Monday, December 31, 2012

A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)

A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott is one of 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's the first 10 minutes: 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. (it's a ghost story, after all) says, "the overwhelming performance of George C. Scott vaults it to a marvelous level."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

It Happened On 5th Avenue

This year I was looking through our numerous Christmas DVDs and realized I had seen each one of them about a million and six times. I did what I always do when I need to know more: I googled it! I found some seasonal movies I'd never even heard of much less seen. It Happened On 5th Avenue is one of them. Alan Hale, Jr. (Skipper from Gilligan's Island) plays one of 3 WW2 veterans who figure in the plot.

This is a 1947 story of a homeless man who house-sits every winter for a wealthy man who spends winters in his other home. The problem is that the wealthy home-owner doesn't know his house is hosting a "guest" every year. This year, the unofficial house guest ends up letting several other people move in with him, including the disguised home owner. It's a bit slow moving but a pleasant low-key holiday film.

Here's a short clip that puts together a couple of scenes:

DVD Talk says,
Roy Del Ruth's It Happened on Fifth Avenue is a hive for double, triple, and quadruple-layered situational humor, easily one of the best of its kind and a real gem of a holiday picture.
TCM has an overview. MUBI has some information.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Die Hard

Die Hard counts as a Christmas movie, since it takes place over the course of Christmas Eve. It's a 1988 film starring Bruce Willis (good guy) and Alan Rickman (bad guy). Alexander Godunov is also on the bad guy side.

I've seen this several times, but The Husband had never seen it before. He objects to the violence. He also objects to considering it a Christmas movie because the season is incidental to the plot. Sensitivity to the violence is about the only thing I can think of that would interfere with enjoyment of the film, and I would argue that you'd have to be very sensitive. The Husband is quite sensitive to it, which is an endearing quality though I think it can be taken too far.

This is just great fun, and I never say "no" to another viewing.


Slant Magazine says,
while the film's showstoppers still dazzle, Die Hard isn't a great film simply because it delivers bang for your buck; it's great because its action is built atop a foundation of wit and emotion.
Roger Ebert does not like it and concludes,
Without the deputy chief and all that he represents, "Die Hard" would have been a more than passable thriller. With him, it's a mess, and that's a shame, because the film does contain superior special effects, impressive stunt work and good performances
DVD Talk says it "set a new benchmark for action films when it exploded into theaters". It has a score of 94% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Clubbable Woman

I was in the mood this year for some books that took place around the Christmas season but weren't typically Christmas-y. I did some searching on google and found several possibilities, one of which was A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill. This 1970 novel is the first book in a series of British detective mysteries that have been adapted for TV as Dalziel and Pascoe. The books were recommended by Viktoria in a comment on a previous post.

The events in this book occur in the days leading up to Christmas, with the celebration of that day being entirely incidental to the plot. I enjoyed this book. The characters are distinctive and their interactions interesting. I did find the wrap-up unsatisfying and unconvincing, but I'm willing to read more in the series to give the characters a chance.

from the back of the book:
Mary Connon was a small-town femme fatale, eager to test her allure on any man between 6 and 60. When she's found dead in her own living room, her husband - the one bloke to whom she never blew a kiss - comes instantly under suspicion. But Andy Dalziel, the gloriously vulgar savant of the Mid-Yorkshire police force, has some other ideas, and all of them center on the local rugby club - the town's social center, and Mary Connon's preferred hunting ground.

Peter Pascoe, Dalziel's young sergeant, suspects that his new boss's interest in the club has at least as much to do with access to good beer as it does with solving the murder. But while Dalziel never said no to a pint or three, Pascoe has much to learn about Fat Andy's uniquely effective methodology. With A Clubbable Woman - the first in an astonishing, multi-award-winning series - his education begins.
Kirkus Reviews closes with this:
Neither as dark nor as funny as later, better Hill, with Dalziel and Pascoe (still unmarried) not yet fully-drawn--but curious and atmospheric in its moody, rugby-centered, plodding way.
Reginald Hill died this year, and Mystery Scene Magazine has a lengthy article of appreciation, saying,
The death in January 2012 of Reginald Hill, at the age of 75, has robbed crime fiction of a towering figure, one of the outstanding British mystery writers of the past half century.

The Scrooge Ballet

I remember the first time I saw this. It was on TV, and we recorded it on VHS tape, but we never saw it aired on television again. As the tape began to show its age we started looking for it on DVD. After years of searching we finally found it, and The Husband bought it for me for Christmas one year. The Northern Ballet Theatre's A Christmas Carol tells the complete tale without words -well, almost without words, Marley's Ghost has a soliloquy and there are some songs. One of the songs is Four Pence A Day.

This is the only video clip I can find:

The dancers are so expressive you don't need words to know the story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Babes in Toyland (1934)

Babes in Toyland is a 1934 Laurel and Hardy film also known as March of the Wooden Soldiers. There's an extensive plot summary at the Wikipedia link in the previous sentence. It's only Christmas-y by virtue of Santa's presence at the toy factory where he goes to check up on some of his orders. The Husband likes this, and we watch it every year. It's a sweet, funny old film.


