Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Meet John Doe: My Movie Review

 If there is one film all of America should watch it's this one. Especially when there is so much division and disharmony; not just beween politicians, but all common folk.  A collapse of decency,  some might call it.

Imagine yourself living in a big city or state where the economy is bad, unemployment is high, many people in need of food, and all the politicians are crooked. You then decide to protest these ills of society by threatening to jump off the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve unless things improve. Do you think anything would change? Would anybody care?

This is the premise behind Frank Capra's 1941 film Meet John Doe,
starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. A story that deals with the heart of the American people. Who would have thought a story from 1941 could resonate with our country, even today.

Stanwyck plays reporter Ann Mitchell of the New Bulletin newspaper,a struggling paper that has been bought by a wealthy industrialist. Ann gets laid off from her job but is asked to write one final column. She obviously wants to come up with something that will draw fireworks in hopes of maybe keeping her job. Ann creates a fictional character named John Doe, an unemployed homeless man who writes a letter to the paper protesting against the collapse of decency in the world and threatens to jump off the roof of City Hall at midnight on Christmas Eve unless things change.

The Governor and some competing newspapers believe this is a hoax and just another publicity stunt. So when the town begins to show an interest in John Doe by offering him a job and a place to live, the newspaper finds itself needing to cover up its tracks. So they hire a homeless man who is without any family to pose as John Doe.
 The newspaper and Ann Mitchell decide to use John Doe to unite the American people with Doe's philosophy that it is the little people who are the backbone of America:

"The character of the country is the sum character of the little punks.
The meek will inherit the earth when we all work together."

And one of John Doe's other philosophies that he asks of the people,

"Why can't that Spirit, that Christmas Spirit, last all year long?"

John Doe is asked to do a radio speech and the next thing you know his story has taken the country by storm. News begins to spread throughout the land of his story and small town folks are creating John Doe Clubs to carry out his message. These clubs obviously have one stipulation: no politicians allowed.

Ann Mitchell and her publisher decide to circulate John Doe and his message throughout the towns of America and we see small towns everywhere uniting together with brotherly love toward one another. Neighbors are seen giving other neighbors a helping hand with food, small jobs with pay,and offering others a place to live.
And as any good story goes, there's always one villain in the crowd.And in this case it is the owner of the newspaper,a man named Norton, who wants to use the John Doe movement for his own welfare to gain a seat in the White House.

Of course John Doe has no desire to go along with this political maneuver and realizes Norton is just another politician who wants to kill the decency of mankind and the John Doe's of the world. Norton blackmails John Doe to follow or otherwise he would spread the news that John Doe is a fake, and he would then be shunned by society wherever he went.

When John Doe addresses a crowd of thousands at a John Doe Rally, Norton pulls out all the stops. He has delivery boys spread throughout the crowd newspapers with the headline John Doe is a Fake. Amidst all the ruckus, John Doe leaves out a back entrance and disappears for a few days. And while he has disappeared from the American people without a word, John Doe Clubs begin to disband throughout the land.

On Christmas Eve night, church bells ringing at the strike of midnight, John Doe shows up atop the roof of City Hall. But also up there waiting for him are a few loyal John Doe club members who still believe in his philosophy and had seen it work in their neighborhoods. John Doe has seen the hatred throughout the country, the dirty politics, and the indecency of mankind, and chooses to go ahead with the once created plan of jumping. And then Ann Mitchell comes running into his arms with the speech of all speeches:

"Please don't give up, John! The John Doe movement isn't dead. Oh,John, if it's worth dying for, it's worth living for. Oh,please John...you wanna be honest don't ya'? Well you don't have to keep the John Doe idea alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And He's kept that idea alive for nearly 2,000 years.
And He'll go on keeping it alive for ever and ever and always."

 My hope is that this coming New Year we will see many John Doe's flourish throughout our land. All it takes to start is one individual willing to carry on that Christmas Spirit all year long. Will it be you?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

White Christmas: My Review

"When I think of how my bankroll is small, I remember when I had nothing at all. Then I count my blessings."

Probably the most poignant lyrics of any song that is sung in this Irving Berlin classic from 1954.

