What a Scrooge Part 9 (A Christmas Carol, 1984)

 For some reason, the definitive version for me as a child was the 1984 George C. Scott version. Scott plays Scrooge as someone who seems to enjoy being mean to people. He likes dancing on other people’s joy and belittling their situations. Scott’s Scrooge is bitter and proud, and a bit spiteful. But I think what always made the movie for me was the Marley sequence. It was terrifying.

It still is. Scott sits in the corner, huddled by a small fire. Above the flames, Marley’s tormented visage starts to fade in and out. Then, the bells start to ring. And Scott turns towards a loud thump at the bedroom door. Slowly, the locks come undone and the door swings open. Marley (Frank Finlay) fades in as he marches into Scrooge’s room. He faces Scrooge, unties a bit of cloth around his head and his jaw falls to his chest. Marley is horrifying as he stands there, mouth agape and covered in chains. And his voice is loud and tortured. Every word seems labored. Marley is walking sorrow and regret. And he convinces you that this is no mere figment.

The first ghost is oddly youthful, yet ageless (Angela Pleasence). She takes Ebenezer from past Christmas to past Christmas. Scrooge is defensive at these moments. The Ghost even mocks him a bit cruelly. When she denounces Fezziwig as a silly man, Scrooge (who is caught up in fond memories) defends him to her. You begin to see the cracks in Scrooge’s armor as he goes through each moment. Finally, he can take no more and tries to snuff out the light of the Ghost’s truth. Scrooge is visited next by the host of Christmas Present (of course).

This incarnation (played by Edward Woodward) is boisterous, yet hides an ominous side. He seems to relish every opportunity to use Scrooge’s own words against him. At one point he angrily (yet with a hint of a smile) tells Scrooge that it may be that in Heaven’s eyes he is worth far less than the people who he has no time to help. His words sting both viewer and Ebenezer. Then he leaves Scrooge to wander a lonely part of town.

Then Ebenezer sees the final Ghost. What I find so interesting is that we only get little glimpses of the Ghost of Christmas Future. We see it at a distance (with waves of fine fog cascading across the ground.

The few close ups are from behind or of the Ghost’s almost crippled and deformed hand. Mostly, though, we see the long shadow it casts into the street and doorways. It’s all used to powerful effect. Scott again shows a new side of Scrooge, this time terror and desperation. And even though it never speaks, this ghost has its own moments of cruel mockery. When Scrooge demands to be shown some human emotion in regards to the death of a man (unwilling to accept the truth of who the dead man is), he is brought to a seedy part of town where people jovially mock the deceased why going over goods stolen from the deceased’s home. Even upon seeing his own watch, Scrooge refuses to accept the reality. Only when forced to look upon his own grave does he accept the inevitable. And that’s when Scott’s Scrooge loses it. There is no doubt that he fears all is lost, and the night is a waste. He finds himself at his bedside, praying out loud, begging in tears for another chance. And then morning comes to find Ebenezer still on his knees, but having fallen asleep from exhaustion. Scott is very convincing in his turn to a man of generosity.

He comes across as a man excited to repent of his past and to make up for lost time. His excitement is infectious. One interesting note is that Scott is a departure from the typical Scrooge. Often Scrooge is a frail looking slender man. Scott, on the other hand, is more stout and robust. It’s very effective with his gruff demeanor and slightly gravelly voice.

Throughout the film, Scott bounds between arrogant pride and a fear of the reality that beats back against his coldness.  It is a wonderful performance, and a large reason in the end why this remains my favorite and most recommended version of a Christmas Carol.

What a Scrooge Part 8 (Scrooged, 1988)

 In 1988, Richard Donner and Bill Murray brought us a totally reinvented the tale in a modern setting. They kept the main idea, but found a new way to express it. Scrooged focuses on Frank Cross, a self centered, egotistical, power hungry uh…narcissist. He has no concern for his hard working assistant, his long suffering but loving brother or his earnest employees. It’s all about power and ratings. When he airs a dark add to promote his network’s live presentation of “Scrooge”, one employee (a surprisingly sympathetic Bobcat Goldthwait) suggests he should not air it. Frank plays sympathetic, but as Eliot leaves, Frank calls security and has him fired (the film heaps tragedy on Eliot something fierce).

While going through a gift list, he has his assistant send his brother a towel (the other option is a VCR-which goes to the “important” people on the list). That night Frank is stunned by a visit from his old boss who died seven years before, Lew Hayward (Played by John Forsythe). Lew is a big departure from Marley, oh, he’s tortured with a wicked streak, but there are no chains, rather a decayed body (with a mouse!).

