Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas message from Joseph Prince

   "My friend, if all is silent and dark in your life now, and you feel like you have been left out in the cold, just know that Jesus came to be your Savior at such a time as this.
    He was not born in the comfort of a warm, cozy room, but in a cold manger. There was no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2:7), so that there will always be room at the cross for your healing, deliverance, wholeness and provision, and a mansion in heaven waiting for you!
Jesus was born very quietly, so quietly that the Bible says that only a group of shepherds came to Him, while the rest of Bethlehem slept. (Luke 2:8–9) Like manna falling quietly from heaven in the Old Testament, the true bread from heaven came quietly. It was a silent night, but that was not all.
    Jesus was also born during the darkest time in Israel’s history. Israel was under the tyrannical rule of the Romans. It was during this time, when everything was so dark, that Jesus was born. Beloved, He will come to you in the darkest period of your life.
    On that cold and silent night, the shepherds were afraid when the angel of the Lord stood before them. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
    Beloved, it was not a judge or lawgiver who was born. It was a mighty Savior. He came to save His people. He came to save you and me. So even if you are in a cold, dark period of your life, don’t be afraid—the Savior has come and He will save you to the uttermost!" -Joseph Prince

   "You are probably familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The Bible says that when the time had come, Mary “brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger”. (Luke 2:6–7) But have you ever wondered why the angel told the shepherds that the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger was a “sign”?
     A manger is actually a feeding trough for livestock. Do you know what a feeding trough in those days looks like? I have seen a similar one at Solomon’s stables in Meggido, Israel. It is basically a big rectangular block of stone with the trough hewn out of it. So baby Jesus, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths, was placed in such a stone trough.
     But why was that a sign? Because if you have seen the empty tomb of Jesus at a place called The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, you would have noticed that the place where His body was laid, inside a tomb hewn out of rock, resembles a stone trough. The Bible says that after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen and laid it in a tomb hewn out of a rock. (Mark 15:43–46)
    Can you see the similarities? Wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, baby Jesus would one day be wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb. That was the sign the angel was referring to. It pointed to Jesus’ death.
Jesus was the only child in all of humanity born to die. Once you realize that, you will realize how much God loves you. You will realize that He gave up His Son for that one purpose, and that His Son willingly came for that one purpose—to die for your sins and mine.
     Beloved, can you imagine living your life knowing that you are just qualifying yourself to die on the cross to save the world? That was the life that Jesus lived. He lived to die, so that we might live and enjoy life abundantly today!" -Joseph Prince

"The merriest of Christmases to you all! God bless you, and a wonderful New Year! Each and every one of you be blessed to rest in the perfect love and finished work of my Lord Jesus, the Christ, son of the living God! MERRY CHRISTMAS!" -Rock Baker

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Quick Look: A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983-color)


   A CHRISTMAS STORY, the last classic film to really become a certified Christmas tradition, remains a seasonal favorite in the hearts of Americans. Christmas movies have been made since, of course, but few -if any- ever captured the public as did this film version of humorist Jean Shepherd's recollections of his boyhood mania to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Set in a sort of nostalgic dream version of 1940, the film acts as a send up of the entire season and it's activities. Told from a child's point of reference, the focus is entirely upon the secular side of the holy day. Beyond the main focus, however, is a rich tapestry which brings out new gems every time it's viewed. A truly timeless movie. The film was a hit, and became increasingly popular through video and television play. It's become common practice for some stations to marathon the film all through Christmas day. A decade later, a sequel was made, about Ralphie's adventures that following Summer, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (one of two major releases under that title that year). MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Quick Look: ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1987-color)


   ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS was only the second feature film to star Jim Varney's commercial pitch-man-turned-American icon, but for my money is the best of the lot. Santa Claus has decided to retire and comes to Florida to recruit his replacement. Along the way, he meets up with your old buddy Ernest, and the two join forces to save Christmas as well as help out a teen runaway. A fast clip, solid performances, and a funny script are produced under the quality associated with Disney. The film was a hit, and Ernest was back on theater screens very shortly. Produced right around the same time was the Saturday morning series Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, which recycled a number of props created for ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (as well as the earlier DR. OTTO AND THE RIDDLE OF THE GLOOM BEAM). This one features a number of brilliant slapstick routines and sharp dialog, balanced against some genuine drama. I always try to work this one into my seasonal viewing.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Quick Look: WILL VINTON'S CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION (1988 - color)


