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Bridget McGovern

11 Oddball Holiday Specials that Should be Classics

First, I should admit that I’m a sucker for a lot of holiday standards, from The Grinch and Peanuts to Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. I adore both White Christmas and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but there’s also a lot of schmaltzy, badly-written nonsense floating around out there like so much stale, crusty fruitcake this time of year…and when the usual holiday fare starts wearing thin, it’s time to mix things up a bit.

The following movies and TV specials are amazing because they find new ways of celebrating the holiday spirit, with all its weird traditions and potentially awkward moments and unmeetable expectations. It’s not about irony or snark or subversion—it’s about making your own odd, goofy, wonderful kind of holiday cheer, wherever you can find it…

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Rewatching The Dark Crystal: Beyond Muppet Good and Evil

The Dark Crystal debuted in 1982, wedged somewhat oddly between The Great Muppet Caper and the premiere of Fraggle Rock in the Great Muppet Time Line. In terms of Jim Henson’s career, placing the film chronologically is easy; figuring out how it fits into his development as an artist is a bit more complicated. The project that eventually became The Dark Crystal actually began several years earlier when Henson fell madly in love with the work of fantasy illustrator Brian Froud; they became friends, and Froud began collaborating with Henson and Frank Oz. With the help of David Odell, a former staff writer for The Muppet Show, they eventually produced the first live-action film to feature no human actors, only puppets and animatronic creatures.

The film was groundbreaking in many ways, and yet it was not considered a financial success upon release, and is often described as something of a “near classic” even by its fans. I’ve always harbored slightly mixed feelings toward The Dark Crystal; even as a kid, I remember having the sense that there were so many incredible aspects of the movie that worked well…but somehow all those amazing parts never seemed to come together, in the end. And so, in the leadup to Netflix’s 10-episode prequel series (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) premiering this week, I decided to take another look at a film that both puzzled and fascinated me, but continues to stand as an epic work of fantasy quite unlike any other…

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Celebrating 50 Years of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn

I’m honestly not sure what I can say about The Last Unicorn that hasn’t been said before—folks were proclaiming the book a classic almost as soon as it was published, and certainly before I was born. Ursula K. Le Guin paid glowing tribute to Peter S. Beagle’s “particular magic,” Madeleine L’Engle described him as “one of my favorite writers,” and countless other readers, writers, and reviewers have heaped such a formidable mountain of praise at his door that it almost seems futile to approach, from down in the valley, and try to carve out some new flourish or clamber conveniently onto some hitherto unexplored perspective.

But even great monuments have their road signs, billboards, and tourist brochures, their aggressively fluorescent arrows pointing helpfully toward sites that absolutely should not be missed. So consider this post a roadside marker, a glossy pamphlet, a helpful map to a well-worn path that’s much-travelled for a reason: the world of The Last Unicorn is always worth visiting, and revisiting, even if you think you’ve seen it all before.

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Download Rocket Fuel: Some of the Best of Non-Fiction for Free!

On Friday, July 20, 2018, will turn 10 years old.

In that span of time we have published, along with over 700 pieces of award-winning original fiction, more than 30,000 articles. To commemorate this exceptional, intense, unicorn-dappled run of non-fiction, we have assembled Rocket Fuel, a free collection of some of the best feature articles from’s 10-year history as an online sci-fi/fantasy literature magazine!

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Celebrating 10 Years of WALL-E, Pixar’s Tribute to the Lasting Power of Art

WALL-E is generally referred to as a children’s film, and I’m not going to argue: it’s an excellent children’s film—a classic, absolutely. I also happen to think that it’s an even better movie for adults, for whom its lessons are more poignant, possibly more resonant, and more necessary. Pixar has a knack for producing films which consistently operate on two different levels: one which speaks to a young audience without condescension or pandering, and one which reflects adult experience, rather than just exploiting nostalgia for idealized conceptions of childhood or simply spiking the cinematic punch with snarky, Grown-Ups Only pop culture references and in-jokes.

Movies like WALL-E and Up deftly evoke complicated emotional responses in adults in a way that most children’s films don’t, speaking to adults on their own level through smart, subtle storytelling that’s often amazingly, heartbreakingly simple. Consider the opening sequence of Up, for example, which has the power to make grown men break down and sob as if they’ve just been kicked in the heart, but doesn’t seem particularly traumatic for small children at the same time; it’s not that kids don’t “get it”—they just don’t necessarily react to the sequence in the same way that adults, carrying a little more emotional baggage into the theater, tend to respond.

