Thursday, December 31, 2009

Babylon A.D.

The Younger Son chose this for tonight, and I'm glad 'cause I like Vin Diesel. I'm waiting patiently for his upcoming Hannibal and helping maintain his Facebook fan numbers. Babylon A.D. is a 2008 science fiction film. The disc we bought has both the theatrical release and an un-rated cut. We watched the former. We enjoyed it, but then we were predisposed to like it. I wish it had made more sense.

trailer:


The New York Times blames the director. Cinematical also blames the director, while including bad writing and bored performances as contributing factors. Variety calls it a "sloppy sci-fi actioner". DVDTalk lets the studio share the blame and says, "For all this mess, however, "Babylon A.D." is always fascinating" and "Some said it was a total disaster. Others said a longer cut would fix everything. Neither of these turned out to be true."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

With Joyful Voice: Christmas Music of 8 Centuries


With Joyful Voice: Christmas Music of Eight Centuries by The Boston Camerata is some of my favorite music for this season, especially the Medieval disc. Joel Cohen directs.

You can listen to some of it at the Amazon page.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, whose failing health kept her from being able to complete work on this debut effort, and Annie Barrows, who finished it, is a novel told in letters, notes and telegrams. I liked it and am passing it along to Mother. I think she'll enjoy it, too. It's not the first book of this type I've read, and it does remind me a bit of 84 Charing Cross Road.

There is a discussion guide in the back of the book (reprinted online here), and Barnes and Noble has some discussion questions online here. The first question in the "Questions and Topics for Discussion" in the book is this:
What was it like to read a novel composed entirely of letters? What do letters offer that no other form of writing (not even emails) can convey?
I disagree with the assumption that emails differ from letters in some essential way. I know that emails can't be tied up with ribbon and saved in a box, but people do save emails and treasure them in that same spirit.

from the back of the book:
January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

The Christian Science Monitor calls it "a labor of love". The Guardian has a positive review.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo

The Elder Son recommended The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo to me, telling me the story of the untimely death of the author Stieg Larson. This book is the first in a trilogy Larsson left behind unpublished when he suffered a massive heart attack and died at age 50. I plan on reading the others as I come across them.

from the back of the book:
Dear Reader:

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo is an international sensation. The novel has soared to the top of best-seller lists across Europe and arrives here on a wave of nearly unprecedented excitement and acclaim.

Deeply ambitious, insightful, and fiercely smart, it offers much more than the usual thriller - including one of the most original heroines to come along in years: Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius computer hacker with a vulnerable heart and a terrifying capacity - if anyone tries to take advantage - for sudden ruthlessness.

By any measure, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an exceptional achievement, even more so when you consider it is Stieg Larsson's first novel....

The New York Times says, "The novel offers a thoroughly ugly view of human nature, especially when it comes to the way Swedish men treat Swedish women" and criticizes its lack of subtlety and poor characterization. The Guardian calls it "a striking novel, full of passion, an evocative sense of place and subtle insights into venal, corrupt minds." TimesOnline calls it a "memorable debut". The Independent closes by saying,
If Larsson's book feels just a little amateurish, then perhaps that works to its advantage. This never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller. The twists and revelations work all the better for being worked for, rather than flung at the reader, two to a page.


2/13/2010: Novel Destinations has info on a related walking tour.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Songs


Christmas Songs is a perfect title for this CD from Diana Krall. I love her voice, so when I saw this usually almost $20 CD on sale used at Spin Street for $8 this afternoon I bought it. I'll put it in The Husband's little pile of jazz Christmas music, where I think she'll be the only solo female vocalist.

Jingle Bells:


You can listen to some of it at Amazon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Holiday

The Daughter introduced me to this film, saying it is one of her very favorites. The Holiday is a 2006 romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black. The music is by Hans Zimmer. It takes place during the Christmas holidays as 2 strangers, one from L.A. and one from Surrey, England, agree to a house swap to get away from romantic disasters.

trailer:


The New York Times has a review here. Green Cine Daily has links to and quotes from several reviews.

We liked it as a sweet romantic comedy with a happily-ever-after ending.

