Chris Hornbostel

Christmas Carol Movies, Stave VII: A Christmas Carol (2009)

, | Movie reviews

There were at least three major animated versions of Christmas Carol made during the sixties and seventies, from the Mister Magoo adaptation to the half-hour production that won an Emmy for animation. Those versions were all made for television, though, and generally have that cheap, TV veneer about them; you can even tell where the breaks are for commercials. But in 2009, movie blockbuster impresario Robert Zemeckis brought a new, state-of-the-art 3D animated version of Scrooge and company to the big screen. With a $200 million budget, Zemeckis would have a truly special opportunity to make a Christmas Carol adaptation completely unfettered by production budget constraints.

After the jump, an opportunity lost

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave VI: A Christmas Carol (1999)

, | Movie reviews

In the mid-1990s, Sir Patrick Stewart (taking a break from his Captain Picard duties on film) embarked on a successful run on Broadway performing a one-man stage version of “A Christmas Carol”. The rave reviews for these shows apparently attracted the interest of Turner Broadcasting executives, who came to the actor with what must’ve been an alluring pitch. Would Stewart be interested in playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a new film adaptation for the company’s TNT network? A large production budget was promised, along with the participation of writer/adapter Peter Barnes and director David Jones, names that Stewart knew from the London theater community. 

And a promise was made: this version would be the one that was “The most faithful film to Dickens’ original book ever created.” 

After the jump, but is that a good thing?

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave V: A Christmas Carol (1984)

, | Movie reviews

By the fall of 1984, the CBS television network’s golden years were starting to fade. Norman Lear was out, and Falcon Crest, Knot’s Landing, Airwolf and Dukes of Hazzard were in.  Oscar-winning actor George C. Scott’s career was on the wane, too; the glory days of Patton and Dr. Strangelove a distant memory. As for English director Clive Donner, about the best that can be said was that he was simply doing hack work. When he wasn’t helping to crank out TV movies, he was churning out feature film nonsense like “The Nude Bomb” or “Old Dracula”.


That’s an inauspicious creative foundation on which to build the best filmed version of A Christmas Carol. Yet somehow, that’s exactly what happened.

After the jump, made for TV magic

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave IV: Scrooge (1970)

, | Movie reviews

There are two ways to look at Scrooge, the 1970 Christmas Carol adaptation that recast the Dickens classic as a musical.  One view is to wonder why in the world this classic story needs choreographed musical numbers and what is sometimes only barely on-key singing by the lead character. The opposing view is a more direct appeal: when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, what fits the mood of that sequence any better than Ebenezer singing and dancing through the streets of London?

After the jump, they’re going to sing again, aren’t they?

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave III: A Christmas Carol (1951)

, | Movie reviews

Charles Dickens is something of a national treasure in the UK, an artist with words whose prose manages who manages the neat trick of being respected academically while remaining popular with the public; “A Christmas Carol” is one of his most admired and beloved works. So in post-war Britain, it was a bit galling that the 1938 movie adaptation of the novella was a hit and accepted as somewhat definitive. That Reginald Owen version was a distinctly Hollywood thing, a blazingly professional production of the treasured story, but one that captured little of the heart and grit and soul that Dickens had poured into his original writing. 16 years after the first UK attempt at A Christmas Carol and slightly more than a decade after the MGM version, British studio Renown Pictures was ready to reclaim Scrooge back to his merrie olde roots.

After the jump, the definitive version?

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave II: A Christmas Carol (1938)

, | Movie reviews

My own natural inclination in film appreciation is an almost knee-jerk mistrust of mainstream Hollywood. I associate the movie business – particularly when the studio system reigned supreme – with making films as product. Box office profits were priority one in in the rising industry of the 1930s and 1940s; artistic merit often seemed an accidental occasional by-product. With all that being said, however, sometimes the sheer, brutal competency of a major Hollywood studio has its advantages, too. 

After the jump, Dickens emerges from the darkness

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Christmas Carol Movies, Stave I: Scrooge (1935)

, | Movie reviews

If “A Christmas Carol” movies have become part of a worldwide seasonal ritual these days, the first “talkie” version of the Dickens book is an inauspicious beginning. Watching it today, it’s hard to imagine that movie versions of the story would ever become much of a big deal. The 1935 adaptation – setting a bit of a precedent by being called simply “Scrooge” – is hands-down the funniest of all the various versions of the movie we’ll review here. Unfortunately, all of that comedy is unintentional.

After the Jump, the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Christmas Carols

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‘Tis the season to watch A Christmas Carol. At least seven of them.

, | Features

Since I was a wee tot, I’ve been enthralled by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his 1843 five-chapter novella, and particularly its filmed adaptations. I’ve seen them all.  “Canonical” versions true to the short story, loose adaptations, short cartoon versions, versions with Mickey Mouse, versions with Muppets, versions with Mr. Magoo, and even alternate settings that kind of work.  An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler is almost good. 1989’s Scrooged, on the other hand, is a noisy, soulless mess. But over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing up the seven major filmed/animated versions that try to hew closely to the original story. 

