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Showing posts with the label Highly Recommended

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

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We already reviewed The Christmas Chronicles on the podcast, but I wanted to collect some more spoilery thoughts I had on the plot and overall structure. Which means, if you haven't see the movie yet, you should hold off on reading this until you do. The Christmas Chronicles is a good holiday fantasy you're better off experiencing without knowing where it's going.

The movie opens by introducing its two main human characters, Kate and Teddy, through a montage of home movies. We also get a brief look at their parents, only one of which survives past the opening. In a refreshing change of pace, the parent still breathing is their mother (it's disturbing this is as rare a choice as it is).

Teddy and Kate's dad was a firefighter, and he died between Christmases, making this the family's first season without him. Their mom is a nurse, so she's stuck working long hours. And of course it doesn't help that her kids are at each other's throats. She just want…

We Bare Bears: The Perfect Tree (2017)

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This is the second Christmas episode from the show We Bare Bears - we reviewed the first last year. Without retreading more ground than necessary, We Bare Bears is a fantastic animated show that defies easy explanation. Its themes are complex and nuanced, while still being completely appropriate for young audiences. This is the kind of show that can actually be watched and enjoyed by everyone.

The Perfect Tree, like most episodes of this series, is only about eleven minutes. That said, they pack a lot into that time. The episode opens with Chloe, a child prodigy who's friends with the bears, being given control over her family's Christmas decorations for the year. She enlists the bears' help, giving Grizzly and Panda the job of decorating the outside of her house while she and Ice Bear go in search of the "perfect tree" alluded to in the episode's title.

The home decorations are at most a B-plot (really they're more of a series of recurring gags), while …

Cutthroat Kitchen: Naughty Vs. Nice (2015)

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Okay, okay. I know we've already reviewed a holiday episode of this show, and it seems a little odd to spend the time writing up another installment of a cooking show: these aren't exactly driven by characters or plot, after all.

We watch these on Hulu, incidentally, which is why we're a few years behind. They're basically our dinner entertainment during the non-holiday-rush portion of the year, when we're not forced to binge every Christmas special we can come across for fear of awakening the Old Gods should we stop.

When I saw a couple "new" holiday installments popped up, I was originally going to leave them be. But then I saw this one, and...

...It's interesting.

Not just in itself - the series is a lot of fun to watch, thanks to the sabotage gimmick that brilliantly upsets the level playing field most cooking competitions obsessively cultivate. Sure, that's interesting enough on its own, but Lindsay covered that when she reviewed the 2014 ho…

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

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I knew going into this movie that despite the title, it wouldn't exactly be a straight adaptation of the book. However, I was surprised how many elements of the well-researched biography made it into this somewhat fantastical film. Plus the heart of the work, the enthusiasm for the subject, definitely transferred.

The movie is a dramatization of the writing of A Christmas Carol with a large dollop of artistic license. I think the liberties taken with the truth are mostly reasonable for the sake of drama, but they are certainly present. For example, it's true that Charles Dickens' father always had trouble with money, that he was always asking for loans and sometimes selling Charles' correspondence, etc. without his knowledge. They did not, to my knowledge, reconcile over the same Christmas when A Christmas Carol was written. A Christmas Carol, along with much of Dickens' other work, was influenced by the times he had worked as a boy when his father was in debtor&#…

Get Smart: Our Man in Toyland (1965)

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Get Smart was an espionage parody about counterintelligence agents battling an organization of international spies and criminals. Mel Brooks is credited as a co-creator, so it probably shouldn't be surprising to hear this show completely holds up. It's bizarre and quirky, and even more than fifty years later, the antics of Don Adams (who'd later voice Inspector Gadget) remain hilarious.

"Our Man in Toyland" was only the fourth episode aired. It should be noted that its inclusion here is somewhat questionable. Logically, the episode must take place during the holiday season, but the show is intentionally illogical to the point, I'm not sure the justification was anything more than a joke.
The premise of the episode is that KAOS, the aforementioned SPECTRE stand-in, is using a department store as a front to sneak state secrets out of the country. CONTROL (a.k.a.: the good guys) send in a handful of agents to determine how they're accomplishing this.
The ma…

The Avengers: Too Many Christmas Trees (1965)

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Not to be confused with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers was a British spy series from the 60s which cycled through a number of iterations and styles. We've looked at a later episode, "Take-Over," that sort of fit our loose definition for Christmas in July (absurdly loose: Take-Over was set in February, and the holiday elements only appeared briefly).

"Too Many Christmas Trees," on the other hand, was far more entrenched in holiday fare. It was also a more iconic example of the series, featuring Emma Peel, by far the best known of John Steed's partners.

In this one, they're pitted against a team of psychics attempting to steal national secrets from Steed's mind by eroding his sanity through a series of yuletide nightmares.

This should already be obvious, but I loved the hell out of this episode.

