The Definitive Holiday Movie Playlist

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venture christmas krampus

Over the last five or so years, I’ve slowly been figuring out more and more what I want each Christmas to be like. Caitlin and I haven’t been able to travel home for the last couple of years — what with getting married and all this year (eventually I mean to talk about that here) — so after all the phone and Skype calls are made, there’s not a whole lot else to do.

So it becomes movie time.

Generally, I can’t stand Christmas movies. Even the best of them descend into sappiness in the end, and the real trouble is that it’s all the exact same sappiness. You can basically flip on any Christmas movie for five minutes, assess where you are in the story, and fill in the blanks from there. The key differences are generally whether you’re watching Bill Murray, Jimmy Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or something made of clay. (Side note: Wait, are there really no Christmas movies with women leads, or am I just blanking on them?)

I try to skip Rudolph, Charlie Brown and anything that involves Santa. That might sound like the makings of Regular Movie Christmas, but there are a few titles that deserve recognition for their ultimate undefinable Christmasiness, while also side-stepping the awful. Here now is the watch list I’ve been cultivating for several years. It’s ever-evolving, but so far, this is the definitive iteration.

home alone

5. Home Alone

Caitlin’s a huge fan of Home Alone, and it’s hard to deny its essential brilliance. I prefer to watch it for Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, who really pull it together in terms of physical comedy in the final act of the movie. I tend to find Macaulay Culkin a little insufferable in the role, especially with an adult perspective, though. He’s not a kid who’s too smart for his own good, he’s just f–king spoiled out of his mind. Just pick the pepperoni off the pizza, dude. Stop whining.

Then again, the McCallister clan is largely an group of wild, untamed jackasses. So you feel for the kid, at least a little.

At the end of the day, Home Alone is just packed with classic moments, not the least of which is that John Candy improvisation in the back of the polka van. The whole movie is worth it for that alone. Also Pesci’s face when he gets his scalp torched.

supernatural christmas

4. A Very Supernatural Christmas

Christmas episodes of TV shows are generally awful, but I enjoy “Supernatural” anyway, and its take on Christmas is both illuminating for the characters and well-endowed of various monster lore. Like all of a “Supernatural,” it has a tendency to be a bit “whaaa, Sam and Dean’s life has been so sad and their father sucked, whaaaa,” but it has its moments.

Meanwhile, in the part of the story that’s awesome, Sam and Dean track back what they refer to as an “Anti-Claus” (which is just kinda hilarious) to Ypsilanti, Mich. (bonus points for native state), and then to some hilariously wholesome Christmas-loving folk in town, who are, of course, evil. It’s a pretty fun take on Christmas stuff — the best is when Sam and Dean exchange gifts they got both bought at a nearby gas station — with the usual horror movie-esque stuff.

venture bros christmas

3. A Very Venture Christmas

It’s “The Venture Bros.” and Krampus, so … I’m not sure what else you need to be told about this. For added delight, check out the various “Venture Bros.” holiday songs. For a long while, a new one was getting released every year. They’re amazing, especially when 21 and 24 sing “Wonderful Christmastime.”

christmas vacation

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I appreciate this one more the older I get; it’s easily the best of the Vacation series. It’s also a testament to the writing and performances that I catch new jokes every time I watch it, and the old ones fall differently with each new year. I’ve watched this one each Christmas for probably the last 18 or so years, thanks to my parents’ emphatic insistence. At first, I got irritated. Now I’m glad I was forced through it.

I’m not sure there has been another movie ever more packed to the brim with one-liners and phenomenal scenes.

“SQUIRREL!”

die hard gruber dies

1. Die Hard

C’mon, like this was even a discussion. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.” Alan Rickman versus Bruce Willis is basically a dream I had, and then I woke up and it was a movie. If there’s one movie that perfectly encapsulates the Christmas spirit — risking everything for your family (pretty sure it’s a comment on holiday shopping) — Die Hard is it. Incomparable.

Some honorable mentions that are also in the rotation:

Die Hard 2 – Also Christmas. Also Die Hard. Also awesome.
Xmas Story – The “Futurama” episode in which the Planet Express team has to deal with the deadly Santa robot.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – As my friend Bryan Carr recently pointed out, just about any Shane Black movie qualifies as a Christmas film. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang gets those points, plus it’s lighthearted as well as murdery.
Elf – On the one hand, Elf is largely one of those Christmas movies I dislike for its sugary intensity. On the other, Will Ferrell is pretty hilarious, you’ve got cameos from Peter Dinklage (although the scenes in which Ferrell continually calls him an elf kinda makes me … uncomfortable) and Kyle Gass, and it’s a Christmas movie with James Caan.

That’s this James Caan:

james caan dick tracy

and this James Caan:

james caan sonny

Anyway, happy holidays. Feel free to drop your essential holiday movies in the comments, as this list is always evolving. (And yeah, Gremlins should be on there but I was feeling a bit overloaded. I understand and accept the oversight.)

Your Language is Bullets: Blaming the Player for the Game

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burial at sea 2

I stumbled back through Rapture last week in BioShock Infinite’s “Burial at Sea” DLC, and the game did that annoying thing where it talked down to me for playing it.

It’s one of those things that video games have been trying to do lately, and it’s kind of sort of infuriating.

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Welcome to Space!

