Bah Humbug! Woman Takes Down Christmas Tree To Protest Health Care Bill

obama+christmas“Bunny from Kansas” called in to C-SPAN yesterday morning, angered by the passage of Health Care through the Senate — and she did something about it. “I am so disappointed. I have taken my Christmas tree down, I have taken my Christmas wreath off my house. I have taken all the lights down,” she told host Peter Slen. “This is supposed to be a Nation Under God, and it isn’t. They have absolutely have ruined Christmas for all of the Senators and Representatives that are supposed to be under God. This is God’s holiday for the birth of his son!” Not, apparently, for widespread health care coverage.

Slen asked, slightly disbelievingly: “So you took down your Christmas tree because of the Senate health care bill?” Bunny responded, “I certainly did. And I would like to see every light in the nation go out. Especially in the White House.” O-kay.

This actually is a really sad call, because the reason she cites — that Health Care is “divisive” for her and her son — is indicative of just how many people out there really do still think that Obama is trying to force death panels on the seniors of America. Bunny uses the phrase “Genocide on the seniors” – almost six months after people like Sarah Palin and Betsy McCaughey unleashed this destructive, undermining myth on the country. “What are we doing paying these people to kill other people? Because that’s what they do.” Wow. No points to C-SPAN host Slen, either, for shuffling her off with an indulgent, “All right.” Correct the record, dude.

Here’s the video:

Merry Christmas, Baby!

Screen shot 2009-12-25 at 11.19.15 AMScreen shot 2009-12-25 at 10.43.48 AMI love Christmas songs. I always, always have. How can you not, really — from Hallowe’en on they’ve been drummed (ba-rum-tum-tum-tum) into your head for as long as you’ve been alive, so no matter who you are or what you celebrate in your own home, you can sing along to Screen shot 2009-12-25 at 12.06.47 PMScreen shot 2009-12-25 at 12.13.15 PMpretty much any of them. Which is always fun to do, unless you’re a total Scrooge (hi, !) As I’ve grown up, new songs have been added to the canon every year, between SNL skits or new classic movie moments (like “Jingle Bell Rock” in Mean Girls) or Mariah Carey warbling or one of my favorite Christmas-related songs ever from a musical, “La Vie Boheme” from Rent. Everyone loves what they love about this holiday — and there is lots to love! I’m about to go off and get fed very soon, and man do I love that — but here are a few of my favorite songs and clips from the holidays. This is obviously a non-exhaustive list. Enjoy! And MERRY CHRISTMAS! I love doing that. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Woo, the Internet is magic!

Here are some of my favorites:

Bowie & Bing – Little Drummer Boy

Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Live Aid

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town

Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano

Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You

Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt

Jingle Bell Rock – Mean Girls

Santa’s My Boyfriend – SNL

Last Christmas – Wham!

Another Christmas Song – Stephen Colbert – A Colbert Christmas

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Another Christmas Song
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

Can I Interest You In Hanukkah? – Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert – A Colbert Christmas

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Jon Stewart
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

Josh Groban – O Holy Night

Twelve Days of Christmas – John Denver & The Muppets

Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues & Kirsty McColl

La Vie Boheme – Rent

White Christmas: An Appreciation

andrearosenThe 1954 musical is divisively campy and barely even about Christmas–but it’s been a longtime favorite in my family and I’ve got a well-worn VHS copy with Channel 22 news promos from 1987 to prove it. Enjoying White Christmas is an exercise in abandoning all cynicism, and isn’t that what the holiday’s all about? Here’s how to get the most out of the Irving Berlin classic.

Note: Alas, a few of these videos have been pulled from YouTube and we can’t find replacement clips, but (a) You’ve probably seen this movie by now, so you know what we’re talking about, and (b) If you haven’t, it’s on tonight on AMC and, really, what are you waiting for? That said, the film has been broken up on YouTube and you can watch it there if you’re really impatient; here’s a link.

The Haynes Sisters: Sure, the sisters are both blindingly blonde, but I’ve always loved the juxtaposition between the curvy, husky-voiced Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and the diminutive, light-on-her-feet Judy (hyphenated goddess Vera-Ellen, who was said to have the “smallest waist in Hollywood” at around 18 inches).

