Thursday, December 21, 2006

More on The Nativity Story

Towards the beginning of December, we went to see The Nativity Story film and I linked to Mark's rolling blog post about it. Well, he's now tidied up his review and it has been published on the SBL Forum website.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Guide to Grading Exams

I found this on Mark's blog, who in turn picked it up from Feeble Mindings. It seems like quite a good methodology to me. If I were a teacher/lecturer I'd be able to learn a lot from it, especially the section that deals with the conundrum of when an A+ is or is not appropriate.

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights in North Raleigh
Christmas Lights
One American tradition that, within the last decade or so, has really taken off in the UK is the tradition of decorating one's house with lights. This is especially true where Mark's parents live. Hopefully, I'll have a few good pictures to show you after our visit this Christmas. To whet your appetite, this is a picture of a house in North Raleigh.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation lights
National Lampoon's
Christmas Vacation
However, this cannot compare to the famous lights in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I've also embedded a Christmas light show that was on YouTube. It's not new, but it is good and very Christmassy.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Advent Calendars

Mark writes:

Advent Calendar Cake
I was listening to the Today programme podcast the other day and they mentioned their on-line Advent Calendar. It was the first time I'd heard mention of Advent Calendars this year and I realized that I hadn't seen any here anywhere. I don't remember seeing any last year either. A little bit of googling shows that in fact they do exist in America, and a Google Fight makes "Advent Calendars UK" only a narrow winner over "Advent Calendars USA". Perhaps it is just North Carolina, then, or just this corner of North Carolina, but I've not seen a single one.

So how are we coping without an advent calendar? Happily, recent years have seen the steady rise of on-line advent calendars, and this year there is a bumper crop. Wikipedia's article on the topic now makes "Online Advent Calendar" a separate section. The three I am enjoying this year are:

BBC Radio 4 Today Advent Calendar

Today is the news and politics programme that sets the agenda for the day. Millions wake up to it every day (and some of us in the US go to bed to it every night). This advent calendar provides short sound highlights from the last twelve months of the programme.
Doctor Who Advent Calendar
This appears on the front of the BBC's official Doctor Who website as part of its countdown to the eagerly awaited Christmas special episode called The Runaway Bride.
Mark Kermode Advent Calendar and Quiz
Viola and I have not missed a single Mark Kermode film review podcast in the last year, so it's lots of fun to hear some of his rants on this advent calendar.
Also worth a mention is the BBC Sport Advent Calendar.

And the great thing for those of us on a pre-Christmas diet is that none of the above have yet mastered the technology necessary to release a chocolate when we open each door.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Doctor Who at Christmas

The Runaway Bride is airing on BBC1 at 7pm on Christmas Day and the countdown has begun (mouse over the website). The Doctor Who advent calendar activates a new link that contains a Doctor Who related snippet for each day of advent. So far, Day 2 contains a very silly "Secret Santa" game that provides a brief distraction. Day 4 is also good -- Song for Ten, which Mark and I really like and which was apparently written especially for that episode. Demand for the song has been great, but it has not been available for purchase until now. The song is included in a Doctor Who soundtrack album that was released in the UK on the 4th of December and is due to be released here on the 13th of February. Here's a video (one of many) that I pulled off YouTube:

In fact, what the heck -- here's another good one:

Last year's Christmas Invasion boasted an average viewing figure (in Britain) of 9.84 million and was the second most watched programme of Christmas Day (Eastenders was top with 10.6 million).

We're all looking forward the this year's Christmas special co-starring Catherine Tate. Let's see if it can top last year's ratings.

To get really excited for Christmas, take a look at this BBC Christmas teaser:

It includes Billie Piper in a dramatisation of Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke (BBC1, 27th Dec., 8:30pm), which we're also looking forward to.

In addition, there is a New Year's day special of The Sarah Jane Adventures airing on New Years Day (BBC1, 4:50pm). A series is set to follow later in the year.

Also look out for the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) in Heroes (currently one of my favourite US programmes).

Here's the BBC1 Christmas schedule. (If you're one of those unlucky people who happen to not be in the UK over the Christmas period, you have my condolences, but hopefully you'll find some almost-as-good entertainment elsewhere.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Nativity Story

Three Wise Men in The Nativity Story
Three Wise Men
Yesterday we went to see The Nativity Story at our local cinema. Immediately it seemed familiar. Although it was faithful to the traditional Christmas story, it included a lot that was very similar to something that I'd seen before, in a documentary that Mark had been interviewed for, entitled The Virgin Mary (Mary the Mother of Jesus in the US).

It was filmed in Matera, Italy and in Ouarzazate, Morocco (Dune Films), both of which are locations that are often used to double-up as The Holy Land. The Virgin Mary was also filmed at Ouarzazate. The Birth of Jesus in The Nativity Story
The Stable Scene
Mark recognised parts of the scenery from when he went out to Ouarzazate to be interviewed for another documentary, St Paul. Around that time, I also had an acquaintance who was German by birth but whose family came from the Ouarzazate area of Morocco and he often visited there. He said that film crews in that area are a familiar sight. It's fairly common for locals to be hired as extras (which one can see in The Nativity Story). Another good source of income for locals is to be paid to get anything vaguely modern out of sight or to not hang their washing out where it would get in the way of the shot setups on the day of filming.

Shohreh Aghdashloo in The Nativity Story
Shohreh Aghdashloo
It starred Keisha Castle-Hughes (The Whale Rider) as Mary and Shohreh Aghdashloo (24) as Elizabeth.

The film has received quite a few bad reviews, but you needn't believe them. I am flummoxed as to what these reviewers want and how a retelling of the nativity story could be done in a way that would satisfy them. Although the film was by no means perfect, I have to admit to have thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end and it made me feel extremely Christmassy just in time for the start of Advent. If you haven't yet done so, go and see it. Unless you're a smart-alec reviewer or prone to nit-picking, you'll probably enjoy it.

Here's Mark's take on it.