Showing posts with the label Adventure

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.


Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead (2005)

Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the only episode of the revamped Doctor Who series set at Christmas that wasn't produced as a "Christmas special." It's only the third Christopher Eccleston episode, and marks the first time him and Rose went into the past.

The past they wind up in is 1869. It's Christmas Eve and - despite trying for Naples - the TARDIS takes them to Cardiff. As is always the case, there's more going on than a celebration. An undertaker in the city can't seem to keep the dead to stay still: they've picked up a habit of rising up and making trouble. One, an old woman, kills a grieving family member, climbs out of her coffin, and proceeds with her plans for the evening: catching a live reading of A Christmas Carol performed by the author, who is quickly pulled into the story.

Also of note is the undertaker's psychic assistant, a woman about Rose's age who's developed a connection with the beings responsible. The …

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010)

Easily my favorite of the Doctor Who Christmas specials, this episode from 2010 kicks off the second season with Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor. This starts in the future on a distant world that's essentially a steampunk version of Victorian London. Only in space with flying sharks. Oh, and of course it's Christmas. Well, more accurately it's the winter solstice, but the opening monologue states the obvious: they're the same thing, anyway.

One of the things that makes this work as well as it does is that it really doesn't give you time to stop and question its logic. That's probably a good thing, because the premise is more than a little haphazard.

For example, Amy and Rory are honeymooning on a space cruiser that's about to crash into the planet of street urchins and fish-clouds, and the Doctor is unable to save them with the TARDIS. It's not remotely clear why this is beyond his capabilities (I think there might have been some BS tech-babble explana…

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (2012)

Do you remember the scene in the first Home Alone movie where Kevin tied a bucket of paint to a rope and swung it at the robbers? Have you ever stopped to consider what the entire movie would have been like from the perspective of the paint inside the bucket? I mean, I assume it would have started absolutely still and sat that way for hours on end, before being slightly jostled. Then, a few hours later, it would have sloshed around, before splashing against the wall. Finally, it would have settled again.

Mostly, it would have just been still. It would probably have dried a little as the movie progressed. Not a lot and certainly not quickly, but an imperceptible quantity of paint would have dried up.

While that's not the plot of the fifth Home Alone movie, I think it offers a nice encapsulation of the experience of sitting through the film.

That's another way of saying this movie isn't as shockingly awful as its predecessors. And that this improvement is a very, very bad t…

Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House (2002)

I'd like to begin with a thought experiment for those of you who haven't seen Home Alone 4. I'm assuming that includes you, since - as far as I can tell - no one alive has actually seen this movie and only a handful have even heard of it.

So then, imagine that, after the disappointing third installment (which, to be fair, isn't really much worse than the first two), the Home Alone franchise didn't disappear entirely. Imagine instead that the IP transitioned to a made-for-TV movie aired on ABC. Now imagine that the character of Kevin McCallister, the protagonist from the original two, returned, albeit recast, along with every other character. Now ask yourself, how bad would you expect this to be? How abysmally awful, how utterly vapid, how monumentally stupid do you think a movie like that would be?

What you're picturing right now is what we'll call, "The Expectation." Before we go on, you'll have to lower that expectation.

Before we get to th…

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (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 today.

Let's tak…

Santa's Slay (2005)

Like Saint, Santa's Slay takes the "killer Santa" concept a step further than most. Unlike Saint, it's surprisingly entertaining and a lot of fun.

The movie opens with Santa Claus, played by wrestler Bill Goldberg, interrupting a family dinner and killing all present. The fact the victims included Fran Drescher and Chris Kattan should give you a good idea for the tone they were going for.
The credits roll, and the movie jumps to the leads, a young couple who work at a Jewish deli. It's already Christmas Eve, and Santa starts knocking off minor characters almost immediately as the leads start piecing together what's going on. They're helped by the boy's grandfather, who's been preparing for this night for a long time.
Just to clarify, this isn't a psychotic killer dressed as Santa: this is the real deal, complete with an evil "reindeer" (well, a flying ox, but they call it a reindeer). He's the son of Satan, and he was bound to t…

Gremlins (1984)

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?
Setting that …

Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012)

Spoilers below for Doctor Who Series 7 (2012-2013) through this episode.

