Posts

Showing posts with the label Lindsay

Book Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Image
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)

Image
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

Image
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

Image
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)

Image
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)

Image
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

Image
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 …

Tangerine (2015)

Image
Tangerine is somehow both a broad comedy and a subtle, true-to-life drama. It focuses on one madcap day (Christmas Eve) in the lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-dee and Alexandra.

Sin-dee has just returned from a month in prison, and she finds out her pimp/boyfriend cheated on her while she was gone. She spends the day seeking out the other girl (Dinah) and the boy, intent on settling the situation. Alexandra, meanwhile, tries to blunt her friend’s more extreme impulses while she invites everyone (seriously, everyone but the cops) to a holiday cabaret performance she’s giving that evening.

The third plot thread belongs to Razmik, an Armenian cab driver who’s a frequent patron of Alexandra and Sin-dee. He struggles with the vicissitudes of his job and then skips out on Christmas Eve dinner, risking his marriage, to try to see Sin-dee after he hears she’s back in town.

The plot is almost an old-fashioned farce - woman scorned, attempting over-the-top revenge, takes the man back at…

Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot: Holiday Hics and Holi-Stage (2012)

Image
As a CG show aimed at children, this was not even close to the best of the crop. However, it's not completely egregiously offensive to the eyes, ears, or brain, either. Pablum is a good word.

These two episodes didn’t air anywhere close to each other, but the second literally takes place the next day.

Holiday Hics


For a 22-minute episode in which very little happened, this dragged a surprisingly small number of times.

As a Christmas episode, this was actually quite interesting, as it’s a fairly significant outlier. It’s a fantasy version of Christmas that isn’t explicitly set in the winter. I don’t know whether there are seasons in Care-a-Lot in this series, but this episode was not wintry in any way.

However, “Great Giving Day” is still clearly Christmas. Not just because it’s a holiday with an “Eve” that involves caring and giving gifts. Nope, we have a genuine magical gift-giver.

The Great Giving Bear has red fur, a kindly-sounding, older voice actor, a present symbol on his tum…

Star vs. the Forces of Evil: "Stump Day/Holiday Spellcial" (2017)

Image
Hey, it's a fantasy analog Christmas episode! I love those! Where to start, though.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is an animated show that I quite enjoy. The eponymous Star Butterfly is a princess from a fantasy-esque dimension. Her primary traits are recklessness, enthusiasm, and immense magical power channeled through the wand she received from her mother (Queen Moon Butterfly) on her 14th birthday. At the beginning of the series, she's sent to Earth as a sort of exchange student so she can practice her magic without burning down the kingdom. On Earth, she lives with the Diaz family and meets her best friend, worrywart/practical guy and karate enthusiast, Marco Diaz.

In season three, by the time this episode takes place, Star and Marco are living in her parents' castle in the kingdom of Mewni. And it's Stump Day!

Stump Day

Stump Day is obviously Christmas; it's a winter holiday with all the decorations and carols and forced good cheer. According to the explanation …

Trolls (2016) and the Trolls Holiday Special (2017)

Image
We watched the Trolls Holiday Special and walked away with one big question: Is Trolls a Christmas Movie? After we got around to watching the movie itself, we decided the answer is ehhh... not really? Probably not?

However, its one holiday element is unique enough that we wanted to catalog it.

The movie Trolls (based somehow on the plastic dolls from back in the day) is a surreal confabulation of light, color, and pop music. The trolls are small and brightly colored, and the favorite snack of a larger creature that looks much more like your stereotypical common troll. These "Bergens" believe that the only way to be happy is to essentially steal the trolls' happiness (by eating them).

However, (and this is where the holidays come in) they only eat trolls once a year, on a holiday called Trollstice. Other than being a pun on solstice, Trollstice has very little in common with Christmas though. There is one very early scene in which the bergen prince wakes his father on Tr…

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Image
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&#…

Book Review: The Chimes

Image
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 Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
Charles Dickens, 1844

Wow. I wasn't really expecting greatness with these, but I am surprised how much this actually feels like a knock-off of A Christmas Carol. Dickens saw so much success from Carol that it makes sense that he would try to recreate that magic, but this piece just... doesn't work.

