Interview with “A Christmas Story” star Zack Ward

Ever since his debut as Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story” over three decades ago, Zack Ward has steadily carved out a career both in front of and behind the camera.  But there is a lot more to Cleveland Street’s best known bully.

Zack and co-star Scott Schwartz will be appearing in Omaha this Friday, November 10, where they will host a charity screening of “A Christmas Story.” I had the opportunity to speak with Zack this week and he shared his thoughts about the film and his career.

Mike Smith:  Why do you think, more than 30 years after its release, “A Christmas Story” is still so popular?

Zack Ward:  I’ve been asked that question many times over the years and I’ve been able to give the answer a lot of thought.  It has something to do with the combination of many things.  The writing.  The story is the same story structure of Homer’s “The Iliad.”  A young boy goes on a mythical adventure.  He fights all of these different demons.  And he does this to finally earn the respect of his father.  That’s what the B.B. gun is about.  It’s not that it’s a toy.  It could have been anything.  If you remember what happens at the very end of the film, when the father says to Ralphie, “What’s that behind the tree?”  The mom doesn’t even know what’s there.  And he finds the B.B. gun and the mom is upset.  But he tells her that he had one when he was that age.  What the whole statement of the B.B. gun is is a coming of age.  It’s the father’s acceptance of the son being responsible and becoming a man.  Transitioning from being a child.  And getting that respect from the parents that you adore means everything.  It doesn’t matter what the toy is.  What matters is what it represents.

MS:  That is the greatest answer to that question that I’ve ever gotten.

ZW:  (laughs)  Thank you.  I’ve had many years to ponder this.  The other thing is the direction.  If you look at the film again, and I’m sure you will now, you’ll notice that it is shot from the child’s view.  Bob Clark had the camera lowered so that the camera was always shooting from Ralphie’s point of view.  That never happens.  Usually adults are looking down on children.  In this situation, it’s always from the child’s perspective.  At a certain point, Bob Clark had them remove the floor from part of the set to ensure they could get the camera dolly low enough in order to have the right perspective.  He fought for that tooth and nail.  Also, the film is multi-generational.  It’s what they call in the industry “co-viewership.”  It’s like “Modern Family.”  You can watch “Modern Family” if you’re a grandpa, if you’re a mom, if you’re a dad, if you’re a teenager or if you’re a kid.  And “A Christmas Story” captivates all of those life moments.  You can see it as a child.  Understand it as a parent.  And reflect on it as an adult, thinking about your own childhood.  I’ve been amazed to watch 70-year old men with their 50-year old sons and 25-year old grandsons and 5-year old great-great grandsons walk up to me because they all want to meet the kid from “A Christmas Story.”  And they’re all surprised it’s me because they actually think it was shot in the 1940s.  That’s the thing that’s incredible.  How multi-generational it is.  How inclusive it is.  There’s no CGI.  There’s no special effects.  It’s just a great story that connects with people.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory from the shoot?

ZW:  Yes I do.  My favorite memory from the shoot was when I came to the set one day.  We were shooting in Cleveland and there was no snow.  It was the middle of winter and all of the lawns were dark brown.  Cleveland at that time was not a city you really wanted to be in.  It was going through a very severe economic crisis.

MS:  I was born in Cleveland so I know what you’re talking about.

ZW:  So you know.  We were not allowed to go outside of the hotel after 6:00 pm for good reason.  It was a scary place at night.  We walked down to the set, to the house which is now a museum, and we turned the corner.  And every other street is just brown grass and ugly lawns.  But in the middle of the street is a house covered in snow.  With a big tree in the yard full of icicles glistening in the sun.  And it was all man-made.  That for me was a “wow” moment.  It took my breath away and still today I remember that feeling…that anything is possible.

MS:  You have worked steadily since “A Christmas Story,” which is very rare for someone whose career started when they were a child.  What’s your secret?

ZW:  (laughs)  I think it’s because I’ve got this face that people look at and want to punch!  It’s not my fault.  I’m a sweetheart of a guy.  I just happen to have slanty eyes and red hair.  And I really think people want to punch me in the face.  Definitely it’s helped.  (laughs)

MS:  You’ve written and directed in the past.  Do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?

ZW:  I’m actually in the process of doing that now.  I’m writing a series called “Fracture” and we go into pre-production in December.  It’s a series I co-created with a friend of mine and I’m the single writer on it.  I won’t be directing this one but I will be executive-producing and writing.  But I do love directing.  I’m actually getting ready to direct a commercial being shot in Akron, Ohio in about a week.  I love working on both sides of the camera.  The one job I hate is producing.  It sucks!  It’s such a horrible job.  Everybody blames you for everything and nobody thanks you for anything.  No matter what you pay them!

MS:  Anything else coming up soon?

ZW:  Yes.  Onscreen I have a T.V. show called “Swedish Dicks,” as in detectives.  The old, 1940s style term.  He’s a flatfoot.  I appear with Peter Stormare and a little fella named Keanu Reeves.  I tell you, I don’t know but I think he’s got a career ahead of him.  I’m also working on something I’m very excited about outside the entertainment environment.  It’s called “All Sports Market” and it is the world’s first stock market for sports team.  We’ve been working on it for the past 15 years and we’ve had a data model up for the last 3.  The whole concept is that you can buy shares in your favorite sports team.  And you can sell or trade them like you would stocks.  It’s something that goes back to the Roman times, when at the Coliseum people would place their bets.  And the sport always suffers because someone always takes a dive.  Even if there is a suspicion of collusion towards throwing the game, gambling sours sports.  It poisons it like a cancer.  This takes that element out of the game.  And it allows parents to bond with their children over their favorite sports teams.  Do you have any children?

