Thursday, December 27, 2007

Movies for Christmas

My politically conservative middle brother recommended on Christmas Day that I watch The Bourne Ultimatum. Obviously, he's not a devout follower of the Libertas site.

He also appears to be a big fan of The Good Shepherd, yet another movie not exactly beloved by cultural conservatives.

Anyway, my mind is still reeling from this development.

Review(s) to come.

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2012 Is the New Y2K

An acquaintance of mine started discussing politics with me on Christmas evening and for some reason, became obsessed with the idea that everything was going to Hades around 2012.

His reasoning? The end of the world -- or at the very least, the Final Conflict -- was originally scheduled for the year 2000 on old Christian calendars but unfortunately, Western society has changed its calendar several times since then, so that what was supposed to occur during the year 2000 in the first century A.D. was really meant to happen in the year 2012 on the modern calendar.

Is he right? I don't pretend to know.

However, after hearing doomsday predicted quite often during my four-and-a-half decades of existence, I can't help but be skeptical. And when you consider all the predictions of dire disaster we've heard in the last few decades -- the manifold predictions of World War III during the Cold War era, the Y2K scare, the prediction by scientists that the planets of this solar system would tear themselves apart in 1986, etc. -- it's a wonder that more people don't have a bad case of apprehension fatigue.

One can hear only so many warnings about the end of the world before one starts giving such warnings the same treatment received by Aesop's “The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf.'”

Armageddon may indeed occur within our lifetime. And to my acquaintance's credit, he didn't insist that I spend much time fretting about that possibility. Unlike some prophets of doom I can mention, he was not interested in selling me something or gaining my political support.

But he did insist that I take the possibility seriously.

So I will.

As seriously as the other prophecies I've just mentioned.

For in the end, we are all mortal, and it no doubt seems more flattering to some to believe that the whole world will perish when we die than to believe that the world will go on without us.

Better Armageddon, it would seem, than oblivion.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Feliz Navidad de Nuevo

I'm not likely to be posting again in the next few days because of the winter holidays, so Merry Christmas, y'all. With luck, I may post again before the New Year. If not, Happy New Year, too.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmastime Is Gentle on My Meme

I don't normally do this sort of thing but since the Byzantium's Shores site is tagging everyone who reads his site with this meme, it's only fair to assume that I've been tagged as well. Here goes:

1. Favorite traditional Christmas song: This changes all the time. It used to be “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” then “Silent Night,” then “Away in a Manager” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Current favorite is “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but that could change. I remember singing all these songs with my mother and my siblings when I was still a teenager so it's tempting to say all of them.

2. Favorite contemporary or modern Christmas song: I devoted not just one but two posts to this category last year around this time. My current favorite: “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. But another part of me also loves Mariah Carey's Phil Spectorish take on “All I Want for Christmas is You” as well as Vince Vance and the Valiants' '50s-ish take on the same title. If I wanted to be really mischievous, I'd add Nancy White's “It's So Chic to be Pregnant at Christmas,” but I'd rather not give my bride-to-be ideas.

3. Least favorite Christmas song: This varies every year. This year, however, it appears to be Wham!'s “Last Christmas,” a song I used to like the first few times I heard it on the radio until they started playing it almost every single day. I've heard it played more times this past month than I did all throughout the '80s and '90s.

4. Christmas song that makes you cry: “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” used to make me cry back in the early 1980s. So does “Christmas Wrapping” if I consider the fate of the lead singer for a long enough time. After my father died a few years ago, I found it almost impossible to listen to any variation on “All I Want for Christmas” without tearing up. But I've gotten to the point where I can actually listen to the song with dry eyes now.

5. Real or artificial tree: My bride-to-be is pushing me to get an artificial tree next year and given my druthers, that's probably what I'd get this year. However, this year I will have no Christmas tree of my own. So my answer is “none of the above.”

6. Favorite Christmas edible treat: Do tamales count as a Christmas treat? Actually, my Hispanic relatives like to make them for New Year's Eve but I suppose they could count as a Christmas treat.

7. White lights or multi-colored: Oh, multi-colored, most definitely.

8. How many Christmas parties will you go to this year?: Not that many. I plan to celebrate Christmas at least three different times this year: once with mi mejor amiga, once with my mother and my siblings, and once with mi novia's family. So that's kinda like a Christmas party, right?

9. Favorite act of friendliness to perform during this season: My last act of charity was giving a loan to a family member without any expectation of ever getting paid back. As much as I'd like to do, I doubt I'll be going out of my way to perform any similar act this year. I feel I'm doing well just to conduct myself in a civil manner without giving in to the stress of the holiday season.

10. Favorite sounds of Christmas: Christmas carols. Christmas bells. The crunch of people walking through newly fallen snow on a day in which I don't have to go to work. The laughter of kids on Christmas morning.