This is the first episode in the Pond-less era of Doctor Who. As such, it devotes quite a lot of time to mourning the loss of the Doctor's last companions, particularly Amy.

The episode begins in Victorian England, where the Doctor's more or less retired. His friends, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax are attempting to break him out of his depression, but not having much luck. Enter Clara Oswald, an energetic young woman with a dual identity as a barmaid and a governess.

Oh. There's also a curmudgeon who's being followed around by an army of evil snowmen from outer-space, but that's just the plot. Honestly, you could have cycled him out for just about anything without changing the core of the episode, which is about the Doctor coming to grips with the loss of Amy and Rory Pond.

Which is, frankly, a little silly. I understand that he cared deeply for these characters, but he's been arou…

Tenth Doctor Christmas Specials! (2005, 2006, 2007)

You knew we were going to get to these eventually. They’ve actually been on the list since the beginning, we have them on DVD, but we kept holding off on them, keeping Doctor Who as a sort of fallback option for when we ran out of other stuff or got too tired of terrible things. And then that didn’t happen. So one day last week we just decided to finally re-watch these.

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (2005)

I have very fond memories of the first time I watched this episode. It introduced David Tennant’s Doctor and I loved it. I loved it a little less on this viewing. The murderous robot Santas and trees are still fun, but a lot of this hour is humans being whiny. Whenever Tennant is on it really picks up, but there’s a big boring chunk in the middle without him. The writers were still sort of trying things out with Ten at this point; his character doesn’t solidify for a bit, and that adds to the surreality of watching this episode. Plus the end with Harriet Jones is kinda nasty an…

Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion: The Boy Who Found Christmas (1955)

What. The. Hell. Is. This. Shit.

I mean, besides awful. It’s clearly awful. This show stars Buster Crabbe, a guy who would definitely take a different name if he were working in Hollywood today. And his son. And a comic character actor playing himself, sort of, which makes no sense, but nothing here makes sense. But let’s get back to the fact that there is no excuse for how terrible the kid is.

The kid is truly terrible; both at acting and in the story. The 3 minutes of plot in this 30 minute slog tell the story of how this brat, disappointed that the train with his christmas presents is stuck in a sandstorm, runs off to try to bring the packages himself. Alone. Through the desert.

The whole base turns out to look for the kid, and we get some really boring footage of the kid, I guess scared by being alone? I don’t know. I didn’t feel bad for him and I’m sorry he didn’t die alone in the desert for being a thoughtless moron. But instead, the adults catch up with him and forgive him …

The Adventures of Robin Hood: Christmas Goose (1957)

Ah yes, the olden days, when Christmas was a time of mingling between the upper and lower classes, and the lords and the peasants sang together unless the peasants were pissed off. Early Britain: a time of terribly inaccurate costume choices and horrible child acting.

This was a very odd program. It must be in the public domain or very cheap, because it’s on two of our collections of Classic TV Christmas episodes.

Like most of the programs I’ve seen from this time, there is little-to-no visible indication of snow, winter, or nighttime, even when it would seem that those things would be relevant. The “acting” is all around ridiculous and the production values are trying to be better than they are.

In any case, this story follows an annoying young peasant lad, Davie, who has a lilting soprano and an unnatural affection for a goose who he’s decided is his only friend. When the new local manor lord objects to Davie gathering mistletoe in his game preserve, Mildred the goose darts underfo…

Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation (2009)

I'm a recent convert to Phineas and Ferb. The series is evocative of Dexter's Laboratory, almost to the point of feeling like a rip off. But - frankly - Phineas and Ferb eclipses Dexter's Lab. The show's concept may feel derivative, but its use of tone, subtlety, and complex characters built on a deceptively simple backdrop consisting of an intentionally repetitious formula make it stand out as one of the best animated series to come along in a long time.

Fortunately, there are a couple of Christmas episodes: an extended special in season two and a half-episode in three. I'll tackle the short at a later date; for now, I'm focusing on the 33 minute "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation".

In addition to being longer than any of the previous episodes, this also has the distinction of being the first episode of Phineas and Ferb that doesn't take place over summer vacation. Not surprisingly, they've animated a special opening, which is basically a …

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

I just watched an awesome movie. Here's what I knew going in: It's a Horror/Fantasy movie about Santa, it's from Finland, and everyone on the internet loved it.

