Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tis the Season**



Unless otherwise altered, here's just a batch of reviews for the Yuletide weekend, watched Thursday- Saturday...


There have been versions before and after it but few filmizations on "A Christmas Carol" equal this one; Alistair Sim delivers a triumph of a performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, a ruthless businessman known for his cunning, unscrupulous methods at the London Stock Exchange and hard to negotiate with if you are indebted to him. His nephew, who married a woman with no dowry, Fred, wishes him a merry Christmas much to the disgust of humbugging Scrooge who has contempt for anyone who so utters such sentiments from their lips. Scrooge was against Fred marrying, love or not, and has nothing to do with him despite being invited to a Christmas party. Cratchet works tirelessly for Scrooge yet isn't quite paid in kind, and must endure the harsh cold due to his employer's persistence not to waste "costly" coal for further heating. In this '51 version of "A Christmas Carol", we spend a lot longer with Scrooge in Christmas Past, his betrayal of Fezziwig, the return to his dying sister's bedside, buying up(along with Marley as partner)his company's stock, and his late visit to Marley's deathbed(not even taking off early despite the knowledge that Marley could be dead at any time). Of course this version basically covers the same Christmas Present events(visiting Cratchet's family Christmas dinner and Fred's party). Pretty much the same Christmas Yet to Come events, except more than one have taken possessions of Scrooge to Old Joe for whatever he'd pay, Cratchet's sorrow at the loss of Tiny Tim and Ebenezer's trip to his own grave. The reaper ghost is an actual full bodied man this time around(white, face never seen)who points the way for a shivering, frightened Scrooge to follow. We get everything from Sim's performance as Scrooge, his loathing for those who keep Christmas merry, the genuine fear of seeing Marley, his guilt when revisiting events he could've changed or still can avoid, and the ultimate elation and excitement at being given a second chance to right wrongs and forge relationships with those who have long been treated wrongly by him. Mervyn Johns(DEAD OF NIGHT)makes a wonderful Cratchet, meek and careful not to rile Scrooge, quiet, tolerant, and hardworking, a good father and husband. Michael Hordern's Marley is pitiable and woebegone, a picture of what awaits Scrooge if he doesn't correct his future and contribute to his fellow man. As always Cratchet's reaction to the "new Scrooge" is positively golden. I have a DVD version with the late Patrick Macnee(The Avengers)where he introduces this movie which I definitely recommend to fans who might not know it exists. 5/25/2010 *****
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In Seymore Hicks' version of Scrooge, he's a grouchy, "cross", nasty, harsh miser. His hair and attire are disheveled, disposition ramshackle, and office tightly confined and claustrophobic. Snapping at anyone with even a hint of gentle kindness and merry joy in the holiday season, Hicks' Scrooge also wears a scowl, with a lower lip that protrudes, and a vocal growl that follows all his dialogue. The streets of London are dark, fog-devoured, and sinister in this film version. I wasn't sure if it is because the budget was scant or just the print itself was old and ill-used, but the darkness and slight of visibility gave this film a good bit of atmosphere. Certainly when one compares it to the MGM version—with all its gloss, pomp and circumstance, and impressive sets—the crude quality of the '35 "Scrooge" might be considered pale, but I like how this London version looks overly crowded, and there's a clear distinction in the impoverished and affluent (interesting enough, one might can use this to describe the differences between the '35 British version and the '38 MGM version), complete with the poor eyeballing inside the windows as the wealthy dine from glamorous tables, with quite the fancy feast presented to them. Scrooge, no surprise, dines alone in a booth inside a sleepy café, soon retiring to his poverty-row abode (while other versions hint at a home quite similar in mood and décor to a haunted mansion, this '35 version literally looks like it has been mistreated, unattended, and given little attention to in the upkeep department). Interestingly, Bob Cratchet (presented as a lowly, quivering nervous wreck walking on eggshells) doesn't get a great deal of development outside how Scrooge treats him, questioning his ethics as an employee, but we do get the goods on his wages and large family fed by so little.

