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BETHLEHAM - Forget the War on Christmas. This time of the season another person is attacked for no good reason. He doesn’t get ripped by atheists wanting to stop the holiday. He’s given the ultimate guilt trip from the pulpits and the pews across the world. Who Is he? Why the Innkeeper of Bethlehem.

Right now there are hundreds if not thousands of ministers, priests and Holy Roller relatives working out their Christmas sermon that makes the Innkeeper a huge part of the Nativity story. There’s plays based off the concept of a regretful Innkeeper who didn’t have room for Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary. They claim he supposedly sent them off to a stable so she could put her newborn child into a manager instead of a Serta Perfect Sleeper. How about this holiday season people quit villainizing the guy?

Is it the Innkeeper’s fault that he had no vacancy at the Inn? Our modern perspective gives us the impression that Bethlehem’s hotel situation is comparable to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s guest accommodations. As if Joseph and Mary were hitting the desk bell at the Residence Inn near the Lehigh Valley Airport. The Inns of BC/AD time were not lavish affairs with hundreds of rooms and twenty stories high. Steve Wynn wouldn’t slap his name on one. They were small and didn’t even offer HBO. A few might have had Starz. They didn’t offer private baths. According to some descriptions, they were pretty much flop houses with everyone packed into one or two rooms. So it wouldn’t take too many people to fill up these little dumpy places. It’s just a shame Mary and Joseph didn’t use the Roaming Gnome to get an advance reservation. Which brings us to another thought: How come Mary and Joseph’s relatives didn’t book them into an Inn sooner? They did have relatives in the area since that was the whole reason they came to town. Why didn’t their relatives offer them a spare room for their census induced stay since they must have known the place was over run like Super Bowl weekend? Why isn’t there a homily of the ungrateful relatives? What was their pack of excuses that gets them off the hook while the Innkeeper hitting the “No Vacancy” sign gets berated? “Your uncle Harvey has a bit of a snore that might keep you up all night. Why not try the Inn? They might have a cancellation?”

Another thing that never gets explored in sermons is the concept of a woman giving birth at the Inn. When is the last time you checked into a hotel and asked for a room next to a woman delivering a baby? A majority of people don’t even want to be on the same floor as the ice machine. Having been in a delivery room, I can assure you that nobody in their right mind wants to try to sleep through a woman screaming during contractions. Since everybody slumbered in the same room or two, odds are high that the other guests would be upset at the noise. Beyond the noise, think of the mess. Those rooms were rather scummy already. The bed would probably be a lost cause when her water breaks. Most Inns at 4 B.C. didn’t have a maid pushing her cart each morning to sanitize things for your protection. After the birth, that room was going to be as messy as a stable. It’d be trashed worse than Andy Dick, Keith Richards and Keith Moon sharing a lost holiday weekend. So it wasn’t much of a downgrade to be turned away from the Inn and sent to the manager. At least they could blame the delivery mess on the donkeys and sheep when the Three Wisemen dropped by.

Speaking of delivery; why aren’t there ministers ranting about the complete absence of a doctor or a nurse mid-wife? Why no tale of the doctor who was too busy watching a Bowl game to show up at the manger to deliver Jesus? Or the mid-wife that had to finish her Christmas shopping? Why does the medical profession get a free ride when they obviously blew off the most important birth not involving Angelina Jolie?

The Innkeeper is not the bad guy in the Nativity Tale by any stretch of the imagination. He deserves no blame or guilt trip. But odds are high he’ll be getting another massive dose of it this Christmas season. So I say to you plucky readers that if the minister starts giving the “Innkeeper Narrative,” feel free to shout out, “William Shatner says if they had only used Priceline, Jesus would have been born in a 4 star room at a manager price! Guaranteed!” You’ll be a hero to hotel and motel managers across the globe.

Make sure someone videotapes you doing it so you can get plenty of youtube holiday love.

