Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Media Update 12/19/19

December 19, 2019


A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby

I was not going to let the Holiday season go by without checking out what has been an annual tradition for three Christmases now. I fell in love with Rose McIver through her role on iZombie which definitely showed her range. I fell in love with her again in the role of Amber (now Queen Amber) in The Christmas Prince. She plays such a nuanced, intelligent, and likable character. Ben Lamb returns as King Richard, who is charming and intelligent himself. Alice Krige and Honor Kneafsey return as Queen Helena and Princess Emily and continue to be delightful. Theo Devaney returns as Simon and gets to continue a rather interesting character arc which I was pleased to see continue. Tahirah Sharif was not a new addition to the series but in the past two movies, she only got a few minutes of screentime so it was interesting to see more of her story. Newcomer Momo Yeung (as Queen Ming) really made the movie for me as she was a welcome addition and was such a breath of fresh air. Kevin Shen (as King Tai) and Crystal Yu (Lin) were also very welcome. Other returning characters were pushed to the background but they got their moments to shine. I really enjoyed the influx of people of color into the franchise which led to a richer experience overall. I definitely recommend this whole franchise.


Let It Snow

Frankly, I was not going to watch this movie and was instead going to watch a different, more cheesy Christmas movie (which I may watch next year). However, two things changed my mind. One, the cast included two genre actresses which reminded me of what got me back into Christmas movies a few years ago (Dear Santa). The other was that the movie ended up on a list of LGBT holiday movies to watch since we all decided to boycott Hallmark (I have a lifetime boycott). The two actresses that I mentioned are Kiernan Shipka (from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Liv Hewson (from Santa Clarita Diet). What I didn’t realize was that there would be other favorites of mine. Shameik Moore was Miles Morales in Into the Spidervers and was in The Get Down and here he was surely fantastic. The always funny Jacob Batalon (Ned in the MCU Spidermovies). I was also shocked and very pleased to see Joan Cusack as the only adult in the movie. The rest of the cast was so great. The movie is a great ensemble piece as if somebody had watched Love, Actually and had said to themselves “I can do that but better”. It was a wonderful collection of stories that really did not have a lot to do with Christmas but that was a breath of fresh air too. I recommend this as well.


The Knight Before Christmas

Back to the cheesy Netflix Christmas movies! Vanessa Hudgens was a welcome addition to the Netflix Christmas family last year and it was good to see her return. This time, we get a particularly innovative Christmas movie about time travel. Basically, a knight from England is transported to a modern-day city (probably Canada). Vanessa Hudgens really ties the movie together well as her snarkiness and sweetness really guide most of the scenes. She is joined by Josh Whitehouse who is great as the somewhat naive but fun knight out of time. Most of the scenes are between the two of them but the rest of the cast is delightful. The movie was just different enough that I found it harder to predict each story beat so I was pleased and engaged by it. This movie also established a shared universe with the Christmas Prince universe so all of those post-apocalyptic theories have been disproved. I am interested to see if this is a new franchise for Netflix or just another valuable addition to their Christmas stable. I definitely recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Lizzo – Never Felt Like Christmas

Elton John – Step Into Christmas

My Chemical Romance – Every Snowflake is Different (just like you)

TLC – Sleigh Ride

Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Netflix Christmas 2019” #NotSponsored
– I watched Max Headroom’s Giant Christmas Turkey
– I watched more Bob’s Burgers Season 7
– I watched more The Crown Season 3
– I watched more The Gifted Season 1
– I watched more Runaways Season 1
– I watched more Elementary Season 1
– I watched more Prodigal Son Season 1
– I watched more Scream Season 1
– Merry Christmas! Next week is Christmas Horror.

Media Update 12/12/19

December 12, 2019


Klaus

When I saw the first stills from Klaus, I knew I was going to watch it. I am a huge animation fan and any studio that is going back to 2D art is going to raise my eyebrows. Sergio Pablos and Aniventure took traditional 2D animation and applied newer computer-generated lighting effects which make for an entirely new look. The animation is so pretty but that is also because the art design is so good. The movie is an account of the origin of Santa Claus. It takes place in a beautiful but remote island in Denmark. The key lesson of the movie is “A true selfless act always sparks another.” I felt whiffs of Disney, early Tim Burton, but also so much more. The movie stars JK Simmons as the title character. He is gruff but with plenty of good drama and a little bit of awkward comedy. The character the movie actually follows is Jason Schwartzman who does a great job at keeping the energy going by constantly talking but being endearing even when he is an asshole. Rashida Jones is really good as the local schoolteacher, gruff and smarter than anybody else in the film. They also went out of their way to cast real Saami people to be included in the movie and their culture was treated with respect. I definitely recommend the movie.


