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Christmas Movies and TV on Amazon

Christmas can be pretty overwhelming. On Amazon.com, it can be a real hassle sorting out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to decent holiday movies and TV specials, and picking between the many different versions available for some of the titles.

Below, for your convenience, are links to what I think are among the best of all the Christmas movies and TV specials available—and to what I think are likely to be the best and most appropriate of the various versions and editions. I have also created an Amazon store containing most of the same entries.

Holiday Movies on DVD from Amazon:

Classics / More Traditional

White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye

White Christmas (Anniversary Edition)—the classic. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are buddies serving together in the army. After WWII ends, they go into show business together, and are a big hit.  Too big. Danny Kaye wants to set Bing up with a woman so he can have a rest.  And then they meet two Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney…

Holiday Inn (3 Disc Collector’s Set)—Bing Crosby starts an inn that only opens on holidays, each time with a special, thematic floor show. Fred Astaire is his best friend. And they’re both in love with the same girl.

Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop’s Wife—with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Hard to go wrong with a cast like this. Cary Grant is maybe typecast—as an angel—but he brings restraint as well as charm, and a level of mystery and seriousness to his performance.  One of my favorite Christmas movies.

Miracle on 34th Street (Special Edition)—Santa Claus goes on trial.  A bit over-rated—the slightest of the old Christmas classics—a bit too sappy, but Edmund Gwenn is charming.

It’s a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition) / It’s a Wonderful Life [Blu-ray]—Zuzu’s petals!  It’s Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Frank Capra. One of the mega-classics of the season. It can get old after too many viewings, but give it a few years… The sequence with the school dance is still a knock-out.

TCM Holiday Collection: Christmas in Connecticut 1945 / A Christmas Carol 1938 / The Shop Around the Corner / It Happened on 5th AvenueShop Around the Corner is the film on which You’ve Got Mail was based, but the original, directed by the great romantic comedy director Ernst Lubitsch and starring a very young James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, is infinitely superior.

Meet Me In St. Louis (Two-Disc Special Edition)—Vincente Minnelli directs Judy Garland in this integrated music, one of the finest, about the World’s Fair coming to St. Louis. The Christmas scene is a real tear-jerker and has long justified its inclusion in the canon of Christmas movies.

The Sound of Music (45th Anniversary Edition) (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)—I’m not entirely sure how this became a “Christmas classic,” but it did, and while it has its weaknesses, it is charming, and of course Julie Andrews is radiant and almost always worth watching and listening to. In one of my households, the tradition was to watch this while wrapping presents and drinking heavily.

TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: American Musicals (The Band Wagon / Meet Me in St. Louis / Singin’ in the Rain / Easter Parade)—These are all very good musicals, Singin’ in the Rain, obviously the greatest… and Easter Parade perhaps the weakest, in part I think because Fred Astaire is playing a role originally meant for Gene Kelly.  All fine and must see viewing for anyone interested in the musical.  Musicals in general seem particularly festive, particularly suited to the holiday season, and the inclusion of a “Christmas classic” in Meet Me in St. Louis gives extra weight to the appropriateness of including this here.

Modern Classics/Favorites

Bill Murray in Scrooged

Scrooged—Bill Murray is a TV exec who schedules a live musical version of “A Christmas Carol” for Christmas Eve, has his secretary send his brother a present, and fires a guy. Then this ghost shows up.  Bill Murray is… Bill Murray and the movie is surprisingly charming in parts, even touching. I actually never get tired of this movie.

The Polar Express (Widescreen Edition)—Tom Hanks gives an interesting performance, and it is technically quite impressive. It’s not without its touching moments, but overall it feels a bit cold to me. Still, for many people a very good Christmas movie.

Love Actually (DVD)—and, you know, actually I do love this movie – just a little, but still. The cast is truly stellar: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant… and of course Bilbo Baggins, porn stand-in.

