Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Great performances in 2010: A few of my favorite things

I tried to write about my favorites in movies and TV this year to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. After my first stanza,
Leo in Shutter Island and Inception
"Does the top stop spinning?" everyone questions
Tom Hardy so good as Eames in disguise
Will be nominated for Best Picture in the critics' eyes
things quickly went downhill with my rhyming attempts to fit all my ideas into a certain number of syllables per line. So instead I made a regular list, mostly limited to what is now out on DVD.What were your favorite things on TV and in the movies in 2010?

◊◊ "Teenage Dream" performed a cappella by Blaine (Darren Criss) and the Dalton Academy Warblers on Glee
I have no idea how many times I rewound my recording of the "Never Been Kissed" episode to watch this performance. I do know that "Teenage Dream" became the most downloaded Glee cover ever and that in his first guest appearance on the show, Darren Criss, known mostly for playing Harry Potter in "A Very Harry Potter Musical," became an instant heartthrob. I also think it made many people forget Katy Perry ever sang the song in the first place. The song was arranged, with background vocals performed by, Tuft University's male a cappella group The Beelzebubs (although they did not actually appear in the episode). Click here to read about their involvement on Glee. Watch the video:

Listen to the song on the CD Glee. The Music.Volume 4.

◊◊ The comedies She’s Out of My League and Going the Distance both had hilarious casts with wonderful chemistry. In She's Out of My League Jay Baruchel, T.J. Miller, Nate Torrence, and Mike Vogel have a very tight friendship. The other supporting actors are just as funny: Lindsay Sloane as Kirk's ex-girlfriend Marnie, Hayes MacArthur as Marnie's new boyfriend, Kyle Bornheimer as Kirk's brother Dylan, and Jessica St. Clair as Dylan's fiance. See my full review here.

I'm guessing many people did not go see Going the Distance due to how quickly it disappeared from theaters. Well, I recommend you check out a copy from the library. The chemistry between Justin Long and Drew Barrymore shouldn't be too much of a surprise, since they are a couple in real life, but I loved how director Nanette Burstein (American Teen) captured the moments between them. This is one of Drew Barrymore's best roles and the movie also made me a fan of Justin Long. Romantic comedies often feel so contrived and plastic, and this movie, about a couple trying to make their long distance relationship work, just felt real. Christina Applegate heads up a great supporting cast, including Jim Gaffigan, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day.

◊◊ Michael Shannon in The Runaways: Shannon steals the movie from Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart as Runaways manager Kim Fowley. I didn't even realize it was him until I read the closing credits.

◊◊ Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, directed by Edgar Wright, was one of the most entertaining, creative, and fun movies of the year. As Pilgrim, Michael Cera is quite soft-spoken and non-confrontational but turns into a different person playing bass as part of the band Sex Bob-Omb. Kieran Culkin, as Pilgrim's roommate, Wallace, steals all his scenes. Did I mention the awesome soundtrack?

◊◊ Troy and Abed's friendship on Community. The show, which features one of the strongest casts on TV, is currently in its second season on NBC. Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) are usually featured in the scene that plays while the credits roll at the end of each episode. My favorite one is the following "Anthropology Rap" featuring Betty White:

◊◊ Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. I know I wasn't alone when I became emotional watching Andy drive away to college after having one last round of playtime with his beloved toys. And paying extra to see Dragon in 3D was definitely worth the money-- I felt like I was soaring through the air!

◊◊ The Kids are All Right features award-worthy performances from not only Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, but the actors who play the teenage kids, Josh Hutcherson as Laser and Mia Wasikowska as Joni.

◊◊ Jimmy Fallon's opening number at the Emmys. This combined so many of my favorite things (Glee! Lost! Choreography! Jon Hamm!) I came close to spontaneously combusting:

◊◊ I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chloe Grace Moretz Kick Ass. Hollywood seems reluctant to allow anyone except handsome young men to don superhero tights, but here is a 13-year-old girl taking care of business.

◊◊ The funny and smart Easy A and its luminous star, Emma Stone, who even displays her singing talent in the film.

