Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

24
Dec
15

Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class Lecture 10: Charles Dickens & A Christmas Carol

With the holidays upon us, Professor Petit turns his attention to one of the most cherished, beloved tales of the season. That’s right. It’s the 1,932nd version of “A Christmas Carol” you’ve seen so far this year.

And don’t forget, the book is available from Amazon.com!

28
Feb
14

Blake has written books Day 5: Everything Else

Throughout the week, guys, I’ve given you glimpses into the full-length novels I’ve got available. But that isn’t the extent of my work. There are several shorts and collections available as well, and darn it, don’t they deserve their day in the sun?

Tales of Siegel City:

The Restless Dead of Siegel City

The Restless Dead of Siegel City

In this novella, it’s Halloween night and the city of faux superheroes finds itself overrun with the REAL undead — mummies, zombies, vampires, and all manner of creatures of the night have come to wreak havoc. Copycat, Animan, and their crew have to dig out the root of the infestation, and Josh has to confront the ghost of his greatest failure.

This is the first direct follow-up to Other People’s Heroes.

Lucky Penny: A Christmas Story in the World of Siegel CityLucky Penny

Gill Lutz is a Las Vegas runner — a man employed by a casino to make sure that everything runs smoothly with no interference by people with “special” talents, which in a world full of metahumans is no small task. When the Vegas-based superhero called Lucky Penny uses her powers make Gill’s casino pay out jackpot after jackpot, he’s got to stop her before the casino goes bankrupt or, even worse, he’s out of a job.

This new story is set in the world of the novel Other People’s Heroes and the short story “The Restless Dead of Siegel City,” but can be read independently of those works. This eBook edition also contains a bonus short story, “Stowaway.” It’s Christmas Eve, 1827, and Louis Baudreau is determined to find something in the skies over the Gulf of Mexico he never thought he would see again. Instead, he finds a visitor on his boat that may take him places he never imagined.

GhostofSimonTower2The Ghost of Simon Tower

Every Christmas Eve the heroes of Siegel City come together to raise a glass to their fallen friends. On Josh Corwood’s first Christmas among them, he learns of an apparition that has haunted Simon Tower for years… a mysterious, nameless phantom, who may hold some of the Tower’s biggest secrets yet.

Set the Christmas after The Restless Dead of Siegel City, This short story continues the tale of Other People’s Heroes with a gateway into the past of Siegel City, and a glimpse into its future.

AssociatedPressure_HiAssociated Pressure

After the battle of Simon Tower, there are a lot of questions… heroes missing, villains who have changed sides, evil twins, and rampant confusion. The new LightCorps is holding a press conference to place everyone’s minds at ease. Unfortunately, one of the new superheroes can’t keep his story straight…

This very short story takes place in-between the final two scenes of Other People’s Heroes, with a humorous look at a Josh Corwood taken totally outside of his comfort zone.

Christmas Stories

A Long November and Other Tales of ChristmasA Long November

A Long November was written as my National Novel Writing Month experiment for 2005 and became my first Podcast Novel. Duncan Marks is just like you — sick and tired of Christmas coming before the Thanksgiving turkey even comes out of the oven. But this year, a Spirit of the Season takes him on a journey that tests his resolve… and upon which Christmas itself may rise or fall.

This short story, along with eight other Christmas themed stories of mine, has been collected into an eBook. Some of these shorts, including the Siegel City storyLonely Miracle,” have been included as bonus content in some of my feature length novels.

Making Santa AdventMaking Santa

Making Santa is my first effort at a true serialized novel, a lighthearted sci-fi story for the holidays. Yes, you read that right. It’s planned to be released in four installment, one each year at Christmas time. Here’s the info on part one:

Advent:

Nicholas Grace and 199 other men have been abducted by a strange alien race called the Yool — a “benevolent order” that travels the galaxy helping undeveloped worlds by providing them with the things they lack. On our world, the Yool are trying to give us our missing icons. With the help of the Yool and their advanced technology, one of the 200 abductees will be chosen to fill some of the most legendary boots in history. One of these men will become Santa Claus.

Geek Punditry

Reel to Reel - Monsters NO BLEEDReel to Reel

The Reel to Reel project is my ongoing effort to study, document, and pontificate on different genres of movies. Once or twice a year, I intend to run the “first draft” of each project, a day at a time, online. I’ll then come back later with the expanded eBook editions, including more movies and more content. Here’s what’s available so far.

Vol. 1: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen

The first project looks at 40 of the greatest, most entertaining, and most influential horror movies of all time.

The Obligatory Everything But Imaginary

For years now, I’ve offered up my geek punditry at CXPulp.com and various other sites across the internet landscape. Now I’m gathering together the best of those columns and articles in a series of short, low-price collections around different themes. Here’s what’s available so far.

RevolvingDoor_MockupVol. 1: A Revolving Door in Heaven
A look at the phenomenon of life, death, and the rapid turnaround between the two in American comic books.

SuperSanta_HiVol. 2: Is Santa Claus Super?
In this volume we look at Christmas comic books, Christmas music, how to shop for the Geek on your list, and we answer the most burning question of all… is Santa Claus a superhero?

