30 November 2009

A Bond Overview

A Bond Overview
By Kristin Battestella

Like Sharpe before him, James Bond has taken over in recent months here at I Think, Therefore I Review. Even after having watched all this 007 goodness in the spirit of review, I still would not call myself a Lover of all things Bond nor a Bond expert. I really like one or two films from each Bond tenure, but I could also leave a lot of these pictures out of my collection.

For quick reference, here’s a list of Bond films in chronological order, with links to our reviews:

1. Dr. No
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
11. Moonraker
16. License to Kill

Now, here’s my attempt to rate them all-subject to change, of course. I image there’s a few folks who disagree, so please feel free to comment or visit the individual reviews and critique there. The Top Twelve are the pictures that I recommend for explicit Bond fans and action viewers alike.

24. Moonraker
21. Octopussy
20. The Man With the Golden Gun
8. License to Kill
3. Dr. No
2. GoldenEye

Naturally you'll notice I've not reviewed every Bond picture as yet. I debated not posting this overview until I finished, but I didn't want to leave Our Man James hanging on over the holidays! Then again, I might be hanged for my rankings!

25 November 2009

More Dark Shadows Specials

Dark Shadows Specials Feed your Need
By Kristin Battestella

Dark Shadows (Special Edition)It’s inevitable. Every Fall I get that hankering for a good old marathon of the classics sixties gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. Now mind you, I prefer the latter half of the series, and only have from the Quentin Collins introduction to the end of the series on tape. Even if that’s the case, this lingering Halloween temptation still gives me thirty-five VHS to watch! Who has that kind of time? Fortunately, a Dark Shadows fix can be quelled with several video specials: Dark Shadows Scariest Moments, Dark Shadows: The Special Edition, and The Dark Shadows Reunion.

Like Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures, the Dark Shadows Special Edition serves up several wonderful documentaries, commercials, treats, and more. The hour-long Behind the Scenes segment contains rare early footage, photos, and outtakes to go along with the dozens of interviews from the cast and crew. It’s a little dated and very late eighties in style, but it’s great to hear the set anecdotes and see some of the actors who have since passed on. Tribute is also paid to the then departed as well; and I have to say, the subtitles are also glorious!

The next hour length documentary called ‘Nightmares and Dreams’ showcases all those bizarre dream scenes Dark Shadows fans know and love. Some of its old and looks slow and dated, but it’s so great to see these commercials and other rarities have survived on DVD-especially the very bizarre Spanish dubbed episode. The On location segment shares some very old footage; but is still intriguing, as is the Inside the Shadows feature about the casting of Jonathan Frid and the vampire mythos. Non-fans or viewers not interested in vintage gothic filmmaking might find all this boring. The Dark Shadows enthusiast, however, is in for plenty of spooky delights. I mean, the Barnabas Collins Board Game-need I say more?

Dark Shadows ReunionThe Dark Shadows Reunion is a two-hour plus disc capturing a special cast reunion from 2000. Previously on tape as the ‘35th Anniversary Celebration’, creator Dan Curtis and most of the original cast reunite to share clips, memories, and the cultural impact of this spooky soap. Highlights include a segment from the very first episode among other early clips, a lengthy reel of key scenes from the series, and a Q&A from the audience. The format is a little long in the tooth (hehe, no pun intended!), but again it’s a treat to see some of the late cast sharing stories of the behind the scenes craziness and fun.

Of course, all this is very dry and flat to the non-fan, but old time Dark Shadows convention goers can cherish this fanfare. Bonus features on the set include interviews with the late Joan Bennett and the absent Jonathan Frid-in addition to more commercials and promos. However, there are no subtitles here, and not everyone is present at the reunion. Understandable, of course, but critical players like Frid and David Henesy would have been a hard-core fan’s delight.

The half hour Dark Shadows Scariest Moments is a quick, creepy fix highlighting some of the series’ most memorable moments, from the original Phoenix storyline line right up to the final 1841 Parallel time episodes. Though not all of the pro-offered material can be deemed truly scary, it’s fun to recall some of the show’s unique and iconic scenes. Where else on daytime television are people buried alive or plagued by a truly horrendous dream curse? The editing and pacing is a little slow and uneven, sometimes taking quiet a long time to get to the big scare, but that was the style of the show, too. Thankfully, the music goes a long way in the Dark Shadows mood and atmosphere. When we hear those familiar themes by Bob Cobert, we know what’s in store.

