Thursday, December 24, 2009

Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol...

If there is an actor that truly understands Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol its Patrick Stewart. After having played every single role in the text for more than ten years every Holiday season on Broadway, Stewart starred in one of the best film adaptations of the text in 1999 for the TNT cable network. I've never had the opportunity to see Stewart's one man show but those who have seen it say it's quite an intelligent and powerful performance. Last night I saw the movie version again. I hadn't seen it since it first aired ten Christmas seasons ago and I had forgotten how great this production is. Stewart is amazing as Scrooge. The scene were he has to witness his younger self letting the love of his life walk away is truly remarkable as we see Stewart powerless to change his past and painfully reliving one of the biggest regrets of his character's life. The film is full of great moments just like that one. It truly is a joy to watch Stewart take Scrooge through all three phases of his life and his final redemption in the end.

Over the years critics have called Stewart's one man show of A Christmas Carol the best expression of the text ever short of hearing Dickens himself during one of his public readings during his lifetime. Back in 1993 Stewart won an Olivier Award for his performance of A Christmas Carol in London's West End.

Here's a review of the show by theater critic Charles Spencer :

"The show offers a chance to see a great actor at the very top of his game, completely in command of his material (he adapted the piece himself) and spinning potent theatrical magic out of thin air. He clearly loves Dickens, and he beautifully conveys that love. More importantly, he takes a story that is often regarded as twee and sentimental and finds its darkness as well as its radiant light. A Christmas Carol may be a short book: Stewart leaves no doubt that it is also a great one. He comes bustling on to the stage with the energy of a man who can't wait to get started, dressed in a modern suit and a shirt, and starts arranging the few props - a lectern, a stool, a table - which together with a few lighting effects are all he needs to bring the story to thrilling life.

You notice at once that there aren't many actors left like Stewart these days, actors who can speak with such exemplary power and clarity. When he declares: "Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner", every word, every syllable, is made to count. He relishes all the glorious energy, flavour and humour of Dickens's prose, and Scrooge suddenly seems to stand before us in all his grotesque glory.

He has the perfect face, too. When he smiles, Stewart can look genuinely benign. But when he scowls, that shaved head, ascetic face, those hooded eyes and cruel mouth can seem unforgettably sinister. The famous "Bah, humbug!" becomes a growling rumble of festering malignity. But he also captures the character's terror, and the final glorious melting of his frozen heart, with equal, high-definition precision.

In the course of the show, Stewart plays some 40 characters, ranging from the falsetto innocence of Tiny Tim to the disgusting squalor of Old Joe, the greasy rag-and-bone man in his filthy lair. Has the ghost of Marley ever seemed more pitifully sad, the joy of the Cratchits' Christmas celebrations more touchingly merry? I beg leave to doubt it. Stewart also proves a virtuoso when it comes to pace and mood. There are rapt passages here when the whole audience seems to be holding its breath as Stewart lays bare the darkness of Scrooge's soul and the terrible urgency of turning it to the light. But then he will suddenly relax into humour and vitality, picking up the narrative thread, barreling through the action and imitating the chimes of the bells ("Ga-doing, Ga-doing") with almost childlike enthusiasm.

There's a particularly extraordinary passage at the end, when Scrooge finds himself safely back at home after gazing in horror at his own tombstone. Suddenly the most ghastly choking noises start emanating from Stewart, and for a moment I feared the actor might be suffering a seizure. In fact, it is just the sound of Scrooge learning how to laugh again, and he laughs until he cries. This is a show that unerringly finds the heart of Dickens's Christmas message about the joys and responsibilities of our common humanity."

There is an audio recording of Stewart's one man show available from and other online sellers. For those of you who have not seen the TNT film you can check it out right here via Youtube.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Island of Misfit Toys in new Verizon Commercial...

I love all the Rankin / Bass animated Christmas specials, in fact just last night my brother and I were watching The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Imagine how happy I was to see a new commercial paying homage to these beloved specials. Verizon Wireless has a new commercial showing the Iphone getting banned to the Island of Misfit Toys due to AT&Ts lack of good nationwide coverage. The commercial has the same look and feel as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and all the other Rankin / Bass Christmas classics. If you haven't seen it on T.V. check it out now via Youtube.

Monday, December 21, 2009

TMNT 25: Party Wagon Reissue...

