The Ultimate A&E Holiday Entertainment Guide

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This guide was co-written by Emma Dahl, Aleida Fernandez, Nathan Fisher, Adam Heymann and James Kennedy.

Temperatures have dropped, snow has fallen and Christmas lights dot Main Street; it’s obviously the holiday season. Here in the A&E section, we love the loads of new entertainment that comes this time of the year, and we’ve compiled a guide to everything we’re looking forward to this year. So take out your calendar and a mug of peppermint cocoa — we’ll keep track of what’s naughty or nice — and read the A&E Staff Ultimate Holiday Entertainment Guide: 

Movies:

With finals looming, the thought of grabbing a bucket of popcorn and catching some new movie releases over the holidays is a pleasant distraction. Thankfully many studios held their release date until December, so here’s a quick look at the movies rounding out 2013.

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Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis

Coming off the success of “Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” gets the first nod at its opening today. Admittedly, the first Hobbit installation was not the finest. Going in with considerably lowered hopes and expectations, this round should be fun with Legolas/Orlando Bloom’s return to the franchise and the chance to see a fight with the dragon.

One film not to miss this break is “American Hustle.” Boasting an all-star cast featuring Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, the movie is already primed to pick up a couple Oscar nominations. David O. Russell (director of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter”) reteams Lawrence and Cooper (all three of these artists received Oscar nominations for their work together last year.) Just from the trailer, the viewer can see the trio has another movie where the audience will be unable to look away.

Claiming to need more time to put on finishing touches, Martin Scorsese pushed back the original November release date of “The Wolf of Wall Street” until Christmas day. The movie looks bold, star-studded (helmed by king of the world, Leonardo DiCaprio) and fast-paced. Hopefully the extra tweaking time pays off.

Opening on the same day as “Wolf,” Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro star in “Grudge Match,” a film about two old retired boxing rivals. The movie is basically a combination of “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” but with a plot similar to “Rocky V,” where the old guys come out of retirement for one last match. Now the big question is, can Stallone, who is 67, and De Niro, who is 70, actually raise their arthritic bones to put up a good fight?

Rounding out the December movie punch card is the long-awaited sequel, “Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues” premiering Dec. 20. Yup, Will Ferrell dons the mustache and burgundy suit to be a newscaster for another day. Not a movie to impress a first date, but a great guilty pleasure flick to see with buddies.

Albums:

It might seem like an outlandish idea to gift someone an album for the holidays. Who buys full albums these days when you can give a gift card for your friend to pick and choose their favorite songs on iTunes, Spotify or SoundCloud? But you should reconsider these preconceived notions this season. Why? Because artists are putting out incredibly awesome full-length albums. And besides, gift cards look lame in wrapping paper.

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Illustration by Emma Rust

On Dec. 10 Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover from NBC’s “Community,” will release his second album, Because the Internet. Gambino’s first album garnered mixed reviews with some critics loving his witty lyrics and innovative beats that accompanied subject matter not common to the rap game. Others disparaged what they saw as melodramatic lyrics and trying-too-hard production. A pre-released track from the album Telegraph Ave. reveals that Gambino has lyrically matured while maintaining his quality rhymes and engaging beats.

For a friend more interested in indie music, grab Broken Bells’ upcoming album, After the Disco. Although the album comes out on Jan. 14, after the main holidays, it will still make a great soundtrack to the beginning of spring semester. Consisting of infamous producer Danger Mouse and Shins frontman James Mercer, Broken Bells’ first album was a fusion of Mouse’s computer-generated beats and Mercer’s cool, tantalizing pipes and guitar playing. Disco is bound to continue this trajectory of idiosyncratic, new-age pop music.

For those who prefer to listen to good old American rock ‘n’ roll, pick up Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming High Hopes, scheduled for release on Jan. 14. Sporting several quality songs that were left off past Springsteen albums, High Hopes also resurrects recently deceased saxophone legend Clarence Clemons’ golden tone on several songs. The album also features former Rage Against the Machine member and one of the last vestiges of the 20th-century guitar hero, Tom Morello’s innovative guitar sounds on eight of its tracks. Combined with Springsteen’s infallible voice and song-writing ability, Morello’s playing should add a welcome sonic dimension to the album.

Concerts:

Want to listen to live music instead? There are plenty of concerts at the end of the year. For all ticket information, see ticketmaster.com.

Andrew Bird’s Gezelligheid concerts — Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dec. 9–20 

With a name derived from the Dutch word for “extra extra cozy,” this series of concerts are an annual tradition recently established by the violin-plucking Andrew Bird. Held in churches with dramatic architecture, Bird plays mostly instrumental pieces amplified only by the church’s acoustics and his unique Specimen horns. You should go and listen to a band in their hometown. The artist is in their element, and you can hear it in their music. So if you can, catch Bird during his shows in his hometown Chicago.

 “December to Remember” – Portland, Dec. 1–12

Why limit ourselves to a single performer? Why not attend a whole series of concerts? 94.7 KNRK, a Portland-based alternative rock radio station, hosts an annual music bonanza entitled “December to Remember,” featuring a number of indie/rock/alternative groups at various venues around town.

