The Ghosts of Christmas Past (or “Oh crap, another list…”)

There are so many different ways to get into the holiday spirit – and lots and lots of ways to get out of it; attempting to navigate any mall or market during the month of December makes me want to commit harakiri – but, with the possible exception of the annual release of the new Glee Christmas album, few are as effective as the holiday films that we grew up watching. Last week, I mentioned that “it wasn’t Christmas” until I got to see The Muppet Christmas Carol (and on the big screen? BRILLIANCE), and that goes for a few more movies as well. And so, with links to lots of videos that will hopefully delight you too, I bring to you the b-roll “It just isn’t Christmas until…” list.

Please note that you won’t find a lot of old stand-bys in this post, but there are several Muppets. I know that it’s a wonderful life because Santa performs miracles on 34th street, but these are my favorites. Feel free to submit yours in the comments.


…Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) calls Rizzo the Rat an idiot. (The Muppet Christmas Carol)

Yes, I know I lifted this right from my earlier post, but it’s true. This just might be my very favorite Christmas movie; I know every single word of it and am not even remotely ashamed of that fact. Muppet Christmas Carol does a superb job of blending the timeless Dickens classic with zany Muppet genius, and has moments of such humor (“Light the lamp, not the rat! LIGHT THE LAMP NOT THE RAT!”) and sweetness (“Bless Us All” is really quite a tear-jerker) that you can’t help but love it. See for yourself, won’t you?

Although (and, if you’re totally unaware of how A Christmas Carol ends, kinda spoiler alert): When I saw this film in the theater and Scrooge sang that he would “promise to share the wealth,” I laughed aloud, then prayed that there wasn’t a Fox News employee in attendance. Lord help us.

…Charlie Brown rescues the most pathetic little tree in the world. (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Who said there were no classics on my list? Incidentally, for a children’s holiday program, this is one helluva sad little show; not only is Charlie Brown suffering from such a deep clinical depression that he sees a (unlicensed) therapist, but it’s then exacerbated by the local townschildren (and dog) mercilessly telling him how useless he is. Thank God for Linus and his blankie of wisdom. I know the show’s message is peace on earth and anti-materialism, and that’s awesome, but I’ll be honest, I watch for two reasons: To recreate the BEST. DANCE MOVES. EVER. (my favorites – the “head nod” and the “zombie”), and to throw my head back and croon “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” along with the Peanuts gang (skip ahead to 2:45 in the clip). Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

…Aunt Bethany leads the Griswold family in the Pledge of Allegiance. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

This is one of those God, this is so stupid that it’s hilarious movies that I have been quoting for roughly 20 years. (My favorite line: “You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant!”) Also, who didn’t dream of having a house as tackily illuminated as the Griswolds? As a child, I begged my dad to put lights on the house (or, as a compromise, at least the two-story-tall pine tree in our front yard; totally reasonable!), and he responded by nonchalantly chucking a string of lights into the tree beside the house, which has forever become known in my family as “the Clump in the Lilac Bush.” It was not the Griswoldian light show I was hoping for.

…the Swedish Chef tries to cook Big Bird for Christmas dinner. (A Muppet Family Christmas)

This is much less dark than it sounds; it’s actually quite hilarious in the context of the show (in which the Swedish Chef sees Big Bird, thinks he’s a large turkey, and cries, “Gobble Gobble HUMONGO!”). Also, Big Bird, in his sweet and wonderful way, wins the Swedish Chef over and they sing a duet together, so, all good. But what makes A Muppet Family Christmas special is, truly, “family”; the entire Jim Henson gang – Muppets, Fraggles, Sesame Street – come together for Christmas sing-alongs and clever quips, followed by a cameo from the man himself at the end. Magic, friends. Magic.

…Billy Mack tops the charts with the worst Christmas single ever. (Love Actually)

I think Bill Nighy is the highlight of Love Actually (hence above), but a romantic comedy full of awesome and attractive British actors? Hugh Grant dancing and Colin Firth adorably fumbling through a Portuguese proposal? Yes, please. Though the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman and Laura Linney stories break my heart into pieces, and on behalf of women everywhere, I do wish the  “chubby girl” that Hugh Grant falls in love with in spite of her “enormous thighs” didn’t look exactly like a swimsuit model (with not-at-all-enormous thighs); right, it’s such a leap that he would like her. Still, it’s a great movie, and I know Garry Marshall’s been trying to Americanize Love Actually with Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, but the Brits just did this so much better. We’re embarrassing ourselves at this point. Just stop.