There are several edits of this movie available, some of which have serious cuts.

TCM has an overview. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 100%.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Skipping Christmas

Skipping Christmas is a short, funny novel by John Grisham. I had thought I'd be the last person left who hadn't read a Grisham novel, and I'm not actually sure this one counts since it's so different from what I usually hear about. This is a fun and quick read, perfect for a light-hearted holiday distraction.

In this book, a middle-aged couple send their only child off to a post-graduate school stint in Peru to serve in the Peace Corps. As they look to the upcoming Christmas holiday -the first without their daughter- with feelings of loss bordering on depression, they realize they could just skip Christmas entirely. They plan a 10-day cruise and announce to all and sundry that they won't be participating in the annual festivities.

from the dust jacket:
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That's just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they'll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won't be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren't even going to have a tree. They won't need one, because come December 25 they're setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences - and isn't half as easy as they'd imagined.

A classic tale for modern times, Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.
Entertainment Weekly gives it a C+ and closes their review with this: ""Skipping" represents a departure for the king of the legal thrillers, but in this case, it's to an unworthy destination."

It's mentioned on page 65 that the Kranks are Methodist.

Snow on Christmas

Snow began falling here at about a quarter 'til midnight last night, so technically that's a Christmas snow. It didn't amount to much, with official measurements around here at less than an inch. The streets were never a problem.

It's a pretty snow.

The Bells of St. Mary's

The Bells of St. Mary's is a 1945 film starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers and Una O'Connor. The music is by Bobby Dolan. Bing Crosby is a priest sent to a convent school with an eye towards closing it. Ingrid Bergman, on the other hand, has her nuns praying for a miracle that'll give them the perfect new building that has just gone up next door.

This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I'm not sure why, because I don't tend to like sentimental movies, and this is definitely sentimental.


Variety calls it "warmly sentimental". TCM has an overview. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 94%. Time praises Bergman:
As Sister Benedict, Ingrid Bergman manages to combine beauty, great good humor and saintly dignity even while swinging a baseball bat. Taking her role seriously, Actress Bergman played it without make-up (with no damage to her good looks), visited parochial schools to see how nuns actually behave, wore ballet slippers under her robes to perfect a gliding step.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Carol in Prose

A Christmas Carol in Prose: A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens is better known I'm sure from stage and film adaptations. I know I've seen and enjoyed my share. The book is well worth reading or re-reading. It's a heart-warming story of a poor-in-spirit lost soul who is converted on Christmas Eve.

It has never been out of print and is available in countless editions. It can also be read online. This online edition includes the color illustrations, as does this one.

It's a must-read if you haven't already read it.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a 1970 Rankin Bass stop motion TV special. It was never one of my favorites, but the kids always liked it. Fred Astaire is the mail carrier/narrator who starts off the show by opening letters sent to Santa and reading them to us. Isn't opening someone else's mail illegal? The story is told, then, to answer common questions children ask, such as, "Why does Santa wear a red suit?" Mickey Rooney voices Santa. Keenan Wynn and Paul Frees are also in this. I can't find an embeddable trailer or clips, but it's at DailyMotion:

I'm surprised there's so little video available for something that's so popular.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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, but I saw it after that. We remain unhappy that the 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.

Here's the Fame and Fortune song:

Yukon Cornelius has his own fan page at Facebook.

The Night Before Christmas, by Gogol

The Night Before Christmas is an 1832 short story from the second volume of Nikolai Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Not your typical children's tale of sugar plums and big happy toy-bringers, this story starts out
The last day before Christmas had just closed. A bright winter night had come on, stars had appeared, and the moon rose majestically in the heavens to shine upon good men and the whole of the world, so that they might gaily sing carols and hymns in praise of the nativity of Christ. The frost had grown more severe than during the day; but, to make up for this, everything had become so still that the crisping of the snow under foot might be heard nearly half a verst round. As yet there was not a single group of young peasants to be seen under the windows of the cottages; the moon alone peeped stealthily in at them, as if inviting the maidens, who were decking themselves, to make haste and have a run on the crisp snow. Suddenly, out of the chimney of one of the cottages, volumes of smoke ascended in clouds towards the heavens, and in the midst of those clouds rose, on a besom, a witch.
In addition to the witch, the devil makes an appearance, and, in fact, gets to be a main character in this Christmas story. The devil's first act is to steal the moon:
The devil then, as the devil it was, stole warily to the moon, and stretched out his hand to get hold of it; but at the very same moment he drew it hastily back again, as if he had burnt it, shook his foot, sucked his fingers, ran round on the other side, sprang at the moon once more, and once more drew his hand away. Still, notwithstanding his being baffled, the cunning devil did not desist from his mischievous designs. Dashing desperately forwards, he grasped the moon with both hands, and, making wry faces and blowing hard, he threw it from one hand to the other, like a peasant who has taken a live coal in his hand to light his pipe. At last, he hastily hid it in his pocket, and went on his way as if nothing had happened.
You can read it online. It is certainly not typical of Christmas Eve stories from my own reading. I'm broadening my horizons. The Husband will be so pleased! Or will he?