Danny Kaye: The movie was a vehicle for superstar entertainer Bing Crosby, but Kaye steals every scene. The former stage actor was adept at physical comedy and fast-talking and made a killer dance partner for Vera-Ellen. Rumors circulated about Kaye’s homosexuality and some biographers have made allegations of an affair with Laurence Olivier. Kaye was clearly a ham, and brings the fun to every number he’s in, even the tepid “Choreography:”

Again with the waist and the dancing: White Christmas has an unembarrassed affection for “the number,” with many songs and bits having little to no introduction. In this scene, I like to imagine director Michael Curtiz was just like, “Vera, here’s your direction: hot guy, his shoes match his pants, fucking go for it.”

Intellectual property, schmintellectual property: The big number, “Minstrel Show,” is clearly a rip-off of the iconic choreography of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, released a year earlier. And you know what? I don’t care. The more blonde chicks falling acrobatically down stairs the better, I say!

Americana: Hey, maybe one day veterans of the War on Terror will be singing nostalgic showtunes at a bed and breakfast in Vermont! No? Well, how cool are these set pieces?

Bing!: How much do I want Crosby, all big-eared and weepy-eyed, at my house on Christmas morning, crooning away on the baby grand? Guy is Christmas. Bing is more Christmas than Santa and baby Jesus and Mariah Carey put together.

Brittany Murphy, In Crowdsourced Photos

Screen shot 2009-12-25 at 2.11.17 PMWhen Brittany Murphy died earlier this week, everyone went straight to the Internet, looking for clips on YouTube and trying to understand how a 32-year-old healthy-seeming actress dies suddenly from cardiac arrest. For me, though, it came back to Clueless, since I hadn’t seen her perform in anything else. Clueless was such a groundbreaking movie, from the mid-90s but with a footprint so unmistakable in this decade. And though Brittany Murphy played more troubled characters in 8 Mile and Girl, Interrupted and Sin City, the references I saw all over Twitter and Tumblr were to “Rollin’ With My Homies” and “That was way harsh, Tai.” The innocence of that breakout role — and what it represented, as the new girl who gets a high-school makeover as everyone tries to figure out who they are — is what stayed with me, and more than a few others of my generation (see Annie Barrett at EW).

Yes, there were lots of reports online, and RIP notes on Twitter, but this is where a site like Tumblr is a great crowd-sourcing archive. Still largeley in the early adopter stage, most of the people on it are, as Rex put it in his 5QQ, “hyper-mediated” — which is why I saw photos there that I didn’t see anywhere else. Some of them were really beautiful, and I decided to collect a few here (I also took some from EW’s gallery, which has some lovely ones). I find Tumblr a different way to crowd-source, with different results than searching in Google (not a fan of what you get on Google Image). I bet there are shots that you haven’t seen below, and they are really nice.

“Rollin’ With My Homies” seems to be most of what’s out there on YouTube featuring Murphy as Tai, but I liked her slapstick moments the best, a few of which you can see at the end of the Clueless Trailer, below:

…and here’s Rollin’ With The Homies (and here’s the song):

As another celebrity lost in 2009 might have said, gone to soon.

Happy Holidays From Mediaite, To Some Very Worthy Charities

Donate Feed HelpYou know what they say — charity begins at home, which if you work on the Internet is basically your office because the Internet is INESCAPABLE. Which means charity begins at the office — as it should, because building social responsibility into the workplace is an awesome and important thing.

So — with that in mind — our gang at Mediaite led a charge to collect donations for a company-wide drive to support one worthy organization, which our boss and founder Dan Abrams said he would match. Our charity of choice was Robin Hood’s “Food For Good” campaign (a favorite here, and for which I was one of the co-chairs) and together a group of Mediaite staffers and contributors, as well as Abrams Research staffers with whom we share an office, chocolate and a happy camaraderie, stepped up and donated to make this holiday season a little bit better for hungry New Yorkers in need.

Our little office raised $500 — which Dan has matched. So! Robin Hood! You are now $1000 closer to your goal of raising $120,000. They’ve got $9000 to go before the end of the year — anyone out there feeling competitive? If everyone on the Mediaite 50 donates $50, that’ll make a nice dent…Denton?

