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The Unbreakable Furiosa – YouTube

Filed under: Pop Culture, , ,

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,

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

Cover-EW-1252-Clara

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

Filed under: TV, ,

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, ,

Scenes of the Season: It’s a Wonderful Life

its-a-wonderful-life-530fp120810

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, , , , , ,

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Chritstmas Tree

I’m dreaming of a media Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the music glows
and the  TV shows
holiday classics all day long…

And to help you find music and movies for the holidays, I’ve knocked together a few quick guides (which are listed to the right as well):

Christmas Shows and Movies on TV—When to Watch

Christmas Movies and TV on Amazon

Christmas Music on Amazon

(The two “Amazon” lists use affiliate links; any money generated will be donated to the less fortunate.)

I know I’ve left out some of your favorites.  Let me know in comments and I will add them as I am able.

Also, keep an eye out for two more lists: one on holiday reading; and A Pirate Christmas—with links to (ahem) alternative sources for many of the titles I feature in the other lists.

Filed under: Pop Culture, , , , ,

A new Christmas tune, from CeeLo Green and the Muppets

Generally, I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas tunes: carols and Nat King Cole, that sort of thing.

But this hits my sweet spot.  What it has is sincerity.  CeeLo is not snarky.  He digs the Muppets, and he’s singing from the heart.  It may be somewhat slight musically, but it comes from the heart.

As they say, it’s the thought that counts. Mostly we don’t really “buy'” that—because we want someone to buy us that particular something tasty. But CeeLo and the Muppets remind us that all we need is love… Christmas can get pretty clichéd, but what sets the same old tunes, stories and so on apart is sincerity, heart.  And CeeLo’s got a big heart.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  If we put our thoughts and our heart into it.

(Jeez—am I sappy or what.)

Filed under: Music, , ,

Carolina Chocolate Drops – drop it like it’s sweet

This is what’s making me happy today…

Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Hit Em Up Style” – from the album Genuine Negro Jig

Ann Powers over on NPR’s All Songs Considered turned me on to this.  And turned on is right. Jazzed up. Knocked out.  Normally, in the past, this kind of roots music didn’t appeal to me, but I think Gillian Welch kind of opened my eyes/ears to being more receptive to what I had dismissed as “country” in the past.  This new alt bluegrass and roots music is amazing stuff.  New and old, deeply American, but in a way that is authenticate and interesting.  The racial dimension of Carolina Chocolate Drops is also compelling.  So much of what we take as American music comes out of this weird amalgam of Irish folk music and slave music that grew out African and Afro-Caribbean folk and native sounds.  As the LA Times described it, they “underline the connections between American bluegrass and folk with the genres’ little-known ancestry in Africa.”  And later that met up with Klezmer and Jewish music, when the other stuff hit New York and the songwriters and musicians working there, so many of whom were Jewish, starting working with it.

That’s the real American experience right there: Irish and British immigration, poor Irish getting off the boat and going straight into the maw of the American Civil War and ending up in Appalachia, slavery, Eastern European immigration in huge waves at the beginning of the 20th Century.  And it led to jazz, blues, r&b and rock. And then to alt bluegrass.

That’s what I like about America. That’s what people around the world like about America. Mitt Romney is the other America: lazy, stupid, arrogant, complacent, greedy, loud, utterly self-absorbed, contemptuous of other people and other cultures,  convinced that there is still a Manifest Destiny entitling people like himand his friends to get rich off the despoliation of the planet, and the exploitation and emiseration of others.

For more….

Filed under: Music, , , ,

Hardcore porn on Netflix, Amazon Prime – Caligula, Last Tango in Paris and 9 Songs [sfw]

Shared without comment for your… edification?

Hardcore porn on Netflix Streaming

Lets be honest. Youve never heard of most of the movies available to stream on-demand through Netflix. Many are ranked by users between the one and two star range. But, where these films lack in such things as say, plot, they often makeup for their cinematic shortcomings with explicit nudity. The below list of streaming Netflix films containing hardcore sex was compiled in part from titles cross listed on MrSkin.com under the category, “real explicit sex.” While I have seen many of these titles, for the others Ive had to take faith in the fact that Mr. Skin categorized these films alongside the hardcore sex tapes of Kim Kardashian, Kendra Wilkinson, Montana Fishburne, and Tila Tequila. (via Daily Loaf.)

Okay, I lied.  Commenting now.  The movies cited include 9 1/2 Weeks, 9 Songs, Caligula, Inside Deep Throat and Last Tango in Paris, at least some of which you have probably heard. And they are not just available through Netflix.  You can also watch many of the films on demand through Amazon Prime.

Of those, 9 Songs (2004) is the most recent and possibly the most interesting, at least at this point.

Caligula (1979) was fun when it came out because it was sort of the Claytons of dirty movies: the porn you’re having when you’re not having porn.  Lots of sex, but a gloss of culture (which was maybe just the gloss of money) that made it seem somehow less disreputable, lent to it in large part by a cast that included Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Malcolm McDowell. Plus history and costumes, which always lend a bit of gravitas. (Witness Downton Abbey.)

