December 30, 2012

200th Blog Special-My All Time Favorite TV Shows


Well, as we approach a new year I have approached a minor milestone myself. This will be my 200th blog! If you're wondering why the tallyon the channel is so far off, it's because there is a lot from TGWTG where Istarted which I never copied (and for the moment, never will). For the record,this does not include my wonderful collab with Les which I hope to do more ofand also omits a few others for personal reasons (updates, etc.). My first blogwas written on August 25, 2011 and it has been a fun ride. Sure there have beensome misses along the way like my Do You Know? series which never wentanywhere, but overall the experience has been a positive one. I am thankful forthe loyal friends who support and encourage my work.

I do sometime wonder if I am good enough here, I see so manygreat things on here and wonder I I will ever reach the point where I am not so“amateurish”. But then again I am always hard on myself, though I may be reaching the point where it is time to go to the next step, but video reviewswould be very tough for me to pull off. So for now, we stick to what Ilove…writing! I just may have to change what it is I write about.

But for now we have a milestone to celebrate, and I promise that is it for the self-loathing.  So what should I do for this auspicious occasion? I have decided to do something kind of personal and discuss my all time favorite TV shows. The shows I didn't just liked, but flat out adored!

December 22, 2012

Top 5 Christmas Traditions I Miss

As time goes on I have noticed that there are many Christmas traditions which, for one reason or another, do not happen anymore. Here is a look at five examples, things that are long gone that I really miss or wish I'd been able to experience.


#5. Christmas TV Commercials

I know what you're thinking, they still do Christmas commercials! Well, yeah they do but they don't compare to the cool ads we got in the 80's. Much like the way Super Bowl ads seem to disappoint year after year, Christmas commercials today just never have that care and quality that they had way back when. I loved the old time commercials; some are flat out classics from companies like McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Fruity Pebbles, and even Oreo had a precious one. Check out the link below and tell me they make ads like these today.


http://youtu.be/t7kxPYzigCQ



#4.School/Office Christmas Parties

Ah, the good old days when you could openly celebrate Christmas in school and work. Now schools are afraid to even have Christmas decorations up. Why can't we include other religions without removing Christmas? And office parties aren't what they used to be either because of the PC world we live in. Now everyone is so afraid of sexual harassment or other liable suits that the traditional parties have been replaced with toned down affairs.



#3.Believing in Santa

There is a reason why many say that Christmas is for children. Because it's much more magical when you're young. There is no denying that, the excitement of Christmas morning just isn't quite the same when you're an adult. So what do you do, become jaded and cynical and say that Christmas has no meaning? Yeah, one could do that but I choose to use Christmas as a way to rekindle that feeling of when I was a kid. I watch the old TV specials, listen to the music, and the spirit of Santa will always be alive to me. The best parts of Christmas for me are the memories. So while Christmas changes as you get older, the little kid inside of me will always love it and will always believe. In fact I still get excited when I got to bed Christmas Eve, guess some habits die hard.


#2.TV Variety Specials

Man do I feel like I missed something here. Oh, I got to see many of the later Bob Hope Specials but there was so much I missed. Andy Williams, Bing Cosby and Perry Como had seasonal specials virtually every year in the 70's and 80's. Perry Como would usually broadcast from exotic location, while Bing Crosby would have his entire family in the special. Then of course there were the Bob Hope USO Christmas shows which deserve their own article. They were corny and silly, and I wish I'd had the chance to see them. They all pretty much followed the same formula. The host would have a few guest stars that would sing or appear in sketches. They were just fun and for awhile were as much a part of the holiday as Santa and Rudolph. As I said I did get to see the Bob Hope specials in the 80's, thank goodness for that. You could add Dolly Parton, John Denver and the Muppets, Julie Andrews, and Pee-Wee Herman (well, I actually did see that one and loved it...when I was a kid).




#1.Saying "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

Okay, it's soapbox time. If you don't celebrate Christmas, or celebrate another holiday, then more power to you. But I celebrate Christmas, and get really tired of being made to feel like I have to hide that from the public because I may "offend" someone. It's a CHRISTMAS tree not a holiday tree, and I send Christmas cards not holiday cards. I am all for integration of other holidays and beliefs, that's fair. There should be a Menorah out with a Christmas tree! But if I want to go around and proudly proclaim "MERRY CHRISTMAS" then I am going to! This has been a PC thing for a long time now, and it gets really annoying. To be fair I can understand Happy Holidays being used sometimes, like in stores which welcome a diverse customer base. But why do TV Christmas specials, which are 100% Christmas and the word is used over and over, always end by the cast saying "Happy Holidays" rather "Merry Christmas"?  Well, just my opinion of course but If someone doesn't celebrate then that's fine, but I am not going to hide the fact that I do. I adore Christmas for many reasons I won't get into here. And if that offends you, well.....



