Grammy Winner, Michael W. Smith talks about new album “The Spirit of Christmas”

Photographer: Cameron Powell

A few weeks ago I got a weird text. It said “do you want to do an interview next week?” When I replied “with?” I got back “you. Michael Smith.” I was excited. Someone wanted to interview ME! Actually I was told that I would be the interviewer and the subject would be Christian singer Michael W. Smith. I was even more excited!

A winner of (3) Grammy awards, as well as (40) Dove awards, Michael W. Smith has enjoyed success not only on the Gospel/Contemporary chart but in the mainstream as well. This month he has released his fourth album devoted to Christmas, entitled “The Spirit of Christmas.” The album, on which Smith duets with such singers as Vince Gill, Michael McDonald and Bono, consists of both long time favorites (“Silent Night,” “What Child is This”) and new originals.

As he readied to embark on a short tour to support the album Smith kindly took some time out to speak with Media Mikes.

Mike Smith: This is your fourth Christmas-themed album. What is it about the music that makes you want to revisit it?
Michael W. Smith: You know this is the music I grew up with. All the way back to when my sister and I used to pull out the Christmas LPs and play them for four months straight! When I hear those songs they just take me back to my childhood. Especially the first part of this record, for sure.

MS: This album consists of duets. There are a few performers on it that your fans might surely expect, like Vince Gill and Amy Grant. But then you’ve also got Bono and Michael McDonald. How were you able to get them on board?
MWS: Well first let me tell you that I’m still pinching myself that it happened, you know? We had these people picked out from day one…before we even recorded one song. We had the whole record sequenced. We had a plan and we had a wish list of who we wanted to invite. And everybody said yes. I’ve known Michael for about 10 years and I’ve known Bono for 12 years. These guys get asked to do stuff all the time, so the thought that they said “yes” is still pretty miraculous to me and I’m very, very grateful.

MS: Is there anyone out there that you’d like to sing with that you haven’t so far? Do you have a wish list?
MWS: I grew up being a huge Barbra Streisand fan, you know. I’ve always loved her voice…I’ve loved her movies…”Funny Girl,” “Funny Lady.” Recently she’s kept a low profile though I know she has a new album out. (NOTE: Ironically, Barbra Streisand’s latest album, “Partners,” is also a duets album). I would love to record with her.

MS: Do you have a favorite song on this new record?
MWS: Oh, man…that’s so hard to pick. I mean, if I had to pick…gosh, it’s hard to pick! Wow. “Almost There,” which is an original song that I did with Amy (Grant). There’s something really special about it. I love…I think it’s one of my favorite songs that I have written….”All is Well,” that Carrie (Underwood) does. And the one song that I get choked up on is “Peace,” which is the one I do with Michael McDonald. And Michael actually co-wrote that song, so I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he wanted to jump in and be a part of it.

MS: When you’re writing songs, do you sit down and write about a certain theme, like Christmas? Or do you later go back and realize that a certain song is right for the project you’re doing at the time?
MWS: Definitely the latter, because I never know what I’m going to write. Obviously if I’m working on a Christmas record I’m going to be a little more intentional. I’m going to be thinking about textures…how a bell sound will go with a piano sound…something that might inspire me to be a bit festive. A bit “holiday-ish,” you know? On “Almost There” I knew I wanted it to be a little haunting. I mean when you’re on that 12 hour drive to the beach how many times do you ask mom and dad “oh my gosh, are we almost there?” My friend, Wes King, came up with the idea which was why not imagine Mary riding on that donkey. She’s pregnant and she can’t find any place and she’s wondering how long it’s going to take…you wonder if she ever said to Joseph, “are we almost there?” And that was the premise for the lyric.

MS: Are you going to tour at all to support the album?
MWS: Oh yeah! The Christmas tour started the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and we’ll be doing about fifteen shows around the country.

MS: What else do you have coming up?
MWS: I know it sounds a bit insane but I actually released three records this year. I did an exclusive record for Cracker Barrel called “Hymns.” That came out early in the year. Then the pop/worship record, “Sovereign,” came out in May. And now, of course, the “Christmas” album has just been released so it’s been a pretty busy year. After the “Christmas” tour we’re going to tour with “Sovereign” all over…South Africa…Asia…Europe. That will all happen in 2015.

MICHAEL W. SMITH’s Upcoming Tour Dates

December 18, 2014 Spokane, Washington
December 19, 2014 Portland, Oregon
December 20, 2014 Seattle, Washington
December 21, 2014 Abbottsford, British Columbia
January 11, 2015 Nashville, Tennessee

For more information go to www.michaelwsmith.com

Patton Oswalt talks about hosting the 29th Annual Independent Spirit Awards

Back in 2006, the Independent Spirit Awards changed up their trophy system. Before 2006, winners at the awards show would receive an acrylic glass pyramid containing suspended shoestrings that symbolized the thin budget that independent movies would typically have to work with. They then changed it up to show a bird sitting atop of a pole with that the pole wrapped in shoestrings. So obviously the next logical step would be giving the winners a living, breathing bird. Right? Well that’s the plan at this year’s 29th annual awards. The host, Patton Oswald, was able to talk with me and other reporters at a press conference, to go over his avian stunt, comedic or not, as well as talk about what an honor it is to host this prestigious event.