It's very rare for a film to start off with a tearjerk scene and then move into a dazzling display of fine art, but that's what happens here on White Christmas. I believe the opening scene sets the mood and message for the rest of the film, as it creates a setting of remembering our soldiers who are fighting for our freedom everyday. In this first scene, Bing Crosby is entertaining the troops on Christmas Eve during WWII. When he begins to sing of dreaming of a white Christmas, we see the sadness come over the faces of all the soldiers as they begin to think about being at home with their loved ones for Christmas.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play song and dance duo Wallace and Davis, who turn to being producers of broadway musicals. While looking for new acts to produce, they come across The Hayne Sisters, and that's when the adventure begins. In the middle of a show the sisters find themselves having to go on the lam as a warrant is out for their arrest for owing a chisler $200, which they don't have.

Wallace and Davis help them out by getting them on a train to Vermont, where the sisters have already scheduled some shows to do for the holiday season.

One thng that always drew me bonkers was watching a movie and in the middle of the conversation taking place in the film, someone breaks out in a song. This happens alot in this film, which is probably why it's taken me so long to watch this classic Christmas story.
Nevertheless, after watching it a few times, it's kind of grown on me.

Within all the music there's comedy and romance, so take your pick.

My funny moment is when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye disguise themselves as the Hayne Sisters and lip sinc to one of their numbers.

When one travels to a ski lodge in Vermont in the wintertime, they most likely expect snow. But once they all arrive to Columbia Inn Ski Lodge a couple of weeks before Christmas, everything is green with a balmy temperature of 68 degrees.

Wallace and Davis discover the lodge is owned by a retired  General whom they served under in the military. When they hear of his lodge having financial trouble because of a lack of snow, they dream up a scheme. They bring in a New York cast from one of their productions to put on a large show. They also invite the military division that served under the General.

Wallace and Davis arrange all of this not only for financial gain for the lodge, but to boost the spirits of the General who misses the military action. And naturally, after performing the show on Christmas Eve, it begins to snow.

This film is a worthy story to watch if only to remind ourselves to think about and do an act of kindness to all those who are serving in our military, both past and present. If not for them, we would not have the freedom we take for granted in celebrating Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: My Review

Dracula's Boris Karloff narrating a Dr. Seuss tale? Who would've thunk it. After watching this Christmas classic just recently, it first aired in 1966, this was the first time I actually noticed the famed original Dracula was the narrator.

The Grinch is a grumpy hermit who hates Christmas and decides to steal Christmas from the town of Who'ville.
"No one knows why. Perhaps his shoes are too tight. Maybe his head isn't screwed on right.
Perhaps his heart is 2 sizes too small."
I love how this short tale begins with the entire town of Who'ville coming together to sing while decorating the town and each others homes. Of watching all their enjoyment of Christmas, the one thing the Grinch hated the most: the entire town gathering around the big Christmas tree in the center of town, standing together hand-in-hand singing. The Grinch hated their joy.
"They'll sing, and they'll sing, and they'll sing. I must stop Christmas!"
The Grinch decides to disguise himself as Santa and ride into town in the middle of night to steal all their Christmas presents, decorations, and all the food for their Christmas feast. Why, he even steals the candy canes clutched within the little fingers of the children while they are nestled in their beds. All in hopes of taking away their Christmas joy.
" Your a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You have termites in your smile."
On Christmas morning the Grinch sits atop the hill awaiting the response from all of Who'ville, hoping he's accomplished the dastardly deed of stealing their joy. The townsfolk of Who'ville gather in the town square and sing to welcome in Christmas morning. The Grinch hadn't stopped Christmas from coming.
"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store; maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more."
The Grinch's heart grew three times bigger and he rides into town to return everything he had stolen from the town of Who'ville.
This is one of my favorites of all the classic Christmas cartoons we know and love. It's a simple message that Christmas isn't about presents under the tree, but it's about what's in your heart.
And of course, we know that Christmas Spirit is something we should carry with us all 365 days of the year.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In. My Review

""I think hum-bug means you don't have a Christmas Spirit." -  Pumbaa

Somehow I think getting snowed in with characters like: the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, the Seven Dwarfs, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, would be lots of fun. Although this is a kids Christmas film, it carries a lot of weight in it's message; and I am usually drawn to films that carry a message, yes, even if it's a cartoon.

