David Appleford is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the American Theatre Critics Association
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The question I am asked the most is, "Are you Australian or English?"
For the record, it's English. I was born in Tilbury, Essex, made temporarily famous by the film 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age' with Cate Blanchett. Tilbury is the town where Elizabeth 1st gave her infamous speech where she rallied the troops in preparation for the oncoming, though disastrous, attack from Spain. Look on a map of Britain, go to London, then slowly run your finger to the right along the River Thames. There's Tilbury.
The second question that I'm usually asked is, "Are you thinking of becoming an American citizen?"
Actually, I became a citizen in 2001, exactly one week after 9/11 when government offices around the country re-opened for the first time after the attack. Taking your citizenship and pledging allegiance to your adopted country is always an emotional moment, but the significance of the timing in September of 2001 made this ceremony all the more poignant.
In some ways the new and important looking drama from director Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace, can be considered a companion piece to The Deer Hunter. Both are set in an economically depressed, blue-collar Pennsylvania mill town, both have war as a backdrop – here you substitute Vietnam for Iraq – and both go deer hunting; not exactly a retread but the comparisons are unavoidable. Here are the principles.
Russell Blaze (Christian Bale) is a nice enough, ordinary kind of guy who, like many in this setting, is having a tough time getting through the day. He works at a steel mill, tends to his ill father and is trying to make a relationship with Lena (Zoe Saldana) work, but nothing is easy.
Russell’s brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns from service in Iraq and can’t adjust. “Come work at the mill,” his brother suggests, but Rodney is having none of it. “I’d rather be dead,” the younger brother says.
Rodney is angry. It’s the kind of anger you carry around with you all day even if you’re never quite sure what you’re angry about. Things are owed to him. For him, mill working will never be a part of his life. Rodney wants something else and he wants it now. “I gave my life for the country and what’s it ever done for me?” he cries.
Then there’s Willem Dafoe as John Petty, a local, small time illegal fight arranger who arranges a bare-knuckle fight for Rodney for big money. At first, the man is reluctant to get Rodney involved. “I’m trying to protect you,” he tells the young man, knowing that the type of men Rodney will be fighting do nothing fair. As Defoe describes them, “They’re in-bred mountain folk from New Jersey,” and they’re dangerous. But Rodney wants the money and he wants the bare-knuckle challenge.
“I’m going to do this one last fight,” Rodney declares in a letter he’s left behind for his brother, and that’s the last we’ll see of him. From there it becomes the older brother’s duty to find out what happened to Russell when the young man went up the mountains and how far the older member is willing to go to seek revenge.
The principle villain is one of those dangerous mountain folk, Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) a vicious, drug-dealing killer with a hair-trigger temper that never quits. He’s the kind of guy you never want to meet, let alone talk to. He’ll ask a question, you’ll answer, and no matter what you’ve said, he’d find a way to twist it, treat it as an insult and lash out. In what should be a civilized culture such as ours, a man like DeGroat doesn’t make sense. But he, and many like him, exist, and Woody Harrelson does psychotic nut jobs so well.
There’s a lot to appreciate in Out of the Furnace – performances are top notch, the grainy look of the widescreen cinematography perfectly captures the feel of the depressed locale – but it’s a hard film to like. Other than an admiration of cinematic style, there’s no sense of enjoyment being in the company of some of these people or getting to observe them so closely. Their presence is unwelcome but because of the professionalism of the film and the quality of its performers you’re intrigued enough to want to know the outcome, though when it finally arrives you leave the theatre with an overall feeling of nothing achieved, nothing gained. And what the final fade out is supposed to tell us is anybody’s guess.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 106 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a series of conversations with the famous American linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher, writer, political commentator and sometimes activist, Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT. The conversations were filmed and conducted by French film director Michel Gondry as an obvious labor of love who then took the unusual step of animating everything in a playful, child-like, doodle manner which surprisingly adds clarity to Chomsky’s thoughts, but with a running time of ninety minutes it’s also hard work.
The style of animation is reminiscent to those lengthy internet commercials you might find promoting the learning of foreign languages, where the huckster’s words are quickly drawn like instant, hand-written subtitles or stick figure animation that seems to vibrate on the screen as it acts out what is being said. At one point, the French director actually stops the film to acknowledge that this style is both demanding for the audience to watch as well as it is for him to animate, taking years to complete, though he adds how important it is for him to finish the project. He wants to show the finished work to Chomsky before the elderly scholar passes away.
