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Showing posts with the label Lindsay

Podcast Review: Household Name: Kentucky Fried Christmas (2018)

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When I heard an ad for a podcast from Business Insider, I wasn't initially interested. Then the ad mentioned that there was an episode about the connection between KFC and Christmas in Japan, and I was immediately searching for the download button.

Unfortunately, the episode didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but the story was told well and the episode was overall a lot of fun.

If you aren't interested in Japanese culture or the minutiae of the holiday, you might not know that Kentucky Fried Chicken is closely associated with Christmas in Japan. While that might seem strange to Americans at first, the surface-level reasons are those that you might come up with if pressed: Western holiday - Western food, chicken is close to the traditional (i.e., Dickensian) turkey, and Colonel Sanders bears a decent resemblance to Santa Claus.

I was hoping for some deeper revelation or twist, but the reporter on the podcast says that's most of it, although how the co…

Book Review: A Cup of Holiday Fear

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A Cup of Holiday Fear
Ellie Alexander, 2019

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Jules runs a bakery in charming artistic tourist town Ashland, Oregon, where she is kept busy preparing for the Christmas rush and snooping around after an out-of-towner ends up dead.

I've read quite a few Christmas-themed cozy mysteries by now. Most of them are readable but nothing special.

It wasn't immediately clear from the publisher's description that this takes place well into a series, but it was obvious from the first page. Backstory and past relationships are recapped at length, even when they have nothing to do with the plot of this book.

I have two fairly substantial issues with this book, and in the end, I can't give it a pass.

The first is the mystery itself; it's just uninteresting.

The killer is the obviously mean character, the victim was a horrible person, and the resolution takes place entirely off-screen in…

Let It Snow (2019)

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Netflix has been trying for a few years to encroach on Hallmark’s dominance of the disposable holiday rom-com. One of this year’s attempts is this adaptation of a set of YA short stories.

The film starts and ends with narration by Joan Cusack. She is, of course, awesome, but the narration itself is so corny and obvious that I was literally laughing out loud, and not in a good way.

Taking place over December 24, the movie follows four and a half separate stories and features an array of attractive young actors, many of whom have history working for Netflix or Nickelodeon. I have already forgotten all the characters' names. Many major plot moments take place at a restaurant called Waffle Town.

The plots each fall into a basic romance trope or two:
Pining for the girl next doorToo-practical girl has meet-cute with celebrity in search of "something real"One-night stand (maybe one-night hangout, it's ambiguous) turns out to be true loveGirl dumps cheating boy to learn to …

Welcome Back

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Welcome back for the tenth season of Mainlining Christmas!

If you're a long-time fan, you might recall that we made some changes last year. We didn't push ourselves to post so often so that we could concentrate on quality.

At the end of the season, we also announced the impending arrival of our assistant, who was born in due course this past summer.

As you may have guessed, while we will continue to consume large amounts of seasonal fare, we have other ways to challenge our sanity this year. And this is for the best.

Because we have been doing this for so long that we've begun to build up an immunity.

It's no longer hard to listen to only Christmas music for a month or more; in fact, I've been turning it on in the summer when I need to relax. Few Christmas episodes and movies hold surprises for us, for we are masters of holiday tropes; we can see a last-minute Santa reveal coming before the first hint of snow clouds. In short, the mental and physical challenge a…

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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Thanks so much for spending another season with Mainlining Christmas. Whether you read every word, listen to the occasional podcast, or just click Like on Facebook, we appreciate you.

So far, I think this year's changes were a success. Once we backed off from the constant flood of posts, we had time to choose our content more thoughtfully and do research for more podcasts and other analysis. We also had more time to actually enjoy the season. December is a very busy time in my current job, so I personally needed the respite.

In fact, it's been such a success that we're planning on bringing on an unpaid intern next summer. Rather than go through the headache of posting an ad or something, we've decided to grow them. We're expecting them to arrive in late June of next year.

I expect this person to take up incredible amounts of time and energy, but provide an all-new perspective on holiday media. And life.

