Posts Tagged ‘review’

I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – I’ve seen countless iterations – so it was inevitable that the family would go to the Spectrum Theatre on a Sunday afternoon to see The Man Who Invented Christmas.

The noted author (Dan Stevens) had experienced some great success with Oliver Twist. But he was reeling from three flops and a more expensive lifestyle than he could suddenly afford. Nicking an idea from Tara (Anna Murphy), one of the house staff, he decides to create a Christmas story.

But how does one write the tale, find an illustrator and self-publish it in about eight weeks? Especially with interruptions such as an unexpected visit from his estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother?

Worse, the characters, notably Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) but eventually the others as well, fail to go in the direction the writer wants them to go, the ingrates!

Will Dickens deal with his own issues, which are testing the patience of even his most fervent supporters, his wife ( Morfydd Clark) and best friend (Ian McNeice)?

We enjoyedthe movie, unconcerned how true to the facts it might have been. So did most of the critics; 80% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. One negative review, though, seemed to miss the essence of the story, which I would tell you about, but dare not, lest it serve as spoiler.

Did Dickens really pluck names for his characters from people he met, a construct that one critic found too convenient? I have no idea. But I do recall that Ken Levine, who used to write for MASH, would come up with names for characters based on people he knew and even the players on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

If you’re a Dickens fan, or a writer of fiction, I believe you will enjoy The Man Who Invented Christmas.

#Choose Kind is a precept of the movie Wonder, based on a series of books by R.J. Palacio. I was pretty sure my family had to see this. The Daughter loves the books, as does my wife’s principal.

I’ve read a later set of chapters in the first book that focus on Augie’s chief antagonist, Julian. But he speaks of his treatment of Augie to his grandmother. So I felt a certain early connective tissue as well.

Wonder is the story of August (Augie) Pullman, played by the extraordinary Jacob Tremblay from the movie Room. Augie has facial differences, despite more than the two dozen surgeries he’s had, and the Pullman family has Augie’s hospital IDs hanging on the wall like a piece of art.

Mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) has put her life on hold since Augie’s birth and dad Nate (Owen Wilson) tries to be the pal Augie otherwise doesn’t have. The decision to mainstream Augie into fifth grade, instead of Isabel homeschooling him, is met with understandable trepidation, and initially for good reason. He makes a friend, or so he believes.

Meanwhile, his older sister Via (Olivia), played by Izabela Vidovic, feels that she’s not getting the attention she needs from her parents. And at her school, she has unexpected difficulties of her own.

You know, life is hard sometimes. All most of us really want is acceptance, and maybe a dose of compassion. As Augie’s classmates struggle to find theirs, the viewer is drawn into the ebbs and flows of many of their lives.

Wonder contains a few cameos by Chewbacca from Star Wars. The Thorton Wilder play Our Town, which I’ve been in back in 1984, is a significant plot point. The daily precepts of the teacher Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) are always true.

This could easily have been an exercise in treacle, but it most assuredly is not. As Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “When given a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

In my busyness, I neglected to write a review of the movie Victoria and Abdul, which my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in October 2017. It’s a mostly true story of a couple guys from India sent to England to present Her Royal Highness, Empress of India, Queen Victoria with a coin for her golden jubilee.

Victoria (Judy Dench) is, by her own description, old and fat and very much a curmudgeon, bored with the pomp of the affairs of state. It’s worse because her beloved husband Albert died, and her good friend John Brown is gone as well. (I saw the movie Mrs Brown, also starring Dame Judi, back in February 1998; V&A is is a sequel of sorts.)

As Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Adeel Akhtar (Mohammed) make their brief presentation, the former violates protocol by actually making eye contact with the queen. The handsome Abdul finds favor with the monarch and they develop a most unexpected friendship.

Her household and inner circle, notably Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) and her increasingly impatient heir apparent Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) are NOT pleased with the queen’s fascination with the Indian interloper.

