The Twelve Viewings of Christmas

Here is a diverse and fun viewing list of 12 movies and TV shows to watch during the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. The traditional 12 DAYS start on Christmas day and runs to Jan. 5 – Christmas to Epiphany. But, choose your own time frame, and for twelve consecutive nights here is your viewing list.

Day One: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

charlie brown xmasThis never gets old and never fails to charm. Just listening to the music of the great Vince Guaraldi makes it feel like Christmas.

Day Two: A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

a midnight clearAn obscure film, which should be a holiday tradition. Set in 1944 France, an American Intelligence squad locates a German Platoon in the Ardennes wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany’s final war offensive. The two groups of men, isolated from the war at present, put aside their differences and spend Christmas together before the surrender plan turns bad and both sides are forced to fight each other. Sad, but powerful.

Day Three: RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

rudolphCome on, we all love it. The Snowman (Burl Ives) sings one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” in a show based on one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.

Day Four: THE SANTA CLAUSE

To me, one of the better modern Christmas movies. Funny and sweet. Tim Allen is wonderful as the befuddled new Santa. 

shop around the cornerDay Five: THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER

The great pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in a quirky romantic comedy set in Budapest during Christmas season. This was the basis of the Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan remake You’ve Got Mail, which is an excellent update. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed one of the great Jimmy Stewart performances.

Day Six: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS

how the grinchNOT the Jim Carrey / Ron Howard-directed disaster, but the REAL Grinch narrated by Boris Karloff.

Day Seven: HOW THE GHOSTS STOLE CHRISTMAS, X-Files Episode

x-files season 6Mulder and Scully visit a rumored haunted house on Christmas Eve and get more than they bargained for. One of the all-time great episodes of a great TV show. Funny, scary and romantic at the same time.

Day Eight: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

nightmare_before_christmas_posterTim Burton’s ingeniously dark romantic view of the Yuletide.

Day Nine: THE BISHOP’S WIFE

bishops wifeNOT the Whitney Houston remake, but the original 1947 Cary Grant classic. Funny and irreverent while being very mainstream traditional. Grant is sparkling!

Day Ten: LOVE, ACTUALLY

love_actuallyThis follows the ups-and-downs of several characters’ lives in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Alternately hilarious, sad, touching, heart-breaking and joyous.

Day Eleven: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

wonderful lifeOne of the all-time great movies, period. It is a testament to everything Christmas embodies: family, friends and the joy of life.

Day Twelve: A CHRISTMAS STORY

christmas storyTHE Christmas movie. The story of a young boy’s epic quest to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun provides the hilarious backdrop for a timeless tale rife with family hijinks, frozen tongues and, of course, sex-oozing leg lamps.

Movies That Are BETTER Than The Books

It is one of the pitfalls that writers have had to endure since Edison perfected the motion picture camera – movies based on their books. Most of us agree that 99.2% of the time the film version of a novel is infinitely inferior to the book. Stephen King could write a book about bad adaptations … come to think of it, he probably will.

Dean Koontz’ Watchers is one of the most charming, thrilling and entertaining best-selling books of the past 30 years and was turned into an unwatchable and offensive film. Bicentennial Man was turned into another Robin Williams embarrassment, whereas Issac Asimov’s novella is a subtle and brilliant examination on the meaning of humanity.

But everyone once in a while, Hollywood takes a book and turns it into a masterpiece. Some are good books that benefited from a brilliant adaptation; others are pedestrian books that were actually improved by the filmmakers; and some are just bad and boring novels that somehow someone turned into a great move.

Here is a list of movies that are MOVIES BETTER THAN THE BOOKS. And it is surprisingly longer than you would think.

GOOD BOOK / GREAT MOVIE

CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris
Chocolat_sheetThis 1999 novel explored the lure of temptation and alternated between sweet and sinister forces of humanity and nature. The movie stays close to the spirit of the story, but is much more positive and cheerful.