MS:  One

ZW:  How old is he?

MS:  33

ZW:  If you said to your 10-year son, “hey buddy, let’s talk about market fluctuation and dividends and stock prices because you need to learn how to be an investor so you won’t be homeless when you’re 33,” I can pretty much guarantee you that he would fall asleep or start crying.  But if you find out his favorite team, you can tell him that together you’re going to buy 10 shares in his favorite team and you can watch what happens over the season.  It’s something you can do together.  And by the end of the season you’re son or daughter is now financially literate.  They know how to make investments.  Because you took the moment and educated them on something important while to them they were just talking with dad about their favorite team.

You can learn more by going to www.AllSportsMarket.com.  And if you sign up you get $2500.00 of play currency, what we call “learning capital.”  The whole thing now is a learning market.

MS:  Last question.  You run into Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) in an alley.  Who wins the fight this time?

ZW:  (laughs)  Is there any doubt in your mind that Scut Farkus took a dive?  Another point against sports gambling.  You KNEW I took a dive.  I was bought out.  I went down harder than a sack of potatoes.  I’ve got a couple of black belts and was in “Black Belt” magazine so I think I’d do well.  On the flip side, Peter did produce “Iron Man” so he’s probably got more bodyguards!

 

 

 

Blu-ray Review “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Actors: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Directors: Gareth Edwards
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Run Time: 133 minutes

Film: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was a very risky film in the “Star Wars” universe but it also paid off 10x. I want to start with I commend the director Gareth Edwards for taking on such a challenging project and yet still come out looking like a rock star leaving even the most hardcore “Star Wars” fans satisyed. This film is a great stand alone to the series which tells a very important story seperately like still keeping the big universe in its eye sight and giving us perfect cameos of characters like Darth Vader and even Princess Leia (via CGI). An obvious must see for any “Star Wars” fans and let me tell you it gets better and better with each viewing.

Here is the film’s premise: Jyn Erso, a Rebellion soldier and criminal, is about to experience her biggest challenge yet when Mon Mothma sets her out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. With help from the Rebels, a master swordsman, and non-allied forces, Jyn will be in for something bigger than she thinks.

The Blu-ray presentation of “Rogue One” is nearly flawless. The 1080p transfer looks perfect and the “Star Wars” “universe has never looked sharper. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track delivers a flawless sound for this film and packs a helluva punch! With every blaster to droid sound to John Williams score, the sound is just perfect. The film comes in a combo pack with a Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Digital HD copy.

The special features are decent and worth checking out. Not perfect like everything else on this release but still impressive. There is a collection of featurettes focusing on all aspects of the production. “A Rogue Idea” takes the film getting started from the idea pitch. “Jyn: The Rebel” looks at the lead character in this story. “Cassian: The Spy” focusing on Diego Luna character. If you can guess which the next featurette is focused on with “K-2SO: The Droid”, who stole the show. If you are catching the drift here the characters are all covered in featurettes and even the Empire has its own assorted one. Lastly there are featurettes on the digital effects and Rogue cameos.

Masked Intruder Premiers New Video for “First Star Tonight”

MASKED INTRUDER PREMIERES NEW VIDEO FOR “FIRST STAR TONIGHT” AT PUNKTASTIC.COM

Enigmatic pop-punk misfits Masked Intruder have premiered a new video for “First Star Tonight” via Punktastic.com. The track is taken off latest EP Love and Other Crimes out via Pure Noise Records. The record is available for purchase at iTunes and at http://maskedintruder.merchnow.com/.

Watch the video for “First Star Tonight” now at Punktastic.com: http://bit.ly/2jAGooN

Masked Intruder will tour the UK with Me First and The Gimme Gimmes later this month.

For More Information:

https://www.facebook.com/maskedintruder

 

Blu-ray Review “Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two”

Actors: Taylor Gray, Vanessa Marshall, Tiya Sircar, Jr. Freddi Prinze, Steve Blum
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Run Time: 484 minutes

Season: 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

When the first season of “Star Wars Rebels” started, my daughter and I were all in. We watched religiously and enjoyed the first season. Honestly, I did enjoy the second season but I wasn’t overall blown away by it and I don’t feel that IN WHOLE it superseded the first. The best part of the season was the return of Ahsoka Tano, Darth Maul and the introduction of animated Darth Vader. For me those three things saved the season. Otherwise, I honestly don’t even remember much else from it. Hopefully season 3 kicks off with a bang and delivers a better run to keep my interest in this show.

Official Premise: As Ezra Continues his journey to become a Jedi under Kanan’s guidance, the crew of the Ghost bands together with a secret rebel cell and ex-soldiers from the Clone Wars to join a fledgeling alliance to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy. But the dark side looms large as Darth Vader dispatches new Inquisitors, setting the stage for a climactic showdown in which terrible truths will be revealed and the lives of our heroes will be changed forever.

