Category Archives: Reviews

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

THIS IS NOT GOING TO GO

THE WAY YOU THINK


 

In 2015, the entire world watched the return of Star Wars, one of the greatest and most beloved cinematic sci-fi series, back on the big screen with the much celebrated seventh roman numeral installment titled The Force Awakens being the newest entry in this epic saga. This highly anticipated film came after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilms, which planned to take the Star Wars saga in a new direction, presenting a brand-new trilogy beyond Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi as well as expanding the Star Wars cinematic universe beyond the signature episodic feature films. Many fans and moviegoers were skeptic, but eagerly waited to catch what lay in store for Star Wars: Episode ViII (The Force Awakens). Directed by J.J. Abrams, the film itself, which took place roughly thirty years after Return of the Jedi, followed a new generation of heroes (Rey, Finn, and Po) that, along with some old favorites, battle against the ruthless First Order, including the powerful Sith warrior Kylo Ren. In a nutshell, the movie had plenty of classic Star Wars nostalgia for fans to love; a blending of the old saying “something old, something new”, with all the right nuances of Lightsabers, Stormtroopers, aerial dogfights, and the mystical powers of “The Force” as well creating a new entry point for this third trilogy within Star Wars. While many praised the film, the movie was also criticized by many for being too similar to Episode VI: A New Hope (in terms of narrative / plot progression. Regardless if loved it or just thought it was okay, The Force Awakens was a huge success at the box office, with the film raking well over $2 billion worldwide against its $245 million production budget. This, of course, put Disney on the path to proceed with its further its idea of expanding the Star Wars universe with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the franchise’s first non-roman numeral feature spin-off, in 2016, which acted as a welcome addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe as well as acting as “pit stop” for its avid fans and moviegoers for the next episode installment to take shape the following year. Now, with the year of 2017 drawing to a close, Disney (Lucasfilms) and director Rian Johnson prepare for the highly anticipated eighth chapter in the Star Wars saga with film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. With a new director at the helm, does this latest entry elevate Disney’s new trilogy in the franchise or does it fail to meet the already extremely high expectations for this beloved saga? Read more

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) Review

THE STORY BEHIND THE CLASSIC


 

Within the grand tapestry of famous books and novels, the name of Charles Dickens standing out as a prominent author in classic literature. A British author from the 1800s (1812-1870), Dickens found his literary success after his serial publication of “The Pickwick Papers” in 1836; eventually launching himself to become an international celebrity writer that was famous for his satire, humor, and an acute observation of character and society. Additionally, Dickens’s novels were frequently (weekly or monthly installments), which pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which was quite popular during this Victorian era of England as well as coming up with “cliffhanger endings” to keep a reader’s attention (and to purchase the next installment). Some of Dicken’s most famous has work have become classic pieces of literature (even in modern times), including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol, with many re-released publications since their inception as well as various adaptations (over the years) for both the big and small screen. Now, Bleecker Street studio and director Bharat Nalluri present the unsung tale of how Charles Dickens to one of his most beloved stories ever in the holiday film The Man Who Invented Christmas. Does this film find the roots of Dicken’s Christmas spirit or is it just a “Bah! Humbug” type of feature?

THE STORY


After receiving incredible literary praise and success from the novel “Oliver Twist”, author Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) spends most of 1843 in a celebratory daze, feeling on top of the world with a speaking tour that takes the British writer to America. Roughly two years and three uninspiring books later, Charles’s fame and success are fleeting, leaving him agitated as his accustomed lifestyle is outpacing his income, trying to hide his financial woes from his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) and his children. In need of something truly outstanding to give to his publisher (and to reverse his fortunes), Charles fight writer’s block as he strives to piece together his latest novel, eventually landing upon the idea to write a Christmas tale of personal corruption, redemption, and spectral visitors. With a six-week deadline to meet, Dickens feverously tries to complete his book “A Christmas Carol”, with his friend John Foster (Justin Edwards) and his servant maid Tara (Anna Murphy) helping him through the necessary steps. However, the sudden arrival of Charles’s wayward parents stirs up trouble, especially when it comes to his father John (Jonathan Pryce). Arriving to further complicate his creative process of writing are the visions of Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and other various characters from “A Christmas Carol”, which conflict and combat Dickens’s train of thought with their sudden presence and opinions.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As I stated above, Charles Dickens is one of the names that many (if not all) know of instantly. His books have had the staying the power and longevity that many author (both now and then) only dreamed of having with their literary works. His tales of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are some of his hallmark works, with many generations reading his novel as well as school to use them as “required reading” for students to read. Heck, what writer / author can say that they have their own word named after them (i.e. Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive character). As one can imagine, many variations and adaptations have been made from Dickens’s work, including several iconic films like 1951’s Oliver Twist, 1946’s Great Expectations, 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities, many others.