…Ralphie’s father receives a box that is “fra-gee-lay.” (A Christmas Story)

This movie is a little overplayed, sure (an annual 24-hour Christmas Eve marathon will do that), but it’s still a hilarious and classic film about Christmas through the eyes of a child (and the  “unbridled avarice” of Christmas morning). Everything about it just connects to childhood memories: The desperation for that present you absolutely had to have, the tearing apart of the wrapping paper then falling asleep under the tree, the poor dad who has to assemble or fix everything and swears a blue streak (my dad’s “tapestry of obscenities” is hanging in space over Lake Winnipesaukee, incidentally). It’s perfect holiday nostalgia, wrapped up with a beautiful bow.

And with that, I am officially bathed in the holiday freaking spirit, b-rollers. And just for good measure, let me throw in a couple TV moments as well: Who else treasures a visit from The Holiday Armadillo? I love Friends and own all ten seasons on DVD, and for my money (literally, apparently), this was one of its funniest episodes (and spawned what might be my favorite Friends joke ever, when Rachel walks in to see the Armadillo, Santa, Superman and Monica lighting a menorah in a dimly lit room and quips, “It looks like the Easter Bunny’s funeral in here.” Maybe you had to be there.)

And finally, I wrote about how much I love The West Wing, and their first season’s Christmas episode, “In Excelsis Deo,” is one of the reasons why – moving, beautifully-written and edited, sensational. I’ve embedded the final five minutes of the episode below, but I highly recommend that you watch the whole thing.

And that, friends, is it until the New Year. Happy Holidays from b-roll.


TV of the Year, from the extremely limited perspective of b-roll

You know how I said that I wouldn’t be ranking my favorite shows and giving you a top whatever list? I kinda lied. I didn’t rank all of the shows, just the one that I think was not only the best show this year, but maybe even an all-time great – in my humble opinion, of course. And if you read my blog on a regular basis you will be shocked, SHOCKED, by what it is. (Shut up, it’s not Wheel of Fortune.) Anyway, scroll to the end if the suspense is killing you.

Otherwise, in no particular order other than my totally invented and nonsensical categorization, here is the Official (Really Long Form) b-roll 2011 TV Year in Review. Won’t you share your own thoughts in the comments?



Happy Friday, b-rollers! A quick note on b-roll coming attractions as we head into the home stretch of the holiday season.

  • As noted, I’ll be posting my “b-roll TV Year in Review” on Sunday. Brace yourselves, it’s not a quick read. I, uh, watch more TV than I realized. I stand by my earlier statement that most of it isn’t that great, it’s just that I still consume it in bulk. Anyway. Sunday.
  • The reason I’m not posting it on Saturday is two-fold: 1) I have bought just one single Christmas present so far, and since I actually know more than one person, I have some heavy shopping to do. 2) To get myself in the Christmas spirit, I’m going to preface my shopping by seeing one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, A Muppet Christmas Carol, on the big screen at the AFI Silver Theater (bless them and their Muppet-loving hearts). This is the first time I’ll get to see this movie in an actual theater and I am dizzy with excitement. I know, I’m a child, but it’s just not Christmas until Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) calls Rizzo the Rat an idiot.
  • And speaking of Christmas movies, I think that deserves a post all its own, don’t you? I’ll come up with some thoughts next week. There are just so many good ones. And a warning: I’m not a huge fan of the oldies (It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.) and lean more towards stupid humor (see above), so if you are preliminarily outraged, fair enough; feel free to defend your favorites.
  • And finally, this may or may not happen by Christmas, but I’ll have a post soon on a mini-debate raging among the tiny group of people who actually care regarding the frontrunners for the Oscars this year – The Artist (haven’t seen yet), Hugo (which I loved), etc. – and the nature of these “escapist” movies. You may not care either, but as soon as I get my thoughts in order (I’m trying to be articulate and stuff), I’ll let you know.

And that’s the plan up to Christmas. And then: a break. But you’ve been blogging so constantly, you argue (there’s no need to be snide). I’ll be home in New Hampshire for over a week, and there are people to see and presents to open and long naps to take, so that’ll be it until the New Year, when I’ll be back with more b-roll. I swear to Kermit.

The State of Television, according to b-roll

As a film/TV lover, I always enjoy that moment when all of the critics start rolling out their end-of-year “best of” lists, and everyone’s curiosity abruptly turns to outrage at the omission of their favorites. I usually clock in at “benign irritation,” but occasionally people go a little nuts; some comments are flat-out terrifying. It must be a delight for the critics, too, who all preface their write-ups with some variation of: “These are just my opinions. I know you’ll hate them and/or want to scream at me. Commence telling me how much I fail at life in 3…2…1…” You can just hear their fortifying deep breaths turning into sighs of resignation as readers angrily start to chime in.

It really promotes the seasonal feelings of love, joy and fellowship, this “best of the year!” thing.