There is no shortage of great talent in this show. The series features the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr. (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) as Kanan, Vanessa Marshall (TV’s “Young Justice”) as Hera, Steve Blum (“The Boxtrolls”) as Zeb, Tiya Sircar (“The Internship”) as Sabine, Taylor Gray (TV’s “Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures”) as Ezra, Ashley Eckstein (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) as Ahsoka Tano, Dee Bradley Baker (“Phineas and Ferb”) as Captain Rex and EVERY clones (that’s right EVERY CLONE), David Oyelowo (“The Butler”) as Agent Kallus and Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) as The Seventh Sister Inquisitor.

The 1080p transfers looks good with the animation and colors perfectly for the TV series. My main issue with the presentation is the audio tracks. I am very disappointed that Disney only is giving us DVD-quality Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks for these episodes. This really feels like a mistake and a real missed opportunity. The special features are decent and worth checking out if you enjoyed the season and looking for some fun extras. “From Apprentice to Adversary: Vader vs. Ahsoka” is an exclusive to Blu-ray extra with Executive Producer Dave Filoni reflecting on the climactic ending of the season with Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader. “Connecting the Galaxy: Rebels Season Two” looks into easter eggs and other Star Wars connections from the show. Lastly “Rebel Recons” features 20 episode recons with behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with cast and crew, and more!

Film Review “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens”

Starring: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hrs 16 mins
Walt Disney Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

38 years ago…in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas introduced the world to what would become one of the most beloved film series in the history of Hollywood – “Star Wars.” In the ensuing years we’ve seen two sequels (well received) and three prequels (not as much). As the most anticipated film release that I can remember in some time, “The Force Awakens” has some big shoes to fill. And fill them it does.

As the film begins, the opening credit crawl tells us that Luke Skywalker has vanished. We are then introduced to three very different characters. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), with his droid B-88, may have a piece to the puzzle that is the missing Jedi. Finn (Boyega) is a storm trooper who, during battle, has a “what the hell am I doing here” moment. And Rey (Ridley) is a scrap collector looking out for herself. They have nothing in common yet they have everything in common. It is their stories that fuel the film.

As someone who grew up with the films, they were an important part of my youth and I won’t deny that I was skeptical about another film, especially after the middle-of-the-road quality of Episodes One-Three. But I needn’t have worried. What director J.J. Abrams, who so successfully returned the “Star Trek” series to prominence, has created, along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, is an adventure that you will want to take again and again. New characters take their place alongside familiar faces and if you don’t get misty eyed the first time Han Solo (Ford) shows up you probably have the heart of a gundar!

Technically the film is amazing. The one problem many fans had with the prequels was that the computerized special effects looked too perfect. Here, with a blend of practical effects and CGI, the universe is back in balance. Abrams utilizes these effects to move the story along smoothly. Those new to the series can enjoy this film without seeing any of the previous films but for those who have, Abrams and company have included a couple nods to the original films that will surely have you smiling, among them the fact that the imperial storm troopers are still HORRIBLE shots! I just caught you smiling, didn’t I?

Book Review “Star Wars: The Force Inside”

“Star Wars: The Force Inside”
Author: Put Me In The Story
Hardcover: 40 pages

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

In a galaxy far, far away, everyone must decide where their true allegiance lies. Are you Jedi or Sith? All the most powerful heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe are here to reveal “Star Wars: The Force Inside” First Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia ask questions to guide you and help you become a Jedi Master. Then the dark side of the Force will try to sway you as you flip the book over and meet General Grievous, Darth Vader and a long list of other characters from the dark side.

Just in time for the holidays is the latest offering from Put Me In The Story. “Star Wars: The Force Inside” is a hardcover bound 40 page adventure book that puts the reader directly in the story. Through www.Putmeinthestory.com readers can put theirs or their loved ones name and photo directly in the story making for a truly unique gift giving experience. “The Force Inside” offers two different reading experiences which allows you to follow either the path of the Jedi or that of the Sith with corresponding characters guiding you on your journey. Though some of the name placement points seemed a bit generic the quality of the product more than made up for it as the books hardcover and brightly detailed glossy pages made for an experience that was very appealing to the eye. Each story is about 20 pages and introduces the reader to a number of characters from the “Star Wars” universe which for me was really fun as you didn’t know who or what to expect from page to page.

Though the book is probably best suited for early readers and up the variety of pictures offer an enjoyable experience for “Star Wars” fans of all ages. With a price tag of $39.99 your getting a quality made item sure to provide hours of fun making this a great addition to the list of any would be Jedi/Sith Lord.

Keith Miller talks about new film “Five Star”

After almost a decade as a short-film maker, director Keith Miller hit pay dirt in 2012 when his first feature film, “Welcome to Pine Hill,” was either chosen, or nominated, as Best Narrative Feature at film festivals from Atlanta to Tribeca. With that history behind him, fans were ready for his next film, the gang drama “Five Star,” which again earned Miller acclaim both behind the camera and for his editing. Not to be outdone, he also wrote the screenplay!

Currently playing in New York City, the film opens today (July 31st) in Los Angeles and will be available on VOD and iTunes beginning August 4th. While promoting the upcoming release, Mr. Miller took time out to talk about “Five Star.”

Mike Smith: How did you conceive the story of “Five Star?”
Keith Miller: I wanted to tell a story about manhood, and what it means to be a man. I met Primo (Primo Grant, the star of “Five Star,” is a former member of the Bloods street gang) and we did a one-hour, on-camera conversation. We hung out a bunch of times and got close so I decided to tell a story and use a lot of the details from his stories. So that was the origination of setting the story in that locale and with those specific figures.