It follows Trotty, a poor elderly man who scrapes together a living running errands for people and is easily swayed by other people's opinions. His daughter brings him a lunch treat on New Year's Eve with the news that she and her sweetheart are getting married. Then some rich jerks see them and lay down a bunch of relatively nonsensical shaming - t…

Santa, Baby! (2001)

Image
You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song.

And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice.

The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter.

Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including a dog …

The Great Rupert (1950)

Image
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…

Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special

Image
Back in late July, when only the obsessed started thinking about Christmas, Hallmark aired a program which is perhaps the purest expression of the holiday we’ve seen in some time. It is all anticipation and no substance, and it makes you feel somewhat unsatisfied and nauseated.

It is the Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special.

This is a half-hour program broken up into chunks with their own little intros and outros. It's very similar to the promotions that play in the theater before a movie, and I suspect these are intended to be broken up and used that way.

The host is here to introduce us to a selection of this year’s new Hallmark Christmas movies. She is wearing a Christmas red cold-shoulder dress with rhinestones around the holes and wondering where her career went so wrong.

The first movie they’re teasing is called Christmas Joy.

The premise, so far as we can tell: young woman comes to town to help sick aunt, takes over a cookie competition, fall…

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

Image
I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor.

After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story.

Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters.



Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction. A magica…

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Image
Surprisingly good for a TV movie that first aired on Lifetime, this ghost story/romance still had a few missteps.

First, we follow a man through the show. He sees a house in the distance; a woman comes out. A man comes out and appears to embrace her. And then THWACK. He's dead.

And then an opening sequence! I'm ashamed to admit that after so many movies featuring B-roll of New York City in snow, I failed to notice that this sequence is actually supposed to be Boston. We just thought it was surprisingly snowy.

Like many terrible rom-coms, this movie introduces its female lead by establishing that she "doesn't know how to love" and "works too much." Like few of them, this sequence is actually delightful. Kate is much better off without her wanna-be psychoanalyst boyfriend and seems to get real satisfaction from her job.

Said job, for a law firm, is sending her out of town to visit a historic inn. The woman who owned it has passed away with no heirs, and …

"Home" for the Holidays (Dreamworks 2017)

Image
This straight-to-Netflix special spins off of the show Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh, itself a spin-off of the movie Home. It's not awful, but neither is it heartwarming or coherent.

The premise is that Tip (who I remember speaking like a girl and not a stylized stereotype in the movie) realizes that this will be Oh's (her alien friend) first Christmas to celebrate. (I guess last Christmas was the invasion?) So she gets excited telling him about all the fun things to do and see.

There are a LOT of songs in this special. Erin liked more of them than I did, although I admit that the wackiness is strong and fun in some of them.

Unfortunately, everything between the songs is thin pretext to get us to the next song. I'll talk about this more in a moment.

Tip takes Oh into town to see the decorations. On the way, they're sidetracked by a bunch of boys who are apparently recurring antagonists. But now they're filming a "celebrity holiday special" in an attem…

A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

Image
When we finished watching this new special from Netflix, we were left with a conundrum. Had we just experienced a kids show with a surprising scattering of subversive humor and references? Or a hit-and-miss parody of children's entertainment? Or a piece of tedious moralizing aimed at the very very young?

If it sounds like all those things couldn't possibly be contained in one 25-minute special, you understand why we were perplexed. We didn't hate it, but we didn't enjoy it either. We spent most of it staring at the television, heads slightly cocked to one side, saying, "Huh?"

The best I can put together without doing any research is the Storybots are animated characters from a children's series of the same name, and they answer questions from videos of young kids. They live in a place that is either another dimension or a hollow-earth world, which is connected to Earth via a series of vacuum tubes. In their own world, they're two-dimensional animatio…