It has been adapted for 2 operas:

It has been adapted for film 3 times. The first is The Night Before Christmas, a fairly faithful 1913 Russian silent short directed by Ladislas Starevich. Starevich was renowned mainly for his astonishing puppet animation, but this film is primarily live action with some interaction between animation and the live action. The second film adaptation is a 1951 Soviet animated short also titled The Night Before Christmas. The third is a 1997 animated film short, also Russian and also named The Night Before Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


The Husband and I picked up this nutcracker early in our married life at a Christmas shop. He's one of my favorite decorations. He has a sticker on the bottom that says "Original Erzgebirge" and "made in German Democratic Republic". I used to keep him out all year, but he started showing signs of age beyond his years so I now only display him at Christmas-time.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Raven in the Foregate

The Raven in the Foregate is the 12th book in the Brother Cadfael medieval mystery series by Ellis Peters. It's been many a long year since I last read this series, and I am re-reading the 2 that take place over Christmas. In this one the priest's body is found on Christmas morning. This book is typical of the series. I've always enjoyed the characters, the settings, the plots... I like the Jacobi interpretation. We own all the books and DVDs.

from the back of the book:
When the beloved Father Adam dies, Abbot Radulfus recommends the young priest Ailnoth for the parish of Holy Cross, known as the Foregate. Ailnoth has much to recommend him, but his zeal and lack of pity quickly alienate him from his flock. So much so that no one is truly sorry when his body is discovered in the millpond on Christmas morning.

Brother Cadfael, herbalist monk and amateur sleuth, fears murder, and because of Father Ailnoth's unholy zeal, the malefactor could he almost anyone. Worse yet, one of the prime suspects is Cadfael's friend Benet, a young man who arrived with Father Ailnoth and went right to work eagerly helping the monk in his Herbarium. With partisans of the dispossessed Empress Maud believed to he in the area, Cadfael wishes that his assistant's identity was not so clearly another piece of the mystery....
We recently watched the Derek Jacobi TV adaptation of this book, and it bears little resemblance to the book. There are some character names that are the same, and the priest does die, but otherwise the plots are quite dissimilar. The Christmas season does not figure in the tv episode.

The Polar Express

This 2004 movie was not one that interested us enough to see it in the theater. Now that we have the DVD, though, we watch it every year. The Polar Express is based on a book that none of us have read. The film is a tribute to faith, of believing without having to see. "The bell still rings for me."


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 calls it "Technology brilliant" but says it "should be subtitled "The Night of the Living Dead." The characters are that frightening." The New York Times describes it as "a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology". says, "Beware the creeping horror that is “The Polar Express.”" Rolling Stone says, "it seems Scroogish to spoil the party. But the movie just doesn't work." The BBC warns against it, saying, "Besides its dead-eyed cast, this 'animated' escapade is thrown off the tracks by pointless detours seemingly intended just to stretch the journey time". EW doesn't like how different the film is from the book. It gets a score of 56% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hand-made Christmas Gifts

When I was growing up we had lots of extended family and gave gifts to them all. The Grandmother (my mother -she prefers the grandmother role, so that's her title here) used to bake cookies, fudge and divinity for gifts. Also, each year there would be a project. She and daddy would make enough of the project to give each family one. I remember many of them: a decorative cover for the tv guide which came in the newspaper every week, pine cones attached to ribbons that hung from a big bow, a hanging burlap cover for a yardstick that had 3 felt feet glued on the front, a wooden candle holder with a little pine cone on the base spray painted for the season, and bunches more. I was never allowed to help, but I remember the hub-bub with the materials all spread out in various stages of completion.

One year she made braided fabric wreaths. One of them is pictured above where it hangs on my wall.

I don't know where she got her ideas, but there are patterns similar to my wreath online.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where's the Kaboom?

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime

Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime:

by Jonathan Coulton.

This has been one of my favorite Christmas songs since I discovered it.

Calamity Town

Calamity Town is a 1942 mystery novel by Ellery Queen. I read this almost 8 years ago and am re-reading it now because key plot elements happen around Christmas time. I remembered it well even after all these years, so I enjoyed it less this time around. I think that speaks well of the writing, though, that the plot and characters stuck with me.

from the back of the book:
Wrightsville is a typical American town, buried in the great American heartland, up to its neck in good old American corn. No family in town is more respected than the one named, naturally enough, the Wrights. Daddy Wright is the town banker, Momma Wright is the town social lioness, daughter Patricia the town beauty, Nora the town recluse, Lola the town scandal. Ellery Queen likes sophistication, savoir faire, and all the swinging assets of Manhattan and its environs. So what in the world is he doing in this unearthly place? It is the job of the famous detective to find out which of the Wrights is the town poisoner. He must match his wits with a diabolically cunning and ruthless killer, while defending himself against a charge of murder.

