BaHumbug!

Invented Christmas

 

Christmas gets started way too early for me most years, but nevertheless the holiday themed movies are happy to take to the masses in hopes of getting the spirit going.  Yet the definition of the modern Christmas we celebrate can be traced to legendary author Charles Dickens who made the timeless classic A Christmas Carol.  Such an epic story is stemmed in the spirit of giving, hope, and redemption, a symbol that we aspire to hit and often not succeed.  Where did the inspiration come from though? How did he get the ideas?  I don’t know, but the movie I’m reviewing tonight attempts to answer that question in an entertaining manner.  Robbie K here sharing his opinions on The Man Who Invented Christmas starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer.

 

LIKES:

 

The World:  If you read my reviews, you know I’m a big fan of world building and settings.  The Man Who Invented Christmas recreates the nostalgic world of 19th century London and all the class that once inhabited the world.  Seeing the society of the times reemerge from the London fog brought a homey feeling to me, invoking the beginnings of the Christmas season in a world that once treated as a minor holiday.  The attention to detail is astonishing, primarily in all the chaotic organization that was Dickens’ life, primarily the study to where he pondered all his works.  It is this factor that will pull you into the movie as the stage continues to unfold.

 

Clever Presentation:  When attempting to answer how Charles got his motivation and do it in an entertaining manner, the team has to think outside the box for this one. The Man Who Invented Christmas managed to do this quite well in most manners, primarily in rendering his thoughts as personified beings, capable of interacting with him.  His conversations with the characters is a creative representation of the stresses of his mind and how they influence the progression of the story.  And very much like a scene out of Slum Dog Millionaire, the movie was able to also bring his supposed history into the mix to also motivate moments of the book.  Much of it was predictable, but it was a nice homage to his life that filled in the gaps I had forgotten.

 

The Acting:  By far the best element for me though is the acting held in this movie.  The secondary characters do their part in serving as obstacles, motivations, and support for Dickens himself, especially his best friend and his father.  Yet, the main piece to watch are the characters of Scrooge and Dickens himself.  Christopher Plummer still has life within his older bones, playing the pompous Englishman to the letter.  He captured all the quips, jabs, and sarcasm of the character and managed to get that bitter attitude toward life.  Yet, Plummer also got the humorous part of the role down pat, almost like a rival/mentor showing tough love to accomplish the task. As for Stevens, his portrayal of the talented writer with the obsession for perfection was fantastic.  Stevens managed to take the dual role of Charles Dickens and personify the internal struggle that was his life as he pursued his muse of an epic story. All the anger, frustration, and joy were quite balanced in this movie, hooking me into his life and keeping me in my seat until the final sequence faded to black.

 

DISLIKES:

Scene Placement:  The movie does a nice job filling in the gaps, but at times I didn’t enjoy the placement of the scenes.  Mainly the flashback scenes, much of Dickens’ past was scattered through this movie, dropped at odd moments that offset the momentum of the sequence. Some of these moments could have been better delivered at earlier moments, and may have minimized the confusion of why he was so angry.  Not sure whose direction it was to place things in this order, but it didn’t work for me at times.

 

Background Characters:  As you watch his story progress, you get to see new characters emerge as his world starts to motivate him to write.  Yet unlike Scrooge, with whom he constantly interacts with, many of the other characters are just background bodies who smile, laugh, and kind of look odd.  Sure, I understand the personification of what they mean during his writer’s block and how they were connected to his central character, but why did they remain constantly in the background?  I don’t have those answers, but it was kind of odd having them randomly walking around with him and doing little past that.  Sorry guys, not a fan of limited use characters.

 

The diluted emotion:  I expected the movie about the guy who revolutionized Christmas to be a little more emotionally charged.  Sadly, this film didn’t quite pack the holiday joy and magic that his tale was able to elicit long ago when I watched the Muppet version long ago. While inspirational, I didn’t get overwhelmed with feelings that made me embrace the holiday season.  I felt this was due to some of the movie magic being left out of the movie, giving it that realistic twist, but unfortunately drying up the specialness those hokey, overdramatic effects bring to the table.  This tale would have benefitted from a page in the Hallmark channel book in terms of motivating you to inherit the spirit of Christmas.

 

The VERDICT:

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas is an immersive film that uses setting, presentation, and incredible acting to bring the 19th century to life.  Despite all the cool insights into Dickens’ life though, this movie lacks cinematic magic, logical use of characters, and pacing that is important in films.  This movie could have done well on a television release, or streaming movie rather than a theater presentation.  It does hold potential for a church outing, but this reviewer recommends holding out until it comes to home viewing.