And on that note, I think I will stop here. This will be my last Christmas blog now that the holiday is just days away. Next time I will have something special to celebrate my 200th blog, and looking forward to trying new ideas as we get into 2013. But for now, I want to wish everyone at Manic Expressions a wonderful holiday season, a fantastic New Year....and Merry Christmas to all!  

December 19, 2012

Special TV-Casper's Haunted Christmas

Last year I took a look at Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys. It sucked. This year I wanted to do at least one Christmas article on something bad, but what? It had to be something different, that hasn’t been done to death. Then I saw in the TV listings that Casper’s Haunted Christmas was on. Cool, I loved that growing up! It was a similar to Yogi’s First Christmas (which came after) but in this one we had Yogi and company run into Casper. It was harmless fun. So I put it on, and discovered that I was mistaken. That special was Casper’s First Christmas. This was a direct to video abomination which came out back in 2000. Well, how bad could it be?
(One viewing later)

Aaaarrghh! This was the dumbest thing ever!

So let’s discuss this horrible, horrible movie. It was  computer animation, and that I could live with. Sure it wasn’t Pixar level or anything but it was decent. The characters were ok, Casper is a friendly ghost who doesn’t like to scare people. The Ghostly Trio are the jerks he hangs out with who act more like normal ghosts. Ok, so what’s the plot?

Kibosh, the King of Ghosts or something, decrees that Casper must scare someone before Christmas Day or he will be banished to The Dark for all eternity. To make sure this happens; he confiscates the Ghostly Trio's Scare licenses and flings them to Kriss, Massachusetts where they meet the Jollimore Family.

Ok, let me stop here and explain a few things. The town they go to is Kris, Mass. Um, sure. Why not. As a resident of Massachusetts I am not sure if I should be amused or offended. Offended because the people in this town are morons. The trio of ghosts can’t scare anyone until Casper does, so when they meet the people in the town they convince the residents that they are people auditioning to be ghosts in A Christmas Carol, and the people believe this! The fact they are transparent never seems to bother anyone. What’s worst is Casper befriends a little girl named Holly, who believes Casper is a snowman. A transparent, flying snowman. Oh god.

The town has embraced the name Kris, Mass and become the most Christmassy town in the world. I guess they were going for a Salem, Mass parallel but where Salem is a real place Kriss, Mass is a really forced pun.

Anyway, when Casper is unable to scare anyone, the Ghostly Trio call in Casper's look-a-like cousin Spooky and his girlfriend Poil to do the job. However they suck at it, and are totally unable to scare anyone. Apparently no one in this town has ever heard of ghosts. Spooky convinces Holly that he is Casper, so she feels betrayed. You see she is tired of the Christmas centered town and the way her parents ignore her, a character arc which never really gets resolved.

Casper tried to apologize to Holly which launches into a song sequence. WHY DO MOVIES THINK IT’S SMART TO JAM A SONG IN WHEN NONE HAD APPEARED BEFORE? The song is awful, and out of step with the rest of the film. It’s so bad that at the end they do a little gag, poking fun at how cliché the tune was.

Casper finally reveals he is a ghost, Holly believes he is a snowman even after seeing him fly, but she decides to stay with friends with him anyway. The ghostly trio has a plan to steal all the presents for some reason, which Casper becomes aware of and works to stop with Spooky and Poli who have suddenly switched sides and want to help him out. Actually the trio are planning one massive scare and steal the presents to set this up. Fortunately Casper scares them away in such a stupid manner  I am not even going to describe it.

This movie is so boring I had trouble paying attention to it. So we get a final showdown with Kibosh, the supreme commander ghost or something, I don’t know.  The showdown gets the attention of no one in the town, which is odd you would think someone would notice a big green ghost/monster in the street.  So the Trio convinces Kibosh that Casper scared them and to restore their licenses. Which he does in  an end that is basically anticlimactic. Casper isn’t even involved with the final resolution. Then the family sees all the ghosts and still believes they are actors in costumes using special effects. Dumb!!!

I guess Casper saves Christmas but I don’t really care since we learn so little about the town or the people. He makes up with Holly and all is good. This mess ends with Randy Travis singing Deck The Halls, and he sound totally bored while singing it. Oh, and as the credits role we get outtakes because this film was just so hilarious! Right.

This movie is a mess. Story concepts are started and then dropped before they can be developed, the characters are uninteresting, and the Ghostly Trio gets more screen time then Casper does!

I think the big problem with this is that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a parody of Christmas movies? A parody of Halloween movies? They do an “It’s a Wonderful Life” gag followed by a “Psycho” gag.  Then it suddenly turns into a parody of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”….an hour in!.... that ultimately goes nowhere. Um, yeah you can’t do both. Pick one! Is it meant to be taken seriously; they give us Holly who they try to make a strong character with a serious problem but the conflict doesn’t get enough attention. The story of Casper’s look alike just feels like they ran out of ideas and kept making it up as they went along. Even the town they are in doesn’t really get developed, we know it’s the Chrismassiest town in the world, but aside from the decorations what makes this town different than any other town around Christmas? Nothing is clever, and nothing is funny!