He warns Frank of a visit from three ghosts. Unlike the traditional tale we know so well, this story takes place in the waking hours, causing Frank all sorts of embarrassment navigating from his adventures with the ghosts to the real world.

Add the stress of a younger power hungry narcissist (Brice Cummings, played by one of my favorite actors, John Glover) and pressure of a live show, and that puts Cross near the edge. The real brilliance of Scrooge is the three Ghosts.

Former New York Doll member David Johansen plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. He is a witty, sarcastic cigar chomping elfin cabbie. He loves to trip up Frank and clearly thinks Cross is to undeserving of the good things from his past. We see that as a child, Frank’s home was a bleak one. On Christmas Eve, the Cross household is the only one lacking a Christmas theme. Frank’s Father (played by Bill’s brother Brian) is bitter and cold towards his family. A butcher, he gives his son some veal, and heartlessly ridicules four year old Frankie who had hoped for a “choo choo”. They jump ahead to Frank’s early career and also his intro to the love of his life, Claire (Karen Allen) in a cute little sequence, and then we get to see a year later, another Christmas which shows how happy Frank was with Claire. And then we see his misstep. He is so determined to further his career, he pushes Claire away. When invited to dinner with the president of the network (Lew) he is ready to brush off plans he and Claire have. When the Ghost points out that he was crazy, of course, Frank gets defensive, noting that sure, maybe he has made a mistake or two. But he’s not as clueless as the Ghost believes.

Frank goes to locate Claire for emotional support/help. He finds her running a homeless shelter/soup kitchen. Three homeless people join him, and all seem short a few pennies. They believe Cross to be Richard Burton. After pretending to be Burton, he is found by Claire, who offers help, but also has to take care of some things at the shelter. Frustrated, Frank tells Claire to not bother, and offers the advice to get rid of the freeloaders. Scrape em’ off. It a nice echo of the original story when Scrooge is approached by men seeking help for charity.

The pixie like Carol Kane gleefully plays the Ghost of Christmas Present…and she’s quite a little sadist, getting Frank from location to location with copious amounts of physical abuse. She takes him to his assistant’s house (played by Alfre Woodard) where he discovers minor facts like her youngest son doesn’t speak and it’s due to seeing his father killed. This comes as a shock to Frank. “Grace’s husband died?” He believed the year she was wearing black was just a fashion thing. They visit his brother (Played by Real life brother John Murray) and his wife (Wendy Malick), allowing Frank to see how much his brother cares for him.

While one might doubt the love of Frank’s father, the love and adoration of his brother is never in doubt. In a nice play off of the original Dickens story, Frank gets to eves drop on a TV Trivia game (which has a cute payoff in the end). Frank is left by the Ghost in the sewers of New York. There he discovers one of the homeless bums he brushed off, Herman. Frank finds himself frustrated by Herman’s death…angry at himself, at Herman…

Frank once again finds himself stumbling through his set, disrupting things once again. Frank is shuffled off by Brice to his office, under the guise of concern from Frank’s mental well being (it becomes increasingly clear that Brice is after Cross’ job). While resting at his desk, we see the immense Ghost of Christmas Future appearing on the bank of TV screens behind him. Suddenly, in bursts Eliot, who is clearly drunk and has a shotgun in hand, interrupting the Ghost, who backs off. After being chased through the office by Eliot, Cross attempts to get away by ducking into an elevator. There he finds himself face to face with the Ghost. I should note, of all the presentations of the Ghost of Christmas Future, this is my favorite. The Ghost is already haunting because you see little of its face. And it never utters a word (In any variation of the story). But Donner and his team create a unique look, built on the classic “Hooded Ghost”.

You see inside the cloak, but the head is a TV screen. And it has jarring images, jumping images. Often you see flashes of Frank in the screen. In one neat moment, Frank is looking up at the Ghost and you see Frank from the Ghost’s perspective. The images are, again mirrors of the original Dickens’s tale. In one genius moment however, Frank’s words are harshly thrown back at him by, not one of the Ghosts, but rather a future vision of Claire. She has some hungry kids chased away. She is clearly upper crust now. When her friends suggest she is being too harsh, she boldly proclaims that she wasted years on people like those children. “Thankfully” a friend set her straight. Cross becomes very sullen, seeing what his words have done.

He quietly turns to the Ghost, commenting “That was a lousy thing to do” (There are moments in the film that seem to foreshadow Murray’s later roles from films like Broken Flowers or Lost In Translation). Of course, the Ghost shows him his inevitable fate. Frank sees the only people to show were his younger brother and his wife. In a rather frightening sequence, Frank finds himself trapped in his coffin, being sent to cremation.