While You Were Sleeping

The Daughter introduced me to this delightful romantic comedy last year. While You Were Sleeping is perfect. It's a feel-good movie from start to finish, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The film was released in 1995 and has Peter Boyle, Jack Warden and Glynis Johns and stars Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher.

trailer:


EW didn't much like it. The New York Times review says,
This is a formula film, but it has the kind of good cheer and fine tuning that occasionally give slickness a good name.
Variety says,
Its success is a true testament to its cast and to Turteltaub's keen sense of balance.
Roger Ebert closes his review with this:
It's a feel-good film, warm and good-hearted, and as it was heading for its happy ending, I was still a little astonished how much I was enjoying it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

A Muppet Family Christmas is a great 1987 made-for-tv special that includes every imaginable muppet. We have a tape of the show as it appeared on television and were so excited when we found it on DVD. Unfortunately, the DVD leaves out so much of it that it's not worth watching. We gave the DVD away and continue to watch -sparingly, in an attempt to prolong the life of the tape- our home recorded version. This is a sad situation and just another example of how the byzantine copyright regulations make things difficult for all concerned.

The video is at youtube in 5 parts. part 1:

part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

The DVD is out of print. There's a description of the various editions here.

Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is a 1969 Rankin/Bass animated television special loosely based on the song by the same name. There's a short segment from the beginning of the show here:


This is one of The Daughter's favorites.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Scrooge with Albert Finney

Scrooge is a wonderful musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' Christmas classic. A Christmas Carol has been filmed numerous times, but this is one of our favorites. The casting is perfect, with Albert Finney playing Scrooge as both the young and older man. We do get a kick out of some of the character and name confusion.

December the 25th:


The New York Times has a review. Roger Ebert has mixed feelings. DVDTalk says it's one of the best of the Christmas Carol adaptations. TCM and MSN have overviews.

Wintersong

I don't usually buy albums until long after they've been released, but I bought Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan early on. Here's the title track:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

I bought this book by L. Frank Baum in a used book store when I was a child and was pleased when the Rankin/Bass version was released in 1985. The kids have always liked this VHS, but it's feeling its age after so many viewings. The Husband has finally been able to locate it on DVD and has ordered it so we'll have it for next year. Here's a clip from the beginning:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has always been one of our favorites. I missed it the year it first aired, because I was at church singing in our little children's choir (I could try to blame the timing of that on Obama, but he was only about 3 years old at the time), but I saw it after that. We were horrified to find that our new DVD version of this has the Fame and Fortune number stuck off in a Special Features section, and the show contains some lame "misfits" reprise number we had never seen before where Fame and Fortune should be.

Sad. Very sad.

Yukon Cornelius has his own fan page at Facebook.

via youtube:

Brand New Year


Brand New Year seems to me an odd title for a Christmas album. SHeDaisy is a country girl trio, and I don't like country music -I mean really don't like it in almost all of its eras and interpretations. But this CD makes for some variety in my seasonal listening, and I do like it for some reason. Here's Santa's Got a Brand New Bag:


You can listen to some of the CD at Amazon.

Season's Greetings (Dean Martin)



Dean Martin's music is a favorite for me, and I have such fond memories of watching his tv show with Daddy way back when. You can listen to some of Season's Greetings at Amazon. This song is not on this CD:

so I'm in need of another Christmas CD.

December 25 is the anniversary of Dean Martin's death in 1995.

Play Around the Christmas Tree


I heard this when The Elder Son was playing it several years ago. He let me borrow it, and I ended up getting my own CD. Play Around the Christmas Tree is by Swedish girl group Play. You can listen to some of the music at Amazon.com.

Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime

I posted this last year and thought it was hysterical but had forgotten all about it until I saw it again at SFSignal. The Younger Son gets it, but The Daughter, sadly, says, "It's just not that funny." But it is! It is that funny:



I think if Jonathon Coulton had never done another thing, this work of art would still qualify him as a member of the genius clan, but he has done more.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole)


The Christmas Song has 19 Nat King Cole tracks, and I do like this CD. I have the 1999 edition pictured above, and you can sample tracks from it at the Amazon page. Here he sings The Christmas Song:


Nat King Cole died of lung cancer in 1965.