MS: A majority of the cast, Primo among them, are not professional actors. Was that something you looked for when casting…trying to gain more realism?
KM: Yes, definitely. There are a couple people in the film who are actors but the goal of the movie, and an important part of the decisions I make to heighten the realism, is my shooting style. The lighting…the choice of locations…and definitely casting. I want it to feel like the audience is actually visiting the places I’ve imagined and are being introduced to them and the people there.

MS: Because of Primo’s past was there ever a time he felt he needed to correct something in the script…maybe disagree with a line or a situation?
KM: Rarely. There was one point where we talked about him getting mad and mentioning his work with his family around and he said he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t talk about work at all in front of his kids. There were also small things in other scenes that, to him, didn’t feel right, but it was really no different than working with any other actor.

MS: You mentioned trying to achieve realism. The film almost has a documentary feel to it. Was that an intentional decision on your part?
KM: Yes. The inspiration for the movie is a lot of what I would consider “realist” movies from the past five years or so and also a lot of observational documentaries. Movies that really made you feel like you were experiencing something from the inside. I wanted the camera and the look of the movie to feel as non-judgmental and intimate as possible. I thought that if it were locked down on sticks…on a tripod…it might be more cinematically recognizable but also that it would feel more staged. And I didn’t want that. Also, two of the four camera operators I used shoot mostly documentaries and I really wanted to work with them.

MS: What else do you have coming up?
KM: I’m working on a comic web-series that was written by a friend of mine, Chris Poindexter. And I’m working on the script of my next feature, which is still in the early stages. I’ve got a long way to go!

Director Jeppe Rønde and star Hannah Murray talk about “Bridgend” at Tribeca Film Festival

Jeppe Rønde’s harrowing new drama Bridgend made its debut during the Tribeca Film Festival this past week with both the director and star Hannah Murray (“Game of Thrones”) in attendance. Bridgend is based on the true story of a massive series of teen suicides that occurred in a small town in Wales. The suicides received media coverage at a point where seventy-nine young people had taken their lives between 2007 and 2012. In the film, teenager Sarah (Murray) moves to Brigend with her police officer father and quickly finds herself running with the pack of local teens who’ve recently lost some of their peers to suicide. They are a wild bunch who borderline worship the deceased and memorialize them in an anonymous online chat. All the while Sarah’s father, like the rest of the community, seeks to find what is causing this horrible phenomenon.

This mystery intrigued director Rønde who spent time in the actual community and eventually shot the film there on location. Rønde and Murray both spoke to me on the red carpet about how important it was to dramatize the town’s story in a respectful manner.

Lauren Damon: You spent time in the actual community of Bridgend, what was that like and did you go there with the goal of developing a film about it?
Jeppe Rønde
: I went there with the–a goal is a strong word–but I went there to try and find out what is this about? And why is this tragedy happening? Which is of course may be a mystery, because it doesn’t make sense. Why do so many youngsters kill themselves? So I was trying to figure out how can this happen? And how can it keep on going?

LD: Was Hannah’s character influenced by a particular story that you found there?
JR: Not particular, but I wrote the whole script through all the characters that I met there. Many of them. And I mixed them into, you know, one character. So you couldn’t do like a one-to-one, ‘oh this is that character’, because I would never be able to do that. Because that would be morally incorrect. So I built it on the reality I met but also making it a fiction which was important to me. Because it cannot be too close to the real people living there…

LD: How did you find filming in the actual location?
JR: Actually to film on the location was very important to me. Because you feel the presence of what is there. The geography is specific. There’s a fog coming, you know every day it rains a lot. And it can feel depressing. And at the same time it is extremely beautiful. And it was easy for me to get the actors into this state of mind that I wanted them to be in.

LD: How much preparation went into your work with the DP to get this very ominous atmosphere?
JR:
Of course we wanted to push forward a feeling of something that would be this collective subconsciousness. Something that’s within us that’s a darkness. So we wanted to put that also into the shot.

LD: What would you want audiences to take away from the ending of the film?
JR: I hope that they will take away from the ending that this is something that is beyond understanding of who we are as human beings. That there’s something in us that we don’t know what it is…that if we do look into it carefully, then we can maybe choose one or the other. Because it is an open ending.

LD: Is this still going on? All the suicide statistics associated with the town seem to come from 2007 and 2012.
JR: Because that’s the only figures that you can find officially. But unfortunately yes, it is still happening. From what I heard and no one really knows, but the media was shut down in 2010. So it’s difficult to say, but you would have to ask the authorities there.

 

Hannah Murray, who currently plays Gilly on “Game of Thrones” had a breakout role in the UK teen TV drama “Skins” but saw the role of Sarah as a wholly different teen.

LD: What was your initial reaction to the script?
Hannah Murray: I’d never done something that was based on you know, based loosely on true events. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and I didn’t really want to get involved unless I thought things were going to be done sensitivly and respectfully. And when I had been offered the part I had a meeting with Jeppe to ask him why he wanted to make this film because I was worried about someone, I don’t know, wanting to do it in a kind of half-hearted way or taking advantage. So when I understood how long he’d taken to research it and how dedicated he was to the subject matter, and how involved he’d become with the community, I thought ‘Oh, you’re going to do this right and you’re going to do this honestly and bravely and compassionately.’ So that made me decide that it was something that it was worth jumping into.