Other charitable news from HQ: Before Mediaite launched, I coordinated three surveys for Abrams Research which each had a bonus question for which the winner would “win” a donation to charity. Here they are:

  • For our Financial Media Survey, we asked our respondents to predict what the Dow Jones Industrial Average would be on June 30, 2009. The winner was CNN’s Myron Kandel (the Dow closed at 8447 that day and his guess was 8411). Kandel won $500 to his charity of choice: Project Sunshine, organization that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children and their families affected by life-threatening illnesses or other serious medical challenges, in 100 major cities across the U.S. and internationally in Canada, China, Israel, Kenya and Puerto Rico. It has an army of more than 10,000 volunteers worldwide making a difference for over 60,000 children. Pretty wonderful. Thank you, Myron Kandel, for supporting them!
  • For our Social Media Survey during the 2009 Social Media Week, we asked our respondents to suggest an old media-new media “shotgun wedding” moving into the brave new future. The winner was MIT business school student Amanda Peyton, who suggested Reader’s Digest + Digg + AARP, to provide a content-ranking system for an older demographic that is quickly getting up the technological curve but has been under-served by targeted social media thus far. Brilliant. In her name, Abrams Research donated $500 to Charity:Water, the beneficiary of Social Media Week’s “Twestival.”
  • For our Luxury Industry Survey, we asked our respondents to suggest the next big innovation for luxury brands, for a prize of $250 to their charity of choice. The winner was BuzzFeed’s (and formerly Theory’s) Amanda Dobbins, whose innovative suggestion was for Marc Jacobs to host after-hours “pseudo-underground dance parties” in his West Village (”they could replace The Beatrice”). If he took her up on it he’s too exclusive for us, because we’ve heard nothing, but that kind of creative thinking in creating a PR opportunity using existing resources (and adding to the social good!) is what keeps brands buzzy. Amanda’s charity of choice was Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides education, social-service and community-building programs to children and families in Harlem, and provides continued educational support to children from early education through to graduation, and even college. The goal is to end the cycle of generational poverty — and to give kids a fighting chance to do it by giving them essential skills and nurturing from the very start, and right on through as they grow and develop. It’s a great charity so thank you, Amanda, for supporting it!

So — there you have it. 2009 hasn’t exactly been an easy year financially — for donors or the charities that rely on them. It feels good to do our part to help, however we can. So — happy holidays to Robin Hood, Project Sunshine, Charity:Water and Harlem Children’s Zone, and to all of you. Here’s to a 2010 where everyone can afford to give a little more and need a little less.

Happy holidays!

Avatar and the Art Of Buzz …NOW IN 3D!

avatar-promoThis holiday weekend, after over-indulging in much food and beverage and spending perhaps just a little more time with your family and friends than you can handle, many of you will partake in that most American of traditions: escaping to the multiplex.  Sitting in a darkened movie theater and worshipping the big screen is a religion that unites us all.  But what movie should you go see?  Do not fear, because every year at this time Hollywood puts more cinematic gifts under your Christmas tree (or Hannukah Bush) than at any other time of year (outside of the big summer movie season, of course, but these are Oscar bait).  Kids are out of school, offices are closed and the movie theaters are packed. So at a time when there are 10-plus new films opening in wide release in movie theaters over a 2 week span, how does a movie-goer determine what is the must-see film to put at the top of his or her list? It’s all about the buzz.

The film to beat at the box office during the last days of 2009 is a little film called Avatar, written and directed by self-proclaimed ‘king of the world’, James Cameron.  I think perhaps you may have heard of this movie. Ok, at this point it’s impossible not to have heard of it, the buzz around this movie over the last week has been deafening and James Cameron is once again being anointed as the second coming.  (And if you’ve seen Avatar, he probably deserves it – but more on that later). So, how did this happen?

Let’s start at the beginning. Avatar has literally been in the works for over a decade. It is well-documented that Cameron first wrote a screenplay draft back in the 90’s (do you remember the 90’s?) but wasn’t able to actually begin working on the film until 4 years ago when technology finally caught up with his vision.  Technology may have caught up, but not at a cost-effective price – the final reported budget for Avatar runs the gamut from $250 million to half a billion, depending on how all of the investment in the proprietary 3D technology is accounted for and amortized.  Bottom line, this film cost a hell of a lot, with a reported budget more than any other film in history.  And, when you think about it, we shouldn’t expect anything less from the man who gave us Titanic.  But Titanic overcame a tidal wave of bad buzz associated with its huge production budget and became the #1 grossing film of all time with world-wide box office receipts in excess of $1.8 billion. Is Avatar headed for a similar destiny?