Victoria and Abdul, in a mostly humorously cheeky way, shows that someone can indeed show an old queen new tricks. It addresses Britain’s colonial past, making it clear that Victoria could actually learn from even her far-away subjects. And while her Mr. Brown was not well-regarded by those around the queen, the elevation of this brown-skinned man made them apoplectic.

I will admit that I liked Victoria and Abdul it more than some of the critics (only 66% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). One complained that “the film’s attempt to portray the Queen as more politically enlightened than her courtiers is kindly but unconvincing.” Well, my wife and I were convinced.

The leads plus Eddie Izzard were especially good. I may have now seen Judi Dench in more movies than any other actor, save perhaps Meryl Streep, and she always makes the trip to the cinema worthwhile.

The Landmark Theatres have some sort of electronic movie that I belong to. I was selected as a winner of an “admit-two” ticket for the Monday, October 23rd, 7:30 p.m. screening of THE FLORIDA PROJECT at Landmark’s Spectrum 8 Theatres.

Unfortunately, Monday night is the Daughter’s play rehearsal night, so it was impossible for both my wife and I to go. So I went with my friend Mary.

I had seen the trailer previously, which fortunately does not reveal too much. The film was directed by Sean Baker in a sort of a cinema verite. It was though the story, from a screenplay by Baker and Chris Bergoch, were a documentary.

It follows around Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), a five-year-old leader of a group of kids – Valeria Cotto as Jancey, Christopher Rivera as Scooty – running relatively freely in these of extended-stay motels, probably once decent venues not far geographically, but miles away economically from Walt Disney World, which was originally dubbed The Florida Project.

Willem Dafoe is Bobby Hicks, the manager of The Magic Castle Motel – definitely not to be confused with The Magic Kingdom – just trying to do his job, collecting the rent, which is usually late, from Halley (Bria Vinaite), Moonee’s mom. But occasionally, he gets involved in his tenants’ lives, in spite of himself.

For a time, I wasn’t sure where the film was going, with its various vignettes. It only later occurred to me that the pastels of the housing units belie the difficult situation these folks find themselves in. By the end, the viewer will recognize the part of the population not often shown in film, as it “raises sobering questions about modern America.”

Dafoe, of course, is the name performer, and he is quite fine. But Brooklynn Prince is incredible in the lead. Check out the very positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (96%), though less so from the public (75%), who might be impatient that the narrative doesn’t “spell it out” more quickly.

Sometimes, there are movies that I really wanted to see at the time they came out but, for some reason, I don’t. This was certainly true of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). It was well reviewed and had name stars (George Clooney voicing the title character, Meryl Streep as his wife).

Finally, this summer, it showed up at the nearby Madison Theatre, and the Wife and I attended one weekend afternoon. The premise is interesting: “An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers’ retaliation.” The idea of fighting against one’s nature and take responsibility for his family versus the lure of one more series of thefts.

I liked the early part of the film well enough. When the farmers threaten the entire animal ecosystem, the film was more engaging. I enjoyed the stop-motion animation throughout, but the Daughter opted not to see the film because, just on the previews, the movie looked “creepy” to her.

Bill Murray has a very distinctive voice as Badger, even in animation (Jungle Book). Also solid: Jason Schwartzman as the mopey Ash Fox, Eric Chase Anderson as Ash’s cousin Kristofferson, Willem Dafoe as Rat (naturally) and Owen Wilson as Coach Skip.

Wes Anderson is a writer/director I either enjoy (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) or not (The Royal Tenenbaums). I liked the film.

This was annoying, though: some rube sitting behind us, but on the other side of the aisle was periodically flashing a red pointer at the screen. I thought the guys sitting immediately in front of them were going to punch out the culprit.

And I Was more sad than angry because he was just encouraging people to stay home to watch on DVD or some streaming service rather than enjoying film in a more communal way. Given the fact the movie only cost us 35 cents apiece to watch – the first showing of the “family” film on Saturday is always a bargain, so you can spend more on the concessions – this joy sucker helps diminish the art form.

Here’s the trailer for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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