◊◊ Harry Shum, Jr. in Glee and Step Up 3. On Glee, Shum plays Mike Chang (jokingly referred to as "Other Asian"), who is usually in the background if he isn't dancing. Since he doesn't have that many lines, I always tend to watch his facial expressions and reactions in the group scenes, because I think he is quite a talented physical comedian. And though he doesn't have a lead role, you can't miss him when he dances toward the screen leading his crew in one of the battles in Step Up 3.
Glee: Season 1 on DVD: Find it in the catalog!

◊◊ The engrossing film The Town. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, with another standout performance from Jeremy Renner, seen in last year's The Hurt Locker.

◊◊ The sixth and final season of Lost. I loved how the show ended and think it did the characters justice. Months after the airing of the finale, I'll still get teary-eyed thinking about Jack in that final scene. If you never caught the show, now's the perfect time to watch all the seasons back-to-back (and get your Lost on).

Monday, December 27, 2010

What we're listening to: Burlesque soundtrack

Find it in the catalog!

You are better off skipping the movie and just checking out the soundtrack to Burlesque. The music (and Stanley Tucci) are the best parts of the film, which has confusing editing choices and over-the-top dialogue and acting. Christina Aguilera sings 8 of the 10 songs and Cher performs "Welcome to Burlesque" and the Golden Globe-nominated "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me."

I am a fan of Christina's music and I actually enjoy the songs from Burlesque much more than those from her album Bionic, which was released this past summer. The retro sound on much of Burlesque reminds me of Christina's excellent 2006 album Back to Basics. I love her covers of "Something's Got a Hold on Me" and "Tough Lover" by Etta James and "A Guy What Takes His Time" by Mae West. Christina also co-wrote the dance songs "Express," "Show Me How You Burlesque," and the gorgeous ballad "Bound to You," which has been nominated for a Golden Globe and is my new favorite song of Christina's. "Beautiful People" reworks the Marilyn Manson song of the same name, and Christina gives the lyrics an aggressive edge with her vocals. Although Burlesque is not one of the best movies I've seen this year, its soundtrack is probably one of my favorite CDs of the year. I had the songs on repeat in my car until I had to return it back to the library.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Christmas music recommendations

Glee: The Music: The Christmas Album
Find it in the catalog!
The cast from TV's Glee perform Christmas standards such as "O Christmas Tree," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "O Holy Night" that were featured on the December 7 Christmas episode. The girls do their version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and the guys do their unique take of "Jingle Bells." I love the fun and energetic "Deck the Rooftop" and also Lea Michelle's version of The Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling." Lea Michelle and Corey Monteith's performance of George Michael's "Last Christmas" is one of my favorite songs on the CD. My other favorite is the duet between Chris Colfer and Darren Criss on "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Home Alone: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Find it in the catalog!
One of the reasons I'm a big fan of the movie Home Alone is the music, especially the distinctive "Home Alone Main Title" ("Somewhere in My Memory"). The score was composed and conducted by John Williams. In addition to the instrumental pieces are the songs "White Christmas" by The Drifters, "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Southside Johnny Lyon, and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Mel Tormé. I love the Drifters' version of "White Christmas" -- the Bing Crosby classic is transformed into a soulful groove! Additionally, a choir performs the songs "O Holy Night," "Carol of the Bells," and "Somewhere in My Memory."

Merry Christmas II You by Mariah Carey
Find it in the catalog!
Mariah follows up her successful 1994 album Merry Christmas with Merry Christmas II You, which again strikes a nice balance between traditional Christmas songs and originals. Mariah co-wrote the songs "Oh Santa!," "Christmas Time is in the Air Again," When Christmas Comes," and "One Child." The vibrant, R&B flavored dance song "Oh Santa!" is probably my favorite on the CD.  Be sure to check out "O Come All Ye Faithful / Hallelujah Chorus," which finds Mariah singing with her mother Patricia Carey. Listening to the song, you'll wonder if they got together because they wanted to see who could hit more consecutive high notes (verdict: Mariah's mom). The CD also includes a live version of "O Holy Night" and an "extra festive version" of "All I Want for Christmas is You." If you enjoyed Mariah's previous Christmas CD you will also like this one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

O Bookmas Tree

Two of our library elves*, Gingerbread Crumble and Merriweather, assembled a holiday tree out of library books.  Sprinkles, our craftiest elf, made the garland and super cool topper.