Hopefully, we'll be back next year, although the amount o…

In the Bleak Midwinter (US Title: A Midwinter’s Tale) (1995)

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There are many Christmas movies about families, and many about found families. This delightful black-and-white dramedy from Kenneth Branagh shows that the bonds between the members of a theater company are every bit as dysfunctional and poignant as any other family, if a bit more dramatic.

This is a movie that rewards close attention. It’s absolutely hilarious, but many of the jokes, and nearly all of the character beats, are played so straight and subtle that you’ll miss important details if you’re trusting the movie to telegraph when something is funny.

It also rewards some familiarity with theater people and their habits, although I think it would be enjoyable even without that context. It has a lot in common with the 2003 Canadian television show Slings and Arrows - I suspect this film was an inspiration for that series.

The movie follows Joe, an unemployed actor nearing the end of his rope. He talks his agent into helping him bankroll a passion project: an experimental Christmas…

Book Review: Plum Pudding Murder

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Plum Pudding Murder
Joanne Fluke, 2009

I have been known to pick up Christmas-themed books on the cheap pretty often and this is one of those cheap reads. It's another cozy mystery, and this one not only reads like a Hallmark movie, it was turned into a literal Hallmark movie.

It's the twelfth book in this series, so while all the backstory and name-checking earlier events and established relationships is boring, it's at least excusable.

Okay, I said it was a cozy, right? Let's check off the tropes: Hannah owns a cookie shop, is dating a law enforcement guy, and is known to stumble into murders. I was briefly intrigued by the fact that she is also dating a dentist and all three parties seemed happy enough with their relationships. It seemed like a sympathetic portrayal of people who didn't feel the need to lock down a monogamous heterosexual marriage and were comfortable with that. Of course, later the guys both showed little jealousies, and the narrative clearly c…

All I Want for Christmas Is You (2017)

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Oh, great. Someone else thought basing a kid-friendly animated special on a romantic Christmas song was a good idea.

Okay, first let’s be clear. I actually like this song. It’s sappy as heck, but it’s bouncy and fun and easy to sing. But it is clearly about a lover. Not a dog. I mean, we love pets and all, but this is a bit much.

The special is based on Ms. Carey’s book of the same name, also based on the lyrics to her hit song. It’s about a little girl named Mariah and her Christmas wish for a puppy. The Mariah of the special has some things in common with the actual Mariah, but this is clearly much more fiction than memoir.

Anyway, Mariah wants a puppy more than anything, but her dad is allergic and her mother is a neat freak. Her grandmother brings her to the pet store, however, and introduces her to a dog. Quickly dubbed “Princess,” this dog is small but no longer a puppy, well-trained and hypoallergenic. Mariah begins an all-out campaign to convince her parents to let her adopt …

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Best Gift Ever (2018)

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After eight seasons, a theatrically released movie, a series of spin-off movies and shorts, comic books, and soundtrack albums including a non-canonical Christmas album, you’d think My Little Pony had done everything. But what it hadn’t done until this year was a holiday special.

Best Gift Ever is that hour-long (45-ish minutes) special, and I’m happy to report that it’s so good that we’re thinking of adding it to our standard holiday rotation. It’s charming, funny, and sweet. It features interlocking plotlines that build on everything we know about these characters without being so complicated that you have to have seen every episode to understand. It’s on Netflix, and if you’re a fan of the show, go check it out now, before I get into the plot.

It takes place either the day after the season eight holiday episode or the next year, depending on how much handwaving you want to do around the end of that episode. (The multi-species student characters featured in that episode are seen br…

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Hearth's Warming Club (2018)

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This is the fourth holiday episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, so it's no surprise that they decided to expand the focus a bit more. A quick warning: this is less of a standalone episode than the other seasonal offerings, as it focuses almost entirely on new characters.

In the latest season, the show takes advantage of the world that has been building up over the previous seasons and the movie. Twilight opens a school to teach friendship lessons to both ponies and creatures from beyond Equestria. There is a group of core young student characters representing all the various species, and they're the focus here.