Frank comes to back in the office. He joyfully overpowers Eliot, and starts to apologize and offers a better pay and a nicer office. And he needs Eliot’s help. This leads to a lengthy speech from Cross on National TV, in which he confesses his failures and screams to the heavens of his newfound spirit. This also opens the door to reconciliation for him as people stare in stunned awe as a Frank they have never seen apologizes to friends, family and co-workers and makes promises of a newfound hope. It’s a sequence that skirts the fine lines of schmaltz and touching.

Murray as the stand in for Ebenezer brings that dry wit that only he has. Frankly, I can’t think of many actors who could have played this role with out leaning either to much into the comedy or being over dramatic. As I mentioned, there are hints of the quieter, more sublime Bill Murray we’ve seen in more recent years, though clearly still the Bill Murray of Ghostbusters. The Ghosts are clever and fresh takes on the original classic motif. In fact, Past and Present are pretty much complete revisionist ideas. I found the use of “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” as an interesting switch from relying on a holiday standard.

The Forced Questions (Spoilers)

So, we are a few days into the release of the Force Awakens and those…less impressed…have gone out to offer their challenging questions.  So, this is all spoilers.  If you have not seen the film and are avoiding spoilers?  Do not read this.


I have seen people talk about the major plot holes, but have not seen them presented.  Most of what I see is people saying “This new mystery has come up, PLOT HOLE!”  A new mystery in a franchise is not a plot hole.  How does Maz Kanata have Luke’s Lightsaber?!  That is a mystery, not a plot hole.

One of the busiest memes I have seen is Rey-centric.  It can be summed up as “How does this scavenger know how to fly/fix ships/use the force?  The film establishes that Rey has flown ships before.  She states that she has flown ships before, but has never flown outside the atmosphere.  So, we know she has flown.  Which pretty much answers how she was able to fly the Millennium Falcon.  This is not a magical thing.  She has never flown it, but she was left in the care of Unkar Plutt, a junk dealer.  It seems highly likely she spent plenty of time around the Falcon.  She knew all the modifications Plutt made.  As she and Finn are running to escape the First Order’s attack on Jakku, she says they should not take the Falcon, as it is a garbage ship.  She is clearly, in fact, very familiar with the Falcon.

And it should be noted, we see proof of Rey’s flight skills far sooner than we ever see of Luke.  In Episode IV, Luke tells Ben that they do not need Han Solo, he is a decent enough pilot.  But we see no actual evidence of this until the final moments of the film where Luke flies and X-Wing.

Rey is very likely a skilled mechanic.  I have known a few mechanics in my days, as well as people who fixed up cars with no formal education.  There is literally no reason that “scavenger” equals “lacking Technical Knowledge”.

How does Rey know how to use the Force.  Luke could barely use the Force without training.  Except, he really had no training before Yoda, and he was using the Force.  Ben really did not train Luke, he told him a few things.  Rey appears familiar with Jedi lore, more than Luke did, he had to be told the basics.  But Rey was experiencing the Force in ways Luke did not.  What this suggests is Rey has a more raw connection.  It is not out of line that between Han Solo’s comments about the reality of the Jedi and Luke Skywalker, her experience with Luke’s Lightsaber and finally Kylo Ren’s attempts to interrogate her, Rey had the confidence to at least try and use the Force in her escape. And there is no way she would have beat Kylo Ren if he were not severely wounded.  And we know she was a skilled fighter with a staff, quickly picking up a lightsaber is hardly a stretch.

Finn is the black Storm Trooper that had some folks upset.  Yes, we all know there are clones in the prequels, based on the talk of the Clone Wars from the original Trilogy.  The film establishes they are no longer using clones.  It is impossible to completely ignore the prequels, and the film only makes reference when it needs to.  An interesting note is the reference by Lor San Tekka “balance to the Force”.  As Peter Chattaway (who has a very different reaction to the film than I) has noted, the whole concept of “Balance” within the Force is a prequel thing.  However, in the prequels, it was specifically in reference to Anikan Skywalker.  Here, the comment is a reference to the Jedi.  Lor is stating there need to be Jedi, and with Luke missing and no one to take his place…the Force is out of balance.

Weird criticism?  Darth Vader’s helmet is in perfect condition.  I think the person making that claim blinked.  The Vader Helmet was a melted mess.

Finally, the dumbest complaint comes Brian Godowa… Rey has a “boys name”.  His ass backwards mentality on women as heroic leads is the real problem.  But he falls into a camp that sees Rey as “pandering”.  Six Star Wars movies that focused on Male leads.  One animated feature and two animated series focused on male leads as the central heroes.  But one film where the heroic Force wielder is a woman, and the series is “pandering”.  How ridiculous.