Noelle

When I saw Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader together on a poster for the movie, I was sold. Bill Hader has quickly become one of my favorite actors/comedians. Anna Kendrick is somebody who I like but I am not as familiar with her work but she always seems fun to me. Besides, I just got Disney+ and it seemed like the perfect first Christmas movie to watch this year. Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader play Santa Claus’ kids who must deal with responsibility after his death. Kendrick is so good at the realistically naive but jolly title character. Hader is delightfully neurotic as Nick. Kingsley Ben-Adir is so likable as the down to Earth but still slightly clueless private detective. Maceo Smedley plays his incredibly insightful son. I was also really glad to see great supporting roles from Shirley MacLaine, Julie Hagerty, and Billy Eichner. The show is really sweet and funny and definitely not too much in any direction. I really enjoyed it and, true to Disney form, I cried near the end. It is a great story about finding your place in the world and growing up and into who you want to be and who you need to be. I definitely recommend it a lot.


Santa Girl

This was an interesting movie to pair with Noelle. It is about Santa’s daughter feeling restless and rebellious about having to take over the family business and an arranged marriage. She decides to go to college to experience life before she has to settle down. It is a fun movie with a lower budget that does not get in the way. The movie basically boils down to scenes between four characters. Jennifer Stone plays Cassie Claus, a somewhat spoiled and naive girl who just wants more substance in her life. Devon Werkheiser and Joshua Cody play the two guys she meets and becomes friendly with at school. Werkheiser is casual and funny with a big heart. Cody is stern but with a good heart. McKayla Witt plays Cassie’s personal elf and she is so cute and fun and she steals a lot of the scenes she is in. The movie started off slow but, like many Netflix Christmas offerings, really hit its stride and felt really good. A big part of it is the chemistry between the characters. I definitely recommend it as it seems like it went under the radar because it was released during August of this year.

 

Music of the Week:
Set It Off – This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground)

Kessiah and Maya ft. Kai – Donde Esta Santa Claus

Akim and Teddy Vann – Santa Claus Is a Black Man

Run The Jewels – A Christmas F*cking Miracle

The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Santa Claus’ Family”
– I finished Charmed Season 1
– I watched more Brooklyn 99 Season 3
– I watched more Bob’s Burgers Season 7
– I watched more Carmen Sandiego Season 2
– I watched more The Crown Season 3
– I watched more The Gifted Season 1
– I watched more Runaways Season 1
– I watched more Justice League Action Season 1
– I watched more Penn and Teller’s Bullshit Season 3
– I watched more Scream Season 1

Media Update 12/20/18

December 20, 2018


Mercy Christmas

Most people who observe Christmas as a holiday want to spend it with people who at least tolerate them. I spend every Christmas with my mother and at least one of my brothers and some combination of other family members. The one year that I had to work in another state while other people were back home celebrating was painful. So, I can understand somebody wanting to be loved on Christmas and jumping at any chance to be together with anybody on Christmas. In this movie, that feeling leads to bad things for our loveable hero. While this was a simple horror movie, it actually had a lot of heart. It is about family dynamics, office politics, and Christmas. It is also about cannibalism. It is obviously cheaply made but I could not help but like the actors involved as they tried their best on a low budget. That low budget did not impede a fairly good story and an interesting concept. The movie has a momentum to it that made it hard not to love by the end of it. The ending is chaotic and fun and totally earned and strangely fitting for Christmas. Remember, Christmas is as much about the family you choose as the family you are born with or marry into. I recommend this movie.


Red Christmas

I was attracted to this movie because it stars Dee Wallace, a veteran of so many horror movies. She was in both The Hills Have Eyes and Critters, both of which I watched for the first time this year. When I found out she was in this new Christmas movie, I felt I had to check it out. Ultimately, I am glad that I did. However, I was about to shut it off at first. By ten minutes in I kind of hated the family together on Christmas who would not stop bickering. Also, it was inexplicably set in Australia even though half the cast was not Australian. I stuck with it and it got better. Once the actual horror elements started, I saw that the family stuck together when the chips were down. Also, there were so many low key good elements to the movie. For one, I loved how they depicted panic with the camera shaking and going out of focus. I also liked Dee Wallace who was the shining star of the film. I also liked the action that kept guessing what was going to happen next. I feel that it is rare when I am too surprised by horror films anymore. The movie felt kind of like The Hills Have Eyes in that a defenseless family is caught off guard and besieged by a superior killer. The cinematography very much reminded me of seventies classics like Hills or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie kept me guessing here and there and was utterly brutal but kind of fun. I definitely recommend it as well.


