DVD Reviews: A Batch of Holiday Treats

DVD Reviews: A Batch of Holiday Treats

Yes, they started appearing on your retail shelves before the Halloween candy went on discount. Yet as you read this, the Thanksgiving turkey will be sandwich fodder for the next week and hash can really be tasty with the leftover ham. NOW is the time to start talking about all those holiday-related DVDs already being discounted for the economic times.

So here you go, kids. A dozen different takes on the holiday season. Enjoy.

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CINEMATIC TITANIC PRESENTS SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS. THE MARTIANS (Cinematic Titanic)

Why review this latest incarnation of the film? Isn’t it being the first film featuring Pia Zadora’s rise to worst actor of the 20th Century enough? Isn’t it that Penguin not only has the original film available as a book and DVD combo the limit?

Ah hell, no.

Now historians might note that the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 team had apparently riffed on this gigantic turkey once before. At that time they were part of the Comedy Channel and confined, somewhat, to cable standards and practices though. As true fans know, Cinematic Titanic features former MST3K founders and survivors Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Coniff. Best of all, it also features NO censorship restrictions. Considering the CT’s creative juices seem to grow in an inverse proportion to just how bad the film is, this is one true holiday feast for the fearless five. From the moment the film starts with Hodgson attempting to run for his life, only to be dragged back into the set on his heels, the troupe just feasts on the rotted routines presented on the big screen in front of them.

For those fortunate enough to never have lost a few brain cells seeing this holiday holocaust Zadora is Girmar, daughter of Kimar, King of the Martians. When her and her brother Bomar start acting funky, Kimar decides the best thing to do is kidnap Earth’s Santa Claus and force him to be a ho ho ho for his people, not our own. From there we are bombarded by some of the cheesiest special effects, horrendous jokes and plain bad acting ever committed to celluloid. This film outstinks even Ed Wood’s Plan 9 , a true accomplishment. Well, sort of. .It makes you understand if there was something a little extra in the “food pills” Zadora took.

And the rest…

SHREK THE HALLS (Dreamworks)

Interesting thought on this recently released TV special, it’s probably one of the tightest and best written additions to the entire Shrek cannon. Set after the disaster called Shrek III, Donkey just can’t understand why the big green guy doesn’t get into the spirit, and basically forces a party on his pal. As one can expect, disaster isn’t far behind.

Like the original Peanuts special, this turns into an admittedly lightweight meditation about what Christmas is all about. Yet at the same time one can’t help that being the special sticks to one theme—no sign of now King Arthur or a pack of absolutely useless princesses to muck up the story—one remembers why the franchise is such a hit to begin with. Simply, the original characters are still the most developed and sympathetic, especially Shrek himself.

The disk is also jam packed with EC ranging from singalongs to various games for the kids. Don’t be surprised if this short ends up a part of the holiday cannon in the near future.

A COLBERT CHRISTMAS: The Greatest Gift of All (Comedy Central)

It should come as no surprise that Stephen Colbert would also have one or two things to say about Christmas. In this Mr. Rodgers-like parody, there are times when you wish he was standing right under the mistletoe, like having Toby Keith sing Santa Conquers the Martians theme song or have Elvis Costello being attacked by a bear.

Yes, there are times when Colbert gets a tad too snarky for his own good. On the other hand, he more than compensates it with the extra content. As long as he keeps producing things like the book-burning yule log or his own video version of an Advent calendar, one can see this become a long-time Comedy Central holiday standard.

CLASSIC CHRISTMAS FAVORITES (WB) (4 DVDs)

In this nicely packaged collection, you get ten all-time holiday favorites, three of them on DVD for the first time.

Among the animated treasures are Chuck Jones’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Rankin-Bass’ Rudolf and Frosty’s Christmas in July and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and lots, lots more.

Still the real treats are the three new releases. They are R-B’s Pinocchio’s Christmas (1982), The Leprechaun’s Gold (1980) and The Stingiest Man in Town (1978). Also of interest is commentary from animation legends Phil Roman and June Foray about their work on Jones’ version of Seuss’ Grinch. In all, you get well over 6 ½ hours of holiday entertainment in this package. For the price charged, it truly is a value.

HOLIDAY TREATS (CBS)

Ever since TV started having sitcoms, they also started having special episodes focussing on Christmas. This little disk collects eight of them, from comedies as old as I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show and The Honeymooners to as modern as Taxi, Frazier and Wings. If seeing Alex Keaton be a Family Ties equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge or Mom Brady suffer laryngitis instead of doing Christmas Carols is your cuppa tea, then this set truly is a holiday treat.

