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Showing posts with the label 80's

Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

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While Invasion U.S.A. isn't the worst movie we've seen for Mainlining Christmas, it could be among the most stupid. Almost every element of the film is awful. It's an idiotic piece of schlock crammed with every imaginable 80s cliche that astonishingly believes it has something important to say.

Oh, and it's set at Christmas.

The film stars Chuck Norris as Florida man, Matt Hunter, a former special... something... who's retired from a career killing bad guys in developing nations to a humble life of riding around the Everglades in an airboat. He's asked to come out of retirement when the government learns that a Soviet agent has aligned with communist terrorists from Central and South America in order to launch an assault on the U.S.

Matt Hunter turns down the job but reconsiders when his old nemesis, Mikhail Rostov, blows up his home and best friend. The terrorists kill a boatload of refugees, murder a drug dealer, kill a couple of teenagers on a beach, attack…

Perfect Strangers: A Christmas Story (1986) and The Gift of the Mypiot (1988)

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Despite not having seen an episode since the early nineties, I actually remember Perfect Strangers fairly well. I recall the main characters' names, their relationships, and even the plots for several episodes. All that's a roundabout way of saying I was a little worried going into this - I have some lingering positive associations with this show from my childhood, and I was more than a little worried they were about to be shattered.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn't the case. Overall, I found both these holiday-themed episodes enjoyable. More significantly, Lindsay - who's never seen an episode before and is thus free of the clutches of nostalgia - agreed.

All that being said, it's worth taking a moment to acknowledge the show's problematic aspect: Balki Bartokomous is an immigrant played by a white American using a heavy, intentionally absurd accent. He hails from the fictitious nation of Mypios, but for all intents and purposes he's Greek. A…

Full House: Our Very First Christmas Show (1988)

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This was tough.

Here's the thing - this is bad. Really bad, even. But, if I'm being totally honest, it was slightly less awful than I expected. That doesn't mean I liked it. In fact, I hated it. But I think I understand why the show caught on.

This was, in short, quite a bit better than the episode of the rebooted "Fuller House" we saw earlier.

That's not thanks to the writing. Although this one at least had some structure (Fuller House couldn't even manage that), the jokes were flat, and the emotional beats were hollow. It wasn't the characters, either - there was nothing about them that was in the least bit rounded.

But... and it kills me to even give them this... I think this was well cast. DJ and Stephanie, in particular, were able to hit their marks (again, more than I can say for their counterparts in the new series), and the two actresses were adorable. The adult actors also managed to come off as somewhat charming, despite that the dialogue a…

Cheers: A House Is Not a Home (1987), Christmas Cheers (1988), and Love Me, Love My Car (1992)

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These aren't the first episodes of Cheers we've looked here - five years ago, I reviewed the season one episode, The Spy Who Came in for a Cold One, which hadn't aged well. It took us a while, but we finally got around to what I believe are the series' other Christmas installments, all of which held up better in our opinion.

A House Is Not a Home (1987)
Although this episode was set in the summer, it features a Christmas celebration, so check off another example of Christmas in July (well, technically May, but I'm still counting it as a use of the trope).

This was actually a fairly significant episode, plotwise, coming right before the season finale culminating in Diane's departure. In this one, she buys a house without asking Sam, then spends the first act convincing him it was a good idea.

Just when he's finally on board, they meet the previous owners, an elderly couple who spent their whole lives there. Diane is devastated by the thought they're someh…

Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

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Despite having been the right age, I grew up disliking Pee-wee's Playhouse. I found the characters and sets off-putting as a kid, and I wasn't old enough to appreciate that was part of the point. The 1988 Christmas Special seemed like a good chance to revisit the show and give it another chance.

Ultimately, I was left torn on this one. I have far more respect for the manic, surreal premise, and Paul Reuben's portrayal is certainly impressively bizarre. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something missing tonally. I wanted to be pulled into that odd, unsettling world, but I could never shake the sense I was watching people and puppets act weird on TV.