It's almost Hearth's Warming, and the school is going on a holiday break. All the students are getting ready to head home. Then a mysterious figure pours a substance onto the spell at the top of the tree in the common area, and it explodes into a mass of sticky purple goo all over the room. Twilight and Rainbow Dash chase after the perpetrator, but t…

Great British Bake-Off Holiday Specials (2017)

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For several years now, The Great British Bake-Off (Great British Baking Show in the U.S.) has produced special holiday episodes. Only one set of these episodes has been made easily available here across the pond that I know of.

These two episodes had all the charm and warmth of the standard GBBO with a holiday flair. Each episode is a four-person competition with one winner. One episode wouldn’t be enough time to get to know new contestants, but they are all from recent seasons of the show, so it’s nice to see them again with another chance to shine.

It’s not just the holiday vibe that had contestants supporting each other, admiring each other’s work, and taking pride in personal bests. This is a ridiculously feel-good show.

Like a standard episode, the competition consists of three rounds: a signature challenge where the contestants must execute their spin on a specific assigned baked good, a technical challenge where they each attempt to follow a bare-bones recipe they’ve never see…

Book Review: The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time
Charles Dickens, 1848

For the final one of his “Christmas Books,” Dickens returns both to Christmas and firmly to the supernatural.

If The Chimes is a morality play, The Cricket on the Hearth is a romantic comedy, and The Battle of Life is a soap opera, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain is an episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s a well-done, if straightforward, “be careful what you wish for” tale.

The story follows Professor Redlaw, who is said to look “haunted.” He was wronged as a young man when a friend married his sister, leading to her death (I think - this part of the plot is fairly vague), and he thinks constantly about this. One year at Christmas, a phantom who lo…

Angela's Christmas (2017)

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Presented with a CG special with a cute kid and a generic title, we didn't have high hopes when we started this. However, fairly quickly we knew we were looking at something different than your average holiday fluff.

The narrator tells us that the story takes place in the Irish city of Limerick in 1914, and the adult male voice identifies a young girl as Angela, who would grow up to be his mother.

Angela's family is poor, and in the opening scene the four siblings each have to pass down their coats so the baby will be warm as they head out for Christmas Eve Mass. Angela and her brother Pat fight like crazy and almost cause an accident, but the family finally reaches church. Pat continues to pick on Angela and their mother has to separate them.

It's extremely cold in the church, and Angela becomes worried for the baby Jesus in the nativity scene - after all, he's not wearing very much. After the service, she makes an excuse to sneak back inside, and she steals the stat…

Book Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ian Fleming, 1963

So when we were researching Christmas espionage for the podcast, I realized I never wrote a review of this novel. And that was an oversight that could not stand.

I need to start by saying that I enjoy the Bond books. They are dated. They are sometimes awful. But I love the style, and I love how much more complex they are than the films.

For one thing, the series, taken as a whole, is the story of a man who has a thankless, terrible job that forces him to be a heartless weapon. The books very seldom glamorize the life of a spy.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond is tired of it all. He's ready to chuck the whole career in the bin, and he grasps at his whirlwind romance with Tracy as one bright thing, a light at the end of the tunnel. When we meet her, she's traumatized and suicidal after being abandoned by a husband and the death of a child. Bond is drawn to her need for rescue, but we never see whether the relation…

Laid-Back Camp: Christmas Camp, Mount Fuji and the Laid-Back Camp Girls (2018)

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Do you need something warm and simple sometimes? Me too.

The anime series Laid-Back Camp (Yurucamp) is exactly what it sounds like. There is camping, beautiful scenery, friendship, and yummy-looking food. The last two episodes of the 12-episode series follow the main characters, a group of high-school girls, on a Christmas Eve camping trip.

In "Christmas Camp!" the girls meet up for their planned excursion. Friends (and founders of the school outdoors group) Chiaki and Aoi arrive early and get ice cream at the store up the road. Rin (an experienced solo camper) arrives on her moped, but can't find anyone else, so she sets up her tent a little ways off. Nadeshiko (hyper enthusiastic newbie) gets dropped off by her sister and she and Rin talk about the plan to trade off making meals.

