Tag Archives: christmas

A Christmas fairytale

It’s that time of year again. That time for hot cocoa, and Plaza Christmas lights, and most importantly, Christmas music.

It’s that time of year when you put your iTunes “Christmas” playlist on repeat, curl up with a good book, and reflect on another year.

We’re pretty sure everybody has their favorite Christmas song.

There are people who love listening to Mariah Carey sing about what she wants for Christmas.*

*Believe it or not, all she wants is you.

There are those who love to walk in a winter wonderland. There are those who want to have themselves a merry little Christmas. There are those who turn on Bruce and wait for Santa Clause to come to town.

*“You better watch out, you better not cry…” link to the video…

And there are those who dream of a white Christmas. Of course, all those songs are wonderful in there own way…

But every year, I always come back to one song — “Fairytale of New York” by the great Irish band, The Pogues.

That song –- in all its raw genius –- is Christmas time.

The song, of course, starts off with the famous line…

“It was Christmas eve, babe… in the drunk tank…”

So you know it’s not going to be your normal Christmas song…

But there’s more than that.

The song is about a guy remembering the Christmases he’d spent in New York city with an old flame.

And the song just makes you feel Christmas.

You can feel the wind in your face. You can feel the scarf around your neck. You can feel the Christmas ale on your tongue, and you can smell the Christmas tree in your living room.

And most of all, you can feel Christmas in the city.

“They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me.”

Maybe it’s because I’m Irish, or maybe it’s because I’ve been to Galway Bay, or maybe it’s because there’s something great about putting on a sweater and stocking cap and walking around a big city during the Christmas season.

Or maybe… You can just imagine being there, in this song. And that’s why the fairytale will always play, every December, forever.

“Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day…”

”…I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

…And The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas Day”

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More List Mania

Listing season is again upon us.

Kids have Chrismukah lists, Kelly Clarkson (or Vanessa Williams, whichever you version you prefer) has a grown-up Christmas list, mom has a longer than usual grocery list, Rustin Dodd just made a Christmas movies list, TIME has end of the year and decade lists and soon so will just about any other form of media.

Everyone loves a good list.

With that in mind, here is a nice December addition of List Mania. For those not in the know, List Mania is an ode to Joe Posnanski, who famously wrote lists until one day, many years ago, he wrote a column saying he would never list again.

So here goes…

Two ideal next jobs for Mark Mangino (not including obvious weight-related jokes, like donut taster)
1. Lumberjack (who’s better at sawing wood?)
2. Stunt double for a movie about “Baby Mangino”

Three places where Mark Mangino need not apply for work (not including obvious weight-related jokes, like a gym)
1. The BCS committee
2. KU Parking
3. Philosophy department (We all know Mangino never deals with hypotheticals)

Three regular songs that sound like Christmas songs
1. Vanessa Carlton, “1,000 Miles*”
2. Michael Buble, “Home”
3. Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why”

*And this is not because it was featured on one of those old Christmas jewelry/Lexus holiday commercials. Trust me, listen, and you’ll think Christmas.

Four really good modern Christmas songs
1. “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson
2. “Christmases When You Were Mine” by Taylor Swift
3. “Believe” by Josh Groban
4. “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by NSync

Five places you never visit once you graduate college
1. The library
2. The student union
3. The rec center
4. Office hours
5. The quad

Six reasons why, if not for Stephen Colbert, no one would have even noticed that the Winter Olympics begin in about two months
1. Usain Bolt and the Jamaican bobsled team didn’t make it.
2. When the water is frozen, Michael Phelps can’t swim as well.
3. Campbell’s got rid of those Nancy Kerrigan commercials a long time ago.
4. Bode Miller hasn’t partied often enough.
5. The Russian judges can’t cause controversy like they used to.
6. They’re in Canada.