*We have several library elves, most just move books around and generally cause mischief.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oscar watch: Inception

I won't write a review for Inception, when an excellent one was already posted by a fellow contributor back in August. It is recently out on DVD, so if you missed it in the theater, now is your chance to indulge.

Oscar predictions:
There are ten slots again this year for Best Picture, so that will ensure a nomination for Inception in this category, although I don't think it will take home the prize. There are too many other contenders being released now, closer to voting time.

Another other possibility is a Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan. He is respected and a visionary, but I'm not sure that he'll take the statue home either. The Coen brothers are striking again this year with True Grit (already garnering buzz), not to mention powerhouse directors David O. Russell (The Fighter), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David Fincher (The Social Network), and long shot but Academy favorite, Clint Eastwood (Hereafter) could all be in the running. I don't think this will be Nolan's year.

There will be no nominations in the acting categories. The performances were great all around, but not enough to surpass the newer crop of actors gracing the screen this holiday season.

However, Inception will win in the category of Best Original Screenplay. If you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. 'Nuff said.

Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Assassination of Yogi Bear by the Coward Boo-boo

Animator Edmund Earle created an "alternate ending" parody video for the new Yogi Bear movie that is coming out this week.  I'm probably outside of the target demographic for the Yogi movie, but I did enjoy Andrew Dominik's 2007 revisionist western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (it has Paul Schneider AND Sam Rockwell in it!), which this parody also references.  It's a pretty funny video clip and probably more enjoyable to most adults than the actual Yogi Bear film, but I definitely missed Sam Rockwell acting as moral conscience in this version of the scene. (via BoingBoing).
Note: In case you can't tell by the title, there is bear-on-bear violence in this clip.

Check out the original:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music Roundup: Top Shows of 2010

I was originally going to post on the top five shows of the year; but then I realized I have only been to six shows total. So rather than praising the best of the best, I'd really just be dissing one band (sorry, Beach House, you did not make the cut).  Overall this has been a really good year for live music, shows ranged from really good (Beach House) to supremely awesome (see list).  Below are the top three concerts I've been to this year:

3).  Jens Lekman and Air France at Empty Bottle (January 2, 2010). Swedish crooner Jens Lekman is a real crowd pleaser; proving himself to be even more funny and charming live than on his albums.  Jens played pretty much every song you'd want him to (i.e. "Black Cab," "Postcard to Nina," almost all of Night Falls Over Kortedala), and none of his so-so songs (in spite of one girl feverishly requesting "F-Word").  I was slightly disappointed no one yelled out requests for "Kanske är Jag Kar i Dig" (loose translation: Maybe I'm in love with you), but thankfully he played it anyway.  Jens must have boundless energy as he managed to perform three encores, ending with an intimate take on "Maple Leaves." 

2). Black Keys and the Morning Benders at Metro (August 7, 2010).  Regular Media Corner readers know that we are not shy about our affection for this duo from Akron, Ohio.  And they sound even more awesome live, even with a less than ideal closing song choice ("Sinister Child").  I have tickets to see the Keys one more time to this year, so they still have a chance to get the top spot (especially if Dan Auerbach breaks out the steel guitar and plays "The Lengths").
Read the original concert review

1).  LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip at the Aragon (October 25, 2010). Monday night shows are usually very low energy, but this was the exception.  LCD Soundsystem did a nice job of balancing songs from all three of their albums.  The audience was definitely the best out of all the shows I've been to this year.  And then there was the light show, which was so spectacular that they had to post a warning on the door.   Read the original concert review

Showman of the yearErlend Øye.  Dan Auerbach can play a mean guitar.  Jens Lekman can captive an audience with Scandinavian twee-dreaminess.  But only Øye would have a dance-off with audience members to Paul Simon's "You Can Me Al".