25
Dec
13

Now Available: MAKING SANTA-ADVENT

RevolvingDoorFor lots of years now, I’ve spent every Christmas putting together an original short story to share with anybody who cared to read it. It’s a little tradition of mine that I love doing, and I’d feel pretty crummy if I ever stopped it. This year, I’ve done it again. But this year’s story is going to be different in several ways.

Making Santa: Advent is — to begin with — not a short story. It’s just a hair too long to give that title, tipping into the “novella” range. So there’s that, first of all.

Second, it’s not quite a self-contained story. Oh, it can be read in and of itself. It doesn’t end with a big cliffhanger or anything, and if these characters never appeared again, I don’t think anybody would feel particularly cheated. However, that’s not the intention. Advent is the first book in what I’m planning as a quartet. Next Christmas (God willing) should bring you the second volume, Christmas Eve. That will be followed by Twelve Days and, finally Epiphany. Now those three novellas have not been written yet, but I’ve actually got them mapped out (and not just in my head) in far greater detail than I usually do my stories, so I’m feeling pretty confidant that they’re going to happen.

The third thing that’s different is that, for now at least, the book is going to be exclusive to the Amazon Kindle device. I mentioned a few months ago that I was considering doing some Kindle-exclusive volumes to take advantage of their promotional machine, and I’ve decided this is the time to do it. For those of you who don’t have a Kindle or a device with a Kindle App, I’m genuinely sorry. If it helps, I fully intend to release the quartet as a combined print volume once all four of them are written.

Then there’s one last thing — the price. I’ve always given my Christmas stories away, initially at least, for free. And I intended to do that with this one too. But on Christmas Eve, once I finally had it up and in the Kindle Store, I went to the section of website where I could set the book as being free for a promotional period and — lo and behold — it didn’t work. I kept getting an error, “this service unavailable at this time, we are trying to fix this problem, please try again later,” blah blah blah. And like someone who didn’t have health insurance, I spent the next three hours meticulously punching in the information on the website in a desperate attempt to set the two-day “free” window I intended for Christmas Day and the day after. And finally, it came through! Finally, it worked!

At 12:10 a.m. Christmas Day had already begun, and it was too late to start a promotion on that day.

If you’ll allow me a brief moment bereft of Christmas cheer, I definitely wanted to find someone at Amazon and make them use that universal health coverage at that instant.

So instead, guys, today the book is carrying its usual price. It’s still just a measly $1.99, nothing to fine folks such as yourselves. But — but if you want to wait a little bit and pick it up after Christmas, the book will be available totally for free on Dec. 26 and 27. I also intend to run another free promotion on this one next Christmas, just before Christmas Eve is released.

Oh geez, I guess I should tell you a little about the book, shouldn’t I? Well, obviously, it’s a Christmas story, and it’s a weird one even for me. Nicholas Grace and 199 other men abducted by a group of allegedly-benevolent aliens. These advanced lifeforms, having achieved perfect harmony on their own planet, now travel the universe hoping to help younger worlds evolve by supplying them with something they lack, something that’s missing. An icon, for example, a symbol of hope, a character for the world to latch on to.

Nick Grace is one of 200 candidates to become Santa Claus.

Making Santa: Advent is now available for the Amazon Kindle and on any device with a Kindle App.

Hope you enjoy it, guys. Merry Christmas!

(And thanks, as always, to the awesome Jacob Bascle for the cover art!)

05
Dec
13

A Very Nerdy Christmas

Next year, Erin and I will finally celebrate our first Christmas together. I couldn’t be more excited, and I know she’s already making certain plans in terms of traditions and decorations and the like.

However, over the years I’ve assembled a small but — I think — amusing collection of Christmas ornaments of my own. Many of them have been given to me as gifts, the rest have mostly been the result of Hallmark’s after-Christmas clearance sales. It never seemed sensible to spend a ton of money on decorations until I had someone to decorate with. So while I’m sure next year the two of us will bring together all her ornaments and all my ornaments and probably a bunch of new ornaments, today I thought I’d share with you guys my collection as it stands today, such as it is.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

First up is my Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. While not technically an ornament, it’s one of my most prized Christmas decorations and also will serve as the model for most of the upcoming pictures. Erin gave me this tree a few years ago and I love it. I actually wound up getting a second tree to place in my classroom at school, knowing that this tree was far too precious to risk in a room full of high school students.

“Oh come on, Blake,” you’re saying. “They’re in eleventh grade. Surely they can be trusted to be in proximity to a decoration with just a single ornament without worrying about them breaking it.”

Heh. It’s cute that you think that.

Doctor Who TARDIS

Doctor Who: The TARDIS

Next up is my TARDIS decoration. You may or may not know (except if you know anything about me at all, in which case you absolutely know) that I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan. This particular glass ornament was given to me by my buddy and frequent Showcase co-host, Kenny. Thanks, pal! I know that Erin will want to be certain it gets a place of honor next Christmas.

Donald Duck Wakeup Hallmark

Donald’s Wake-Up Cup

I love Disney and I love Christmas, so it’s not surprising that many of my decorations are Disney characters. Of course, as I’ve done most of my shopping in the clearance sales, my selection is particularly eclectic. I’d grab whatever looked like it was worth the money, and the deeper the discount the lower that threshold would become. For example, here’s Donald Duck, having just rolled out of bed, drinking a cup of coffee. Probably because I got it for pennies.