LD: How was it shooting in that location?
HM: I don’t think we could have made the movie anywhere else. When you go there, you feel something very unique about that place and it’s beautiful. It’s incredibly beautiful but in a very bleak way. And there’s something kind of almost mystical and strange about it. I loved being there but it was, yeah you do feel a sort of sense of darkness in the air. Maybe that was because of the story we were telling though, I’m sure.

LD: You have this background coming from “Skins” of acting in the midst of a bunch of wild teens, did you feel a little like you were tapping into that again?
HM: I mean I feel like they’re incredibly different projects in sort of every way. Skins shows a dark side of teenage life but it also shows an incredibly fun and comedic side of teenage life. And in this, I mean, one of my friends saw this movie and described it as a gangster movie. Which I think is a really really interesting way of looking at it. And I think there’s a kind of, there’s a level of tribalism in this world that is so much more severe than anything that related to my teen experience. Whereas “Skins” I could kind of go like ‘Oh yeah, it was fun, we went to parties.” It was very different.

LD: How was it different on set with between the days you had you just acting with the pack of young actors versus the more intimate, intense scenes of just your character and her father?
HM: I mean that was one of the most amazing things about the project was all the different people I was working with were so different in terms of experience they’d had and the types of things they’d brought to these characters. So yeah, I remember every day we had the gang there it was just like this injection of energy and they were so exciting and would throw all these amazing lines that they’d improvised…And they would talk a thousand words a minute. And when I was working with Steve [Waddington] I felt like a child and when I was working with the kids I felt more like an adult because I felt sort of more responsible for them. And then I also had the love story with Josh O’Connor, which was a whole other element to play out…but I love everyone who worked on the film. It was such an amazing group of people.

LD: Finally, congratulations of continuing with Game of Thrones–especially this season’s opener being their highest rated–
HM: Oh was it?
LD: Apparently
HM: Oh that’s great!

LD: Why do you think the audience just keeps growing for it?
HM: I think it’s a REALLY good TV show. I think people put an incredible amount of hard work into it. The production values are really high and I just think David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and George [RR Martin] are geniuses. I just think they’re so smart…And George created this amazing world in the books and these incredible characters and then the way David and Dan have adapted it is beyond. I think they’re so so smart.

LD: And how many times a day does Kit Harrington have to hear he knows nothing?
HM: He gets told quite a few times. Not by our crew, but I’ve seen people come up to him in the street and that’s allllways the thing they want to say to him.

LD: How about you, do you get fan recognition out and about?
HM: Um, a bit. Less so than I think some of the others. I think because I’m–well, now I have red hair, but I’m normally blond in real life whereas I have dark hair in the show so I can kind of be a little bit more under the radar. But I still, I’m surprised how many people still spot me. I think because there are so many fans of the show.

Book Review “Star Wars: The Original Trilogy – Read-Along Storybook and CD”

Age Range: 6 – 8 years
Grade Level: 1 – 3
Series: Read-Along Storybook and CD
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press

Our Scores: 5 out of 5 stars

I am very excited that Disney has decided to release the original trilogy for “Star Wars” in a kid friendly Read-Along Storybook with a CD included. I have a 3 year old daughter and she loves “Star Wars” already and this is the perfect way to get introduced to the original trilogy in a fun and exciting way.

The books are fully illustrated with images by “Star Wars” artist Brian Rood. The images are crisp and the dialogue (though not original) easy to read. Included with this storybook series is a CD with word-for-word narration, music, and character voices. I find that it really engages my daughter with the beeps to turn the page and exciting sound effects.

“Star Wars: A New Hope”: Experience Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope like never before! Follow along as Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, rescues Princess Leia, and faces Darth Vader for the first time.

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”: The Rebellion faces its darkest hour in Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. Follow along as Luke Skywalker trains with Yoda to become a Jedi and defeat the fearsome Darth Vader.

“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” The Rebellion begins a desperate mission to defeat the Empire once and for all in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Follow along as Luke Skywalker and the rest of the rebels take on the Empire’s deadliest weapon yet–a new Death Star.

Disney, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox Announce The Star Wars Digital Movie Collection

/ PR Newswire / — As anticipation builds for the December release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first new film in the Star Wars Saga in a decade, The Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd., and 20th Century Fox today announced the upcoming release of The Star Wars Digital Movie Collection. For the first time ever, all six epic films in the Saga, from The Phantom Menaceto Return of the Jedi, will be available on Digital HD throughout the galaxy – or at least here on Earth – globally beginning Friday, April 10.

“Since the debut of the first film nearly 40 years ago, Star Wars has become a worldwide phenomenon with legions of fans from every generation,” said Alan Bergman, President, The Walt Disney Studios. “It’s only fitting that audiences enjoy this legendary Saga and its many fascinating behind-the-scenes stories on a wide variety of platforms, and we’re very excited to finally bring all six films to Digital HD for the first time.”

“We’re thrilled that fans will be able to enjoy the Star Wars Saga on their digital devices wherever they go,” commented Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy. “These films broke new ground in technology, design, sound, and visual effects, and we’ve created some very special bonus material which delves into the Saga’s rich history, including new and never-before-released conversations between legendary Star Wars artists – the masters who helped George bring his iconic universe to life.”