If that is enough to convince you, be off with you to your Netflix queue or your to-watch list! It has occasional bits that are slower than any film made in America would have, but it's a fantastic film.

Want a few more details? Still skeptical?


Tone spoilers and minor plot spoilers below!

The more detailed premise runs as follows: Pietari is a young boy in a remote town on the Russian border. As the movie opens, he and his friend are spying on some Americans who are excavating something on the other side of the fence. Pietari becomes convinced that the site is where Santa Claus (old-school baby-eating Santa) was trapped, and that they'll all be in danger if he gets out.

Of course no one believes him, but Christmas is getting closer...

Even though you've passed a set of spoiler tags by coming this…

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Watching these movies as an adult is a surreal experience. By all rights, Kevin's actions should have killed those two burglars several times over. And never mind the fact that he leaves his uncle's house a literal deathtrap.

But, to be fair, neither this movie nor its predecessor were intended to be realistic. No, they're supposed to be comedies, which is how they should be judged.

Hey. You know what would have helped? If these movies had actually been funny.

I'm going to try to separate this from part one, which is actually pretty difficult, since they're the same damn movie. I mean, sure, this one's set in New York, but other than that, there's not really a single discernible difference in the plot. Even the jokes are reused.

The movie starts with Kevin and his family getting into another ludicrously unbelievable fight over his behavior. They oversleep... again... but all make it to the airport together. He winds up separated and on his own in New York …

TaleSpin: Jolly Molly Christmas (1990)

Not much to this little Santa-themed episode. In my opinion, TaleSpin holds up better than many of the Disney Afternoon offerings, mostly because, like Duck Tales, it's spinning its tone and plots out of a old-fashioned pulp sensibility. In other words, it's dated on purpose, not by accident.

TaleSpin also fascinates me because it's loosely based on a live-action television show from the 80's (set in the 30's) called Tales of the Gold Monkey. Only with the character designs and voices from The Jungle Book. Why did someone think that was a good idea? Why does it actually kind of work? I admit, I love Sher Khan the ruthless businessman and Baloo as a layabout pilot/adventurer. I like the new characters: Becky and Molly, Kit and Wildcat. I like that the plots are big and pulp-a-licious: hidden temples and secret spy missions and pirates.

Unfortunately, this episode was basically none of those things.

This episode was about Molly trying to ask Santa to make it snow fo…

Home Alone (1990)

To my surprise, this movie is not actually terrible, just sort of boring. It's decently shot, and it has good music, but the characters are uninteresting and the plot is thin and slow.

From the beginning, the whole set-up is heavy-handed; the level of anger and actual evilness from the family members is so over the top that it's hard to get behind the later desire for reconciliation. They are all jerks, and the kid is kind of better off without them.

There are some truly random tone shifts; it feels as though most plot elements were added piecemeal, and moved around somewhat at random. It doesn't help that the continuous schtick prevents the characters from gaining any real emotional momentum. Macaulay Culkin mugs through the whole thing, seeming determined to prove he can't act.

And then of course, there's the house of death. You remember the house of death, it's probbaly the only thing most people remember about this movie at all. It's the part where the…

Hercules and Xena Holiday Episodes (1996)

I remember watching these episodes in high school; they often aired back-to-back.  I remembered the basic plot of each, but little else.

Both of these shows are obvious, campy, melodramatic and purposely anachronistic.  I love them.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: A Star to Guide Them
(Season 3, Episode 9)

The premise here is that Iolaus and two other guys are called to attend something special (the birth of Jesus, obviously.) On the way they stop to save a country full of babies by deposing a Herod-like king.  It's basically just a normal week.

Corny?  Hell Yes.  These shows in general treated history like one big fun toy chest they could mix and match things from, so I'm not really bothered by the timeline problems inherent in the story.  Nor do I care that they mixed up Herod with a little Macbeth and a little Oedipus to create the main plot, and then it isn't even related to the Jesus part.

Xena: Warrior Princess: A Solstice Carol 
(Season 2, Episode 9)

The premise her…