The plot of this special is... well... it doesn't really have much of one. This is basically an hour of Pee-wee interacting with a long line of guest stars and cast members before the holiday. The closest it comes to a story is a bit about Pee-wee's Christmas list being so long, Santa would need …

The Real Ghostbusters: X-Mas Marks the Spot (1986)

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The Real Ghostbusters has been largely forgotten, which is kind of a shame. The series started in 1986 and serves as something of a missing link between the comical, kid-friendly cartoons of the 80's and the more adult story-driven adventure shows of the 90's. This certainly isn't Batman: The Animated Series, but it's not Scooby-Doo, either. There were some creepy villains and monsters in this show, along with some cool concepts. The story editor was J. Michael Straczynski, who also wrote a vast number of episodes, including this one.

"X-Mas Marks the Spot" was the last episode of the first season. It's set on Christmas Eve, or more accurately on two Christmas Eves. After bungling a job in upstate New York, the Ghostbusters wander through a time portal and find themselves in Victorian London. Not realizing what they're doing, they help Ebeneezer Scrooge with a haunting and wind up capturing the three Christmas ghosts.

Still unaware where they are, th…

The Golden Girls: Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (1986) and Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas (1989)

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The Golden Girls was influential, remembered, and - in some ways - fairly progressive, but that doesn't mean it holds up all that well. We found two Christmas episodes (there could be more - sometimes sitcoms set episodes over the holidays without calling it out in the title).

Neither was especially bad (the first was fairly funny), but there wasn't much of significance, either. A lot of 80's sitcoms went for a sort of vapid inoffensive tone, even when they approached social issues (more on that in a moment). That was definitely the case here. The problems were minor, the stakes were low, and there was never a hint of suspense, even when the leads were being held at gunpoint.

Sorry - getting ahead of myself.

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (1986)

The first holiday episode, Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas (seven years before the stop-motion classic), is sort of a disjointed comedy of errors. Ostensibly, there's a story tying this together, but really it's str…

Last of the Summer Wine: Whoops (1981)

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Every so often, I run across something that reminds me that despite a lot of overlap, Britain and America do not actually share one culture. After sitting through this incomprehensible mess, I discovered that the show went on for some 30-ish years... I can't even imagine.

So far as Wikipedia and I were able to put together, this show follows three elderly men through a kind of second childhood. (I had sort of hoped it was just this episode, but from the premise description online, that seems to be the show.)

In this episode, they use Christmas as an excuse to try to reclaim their youth by playing pranks, doing various implausible physical feats, and reconnecting with old school chums. They reminisce about the old days, walk on their hands (obviously fake), jump off a (slowly) moving bus, and visit a few other men who aren't exactly pleased to see them.

The actors aren't terrible, but the characters haven't aged well, so to speak. It was especially repulsive this year …

MacGyver: The Madonna (1989)

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MacGyver has achieved a sort of immortality, though it's fairly limited in scope. The show revolves around the title character's skill for whipping up solutions to his problems using scientific know-how and odd combinations of everyday objects. His name has become synonymous with this trait.

As far as I can tell, that's all the who is remembered for. If this episode's any indication, that's probably for the best.
To be fair, this almost certainly isn't a typical episode of the series, which sounds like it changed quite a bit from season to season. This one's from the latter half of the show, after budgets were cut. And even then, it's less bad than ridiculous.
If you've seen other action shows from this era, you've got an idea what you're in for. The show is ostensibly serious, but it's family-friendly to the point of absurdity. Moralizing and inoffensive social commentary permeated the episode from beginning to end, all without saying …

Back to the Future: Dickens of a Christmas (1991)

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I don't remember this series, but I recall the era it comes from well enough. Prior to Batman: the Animated Series, cartoon shows - particularly those adapted from live action movies - were mainly cheap cash grabs produced by networks trusting a lack of alternatives would force their audience to tune in regardless of quality.

Yup, even with no recollection of this particular show, this brings back memories of Saturday mornings spent staring blankly at the TV in the idle hope something worth seeing would air.

This series ostensibly picks up after the movies left off, following Doc Brown and his family, along with Marty, as they adventure through time. I assume Marty was lobotomized earlier in the season because his intelligence level is significantly lower here than in the movies.

The animation is extremely toonish - this is closer to Looney Tunes than anything resembling realism. The tone is spastic, trusting on a barrage of slapstick gags to keep kids engaged.