Three of the best Kansas City ways to enjoy the Christmas season
1. A drive through Mission Hills
2. Ice skating at Crown Center
3. Dinner at the Plaza

Two people who weren’t considered for flipping the lights at the Plaza on Thanksgiving night
1. Larry Johnson
2. Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s wife

One disturbing, yet entertaining holiday Web site to check out
1. Sketchy Santas

Five college basketball players who are as fun to watch as John Wall
1. Xavier Henry, Kansas
2. Greg Monroe, Georgetown
3. Denis Clemente, Kansas State
4. James Anderson, Oklahoma State
5. Isaiah Thomas, Washington

Four wishes for 2010
1. USA making it out of pool play in the World Cup
2. The ending of the Tiger Woods media frenzy
3. Matt Cassell having a QB rating higher than 34
4. Sherron Collins getting drafted in the first round

Six questions
1. Did he get her a Jared?
2. What happened in Vegas?
3. Did Sarah Palin mean rouge, instead of rogue?
4. How long until one of Tiger Woods’ mistresses writes a book?
5. Could Scot Pollard please replace Greg Gurley on the Jayhawk Network?
6. Do you hear what I hear?

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The 10 Best Christmas Movies. Ever.

The other day I was listening to sports talk radio. Now, I must say that I have a strange relationship with sports talk radio. On the one hand, I find it to be one of the lowest forms of communication known to man. And on the other hand, I sometimes find it enjoyable — I’ve even been known to set my alarm o’clock at a certain time so I can catch a few minutes of The Border Patrol on 810 WHB in Kansas City. And I even hosted my own sports talk show on KU’s college radio station, KJHK, when I was an undergrad.

Like I said, I have a strange relationship with sports talk radio. It can be brainless. Incoherent. Narcissistic. Overly sensational. Angry. And most of all, it can just be rather disgraceful what journalism.

But then I can hear Bob Costas or Dan Patrick, or my boys on The Border Patrol, Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John, and sports talk can be destination radio.

I suppose all mediums can be good and bad. But it does seems like there’s nothing worse than bad sports talk radio.

And at this point, I should probably tell you that this post is actually about The 10 Best Christmas Movies of All-Time. (As you could probably tell by the title. Trust me. It’s coming.)

How’d we get on sports talk radio? Well, because the post started there, and then I got on a roll and started feeling it.

Let’s get back on track. So I’m listening to sports talk radio the other day. I think it was Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN.com. In fact, I know it was Mike and Mike. So there having an odd discussion about Christmas movies. I think I missed the beginning of it. Anyway, they were debating whether the movie, Die Hard, should be considered a Christmas movie.

We’ll get to Die Hard in a minute. And then maybe this will all make sense. But let’s just assume most people have seen Die Hard. I mean, c’mon, who hasn’t?

Well, let’s just say I was utterly blown away (no pun intended). Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This is not even a debate. Yes. It’s an action movie – and an iconic one — but that doesn’t preclude it from also being a Christmas movie.

I suppose it’s a little bit like arguing that Jerry McGuire isn’t sports movie. You know, somebody might say, “Oh, that’s not a sports movie, that’s a romantic comedy/drama posing as sports movie.”

And I suppose that could be the came. But how come it can’t be both.

Die Hard is an action movie that takes place during a holiday party in LA. Its soundtrack features multiple Christmas songs – including Run DMC’s classic tune, “Christmas in Hollis.” So yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

And it was at this moment that I began to think about other Christmas movies. For example: If you made a Top 10 list of the best Christmas movies, which ones would be on it? What would be your starting five? And if you really break it down, what is the greatest Christmas movie of all-time?

In the end, lists are kind of a funny thing. We enjoy ranking things. Even things that are obviously subjective. And I’m not exactly sure why.

But really, the whole purpose is to spur a little thought and discussion. And in this case, to remember the ghosts of Christmas cinema past.

So here goes…

First, we’re starting with two sentimental honorable mentions.

1. To Grandmother’s House We Go
Released: Dec. 6, 1992

Anybody else remember this one? This was a made-for-TV movie that starred the (very young) Olsen Twins. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was their first movie following their “Full House” days. So this gets a mention for a couple of reasons.

