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Showing posts with the label 80's

The Monster's Christmas (1981)

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The first thing to know about this television special from New Zealand is that it is poorly punctuated. As there are multiple monsters whose Christmas is at stake, it should properly be The Monsters' Christmas. Well, perhaps that's really the second thing. Perhaps the first thing to know about it is that not a single member of the cast has enough of a resume to have a photo next to their name on IMDB. Or perhaps it is that, according to the production/distribution company, the film was "written and planned as a location film." Or that it features most of its actors in full body monster costumes that are... really not that bad for television in the 80's, I guess? But really, the main thing you need to know is that this might be, minute-for-minute, the weirdest thing I've ever seen. It opens with a scene that implies a level of horror and suspense that the movie never reaches again. A little girl is reading a picture book to her teddy bear while SO

First Blood (1982)

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Add one more to the list of movies you probably didn't know were set during the Christmas season - until rewatching it, I really didn't notice. It's easy to miss: I didn't notice it coming up even once in conversation, and the majority of the film is set in the wilderness, where it's irrelevant. I'll have some more thoughts about the holidays in a moment, but first I want to talk about something else I'd forgotten. This is a great movie. I remembered it was good, but that really doesn't do it justice. This is an incredible achievement - one of the best action movies out there, possibly on par with Die Hard. If you don't recognize the name of the movie, you'll recognize the name of its protagonist: John Rambo. Like Die Hard, it's easy to understand why there was a demand for sequels, though - also like Die Hard - the first installment is the only one that's required viewing. First Blood opens with Rambo in a rural Washington town t

Rocky IV (1985)

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After Rocky's friend, Apollo Creed, is killed in the ring fighting a Russian boxer, Rocky flies to the Soviet Union, where he trains then defeats the Russian on Christmas Day. And... that's pretty much everything that happens. Huh. Usually the synopsis takes longer to write. If you're confused how the above could fill 90 minutes, you are seriously underestimating just how many rock montages can be fit in a single movie. To be perfectly honest, I lost count. There's an argument to be made that this might qualify as a musical. James Brown shows up at one point. Beyond the plot and montages, Sylvester Stallone (who wrote and directed the film) managed to find time to work in a robot helper which looks a little like a stereo system on top of a coffee maker. Also, it might be sentient. And Paulie may or may not be sleeping with it - the movie was somewhat ambiguous on this point. Likewise, it is unclear whether Rocky and Apollo were lovers. 1980's sexual conserva

Elves (1989)

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In this world, there are bad horror movies. There are crappy horror movies. Then there are horror movies so unbelievably awful you honestly can't tell whether they were intended to be comedic or not. Since those categories aren't mutually exclusive, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Elves is all three. I first heard about this on Red Letter Media's Christmas Special . I immediately rushed to Netflix to add it to the yuletide queue, only to discover that Netflix has never heard of the movie. It turns out this isn't too surprising, since - as far as I can tell - it has never been released on DVD. Unfortunately, someone had converted an old VHS copy and uploaded it to Youtube. The movie is about a girl named Kirsten, whose grandfather is a Nazi scientist who impregnated his daughter to create a pure woman, so that one day she could be mated with an elf and give birth the master race and/or the Anti-Christ (the movie is slightly unclear on this point). Th

Doogie Howser, M.D.: Doogie the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1989)

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First off, a disclaimer: I have never before in my life seen an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D . I knew of it later, when NPH hit the spotlight, but didn't hear much when it was on. Can anyone tell me why the theme song is MIDI? It’s… I can‘t explain it. Anywho, we’ll take the premise as presented in the opening: kid genius becomes a doctor, deals with being both a practicing physician and a teenager. I don’t know whether that’s the plot of every episode, but ot was the plot of this one. The episode opens with a lot of establishing material: Doogie (I’m sorry, side note. I cringe every time I type this. It’s terrible. Why on Gaea’s green earth would anyone call another human being Doogie when they weren’t actively shoving said person into a locker at the same moment? Okay, we’re back.) talks a lot of medicine and runs about being efficient and reminding the audience that he’s good at his job and his colleagues like him. I was actually surprised and happy to see that he’s j

