Christmas Is All Around: Highlights and Oddities from the UK Holiday Chart

Here’s one of my cardinal rules, one which comes into great effect during my favorite month of the year, December—it is impossible to watch the movie Love Actually and not feel better about life by the end of the running time. I watch this film every Christmas and am always left in a mix of hysterics and eyes welling up all over, and so many of my friends and family feel the same. Not a bad reaction in America for a movie as thoroughly British in its own way as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classics. It’s that characteristic which I’m using as the jumping-off point for my Christmas contribution to the Addison Recorder, one which fulfills our mission of bringing cultural singularity to your attention, for something not many people may realize is that one of the multiple plots in Love Actually involves a long-standing British holiday tradition.

The most purely fun section of the film, in my humble opinion, is near-forgotten, legend-in-his-own-mind rock star Billy Mack’s (the transcendent Bill Nighy) attempt to get back to the top of the pop charts with his cloying “Christmas Is All Around” single. Throughout the storyline, much is made of how Mack is dueling the real-life boy band Blue to have the number-one single in Britain on Christmas Day itself—which is a point lost on most Americans. We don’t particularly care what song is #1 in Billboard on Christmas week; it’s the same as every other week. But in the United Kingdom, having the #1 song on Christmas is akin to winning a Grammy award for Record of the Year or selling ten million singles and downloads of a song. Whatever song is #1 on Christmas is usually the biggest-selling single in the country that year, and small fortunes are won and lost as people actually wager on what song will take the top spot; not the usual subject for Las Vegas bookmaking.

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Andrew’s Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Guide to Doctor Who, Part II

Mentioning Mr. Smith at the conclusion of Part I makes me ponder the differences between the three doctors since the resurrection. All of them were and are marvelous, all for different reasons.

Christopher Eccleston, a rugged, intense actor who could play big-budget movie supervillains, Jude the Obscure opposite Kate Winslet, and the most modern of troubled men in Our Friends in the North, was a great 9th Doctor, interpreting his character as that of the loneliest battle-scarred man in the world, a condition magnified by his Spartan ensemble of a leather jacket and all black clothing. The 9th Doctor’s whole modus operandi, in my opinion, was that he wanted to put the recent past behind him in some way despite thinking it was impossible: in his attempt to forget the horrors of war, he sought out adventure, excitement, and eventually when he didn’t think it would hurt his heart, friendship and love, and embraced them a little too eagerly but always with brio.  And when he found all of the above in his travels with Rose Tyler, Season 27 was the story of a man coming back to life.

But then came David Tennant.

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Andrew’s Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Guide to Doctor Who, Part I

Warning in advance: this article will contain plenty of River Song’s favorite things.


I am about to make a statement which will probably surprise a lot of sci-fi devotees, maybe even shock them.

Due to the caprices of PBS pledge drive scheduling, the first story I ever saw was “The Mysterious Planet,” the first four installments of The Trial of a Time Lord, the season-long story featuring the horrendously dressed, loudmouth, and usually really damn annoying 6th Doctor of Colin Baker.

And yet, I kept watching, and falling all the more in love with, Doctor Who.

(“The Mysterious Planet” is actually a pretty good story, and Tony Selby’s Sabalon Glitz was an excellent forerunner of characters like Jack Harkness.)

Doctor Who is now in the midst of its 33rd season, about to celebrate 50 years on the air. And yes, I said 33rd. Most Americans call it season 7. Netflix and the DVD industry and fans call it season 7. But the Guardian, and at least a few people who hope they don’t sound too pretentious (present company included) think of it as season 33. Because it really is.

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Our Place in Time: Reviewing ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Skyfall’

Getting out to the movies at this time of year can feel a bit like a crapshoot. It can also feel immensely overwhelming because of the glut of studio product that gets dumped out in time for Oscar consideration. Consequently, those of us who are less on the affluent side are forced to pick and choose between the wealth of cinematic offerings available at your local multiplex. (Similar to what happened with Chicago theatre in the fall season, where at any given point, Sunday in the Park with George, Black Watch, Sweet Bird of Youth, Metamorphoses, and Good People were all playing, amongst dozens of other offerings. Chris Jones attributed the outpouring of high quality theatre to there being ‘something in the water’. I attribute it to a bunch of quality theatre artists working in concert all at once in an effort to collectively blow the minds of the patrons attending these wonderful institutions, all the while dynamiting my checking account with discount offers that are just fine if you’re seeing one or two shows, but not between five and ten. Coincidentally, there will be spaghetti for dinner at my household for the next week and a half.)

Therefore, when I was presented with both a day off and a discounted price for attending a matinee and not just one but TWO high profile releases, I was presented with my first conundrum of the fall season: should I attend Steven Spielberg’s latest docudrama Lincoln, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and a host of character actors reenacting the last third of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful biography Team of Rivals? or should I attend the 23rd James Bond movie Skyfall, featuring Daniel Craig as the venerable 007 going up against the psychotic Javier Bardem on an island off of Macao?