Well, I learned my lesson. Read the description before choosing to watch something. I guess it could be worst; at least it wasn’t The Legend of Frosty the Snowman. Ah, the heck with it. Next time I am going to just put on Yogi’s First Christmas!

December 18, 2012

The Perfect "A Christmas Carol"?

Before I even begin let me state this is just for fun. I amnot a filmmaker or a writer, and not suggesting I know better than the peoplewho created these wonderful films.

Like everyone else. I love A Christmas Carol. And why not?It’s a great story with a strong character and powerful themes. Also likeeveryone, I have my own favorite versions. However, even with the versions Ilike there will be things I lke more in one than another. So I thought I wouldtake all the Christmas Carol versions I like, and pick the moments from eachwhich are superior. Not every version is perfect, even the George C. Scott onewhich I have adored since I was ten. So here are the movies I am including:
 
A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
Mickey's Christmas Carol
The Muppet Christmas Carol
   
Before I begin, for the record I hated the Patrick Stewart version, that annoying Albert Finney musical, and don't even get me started onthat god awful 2009 Disney version starring Jim Carey! I know Mr.Magoo's isconsidered a classic but I was never a fan of that cartoon. I was also going to include Scrooged, but decided to just stick with the more traditional versions. I am not comparing characters as much as the overall scene.

December 12, 2012

Comics I Loved as a Kid-The Man of Steel


This is a sort of “pilot” idea for something I may do nextyear. It is just an experiment; let me know how you like it.

I have spent lots of time talking about the things I lovedwhen I was a kid. Sitcoms, movies, etc. The one thing I have neglected is comicbooks. And I really loved comic books! Well, DC Comics anyway. I have alwaysput off discussing them for a couple reasons. One is that there are severalpeople who already do; at least with sitcoms I have my own little corner. Theother reason is I stopped reading comics a long time ago, and was afraid peoplewouldn’t be all that familiar with the stuff I liked.

However I have come to realize that may be misguided, and Iam also missing a chance to educate the younger folks on stories from the erawhen I loved comics (what age is the 80’s, Bronze?). I had a similar experiencewith the older 70’s books which I eventually discovered and even like. So todaywe are going to look at one of my favorite mini-series. Next summer everyone islooking forward to the new Man of Steel movie. However, The Man of Steel Iremember was a landmark mini-series back in 1986.
 


This was the John Byrne re-launch which recreated the concept of Superman, and created the character I learned to love. If you readthe pre crisis Superman stories he is a bit arrogant and was to powerful. Imean he hopped galaxies and broke the time barrier without any effort atall!  Byrne gave us a humanized anddepowered hero, and a much more likable character. He also gave us a living Maand Pa Kent, no more Superboy, a strong and independent Lois Lane, a Lex Luthorwhich was a rich billionaire not a mad scientist, a Batman who did not entirelyget along with Superman, a Clark who was not a massive wimp because he was thereal person and Superman the disguise, and a Superman who acknowledged hisKryptonian heritage but embraced his humanity first.
Now I need to come clean, I was a dumb kid and had no ideathis was going on. I do vividly remember seeing the comic and looking throughit. But it really wasn’t until I read Superman #2 that I was really on board. Iwent back to see what I missed..and wow!
Let’s talk a closer look at these six issues.

Random Thoughts-The Mistle-Tones

A week or so ago I did an article complaining about the awful ABC Family movies we are stuck with every year. The one movie I didn't cover was the new one which premiered this past Sunday. The Miste-Tones stars Tori Spelling and Tia Mowry. I did get to watch it the other day, though I admit I didn't get to watch it as closely as I would have liked, and wanted to share some quick thoughts.
SPOILERS!!!!!!
-First, the music was pretty good. I admit it, i might even buy the soundtrack
-Tori Spelling is a horrible actress. I know, shocker! But she played the bitchy Snow Belle to cartoonishjly, and there were times when she wasn't even sure if she was supposed to be nice or not
-All of these ABC Family movies have the same message. If you're succesful and have a good job then you're a loser who is not enjoying life. And yep, it's here too as the main male lead works for a company and has a good job. But darn it, all he really wants to do is sing! Screw the paycheck. Of course he is also single, gee wonder if he will hook up with the main character?
-Yep the two leads fall in love, another shocker!
-The up and comming group does not win, which is nice. The group everyone expected tp win did and our hero has to learn that singing in a competiion is not what her mother (who is dead, another shocker) loved. She jiust loved to sing and just singing is enough, not winning some silly competition. Yeah, I like that.
-Typical antagonist. She is threatened by the new group even though she doesn't need to be. Although in the end there is never a moment where she really gets her cummepance, and that is nice.
Bottom line, this was not the worst ABC Family film ever. Or this year, see Home Alone 5. But for all the good in it we still have the usual cliche's ABC Family trots out in all their movies.