AFU

Once more AFI proves they have zero taste with their blue ribbon panel that selects the 10 best movies and 10 best TV shows. Their TV show selection mimicked every other fauxTV critic. They played it safe by leaving off Portlandia and going with the safe comedy of Modern Family. Where was the daring picks of shows you’ll be buying on Blu-ray 10 years from now? How can they leave off Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy? How did a show that was an art project get backing on Channel 4? AFI completely neglected the greatest show on cable: Dave’s Old Porn. The Showtime Series revives the self-esteem of Dave Attell (Insomniac). The show is brilliantly minimal as Dave and guests sit on a big sofa while adult films from the ’70s and ’80s run behind them. While first part is Dave and a fellow comic gasping at the hairy days of 16mm adult action, he brings out a legend of porn to discuss the scenes, their careers and what they’re doing after the taping. It’s like a pants-optional Inside the Actor’s Studio. The second season has brought out Ginger Lynn, Vanessa Del Rio, Tom Byron, Robert Kerman (Debbie Does Dallas), Herschel Savage and Ron Jeremy. He reminds people of those glory days of backrooms at mom and pop videostores. Those dreamy spaces had a warning sign and a bead curtain to make you feel adult when you stepped inside to pick through the boxes on the wall. Why won’t AFI pay tribute to this entertaining nostalgic trip that penetrates and sometimes double penetrates a misspent youth? How many AFI graduates worked in porn to pay the bills as grips, best boys, cameramen, writers and directors? Dave Attell is truly giving a cinematic history lesson which is more than can be said about the American Film Institute. Dave’s Old Porn is on Showtime’s On Demand for those who want to remember that time they stashed VHS tapes deep in their collection with stickers reading “Joe Besser’s Greatest Hits” to keep anyone from discovering what they were.

FESTIVUS GIFT?

What should you send to people who can’t make your Festivus Dinner to let them know how they disappointed you? Here’s a suggestion:

You can buy 5 copies of Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters for $25 with no shipping this week!

QUICK GIFTS

The coolest thing you can give a friend this year as a last minute grab gift is Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance: Special 30th Edition which includes the original record and bonus tracks. More importantly is the complete video of their hour long set at the US Festival on Metal Day. This is the Priest at their peak. Even in the middle of the day with the sun shining brightly, the leather clad rockers ruled the day. This was back when Rob Halford’s hair was in full glory. All their major hits are featured in their 12 song set including “Breaking the Law,” “You Have Another Things Coming” and “Hell Bent for Leather.” Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing’s twin guitar attack fuels the crowd. This is the ultimate Priest performance.

TV shows that lasted a season or less are great to give when you need to payback an unexpected present. Honey West: The Complete Series was Anne Francis’ big series. She’s a sexy private investigator working the angles in a black and white world. Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series came out after the end of the movie series. Strange to think the show ended shortly after my cousins got their action figures for Christmas of 1974. Square Pegs: The Complete Series was high school life in the early ’80s> Sarah Jessica Parker is desperate to be cool. Devo shows up for an episode along with Bill Murray. I found a copy for $8 at a Food Lion. Max Headroom: The Complete Series was just too far in the future for an ’80s audience eager for Dallas. Tales of the Gold Monkey: The Complete Series was a Pacific trip with pre-World War II action and mystery.

BLU-RAY

Dick Tracy can finally be fully appreciated at home with a 1080p transfer on a Blu-ray. This film is all about Richard Sylbert’s production design, Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography and the makeup department’s grotesque masks. They bring Chester Gould’s drawn characters into world of live action. . The colors truly pop on the screen like the Sunday funny pages when they mattered. After 23 years of catching parts of the movie on VHS and DVD, seeing it on Blu-ray really improves the film. Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is doing his best to keep down the underworld. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has decided to make a major power grab. This includes taking over a nightclub with Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) as the featured performer. Can Tracy keep Big Boy from being the real boss of the city? The compared to a majority of comic book movies, Dick Tracy has risen to the top in 22 years. There’s a rogues gallery of stars under major make up including Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, Henry Silva, Mandy Patinkin and Michael J. Pollard. Madonna is perfect for playing the sex kitten singer who just wants to hook up with Dick. This has some of her better cinema hairdos along with a wardrobe that plays up her assets. It all looked and felt good on the HDTV screen. The one disappointing thing about the Blu-ray is a complete lack of bonus features. This is definitely a movie that improves with a higher resolution. They include a digital copy so you can watch it on your tablet.