While some of the bands are already sold out, tickets are still available for Foals, as well as Young the Giant, and Fitz and the Tantrums, among others — all great indie bands. Tickets are not that expensive and, for some people, the concerts might be a welcome reprise from the constant onslaught of traditional Christmas music.

Handel’s “Messiah” – San Francisco, Dec. 19–21

If you can make it home to the Bay Area by Dec. 21, go see the San Francisco Symphony perform Handel’s “Messiah.” Truly one of the great masterpieces of classical music, Messiah is an unparalleled channel of the joyous spirit of the season (except for The Nutcracker, maybe).

The San Francisco Symphony guarantees a good performance as well; they’ve won multiple awards in the classical performance world, including several Grammys.

 STRFKR – Seattle, Dec. 30, 31

Ring in 2014 with Portland natives STRFKR, who are playing the Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room in Seattle on Dec. 30 and 31. Known for a unique electronic style, poppy beats and catchy toe-tapping jams, STRFKR is a great high-energy transition from the calm and comfortable Christmas season into the new year.

Television: 

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Illustration by Kels Lund

This TV holiday season, however, there’s a healthy mix of your classic holiday narratives, original programming and music specials. So settle in with your eggnog and let your hours — and brain cells — waste away.

For those looking for your classically cheesy holiday fare, try Hallmark and Lifetime Channel’s respective countdowns to Christmas every Saturday, 7 p.m. CT. Their list of movies is expansive but each story is essentially the same: big city guy or girl with a jerky significant other owns a small family business and/or goes back to their roots where they fall in love with the quirky person who currently annoys them, because (but not exclusively because) they are also against the big business or corporation that is trying to destroy said business/Christmas. It’s a romantic comedy, Christmas style.

For those who can’t afford to travel to a real concert, musical variety shows are also a staple this year. Kelly Clarkson starts it off with the curiously titled “Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale,” (NBC, Dec. 11). Feel-good musicians Michael Bublé (NBC) and Celine Dion (CBS) battle for musical supremacy on Dec. 18, and ’80s hair band Heart (AXS) plays on Christmas. Ringing in the New Year, Ryan Seacrest, Jenny McCarthy and Fergie host “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve Presents The 30 Greatest Women In Music” (ABC, Dec. 31). The only question is, who will be the biggest diva: the musicians or the hosts?

Those obsessed with the BBC will be happy to note that “Doctor Who” will be airing a Christmas episode on Christmas. Perennial favorites “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock” will air back-to-back on Jan. 5. For those who can’t wait for their Dowager Countess fix, PBS is teasing us with “Return to Downton Abbey,” a special about the first three seasons (check your local listings).

Craving original programming? A few new miniseries premiered this December including “Mob City” (TNT) which follows the true story of a decades-long conflict between the LA Police Department under the determined leadership of Police Chief William Parker, and ruthless criminal Mickey Cohen. Need more mobsters? “Bonnie and Clyde” is a two-night miniseries starring “Into the Wild”s Emile Hirsch and “The Borgias’” Holliday Grainger (A&E, Lifetime and History).

And for those more traditional? “It’s a Wonderful Life” airs Dec. 14 and 24 on NBC.

Tech:

In an era so thoroughly dictated by technology, the holidays provide an excellent opportunity to upgrade our (or our loved ones’) gadgets and gizmos. While expensive tech gifts are typically a strain on tight college student wallets, those with a bit of extra cash can’t go wrong with gifting some of the latest electronics gear to themselves or others, or grab the old stuff while it’s cheap.

With all three next-generation video game consoles out this holiday, it’s a great time to pick up an older model for a fraction of the price. The original Wii is dirt cheap at this point, with some used models running close to $40; if you have a younger sibling or playful parent that never got to play one, you can pick up a console, some controllers and games for under $200. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 are worthy pick-ups as well, being a bit pricier for a lot better tech.

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Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis

When it comes to new consoles, the Wii U has the advantage over the other next-gen consoles of having a wider game library, although you’ll have to get used to an unorthodox controller and outclassed graphics. Only die-hard gamers should pick up the just-released Xbox ONE and PS4; as with many launches, the game selection is seriously lacking and allegations of tech failure are rampant, particularly with the PS4. The graphics, while pretty, are not an overwhelming upgrade from what you can find on outdated consoles, and they’re also somewhat expensive at $400 or $500 respectively for their most basic models.

The laptop market allows a wide range of entry points. Laptops range from as low as a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, but you can find a perfectly usable one for $500–$700. Many new Windows machines now have touchscreens or double as tablets, making Windows 8 OS a bit more tolerable as it slowly supplants Windows 7. Macs remain at a similar price point and are still reliable, and a few laptops even run Google’s Chrome OS, if you want to try something new.

Finally, smart phones are cheaper and more accessible than ever. Apple remains the dominant choice, with older models of the iPhone drastically dropping in price despite being nearly identical in functionality to their more recent counterparts. Still, there’s more competition than ever with a variety of Android devices, which offer more flexibility. Finally, “smart watches” are indeed a thing. If someone other than me still wears a watch and wants to look like a secret agent, you can snap one of these up before they catch on (but they probably won’t).




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