December 9, 2012

Top 5 Least Favorite Christmas Episodes

The other day I talked about Christmas episodes of sitcoms. I love them! And I watch a ton of them every year. However, there have been a couple of episodes I didn't love and hardly watch. These are episodes which just rubbed me the wrong way, and I wanted to share them with you.

Now let me be clear, these are only episodes I have seen. Even I haven't seen every Christmas show out there and that's especially true for those series that I hate or just never watch. Also, this is just my opinion so if you disagree that's cool. I just do not like these episodes.




#5. Happy Days, "Christmas Time"

It's hard to put any episode of this show on a worst list because it is so beloved. But I saw this last year and wasn't happy with it. The set-up is simply that Fonzie gets a package from his long lost father and refuses to open. Ok, sounds simple enough. What's the problem? Richie goes too far in his efforts to get Fonzie to open it. He practically starts a fight with him. Nothing wrong with being a supportive friend, which Richie sure is, but here he goes a bit too far and spoils the episode a bit. Fonzie should open the gift, but when he is good and ready not because he feels pressure. Is it the worst episode ever? No, not at all and all is well in the end. But something about this show just didn't feel right.


#4. Home Improvement, "No Place Like Home"

If they weren't going to do an all-out Christmas episode, they should have just made this a regular show. This half ass holiday episode is  just pitiful compared to the fantastic Christmas shows before this. But what's worst, this episode is just plain boring and dull. There is enough Christmas in the first five minutes to make it a legit holiday show, but then it goes way downhill. I talked about it a little yesterday but I wanted to elaborate a bit here. The premise is simple, during Christmas week Tim has to move his mother out of her house. When he learns what the new owners are going to do the house he is upset that his childhood home is being changed. This brings us into a flashback of Tim and his father which is so boring, words can't even describe it. I understand we need the character development for Tim, but man is this episode terrible. It barely feels like an episode a Home Improvement, never mind a Christmas episode. The good news is that the next year they gave us a more traditional Christmas show.


#3.Charles in Charge, "Yule Laff"


Remember all those cliché’s I talked about? How about a show that hits several of them and does it badly. I don't mind cheesy 80's shows, really. Give me Saved By The Bell, Small Wonder, Silver Spoons, even Full House and I love it. But this show is just to corny. This episode is a great example. In the episode Charles has planned a Christmas getaway for the whole family to the mountains. Of course it’s one disaster after another. The cabin is a mess, a storm strands the family and keeps the father from getting there, and a bear (in a snow storm, sure, and man does it look fake). I mean, didn't Charles even attempt to check the place out before dragging the family up there? After they sing a carol for literally no reason, Santa appears during the night and gives them presents. Not sure why, usually when a show does this it has a bearing on the story. Not here. Suddenly everyone is happy and they act like it was a great Christmas. Why? Because they survived the night? The story is silly and makes no sense, the situation is forced, and the moral is all over the place. And the Santa thing is not needed, it literally serves no purpose. Just a bad episode.



#2.Becker, "Santa on Ice"

Ok if people didn’t disagree with me on the Happy Days one I know they will on this one. This is totally my opinion, if you like it more power to you, but I hated this because it was just too dark for a Christmas episode. Becker has to identify the body of a man dressed as Santa in a morgue, while Reggie ruins a tree while dragging it through the city. There’s more but that’s enough for me to not like this one. I don't mind episodes that focus on the more negative aspects of the holiday, but a morgue? Sorry, not for me. About all I have to say about this one. I saw it once and will never watch it again. To show I didn’t hate this series, the Christmas episode of Becker where he gets stuck in a mall display was hilarious and one of my favorites.


#1.Step By Step, "The Fight Before Christmas"

Like Home Improvement, I enjoy most of the Christmas episodes from this series. Here is the exception. I hated this episode when I saw it! The problem with the episode is the B story. Here is the setup. JD is working at a lot selling Christmas trees. At this lot there is a kid, and the the owner is being protective of one certain  tree. Whenever a customer approaches it he defends the tree and scares the customer away. Why is he doing this? It turns out that the kid wanted the tree, but didn't have any money to pay for it. So the owner made him a deal, work for the tree. And of course he was defending it so that it would still be there when the kid had worked enough to earn it. Ummmm, what? Who wrote this, the same guy who wrote "The Christmas Shoes?" JUST GIVE THE KID THE DAMN TREE! Isn't it supposed to be the season of giving? Why is this guy making the kid have to work for it? They make a point that the kid will not accept charity, but I'm not buying that. Even if I did, have the kid do a small task and then give him the tree. And what does the kid learn having the owner of the lot almost violently defending this one tree? And why is this one tree so special anyway, aren't there others? And what does JD learn exactly?  I just don't get it. Maybe If this were just a regular episode I might be ok with it, but as a Christmas show? Awful! And the A story sucks to, but I am not even getting into that.

