This holiday season, I had plans to enjoy three versions of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. For some, three might be enough. But this year, my interest in "A Christmas Carol" was piqued (not "peaked"), and I found myself wanting to explore more than these three versions, others that I either hadn't checked out before or wanted to revisit again. Here's how my journey through two, three, four and more "Christmas Carol"s turned out.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The first one I saw this year was this one. I've seen this only a few times before, but I've played my CD of the soundtrack over and over for years! This happens to be the first time I've owned a copy this movie. And it's on VHS!! I know, crazy, huh?
We had it at a yard sale my friends and I held to raise money for our Relay for Life team, and it was among the items that didn't sell. Originally, I had planned to buy the new Blu-ray version of it, but with it missing the "When Love Is Gone" scene, I dragged my feet on getting it. Ultimately, this VHS - which includes the scene (albeit in pan and scan format) - ended up with me. I know I speak for many fans of the film when I say how impressed I am by how much it uses the dialogue of the original story and retains much of its same tone while being told by The Muppets.
Disney's A Christmas Carol
I passed on watching this when it was in theatres three years ago because I got tired of Jim Carrey mugging and bugging his eyes out so damn much in his films. It was fine when he started out, but it got to be his schtick, altho' friends tell me I need to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so there's that. But the reviews claimed he reined in his usual-ness in this film, so when it came out on Blu-ray, I took a chance. And I was overwhelmingly impressed! I now have to watch this every year with my family at Christmastime who enjoy it too.
A Christmas Carol performed by Patrick Stewart
I'm a Star Trek fan. I got started watching the reruns of classic Trek, then got hooked on TNG after it debuted. That was around the time when I happened to start taking acting classes. And watching the show, even then I recognized how much Patrick Stewart forced the rest of the cast to bring their level of acting up to his level. Midway through his run on TNG, Stewart produced and performed his one-man show of "A Christmas Carol". A CD of it quickly became part of my CD library and I have loved playing it every year ever since. I finally got to see his show at the Doolittle Theatre in 1996, and I remember how cool it was that he'd changed the personality of Scrooge from the one I'd heard all the years before on CD to a low-key, sharp businessman, like one of those single-minded sharks you'd imagine swimming on Wall Street! It was a refreshing surprise and I often wished he'd record a follow-up CD performing that personality of Scrooge on it.
To listen to an excerpt from the CD, a lengthy clip is posted by Simon & Schuster on SoundCloud.
Dickens' words...my brushwork, on the TTC set
So there are the three "A Christmas Carol"s I had planned to enjoy this season. But I also got to watch a stage version of the story told by several actors each performing many different roles of the story at my local theatre, Torrance Theatre Company. It was great and reminded me of another condensed-cast-adaptation of the novel I'd done in Poway many years before.
Now, you'd think I'd gotten my fill of Dickens and Scrooge by now. But I also started reading the original short story too, something I hadn't done before. If you haven't either, I suggest you do. I knew it would be so, but it's still amazing to realize how much of Dickens' words are familiar to you as every adaptation has pulled their dialogue verbatim from his story. As I write this, I still haven't finished it yet. Unless the words are broken up with a lot of illustrated, colored panel art in between, I'm a very slow reader.
And speaking of panel art, I did finish "Batman: Noel", a graphic novel I'd gotten for Christmas last year. It's a book I wanted because of the beautiful, detailed artwork by Leo Bermejo. And "Surprise!" it's another adaptation of Charles Dickens' book, and a good one too that has the messages delivered by the three spirits in the original book represented by three familiar characters Batman runs into while patrolling Gotham City on Christmas Eve.
So two movies, on audio retelling and one and a half books later, you'd think that might be enough. But I still had that itch to look up other versions of the story. I went online and was delighted to find two full-length versions available to watch. And I also remembered I own another one that I've never seen. I only watched about twenty or thirty minutes of each the two online movies, but it only took that long to see the entirety of the other one that I owned.
A Christmas Carol (1999)
I tried to watch Patrick Stewart's TNT movie adaptation once before and couldn't get through it. This year, I still can't. To begin with, it's so dull to me right from the start. His performance on the CDs are so enthusiastic, I guess I miss that in the film. I recognize he's working with a script that includes many wonderful ideas that bring more insight into the situations and main characters, but those ideas just didn't play out well for me when acted out. He's also too much Patrick Stewart in the role if that makes sense; he's ultimately too darn charming.