Brazil (1985)

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The title of Brazil is drawn from its theme song, despite the fact the movie is not set in Brazil, and the nation of Brazil has absolutely no bearing on the movie, nor is it even mentioned. It should be noted that they considered several alternative titles while the movie was in development, and - miraculously - Brazil seems to have been the best they thought of. You can read a bunch of the others on Wikipedia . If I could be so bold, I might suggest calling this the Metropolis Christmas Special, which is how I'm going to think of it from now on. Recently, I found this on a couple of lists of science fiction Christmas movies, which surprised me, since I didn't recall it having taken place at Christmas. Granted, it's been more than a decade since I saw this, and I didn't think much of it at the time. For years, my summation was simply: any ten minutes of Brazil is gorgeous, but there's no reason to watch more than that. Maybe I'm just mellowing as I age,

A Very Brady Christmas (1988)

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I haven't seen very many episodes of The Brady Bunch , but from the little I remember, A Very Brady Christmas managed to capture the stone and style of the show perfectly. Incidentally, I believe the previous sentence ranks among the all-time most condemning insults I've ever lobbed in a review for this blog. It should be noted that this was produced in 1988, which was about nineteen years after the series had started. By this time, the Bradys had actually expanded into something of a cinematic Universe. Most of the kids had gotten married in earlier reunions and spin-off series, opening up a whole new generation of cloying Brady children. The best description for the plot is that of a blender. What little story exists does so in brief, unrelated chunks. The impetus for the reunion revolves around Mike and Carol Brady trying to surprise each other with a Christmas vacation. The special sets this up as a potential major plot point, before defusing the tension in a scene a

Yogi Bear's All Star Comedy Christmas Caper (1982)

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Don't let the unbelievably stupid title fool you: this 30 minute special from the early 80's is actually pretty enjoyable, thanks to some clever writing and a brisk pace. The special begins with a host of Hanna-Barbera characters traveling to Jellystone at Christmas to surprise Yogi and Boo-Boo. Only when they arrive, they discover the two bears have stowed away on a departing tour bus to the city in order to spend the holidays with them. The ranger calls ahead to have them apprehended, and Yogi and Boo-Boo wind up dressing as Santa and an Elf to escape capture. In the process, they pick up a young girl who feels like her rich father is neglecting her by devoting so much time to his work (this situation was extremely common in 80's entertainment, which placed absurdly high expectations on parents). It's a simple story-line, but they fill the time with cameos and jokes. Impressively, most of these are quite a bit of fun. The special has a nice nostalgic feel, and a

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

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This one might be a little controversial. The Christmas elements are pretty subtle, though they do bookend the movie. While it's possible to argue that the movie's plot might have tied into a pre-Christian fixation on the winter solstice, this was never stated outright or even implied beyond the seemingly coincidental timing, so it's admittedly a stretch. Still, for a movie that barely touches on its timing, it seems to bend over backward to be set in December. The story is told, as is traditional, by Watson, who arrives at his new school about two weeks before Christmas. This is obviously odd timing from a narrative point of view, since it would have been easier to explain him arriving at the start of a semester. Throughout the film, London is always covered in a thin coat of snow, which even I know is ludicrous for the season. There's also a rather baffling detail involving a killer who wears bells which are extremely reminiscent of sleigh bells. At the end, the m

Moonlighting: It's a Wonderful Job (1986)

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This episode I liked less than the first. One problem, as I see it, is that many shows which attempt to adapt either It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol (or sort of mash them up, as this one does) need to bend their characters so far out of shape to do it, that the resolution has no sentiment or weight. Also, the premise here is really dumb. Maddie needs to keep everyone in the office over what would be their Christmas break to keep a case active. They stage a petty, whiny revolt, and David gives her a moralistic speech of nastiness. Then she learns that her aunt, sick in a nearby hospital, has died before she had time to visit because she’s been so busy. Cue regret, wishes, vague suicidal impulses, and a pudgy angel in a suit. Maddie gets to see a world in which she didn’t keep the agency open. The lives of the other characters are boring, and the writing attempts to make us believe that we should care, but no. They’re caricatures anyway, so being a different caricature