LAST OF THE MOCHICANS by James Fenimore Cooper

MohicansposterAs is most fiction from that time period (1826), Cooper is virtually unreadable these days, but writers and books from the 18th and 19th century seem to benefit from Hollywood treatments. The turgid prose and stilted dialogue can be glossed over with spectacular visuals. Every one who has seen this movie knows what a great, and emotionally involving, action film it is.

MARY POPPINS by B.L. Travers

marypoppins-book_114Come on, everyone loves Disney’s Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews is magical and Dick Van Dyke has never been better than as Bert – street artist, chimney sweep and good time guy. The movie was based a popular series of English children’s novels (1935-1988) and portrayed Poppins as more stern and with a darker side than the movie version.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey
one_flew_over_the_cuckoo_s_nest_by_blitzcadet-d5uyo1uThe 1962 novel by Ken Kesey is a stunning work that is well written and emotionally compelling. And then director Milos Forman turned it into one of the all time great movies. There are a few differences, the most apparent is the voice of the narrator in the book, but we need a character to anchor our thoughts in the novel, whereas Forman can show us the story that develops, and allows us to become the narrator. We all become just another nut in the nuthouse. Jack Nicholson’s performance is genuinely inspired and the cast that surrounds is like a who’s who of soon-to-be 80s stars.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Stephen King
shawshank

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman

Based on the short novel “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Prison” from the book Different Seasons, this may be the best adaptation of Stephen King’s prose to cinema. While the story has its charms and contains all the elements of the plot, it is a mere shadow of the emotional depth and sheer grand story-telling that director and screen writer Frank Darabont manages to capture.

MEDIOCRE NOVEL / GREAT MOVIE

BEING THERE by Jerzey Kosinsky
being thereThe book is an ingenius portrayal of a mentally slow gardener named Chance whose only knowledge of the outside world comes from watching television. Through an series of circumstances, Chance becomes homeless and is left to his own devices to face the world. The book often reads flat and uninvolved, a technique of detached emotionless that makes sense (TV viewing results the deadening of senses and intellect ) but does not make it an enjoyable read. The film, however, as directed by Hal Ashby is a constant joy of subtle humor and ironic social commentary. Peter Sellers pulls off the role of his career with a brilliant and nuanced performance which ranks as one of the all time greatest. The fact that he did not win the Academy Award (Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer … and when’s the last time you had a discussion with anyone about that movie or that performance?) is a travesty. In fact, the film was not even nominated for Best Picture. (Kramer; All That Jazz; Apocalypse Now; Breaking Away and Norman Rae).

THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI by Pierre Boulle
The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai_poster

This is a terse novel written by a former French resistance fighter in WWII. It is difficult book to read – completely devoid of humor and few of the characters are developed enough to either hate or love. Yet in the hands of film maker David Lean it becomes an thrilling story of epic proportions dealing with racial prejudice and nationalism.

HIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

Hornby may be the most successful mediocre novelist of the 21st century. Three of his books (and as of this writing a fourth, A Long Way Down is in production) have become movies: Fever Pitch, About A Boy and this novel about a record store owner and his driftless life after his girlfriend dumps him. The tends to be clunky, but the movie is an intense character study given vitality by an inspired quirky performance by John Cusack.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE by Fanny Flagg

fried greenFlagg, a comedian, actress and perennial game show guest (Match Game; Hollywood Squares) found a second career writing cheerful comedic Americana novels. But the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes takes the basic story and super charges it with great performances by Mary Stuart Masterson and Kathy Bates.

ORDINARY PEOPLE by Judith Guest

ordinary peopleThe novel is a chore to read, meandering with emotional passages filled ironic angst. The movie, as directed by Robert Redford, is a brooding study at the fractious nature of a family in crisis and emotionally satisfying.

RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow

ragtimeI recently tried to re-read this 1975 novel (first attempt had been while in high school in 1977 and was bewildered by the bad writing) and still found it boring and stylistic clunky. The fact that Time magazine listed it as one of the Greatest 100 English Language Novels Between 1923-2005 is more of an indictment about the lack imagination of Time’s editors than in your taste in books. Almost every book on the list is one of those boring academically approved books .. i.e. the books your college professor makes you read in college and which you never have the desire to read again. The movie, however, is devoid of Doctorow’s turgid writing and shines. Filled with great performance and emotionally charged.

HAROLD AND MAUDE by Calder Willingham

harold-and-maudeOne of the all-time great weird cult movies is based one of the all-time weird and unreadable books.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson)

somewhere in timeMatheson is one of those great writers of the 20th century whose books never make Time’s list of 100 Greatest Books because he is a popular writer of horror (gasp!) and sci-fi thrillers. Potboilers! The literati elite can’t have that! However, as many good books that Matheson has written, Bid Time Return is at the bottom of the list. It is a time-travel romance that never really seems to take off, and ultimately, becomes more annoying than anything else. The film, however, is a grand piece of movie-making, lush, romantic and satisfying.

PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle

planet-of-the-apes-classic-01Another short novel by French writer Boulle that became a classic Hollywood epic. I’ve tried to read Planet of the Apes (sometimes titled Monkey Planet) and found it bewildering. The story is told as a narrative found in a bottle which thankfully, the movie ignores that plot device. “Get your hands off me, you stinkin’ ape,” is one of the great quotable lines in cinematic history.

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

Stardust (1)The novel is good, but a bit more dark and sinister … come on, we are talking about Neil Gaiman. The movie turned out to be a delightfully romantic and ironically hilarious fable. The movie is worth watching alone for Robert DeNiro’s enthusiastic campy turn as a lightning-gathering cross-dressing pirate.

THE SEARCHERS by Alan Le May

searchersA very typical Western novel in which a former Civil War soldier becomes driven to avenge the death of his family members by marauding Indians. But in the hands of director John Ford, and John Wayne who for once doesn’t play John Wayne and gives a deep and disturbing portrayal of a man who is close to being psychotic, this becomes an epic movie.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT by James McMurtry

terms of endearmentA veeery middle-of-the-road novel by a good novelist is transformed into a 4 star drama / romantic comedy on the strength of all around great performances by Nicholson and Shirley McClaine.

PSYCHO by Robert Bloch

Psycho_(1960)Based on a real life story, Psycho was first published in 1959. Robert Bloch based the novel on the horrific Ed Gein, who was arrested in Plainfield, Wisconsin for murdering women and making furniture, silverware and even clothing out of body parts, in an attempt to make a “woman suit” to pretend to be his dead mother. Gein also was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Bloch’s novel was nothing more than a pedestrian thriller turned into a film classic in 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock, THE classic horror film even though there is less than 60 seconds of screen violence.

BAD BOOK / GREAT MOVIE
THE BOURNE IDENTITY / THE BOURNE SUPREMACY / THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM by Robert Ludlum.

bourneHow these densely written and over-the-top plotted Cold War novels ever became popular is still a mystery. And the fact that they were turned into a James Bond style thrill-a-minute movie franchise is almost a miracle. Ignore the books, enjoy the movies.

COOL HAND LUKE by Donn Pearce 

cool hand lukeA book that truly is impossible to read was miraculously turned into one of the most iconic movies of the 1960s, and one of Paul Newman’s all time great screen characters.

DIE HARD (Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe)

Die_hardThe book is really bad. The main character is a sappy ex-cop has-been who spends the entire novel whining and pining over his now-dead ex-wife and worries about his daughter stuck in the building with him and the terrorists. Thanks to screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart and director John McTiernan for shutting him up, giving him more attitude and hiring Bruce Willis to play him. The result was a superior action film, smart and funny, as well as edge-of-your-seat exciting. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker, indeed.

DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

deliveranceDickey is one of the most over rated writers of the 20th century. Loved by literary critics and his peers (other college professors who write fiction and poetry) but ignored by everyone else, he even ruined his one great idea for a novel by trying to infuse it with a poetic sensibility that only illustrated the fact that he was a too good of a writer to just write a thriller. It was left to Hollywood to take away all the pretension and strip the story down to it’s most basic elements.