It was a nice surprise to find the first sound version of "A Christmas Carol" on film available on YouTube. Taking into account the time it was filmed, I found the performances rather genuine and refreshingly less formulaic than what we've all grown up seeing of the main characters in more popular adaptations. Seeing only half an hour of it, I look forward to making time to watch the rest of it. And from what I've learned about the film, we should all be grateful that it's the full-length version that's available on YouTube (embedded below) and not the abridged 60-minute US version that's out on recent DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases.
Mickey's Christmas Carol
I own several titles of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. They were those 30 different titles that arrived every fall between 2001 and 2009 in distinctive silver or black tin cases holding a two-disc DVD set inside. I've watched some of them like Disneyland USA, On the Front Lines, and Tomorrowland, but others like Silly Symphonies, Disney Rarities, and Mickey Mouse in Black and White I bought mainly to hang onto for future reference, especially for my design work. Then I remembered one of my Mickey Mouse in Living Color sets includes "Mickey's Christmas Carol"! I pulled it out to watch, all 25 minutes of it. It's cute and very entertaining!
So that's all the ones I've seen this year. It was fun to discover the adaptations that were new to me. And there are still a few more that came to mind that I wanted to see. One was Albert Finney's "Scrooge" which I saw when I was a kid, but all I can remember about it is the catchy tune "Thank You Very Much". Another was George C. Scott's "Scrooge". And finally there's that Alastair Sim one of "A Christmas Carol" which I can't remember if I've ever really seen. So these'll be high on my list to try and catch next Christmas season.
That is, if that itch doesn't come back and I decide to watch 'em before then!
The last time I attended a screening of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was just this past December at the Egyptian Theatre where they screened a 70mm print of the 1963 comedy classic. My good friend Perry let me know about it, and I met him and his family there for what would turn out to be a really enjoyable movie theatre experience!
It was my first visit to the Egyptian. It has a quaint but historic cinema vibe about the place, especially once you enter the theatre itself with its high, curved ceiling, beautiful wall paintings, and warm decor, much like the El Capitan Theatre down the street and the Avalon Theatre on Catalina Island.
Before the screening, the audience was treated to a brief Q & A session with two stars from the film, Barrie Chase, who played the bikini babe dancing with Dick Shawn in the film, talked about how she got cast and how it was working with Shawn, and Marvin Kaplan, the familiar character actor, shared funny anecdotes playing one of the two gas station attendants relentlessly assaulted by Jonathan Winters' character in the movie. Then the screening began, but not before a bit of drama beforehand. After the Q & A moments, the theatre manager came to the front of the house to announce that they had been stalling the start of the movie because they realized at the last minute they did not receive Reel 5 of the film! Explaining that they're back up plan was to fill in the missing reel by playing an advance copy of the Blu-ray Disc of the film that one of their employees happened to have, he returned a second time to tell us they found where Reel 5 was and hoped to have it delivered in time to drop it in at the right time during the screening. We enjoyed the entire movie in its original film glory as planned and it was hilarious!
The film, which I hadn't really seen in a long, long, long, long time, featured so many famous comedians of the Golden Era of Hollywood and popular actors in early roles that the screening also doubled as a Where's Waldo-like game, identifying faces as they appeared in their small roles or wordless cameos. If you've never seen the film and intrigued with whom I'm talking about, click the movie poster at the top or see this list on Wikipedia of actors, comedians and celebrities who appeared in the film. But obviously I recommend you seek out a copy on DVD or Blu-ray to watch the entire film yourself.
Now flash forward seven months later to sometime a couple of weeks ago when Perry again tells me about a screening of the same 70mm print, this time at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. The first installment of the Academy's film series entitled "The Last 70mm Film Festival", this screening advertised a panel discussion to include cast members Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Marvin Kaplan, Stan Freberg, Barrie Chase and Carl Reiner! And not only that, there was this eye-catching bit of detail in the press release: Tickets are $5 for the general public.
Five bucks? Really!?
My standby ticket in front of Academy building.
So, Perry spread the word and plans were made to go. A hiccup occurred when Perry found out that tickets had sold out shortly after they went on sale. But a call to the box office let us know that standby tickets might be available the day of the show. We'd have to arrive two hours before the event to receive a number, and then return again at showtime to find out whether tickets were available to buy or not. The day of the screening, without a solid guarantee that we'd get in to see the panel and movie, we headed to Hollywood and made it to the Academy building before 5pm. To our good fortune, there was only one person ahead of us in line when we arrived. By the time standby numbers were handed out at 5:30pm, there were about 30 others who had gotten in line behind us.
