The Man Who Invented Christmas (Movie 2017)

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I cannot count how many versions I’ve watched of A Christmas Carol on film.  This movie puts a whole new magical spin to the story penned by Charles Dickens that might make you sniffle at the end.  At the moment it’s 79% rated by the critics on Rotten Tomatoes with 89% audience score.  You can count me in the accolades as this was a delightful film.

Meet the younger Charles Dickens, who has four children and one on the way (apparently he had 10 altogether). He’s just had two flops, isn’t making any money and bills are due, and the most dreadful thing has happened – writer’s block.  (Been there myself.)  The story is basically his attempt to come up with a new piece in a short period of time, which he publishes himself because his publishers aren’t too keen on the story.  (See, even the literary geniuses can get it wrong.)

As Dickens starts to collect names in his little book that he carries around, he jots down Marley. The city and its residents are his inspiration as he begins to build the story after meeting a man who thinks the world would be better off without the poor.  As bits and pieces of the tale come together so do his characters.  As an author, I absolutely adored the scenes.  When he finally creates Scrooge in his mind, none other than Christopher Plummer shows up and becomes his muse of a sidekick and Dicken’s own personal tormentor throughout the creation of A Christmas Carol.

The film has its lighthearted moments, mostly from the oneliners that Scrooge throws at Dickens. In addition, as he develops characters, more of them come alive and continue to haunt his every move – from Marley to the ghosts of past, present, and future.  However, as Dickens delves into the complex character of Scrooge, he finds himself faced with his own demons regarding his childhood and his father who was sent to debtor’s prison.  Apparently, true to Dicken’s life, he did work in a factory as a child of 12 years of age and suffered the life of poverty while his father, mother, and siblings were doing time.

I found the film a delightful and fanciful filled story.  The Victorian London comes alive in the streets, houses, and costumes.  Dan Stevens is an absolute joy to watch as Dickens, putting his best acting in this eccentric writer haunted by the characters he creates. Christopher Plummer is an absolute gem as Scrooge and even more believable than some of the actors who have played the role in the story itself.

What I enjoyed about this movie the best, is that it has taken a well-known story and spun it with a new twist. It allows us to see how perhaps the creative mind of Dickens worked and the inspirational muse that often drives writers to become a bit wonky, isolated, and neurotic.  Even Dickens, as portrayed in this movie, dwells on his inadequacies and fears of not being able to produce another great work.

If you’re suffering from the Scrooge mentality, this movie may get you in the mood for Christmas.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One! (Charles Dickens)

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review – Delightful!

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After thinking that the 10 a.m. show wouldn’t be too crowded, I arrived early to find patrons standing in line for tickets. I was surprised to see tiny tots, two years old and up, wiggling to get in and demanding popcorn for breakfast. Naturally, my first thought was that the next two hours would turn into a screaming match of restless, bored kids.  Instead, they were glued to their seats. And it’s no wonder why.

The movie is a delightful live version of a familiar tale with human beings, a furry beast, and characters who have given life to the 1991 animated version. Disney magic is sprinkled throughout the film with such wonder, that most of that time I sat dumbfounded like a child. I haven’t felt such awe and wonder since my love and obsession with Sleeping Beauty when I was a little girl. The music, the sets, the costumes, and, of course, the candlestick, clock, armoire, teapot and cup, among others, are as alive as the flesh and blood in their cursed existence.

At the beginning, I did have some concern about Emma Watson playing Belle, but for the most part (except for a few scenes), she fit the part fine.  My only complaint was her rather lackluster reaction to “Be Our Guest” while she sat at the table, while I on, the other hand, had my mouth dropping open in utter amazement. And you must admit, too, that since this is a very French town, her English accent doesn’t quite fit in – of course, it’s a mishmash of French accents, American, and English thrown into one movie from all the stars.

Luke Evans does a fine job as the conceited, but crueler, Gaston, while Josh Gad is his admirer as LeFou, who comes across as predicted with his admiration of the opposite sex. Had it not been mentioned beforehand, you probably wouldn’t have picked up on it until the very last scene. LeFou is not the only character to display a different orientation, as an added cross-dressing moment enjoyed by one character is part of the townspeople battling with the furniture. Could the innuendos have been eliminated? Absolutely. For a children’s fairytale, it’s unneeded but Disney didn’t ask for the public’s opinion during the filming.

Kevin Kline plays a fairly convincing Maurice. Bravo to the wolves, horse, enchantress, townspeople, and everything else moving about in the doomed castle. The songs were delightful, and as far as voices, I frankly didn’t think a world-class soprano was needed among the scenery and choreographed scenes to make it any move lovely.

Belle’s dress and the lovely waltz while the iconic song is sung by Emma Thompsonbeauty11 (rather than Angela Lansbury who has owned the tune for years), is beautiful.  It’s touching and the perfect fairy tale moment of two people falling in love – even though one is really hairy.