A Christmas Story — I avoided this for years because of the picture of the kid on the cover/poster and the description, which made it sound a bit like a cheesy, low-budget Hallmark special. I was stupid. It’s great, and has a very Christmasy feel without being overly treacly and twee.

Bad-Santa

Bad Santa — Has to be seen. Billy Bob Thornton plays a conman who takes a job as a mall Santa to rob the place with the help of an elf. But they run into a troubled kid and… Kind of genuinely heartwarming in the end.

Die Hard — Weirdly, for many people, this has become a sort of Christmas classic… It’s set during Christmas time, and has a happy ending and all that. And I think lots of us appreciate the change of pace the automatic gunfire provides…

Gremlins — Like Die Hard, a movie set during Christmas that has become a quirky alternative classic.

Holiday TV Specials on DVD from Amazon:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas—The original, one and only. Directed by the great Chuck Jones, narrated by Boris Karloff (aka The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster – in one of the most inspired and deeply weird bit of casting of all time) and a theme song sung by Tony the Tiger (no kidding—actually the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft, who did the original Tony in the TV ads).

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Remastered Deluxe Edition)—You might get tired of Charlie Brown’s tired tree, but it is impossible to ever grow tired of the dance sequence. And of course the music is terrific. And the way the adult voices are handled is smart, funny, and apt.

olive

Olive the Other Reindeer—The “Christmas classic” is a tough market to break into, but for me at least, Olive the Other Reindeer jumped straight into the category.  I can’t wait to share it with people who haven’t seen it yet.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964 Rankin/Bass version on DVD)—Is this a classic? I’m not sure. But for people who saw it as kids, it might seem like it from pure nostalgia. Try watching it with your kids and see if it still can cut it after Shaun the SheepToy Story and Polar Express, etc. Maybe the animation is too dated.  And of course the story was always suspect, being a made-up marketing ploy.

Santa Claus Is Comin to Town—A 1970 claymation TV special that tells the story of Santa’s origins. Like Rudolph, it’s possible that its charms are primarily those of nostalgia and it won’t do as well with the sophisticated tastes of today’s 8 year old. But it is narrated by Fred Astaire and features the voices by Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn, and at times reflects the “hip” values and imagery of the late 60s/early 70s. I might have to watch this again.

The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town / Frosty the Snowman / Frosty Returns) [Blu-ray]—a grab bag including some of the best of the old TV specials—Rudolph, Santa Claus. With Frosty Returns thrown in, I suppose out of some need for completeness or a round number; despite the voice of Jimmy Durante, skippable..

The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town/Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns/Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol/Little Drummer Boy/Cricket on the Hearth)—a non-Blu-ray grab bag with the same good ones, and Mr. Magoo. I was never a fan of that guy.

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker – San Francisco Ballet (DVD)—not exactly a TV special, but a great performance of a traditional “perennial holiday tradition” that I think most people have never actually seen, and which these days, in the live version, is beyond most people’s budget.

 

Filed under: Movies, TV,

DMV

The DMV’s website brings you the same level of service you’ve come to expect from their brick and mortar branches:

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Filed under: Fail, ,

It was that kind of day…

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Filed under: Stuff

Hipster Bingo – a social media win

Sightglass Bingo is a cool little app for playing bingo by spotting items at Sightglass Coffee, a hip and popular café and roaster in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. These kind of social bingo jokes seem to pop up pretty regularly (cf Queen’s Speech Bingo, Amnesty’s Human Rights Presidential Debate Bingo), and when they’re done right they can be quite funny. The iPhone app + Twitter aspect is a very nice upgrade, though.

Sightglass Bingo iPhone app screen

Play bingo by spotting items at Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco.Development by David Kasper. Design by Caleb Elston.Built using parse. (via Sightglass Bingo.)

Some of the bingo entries are going to be practically automatic, they occur so frequently – “Payment w/Square” – whereas some are going to be pretty tricky, like “TechCrunch Article” or “VC” (presumably Venture Capitalist, given the context, and not Vice Chancellor, which was my first, inappropriate context reading).