This, of course, brings me back to my review for the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, which tells of the story of how Dickens created his classic holiday novel A Christmas Carol. Surprisingly, I actually have never read Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (I know shocking!), but I have seen many of the various adaptations (i.e. cartoons, TV parodies, and feature length films) made from the much-celebrated classic. My personal two favorite adaptation versions of A Christmas Carol would have to be Disney’s 1983 26-minute cartoon Mickey’s Christmas Carol and 1992’s The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Thus, suffice to say that while I haven’t read Dickens’s work (in its original literary form), I’m pretty well-versed in the narrative told in A Christmas Carol. (i.e. Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, The Ghost of Christmas Past, etc.). As for The Man Who Invented Christmas, while didn’t hear that much hype about the movie via online, I do remember seeing the film’s trailer several times, finding the movie’s premise to be interesting (being an origin tale of sorts for the novel’s creation) as well as movie’s cast members (Stevens, Plummer, and Pryce). So, I decided to check this film out to see if its worth the watch. What did I think of it? While it does face some problems, The Man Who Invented-ac Christmas is a unique biographical drama that centers around Dickens’s creation of A Christmas Carol and is brought to life in a well-crafted (and well-acted) feature. It’s not the absolute best Christmas movie out there, but its still a wholesome film that has that touch of Christmas spirit.

Based on the book of the same name by author Les Standiford, The Man Who Invented Christmas is directed by Bharat Nalluri, whose previous works includes the film Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as well as the HBO miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath. Interestingly, Nalluri approaches this source material in a unique way in which the movie has more of a comedic / lighthearted tone than other biographical films of this nature (i.e. Finding Neverland, Saving Mr. Banks, and Goodbye, Christopher Robin). Yes, the movie does have some emotional drama beats, of which are poignant and meaningful to Dickens’s life and to the story being told in the movie, but there seems to be a bit more comedic levity infused in the film’s narrative. Of course, I’m not talking about slapstick / raunchy comedy, but more whimsical / lighthearted scenes as Dickens rushes here and there as well coming up the actual story of A Christmas Carol. It’s a bit unorthodox for such a “film behind the beloved story”, but Nalluri seems to make it work and that’s some worthy noting. Another interesting aspect that Nalluri does is the creative writing process in how Dickens creates A Christmas; mostly of which how he conjures some of the ideas as well as interacting with some of the characters (i.e. Scrooge). It’s definitely a fun twist for a feature film to show as similar movies show the inception of the story’s idea and the success of it all, but never really showing the actual “process of creating it” or showing the writer’s block that many writers / authors have when forming their narrative. From this angle, Nalluri, as well the film’s screenplay writer Susan Coyne breathe some levity into this narrative as well as filling the movie’s runtime with Christmas spirt, including some of the morals learned in A Christmas Carol.

On a technical level, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a well-made movie. The overall look and feel of the film places a viewer right in the thick of late 1800s Victorian London. Thus, the film’s art direction by Neill Tracey, production design by Paki Smith, costume designs by Leonie Prendergast, and the movie’s cinematography Ben Smithard must be commended for their efforts and talents on this movie to help transport viewers to this appropriate place and time in history. Also, the film’s score, which was composed by Mychael Danna, offers up a nice touch to the film, with its whimsical melodies and soft tender moments of the feature.