After getting dinner across the street at a place called Lazy Daisy Café, we arrived back at the box office to see if we'd have good luck. (It would've been fun to see a huge "W" over the box office, eh?) We were encouraged to see that they were still handing out standby numbers to folks arriving at showtime. And by about 7:15p, numbers 1 through 6 (Mine!) were allowed to buy tickets.
And again, tickets were only five dollars! What. A. Deal!
Leaving the box office, we entered the main entrance where they scanned our tickets for admission and immediately I thought to myself, "Yea, I get to keep a pristine ticket as my souvenir!" Then, I waited until one of four security guards was available to empty my pockets in front of and make sure I wasn't carrying a bomb. I retrieved my belongings to follow my friends upstairs (which gave my stiff, achy thighs from yesterday morning's workout some unwelcome displeasure) where at the top we all received programs and immediately I thought to myself, "That five buck price is getting better all the time!"
Front of souvenir program and event ticket.
We entered the theatre and eventually found seats in the center left section for the four of us in our group. I was pleased to find they offered a very decent view of the screen. And it was great timing too because the lights just began to dim, signaling the start of our evening at the screening.
A gentleman took the stage to mention the screening of the short film "The Miracle of Todd-AO" that those who arrived earlier had apparently just seen. Then, he read an introduction, acknowledging this was the first in their "The Last 70mm Film Festival" series. He quickly took note of the packed house (the theatre seats 1,012) and guessed that this would likely not be the last 70mm film festival and the audience, mostly aduits in their 40s and older, applauded in agreement. He went on to share factoids about 70mm film in general and about the aspect ratio of the film we were about to see tonight. (It was 2.75:1, with the tops and bottoms cropped so that the very left and right edges of the film would fit on their projection screen.
But before we'd see the film, it was time for the panel discussion, and to host this part of the evening, the gentleman introduced Billy Crystal!
He was great as emcee! He started off telling us a humor-filled anecdote about his father's love of comedies and also how he and a childhood friend of his, with the principal's help, organized a school outing across town to watch the film. That evening, he invited that school friend and he stood up in the audience when Billy called him out. Then, he introduced the evening's guests: script supervisor Marshall Schlom, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, director Stanley Kramer's wife Karen Kramer, Barrie Chase, Marvin Kaplan, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Stan Freberg, and Carl Reiner.
Theatre lighting > iPhone's abillty to focus
To say it was a special evening is a great understatement. With some like Freberg frail and not in the best of health and Winters and Kaplan in wheelchairs, when they and the others spoke, they were back in performance mode and entertained us with their stories and their they've-still-got-it quick wit! Mickey Rooney was wheeled out in a wheelchair only to stand up to take a seat he was wheeled to. He was surprisingly animated throughout the event, proving he still loved the limelight and tried out some one-lines about his marriages for the audience. Kaplan related the same story he told us at the December screening with the same life and enjoyment as before, and the ever-beautiful Chase repeated her experience working with Dick Shawn again, with Karen Kramer sitting next to her assuring her that Stanley did indeed enjoy working with then young dancer. Carl Reiner told a funny tho' possibly suspect story about filming the tower scene which allowed him to inadvertently touch the plane that soared past. He also remembered seeing Winters whittling a 3" x 3" block of wood during the production that would ultimately be transformed in a perfect egg shape. When asked whether he still had that wooden egg, Winters deadpanned he'd laid a lot of rotten eggs in his day or something to that effect. Besides Crystal, Winters was clearly still at the top of his game, charming everyone with his wit and humor. Crystal used Winters' rotten egg line as the perfect cue to end the half hour discussion. The panel received a standing ovation and thinking of just those past thirty minutes, I thought to myself, "Best five bucks I've ever spent!"
The screening of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" rounded out the rest of the evening. It still genuinely made me laugh out loud, plus this time I was able to find Stan Freberg in the film thanks to the anecdote he shared earlier in that evening. On the ride home, Perry and I noticed the screening had a darker look to it than when we last saw it together at the Egyptian. When I got home, I popped in my Blu-ray copy of the movie for the first time, to see the opening and a couple of other scenes fresh after seeing the 70mm film on the big screen. The picture's not distractedly crisp and sharp thankfully, but it does has a much brighter look to it. For example, in the opening scene during the highway chase, it looks like how bright the desert region would naturally look if the morning sun beat down on it on a cloudless sky. And I noticed age spots on Jimmy Durante's head in his close-ups that I hadn't noticed before seeing it two previous times plus a fly that skittered over the hand that would be Jonathan Winters' hand in the same scene.