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The Best Bunnies (and Other Strange, Rabbit-Type Creatures) in SFF

In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have represented a kind of Trickster figure. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. The Aztecs worshipped a group of deities known as the Centzon Totochtin, a group of 400 hard-partying rabbits who were the gods of drunkenness. And in a slightly more recent mythos, bunnies were the bête noir of a certain thousand-year-old former vengeance demon.

As we head into the Easter weekend, I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to some of the more memorable bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures who have hopped, time-traveled, and occasionally slaughtered their way through science fiction and fantasy, beginning (in no particular order), with everybody’s favorite hard-drinking, invisible lagomorph….

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Beetlejuice: A Ghostly, Gothed-Out 80s Fairy Tale for the Ages

I’ve been rewatching Beetlejuice, a movie I’ve been madly in love with since I was 9 years old, and trying to figure out what makes it work as well it does. I think to understand Beetlejuice, and why it’s a high point of Tim Burton’s career, it helps to understand what it could have been: a much darker, less comedic film that comes off as the insane, creepy evil twin of the 80s classic that many of us grew up with.

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Hard Concepts, Passionate Things: The Sublime Art of Maurice Sendak

On June 10, 1928, Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, and the world of children’s literature gained one of its greatest artists (although it would take a few more years before that fact became apparent…). At the age of twelve, Sendak walked into a movie theater to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia and walked out hell-bent on becoming an illustrator, and so he did—starting out by providing the art for a science textbook, Atomics for the Millions, and quickly becoming a sought-after illustrator of children’s books throughout the 1950s.

The best, as they say, was yet to come.

[Let the wild rumpus start…]

Series: On This Day

I’m the Monster’s Mother — Alien: Resurrection

Alien: Resurrection had a lot going for it—released five years after Alien 3, which received mixed reviews and garnered a fair amount of criticism for the decision to kill off several major characters, the fourth installment was an opportunity to give the franchise a fresh start. With Sigourney Weaver uninterested in resuming her role as Ellen Ripley, Fox brought in an up-and-coming screenwriter named Joss Whedon to craft a story around a cloned version of Newt, the traumatized young colonist introduced in Aliens. By all accounts, Whedon’s initial treatment was fantastic, but of course, we’ll never know how it would’ve turned out. When we originally started planning these rewatches, I wanted to revisit Alien: Resurrection—I had a vague memory of the film being weird and messy, but maybe I hadn’t given it enough credit at the time. Even if it was a failure, given all the talented people involved, it would have to be an interesting failure, right? Sometimes an ambitious fiasco can be more interesting than a conventionally successful blockbuster—theoretically, at least.

Then again, with some movies, all you can do is roll out the crime scene tape and try to figure out what went wrong—and in this case, I’d argue that all the talent involved might be the movie’s biggest problem, since nobody seems to be on the same page: conversations and relationships seem stilted and bizarre, there seem to be big, weighty themes floating about waiting to bonk us on the head, but they never connect or come into focus.

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Every Song Mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (Plus a Few Bonus Tracks)

If you’re familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work, then you know that music tends to play an important part in his writing, both on and off the page. This is certainly the case with American Gods, a road trip novel with its own offbeat, colorful soundtrack. When Emmet Asher-Perrin and I launched our American Gods Reread five years ago, I decided to keep track of each song mentioned or alluded to in the novel, to see how the music fit in with the events of each week’s chapters. Along the way, I added in some song choices of my own, where they seemed to fit in. Now that Starz is about to premiere their TV version of the novel, I can’t wait to see how music plays into the show, and if any of these songs pop up along the way…

The songs below range from classical music to classic rock, pop songs to power ballads, show tunes to traditional folk melodies, and each song plays a part in the larger narrative—I’m still surprised by how much the musical references can inform and illuminate one’s reading of the text, once you start paying attention. I’ve covered each song in greater depth in the individual chapter by chapter Mix Tape posts, but without further ado, here’s the complete American Gods Mega-Mix for your listening enjoyment!