Patton Oswalt is very familiar with the awards process. His first hosting duties were at the 39th annual Annie Awards where he was quick on his feet, especially when something went wrong, “I’m gonna be very, very aware if somebody reads the wrong cards. He read the wrong winner and I’ll try once again try to make a screw-up like that be delightful.” Even though he’s well known as a stand-up comedian, Patton has received recognition for his acting abilities throughout the years. Many people will remember him as the voice of Remy in “Ratatouille”, but his most recent portrayal as Matt Freehauf in “Young Adult,” landed him the New York Film Critics award for best supporting actor. So it’s understandable that Patton Oswalt would be ready to host the Independent Spirit Awards, but not a lot of hosts spend their time leading up to the awards preparing themselves for birds. but that’s what he’s been doing.

“I feel pretty ready. I’ve been down to the park a lot, chasing them around, yelling at them, so we’ll see,” Patton said jokingly. There should be no worries among animal activists or organizations. Patton says the birds will be well taken care of. The real challenge for him however, may actually be having to be around a bird, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I have a paralyzing fears of birds…I don’t think it’ll affect my performance.” Patton says he wasn’t sure what kind of birds they would have though. Or even if they would be different for each nomination. He was sure that the winners would actually be able to keep their feathered prize, “They can keep them, they can set them free. Trust me, I know actors, I know directors, there’s all kinds of things they could do with birds, some I would rather not go into.” Patton said the birds will be cage free and actually be handled by the presenters and winners. With fears extinguished, Patton returned to the jokes by reassuring everyone that if anyone’s award…I mean bird…died days, months, or years later, the contingency plan would be to give the winner a baby cougar as a replacement.

It’s not odd for a comedian to host the Independent Spirit Awards. Previous hosts have included, Sarah Silverman, Steve Coogan and Eddie Izzard. When putting the jokes aside and getting to the meat of the night, anyone would gladly tell you they really look at the Independent Spirit Awards as a venue to see some great future filmmakers and actors as well as those who are deserving of some praise. Patton was no different. He really divulged a deep passion and appreciation for the awards, “For me, being the kind of film buff I am, this award show digs pretty deep into trying to find movies that took risks and rolled the dice. It rewards people that are clearly emerging that are going to be doing great stuff with their careers. What I also love is that they keep an eye open for veterans like Robert Redford and Bruce Dern who continue to take risks and seek out challenging, different material.”

Patton further proved his love for movies by rattling off some of his favorites at this year’s awards and he was not short of praise, “The crop of films they sent me was pretty stunning. ‘The Spectacular Now’ I thought was fantastic. I hope ‘Enough Said’ wins everything it gets nominated for. The documentary ‘The Act of Killing,’ I thought it was crucial. Hard to watch, but crucial. I really hope that Bruce Dern wins for ‘Nebraska’ because I thought he was just amazing. That guy’s had awards coming for a long time in my opinion, so that would be great.” Patton says he’s spent plenty of time catching up on movies and says that he was able to catch other award nominees like “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” “Short Term 12,” and the documentary “Computer Chess.”

With millions of viewers still choosing to watch the Oscars this year, it only seemed fitting that the last question for Patton Oswalt would be if the Independent Spirit Awards is a good predictor for the Academy. He didn’t shy away from the question, “I think it goes beyond that. I think that the Independent Spirit Awards are an important predictor of who you’re going to be rooting for in the Oscars, like ten years down the road. That’s what makes it so exciting for me, that this is like giving an award to Martin Scorsese in 1971 for ‘Who’s Knocking On My Door.’ You’re seeing people at the beginning of their, I’m going to use the word journey, but it really is. These are the future masters that you’re watching when they’re young and it makes it that much more crucial and stressful for me. I really want to do well by these guys because these are the people that are going to be making movies down the road that we’re going to be fighting over at the Oscars.”

For those interested (and how can you not be?), you can catch the 29th Annual Independent Spirit Awards on IFC, Sunday, March 1st. The fun begins at 10 p.m. EST/PST.

DVD Review “The Spirit (1987)”

Actors: Sam Jones, Nana Visitor, Bumper Robinson, Garry Walberg, Les Lennom
Directed by: Michael Schultz
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2013
Run Time: 69 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

It is almost sad to try and think of a time for superheros before Marvel created the world we live in now. In the past, comic book characters and their movies were made to be very campy and cheesy like the 1960’s “Batman”. You know know Sam Jones from his (failed) portrayal in “Flash Gordon”. He takes on the role of the superhero again in this made for TV movie that barely runs an hour long. Still I can’t lie and say that I didn’t enjoy it since I did. I am a sucker for cheesy 80’s action films. This film was made to kick off a show based around “The Spirit” sadly it never too off. So if you are a fan of the tongue-in-cheek comedy from Will Eisner’s comic, then you should enjoy this.