A Festival of Lessons & Carols from King's


A Festival of Lessons & Carols from King's College Choir, Cambridge, directed by Philip Ledger, is the traditional service, heavily abridged, and includes readings as well as music. The sound on this CD is very inconsistent, and the volume has to be increased so that the readings are audible and then decreased so that the music doesn't blast too loud. That's a pain, and so I just never listen to this. Amazon.com says it's unavailable, and it's not listed at the choir's site.

Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album


Snowfall starts off with the dreadful song My Favorite Things and includes Where Is Love in a medley, which are enough to argue for avoiding this CD altogether. It's a pleasant album otherwise, a mix of sacred and secular seasonal songs. Tony Bennett put the album out in 1968. I have the 2007 edition pictured above.

You can listen to some of the music at Amazon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Star of Christmas

The Star of Christmas is a VeggieTales movie about how Bob the Tomato wants to teach London to love. With light bulbs. Lots of light bulbs. Way too many light bulbs. But there is no silly song.

trailer:



Bob learns a better way of teaching London how to love by the end of the show. We've been waiting to watch this one until The Daughter could be home to watch it with us. Tonight was the night!

The Toy That Saved Christmas

We've been waiting on the 2 Veggie Tales Christmas shows until The Daughter could be here to watch them with us. She loves them. Thanks to her giving spirit, I have Veggie Tales Christmas tree ornaments. The first of the VeggieTales Christmas videos -The Toy That Saved Christmas- is the story, as told to a little girl by her eye-witness grandfather, of the little town that didn't understand Christmas and the toy that helped them "get" it. They learn the true meaning of Christmas and make you laugh while they're doing it. We love the characters, and some of the lines are priceless.

Here's the first 5 minutes:



Silly Songs With Larry must be mentioned, of course. This was my first exposure to Larry's silly songs, and I like them so much I got the DVD of the Silly Song Countdown. These are hysterical.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in Connecticut

The Daughter got home tonight in time for us to watch Christmas in Connecticut. This 1945 film is one of her favorites, and we didn't want to watch it without her. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as the Smart Housekeeping Magazine mega-housewife who writes a monthly feature about cooking and housekeeping and raising a baby on her country farm. The fact is that she lives in a city apartment and can't cook at all, getting all the ideas for her gourmet meals from her Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall) who is the chef/proprietor of a restaurant. She isn't married and has no baby. Trouble comes when her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) wants to spend Christmas with her family on their farm with a war hero who is recuperating from almost 3 weeks adrift on a raft. Una O'Connor also plays a part.

trailer:



TCM has an overview. It's got an 87% rating at RottenTomatoes.

Christmas Party (Nero Wolfe)


We enjoyed the Nero Wolfe mystery tv series and were disappointed when it ended. The Elder Son had one of his rare evenings at home last night, so he got out his copy of the Christmas episode for us to watch. Christmas Party has Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe venturing out on a very rare excursion from his house. Timothy Hutton plays Archie Goodwin. This is great fun, but I can't find video clips.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas

In Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Monsieur Poirot plans a quiet Christmas at home in his London flat until the boiler in his building breaks down leaving him with no heat until after the holiday. As his luck would have it, just as he gets this bad news he gets a call from a complete stranger asking him to come to his country estate. Saying his life is in danger, the wealthy scoundrel is insistent that Poirot join the family for Christmas. Poirot asks if the home has central heating and accepts the invitation when he hears an affirmative response. I enjoy this every year. It's full of mistaken identities and family in-fighting and murder.

part 1:


We think David Suchet does a great job as Poirot, and I'm looking forward to seeing the episodes I don't have yet.

Wake Up, Dormouse, Santa Claus Is Here


One of the kids got Wake Up, Dormouse, Santa Claus Is Here in their stocking one year. It is a little paperback and a good fit for the stocking. The author is Eleonore Schmid. I don't see much about her online.

from the back of the book:
Every winter sleep overcomes Gus, the dormouse, and he misses Santa CLaus's visit, but this year he is determined to stay awake.
Amazon, which is where the picture above came from, doesn't have this book new.