What’s important, however, is what Noam Chomsky says, and here the film is never boring even if the hand-drawn illustrations can sometimes come across as visual overload. Occasionally we even catch a glimpse of the real man, positioned in a small box at the corner of the screen, talking to director Gondry across a table as the director conducts his interviews that he will later animate.
Gondry wants to know about the man as well as the professor’s thoughts on linguistics and politics. The first question asked is Chomsky’s first memories of life. “The first memories of my life?” Chomsky repeats with mild amusement as though unprepared for something quite so general. The answer is of an aunt who tried to get a young, stubborn little boy to eat oatmeal in the family kitchen. It’s not a revelatory response, but Chomsky later uses that seemingly insignificant episode to illustrate a point during a discussion on a child’s learning of languages and behavior. “Children acquire knowledge of language long before they have the ability to exhibit it.”
The world is a very puzzling place, Chomsky tells the director. “If you’re willing to be puzzled, you can learn. If you’re not willing to be puzzled and you just copy down and behave the way you’re taught, you just become a replica of someone else’s mind. Serious learning comes from asking.”
If you know anything about Noam Chomsky you know that he adheres slavishly to the truth on any given subject, even if that truth is an inconvenient reality. He has no time for those who deny the evidence of science. “Science,” he explains, “Is there to make the world intelligible. Accepting everything as something that just happens teaches nothing.” His meaning is clear. The world doesn’t work in mysterious ways. It’s only the unwillingness to challenge and ask questions that makes it seem as though it does.
For someone who has spent a great deal of time giving lengthy, public speeches in packed auditoriums, Chomsky’s speaking style has often been described as boring, which is why Gondry’s animation clarifying certain matters is such a great idea. The professor talks in a continual soft, unemotional tone, never raising or lowering his voice for emphasis. What he’s saying is undeniably fascinating, but he presents it as though he’s merely speaking in passing, as though everything is an afterthought. His response to his critics has always been that he likes his personal, underplayed style, stating that what’s really important are the issues and adding that no one needs to be swayed by superficial eloquence or emphasis. He’s probably right, though as an admirer of his work and one who is fascinated by what he is saying, it would be nice if he occasionally projected. From time to time, emphasis works.
MPAA Rating: Unrated Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Some seasonal fun is about to begin at the Kax Theatre,
One of the performers and good friend to KEZ, Carolyn McPhee dropped by to tell us more about the show and what we can expect to see between now and the 22nd.
To hear our interview with Carolyn, click on the link below.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the
As the holidays draw nearer, we continue our short seasonal series of Christmas themed films that for one reason or another, despite their age, are now considered classics.
Due to the surprising international success of the films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, screenwriter Richard Curtis was given the greenlight to complete his Christmas screenplay Love Actually Is All Around. The title, originally based on the famous sixties pop song by The Troggs, Love Actually Is All Around, was eventually shortened to Love Actually, and, like the previous screenplays by Curtis, the film became an enormous hit.
Released in the United States on
For the record, the word 'actually' is spoken at least twenty-two times by various characters throughout the film.
You'll notice at the beginning and the end of the film the setting is London's Heathrow airport where several passengers who have just disembarked from their various flights are met by their families and loved ones. These were all real people acting naturally, their hugs and embraces caught on film. Richard Curtis, who was also given directing duties, sent a team of cameramen to the airport and had them remain there for a week filming anything that looked appropriate to the theme of the story. Everyone who was caught by the camera was then asked if it was possible to use the footage for the movie.
Perhaps one of the most amusing behind-the-scenes stories is that of actor Kris Marshall. Marshall played the part of a young guy called Colin who is convinced that the only way he will meet women who will appreciate him is if he flies to America, which is exactly what his character does. No sooner has he stepped off the plane - in Wisconsin, no less - when he meets three young American women who are immediately attracted to his London accent. They take him back to their apartment for a night of... well, you get the idea. Colin's fantasy comes true. The story goes that Marshall had such a great time filming the moment when the girls undress him - a scene that required twenty-one takes until the actors got it right - that he actually gave back his pay-check for the day stating that because he had such a great time rehearsing the scene he was willing to do it for free! Whether it's true is another matter, but it makes for a good story.
Those who have seen the film talk of how the movie made them fall in love all over again; such is the power of this very funny and occasionally touching Christmas comedy. Though be warned if you haven't yet seen it but you're thinking of a rental to help you get into the Christmas spirit - Love Actually is adult in nature and earns its R rating. By all mean see it, you'll have a great time, but keep the kids out of the room.