But first, let’s discuss the points that should be in any version of A Christmas Carol, as well as some important bits that are usually left out.

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Presenting the winners of 2016’s annual Quarter to Three Quarterlies

, | Games

Way back in 2007, the Quarter to Three community voted on the best games of the previous year. The numbers were tallied, the winners declared, and the awards weren’t handed out in an extravagant ceremony hosted by Geoff Keighley. It was our own Peoples Choice Awards, decided by the folks who hang out in the virtual spaces of our forum. We’ve been doing these annual Quarterlies ever since.

So what game is the big winner after ten years of Annual Quarterlies? Continue reading →

Make October Scare Again

, | Features

Just before the start of fifth grade, my family moved across town to a new neighborhood and subdivision. I only knew a few kids on my street since I stayed at my old school. October and Halloween could have been awkward, so I was thrilled and relieved when some neighbor kids asked me to go trick-or-treating with them. My parents didn’t seem to bat an eye at this (though I think they’d gotten to know the other parents in the neighborhood pretty well), and on Halloween night I set off with three kids I’d known for less than a month, after dark, in a neighborhood I barely knew.

After the jump, welcome to old school Halloween. Continue reading →

A new golden age of horror movies

, | Features

Last year Tom and I spent the month of October covering 30 years of horror movies, from the first red blood in a Hammer film on through to the dusty desert vampires of Near Dark. We covered the rise of the genre into the modern era and mainstream acceptance. We wrote about some of the most influential, interesting, and (hopefully) frightening films of that time period and really enjoyed talking about them with folks in the comments and on the forums. For this October, I figured we would pick up where we left off in 1987, and bring you a bunch of great horror movies from that year on through the 1990s.

There was just one problem with that. The 1990s were the worst decade for horror movies in the history of cinema.

After the jump, a single week turns the tables Continue reading →

Labyrinth Games and Puzzles is mom-owned awesomeness on Capitol Hill

, | Features

Normally in this space there’ll be a review of a game, and as a potential player you can decide whether or not it’s something you might want to play in the future. Instead of reviewing and recommending an actual game here, I’d like to do something a bit different and recommend a board game store.

One of the inherent disadvantages of tabletop gaming in comparison to videogames is the lack of instant gratification. Thanks to digital delivery, I can buy and play a new videogame in a matter of hours, perhaps even minutes. I don’t even have to put on pants and leave my home. I can also join other players without any face-to-face interaction with them or their possible nasty habits.

But to play a boardgame, unless I’m willing to wait for a delivery, I have to hoof it to a local game store. Local game stores frequently and sometimes literally stink. They’re typically utilitarian, dingy, and clumsily thrown together. The extent of customer service too often tops out at a nod from an uninterested person behind a counter. Furthermore, random gamers playing at tables can seem standoffish, if not downright unfriendly. It’s tough for a new player to find a group that he actually likes.

So I was absolutely delighted to discover a the small miracle of a store that bucks all those stereotypes. Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington DC is a glorious, astonishing exception.

After the jump, heaven can be other people Continue reading →

The Secret World: the clothes make the toon

, | Game diaries

In every mainstream MMO, the gear your character collects acts, alongside the abilities you choose for your toon, as a gate for accessing more content. It’s an incredibly powerful carrot to dangle in front of players. Get more stuff with better stats and you get to level up and see more of the world. If the equipment the game gives you both looks good and improves your chances of survival, so much the better.

Secret World, though, makes a big part of the loot chase — namely armor — invisible on your character. This effectively divides equipment so that the useful gear you wear can be divorced from the cosmetic way your character appears onscreen. I’m not only chasing loot for practical reasons to improve my guy, but separately I’m also on the lookout for outfits that make him look sharp, too.

After the jump, does this hoodie make my toon look fat? Continue reading →

The Secret World: we’ll always have Solomon Island

, | Game diaries

In college, I spent many hours in the Ellis Library at the University of Missouri. The gigantic old building is a huge and somewhat forbidding place. The farther up you go, the less light you encounter. Shelves of books press together against narrow aisles, with study desk cubbyholes squeezed in wherever they fit. I’m guessing it’s fairly typical for big universities. But whoever designed the top of the Innsmouth Academy knows places like the Ellis Library.

After the jump, shhhh! Continue reading →

The Secret World: can this World be saved?

, | Game diaries

When an MMO launches, it does so trumpeting the boldest of intentions for its continuing evolution and development. That’s especially true for a game launched with a subscription model, like The Secret World. Sure enough, when Funcom released the game 16 months ago, Game Director Ragnar Tornquist bravely predicted monthly content updates would follow.

You could almost see the disaster coming here. An ill-advised publishing deal with EA produced no significant pre-release marketing, but may have contributed to the game being rushed to launch. As released, The Secret World was plagued by frustrating bugs to fundamental things like quests and chat that the Funcom team struggled to fix over a six week span of time. Sales were awful, large-scale layoffs at Funcom ensued, and when Tornquist abruptly “stepped aside” a year ago, I’d have laid even money that The Secret World wouldn’t live to see 2013.

After the jump, it’s not a bad little tree at all, Charlie Brown. Maybe it just needs a little love. Continue reading →