I’m not sure if this is still active – the app hasn’t be updated since 2011 and there’s been almost no activity on the associated Twitter account (@SightglassBingo) – but I think it’s a great idea. And if it’s not active, let’s get it going again.

Well, actually, you’ll have to do that without me. I never go to Sightglass. (Long story. Short version: I’ve had to divide up the city with an asshole who can’t stand to be in the same place as me – no, not an ex – and he insisted on Sightglass as part of his domain.)  So I won’t be playing this, but it’s easy to see how this could be extended to pretty much any of the other hip, popular coffee spots without much if any modification.

In fact, it would probably work even better at Four Barrel or Ritual, both on Valencia St. in the Mission (and coffee spots that are in my domain).  A few modifications might be in order, though, to improve game play.  You never see them bagging beans at Ritual, for instance, and the roasters are gone. And obviously, you want to make sure that the “cards” are kept fresh – over time, the selection of what’s hip in clothing could change, you can add in the website of the moment, or the newest smartphone or facial hair style.  But the concept is sound, and a hoot.

Sightglass Bingo for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store.

Sightglass Bingo (SightglassBingo) on Twitter.

Filed under: Coffee, Tech, , , ,

Roger Ebert, Film Critic, Dies

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Roger Ebert, Film Critic, Dies

Roger Ebert, the popular film critic and television co-host who along with his fellow reviewer and sometime sparring partner Gene Siskel could lift or sink the fortunes of a movie with their trademark thumbs up or thumbs down, died on Thursday. He was 70.

(via NYTimes.com.)

There are other film critics, and new ones come along all the time.  But it is hard to imagine another film critic achieving the stature of Roger Ebert.

Pauline Kael is very popular and influential, but outside the circle of film buffs doesn’t have the sort of impact and recognition that Ebert has and I hope will continue to have, through his books and online access to his reviews and other writing.

And while the interwebs have opened up new spaces for film reviews and criticism, and allowed new voices to be heard, they have also made it hard for any one voice to build the kind of audience that Ebert had for so many years.

Some people, while mourning the loss of such a generally decent guy, may feel that his passing will open up more space for those other voices, many of whom disagree, directly or indirectly, with Ebert. I don’t think so. In recent years, Ebert has probably done more to bring attention to other, lesser known film reviewers than any other force in the public sphere, and has always been unfailingly gracious to respectful dissenting views.

I disagreed with many of his reviews. Perversely, I sometimes thought him both too accepting of mainstream fare and too willing to overlook the difficulties, flaws, and obscurantism of independent and avant-garde fare. But I knew he was smarter than me, and knew more about film than I ever would, and that he would be the first person to agree that issues of taste were always open.  He was very good, though, at making the case for his point of view, and distinguishing between personal preferences and some sort of shared cultural space in which films could be evaluated and criticized.

His show with Gene Siskel, “Sneak Previews,” will be – probably forever – the model for film reviewing on television, and we’re lucky to have had such a model. And with any luck, Ebert’s writing will continue to serve as model for intelligent film reviewing aimed at a general audience.  If we’re even luckier, Ebert’s internet presence will also be a influence on discourse in the still new, and still pretty raw and vicious, public sphere of the interwebs.  He was a smart, sensitive, honest public voice, and he will be missed.

Filed under: Events, Movies

Entertainment Weekly celebrating 50 Years of Doctor Who

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‘Doctor Who': This Week’s Cover | PopWatch | EW.com.

Filed under: TV, ,

zerode:

Still more or less a must read for understanding the moment we’re in, even almost a half-century since its original publication.

Originally posted on notes from the sinister quarter:

TSOTS-small

Available in:

EPUB format

MOBI format

You can convert these into other e-reader formats with the Calibre software.