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Casting Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle

I couldn’t be more delighted with last week’s news that Lin-Manuel Miranda will be producing film and TV adaptations based on Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. It’s no secret that there’s a massive amount of crossover between SFF fandom and people with an abiding love of theater and Broadway musicals, and Hamilton in particular, so for many people this announcement represents an opportunity to cross our favorite streams in the best possible way: JRR Tolkien meets jazz hands; Stephen Sondheim’s blind date with Severus Snape; Sally Bowles live at the Mos Eisley cantina.

It’s also a chance to play the dream-casting game again—I’ve done this once before but I’ve never been fully satisfied with the way it turned out; LMM’s involvement presents the perfect opportunity to cast a wider net and explore the myriad, diverse possibilities offered by the amazing cast of characters Rothfuss has created.

[Wait for it…]

Traumatic SFF Movie Moments (That I Loved and Watched Repeatedly)

(This is rerun of a post that originally ran on August 5th, 2015.)

As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching a lot of weird stuff. My parents love movies, from glorious technicolor musicals (hi, mom!) and classic comedies to Westerns and all Kubrick films (hey, dad!), and as the oldest kid I was their pop culture guinea pig as they tried their best to figure out what kind of entertainment would fly with little ones, and what would just straight-up freak us out. But of course, they soon found that mileage tends to vary in a big way—spooky movies that amused me to no end gave my younger brother crazy nightmares, while other scenes that completely disturbed me had zero effect on him, and so on. Kids are fun like that.

Of course, having a strong emotional reaction to a movie or a particular scene isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes the moments we find most upsetting end up sticking with us long after we’ve processed those emotions. I’m sure everyone has a list of the movies that deeply affected them, growing up, and we’d love to hear your stories in the comments, if you care to share! In the meantime, here are my own personal top five trauma-inducing movie moments from childhood (mostly), in no particular order…

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Should We Just Let Santa Die Already? (Asks L. Frank Baum)

Hearken unto me, little children. I grew up during the 1980s, when something called the Video Cassette Recorder was still the red hot, razor sharp, cutting-edge of technology. While it seems hard to believe nowadays, the bulky black rectangle, perched like a crude, mass-market facsimile of the Monolith from 2001 glowered ominously from the heights of our family entertainment center and was worshiped as a household god, which might be why my brother kept trying to feed it his Cheerios all the time (that did not end well). For me, the VCR was just a magical purveyor of Fraggle Rock and Cyndi Lauper videos; for my father, I now realize, it became a means of ruthlessly hunting down and capturing every single televised holiday special aired in the tri-state area between the late 70s and the mid-90s.

The amazing thing is that most of these tapes still survive to this day, having somehow escaped both the trauma of having soggy cereal dumped into the VCR and my manic Mystery Science Theater taping-sprees of yore (Hey! Joel said to keep circulating the tapes—if that meant recording a Gamera movie over some lesser sibling’s first baby steps, so be it. I have no regrets). The upshot of all this is that my siblings and I have had access to A LOT of really strange, Christmas-themed entertainment, and yet every year we return to one of our collective favorites: the 1985 Rankin/Bass adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, also known as The World’s Most Bizarre Animated Christmas Special…EVER.

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11 Odd, Campy, and Surreal Holiday Specials that Should be Classics

Several years ago around this time, I wrote a post about some of my favorite bizarro holiday specials to help ring in our very first Cthulhumas/Life Day/Krampusnacht/Solstice celebration. While a lot has changed since 2008, my abiding love of strange and unusual holiday-inspired lunacy is as strong as ever, so please enjoy this updated guide to some classic (or should-be classic) yuletide entertainment….

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Game of Thrones Casting News: The Greyjoys Ride Again!

Exciting news for fans of House Greyjoy—it seems that Game of Thrones will be returning to the Iron Islands, after all. In an interesting bit of casting news, HBO has confirmed that Danish actor Pilou Asbæk will be playing Euron Greyjoy in the upcoming sixth season. Best known for his appearances in the sci-fi action thriller Lucy, Showtime’s decadent historical fever dream The Borgias, and the hugely popular Danish political drama Borgen, Asbæk joins Max von Sydow and Ian McShane as one of the major new additions to the series’ cast.

So, what does that mean for the show? (Spoilers follow for those who have not read the Song of Ice and Fire books….)

[What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.]

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