Mickey Mouse Ears

Mickey Mouse Ears

From the “My parents went to Disney World and all I got was this…” line. A few years ago, my parents took a trip to Disney World and brought this personalized set of mini-Mouse Ears to me. (That’s “Mini” as in “small,” not “Minnie” as in “Mickey’s girlfriend.”) They brought an identical pair of ears for Erin. Hers are currently dangling from the rear view mirror in her car.

Scrooge McDuck from "Mickey's Christmas Carol"

Scrooge McDuck from “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”

Another Hallmark Keepsake ornament, this one depicts my favorite Disney Character — Scrooge McDuck — as he appeared in the classic 1983 animated feature Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Hey, speaking of A Christmas Carol, have you guys been following my Reel to Reel movie blog? All this month, leading up to Christmas I’m reviewing and analyzing different versions of Charles Dickens’s classic novel. All of your favorites are there — Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Mr. Magoo… go on, check it out.

Disney Vinylmation 2012

Disney Vinylmation 2012

My brother and sister are big fans of Disney’s Vinylmation figures — a series of toys all set in the same Mickey Mouse-shaped mold and decorated in an infinite number of ways. I’ve got a lot of them too, but I’ve been a bit more selective in my Vinylmation purchases than them. This one came out last year — it’s a regular Vinylmation figure with an ornament loop on the head. This one depicts Donald Duck trapped in a snow globe, presumably the work of a genie or his nephews or something.

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Another Vinylmation figure-slash-ornament, this one depicts a chocolate bar in the shape of Mickey Mouse. As you can tell, whoever got this bar in his stocking eats his Mickey chocolate the same way everybody eats their Easter rabbits — he bites the ears first. This figure also smells like hot chocolate. Well… the box says it’s hot chocolate. There’s a definite cocoa flavor to the aroma, but I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb is without question, the best cartoon for kids in decades. I dare you to find anything that’s even remotely as entertaining. You need to go back to the 90s heyday of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. These kids rock.

Also, this was the last picture I took. I thought I was finished, I put my Charlie Brown tree in its place of honor (which is rather high up and out of reach of cats and three-year-old nieces), and when I realized I missed this one I just said the hell with it and took the picture on the table.

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Courtesy of Target, here’s Phineas and Ferb’s best pal Perry the Platypus in his other identity: Agent P of the OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym). I like to imagine here that he’s just stumbled into an insidious yuletide trap set by his arch-nemesis, Dr. Doofinshmirtz. Don’t worry, guys, Doof isn’t really that big a threat. And he actually doesn’t hate Christmas anyway, he has a burning indifference.

Prep and Landing Hallmark

Prep and Landing: Wayne and Lanny

A few years ago Disney introduced these guys, Wayne and Lanny, members of Santa Claus’s special Prep and Landing task force. These are the elves that scout ahead of Santa Claus to make sure the house is ready, the children are nestled all snug in their beds, and not a creature is stirring. If you have a Merry Christmas morning, it’s because Wayne and Lanny did their job right so that Santa could come behind them and do his.

Muppets Kermit Target

Kermit the Very Shiny Frog

This one is a Target find rather than Hallmark. Erin picked it up for me last Thanksgiving when we were shopping. This was either a few days before or a few days after I asked her to marry me, I don’t remember which, and it doesn’t matter. It’s special anyway. And yes, that’s a reflection of me and my phone in Kermit’s face. You try hiding your reflection when taking a picture of a shiny glass amphibian. It’s not that easy.

Peanuts-Erins Snoopy

Snoopy and Woodstock go for a drive

Snoopy and Woodstock here were a gift from Erin. She found it for me at work and included it in a stocking full of candy and little gifts last year. The girl knows me all too well, doesn’t she?

Peanuts on Ice

Peanuts on Ice

This is actually four separate ornaments put together. The “Peanuts on Ice” figures from Hallmark each have a magnet in the base, allowing you to connect them. I’m not sure how many there were in the series, but I know how many I got. Four. I got four.

You’ll notice that Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, has no magnet and therefore is not connected to the rest of the Peanuts gang. I like to imagine that Linus, sick and tired of her years of sexual harassment, disabled the magnet in her base in the hopes that she would slide away and suffer a tragic mishap in the ice. Wow, that took a dark turn.

The Flash

The Flash

Another Hallmark ornament, here we have Barry Allen, the Flash. (How do I know it’s Barry Allen and not Wally West? Because Wally’s belt always came to a point in the front, only Barry wore the straight belt for his entire career in the Pre-Crisis era. Yes, I’m THAT kind of nerd.) Barry here, if I’m not mistaken, is actually the oldest ornament in my collection. I’m pretty sure I’ve had him since high school, and I don’t even remember when I got him.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Hal Jordan. Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814. Current leader of the Green Lantern Corps. Another Hallmark keepsake ornament. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Golden Age Superman

Golden Age Superman

I’ve got a few different Superman ornaments. Try not to be surprised.