The perils of doing one of these lists not as a professional critic but as a “for love of the game” blogger (and a sporadic one at that) is that I miss a ton of stuff; I don’t get screener DVDs or private sneak previews. Thus I don’t really want to do a “favorite movies of 2011” list yet; best to do that closer to the Oscars, once I’ve made a mad dash to catch up on the contenders.

But I watch a lot of TV. Sure, I don’t catch everything, but I watch. A lot. So – a list of television shows! Extra credit because I’ve been so movie-centric recently; a TV post is long overdue. So, here we are: the official b-roll Top (choose an arbitrary number) favorite TV Shows of 2011. Yes. This is good. Let’s get started.

Hey – is it me, or does TV kinda suck?

I mean, I watch it obsessively; day and night, my TV is on. And I DVR a good number of shows – I never watch anything but sporting events or Law & Order re-runs in real time – so it’s not like I don’t commit. But very few of them fall into the must-see category anymore.

Anyone else having this problem too?

Part of this is compounded by the DVD/Hulu effect; not only do I not have to watch shows the minute they air, I can catch up to them years later. I’m not going to cry over missing a show I should apparently be watching or fork out a ton of money for premium channels; I’ll just shrug and wait until they’re on Netflix (which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Netflix streaming is, without question, a gift from the baby Jesus). This is how I’m getting up to speed on Breaking Bad, though I’m not quite there yet. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think there’s more to this Walter White fella than meets the eye.

So, rather than a top whatever list (because, hand to God, I’m not sure I can come up with 10 or so shows that I watch consistently and think are honestly worth recommending right now), how about a “Shows that were on television that I watched this year and think have some merit, so if you’re watching too, great, and if not, consider catching up on DVD or online” list? Catchy, right? And I’ll add a dash of “Shows that I still watch but have gone downhill and/or off a cliff,” maybe a couple of “Shows I DVR that I’m a little ashamed to admit I do” and just a splash of  “I’ve officially deleted you from my DVR, the hell with you, American Idol” (that may be just a rant about one show in particular). What say you to that?

So I’ll be back this weekend with my unranked thoughts. And in the meantime, a caveat: These are just my opinions. I know you’ll hate them and/or want to scream at me. Commence telling me how much I fail at life shortly.

Movie Rundown: “My Week With Marilyn” and, um, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn”

Total honesty: My roommate gave me the idea for this post.

You see, we saw two movies together this weekend: My Week With Marilyn and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One, Holy Crap This Series Will Never End. I sat down to write about them – and, no lie, the first words I typed were “Twilight: Oh dear God, you guys” – and my roommate said, “Are you writing about Twilight? And comparing Bella and Marilyn Monroe?” And I laughed and then realized…actually, that’s an amazing point.

(Reviews-ish and spoilers for both films below; fair warning.)

My Week With Marilyn was an interesting (not exhilarating) film worth seeing for Michelle Williams’ stunning performance. Sure, she pulled off the remarkable trick of inhabiting the Marilyn Monroe persona so completely that you just can’t see the seams. But more than that, she captured a fascinating, bewildering complexity: her desperation to be loved beyond her celebrity, yet her calculated use of the Marilyn caricature to charm men into falling for her; the overwhelming insecurity that could cripple her vast talent. It’s a tour-de-force portrayal of a deeply complicated woman, and the movie – like the “movie-within-the-movie,” The Prince and the Showgirl – is a hit-or-miss film that comes alive when Michelle/Marilyn is onscreen.

Speaking of paralyzing insecurity, let’s talk about Bella Swan, the central figure of The Twilight Saga (and boy, has the word “saga” ever been more aptly used). Like Marilyn, Bella also has men – well, boys/vampires/werewolves – falling at her feet, and also like Marilyn, this attention does little to soothe her anxiety and self-doubt; in Breaking Dawn, she is so delighted to be marrying the gorgeous vampire of her dreams that she stumbles down the aisle looking like she wants to vomit all over her wedding guests. (If Robert Pattinson was desperate to marry you, wouldn’t you hire a skywriter and televise your wedding on a live satellite feed? Just asking.) Wedding jitters are understandable, but this scene was kind of the culmination of her character’s “I’m a mess and I don’t know why this guy loves me but apparently he does, so whatever, I’ll just follow him into eternity” character arc; and since “angsty and nervous” seem to be Kristen Stewart’s primary palette, her Bella is exactly as scowly and miserable as on the page. (In one scene, Bella scolds her new husband Edward for not being able to recognize how happy she was, which was an easy mistake since she never cracked a smile.)