There's an accurate description of Halloween in a 1940-ish small town that's notable for the lack of trick-or-treating and the prevalence of pranks. The Grandmother says trick-or-treating is a fairly recent innovation absent from her childhood and young adult-hood. She says in her youth, a common neighborhood prank was putting peoples' porch rockers up on their roofs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Elves

Elf on a shelf? Not for us! We prefer elves to stay put and not spy and tattle.

These elves were a Christmas present to me from an aunt when I was in elementary school. It's nice to have some things that I've always used for decorations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tourist Season

Tourist Season is a 1986 mystery novel by Carl Hiaasen that's heavier on the dark humor than on the mystery. It's been over 4 years since I last read this book, and I am re-reading it now because it takes place during the month of December. This is an easy breezy book, not subtle by any means, but fun.

from the back of the book:
The only trace of the first victim was his Shriner's fez washed up on the Miami beach. The second victim, the head of the city's chamber of commerce, was found dead with a toy rubber alligator lodged in his throat. And that was just the beginning... Now Brian Keyes, reporter turned private eye, must move from muckraking to rooting out murder... in a caper that will mix football players, politicians, and police with a group of fanatics and a very hungry crocodile.
Kirkus Reviews closes with this: "...if you like your gallows laughs with gall, this could be for you."

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Right to Bear Arms

I read the killer's mother was a "doomsday prepper" survivalist and that she's reportedly the one who taught him to shoot.

It makes no sense to me at all that the "right to bear arms" entitles someone to have what I've seen described as an "arsenal". Don't your rights end where mine begin? Why does your "right to bear arms" trump my right to elementary schools free from this kind of tragedy?

The Santa Clause

I had seen The Santa Clause before but not in a long, long time. We picked it up to have something different to add to the Christmas movie rotation. The film is a good one for us -one we haven't already seen a kajillion times and one that's appealing to us all. Tim Allen makes an enjoyable Santa, and the rest of the cast members are fine in their roles.


DVD Talk says,
The Santa Claus has been entertaining those looking for a little holiday cheer for 18 years though, and why? Because it's a well-balanced effort that can capture the heart and imagination of everyone, children and adults alike.
Roger Ebert says the film "is often a clever and amusing movie, and there's a lot of fresh invention in it." Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 80%.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Morality Play

Morality Play is a 1995 medieval mystery novel by Barry Unsworth, who wrote the Booker Prize-winning mastepiece Sacred Hunger. I last read Morality Play in 2005 and am re-reading it now because it takes place at Christmas-time. This book is no masterpiece, but I'm forgiving of novels with medieval settings and enjoyed the story of this traveling troupe of players.

from the back of the book:
Short-listed for the Booker Prize, Morality Play is a medieval murder mystery full of the wonders of the time - and lessons for our own time - by a master storyteller.

It is a cold winter in the fourteenth century, and a young renegade priest, Nicholas Barber, joins an acting troupe who prepare to play the drama of their lives. Breaking the tradition of only performing religious plays, the group's charismatic leader, Martin, wants them to enact the brutal murder that has torn apart the rural village into which they have wandered. A young boy has been found dead and the weaver's daughter has been arrested and stands to be hung. As the troupe delve deeper into the circumstances of the murder, they find themselves entering a dark world of intrigue that may prove their undoing. Taut and suspenseful, Morality Play is an exquisite work that captivates by its power, while opening up the distant past as new to the reader.
The Boston Review compares it unfavorably with Sacred Hunger, saying
Morality Play ultimately fails. The historical shift from morality plays based on stock Figures to modern drama based on psychological realism was a qualitative leap: it demanded more from audiences than the absorption of didactic lessons.
[this book] is determined to tell modern readers about the history of drama, and that is what it does, even at the expense of its own credibility as a historical novel.
Kirkus Reviews says that "mood and setting [are] crisply and chillingly evoked" and that
favorable comparisons to The Name of the Rose are in order, though many characters here are slender rather than fully figured, so that what could have been a truly great novel is instead only very good.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our Christmas Tree

We have used an artificial tree for over 20 years. This artificial tree. We think it's holding up well. The Husband went out to buy replacement lights and discovered once he got home that the cords were white instead of the green we usually have. Instead of going back to exchange them, we're pretending it's snow. Most of our ornaments are from when I was a child or from when The Kids were growing up. We have so many that we've stopped putting them all on the tree. We didn't get all the decorations out this year either, but ever since The Grandmother's fall and continuing need we've done much less decorating. I'm just not much in the mood to put it all back in boxes in January. What we did get out looks festive. We usually decorate the tree in time for Advent and take it down before Epiphany, so it stays up a long time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

El Puerto Mexican Grill & Bar

The Daughter and I had driven past El Puerto Mexican Grill & Bar on Highland many times and decided we needed to try it. We went there recently and are looking forward to going back. They have an extensive menu, so we won't ever get bored. When summertime comes we'll sit out on the patio and people-watch. There are a lot of people to watch around here with many pedestrians and bicyclists.