Biggest regrets:  The National at House of Blues (August 7, 2010). I've been a fan of this band since 2005, yet I haven't caught them live yet.   This year I was forced to choose between the National and the Black Keys, and I chose Keys.  Still, I hope the National plays Chicago again soon (and not just at Lollapalooza).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Horror Movie Night : Gremlins

On Tuesday Night at 6:30 PM, we will be showing Joe Dante's classic '80s horror film Gremlins at Dundee Township Public Library.  Whether you are tired of watching classic, violence-free Holiday films (you can only watch It's a Wonderful Life so many times), want to wax nostalgic about Corey Feldman's career, you really love Howie Mandel's voice work, or just think the little gremlins are so cute, you should come and check it out!  There will popcorn, holiday cookies, and a raffle for a gift card. 

The movie is part of a new club we have at the library for 20 and 30 somethings.  Below is the event info:

When:  Tuesday, December 14 at 6:30 PM
Where:  The meeting room (downstairs) at Dundee Township Public Library District.
What:  Watch Gremlins and nibble on popcorn and holiday cookies.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guilty Pleasure Pick: Holiday Films, Part 4: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Title: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

"Don't you know a kid always wins against two idiots."- Kevin McCallister.

Much of the plot and themes of Home Alone 2 is recycled from the original, but I’ve always preferred the sequel.  This largely because of the location.  Let’s just face it, New York City is a lot more exciting than Winnetka.  While having your parents’ mansion to yourself is fun, it can’t compete with staying at a luxury hotel and going to the biggest, coolest toy store ever.  The movie does a good job of capturing the magic of being a suburban kid in a big city.  Even as adult, there is something cool about being in the Loop, with all those skyscrapers, twinkling signs, and historic places.  It feels like you’re in the center of everything.  Duncan’s Toy Chest in particular reminds me of the big FAO Schwarz store on Michigan Ave.; it's more of a theme park than a toy store.  

So Kevin gets to live the dream a bit, though it eventually the trip goes sour when Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) runs into his former foes, the Wet Bandits- Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) and finds out they are planning on robbing Duncan’s Toy Chest on Christmas Eve.  Problem is, the store’s profits for that evening are supposed to be going to a children’s hospital.  No one messes with kids on Christmas with Kevin around!  So naturally he goes to the police.  Just kidding,, here’s where things get strange.  

He sets up his uncle’s under-construction condo with a bunch of booby traps and then lures the dim-witted criminals inside.  Kevin is a little bit of Rube Goldbergian sadist.  The creative and ingenious ways Kevin thinks of causing bodily harm to Harry and Marv don't serve any real purpose, beside hilarity and fulfilment of Kevin’s revenge fantasies.  Harry and Marv don’t actually face justice until the police find them varnished and feathered in Central Park.  Also, it's hard not notice that a lot of the time Kevin could have easily escaped, if he hadn’t stop so much to admire his handy work . The cartoonish violence in the movie, while funny (like when Marv is on the brink of being electrocuted), is also creepy because there’s no real consequence to it (besides slowing Harry and Marv down for a second).  In real life, Harry and Marv would at least have serious internal injuries after their time with Kevin.  You can only be hit by a brick in the head so many times without it doing some damage! 

Don't get me wrong, I understand that the whole point of the franchise is watching cute, adorable Kevin torture two nincompoops. And they aren't exactly innocents; Harry and Marv have a criminal history as long as Santa's Naughty list and they are planning on killing Kevin.  However, Home Alone 2 is among the most dark and twisted holiday movies around.  It's a black comedy disguised as family friendly fare, which maybe why I still enjoy it.  Below are my top five favorite things about the movie:

5).  The Talkboy.  Contrary to critics who say this film is an advertisement for the bulky and ineffective tape recorder Kevin carries around, it wasn't a real toy until a while after the movie was released.  So there!  However, it's a central part of two of my favorite scenes from the movie.  First, when Kevin calls to make a room reservation as the Plaza, he uses the gadget to slow down his voice and create a really phony sounding adult voice.  I love the actual dialogue of the phone call, which is truly something only a kid would think would fool anybody, "Howdy-Do. This is Peter McCallister- (very slowly) The father- I'd like a hotel room, please, with an extra large bed, a TV, and one of those refrigerators you have to open with a key.  Credit Card, you got it!"  Still, somehow it works.  Another fine scene is when Kevin uses the recording of his Uncle Frank singing in the shower and an inflatable Bozo doll to fool the hotel concierge, Mr. Hector (Tim Curry), into thinking he walked in on Peter "The Father" McCallister in the shower.