All of this is set at an English mansion where Peel was invited for a Christmas party. She invites John after the idea to bring him just pops int…

Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park (2013)

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I'm a late convert to this show, which is more than a little odd considering my all-time favorite live-action series, Community, was made by one of Rick and Morty's showrunners. Despite that, I was reluctant to get involved with this show, mainly due to its grotesque visual style. But I eventually gave it a try, and...

Yeah. Based on the first few episodes, it's pretty fantastic.

Lindsay and I were surprised to discover the third episode, "Anatomy Park," was holiday themed. Based on the title, I'd assumed it was some sort of Jurassic Park/Innerspace mash-up. Which... it actually still is. But it's also set at Christmas.

The holiday elements are more central to the B-plot, which centers around an awkward holiday gathering. Jerry's parents are visiting for the holidays, so he's obsessed with having his family interact in person, without any digital distractions. Only they arrive with an added guest, Jacob, who's in a polyamorous relationship wi…

The Great Rupert (1950)

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Watching Christmas movies that you've never heard of is always an adventure. Sometimes you find something awful. Sometimes you find something astounding. Something wonderful.

The Great Rupert (later repackaged as A Christmas Wish) is a family film starring the inimitable Jimmy Durante, a ton of other talented comedic actors, and several living and deceased squirrels. Don't worry, it's not macabre. The plot hinges on the actions of a trained squirrel named Rupert, who is variously represented by live animals and extremely skillful stop-motion animation.

It's a hilarious movie, with a really sincere, charming quality to the humor. Erin even found the musical numbers compelling. There is very little wasted time - it's tightly plotted and beautifully made.

We have no idea why this movie has been mostly forgotten. It's easily as good or better than many "classic" Christmas films. As a bonus, the plot concerns an apparent miracle with a very prosaic, if si…

Better Watch Out (2016)

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I found Better Watch Out on a list of well-reviewed Christmas movies posted by Rotten Tomatoes and added it to my Netflix queue. Turns out, it's well reviewed because it's a good (arguably great) horror flick. Unfortunately, the bulk of what makes it great are the movie's twists, which I really can't avoid discussing.

So. If you're a fan of horror - particularly the psychological variety - you might want to stop reading until you've had a chance to track this one down. In particular, if you love Christmas movies AND horror, seriously: STOP READING NOW.

Last warning, and this one's going at the end for a reason. If you're a fan of the Home Alone series who also enjoys horror movies, for the love of God, I hope you never made it to this sentence, because I just gave away way more than I wanted to.

For the rest of you, here's a synopsis. Ashley is a seventeen-year-old babysitter looking after Luke, a twelve (almost thirteen) year-old boy. After his pa…

Malcolm in the Middle: Christmas (2001), Christmas Trees (2003), Hal's Christmas Gift (2004)

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Malcolm in the Middle probably owes its existence to The Simpsons. While the characters and premise aren't the same, there's a notable similarity in the show's energy, humor, and tone. The characters on Malcolm in the Middle feel animated, in a similar way. That's not to say they're shallow - I don't think that's the case for either series - merely that their emotions are exaggerated to the same degree.

This isn't the first live-action show I've seen try and capture this kind of tone. The recipe for success seems to be pretty straightforward - good writing and a commitment to the premise. Shows that try to wink at the audience while building a surreal world usually come off hokey; ones that explore their world and characters honestly have a chance to create something great.

Malcolm in the Middle revolves around a family of four (eventually five) sons, their irresponsible father, and their very angry mother. The series started airing in 2000, when I…

WordGirl: Oh, Holiday Cheese (2009)

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WordGirl is my go-to example when I want to argue good superhero stories can be told at any level of maturity. The series is unequivocally targeted at young kids - it's edutaiment, through and through, complete with vocabulary lessons repeated multiple times to the viewer. It's the kind of show you'd expect to be tedious and pedantic. Instead, it's ridiculous fun.

The reason WordGirl works is it understands its genres. The writers clearly understand the conventions of both kids television and superheroes, and they're eager to play with both. They're willing to mock PBS conventions in a good-natured way, and they're more than happy to embrace comic book tropes. The result is a series that plays like a pureed homage to Sesame Street, Powerpuff Girls, and Superman.
The holiday episode is a fine example. After the narrator introduces the episode's special words (curmudgeon and festivity, in case you were interested), the episode shifts to a brief battle be…

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

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I've been meaning to get around to this for a few years now. All I really knew about it was that it was set around the holidays, and it's something of a cult classic. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Where to begin? This was written and directed by the Coen Brothers, along with a little help from Sam Raimi. It's sort of a love letter to classic Hollywood love stories - I'm pretty sure I caught echoes of Christmas in July, Meet John Doe, and The Apartment - delivered with a twisted sense of humor.

The movie doesn't hold back on style - from the beginning, this is unapologetically grandiose and stylized. Everything from the music to the acting to the set design sets out to create a world that's a living, breathing caricature of its source material.

For those of you who don't know me, all that means I absolutely loved this bizarre, quirky movie.