I had the lunch special #10, which is chicken or beef quesadilla with rice and beans. I picked the chicken. It was very good. The chicken was tender and tasty. Portions were generous and more than I could eat. The service was quick and friendly, helpful but not pushy. The waitress suggested a dish for The Daughter to try next time we come. Prices were reasonable, but I can't remember how much and can't find a full menu online. Our total including soft drinks and tax but excluding tip was a bit over $18. has a positive review. I'm not seeing any other reviews on web sites or blogs, and that's a shame. I can't imagine folks not liking the food here. I do think that, now that we're past Thanksgiving and approaching Christmas, they might want to consider changing their sign. But that's the only suggestion for change I have.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saint Lucia's Day

We began celebrating the Feast of Saint Lucy early on, but The Daughter was obstinate and never enjoyed taking her part in it -except for eating the sweet rolls, of course. I always ended up dressing in white and serving the coffee and sweet rolls, which is the place of the oldest daughter. She would have none of it. I never understood her objection. I finally gave our battery-powered candle head-piece to The Elder Son, because he really liked it while The Daughter steadfastly refused to wear it. Ah, well, such is life. Not everything you try will be a hit with the whole family. The breakfast sweet rolls were a hit with the whole family, and that was good enough for me.

We've tried several different sweet roll recipes through the years in addition to trying sweet rolls from various bakeries and pre-packaged ones. We like them all.

The picture at the top of the post is by Carl Larsson and is from 1908.

Oh, and I don't dress up in white anymore. The sweet rolls have always been center-stage, after all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Rare Benedictine

A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael is one of the later books (of 21) in a medieval mystery series written by Ellis Peters. This entry isn't a novel but 3 closely connected stories collected in one volume. One of the stories takes place at Christmas. The first of them tells how Cadfael came to be a monk.

I discovered this series decades ago when I came across a hardback edition of one of the books on the sale table of the bookstore at my local mall, back when every mall had a book store. It had an attractive cover, and the plot looked interesting. After I'd read it, I began looking for more and eventually picked them all up. I had read them all when the Derek Jacobi TV series came out, and our whole family enjoyed those shows.

from the back of the book:
"Brother Cadfael sprang to life suddenly and unexpectedly when he was already approaching sixty, mature, experienced, fully armed and seventeen years tonsured." So writes Ellis Peters in her introduction to A RARE BENEDICTINE -three vintage tales of intrigue and treachery featuring the monastic sleuth who has become the best-loved ecclesiastical detective since Father Brown.

Although Cadfael has appeared in eighteen novel-length chronicles to date, the story of his entry into me monastery at Shrewsbury has been known hitherto only to a few readers. Now his myriad fans can discover the chain of events that led him into the Benedictine Order.

Adorned with many period illustrations by Clifford Harper, these three tales show how Cadfael at the height of his sleuthing form. All the complexities of plot, vividly evoked Shropshire backgrounds, and warm understanding of the frailties of human nature that have made Ellis Peters an international best-seller are here displayed to perfection.

I enjoy this whole series and wish there were more, but alas, the author is dead now. She died at age 82 the year after the last one was published. I find the plots interesting and the medieval monastery setting fascinating, and I love the characters.


It's the last repeating date I'll live to see, so I'm gonna take special note of the time today at 12:12:12.

The picture at the top of the post came from

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Riu Riu Chiu

Riu Riu Chiu is a Spanish song from the 1500s. Sung below by The Monkees (via Caffeinated Joe):

It is widely performed by many types of musicians, including


The Waverly Consort, the Boston Camerata, the Kingston Trio, Mirabilis, the Modern Folk Quartet, the Baltimore Consort and Sixpence None the Richer.

You can read the lyrics and an English translation here.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I ran across a list a couple of weeks ago (I'm a sucker for lists) and started filling my cart with books I've never read that take place during the Advent/Christmas season. I built up to $100+ when I thought that surely I must have some books around here that fit the bill. Success! I found 6 books and may have another in the attic. The down side is I've read them all before. The up side is that they are free!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first book in a series of 7 written by C.S. Lewis. I read them aloud to The Kids when they were young and so I have fond memories associated with them.

In Narnia the White Witch has made it always winter but never Christmas.

from the dust jacket:
Welcome to Narnia, the magical land where talking animals, fauns, dwarfs, centaurs, and friendly giants live in peace and harmony. But life in Narnia is not all goodness....

When four English children accidentally enter this mysterious other world, they find themselves in a scene of dazzling snow. All is cold, silent, and forbidding, for the wicked White White has cursed the land with eternal winter and turned many of her enemies into stone. But with the arrival of the children, the little creatures of Narnia begin to come out of hiding, and rumors spread that Aslan, their beloved lion king, is on his way. Strange and wonderful events follow as the children aid the great golden lion in freeing Narnia from the White Witch's evil spell.