4).  The Plaza Hotel. It's hard to believe that this hotel actually agreed to let Home Alone 2 be set there.  Perhaps they didn't read the script beforehand, because their staff are portrayed as a bunch of unprofessional morons who don't like children.  Or maybe they just have a really good sense of humor about themselves.  Cedric (Rob Schneider) is always out for a tip.  And Mr. Hector immediately seems suspicious of Kevin and even goes so far as to break into the hotel room to spy on him.  Creepy.  When Peter's credit card shows up as stolen, he immediately accuses Kevin and scares Kevin out of the hotel and onto the mean streets.  At one point, Kevin's mom, Kate (Catherine O'Hara) even asks, "What kind morons do you have working here?"  To which, Mr. Hector responds, "The finest in New York."  

3).  Angels with Even Filthier Souls. John Hughes does a good job of taking swear words and other adult elements and sanitizing them in a really funny and satirical way. For example, he uses made-up insults like "trout sniffer" instead of curse words.  Or having  professional swearmouth Joe Pesci constantly muttering under his breath  "Frick-a-frack-a-frick."  Angels with Even Filthier Souls, the sequel to gangster film he watches in the original, is a good example of Hughes' wit in making things family friendly.  It's like Scarface as interpreted by a 10 year-old.  In it, bad guy gangster Johnny accuses his girlfriend, Susie, of "smooching with everybody" and then shoots her (off-camera, of course) with a tommy gun.  My favorite line is when Johnny says to Susie, "I knew it was you, I could smell you getting off the elevator."  Total kid insult!

2).  Uncle Frank and Fuller.  Kieran has always been my favorite Culkin.  Here he is ebullient as Fuller, a chronic bedwetter who just can't turn down a can of Pepsi.  Fuller is one of those nerdy kids who just doesn't really care that other people think he's a loser.  He doesn't flinch a bit when his dad Frank announces that he should lay off the Pepsi, because the rubber sheets are packed.  You could definitely see him growing up to be a Dwight Shrute type.  Kevin's Uncle and Fuller's Dad, Frank (Gerry Bamman), is perpetually outfitted in Cosby sweaters and characterized by his extremely frugal nature.  Like Fuller, he is hilariously lacks self-awareness.  The scene of him singing in the shower is perhaps my favorite, largely for his interjection "Oh, you're cooking Franky."  Uncle Frank is truly the king of the cool jerks.  

1).  Daniel Stern as Marv Merchants.  Daniel Stern is one of those actors I wish would get cast in more things.  Here he gives a wonderful slapstick as the dumber of the two Wet Bandits.  Marv is not choosy about his criminal activity and one of my favorite scenes is on the ice rink, where he steals layers and layers of winter apparel from the other skaters- a girls hat, a kid's gloves, Marv is a true kleptomaniac.  Joe Pesci's Harry brings the muscle to Wet Bandits, but Marv's slow-witted reactions to Kevin's booby traps are really the funniest part of this movie.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crush-Worthy Women of TV

What follows is a list highlighting five decidedly crush-worthy women of television. Just because.

Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey
From: 30 Rock (2006-present)

Upside: Smart, sublimely awkward, and unrepentantly nerdy, it's hard not to love Liz Lemon. And her abiding devotion to the Food Network is icing on the cake. Even her spastic, weirdly dissonant dance moves are kind of endearing.
Downside: Yes, I'm aware of the foot problem.

Debra Morgan, played by Jennifer Carpenter
From: Dexter (2006-present)

Upside: Deb is hilariously profane, up-front about what's important, and unfailingly devoted to doing the right thing.
Downside: It would be like dating a "dude." Debra is as unsentimental and commitment-phobic as any of her male peers, if not more so. This kind of makes sense, when you consider that she was unwittingly engaged to a serial killer at one point.