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kirk enemy within

Today officially kicked off a new phase in development of The Next Big Thing I’m working on along with Nick Hurwitch.

That’s right, it’s a new book, titles, Set Phasers to Stunning: The Space Hero’s Guide to Space. A spiritual successor to So You Created a Wormhole, we’re looking to do with space travel what we did with time travel — explain it, make fun of it, reference a lot of science fiction that we love, and make fun of that, too.

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When XCOM: Enemy Within turned into ‘Aliens’

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xcom site recon

Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of my favorite games, largely because it left so much room for play sessions to turn into their own little emergent stories.

This week, a huge expansion to the game, called Enemy Within, was launched, and I’ve delved back into the game to try out the new stuff. The other night, I suddenly found myself playing until about 3 a.m. because one mission grabbed my attention and arrested my ability to think of anything else for a good hour — the emergent narrative, about my squad of soldiers fighting to repel an alien invasion of Earth, was in many ways akin to the horror and tragedy of films like Aliens.

Since it was so tense, my favorite experience with the game so far, I ended up laying it out on Twitter across something like 30 updates. I didn’t realize it would be as long as it was until I was midway into it, but I couldn’t just stop in the middle — I still found it too compelling. Because it seems like such a great example of some of the very interesting storytelling only games can do, I thought I’d put it up here, with a little more context.

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A peek at how game reviews work

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mass effect 3 normandy explosion

In an attempt to get back into the swing of posting here, I thought I’d share an article I worked on for Game Front that gives a little behind-the-scenes treatment to how game sites go about putting together game reviews.

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Better late than never: S–t Time Travelers Say

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shit time travelers say

The start of 2013 has been pretty stupidly hectic. I haven’t been able to spare the time to get much written here lately, but hopefully I’ll be able to spend some time in the coming weeks explaining all the cool reasons why that is.

Hopefully.

The subject of this post is one of the most recent of those reasons. It’s a video Nick and I have been working on as a marketing tool for So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel. We’re fans of doing videos when we can, but they always end up being much more work and much more time-consuming than one would initially expect. That’s the case here: We filmed a video to promote the book right after its release, nearly a year ago (jeez, a year ago?!), but a bunch of issues kept it from reaching completion — namely, we didn’t know what we were doing, and when you work with friends and volunteers, getting things done in a timely manner is tough when things like the need to feed and clothe yourself intervene.

Finally and after some delay, Nick and I were able to track down the original footage of the video in hopes of finding someone to edit it for us, since neither of us has any technical proficiency in that regard. That was a struggle, too, with scheduling difficulties and even some technical difficulties getting in the way (”We formatted this external hard drive as Mac, but it won’t work on PC! What year is this?”).

At long last, armed with a trial version of some fairly nifty editing software, I decided to try cutting the video together myself.

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Too busy for blog posts

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colonial marines 4

Been a bit since I was able to get over here, but with good excuses!

Lots of work, that’s what. In fact, I don’t really have time to write a whole lot here, but what I can do is dump a bunch of the stuff I’ve been working on that’s keeping me from complaining about video games or discussing writing tips I make up. Here’s a big rundown of everything I’ve been writing lately.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, From QUAN+UM!

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valentine out of my head copy

It’s been crazy busy around here lately and I haven’t had a whole lot of time for blogging. One of the many things I’ve been toiling away on: Time Travel Valentines for So You Created a Wormhole, which we posted on the Wormhole Facebook page and Twitter, etc. Find the other five on our Facebook page or at thetimetravelguide.com. Go find them and share them!

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5 Social Media Dont’s for Writers

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writing

Hey, you’re a writer now. You know what that means? It means that a big part of your job every day is social media-ing, in hopes that anyone anywhere might actually read your goddamn book, story, article or whatever. If you do your job right, you might get some traction. Most likely, no one will read it, but you might get a few “likes.”

That’s okay, I’ve decided. Having hammered away at social media for more than a year now in a more or less official capacity on behalf of So You Created a Wormhole, I feel like Nick and I have carved out an incredibly modest divot into which we fit neatly. I’ve also realized that the vast majority of this s–t is in no way worth the time, money or effort.

I can’t speak from anything but my own experience when it comes to any of this stuff. And I can’t say that I’ve been hugely successful. But I do know what things when other writers on various social networking platforms do them, and if they bother me — a writer who seeks out and pays attention to other writers — I’m almost positive they bother other people too. So here’s the best I can do in terms of social networking advice: a list of s–t to avoid (mostly because I dislike it).

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‘Mama’ is a Deeper, Gentler Kind of Twisted Monster

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mama

Warning: Spoilers for the film Mama herein, as well as Sinister and maybe Paranormal Activity. I might spoil nine or 10 other movies just because I’m on a role.

Mama, the recently released, Guillermo del Toro-produced horror movie about two feral kids who are rediscovered and brought back to society, certainly has a few missteps built in. The way it handles its monster, however, largely isn’t one of them.

One of the things that most bothers me about many monster movies is the lack of said creature’s ability to actually become menacing.

Much too often, ghosts, demons and other creatures are used in service of Being Ominous. You know — they pop up now and again, or a character turns and what was previously hidden turns out to be hiding something awful. And many times in horror movies, the character will cry out and then blink and the thing will be gone.

That’s dumb. What’s more, it’s irritating.

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