This Hallmark ornament is actually two in one. In the front we have the Golden Age Superman, the way he first appeared in 1938. In the background is the second ornament, the cover of Action Comics #1, in which he made his first appearance. Actually, now that I look at it, the figure isn’t exactly right for that comic. His “S”-symbol, at that point, was actually just a yellow shield with the letter drawn in it, not the stylized version it would later become, and his boots hadn’t yet evolved to what we see here either. Wow, now I’m furious at the inaccuracy of my ornament. Christmas is RUINED.

Modern Superman

Modern Superman

This more modern Superman is a one-piece ornament, with the Man of Steel bursting out of the cover of a comic book. And this actually is a comic book, you can open that sucker up and read it. There aren’t any credits, but I think the short re-telling of his origin story was drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, a classic DC Comics artist who contributed a lot of art for various DC merchandise over the years. I told you, I’m that kind of nerd.

Superman Luxor

Lenox China Superman

I think I’ve shown this one off before but I don’t mind doing it again. This Lenox China Superman figure has the trademarks of that elegant line of decorations — the white glass is used in his cape, and the Lenox gold lines the figure in several places. This, too, is a gift from Erin, which should be obvious because those Lenox ornaments are pretty expensive for a guy that, until now, got most of his Christmas decorations from Hallmark’s 20% off table.

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

From The Office, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute. This ornament is actually based on the Valentine’s Day episode in which his girlfriend gave him a bobblehead doll of himself. The ornament is a working bobblehead, plus, it talks when you push that little button in the front. I briefly considered shooting a short video demonstrating these features, but then I realized that would require way more of a commitment than I was ready to put into this little article.

Elise's Ornament

Elise’s Ornament

Now we’re getting into the ornaments that have an actual emotional connection for me. This one, for example, was a gift from Erin’s niece Elise last Christmas. Hey — I guess that means she’s going to be my niece too. Cool.

For Erin's teacher

For Erin’s teacher

Another Erin find. This “For My Teacher” apple came to her at work and she brought it home to me. Go ahead: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw…”

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

And finally, probably the most meaningful ornament on the list is this little Cross. Last summer, Erin and I attended an engagement encounter at a monastery in Pittsburgh. We wanted a keepsake of the weekend, and decided on this Christmas ornament. The message, I think, was just right.

26
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Postscript and the future of Reel to Reel

Well, my friends, we’ve come to the end of another Reel to Reel special, and this one has been a lot of fun. I’m a bit of a Christmas nerd, as you no doubt have figured out by now, and this was a great chance to go back and watch all of my favorite specials in one go. And the great thing is, there’s no shortage of Christmas themes I can do for future projects. Christmas movies in general, “very special episodes” of TV shows… I could easily do an entire project focusing only on the many variations of A Christmas Carol.

But that’s looking way ahead. What about now? What’s the future of Reel to Reel? Well… I’ll eventually get around to watching the rest of the comedy/horror flicks I’ve mapped out for Lunatics and Laughter and releasing that eBook. After that, though… well, I’m afraid I’ve got to tell you that this will be the last Reel to Reel project at EvertimeRealms.com.

That’s right. I’ve decided Reel to Reel deserves its own site.

ReeltoReelMovies.com is now online, friends.

Reel

You see, friends, as I continue on with the Reel to Reel projects, I find that there are people who read this stuff who aren’t necessarily interested in my assorted other works. Now while you and I know how foolish that is — after all, they’re missing out on some brilliant stuff and may not even be around for the first shots fired in The Pyrite War in 2013 — I also don’t want to alienate people who aren’t necessarily into the sort of stories I write, but just want to talk about movies. Hence the new site. I’ve spent what little free time I’ve had over the last few days copying all of the previous Reel to Reel posts on that new site for easy access for new readers.

I’ll still let you guys know when I’ve got a new Reel to Reel project in the works here at the Realms, don’t worry, but from now on those projects will have their home there. And since I can’t really do this full-time, I expect some dead time in-between projects. (Hell, I haven’t even decided what the next project is going to be yet.) So to fill in the gaps, I’ll try to come by at least once a week with some sort of movie commentary — either a review of a movie I just saw or an old movie I just watched again, some geek punditry about a new piece of movie news or information that’s broken… really whatever comes to mind. ReeltoReelMovies.com will now be my primary home when I have stuff to say about film.

So thanks for playing along, guys! I hope you’ve enjoyed the Christmas season as much as I have, and I hope you’ll stick with me at the new ReeltoReelMovies.com!

25
Dec
12

Merry Christmas!

So by now you’ve read the end of the Reel to Reel Christmas Special, and you’ve downloaded and loved The Ghost of Simon Tower, and you’ve opened your presents and roasted your chestnuts and decked your halls and mistled your toes. So what’s left to do on this Christmas?

Well, just to keep you entertained, here’s a gallery of some of the Christmas comics that have come across my laptop this year, including a whopping 30 that I reviewed over at CXPulp.com. Merry Christmas, everyone!

