The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017): Having a Christmas Bawl

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Adopted from the Les Stanford book; the screenplay by Susan Coyne, The Man Who Invented Christmas is Bharat Nalluri’s seasonal offering. This “bio-comedy/drama” elicits chuckles and a lot of tears in this telling of how Charles Dickens creates one of the most popular Christmas tales ever. Only the most cold hearted “Scrooge” of a viewer will not “bawl” his or her eyes out at the film’s story.

Dan Stevens is Dickens, Christoper Plummer is Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce is the feckless father that Charles Dickens loves to hate and newcomer Anna Murphy is Tara; the Irish maid who becomes, to a degree, Dickens’ muse. The cast is full of splendid English character actors who are all familiar faces to those across the pond and each helps to bring this tale to brilliant life.

In The Man Who Invented Christmas the once celebrated author has had three flops in a row and he is suffering writer’s block. A chance incident provides inspiration and while his erstwhile agent and friend  (played by the brilliant John Edwards) supports the increasingly desperate writer.

There are elements of melodrama in this Christmas tale about the miser who changes his ways after being visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. Nalluri gives us a Dickens with a bootblack background who interacts with the character’s of his books as he works toward a satisfactory ending.

The sets, the costumes and the actors all go toward recreating London in the early 1840s. Dickens is a tortured soul with more than enough “Scrooge” in his soul to upset everyone who loves him. His wife suffers his mood swings and foul temper as best she can and Charles’ father tries too hard to atone for his past sins.

Despite the drama, there are many amusing elements to the film and with the cream of English filmdom applying their trade almost effortlessly, there is no doubt that this new “take” on “A Christmas Carol” will also become a classic. All the performers work seamlessly  making  their characters fit together  perfectly.

Personal favorite Simon Callow  plays Leech, the illustrator with his usual flair and the delightful Miriam Margolyes, as well as Morfydd Clark and Ger Ryan, prove that the ladies in this cast are no shirkers in the acting department either.

The Man Who Invented Christmas contains enough glimpses, and nods and winks, to the tale that has been made into plays, films and television adaptations,  that fans of the story will be moved to tears repeatedly. This drama/comedy with its biographical overtones may be an imaginative and somewhat fanciful look at how Dickens created Scrooge and, indeed, all his characters but it works beautifully.

Having seen the late Albert Newly bring Scrooge to life in 1994 on a London stage and turn in a performance that was, in a word, brilliant, it was just as impressive to see what Plummer does with this famous character. The Canadian octogenarian makes the miser his own and bestows a sly wit upon this curmudgeonly workhouse fan.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a tearful 5 star effort. If watched in the cinema, the viewer should brings copious amounts of tissues and prepare to be embarrassed by all the fluid streaming down their face.

This one is a winner.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014): Simply Sublime

Still from trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness

Despite having worked as a “film critic” and being a member of the Nevada Film Critics Society, I am not jaded enough to find the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness anything other than simply sublime. Reading various reviews and finding that the film opened to mixed and negative reviews surprises and disappoints. Simon Pegg is truly wonderful as are his co-stars in the film and Rosamund Pike works brilliantly in this far removed from Gone Girl role.

Helmed by award winning English director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, Shall We Dance) from a script adapted from the French book of the same name by François Lelord, the film follows the journey of Hector, a psychiatrist who is fed up with his relationship, his job and his life. He undertakes a trip to discover just what happiness is and how to get it.

In many ways the movie is like an exotic travelogue. Pegg’s character visits Singapore, Africa and America in his journey. Like a modern day Phileas Fogg, just without the balloon, Passepartout or indeed the wager that gets the whole thing started, Hector travels to several different countries meeting new people and old friends in his search.

Hector and the Search for Happiness also has a bit of an Alan Whicker or Michael Palin (the old Monty Python member who traded in his comedy chops for travel documentaries) feel, where the main figure learns of other cultures and how they see the world. Even before finding out that the film is based on a French novel, one can tell by the structure of the film and its plot that this could very easily have been a film from that country.

The use of cardboard cutouts in the plane scene, the flashbacks to childhood and the feeling of the film is one of arthouse chic. This combined with the simplicity of its message must have put off the more serious minded critics who reviewed the movie at the cinema.

Leaving such pretentious prattling behind and looking at the cast, the film delivers brilliantly. Stellan Skarsgård drops his Norwegian accent, and leaves the world of the Avengers behind, to become Edward; a richer than rich businessman who insists that one can buy happiness. Jean Reno leaves his badge and assassins tools at home to play an African drug lord who trusts no one but loves his wife completely.