What a Scrooge Part 7 (A Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992)

 In 1992, the Muppet team took a crack at the classic tale. With out a doubt, they did a strong job, making this one of the best of the Muppet films and a nice addition to the collection of films based on Dickens’s great tale.

Obviously, being for children, the themes are greatly simplified, though the song lyrics still reference the core ideas of A Christmas Carol. The story opens with The Great Gonz-uh-Charles Dickens and his friend Rizzo the Rat amid the busy streets of England. It’s a charming and romanticized look that is very effective for the Muppet world. I presume that the central reason for a narrator is to help younger viewers follow the story (plus, they get numerous laughs).

And then we meet Scrooge, played by the talented Michael Caine. Caine actually takes a bit more subtle approach than those who came before him in the role. Oh, he’s mean, but it’s in a more subdued fashion, and his outbursts of anger are limited. This is effective, especially since this version is aimed at families, presumably with young children.

While the scares of the story are toned down, they are certainly hinted at. The film takes obvious liberties you would expect in updating for a family viewing experience with the Muppets. For instance, there is both Jacob and Robert Marley, portrayed by the cantankerous heckling duo that we all love Waldorf and Statler. And they are no less entertaining in chains. There is a nice effect as the door knocker turns into one of the Marleys that is particularly strong. In most versions it is a ghostly apparition, but it’s a physical change here.

In the Muppet version, we see an indication that the Marley Brothers were not good friends to Scrooge when partners, rather they were even a bit unkind. I cringe in the moment when Scrooge whines about how mean they were to him, because it is a rare misstep in Caine’s performance. Scrooge isn’t that kind of whiner. This also creates a problem, they don’t seem to care about Scrooge at all. In the previous incarnations of the story, Marley comes across as wanting to bring Scrooge this opportunity for Redemption, these Marley’s seem rather indifferent to Scrooge’s fate. So as we have seen, he is warned of a visit from three ghosts.

In between, we have visits from “Dickens” and Rizzo the Rat. Much of this is comic relief, and very entertaining. But I will gloss over it, because it is far funnier to actually just watch it.

The first Ghost is a rather interesting and unique take. When the Spirit of Christmas Past appears before Scrooge, she is soft spoken and child like. She floats, with her robes swirling and dancing through shards of light. Ebenezer takes her hand and they fly above the streets. The transitions in time and place are nicely done, though clearly enamored with the early digital technology. We go to the school, where we see young Scrooge. The scene rapidly passes time until we see young Scrooge, around may 13. There the headmaster preaches the greatness of capitalism. Interestingly, this version both glosses over his relationship to both his father and sister, to the point they are never mentioned (in spite of the fact that we have, at this point, met his nephew Fred). They quickly zip to the home of Fozziwig (played by, uh, Fozzie the Bear). There we are briefly introduced to Belle, in which a future relationship is implied. In all previous versions, this is expanded on more, but such is the nature of family films-keep it brief and simple. They jump to the day his relationship with Belle ends.

Soon, Scrooge finds himself visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present. He is portrayed as more absent minded and jovial than other incarnations. The Ghost shows Scrooge the city, all while singing about how wonderful Christmas time is. He brings him to see his nephew’s party. I found myself a bit put off by Fred. In all previous versions, Fred is a kind and loving person, like his mother. He speaks lovingly of his Uncle at all times no matter how Scrooge treats him. But here, Fred is cruel and mocking of his uncle. It generates justified pity for Scrooge. Your pity for Scrooge should never be easily justified. He may deserve the ridicule, but to this extreme? It makes Fred less of the man he is. Then the Ghost brings him to Bob Cratchit’s home. There he witnesses the family’s boisterous celebration. He is, of course moved by the plight of Tiny Tim, and asks that fated question. However, due to his rather forgetful nature, the Ghost’s words lack Oomph. He doesn’t have the passionate anger of Edward Woodward(The Ghost of Christmas Present in the George C. Scott version), and honestly, his harsh throwing back of Scrooge’s words in his own face…falls flat. The Ghost leaves him in a graveyard, all alone.

Suddenly, mist floods the cemetery, and we meet the final Ghost. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has arrived. The Ghost walks Scrooge to those familiar haunts…the men laughing and joking about attending a funeral only if a meal is provided. A visit to a pawn shop where people are selling the dead man’s property. And finally, he sees his own demise. Scrooge realizes that the dead man is him. Scrooge begs the spirit for mercy, only to find himself back in his bed. As relief spreads through Ebenezer, he starts to dance and become excited. He looks out the window, calling a young muppet. He asks the young muppet to run and get the prize Turkey. Then he steps out and begins to wish people a Merry Christmas, before he breaks out into song.