The Elf

I find the whole tradition of the “Elf on a Shelf” to be really, really creepy. The concept of Santa always watching you is unnerving enough but to have something in your house watching, judging, and reporting is crazy. I always thought it was a natural subject for a horror movie and finally, somebody tackled it. Of course, they had to use a different doll because the official one is trademarked. However, this movie is plagued with problems. The acting is so wooden that I wondered if I was not watching a bad dub of a foreign movie. The plot makes little sense mostly because almost nothing is explained. They drop the viewer into the middle of a weird story without really giving any lore or explanation. The characters come up with some of it but the viewer is not shown how they come to these conclusions. The camera work is very shoddy and uninteresting as well which is sad. The actors’ audio is not properly recorded so the dialogue is muddled. Although considering the acting, that might be doing them a favor. The only thing I found interesting was the brief bits of puppetry or animation done with the doll. Except that the doll’s kills are not shown and instead we see them through jumpy, confusing camera shots from the doll’s point of view. It was a bit of a letdown and it made me hope that somebody else tries this concept again. I do not recommend this movie.

Music of the Week:
Gwen Stefani – Cheer For The Elves

The Dollyrots – Because I’m Santa

Lindsey Stirling ft. Sabrina Carpenter – You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Aloe Blacc – Funky Ass Christmas

Fantasia – The Snow Is Falling

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Blood for Christmas”
– I finished Hilda Season 1
– I finished Happy! Season 1
– I watched more Lucifer Season 2
– I watched more Seven Deadly Sins Season 3
– I watched more Chilling Tales of Sabrina Season 1
– I started watching Designated Survivor Season 2
– Merry Christmas!
– RIP Joseph Van Tiem

Media Update 12/13/18

December 13, 2018


The Princess Switch

Netflix is experiencing a boom of Christmas movies this year based on reactions to last year and I am all in. This movie stars Vanessa Hudgens and … Vanessa Hudgens!? Yes, this is your classic Prince and the Pauper story but set at Christmas. Some have been critical of Hudgens but I feel like she did a great job playing twins. Each character felt distinct and she really made me believe it with her acting. Coupled with the fact that Vanessa Hudgens is a pretty charismatic young woman and this was just destined to be a pretty good movie. The love interests are played by Sam Palladio and Nick Sagar, two guys I have never seen before but I liked both of them. Palladio plays a foreign prince in yet another small fictional European nation a little stuffy but charming. Sagar plays a down to Earth American guy who always had a bit of a crush on his friend. The acting is pretty good, the script is cheesy, and the production budget is mostly non-existent. Still, there is something about the formula for these movies that is nostalgic and pleasant. Besides, there’s a shoutout to last year’s A Christmas Prince in the middle of the movie. I definitely recommend this for a good Christmas movie.


A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Speaking of the sensation that launched a new niche in Netflix, I knew I just had to watch the sequel this year when it was announced. I actually showed my mother the first movie over Thanksgiving and we were able to watch the sequel together. This made it infinitely more enjoyable as we both really got into it. These are the people who will probably own this sub-genre forever. Like the first one, this movie has just the right mix of Christmas and politics to satisfy me. Set one year after the first movie, the wedding is fast approaching but also the tiny country of Aldovia is having financial problems. Once again, Rose McIver (of iZombie fame) is just so likable as the American journalist who got swept up in a romance with a royal. Her performance and plot made me think of how they talked about Princess Diana when she first married Princess Charles like it was a fairytale. The rest of the cast all return (except Amber’s dad) and I think they turn in an even better performance than the original. I think they all realized how popular the first movie was and were excited to do a sequel. I think part of it is the script had more complexity and felt more relatable than the first one but both were really enjoyable to me. I definitely recommend both movies.


The Christmas Chronicles

Hollywood seems to love doing movies where kids meet Santa and they get swept up on an adventure with him. It happened in Ernest Saves Christmas with probably one of the best onscreen Santas. It happens in The Santa Clause where we learn how new Santas are made. It happens again here but I felt like they put a new twist on it while making it feel familiar. The movie stars Kurt Russel who has a pretty unique take on playing Santa Claus. I have seen Saintly Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), Kind Santa (Miracle on 34th Street), Bad Santa (Bad Santa), Asshole Santa (A Christmas Story), and Sarcastic Santa (The Santa Clause). Kurt Russel actually pulls off Cool Santa. This Santa is just a cool dude who is so likable. He is the kind of Santa who tells it like it is and is just good friends with everybody he meets. The kids who accompany him are great too. Judah Lewis plays the older brother, deep in his teen years and really bucking against the system. Darby Camp plays the younger sister, a little lonely but still full of childlike wonder. The movie mostly depends on the interplay between those three characters and it makes the movie flow better. I also really liked the deep dive into their take on Santa Claus lore and trying to explain how certain things work. They do not get too caught up in it but they definitely intrigued me with their take on things. I recommend this one as well as it is exciting and surprising in places.