Does it seem like I hate Bella? Because I deeply do, and it’s not (simply) Kristen Stewart’s fault; I have ever since I first read the books. She – in the exact same way as Marilyn – projects such vulnerability that she all but demands to be rescued, then makes her self-worth completely dependent upon the guy in nearest proximity. And neither handles the thought of abandonment well; Marilyn turns to pills and booze (predictably), and Bella (in New Moon, an earlier installment of the series) devolves into a catatonic state so infuriating that you want to slap her back into reality: You don’t exist solely to be a girlfriend. For God’s sake, do something with your life.

The difference between them is that these flaws (and the sad knowledge of how her story ends) present Marilyn Monroe as an achingly tragic figure. But Bella? She’s supposed to be the hero of our epic saga, its strong moral backbone, and as a woman, I just can’t stand it. We deserve to be loved, but we shouldn’t need to be saved.

Also worth noting: Breaking Dawn is a pretty terrible movie with a borderline-traumatic birth scene and an awesome message (don’t have sex, kids, but if you really want to, make sure you rush into a marriage you’re uncomfortable with first, and then be prepared to get ripped apart in childbirth, because that’s what happens). Two important points, though: I can report that Taylor Lautner is shirtless within the first fifteen seconds of the film, and if I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s a new record for the franchise; and also, I hope that you are lucky enough to see the film, as I did, with a woman who forgot that she wasn’t in her own living room and served as a Waldorf & Statler-type presence throughout the movie. When Bella mentioned that if her vampire spawn was a girl she wanted to name it some combination of its grandmothers’ names, Renee and Esme, the woman piped up (in all seriousness), “She’s going to name it Résumé?!”

And that, dear b-rollers, was the best part of the movie.

Trailer: John Carter

Happy Friday, everyone! The new trailer for the Disney blockbuster John Carter premiered last week (a teaser was released this summer), and I’m curious to see what everyone thinks. I’ve seen a bunch of different reactions on the interwebs: Looks amazing! Totally disappointed. Total Star Wars ripoff. This will be incredible!!!! I just hope it doesn’t suck. The next Avatar! (I think this was meant in a good way; for me, it’s the tempered praise of “beautiful, but oh, how plotless.”)

John Carter does look a little Gladiator-meets-Star Wars, and “fantasy epic” is not usually my genre (for real), but I actually want to see this for two reasons.

One, it’s directed by Andrew Stanton, the (freaking genius) director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo, which, as you know, I hopelessly love. But live action is a whole different game, so I’m hopeful (but not sold) that he can pull it off.

Also, remember that post in which I talked/gushed about how much I adore the show Friday Night Lights, and the character of Tim Riggins? Well, in a related story, Riggins – his real name is Taylor Kitsch, but he will always be Riggins in Casa b-roll – is the star of this film. Incidentally, the runner-up star of the film: Riggins’ abs. I don’t know who decided that his Martian warrior armor should consist of a thin strap across his chest, but God bless, costuming department.

So will I see this? Yes. I will. And I expect Riggins’ abs this Martian world to look spectacular in 3D IMAX.

What’s your verdict, b-rollers?

It’s not easy being red

Do you ever feel like we’ve actually stepped inside the pages of The Onion? Today, I hit my breaking point with society. Follow with me, b-rollers.

Everyone is talking about The Muppets, including me. So, apparently, is Fox Business, which is related to right-wing Fox News, which, full disclosure, I detest because I’m a young Northeast liberal and thus, if you watch Fox News, probably a Communist. Therefore, no wonder I love the Muppets – they’re Communists too! I’m not kidding; this is really a conversation that Fox Business had. They had a debate about it, with graphics and stuff. Because the villain of the movie is an oil baron named Tex Richman – and that’s clearly an assault on capitalism and the hardworking philanthropists at oil companies everywhere – but even more than that, liberals are using the Muppets to indoctrinate the youth of America. How dare we.

Okay, you guys, honest question: Has Darwinism stopped working? We’re talking about a movie featuring puppets. A frog is romantically involved with a pig. Jason Segel’s “brother” is fourteen inches tall and orange. (And we shall call him…Snooki.) Vogue not only has a “plus-sized” section (sure) but has handed over the keys to aforementioned pig (glamazon though she is). In roughly 36 hours, the gang rebuilds a condemned theater and puts on a telethon. Shall we really nitpick?

Not to close the liberal loop here, but remember when President Obama released his birth certificate primarily to silence Donald Trump (oh, if only), then held a press conference and said, “We have more important things to do”? (About four days later bin Laden was killed, so no duh.) I thought that was our societal rock bottom, but apparently there are just so many layers. In these troubled economic times, Fox Business, WE HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO.

Anyway, I’m going to take some deep cleansing breaths. If you’d like to see the video, head over to Entertainment Weekly, where one blogger wrote an ironic post about this. And if you really want to despair for humanity, check out the comments section, where many people were unable to distinguish that the piece was appropriately mocking of the dumbest argument that’s ever been made.