Joan P. Harris (nee Holloway), played by Christina Hendricks
From: Mad Men (2007-present)

Upside: Joan is one of the most compelling characters on the superb period-drama Mad Men. Chronically underestimated by her coworkers at Sterling Cooper, often to their own detriment, she does the real work of keeping the business up and running. Her despicable husband (despicable is really too generous a word for that creep) is condescending and blithely uninterested in what she wants out of life, though Joan is clearly the stronger personality. One senses that Joan could be a veritable force of nature, if she could only transcend the limitations of her era.
Downside: Hmmmm...

Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, played by Lynda Carter
From: Wonder Woman (1975-1979)

Upside: She's Wonder Woman.
Downside: The Lasso of Truth, maybe.

Thelma Evans, played by Bern Nadette Stanis
From: Good Times (1974-1979)

Upside: Thelma is a confident, artistic young woman who remains steadfastly idealistic in spite of the poverty that surrounds her. She more than holds her own against her comically boorish older brother. She also has excellent taste in music, favoring '70s soul giants Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes.
Downside: She married her sweetheart Keith Anderson, who overcame alcoholism and a serious knee injury to play for the Chicago Bears. Who'd want to break up that happy ending?

A Non-Fictional Runner-Up:

Campbell Brown, played by Campbell Brown
From: Campbell Brown (2008-2010)

Upside: Her unwillingness to play a character is actually the most appealing thing about Campbell Brown. (Her elegant features, classical profile, and deep brown eyes are incidental to her crush-worthiness.)
Downside: She is married to this guy. You know, for real married.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crushworthy Men of TV


Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider).
From: Parks and Recreation (2009-).
Find it in the catalog!
Mark isn't the most interesting character on the show, but he's the dreamiest.  He's got a good job (city planner) and he's played by one of the handsomest (in my opinion) actors around.

10). Henry Pollard (Adam Scott).
From: Party Down (2009-2010).
Find it in the catalog!  
Seasons: One and Two.

Henry is mid-thirties, works as a caterer and occasionally toys with the idea of moving back in with his parents.  Yeah, doesn't say much for my taste in men, does it?  Or maybe it just speaks to the power of his witty banter on the show.

9).   Mark McKinney, various characters.
From: Kids in the Hall (1988-1995).
Find it in the catalog!
Seasons: One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Just being a part of the hilarious Canadian comedy troupe is enough to make you crush-able in my book.  But McKinney is the only one who doesn't look better as a woman. 

8). Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel).
From: Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000). 
Find it in the catalog!

Tall and friendly, Nick is probably the kindest of the freaks.  I thought he was super cute up until the point he started to smother Lindsay with affection. 

7).  Eric Gotts (Tyron Leitso).
From: Wonderfalls (2004).   

Sweet, charming, and oh-so-cute, Eric is every girl's dream bartender.

6). Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård).
From: True Blood (2008-).  
Find it in the catalog!
Seasons: One, Two.

Eric is pretty much the tall, Swedish vampire version of Logan from Veronica Mars.  And what's not to like about that? 

Monday, December 6, 2010

What we're listening to: Elf soundtrack

Find it in the catalog!

The 2003 movie Elf stars Will Ferrell as an unwaveringly positive candy-loving human raised by elves who journeys to New York City to meet his dad. While Will Ferrell does sing several times during the movie, his duet on "Baby It's Cold Outside" with co-star Zooey Deshanel is not included here. Instead Deshanel duets with Leon Redbone (who also provides the voice of Leon the Snowman in the movie). I still like their version and really enjoy the tone of Deshanel's voice. Redbone also sings "Christmas Island" and "Winter Wonderland." The holiday songs on the soundtrack are complemented by a couple non-holiday cuts, Louis Prima's "Pennies From Heaven" and Billy Preston's "Nothing From Nothing."