   In the 80's and early 90's, Will Vinton's patented Claymation technique was used for a number of television commercial campaigns, most famously The California Raisins -which were later spun off into a pair of Claymation specials and a traditionally-animated Saturday morning cartoon series. WILL VINTON'S CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION was a video and television special which hit all the right marks. A series of Christmas songs are interpreted in various sketches, hosted by the dinosaur comedy team of Herb and Rex. Rex was an intellectual who tried to keep order. Herb was a gluttonous screwball. The results were very much in the vein of Abbott and Costello. Rex and Herb had sprang from an earlier classroom short about dinosaurs, though they had but one tiny scene and didn't speak. I'd love to think there was more Herb and Rex material, but I'm not aware of their being used beyond this seasonal favorite. The California Raisins appear, just prior to starring in their first special, MEET THE RAISINS, climaxing the festivities with a snappy version of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." WILL VINTON'S CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION was a true high mark for the studio. Hard to figure why Claymation had vanished by the end of the following decade (actually, I imagine Claymation suffered from the same thing that killed traditional animation, the arrival of computer animation and Pixar).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Quick Look: RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964 - color)


   RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER was significant in television history, being the very first of the Rakin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials that have since become a holiday tradition. Naturally, this one is based on the novelty song made popular by Gene Autry in the 40's, about a put-upon reindeer with a freakish deformity which ultimately wins him much adulation when he proves Santa's only hope for navigation in a particularly nasty snowstorm. Burl Ives, in guise of a living snowman, hosts our story, and this time the tale includes such trappings as a gung-ho explorer, abominable snow monster, an entire island of misfit toys, and an elf who dreams of becoming a dentist. (I'm never sure if the guy's name is supposed to be Hermie or Herbie, both are clearly said.) "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" was recorded for the special, and since became another standard for the season! Beware of more recent releases and TV airings, which reportedly have dialog removed in a typically inane effort of make the show more PC. The show was a hit, and reportedly scenes were added after first broadcast to address concerns of viewers who noted there was no resolution to the Island of Misfit Toys subplot. Rankin/Bass had found it's niche, and the next decade saw something of a tradition of presenting new specials every couple years or so.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: THE MUPPET SHOW


   The Muppet Show kicked off a long series of projects featuring the assembled characters of Kermit the frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and the rest of the gang. Prior, Raulph the dog had appeared on The Jimmie Dean Show and the public access educational program Sesame Street had found it's legs, but The Muppet Show finally brought the inventive antics of Jim Henson and Co. to prime time in a regular series devoted to their talents. The format of the show was that a celebrity guest star would be performing at a live stage theater which was being rented by the Muppets. Kermit was MC, as well as the level head that tried to keep the weirdos in his employ from going completely wild. The Muppet Show only used the theater concept as a backdrop, and more frequently acted as a spoof of television in general (a 90's update of the show called Muppet's Tonight actually took place within a Muppet-controlled television station). Running skits included "Veterinary Hospital", a spoof of daytime soaps, and the popular send-up of space serials "Pigs In Space." Comedy skits, musical numbers, and surreal art pieces swirled together with parodies of news broadcasts, kiddie science shows, and stand-up comedy. And then there were the guest stars, which included some of the biggest stars of the moment. Pictured is Vincent Price, discussing with Kermit what it takes to play a vampire (which, oddly, Price never actually played on the screen). One infamous episode had as it's guests the cast of STAR WARS in character as their big screen counterparts! Watching all this and making droll comment was perennial box-seat patrons Statler and Waldorf, elder coots who delighted in tearing down the entertainment. Comic Fozzie Bear in particular drew their ire. A delightful show, to say the least. The Muppet Theater setting would become the location of later features, including IT'S A VERY MERRY MUPPET CHRISTMAS MOVIE.

stills for KING KONG VS GODZILLA






Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson


   The Tonight Show ran for decades, and I guess technically is still running. Begun under the hostship of Steve Allen, and then Jack Parr, it really hit it's stride with the coming of actor/comedian Johnny Carson. Carson had forged his skills of comedy and interviews through his solo series The Johnny Carson Show and the game show Who Do You Trust?, where Johnny first worked with character actor and TV pitch-man Ed MacMahon. Carson's easy, friendly manner and ability to get a fun story out of average people made him the perfect late night talk show host. He remains the standard against which others are measured (though few, if any to've come since, measure up). Johnny, as host of The Tonight Show, became a phenomenon welcomed into most every television-owning home in the United States (and a few other countries) for thirty-plus years. The format of the show was pretty simple. Johnny would open with a monologue, then go to his desk and do a bit with Ed. From there it was a series of interviews broken up by occasional comedy skits by either Johnny or one of his guests. In the course of the series, Carson interviewed some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, as well as a who's-who of political figures, and a kooky assortment of regular folk with a good story to tell. Johnny's reign as the king of late-night television lasted through the last great era of fame. Notorious for taking vacations, Johnny's chair was frequently filled-in by an eclectic assortment of guest hosts. Toward the end, it was usually comedian Jay Leno who filled this position. When Johnny finally decided to retire, it was Leno who took over as host. Leno's version of the show lasted long enough for Jay to be considered the reining monarch of late-night, "the old guy" to so many youngsters who never saw the show during it's greatest influence. Johnny had a unique gift, a persona of being an average Joe while at the same time being the biggest star in showbiz. This truly endeared him to viewers, who over time began to see Johnny as a member of the family. Along with Ed, Johnny's team included band-leader/musician Doc Severinson, he known for his hideous, Herb Tarlek-like suits. Doc's sidekick and occasional fill-in was Tommy Newsom, the amiable human sleeping pill. Not long after Johnny retired, his estate licensed a video collection of Carson's favorite moments from his long run as host. A bit better, full routines and skits were packaged as the syndicated Johnny Carson And Friends. Recent years find the full episodes of The Tonight Show airing on Antenna TV under the title Johnny Carson. Even decades after his passing, Johnny remains an American institution.