The short answer was simple: why not both? And so that is what I did. Tickets in hand, I stepped into the River East multiplex in Downtown Chicago, popcorn at the ready, to take in these two winter offerings.

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We’re still here (and we have things planned)!

Hello world,

Sorry for the long break in our correspondence, but life can get in the way of many things. Sadly, for the past month or so, life has been getting between us and our beloved Recorder for one reason or another. But have no fear, for Alex, Andrew, ~J, and Travis are all doing well and will soon be back with a vengeance.  The rest of the boys will get their work on here in good time, but I wanted to chime in and let our readership know about a few of the projects that I have been working on and plan to spit out soon.

Firstly, I am and will remain your devoted TV viewer, and so I am starting a recurring feature where I will drop an article every week or two about one of the shows that I keep tabs on. This will give me a chance to expound on all the programs that I dearly love (or still tolerate), without breaking my neck trying to do a weekly recap of absolutely everything. That’s what The A.V. Club is for.

Secondly, the awards season for films is quickly approaching, and since I have a longstanding fascination with the simultaneously excellent and awful horse race that is Oscar season I will be chiming in with coverage of that. I’m going to endeavor more to cover the films themselves, on their artistic merits (as I have with surefire Oscar contenders Moonrise Kingdom and The Master), but will likely devote a few posts to the race itself as well. Also, I plan to complain a lot about how the Academy consistently mishandles how to present itself and its mission (Seth MacFarlane!?! Really?!?).

Finally, I am planning on working through one of my burning shames as a cinephile. Many of my friends and colleagues know that I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, the filmmaking siblings behind such modern classics as Fargo, O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, and No Country for Old Men. What I rarely let on when I discuss the Coen’s work is that I have not seen huge swaths of their filmography. Every cinephile has many blind spots, and one of my most glaring ones is that I have not seen any of the films that the Coen Brothers have made before The Hudsucker Proxy. So, I plan on rectifying that with a series of articles wherein I will watch (or re-watch as the case may be) and write about every Coen film up to 2010’s True Grit. I think it will be illuminating to travel through their eclectic resume in a (relatively) short span of time, and if this is a hit, maybe I will do the same with other filmmakers or movements that I am woefully underseen on.

Anyway, that’s the plan of attack for yours truly. I’ll see you in the comments section.

P.S. I am going to write my essay about it someday, but if you’ve been holding your breath since the 1st week of July the best show on TV last year was Louie. It will also be the best show on TV this year. My thoughts about it will appear when I do not feel hopelessly intimidated and over-matched by its genius.

A Day at Riot Fest 2012

The most amazing thing about the day may have been how I purchased one of 200 limited edition posters for $10, and, despite being right up against the stage for two separate shows, did not see it get creased or smushed. It now hangs proudly up on my wall.

All of the above speaks a lot to the wonderful time which was had by those at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park last Sunday. With four stages and carnival rides spread out over the athletic grounds on Division next to the very nice garden with the buffalo statues, people had plenty of room to enjoy the music without feeling like sardines in oil. Moreover, the festival was stunningly clean; volunteers spent the day traversing the fields picking up cigarette butts and such, and everyone helped out when somebody lost a wallet or cell phone in the midst of a raging dance party. Even the concessions and souvenirs were—GASP—reasonably priced!

It was an ideal environment for enjoying a very punk-and-indie-geared show. And the thousands of people in Humboldt Park that sunny, not too hot day were so glad to be there. Unlike my experience with Springsteen, there were few middle-aged people and no recognizable hipsters: jeans, goofy T-shirts, and metal and piercings were the order of the day. Indeed, I saw more flesh plugs and tunnels than I’ve ever seen in my life, including two pairs which were twice the size of the ears they adorned. (I’ve seen ones which doubled the size of the ear before but never a triple. The human body is an amazing thing.)

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“Remember, You’re On My Side”: Mike Birbiglia, The Everyman, and “Sleepwalk With Me”

“I’m going to tell you a story and it’s true… I always have to tell people that.”

WARNING: This will contain spoilers, although knowing them does not spoil the movie. (Trust me.)

So begins the precious gem of an indie comedy that is Mike Birbiglia’s feature debut as a lead actor, screenwriter, and director, Sleepwalk with Me. The introduction to the film, featuring Mike Birbiglia driving along in his car stopping at a toll booth, immediately recalls Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the seminal John Hughes classic which featured Matthew Broderick continually breaking the 4th wall as a means providing the audience with a narrative fixture. As a device, it also gives the audience a means by which to relate to the protagonist of the film, which in the case of Sleepwalk With Me is exceptionally important. This is a tough little film, hilarious at times, that refuses to ask simple questions or provide easy answers to its viewers while still entertaining the hell out of its audience. But we’ll get there.

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