So there are five Christmas episodes I just did not like. Does that mean there aren’t worst? Heck no,  I’m sure there are. And if I missed one you think should be on here, please comment and let me know. Now, I think I will pop in an old episode I love and forget these five.

December 6, 2012

Christmas Face Off-Rudolph vs Year Without a Santa

I have been doing these face off’s for a while now (usuallysitcom related) but this year wanted to try something different. Take two cherished, time honored Christmas specials and match them up.
  VS
Rudolph is the granddaddy of all Christmas specials,premiering in 1964 based off the famous song of the same name. It was a mere ten years later in 1974 when The Year WithoutA Santa Claus premiered, based on a popular children's book. One is shown on the networks every year while the other lives thanks to ABCFamily. They are both loved but which is the stronger special? The time honored classic, or the one which has developed more of a cult following.

 vs

Of course while this will follow the format of my sitcomf ace-off’s, I will have to make a few tweaks here and there. Let’s start withour lead characters.

CATEGORY 1:
LEAD CHARACTERS
 
So the only way to fairly do this was the break the cast down. Let’s talk about the main characters in Rudolph first. Rudolph is thecute little guy who happens to have one small problem. His nose glows bright red. Of course the reaction is to scorn poor Rudolph.  While Rudolph is being picked on for being different Hermey the Elf is also being ridiculed. I always wondered they picked dentist as the occupation that Hermie is interested in, but it’s cool. Finallythese two hook up and decide to hell with the people who picked on us, and runaway. They run into Yukon Cornelius who helps them out. The truth is they story needed Cornelius because Rudolph and Hermey just weren’t strong enough to keepthe story going. They just aren’t very strong characters. In Year Without aSanta Claus, we get the two elves Jingle and Jangle whom Ms. Claus sends tofind some Christmas spirit. They also need help, first from a little boy andthen from Ms. Claus herself. In the end, they don’t even resolve the problem really; it’s a bunch of coincidences that save the day. It’s when the kids ofthe world rally that Santa realizes what a doofus he’s been. In Rudolph he atleast has the guts to go on his own so he won’t endanger his friends, returnhome when he realizes he can’t run away, and then run after the snow monstereven though his chances of finding his parents are slim. And when Santa askshim to pull his sleigh, he doesn’t even hesitate.  In Year the attempts by Jingle and Jangle arelaughable, we get that dumb stuff about Vixen being confused with a lost dog, and at first when Santa hears he is getting a holiday he takes it! Even though it doesn’t start that way, I think Rudolph has the stronger charactersbecause Rudolph and Hermey change through the course of the story and learn,while in the other show the main characters don’t except maybe the child whodoes learn to believe. But he also vanishes from the special as the story progresses,serving no real purpose (in the original story Ignatius is the center of thewhole thing, but the TV special downplayed his role). We care more about Yukon's search for silver and gold than we do Jingle Jangle's quest.
WINNER-RUDOLPH!!

 


CATEGORY 2:
VILLAIN CHARACTERS
For the sake of this discussion “villain” will be any antagonist in these specials, even if they weren’t really evil. Rudolph had theAbominable Snowman, who really wasn’t very scary at all. Why was he calledBumbles exactly? Anyway, aside for him the only “villains” would be the peoplewho teased Rudolph and Hermey, Donner and the head elf for example. But reallynone of these characters are bad just a tad uptight. Year Without a Santa Clausdoesn’t really have any bad guys either. The mayor is a jerk, even if he didn’tbelieve the elf’s story there is no cause to laugh at them like that. Then ofcourse we have the classic characters everyone loves, Heat Miser and SnowMiser. They are probably the biggest reason this special is remembered, and I can’t argue with that. They are strong characters and given lots of personality. Oh, and they sing a song you may have heard once or twice. So int his category I think I have to give the nod to the Miser Bros because they are just so much fun to watch every year.
WINNER-YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS

 

CATEGORY 3:
SANTA CLAUS
   

It’s funny how both these specials turn Santa into a whinyjerk. In Rudolph Santa spends the majority of the special with an attitudeproblem. He refuses to eat, he openly hates the elf song, and when he seesRudolph’s nose he makes it sound as it would be impossible for him to join thesleigh team with a bright red nose. We start to see signs of the Santa we lovetoward the end when Santa informs Rudolph that his folks are missing, and thenof course when everyone is back he promises to help the Island of Misfit Toys.A lot of people complain that everyone hates Rudolph until they find a use forhim, but in the special at least the apologies come before that moment (one upon the song I guess). In Year Without a Santa, we find Santa is sick in bed and lost all faith in the spirit of Christmas. That’s a tad jarring that Santawould think that way, but the moment of redemption for this Santa comes when hereceives a note from a little girl saying she will have a blue Christmas. Thisis one of my favorite uses of that song in anything, and it really works here.This is the scene which sold me when I first saw this special. When Santa realizes what an idiot he was, he jumps into action and is headed onhis way. So which wins? It bothers me in Year that Santa is the source of theproblem but does nothing to change it. He sits around while others scramble to cheer him up, imagine if in Rudolph he had told Santa to go look for hisparents because he was too tired. Yeah not sure that would have worked. So I think the better Santa is in Rudolph, yeah he was a bit of a jerk but at leasthe cared about the kids more than himself.
WINNER-RUDOLPH!