With Star Wars: Episodes I-VI available for purchase as a complete digital movie collection and individually, viewers will have the Rebel forces at their beck and call across their favorite devices anywhere – sunbathing at the beach, relaxing in their living room with friends, or waiting to board a flight to Endor (or elsewhere).

Enhancing the movie collection are a host of never-before-seen special features including Star Wars: Discoveries from Inside and insightful Conversations between key contributors from across this celebrated film franchise, plus a curated collection of classic Star Warsextras from each film. These are the droids you’re looking for:

BONUS
*Digital bonus offerings may vary by retailer
STAR WARS EPISODE I: The Phantom Menace

  • Conversations: Doug Chiang Looks Back
  • Discoveries From Inside: Models & Miniatures
  • Legacy content includes “The Beginning”; The Podrace: Theatrical Edit; plus eight deleted scenes.

STAR WARS EPISODE II: Attack of the Clones

  • Conversations: Sounds In Space
  • Discoveries From Inside: Costumes Revealed
  • Legacy content includes “From Puppets To Pixels: Digital Characters In Episode II”; State Of The Art: The Previsualization Of Episode II; and “Films Are Not Released, They Escape”; plus Episode II Visual Effects Breakdown Montage and six deleted scenes.

STAR WARS EPISODE III: Revenge of the Sith

  • Conversations: The Star WarsThat Almost Was
  • Discoveries From Inside: Hologram & Bloopers
  • Legacy content includes documentaries “Within A Minute: The Making Of Episode III”; The Journey Part 1; and The Journey Part 2; plus six deleted scenes.

STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A New Hope (20th Century Fox)

  • Conversations: Creating A Universe
  • Discoveries From Inside: Weapons & The First Lightsaber
  • Legacy content includes “Anatomy Of A Dewback”; Star WarsLaunch Trailer; plus eight deleted scenes.

STAR WARS EPISODE V: The Empire Strikes Back

  • Conversations: The Lost Interviews
  • Discoveries From Inside: Matte Paintings Unveiled
  • Legacy content includes “A Conversation With The Masters” (2010); “Dennis Muren: How Walkers Walk”; “George Lucas On Editing The Empire Strikes Back 1979”; and “George Lucas On The Force: 2010”; plus six deleted scenes.

STAR WARS EPISODE VI: Return of the Jedi

  • Conversations: The Effects
  • Discoveries From Inside: The Sounds Of Ben Burtt
  • Legacy content includes “Classic Creatures: Return Of The Jedi”; “Revenge Of The Jedi Teaser Trailer”; Return Of The Jedi Launch Trailer; “It Began TV Spot”; “Climactic Chapter TV Spot”; plus five deleted scenes.

About The Walt Disney Studios
For over 90 years, The Walt Disney Studios has been the foundation on which The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) was built. Today, the Studio brings quality movies, music and stage plays to consumers throughout the world.

Feature films are released under the following banners: Disney, including Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios; Disneynature; Marvel Studios; Disney|Lucasfilm; and Touchstone Pictures, the banner under which live-action films from DreamWorks Studios are distributed. The Disney Music Group encompasses the Walt Disney Records and Hollywood Records labels, as well as Disney Music Publishing. The Disney Theatrical Group produces and licenses live events, including Disney on Broadway, Disney On Ice and Disney Live!

About Lucasfilm Ltd.
Lucasfilm Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is a global leader in film, television and digital entertainment production. In addition to its motion-picture and television production, the company’s activities include visual effects and audio post-production, cutting-edge digital animation, interactive entertainment software, and the management of the global merchandising activities for its entertainment properties including the legendary STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES franchises. Lucasfilm Ltd. is headquartered in northern California.

Lucasfilm, the Lucasfilm logo, STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks and/or copyrights, in the United States and other countries, of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. STAR WARS © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. All other trademarks and trade names are properties of their respective owners.

About 20th Century Fox
One of the world’s largest producers and distributors of motion pictures, 20th Century Fox Film produces, acquires and distributes motion pictures throughout the world. These motion pictures are produced or acquired by the following units of 20th Century Fox Film: Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox International Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox Animation.

Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Iconic Mr. Spock, Dead at Age 83

For three television seasons, animated and guest appearances and in many feature films, actor Leonard Nimoy would often address others with the phrase “Live long and prosper.” It was a philosophy Mr. Nimoy himself followed until he passed away today at the age of 83.

Best known for his portrayal of the emotionless Vulcan, Mr. Spock, on “Star Trek,” Nimoy would eventually escape that persona (he famously wrote his autobiography, entitled “I Am Not Spock”) to become not only a versatile actor but an accomplished photographer and film director.

Born in Boston on March 26, 1931, Nimoy began his acting career as a young boy, performing in local productions. He headed west after high school and, after serving in the United States Army, began appearing in popular television shows of the era, among them “Luke and the Tenderfoot,” “Broken Arrow” and “Mackenzies Raiders.” His unusual features often found him cast as a Native American. He worked steadily through the early 1960s and then, in 1966, he took the role that he would forever be identified with. Described by creator Gene Roddenberry, “Star Trek” was supposed to be like “Wagon Train” to the stars. Nimoy was cast as First Officer Spock, a member of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Nimoy was one of the few actors who remained with the show from the pilot until the final episode. Spock struck a nerve with the counter-culture of the times and quickly became the series’ most popular character. He was nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor all three seasons “Star Trek” ran, losing to Eli Wallach, Milburn Stone (Doc on “Gunsmoke”) and Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink on “Hogan’s Heroes”). HE LOST TO COLONEL KLINK??? Back then, the Emmy’s didn’t divide the supporting categories into drama and comedy. They also only had three nominees in that category, not the customary five. Wow. COLONEL FRICKING KLINK!