A few actors repri…

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

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I'm counting this as a Christmas movie, even though it means watering down the litmus test we've used in the past. The lead-up to Christmas itself only requires a third of the movie's 90 minute run-time, while New Years Eve falls at the halfway mark. Still, Christmas decorations are present until the end, so I'm giving it a pass.

I should probably mention I've only seen the first Jaws and this one. In theory, that should mean I'm missing two movies from the story, but Wikipedia assures me the third installment was excised from continuity.

The Revenge opens with a holiday celebration in Amity, where the original was set. At some point, Martin Brody, the protagonist of the original Jaws movie, died of a heart attack (i.e.: wasn't interested in making another of these damn movies). His wife and older son, Ellen and Michael, take over as the leads, while his younger son, Sean, is killed off in the first few minutes.

There are two culprits resonsible: the first…

The Dead (1987)

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The Dead is an adaptation of a James Joyce story about an Epiphany party, which I suppose we're now annexing as part of Christmas (to be fair, January 6 would have been considered the conclusion of Christmastime when the movie was set, a fact outright stated in the film).

This is John Huston's last film before his death, and it seems to be widely beloved with a 92% Freshness rating and several honors. While this isn't unfair - the movie is well constructed and acted - it's definitely not for everyone.

For example, it definitely wasn't for me or Lindsay: we found it boring as hell.

The plot is essentially contained in the last five minutes of an hour and twenty minute long film. Until then, the entire thing takes place at a party being thrown by three women I'm assuming are sort of standing in for the three wise men. If you want to know whether this is a heartfelt ode to Irish culture or some sort of ironic mockery of tradition, you'll have to go find a Joy…

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a Japanese/British film about a POW camp during World War II directed by the controversial Japanese film maker Nagisa Oshima. I have a few complaints, but overall it's a well-made, engrossing movie exploring some fairly large questions about culture and human nature.

The movie centers around four characters: two prisoners and two jailers. The titular Mr. Lawrence is the sole English character who speaks both languages, and he has a fairly good grasp of Japanese culture. Also held prisoner is a South African soldier, Jack Celliers, notably played by David Bowie, who the camp commandant, Captain Yonoi, becomes obsessed with. Also key is Sergeant Hara, a man who oscillates between cruelty and compassion.

The movie's plot is somewhat murky, as the events are intricately linked to the complex motives of its characters. I'm not going to try to offer a complete synopsis - I don't think it would begin to make sense - but I'll focus instead…

Garfield and Friends: Sludge Monster/Fortune Kooky/Heatwave Holiday (1989)

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Raise your hand if you liked Garfield as a kid. It’s okay, don’t feel too bad, we’re right there with you. I used to watch this show, but Erin remembered this exact episode, in that spooky way where every line comes into your brain right before it’s spoken.

If you missed this series, it’s made up of super-short bits that are more-or-less animated versions of actual Garfield strips and short cartoons with slim plots. Some of the pieces are Garfield, and the others are “U.S. Acres,” a property which, until this moment, I assumed only existed on this show. No, apparently this was a second comic strip by Jim Davis, and it was limping to the end of its not-critically-acclaimed run around this time.

Of the three six-minute shorts that make up this episode, the last one was the best. Briefly, the first one is about Garfield and Odie being scared of a monster story, and the second is a U.S. Acres bit about playing pranks to make unlikely predictions come true. Both of these stories are bare…

It's Punky Brewster: Christmas in July (1985)

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I'm following Wikipedia's convention and using the series's unofficial name to differentiate this from Punky Brewster. In the vein of Star Trek: the Animated Series, this is actually a sequel of the live-action series in which the main characters reprise their roles. Like many cartoons, each thirty-minute block was divided into two fifteen-minute chunks. We're only covering the half that relates to Christmas, obviously.

The episode opens on a hot day in July. Punky Brewster and her friends stop to admire a skateboard in a toy store window. Punky muses over whether or not she's going to get it for Christmas, and she laments that she won't know for months. Fortunately, Glomer, the 104-year-old magical half-gopher/half-leprechaun in her backpack reveals that he's friends with Santa and might be able to help her find out.