He leads the singing crowd that gathers behind him to the Cratchit Home, where he promises a raise to Bob and asks that his family join Scrooge (and the whole town) in a Christmas meal. It’s a very sweet ending featuring a pleasant little song.

It might appear if I don’t like this one as much as other renditions of the tale, but that is not true. The Muppets are full of fun and whimsy, and a Christmas without whimsy is not Christmas at all. It’s a fun film, with clever jokes and images. For instance, before the Ghost of Christmas Present is gone, he is starting to age, or at least his fluffy beard begins to gray. Michael Cain brings us a slightly gentler, more quick to sentimentality Scrooge than other actors, but he still does a terrific job (how often does he not, anyways?). The puppets are grand. The songs are not quite up to par as earlier Muppet efforts, but the closing tracks are great.

What a Scrooge Part 6 (A Christmas Carol, 1999)

 Today, I am writing about the 1999 TNT television movie starring Captain Pickard, er Professor X…um…Patrick Stewart.

The film opens slightly differently than the others. It opens on the day of Marley’s death. Scrooge is rather dispassionate, simply signing off on Marley’s death in the Church ledger as the only guest. He then walks the foggy streets of London. He reaches his store front, enters and we see the passage of time as the sign is eaten away by the elements, devouring Marley’s name. When Bob Cratchit (Richard E. Grant) asks if Scrooge intends to remove Marley’s name, Scrooge merely grumbles. He doesn’t leave it there out of sentimental memory of a friend. Rather, he doesn’t want to spend the money on a new sign, and feels the elements will erase Marley’s name just fine.

Scrooge is visited by his nephew Fred (Dominic West). This Fred clearly loves his uncle, never mocking him, but clearly having some fun in the hopes of lightening his dour uncle’s mood. Ebenezer has no interest in accepting Fred invitation, even threatening to fire Cratchit after a fiery speech from Fred about the goodness of Christmas.

Scrooge is then visited by men seeking donations for charity. He mocks the men, asking if there are no prisons or work houses, after all, his money goes to the upkeep of those through taxes. Finally, when one of the men suggest people would rather die than face those options, Scrooge heartlessly suggests they should die and decrease the surplus population. And with that, he takes his leave. When he gets home, Ebenezer briefly sees Marley’s face upon the door knocker and once inside him home hears strange noises about his house. He tries to comfort himself by eating next to the fire, he is startled as he looks at the ornate designs of the fireplace. One shows a man clubbing another man…suddenly, the attacker turns and looks at Scrooge! It’s a brilliant and simple effect. Then the design forms the face of Marley. Scrooge shakes his head.

Then the bells start to ring, and Scrooge hears the sound of clanking metal coming up the stairs toward his room. Marley (Bernard Lloyd) walks through the door (I kind of missed the creepy unlocking of the locks and the door slamming open like the 1951 and 1984 versions had). Once inside, he unties a cloth around his head, dropping his jaw. Again, in a nice subtle use of digital technology, his mouth opens frightenly wide, like a cavern. This Marley is on par with the 1984 in fear. He is tired from dragging his chains, frustrated by his hell. Interestingly, Marley seems thrilled by his opportunity, since, for once, he is able to interfere in Ebenezer’s life, to spare Scrooge his own fate. And he promises a visit from three spirits. Scrooge attempts to be humorous, suggesting that time is precious, could they not just come at the same time. But Marley has no patience for his friend’s frivolity…he wants to save his soul.

And so the first ghost comes, the Spirit of Christmas Past (Joel Grey). At first, it’s hard to see the Spirit, as the light is so intense. Scrooge tries to stay confident sounding, though the Spirit is clearly outside of his comfort zone. This is an interesting take on the ghost, as it blends the variety of choices before. Joel appears much younger and more androgynous than the 1951 version, but has the long blonde hair, and certainly older than the 198 or Muppet version. Grey brings a certain undercurrent of mockery towards Scrooge, which is entirely appropriate for the Ghost.