1. You could make the argument that this movie kicked off the Olsen Twins mania that would dominate pre-teen pop culture in the late 90s.*

*If you were really trying, I bet you make a case that the Olsen Twins were the real-world precursor to the unstoppable force that is Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus. Miley’s career is really starting to parallel the Olsens’. Childhood star. Crossover into mainstream fame. And then a major breakdown flanked by eating disorders, rehab and sketchy older boyfiends. OK, so none of that’s happened to Miley, yet. (We hope.) And we’re praying for you Miley. You can make it!

2. The movie was essentially about a set of twins that felt unloved at home, so they ran off and tried to find their way to their grandmother’s house for Christmas. At least, that’s how I remember it. Anyway the Olsen Twins get kidnapped by some old criminals (including one of the co-stars from the TV show “Coach.”) and (minimal) hilarity ensues. But the classic moment comes at the end when the Olsen Twins are trying to convince a police officer to do a good deed on Christmas Eve, and the Olsen Twins convince him by chanting, “Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve…”
How about this… just watch the chant at 1:45 of this video. (Then check out a cameo from Rebecca Donaldson and Danny Tanner at the end.)

2. A Very Brady Christmas
Released: 1998

This is another classic made-for-TV Christmas movie. All the Bradys get together for a good ol’ fashioned Brady family Christmas.

The highlights?

Bobby is in his 20s and wants to be racecar driver. There’re plenty of awkward moments between Mrs. Brady (Florence Henderson) and Greg Brady (Barry Williams). And at the end, Mike Brady gets stuck in a building collapse. But don’t worry. He’s able to free himself when the Bradys start singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”

Seriously, You can’t make this stuff up.

The only lowlight? The actress that played Cindy Brady didn’t want to take part, so they had to find a replacement.

OK, on to the Top 10.

10. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Released: Nov. 20, 1992
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: John Hughes

So, yea, this should probably be higher. But we’re sticking it at No. 10 for a few reasons. And you’ll see one of those in a minute. But this is still one of the highest-grossing films of the 90’s. It also features one of Rob Schneider’s original on-screen roles… Just a great movie.

…And it’s filled with classic lines.

“My family’s in Florida, and I’m in New York?

“Do you guys mind if I work on my cannonballs?”

“You know Herbert Hoover once stayed on this floor?”
“The vaccum guy?”

And then there’s the best one — the memorable scene in the hotel when MaCauley Culkin uses the Talkback to order the Plaza hotel room…

“(In slow-motion) Howdy-do. This is Peter McCallister, the father. I’d like a hotel room, please, with an extra large bed, a TV, and one of those little refrigerators you have to open with a key… credit card? You got it.”

Add in the feel-good scenes with the homeless bird lady in the park, and it’s definitely in our top 10.

9. Scrooged
Released: Nov. 23, 1988
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue

Anytime you have Bill Murray starring in a modern remake of “A Christmas Carol,” — well, you know it’s going to be good.

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Released: Oct. 29, 1993
Director: Henry Selick
Writer: Tim Burton

This is just a solid movie. But there are two things that really propel it to the eighth spot on the list.
1.) It has groundbreaking animation, and… 2.) It has an award-winning soundtrack and score written by Danny Elfman.

And the highlight of the soundtrack is Elfman’s catchy tune, “’What’s This?”

Listen to it once… and you’ll be hooked.

7. Die Hard
Released: July 15, 1988
Director: John McTiernan

We talked about. And we could write for days about this movie. It’s that groundbreaking, that important… and that much fun to watch.

“Now I have a machine gun, ho… ho… ho.”

Think about this…

How many movies in the past 20 years revolved around a seemingly normal guy single-handedly foiling a large group of terrorists, soldiers, bad guys, etc?

Really, think about it — Speed, Under Siege, Passenger 57, Sudden Death, The Rock. And so on.

And if you need more proof that it’s a Christmas movie, just watch the ending credits.

6. Miracle on 34th Street (Original)
Released: May 2, 1947
Director: George Seaton

Miracle on 34th Street (Remake)
Released: Nov. 18, 1994
Director: Les Mayfield

Let’s just say this: If we all watched the endings of both “34th Street” movies on a continuous loop, I’m pretty sure the world would be a better place. Here’s the trailer.