25
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 25: Prep and Landing (2009)

Prep and LandingDirectors: Stevie Wermers & Kevin Deters

Writers: Kevin Deters, Stevie Wermers & Chris Williams

Cast: Dave Foley, Sarah Chalke, Mason Vale Cotton, David DeLuise, Derek Richardson, William Morgan Sheppard, Nathan Greno

Plot: Before “The Big Guy” (William Morgan Sheppard) can make his rounds, it’s up to the Prep and Landing Elves to scout ahead and make sure your house is ready: children nestled in their beds, no creatures stirring, and so forth. For over 200 years Wayne (Dave Foley) has been a Prep and Landing elf, but this year he’s certain he’ll get promoted to Head of the Naughty List. He’s shattered when North Pole Christmas Eve Command Center Coordinator Magee (Sarah Chalke) tells him he’s been passed over in favor of his partner, an elf he helped to train. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s being given a new rookie, Lanny (Derek Richardson), an idealistic young elf who thinks he’s landed the “most tinsel” job in the world. Broken, on Christmas Eve Wayne starts to sleepwalk through his job, bumbling and eventually getting caught by a little boy named Timmy (Mason Vale Cotton). Lanny manages to put Timmy back to sleep, but a massive snowstorm is raging, and as Wayne has slacked off his work, Magee is left with no choice but to declare a “Figgy Pudding” situation — they’re going to have to skip Timmy’s house. Realizing the depths of his mistake, Wayne snaps Lanny into action, calling the boss back and transforming an inflatable snowglobe into a beacon to guide him in for a landing. Christmas is saved, but Wayne’s career may be over. The next day, the Big Guy calls him into his office. Wayne is ready to accept his punishment, asking only that the boss assign Lanny a good partner to replace him. But to his surprise, the Big Guy tells him he understands… everyone winds up on the naughty list once in a while, but he gave him Lanny precisely because he’s so god at his job. When Wayne leaves the office, he tells the waiting Lanny he was offered a promotion, to head of the Nice List, but he turned it down. He’s decided he’s more of a Prep and Landing guy.

Thoughts: One special is not enough to declare it a new Golden Age of Christmas Specials, but if Disney keeps turning out things like this – and starts inspiring other studios to do the same, we’ll have plenty to choose from very soon.

Disney really pulled out all the stops for this, with animation as crisp and energetic as anything they would put on the big screen, characters just as well-developed and entertaining, and even a musical score by Michael Giacchino. If they had showed this before The Princess and the Frog, not a single moviegoer would have been disappointed.

Prep and Landing is one of those cartoons that genuinely does everything right, starting with the characters and cast. Wayne and Lanny make for a fine odd couple, with Dave Foley bringing in the sort of exasperated worker attitude that worked for him on Newsradio and Derek Richardson matching it with an enthusiasm that would be obnoxious if it weren’t so sincere. Sarah Chalke’s Magee has a sort of frantic, manic energy that perfectly suits the character of the woman who’s doing the real legwork of running the north pole operation, and her interaction with her voiceless assistant, Tiny, make for a constant string of sight gags that still make me laugh after watching this a half-dozen times. I didn’t mention Santa’s reindeer Dasher and Dancer (Nathan Greno and David DeLuise) during the synopsis because they really don’t add anything to the plot. However, they bring out some fantastic comedic moments, adding to the conceit that Santa’s operation is treated like a cross between NASA and a military enterprise. The two of them put on the persona of hardcore, Top Gun-style pilots, while Magee runs things like she’s in charge of Mission Control and we’re about launch for outer space.

The characters, of course, play these things all perfectly straight. There’s no winking at the camera, no tongue-in-cheek moments where you get the impression the characters know they’re in a Christmas special. Instead, every beat of the story comes across like we’re watching a vital, life-and-death situation, even as Wayne’s depression sends him into mocking the Big Guy and his partner and Christmas in general (even shutting off a TV presentation of Mickey’s Christmas Carol – a nice touch).

It’s also nice to see the Elves elevated into stars for once. Most Christmas specials focus on Santa or one of his ancillary associates – Rudolph, Frosty, even Mrs. Claus. Until now, any special or movie that has shown the Elves in any large part has kept them in supporting roles. The only exception I can think of is the 2003 film Elf, and even that is less about the Elves themselves ad instead focuses on a goober who happens to think he’s an elf… not exactly the same thing. This is the first series I can think of that takes real Elves and shows us what they can really do, making them our heroes. It’s telling that “the Big Guy” is rarely mentioned by name, that his face never actually appears on-screen. Sure, we all know it’s Santa, but by keeping our distance from him it’s easier to look at Wayne and Lanny as our stars instead of worrying about what the boss is up to on this particular Christmas Eve.

This special has become the start of a lucrative franchise for the Disney folks. After winning a boatload of awards, they came back in 2010 with a seven-minute short (Operation Secret Santa) and, in 2011, another half-hour (Naughty Vs. Nice). Both of these have expanded the world of Prep and Landing, introducing more characters, more parts of the overall operation, and more worlds to explore with our favorite Elves. The characters even appeared in an eight-page Marvel Comic (Disney being Marvel’s parent company), in which Wayne and Lanny prep the Avengers’s headquarters for Santa’s arrival. Point is, these guys are becoming legitimate stars in their own right.