Unfortunately, The Man Who Invented Christmas isn’t destined to be the holiday classic / biographical film that it aims to be as several problems to hold it back from reaching the desired level. For starters, despite their efforts to make a wholesome feature length film, the movie mostly plays out like a “made-for-TV” drama feature. What I mean is that the movie doesn’t have that much “cinematic” presence / substance to warrant theatrical production on the big-screen, which is strange (if you think about) as there’s technically is. If this was done by someone like HBO or PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, then the movie could’ve been elevated slightly, especially with those type of television’s pedigree and track-recorded. Unfortunately, the movie plays out like something on ABC family (aka Freeform). This, of course, leads me to another problem, which is the film not digging deep enough within Dickens’s material. While Nalluri and Coyne take a very interesting direction with the film focusing on Dicken’s creative process in ultimately shaping A Christmas Carol, the movie does lack a sense drama. Yes, the movie does present some, especially with Dickens’s irresponsible father showing up on his doorstep, but the movie only skims the surfaces of this topic, despite in being presented as something of a paramount importance to the narrative. This is also further noticed in Dickens’s childhood flashbacks sequences of which he faces hardships (as a child) in a labor factory. The movie explains this, but never shows how he got out of this and how he became the literary writer he’s known for. Personally, I would like to see that as a sort of “rags to riches” montage sequence. Even his other various family members are somewhat presented as “window dressing” for the movie, thinned out and to play a part or two in certain scenes. Lastly, in terms of storytelling, the film does hit a lot of familiar tones and plot beats that are formulaic in nature. This means it’s fairly predictable in how the movie will ultimately play out within its three act story arc.

The cast in The Man Who Invented Christmas is also a highlight of the feature, with many being well-recognized individuals with a good / wholesome thespian acting talents to bring to their respective characters, despite some being plot device characters. Leading the charge is actor Dan Stevens as the film’s central protagonist character Charles Dickens. Known for his roles in Downton Abbey, Legion, and Beauty and the Beast), Stevens does well in the role of Dickens, infusing his charisma into the role and making the character have its innate quirks and charm to him. Stevens also handles himself well in a lead role, with many of the supporting players of the film circling around as he interacts with each of them throughout the course of the film. While its probably not his most defining role (that would-be Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey in my opinion), Steven gives a solid performance as the famed Charles Dickens. The other big named actor in the movie would be seasoned actor Christopher Plummer as Dicken’s A Christmas Carol fictional creation of Ebenezer Scrooge. Even though he’s only a minor character in the film, Plummer, known for his roles in The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is fantastic as Scrooge, finding the legendary actor playing the role with ease and looking (as well as speaking) like Dickens’s infamous old miser character. With his dry wit and good timing, Plummer is an absolute delight to see him playing Scrooge and is definitely one of the most memorable characters of all the entire movie.

Two other important characters, who are supporting roles, are worth mentioning as actor Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean and Game of Thrones) and actor Justin Edwards (Love & Friendship and The Thick of It) as Dickens’s deadbeat father John Dickens and Dickens’s colleague friend John Foster. Both these actors do exceptionally well in their respective roles, with Pryce playing a part in some of the more emotional / dramatic parts of the film, while Edwards’s Foster assists Dicken’s in his efforts to get A Christmas Carol finished (as well as being an inspiration for the “jolly” Ghost of Christmas Present). The other supporting players in the movie, including actress Morfydd Clark (Love & Friendship and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Dickens’s wife Kate, actress Anna Murphy (At Water’s Edge and The Vampire Diaries) as Dickens’s new and youthful servant Tara (the inspiration as the Ghost of Christmas Past), actress Ger Ryan (Raw and Key to the City) as Dickens’s mother Elizabeth, actress Miriam Margolyes (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Rome + Juliet) as Dickens’s head maid Mrs. Fisk, Simon Callow (Outlander and The Phantom of the Opera) as Dickens’s illustrator John leech, and Donald Sumpter (Game of Thrones and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Jacob Marley (the inspiration for Marley). Although well-acted by some talented individuals, these supporting character aren’t really well developed, but serve their purpose in helping in the movie and / or Dickens’s inspirational process in getting A Christmas Carol finished on time.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The tale of how famed author Charles Dickens created one of his beloved A Christmas Carol comes to life in the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas. Director Bharat Nalluri newest film uncovers the unknown tale behind A Christmas Carol, sharing the insight in the classic story’s writing process / evolution as well as into the personal (albeit cinematic) life of Charles Dickens. While the film treads into familiar overtones and plot devices as well as not digging deep enough in its examination of Dicken’s life, the film still offers up an interesting creative process of how Dickens created A Christmas Carol, especially in the movie’s overall presentation and its cast. To me, I thought this movie was good. It wasn’t the absolute the best, but it’s Christmas spirit heart is in the right place, creating a film that intriguing as well as well-made. That being said, my overall recommendation for this movie would be a solid / favorable rental as its something that should be watch (at least once) by many out there, especially fans of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and / or films of this nature (i.e. Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks). While it’s not destined to be a classic holiday movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a fun and unique distraction that shares in the yuletide sprit as well as telling the story behind Dickens’s most cherished works.