And both Last Tango in Paris and 9 1/2 Weeks were more or less sensations when they came out—because they were what Caligula only pretended to be: serious movies (or attempts) that nonetheless featured what was supposed to be serious sex.  But looking back at those two now that the sensation has faded, it’s clear they weren’t very good movies, and the sex wasn’t all that great either. I think they’re almost unwatchable, whereas Caligula at least has the virtue of looking pretty campy and silly, cheesy, and that has a certain pleasure to it, whereas the seriousness of the other two now just seems dreadfully pretentious.

9 Songs is also trying to be a serious movie with serious sex in it.  But —and this is a big difference—the sex is pretty good.

Though we might need to think about what constitutes “pretty good sex” in this context.  Genuine hardcore porn is very focused stuff, in more ways than one.  The camera angles, depth of field, lighting, even the cutting are all directed at maximizing scopophilia and sexual arousal. And you’re never in any doubt about what is going where at any given time (though in group scenes you may occasionally loose track of exactly whose whats are involved).  And you’re never in doubt about when the action has reached its… climax.  It is designed to have a direct appeal to our nether regions, and I find that directness appealing in its own way.

The sex in 9 Songs is not that. It is not hardcore sex, whatever the Daily Loaf might think.  It’s sex.  Sex as you (hopefully) know it, assuming you haven’t been utterly conditioned by porn.  It’s a little vaguer. The people are focused, internally and on each other, but the scene, the details are more blurry.  It’s not brightly light and in sharply focused close-up. And the camera spends much less time in what I think of as gynecological intensity mode.  It is real sex, both in the sense that the actors are genuinely doing the things they seem to be doing on the screen, and in the sense that it is sex as people outside of movies (in Western society) often/generally experience and enact it.  At least when they are that age.

Here’s what Roger Ebert had to say about the sex in his fairly positive and very smart review:

The sex scenes betray the phoniness of commercial pornography; when the Adult Film Awards give a prize for Best Acting, they’re ridiculed, but after seeing this film you’ll have to admit the hard-core performers are acting, all right; “9 Songs” observes the way real people play and touch and try things out, and make little comments and have surprised reactions.

What Mark Kermode found most interesting about the film was that Winterbottom had made “the least titillating, most explicit movie around.”  He found the movie irritating, but still appreciated what the director, Michael Winterbottom, was doing with the sex.  But he hated the people.

As for it being a serious movie, a movie that is serious about being a movie and actually tries to think through what that means… Well, it was made by Michael Winterbottom who I find to be one of the more interesting directors currently making movies.  His movies aren’t always good, but they are always interesting, even if on no other level than as attempts to interrogate productively what it means to be a popular film, and how popular films might be other than they are, or tend to be  (ie, everything from Transformers: The Dark of the Moon to The Master). His filmography includes Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland, 24 Hour Party People, and A Cock and Bull Story. He’s an intelligent and interested filmmaker, interested in what it means to make films, who thinks about what a popular narrative cinema is and might be, and about how to push against the medium and its structures and expectations in (hopefully) productive  and engaging ways.

9 Songs doesn’t always work.  Both the narrative and the characters feel a bit too sketchy, and that’s pretty fatal. Kermode’s irritation with, even hatred of, the two main characters is not, sadly, a wildly idiosyncratic response.  But I think it gets an A for effort, or at least a B, for giving us such good sex—that is, such real sex—in something approaching a mainstream English-language film, and doing that within a film that tries to play productively with both the visual and narrative qualities of mainstream film.  (It also has a very good soundtrack.) It’s not an art film, and it’s not pornography.  It’s something kind of new.  Possibly the beginning of something.

For more…

Filed under: Movies, , , ,

The Best Doctor Who Scene Ever (an update)

The Doctor Who clip I wrote about earlier was taken down, but here is an even longer, better quality version of the same scene from “The Unicorn and the Wasp” – quite possibly the best scene ever in the Doctor Who reboot (though I am sure some would pick a scene with the young Amelia Pond, such as ‘fish fingers and custard‘):

And you can watch the whole episode online through Amazon instant video.

For more…

Filed under: TV, ,

Clint Eastwood’s Comedic Timing

I’m not best pleased that one of America’s greatest filmmakers, Clint Eastwood, has chosen to throw in his lot very publically with America’s worst political party, and at what is possibly the lowest, most appalingly stupid time in its history.  In fact, Eastwood’s appearance at the RNC convention is likely to be the only highly-praised Eastwood performance I never see.

But I am kind of fascinated, from a geek/interwebz observer perspective, with the publicity/search engine optimization going on around it. Do a Google search on “clint eastwood comedic timing” and you get a full page of entries all with exactly the same heading:

Republicans Praise Clint Eastwood’s Speech: ‘His Comedic Timing 

I thought all the dot commies and Google code monkeys were on our side, but there are clearly some effective, interwebs-savvy publicists working for the RNC.

Anyway, there’s no way his performance at the RNC could match his gifted timing in such classics as Kelly’s Heroes or Paint Your Wagon

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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