THOMAS KINKADE’S CHRISTMAS COTTAGE (Lionsgate)

No holiday season is complete without some Hallmark Card/Norman Rockwell-inspired live action tear jerker. Truth be told, this small town tale of a young painter trying to save the family home is one of the better ones told. This is due in part to some inspired casting, among them the late, great Peter O’Toole, Chris Elliot, Richard Moll and Marcia Gay Harden as the painter’s suffering mother. While this tale will never outdo the likes of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, there are lots more out there that are far worse.

PEANUTS DELUXE HOLIDAY COLLECTION (WB) (3 DVDs + CD)

One of the true classics of holiday animation has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas. This box not only comes with the wistfully wise take on the season, but also the masterworks It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. If that isn’t enough, it completes its holiday perfection with a CD of six songs from the legendary Vince Guaraldi. Each disk also comes with at least one extra special or a ton of EC that are pretty wonderful in and of themselves.

While yes, WB has released these disks individually in the very recent past, good grief!, now no one has an excuse to not have this as part of their holiday collection.

BLACK CHRISTMAS/Blu-Ray Edition (Koch)

For those who don’t know, this Canadian Christmas carve’em-up is the original slasher film, predating John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years. Boasting a solid cast, including John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder, this one keeps you on your toes as to who’s doing the exceptionally grisly murders instead of presenting Michael Myers up front and center. The yuletide setting is just the sprinkling on the sugar cookies.

Finally out on Blu-Ray, this latest release is jam packed with exceptional special content, containing many new interviews with the surviving members of the cast and crew, and the impact the movie made in the horror world. It’s well worth sussing out for this vastly improved update. This is certainly one release you shouldn’t mind finding in your stocking.

CHRISTMAS IS HERE AGAIN (Screen Media)

If ever you need proof that a puerile plot can destroy a film, look no further. Created by Renegade Productions (Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi, Mr. Men Show, their use of traditional animation is quite fine indeed. They also put together a solid cast of marquis voice actors, including Ed Asner, Kathy Bates, Andy Griffith, Jay Leno and Brad Garrett.

Then there’s that plot. Centering around an evil magician (Asner) stealing Santa’s (Griffith) magic bag of toys, it’s so overly sugary and cliché ridden you can’t blame many of the actors for sounding like they’re mailing it in. It’s the kind of stuff that could bore anyone over five. Best to ignore this and move on to anything else.

THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Genius)

This Finnish/Danish co-production is a surprisingly fresh look at the holiday season. It tells the tale of a young buck who swears he’s the abandoned offspring of one of Santa’s reindeer. The only problem is no matter how hard he tries, he can’t fly.

This stop-action pleasantry then leads to some wonderfully fresh characters. Besides our young hero, one has to love the evil wolves who want to storm Santa’s Fell and lunch on the old saint himself. There’s also the pampered poodle who runs with them. Yes, some of the voice cast sound like they took the check and ran in this Weinstein-financed D2D, but overall, the acting is quite fine. The animation makes one wonder what the old Rankin-Bass specials would look like if they were done today.

Not a bad outing, all said and done. Search this one out.

JACK FROST: Deluxe Edition (WB)

It just doesn’t seem to be the holiday season without a ton of the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials. This outing comes from 1979 and is narrated by the late comedian Buddy Hackett. It tells the tale of the winter sprite giving up his magic for a girl who loves winter, and suffering the consequences. Nicely spiced up by Paul Frees doing his best Boris Badanov outside of Bullwinkle, this sweetly restored version has to be one of the most imaginative R-B puppettoons ever. The extra content is a bit on the short side, but will give the kneebiters something to do, also.

MY SANTA (FUNimation)

Probably the strangest takes on Christmas come from Japan. When it works, you get Satoshi Kon. Even if it doesn’t quite work, you wind up with a series like this.

Part one tells the tale of a Japanese boy named Santa who’s basically abandoned by his parents. He’s almost assaulted by a young girl who claims to be “his Santa,” aka Christmas fairy out to make sure he isn’t lonely any more. When he finally does kiss her, she turns into the most buxom blonde possible and a lot of the holiday spirit is then given through fan service. Part two takes place during the summer, when young Santa finds out “his Santa” has classmates every bit as obnoxious and/or curvy as the original.

Oddly enough, about the only thing missing is mistletoe. As said before, a very strange take.

Next Column: Back to ‘toons.

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