DVD SHELF

Hazel: The Complete Fourth Season is the penultimate season, but the finale for aspects of the series. At the end of the year the show would move from NBC to CBS. That move meant a bit of a budget slash which led to Don DeFore and Whitney Blake being let go from the cast. So here are the final 26 episodes as them being Mr. and Mrs. B, the employers of Hazel (Shirley Booth). After these episodes, Hazel would never be their maid. “Never Trouble Trouble” makes the Baxters victims of a burglary. Sadly the main suspect is a relative. Was it an inside job? Harold Gould (Rhoda), the Dean of Thespians is part of the investigation. “Luncheon with the Governor” turns ugly when protesters arrive at the house. “Marriage Trap” sets Hazel out to reunite George’s secretary with her ex-boyfriend. Ken Berry (F Troop) can’t escape Hazel’s match making scheme. “Flagpole” puts a 30 ft. flagpole in the front yard. Mr. B think Hazel went overboard. Frank Cady (Green Acres) is part of the patriotic struggle. “Champagne Tony” has her lose ‘64 British Open champ Tony Lema’s clubs. Lema would lose his life in a plane wreck in ‘66. “George’s Man Friday” proposes marriage to Hazel. Can she really get hitched and leave the Baxters? How will they survive? Harold Gould returns for this episode. “The Investor” makes Hazel buy 25% of a baker run by John Banner (Sgt. Schlutz on Hogan’s Heroes). Things get to be too much for Hazel when she has to keep the Baxters and Banner happy. Will she resort to sniffing flour to get the extra energy? It’s sad thinking that DeFore and Blake had no idea that they coming to the end of the show. DeFore claims he found out the fate of Mr. Baxter by reading it in the paper.

Ultraseven: The Complete Series is a bit of a shock for those who grew up in the ’70s watching Ultraman and had no idea that there was more Ultra adventures in Japan. Why were we denied this follow up series on after school TV? This could have saved a lot of kids from having to go outside for 30 minutes a day to be attacked by squirrels. Ultraseven has a different tone from Ultraman. The Ultra Guard is a bit more serious in their job of defending the world. It feels like the original Godzilla or Gamera. It’s not too serious since the endings involve Ultraseven (the alien that comes to help protect Earth after Ultraman departed) wrestling a rubber suit monster on a miniature exterior set. Unlike the previous Ultraman, Ultraseven isn’t an alien-human hybrid. He’s all alien who has the ability to take a human form. He joins the six members of the Ultra Guard thus becoming known as Ultraseven. They have lot of cool high tech toys in their battles against monsters from outer space and those created by science experiments gone wrong. The show lasted for 49 episodes although one of the original broadcast episodes is missing from the boxset. Shout! Factory explains why in the booklet. “From Another Planet With Love” dealt with radiation mutations which Japanese viewers are still uncomfortable with seeing. Thus the show was pulled after its first airing and never shown in Japan. There had been moments it ran outside Japan, but those were rare exceptions. The Japanese studio that controls Ultraseven refused to provide the video master for that episode. Don’t get too anal cause the 48 episodes are well worth buying the boxset. What’s more important that the show’s attitude makes it fine to watch all these decades later. It’ll make you feel thirty years younger.

Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1 marks the start of the Western expanding to the hour long length. This season’s episodes however are still rather rare viewing since they’re in black and white. Even though Gunsmoke currently runs on TVLand and ME-TV, the channels prefer to run the color episodes. Enjoy the old west without all those distracting hues. “Perce” launches the new format with the tale of an ex-con (The Silent Force’s Ed Nelson) who saves Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) during a shootout. His new found hero status works against him when a saloon girl wants him to return to his old outlaw ways. Can he resist her tempting charms? “Old Yellow Boots” has an engagement timed with the death of soon-to-be bride’s brother. Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) gets to act greasy. “Miss Kitty” spreads the rumor that she’s got a son. Could Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) really hide him? Amongst the curious is Frank Sutton (Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.). “All That” makes Buddy Ebsen (Beverly Hillbillies) very popular when he arrives in Dodge City after a gold strike. Can he handle being popular? “Chesterland” makes Matt’s assistant Chester (McCloud’s Dennis Weaver) a marrying man. He has to retire to the force to focus on his wife. “Apprentice Doc” allows Doc (Milburn Stone) a chance to rehabilitate an outlaw who has a knack for medicine. As if medical bills aren’t a form of highway robbery. “Marry Me” gets Miss Kitty hitched - whether she wants it or not. Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) is part of her involuntary elopement. “A Man A Day” puts Matt in a nasty situation when bank robbers want him out of town. Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek’s Spock) gets to cause a little trouble. “The Do-Badder” doubles up The Wild Bunch connection with both Strother Martin and Warren Oates on the screen. The hour long version of the show does allow the series to breathe a bit during scenes. The boxset has 17 episodes spread over 5 DVDs. The bonus features are the original previews for some episodes and sponsor plugs for L&M Cigarettes and Remington electric razors.

