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Showing posts with the label 80's

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

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 wit

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 acto

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: th

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

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 ins

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 b

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:

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 C

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

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, ye

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 ha

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, st

The Cosby Show Christmas episodes (1984, 1989, 1991)

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It's difficult to convey how influential and important The Cosby Show was. It easily belongs on a short list of most significant sitcoms ever produced. In addition, it was quite good. The humor holds up extremely well, as do many of the emotional character moments. Moreover, in portraying a funny, successful black family living the American dream, The Cosby Show helped tear down stereotypes. The fact that it was extremely successful while doing so demonstrated a wide audience for diversity in entertainment. Of course, all of this has been overshadowed by the revelations that the series's lead and mastermind spent decades drugging and raping women. Repeats of the show have been pulled almost everywhere, but we were surprised to discover it on Hulu. Surprisingly, The Cosby Show included only a handful of Christmas episodes, none of which fit the traditional holiday archetypes. There were three we located set around Christmas, though only one was particularly focused on this

Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

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Lindsay unearthed three Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials we'd never reviewed (or heard of, for that matter), all of which were available on a single DVD. Naturally, we ordered the damn thing. Not surprisingly, there's a reason we've never heard of it. Pinocchio's Christmas is a bizarrely warped mashup of several early scenes from the Adventures of Pinocchio and the usual Rankin/Bass Christmas tropes. The story starts out with Pinocchio learning about Christmas from Geppetto, who sells his boots to buy his son a math book. Pinocchio promptly sells the math book, planning to use the money partly on himself and partly to buy his dad a Christmas present. But first he comes across the Fox and the Cat, who convince him the coins will grow into a tree of gold if he buries them. Naturally, he falls for this, and they steal the money. With the exception of the Christmas elements, this section is actually pretty accurate to the original, at least accor

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Cobra Claws are Coming to Town (1985)

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I'm going to have a hard time synopsizing this one. Alright, this thing opens right before Christmas when three of the G.I. Joes and a pet parrot singing Jingle Bells (this is a plot point) are driving a bunch of donated presents back to their base to give them to kids. When suddenly... they're attacked! A single Cobra plane starts shooting at them, forcing them to pull over and take cover. While they're stopped, a Cobra agent sneaks behind their vehicle and unloads a bag of fake gifts. The plane takes off, and the G.I. Joes just kind of shrug and decide it's probably not worth worrying about. They return to base and unload the gifts, including those Cobra snuck in. That includes a Trojan rocking horse, because... of course it does. The Joes sit down for dinner, and we learn that one of them is sad, because his parents always made such a huge deal about Christmas they never got around to decorating the tree or buying him gifts. Let's just move on. The Tr

Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Holiday Chills and Thrills (2012)

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This DVD compilation includes Christmas or winter themed episodes from across the dozen or so incarnations of Scooby Doo over the years. Unfortunately, the majority are less Christmas than winter, and we already reviewed one episode, A Scooby-Doo Christmas , a few years ago. We're going to review the other two Christmas centered episodes, Haunted Holidays and The Nutcracker Scoob, on their own. That leaves ten of dubious holiday connection. We almost didn't write these up at all, but a few included some holiday allusions or references, plus the snowy visuals were certainly evocative of Christmas. Ultimately, we decided to cover them together, along with some discussion of how each ties to the holidays, if at all. First, though, let's talk about this "13 Spooky Tales" line. They released several of these DVD sets with different themes about the same time, each collecting ostensibly similar episodes throughout the years. In this case, even the math to get to 1

The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: The Nutcracker Scoob (1984)

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The Nutcracker Scoob is notable for being the final episode of The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, which is primarily significant for being the last time the character of Scrappy-Doo was inflicted on audiences as a series regular. As such, it was a tad anti-climatic. At the very least, they could have re-enacted the resolution of Old Yeller than turned on the laugh track. Now that would had gotten some ratings. Instead, they told a relatively straight-forward Scooby-Doo tale centered around a Christmas pageant at a children's home. Of course, the place is in danger even before the faux ghost shows up: a cruel, oddly Victorian businessman named Winslow Nickelby is trying to force them to sell him the building on Christmas Eve. It would be easier to feel for the owners if there was some indication the home contained anything other than a theater. Pretty soon, the monster of the week shows up. This one is called the "Ghost of Christmas Never," and she's cloaked in whit

Family Ties: A Christmas Story (1982), A Keaton Christmas Carol (1983), and Miracle in Columbus (1987)

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In 1985, I was six years old, Family Ties was my favorite show on television, mostly because of Michael J. Fox's Alex Keaton. Re-watching a few episodes three decades later, I can't really tell why I liked the show all that much, though Fox's deliveries seem to be the highlight. The show's premise revolved around a couple of liberal ex-hippies raising kids who were more in tune with 80's materialism and conservative politics. As a meditation on the power of the instinct to rebel, even when that means rebelling against the very concept of rebellion, I'd expect them to have enough material to fill two or three hours. The fact this show lasted seven seasons (including the three holiday episodes below) plus a made-for-TV movie doesn't bode well for its watchability. A Christmas Story (1982) : This episode starts on Christmas Eve while the Keatons are getting ready to drive to a ski lodge for the holiday. A blizzard forces them to change those plans, and