I'm not going to delve into quite as much detail around the plot this time, both because it…

Loose Canon: Santa Claus (2016)

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I stumbled across Lindsay Ellis's YouTube channel somewhat randomly, and it almost immediately became one of my favorites for essays on movies and pop culture. Stylistically, I'd describe it as a blend of a great college lecture and an energized barroom discussion.

Like most successful YouTube channels, it's broken into several ongoing series. One of these, Loose Canon, examines a character or concept as it reoccurs in media. Ellis has made installments on figures as diverse as Starscream and Hades - she's not constraining herself to any specific type of character.

Of course, we're a tad more limited in our focus here, so we'll be looking at her episode on Santa Claus.

It opens with some backstory on the character, summarizing three of the most significant figures who were compiled into the modern day incarnation. She condenses the history and origin of Santa Claus about as succinctly as I've ever seen. Then she moves onto The Night Before Christmas before…

Almost Christmas (2016)

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As far as sub-genres go, "dysfunctional family at Christmas" may have one of the lowest hit rates out there. Most of the ones that work do so by incorporating alternative genre elements to make the concept fresh: The Lion in Winter, Arthur Christmas, and Fred Claus all spring to mind. Those are technically great Christmas movies about a dysfunctional family over the holidays, but the dysfunctional family isn't the part of the synopsis most people would focus on.

Almost Christmas, on the other hand, embodies the more traditional trappings of the sub-genre through and through. If you were to sit down and make a list of tropes you'd expect to find, you'd wind up checking most of them off. There are the siblings who despise each other, the family member with a drug problem, food getting destroyed, a decoration mishap, a wedged in love story... you get the idea.

The substance of this movie certainly isn't original. However, there is one fairly original element: i…

We Bare Bears: Christmas Parties (2016)

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The past seven years have seen a renaissance in TV animation, largely thanks to the success of Adventure Time and its peers. Nostalgia for 60s, 70s, and 80s science-fiction and fantasy lies at the core of most of this wave. We Bare Bears differs in that respect. It's far closer to Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and perhaps even the Berenstain Bears. Sometimes, it even reminds me of old edutainment shows; as though the characters are about to teach us about geography or math.

They don't, incidentally. When the show does communicate a point, it's usually about subtle cases of systemic racism, the difficulty of interacting with a society that views you as an outsider, or - in at least one case - the toxic nature of male entitlement in perceived romantic situations.

If all of that sounds a little heavy, rest assured the show mixes in three or four parts comedy to one part moral. Throw in some surprisingly affecting drama, and you wind up with something that feels like a kid'…

Book Review: Santa's Husband

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Santa's Husband is a children's book where the Plump Jolly Old Elf is portrayed as a black man who's so busy, his white husband fills in for him at the mall, leading to some confusion as to his identity. If that premise doesn't intrigue you, you're reading the wrong blog.

I stumbled across a link to an interview with the writer, Daniel Kibblesmith, that included some shots of AP Quach's artwork. Between those and the description, I was sold.


The book is thirty-two pages, and there's no real plot or story. It's more a series of kid-friendly pictures coupled with text introducing you to Mr. Claus, Santa's husband. Like a lot of children's books, it reads like a series of comic vignettes.

It's a fantastic reimagining of Santa and his operation, and the relationship between Santa and Mr. Claus is sweet and touching. Towards the end, it offers a brief introduction to multicultural holiday traditions that's refreshingly diverse.

The writer ant…

Teen Titans Go!: Black Friday (2015)

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I wanted to hate this.

I'm getting that out of the way first, so you have some idea of where I'm coming from. On principle, I dislike this series, not so much for its content but for what it represents. I liked the original Teen Titans, as well as Young Justice - the last thing I wanted was a hokey show that reduced the characters and premise to cheap jokes.

So I set out to hate this. But then... then something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. This episode elbowed me in the gut, kicked me in the shin, then reached in through my cold chest and violently wrenched my heart away from me. It made me love it, whether I wanted to or not.

That's also a fairly good synopsis of the premise.

As the title suggests, this episode focuses on Black Friday, presented here as the cultural juggernaut it truly is. The Titans are preparing to shop by gorging on turkey. With one exception, they're eagerly awaiting their favorite day of the year, when they'll charge into stores and…

Mainlining Christmas Ruins Adam Ruins Christmas (2016)

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I've seen several episodes of the series, "Adam Ruins Everything" and I've enjoyed it quite a bit. That said, I think it has a tendency to fall into a similar trap that often snared Penn and Teller's Bullshit: it challenges a common, oversimplified narrative and replaces it with a less common, oversimplified narrative. In the process, you get a decent amount of trivia, but if you accept the episode's conclusions are completely true, you're really no better off.
With that in mind, I'd like to try a slightly more meta approach to the Christmas episode, which contains clever humor and some interesting information, but doesn't really paint any more accurate a picture of the holidays than the one it deconstructs.
The episode, as usual, is broken into segments examining different aspects of the holiday. The first takes on the subject of the non-Christmas roots of several Christmas traditions, including low-hanging fruit like the absence of evidence of …