Though you do not see much of Dan Stevens out of the beastly costume, he is quite convincing while in it, making you wonder if he was walking on stilts. The movement of his eyes and mouth looked natural, even though the beast definitely could use some dental work. The only time I thought it looked rather fake, is when he is lying in bed without a shirt recovering from his wounds. His fur looked more like a stuffed animal from a toy store and rather tacky.

The tale as old as time is true to the original but elaborates a bit more on the unspoken in the animated version, such as what happened to Belle’s mother and more background on the Prince. You also don’t have to scratch your head about how Belle gets the beast onto the horse after the fight with the wolves. It’s the little plot holes that are filled, which help to round out this version on a deeper level.

As much as I liked the remaking of Cinderella in live action, this one has its merits as well, keeping a tale as old as time relevant for future generations. The iconic message of learning to love and looking beyond appearances in others will endure because of this newer version that brings mere animation into brilliant life and colors.

And, yes, I shed a tear at the end.

Sense & Sensibility (Movie 1995) vs. Sense & Sensibility (TV BBC Mini-Series 2008)

senseOnce again, I’m back comparing two classics.  Who doesn’t love Jane Austen?  Well, maybe some biker on a Harley, wearing lots of leather and a skull helmet. Nevertheless, for the ladies of the world who revere her timeless stories, this is one of my favorites.

Like many other Austen tales, there are multiple versions of this first published work of Jane’s in 1811.  There was a 1971 TV serial, 1981 TV serial, 1995 film  and the most recent 2008 mini-series.  Do I have a favorite?  The 2008 version is the one that floats my remote, but the 1995 movie version is close behind.

The 1995 version had been my favorite, of course, until the 2008 mini-series came along, consisting of three episodes and 174 minutes.  Sense & Sensibility is one of my best-loved Austen tales. The 1995 version is the star-studded, well-known cast of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Greg Wise (married to Emma Thompson in real life, by the way), Hugh Grant, and the infamous Alan Rickman.  Each of these talented actors make up cast who tells this fascinating tale of the Dashwood sisters.

The 2008 TV mini-series is much longer, of course, with a casting of new faces, at least for me, in most of the characters.  I had never seen Hattie Morahan (Elinor) or Charity Wakefield (Marianne) before this series aired.  Frankly, I loved them and found them both endearing in this version.  Kate Winslet, although, probably outshines as Marianne between the two. She is such a spirited actress. “Can he love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise.”

Then we have the men who love these woman. Hugh Grant and a young Greg Wise in the movie version make good choices. In the 2008 version, we have blue-eyed Dan Stevens (the Downton Abbey heart throb) as Edward Farrars.  A more sleazy Willoughby, in my opinion, was the 2008 Dominic Cooper, who drew from a me a little more empathy in spite of being a rogue. There is quite a bit of sexuality played in the 2008 version with the seduction scene at the beginning. The interaction between Willoughby and Marianne is more tender and seductive as well. However, I’ve read that was a pain point with some critics (read here).  Austen and raunchy don’t mix. But in all honesty, there isn’t anything raunchy about the BBC version whatsoever.Sense1

Then we have Colonel Brandon, played by the late Alan Rickman in 1995, who did everything well on screen. It’s sad that he has left us and his fans have been robbed of great performances that were yet to come. Nevertheless, we are left with memories of older ones, even in this version of Sense & Sensibility.

In the 2008 version, we have David Morrissey, a handsome Brandon, who I thought more attractive but a bit too stiff in his role.   Alan had a little more heart in his performance than David did.  Morrissey is no longer wearing cravats and period clothing but has been on Zombie and sci-fi related shows in the past few years. Apparently, he’s working on another long-long-ago period drama set in 45 AD, Britannia. Maybe he’s taking up a toga instead.

Another thing that I like about the longer series version is that it’s not so rushed.  You also get to enjoy beautiful coastal scenery of Hartland, Devon, with quite a few shots of rolling waves crashing against the rocks. It brings back to me the quiet life of those time periods, when long walks, picnics, playing the piano forte, and finding husbands were the order of the day.

Both versions are available to rent and stream on Amazon.  However, the 2008 version is on Hulu, if you have a subscription there.

Beauty and the Beast (Disney 2017)

It appears that Dan Stevens, our former heartthrob on Downton Abbey, has put on a new mask to play the Beast in Disney’s upcoming Beauty and the Beast, a live-action retelling of the story. Emma Watson is playing Belle.  I loved Cinderella so much, I hope they do this favorite fairy tale justice.  However, it won’t be released until March of 2017.  Such a long wait!

At least they are beginning to tease with trailers.  Here is the newest peek into that dark castle of magic, ugly beasts, curses, a lady held captive, and love, currently boasting 11,347,338 on YouTube.