Unfortunately, last I heard a third full-length special was put on hold after Naughty Vs. Nice didn’t quite grab the ratings bonanza the first film did. But with both specials being shown all over ABC and ABC Family, and the DVD and Blu-Ray now available, there’s always hope. I love Wayne and Lanny, I love Magee and Tiny, I love the whole world of these gutsy little Elves, and I want to go back there again.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

24
Dec
12

Christmas 2012: The Ghost of Simon Tower

GhostofSimonTower2It’s time again, my friends, for my annual Christmas gift to you, a new short story. And this year, we’re going back to Siegel City and Josh Corwood. Every Christmas Eve the heroes of Siegel City come together to raise a glass to their fallen friends. On Josh Corwood’s first Christmas among them, he learns of an apparition that has haunted Simon Tower for years… a mysterious, nameless phantom, who may hold some of the Tower’s biggest secrets yet. This short story continues the tale of Other People’s Heroes with a gateway into the past of Siegel City, and a glimpse into its future.

So how do you read this story, do you ask? It’s simple, guys. If you’ve got your Amazon Kindle, it’s available in the store right now for a mere 99 cents. But just between you and me, the reason I charge even the 99 cents is because you can’t make a book free on Amazon unless it’s enrolled in their special program, which I’ve decided not to do for reasons.

The Ghost of Simon Tower in the Amazon Kindle Store ($0.99)

But let’s say you don’t have a Kindle… or you don’t have 99 cents, because your kid needed that Tickle-Me Emilio Estavez doll I hear all the kids are crazy for this year. I feel you, my friend. Now before long, the book should be in the Sony Reader store, the Kobo Store, the Nook store, the iPad store, but all of those things take a bit longer than Amazon. So for the rest of you, friends, the book is now available at Smashwords.com, and at Smashwords, for a limited time, it’s absolutely free. Yep, for the whopping price of nothing, you can download the book in any format you want, ready to load on your Nook, your Kobo, your iPad… and yes, even your Kindle. And if you don’t have any of those, there’s also an option to read it in PDF format or HTML, right there in your web browser. So if you’re a fan of Siegel City and Josh Corwood, there is literally no reason not to check the book out right now.

The Ghost of Simon Tower in the Smashwords bookstore (FREE!)

As always, my friends, I ask just one favor of you. If you like my work, please post a review of it online — at Amazon, Smashwords, wherever you happen to get it. Reviews help the book get attention, attention gets more sales, more sales means Blake can keep writing stuff like this. And after some of the hints I drop in The Ghost of Simon Tower, I think you’re really going to be excited to see what I’ve got planned for 2013.

Special thanks to the great Jacob Bascle, who once again has come through with a great cover for the book! Merry Christmas, everybody!

23
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 23: A Scooby-Doo Christmas (2004)

Scooby Doo ChristmasDirector: Scott Jeralds

Writer: Jonathan Collier & James Krieg

Cast: Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Casey Kasem, Kathy Kinney, Frank Welker

Plot: A group of kids find an enormous snowman in the woods. When they try to take its nose, it comes to life, removes its head, and hurls it at them, making them run away in a panic. Nearby, the gang in the Mystery Machine is on their way to Mill’s Corner to spend Christmas at a condo owned by Daphne’s (Grey DeLisle) uncle. The bridge to the condo is out, forcing them to detour through the town of Winterhollow, where they meet the kids fleeing from the Headless Snowman, who also startles Shaggy (Casey Kasem) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker). When they walk into the local diner, a man called Old Jeb is raving about the Headless Snowman who has been terrorizing the town for years. Sheriff Perkins (Kathy Kinney) calms him down and tells the gang there’s no way to get to Mill’s Corner that night with the bridge out. The gang checks into an inn, which is full to bursting with people who have had their homes damaged by the Snowman. The innkeeper, Asa, tells them the town doesn’t celebrate Christmas anymore due to the snowman… some of the children have never even seen a Christmas tree.

Everyone is summoned outside when a loud noise signals an attack by the snowman. There they find a boy named Tommy telling the Sheriff the snowman startled him and smashed his chimney, ripping open a wall in his house. Fred (Welker again) tries to comfort the boy, promising they’ll try to save Christmas. As the gang searches, the Snowman chases them all into a tiny shed, when they send plunging down the side of the mountain and hurtling through the air before smashing to safety. Asa calls a professor from Mill’s Corner to help, and Velma (Mindy Cohn) takes note that Asa’s business seems to benefit greatly from the snowman. Professor Higginson tells them the story an old prospector called Blackjack Brody who froze to death hiding gold bricks he stole from a local man, and that his ghost is sending the snowman to destroy the older homes in Winterhollow searching for his gold. Velma brings the gang to Jeb’s house, expecting the ghost to come there next. They hide when the Snowman appears and starts tearing apart the walls. A sneeze alerts him to our heroes and chase resumes via the classic horror movie technique of the musical montage. Eventually, Scooby and Shaggy lure it away and Sheriff Perkins arrives, claiming to have followed a set of mysterious footprints. Fred, Daphne and Velma go off to set a trap for the monster, but it attacks Scooby and Shaggy instead. They lead it into a series of heat lamps the others set up, melting the snow and revealing a robotic core being piloted by Professor Higginson. Velma reveals that Higginson is a descendant of the man Blackjack Brody stole his gold from in the first place, and he’s been searching for the gold he believes is rightfully his. Remembering how heavy the bricks in the smashed chimneys were, Velma finds the truth – Brody painted the gold and it was used to build the houses in the town. Tommy gives the shivering Higginson his scarf to warm him up, and he realizes the error of his ways. As the gold is rightfully his, he donates it to the town to help them rebuild. The gang sets up a Christmas tree – Winterhollow’s first in years – and everyone gathers around to watch it glow.