Dark Shadows: Scariest Moments [VHS]Dark Shadows Scariest Moments, however, is not an introduction piece. It jumps from character to storyline, the past and parallel time. You really have to know who is who and appreciate the series for this spooky, gothic video to have its full effect. I’ve always thought the later Gerard Stiles and Head of Judah Zachary storylines were freaky and frightful, but there’s pieces here of everything Dark Shadows has to offer. Of course, it’s also fun to look for some bloopers in these spookies, too.

Fortunately, I have Dark Shadows Scariest Moments on VHS, but it appears it’s never been available on DVD. In a new effort to appease audiences, MPI appears to be releasing several more compilation and highlight DVDS- including Dark Shadows: the Curse of the Vampire and Dark Shadows: The Haunting of Collinwood. These new sets look to be nice refreshers on Barnabas’ introduction and Quentin’s haunting, respectively. While these don’t appear on Netflix just yet, the season sets are all available for rent. The 1991 Revival series is viewable online as well. The feature film House of Dark Shadows is also available at Amazon’s video on demand for a quick fix. Dark Shadows Scariest Moments advertises The Best of Barnabas and the Best of Dark Shadows tapes, but who knows if these can still be found. Unfortunately, the second full-length film Night of Dark Shadows has also not seen the light of DVD’s day.

If you don’t have the time to invest in a full on Dark Shadows viewing devotion, or if you’re short on cash to buy the season sets, Dark Shadows Scariest Moments, The Dark Shadows Special Edition, and The Dark Shadows Reunion can curb your Collinwood urges-until next October, that is!

24 November 2009

A Taste of Christmas Vinyl

A Taste of Christmas Vinyl

By Kristin Battestella

Maybe it is a little too early for Christmas. Even a traditional Thanksgiving is subverted with December d├ęcor and holiday music. Nevertheless, to combat the early shopping season, I’ve decided to list my collection of Holiday albums. And yes, I mean albums-as in records, lps, vinyl. Dust off the musty box o’ records in the basement and get your collection out of the attic-it’ll melt!

I’ve linked to Amazon Vinyl where available. Some of these sets are well known in CD or digital and download media, but others are out of print and quite the value. You can even buy a few of these gems cheap at thrift shops or Salvation Army and Goodwill stores. Sweet yuletide tunes and doing some good for our fellow man- not bad, my little elves!

A Christmas Album Barbara Streisand

Christmas Hymns George Beverly Shea

The Christmas Song Nat King Cole

Christmas through the Years Readers Digest Collection

Favorite Christmas Carols Voices of Firestone

Great Songs of Christmas Album 2

Great Songs of Christmas Album 3

Great Songs of Christmas Album 6

A Henry Mancini Christmas

Holiday Sing a Long with Mitch

Joyous Christmas Volume 4

The Little Drummer Boy The Abbey Choir

Merry Christmas Bing Crosby

Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis

The Nutcracker Tchaikovsky’s Ballets

O Holy Night Luciano Pavarotti

Seasons Greetings from Perry Como

Silent Night: A Diplomat Christmas Record

Sing We Now of Christmas Harry Simeone Chorale

A Very Merry Christmas Volume 5

So, what’s the value of my collection? By guessing with the online auction prices, my Christmas records alone stand under $200. Not bad considering I’ve not spent $10 for the few I purchased! Every December, I am always tempted to find the rest of those Great Songs of Christmas albums. Then I go to the junk shops and see records I already have and think better of it!

I have more Christian music and inspirational hymns on record, too, but I think I’ll save that list for Easter. ;0)

19 November 2009

Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis

It’s Not a Merry Christmas without Johnny Mathis
By Kristin Battestella

Merry ChristmasI don’t advocate the entire Johnny Mathis catalogue to the next generation. Outside of the timeless hits ‘Chances Are’, ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, and ‘It’s Not for Me to Say’ there’s isn’t much for today’s masses. No, in tonight’s review, I’m speaking to the moms, the old aunts, and the grandmothers of December yesteryear. You know you can’t visit their households during the holiday season without hearing Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis. If you’re a little younger like me, you might have the CD, but I’m sure older folks can close their eyes and see Johnny and his skiing get up on the 1958 vinyl sleeve cover. Yeah, you know that the Christmas kitschy I’m talking about!