 

Music of the Week:
Kurt Russell – Santa Claus Is Back In Town

Katy Perry – Cozy Little Christmas

Sia – Santa’s Coming For Us

John Legend – Bring Me Love

Eric Clapton – For Love On Christmas Day

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “A Netflix Christmas”
– I watched more Happy! Season One
– I watched more Designated Survivor Season One
– I watched more Hilda Season One
– I watched more The Dragon Prince Season One
– I watched more Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season One
– I started watching The Seven Deadly Sins Season 3
– I finished She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1
– I finished Once Upon a Time Season 7 (and thus the series)
– I went all in on Christmas a little early and the joy continues next week
– Or does it? Muahaha!

Media Update 12/21/17

December 21, 2017


The Christmas Prince

The movie that caused a flurry of tweets after Netflix announced that several people were watching this movie daily. I had already wanted to check this movie out but that weird public shaming convinced me for sure. I wanted to see it anyway because it stars Rose McIver, the star of iZombie. This will apparently start a new tradition of me watching random Christmas movies starring genre television stars. (See last year’s Dear Santa viewing). Anyway, the movie follows a reporter who goes undercover to investigate the royal family of the fictional country of Aldovia. It’s basically England without all of the baggage. The movie is cheesy but also very sweet and it has a coherent and good story for the holidays. Since I have been watching Season 2 of The Crown this week, this movie definitely resonated with me. McIver is great as the young, hungry reporter who figures out there is more to the story and her story than she thought. The child actress, Honor Kneafsey, did a great job at playing a much more complex character than most of the cast. Ben Lamb, who played the titular prince, also did a good job of being an interesting person and not the usual cookie cutter prince we see in these movies. I am so glad that Netflix produced this instead of it ending up on Lifetime or Hallmark where it would have been both inane and forgotten. While it is not a perfect movie, I found myself laughing and smiling and even shouting at the screen (in a good way) all through the movie. I definitely recommend it for those looking for a holiday movie that is light on an actual holiday.


Psych: The Movie

This movie is a Christmas gift from the old gang to all the Psych fans. While the Christmas season does not really affect the plot at all, the movie soundtrack does include several Christmas songs. Really, this movie is the long-awaited closure that was not needed but I definitely welcomed. The end of the series was kind of playfully open-ended but you could kind of guess what happened next. However, when I heard about this movie I was all in. The character of Shawn Spencer was a guy who I loved from the beginning but at one point, I believe that the writers let him stagnate a bit and not grow up. This movie works to fix that a little bit. But more than that, it was absolutely a love letter to the loyal fans that have stuck with this show for so long. There were cameos from some of the greatest guest stars and the whole cast from the series returned. On top of that, one of the cameos was from WWE superstars John Cena and there was a bigger part for Charlotte Flair (Wooo!). They brought back a lot of the old running jokes but they definitely played with them, as the characters have always been pretty self-aware about those bits of comedy. This was a fun romp through the new setting of San Francisco and we got to see some growth from the beloved characters. I am happy to hear that creator Steve Franks has four other stand-alone movies planned as this movie felt kind of like a new beginning of sorts. I recommend it to fans of the original series and if you have not watched Psych go track it down.


A Christmas Together/Rocky Mountain Holiday

These are the two holiday specials that John Denver did with The Muppets at a time when I was not born/a baby and when the original cast was still alive. I am not knocking the new cast at all but it was the original cast that first captured my attention. John Denver also has a special place in my heart because of his relationship with the Baltimore Orioles when I was a little kid. I knew there was at least one John Denver album done with the muppets but I had never known there were actually two television specials. A Christmas Together is a show about John and the Muppets trying to put together a Christmas special and, like an episode of the Muppets, it has both backstage and performance pieces. The performance visuals can be a bit trippy which matches Denver’s warbling vocals. The special ends with the story of Jesus’ birth with puppetry cute enough for me not to complain.  The second special has a lot more lively music and there is more Muppets-style humor.  It also has way more Muppets puppetry (muppetry?).  I prefer the second one since I like upbeat music more but both are pleasant and nostalgic.  Of course, only the first is actually a Christmas special which I did not realize until I cued the second special. I guess it’s just a summer holiday special.  I recommend them both.