3.6 Out of 5 (Rent It)

 

Released On: November 22nd, 2017
Reviewed On: December 12th, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas  is 104 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language

The Breadwinner (MovieManDan’s Guest Review)

NOT YET FINISHED


Intro: Over the past few days; a strong contender in the 2017 Best Animated Feature race has emerged in “The Breadwinner” – the latest film from the folks at GKIDS. This title has been stealing top prize from Disney Pixar’s “Coco” in several of the smaller critics groups and it’s been gaining huge momentum along the way.  This film had its world premiere at TIFF ‘17 where it opened to some great reviews but I don’t think many were expecting this one to be as large of a threat to Pixar’s “Coco” as it’s quickly becoming.  The film was just recently released in Limited Release and so most are seeing this one at home through screeners instead of on the big screen *as they haven’t been given the option yet* but regardless – people are none-the-less seeing it and it’s quickly turning heads along the way. Read more

The Snowman (2017) Review

YOU CAN’T FORCE THE PIECES TO FIT


 

Norwegian native-born Jo Nesbø is a sort of jack-of-all trades. While he’s most known for his writing, Nesbø has also dabbled as a musician (the main vocalist and songwriter for the for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre) as well as a former economist (a stockbroker) and a freelance journalist. While talented those respective areas, Nesbø eventually settle down in writing, crafting out his own corner in the literary world with his mystery crime novels. While Nesbø has created several standalone novels as well as several novel series (The Olav Johansen series and The Doctor Proctor series), his most famous series has to be The Harry Hole series. In a brief summary, the series follows Harry Hole, a detective whose investigation take him to various locations (i.e. Oslo, Australia, and the Congo Republic) and usually takes cases that involves serial killers, bank robbers, gangster, and corrupt politicians, while Hole also battles against alcoholism and his own personal demons. As a whole, Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, which as of 2017 consist of 11 books, have been well-received from critics and readers, finding the books to be similar to the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson (author of the Millennium trilogy) and Nesbø becoming an international bestselling author. Now, Universal Pictures and director Tomas Alfredson present Nesbø’s seventh Harry Hole novel to life with the film The Snowman. Does this movie translate well within its “page to screen adaptation of Nesbø’s work or does flounder beneath its icy backdrop setting and serial killer nuances? Read more

Wonder (2017) Review

CHOOSE KINDNESS


 

Back in 1999, American author Stephen Chbosky published the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The book, which followed the character of Charlie as he navigates between the worlds of adolescences and adulthood and attempt to deal with poignant questions by those around him (friends and family), did receive commercial success in the literary world, though it was banned in some American schools for its content (i.e. sexuality and drug usage). In 2012, Chbosky’s directed his sophomore theatrical film (the first was 1995’s The Four Corners of Nowhere) and adapted his own book for the big screen in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The film, which starred Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller, was met with positive reviews from critics and moviegoers, sharing a modest success of profiting roughly $33 million against its $13 million production budget. Additionally, Chbosky has also acted in other moviemaking capacities for other feature films, including a producer for 2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes and writer for both 2005’s theatrical adaptation of the Broadway show Rent and Disney’s 2017 live-action adaptation of their classic Beauty and the Beast. Now, Lionsgate Studios (in association with Participant Media and Walden Media) prepare for Stephen Chbosky to return to the director’s chair with the film Wonder; based on the book by R.J. Palacio. Does the movie find its stride or does something get lost in its “page to screen” translation? Read more

Daddy’s Home 2 (2017) Review

A SHALLOW CHRISTMAS

COMEDY SEQUEL


 

Toward the end of 2015, the comedy film Daddy’s Home emerged as the one of the last comedy feature films of the year. Directed by Sean Anders, the movie, which starred Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, follow the plights of Brad Whitaker, who seeks to be the best dad for his stepchildren. Unfortunately, Brad’s wishes to be “father of the year” to them is cut short when their biological father, Dusty Mayron returns, causing a comedic “dad-off” between the two in proving which one is the best for the children. While the premise was simply and had potential, especially since this was the second film collaboration of Ferrell and Wahlberg following the 2010 movie The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home was met with harsh negative criticism from both viewers and critics alike. That being said, the movie did prove to be a somewhat commercial success, grossing roughly $240 million at the box office against its $69 production budget as well as being Ferrell’s highest grossing live-action film to date. Now, roughly two years later, Paramount Pictures and director Sean Anders, as well as Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg return for holiday comedy sequel with the film Daddy’s Home 2. Does this follow-up installment improve from its predecessor or is it another dud with a Christmas twist? Read more

Coco (2017) Review

SEIZE YOUR MOMENT!


