A Christmas Carol is my favourite story of all time: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Quite why I have decided this December to subject myself each day to one of twenty four filmed or animated versions (my offbeat version of an advent calendar) and report on them for my two dear readers is a conundrum not even the all-seeing, all-knowledgeable spirits of Christmas could fathom...or phantom out. It could be the heart-warming timelessness of Dickens' moral tale that keeps studios coming back to this story time and time again, or it could just be that the copyright has long since expired. Wherever possible there are links on each posting to allow you to see the version for yourself. Consider yourself warned, some are better than others!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Jim Carrey Stars in 'Disney's A Christmas Carol'

Disney are, of course, no strangers to the concept of adapting the wonderfully copyright-free story of A Christmas Carol, having done so twice before with the wholly animated Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983 and partly-animated Muppet's Christmas Carol in 1992.  Switching back to full-animation, albeit with effective motion capture techniques first seen on 'The Polar Express' some years earlier, 'A Christmas Carol' is both the studio's first completely non-anthropomorphic version and their best yet.

Proving once again that he has a versatility that stretches beyond puerile mugging and saying "alright-y then", Jim Carrey manages to fox the viewer brilliantly with a wonderfully, crotchety Scrooge.  From his first act -to pay for Marley's undertaking with those pennies intended for his recently deceased's safe passage across the Styx - he comes across as repulsive, warped and irredeemable.  Marley enjoys his revenge, however, with a truly terrifying turn from Gary Oldman as he reveals to the miser his final chance of salvation before rejoining the, now terrifyingly visible, phantoms that roam the city streets tormented by a desire to help but an inability to do so.

Carrey is then, somewhat amusingly, at the mercy of himself as he provides the voices and motions of all three spirits.  Christmas Past is brilliantly captured in all his child-like luminescence while Christmas Present is suitably kind yet firm, once you get past the fact Carrey cannot quite decide if he's playing a character from Yorkshire, Scotland or just simply Brian Blessed.  Only the Ghost of Christmas Future is disappointing with the makers deciding Scrooge should become his plaything, leading to a horrendous and badly-judged chase sequence that sees Scrooge inexplicably miniaturised as he runs from deathly, black horses.  Granted the studio are still very keen to show off their new 3D techniques and the pursuit may perk up any jaded audience members, but this time could and should have been given up to a longer Christmas Present sequence.  Scrooge is already emotionally drained by this point, to the extent that Christmas Future need only point him where to go, he simply does not need to be roughly whipped through the streets too.

However, A Christmas Carol overall, particularly in the 3D version, crams a surprising amount into the running time, offering long, panning shots of dark, Victorian London while delivering virtually every scene from the original text in its mother tongue.  This authenticity is a real testament to the producers and director who have created a real challenger to the seemingly untouchable Alastair Sim 1951 edition in this brilliant version.

This version is in cinemas now in glorious 3D - give yourself a treat and see it today.

A note: You may have noticed that I have not quite managed to keep up the bargain of one Christmas Carol per day during the month of December.  Therefore, I have decided to hold it at twelve for 2009 and resume the challenge in 2010.  Merry Christmas!

Kenny Everett Stars in 'Kenny Everett's Christmas Carol'

Kenny Everett (born Maurice Cole) by 1985 was one of the biggest draws in TV comedy, loved for such characters as greasy rocker Sid Snot, hopeless punk throwback Gizzard Puke and, most famously of all, the titillating gymnastics of every spoonerists favourite actress Cupid Stunt.  This year saw a star-laden yuletide special broadcast on Christmas Eve, just before the film 'Grease' if my sources are to be believed, with a host of comedy pals both old and new.  You probably never thought you'd see Michael Barrymore share a bill with Peter Cook and Spike Milligan but it happened.

Everett, in less than convincing prosthetics, plays Scrooge for laughs, gleefully poking fun (literally) at a younger-looking John Humphrys and taking pot shots at a band of Christmas carollers led by Sir Bob Geldof (played by a very young Rory Bremner) in full-on, pushy Live Aid mode before turning his miserly attention to poor clerk Bob Cratchit who, if he wasn't already downtrodden enough has to face the further ignominy of being played by B. A. Robertson.

The story remains surprisingly close to the original text, despite all the pratfalls and some frankly ridiculous performances.  Spike Milligan proves a worthy Marley, Willie Rushton was perhaps born to play Christmas Present and Peter Cook, in his E.L. Wisty alter ego, plays a wonderfully deadpan Christmas Future - tradition broken, as it should be in this case, to allow the spirit to talk to Scrooge.  With further guest appearances by Anneka Rice, James Hunt and Tessa Sanderson, this is what Christmas television specials used to be all about  While French and Saunders may have thought the inclusion of Lulu and Jeanette Krankie in unlikely remakes of bland Hollywood fare was the first word in comedy, here was a show that would actually keep you awake after three helpings of Turkey and a vat of mulled wine.