Music of the Week:
Dru Hill – This Christmas

Joyce Chu – Merry Cold Christmas

Billy Idol – Yellin’ At the Xmas Tree

Ariana Grande – Wit It This Christmas

Amon Amarth – Viking Christmas

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Fun Christmas”
– I started watching Longmire Season 3
– I started watching The Crown Season 2
– I kept watching Blue Exorcist
– I watched more Fate/Apocrypha
– I watched a lot of GTLive and Game Grumps
– Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope that you find some peace this week

Christmas Interview Questions

December 25, 2016

Since it is Christmas, I thought I would break my normal update schedule and post today. While it has been over a decade since I have attended church, I still celebrate Christmas with my family. My stepfather’s family actually gives and receives gifts tomorrow morning which extends our Christmas tradition a little more. Anyway, here are a few Christmas interview questions to celebrate this day of giving.


Do you prefer to give gifts or receive them?

When I was little, I was all about receiving things. However, as I got older and older, receiving became less and less important. I struggled to actually add things to my Christmas list because things became less important to me. Action figures just took up space so I started to float toward comic books, books, video games and movies which are all objects that give you an experience and serve a specific purpose. I still find it hard to ask for anything since I already have mostly everything I need and most of what I might want is boring and cheap. At the same time, giving gifts has become a more rewarding experience. I struggled to pick good gifts for the people I love. I was always desperate for a gift to give because it was required. Now, I have become better at reading people and drawing on my personal connections to them to pick a good gift. Nothing I give is boring or impersonal, it always carries memories of a bit of fiction we both liked or a memory we shared. Now I prefer giving gifts so I can see the reaction and the feeling that I really know that person.


What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

This is a huge running thing on the Internet and among my friends and family. The most popular answer that I have heard is Die Hard as it is loudly proclaimed by my brother. While I love Die Hard, I cannot pick it because it is not actually a Christmas movie. The same goes for my joke answer which is Batman Returns which involves Batman saving Christmas. One of my favorite movies, A Nightmare Before Christmas, has officially been labeled a Halloween movie so that does not count either. I feel the same should be said of Gremlins. I think I would actually go with White Christmas which I finally saw for the first time last year. It starts with singing Christmas songs to the troops in the middle of a really bad war zone. It ends with the main characters putting on a show to save a failing business. It stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye among others and has the old Christmas standard White Christmas (of course). It is a kind-hearted movie but it does not fall into the trap of getting too sappy, too sarcastic or too sugary sweet. It has a lot of humor but it also has a lot of touching moments and conflict which, to me, is what the holidays are all about.


What’s your favorite Christmas song?

Musically, I would have to go with the song I posted on Thursday, All I Want for Christmas is You by Vince Vance and the Valiants. Lisa Layne is one heck of a singer and I like the pleading nature of the song a lot along with some jazzy backup from the band. However, it is not a message that resonates with me. I have never had a special somebody during Christmas that I was missing and needed desperately to be with. It felt a little right that one Christmas I was working on A Christmas Carol and could not come home to my family for Christmas but that is not what I want from Christmas. I would have to go with Santa Baby simply because it embodies what I want from Christmas. I want playfulness, I want happiness, I want good music and good secular fun. Obviously, my heart goes out to the Eartha Kitt version because she was Catwoman and that ties into the whole Batman thing from earlier. She also really does well walking the line between playfulness, flirtatiousness and holiday cheer.

And how about a few gifts?

From the WWE for fans of Why I Love Pro-Wrestling:

A little Heavy Metal in honor of my new Dungeons and Dragons character:

And a look at why Home Alone may not be the best holiday film:

A Facebook Thingy Before Christmas

December 19, 2016

As I prepare for Christmas and cool down from finishing my Fall semester at CCBC, I thought I would post this Facebook thing that I beefed up.  We had snow and then freezing rain on Saturday and it was more annoying than dangerous even though there was a huge crash south of the city.  I am getting excited for Christmas as the presents I bought for people start arriving in the mail.  Posts will continue as scheduled even as I go to Shepherdstown this week.

Four names I go by:

1. Steven

My given name. It means “He who is crowned.” I love my name even though it is often used to for a random name to call lame guys in fiction. However, Eddie Izzard often uses it for a name to call characters and does not mistreat the name. I believe that spelling it with a “v” is the right way to spell it even if Stephen came about first in history.

2. Steve

I used to hate this shortened version of my name but I have learned to like it. It is so quick and casual. A lot of good friends have called me by this shortened version. However, I now have a friend/family member who goes by Steve and is in the tabletop gaming group I am in. This creates confusion but somehow we manage. I end up being Steve 2 sometimes.