The Friendly Beasts


We had several books by Tomie dePaola when the kids were little, and The Friendly Beasts is one of them. It illustrates the carol and has the music for it printed at the end. You can get a closer look at the pictures at Amazon. We keep this with the Christmas books and get it out with the decorations every year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album


I remember listening to the radio in the car one day years ago, hearing a flute playing unfamiliar Christmas music and thinking that it sounded an awful lot like Jethro Tull. I couldn't imagine that Jethro Tull would have a Christmas CD. But they do. You can read the lyrics at the band's site. You can listen to some of the music here. I like this one, but The Husband's not a fan.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

A perennial favorite around here, How the Grinch Stole Christmas gets a viewing even when we don't find time for some others. It helps that it's short. The Elder Son could recite this book word perfect when he was 2 years old, and there are some differences between the book and this little film. Boris Karloff provides the voice of the narrator and the speaking Grinch, while Thurl Ravenscroft (perhaps better known as the voice of Tony the Tiger on those old cereal commercials) does the singing. And Max is a bright spot for me.

trailer:


We are not Carey fans and are not interested in seeing his live-action re-make.

1/1/2009: The Daughter hadn't seen this yet this year, so The Husband and I watched it with her tonight.

Sherlock Holmes & The Blue Carbuncle

The Husband is a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and a fan of the Jeremy Brett series. We make it a point to watch the Brett version of The Blue Carbuncle during this time of year.

via youtube:



We have the entire series on DVD, including the set that contains this episode.

We think Jeremy Brett is the best Sherlock Holmes. We don't think the new movie looks like Sherlock Holmes, so, although it looks like it'll be a fun action film, it won't be in competition with Brett. It's such a shame Brett's health failed and that he died before completing the stories.

Home for the Holidays


Home for the Holidays by the Eaken Piano Trio is one of The Husband's favorites, and he says he listens to it a lot. My own favorites don't tend to be instrumentals. You can listen to samples from the CD at the Amazon.com page.

Christmas Carols


Christmas Carols is the title of this CD of 20 tracks of Christmas songs sung by the Worcester Cathedral Choir. It's a nice mix of familiar and less well-known seasonal music.

You can buy the cd and listen to some of the music at Amazon.com.

1940's Christmas


I don't remember where this CD came from, but it hasn't gotten a lot of play around here. 1940's Christmas has 10 tracks of Christmas music by artists like Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Petula Clark... You can listen to samples at the Amazon.com page, but this particular CD appears to be oop. The Husband says, "Is that the 1940's album? I kinda like that album."

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)

A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott is The Younger Son's favorite of the Scrooge videos. It is a good one. Scott is mean and devotedly business-like at first without being a miserly caricature and is utterly convincing post-conversion. The not-so-good parts:
  • Nephew Fred just seems whiny;
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present is scroogier than Scrooge and lacks any Christmas Spirit;
  • Oppressive background music.
David Warner (Aldous Gajic in Grail, a Babylon 5 episode, and several characters in the Star Trek universe) is Bob Cratchit, and Susannah York is his wife. The Tiny Tim in this version actually looks like he is sickly. The woman who plays Mrs. Dilber here plays the same role in the Patrick Stewart version.

Here is the first scene:


12/25/2009: Salon.com loves this version:
Well, Cratchits and ghosts come and go, one might argue, but every "Christmas Carol" must rise or fall with its Scrooge. And on this point the 1984 version most emphatically ascends.

Christmas Voices


Christmas Voices by the St. Paul Cathedral Choir has 12 tracks of traditional Christmas music. We enjoy listening to this. It's not currently in print, and the Amazon page doesn't even have used copies available, but the choir has other Christmas CDs available at their site. This is one of the songs included on this particular CD:

Harry for the Holidays


Harry Connick, Jr.'s Harry for the Holidays is one of my least favorite holiday CDs. Even The Husband, who likes that kind of thing, doesn't favor this one.