And first he brings Ebenezer to his school, and Scrooge is overcome by his emotion at seeing young friends. Years pass and Scrooge is joyous upon seeing his young sister, until the Ghost reminds him of how fragile she was, and Scrooge becomes withdrawn. As if taking pity on Scrooge, the Ghost brings him to his youth at Fezziwig’s. There we are introduced to the short and round man, Albert Fezziwig (Ian McNeice). He a jovial and happy man, in love with his wife and family…loves a good celebration. He cannot close up the shop fast enough to start his party. Even here, Scrooge finds a moment of joy, taking offense when the Ghost chastises Fezziwig as a silly man. But his mood quickly turns as Belle (Laura Frazier) enters the room. This is the woman he loved, and the love starts to grow inside on sight. But the Ghost is cruel at times, and the next thing it shows Ebenezer is the day Belle set him free. Scrooge pleads with his younger self to go after her. But even as Belle pauses to look back a final time, young Scrooge does nothing. Scrooge demands to be taken home. The Ghost honors the request, but the harsh truths he has witnessed are too much. Scrooge grabs the cap carried by the host and uses it to cover and smother the Ghost’s light.

But it is hardly over. Scrooge awakens to a light under the door. He walks into the room where Marley met him to find a giant of a Ghost…the Ghost of Christmas Present (Desmond Barrit). He shrinks to Scrooge’s size and takes him into the city.

The Ghost walks from person to person, casting water on them as a mystical blessing. They go first to the Cratchit Household. Scrooge expresses surprise that Bob has a boy who is crippled, and the Spirit gruffly replies “You should have asked him.” The Spirit seems to have far less patience for Scrooge’s attempts to sound innocent of his attitudes and actions. Again, this Ghost has no tolerance for excuses from Scrooge, much as Woodward’s in the 1984 version. He is abrupt, brash and yet joyful and boisterous. After Scrooge asks if Tiny Tim will die, the Ghost sorrowfully states that if things remain unchanged, there will be an empty seat when he brother shows up next year. As Scrooge starts to feel sadness about the prospect, the Ghost casts his own words about the surplus population back in his face, stunning Scrooge.

The Ghost then brings Scrooge to his nephew’s house. There he watches as they sing and chat, only to hear them talking about him. And Fred defends him. When asked why, Fred’s wife explains that his mother loved Scrooge. And Fred elaborates that he believes there is something good in Scrooge for his mother to have loved him so much. The Ghost tells Scrooge it is time to leave, but as they leave, Fred starts a round of games, and we see Scrooge light up. He has not played games in so long; he requests that the Spirit and he stay awhile. The Spirit grants the request. Then the Spirit takes Scrooge on a whirlwind (literally!) tour of the earth, to see people in every nation and of every class celebrating Christmas. As they return to London, Scrooge notices the Spirit is getting older. Then he sees movement under the Spirit’s robe. The spirit reveals two emaciated and sickly looking children, Ignorance and Want. They terrify Scrooge to the point that he asks the Spirit to cover them. But when Scrooge looks back, they are gone. He now stands along on a cold street.

Scrooge starts to run down the street blindly as the bells chime. But he is stopped in his tracks as a large hooded figure. He instantly recognizes it as the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, who will show Ebenezer shadows of things that have not yet come to pass. By this time, Scrooge realizes time is at a premium for him, and he is on the edge of change. And he knows he is on the edge, no less. For the first time, Scrooge asks the Spirit to take the lead, no fighting or attempts at bravado. You can see the change taking over him.

And yet, as I have noted in the other reviews, the Spirits all have a somewhat wicked sense of humor. Bringing Scrooge first to the Stock Exchange, where they eves drop on some men laughing about the death of another man, Scrooge winces. He is troubled by the callousness. The Spirit whisks him to a dark and seedy looking pawnshop where they find people selling the dead man’s things, all laughing how they took things as the body was still growing cold. One of the women even stole the shirt off the dead man’s body, feeling it was a waste of money to bury him in it. This all troubles and even angers Scrooge. He suddenly finds himself before the body, which is covered by a sheet. The Spirit points to the body, and Scrooge realizes that he is being asked to pull the sheet back. He reaches for it, but cannot, instead asking the Spirit to show him someone showing emotion about the man’s death. And so it does…we see a young woman looking distraught, suddenly, her husband comes up to her. We learn they were not able to make a payment and feared losing their home…until the husband explains the person who held their debt has died. So now they will have time to get the money they needed to pay it. The couple embraces, and Scrooge is left frustrated, he wanted to see that someone cared and was saddened by the man’s death. But there is no one. So he asks to see some emotion connected to a death. The Spirit brings him to the Cratchit household. Sadly, Scrooge stand’s behind his clerk Bob Cratchit, who kneels by the body of Tiny Tim as Bob tries to offer comfort to his son’s soul.