3. Wolf of Words

You are reading this blog right now. It has also become my new gamer tag when I need one. If you see WolfofWords holding a gym in Pokemon Go, that is me. As I explained earlier, the wolf is a part of my family history because my family is crazy. My mom taught us to howl at the full moon because her aunt taught her to do it. I am also devoted to stories and words as a writer, an avid consumer of fiction and a student of the law.

4. KM/King

While I was in New Jersey, I created a gamer tag called Mengi around the time I created this blog. It was created for a game called StarPirates which had a great community. There was a guy in our little group playing the game who called himself LordTyrion and, to tweak his nose, I renamed myself KingMengi to outrank him. I stuck with the name through a couple games and that’s why it appears as my twitter and WordPress username.

Four places I’ve lived

1. Baltimore, Maryland

I love Baltimore. It is the city where I was born and where I have lived for 24 years (not consecutive). I love so many great places in Baltimore and I learn more and more things about it every day. If you keep reading this blog, you will find me talking about Baltimore over and over.

2. Sussex, New Jersey

Sussex is a small town in New Jersey jammed up near the borders of Pennsylvania and New York. Even though it is nearly two hours from New York City, it is still in the NYC Metropolitan area because that area is gigantic. I worked at a theater called Tri-State Actors Theater here and I lived in the back of a framing shop. The place was a little town with a two-block main street surrounded by farmland and mountains. Still, the local children were frightened of the urban dangers it might contain.

3. Matamoras, Pennsylvania

When I first moved up to work at Tri-State Actors Theater, I lived at the owner’s house just over the border in Pennsylvania. At first, I had no car and I was at the mercy of what rides were offered by the people whom I was living with. Once I had my first real car, I remember driving there really late at night. Once, I was driving over the mountain to get home and there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground and I spun out near the top. After I recovered my wits, I continued to drive. I was really stupid sometimes back then.

4. Shepherdstown, West Virginia

In the last few years, my mother moved to West Virginia along with my new stepfather. (Although, not so new anymore.) It is a great place to be as it is far from the hustle and bustle of the city and I never experienced that, even in Sussex. I worked at the house there for two years on several projects for the family business and I continue to visit for holidays.

Krampus (2015)

October 12, 2016

I talked last year about horror during the holidays when I reviewed the charmingly bad Jack Frost. At the time, something was pointed out by the proprietor of The Eye of the Beholder blog. She basically said that horror during the holidays gives us a break from the holiday cheer. She is so right. As far as I can tell, this proud tradition started in the 1970s. However, I always think of my first experience which was the release of Gremlins. This was also the movie that sparked the false rumor that suicides go up around the holidays. I also talked then about my theory about how something good can be turned against you. Taking something wholesome, and making it frightening is a sort of an extreme violation. For a lot of the people, Santa is a joyful man who delights in providing presents to the good children in the world. I really like this and that is why I am eager to spread his gospel because doing so only spreads good feelings. However, some use Santa as a fear tactic to keep their kids in line. They use his excellent surveillance system as a threat, a Sword of Damocles to make kids stay in line and even snitch on each other to simplify a parent’s job. This philosophy also led to the horrible Elf on a Shelf which never should have happened.

Of course, we are not really talking about Santa today. We are talking about his double from the Upside Down and brother (hopefully) from another mother: Krampus. Now, anybody who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of mythology and folktales. However, please be advised that I definitely believe that Krampus should not be part of the story of Santa Claus. I do think that the story is a neat bit of apocrypha, though. Krampus is part of a rich history that originated in the Austro- Bavarian region of Europe. It figures that Krampus would come from Germany, the same place as the Brothers Grimm and other tales of the Black Forest. However, there is a history of people trying to unnecessarily spice up the Santa tales with dark or regrettable characters. Just ask Black Pete. While Saint Nicholas went from house to house rewarding the good boys and girls, Krampus did the opposite. Krampus beat or kidnapped the horrible kids or so the fear tactics said. Thankfully, we just opted for making kids afraid of getting coal in their stockings.

The movie starts off like many horror movies do by presenting you with horrible people that will most likely be terrorized or killed throughout the rest of the movie. I think sometimes they do this so that audiences feel less guilty about enjoying their deaths later. However, this is set at Christmas and I know how awful family can be around the holidays. You gotta put up with it and it makes zero sense. Also, there is plenty of charm and surprising depth to the characters so you cannot paint them as outright villains right away. A lot of them are dicks. Do dicks deserve to die? No. Do we want to see them suffer a bit? Probably. Of course, this movie is about having the true holiday spirit and how you should remember the reason for the season. Hint: The reason for the season is always celebrating, having fun and being nice to each other for once. Unfortunately, we do that by shoving a lot of people into one house.