Notes on this edition

We have brought together the most recent English translations of Guy Debord’s work The Society of the Spectacle, by Ken Knabb; Debord’s 1992 Foreword to the third French edition, translated by NOT BORED!; and Debord’s 1979 Preface to the fourth Italian edition, originally translated by  Michel Prigent and Lucy Forsyth, and edited and revised by NOT BORED!. We have also included Knabb’s useful ‘Index to Debord’s Society of the Spectacle’, which cross references names and works cited with theses and chapter epigrams.

The Preface to the fourth Italian edition in particular provides an excellent analysis of state sponsored terrorism and the spectacle of far-left terrorism in Italy in the 1970s. Considering the ongoing development of state-bureaucratic methods of deception…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Wes Anderson’s Worlds by Michael Chabon

One of the most interesting and exciting contemporary American novelists on one of the most interesting and exciting American filmmakers:

Wes Anderson’s Worlds by Michael Chabon

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”

read the rest on NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Filed under: Movies, ,

Cory Doctorow, Aaron Swartz and Homeland

zerode:

doctorowCory Doctorow‘s article on Tor/Forge echoes the remarks he’s been making on his soon to conclude book tour in support of Homeland.

I think it’s great that he’s focusing so much on what happened with Aaron Swartz, and also talking about the issues of depression and suicide, though I could wish that there was enough time on his tour to also talk more about the book, which is great, but also a slightly different proposition from Little Brother, the book for which it is ostensibly a sequel.

Homeland seems to take place earlier in time/history, and in an world very much more like our own than Little Brother, which was a cool, near-future dystopian reflection on trends in technology and the “war against terrorism.”

Homeland reads much more like one of Cory’s (excellent) articles or op ed pieces than did Little Brother – or any of his other fiction. It practically feels like non-fiction, and that’s both good and bad. It isn’t as satisfying a read, purely as a novel, as Little Brother, For the Win or Pirate Cinema. On the other hand, it’s extremely satisfying and effective as a political and social intervention. I want to go out and find Joe Noss and work on his campaign. I’m much more attentive to Alameda County’s attempt to buy drones than I might have been. I’ve been thinking about the issues it raises.

That’s great: Cory knows what he is talking about, and the issues that he is addressing are vital ones. But I still wanted a bit more fiction than I got. And along those lines, I certainly feel like the tween girl in the audience for Cory’s reading at The Booksmith on Haight Street last week: is there going to be a sequel to Pirate Cinema? I love Cory’s articles, op ed pieces, and his activism. I also love his novels. We were lucky over the past year to get three novels from Cory in pretty rapid succession: Pirate Cinema, Rapture of the Nerds, and Homeland. And based on his remarks about what he’s working on, we might continue to see something like that output in the future.

Originally posted on Tor/Forge Blog:

Written by Cory Doctorow

On January 11, a young hacker, hacktivist and entrepreneur named Aaron Swartz took his own life. He was 26, and I had known him since he was 14. He was facing 50 years in prison. His crime was to walk into an unsecured computer closet at MIT, near the Harvard campus where he had a fellowship, and plug a laptop into the campus network, with which he proceeded to download a large amount of paywalled academic journal articles from JSTOR, an online repository of scholarly works. It is widely speculated that he planned on making these available for free, though it may be that no one will ever know what he really intended.

Here’s what we do know: Aaron didn’t care about the freedom of information. Aaron cared about the freedom of *people* to make use of information. When I met Aaron, he was already someone…

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Filed under: Literature, Tech, ,

All the news that’s fit to spit

Some headlines from the rumpled paper I found on the chair at my table in the cafe this evening, this past Friday’s New York Times:

3 Kurds Slain in Paris, in Locked-Door Mystery

A Chainsaw-Free Mainstream

Visit by Google Chairman May Benefit North Korea

Man in Plastic Ball Dies on Russia Ski Slope

Monastery from Spain Ends up in California

Gun Enthusiast With Popular Online Videos is Shot to Death in Georgia

Sifting Sand To Rebuild Beaches After Storm

We live in a weird time on a weird planet.