“You sure have a purty mouth,” is one of the most disturbing lines in cinematic history.

I’ve always wondered how good this novel would have been like if David Morrell had written it.

THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo
The_Godfather_Wallpaper_by_ChellOKun

This may be the second worst written book ever to become a best-seller. We read the book in high school for the sex scenes … who can forget Sonny pushing Lucy up against the wall? But, as has been documented in abundance elsewhere, this is one of the all time classic movies.

THE GRADUATE by Charles Webb

the-graduate-poster-1o5nepbThe 1963 novel was, at best, barely readable, but somehow Mike Nichols, with his writing team Calder Willingham and Buck Henry took everything the novel had to offer, and expanded it to create one of the most iconic films of the 1960s. One reason the movie is better is one of the most perfect soundtracks ever, by Simon and Garfunkel.

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER / PATRIOT GAMES / THE SUM OF ALL FEARS / CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER by Tom Clancy

red octoberLet’s be honest … Tom Clancy can’t write. Period. We keep a copy of Red Storm Rising next to the bed in case of insomnia. Two pages and your eyes are dropping.Clancy is a high-concept book packager where ideas are more important that creating characters and setting the mood. But they make fairly entertaining movies.

JAWS by Peter Benchley

jawsThis may be one of the worst written books ever to become a best-seller. Jaws was one of the first “high-concept” novels which now periodically hit the best seller list (every heard of The DaVinci Code?). But, a young Steven Spielberg turned the material into one of the most edge-of-the-seat movies ever. Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss are top notch.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy

la confidentialEllroy is an enigmatic figure. The real mystery is how his unreadable books keep getting published, and keep getting positive reviews. But, buried within all the turgid prose and literary devices (think of a hard-boiled Thomas Pynchon with none of the humor) someone in Hollywood saw a thrilling and brutal movie … and they were right.

A PLACE IN THE SUN by Theodore Dreiser

A_Place_in_the_Sun_(film)_posterDreiser is a literary darling and virtually impossible to read. However, the novel An American Tragedy, which is the basis for this movie, had all the plot elements needed for Hollywood to fashion a classic soap opera.

CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS: My Bob Hope moment …


Bob Hope died today (July 27) in 2003 at age 100. One of the most popular, and recognizable entertainers in the world  he performed in vaudeville, on Broadway, was a huge movie star, was a  fixture on television for 50 years and performed 57 USO tours across the world in front of American soldiers. And yet, he went out of his way to spend three minutes with me in 1978.

I was a student at Francis Marion College in Florence, SC and working part-time on the campus grounds crew. It was a Saturday morning in late September and I was mowing the grass around the Smith University Center – Bob Hope was performing later that night. As I was mowing a large tour bus pulled up to the Center (200 feet away) and several people got out, including Mr. Hope. Everyone else entered the building, except Hope. He shaded his hand over his eyes and walked across the parking lot to where I was mowing. 

As he approached I switched off the mower. He stuck out his hand, “Hi, I’m Bob Hope. Are you a student here?”  he asked. When I said I was, he asked me, “What are you studying?”

Over the next few minutes he asked me “Where are you from?” and “What are your plans after graduation?” Then he said, “Whatever else you do, make sure you travel and see some of the world and America. Good luck, young man.”

As he turned to leave I managed to say, “Mr. Hope, it was an honor to meet you.” He stopped and said, “Well, I thank you, but I’m just an entertainer who got lucky. I’m not that important.”

“Mr. Hope,” I called out, “who’s the sexiest woman you’ve ever performed with?’

Without a pause he called out, “Ann Margret!”  and he waved and strolled inside the building.

About five minutes later one of his staff people came out and brought me a bottle of Coke. “Mr. Hope said to make sure you got this,” the staff member said.    

Not only was Bob Hope an American treasure, he admitted what every American man knows … Ann Margret is smokin’!