The acting is really good. The movie starts out like a slightly darker version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so you need some comedic timing. There are quite a few characters which is a little strange for a horror movie. Usually, you have seven or less so that you can mix and match pairings and keep things simple. The biggest names are Adam Scott from Parks and Rec and David Koechner from the Anchorman movies. The writing and direction are great because they really let the characters shine and the horror slowly creeps into the proceedings. They also take a long time to really explain anything but I like that. I don’t need my hand held all the time. On top of the good acting and direction, there are really good visuals. Legendary is known, at least to me, for creating movies with great special effects. (See Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Dark Knight). The stuff they created for this movie is absolutely terrifying. At some point, most of the comedy goes right out the window and we are in full terror mode.

Overall I would say this was a great horror movie. I went in expecting a lot of finger guns and silliness and, while it started that way, it definitely shook off a lot of the comedy. However, it was like they twisted a lot of should have been funny or sweet and turned into a nightmare. It was like the Upside Down version of Christmas. Everything was dangerous and vicious instead of jolly. The writing and direction were on point and I loved pretty much every point in the movie even though I was totally creeped out. They completely connected the movie back to the German roots of the folktale without forcing it. You should definitely check this out. I think it is a little underrated.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2015

Well, as the title says Merry Christmas. This time of year is difficult to get through for a lot of people.  It’s a tough time and I try to remember how lucky I am even while I’m in the lion’s den.  As Bing sang, I can fall asleep counting my blessings.  Still, it’s not all wine and roses so all I can tell you is that you have to keep fighting the good fight.  Hang in there and you will see the other side and whatever is there.

In the spirit of “fighting the good fight”, I present a video that stars my brother as a bad ass Santa.  It is best viewed on your phone as it is a 360 degree movie.  Check it out.

Rebel Without a Claus

 

Top 11 Christmas Episodes

December 20, 2015

Top 11


11. Scrubs – My Own Personal Jesus

Probably last on the list because it leans heavily on the belief in God and the low production values. It largely deals with how hospitals are one of the worst places to be during the holidays. In the emotional parts of our lives, it can sometimes bring the worst of us bubbling to the surface. A young Catholic surgeon loses his faith while on call on Christmas Eve. He feels he has been proven wrong in his assertion that God watches over all of us. In the end, his faith is restored and we’re reminded that even if you don’t believe in God, you can believe in people. The subplot has plenty of comedy about dealing with people you don’t like but coming together anyway. It’s a welcome balance to the sad but uplifting main plot.

10. Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park

Alright, this one is only this low on the list because half of it is a Jurrasic Park/Innerspace parody. That plot has little to do with Christmas besides taking place inside a homeless man in a santa suit. The title characters (and Jon Oliver) are busy dealing with the strange problem inside Ruben. While all of this is going on, the rest of the family is playing host to Steve’s parents and trying to get along during the holidays. The family in Rick and Morty are pretty disfunctional. They’re perhaps the most disfunctional family I’ve seen in fiction that still stays together. Steve, the father, decides to disconnect his family from electronics for the holiday so they can connect with one another. He’s not prepared for the consequences of his action. The episode teaches that sometimes our family can annoy us and drive us crazy, especially around the holidays. That’s ok. It’s very normal.

9. Futurama – XMas Story

While the episode is largely silly, like most Futurama episodes there’s a deeper message involved. The surface story is about how a Santa Claus robot has gone crazy in the year 3000 and will murder anybody after sundown. Naturally, this is because its naughty/nice processing unit has been damaged. However the episode more expertly deals with two characters who are feeling lonely on Christmas because they have no family. Both of them fail to see that they can always fall back on their circle of friends because friends are our extended family. They also tackle the folly of being selfish especially around the holidays. There’s also a mostly subtle message that possessions are fleeting and no thing can take the place of a kind thought.

8. Boston Legal: Loose Lips

Now, I’ve only seen the first season of Boston Legal but it’s definitely got cynical edge to it that you might think would clash with Christmas. The thing is, beneath that cynical and bitter surface, Boston Legal has heart and that especially applies to its star, James Spader. His character likes to pretend he has no heart and that he’s the villain but in the end he often does the right thing in spite of himself. Christmas is all about that sometimes. Christmas can be the one time all year where we stop ourselves and do the right thing. Not because we’re supposed to but because we realize we want to be good just like Ebenezer Scrooge did. The secondary plot has to do with a confidentiality dilemma when a doctor’s patient may be planning to kill somebody. The main plot is much more Christmas-y and has to do with a Santa who was fired because it was discovered that he cross-dresses on his off hours. The main plot starts kind of comedic but ends up being pretty touching and features one of those good mall Santas.

