Naturally, anyone who experienced even but a fraction of the 30-year run of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson will see a bit of their life and times captured in this show. Every topic in the news and pop culture throughout its run is documented in virtually every episode of this Emmy and Peabody winning show. Viewers with a strong sense of their times, and an appreciation for recent history, will garner satisfaction from the six-DVD set, Timeless Moments, the three DVD-set The Original Ultimate Collection (vol 1-3), Carson Country (country stars on the show from 1964-1991) and The Best of Stand-up Comedians (2 discs). Some things get funnier with age; The Tonight Show is one of them. Besides, it’s good to get a laugh in, along with the memory.
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Mutant Storm Empire is one of the most recent examples of the shoot ‘em up renaissance that is now taking place via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade gaming download service. The gameplay mechanic isn’t that original (use the left analog stick to move, use the right one to fire), which is why this game seems to be getting overlooked as just another Geometry Wars clone. Or, if you were a coin-op kid in the ‘90s, you might prefer to think of it as a Smash TV clone. Regardless of what it’s cloning, it looks great doing it, complete with beautiful HD graphics that might best be described as bloopy alien polygons. The control is fantastic and responsive, and the strange alien worlds are beautifully laid out and quite intuitive to navigate. Perhaps best of all, there is pretty much no fanfare behind this game right now, so it’s a fantastic game with which to surprise someone with what is an extremely fun, and at its highest level staggeringly hard, gaming experience. At only 10 bucks, it’s also one of the most affordable gifts you could possibly come up with this year.
While their first Christmas album, 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year, was heavy on standards, Snow Angels relies on mostly original material. That turns out to be a strength, as multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler and vocalist Karin Bergquist bring the jazz-and-blues-tinged intimacy of 2007’s The Trumpet Child to these Christmas songs. Songs like “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” and “Snowed in With You” winningly recall the Christmas music of yesteryear, meant to evoke a cozy, snowed-in cabin or townhouse rather than a bustling mega-mall. Only on “White Horse” do Detweiler and Bergquist border on schmaltz. Otherwise, they’re up to the task, with Bergquist sounding like a modern-day Nancy Wilson or Billie Holiday. The pair of standards are given fresh, earthy takes, while “Goodbye Charles” is a fitting Schulz/Guaraldi tribute. Snow Angels exudes the peace and quiet that everyone longs for at Christmastime, and does so with class.
James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments is a meditation on chaos and coping, with its focus intently on Iraqis. From a close-up of 11-year-old Mohammed’s eye, looking out on city streets, to a long view of young Kurdish shepherd Suleiman, silhouetted by a setting sun, the documentary offers a range of views and reactions to the US occupation of Iraq. As interviewees struggle to imagine a future beyond the current, daily horrors, they are at once alike and disparate, furious and hopeful, resilient and outraged. The film provides specifics, details of hectic life among ruins, faces filled with dread, desire, and defiance. Whether looking out on empty streets or endless fields in Kurdistan, the film creates a sense of space. Whether cramped or expansive, the compositions are alive with movement, color, urgency. Marchers, worshippers, workers, men with guns: they all suggest that the film has only scratched a surface.
Sports columnist Bondy captures the machinations behind the pivotal 1984 NBA draft; fate, chance, speculation (on target and off mark), and the flip of the coin, as luck would have it. Cultures, egos, and desires clash in this well-researched, slice of sports history. I’ve often thought some of the most entertaining storytelling could be found in sports writing. You’ll certainly found it here.