Other artists have certainly done Winter Wonderland, but Johnny’s rendition is tough to beat. It’s fun, carefree, sing-along-able; yet holds enough weight for Mathis’ range and delivery. I’m not listening to the song right now, but the tune instantly comes to mind with Johnny’s hip stylings. Now it’s stuck in my frigging head and I can’t type all the beats and bubbly bits to match him!

No fifties Christmas album produced by Mitch Miller (Sing A Long with Mitch, anyone?) would be complete without The Christmas Song. Johnny Mathis comes close to the original Nat King Cole rendition in sentimental mood and holiday warmth. This slow brooding, melancholy tune is just the right pace and style for Johnny’s talent. Although it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum, Sleigh Ride also gives us more definitive Mathis. I dare say this happening version-the shortest and fastest song here- is the most famous vocal version and only second to the Boston Pops original. Catchy Johnny captures all the traditions of Currier and Ives in this short and sweet secular staple.

Now that we’ve had our sleighing fun, it’s time to slow Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis for some winter blues. Where Elvis’ version has some sweet blues vocals, Johnny’s Blue Christmas is for all the folks who hate Christmas and think it’s the most depressing time of the year. If it’s slow brew wasn’t tear jerking enough, Mathis’ mellow I’ll be Home for Christmas will have you calling your grandma. The vocals and orchestration by Percy Faith are so sweet and nonchalant as they tug at your holiday heartstrings. Whether he’s billowing the big notes or almost speaking a soft word or two, Johnny knows how to get you.

Now, no Christmas album since 1942 is complete without White Christmas and Mathis’ debut holiday record here is no different. This slightly slower version keeps all the yuletide resonance in the perfect range for Johnny’s delivery. It’s bittersweet, but somehow marshmallow and full of vocal snowflakes. This one song can still make people smile as quickly as it brings a tear.

Like many of its compatriots of the time, Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis’ original record is split with an A side of secular tunes and a B side of traditional Christmas Carols. Outside of Luciano Pavarotti and Mario Lanza, not many men can hit the high notes in O Holy Night. Pop stars of the day like Andy Williams and Perry Como drop down the octaves, but not Johnny. He takes all the time and measures that this hefty carol needs for complete reverence. Though O Holy Night is the longest tune here, we get a complete rendition of What Child Is This in equally fine gospel delivery. Perhaps because of its association with Greensleeves, I always feel some medieval stylings here. In the midst of the plague and the wrongs of the Inquisition, Christ’s light prevailed!

Yes, we are listening to versions of carols from the 1950s; but just think, people in the 1850s were hearing joyful noise with the same tunes. In keeping with the Old World yule, The First Noel strikes the perfect balance between Johnny’s higher notes and all the low octaves. Sometimes I just like his lone ‘Noel’ delivery, for it makes perfect sense that ‘Noel’ and ‘Israel’ should rhyme when Mathis sings it! Thought not a Carol, Silver Bells lightens Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis just a bit with those good old memories of Christmas in the City. You know, before people trampled each other over the latest smartphone and where too busy with their earpieces to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other.

I have to say, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear isn’t found on too many popular Christmas albums, and that’s a dang shame. Mathis’ lofty tune here gives this holiday hymn its due. From the solid lyrics and delivery, we’ve no doubt what the ‘it’ is that the angels feel the need to sing about. Of course, it’s no surprise that Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis concludes with Silent Night. Light the candles and sing it sweet and low with Johnny. Again, this tune captures the true meaning of Christmas. In the quiet, darkest hour of night, the light of miracles shines brightest. So what if December 25 may not be the true date of Christ’s birth. Roman, Germanic, Jewish, and Christian traditions are all celebrating the warmth, light, and joy of salvation from nature’s darkest hour. Hot damn, the fire of the human spirit prevails another year!

Fans of an old fashioned, traditional Christmas can’t go wrong with Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis. Even if you don’t like him or his pop music, almost every song here can carry a December memory for you and yours. Pick up the CD or dig up that kitschy vinyl as you untangled the Christmas lights this holiday season.