After Mickey Mouse puts on a gala Christmas pageant at The House of Mouse (a spin-off of House of Blues), all the Disney characters find themselves snowed in with no where to go. When Mickey Mouse discovers his friend Donald Duck has no holiday spirit, he decides to have a Christmas Party while they are snowed in, hoping to revive his missing spirit. Mickey pulls out all the stops:

1. Mickey Mouse shows a video of Donald Duck's children building a snowman and ice skating, including all the mishaps:
falling on the ice and getting a piece of ice stuck over their beak, glad us humans don't have that problem!

2. A video of Yuletide Wishes, two of my favorites: the Seven Dwarfs ask for bunk beds, and Pinochio wishes for no strings to hold him down.

3. A video is also shown of Mickey and his dog Pluto picking out and decorating their first Christmas Tree together:
a couple of crazy chipmunks, you remember, named Chip-n-Dale cause havoc and pick on Pluto. The chipmunks toss acorns at Pluto behind his back, and sneak into the Christmas tree that's been chosen to be a part of Mickey Mouse's Christmas. I loved the way the
2 munks rearranged the ornaments while hiding  in the tree.

After none of this works in renewing Donald Duck's Christmas Spirit, Mickey Mouse becomes dejected, until Jiminy Crickett gives him some pure wisdom:

"A Christmas Spirit doesn't come just from having a party, it comes from spending time with true friends and family."

Mickey Mouse then asks his best friend Donald Duck to place the star atop the newly decorated Christmas tree, which lifts Donald's Spirit to new levels.

I love the way this film ends with the story of Ebenezzar Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

"Kindness is of little use in this world." - Ebenezzar Scrooge

It's unfortunate that there are people like Scrooge out there,today. But there are also people you will meet this holiday season who will have no Christmas Spirit because of circumstances. If you run into someone who may appear having no Christmas Spirit, shed some light upon them and let them know God loves them no matter what they are going through.

Sure, this Christmas film may seem quirky to some of you, but it's a great story to share with your kids, grandkids, or nieces and nephews.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Christmas Story: My Movie Review

It's that time of year again when I get to share reviews of some of my favorite Christmas movies:

Some of the most recognizable lines in film history come from this story. Lines such as; "You'll shoot your eye out!" and "I triple-dog-dare you!" will forever be in the hearts and minds of both young and old.

Believe it or not this movie was not a big hit at the box-office when it came out in 1983. In fact it was considered a blockbuster dud. But today it is the most watched Christmas film on television, replacing It's A Wonderful Life as the cult favorite everyone has to watch at Christmas time. And our thank you's for this should be directed at the cable channel TBS which has been showing the film since 1997 on Christmas Eve night and running it nonstop for 24 straight hours. Each year there will be over 44 million people who will have viewed it at one point or another during this 24 hour marathon.

A Christmas Story is the adaptation of Jean Shepherd's novel based on his childhood in rural Indiana. The movie is narrated by the author and features the nostalgia of Christmas through the eyes of a nine-year old wide-eyed, imaginative boy named Ralphie.

The film takes place in the 1940's when kids were not distracted by electronics such as television or video games. This was an innocent time for children when books, radio, and imagination were all they had to escape from reality. Oh, and there was Christmas too.
Back in this era, a child's whole year revolved around Christmas and what gifts they were going to find nestled under the Christmas tree. And in Ralphie's case it was a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action rifle.

In between all the calamities Ralphie's family faces on this particular Christmas, Ralphie also has the devious task of dropping hints to his parents of his wanting the Red Ryder bb-gun.

Ralphie's family are a unique bunch of characters:

1. Mom was an overzealous woman, protective of her two sons. When Ralphie suggests to her his wanting the Red Ryder rifle, mom's reply was simple and direct,
"No, you'll shoot your eye out!"

Another scene that best describes mom would be when the youngest son Randy would rather play with his food then actually eat it. She decides to play a game with him and the next thing you know Randy is snorting up his food like a little pig.

They say that a mother's work is never done and this holds true within this story as the narrator explains, "Mother had not had a hot meal for herself in 15 years!"

2. Dad was kind of a softy except for when things went awry. I like the narrator's description of his father, "He's a tapestry of obscenities when things go wrong."

Dad also took pride in the car he drove and treated it like a beauty queen. So when the car overheats, the narrator implies,

"Some men are Baptist, some men are Catholic, my old man's an Oldsmobile."