 

My scores are:

 

Biography/Comedy/Drama:  8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0

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Nolan, Dun Got It Right

Dunkirk

 

War, huh, yeah, what is it good for?  Entertaining movies, that is what it is good for.  Hollywood has numerous examples of wars from the various historical times in our human legacy. Many of these installments focus on a hero who saved the war, or a band of brothers that bravely faced the odds to hold the line.  In most cases though, you can bet there will be violence, explosions, and often graphic portrayals of the hell contained in our squabbles.  I finish my weekend reviews with Dunkirk, which is the latest installment in the Christopher Nolan library.  Can the Dark Knight director work his magic in war?  Or does it fizzle out like a dud bomb.  Robbie K here to give his opinions.  Let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

 

Layered Story:  Many war movies are the linear tales of the hero who will win the battle.  Dunkirk diverts from this main path and instead presents its plot from three viewpoints that overlap at various times.  A cryptic opening doesn’t do much to explain this, but eventually the plots coincide and your mind is blown by the presentation.  This element, though confusing at times, adds that unique flare to the movie that keeps your interest piqued as you connect the journeys of those involved.  In addition, the multiple viewpoints give you a more complete picture of the war, further bringing the history to life in a manner Hollywood special effects is famous for.

 

Realism:  We know the doctoring editing and story writers can make to score big bucks in the box office.  These moments often lead to overdramatic, eye-rolling moments that war dramas can be.  Dunkirk again shines in the unique department in terms of crafting the story to be realistic in many details.  You’ll be pulled into the war in this film, grounded in the nightmares that plague the battlefields and the internal struggle that all involved face.  I felt plagued with the emotional guilt in the choices made in this film, while also concerned with the consequences that could follow those choices. The film’s focus on the people and not the battle works on so many levels, and makes you interested in the characters more so than the special effects.  Nice choice again Noland!

 

The Cinematography:  Dunkirk doesn’t have a lot of lines, award winning dialogue, or even one-liners that we as humans like.  Instead it is the cinematography and editing that bring Dunkirk to life and make it shine in the theater’s dark halls.   While the special effects are certainly impressive (though not that showy), it’s really the camera work that brings the mood out in the form of hope seeking faces that are suffering through the onslaught dealt to them.  Throw in the powerful musical score and mix in the little line delivery and you get that recipe for emotional bombardment that brings respect, empathy, and pride of the sacrifices made by troops long ago.

 

Short run time:  Such a dynamic, sounds like it would take forever…fortunately Nolan’s direction kept the movie under 2 hours and brought quality out in that short time.  This is an example of good directing and editing, and proof that you can have a quality film in a short time limit.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Missing that Hollywood Story:  Realism is good, but I certainly missed having a flared-up story to grip onto.  Dunkirk is a quality movie, but it isn’t as much fun as I have had with other war movies.  It lacks some of the big, bang excitement made famous in other war movies, and the realistic psychological approach can drag at times.  The result is not the action-packed survival I had hoped for, but I can always rewatch Hacksaw Ridge for that. And while I enjoyed the layered story approach, I again think it was confusing at times to piece things together without a central story, plot, or goal (outside of survival/rescue) to hook onto.

 

The placement of certain scenes: My buddy and I agreed that there were points to this movie that were difficult to follow.  Much of this came from the odd placement of clips in the movie and the rapid transitions between these various stories with little guidance.  Things do get better when the lines start to come together, but there are still scenes that still stay confusing at points until the end of the movie.  In addition, the pacing of the stories was uneven at times, with a couple of stories rapidly concluding (so you think), only to reappear after a prolonged gap.  Not the biggest weakness, but things could have been a little better oriented for me.

 

Depressing:  We know war sucks, and this movie’s portrayal of the loss of hope amplifies those feelings. There are so many elements of depression in this movie that you may feel a little down following the opening.  I felt a little tired during this movie, especially during the drawn-out moments that were more depressing and less stressing.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Dunkirk is certainly one of the more artistic and clever portrayals of war, dropping Hollywood flare for realism.  Nolan’s impressive directing opens up new worlds of war theater and keeps things fresh with the impressive displays of heroism.  Yet all the good the cinematography and directing is… I missed the Hollywood flare that cinemas bring.  Without that story/entertainment value to it… Dunkirk has some confusing presentations and dragged out moments that can weigh heavy on you.  Still, this movie has plenty to qualify a visit to the theater, and one of the better movies of the summer.  Not the epic wartime thriller, but certainly one of the more realistic, war dramas I have ever seen. 

 

My scores:

 

Action/Drama/History:  9.0

Movie Overall:  8.0