Illustrated with Pauline Baynes's lively line drawings, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a rich and exciting story, and a compelling introduction to the magic, mystery, and high adventure of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia.
Don't even talk to me about whether or not this book is the best place to start in reading the series. Of course it is. There's no question of that, no convincing argument otherwise, and so discussion on the topic is fruitless. If you're one of the poor saps who bought in on the other side, well, I'm sorry about that, but you are doomed to forever miss the true charm of these books. So sad.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been dramatized and is worth watching either in the 1988 BBC TV miniseries or in the 2005 theatrical presentation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest is a 2005 dark comedy that takes place on Christmas Eve. The Younger Son showed this to me one night when The Husband was out. This is definitely not a movie The Husband would enjoy, but I think this makes for a nice change. It stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as ill-fated businessmen afoul of the mob.


Slant Magazine opens their review by saying,
Small-scale in the best sense possible, The Ice Harvest proves that modest, workmanlike film noir need not be accompanied by hipster homages and ironic self-consciousness.
DVD Talk closes with this:
Tightly paced, consistently efficient, and completely, darkly entertaining throughout, The Ice Harvest is one of 2005's most annoyingly overlooked flicks, and it's a neo-noir heist comedy that I plan to revisit several times over the next few years. Maybe it's just that I've been so starved for a "grown-up" comedy that I'm affording The Ice Harvest a bit more affection than it deserves ... but I love nothing more than discovering a flick that got unfairly shafted during its theatrical release -- and then helping to spread the word to my fellow film geeks.
Roger Ebert says,
I liked the movie for the quirky way it pursues humor through the drifts of greed, lust, booze, betrayal and spectacularly complicated ways to die.
EW gives it an A- and describes it as an "acerbic, unpretentious black-comedy thriller". It gets a score of 46% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Vintage Plastic Nativity Scene

When I was growing up, my parents had a lot of Christmas decorations but wanted them concentrated in common areas of the house. My sister and I were allowed to choose 1 decoration each to go in our bedroom, and I always picked one of the 2 little plastic nativity scenes. 1 is pictured above. The other one is similar but taller. Both have suffered damage from multiple moves even though I tried to be careful with them. The one pictured here used to have a little angel at the peak of the stable roof-line in the front.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983) is the story of a childhood Christmas remembered and dramatically narrated by the adult Ralphie, who wanted that Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas when he was 9 years old more than anything in the world. The film is filled with subplots involving Ralphie's family and friends. Although The Husband and I like this movie The Younger Son does not care for it and wonders why we think it's funny. The Husband laughs out loud at this movie and enjoys it every year.


DVD Talk says it "has climbed the film-appreciation ladder to become one of the preeminent Yuletide features, a credit it wholeheartedly deserves. It's a delightful movie". It's on Roger Ebert's list of great movies, and he describes it as "pitch-perfect". Rotten Tomatoes gives it 89%.

Genghis Grill

The Daughter texted me and said she had the whole day off and asked if I wanted to go out to lunch. Sweet! The place she picked was Genghis Grill, where I had never been. She explained how it works: They seat you and bring you a stainless steel bowl; you take the bowl to the raw food bar where you select a meat, seasoning, veggies and sauce; you take the filled bowl to their cooking station where you tell them what kind of rice or noodle you want; you go back to your table and wait for your food to be delivered. We chose most of the same foods, but I got fried rice and she got white. The food is served in large red bowls:

I admit I'm a sucker for a Chinese buffet (of already-cooked food) and my default location is close at hand at Eastgate, but this was fun. The food was good, and the waitress was friendly. In warmer weather the little patio would be a nice place to eat.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Home Alone

Home Alone is a 1990 Christmas comedy starring Macaulay Culkin as the 8-year old boy who accidentally gets left behind when the large extended family heads off to Paris in a rush. I had only seen this once, years ago, and The Younger Son had never seen it. We think it's cute enough, but it won't become an annual must-see.


DVD Talk says, "everyone involved with the film seemed to be on the top of their game". BBC concludes:
This is a film which manages to capture some of the best qualities of Christmas in a surprisingly enjoyable format and will provide the whole family with large quantities of festive spirit.
EW gives it a "D". Roger Ebert likes Culkin's acting but not much else. It gets a score of 54% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Old Santa Mug

When I was little, I drank milk out of that cup. It got washed so much that most of the paint wore off, so when I grew up I started using it as a Christmas decoration instead. Those little wooden trees were bought at a small town street fair, oh, I guess maybe 20 years ago. I like them together, for some reason. The old next to the new and both bringing back fond memories.

And what does it say that I just called a 20-year old decoration the "new" one?

Wait! Don't answer that! lol

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Last Kashmiri Rose

The Last Kashmiri Rose (2001) is the first in the Detective Joe Sandilands mystery series by Barbara Cleverly. It was a NYT Notable Book.

I found this book during a trip through the mystery section at my favorite local bookstore. It was randomly selected based on no good reason. I have no good reason to read more by this author. I found it slow but without characters I could get much involved in. I found the sex scenes awkward: ""Not much of a big boy, after all," she said. "Does that always happen in cold water?"" ""Coral nipples," said Joe, stooping to kiss them." It reminds me of the only paranormal romance novel I've ever read. Some of the attitudes and actions seem to me to be anachronistic, but I can't honestly prove that point. I found the women irritating. I'll skip the rest of this series and move on. I have so many authors I have yet to read.

from the back of the book:
Calcutta, 1922. In a land of saffron sunsets and blazing summer heat, an Englishwoman has been found dead, her wrists slit, her body floating in a bathtub of blood and water. But is it suicide or murder? The case falls to Scotland Yard inspector Joe Sandilands, who survived the horror of the Western Front and has endured six sultry months in English-ruled Calcutta. Sandilands is ordered to investigate, and soon discovers that there have been other mysterious deaths, with sinister ties to the present case.