The film's soundtrack has a nice selection of retro Christmas music, including Ella Fitzgerald's "Sleigh Ride," Lena Horne's "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow," and Eartha Kitt's classic "Santa Baby." Other songs, like the medley of "Sleigh Ride / Santa Claus Party" performed by Ferrante and Teicher and Les Baxter, Jingle Bells performed by Jim Reeves, and Eddy Arnold's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," make you feel like you're in one of the stop-motion holiday specials from the '60s like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, these are versions of classic songs that radio stations seem to refrain from playing for the most part (with the exception of "Santa Baby"), so I enjoyed finding a Christmas album that felt new and fresh.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Time Capsule Cinema: Home Alone

A lovely cheese pizza, just for me.
~Kevin McCallister

Home Alone (1990)
Find it in the catalog!

Twenty years have passed since the McCallisters from suburban Chicago got on a plane to Paris, leaving 8-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) home alone in the days just before Christmas. After being made fun of by his older siblings and cousins and always feeling left out Kevin can't believe his good luck; he thinks the wish he made the night before to make his family disappear actually came true. He jumps on his parents' bed while eating popcorn, shovels down heaping spoonfuls of ice cream while watching a gangster movie, and delights in being able to order an entire cheese pizza for himself. But two thieves named Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), aka The Wet Bandits, are making their way across the neighborhood, robbing families who are out of town. Kevin decides to push his fears aside and creates a plan to defend his empty house from them. I think the reason why Home Alone has become a new holiday classic is because of any of the following memorable scenes:
  • Little Nero's delivery boy hitting the statue in front of the house each time he pulls into the drive
  • Kevin's family members running through the airport to their gate as "Run Rudolph Run" plays on the soundtrack
  • After taking a shower, Kevin narrates his day into the mirror as he gets ready: "I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap including all my major crevices, including in between my toes and in my belly button, which I never did before but sort of enjoyed. I washed my hair with adult formula shampoo and used cream rinse for that just-washed shine. I can't seem to find my toothbrush, so I'll pick one up when I go out today. Other than that, I'm in good shape." He then puts aftershave on his palms and fingertips, pressing them to his cheeks, resulting in the infamous "AHH!" scream.
  • Kevin standing in front of the mirror using his comb as a mic while he lip syncs "White Christmas" performed by The Drifters
  • Kevin fast forwarding the dialogue in the gangster movie "Angels with Filthy Souls" to scare the pizza delivery boy Later he simply plays the scene when Marv is outside, setting off firecrackers in a pot by the doggy door. "Keep the change, you filthy animal!"
  • Kevin's talk with his neighbor "Old Man Marley" in church as Marley's granddaughter sings in the choir
  • Kevin's mother (Catherine O'Hara) hitching a ride with John Candy's polka band in a Budget truck
  • Harry and Marv being deterred from attempting to rob the McCallisters after they see what they think is a lively party. But really Kevin has tied mannequins to strings and attached a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan to the top of a toy train to make it appear like the McCallisters have a full house.
  • Marv's high-pitching shrieking after Kevin puts Buzz's pet tarantula on his face
  • Macaulay Culkin's adorable face. I dare you not to fall in love with him! 
  • more, of course, but then I'd end up describing each scene in the movie. What are you favorite scenes?
Although Home Alone movie hasn't been around as long as It's a Wonderful Life or White Christmas, it is always on my list of holiday movies to re-watch each year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Music Roundup: My Top Reissues of 2010

2010 and the latter-part of 2009 have been banner years for reissues. The canonical recordings of Bob Dylan and the Beatles were re-released in mono (yes, mono), the Rolling Stones' 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main St. was released in two variations of deluxe-ness, and the bonanza continued with a high-profile exhumation of the Apple vaults. What follows is a brief list of the reissues that stand out - for me - as definite musical highlights of the past year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oscar watch : How to Train Your Dragon

Based on a children's book by Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon, is an engaging film with an excellent message for young and old alike. Jay Baruchel voices the main character, Hiccup, the son of the head Viking and dragon slayer, Stoick ( Gerard Butler). I'm sure you can tell where this is going based on the character's names . . . Hiccup is not the brave boy his father hopes him to be so Stoick sends him to dragon-slaying school. Hiccup does not excel at slaying as the other kids do (voiced by America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, and Kristen Wiig among others), and instead ends up befriending an injured dragon in one of the sweetest moments in cinema all year. The requisite scene of redemption soon follows when Hiccup proves his father, and townspeople, he is the boy he should be.

