Skip the Yule Log: See/Hear/Read This

It's easy to get sucked into TV rerun purgatory when the most entertaining thing on the tube this week is the yule log.

But before you zone out with the flame-consumed wood -- or rent yet another Tim Allen Christmas flick -- check out's new entertainment rundown. It's our weekly account of all the good, the bad and the ugly of the next seven days of culture. Read our guide to everything worth consuming, and put away that VHS copy of "9 to 5." There's a reason it was in the gas station bargain bin.


Denzel Washington stands and delivers another strong performance as a teacher in this season's most inspirational drama, "The Great Debaters." Produced by Oprah Winfrey and co-starring Forest Whitaker, "Debaters" is based on the true story of a black liberal arts school in the 1930s Jim Crow South, whose debating team won most of its competitions against white schools. It'll leave you feeling almost as warm and fuzzy as that last glass of egg nog.

As if the legacy wasn't tarnished enough, "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" is the third dent in the "Predator" franchise and the sixth dip into the bone-dry well of the "Alien" series. And since the film's leads are yesteryear's special effects, for a uniquely bad-ass performance, opt instead to see Daniel Day-Lewis' Golden Globe-nominated turn as a grizzle-voiced villain in "There Will Be Blood." The thespian plays an original Wild West oilman with an iron fist and an unquenchable thirst for black gold in Paul Thomas Anderson's epic Western. The movie's ominous-sounding, classical soundtrack was composed by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and the film has been nominated for the best motion picture Golden Globe. It has little dialogue, but it's still better than watching a movie that stars two guys in 1980's Halloween costumes.

Returning to the otherworldly realm of "Pan's Labyrinth" is "The Orphanage," a Guillermo del Toro-produced film that rattles the foundations of the haunted-house genre. In this Spanish film, a woman and her family visit the orphanage where she grew up. Instead of using the usual horror-film parlor tricks, director Juan Antonio Bayona builds tension within fright-flick style by injecting Peter Pan-inspired fairy tales and Belen Rueda's mesmerizing turn as a mother gone mad. Because there's nothing scarier than a mother on a rampage.

Ben Stiller's "The Heartbreak Kid" hits DVD and HD-DVD this week. Unfortunately, the Farrelly brothers directors' commentary, deleted scenes and four featurettes won't make it any more watchable. Check out Jamie Foxx's muscle-flexing performance in "The Kingdom," a smart political thriller delivered with popcorn-movie swagger. Available on DVD and HD-DVD, the release has deleted scenes, director's commentary and a documentary about the construction of the action-packed freeway sequence. Another Oscar favorite, Canadian filmmaker David Croneberg's "Eastern Promises," is available on DVD and HD-DVD this week. It includes the requisite behind-the-scenes documentary and a short that reveals the history of Russian criminals' tattoos. This time, try to keep your eyes open during the steam-room fight.


With most music labels closed for the holiday and many music executives busy sipping pina coladas on the beach, this is a slow week for mainstream releases. Hip-hop star David Banner doesn't care, though, and after pimping his acting career in "Hustle 'n Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," he's not so humbly returning to music with "The Greatest Story Ever Told." The album showcases an all-star team of crunk and hip-hop elite -- Snoop Dogg, Akon and Lil Wayne drop rhymes on the single "9mm," and Chris Brown, Yung Joc and Jim Jones help out on "Get Like Me." Buoyed by the heavyweight cast and building from his 2005 raunchy hit single "Play," Banner will likely have even more to brag about in 2008. Just don't expect it to be PG-13 rated.

Free from the burden of a major label deal, Radiohead continues its innovative approach to releasing music. The band recently removed its independently produced album "In Rainbows" from its site, where fans could name their own price for the download. This week, audiophiles and CD-nostalgic fans can finally get the high quality, physical disc version without shelling out $80 for the mail-order deluxe version (which consists of the album, a bonus CD, two vinyl LPs and artwork in a special package). Who needs the fancy box anyway?

Though many can't wait for Woody Allen's U.K.-based films to naff off -- and his most recent offering, "Cassandra's Dream," may make you cringe as much as "Scoop" did -- the soundtrack is worth a listen. And Allen, a jazz and classical music aficionado, knows it. Scored by Academy Award-nominated New York composer Philip Glass ("Notes on a Scandal"), this is the first soundtrack Allen has released in stereo (most of his soundtracks are in mono or Dolby). The ominous, classical string music is haunting and beautiful -- it's arguably the best part of the movie. Too bad it can't make up for Colin Farrell's performance.


Romantic thriller writer Kay Hooper returns to bookshelves this week with "Blood Dreams," the newest addition to her "Bishop" special crimes unit series. The New York Times best-selling author's new book marks the beginning of her first true trilogy. This time around, the daughter of a powerful U.S. senator has been killed, and the only group able to solve the case is a fledgling civilian organization of unorthodox crime stoppers. It's no Dan Brown novel, but it will suffice to help CSI junkies get their fix of crime stories during the writer's strike.

The most controversial release of the season is Mark Bowen's "Censoring Science." The book is an exploration of NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen's unfruitful attempts to warn the public about the dangers of global warming. It's most compelling, though, in its damning expose of the U.S. government's resistance to meaningful, environmental policy change -- and its illogical commitment to muzzling one of the nation's brightest scientists. Global warming and politics aren't traditionally sexy topics, but this book's scandal-filled pages make this expose a real page-turner.