When the series ended Nimoy headed to another long running show, playing disguise and magic master Paris in “Mission: Impossible.” He also reprised the role of Spock on the Saturday morning “Star Trek – the Animated Series.” He continued acting through the 70s, appearing in the popular remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and also began working behind the camera, helming an episode of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery.” In 1979 he once again returned to Spock in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” In 1981 he adapted and directed the television version of his one man play, “Vincent,” based on the life of Theo Van Gogh, brother of the famed artist, Vincent. The next year he returned in “Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan,” coming back only after being assured that the character of Spock would be killed off. the success of the film, both commercially and critically, brought the offer to return. Nimoy agreed to come back if he could direct the feature film. In 1984, “Star Trek III – The Search for Spock” was released. The film featured the crew of the Enterprise trying to recover the body of Spock. Nimoy appears at the end of the film. He again directed “Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home,” probably the most fun of the “Original Series” films, which came out in 1986. The next year he went behind the camera for the very popular comedy “Three Men and a Baby.”

Nimoy also pursued a career in photography, with many of his photos being exhibited in museums across the country. In 1996 he published his 2nd Autobiography, “I AM SPOCK,” finally coming to terms with the character that had made him famous. He leaves behind his 2nd wife, Susan, and his children, Adam and Julie.

“The Dukes of Hazard” star Tom Wopat talks about his new Christmas album with John Schneider

It’s been a “Dukes” kind of year here at Media Mikes. Earlier this summer I spoke to John Schneider about his feature film directorial debut, the tongue-in-cheek horror film “Smothered.” This week I got to speak with the other Duke boy, Tom Wopat, who recently teamed with Schneider for an album of Christmas music entitled “Home for Christmas.” Being familiar with Mr. Wopat’s work in musical theater, as well as on country radio, I was well aware of his pipes. When we chatted before the interview he was as proud as a new parent. Rolling Stone magazine recently named “Home for Christmas” one of the ten-best holiday albums released this year and the album DEBUTED in the top 10 on Billboard’s Traditional Jazz chart. It didn’t climb to #10…it opened there! In fact, as I write this the album is “sold out” on Amazon.com Don’t fret, though. They’ll make more!

Mr. Wopat recently took some time out to talk to me about the album, further collaborations with John Schneider and his musical future. You can read my interview with John Schneider HERE

Mike Smith: How did this project come about with you and John?
Tom Wopat: We’ve always enjoyed singing together and in the past 20 years or so we’ve done a few shows. We’ve talked a lot about recording together. I had started producing as well and this just made sense. We cut a couple of songs together last December and then we finished the rest this past August.

MS: Both you and John have been very successful in the theater and in country music. Was there a reason you decided to do a Christmas album?
TW: Well, for one thing it’s kind of a perennial. You’d like to think that it will sell for a while. Another part is that we can go out and do a series of concerts every year with that material so it just made sense to do that.

MS: You’ve done a few shows already this year haven’t you?
TW: We did several. We did a show in New York, then we did a show for about 500 people in John’s barn in Louisiana and we just did one in Atlanta.

MS: It’s obvious that you and John have a great rapport. I listened to you both this past week when you were hosting on Sirius Radio. Is there anything else you two want to collaborate on in the future?
TW: We’ve talked about doing a movie. John has a lot of projects he’s developing…he’s putting together a movie studio in Louisiana…so hopefully he’ll give me a call one of these days and I’ll go down there and do something with him. And I’ve got some ideas for future albums. We finance them ourselves so hopefully this one will do well so we can finance others.

MS: I actually spoke with John this summer to promote his horror film “Smothered.” If Catherine Bach sings I’ll be able to talk to all of the Duke cousins!
TW: (laughing) There you go!

MS: What do you have coming up? Are you going back on stage soon?
TW: Those things just come along suddenly…I very rarely get much lead time on that. The only thing I can plan on is some upcoming dates with my band. We’ll be on Long Island in April and in Indiana in August. But I’m sure between next Thanksgiving and Christmas we’ll have ten or fifteen appearances planned. I’m also getting ready to do another solo record and there’s talk of myself, two women and a little jazz group going out on tour and performing the music of Woody Allen films…pretty much some great standards.

MS: Really? That would be right in your wheelhouse.
TW: Yeah, that would be a good one.

Blu-ray Review “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven”

Starring: Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis
Rated: TV-PG
Number of discs: 6
Studio: Paramount
Release Date: December 9th, 2014
Run Time: 1182 minutes

Season: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is it folks, this is the final season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Paramount has done an outstanding, I repeat outstanding job of releasing this wonderful series on Blu-ray. Season seven is no less of an amazing season that is predecessors. The two-part episode “Gambit” was a high point for sure. “All Good Things” is easily one of the best episodes and one of Patrick Stewart’s most powerful performance as Picard. This season was tied up very well series. Now that we are done here, I hope Paramount has plans for Blu-ray releases of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” next. Finger crossed!