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debut in the pages of Mirage Comics' independently produced and distributed first issues of TMNT. To commemorate the event Playmates Toys reissued a couple of the action figures from the first wave of TMNT action figures, as well as the first ever vehicle in the line, the Party Wagon.

The packaging is almost an exact replica of the original box. Playmates only added the new TMNT 25th Anniversary logo and updated trademark and copyright info.

The actual toy is just as awesome as the original with all the features and accessories from the earlier release. My brother and I had the original when we were kids and got a lot hours of fun out of it. We played with it so much we destroyed it during the many battles the Turtles endured against The Foot Clan. We were really happy to see this again in toy shelves. Although it was tough to find and we only saw it at a couple of Toys R Us stores and in very limited quantities.

Inside you can pack in all the turtles. Two in the front and up to four more figures in the back. It comes with the same accesories as the original with the exception of the belt used to hold your figure in place on the door seat which springs open when you lift the top of the vehicle. It really doesn't make any sense to eliminate that piece from this re-release since it's neccesary to hold the figure in place and it's such a small thing for Playmates to reproduce. I really can't think of any logical explanation for its removal. Other than that I have no other complaints about this vehicle and if you're a long time TMNT fan I suggest you pick it up online if you didn't get a chance to get it in stores.

Now let's take a look at a couple more shots of the Turtles and the party wagon in action...

I'm not sure if Playmates has any plans to continue this line like Hasbro did with the G.I.Joe 25th anniversary line after the anniversary celebration. There are so many great figures and accesories they could re-release like the sewer playset or the Turtle blimp. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more classic TMNT toys in 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A look back at The Bishop's Wife...

"Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries.
We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make
peace on earth."

- David Niven as Bishop Henry Brougham (1947)

With those beautiful and eye opening words comes to a close one of the most charming Christmas movies ever made. The Bishop's Wife was produced in 1947 by legendary film producer Samuel Goldwyn. The film tells the story of an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) who is sent to answer Bishop Henry Brougham's prayer for help during the Christmas season. Bishop Brougham (David Niven ) has been having a tough time after leaving behind his modest church and middle class community to help build a cathedral in a wealthy part of town. Once there his new tasks and responsibilities begin to take priority over his relationship with his loving wife, Julia (Loretta Young), while also putting his values to the test. The film is now a well loved Holiday classic and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards including Best Director (Henry Koster), Best Score (Hugo Friedhofer ), and Best Picture (Samuel Goldwyn).

Not many people are aware of the difficulties producer Samuel Goldwyn faced in bringing this classic to the screen. After having spent a million dollars in principal photography Goldwyn shut down the picture unhappy with the results its original director, William A. Seiter was getting. Early audiences who got a preview disliked the film so much that Goldwyn called in the great Billy Wilder and frequent collaborator Charles Bracket to do an uncredited rewrite of the script. In the original version of the film the role of the bishop's wife -- Julia, was played by Teresa Wright, Dudley was played by David Niven, and the Bishop by Cary Grant. Goldwyn replaced Wright with Loretta Young and switched the actors on the two main roles. It has been reported in many books and articles over the years that Grant was quite reluctant to go with the switch and play the role of Dudley. I'm glad in the end he decided to go along with the changes since his portrayal of Dudley is truly remarkable.

Grant plays the role of the angel with a great deal of charm and passion. He never lets the fantastic and sometimes larger than life characteristics of such a role get in the way of allowing genuine emotion to pour through. The role of Dudley turned out to be one of his most remembered performances in a very impressive career. Watching Grant's angel as he helps others see the better in humanity and as he performs all his life changing miracles is a real treat. You find yourself smiling through most of the film thanks to the joy his character brings to so many people in the Bishop's life. For a story with such a powerful message the acting and the treatment of the material is done in a very subtle way and you never truly feel you've been hit over the head with a life lesson. This is largely accomplished by the wonderful actors and the sharp writing. Near the end we discover that Dudley's mission of becoming involved in people's lives without ever being able to get emotionally attached is one of the toughest tasks ever and we are treated to a heart-wrenching scene were the angel is tempted by the power of human desires.