You can listen to samples of the music at the Amazon.com page or at Connick's official site.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Elf

The Husband, The Younger Son and I were watching Elf (2003) after supper when The Daughter got home from work. Turns out she had never seen it -that's what happens when you come home after living in a dorm for 3 years- so we started it over so she could watch the whole thing. She likes it. We all do. The Elder Son originally recommended this to us. It could have so easily been dreadful, but it's a sweet film. I look forward to Elf as an annual holiday tradition.

The movie is directed by Jon Favreau and stars Will Ferrell as the human brought up as an elf, James Caan as Buddy's biological father, Mary Steenburgen as Buddy's step-mom, Zooey Deschanel as Buddy's love interest Jovie, Bob Newhart as Buddy's adoptive elf papa and has Ed Asner as Santa.

trailer:


Slate calls it "a heartwarming homage to Christmas movies past". The New York Times calls it a "charming" success. Roger Ebert says,
This is one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece.

When My Heart Finds Christmas


The Husband has 2 Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas CDs, and When My Heart Finds Christmas is his favorite. I'm just not a fan. This is the title song:


You can listen to some of the music here at Amazon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I like The Muppet Christmas Carol better every year. The songs are fun, the humor hits just the right note and Michael Caine is, as always, perfect. It's filled with joy and pathos, and it's remarkably faithful to the book. This version is narrated by Gonzo as Charles Dickens and stars Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit. The Husband and I watched this with The Daughter and The Younger Son after supper tonight.

Here's the Scrooge song from the beginning of the movie:


We're not fans of the Muppet movies in general, though we loved their first movie and Muppet Treasure Island, but this film is a wonderful re-telling of the classic Christmas tale.

20th Century Masters Smooth Jazz Christmas


20th Century Masters Smooth Jazz Christmas is my least favorite of the "soft jazz" CDs The Husband has collected. The rest of us call it elevator music and tease him unmercifully. He likes it anyway, of course.

You can listen to some of it at the Amazon.com page.

GRP Christmas Collection, vol. 3


Years ago, The Husband asked for some "soft jazz" Christmas music, and this cd is one of the resulting presents. GRP has 3 Christmas compilations that we know of, but this 3rd GRP Christmas Collection is the only one we have.

You can listen to some of the music at the Amazon.com page.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carol


This is a cd we've had a while. The American Boychoir has its own website here where you can learn about them and buy their music. Wikipedia says, "The American Boychoir is regarded as one of the nation's premier choral groups, singing in many concerts across the United States and internationally." Carol is one of their Christmas CDs.

from the notes included with the CD:
This recording represents a popular sampling of music from the past 500 years and from many nations including the U.S.A., England, Ukraine, France, Austria and Germany.

You can listen to some of the music at Amazon.

Because It's Christmas


A woman from a church I used to go to shared this one with me, and I liked it enough to buy my own CD. She's a huge Barry Manilow fan. I like Barry Manilow mainly as a fond memory of the '70's; I don't listen to him much anymore. Because It's Christmas has 10 tracks of varied music, mainly traditional songs.

He sings this on the cd:


You can sample the music at the Amazon.com page.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Northern Ballet Theatre's A Christmas Carol


I remember the first time I saw this 1992 Northern Ballet Theatre production of A Christmas Carol on TV we managed to get almost all of it on tape. We watched it that way for years until The Husband found a DVD of it online somewhere and bought it for me. The kids have never been nearly as taken with this one as I am. I love the music in this, and it amazes me how faithfully they can tell the story in dance. I wish I could find any clips at all of this that I could link to or embed here. This deserves much wider distribution.

I've added a photo at the top of the post from the Northern Ballet Theatre site just to give a hint of the joy of the production. There are other photos at the NBT Facebook page.

Bleak Midwinter

The Younger Son is a big fan of Michael Kitchen and of the Foyle's War series and suggested we watch Bleak Midwinter sometime this month. It's not a typical Christmas story, but the fate of a Christmas turkey is a key plot element.

Youtube has this online in short segments with embedding disabled. Part 1 is here, and other parts are linked from there.