Official Season 7 Premise: In this Emmy-nominated final season, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) confronts an alliance between his sinister duplicate and the unstoppable Borg, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) guides his son in becoming a warrior, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces a time-shattering confrontation with the mysterious, god-like Q in a landmark finale that won science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Award.

Like I said, Paramount has delivered this series each time with outstanding Blu-ray after Blu-ray release. “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven” is no different. These 1080p transfers for these episodes nothing short of amazing. Top that with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track for each episode and Trek fans will be nothing but thrilled. These episodes have been through a fantastic restoration which involved returning to the original film elements and it was worth every single second of effort because this release is great.

Like the previous six seasons, Paramount has also delivered some amazing special features. There are commentary tracks by Brannon Braga on “Parallels”, as well as “Lower Decks” with René Echevarria and Mike & Denise Okuda and “Preemptive Strike” with René Echevarria, Naren Shankar, and Mike & Denise Okuda. There are a few other new features including “The Sky’s The Limit: The Eclipse of Star Trek: The Next Generation”, which is a must watch. There are two “In Conversation” features, first called “The Directors” and second called “Lensing Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Lastly, there are seven “Archival Mission Logs”, a Gag Reel and over 20 deleted scenes for 18 of the final episodes. 

Blu-ray Review “Flaming Star (1960)”

Starring: Elvis Presley, John McIntire, Dolores Del Rio, Barbara Eden, Steve Forrest
Directed By: Don Siegel
Distributed by: Twilight Time
Run Time: 92 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: November 11, 2014

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to Westerns, Don Siegel is your man! He created one of the finest, “Dirty Harry”. Top that with the wonderful talent of the legendary Elvis Presley and you are an instant winner. “Flaming Star” is easily one of the King’s best films in his career. The film is approaching its 55th anniversary and it still holds up and is quite entertaining. This Blu-ray release is an Screen Archives Entertainment Exclusive and is a Limited Edition release with only 3000 copies produced. So if you are a fan, get it quick before they sell out.

Official Premise: Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) directs Elvis Presley in Flaming Star (1960), a tough-minded Western that many have pegged as the legendary singer’s best film. Presley plays a half-white/half-Kiowa youth in post-Civil War Texas, caught up in a tragic war between whites and Indians, his loyalties and allegiances tested at every turn. The terrific supporting cast includes John McIntire as Presley’s father, who just wants to live in peace; Dolores Del Rio as his mother, determined to keep her son safe; Steve Forrest as his conflicted brother from another mother; and Barbara Eden as an understanding local girl.

Twilight Time is releasing this film on a region free Blu-ray disc. The 1080p transfer is solid and really looks solid. There is a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track inlcuded. The special features include an Isolated Score Track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 by Cyril Mockridge (“Miracle on 34th Street”). There is also an audio commentary with Film Historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. Lastly there are the film’s Original Theatrical Trailers. Also like with all of Twilight Time’s releases be sure to enjoy the extensive Julie Kirgo liner notes.

Book Review “Star Wars Costumes”

Author: by Brandon Alinger
Hardcover: 232 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: October 28, 2014

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

When it comes to “Star Wars”, who doesn’t love the amazing costumes that these characters have worn. “Star Wars Costumes” is going to be a huge hit with fans because it focuses on The Original Trilogy. What kid didn’t flip out when they saw Darth Vader’s costume for the first time. This is not the first costume book for “Star Wars” films thought since “Dressing a Galaxy” was released in 2005 but this book is much more in-depth about each costume. It is filled of pretty photos don’t get me wrong, very pretty and extremely detailed but there is some great descriptions backing those wonderful images. Episodes IV, V and IV are well represented here with costumes ranging for Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, Boba Fett, Darth Vadar, Stormtroopers and every guys favorite Slave Leia outfit and many more. I am sure fans are going to not be as thrilled for the inevitable follow-up for the Prequel Trilogy but it could have some great designs for sure. This is a must for any “Star Wars” fan.

Official Premise: Who can forget the first time Darth Vader marched onto Princess Leia’s ship, in his black cape and mask? Or the white hard-body suit of the stormtroopers? Or Leia’s outfit as Jabba’s slave? These costumes—like so many that adorned the characters of that galaxy far, far away—have become iconic. For the first time, the Lucasfilm Archives is granting full access to the original costumes of episodes IV, V, and VI, allowing them to be revealed in never-before-seen detail. In over 200 new costume photographs, sketches, and behind-the-scenes photos and notes, based on new interviews, fans will get a fresh perspective on the creation of the clothes and costume props that brought these much-loved characters to life. Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy affords both new and longtime Star Wars fans an intimate look at the unforgettable costumes from this classic series.

Like I said the resolution on the photos are very impressive. They even have some that are quite close up and you can literally see the seams. I am sure that fans are going to love this. What I also loved is that there is no wasting of pages here since there are great photos throughout this book. The author is Brandon Alinger, who is the COO of the Los Angeles branch of The Prop Store of London, the industry leader in movie props and costumes. There are also three great forewords by John Mollo, Aggie Rodgers, and Nilo Rodis-Jamero. John is the costume designer on Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Nilo was the assistant art director and concept artist on Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and costume designer for Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Aggie was the costume designer on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. These people certainly have and give us great insight into their work on the series.