11. Favorite things to wear: I have no favorite things to wear.

12. Favorite Christmas movie/ TV special: How the Grinch Stole Christmas is always a favorite. So is the original version of Miracle on 34th Street.

13. Favorite Christmas episode of a TV series: For some odd reason, I'm partial to the Blackadder Christmas Special. Perhaps because it's such an obvious antidote to the more saccharine holiday specials one so often sees this year.

14. Eggnog or hot chocolate: Neither of these are all that good for me, but if I had to choose, it would be eggnog. Of course, ponche (Mexican fruit punch) wouldn't be a bad alternative. Nor would apple cider be unwelcome.

15. Favorite Christmas book: Dickens A Christmas Carol, natch. And a certain Connie Willis book, as well.

16. Christmas books on my “to read” list: Terry Pratchett's Hogfather is on my “to re-read” list, thanks to a recommendation on the Shanna Swendson site. And I probably should re-read A Christmas Carol while I'm at it.

17. Peppermint or cinnamon: Canela (cinnamon) most definitely.

18. What's on top of my tree: I don't have a tree. But my mother's tree used to have one of those pointed ball-in-the-middle-of-a-spike ornaments at its top but now it has a star. My bride-to-be would probably prefer an angel.

19. Traditional Christmas meal growing up: Either turkey or ham. If not tamales.

20. Online shopping or traditional “go to the store” shopping: Traditional, natch. I occasionally order things online but not for Christmas.

21. Something received as a Christmas gift as a child that you still have: Memories?

22. How many Christmas cards you have mailed so far: At least fifteen.

23. Favorite source for Christmas idea: ???? I'm not sure what this means. The Bible?

24. Coordinate/themed or hodge-podge tree decorations: I wish I had the fashion sense to pull off the former but it's usually the latter by default for me.

25. What's at the top of my Christmas list: Not much as far as material goods are concerned. Indeed, all the fuss over Black Friday has made me less than eager to make any sort of wish list. And most of what I truly want are things that one can't buy in a store: for example, the good health and good fortune of my friends and family. I'm not just saying that to sound like a goody-goody. It's true.

26. Roles you played in Christmas plays/pageants: I never was one for the Christmas play/pageant thing. My middle brother still gets kidded for his role in one back in grade school so it's probably just as well.

27. Wrapping paper or gift bags: Usually both, depending upon the length of time I have to devote to wrapping presents. Ideally, wrapping paper. With ribbons and bows.

28. When do you put up the tree: In my mother's house, we used to put it up after Thanksgiving. But lately it seems like we're lucky if it's up before Christmas Eve.

29. When do you take the tree down: You take Christmas trees down? Seriously, we usually take it down after New Year's Eve.

30. Do you have a nativity scene: I should, but I don't. My mother does, though.

31. Hardest person to buy for: My future in-laws. And my brother-in-law. Of course, most of my siblings say that I'm very hard to buy for.

32. Easiest person to buy for: Mi novia. She's very vocal about what she likes.

33. Worst Christmas gift you ever received: I don't remember receiving such a gift. My mind has mercifully erased such a gift from my memory, if in fact I ever received such a gift at all.

34. When do you start shopping for Christmas: Sunset at Christmas Eve, doesn't everybody? Seriously, I usually start the first week of December. Christmas shopping in November just seems creepy to me.

35. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present: No. I once gave one of my siblings a cassette tape that was already in my collection as a birthday gift but I've never recycled Christmas presents.

36. Travel at Christmas or stay home: For many years, my family traveled to Detroit each Christmas. I often miss these times even though winter travel on a bus, train or even airplane isn't all that great. However, now I usually stay home.

37. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer: No, but I can come close. And at least I always remember Rudolph.

38. Open presents Christmas eve or morning: Ideally, Christmas morning unless we're visiting someone else's house. Then it's Christmas eve.

39. Most annoying thing about this time of year: The way holiday weather and holday traffic combine to make driving to work an even bigger pain than usual. Plus the way jerky people fail to stop being jerky people during a season which theoretically should have no jerky people.

40. What I love most about Christmas: I love a different thing each year. Christmas snow -- if I don't have to shovel it or drive in it; Christmas lights; Christmas decorations; Christmas songs (if they're songs I'm not yet burnt out on), and so on. Being with my friends and family, as corny as it seems, is the one thing I love most.

If you've read this far and you haven't been tagged yet by this meme, then you're tagged now. And that goes for all of you who read this blog -- all three of you....

Feliz Navidad!

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Movie Quote of the Week

Well, you look about the kind of angel I'd get. Sort of a fallen angel, aren't you?
--James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Song Quote of the Week

Get this winter over with!
--Chris Butler of The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping”

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Born Free”

Well, Dexter is already on record as having the most interesting opening credits of any TV show I have ever seen. Indeed, the opening montage of shots portraying Dexter's daily morning routine -- making breakfast, flossing his teeth, getting dressed, etc. -- in a creepy manner prove that a good director and film editor can take even the most mundane of activities and make them seem quite horrible. Which, needless to say, is a lot harder than taking activities that are already horrible and portraying them in a horrific fashion.

