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Showing posts with the label 2014

Black Mirror: White Christmas (2014)

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People have been telling us for years we should check out Black Mirror, a British (well, formerly British now Netflix-produced) science fiction anthology series, but we've been busy. We finally got around to at least watching the Christmas special, and we were... I don't know. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. I guess we were whelmed.

The production values were certainly impressive. The writing was solid, though I didn't find this special spectacular. The holiday elements felt tacked on - I wouldn't be at all surprised if this were originally written for another purpose than altered to fit a holiday mold.

This is really three short bits tied together by a frame story about two men ostensibly living and working together in some snowbound environment. It's meant to be ambiguous at the start, but I doubt I was alone in assuming it was some sort of purgatory or hell.

And I was right. It's essentially a digital purgatory, which becomes pretty obvious quite a while…

The Christmas Dragon (2014)

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If you've been reading this site for any length of time, you probably know that interesting Christmas genre mashups are highly sought after around here. Christmas horror is so common as to be unsurprising now, but Christmas science fiction is rare. Christmas crossed with epic fantasy is extremely rare.

It turns out there are some reasons for that.

We start our tale on Christmas. Or Christmas Eve. Or something. Ayden receives a kite in a dirty sock, and her parents tell her to thank Father Christmas. Cut to Ayden flying the kite outside on a sunny, warm day. It's unclear how much time as passed.

Some villains in black - backed up by a bunch of mooks decked out in cheap gear and swords that your average ren faire attendee wouldn't be caught dead with - accost Ayden's parents for some tax money. (Spoiler: the idea that there is a king or other person in charge of this place is never mentioned again.) Her dad accuses them of skimming off the top, and a fight ensues. The v…

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Santa Pac's Merry Berry Day (2014, 2015)

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I've long championed the theory that any premise, regardless of how seemingly juvenile or misguided, can be elevated to greatness if the core concept is simply taken seriously and complex emotion is added. Movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lend credence to this idea.

It is a good theory, or - more accurately - it was a good theory. In the space of 44 minutes, this idea was tested and soundly, undeniably refuted by a corporate cash grab so cloying, the very core is beyond salvation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.

This is a CG science-fiction/superhero adventure based on the characters from the 1980 arcade game. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to adapt Pac-Man into a television series, but it might be the first time someone tried giving it a relatively serious tone.

Note I said relatively serious - this is still supposed t…

Cutthroat Kitchen: Sabotage Is Coming to Town (2014)

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Cutthroat Kitchen is a cooking competition show about invention, adversity, and screwing over your opponents. We really enjoy it.

Like many competition shows, one contestant leaves after each round. Each round consists of a challenge and a set of sabotages. Each contestant starts with $25,000 that they can use to bid on these sabotages and disadvantage other contestants. The winner gets bragging rights and whatever money he or she has left. Winning (or doing well) is usually a combination of bidding strategy, luck, and the inventive skill to change your plan on the fly and MacGyver weird foodstuffs into something that's both edible and fancy-looking.

This special Christmas episode features Chefs Keith, Kelley, Angelo, and Phillip. The set is decorated, and the challenges and sabotages all follow the holiday theme.

In round one, the challenge is "ham dinner." Angelo spends a good amount of his starting cash to win all the sabotages (sold together as a set). This means tha…

Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Lonely Island Wear Holiday Sweaters & White Pants (2014)

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Comedy Bang! Bang!'s second Christmas episode is a big improvement over their first. Having already tried the "kitchen sink" approach, this one picks a reference and focuses in on it. Even better, that reference is Die Hard.

The episode opens just before Christmas. Scott is depressed, because he feels like the holidays are too commercial. Making matters worse, the air conditioner is out of order, causing the set to be extremely hot. Xenophobic ex-marine Ray Starksy (played by Alan Tudyk) climbs into the air ducts to fix it minutes before a group of international terrorists break in and take the show hostage.

Their demand: they want a hard-to-find toy to give to their daughters as a Christmas present. And if they don't get them, they'll kill everyone.

The terrorists are a constant presence, though their disruptions are fairly minimal, aside from one bit when the leader (James Urbaniak doing a decent impression of a generic Die Hard villain) takes over as host to …

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas Episodes (2013-2016)

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine is essentially a parody of every other cop show on TV. In that sense, it's sort of an update of Police Squad. Based on the holiday episodes I just saw, that comparison might actually be fair - this was surprisingly good.