17 November 2009

Classic Leading Ladies

Classic Leading Ladies
By Kristin Battestella

I love classic leading men- as you can see by my mentioning of Gregory Peck, Montgomery Clift, and Clark Gable below. Unfortunatey, I don’t often obsess over an old picture based upon its leading lady. These classics, however, are a quick glimpse at some of the best dames the silver screen has to offer. If you’re looking for a few goddess of old, it’s tough to beat the ladies here.

Queen Christina (1933) – Some of this Greta Garbo costume drama is tough to swallow in pacing and melodrama, but the infamous Swedish actress shows her stuff as the titular 17th century monarch torn between religion, war, love, and the throne. Though not entirely historically accurate, the fashions look great-and the politics here shed light on a lesser-known time and place. Who else but Garbo could take on medieval Sweden and single handedly steal the show?

Gaslight (1944) – Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar winning performance leads an all-star cast in this psychological turn of the century murder mystery. Is she crazy? Will Joseph Cotton solve the crime before it’s too late? Some of Gaslight is a bit obvious to today’s wiser audiences, but Bergman’s (another Swedish dynamo) delightfully mental performance makes the getting there so sweet.

Double Indemnity (1944) – Is Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck trying to kill her husband for the insurance money? This chilling film noir serves up the quintessentials of the genre with mood, atmosphere, and a chilling performance by Stanwyck-who actually isn’t one of my favorites. Once you see Double Indemnity, however, you almost don’t need to see another Stanwyck picture. Well, of course, there’s The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, and Christmas in Connecticut, but Stanwyck is the definitive conniving temptress here.

The Heiress – Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland has never been as delightful. Is Montgomery Clift pursuing the mousy, bland, uninteresting Catherine Sloper merely for her wealth? How could he adore the made to look ugly and meek de Havilland? Should Catherine run away with him or listen to her stern Father Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson)? The Heiress is a pathetic, yet somehow lovely 1840s styled gem with fine performances and a bittersweet air.

A Place in the Sun – “Tell Mama. Tell Mama all.” Elizabeth Taylor’s beautiful and tragic performance seeps into our collective consciousness without even having to try. There are so many lines, iconic scenes, and wonderful performances in this George Stevens’ 1951 classic also starring my favorite underrated leading man Montgomery Clift. Based on the popular and scandalous novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, this fifties time capsule still resonates today.

Roman Holiday – Reporter Gregory Peck woos the fish out of water Princess Audrey Hepburn in this romantic time capsule of fifties filmmaking and Roman splendor. The black and white photography sometimes hinders the Edith Head costumes and royal grandeur, but it’s still enchanting decoration nonetheless. Though coming from an aristocratic background herself, Audrey’s Oscar winning debut is charming, delightful, and still relatable to audiences high and low almost sixty years on.

Johnny Guitar – This female laden and colorful guilty pleasure western stars Joan Crawford as a saloon owner caught between the law and her love-the titular Johnny Guitar. This film takes itself way too seriously and serves up one over the top scene after another-but it’s also great fun seeing the harsh Crawford give it back to the boys with some Arizona romance and melodrama. Maybe it’s not her best role; but in many ways, Johnny Guitar stands out in Joan’s repertoire for its fashion, departures, and innuendo.

The Misfits – This 1961 statement making western from Arthur Miller and John Huston has the dubious distinction of being the final picture of two Old Hollywood icons: Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Round out the lead trio with my man Montgomery Clift (who himself only made three more pictures), behind the scenes drama, onset conflict, and then add the sale and slaughter of the American mustang onscreen and you have a bittersweet cult classic. Despite her increasing personal difficulties, Monroe proves she’s more than a pretty song and dance filly here with melancholy in her wispy pout and presence against the boys.

Not all of these classics are currently available on DVD or blu-ray, and sacrilegiously Queen Christina, Gaslight, and The Misfits are not on the National Film Registry! Nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled for these gems and more from these and other Hollywood leading ladies of old. You can’t go wrong with a good classic or a fine doll can you?

15 November 2009

On Atticus, Jesus, and Frodo

While house cleaning at my website, I found this old article I wrote for The Reminder Newspaper. Dating back to December 2005, I thought it was reviewish and analyzing enough to be of interest here. Enjoy!