5. White Christmas
Released: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Writers: Norman Krasna and Norman Panama

Now we’re getting to the classics.

And let’s break it down. Here’s what you have with White Christmas.

You have two legendary entertainers — Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye — at the top of their games.

You have a classic musical number after classic musical number.

Simply put, you have a slice of 1950s Americana, a portrait of when the world was a simpler place – or at least, it seemed that way.

(To be honest, this is a little bit of a sentimental choice. My family used to watch this movie together every December around the holidays. Here’s guessing my family has your family beat in the cheesy/lame family category.)

And in the end, you have the song

4. A Christmas Story
Released: Nov. 18, 1983
Director: Bob Clark
Writer: Jean Shepherd

It kills me. That this is four. It just kills me. But what are you gonna do?

Here’s the funny thing: This movie didn’t have a lot of success in the theaters. In fact, it got a lot of negative reviews.

According to some critics, it had something to do with the movie being directed by the same guy that directed Porky’s*.

*Man, what a career that guy had.

But finally, by the mid-1990s, the movie was a staple on the cable movie channels during the Holidays. And in 1997, TNT started airing “24 hours of A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve. By 2004, the marathon had moved to TBS and we’d never look at Ralphie the same again.

Here’s another funny thing: I’ve probably seen every part of this movie over a dozen times. But I think I’ve only sat down and watched the movie straight through once or twice.

Sorry Ralphie.

But there really are so many wonderful scenes.

When the Dad gets the leg-lamp in the mail… “It’s a major award.”

When Ralphie finally gets the B.B. gun, “You’ll shot your eye out.”

Any scene with Scut Farkus.

When they go to the Chinese restaurant… “Fararara ra ra ra ra”

But for some reason, the flagpole scene has always been my absolute favorite. Raphie’s friend, Flick, of course, gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole at recess. But my favorite part comes when the kids go back inside, and Ralphie’s teacher asks where Flick went.

The narrator’s voice slays me every time.

Ralphie: (in Narrator’s voice) Flick? Flick who?

3. Love Actually
Released: Nov. 14, 2003
Director: Richard Curtis
Writer: Richard Curtis

OK, here’s the question. This is the most recent movie on the list. So what will think about it in 25 years? Will we still consider it a classic Christmas movie. I say, yes.

And not only is it one of the best Christmas movies ever, I’m saying this is one of the best 10 movies of the 2000’s. It’s that good.

(Or maybe I just love British accents.)

Anyway. The ensemble cast is perfect. The interweaving plot lines are perfect. And Kiera Knightley is perfect.

And this scene (yes, you know the one) is perfect.

2. Home Alone
Released: Nov. 16, 1990
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: John Hughes

…And this was the reason we were a little hard on Home Alone 2.

Here’s the thing about Home Alone… Give me a more memorable and iconic movie for people between the ages of 20 and 30. You can’t.

Really. This is the one.

For our generation, it’s The Lion King, Toy Story and Home Alone. Those are the three. And if you’re a boy, you probably throw The Sandlot in there, too.

Say the following word to anyone under 30… “Buzz’s girlfriend, woof.” … and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

Of course, this is my all-time favorite scene.

On the plus side, this movie gave us MaCauley Culkin. And in turn, that gave up Culkin’s peformance in Michael Jackson’s “Black and White” video. Thank you, MJ.

1. Christmas Vacation
Released: Dec. 1, 1989
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Writer: John Hughes

This. One. Has. It. All.

Comedy. Heart. Family. And the greatest Christmas rant ever.

And how about John Hughes? We’ll miss you, John.

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Introduction and Halloween music

So I decided to start a blog. The first post is about something entirely stupid – Halloween songs. Skip past this lame intro if you wish. But before the official first post, I thought I would explain why I’m starting this blog.

Why does anyone start a blog? Now that’s a great question. And when did they start?

I’m sure a quick Wikipedia search could answer at least the second question and possibly the first. But I would rather ramble.