 

CATEGORY  4:
NARRATOR
  vs

This one is pretty simple. When Rudolph first appeared wewere introduced to the story by Sam the Snowman, who was always my favorite.Burl Ives just did a beautiful job with this character and the fact he couldsing helps (he sings three songs!). Unfortunately Rankin/Bass loved thenarrator formula. Sometimes it works like in Santa Claus is Comin to Town(because that is entirely flashbacks and the way it is setup with the childrenis a nice touch) and sometimes it didn’t (like in Twas the Night BeforeChristmas, why did father mouse have to tell us that story?) . Here it doesn’twork as we have Ms.Claus being the narrator….for no good reason! Seriously,what does she add to the story? All she does is foreshadow events and tell uswhat we can see happening. I love when she tells how Santa blows his nose likea trumpet just as he does it. She does get a song which is so bad it is usuallycut out of syndicated airings of this every year.  Shirley Booth was a great comedian, and sheplays a decent Ms.Claus, but as a narrator she is useless. No contest here.
WINNER-RUDOLPH!!

 

CATEGORY 5:
MUSIC
This may seem obvious, but not so much. Except for the BurlIves songs, the songs in Rudolph are kind of only alright. We get that awfulsong Clarice sings “There’s Always Tomorrow” and the annoying elf song. “We’re a Couple of Misfits” is cute but that’s all, and some may wonder whateverhappened to “Fame and Fortune” which replaced it for a while. Santa sings “JingleJingle Jingle” which is ok, and of course the song in the Island of Misfit Toysscene which is nice, but not memorable. Simply put I enjoy the songs in YearWithout a Santa more, from the title song which is great to “Here ComesSanta Claus” in the end. There is also the beautiful “I Believe in Santa Claus”which is just a beautiful little song, and the silly song the mayor sings iskind of catchy. One of the best versions of “Blue Christmas” is here, sung sosimply but effectively. Oh and the Miser Bros have their own songs which youmay have heard (they’re famous for a reason!).  So all in all, the award goes to this specialbecause the songs are a bit better (yeah the one Ms.Claus sings sucks, but theycan’t all be perfect).

WINNER=YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS

 

CATEGORY 6:
PREMISE

So let’s compare the stories. Rudolph is simply a storyabout fitting in while Year Without a Santa is about believing and never givingup. While Rudolph runs from his problems, Jingle and Jangle try to help Santaby proving that there is some Christmas spirit out there. These are both goodstories which convey a very strong message. However both of these storiessuffer from the same problem. Needing filler to round out the hour. For Rudolphit was the Island of Misfit Toys, and Year Without a Santa it was the squabbling of the Miser Bros. The difference is that the Miser Bros stuff feels like a part of the story, even being set up a bit early in the special. With Rudolph,the misfit toys have no bearing on the story. They were put in to make the show longer, the trio arrives on the island and after a cute song sequence the storymoves on. In fact originally we never returned to the island after Rudolphdeparts, the ending was changed after the special aired originally and people demanded to know what the fate of the toys on the island was. So they reshot the ending with that famous last scene and the credits rolling over Santa dropping the toys off. Also what was the point of the whole sequence with Bumbles? Even the death fake out is resolced two minutes later, it just felt like padding. In Year the stuff with Vixen is a little dumb but at least it serves the story because that is how Santa starts to realize he may have been wrong. Of course It’s the ending to these shows which really work for me.I love when Santa finally realizes what a selfish jerk he’s been, and issuddenly off in his sleigh literally right down Santa Claus Lane. And of coursewhen Rudolph agrees to pull the sleigh for Santa, even after over 30 years Istill have to smile. I like how Berl Ives just ends it by kind of saying “do Ireally need to go on?” and sings the classic tune. These specials are great but I have to give the nod to Year Without a Santa. Not only was this based on anoriginal story (a book by Phylis McGinley) but they were not confined as much as Rudolph was confined by the lyrics of the popular song. That gave them alittle freedom to tell a better and stronger story.
WINNER-YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS

 

CATEGORY  7:
Which is more Enduring?