"Christmas" (2013)

The episode's A-plot concerns death threats made towards Captain Holt. His boss commands him to accept a protection detail, so he assigns Detective Jake Peralta (the series' lead, played by Adam Samberg) the job, assuming he'll blow off protocol as usual. However, the assignment gives Peralta total control over the movements and activities of his Captain, so he instead abuses the situation.

There are some hi-jinks involving a safe house, where Peralta handcuffs himself to the captain and tosses the key down a grate; the sort of stuff that would normally be tiresome and dull. But the cast pulls it off, selling the slapstick through their bizarre characters. The same commitment and skill allow the B-plots t…

Sofia the First: Winter’s Gift (2014)

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Sweet, another fantasy holiday revisited! The first holiday episode strained our tolerance, but this one was actually adorable.

Sofia is excited that it’s Wassailia once more, and she’s made a special gift for Cedric, the court magician. It’s a wand case she made by hand. When she and her rabbit Clover approach his study to deliver the gift, however, she overhears him ranting to himself about the useless trinkets people burden him with every Wassailia. Sofia decides that her gift isn’t special enough and she’ll need to find something better.

A chance comment tips her off to a magical flower - an Ice Lily - that sounds like a great gift, so she and Clover head out. Clover calls on a friend who knows the forest, a fox named Whiskers. (I don’t know why the fox and the rabbit are friends either, but you forget about that because the fox is busy being super sassy about the rabbit’s cushy life in the castle.)

On the way to find the Ice Lilies, they hear some beautiful music and stop to in…

Santa Claws (2014)

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While Santa Claws wasn't intended to be confused with the 1996 horror movie with the same name, it was almost certainly intended to be confused with the direct-to-DVD Santa Paws movies. This was produced by "The Asylum," the low-budget production company that produces cheap knock-offs of big-budget pictures and pushes them onto the market early and often. They're also responsible for the Sharknado franchise (which gets name-checked in Santa Claws).

This is a difficult movie to approach. While it was one of the most boring, pointless productions we've ever had the misfortune of sitting through, it did include a sequence where someone had to shove an EpiPen into Santa's chest to save him from a peanut allergy. While this scene wasn't good, it was certainly a unique moment in Christmas entertainment.

It wasn't entirely alone - the movie offered a couple more shots or jokes that implied a subversive streak in the producers. But saying these were few and …

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

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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…

Il Capital Umano (Human Capital) (2014)

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A movie set (at least mostly) at Christmas, focused on a car crash, told multiple times from multiple perspectives. If you feel like you’ve heard this one before, you’re not alone.

Il Capital Umano, however, is a very different animal.

It’s about class struggles, love and the lack of it, and attitudes around the value of human life. I mostly dug it through the first sections; Erin liked it a bit less.

It’s a combination mystery and social commentary, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to learn what happens.

It starts out in the aftermath of a fancy holiday party. The caterers are working late into the night to clean up. The camera follows one particular gentleman; we learn that he’s cynical, tired and happy to clock out as soon as he can.

He mounts a bike and heads home through the dark, snowy countryside.

He is struck by a car on a back road.

At this point the movie jumps back six months and introduces our first viewpoint character: Dino. Dino is bringing his daughter (Serena…

Misadventures in Romance Reading (Christmas in July)

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When we decided to tackle more Christmas in July media, I did a search for books. The main one that came up when I searched was a romance: Christmas in July (A Christmas, Colorado, Novel: Book 2) by Debbie Mason.

Romance isn’t a preferred genre for me, but sometimes I like it, and this book was available through my local library, so I decided to dive in.

At the beginning, I was intrigued. The book (and, I imagine, the series) takes place in a town called Christmas. The main character, Grace, is a baker. Her signature dessert is a Sugar Plum Cake with a “wish” hidden in the decorations. Her husband, Jack, was in the army, but he’s been MIA for over a year, and she’s finally decided to move on.

So far, a nice dash of holiday theme and an interesting premise.

Of course, this is the moment when her husband and his crew are found alive.