For me, blogs started my senior of high school. A fellow staff member on the high school newspaper staff named Allie featured an opinion article* about Xanga**. I believe there was a headline or something that read “Blog rings of fire” or something like that. I didn’t know what a blog was, so I was puzzled when I read the headline.

*Opinion stories in those days for the HS paper were not so, um, good? Once I wrote an opinion column about daylight savings time. Someone else wrote one about condemning blue Christmas lights, not aware that blue is a Hanukah color. Fortunately the zero percent Jewish population at St. Thomas Aquinas High School seemed not to care.

**I remember Xanga seemed kind of lame. Yet it was quite similar to Facebook. Funny how no one even remembers Xanga now.

Seriously. I had never heard of a blog before. I think they had just gotten popular around this time, but they could have been around for several years and I would’ve had no idea. So I wanted to find the definition of a blog.

I couldn’t. I Googled* it. I asked around. I tried reading blogs. They all looked different. Some were people’s opinions about politics or sports. Some were just pictures. Some were random thoughts. Some seemed to be nothing more than a person’s daily schedule.

*By 2005, had we started using Google as a verb?

Then it became clear. There really is no definition for a blog. Blogs are anything. Blogs are you.

YOU make a blog what it is. And maybe that’s why people start blogs. I suspect plenty of cultural scientists and people above the age of 50 would say our generation keeps blogs because we’re narcissists, we like attention, we like to talk about ourselves, and so on.

But those people are missing something. Blogs provide a beautiful way to express something. There’s a great possibility few or no people will read that “something.” That’s not the point. It feels good to express ourselves.

If you it correctly, you can talk about yourself, talk about the world, talk about sports.

You can make the mundane interesting. That’s what I hope to do. 

Nothing really exciting happens in my life. Let’s see, today I woke up around 8:30, went to a coffee shop for several hours and did some work, along with this blog. I’ll probably run later, eat dinner, watch 30 Rock and The Office and possibly a bootlegged copy of Paranormal Activity with one of my roommates.

But in the routine, I believe we all find our own niche. We all have cool stories and cool thoughts.

I’m not sure if anyone will want to read my thoughts. In fact, I’m not so sure why anybody WOULD want to. But I like to write about them, even if no one reads them.

So here it goes. I might post something once a week. Maybe more, maybe less. I might not post something ever again (hopefully that doesn’t happen). I would like to think that I will post something when I just feel like writing, when there is something that I would like to share.

Now… on to Halloween songs before it’s too late.

In Kansas City alone, two radio stations play entirely Christmas music from mid-November until Dec. 26. As Christmas comes close, two more start playing Christmas music most of the time.

Christmas music is huge. Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Michael Buble and Taylor Swift are just a few of today’s pop stars who have Christmas CDs. Elvis has done a Christmas song. Run DMC has done a Christmas song. So has John Lennon. Yes, Christmas music is a big deal.

And it makes me wonder. Why is Christmas the only holiday that has its own distinct music?

Part of the reason must be that Christmas is clearly the biggest holiday in this country. It also has a clear definition. At its best, Christmas is about love, good cheer and giving. Those are good themes to write positive songs about.

Other holidays don’t necessarily have such clear-cut themes that would work well for music. But I think Halloween is an exception.

Artists can make songs with scary sounding beats, supernatural themes or just, well, dark subject matter. Songs like that could be enjoyed all year but especially around Halloween, and in my opinion, there are already a few songs like this.

Here are seven songs that fit that mold and could be considered Halloween music, although I am sure there quite a few more.   

  1. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson – Obviously.
  2. “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett – Obviously.
  3. “Disturbia” by Rihanna – This video is strange, too.  
  4. “She Wolf” by Shakira – Has a creepy beat and howling in the background.
  5. “Nightmare on my Street” by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – Can’t remember what this song is about, but the name sure sounds Halloween-esque.
  6. “Mouth” by Bush – This is a great song. It was written for the movie, “An American Werewolf in Paris.”
  7. “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” by Smashing Pumpkins – Maybe this is pushing it a little bit, but this is close enough.   
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