7. 30 Rock: Ludachristmas

30 Rock was a clever show that was always funny but every episode devolved into insanity unless it already began insane. This is one of those episodes that starts with a lot of crazy concepts and premises and just runs with it. There’s weird amnesia, crazy alcoholic christmas and paper shredders that are easily mistaken for a photo scanner. There is a clash between those who just want to have fun with those who would dictate how you should celebrate Christmas. In the end, maybe it’s not such a good idea to meddle in how other people celebrate as long as they’re responsible and safe. The main story hammers home how everybody’s family is pretty crazy so there’s not much point worrying about the grass looking greener on the other side. It’s best to just live and let live most of the time.

6. Bones: The Santa in the Slush

Bones has always been a good show. Some of my scientist friends might have problems with it but I’ve liked the show because it has compelling characters and stories with a lot of heart. Even the worst episode of Bones is head and shoulders above a lot of other stuff on television. The show has had a long run so it has a lot of holiday episodes to choose from. I had to go with The Santa in the Slush because of the interesting imagery of the episode. It starts with the discovery of a murdered mall Santa and the mission to discover who could do such a thing. Now, these days its popular to depict mall Santas as alcoholic jerks who are just faking it for cash. However, I love a good story about a true mall Santa who loves kids and is sticking it out in the trenches as a true foot soldier for the North Pole. We all want to believe in magic. Whether it’s the magic of Santa or the magic of human kindness, we all want to believe. This is a good story that shows that there are people out there who really believe in humanity and what’s right in the world.

5. Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas

Brothers have history together. I lived in a house (several in fact) with my brothers for 18 years and then spent holidays and some summers with them. Granted, we never had the history the Winchesters had but we went through a lot of stuff together. Even in moments where that’s not being directly dealt with that is the major undercurrent of the show. So how do two guys who grew up experiencing Christmas in motels on the road view the holidays? Both Sam and Dean have had a taste of normal Christmas but that’s gone for them. The episode also deals with various mytholigies that surround Christmas. Some have been forgotten and some were appropriated for use by Christianity. It’s a fun but creepy look at those myths coming to life.

4. Veronica Mars: An Echolls Family Christmas

Since this episode occurs in the first season, Veronica is very much separated from the friends and family (minus her dad) that she used to celebrate with. This isn’t necessarily a happy episode, especially for one set at Christmas. That’s fine as the holidays are not always so happy and problems don’t just magically stop during the holidays. This episode primarily focuses on the Echolls family’s dysfunctional problems. There is a more lighthearted whodunit trying to figure out who stole the poker winnings from the last poker game with Veronica taking great pleasure in shaking down the rich boys (even her ex). In the main plot we have a much more dangerous mystery that includes cheating, stalking and holiday parties. It foreshadows a lot of stuff later in the series. It’s a good dysfunctional look at the holidays because we’ve all experienced that at one point or another.

3. Leverage: The Ho Ho Ho Job

When your main cast is a bunch of ex-criminal vigilantes who no longer have any family connections, you don’t really expect to have a Christmas episode. However, from its inception, episodes of Leverage are about restoring hope to the hopeless and defending the defenseless. Most of the characters are loathe to get into the Christmas spirit but all they need is a little push from the suddenly cheery orphan thief to try and stop a holiday heist. They take the case of a mall santa who may as well be the real man in red. In the end the crew and even some of the villains embrace the season. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t delve into the somewhat dark histories of the characters but does show them getting a little light in their lives.

2. Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

It was hard to pick just one Doctor Who Christmas episode but I managed to whittle it down eventually even though I could probably do a separate list. British shows tend to run a little dark around the holidays and Doctor Who is often not an exception. This one starts with a mother taking her kids to the country for the holidays while trying to keep it secret that their dad recently died. While there is a horror/science fiction plot at work, there is a bigger discussion on the nature of the collision of happiness and tragedy. The Doctor does his best to heal this broken family and in the end I was so filled with joy that I cried.

1. Community: Comparitive Religion

The first season of Community was like a force of nature when it showed up. It was a little more cynical and bitter as the characters were still feeling out their relationship with one another. Still, by Christmas at the end of their first semester they had grown into a tight group that genuinely liked each other despite all of their flaws. However, sometimes it is the people with the best intentions who can cause the most pain. Shirley is a devout Christian and chooses to impose her will and control over her non-Christian friends using motherly guilt. The episode features a pretty even-handed look at how many different cultures in the United States celebrate Christmas because it’s fun and not because they’re Christians. In the end, everybody learns that family means togetherness and that’s way more powerful than any religion in the world. It manages to achieve this message without putting anybody’s beliefs down and isntead preaching peace and the ability to live and let live. It’s a violent but strangely joyous way to celebrate the holidays.


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