Burning the Yule Log
The Junky's Christmas (Koch)
They just aren't cranking out claymation Christmas specials like they used to, which makes this a welcome one. Nicer still, it's got heroin! A mixture of stop motion with a little puppetry and live-action shots of William Burroughs (who may himself have been a Muppet), this tale of a junky scrambling for a Christmas fix will please fans of the author as well as lovers of uplifting Christmas stories. (Granted, the latter may need to open their minds a bit.) It's overkill having Burroughs read the story while it's enacted onscreen (the audio and video alone could suffice), but Burroughs' trademark croak is too much fun to mute. Too bad the tale's total running time is about 20 minutes, with the rest of the disc padded with other short films from VH1. They're OK, but why not throw in a Burroughs doc instead? --Jordan Harper
The Best of Carson: Volume 1 (R2 Entertainment)
The Junky's Christmas
There are already some 483 Johnny Carson best-of collections available--but like 2Pac and Hendrix, he's the corpse that keeps on giving. What differentiates this compilation, which is full of familiar Carnac sketches and Don Rickles appearances and Bette Midler farewells, is the heralded inclusion of a single show: the allegedly lost and infamous episode referred to as "Return to Studio One." It's a 1969 broadcast during which Dean Martin pops in for a "surprise" visit and hijacks the show from Bob Hope and the host. Carson, wearing a turtleneck and neckerchief, looks genuinely befuddled by a maybe-drunken Dino's smart-ass asides, offered with such elegant and casual bite. Whether it deserves its legendary status is debatable. But better that than another Aunt Blabby sketch, though you get that too. --Robert Wilonsky
Cars (Buena Vista)
To say that Cars is the worst Pixar movie isn't an insult, just as saying that Alec Baldwin is the best Baldwin brother isn't a compliment. The movie still stands roof and spoiler over the majority of goofy computerized kid movies. There's just something off here that sets it apart from masterpieces like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles or even A Bug's Life. Is it that, in their essence, cars aren't cute? That the society of vehicles portrayed doesn't feel believable? That they stole the plot from Doc Hollywood? These questions may keep you from getting truly immersed, but they won't trouble the kids. And the trademark cleverness and top-notch voice talent (Owen Wilson, Paul Newman) make Cars utterly watchable. Special features include a couple of cute short films (some of them with the cast members) and deleted scenes, but there's sufficiently little here, thus ensuring another 12 editions in the future. --J.H.
Blood Tea and Red String (Cinema Epoch)
Christiane Cegavske spent 13 tedious years working on this full-length, stop-motion animation film, so you know she's a little crazy. Another way to figure that out is to actually watch this creepy, stunning fairy tale. The story--about a group of creatures who make a lady doll, fall in love with it, and then have to find it after it's stolen by fancy-pants white mice--would be weird any way you tell it. But done in herky-jerky stop motion, with no dialogue and lots of psychedelic asides, this thing is epically strange. Cegavske hasn't reached the level of her obvious hero Jan Svankmajer in either technical skill or surreal imagery, but you can't help but look forward to seeing her next film, sometime around 2019. --J.H.
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