And finally, Scrooge finds himself in a graveyard. The Spirit forcefully points to a specific grave marker. Ebenezer starts to plead with the Spirit, asking why he must see these things if there is no hope for change…or if there is hope, he already knows he will be a new man, why must he continue. The Spirit says nothing, instead continuing to point at the grave marker. And so he finally relents and kneels by the marker. He brushes away the snow to reveal his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge, carved in the stone. Scrooge stands and starts begging for the Spirit’s understanding. Suddenly, the earth shakes and the marker cracks open to reveal the cold dead body of Scrooge. The ground gives way at the feet of the living Scrooge and he finds himself face to face with his corpse. Suddenly, the ground gives way beneath the coffin and Scrooge (clutching his corpse) is hurtled downwards, screaming.

And suddenly, he nearly falls out of his bed. He pauses for a moment. And a grin crosses his face. He is safe! Scrooge starts to feel the curtains around his bed, and then looks at his hand. He pinches himself. He is real! Scrooge starts to choke, or so it seems. But the truth is, he has not laughed for so long, it starts out feeling unnatural. But soon he is laughing and excited. He cheerfully extols just how little he knows. Ebenezer hears the bells and runs to the window. He sees a young boy and asks what day it is. The boy seems a little shocked, but says that it is Christmas. This excites Scrooge all the more. He has not missed Christmas!!! He asks the boy about the butcher shop down the street, wondering if the prized Turkey is there still. The boy says yes, and Scrooge asks him to bring the butcher back with the turkey.

When they return, Scrooge asks that it be delivered to the Cratchit home-anonymously. Scrooge then gets into his best “going out” clothes. He greets everyone with a smile, startling many who never have seen the man smile, much less say Merry Christmas. He runs into the two men who had approached him about a donation and, to their shock, makes a generous offer. Scrooge even pauses briefly for a snowball fight with some children. A very nice touch, that underscores his new heart, is Scrooge stopping off at a Church. He steps politely into a pew and starts to belt out, in that booming voice of Stewart’s, a holiday standard with the rest of the congregation.

Stewart then goes to his nephew Fred’s place. While he hears the party going on inside, Scrooge become scared and apprehensive, the expression on his face suggesting maybe this is too much at once. Finally, he forces himself up the stairs to the door. Quietly, Scrooge opens the door, so quietly, no one notices until Scrooge clears his throat. Everyone looks to him. Like a frightened child apologizing to a parent, Ebenezer asks Fred if he is welcome to dinner still. Looking first stunned, then thrilled, Fred stands and cheerfully invites him in. But Scrooge is not quite done. He humbly walks up to Fred’s wife, Emily (Annabel Mullion) and asks her forgiveness for his cold ways, and will she welcome him? Emily shares Fred’s warm heart and welcomes Ebenezer to their table with a warm embrace. Later, Scrooge is in the office, waiting for Bob Cratchit. When Bob arrives a little late, Scrooge takes a moment to play with Bob, pretending to be stern and upset regarding such an infringement. But he cannot contain himself for long. He breaks down and tells Bob he is giving him a hefty raise and will help him with Tiny Tim…and then demands he put more coals on the fire.

Honestly, I love this version almost as much as the George C. Scott version from 1984. Patrick Stewart captures Scrooge as a complex character. His conversion is thoroughly convincing and his joy and excitement in the end are contagious. This deserves to become a classic, watched every year for years to come. And as Tiny Tim said…

What a Scrooge Part 5 (A Christmas Carol, 2009)

a-christmas-carol-poster-2009Truth be told, I was not anticipating much with this film.  It was motion capture and seemed like a vanity project for Carrey to show off.

And yet, the motion capture was not as distracting as I expected.  The character designs had an old storybook look.

And yes, it is an opportunity for Carrey to show off, but this film works in his favor.  Carrey provides the voice of Scrooge and all three Ghosts.  The film has some of the most imaginative takes on the ghosts, as only animation allows.

The Ghost of Christmas Present has a flame for a head, symbolic of the birth of hope (at least to me) to be mined from the past.  While the Ghost of Christmas Present appears very much like other incarnations in his wreath crown and red robe, Carrey plays him with a wicked glee.  This is a powerful component of the Ghost that can often be missed.  He enjoys sticking it to Scrooge by using his own words against him.  The best adaptions of the story remember this.

Marley is spot on.  He is downright horrifying, as is fitting to the story.  If your Marley is not fear inducing, you are getting it all wrong.  And here, Marley’s arrival is intense.

The performances are all effective.  Oldman’s Marley is grim, angry and desperate.  His Bob Cratchit kindly and gentle.  Colin Firth brings warmth and joy to Fred.  But Carrey?  He shines as Scrooge.  He brings the right amount of fear and bitterness to Scrooge.  His ghosts echo his voice ever so slightly, as if each ghost has a direct link to Scrooge.