First, credit where it’s due. Hats off to the Disney marketing team.
For the past few months they have successfully installed a keen sense of anticipation for their new animated adventure Frozen with articles, posters and teaser trailers but without ever telling us a thing about it. What a surprise, then, to find that Frozen isn’t simply a well-timed animated adventure for the oncoming winter in snow, it’s a giant, widescreen, full-blown Broadway standard musical based on a classic fairy tale. In the way that Rapunzel became Tangled, The Snow Queen is now Frozen, and it’s exhilarating.
The base story from the Hans Christian Anderson tale is changed somewhat. Here in the Scandinavian land of Arendelle two young girls, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), both princesses living in the royal palace, are more than sisters; they’re the best of friends. “The sky’s awake,” declares the excitable Anna as she begs her sister to get out of bed and play, “So I’m awake!” It’s during the following moments when a single event will alter the course of their lives, and not for the better.
The older sister, Elsa, has a magic ability to create ice and snow at will, but it’s a secret. When the two girls privately play in Elsa’s newly created ice land, an accident causes the younger sister, Anna, to be almost fatally struck in the heart with ice. What was a gift to the older sister has become a curse.
The childhood scenes are essentially the prologue. What follows next is the setup. Time passes for the Royal family of Arendelle. After the king and queen are lost at sea in a spectacularly animated sequence, it follows that on a summer’s day in July, Elsa is crowned queen, but what begins as a day of celebration for the kingdom becomes tragic. A sequence of events results with Elsa becoming emotional and losing control of her secret powers. In the way that Stephen King’s Carrie lets rip her telekinesis when upset, Elsa does the same, but with snow and ice. The castle becomes frozen, July turns into a blustery, snow laden winter, and Elsa runs from her royal duties and hides herself away in tall tower of ice up in the mountains. She essentially banishes herself from her own kingdom. “The cold never bothered me, anyway,” she sings as she seals herself off from the world.
There’s no doubt, the computer generated animation is outstanding. Quite soon, there’ll be a time with this sort of excellence will be common in all animated features – the industry is practically there already – but for right now, the animation in Frozen is as creatively inspiring and eye-popping as it gets. Clearly, what an animator can now achieve is limited only by his own imagination. The image of Elsa running away across the water, the surface freezing as she goes, is startling in its visual creativity, as is almost everything else. The creation of Elsa’s palace with its reflective walls of thick ice and oversized, pointy icicles are reminiscent of the interior of Superman’s arctic hideaway but with a more fairy tale quality to its design.
From the opening song where the two young sisters sing, Do You Want to Build a Snowman? you immediately recognize that the score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez is not going to consist of simple though catchy pop tunes, this is Broadway. Idina Menzel, now something of a Broadway veteran after Rent and Wicked, is a perfect choice to voice Elsa, while Kristen Bell does some of her finest, big screen work as the younger sister, Anna. When they sing a duet, For the First Time in Forever, it’s a moment of pure, sublime pleasure, voices blending perfectly to an inspiring melody worthy of an emotionally delivered live performance on any Broadway or West End stage.
It’s also funny. Alan Tudyk comically voices the main bad guy, the Duke of Weselton, mispronounced as Weasletown by everyone else, who declares openly in front of the castle before entering for Elsa’s coronation, “Open your gates so I can exploit your riches.” He then stops himself, but adds in a quieter tone: “Did I just say that out loud?”
There’s also Olaf the talking snowman (another Broadway actor, Josh Gad who scored so big in The Book of Mormon) accidentally brought to life by Elsa’s magic who dreams of tropical locations and warm temperatures. His song In Summer is another musical highlight that only adds to the thought that if we wait about three years, Frozen will probably be playing live at the Minskoff in mid-town Manhattan with extra songs once The Lion King eventually closes, soon to be followed by a national tour.
The running time for Frozen is eighty-nine minutes, but the total running time of the show is slightly longer due to a cleverly creative Disney short called Get a Horse! What appears to be a classic thirties, black & white short, turns out to be a brand new supporting cartoon where early versions of Mickey, Minnie and the villainous Peg-leg Pete fall out of the screen onto the theatrical stage before them. It’s one of those rare times where the gimmicky appeal of 3D is used with great invention, the kind that would work at Florida’s Disney World as an exhibit illustrating the current state of the technology. This really is great entertainment.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 89 Minutes Overall Rating: 9(out of 10)
There’s a report that came out of Germany recently publishing the total amount of bullets fired by police in 2011. The number was eighty-five, forty-nine of which were warning shots. That’s down from the previous year where ninety-six shots were fired. But that’s everything. And Germany’s a big, gun-toting country.