Christopher Plummer uses his dulcet tones to narrate and play the small cameo of a professor who uses a machine that looks like an old fashioned hair dryer to track emotions in the human brain. Toni Collette plays Hector’s former flame with perfection.

The end of the film moved me to schmaltzy tears as Pegg discovers a few home truths. (I’ll not say what they are, no spoilers here.) His journey may not be life shattering over all, although at one point it looks as though Hector may not survive, but it is interesting enough to keep the viewer watching.

*On a side note, I did notice that just as in real life, all airport terminals do indeed look the same no matter where they are.*

Sure, some of the signposts are a bit stereo-graphical in nature but that does not spoil the message of the film or take away our delight when Hector finishes his search. Despite what other reviewers have said about this particular offering my verdict is a full 5 stars. Any film that can make me cry in Burger King in front of strangers, without the darkness of a cinema to hide my blushes, gets full marks. Hector and the Search for Happiness is streaming on US Netflix now. Watch this one and enjoy, unless you are too sophisticated for it.

Twelve Monkeys Versus 12 Monkeys

Twelve Monkeys Versus 12 Monkeys

It seems like the successful small screen adaptation of the Coen Brothers film Fargo has left the door wide open for other big screen classics to be remade on a smaller scale, the latest is Terry Gilliam’s time travel tale Twelve Monkeys and it will be Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt versus 12 Monkeys, SyFy and Noah Bean. This move could be just as well received as FX’s Fargo although to be honest, the cast list was pretty impressive in version of the Coen Brothers downsized film.

Dreamscape (1984): Inceptions Pappa

Cover of "Dreamscape"
Cover of Dreamscape

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The StepfatherThe ForgottenDreamscape  is about dreaming, going into someone else’s dream and controlling it.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The concept has been used to great effect in two other films. The Cell (2000) and Inception (2010) both utilized the plot device of entering another person’s dreams and either controlling or changing them. All three films are very different from Dreamscape, but it is obviously this film that spawned the latter two.

Starring a young Dennis Quaid (Pandorum, Legion), younger Max von Sydow (Shutter IslandMinority Report), Christopher Plummer (Up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomSpaceCamp) and Eddie Albert  (The Longest Yard, Escape to Witch Mountain) the film delivers an entertaining punch.

Dreamscape deals with entering dreams via psychic powers and a little help from machinery that lets the psychic know when the target has started the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) that shows they have started dreaming.

The film opens with a woman running from what looks like a nuclear blast. The whole scene is surrealistic and the colours run together in a psychedelic fashion. We are watching the United States President (Eddie Albert) have a nightmare. It turns out that he has nuclear nightmares on a regular basis.

We then see Alex Gardiner (Dennis Quaid) at the race track. Using his precognitive skills, he successfully picks a long shot to win. When he goes to collect his winnings a gang of crooks try to take his money and make him work for them. Alex evades the crooks and goes home.

Once he is there, he gets a phone call from old friend and mentor Doctor Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) who wants him to participate in his new dream experiments. To escape the crooks,who have found out where Alex lives, he decides to take up the offer.

Once there he talks to his mentor and meets his assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw). He decides to give the experimental programme a go after he meets the man who runs it, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer)

It turns out that only two of the psychics in the group are skilled enough to really change someone else’s dreams. Alex and a psychotic psychic named  Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly).

We find out two things about Tommy Ray. We learn that he killed his own father and that he has known Bob Blair a long time.

The film moves at a leisurely pace. This does not distract, however, as the action on the screen is still interesting even if it’s not fast paced. At one point Alex enters a young boys dream to help him defeat a “snake-man” who keeps trying to harm him. Alex enables the boy to face his personal monster in the dream and kill it

The overall FX of the film have not aged well. The monster was from the Ray Harryhausen school of stop motion. It did not convince at any time. It looked so much like  The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, that I reverted to childhood for a brief moment. But apart from feeling nostalgic, I did not get anything from the snake-man.

The film features a romance between Quaid and Capshaw. The villain, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, along with his henchman Tommy Ray  makes us want to hiss and boo each time we see him on screen.

The film’s plot was entertaining and interesting enough that the dated FX did not spoil it at all. Unfortunately, as I have seen The Cell and Inception recently, I could not help but compare the three films.

The Cell dealt more with the technological aspect of entering dreams. Anyone could be hooked up to a machine which would enable them to enter another persons dream. Inception required that both people received injections to make them sleep deep enough that they could enter the trance-like state necessary to enter another’s dreams.

I would say that this film is definitely worth watching. If for no other reason than to see what started the whole dream mechanic utilized in the other two films. It’s also got a sterling cast of seasoned actors who deliver solid performances.

Dreamscape won’t give you nightmares, but it will entertain you.