Maybe I should pause for a moment and give you a moment to review the opening credits to this show, which offer a tad more context:



I kind o…

Camp Candy: Christmas in July (1989)

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Camp Candy was, apparently, an animated series where John Candy voices a character based on himself at a fictitious summer camp he runs. I don't recall ever having seen or heard of this series before in my life, though if I still remember this episode an hour from now, I'll be both surprised and disappointed.

The Christmas in July episode opens the same way Wikipedia assures me every episode in this series starts, with Candy trying to teach the kids a sport, leading to a flashback of something that happened earlier in the summer. This is portrayed as a story being told by Candy, though it's unclear why he's telling the kids about an adventure they were present for. It's also unclear how he's able to provide descriptions and commentary for other characters' dream sequences.

Actually, this episode features dreams within dreams within a story. But don't get excited: it was all crap.

Once we're firmly entrenched within a flashback, the kids and Candy d…

ALF: Oh, Tannerbaum (1986)

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This is the first of two ALF Christmas episodes. We actually did the second one, a double-length special, back in 2010 when we started this blog. For those of you who didn't just click on that link, let me sum up our feelings: we hated it. Despised it, in fact: it was sappy, cliche, and just plain idiotic. With those kinds of expectations, it shouldn't be a huge surprise to hear this episode from the series's first season was better than I anticipated. That's not to say it was good - but, compared to the show's more ambitious attempt, mediocre is a huge step up.

It probably helped that this was earlier in the series. Just as shows with great premises and talented writers tend to get better as they go, those with uninspired concepts and weak writers have a tendency of burning through their one-note jokes almost immediately. No surprise, really.

The premise of ALF is much more on display here. Gordon is an alien lacking in manners, common sense, and shame. The jokes…

The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981)

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At some point, Rankin-Bass must have had a committee pawing through lists of holiday songs: "Has anyone made a special out of this one? This one? Oh, how about Christmas in Killarney? What do you mean the song has no story? We'll write something. Ireland is all about leprechauns, right?"

And so, we have this odd little half-hour of mediocre stop-motion. When a company famous for holiday specials has some you've never heard of, you know they’re going to be weirdly awesome or boring and dated. Guess which coin flip we lost today.

The story starts with Dinty Doyle, a cabin boy on a ship bound home to Ireland, sent to a strange island to dig up a tree for the ship’s Christmas celebration. In doing so, he releases a trapped banshee, who causes a storm, stranding Dinty, and subjecting the rest of us to incoming backstory. Instead of having much of any plot in the present, much of the special is taken up with the patriarch of a leprechaun clan (Blarney Kilakilarney, yes, r…

Book Review: The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)

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The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)
Ellis Peters, 1986

This is book number twelve in the Cadfael series, but I jumped ahead to it because it's set explicitly at Christmas.

Premise: In 1141, a new priest comes to the town outside the abbey. He is harsh with the people and quickly makes enemies. The woman and young man who came into town with Father Ailnoth are not who they say they are, and all mysteries must come to light after a violent death on Christmas Eve.

I've very much enjoyed all of the Cadfael books I have read, although this one seems to retread some ground. Cadfael's friendship with and patronage of the young couple particularly, is a repeated thread in more than one of these stories. It's still an enjoyable yarn, with the final solution to the mystery held secret to the end, despite how steadily pieces are revealed.

Cadfael, as usual, keeps his own counsel and works only for what he thinks is the best outcome for all concerned. If you haven't rea…

Ghostbusters II (1989)

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We've never bothered writing up this movie, because - first and foremost - it's a New Year's movie, not a Christmas one. I don't want to get into the full debate here over whether or not New Year's is functionally just an extension of Christmas - I think that's worth more exploration another time - in part because it's ultimately irrelevant. Whether or not New Year's pieces belong here, the majority of Ghostbusters II is set right before the holidays, and thus deserving of discussion.

The movie itself is somewhat controversial. Most die hard Ghostbusters fans despise it, and it's not hard to see why. The movie essentially retreads the premise and most of the story beats of part one. In fact, here's a synopsis for either film:
Three paranormal scientists (and Winston) are down on their luck and can't catch a break until dark forces rise up and they're the only ones who can stop them. Meanwhile, Venkman, the team's clown, strikes up a…