Thoughts: This is pretty atypical for a Christmas special, but a perfectly normal episode of Scooby-Doo. The formula is time-honored and well-worn for these characters. Like virtually every episode of the assorted cartoons, a “monster” shows up terrorizing people for reasons that are dubious, but usually somehow financially motivated. The gang investigates three or four suspects, all but one of which are red herrings. They catch the monster, Velma unmasks him and explains how she knew it was really him. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m told some of the more recent Scooby-Doo cartoons actually try to mix it up by having real monsters, but I haven’t seen any of those… in fact, with a 2004 air date, this is the most recent visit with the original Scooby Gang I’ve ever seen. I do, however, have to give the makers of this cartoon credit for managing to tell a story with a Christmas feel without restoring to many (if any) of the typical Christmas tropes. Don’t misunderstand – I love those trope, those tropes are great. But I’ve been watching these specials for weeks now, and one can’t help but appreciate the change of pace.

The atypical part comes in at the very end, when Higginson repents instead of being carted off shouting that he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those rotten kids. It’s a Christmas special, so I can accept the villain who repents at the end – that’s what Christmas is all about, after all. But the way the people of the town are so willing to forgive is nothing short of supernatural. This is the man who has terrorized their town, destroyed their homes, and stolen Christmas itself from an entire generation of children, and they’re ready to forgive him even before he offers to use the gold to help them fix their houses. Ladies and gentlemen, either Winterhollow is the most forgiving town on this or any other planet, or the good Professor had some sort of mind-control apparatus that the gang somehow missed while they were hopped up on Scooby Snacks.

Come to think of it, it’s not like he even really needs the gold. The man has the money to either purchase or develop and build a robotic upside-down top that has the ability to animate and control snow, which it somehow endows with superhuman strength sufficient to rip apart a brick… freaking… wall. If you can do that, what do you need hundred-year-old gold for? Market it! The possibilities for a Vegas stage show alone are staggering!

It’s not the strongest mystery, but then again, Scooby-Doo ain’t exactly Sherlock Holmes. I pegged the professor as our culprit even before he arrived for one simple reason: he told Asa he was coming into town from Mill’s Crossing – the same town the gang was unable to reach because the bridge was out. When he walked through the door I nodded to myself and said, “Yep, he was there all the time.” Startlingly, though, when Velma is doing her Reveal Sequence, this nugget of information is never mentioned. Deleted scene? Serendipitous screw-up? Who knows? I’m just going to take it as further evidence that I’m smarter than most cartoon characters, with the obvious exceptions of Simon from the Chipmunks, Brainy Smurf, and Snarf.

This is a relatively recent cartoon, particularly when you look at the rich history Scooby and the gang enjoy, but they still manage to work in most of the classic bits. My favorite scene is, indeed, the musical montage, when the gang tries to outwit the monster. They even usually succeed, at least for a few seconds. Scooby and Shaggy douse him in syrup and almost have one monster sno-cone, the others start singing Christmas carols and he temporarily forgets he’s a demonic hellbeast and offers them hot chocolate… This may not be a laugh-a-minute show like some of the other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but when it’s on, it truly has some of the funniest tropes in the cartoon kingdom.

Like I said back when we discussed A Flintstones Christmas, it’s a shame I couldn’t work in more Hanna-Barbera into this countdown. There are dozens of cartoons spread out amongst their various franchises that just fill you with the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, almost all of them fall into one of the three categories that I disqualified from this project: they were run as part of the regular series, they’re too long and therefore count as a TV movie rather than a TV special, or they’re a take on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – such as one of my favorite Yuletide adventures with the Scooby gang, “A Nutcracker Scoob.” But fear not, friends. Reel to Reel is a long-term project. There’s always next year.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

22
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 22: Hooves of Fire (1999)

Hooves of FireDirector: Richard Goleszowski

Writers: Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Richard Curtis

Cast: UK VERSION-Robbie Williams, Ardal O’Hanlon, Paul Whitehouse, Jane Horrocks, Steve Coogan, Caroline Quentin, Jean Alexander, Ricky Tomlinson, Rhys Ifans, Harry Enfield; US Version-Ben Stiller, Britney Spears, James Woods, Brad Garrett, Hugh Grant, Leah Remini, James Belushi, Jerry Stiller, Rob Paulsen