The father also attracted some strange company, in this case it was the neighbor's dogs. Every night after work he would pull into the driveway and be greeted by the Bumpus' hounds.
The Bumpus', our hillbilly neighbors, had at least 785 smelly dogs and they ignored every human being except my old man."

And then probably the most famous scene involving dad was his winning a contest and the prize: a very risque leg lamp. But he cautiously reminds his neighbors when he proudly displays it in the front picture window for all to see,
"It's a major award!"

3. Ralphie always carried the task of looking out for his kid brother Randy when walking to school. I love it when mom overdresses Randy, packs him tightly into a snow suit and doesn't realize it until her son complains, "I can't move my arms!"
Then we see the two boys headed for school and Randy having trouble standing up, let alone walk.

And then we have the misadventures of Ralphie.Within Ralphie's strategy of getting the Red Ryder bb-gun for Christmas we see some of his wildest dreams:

When Ralphie's teacher assigns the class to write a theme on what they want for Christmas, Ralphie envisions himself of not just getting an A for his composition on wanting a Red Ryder action rifle, but an A with an emphatic amount of plus
signs to follow(A+ + + + + + + +).

One of the great themes in this film is the nostalgic look back at what all of us may have went through as children. Everything from being confronted by the school bully to kids daring us to do the unthinkable.

On Ralphie's way home from school each day he and his friends are confronted by a school bully named Scott Fargus. And the narrator suggests,
"A bully, a toey, or a victim, in our world you were either of these."

After many days of being scared and bullied to death by Fargus and his sidekick, Ralphie finally lets him have it. Fargus would nail Ralphie in the face with a snowball and then,

"Something happened. A fuse blew. And I had gotten out of my skull!"

Ralphie tackles Fargus to the ground and begins to wail on him with fist-a-cuffs until blood appears. As the crowd of school children look on in amazement at what Ralphie was doing to Fargus and cheering Ralphie on, Ralphie's mother shows up just in time to pry her son off the school bully who had been wrecking havoc in the lives of every child within a five mile radius.

Later that evening Ralphie lies in his bedroom awaiting the wrath of his father while brother Randy hides under the kitchen sink tearfully exclaiming the inevitable,
"Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie!"

And then the unexpected happens. While eating dinner at the table, Ralphie's mother doesn't turn him in to his father. I think this is just another example of mom showing her tender side of trusting her sons and understanding the things they may go through in life's journey as children.

Another memorable scene in this story is the dare game in the school yard. A kid named Shwartz dares Ralphie's friend Frick into sticking his tongue on the frosty flagpole as Frick insists that nothing will happen.

"I triple-dog-dare you!" exclaims Schwartz.

Back in those days you were not allowed to back down from a triple-dog-dare otherwise you would be known as a coward for the rest of your days. So naturally Frick goes ahead and does the unthinkable and as soon as you could say,"Uh,oh", here comes the police and the fire department to rescue him. Frick is now quite the spectacle for all the school to see as his tongue is icicly glued to the flagpole.

One of the adventures I think all kids looked forward to was the great Christmas tree search. But for Ralphie this was one adventure he wished he never would have taken.Upon heading home with a Christmas tree in tow, the family vehicle has a tire blow out.Ralphie assists his father in changing the tire and then it happened; Ralphie drops all the lug nuts in the snow and,

"I slipped out the queen mother of all dirty words,'Oh, fudge!' Only I didn't say fudge."

When they arrive home Ralphie becomes what the narrator describes as,
"A connoisseur of soap in the mouth."

That night Ralphie dreams of placing guilt upon his parents for punishing him with the soap in the mouth routine, as he shows up at their doorstep years later blind,

"Your soap poisoning caused my blindness!" Ralphie declares.

On Christmas morning it is in the heart of every child to expect to receive what they had so galantly been wishing, hoping, and asking for all year. And the opening of gifts always brings at least one surprise which falls into the category of an
"Oh, gee wiz!" moment. And for Ralphie it was a gift from his Aunt Clara.

"Aunt Clara was under the delusion for years that I was four and a girl!"

Ralphie's mom demands he try on the gift he has just unwrapped from Aunt Clara, and so when he reappears in a pink pajama outfit his father claims,
"He looks like a deranged Easter bunny!"

Despite all of Ralphie's misfortunes, mistakes, and failures throughout the year, Ralphie's father knows his son's heart. And so Ralphie receives the desire of his heart on this particular Christmas, the Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Rifle.