On Atticus, Jesus, and Frodo

By Kristin Battestella

Last month a BBC poll from Britain’s top librarians presented an intriguing debate. According to the statistics, audiences favorite books are the following:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The Bible

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

To Kill a Mockingbird. The Bible, The Lord of The Rings. Although my Father disagrees with The Bible being second, I find these results fascinating. Besides, I’ve read all three and he hasn’t.

Racial injustice in the south; the most published religious book ever, and an evil wizard destroying Middle-Earth with powerful jewelry. At first glance, the three titles presented have nothing in common, but I implore you to look deeper. Many universal themes and elements unite these three masterpieces.

Despite its fantastical elements (Maybe people ignore it because it’s deemed fantasy), The Lord of the Rings has many human threads that have continued to make the hefty book popular. I just read it for the first time this year. It’s not only good versus evil, The Lord of the Rings offers hope, friendship, and strength in all shapes and sizes for audiences both young and old. The ring represents the penne ultimate evil power yet it is bound by its so small gold confines. Frodo is also small-a hobbit caught in a big man’s world-yet his strength cannot be measured by his small stature. Tolkien’s massive work tells readers that big or small and good or evil, anyone who rises to the challenge will determine his own fate.

Lord of the Rings almost has a David and Goliath feel, which of course leads to Number Two on the list-The Bible. I don’t think I need to go into much detail here. Everyone has at least some vague idea of both the Old and New Testaments and what they teach. God helps the faithful, valiant, loyal, and true. Jesus gives hope to the meek where there is none. Like The Lord of the Rings, many sections of The Bible are very dark and dense-full of wrath and doom. In the end of course, evil falls and justice and peace prevail.

Although similar to its pollmates in its moral tones, To Kill a Mockingbird was also voted the Number One Unhappy Ending in a separate BBC poll. Even if it is sacrilegious to place another book above The Bible, I can see how To Kill a Mockingbird reached Number One. For decades social change has been on the rise, and for the Boomer generation To Kill a Mockingbird must have been a whirlwind. An unapologetic exposure of racial injustice thrust right into the segregated mid century American society. Books that give birth to radical social change only come along once in a blue moon.

Even the American Film Institute named Gregory’s Peck’s Oscar winning 1962 film portrayal of Atticus Finch as their Number One Great American Hero. Harper Lee’s tale of white lawyer Atticus Finch defending an innocent black Tom Robinson in 1930s Alabama continues to open our eyes to a world we’d like to think we aren’t part of, but of course, not enough change has come.

I don’t understand how today’s youth can use the N word-affixed with an ‘a’ on the end instead of an ‘er’. My instant thought is always, “Have they not read To Kill a Mockingbird?” My honey-by some error in his high school required reading-has never read the Harper Lee classic. I tried to explain it, but what makes it over the top is the ending. Now, you can’t give away the ending, can you?

For three books that seem so different on the surface, The Lord of the Rings, The Bible, and To Kill a Mockingbird all present both the characteristics of how we should be and also how not to be. Gollum succumbs to the ring, but Boromir redeems himself. All can be redeemed by obeying God in their own way, and Atticus gives us hope that he made the word one step closer to a better place for his children.

To Kill A Mockingbird is the only book I had to read for school that I actually liked-now that’s saying something. If I had to pick three books to take if I was stranded island…but more likely if I had to recommend three books every person should read once in his lifetime, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bible, and The Lord of the Rings are tough to beat. Impossible, Frodo!

Fantasy and Your Family

Fantasy and Your Family-Practical Ideas, Weak Book
By Kristin Battestella

Shocker of shockers I’ve never read Harry Potter. I love The Lord of the Rings and thus my purchase of Fantasy and Your Family: Exploring The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Modern Magick by Richard Abanes was fueled by my current obsession for all things Tolkien. After reading Finding God in The Lord of The Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware a few years ago, I found Fantasy and Your Family discounted online. I took the plunge.

I don’t like to say there are ‘bad books’-well of course there are, but I prefer the term ‘bad reads’. Abanes runs thin early, and the format of the book is unusual. Although it was meant to be user friendly, Abanes’ categories jump from Christianity to the Occult, Tolkien to Rowling. This format makes Abanes’ case weaker; his pros and cons are mixed together. Only Professor Abanes strong voice and harsh writing define which side he’s on.

