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Showing posts with the label Erin Snyder

The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

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When we talk about movies from the 1940s or 1960s, we often fall back on the adage "it was of its time" as sort of an explanation for problematic content or offensive cultural norms that have since evolved. Today, I want to look at a comedy from 2003 that I believe was "of its time."

Comedy at the turn of the millennium was largely dominated by two titans. On television, South Park had achieved almost unimaginable success by combining crass humor with rough animation. Meanwhile, Austin Powers continued to cast a long shadow across film.

If someone in 2003 were to attempt to replicate surface-level properties of those two franchises without actually understanding what made either work, you'd expect the result to be something very similar to The Hebrew Hammer, an independent production that wound up getting a heavily edited release on cable television.

The movie's title character is more or less an attempt to answer the question, "What if Shaft were Jew…

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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The Holly and the Ivy is a black and white British movie about a dysfunctional family coming together at Christmas to work out their differences. It's adapted from a stage play, which is fairly obvious watching the film: it's almost entirely set in a single building, and the dialogue is, well, actually good.

Like many plays, this is less driven by plot than by character interaction. Almost everyone's got a secret, and it all comes out as they talk to each other. Fortunately, the script has some solid characters, and the cast does good work.

The closest the movie comes to a main character is Jenny, a woman looking after her father, a parson with an academic mind. Unbeknownst to her father, Jenny wants to marry her boyfriend, but he's about to move to South America for work. She's unwilling to abandon her father, since he's got no one else to look after him.

Also in the mix is her younger sister, Margaret, who's harboring quite the secret backstory. Five yea…

Fargo: Season 3 (2017)

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The following is a review. The season being reviewed originally aired on FX between April and June of 2017. At the request of those who haven't seen the show, this review will keep spoilers to an absolute minimum. Out of respect for the series's creator and stars, the descriptions and discussions that are included will be presented as accurately as possible.
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Only this isn't just a review: it's a murder scene.

The victim is in their late seventies, and the manner of death was asphyxiation. They may have gone by several names throughout their life, but around here they were known as the "Christmas episode." In life, they were a concept of an episodic holiday installment of a television series. They stood out from their peers in only one respect: they were set at or about Christmas.

Anything else could change. Maybe they were a self-contained narrative, or maybe they were an episodic installment of a longer series playing out in real time. Hell, the…

Noelle (2019)

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Noelle, one of a handful of made-for-streaming movies released with Disney+, feels like a derivative premise mulched by a committee that's still mostly redeemed by Anna Kendrick's presence and likability.

Kendrick plays Noelle Kringle, daughter of Santa Claus and therefore (Disney) princess of the North Pole. They're not afraid of using the p-word, either. Her servant elf calls her "Princess" as a nickname, and Noelle uses it herself at least once. Also, she has a pet reindeer she calls using the generic Disney princess song. Honestly, it was kind of nice to see a Disney movie where they embrace the term again instead of treating it like a insult.

Ever since she was a child, Noelle's wanted to do something important, but all the attention was placed on her brother, Nick (Bill Hader), heir apparent to the family legacy. Oh, I should probably have mentioned we're doing the whole Santa-bloodlines-thing they did in Arthur Christmas. In fact, there's a lo…

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

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We missed this one in theaters last year, mainly because it wasn't playing anywhere we could get to without a hassle. At the time, we regretted it quite a bit. Anna and the Apocalypse was getting good reviews and had an intriguing premise: a horror-comedy-zombie-Christmas-musical. That's the sort of thing we love!

Well, it can be the sort of thing we love. In this case, it turned out to be the sort of thing we like, which - given our arguably unreasonable expectations - meant it was kind of a disappointment.

The story, absent the musical gimmick (and unfortunately I do mean gimmick) follows fairly well-trod zombified ground. The main character and her friends are dealing with mundane problems and issues that have strained relationships with loved ones and each other. Then the apocalypse hits, and they spend the movie trying to reconnect with family and friends, growing as people along the way. And, of course, almost everyone dies horribly, usually after or while resolving the…

Toy/Book Review: The Elf on the Shelf (2005)

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To be clear, I honestly thought I was done writing about Christmas-themed toys. I've reviewed quite a few over the years, but something about the experience wasn't as fulfilling as it once was. It's hard to put my finger on the precise issue--

Oh, wait. Now I remember: no one cared about any of those posts.

At any rate, I've looked at a variety of holiday action figures, dolls, building sets, playsets, a Batmobile, and... whatever the hell this was... but there was one thing that always eluded me. And that, of course, was The Elf on the Shelf.


Obviously, "elude" is a strong choice of words. I've seen countless of these for sale over the years but it's rare to see them marked down significantly. There were times early in the blog's existence I considered paying the full $30 for a chance to mock these little demons publicly. But before I got around to that, I started seeing them parodied and viciously criticized, and... I don't know. It kind fe…

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

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The Peanuts Movie somewhat breaks our litmus test for Christmas movies, in that it objectively passes despite the fact it's pretty clearly not a holiday film in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

For those of you who don't want to read through my treatise on the subject, there are a handful of binary questions we can ask, and any movie receiving a "yes" on one or more those questions is considered, for the purposes of this blog, a Christmas movie. The most basic of those questions is whether or not more than 50% of a movie is clearly set at or around the holidays, and The Peanuts Movie passes. In fact, the vast majority of the film - everything except the ending - is adjacent to Christmas.

But the reason for this is, well, pretty trivial. As far as I can tell, The Peanuts Movie's setting is just an homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Beyond that, the holidays really don't come up.

I've seen a few other movies where Christmas seemed to be more a referen…

We Need to Re-Evaluate L. Frank Baum's "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus"

Content Warning for discussion of genocide and accounts of severe historical racism.