There is a detailed plot synopsis and some screen shots here. The Younger Son is slowly but surely collecting these on DVD. He has 5 seasons so far, I think.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story is a 1971 TV movie pilot for The Waltons tv series. I tend to be prejudiced against sweet "heart-warming" stories, but I've loved this movie since it was first shown. I think last year was the year we got it on DVD. The Younger Son saw it with us then and passed on a repeat performance. (He's studying anyway. We knew he wouldn't want to watch this, and that's why we picked it for tonight.) The Daughter had never seen it before and liked it but was surprised that I did. Patricia Neal plays the mom in the pilot, and I much prefer her in the part rather than Michael Learned, who was in the tv series. Neal won a Golden Globe for the role.

trailer:

The Polar Express

Based on a book none of us have ever read, this 2004 movie was not one that interested us enough to see it in the theater. Now that we have The Polar Express on DVD, though, we watch it every year. The Husband is an especial fan, and he picked it tonight. It is a tribute to faith, of believing without having to see. "The bell still rings for me."

trailer:


Moria says,
The performances captured are fantastic.... Robert Zemeckis directs the film with epic dramatic flourish and attention to the minutiae of detail
...
And The Polar Express is whichever way you look at it – technically, artistically, in terms of all the expected plaintive emotion of seasonal family entertainment – a magical film.

Roger Ebert says this film
is a movie for more than one season; it will become a perennial, shared by the generations. It has a haunting, magical quality because it has imagined its world freshly and played true to it, sidestepping all the tiresome Christmas cliches that children have inflicted on them this time of year. The conductor tells Hero Boy he thinks he really should get on the train, and I have the same advice for you.

CNN, the New York Times, Salon.com, Rolling Stone and BBC don't like it. EW doesn't like how different the film is from the book.

Ultimate 75 Christmas Favorites


The Husband brought this home, and, as I look it up online, I see he has crossed over to The Dark Side. This is a 3-disc anthology set with music divided into categories:
  • Christmas Superstars (solos and duets by famous performers),
  • Christmas Choir Classics (some sung by The Canterbury Cathedral Choir and some by The Guildford Cathedral Choir),
  • Silent Night Classics (some by The Choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, and some by The Holly Tree Singers)

There's a wide variety here. You can sample the music at the Walmart link above.

Sing We Christmas


Sing We Christmas by Chanticleer is an a cappella album.

from the little booklet that comes with the CD:
This recording offers a sampling of the listening experience enjoyed by appreciative crowds who flock to Chanticleer's enormously popular Christmas concerts each year.

from Chanticleer's web site:
Recorded in a beautiful church in the old walled city of Kempen during a November 1994 tour of Germany, Sing We Christmas represents many western European traditions and a great variety of time periods, languages and styles. A wonderful collection offering traditional and contemporary settings of holiday music, including anthems, canons, carols, dances, hymns and motets.

O Magnum Mysterium is on the album:


You can listen to some of the music at the Amazon.com page.

The Feast of St. Lucy




Today is the feast day of St. Lucy. When the children were little, this day, like the feast of St. Nicholas, helped us celebrate Advent rather than just focus on how long it was 'til Christmas. How can you go wrong with a day that starts with sweet rolls, a real treat!

There is more information about this feast here at SchoolOfTheSeasons.com, at the BBC and at Catholic.org. Penitents.org has some historical information as well as recipes, as does SicilianCulture.com. In Mama's Kitchen has a recipe for saffron buns.


'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Carols from Trinity


Carols from Trinity is a 2-disc CD set of music by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, directed by Richard Marlow.

from the notes included in the CD:
For well over a thousand years, the feast of Christmas has inspired composers from countless nationalities and Christian traditions. These recordings reflect the enormous diversity of the repertory which has resulted - a repertory which includes chant, medieval songs, carols, motets and modern church anthems.

I can't find any of this online to listen to, but you can buy it here at Amazon.com.