Anyway, that's what it was like to attend "The Last 70mm Film Festival" screening of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre last night. The series continues through the summer with screenings of "Sleeping Beauty," "Grand Prix," "The Sound of Music," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "Spartacus." Most are sold out now, but so was ours and we got in! So fortunate that I got to go. As a fan of their work and legacy, it was big deal to get to see this now rare gathering of so many from Hollywood's comedy history. Below are more photos of the souvenir program to enjoy. And thanks again, Perry!
The Amazing Spider-Man
Midnight July 2, 2012
IMAX 3D @ Rave Motion Pictures 18 + IMAX @ The Promenade @ Howard Hughes Center
I'll give this 3 1/2 out of 4 web shooters. I might've given it only 3 except the teenage girl sitting next to me cried at all the right parts that a teenage girl's supposed to cry. So 1/2 point for that! The writing was wonderful, Garfield and Stone were GREAT as Peter and Gwen, and I especially like the tone of the first half of the movie. I even appreciating some of the risks and surprises they put in the story to keep us jaded and annoying comic book fans surprised. But I think The Dark Knight Rises in two weeks will be outstanding. And for the love of film scores, Mr. Horner, stop re-using your Star Trek II music in your new scores!!!! Those ten seconds pulled me right out of the film.
Fourth of July, 2012
Regal Marina del Rey 6
This movie went to so many wrong places! The kind that make you - or at least me - go, "I want to laugh, but is it okay to laugh; I don't know if other people in the theatre will be offended?" Every opportunity to make some racial, sexual, religious or socially stereotypical remark was not missed, which sometimes made several scenes run a beat or two too long. But I was entertained. And is Seth MacFarlane a geek or what?! I mean that seriously because I don't watch Family Guy regularly and the 1980 movie Flash Gordon is a major plot device in this film, to the point of re-creating scenes and using the score from that movie to move this story forward. Also loved the original score for Ted by Walter Murphy, of cool, swinging jazz like on MacFarlane's CD. Anyway, for a matinee price, it was good.
July 5, 2012
@ home on DVD
I felt compelled to revisit this film after seeing it referenced throughout Ted. Loved it as a kid, but it hasn't aged well. On this viewing tho' I finally noticed just how game the British actors were playing their parts. I re-watched the interview with Lorenzo Semple Jr. too that's included on the DVD. He falls just short of saying people who take comic book characters seriously are stupid. I wonder what he thinks about the comic book films that've come out today.
July 5, 2012
@ home on Blu-ray Disc
Starting my look back at selected Batman films before I see The Dark Knight Rises, I begin with Tim Burton and Michael Keaton's Batman. Amazing as ever on Blu-ray, this film will never fail to entertain me. Nostalgically, it reminds me of how grateful I was to finally see a successful tonal shift from camp to dark in the depiction of my absolute favorite comic book character. Then, it has Jack Nicholson brilliantly playing the life out of The Joker! I remember there were those who felt Cesar Romero had a better laugh. Pshaw! Jack's Joker hooked you in from the start and then kept you intrigued and amazed with the character throughout the rest of the film. This Batman wasn't the perfect Batman (that one arrived sixteen years later), but Burton and Keaton's take on Bruce and Batman fit fine in the world Burton created for The Batman, at a time when there were no other successful superhero movies but one, Superman: The Movie, and that had come out eleven years earlier at the time. Plus, the sentiment in '89 was that for all that could've gone wrong with Batman, the re-introduction of this dark creature of the night was a seminal moment for the cinematic Batman. On top of that, for better or worse, Tim Burton made it okay for Hollywood to tweak classic superhero costumes. That's a pretty big deal imo too (even tho' I wasn't 100% happy with the costume change at the time).
The Flash (1990)
July 6, 2012
@ home on DVD
After watching Tim Burton's Batman, I followed it up with the pilot episode of The Flash which came out a year after the movie. Ugh, I was always able to look past the awkwardness of the pilot before, but seeing it immediately after the brilliance of Batman was a mistake.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!