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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmastime is here

I've been meaning to blog for weeks but this has prevented it. However, as I look around, I see I'm being shown up by just about everyone. Thom is blogging almost daily and even the Scogg has new content. It's time kick it in.

So with the holidays here, let's talk Christmas movies. I'm a sucker for 'em, I'll admit. But I also fancy myself a cinephile, which means, I'm picky about the holiday-kissed treacle I consume. That means avoiding like fruitcake anything with Tim Allen and a December release date. And I honestly wonder why the crappy almost-straight-to-video films ("Deck the Halls," anyone?) and made-for-TV fare (what the crap is that Rob Lowe one? "A Perfect Day") is still produced year-in and year-out. It seems those movies are glaringly, obvioulsy awfull and always tank in at the box office and in the ratings. But for some reason they just. keep. churning. them. out.

So here's my short list of picks and pans. I'm sure you'll see nothing surprising or new. But, you'll at least get the satisfaction of knowing that special movie you watch every Christmas has the Rob Rogers seal of approval. Or disapproval. It can go both ways.

In no particular order, the Christmas movies I like:

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" -- Not only did NL producers have to take the "Vacation" franchise and make it (almost) family-safe, they had to find a way to make a third "Vacation" movie funny. Which, obviously, they did, thanks to John Hughes of all people --a near Herculean effort that still pays off. Becky and I watched it last week and the movie totally stands up after all these years. It's endlessly quotable ("Every time Catherine would turn on the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour") and the gags are still brilliant.

"Die Hard" -- Remember, it takes place on Christmas Eve and runs its beginning and end credits to Christmas songs. For me, it's the ultimate, escapist Christmas film that reminds us all we'll have peace on earth forced down our throats if John McClane has anything to do with it. And the movie, infinitely better than the sequals and man-against-everyone genre films it inspired, is parts funny, romantic and heart-warming. What more do you want in a holiday film? Exploding rooftops and gaping gun shot wounds? Well you're in luck. It's got those, too.

"A Christmas Story" -- The New York Times refered to it as our generation's "It's a Wonderful Life" (more on that film later). And I suppose it is. It's really come into it's own these past few years and Becky and I make sure we watch it every Christmas Eve. But for me, what makes the movie is Darren McGavin, the Old Man. He owns the movie, even though it seems its most memorable parts are the tongue-on-the-tetherball-pole, overstuffed-snowsuit and pink-bunny-pajamas gags. The funniest scenes in the film, from the lamp to the Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant, are all indebted to the cantankerous, riley Darren McGavin.

Honorable mention: "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" -- It plays more like a Christmas film on an acid trip. I mean Jimmy Stewart is having dreams inside of dreams and he sings with the Mormon Tablernacle Choir. But that right there has got to make it at least as good as "Wonderful Life."

Now, in no particular order, the Christmas movies I don't like (that I've seen, otherwise this list would probably go on forever):

"It's a Wonderful Life" -- Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie. But why on earth it's a perennial Christmas favorite is beyond me. Only one scene (please, correct me if I'm wrong) takes place at Christmas. So maybe I'm raging more against the strange, qualified status the movie has rather than the movie itself. At any rate, I've seen it once and that was enough. In reality, if you've seen one Frank Capra film, you've seen 'em all.

"Miracle on 34th Street" -- I can't even make it all the way through this movie. But it was bad enough to inspire a made for TV Brady Bunch Christmas movie loosely based on it. That right there condemns it to depricated status. Let's be honest, it's just a creeky old movie that doesn't play real well.

"Christmas With the Kranks" -- Just so it's not all b&w on the list, I'll throw in "Kranks" because I've seen it and it can thus stand in for every other crappy Christmas movie made every year. It's as bad as you imagine it is. People who watch these kind of films during the holidays get the Christmas they deserve.

So that's it. Somewhere between the two lists is "Ernest Saves Christmas." I loved it as a kid, even saw it in the theater, but I'm sure if I watched it now I'd ruin it forever. Anyway, you've got Christmas movies to watch, so get going.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wax on, wax off

Yeah, it's been a while. Thanks for the reminder, Thom. So we'll take care of a little housekeeping first. If you look to the right, you'll notice I've updated my links. Surface Tension now has its official welcome mat.

Second, it's time to add to the Perfect Pop Songs Vol. 2 list. Refresh your memory here and here. This one's got a chip on its shoulder. Some of you out there -- I won't name names -- turn your nose up at indie bands because you claim it's just too inaccessible, too hard to listen to. So, in this pretty-much all indie installment of the Perfect Pop Song I give you three tunes that are such stellar examples of pop songs it's likely they'll all be stuck in your heads for months.

Fujiya & Miyagi's Collarbone: F&M is a band from across the pond that has yet to get its debut album "Transparent Things" released stateside. I can't remember where the "Fujiya" comes from, but, yes, "Miyagi" is a shout-out to Mr. Miyagi. They've got a serious groove, and mix style, beat and crazy guitar hooks with very slick production. "Collarbone" is probably the perfect sum of all the band's influences and talent. It's got a killer beat and an insanely addictive bassline. Not to mention they work in the ol' nursery song, "Footbone's connected to the anklebone/the anklebone's connected to the shinbone" and on up the skeleton. Does this song have a proper title? Anyway, it's fun little number sure to get your head nodding.

Grand National's Talk Amongst Yourselves: The song is a track from the band's 2004 "Kicking the National Habit" and features an unrelenting, driving beat matched up with this low-key, understated vocals. The band, like so many that would come after in 2005 and 2006 to midling success, takes '80s pop new wave and updates it in a way that's pretty hip and little surprising, evinced in the song's 20-second electronic pulse opening. Once the guitars come in and the vocal start, it's hard to shake the song. "I made it all myself/'cause I can't anything down/Anything down/However hard I do try." It's a cool track.

Jarvis' Black Magic: Jarvis, who is Jarvis Cocker, is another Brit who's recently come out with an album that has yet to find a distributor stateside, but has killer pop and rock instincts. He's been around since the late '70s when he fronted a pop-punk band called Pulp as a 15-year-old. Anyway, he's soloing it now and producing some very cool music. "Black Magic" is pop song for sure, but it's dark and velvety and very rewarding as it gets better after each listening. And like all good pop songs, is about anything to which you apply it. Is the titular black magic a perfume, a lady-friend, a favorite liquor or maybe actual black magic? Who knows and who cares, the song just grooves. "You only get to see the light just one time in your life/Black Magic/That blows you mind away/And takes it somewhere that you want to stay." Jarvis' voice is deep and full, giving a lot of his songs this twisted Elvis/Johnny Rotten feel. Trust me, it works.

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