In the opening moments of the new Jason Statham thriller, Homefront, there are more bullets sprayed at the bad guys by the police within a few minutes than the sum total of Germany’s yearly usage, forty-seven of which are used against one man. As a friend might add when sounding as though he’s trying to make a point but doesn’t quite round it off, just sayin’.
In Homefront, two years after that deadly shoot-out, ex-DEA agent and single parent Phil Broker (Statham) whose American accent seems to come via London’s Camden Town, moves to rural Louisiana to basically hideaway in his house by the lake and enjoy the peace and quiet while raising his daughter in an idyllic, countrified neighborhood. But being a Jason Statham movie, trouble is never far away.
Trouble begins when a pudgy school yard bully picks on Statham’s daughter. That was a mistake. With surprising precision, trained by her karate-kicking father, the ten year-old daughter fights back, knocking the bully to the ground. Naturally, the bully is humiliated and cries to his redneck parents, who storm the school and demand revenge. That’s the first conflict. The second comes when the bully’s father approaches Statham in front of the school with the intention of teaching the outsider a lesson, only it doesn’t work out like that. Statham knocks him to the ground. Naturally, humiliated in front of everyone, the bully’s father demands revenge. And so it goes.
There is a plot of sorts. James Franco is a local drug dealer known as Gator who has ambitions of expanding his drug distribution statewide, and he’s going to use what he knows about Statham’s DEA past, including that big shoot out we saw at the beginning, against the ex-lawman to achieve his goal. That’s the supporting story line. What happens up front is this: We have a never ending series of conflicts where backwater, less-than-bright characters pick a fight, get beaten, then want revenge for being beaten, so they pick another fight, and get beaten again. It’s redneck logic to its idiotic extreme. And it doesn’t stop.
“Whatever you’re thinking,” Statham warns more bad guys who bully him at a gas-station, “Re-think it.” Of course, we don’t really want anyone to re-think anything. It’s not that kind of film. We want the bad guys to attack so we can enjoy the satisfaction of watching Statham swiftly kick everyone to the ground again and break a few more bones without breaking into a sweat. After all, that’s what a Jason Statham movie is really all about. It’s doesn’t matter what the plot calls for him to do, that’s immaterial – we just want to see Statham kick butt. That’s why there’s an audience.
The film is basically routine stuff, a generic Jason Statham action flick rolled off the assembly line that will soon fade until the next one. But at least the casting is interesting with some star names attached to the credits. With a screenplay written by none other than Sylvester Stallone, there’s James Franco, surprisingly effective as a low-rent, drug dealing scum bag, plus Winona Ryder as a bad-girl waitress who if she had any sense would’ve left town a long time ago, but she doesn’t have any sense, and Kate Bosworth as a scrawny, drug-addled, redneck momma who seems perpetually angry about something, brought on, no doubt, by being continually strung out and in need of a fix, and Bosworth does it well. These are not nice people, particularly when all you want is to hang out with your daughter by your nice house next to the lake and enjoy early retirement.
The action, like Statham’s karate kick, is swift and efficient, and for the most part the film delivers what its target audience wants, but it might be getting to the point where we want something more out of a Statham film. He’s already proved how good he can be with the right material. Check out his best film, 2008’s The Bank Job. As he ages, maybe it’s time he started thinking of aiming his career with projects a little less formulaic. He’s not a great actor, but he’s a hugely likable personality, and he’s surprised us before. It’s time to start surprising us again.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 100 Minutes Overall Rating: 5(out of 10)
Based on true events, Philomena covers much of the same ground paved in the earlier 2003 film The Magdalene Sisters, the story of the Magdalene convent in Ireland where young girls were essentially incarcerated for their ‘sins’ and put to work, long hours, working the laundry and unable to leave, slaves to the unrelenting and unreasonable demands of the nuns in charge. Philomena is not a copy or a remake of that earlier film, it’s the consequences, and it remains the disgrace the Catholic Church.
Based on a book called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by ex-BBC journalist, Martin Sixsmith, Philomena (Judi Dench) is an elderly Irish woman who continually reflects back on the child that was snatched from her by the nuns when she was a young girl and sold overseas. Through a series of short flashbacks, we see how a young and impressionable Philomena was courted one night at a nearby traveling fun fair by a teenage boy resulting with an unwanted pregnancy.
