Showing posts with the label Highly Recommended

Loose Canon: Santa Claus (2016)

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)

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)

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

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)

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)

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 …

Kirwan, Greenwood & Burns Present 2016 Soundcloud All​-​Star Holiday Spectacular

I want to take a moment and talk about this Christmas album, which you can download for free on Soundcloud. But first let's get the "full disclosure" part out of the way: the "Burns" in "Kirwan, Greenwood & Burns" is one of my oldest friends. He lent me the first Batman graphic novel I ever read for Christmas's sake.

Now that that's out of the way, this album contains some of the most unique, fascinating, gorgeous Christmas tunes I've come across. This stuff is amazing.

The album contains music from an assortment of international musicians. It doesn't adhere to any particular genre, but is unified by the collaboration's philosophy of updating "old-time" music with modern elements without losing the spirit of what's being adapted.

If you're a fan of modern folk music, you should check this out. Alternatively, if you like Celtic Punk or any of its offshoots, this is for you. Or, you know, if you're into goo…

The O.C.: The Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah (2005)

You've got to admire the audacity of a show that's willing - eager, even - to undercut a dramatic moment where one character is trying to stop another from throwing their life away in a desperate robbery attempt by cutting to a bar-mitzvah-themed fundraiser where a couple of other characters lead the room in a chorus of Deck the Halls.

This is the third Chrismukkah episode of The O.C., and even more than the second, it's crystal clear the show's dropped the pretense that it's anything other a comedy. And, once again, we're better off for that.

The premise is built around a developing story-line. Some new character who lives to surf got hit by a car in an earlier episode (those "last time" openings really help here). If he ever wants to get better, he'll need an expensive surgery he can't afford. So his friends decide to put on a fundraiser/Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah for the not-at-all-Jewish Ryan. This will also give Seth a chance to make fo…

Roseanne Christmas Episodes (1991 - 1996)

Roseanne's one of those shows I watched sporadically growing up. I remember finding it funny and knowing intellectually it was supposed to be significant for some reason, but I didn't fully appreciate it back when it was airing (hey, I was only a teenager).

Looking back, it's incredibly impressive. Casting a pair of leads more closely resembling the average American than Hollywood stars was courageous. Also, ingenious: they clearly got their pick of undervalued comedians, since they wound up with two of the best.

The episodes are formulaic, but not in a bad way. There's an impressive balance here between slapstick comedy and serialized storytelling. Even jumping from year-to-year, I found myself getting caught up in the character and plot developments.

Santa Claus (1991)

This episode from season four seems to kick off the annual Christmas episodes, assuming there aren't earlier holiday installments hiding under unassuming titles. The cold opening establishes that th…

Animaniacs: The Christmas Tree (1998)

"The Christmas Tree" opened the third-to-last episode of the series. They tacked on the holiday opening, featuring snow over the credits, too, before starting the story. It doesn't run the full thirty minutes, but it takes up about 2/3rds of the half hour slot.

The other shorts included a Katie KaBoom bit about her negotiating the rules for going to the prom and a Deadline short built around Chicken Boo. The Deadline bit was fun, if a bit repetitive, but I've never really been a fan of the Katie KaBoom shorts. But neither of these are Christmas themed, so I've got nothing more to say about them.

Back to "The Christmas Tree." The story opens in a snowy forest with a giant pine tree being cut down by lumberjacks. There's a touch of toonish absurdity to the whole thing, but there's also a bit of sincerity in the holiday music and the expressions on the lumberjacks' faces. They hop in their truck and drive off, heading for New York, where...


The Muppets: Single All the Way (2015)

You know how sometimes I use the existence of a Christmas episode to talk at length about the series it's part of? Yeah, this is definitely going to be one of those times.

For decades, The Muppets have been severely hampered by their own past. The 70's series remains one of the television's all-time greatest series, their first movie was brilliant and whimsical, and their early Christmas specials are legendary. But for several decades, the franchise has lived in those shadows. At best, new productions offered a faithful homage to past successes; at worst, they were cheap cash grabs. This is true even of the specials I've loved - basically, anything after Henson passed felt it was retreading old ground.

The 2011 movie deviated slightly by devoting some attention to considering the nature of the Muppets' relationship to their fictitious world, but by and large it was still more a tribute than a new chapter.