Normally the final category is jumping the shark, judginghow two shows held up in the end. However, that obviously does not apply since these specials have been the exactsame for many years. So how do we pick a winner? While it’s true that YearWithout a Santa Claus tells a better story, I think it says something thatRudolph holds a stronger place in most people’s memories. Why is that? Well oneobvious answer is that the special has been around longer.  Rudolph also has more exposure being on CBSevery single year. I didn’t watch Year Without a Santa at all as a kid but sureas heck remember watching Rudolph every year. But I think there is just morecharm to Rudolph. The charm in Year Without a Santa comes from the minorcharacters, most notably heat miser and snow miser who steal the show. It’s asafe bet this special would not be nearly has highly regarded without them init. They are needed to keep the story interesting. While it’s great to see Santasaddle up in the end, it’s not the same as Rudolph where it’s all about ourheroes. We want to see them win the day and are happy when they do. We are sadwhen Cornelius appears to be killed, happy to see Rudolph and Herbie get theirdue apologies, and of course the ending for the Island of Misfit Toys isvery sweet. So while Year Without a Santa Claus tells a great story, I think asa whole the more charming special, start to end, is and will forever be…….
 



But of course this was all for fun, I love both thesespecials and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without either of them. There havebeen sequels to these which didn’t even come close to the charm of theoriginal. Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys is god awful, the Miser Bros.Special is watchable I guess, and we aren’t even going to discuss that liveaction TV movie that came out a few years ago with Delta Burke as Ms.Claus(WTF?)

December 4, 2012

My Christmas Guilty Pleasure

Ah, Christmas! I love watching the great holiday movies thistime of year. The Santa Clause, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th St, Christmas withthe Kranks.....

Wait...what?

Christmas with the Kranks? Really?

Well, yeah. Really. Why is this on my must see list everyyear? Glad you asked! Let’s take a closer look.
 

Christmas with the Kranks is based on the John Grisham book"Skipping Christmas". I never read the book but have heard that itwas a decent read. A lot better than this so-called adaption. The premise issimple enough. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis play Luther and Nora Krank and when their daughter Blair leaves to go to the peace corps, Luther decides thatfor once they will skip Christmas and go on a cruise.  Nora is excited about this idea (at first). Sounds simple enough, so what's the conflict?

There are two. The first is the fact that The Krank's livein a police state where they have to conform. Yes I am kidding, but not by asmuch as you think. They do live in a very close knit neighborhood where everyone knows each other and decorating is a neighborhood tradition. Now I can accept that their friends and neighbors may be disappointed about the Krank's decision but the way this is written and performed makes the film go right intothe unbelievable category.

Let me explain by describing this quick scene. Nora runsinto the gentleman who she normally orders her Christmas cards from. She informs him that they will not be ordering any cards this year. Why they can't at least do cards is another argument, but the point is that after Nora informsthe guy of this he is seething with anger. He then follows her into arestaurant and tells people about this horrible turn of events.  If this were me I would never order cardsfrom this man again. What business is it of him anyway? But this is the wholesetup for the first part of the movie. Neighbors, friends, and whoever elsejust appalled that they dare to go away rather than celebrate Christmas.

It actually gets worst to. The neighbors start protesting especially when The Krank's refuse to put up a silly Christmas decoration (thatthey already own so it costs them nothing and which the neighbors offer to putup for them). We see Luther upsetting the local boy scouts, police department,and even the priest when he catches them at the mall in a tanning booth. Andwhen some carolers arrive they are stunned to see the one undecorated house,and proceed to trespass and stalk the place singing.

Now if you read thebook this was based on there is a reason for this, sort of. Two simple words that would have made this movie much more believable: DECORATING CONTEST! In thebook the Krank's not decorating jeopardizes a neighborhood contest, why thiswould ever be left of the narrative for the movie baffles me. It wouldn'texcuse the neighbor’s actions but it would at least explain it.

Of course the crazy stuff isn’t confined to the neighbors.Luther and Nora do some over the top things to. The dumbest moment has to bethe scene where the neighbors are chanting outside their door and Nora panics as if they are standing out there with grenade guns or something.  We get the contrived tanning booth scene, and a Botox gag that may have been funny if the film were a few years older. Andremember those pesky carolers? Luther decides icing the walkway is the best wayto get rid of them. Ah, the hilarity of watching people fall and kill themselveson ice.

It is preposterous.  It is totally ridiculous and unbelievable. Andthat is how I think one has to approach this film. As a farce, something whichonly marginally has any basis in what we know as reality. If you can acceptthat nothing in this film is meant to be taken seriously, then you can buy the events we get.

The second conflict comes when we arrive at Christmas Eve.They have survived the anger of the neighbors and are getting ready for thetrip. Until the phone rings. Blair calls to say that she is coming home forChristmas, and on top of that she is bringing her new fiancée with her. Not sure what why she is in such a hurry to get married, and going so far as tohave her engaged seems a tad unnecessary (also as a commenter pointed out inFilm Brain’s review of this, what daughter would announce her engagement to her parents that way?), but this leads into the second part of the movie. Theannual party is suddenly on and Blair is to never know about their plans to goon a cruise. Why? She wasn't coming home at all what difference would it make if they told her that they had canceled the party? Not sure what they areprotecting her from, but it doesn't matter because we have hijinks!