Will Eisner’s famed comic book hero makes his live-action debut in this rarely seen TV adaptation starring Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) as Central City’s most rumpled crimefighter. Shot in the line of duty, police detective Denny Colt (Jones) is thought to be dead when his body turns up missing. Allowing his enemies to believe he died, Colt dons a blue suit and mask and proceeds to fight crime as The Spirit. Aided by Police Commissioner Dolan (Garry Walberg) and in love with Dolan’s daughter Ellen (Nana Visitor), The Spirit works outside the law as he attempts to bust an art forgery racket run by the notorious femme fatale P’Gell (McKinlay Robinson).

As far as I can tell “The Spirit” has never been released on DVD, so this would be the first. Warner Archive does it again and delivers another lost gem to its fan (if this film has fans). In terms of presentation though, it is not the best I have ever seen. The transfer has been manufactured from the best-quality video master currently available and has not been remastered or restored. It looks like a made-for-TV movie, nothing more – nothing less. There are no additional special features included on this release.

 

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3D Blu-ray Review “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3D”

Directed by: Brian Taylor, Mark Neveldine
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Running Time: 95 minutes

Blu-ray Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Unlike most people, I was a big fan of the first “Ghost Rider” film. I am also a huge fan of Nicolas Cage and he is at his most zaniest in this film. After seeing the crazy trailer for “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, I was psyched that they were really bringing back Ghost Rider as more dark and violent and even in 3D. But unfortunately, they disappointed by taming this film to yet another safe PG-13 release. Ghost Rider is a dark character from Hell yet they have been afraid to really take the plunge on this franchise. On the bright side of this release though, the Blu-ray is impressive and the 3D is great even though it is converted.

Nicolas Cage returns to the role of Johnny Blaze in this sequel. He is still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter. While hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe, he is recruited by a secret group from the church in order to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciaran Hinds), who is looking for a new body. Blaze decided to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider once more in order to protect the boy and possibly rid himself of his curse forever.

Even though the film is a bit disappointing, the Blu-ray release is not. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” packs a sweet 1080p 3D transfer and looks better on Blu-ray than it did on the big screen. Though if you are not a fan of 3D, there is also a 2D presentation of the film as well included. Also included is a sweet Ultraviolet streaming digital copy. This Blu-ray also packs a super awesome quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, which blew up my surround sound.

There special features are impressive overall.  Unlike most 3D releases, this one actually packs a 3D extra called “Riding Into Another Dimension”.  It is a little short but focuses on cast/crew discussing 3D filmmaking and issues with converting the 2D to 3D in post-production. There is an awesome director’s expanded video commentary with picture-in-picture.  It is being described by Sony as “an all access behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film”.   There are just over 10 minutes of deleted scenes included.  Lastly there is a super intense six-part documentary, ” The Path to Vengeance: Making Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, which encompasses focusing on the behind-the-scenes making the film. Highly recommended.

Demian Bichir Receives Nomination for 2012 Film Independent Spirit Award

DEMIÁN BICHIR RECEIVES NOMINATION

FOR 2012 FILM INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD

Mexican Actor Up For Best Male Lead In “A Better Life”

LOS ANGELES, CA –   Mexican Actor Demián Bichir has been nominated for Best Male Lead for his role in A Better Life” at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards. This is the first nomination for a Spirit Award for the actor.

A Better Life,  from Oscar nominated director Chris Weitz (“About a Boy), tells the story of an undocumented immigrant and hardworking single dad Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir), who embarks on a physical and spiritual journey in order to reconnect with his teenage son and keep him from getting pulled into the local gang life.  “A Better Life” is a touching, poignant, multi-generational story that critics call “compelling”, “intelligent” and “heartfelt”.

The film was written by Eric Eason based on a story by Roger L. Simon.  Set in a Hispanic community and shot entirely in Los Angeles, the film features an almost entirely Hispanic cast and explores the culture and geography of Los Angeles.  “I feel honored to be a part of this movie, and to be nominated for this award. I am in debt to Chris Weitz, for having trusted me with this amazing character.  Nothing that is on the screen could have been done without Chris’s direction”, stated Demián Bichir.

Chris Weitz, also known for directing “Twilight: New Moon”, and “American Pie”, stated “Demián gave his heart and soul to give a voice to the voiceless, and I am delighted that the independent film community is recognizing his performance for this film.”

Winners will be announced at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, February 25, 2012.  The 27th annual awards ceremony will be held as a daytime luncheon in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, and the premiere broadcast will air later that evening at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on IMedia.