Now, more than forty plus yeas later, the retired lady, who has lived a full life with a family of her own, continues to stare at a small black and white picture she has secretly kept with her since she was a teenager. “Who is it?” asks her daughter, Jane who catches sight of the photograph. Philomena doesn’t answer directly, but then after a pause says, “It’s his birthday. He’ll be fifty today.”
After all these years, Philomena wants to find her boy, but she needs help, which is where journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who also produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay) steps in. With his investigative skills and his somewhat belligerent manner, Martin takes on the task of helping Philomena track down the whereabouts of her boy, but it’s not easy. First, there’s the nuns at the Sisters of the Sacred Heart convent he has to face, or the “Sisters of little mercy,” as he calls them.
The remaining nuns have no records of those earlier days due to an accidental fire some years ago that burnt most of the documents, though the contract that Philomena once signed stating she basically had no claim on the child is still on file. It’s only later when Martin goes for a drink at a local pub he hears that the big fire at the convent was not an accidental fire at all – it was a series of bonfires the nuns intentionally built setting flame to all documents that would incriminate them. As Martin angrily explains to Philomena, “All the papers that would help you find your child were destroyed, but the one piece of paper designed to stop you is carefully preserved.”
Eventually their search for the boy, remembered as Anthony, takes the elderly lady and the journalist to America. It’s here, in the United States visiting for the first time that the real charm of Philomena’s innocence and refreshing honesty come to light. First, Philomena is concerned that her boy may now be obese. “Have you seen the size of the portions they serve here?” she states referring to the restaurants and the all-you-can-eat breakfast bar. Then, when enjoying the pleasures of a D.C. hotel room, she is wowed by a piece of chocolate left on her pillow by the cleaner and amused by the TV commercial promoting the pay-per-view version of comedian Martin Lawrence in the 2000 comedy Big Momma’s House. “It’s about a little black man pretending to be a fat black woman,” she tells the journalist with delight. “It looks hilarious.”
Eventually, Philomena and Martin together will uncover the truth. Yes, they find what they’re looking for, but, no, it will not be a feel-good, Hallmark moment with hugs and tears; it’s a true story and reality never is. But it is a satisfying conclusion with revelations that will take both Philomena and Martin back to where they began their search, with the nuns at the Irish convent. “What they done to you was evil,” states Philomena’s daughter. When Philomena tells Martin she wants to go to Confession, the journalist is perplexed. “They incarcerated young women against their will, put them to work and sold their babies!” he exclaims, adding that it is the Church that should be going to Confession for its sins, not Philomena.
Philomena is such an unexpected pleasure. Its power is that it immediately engages. It’s not only because of the delicately nuanced performance of Judi Dench complete with a soft, Irish accent, or the often amusing force of Steve Coogan’s quarrelsome journalist, but the overall story that plays out like a detective novel with revelations that will surprise, amuse and possibly annoy. What Philomena will discover about her son, a toddler wrenched from a teenage mother’s life by nuns who profited financially, will move you without the manipulative inducement of tears. It’s amazing that in a civilized, modern-day, western society, this was allowed to happen – let’s not kid ourselves; what the nuns did was essentially kidnapping while engaging in white slave labor, then they burned most of the evidence – but the film never overplays its hand. As directed by Stephen Frears, facts are presented in a thoughtful, evenly measured manner; the truth alone is emotionally draining without the need for hyping the moments up.
“I think of him every day,” Philomena states. “I’d like to know if Anthony ever thought of me.” By the revelations uncovered, the retiree will get her answer. Philomena is among the best of the year.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 94 Minutes Overall Rating: 9(out of 10)
Traditionally, after a musical opens, as long as it’s well received, the film will follow. With White Christmas it was the other way around.
The film was released in 1954 but it took almost fifty years until the stage version was produced. It then took another four years until it finally made its way to Broadway, and, yes it’s true, the show was greeted with something less than seasonal good cheer. Reviews were negative and audiences quickly dwindled.
Fortunately, for the rest of the country, it didn’t end there. Bad notices can all but kill a show, but in the case of White Christmas with the name Irving Berling added officially to the title, its audience was soon to be found not on the Great White Way but just about everywhere else, and not just all over the country but overseas as well, spreading an American version of the Christmas holiday to European cultures where most of the traditions began in the first place. And it scored.