The educational chapters, however, are wonderful. For the uninitiated, Abanes dutifully explains the facts and fiction of modern Occult practices. From Pagans, Wicca, Spellcasting-even Witchcraft defined by the capital or lowercase W. An entire section of the book is dedicated to the man and myth of JRR Tolkien. Although I enjoyed this essential back story, I was disappointed to find no such chapter dedicated to the rise of Rowling. Very little details are given about her life pre-Potter-except Abanes ambiguous debate on Rowling’s religious orientation. Whether JK Rowling is a witch is not important to me. As a writer, I would like to know her opinion on the craft, her upbringing, her family life. Fans looking for this will be disappointed with Abanes dedicated attack against Rowling.

For my tastes Abanes spends too little words on what makes The Lord of The Rings great, but the Professor wastes valuable pages with information that is not his own. Most of the FAQ provided, appendices, or breakdowns of Harry Potter are citations from other sources. Quoting or referring to other works, books, websites is one thing-but Abanes’ book holds little of his own commentary. He agrees or disagrees with his sources and rewords what the other experts say, often in lengthy long winded hyperbole.

Abanes’ religious argument is also very uneven. We learn the ins and outs of the real Occult and how Harry Potter is supposedly manipulating kids towards unnatural practices. Whether that is the case or not, some readers of Potter or modern witches might be very offended by Abanes approach, and the Professor misses the opportunity to fully explore how The Lord of The Rings could be the healthy alternative. Instead of an offshoot against R.L. Stine, Fear Street, and Goosebumps, Abanes should have explained the basics of Christianity and how The Lord of The Rings parallels Biblical teachings. Abanes spends too much time trying to draw a line in the sand and not enough time clearly defining his right and wrong. He assumes his audience is on his side and knows the good he mentions in passing. That may not always be the case.

Fantasy and Your Family: Exploring the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Modern MagickFantasy and Your Family seems out of place in the book format. On one hand, the material seems too weak and thin for a full length book. Then again, it feels as if Abanes could release Fantasy and Your Family Part 2 with all the materials excluded. Abanes might have been better off creating a professional website or online database. Users could click at their leisure, and all the websites Abanes refers to in the books-and even screen captures- would be right there for the linking. Maybe a website would make no money for the Professor, but a website from Abanes could reach thousands more kids, young adults, and parents. I doubt a book discounted to $2 turned many a child away from Harry Potter.

Instead of focusing on the negative and what’s bad about popular fantasy trends, Professor Abanes missed the opportunity to showcase what’s good about creativity, imagination, and exploration. Like a lecturer trying to make a joke, many of Abanes chuckles fall flat. He comes down too heavy handed and misses the chance at having some fun with his topic. Isn’t that what fantasy’s all about?

11 November 2009

Unplug the Christmas Machine

Unplug The Christmas Machine Doesn’t Deplug Much
By Kristin Battestella

I found Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli at a second hand shop and decided to add the book-subtitled A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season- to my Christmas reading collection. Instead of meaningful spiritual how-tos, Unplug The Christmas Machine is merely an organizational chart and tip guide for stressful holiday women needing a breather during the hectic holiday season.

Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the SeasonAt first, I thought this to be an odd one off book that had been dismissed by critics and readers, but my 1991 edition is the second printing, and online checks show further revisions and reissues. If Unplug The Christmas Machine is so groundbreaking and so ruthless of its take down on the commercial and stressful holiday season, how has it continued to a thirteenth printing? How could our Christmas machine have continued if this book were so massive? Wouldn’t one or the other destroy each other? The economic necessity of the Christmas shopping season would surely kill a book calling for a home made and de-cluttered December revolution, and a book trampling all things beyond a family holiday season should have ended our Christmas shopping excess-which now begins in October. Initially published in 1986, Unplug The Christmas Machine has in fact done little to stop the Christmas monger.