In a panic to get a party thrown together at the last minuteNora races out to buy a ham while Luther is supposed to get a tree. I am notsure if those two things would be the first problem I would address, but it'scool because we get two totally pointless scenes of slapstick fun as Nora triesto acquire the ham while Luther attempts to borrow a neighbor's tree. These scenes are just silly, especially the ham nonsense.  I will give this movie credit for one smallthing, when Nora tries inviting people to the party she finds out, shockingly,that no one is free and everyone they know has plans.WOW!  So this is when they go to the neighbor's, right? Nah we get more hijinks as Luther tries to put thefrosty up all by himself and almost gets himself killed for his efforts.

Finally the neighbors become aware of the problem and agreeto help. Remember the credit I gave this movie? I take it back now. NONE OFTHESE NEIGHBORS HAVE PLANS????? Guess not since they all drop what they are doing to chip in including a lady cooking two turkey's for no apparent reason.Now in order to make this premise work they had to make Luther into a huge jerkat this point so that we would side with the neighbors. Well, try as hard asyou want I still remember how these "wonderful" neighbors harassedthe Kranks for daring to not do what they were expected to do. Many argue thatthe fact these neighbors got their way is what spoils the movie and I can seethat. They try to make it clear they are doing this for Blair, but still in theend The Krank's buckled under and conformed when the message should be to never be afraid to do what you want.  So theneighbors chip in and manage to do work which would take at least a day in justa few hours.

I have to admit, the movie starts to lose me after thispoint. Before this I could find the humor in the absurdity of the premise, but now it starts to get silly. First, two cops are sent to pick Blair up which isjust all sorts of stupid. Second, everyone who has been in the movie appears atthe party. This includes the priest (what else would he have to do on ChristmasEve?), the girl at the tanning booth (who knew she was a neighbor), and ofcourse the carolers which makes no sense since it was clear they had no ideawho the Krank's even were! Finally, the cops have to stall so they pretend tobe on the case of a criminal. That is until the stumble onto an actualcriminal. For some reason we get this stupid plot point about a criminal whichbasically goes nowhere.
And of course we get more Luther as a jerk because wehave to hate him by now, even though before this scene we didn't really have areason to. All he wanted to do was go on a vacation...evil! Why is his ideaabout going on the cruise and letting Blair and her fiancée have the house to themselves such a bad one anyway? It’s not as if they have presents for eachother the next morning, so what’s the difference? I think another flaw in the film is presetning Blair as a very strong willed, confident adult who could probably handle the situation if her parents were just honest with her!! 

Yes I am neglecting story #45 about the man named Marty thatno one knows. That is so dumb and tacked on I am not even going to discuss it.So let's get to the sweet ending which involves two characters I have notmentioned. One of the many story threads involves two neighbors, one of whomhappens to have cancer. Luther ends up giving away the tickets to the cruise tothe neighbor so they can have a getaway. He even agrees to watch the cat who hehates.  This scene is as sappy aspossible to drive home that this is what the film was supposed to be all about.Ok, got it. Then the movie ends with Nora and Luther embracing and realizinghow stupid it was to think about skipping Christmas and doing what they wantedfor a change. It should have ended with the neighbors apologizing for being such jerks and seeing them off on their cruise, but who am I to question the writers?

One positive thing I will say for this movie, it has a heck of a soundtrack. So that's Christmas with the Kranks. I know John Grishamwrote the original book but I wonder what he was thinking. This film makes youthink that Christmas is all about decorating your house, whether you like it ornot! Yeah I can see how that could be wrong. Despite the ridiculous premise,idiotic writing, and over the top acting...I still like this movie. I wish Icould explain why. I get the criticism and the problems with it, I really do,but I still like it. I guess we all have to have one guilty pleasure, and atChristmas this is mine. Could be worst, it could have been Deck The Halls (yech!!)

So that’s mine, what’s yours?

December 3, 2012

The Best/Worst Episodes of Star Trek TOS(By Les and richb)

Greetings Manic fans.  Les here today to collaborate with my good friend, richb, for the first time, and I'm pretty excited by it.  I've enjoyed his outstanding television articles from way back when we were still at TGWTG, so as far as I'm concerned.....'BOUT TIME LOL!  And so, will you all please welcome richb to my blog.

Les:  Thank you for coming over to my blog today.

RichB: My pleasure my friend, I have been around for awhile but have still never done one of these. And thanks for the compliment i enjoy your amazing work as well. It's hard to believe I have almost done 200 Blogs. But were not here to talk about that, but something near and dear to both out hearts---STAR TREK!!