Friday, December 11, 2009

R.I.P. Gene Barry

I heard on the news tonight that Gene Barry has died. When The Husband heard it he said, "He was Bat Masterson!" I remember him best from the tv show The Name of the Game, which I watched faithfully for years, and, of course, the 1953 The War of the Worlds. He died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, which is scheduled for closure soon.

You can watch the Bat Masterson series online at Hulu.

obits:

12/13/2009: A Memphis blogger shares the story of Gene Barry having Sunday brunch in their home.

LATimes:
The actor, who had had Alzheimer's disease for about five years, entered Sunrise in early summer. The increased socialization had helped improve his father's mental capacity, his son said. "He was a very loving and generous father," he said, "and he was handsome, charming and funny until the end."

Playbill:
Gene Barry, a genial actor of theatre, film and television, who made his most lasting mark on the stage as Georges, half of the mature gay couple at the center of Jerry Herman's musical La Cage Aux Folles, died Dec. 9 in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 90.

EW
NYTimes
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and a tribute cartoon here
SFScope:
Barry's wife died in 2003, after 58 years of marriage. He is survived by two sons, one daughter, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An American Christmas


An American Christmas is a CD of particularly American hymns and spirituals (1770-1870) suitable for the season. Joel Cohen directs The Boston Camerata. I love this as a change from the usual "winter wonderland" popular music and versions of Christmas carols, and yet it's not like the older Medieval/Renaissance music we also have some of. Variety is the spice of life, so this is "spicey" for us.

You can listen to some of it at the Amazon.com page.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gregorian Chant


I asked The Younger Son to pick something for us to listen to during lunch, and he picked something suitable for an SCA Christmas. It's a Phillips CD, recorded in Vienna in October, 1985 and offered by the Musical Heritage Society in 1989. I used to get music regularly from the Musical Heritage Society. I don't see this at their site now.

from the notes included with the cd Gregorian Chant by the Schola of the Hofburgkapelle, Vienna:
This recording includes all the music sung at the third Mass of Christmas with the exception of the Credo. It is framed by the hymns "Christe redemptor" and "A solis ortus"...
...
This recording also offers chants from the days around Christmas, mainly taken from the Propers of Masses.
It includes 2 chants from the Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany.

This CD seems to be the same as this one listed here at Amazon.com. Some of the music can be heard there. The CD is currently available on ebay, which is where I got the photo.

The Christmas Spirit

It was worth a try in my efforts to broaden my Christmas music horizons, and, after all, I loved what Johnny Cash did here:


But... but... I don't like his Christmas CD The Christmas Spirit at all. The Daughter says she likes country music -where did that come from?- and she gladly took the Willie Nelson Christmas CD off my hands, so we'll see if she wants this one. Once was definitely enough for me. You can listen to some of the music at the Amazon.com page.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

If On a Winter's Night... by Sting


If On a Winter's Night... by Sting is definitely nontraditional as Christmas CDs go, but I have so much traditional Christmas music I look for things that are a bit different. I have this edition, having found it at a good price locally.

This song from the CD:


is taken from the poem Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson:
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'-wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the suff a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard.
So's we saw the cliff and houses and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate, Jackson, cried.
. . . ."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood;
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Pyramids


Pyramids is #7 in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. it's not my favorite so far, but I'm still looking forward to the next one. The Younger Son gets these after I'm done to add to his growing library, and he's also enjoying the series.

from the back of the book:
Unlike most teenaged boys, Teppic isn't chasing girls and working at the mall. Instead he's just inherited the throne of the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi — a job that's come a bit earlier than he expected (a turn of fate his recently departed father wasn't too happy about either).

It's bad enough being new on the job, but Teppic hasn't a clue as to what a pharaoh is supposed to do. After all, he's been trained at Ankh-Morpork's famed assassins' school, across the sea from the Kingdom of the Sun. First, there's the monumental task of building a suitable resting place for Dad — a pyramid to end all pyramids. Then there are the myriad administrative duties, such as dealing with mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and marching mummies. And to top it all off, the adolescent pharaoh discovers deceit, betrayal — not to mention a headstrong handmaiden — at the heart of his realm.