I can tell you that the early buzz on Avatar was not very promising.  The first any of the general public saw of finished footage from Avatar was a 20-minute 3D presentation at Comic-Con in San Diego.  Comic-Con, for those of you not familiar, is an annual convention in San Diego which used to be all about comic book nerds gathering in one place so they could try to find a mint copy of Spiderman #1, but which has now turned into the biggest buzz creator Hollywood has to offer.  Each summer at Comic-Con, the studios put together lavish presentations and panels to introduce their upcoming films to eager, hard-core film fans who wait on lines for hours on end in order to gain access to these presentations.   And once the presentations end, the lucky few thousand who attended and got to enjoy (or, equally important, not enjoy) a little taste of Hollywood’s next big thing take to the internet to blog and tweet all about what they saw, what they liked, what they hated, and so on…and so the buzz begins.

In the case of Avatar, the initial buzz was just ok.  And ‘just ok’ buzz usually isn’t good enough, especially when you consider that Cameron was debuting footage of his first new film in YEARS to a captive audience of film fans who worship all of his work from The Terminator and T2, to Aliens and Titanic.  To say he was playing to a home crowd is an understatement.   This audience was told they were going to be the first to see the next big thing, something revolutionary in fact.  Yet after the 20 minutes of footage was screened, the word was simply that it looked like Cameron created a cool 3D world, and from what they could tell of the story, the movie seemed kind of pedestrian.   But Cameron was convinced that screening footage from his film was the key to turning Avatar into a success.   In an unprecedented event this past August, 20th Century Fox held free sneak previews, in over 100 IMAX theaters around the world, of the footage from Comic-Con, along with an introduction by James Cameron.  The film was still 4 months away from a theatrical release but Cameron was convinced the best way to build the buzz for this movie was to just let people see it (and turns out he was right, but again I’m getting ahead of myself).

Unfortunately, for those of us who were not lucky enough to see the Avatar footage at Comic-Con or during the IMAX sneak preview, the first we saw of any footage was the release of the theatrical trailer in 2D.  It was at this moment, the majority of us first saw the new alien world of Pandora that Cameron had created and inhabited with 10 foot tall blue aliens. The initial response to this footage was underwhelming, at best.  In fact, some of the response was vicious. Trey Parker and Matt Stone savagely parodied “Avatar” in a hilarious episode of “South Park” nearly two months ago when the foul-mouthed Cartman created a movie with a very similar plot to “Avatar” named “Dancing with Smurfs”.   Clearly, people were not warming up to Cameron’s big blue aliens.  But then again, no one had seen the finished movie, and in the end, nothing creates good buzz better than a movie that blows your mind.

So what happened when people finally got to see the finished version of “Avatar” in 3D, the way Cameron intended it to be seen?  Minds were in fact blown  (Be glad this column isn’t written in 3D).  It turns out that Cameron’s strategy of letting people see footage to sell the film really was a sound strategy after all.  The problem was that simply letting people see 20 minutes of “out of context” footage was actually doing a disservice to the beauty of his film and the unprecedented vision of a new world that he created.  To truly sell this film and create the buzz he was seeking all along, people just needed to see the final product, preferably in eye-popping IMAX 3D.  I can pinpoint the moment the buzz on “Avatar” changed for me.  (See my blog entry from December 10.) That’s the day the first industry reviews for Avatar were published and the word was so very, very good.  “Avatar” instantly jumped to the top of my must-see list, and the positive buzz just kept taking off from there.

The film has now been playing in theaters world-wide all of five days and has already racked up total box office receipts in excess of $300 million. While the box office totals that “Titanic” racked up a dozen years ago are just not possible in this day and age dominated by movie-streaming via internet and watching blu-ray dvds in a personal home theater, based on its early performance, “Avatar” certainly looks like it may have what it takes to reach the vaunted levels of $1 billion at the world-wide box office which was last reached in 2008 by “The Dark Knight”.   More surprisingly, “Avatar” has become such an across-the-board critical darling, that it is picking up some serious Oscar heat.  With the Best Picture category at the Oscars expanding to 10 nominees this year,  “Avatar” seems like a lock to pick up one of those Best Picture nods, and the film’s popularity may in fact attract more eyeballs to the Oscar ceremony itself  (validating the very reason that the Academy sought to expand the number of Best Picture nominations to 10, to increase the TV ratings).  Based on the time and effort James Cameron spent executing his vision and bringing Avatar to the screen, he is certainly worthy of an Academy Award Best Director nomination as well.  However, since that category still has only five nominees, it will not be a surprise if his name is left off that list – but without a doubt, based on his accomplishment with “Avatar”, his name should remain in the conversation.