Post conversion Scrooge hits all the right notes.  He is giddy, joyful and full of hope.  There is a glint of childish mischievousness in him as he plays off the expectations of those around him and then surprises them.

The one sore spot for me is that there two absurd and over the top effects sequences.  The first has Scrooge rocketing through the sky after extinguishing the ghost of Christmas Past.  The second is where Scrooge shrinks and grows while trying to outrun the horses of the Ghost of Christmas Future.

But overall, writer/director Robert Zemeckis and his cast seem to understand the story, and put together a pretty effective version of the tale.  They get the horror element, the scary aspect of the story, but also the hope and redemption.  I was pleasantly surprised with this one.

What a Scrooge Part 4 (A Christmas Carol, 1938)

a-christmas-carol-reginald-owen-posterThis version of a Christmas Carol stars Reginald Owen as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  It follows the story quite faithfully, and features fine performances.

In fact, the film has one of my favorite portrayals of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Barry MacKay portrays him with a wonderful exuberance.  His kindness is overflowing.

One of the more interesting aspects to me is that the Christmas spirits win Scrooge over quite early.  He is in love with Christmas by Christmas Present.

Yet it still works, and Owen has a true joy when he awakes on Christmas morning.  While the sequences with Fred and Bob Cratchit’s (Played by Gene Lockhart) family are brief, they capture the soul of the redemption of Scrooge.

Owen belongs in the list of memorable Scrooge performances and this is a terrific telling of Dicken’s immortal tale.

Rebirth (Star Wars: The Force Awakens,2015)

Star-Wars-VII-PosterAnd so, here it it is.  The fans started skeptical when new films were announced, yet as we grew closer, folks started to get more and more excited.  And as long as they were better than the prequels, these new films would be loved.  But now I have seen J.J. Abram’s film.

For me?  This was an exhilarating rush.  I felt a genuine joy watching the film.  The characters we know are back, and much as we remember, though a bit more worn and heartbroken.

The new characters look poised to take over the main franchise, and they are quite likable.  I especially enjoyed the interactions between Rey, Finn, Han and Chewbacca.

Rather than a clone of Darth Vader, Rylo Ken is more emotionally twisted by the pull of the dark side.  There is a hint that the light side of the Force has it’s temptations to be fought.

The jokes land on target, the film has plenty of laughs.  There are plenty of call backs and nice little homages to the original trilogy.  The film also sets up mysteries to be answered in the future.

I truly enjoyed the film, and this has me excited for the next installment.

What a Scrooge Part 3 (A Christmas Carol, 1949)

Christmas-Carol-1949_coverThis odd little telefilm from 1949 mainly has one interesting point.  It is hosted by Vincent Price.  But truthfully, clocking in at 25 minutes?  It causes the film to fail in pretty much every way.

The ghosts are not remotely unnerving.  They only show Scrooge one aspect of his past, present and future (actually they show two for the Future) which makes it impossible to buy into Scrooge’s horror and his eventual turn around.  His change of heart does not ever feel earned.

This was just not an enjoyable or inspiring telling of a classic tale.

What a Scrooge Part 2 (an American Christmas Carol, 1979)

 In 1979 this TV movie was released starring Henry Winkler as Benedict Slade.  Set a few years into the Great Depression, Benedict Slade is running the savings and loan. He runs a hardship and the town has fallen on hard times. The early stories focusing on Benedict and his employees collecting from people who own debts to the savings and loan.

On Christmas eve, after taking many people’s things, his employee Thatcher tries to convince Slade to invest in reopening the local quarry. Slade repays Thatcher by firing him.  Alone in his warehouse, slate starts to read first addition of Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol. He scoffs at the book and tosses it aside.

He startled when the sudden storm brings his long dead partner Latham.  This is honestly one of the most uninspired introductions of the Marley role that I’ve seen in any of the versions of a Christmas Carol. The character lacks any urgency and would not inspire the terror he should.  He politely explains how to Slade. There are no chains and nothing seems to bind him at all, and he doesn’t even seem troubled by his situation.

And that seems to be the problem with much of this production. The ghosts are all kind of bland and personality free.  The ghosts are not unique individuals, but rather take the form of people from home he has repossessed items.

On the other hand, I can say that Slade is a very well realized version of the Scrooge character. He truly embodies a character who believes that the miserly way is the best way.  Early in the film, he gives orphans a gift… sheets of paper that tell them all about famous people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and me money without help from anyone. The irony of coarse, is that he has done no such thing.  He was given his opportunities by others.  He too was an orphan in need.

While well-meaning as an updated version of the Dickens tale, over all this film falls flat and is fairly forgettable.

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