Now, as the sovereignty of Britain is in decline and an insurgent India is on the rise, Sandilands must navigate the treacherous corridors of political decorum to bring a cunning killer to justice, knowing the next victim is already marked to die.

January Magazine says,
... a strong plot and a vivid sense of place are never out of style, and Cleverly is very good at developing both. Like Christie, Cleverly is adept at shepherding a large and colorful cast of characters through a complicated yet logical plot. And like Conan Doyle, Cleverly can create lush atmosphere without (in most cases) resorting to overwrought description.
Publishers Weekly opens with this:
In an impressive debut, British author Cleverly weaves an engrossing tale of serial murder and the impending decline of the British Empire into a well-written fair-play mystery set in 1920s India.
Kirkus Reviews has spoilers and closes by saying, "Her rudimentary plotting skills, however, in no way equal her sense of time and place." The Mystery Reader calls it "a richly imagined setting with a very satisfying plot". Publishers Weekly

Looks like almost everybody else likes it. I'm just proof that you can't please everybody.

Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory"

Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" is a television adaptation of his short story. It stars Geraldine Page. The short story can be read online here. The tv show can be viewed via youtube in 6 pieces. Part 1:

The other parts are linked from youtube.

The show won Emmy and Peabody awards. Reviews are scarce. This doesn't seem to get the attention and annual showings on tv that other Christmas shows receive. I can't imagine why that is.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Christmas Movies

I have realized that I have a list of horror movies posted, but it's been several years since I updated my list of Christmas films. I'll update the list as I watch more of them. Some of these are available to watch online at the links provided.

Some of these films aren't Christmas movies in the traditional sense of the word, but all have at least one scene that takes place during the Christmas season. Not listed separately but worth noting: Each of the Harry Potter movies has a Christmas scene.


Santa Clause (1898)
Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost (1901)
The Night Before Christmas (1905)
A Christmas Carol (short, 1910)
A Christmas Accident (short, 1912)
The Insects' Christmas (1913, animated short)

A Message from Mars (1913)
The Night Before Chhristmas (1913)
The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914, short)
Beauty's Worth (1922)
A Christmas Carol (1923) Pandora's Box (1929)


Holiday (1930)
Santa's Workshop (animated short, 1932)
Christmas Night, or Pals (animated short, 1933)
The Night Before Christmas (animated short, 1933)
The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives (animated short, 1933)
Babes in Toyland (1934)
The Thin Man (1934)
Scrooge (1935)
Christmas Comes But Once a Year (animated short, 1936)
Things to Come (1936)
Three Godfathers (1936)
The Little Match Girl (animated short, 1937)
Bachelor Mother (1938)
The Captain's Christmas (animated short, 1938)
A Christmas Carol (Reginald Owen, 1938)
Holiday (1938)
Peace on Earth (animated short, 1939)


Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
The Blue Bird (1940)
Remember the Night (1940)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
The Night Before Christmas (Tom and Jerry animated short, 1941)
Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
Alias Boston Blackie (1942)
Holiday Inn (1942)
Larceny, Inc. (1942)
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
Christmas Holiday (1944)
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1944, animated short)
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Christmas Toy Shop (animated short, 1945)
Star in the Night (1945 short) It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Bush Christmas (1947)
It Happened On 5th Avenue (1947)
Kiss of Death (1947)
Lady in the Lake (1947)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Santa's Surprise (animated short, 1947)
They Live By Night (1948)
A Christmas Carol (1949, Vincent Price narration)
Holiday Affair (1949)
Little Women (1949)


The Great Rupert (1950)
Scandal (1950)
Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951)
A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim, 1951)
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
The Night Before Christmas (1951)
The Christmas Story (1952 Amos and Andy TV episode)
Full House (1952)
The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
The Nativity (1952)
A Star Shall Rise (1952 TV)
Christmas (1953 Make Room for Daddy TV episode)
I, the Jury (1953)
A Christmas Carol (1954)
Frosty the Snowman (1954, cartoon short)
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
The Case of the Christmas Pudding (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes tv series, 1955)
Good Will to Men (animated short, 1955)
The Little Lamb: A Christmas Story (1955 short)
We're No Angels (1955)
The Blessed Midnight (1956 TV)
Bundle of Joy (1956)
The Busy Christmas (1956 Ozzie and Harriet TV episode)
The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)
Three Young Kings (1956 TV) A Christmas Carol (1959)
The Christmas Visitor (1959)