I don’t find Christmas stressful at all. I shop throughout the year, buying a few choice pieces for each member of my immediate family. My family doesn’t mind things we could use-candles, clothes, books-or homemade foods, CDs, or photos. At its best Unplug tells readers to cut back on gifts, excessive holiday activities, and find what is most important to them during the season. Authors Robinson and Staeheli do this by constantly referring to workshops they hold to further meet with folks and help them get in touch with the true meaning of Christmas. The chapters are divided into sections for women, men, kids; each segment has a story allegedly told at one of these phantom workshops and exercises for you to find how to cut back on the excesses of the season. I understand how folks might not want their names and feelings all over the place in a book, and hey, the authors are trying to make money, too, but the complete lack of explanations makes it seem that these stories were just made up for authors to get their point across. A little footnote detailing where this special seminar was held or an asterisk with the classic ‘names have been changed…’ would have gone a long way. Instead, Unplug The Christmas Machine reads like a desperate attempt to get a slice of that Christmas machine pie.

There isn’t anything on Unplug The Christmas Machine’s cover that alludes to Christian ideology on the inside, but when I hear about taking down Christmas dollar signs and replacing them with the true meaning of Christmas, well, you know, I tend to think of, um, Christ, and Christ’s Mass, you know, Jesus’ observed birthday. Unplug isn’t a bad book for women and families who really are caught up in expensive toys and overly abundant baking and holiday programs and opulent social parties, but in a book that is about the take down of commercialism for a down home Christmas of old, I shouldn’t have to ask myself, ‘Where’s the religion?’.
Robinson and Staeheli briefly give us lines like, ‘So and so is a Christian, so instead of buying another expensive gift, she donated money to her church and felt better about herself.’ I’m not upset that Unplug The Christmas Machine isn’t a Biblical referencing source for why secular Christmas ideals are bad and Christian spirit is good, I’m annoyed that the authors are more worried about offending people who celebrate Christmas solely on the secular and not the religious. Shouldn’t a book like this be offensive? The first chapter is titled ‘A Christmas Carol revisited’. Where is all that Dickensian talk of reform and the dangers of ignorance and want? Where are the tales about big box chains denying Salvation Army Bell Ringers? No stories of protests against nativities and ‘holiday trees’? Shouldn’t a book called Unplug The Christmas Machine be radical in its inspirations to stand up for your family’s traditions and values in the face of the almighty dollar?

For a single mother without eight arms but five kids, Unplug The Christmas Machine is a fine book. It allows families caught up in the line waiting for photos with Santa to take pause. Believe it or not its okay to not have a lot of gifts, much less give a gift to every single person you know. Homemade gifts are okay, too. Not going to THE biggest party EVER in order to spend time with elder family members or volunteer at a home or shelter is socially acceptable-yes, it’s true. It’s sad that we need to see these words in print for us to slow down. If you feel undone because of all you do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, by all means, Unplug The Christmas Machine is for you. If you are expecting a spiritual reflection on the current Christmas controversies, stick with Bill O’Reilly and Charles Dickens.

10 November 2009

Classic Camelot and More!

Camelot and More Medieval Fantasy or Swashbuckling Classics of Old!

By Kristin Battestella

Whew! If you’re a classic buff and an Arthurian or medieval fan like me, then you’ve seen all the good, the bad, and the ugly that film adaptations can bring to these times and places of old- either historical or legendary. Here’s a list of classic fanciful tales- King Arthur, Robin Hood, and the rest of the middle ages’ swashbuckling gang- all for the entire family to enjoy. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve thrown in an assortment of medieval classics for good measure. You’ll also find the dates and a link to an Amazon page for clarification, as some of the titles are redundant. Unfortunately, not all of these are available on DVD or even rental from netflix. Sacrilege!

Arthur, Robin Hood, and Friends

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

Ivanhoe (1952)

Prince Valiant (1954)

Knights of the Round Table (1955)

The Vikings (1958)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Camelot (1967)

The Viking Queen (1967)

Robin Hood (1973)

Robin and Marion (1976)

English Fun and Shakespearean Bits

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Young Bess (1953)

The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)

The Virgin Queen (1955)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

The Lion in Winter (1968)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1973)

Musketeers and A Hint of Spain

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)

The Three Musketeers (1948)

Joan of Arc (1948)

Scaramouche (1952)

El Cid (1961)

The Three Musketeers (1973)

The Four Musketeers (1974)

Swashbucklers and Other Pirates

Captain Blood (1935)

The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

The Sea Hawk (1940)

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

The Black Swan (1942)

Captain from Castile (1947)

The Flame and The Arrow (1950)

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

The Master of Ballantae (1953)

The Buccaneer (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

I Think I got carried away!