This type of conflict has been explored with various degrees of success in many other films including Wings of Desire, its remake City of Angels, and the remake of The Bishop's Wife: 1996's The Preacher's Wife. The Bishop's Wife is the best by far, thanks in great part to Cary Grant's interpretation of the angel, which is never one dimensional or flat. Dudley not only affects the lives of the Bishop and his wife, he pretty much has a positive impact on everyone he runs across -- from a cab driver who's lost faith in humanity, to a college professor who doesn't really believe in anything other than what he can find in a textbook. By the end of the movie the Cab driver has experienced the joys of new friends and the Professor has realized there are bigger things in life than those we can understand and so he joins the others for Christmas mass for the first time in a very long time.

The film' supporting cast is very impressive. Sylvester -- the can driver is payed by James Gleason and together with Loretta Young and Cary Grant he shares one of the most beautiful looking Christmas sequences in any film as the three go ice skating together during an afternoon of playing hooky. Monty Woolley as Professor Wutheridge has some incredibly poignant moments throughout the film. His character of the non-believer who ends up believing helps cement the themes of the story and gives it even more heart.

Hugo Friedhofer's score is another great element that helps make this a perfect film. The film also features the Robert Mitchell boys choir. Friedhofer, fresh off of scoring another classic, The Best Years of our Lives, does a great job of bringing the holiday season to life through his music for The Bishop's Wife. There's a beautiful melody in the film's third act that plays a key part in the life of one of the characters and the scene in which Dudley plays the melody on a harp is one of the many musical highlights of the film. The score features many cues that can be listened to as part of any Christmas play list, its just full of beautiful music. In 2002 the folks at Screen Archives finally released the entire score on a 25 track CD with great liner notes and beautiful photographs throughout the album booklet.

Along with Frank Capra's Its A Wonderful Life, this film does a great job of exploring the true meaning of Christmas and for that it will forever remain in the hearts of those who understand what it is we truly come together to celebrate in this joyful season. I really recommend everyone to watch it at least once during the Holiday season.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar delivers...

Just got back from AVATAR at Universal Studios Hollywood and I must say you need to see this movie in IMAX 3-D, it's mind boggling. I truly felt immersed in the world James Cameron has created thanks to his ability to mix performance capture technology, CG, and live action to perfection. Combine all that with 3D imagery on an almost 8 stories high screen and you have a movie watching experience unlike anything we've ever seen. The screenplay does borrow a lot from previous stories and films such as Dances with Wolves, Aliens, and even a bit of Star Trek: Insurrection, and some of the characters would've benefited from a little more back story and development, but we have never seen this type of story told on such an epic scale. Let's face it James Cameron is not the greatest screenwriter in the world, but he is a damn good director -- he can keep things visually exciting, kinetic, and compelling without loosing track of the story he's trying to tell. It was also very satisfying to get a brand new score from one of my all time favorite film composers: James Horner -- who's been responsible for such classic scores as Aliens, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Willow, and many more. And I'm happy to report there is no Celine Dion song in this one.

Cameron has put together a really solid cast for Avatar. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana deliver some great performances even with all the limitations of acting in a motion capture rig. I was also very happy to see Sigourney Weaver in a James Cameron film once again and her role is pretty significant. Early word on the film made it seem like her part was close to that of a cameo, but that is not the case at all. She plays a key role in the film and has a lot of screen time both playing her human character -- Dr. Grace Augustine, and her Na-vi Avatar. Seeing this made me crave a Weaver / Cameron Aliens reunion more than ever. She's still great and I for one hope to see more of her in big event movies like this one in the near future.

I think we have some very exciting years of movie watching coming up if this motion capture technology continues to be employed and pushed further by the right filmmakers. There's a lot of cool Avatar toys out there as well as a great book called The Art of Avatar detailing the design process for the film. I have ordered some of these items but have not received them yet. I'll chime in again with reviews for those once I receive them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nostalgic G's Collection - Pt. 3: Star Wars

In the previous installments of this series of posts I went over some of the pieces I have displayed from my Star Trek collection, my Sci-Fi Collection, and my DC Superheroes collection. Now its time to go over my Star Wars display. Star Wars is one of the collections I have the most items in, though I mostly collect the Hasbro and Kenner stuff. I would say the stuff on display is only about 1/4 of my entire Star Wars collection. Most of the newer stuff I have had to pack aways since I ran out of room to display Star Wars stuff a long time ago. I'll update this post when I rotate the items in the display in the near future. Now let's take a look at the most recent display for Star Wars.


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