Last year's series, however, was fresh and modern. Sure…

Millions (2004)

What the hell is wrong with America? Annually, we watch movies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story again and again, as if our sheer, culturally mandated refusal to admit they're crap will somehow elevate them to the status of genuine classic.

Meanwhile, England's been cranking out genuine holiday brilliance at a breakneck pace, and no one here notices. Arthur Christmas, Get Santa, and The Snowman are almost entirely unknown in the US, and they're all incredible. Add Danny Boyle's 2004 surrealist comedy, Millions, to that list - this thing is amazing.

The movie's main character is an eight-year-old who's just lost his mother. His name is Damian, and he's obsessed with Catholic saints. Also, he sees them. Arguably, he merely hallucinates meeting and interacting with them, but I'm not buying that. They seem to have knowledge he lacks, and they're capable of affecting the world in at least minor ways.

He's just moved…

Revisiting Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

First of all, we've covered this already, over here. Lindsay wrote up a pretty glowing review for this and slapped on a "Highly Recommended" label, mainly because it managed to coalesce nearly the entire Rankin/Bass catalog into a single coherent Christmaverse and rebuild Rudolph's backstory using a mythic structure.

I'm not writing this as some sort of retraction, though upon rewatching, I do want to roll back the unconditional love we showered on it the first time around. While it accomplished everything listed above, that accounts for around fifteen minutes of its hour and thirty-seven minute run time. The rest oscillates between a series of mediocre love songs and a holiday-themed stop-motion circus show.

Obviously the main reason I want to revisit this now is to focus in on the "Christmas in July" elements we more or less skipped over the first time. Also, there are 31 days in July, we're doing our best to hold to our post-a-day commitment, an…

Phineas and Ferb: S'Winter (2008), I, Brobot (2008), Phineas and Ferb's Family Christmas Special (2011), and Phineas and Ferb Save Summer (2014)

It shouldn't be entirely surprising that Phineas and Ferb is a treasure trove for the "Christmas in July" trope: with more or less the entire series set during summer, they've found numerous excuses to play with holiday and winter tropes over the years.

A few of the episodes I'm looking at are admittedly a stretch - there's a reason we've only done one of the episodes below to date - but together they offer a surprisingly comprehensive look at the range of different approaches to the "Christmas in July" premise.

S'Winter (2008)

S'Winter is one of the earliest episodes of Phineas and Ferb produced. It's typically combined with "The Magnificent Few" to fill a half hour. But "The Magnificent Few" has jack to do with the holidays, so we'll just shove that aside.

I've been wrestling with this episode for several years. There's a argument it could count as a Christmas episode, but it falls just short of the li…

Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas (2009)

This is adorable. It's adorable and charming and whimsical and sweet. It's fun and it's funny, it's safe for all ages without being insipid.

In short, it's quality children's programming.

I've seen a few episodes of the show this special is spinning out of, because I watch kids' shows on PBS. If my vague recollections are accurate, this is equivalent to an especially good episode.

The special opens with some friendly narration explaining how excited George is about Christmas. Soon he wakes up and runs into the other room to jump on the Man with the Yellow Hat, only to be told that like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, it is not yet Christmas. The Man (it's so awkward to call him that, but take it up with H.A. Rey) gives George a chart to track the rest of the days (12) until the big day, and reassures him that they have a lot to do to get ready, so the time will pass quickly.

Cue the first musical number! It's all a…

Unaccompanied Minors (2006)

We shifted this to the top of our Netflix queue after seeing it on a list of relatively well-known Christmas movies (Lindsay and I are geeks and therefore completists: the notion there are any famous holiday films we haven't gotten to continues to torment us). We knew the premise, which centers around a group of kids stuck at an airport on Christmas Eve during a blizzard, and felt like we had a pretty good idea what to expect.

Fortunately, we hadn't realized this, unlike damn near every other holiday kids movie, was directed by someone competent. It turns out that the reason all those other movies suck isn't the premise; it's that they're written and/or directed by hacks. This one, improbably enough, was made by Paul Feig. Oddly enough, this is the first of his movies I've seen, despite hearing good things more or less across the board.

Before I get into the film, I want to say a few things about the short story it's based on, a non-fiction piece that appe…