HOUSE OF LIE$: The First Season explores the world of management consultants. You know those suits that show up to tell you how to do it right? These are the snakeoil salesmen that you want to sucker punch in the elevator. Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights) runs an elite unit that knows how to get major companies to pay top dollar for their relatively worthless services. Don’s not afraid to expose his tricks to making captains of industry turn into a pack of Gilligans. His crew known as the Pod consists of the Nerd (Josh Lawson), the Geek (Ben Schwartz) and Sizzle (Veronica Mars’s Kirsten Bell). Griffin Dunne (After Hours) returns to acting as an utter bastard out to make Don’s life a living hell. He ends up buying Don’s company. The show has great freeze moments when Don breaks down the elements of a deal. He sums up the fools in the room and how he’ll use his mad skills to bust them up like Bruce Lee. The most morbid humor comes in the final episode when Don demonstrates at the office Christmas party what the work force will look like after a major layoff. The series forms a perfect power block with Shameless and Californication on Showtime. The new season starts January 13 so you might want to binge view House of Lie$ on Christmas morning. The 12 episodes are on 2 DVDs along with bonus interviews with Don and Kirsten.

Californication: The Fifth Season drags Hank (X-Files‘ David Duchovny) back to Cali. What could yank him from his beloved Manhattan? How about a chance to become part of the Wu Tang universe? Samurai Apocalypse (Wu’s RZA) dreams of making Santa Monica Cop - it’s not like Beverly Hills Cop. He needs the Magic of Moody to craft his box office stardom. This isn’t a simple writing gig since Hank makes the mistake of falling hard for Kali (Meagan Good). She’s Samurai’s protégé and off limits lady. Hank’s fixing for a major beating for such an offense. Also in the confusion is Hank meeting the new Hank in the form of his daughter’s new boyfriend Tyler (Scott Michael Foster). He’s written a script about banging Hank’s daughter that’s so hot that Hank’s agent Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) will do anything to sign the kid - even if it means screwing over Hank. Tyler’s an utter bastard and abuses everyone on his power trip. He thinks he’s really a director. Foster holds his own with Duhovny on the small screen. The person who gets the biggest bump from this season is Stephen Tobolowsky with his new stud persona as he may have banged the nanny (Camilla Luddington). Overall it’s another fun season on the carnal coast. Duchovny does his Red Shoes Diaries legacy proud.

Quincy, M.E.: Season 4 brings us more excitement from America’s first popular medical examiner, Dr. R. Quincy (The Odd Couple’s Jack Klugman). Long before CSI, NCIS and Body of Evidence the medical examiner was merely a quickie character on crime dramas. Quincy showed that the people that detect what killed the deceased weren’t minor characters in service to lead cops. They could solve a homicide using science and not merely gut instinct like a police detective. Quincy did use his gut to know where to focus the science. By season four, Quincy had lost his educated Archie Bunker attitude. The writers toned down the racial jokes aimed at his assistant Sam (Robert Ito). He had become a legend in forensics at this point in his career even though he answered to the skeptical Dr. Robert Asten (John S. Ragin). Besides the ladies, Quincy likes to hang at the restaurant run by Danny Tovo (Saturday Night Fever’s Val Bisoglio). “Speed Trap” sets a race car driver on fire. Quincy smells foul play in the wreckage. One of the suspects if Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker). “Death By Good Intentions” puts a dead body in the hospital. It’s up to Quincy to prove that the doctor didn’t do anything wrong else all gets blamed on affirmative action. Pernell Roberts (Bonanza) is on staff. “Images” looks like Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), a famous reporter, has burned to death in a dumpy hotel. But she turns out alive after Quincy declares her dead. He’s upset at being burned on case and refuses to admit he’s got the wrong victim. “Even Odds” makes Quincy a client of the morgue. He’s investigating a crime scene when a gun goes off and nails him. Sam and company have to solve the case while he fights for his life. Fred Ward (Henry & June) has a bit part. “No Way to Treat A Body” moves Quincy’s girlfriend into an old house. Along with a stripper roommate, it turns out there’s dead people in the walls. Quincy has to solve the case. Ed Begley Jr. warms up for his time on St. Elsewhere. “A Night to Raise the Dead” has a coffin landslide at a cemetery. Among the old dead is a fresh body that might have died of typhoid. Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible) digs through the dead. “House of No Return” disguises Quincy as a dead private eye to find the killer. Joseph Ruskin continues his streak of suspects. “A Small Circle of Friend” turns up VD on a DOA football player. Quincy and Sam have to find who the gridiron star might have infected. Raymond St. Jacques (Cotton Comes to Harlem) and Jo Ann Pflug (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) better get themselves checked. “Walk Softly Through the Night” is a two-parter about a doctor giving out bogus prescriptions to junkies. Quincy wants to shut the guy down. Over three decades later, this is still an issue. “Dark Angel” busts Neville Brand (The Untouchables) as a cop who killed a suspect. He claims the kid was strung out on PCP. Can Quincy prove his pal innocent? “Physician, Heal Thyself” finds a woman dead after an abortion. Quincy believes the doctor was drunk in the operating room. June Lockhart (Lost in Space) is the Chief of Medicine clashing with Quincy. Anne Francis (Honey West) is also part of the cast. It’s good to see that Shout! Factory has gotten Quincy back on the release track like they recently did with Kojak. There’s four more seasons to go. Season 5 is slated for released March 19. Being denied episodes of Quincy is tantamount to murder!