Kenny Everett's Christmas Carol is available through a number of Torrent sites.  It is well worth tracking down.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Albert Finney Stars in 'Scrooge'

This 1970 musical is one of the best-loved adaptations of the story, helped in no small part by the wonderful songs of Leslie Bricusse and brilliant central performances by Albert Finney and Alec Guinness as Scrooge and an applause-worthy deadpan Marley.  When the entire company isn't singing in affected Lahndahn accents or waltzing through the set we are also given a generous inclusion of Dickens' original text.  But it's the songs that set this particular adaptation aside from other full-length versions.

Highlights include the deluded Scrooge grumbling and snarling his way through 'I Hate People' as he visits his debtors, 'generously' extending their terms (with added interest of course), the excellent young cast's playful taunts during 'Father Christmas', Old Fezziwig's breathless performance of 'December the 25th' while simultaneously leading a fervent dance routine and the rousing duet 'I Like Life' between the Ghost of Christmas Present and a punch-drunk Scrooge.

Perhaps the best-remembered song of all, however, is the chirpy 'Thank You Very Much' sung by Anton 'Fresh Fields' Rogers as the hitherto unmentioned character of Tom Jenkins, the hot soup man.  The song is, of course, sung somewhat sarcastically upon the news of Scrooge's death during future shadows with the entire supporting cast thanking the miser for his sharp departure.  It's a great device.  The track was eventually nominated for an Academy Award losing out to 'For All We Know' from 'Lovers and Strangers'.

Eagle-eyed cast-spotters will notice a few familiar faces alongside such established actors as Dame Edith Evans (Christmas Past) and Kenneth More (Christmas Present) in Molly Weir (best known to 80's kids as MacWitch from Rentaghost) and the portly gentlemen of charity played by Carry On regular Derek Francis and the much-loved and much-missed Roy Kinnear.

'Scrooge' is by far the best musical adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol' and a definite contender for overall best version yet made.  The main contention fans have is the rather spurious sequence beginning with the point the Ghost of Christmas Future removing his hood (revealing a particularly crap prop skellington) and sending a startled Finney hurtling down into his own grave.  Awakening in hell, he is greeted by a surley Marley and shown his 'amusing' fate.  The scene is saved somewhat by Guinness' outrageous performance and it's perhaps the fact it gives him considerably more screen time that saves this from being one deviation too far.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPV4vSA65YM
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HuZxyuNmOk
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bvle-girlI
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdlsGpXyHNk
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-21q5AAOa0
Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnKBvZInMAM
Part 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ3QnB41k_I
Part 8: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt0u05Sixtg
Part 9: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Faprjj8EtM
Part 10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64LLOns8AJQ
Part 11: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrvB5kezRZQ
Part 12: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD1EvoBKdQo

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Gumby Stars in 'Scrooge Loose'

One of the most gratifying things about this bizarre challenge I've set myself is the chance to experience transatlantic shows for the very first time.  Having already seen my first episode ever of Family Ties earlier this week, I've now chanced upon a character who has entertained American children for over fifty years but has been hitherto completely unknown to me - Gumby.  I suspect most Brits will join me in a quick, frank "whoooooo?", much to the shock of incredulous Yanks, but as a quick reference point, think Morph...just thirty years earlier.

'Scrooge Loose' is a 1957 short that finds our hero Gumby and his trusty horse sidekick Pokey in the fellow Victorian guise of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as they tail the notorious Scrooge who is deadset on ruining Christmas for the wee girls and boys Stateside.  Having already piloted a bulldozer through a "humbug" Christmas scene, Scrooge leaps into a story book filled with the wonderful tales of Santa Claus.  Here he hi-jacks a bag of Santa's presents, unwrapping each gift with great care and replacing the toy with a rock.  Note the care and attention he takes to re-wrap it well - could Scrooge be simply trying to preserve the illusion or does he unstereotypically really care about the presentation of these gifts?  Hot on his trail and having been unceremoniously dumped off a cliff by the bulldozer-driving Scooge, Gumby and Pokey jump into the book and capture Scrooge in what looks suspicially like one of Santa's three sacks.  With the day saved, they start a hunt for Santa to tell him the good news, not knowing that Santa is already suited, booted and about to kick off....with Scrooge in his sleigh!

Most wonderfully of all is the fact this impressive animation ends with an ending neither happy nor sad.  33% of Santa's recipients will have a part share in a Victorian miser instead of the toy train, car, penny whistle or Teletubby they asked for.  Gumby and Pokey simply give up here and make flimsy date-related jokes before presumably getting back to whatever it is they do normally.

This is probably the flimsiest adaptation yet with no ghosts, a bizarre introduction of Holmes and Watson and some of the funniest dialogue you'll hear in Pokey's comments.  Watch the video below and enjoy...