This film disappoints me in certain areas. I think Marley's visit is especially short and lacking in emotional resonance; not seeing him and his heavy chains (and what attaches to them), is too bad and not having a serious back and forth doesn't quite satisfy (some might actually prefer the story just get to it, but I find the meeting of former partners quite potent if handled correctly). While Christmas Past ghost (merely a faint silhouette shining) appears briefly, the only past story shown is Scrooge's mistreatment of debtors, Belle's repulsion in his denial to give them extra time to pay up, and the miser seeing her grand family that could have been his. No mention of his sister or Fezziwig…two important back stories that always had emotional impact with me. Christmas Present covers the bases. Both Cratchet's family and the nephew are covered during their respective parties on Christmas Eve, with Scrooge mentioned in conversations as expected. Christmas Future does show the common folk (those who attended Scrooge like the maid of his home and the undertaker) visiting a black market salesman to earn from the goods of Scrooge and the acknowledgment that Tiny Tim would die. Of course, there's the grave visit when it all comes clear that Scrooge might just kick the bucket if he doesn't see the error of his ways.



The finale—Scrooge's transformation—hits the high notes: he visits his nephew's party and dines with him as they show their surprise at his change in behavior and sending the goose to Cratchets (and later informing a startled Cratchet of a difference in his wages and better treatment and work conditions). Hicks was quite the theatrical stage actor so his portrayal reflects the emotional change in a grand (not exactly subtle or nuanced) way. I thought he was entertaining. The film itself covers some of the dramatic highs and lows of the story, but the missing ingredients that mean a lot to me are sorely desired so I can't personally consider this one of my favorite adaptations. This was on par with the MGM version, I guess. 12/19/2013 ***

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In 2012's Silent Night, a sort-of remake (I think more of a homage in some respects but mostly its own film) has a stone-cold killer in a Santa disguise, considered tied to an urban legend involving a man who went psychotic using a blowtorch on his wife, invading a Wisconsin small town using an assortment of weaponry on certain locals that raise his ire. I wrote about it a few years back on the blog:Silent Night Review

Jamie King, I must reiterate, is just maybe too good an actress for this sort of sadistic and ugly film. It was a dark sort of exercise with McDowell giving the film some much needed giggles with his narcissistic sheriff. King, though, as a cop struggling with the profession and season's troubled memory of loss, is really good as subdued emoting and selling anxiety, disgust, annoyance, exhaustion, and just a whole host of various reactions without going overboard. I just felt that perhaps this film didn't really deserve that kind of performance. It has some unpleasant characters. Its underlying visiting "bad Santas" certainly leave a bad taste. That and seeing a stripper tossed in a woodchipper while alive...yeah, bad taste.
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A Christmas Carol (1971)  ****


I was quite excited to get a copy of this last year but never got around to watching it. It moves really fast, covers all the expected material, has Alistair Sim as the voice of Scrooge, some truly incredible animation (I LOVED the scenes involving Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the grotesque depiction of Ignorance under Christmas Present’s robe, and the trips also shown in the TNT Patrick Stewart CC version where Present takes Scrooge to a lighthouse and ship on the open water), imaginative methods behind going from one place to another and from one time to another without being too jarring, and covering almost all most important story aspects of Scrooge’s development from misery to exhilaration in 25 minutes. I can only imagine this would be a marvel on the big screen and not overstaying its welcome, with little-to-no fat, trimmed quite leanly, gives this animated adaptation a reason to be of recommendation to those with less patience for sitting still too long. It does cover the basics, gets Sim’s voice to the character, and has some great artistic merit. You can find this on YouTube. Someday I will most certainly give this adaptation its own write-up for the blog. It deserves it. I included images of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come:




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A Garfield Christmas Special (1987) ***1/2

Garfield (Lorenzo Music once again providing the perfect voice that imitates the rolling of the eyes and heavy sigh of annoyance that accompanies having to do something you don't want) must accompany John (and Odie, of course) to his family's farm for Christmas, having to leave the comforts of his blanket and sleep box of home. Garfield bonds with the family Grandma still mourning the loss of hubby, Grandpa. Grandma is a blunt sort. She says what's on the mind and has little room for subtlety. The grown boys (John and Doc Boy) get to act like they're 12 again by asking dad if they can open presents and listen to him read the family story as is an annual treat. Garfield gets plenty of lasagna before the trip, adds the star on the top of the family tree, and gives Grandma old love letters from Grandpa he found. There's the family feast at the dinner table, too. This is all warm, heartfelt, and learning of its back story that it was in many ways based on the past of Jim Davis, it is no surprise there's an air of realism to it all. Setting this at the farm gives the special a quaint, "White Christmas" feel. It never gets too schmaltzy which I consider another reason to give it a chance if you are interested.






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