 

Pixar Animation Studios has been hailed as one of the premiere animated studios in all of Hollywood. Known for their popular big hits like Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Up, and Inside Out, Pixar has gain the reputation for its high quality of cartoon feature films that have gone beyond the standard status quo of children’s animated movies. From its gorgeous and intricately detailed animation, to the colorful cast of characters, to its thematically and heartwarming signature of a story and / or messages, Pixar has proven that (time and time again) that their animated features, while aimed for kids, are wholesome entertainment for both the young and the young at heart. Unfortunately, while Pixar’s creativity has always been fascinated and well-founded with each and every film they release, the past decade has seen the studio return to its popular hits and used them as “brands” for follow-up sequels with films like Toy Story 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory, and most recently with Cars 3. While there’s nothing terrible wrong with this (finding many of these features to be well-received by critics and moviegoers), it somewhat dulls the sharp originality that made Pixar what stand out from its competition. Now, set to release its second 2017 film, Pixar Animation (in association With Walt Disney) and director Lee Unkrich (as well as co-director Adrian Molina) present the nineteenth feature film from the powerhouse studio with the movie Coco. Does this newest Pixar film find a home within its illustrious predecessors or does it falter in capturing the studio’s signature magic? Read more

The Star (2017) Review

THE OTHER SIDE TO THE

NATIVITY STORY


 

Within the bountiful religious tales of Christianity, no tale is more well-known, celebrated, and as poignant than the tale of the birth of Jesus Christ. Called by other names, including the Nativity Story, the First Noel, the Holy Night, etc, this paramount tale in all of Christendom tells of how Mary of Nazareth` (the Virgin Mary) conceived her son by the Holy Spirt (or by the celestial Angel Gabriel in some accounts) and how she and her husband Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem where she gave birth to a son…. named Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). The nativity story played an instrumental part in Christianity faith, standing as a hallmark event for the religion that played a major role in its foundation. Of course, the people of the Christian faith still celebrate the day of Jesus’s birth in today’s world (December 25th) in conjunction with the more popular and commonplace moniker name of Christmas; a celebratory feast-day and of gift giving exchanges to family and love ones. Additionally, the famous Nativity Story has been told and retold in various mediums and media, including children’s books, animated cartoon specials, and live-action feature films. Now, Sony Pictures Animation and director Timothy Reckart presents a new spin to the classic Nativity Story with the animated film The Star. Does this movie weave a new thread in this old tale or is it a far cry from its religious source material? Read more

Justice League (2017) Review

ALL IN OR NOT?


 

As the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) continues to expand and grow; reaching mass popularity with the cinematic version of its superhero properties in lucrative blockbuster features, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has had a rocky road in trying to catch up with it rival comic book movie juggernaut. In 2013, while the MCU entered its Phase II saga with Iron Man 3 (the seventh entry within its shared universe), DC (under Warner Bros. Pictures) began its cinematic universe with Man of Steel; a rebooted Superman origin story that showed off blockbuster aesthetics can could be achieved within this DC superhero world.  However, despite the film making money at the box office, Man of Steel was met with some mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers. In 2016, while Marvel released their thirteenth and fourteenth MCU features (Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange), DC Comic’s released two more movies underneath their DCEU banner, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. However, while both movies were hyped and had much pre-release fanfare projections and did produce a hefty amount at the box office, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were faced with mixed reviews (ranging from mediocre to negative criticism from moviegoers and critics). Given their film track record (at that point in time), it would seem that the DCEU would never get a highly praise film under its belt, with Marvel’s MCU further lengthen the distance between them. Fortunately, success was award to the DCEU with the 2017 arrival of Wonder Woman, which garnished a huge praise from fans, casual moviegoers, and critics alike as well as grossing roughly $820 million at the box office. Now the time for the DC superheroes to unite on the big screen as Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder (as well as co-director Joss Whedon) present the highly anticipated comic book team-up blockbuster film Justice League. With fan expectations and the inherit hype building, does the DCEU finds its groove with this all-star superhero feature or does it fall flat and get lost within its own blockbuster narrative? Read more

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