SFReviews.net says, "Overall, Pyramids is a funny entry in this enduringly popular series". It won the British Science Fiction Association Award.

I have also read these others in the series:

#1 The Colour of Magic
#2 The Light Fantastic
#3 Equal Rites
#4 Mort
#5 Sourcery
#6 Wyrd Sisters

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Bishop's Wife

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled - all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.

The Bishop's Wife is a delightful lesser-known Christmas film from 1947. Cary Grant makes a perfect angel, and David Niven as the worried bishop trying to flatter wealthy parishioners into donating money enough to build a cathedral and Loretta Young as his neglected wife are also perfect. Elsa Lancaster plays the housekeeper. I always like her. We've seen this movie several times and enjoy it anew every year. The Husband gets a particular kick out of it, laughing aloud at some parts.

It's online in pieces at youtube. Part 1 is here, as are links to the other parts.

Here's the opening scene:


trailer:



TCM has an overview. Variety has a short review. The New York Times review says "it comes very close to being the most enchanting picture of the year" and calls it a "warm and winning fable".

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Pretty Paper


Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper Christmas CD is new to us this year, and I just don't care for it. You can listen to samples of the songs at the Amazon page. I don't generally like country music, but I do like some of Willie Nelson's stuff so thought I might like this. It'll never be the album I choose when we have so much else to choose from. I'll be passing this along to someone else.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas, and a great feast it is indeed! A joyful day in Advent when we wake to find our stockings full of goodies. We have celebrated this day by hanging our stockings on St. Nicholas Eve ever since the kids were babies.

The picture above is a detail from the Perugia triptych by Fra Angelico. This section illustrates the story of Saint Nicholas providing financial means for 3 girls without dowries.

The relics of Saint Nicholas are located in the basilica in Bari.

Books for Saint Nicholas Day:

St. Nicholas and the Tub, written by Brian Burland, a Bermudan novelist, illustrated by Joseph Low, begins with "A Note to the Reader". It includes these words:
Exactly what Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, did, wrote or said, we do not know. But we do know that some poignant essence of the man and the life inspired, among other things, the happy tradition of giving in secret. We know also that the earliest paintings of St. Nicholas, some of which date back to the ninth century, depict him sstanding in a tub with three children at his side. We do not know why they are in the tub, although there have been various interpretations.

This story, which is meant to be read aloud, is a flight of fancy that relates a way St. Nicholas and the children may have got into that tub.

A Gift From Saint Nicholas, adapted by Carole Kismaric and illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak, has this description on the front dust jacket flap:
When Cecile sees the wonderful chocolate ship in Trinchen Mutser's candy shop, she dreams that it will be hers on Saint Nicholas Eve. Maybe, she thinks, if she can stay awake, she'll catch the ship as it sails down her chimney.

Alas, the chocolate Congo does not come to Cecile so easily. When Saint Nicholas and his assisant Ruprecht reach her house, they discover they have run out of presents...

The Baker's Dozen, A Saint Nicholas Tale, retold by Aaron Shepard and illustrated by Wendy Edelson, tells how Saint Nicholas teaches a baker to count. from the dust jacket:
The honest baker Van Amsterdam gives his customers exactly what they pay for -not more and not less. He is noted for the delicious Saint Nicholas gingerbread cookies he makes for the saint's feast day in December. Van Amsterdam carefully counts out twelve cookies for each customer who orders a dozen -until the day when a strange old woman asks for a dozen cookies and insists that a dozen is thirteen. But the baker will not agree. "Your heart is small, and your fist is tight," she tells the ungenerous Van Amsterdam as she leaves the cookies behind. "Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again!" From that moment everything goes wrong in Van Amsterdam's shop -until Saint Nicholas himself sets things straight. The Dutch colonial tale of Saint Nicholas and the baker's dozen is one of America's oldest and most beloved legends.

There is a short life of St. Nicholas told in narration and pictures here:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Everything You Want for Christmas


The Husband likes Bing Crosby; I like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Go figure. I've had their Christmas cd Everything You Want for Christmas for several years and thoroughly enjoy it, especially Is Zat You Santa Claus? which you can listed to here.