Arbitrage is a burning thriller that’s perfect for a cold winter night. Richard Gere appears to have it all going right. He runs a massive hedgefund. He’s married to Susan Sarandon, who is still alluring as she nears 70. His daughter, Brit Marling is working in the family business. What could go wrong? Plenty as both his business and home life is about to fall into the abyss. He’s doing plenty of illegal things in the hopes of selling his company to an unsuspecting sucker. He’s also working a girlfriend on the side. Gere looks good hustling at the office and home to make things appear normal no matter the harsh truth behind the door. Tim Roth arrives to up the tension as a police detective. This doesn’t get too business heavy since there’s plenty of family drama to keep it from devolving into a visit with an accountant. It’s almost like seeing Gere’s Pretty Woman character if he hadn’t learned his lesson the first time around. What’s extra exciting about the film is a chance to see Stuart Margolin in action. He’s Angel on The Rockford Files. There’s also Chris Eigeman from Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco. Gere just got nominated for a Golden Globe for his acting.

Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series - 30th Anniversary packs all seven seasons including the pilot and early episodes that had different Cagneys. Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H*) played her in the pilot. Meg Foster took over the role for the short first season. Tyne Daly was always Lacey. Sharon Gless showed up to be the third Cagney and stuck for the next six seasons and a few reunion movies. Now after a few sporadic release, you can get all the 125 episodes and extras in a boxset. This is a perfectly fine huge gift for mom and dad.

Pitch Perfect is out on DVD and Blu-ray. I’m still trying to figure out Rebel Wilson and if she’s younger than Owen and Luke.

Will Vinton’s The Adventures of Mark Twain: Collector’s Edition brings the writing legend into the world of Claymation. Will Vinton’s Claymation creations are legendary including the California Raisins, the Noid and Michael Jackon. Far as I can tell, this is Vinton’s only true feature film. He’d contributed to a few and had put together a film featuring his best short work. But this was his chance to pinch and roll his creations into 86 minutes. This was part of the films about Halley’s comet that came out in the mid-80s (Lifeforce was another) before it crossed the night sky once more. Writer Mark Twain was born when Halleys came in 1835. The comet is returning in 1910 and Twain wishes to greet it. James Whitmore (The Shawshank Redemption voices Mark Twain. He loads up Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher into a steampunk-esque airship so they can soar into outer space. Their journey has them bounce across a few of Twain’s best loved stories including “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Vinton does a spectacular job squeezing the action and art together on the screen. It’s a fun family film even with the knowledge of what will happen to Twain when he meets the comet. The Collector’s Edition includes a commentary track from Vinton that’s essential listening for anyone interested in making their own clay figures. There’s even a short about Claymation. There’s plenty of behind the scenes glimpses and chats with other members of the crew. This is an inspiration DVD and Blu-ray for any kid addicted to Playdoh.

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