Chiaki and Aoi find firewood at the store and get Rin to come carry most of it on her moped. (Their adult chaperone spends most of these two episodes amiably drunk.) Rin's friend Ena ar…

Book Review: The Battle of Life

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Battle of Life: A Love Story
Charles Dickens, 1846

This third novella wasn’t as unfocused and odd as The Chimes or as charming as The Cricket on the Hearth. It was just sort of... there.

If anything, it’s even less Christmassy, as one important scene takes place at “the Christmas season” and the rest is vague, but probably not in winter.

The story takes place in a village that sits on the site of an ancient battle. Many characters make reference to the history, and the primary thematic conflict is between the older men who believe that in contrast to the past, life is “too easy” or “a joke,” and the young people, who believe that everyone is struggling in their ways, and just because their battles are of the heart does not make them less …

Book Review: In Peppermint Peril

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In Peppermint Peril
Joy Avon, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

I almost didn’t write a review for this book, because I sort of felt bad. Unless it’s a new pseudonym (completely possible) this is the first book by a new author. And it’s not horrible, it’s just sort of broken. It’s a mishmash of mystery tropes that doesn’t recognize why some work together and others don’t.

It’s a holiday mystery that has little to do with the holiday. It has Agatha Christie elements but only sometimes. It has many, many side elements that read like references to previous books (that don’t exist). Worst of all, it’s a cozy mystery with a boring main character.

Cozy mysteries live and die by their leads. Almost always female, commonly bakers or small business owners, most modern cozy leads have romantic plots with happy endings or they have husbands who endorse their part-time mystery solving. Not every mystery lead has to be a winner - usually you …

Karroll's Christmas (2004)

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This made-for-TV comedy focuses on Allan Karroll, a man who hates Christmas because... Wait! Come back!

I know, I know. Christmas comedies made for TV are almost universally terrible. But while this one isn’t a work of cinematic brilliance, it’s definitely exceptional among its type.

I was skeptical of the beginning too. It seems like so many of this genre, presenting a protagonist who has to learn a lesson because they don’t unconditionally love Christmas to an unreasonable degree. However, while Allan’s irritation with a work presentation going poorly and a confrontation with his nasty neighbor are exacerbated by the Christmas season, he’s just average prickly until dinner with his girlfriend Carrie. Then he becomes downright unlikeable, as he can’t let his irritation go and doesn’t even notice that said girlfriend is trying to be romantic (and secretly planning to propose to him).

They go home together, but his neighbor starts stealing his electricity (via Christmas lights) to run…

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

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We didn’t know much about this movie when we turned it on, but I was met with two delightful surprises right in the opening credits. First, Peter Falk is in it. Cool, I thought, I love Peter Falk! Second, the movie is based on a previous screenplay, which was in turn based on a short story by Damon Runyon. Immediately I knew what to expect.

Damon Runyon, for the uninitiated, wrote short stories in the 20s and 30s about New York City under Prohibition. These stories are generally about gangsters and other people on the illegal side of society, often somewhat sentimental with a rough edge, and highly stylized. Adaptations generally turn up the sentiment slightly and enjoy leaning into the style. The most well-known adaptation is probably the musical Guys and Dolls.

Most of the characters from this movie could be dropped right into that show with no problem.

The lead is Dave the Dude, a speakeasy owner and gang leader who’s on the rise, possibly due to his habit of buying “lucky” apples…

Book Review: The Cricket on the Hearth

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home
Charles Dickens, 1845

This is the only one of these stories that I had heard the title of before doing any research. Like The Chimes, it’s not explicitly a Christmas story (it’s set in early January), but it was released in December as part of Dickens’ sequence of illustrated holiday novellas. Unlike The Chimes, there’s a lot to enjoy about this one.

The Cricket on the Hearth is sort of like if Dickens wrote a romcom. There’s a little supernatural stuff and a little moralizing, but most of it is just delightful character studies and misunderstandings that get resolved to everyone’s happiness at the end.

The story starts with Dot Peerybingle, a young woman happy in her home and her life with her …