Moonlighting: 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas (1985)

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Neither of us had actually, to our recollections, watched an episode of Moonlighting before today. Just to set a baseline. Our reactions: “That was really kind of good. Also dumb in bits, but quite enjoyable.” “Well, now I know why no one believed Bruce Willis would be an action star.” “I guess I see why it was so influential.” “Huh, the first episode was much better.” We’ve got two Christmas episodes to talk about, and yes, this first one was much better. It’s a good thing that the Netflix DVD sleeve explained that these characters run a private detective agency, because it is really hard to figure that out from this episode. The episode opens with the plot hook: a random dude gets killed by a bad guy he once testified against, but his wife and child escape. Said wife leaves her baby for safekeeping with no explanation in the apartment of a secretary who works for Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) and David (Bruce Willis). Said secretary brings the baby to work, and the main characters d

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1988, 2005)

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1988 2005 We recently watched two versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe . I know, I know, gluttons for punishment. One was the movie from 2005, one was a BBC version from 1988. I freely admit that I am partial to the BBC version as it is the one that I grew up with and the music just makes me happy. The BBC version is also slightly longer and uses its extra time for character and world development and not just for people throwing things at each other. The main problem with adopting The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is that you are bound by the source material. Things that kinda work in the book if you don't think too hard about them are brought into stark relief on film. Things like that the kids spend all of 48 hours there before the climactic battle. Logic flaws and poetic license are less forgivable once you make a half hearted attempt to make the story feel realistic. This source material does however include some Christmas which is why we're here

Prancer (1989)

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I started watching Prancer with quite a bit of trepidation. Erin said, “Well, think of it this way, it’s at least probably better than any other lost reindeer movie we’ve seen.” While that’s a low bar, I’m happy to report that Prancer not only passes, that it’s overall a pretty good movie despite a lame ending. I liked the main character from the very first scene. Jessica is a little girl with a big imagination and a bigger mouth. She’s stubborn and angry. She fights with her friends and with her brother and with her dad. She sticks to her guns and never gives up. I really liked her. One of the big strengths of this movie is that the dialogue feels strangely real, especially the kids’ dialogue. The child actors are fantastic. Jessica’s dad (Sam Elliot) is having economic troubles and trouble caring for her since her mom died, but their relationship is never schmaltzy. It’s full of things unsaid and words said in frustration, then awkwardly taken back. Her aunt has offered to ta

Christmas Evil (1980)

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This is one of the first movies in the "slasher-Santa" sub-genre (though certainly not the origin of the idea). Wikipedia says it has a cult following, which I can definitely believe. It's a bizarre movie; not entirely bad but certainly not what I'd call good, either. This is generally considered a slasher, but I think that's misleading. The story is entirely told from the perspective of the killer, and his victims aren't portrayed in a sympathetic manner. To my mind, that plants this firmly in the category of revenge-flick, rather than slasher. The movie focuses on Harry, a toy-factory employee who loves Christmas and is emotionally scarred from seeing his parents together when his dad was dressed as Santa. He's bullied at work and lives a reclusive life, and  is utterly obsessed with Christmas (no jokes, please). The character spends his downtime spying on the neighborhood children and recording their good and bad deeds in a pair of books. He set

Gremlins (1984)

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I'm not sure why it's taken us this long to officially get to Gremlins . I've owned the movie for years, but for some reason it never occurred to me I should re-watch and review it as a Christmas movie. It's especially bizarre given how much effort the movie makes to subvert the holiday. It plays with holiday music in a manner similar to what Die Hard would do a few years later. It also utilizes imagery to twist the holiday: look at the eerie green and red lights emanating from the pool when Mohawk jumps in and spawns an army of gremlins. You can even interpret the gremlins themselves as being evil Christmas elves (though that's admittedly a stretch). Gremlins is also at least partially responsible for popularizing the myth that the suicide rate shoots up around the holidays: this is certainly where I first heard it claimed. It's easy to believe, but not remotely true . Suicide rates actually drop in December, and with good reason: who has the time?