Plot: The red-nosedRobbie the Reindeer (Ardal O’Hanlon/Ben Stiller) has long dreamed of winning a spot as the navigator on Santa’s sleigh team, and it looks like he’s finally being given a chance.  He reports to the sleigh team, run by a taskmaster-lke Blitzen (Steve Coogan/Hugh Grant). As Donner (Jane Horrocks/Britney Spears) shows him to his room, Blitzen begins plotting… he’s been jealous of Robbie’s father ever since the day that (unnamed) most famous reindeer of all saved Christmas, and now he can take revenge on that reindeer’s son. Donner quickly develops a crush on Robbie, but he’s oblivious, only having eyes for Vixen (Caroline Quentin/Leah Remini). Robbie meets Santa Claus (Ricky Tomlinson/James Belushi) for the first time at a party the boss is throwing for the elves, where Santa gushes over Robbie’s father and Vixen rebuffs his advances. Santa has a surprise for the party as well: he unveils the Sleigh Mark II, a new high-tech vehicle full of bells, whistles, and a computer navigation system. Robbie suddenly realizes that, to keep his spot on the sleigh team, he has to be physically fit… which will be hard, as Blitzen has been sabotaging his fitness training. Disheartened, Robbie wanders out into the snow to walk south. He winds up frozen solid and would be lost if he wasn’t found and thawed out by a group of elves. He joins them working in their toy factory, but a series of mishaps bumps him lower and lower on the totem pole until he’s stuck using his antlers for a forklift – which is where he is when Donner finds him. She tells him he’s still got a chance to make the sleigh team, if he can compete in and win the upcoming Reindeer Games. She also convinces him Blitzen has been his enemy all along, and they turn to a legendary reindeer named Old Jingle (Harry Enfield/Jerry Stiller) for help.

They find Old Jingle in his house, precariously perched at the top of Pointy Mountain, and Robbie asks him to help him train. Jingle tells him his best shot at winning is the Steeplechase event, and Robbie begins training. On the day of the games, Robbie suddenly becomes a crowd favorite by saving a baby from a fall. Vixen tries to use Robbie’s crush on her to force him out of the games, but he’s fallen for Donner instead. He leaves the stadium, however, when he learns that Jingle has been trapped under his house. He rushes off and saves the old reindeer, but misses the start of the race, and Blitzen gets an enormous lead. Amazingly, Robbie makes up ground quickly, and one of Blitzen’s cronies has him stumble into a steeple. Robbie uses his special “Nose Jump” to vault to the finish line, but the photo finish reveals Blitzen to be the winner. Donner kisses him, and in his glee Robbie rushes off and performs in every event, breaking all the records, albeit unofficially. As Robbie’s dad sends a congratulatory blimp over the stadium, Blitzen is carted off for drug testing and Santa gives Robbie the keys to the sleigh for the night. He takes Donner out for a romantic evening on the moon, where together they watch the Earth come up.

Thoughts: It’s always nice to see a tweak to a Christmas classic, and this BBC special from 1999 definitely qualifies. While they’re always careful to avoid mentioning Robbie’s famous father by name, there can be no doubt who he is or what made him so famous.

Hooves of Fire picks up on Rudolph, creating a bizarre semi-sequel by way of sports story. Robbie’s tale echoes his father’s in certain ways – picking up on the Reindeer Games, for example. His journey is not just a copy of his father’s however. Although his own nose does some weird things, it never becomes the center of the storyline the way Rudolph’s does. Robbie is made an outcast not because he’s different, but because Blitzen holds an old grudge against his family. Even when Robbie pulls out his nose’s special abilities at the end, they don’t directly contribute to his success. Remember, he loses the games. He wins in the end because he’s made everyone love him for reasons that don’t have anything to do with his nose. Also because Blitzen is a jerk who, evidently, was ‘roided up.

The plot with the Reindeer Games is a mirror of cheesy 80s sports movies… particularly, and appropriately, films like Ski School. We have the jerk jock and the Yoda-style mentor there to help win the day, the goofy protagonist who focuses on the sexpot without realizing the cute girl next door type is in love with him. The writers load up the tropes, and it’s usually for the purposes of ridicule. That’s kind of the weird thing about the comedy, actually – half of it is straight-up parody of Christmas movies, of sports movies, of romantic comedies and so forth. In the other half, though, the BBC gives the show a really sharp, unmistakably British sense of humor, full of cutway gags and non sequiturs that feel almost Monty Python-esque in their scope.

The stop motion used here feels a step beyond Will Vinton, closer to the sort of thing Aardman Animation puts out on their best days. Something about the character design is really bizarre, but in a funny way. The reindeer, for example, are actually weird 2-D designs, with eyes and a mouth that all go on the same side of the head like a character in Peanuts. The designers keep that feel when they plump the characters out for their animated forms, resulting in a set of reindeer heads that obviously don’t work in the real world, but work perfectly in the quirky version of the North Pole director Richard Goleszowski puts forth. The costuming is cute as well: Jingle walks around with briefs on over his clothing, the elves have several diverse designs that range from the traditional to the mini-biker. The steeples in the steeplechase are actual steeples, looking like they were ripped right off the houses.

And Mrs. Claus had a beard. What else is there to say?

If there’s any major complaint, it’s that for some reason they re-dubbed all of the voices with American actors for the stateside presentation of the film. (Except for Blitzen. In his case, they replaced British actor Steve Coogan with… more widely-known-in-the-US British actor Hugh Grant.) I can only assume this was some sort of effort at marketability. In the 13 years since this film was first made, of course, British pop culture has become much more popular here in the US of A – I imagine if this cartoon was released for the first time today, they probably wouldn’t have bothered with the American voices.

Robbie has returned in two other cartoons – Legends of the Lost Tribe in 2002, and 2007’s Close Encounters of the Herd Kind, the latter of which I was actually unaware of until I did the research for this article. I’ve got an older DVD, with the first two cartoons on it, but now I’ve got a quest. I’ve got to see the 2007 film, because Robbie rocks.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!




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