Filed under: Stuff, , ,

Coffee and Books in San Francisco’s Mission District – the perfect job?

BorderlandsBooks1

Borderlands Cafe, the (somewhat) newly minted accompaniment to San Francisco’s best science fiction and fantasy bookstore, Borderlands Books, is hiring:

We have an unusual job opening at Borderlands Cafe.  It’s not glamorous, but it would be great for a local high schooler or a nearby person with a flexible schedule.  The hours would be 7 pm – 9 pm, Monday – Friday, and the job would include cleaning, busing tables, and doing the closedown work at the Cafe.  Considering how short the hours are, the person really should live quite close to the cafe.  Pay is SF minimum wage, but you get to work with a great group of people and you get a discount at the bookstore!  Email jfeldman@borderlands-books.com for more information before sending a resume.

I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I can personally attest to the greatness of the people.  This job is a lot like the first job I had—at a game store—but with the addition of COFFEE!  So, totally awesome and vastly superior—possibly the perfect first job for a high schooler who lives in the area.

You can see that I am not alone in loving the cafe by checking out their Yelp page. (I love it just slightly less since they removed the couches up front, and have never been 100% reconciled to their no -WiFi policy, but I understand and support the reasoning behind both decisions.)

 

Filed under: Coffee, San Francisco, , ,

Scenes of the Season: It’s a Wonderful Life

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Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, has become one of the most watched films of the holiday season.  I can remember years when it seemed like it was showing on a loop—at least if you had cable.  This year, astonishingly, it doesn’t seem to be showing anywhere.  I know that can’t be right. Can it?

It hardly seems necessary to say anything about it—like Casablanca it’s one of those movies that even if you’ve never seen it, you probably still know the gist of it.

[mild spoiler alert] James Stewart is George Bailey, a small town guy with big dreams. He wants to shake that small town dust off his feet and see the world. And build things. Then he meets Mary (Donna Reed). Life seems pretty good, despite the fact that he never does get out of that small town. He runs the Savings & Loan that his father started and is the most popular guy in town. It’s Christmas Eve, and his brother  is returning for the holidays after being given the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during the war. But then things go terribly wrong over the course of Christmas Eve, and he ends up wishing he’d never been born. And an angel grants his wish.

The scenes where George meets Mary and where they decide to marry are alone worth the price of admission. And if you’ve wondered who Donna Reed was and why she had her own TV show, you’ll find out.

The film was a bit of a box office dud when it came out. It’s not as tight as other Capra movies; at 125 minutes it feels a bit long, and could have used some editing. And Capra’s corn-fed populism seemed to have run its course, as the strong turn towards noir in the post-war years might suggest. In fact, Capra never really made another major film, certainly none that are remembered or watched today. His heyday was the 1930s, when he had a string of hits that are still popular: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it With You (1938)—a personal favorite—and whatis his most critically acclaimed film, and after Wonderful Life the one most frequently watched today, It Happened One Night (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

Directors working with the same actors on a number of films were fairly common in the heyday of Hollywood, but Capra’s working relationship with his staple actors was particularly rewarding. Lionel Barrymore in You Can’t Take it With You and Wonderful Life—a bit curmudgeon-y in both, but charming in the former and cruel in the latter.  Jean Arthur—astonishingly charming, “the quintessential comedic leading lady”—in You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds.  And James Stewart. James Stewart in two of his most remembered performances, in Mr. Smith and Wonderful Life, as well as in You Can’t Take it With You, in which he’s great.  Stewart has been better, and been in much better movies—including another holiday movie, The Shop Around the Corner (1940), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  But Stewart’s roles and performances in the Capra movies tend to really stay with people.

As I said, I haven’t been able to find when and where It’s a Wonderful Life is showing on TV this season, but you can watch the whole movie online on YouTube:

For more…

Filed under: Movies, , , , , ,

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zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, film buff and occasional reviewer, and former private detective. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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