Oscar prediction: How to Train Your Dragon will be nominated for best Animated Feature, but it will lose out to the nostalgia surrounding Toy Story 3.

How to Train Your Dragon
Find it in the catalog!

Guilty Pleasure Pick: Holiday Movies, part 3: Scrooged

 Frank Cross: I get it. You're here to show me my past, and I'm supposed to get all dully-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!
Ghost of Christmas Past: That's exactly what Attila the Hun said. But when he saw his mother... Niagara Falls! 

Scrooged (1988).
Find it in the catalog!

Outside of the Christmas B-Horror realm of the Gingerdead Man (2005) and Santa Claws (1996), Scrooged has to be one of the darkest Christmas movies around.  A loose adaptation of Dicken's oft remade Christmas Carol,  Scrooged follows around cynical, selfish and occasionally mean dude, Francis Xavier Cross (think proto-Jack Donaghy).  Cross is a TV exec, who in a meta twist, is in the midst of making a made-for-TV adaptation of the Christmas Carol.  He's such a grouch that he doesn't blink an eye at stapling antlers on a mouse, or stealing a taxi cab from an elderly lady.  Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Cross is financially successful but at a great cost to his personal life.  He chose his career over his one true love Claire (Karen Allen), and only his brother James (John Murray) still reaches out to him.

The movie and Bill Murray at their best when Cross is behaving badly.  Once Cross goes soft, the movie loses its bite and Murray's final speech seems too maudlin and preachy to be delivered by Cross (even reformed).  Also, Scrooged dates back to the 80s, so the pop culture and political references are more than a little dated. Still, if you ignore the feel good ending, it's a nice alternative to some of the more treacly and sentimental Christmas fare out there.  Below are my top five favorite things about Scrooged:

5).  David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Glam rocker David Johansen portrays the Ghost of Christmas Past as a hard-bitten New York cabbie, complete with a thick Brooklyn accent.  Johansen lays the sarcasm on thick and his attitude is so tough that even Cross even lets him call him "Frankie Angel." 

4).  Ads for the Holiday Line-up.  The film starts out with commercials for some of IBC's (Cross's network) terrible holiday line-up.  Shows include:
  • The Night the Reindeer Died.  Lee Majors must defend the North Pole from intruders.
  • Bob Goulet's Cajun Christmas.  America's favorite lounge singer covers Christmas carols like "Silver Bells" while riding in a gondola in a swamp.
  • Scrooge:  Starring Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim.  Not only does she walk without her crutches, she does back flips!

3)."Put a Little Love in Your Heart" Sing-a-long. While I'm not a fan of Cross's misty-eyed on camera break down speech, I do love the sing-a-long ending.  Particularly, when the trapped souls in the Ghost of Christmas Future's ribcage join in. 

2).  Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Kane plays the Ghost of Christmas Present as kind of a Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl.  Dressed as a fairy, she's full of energy and seems to enjoy every minute of her visit, but she also uses violence when necessary (or unnecessary) with Cross- like smacking him with a toaster.

1).  Bill Murray is in it.  And seriously, isn't he usually the best thing about every movie he's ever made?

Films showing in December at the Dundee Library

A Christmas Carol (PG; 2009)
Saturday, December 4 at 3 PM
Part of the Dickens in Dundee celebrations

Eat Pray Love (PG-13)
Tuesday, December 7 at 6 PM
Based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert

Toy Story 3 (G)
Saturday, December 11 at 2 PM

Some Like It Hot (not rated; 1959)
Thursday, December 16 at 6 PM
Catch a Classic at the Library: '50s Film Favorites

The Meeting Room door opens 30 minutes before the movie's scheduled start time. Free popcorn and refreshments are always served. Children under 9 must be accompanied by an adult. Seating is first come, first-served, and audience capacity is 80 people.