A dandy double!


THE DEADLY MANTIS poster art


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: THE SECRET SERVICE


   The Secret Service is one of the most obscure teleseries ever produced by a major company. The show was barely seen in it's native England (only regionally broadcast there) and never aired in the States. It has only lately been discovered in large part by the DVD release. The Secret Service was Gerry Anderson's final Supermationation series, and combined live action sequences with it's puppetry -which itself was about as advanced as you could get without just doing it with actors anyway. Charming, quirky, and relatively small scale compared to the earlier shows, The Secret Service was built around comic actor Stanley Unwin. Unwin voiced (and in long shots doubled) Father Stanley Unwin, an unassuming Catholic priest with a beloved 1917 Model T Ford. What most weren't aware of was the fact that Father Unwin had been recruited by the spy organization B.I.S.H.O.P. as a field agent. Unwin had in his possession the last work of a great scientist who was a member of his flock, a miniaturizer ray camouflaged as a book. Assigned to Unwin was special agent Matthew Harding (pictured), who would routinely be miniaturized to a foot high to engage in espionage activities -carried about in a special case by Father Unwin. A priest makes for an unusual spy, chiefly in that he can't lie. To aid in misdirection, Unwin uses a peculiar sort of gibberish which was actually a bit of the real Stanley Unwin's act. Unwinese, it was called, and it defies written description. The distributor didn't think the show would make it in the all-important American market, and cancelled the show half-way through the broadcast of the pilot! The show lasted but 13 episodes, which is a shame, because it was really quite lovely.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A drawing of Christ


A Quick Look at TV: THE HONEYMOONERS


   For many, I Love Lucy's biggest competitor for best 50's sitcom remains The Honeymooners. Born of a series of sketches done on The Jackie Gleason Show, the filmed series told of Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden and his eternal search for a better life for himself and his long-suffering (though quite beautiful) wife, Alice. They lived in a run-down apartment building near their best friends, the Nortons -kooky Ed and his more stable wife, Trixie. The show was loved mainly for it's cast. Jackie Gleason, of course, was the dimwitted dreamer and designated loser Ralph. Audrey Meadows was originally turned down for the part of Alice on the grounds that she was too glamorous (a set of in-character photos convinced Gleason she was right for the part). Joyce Randolph was the most passive personality the show offered in the form of patient-but-opinionated Trixie. The real break-out star of the series was Art Carney as Ed Norton. Ralph's frustrations manifested largely in a big mouth and thundering voice, with which he would often berate Alice (though we has quick to apologize -even during a heated argument- if he ever crossed the line). Despite his bravado, Ralph often evidenced fear of his wife, and the thought of ever losing her. What some people have missed is that the Kramdens, for all their fighting, genuinely loved each other. One needs look no further than the episode in which gangsters tie the cast down and take Ralph into the next room. During what is perceived to be a savage beating on Ralph, Meadows unleashes some of the most spine-tingling shrieks of concern ever recorded. Ralph's biggest problem was that he was short-sighted. While often thinking of himself first, he did have concerns about his wife's future, and she meant just as much if not more to him than he himself often did. His attempted verbal abuses of her were more the result of his anger at himself, and his inability to give Alice what he knew she really deserved. (It's also obvious that Ralph knew Alice could take it, otherwise he might've moderated his tone a little.) Thus, a layer of psychological complexity marked The Honeymooners, and kept it fresh over decades of reruns. Only 39 episodes were filmed as official Honeymooners segments (the kinescoped "lost episodes" which hit video and TV syndication were segments taken from the old The Jackie Gleason Show). The characters would be revived for a series of specials throughout the 60's. It would also inspire The Flintstones, the first prime-time animated sitcom.