality in the Disney Junior lineup.

But this made us want to scurry back to the complex plots and emotions of Sofia the First.

It has some of the repetition and talk-to-the-camera of Blue’s Clues, without any of the charm. In between, it’s a series of thin premises and slapstick scenarios that aren’t in the least interesting or funny.

It’s also, of course, a crime against a treasure of art and literature, although I’ve seen Disney’s Captain Hook in enough contexts that I can divorce it somewhat from Peter Pan in my brain. Even if he seems to have a little safety knob on his hook in this.

The show stars three kids and a parrot who live on “Pirate Island” and go on simplistic adventures in Never Land. (Yes, it’s “Neverland” in Peter and Wendy, but the show’s title card clearly reads “Never Land.”)

The kids are “pirates” where pirate has been redefined to mean believing i…

Haven: Silent Night (2011)

Ostensibly based on The Colorado Kid, a mystery novel by Stephen King, Haven is probably better described as a homage to the genre writer's body of work. It centers around a police officer drawn to Haven, a fictitious Maine town beset by strange phenomenon.

This is the only episode we've seen - naturally, we were drawn by its Christmas in July connections. And what connections those were: this episode offers not only a unique spin on that conceit, but a new Christmas/horror archetype as well.

We've seen killer elves, killer reindeer, killer snowmen, killer Santa (so damn many killer Santas), killer Christmas trees, killer gifts, killer stockings, killer decorations, killer snow... honestly, I was pretty sure I'd seen it all. But this went and offered a new spin: killer Christmas.

It opens with a woman hearing Silent Night while surfing off the coast, seconds before being cut in half. Soon after, we cut to the town, where our main characters are finishing breakfast at …

Workaholics: The Strike (2011)

I believe this is the second episode of Workaholics I've ever seen, and - while I found aspects humorous - I don't see any reason I need to watch a third. To be fair, "The Strike" was part of the series's first season, so it's entirely possible it improves substantially over time. Feel free to chime in with a comment if that's the case.

The show revolves around three idiotic roommates - Blake, Adam, and Anders - who work together at a call center. Based on what I've seen, I'd describe it as having aggressively low production values. My sense is that this is intentional, that it's designed for the audience to laugh at the show as much as they're laughing with it. Imagine a version of Office Space without a POV character, lower everyone's IQ to Beavis and Butthead levels, and you'll have a good idea of what you're in for.

This episode opens in the middle of summer with the trio getting ready for "Half-Christmas," which…

Phineas and Ferb: S'Winter (2008), I, Brobot (2008), Phineas and Ferb's Family Christmas Special (2011), and Phineas and Ferb Save Summer (2014)

It shouldn't be entirely surprising that Phineas and Ferb is a treasure trove for the "Christmas in July" trope: with more or less the entire series set during summer, they've found numerous excuses to play with holiday and winter tropes over the years.

A few of the episodes I'm looking at are admittedly a stretch - there's a reason we've only done one of the episodes below to date - but together they offer a surprisingly comprehensive look at the range of different approaches to the "Christmas in July" premise.

S'Winter (2008)

S'Winter is one of the earliest episodes of Phineas and Ferb produced. It's typically combined with "The Magnificent Few" to fill a half hour. But "The Magnificent Few" has jack to do with the holidays, so we'll just shove that aside.

I've been wrestling with this episode for several years. There's a argument it could count as a Christmas episode, but it falls just short of the li…

A Cadaver Christmas (2011)

We've had this one sitting in our DVD stack for more than a year after picking it up for a buck or two at a dying video store. We meant to watch it last year, but decided at the last minute we didn't want to devote our limited time and energy to something that looked quite this unpleasant.
We assumed too much. A Cadaver Christmas is far better than I'd seriously hoped for. It's not a great movie - 'good' might be pushing it - but it's a solid low-budget indie horror/comedy. In fact, as long as you preface it with 'low-budge' and 'indie,' you don't have to qualify the label 'good' any further. Within its limitations, it's a resourceful, fun movie.
The back of the packaging describes it as "A cross between 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'Night of the Living Dead'", which I think is more than a little misleading. I'd describe the zombie aspects as being more in the vein of Evil Dead 2 than Night o…

A Princess for Christmas (2011)

Watching movies for Mainlining Christmas is an enlightening process. We have become professionals. We are resistant to all but the worst writing, acting, directing and design. Today, I’m pleased to share some of our tips for keeping your mental health while watching holiday dreck. The defense mechanisms we’ll be practicing in this session are “Plausible Alternate Plot”, “Identifying Fakeconomics” and “Advanced Foreshaming”.

A Princess for Christmas is a Hallmark Original movie that never believes in subtlety when you could be describing your emotions out loud, and is a great training ground for all of these techniques.

Early on, the movie is full of easy targets for Identifying Fakeconomics. Main character Jules works in a small antique store in Buffalo, New York. She is the primary caretaker of her deceased sister’s two kids, Milo and Maddie. Even with survivor’s benefits of some type, there is no way she could maintain that large, well-appointed house and a full-time nanny on one …

Dear Santa (2011)

I am unprepared for this review. It's not easy for me to admit as a writer, but I'm just not ready for this: my language skills aren't up to the task. So I'm going to need you to give me a moment. I just have to duck out of this tab, go over to, and look up as many synonyms as I can find for the word "stupid."

Alright. I think we're ready to get started.