Bluetoes the Christmas Elf (1988)

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Gather round children, while I tell you the tale of Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf. Bluetoes was born different than all the other elves, who mocked him for his short stature and wouldn't let poor Bluetoes join in their elf work. Then one Christmas eve, Santa came say, Bluetoes, with your toes so blue, won't you become chief operator in charge of stocking preparation and distribution? Then how the elves all loved him, as the special ended mercifully, and Bluetoes the crappy elf, was forgotten by damn near everyone. Let me back up: I feel like I may have omitted some significant details. Bluetoes the Christmas Elf was created by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, who you've probably never heard of because they probably don't matter. Presumably, they wanted to produce the next Rudolph. They wound up with something that doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page. Information about Bluetoes' origins is difficult to uncover, due to two factors: first, as I m

Babes in Toyland (1986)

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Hey, did you guys know there's a tipline on the right of the page you can use to email us suggestions of things we should watch? Yeah, we didn't, either. Well, one of our readers found it and convinced us to try something she loved when she was young. Thanks for the suggestion, Loquin. And, uh... sorry in advance for the damage to your childhood memories. This is the 1986, made-for-TV re-imagining of Babes in Toyland , starring Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, and Pat Morita. It is bad. Astonishingly bad, in fact. But, between the iconic statuses its leads would go on to achieve and the utter lack of talent behind the camera, it's kind of hilarious. The producers must not have believed in the source material, which has been heavily modified. To their credit, the premise of Babes in Toyland is utter crap. However, the logical reaction would be not to adapt it, rather than trying to shoehorn in the frame story from The Wizard of Oz . Drew Barrymore, 11 in 1986, is essen

Christmas Comes to PacLand (1982)

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Back in 1982, there was an animated series based on Pac-Man. You might think there's not enough material to justify an entire series, but I can assure you that's a faulty opinion: there wasn't even enough to fill a single episode. The episode begins with Pac-Man and family going out for a sleigh ride. It's Christmas Eve, but they have no idea since no one in PacLand has heard of the holiday. They run into some ghost monsters, which they drive back with snowballs before eating power-pellets and "chomping" them. I should add that "chomping" is a very popular activity in PacLand. The ghost monsters (I'm not sure why they're "ghost monsters" instead of "ghosts," but the show seems adamant) are obsessed with "chomping" Pac-Man. More on this later. Between getting chomped and putting on new ghost outfits, the floating ghost-eyes run into Santa Claus and inadvertently spook his reindeer and cause him to crash. B

Trading Places (1983)

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If you haven't seen it, Trading Places is a comedy directed by John Landis about two men, a white commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a black conman (Eddie Murphy), whose lives are switched by a pair of rich businessmen in the service of a twisted bet. It's sometimes described as a take on the Prince and the Pauper, which is a bit of a stretch but not entirely inaccurate. It's not a bad movie, but it's nowhere near as good as Landis's previous two films (it was made right after Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London). Trading Places works better the less you think about it: there's some solid comedy here, largely thanks to the actors. The satire never builds to much of a message other than the obvious lip-service to racial inequality being cultural rather than genetic. I don't know if this was a controversial idea at the time (I certainly hope not, but I'd don't want to credit the decade which popularized trickle-down economics with a

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

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I'm pretty sure it's been at least twenty years since I last watched this thing. I actually had positive associations with it going in, though everyone around me set less optimistic expectations when I said I'd be watching it. I'm glad they did: this was pretty bad. It wasn't terrible , exactly, at least not when compared to its peers, but sitting through it wasn't a pleasant experience. The movie is the third in the series, which focuses on the Griswold's vacations. Christmas Vacation actually has a direct-to-video spin-off of its own starring Randy Quaid. I'll... uh... I'll go add that to my Netflix queue. Anyway, like I was saying, this one wasn't especially awful, as far as uncomfortable Christmas comedies go, but it didn't exactly transcend the genre, either. The movie centers around Chevy Chase, who's obsessed with giving his family the best possible old-fashioned Christmas ever for absolutely no reason. The movie rests on the