But he has amnesia, and doesn’t remember her, and he’s been attracted to this other woman in the meantime. And all of that could actually have been an …

Get Santa (2014)

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This surprisingly intelligent British fantasy opens a few days before Christmas. Steve is being released from prison after serving two years: he was a getaway driver in a botched robbery. All he wants is to spend some time with his son, Tom, who's terrified his father will disappoint him. After a brief argument with his mother, Tom writes a letter to Santa and places it in the fireplace (a British tradition which frankly makes a hell of a lot more sense than dropping it in a mail box). As soon as the room's empty, a gust of wind carries it up the chimney then promptly takes it to the shed behind his house.

Because that's where Santa Claus is hiding out. After a test flight gone bad, he was knocked off his sleigh. His deer are lost, and he needs help. Before long, Tom finds him and gets the whole story. Santa specifically wants Steve's assistance - he remembers him from when he was a child and believes he'll be able to make things right. Tom calls his father and te…

Arrow: Year's End (2012), Three Ghosts (2013), The Climb (2014), and Dark Waters (2015)

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This is one of those times I stumbled across a few Christmas episodes while watching a series.

I saw Arrow's pilot back when it originally aired. I actually liked it quite a bit on its own merits, but was underwhelmed by the move away from comic book tropes. It felt like a really good dark and gritty take on a superhero origin, but I'd kind of had my fill of those. I decided not to follow it but to pick it up later if I heard it was worth it.

What actually got me back on board was The Flash, which was much more in line with what I wanted from the genre. A handful of crossovers convinced me Arrow would head in a more interesting direction given time. Besides, like I said before, the pilot was actually quite good for what it was.

Years End (2012)

The first Christmas episode occurs a little less than halfway through season one. The season started strong with a few missteps. But a few episodes before Christmas, it took a dive for the worst, and this one doesn't do much to corr…

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: It's a Wonderful Smash (2014)

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Remember a few years ago, when Marvel animation was at its peak? In a relatively short period of time, we got Spectacular Spider-Man, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, all great shows.

Then something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Overall, the Disney acquisition of Marvel was a plus. It gave them more money to produce movies and live-action TV series, and the comics actually seem to have benefited. But the quality of their animated programs plummeted. Guess that's the price we have to pay.

This, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Avengers Assemble all appear to be in continuity with each other. And, from what I've seen so far, all of these shows suck.

To be fair, I've only seen two episodes of Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and one was the pilot. But the premise was misguided to begin with, and nothing I've seen suggests they're able to salvage the show.

This episode is, of course, the Christmas one. It opens on Christmas Eve, when the Hulks…

The Librarians and Santa's Midnight Run (2014)

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As a rule of thumb, when there's an episode we're recommending that's embedded in the middle of a series, we advise watching it in context to get the needed background. This is different. We watched the first three episodes of The Librarians, and we think you're better off skipping to the Christmas episode.

It's not that the earlier episodes were bad; it's more that they are generic as hell. They feel like an uninspired fusion of Doctor Who, Leverage, Warehouse 13, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Files... hell, basically every genre show of the past two decades shoved into a blender. The result comes off as mediocre in every possible way.

Then along comes the Christmas episode, guest starring Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus, and the quality spikes.



Story-wise, it's pretty generic Christmas fantasy stuff. The episode opens with Santa abducted by the Serpent Brotherhood (I promise, you're better off not having seen their first episode), a secret society pl…

Jingle All the Way 2 (2014)

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When I heard there was a sequel to Jingle All the Way starring Larry the Cable Guy, I kind of hoped it would be a literal sequel, with him taking over Schwarzenegger's part. No such luck: the movie's sort of a spiritual sequel, borrowing elements from the premise and using them to tell a new crappy story.

Before I go on, I want to state that I found the experience of watching this extremely unpleasant. That being said, I'm forced to concede that this was actually a better movie than the original. Granted, that is an incredibly low bar to clear, but I was somewhat still surprised.

Not pleasantly surprised though: I dislike Larry the Cable Guy's shtick and was rooting against this movie. I'd have rather a scenario where I could simply say it was an abysmal pile of idiotic crap, as opposed to a nuanced pile of mediocre crap. But we can't get everything we want for Christmas.

Larry the Cable Guy plays a divorced father named, "Larry". I'm just going …