The Apartment (1960)
Jangle Bells (1960 The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis TV episode)
A Silent Panic (1960)
Blast of Silence (1961)
Christmas at the 53rd (1961 Car 54, Where Are You? TV episode)
The Night Before Christmas (1961)
Plácido (1961)
Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
The Christmas Story (tv show, animated short, 1963)
A Carol for Another Christmas (1964)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (animated, 1965)
A Pistol for Ringo (1965)
A Christmas Story (1966 Bonanza TV episode)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" (1966)
The Monkees Christmas Show (1967)
Dean Martin Christmas Show (1968 variety show)
Will Penny (1968)
A Christmas Carol (1969 animated short)
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
My Night at Maud's (1969)


Santa and the Three Bears (animated, 1970)
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970)
Scrooge (Albert Finney, 1970)
Scrooge Gets an Oscar (1970, episode from The Odd Couple TV series)
A Christmas Carol (animated short, 1971)
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)
Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973)
Black Christmas (1974)
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
Twas the Night Before Christmas (animated short, 1974)
Ebenezer Sanford (Sanford and Sons TV series, 1975)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Silent Night, Holy Night (animated, 1976)
A Christmas Carol (1977)
A Cosmic Christmas (animated short, 1977)
Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977, animated short)
The Gathering (1977)
Johnny Cash and Family Christmas Show (1977)
Rabid (1977 horror)
Rich Little's Christmas Carol (1978)
The Stingiest Man in Town (1978, animated)
An American Christmas Carol (1979)
Rumpole and the Case of Identity (1979, TV series episode)


Mr. Krueger's Christmas (1980 TV)
A Christmas Carol (animated, Australian, 1982)
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
First Blood (1982)
The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982)
The Snowman (1982)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983, animated)
Trading Places (1983)
The Blue Carbuncle (Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, 1984)
A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott, 1984)
Comfort and Joy (1984)
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Gremlins (1984)
Mrs. Soffel (1984)
Better Off Dead (1985)
Brazil (1985)
The Fourth Wise Man (1985)
A Jetson Christmas Carol (1985)
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)
Die Hard (1988)
Prancer (1989)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)


Die Hard 2 (1990)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Home Alone (1990)
The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Seoul Mates (Northern Exposure TV series, 1991)
Theft of the Royal Ruby (Poirot tv series, 1991)
Batman Returns (1992)
Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
The Cardboard Box (Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) tv series, 1994)
Northern Ballet Theatre's A Christmas Carol (1994)
The Ref (1994)
The Santa Clause (1994)
Shofar, So Good (Northern Exposure TV series, 1994)
City of Lost Children (1995)
The Fall of Night (1995, Babylon 5 tv series episode)
Hercule Poirot's Christmas (tv series, 1995)
Reckless (1995)
Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice (Mystery! tv series, 1995)
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
The Toy That Saved Christmas (1996)
A Christmas Carol (1997)
Christmas Carol (X Files tv series, 1997)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (X-Files tv episode, 1998)
Ronin (1998)
A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart, 1999)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Line of Fire (Touch of Frost tv series, 1999)
Millennium (The X-Files tv episode, 1999)
One Special Night (1999)
Xmas Story (Futurama tv episode, 1999)


American Psycho (2000)
Noel (The West Wing tv episode, 2000)
Door to Death (part 1 of the story, completed by Christmas Party listed below) (Nero Wolfe tv series, 2001)
Christmas Party (Nero Wolfe tv series, 2001)
The Star of Christmas (2002)
A Carol Christmas (2003)
Elf (2003)
Horatio Hornblower: Duty (2003)
Love Actually (2003)
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Ghosts of Christmas Past (Midsomer Murders, tv episode, 2004)
The Polar Express (2004)
The Ice Harvest (2005)
Joyeux Noel (2005)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Rent (2005)
Deck the Halls (2006)
The Holiday (2006)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Little Theodore and the Green Candy Piece (animated short, 2007)
The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis (Big Bang Theory tv series, 2008)
A Christmas Story (2008)
A Christmas Tale (2008)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
In Bruges (2008)
The Maternal Congruence (Big Bang Theory tv series, 2009)


The Ho Ho Ho Job (Leverage tv series, 2010)
Nicholas Was (2010 animated short film)
Rare Exports (2010)
RED (2010)
The Warrior's Way (2010)
Arthur Christmas (2011)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Mr. Stink (2012)
Prometheus (2012)
The Santa Simulation (Big Bang Theory tv series, 2012)
The Christmas Candle (2013)
A Christmas Tree Miracle (2013)
The Cooper Extraction (Big Bang Theory tv series, 2013)
The Christmas Haunting (Midsomer Murders, tv series, 2013)
The Clean Room Infiltration (Big Bang Theory tv series, 2014)
The Paddington Movie (2014)
And Santa's Midnight Run (The Librarians tv series, 2014)
Stonehearst Asylum (2014)
A Very Murray Christmas (2015 variety show)
A Christmas Crow (2017 Upstart Crow TV episode)
Dear Satan (2017)
Roma (2018)
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Dead Room (2018)
Await Further Instructions (2018)
Klaus (2019)
Christmas on the Square (2020)