The opening credits are in a font that's supposed to mimic a child's handwriting, but the bright green color makes them nearly indistinguishable from comic sans. At this point, we thought we had a pretty good idea what kind of movie we were sitting down to watch, but we were wrong: this montage was, inexplicably, the most thoughtful section of the film. Everything that came after was significantly more idiotic.

We're introduced to the movie's star, played by Amy Acker making the most dunderheaded decision of her career. She's portraying Crystal, a vapid and naive daughte…

Graphic Novel Review: Batman: Noel

For a dark avenger, there are a surprising number of famous Batman Christmas stories, including well regarded episodes from severalanimatedseries, a holiday movie, and even a video game. There have been quite a few Christmas comic issues, as well, over the years, but you wouldn't expect anything else from a character who's been around for seventy-five years with multiple titles a large portion of that time.

One of the more iconic Batman holiday stories in his original medium is Batman: Noel, a graphic novel from 2011 that attempts to adapt A Christmas Carol using the Dark Knight as a stand-in for Scrooge and supporting characters in other roles.

This was written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, who's best known as an artist. After reading Noel, I'm a little torn on whether I think he should have stuck with that. On one hand, there are some great ideas in this story and some clever twists. But there are also a huge number of missed opportunities, poor choices, and a gen…

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)

Yet another solid Doctor Who Christmas special, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe tells the story of the Doctor's interactions with a family at Christmas. Or, more accurately, at two Christmases.

The episode opens with a quick Star Wars homage, revealing a massive warship orbiting Earth. Right as it's about to open fire, something seemingly goes wrong and an explosion cuts it in half. What's gone wrong, of course, is the Doctor, who's still on board and fleeing the blast. He survives by catching a space suit while being blown through space and putting it on as he plummets towards Earth.

This sequence is the low-point of the episode. It was a cool idea, but something was off in the pacing leading to the explosion: we really needed a few more seconds to accept this as a potential threat before the punchline. Likewise, the Doctor's leap through space was a little too cartoonish, even compared to the comic-book shenanigans that typically permeate this series.


A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

"A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas." That's a title only a marketing executive could love. Break it down and you get two titles, each equally uninspired: both "Harold and Kumar 3D" and "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas" represent jokes so cliched you have to wonder if the producers were relying on the memory-damaging properties of marijuana to cover their lack of creativity.

In case there was any question, we saw this on our TV in a mere two dimensions. I can't imagine the effect was sufficiently different in 3D. It was pretty obvious where it was put to use.

This is the third and - to date - the last in the franchise. We've seen the first, which I found to be a relatively clever take on racism. We skipped part two, but it was only a matter of time before we got to the Christmas installment.

If I'd looked this up on Rotten Tomatoes, I'd probably have gone in with higher expectations - for some reason, I was under the impression it…

Becoming Santa (2011)

I stumbled across this on Netflix, where it stood out like a sore thumb. I'm used to seeing Christmas stuff there, of course, but this really jumped out at me. Why? Netflix, for those who don't know, gives everything an estimated rating, based on your personal ratings of things you've watched previously. So in a sea of items marked with one or two stars, this was rated at four. We put it on before we even realized it was a documentary.

The movie follows the adventures of Jack Sanderson as he sets out to become one of the countless Santa Clauses who appear every Christmas. Occasionally, the documentary cuts away to interviews with a slew of experts and Santas who have been at the game longer.

There's an awful lot to like here. The documentary begins with Jack having his beard and hair bleached, a process that turned out being pretty unpleasant (well, unpleasant for him - it was hilarious to watch). He then took a two-day course in becoming Santa Claus and headed to the…

How I Met Your Mother Christmas Episodes (Part Two)

Read Part One

Symphony of Illumination (2011)
Theres a nice punchline on the cold opening on this one and some pretty okay jokes about Christmas music. Unfortunately, the episode drags badly in the middle and the B plot is awful. Many of the characters drifted into over-caricaturization here, it was jarring and boring. The end of Robin’s plot has a really nice dark tone though.

The Over-Correction (2012)
There are three, count them three, episodes set at Christmas that ran back-to-back-to-back in 2012. Unfortunately, our early thought on this episode was: ‘Hey, we found where the show jumped the shark,’ There’s a lot of bad randomness in the early parts of this episode. (WHY IS COBIE SMULDERS CRAZY NOW? Also, the lack of coherency in the emotional arcs isn’t just me with no context: AVClub gave this one a C+.) Finally the plot of the episode comes together and it builds for a while into some honest laughs. Christmas ornaments featured heavily in the best running gag of the episode.

By t…

Extreme Christmas Trees (2011)

We came across this on Netflix and watched it on a whim. It's essentially a series of segments about Christmas trees and Christmas tree-inspired displays judged by TLC to be "extreme."

The first segment is about a thirty-two foot tall Christmas tree that gets wedged into the Biltmore House by hand. There was a ridiculous amount of pageantry surrounding this: they actually drove it up the house in a horse-drawn carriage, a choice that almost led to disaster because horses, unlike trucks, don't have an emergency brake.

The narration was particularly egregious while the tree was going up: they tried to ratchet up the tension. "With victory just a few feet away, the unimaginable happens." For those of you following along, the unimaginable was that they ran into a moderate snag which they quickly corrected before any damage was done. Of course, they did - these people are professionals, and they can get the job done even if they have to do so without machines, …