So it is hardly a surprise that this series also has one of the most memorable season finales.

When we last saw Dexter, he was in frantic pursuit of the Ice Truck Killer. In this episode, he catches up with him.

But the show doesn't end there. Nor does the eventual demise of this week's bad guy prove to be the conclusion of this episode.

Instead, we get a vision of Dexter's ideal world. A world in which he no longer has to conceal his true identity. A world in which his work as a serial killer elicits not condemnation but applause from the people around him including his fellow cops.

It's tempting to see this vision as a takeoff on the recent spat of vigilante films put out by Hollywood. But actually this episode aired long before those vigilante films came out. And frankly, it would have been just as effective if they had never been released.

It does, however, seem to question the whole pro-vigilante mentality which has become popular as of late. The mentality that argues that it doesn't really matter what rights an individual suspect may have if he's undeniably guilty. The mentality that argues that it's perfectly okay to torture and even kill such a suspect if it saves lives or tax dollars.

The funny thing about “Born Free” is that it seems to applaud such a mentality. And yet through Dexter, the “evil” serial killer who kills only “bad” people, it also argues against it.

Let's face it. Not many of us would like to live in the type of society that Dexter dreams about. And not many of us would necessarily feel comfortable in a society in which the likes of Dexter no longer felt compelled to hide.

There are times when we think we do because we're convinced that such a society would only inconvenience the “bad” people. But unfortunately, such societies have a bad habit of expanding their definition of “bad” people. And even if they didn't, one can't help but wonder: would you want to live next-door to a person like Dexter?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Dueling Images

Of course, these images have a lot more in common than one might think. Though I think it's safe to say that the first one is NOT French. And, contrary to what many Northern Europeans appear to believe, I doubt she was a real-life blonde either.

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The One Book I Most Look Forward to Re-Reading This Christmas Season

One of my favorite anthologies from one of my favorite modern sci-fi writers. (And yes, I suppose she can be considered a fantasy writer too.)
Among other things, this book includes Ms. Willis' take on the original Christmas Story, plus the definitive argument as to why the original Miracle on 34th Street is a better movie than that other Christmas movie associated with the 1940s. (The one directed by Frank Capra, and no, I don't mean Meet John Doe.)
And, of course, it has more than a few of Ms. Willis' own short stories, which is never a bad thing in my book.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Quote of the Week

The way I like to put it is, if religion is a crutch, then what do you call someone who goes around kicking crutches out from under people? A fearless seeker of the Truth or a bloody sadist?
--Stephen Browne, "The Hot Button Issue," Rants and Raves, September 22, 2006

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

I cried the first time I saw this movie.

I rarely cry when I see movies.

I especially rarely cry whenever I see movies that are supposed to make me cry.

Yet this film managed to touch my heart in a way that so many recent musicals (yes, I'm looking at you, Moulin Rouge!, and I'm looking at you, too, Rent) have not.

I don't have the words to do this film justice.

Suffice it to say that this is the first film that made me realize why people made such a fuss about the young Catherine Deneuve.

Although the story is a simple one (a man and woman fall in love, then get separated by circumstance, only to meet up again after quite a long time), it is nevertheless a moving one.

And that ending. Alas, all too realistic and yet moving in a way that far more blatant tearjerkers can only dream of.

And the song Catherine's character sings to her boyfriend just before he goes off to war manages to be all so touching in any language.

Some things just don't need translation.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Mixing Pleasure Is Now a Business

Borders Books is now in the CD-burning business. At least that's the way it seemed last week when I walked into one of their stores and saw signs advertising their new make-your-own-CD service.

In a way, that didn't surprise me. CD sales have been down for quite a while and it could be that my generation will be the last one to actually go to the trouble of buying CDs instead of just downloading songs from the Internet.

Still it was odd to see a major seller of compact discs throw in the towel and say, “The heck with it. We can't really sell the bloody things like we used to, so let's make money burning the damn things.”

Of course, a lot of people have already been burning their own CDs for free long before this, so it's going to be interesting to see how long Borders keeps it up.

And whether it ends up becoming the next Hollywood Video.

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As Hollywood Goes, So Goes...

It became official this past autumn. The Hollywood Video chain has ceased to exist.

No doubt it was a victim of increased competition from Netflix and other online video rental services. If not decreased demand for "offline" video rentals.

Will Blockbuster Video be next?

Who knows?

And why do I get the feeling that the one thing that is certain about the future is that when Netflix's last competitor in the offline world goes kaput, the price of their services will go up?