So in case you are wondering, I have seen “Avatar” in IMAX 3D.  In fact, this past weekend, when I showed up to the theater an hour early anticipating that would be early enough to secure a decent seat, I found a line 150 people strong in front of me.  I guess they heard the buzz too.  So should you see it?  It probably doesn’t even matter what I say at this point, the buzz has spoken in a strong affirmative YES.  But I mean come on, this is my column, of course I’m going to tell you what I think.  I found it to be a beautiful movie.  Do not waste your time seeing it in anything other than 3D, and if you are lucky enough to see it in IMAX 3D, you really will experience the beauty and magic of the captivating world Cameron has created.  The key triumph of this film is not its storytelling.  Yes, clichés abound, and those who liken “Avatar”s plot to a retread of 50’s westerns or even “Dances with Wolves” are not very far off in their comparisons – but they are missing the point.  It may be a familiar story, but it is told in a ground-breaking new way and with such magic in its creation of a completely new and fully-realized world, that it is an unforgettable movie-going experience.  It is one that any true lover of cinema should experience in the theater.  Home video will never do this film justice.  Maybe I’ll see you at the theater when I go see it again.

If you want to share your thoughts on “Avatar” with me, you can reach me on Twitter @smarthollywood, or send me an email at

Hostage Situation at VA Post Office: With Explosives Strapped To Chest, Man Asks For Pizza

Cary SkeltonThis afternoon at approximately 2:53 pm, Roanoke’s local NBC station WSLS 10 reported a that 5 people had been taken hostage at a post office in downtown Wytheville, Virginia by a man with explosives strapped to his chest.

Six hours later, they are still there, with little more information. Gunshots were fired, though there appear to be no injuries. The identity of the suspect has not been released, though latest reports say that he claims to be a veteran of the Marine Corps, and that he is not from Wytheville. Early reports that the suspect was in a wheelchair and possibly missing a limb have now been clarified &mdsah; the suspect has a wheelchair, reports local Wytheville media, to which 5 pounds of plastic explosive C-4 is reportedly strapped. He also reportedly has hand grenades. The suspect has not made any demands so far — other than for pizza.

Screen shot 2009-12-23 at 10.08.52 PMThe Wythe Co. Sheriff’s Office also reported that the suspect claims to have one bomb inside, and one bomb outside of the post office.

Wytheville is a rural town in southwest Virginia, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. According to its Wikipedia page — which has already been updated with details of the hostage situation — Wytheville is small, just 14.3 square miles, but as the juncture of several highways it’s known as “the Crossroads of the Blue Ridge.” Two days before Christmas, witnesses confirm that the surrounding stores have been busy, and no doubt the post office was prepared for a busy day as well — just not this kind of busy. Instead , authorities evacuated Main Street and the surrounding area as soon as police reports were made, just before 3pm. And now they — and everyone else — are waiting, as the hostage standoff continues.

By 8:00 p.m., Stg. Mike Conroy of the State Police told WSLS 10 that food and drinks had been delivered inside the post office, taken in by one of the hostages, and the suspect was engaged in ongoing talks with hostage negotiators. The suspect also permitted hostages to call home and let their families know they were unharmed.

At this time — 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 23rd — the standoff continues. Updates may be found at and via @roanoketimes on Twitter. All residents in, and outside, of the area are holding onto hope that this incident will end well and soon.

— With Rachel Sklar

Hostages given pizza, drinks as standoff continues at Wytheville post office []
Man in wheelchair holds hostages at Wytheville Post Office [NBC-WSLS 10]
Man in wheelchair with bomb holds 5 hostage at Va. post office [USA Today]

Cary Skelton is a twenty year old new college student from Roanoke, VA, an aspiring journalist, and a loyal viewer of NBC Nightly News. Follow her on Twitter here.