After a successful run with the national tour that played to packed audiences in the valley a couple of years ago, it’s now the turn of the Phoenix, and what a handsome looking production it turned out to be. Director Michael Barnard has played Santa and delivered one enormous Christmas present to the valley, a theatrical yuletide musical package bursting with more than just good cheer, it’s a fully fledged holiday gift wrapped in the best quality paper that is going to be unwrapped nightly right up until Christmas Eve. If this doesn’t make someone’s season bright, then believe me, nothing will.
Everyone must know the film – it’s a perennial favorite - so what surprises the most about the stage version is how surprisingly fresh it all seems, despite its familiarity. Part of that freshness comes from the fact that the show doesn’t adhere completely to it big screen counterpart. The overall arc of the plot is the same, but the show enlarges on the song and dance and some of the characterizations and gives an added depth that the film could never reach.
One of the benefits of creating a musical where the central theme is show business is you can add songs in order to pad the production that have nothing to do with the plot but they’ll always work simply because the characters are in rehearsal for a show. It’s the perfect excuse. Anything they do can be explained as being part of the show within the show, thus we have some great Irving Berlin songs added to White Christmas that were never in the film, including Blue Skies, Let Me Sing and I’m Happy, and I Love A Piano.
Despite great energy from its two male leads, Peter Marinaro in the Danny Kaye role of Phil and Joseph Cannon in the Bing Crosby role of Bob, this production belongs to the ladies. Even though they seem slightly older than the characters are traditionally played, both Debby Rosenthal and Molly Lajoie shine in the roles of the sisters, Betty and Judy – Molly’s I Love a Piano that opens the second half is a tap-dancing delight, a musical highlight with wonderful choreography from Kathy Calahan – but there’s also great support from Johanna Carlisle with the scene stealing Let Me Sing and I’m Happy, and from VYT alumni young Kate Shein who reprises I’m Happy and steals the moment almost as much as Johanna with the same song.
But the real star of the show is the scenic design of Robert Kovach backed by Mike Eddy’s lighting. The colors of Christmas are always eye-catching – it’s the look of the season that creates the magic – and here Robert and Mike have really pulled out all the stops. It’s as though they’ve taken their favorite greetings card and made it come alive with an extra touch of velvety red; lights twinkle and shine, ribbons and bows adorn the props, white snow gently falls in the background, and at the center, a sparkling Christmas tree that draws your focus to the point where you wished they had a raffle after the show and you could take it home.
When the film was first released, it came in a new system called Vista Vision, a Hollywood process that created a clarity of picture never before seen on the big screen and where people talked of the color as being in Technicolor. The way the colors of Christmas virtually leap off the Phoenix Theatre stage, you could say that Michael Barnard has recreated a live version of the Vista Version process. With its inbuilt, sentimental and nostalgic vision of an American Christmas of the past done so well as it is here, the Phoenix Theatre version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is simply old fashioned, irresistible, live entertainment. The season has officially arrived and this year it’s a Technicolor wonder.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Phoenix Theatre website.
For more film and local theatre, CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
We continue our look at some Christmas movies that for one reason or another are considered seasonal classics, regardless of age. This week, The Polar Express.
Based on the 1985 children's book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsberg, the animated film version of the same name by Robert Zemeckis has already become a perennial favorite for the month of December and can now be safely described as a bona-fide Christmas classic.
Released in 2004, The Polar Express was the first feature-length film to be released at the same time in a 3-D film presentation on the giant IMAX screen.
On Christmas Eve, a young boy who wants to believe in Santa, but doesn't, boards a mysterious train bound for the North Pole. "On Christmas Eve," the young boy narrates, "Many years ago I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear; the sound of Santa's sleigh bells."
The plot is an expanded version of the original book. Writer/director Zemeckis turned the simple journey to the top of the world into a white-knuckle thrill ride full of last minute rescues and edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Trivia buffs may also enjoy some of the in-house references Zemeckis wrote into the script. In a news photo showing several Santa's on strike, the placards they carry say they're picketing the Lone Pine Mall. This was the same fictional mall used by Zemeckis in his 1985 hit Back To The Future. The house mentioned by the train's conductor, voiced by Tom Hanks, is 11344 Edbrooke. This is the real street address of Zemeckis' childhood home in the Roseland area of Chicago. And a scene in the elves' North Pole communications room shows an elf talking about a young boy who may have to go on Santa's naughty list. The boy's name is Steven in New Jersey who has terrorized his two sisters. This is a reference to Steven Spielberg who grew up in New Jersey and has admitted he would often terrorize his two sisters.