We've reviewed L. Frank Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in the past, we've written about the Rankin/Bass special, and we've talked it about multiple times. But, in the process of watching the 2000 animated adaptation for the first time, I wanted to go back and revisit the book, as well as its sequels.

So I did. I wrote an extremely long article discussing the merits and flaws of the work (some of the writing is pretty but most of it is kind of boring) and how influential it was (it probably created one of Santa's two primary origin stories, it's more or less the basis for all the Rankin/Bass specials, and its sequels, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" and "How the Woggle-Bug and his Friends Visited Santa Claus," are probably why we have Nightmare Before Christmas).

I went through the plots, the characters, all of it. It was a lot of work, and I think I did…

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (2000)

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This isn't the first time we've reviewed an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel. There's also a Rankin/Bass stop-motion version that's visually impressive but otherwise fairly forgettable. This animated version from 2000 shares one of those qualities, and unfortunately it's not the visuals.

For better or worse, this is a very faithful adaptation of Baum's book. There are a handful of changes here and there, but these are generally trivial alterations. The largest change was the decision to expand the role of Wisk, a fairy appearing in the last few chapters of the original, into a major character serving as comic relief throughout.

But the backbone of the story is mostly unaltered, which probably wasn't the best idea. While I'm fond of the original book, it's mostly due to some interesting choices around the setting, tone, and premise. I like that Baum wrote Santa into a world of fantasy and magic, as opposed to religious. The book is a fairy ta…

Shazam! (2019)

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Before I get started, I just want to take a minute and acknowledge how surreal it is that you can go to the movie theater this weekend and watch both Captain Marvel and Shazam. Billy Batson and Carol Danvers are two characters I never thought we'd see on the big screen - Batson because he's silly and Danvers because I'd have sworn the one line Marvel would never cross would be putting out a movie with their company name embedded in the title - but here we are.

And both of them are good. Really good, in really different ways. But not for different reasons: both Shazam! and Captain Marvel were made with respect and love for the characters being adapted, and it comes through in the finished products.

I'll set Captain Marvel aside. Aside from sharing a convoluted history with Shazam! (if you have no idea what I'm referring to, pour yourself a Scotch when you've got an hour to kill and go read the Wikipedia histories on the characters calling themselves "Captai…

Lost Christmas (2011)

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Lost Christmas was a made-for-TV holiday movie, but because it was made in England, it's actually pretty good. "Pretty good" may be underselling it: this is, in many ways, a fantastic film, though there is a bit of a catch. I'll get into that a bit, but first...

This is one of those movies where spoilers do make a difference, and it's worth seeing, assuming you enjoy this sort of thing. It's a melancholy fairy tale exploring cycles of alienation and guilt before setting things right. Imagine a low-budget urban fantasy reimagining of It's a Wonderful Life and you'll have some sense of what you're in for. If that sounds good, by all means stop reading now and go stream it.

The story centers around two characters. The first is an orphaned boy called Goose living with his grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's. His parents died in a car crash the year before, which was caused indirectly by Goose. Since then, the boy's become a petty thief.

Th…

Santa Jaws (2018)

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Santa Jaws is a made-for-TV Syfy comedy/horror movie about a magical Christmas shark targeting a specific family during the holidays. So... basically it's an unofficial remake of Jaws: The Revenge. Okay, that's not really true - this honestly has more in common with Krampus than Jaws, and it probably owes more to Stranger Things than either. I figure it's a flip of the coin whether this started with someone coming up with the punny title or listening to the Duffer Brothers talk about how they envisioned the Demogorgon as a shark while making season one.

Shockingly, this has a plot. The main character is Cody, a high school student with dreams of becoming a comic artist. Along with a friend, he's created a one-shot story about "Santa Jaws," a great white shark which devours an evil Santa and wears his red hat on her fin.

His family, however, doesn't seem to understand him. To them, he's just an angsty, inactive teenager unable to fit in. When his prin…

Book Review: Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp (1979)

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Nothing Lasts Forever is, arguably, the most influential Christmas novel written since A Christmas Carol, and if it's title hadn't been changed when it was adapted into a movie nine years later, I wouldn't have to explain why.

That movie, incidentally, was Die Hard.

I'm not sure what I expected from the book, but it wasn't this. I knew going in it was a sequel to a novel Thorp wrote in 1966 called The Detective. I've never read that, but I have seen the film adaptation, which starred Frank Sinatra in the lead role. It's pretty obvious from reading Nothing Lasts Forever that Thorp wrote this with Sinatra in mind.

The plot. It's exactly the same as the movie's. Also, it's completely different.

The book starts with Joe Leland (they changed his name along with the title for the film) being driven to the airport on Christmas Eve. Leland isn't actually a detective anymore: he left that profession at the end of the first book and became a security…

The Nutcracker in 3D/The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (2010)

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So, turns out this year's Nutcracker and the Four Realms wasn't as original as I'd thought. Eight years ago, someone else had the idea of flushing 80 million dollars down the toilet trying to merge Nutcracker with Narnia.

According to Box Office Mojo, The Nutcracker in 3D (a.k.a. Nutcracker: The Untold Story) was budgeted at an estimated 90 million dollars. Its total US box office was a little less than two hundred thousand dollars, and its worldwide total was just over 16 million. It's currently sitting on a Freshness rating of zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Somehow, both that and its box office total feel oddly high to me.

The movie is, in all senses of the word, a fiasco, which I honestly mean as a compliment. Somewhere around the time the Nazi Rat King (John Turturro wearing some astonishingly weird prosthetics) finished his jazz solo by electrocuting his pet shark, I realized I was watching something gloriously bad.

I'm getting ahead of myself. The movie st…