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The Brain Scoop: The Nondenominational Holiday Botanical Celebration (2013)

Christmas is past, but we're still working our way through a backlog of online holiday shorts. The Brain Scoop is a Youtube series hosted by Emily Graslie, the Field Museum of Natural History's "Chief Curiosity Correspondent," a custom-made title that makes a lot more sense after you watch a few episodes.

The series is sort of a science education show on speed. It delivers everything you loved about shows like Bill Nye, but doesn't dumb down the subject matter. The show feels like it's primarily aimed at adults who grew up watching PBS, though - for the most part - the subject matter's appropriate for kids, as well.

This episode focuses on various decorative Christmas plants, with a focus on toxicity levels and side effects. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, I don't know what you're doing on this blog.

Doctor Who: Time of the Doctor (2013)

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I found the final Matt Smith Doctor Who episode to be engaging, though it lacked a satisfying payoff. That is to say, it's a good example of his entire run. Fortunately, it was a Christmas special, so I can discuss it here.
Oh, and just so no one complains later, discussing it will include details. So then. Spoiler. Warning. Got it? Good.

They certainly went to great pains to establish this as Christmas-related. The doctor follows an unknown transmission to a planet besieged by all his enemies. Once he gets down, he finds a town named Christmas. They play with this quite a bit: there are no shortage of lines about how the Doctor is protecting or saving Christmas. This is in addition to a Christmas dinner playing out in Clara's apartment in the present.
In some ways, a Christmas special is the perfect time for a regeneration, at least from a symbolic standpoint. They play with this, as well: the days in Christmas are almost impossibly short.
In the town, he comes across a crac…

Super Santa in Jingle Bell Justice (1998)

I just came across this 7 minute short on Youtube. Stylistically, it feels a lot like Powerpuff Girls, with some great homages to the Adam West Batman and 60's spy shows. I particularly like the super-spy spin on Mrs. Claus, who isn't stuck at the North Pole this time.

Reflections and Modulations

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Wow, December flew this year, didn’t it? For me, it wasn’t just because the span between Thanksgiving and Christmas was as short as it can be. My job is more involved and takes more of my brain than last year, plus I have more outside-of-work commitments too. All that’s just to say that I’m a little sad that it’s Christmas already, I feel like I barely registered time passing.

I’m really glad we finally saw some Bing Crosby specials (Meta, 1,2,3,4), and I’m also glad we evisceratedThe Christmas Shoes. We also found a few hidden gems this year, perhaps most notably Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. Who knew that was good?

This is the fourth year, and Mainlining has become… a tradition. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way, either. This: the watching of bizarre and terrible and wonderful Christmas stuff, collecting new music, new books and movies and decorations, finding more and different things to see and do, this is now part of how we celebrate the season.

Stay tuned as the y…

The Best Christmas Movies of All Time

So, cards on the table: I tried to put together a simple top 10 list of the all-time best Christmas movies, but I ran into a snag - 40% of the list would have been Shane Black action movies.

But, as I listed things out, I started to notice that a lot of movies were falling nicely into pairs. So, rather than try to assemble a blanket pool, I'm breaking these into five categories, each of which will feature the two best holiday films that genre offers.

From these, I'll whittle it down to a simple "top 5" list. What that will represent is a look at the best Christmas films from the entire range of the holiday selection.


Best Animated Christmas Movies
There have been a lot of animated Christmas movies, but surprisingly few great ones. Both of these movies under-performed at the box office, but both are phenomenal films.


Nightmare Before Christmas
An homage to Rankin/Bass specials, Nightmare Before Christmas displays all of Tim Burton's style unencumbered by his limitat…

Stalking Santa (2006)

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Stalking Santa is a good example of a cool movie made for virtually no money. To give you an idea of how little they spent, IMDB estimates its budget at $100,000, and it's narrated by William Shatner.

But the premise didn't require a lot of cash. The movie is a mockumentary about a self-proclaimed "Santologist" out to prove the existence of Claus. The writing is strong, and the direction effective. The movie borrows heavily from X-Files and takes the viewer in a number of unexpected directions - some surprisingly dark for a "family comedy."
The tone and genre switch gears several times, hinting at government conspiracies, fantasy, or science fiction, depending on the lead being explored.
Throughout the movie, the film cuts away to interview experts and children. Surprisingly, the kids don't come off as overly cloying. They stretch the tone, but... damn... their answers are adorable.
This is a very enjoyable film, but it does have a few issues. First, th…

Becoming Santa (2011)

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I stumbled across this on Netflix, where it stood out like a sore thumb. I'm used to seeing Christmas stuff there, of course, but this really jumped out at me. Why? Netflix, for those who don't know, gives everything an estimated rating, based on your personal ratings of things you've watched previously. So in a sea of items marked with one or two stars, this was rated at four. We put it on before we even realized it was a documentary.

The movie follows the adventures of Jack Sanderson as he sets out to become one of the countless Santa Clauses who appear every Christmas. Occasionally, the documentary cuts away to interviews with a slew of experts and Santas who have been at the game longer.

There's an awful lot to like here. The documentary begins with Jack having his beard and hair bleached, a process that turned out being pretty unpleasant (well, unpleasant for him - it was hilarious to watch). He then took a two-day course in becoming Santa Claus and headed to the…