Skip to main content

Review: "The Man Who Invented Christmas"

One of my favorite holiday films is Richard Donner's 1988 black comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. In that film, Murray's Frank Cross character is a modern incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens' classic novella "A Christmas Carol." Like its source material, Scrooged follows Cross on Christmas Eve as he's visited by three spirits who teach him life-changing lessons and ultimately help him turn a new leaf, ditching his cynical demeanor in exchange for a warmer heart (and what not). It's a testament to Dickens' prose that "A Christmas Carol" singlehandedly won over readers in Europe (and the Yankees across the Atlantic) enough to revitalize the Christmas holiday itself. The fact that movies still borrow inspiration from its pages shows the timelessness of its ideas and themes -- not to mention its structure of implicit time travel. And now comes The Man Who Invented Christmas, which gives us the behind the scenes story of "A Christmas Carol," bringing to life a very distraught Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, who played the Beast in this year's Beauty and the Beast) as he races to write his novella in under six weeks (therefore hitting bookstores in time for Christmas).

The good news is that The Man Who Invented Christmas isn't as terrible as its trailer or marketing campaign lead you to believe it is. Working from an adapted screenplay by Susan Coyne, the film wisely knows its place in the movie universe -- which exists somewhere between made-for-TV family fare and another powdered BBC period reenactment -- and then takes some interesting risks with it. And by "risks" I mean its visualization of the creative process. After the film sets up its stakes (Dickens is running out of money, his wife is pregnant with their umpteenth child and his debt-riddled father resurfaces), Christmas does its due diligence of showing what so many other movies have done in the past: the author coping with writer's block. Then things get interesting once Dickens' half-baked ideas begin to materialize as real life characters (that only Dickens can see of course). The first of these characters to appear in front of Dickens is Scrooge himself, played by Christopher Plummer (Beginners).

From this point on, Christmas hums to a playful tone as Dickens becomes embattled with what his characters want to happen in his novella versus what he believes should happen (but this is all silly, considering all of this is in Dickens' head but I guess that's part of the charm or fun or whatever, I'm overthinking the fuck out of this). Of course, as the real life problems stack up, Dickens ends up reckoning with his own "ghosts of Christmas past" if you will (namely his poor family roots and the shame his father brought upon him from a very early age). Stevens proves himself to be a likable Dickens and his supporting cast is the who's who of British screen acting, so that doesn't hurt.

Fortunately, because of the light nature of its content, Christmas doesn't overstay its welcome, clocking in at an agreeable 104 minutes with credits. Is this going to be the definitive screen account of Dickens or any sort of biographical drama of his? Of course not. It's harmless and it means well and I'm sure there are plenty of grandmothers who will refer to it as "cute" before warming up some tea and throwing on the DVD of Scrooged for their grandkids to watch.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Winnie the Pooh Mashup Trailer: "Christopher Robin & Ted"

"Sooner or later, your past catches up to you." That's the tagline  Disney is going with for their live-action Winnie the Pooh movie Christopher Robin , starring Ewan McGregor . While watching the teaser trailer (which debuted today) and getting my first look at a real life Winnie the Pooh talking bear, I couldn't help but be reminded of  Seth MacFarlane 's Ted , the R-rated comedy which featured a protagonist who's a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. Ironically enough, MacFarlane's talking bear Ted has a much more cuddly and lovable look to him. Disney decided to give Winnie the Pooh a crude and homely-looking appearance -- not exactly what you'd expect for their intended child audience. So I decided to create this mashup trailer, which rewrites Christopher Robin's (McGregor) backstory to suggest that Ted was his original bear and he just sewed up the teddy bear's parts to look like Winnie the Pooh. Talk about your past catching up to y

#InformedImages: “There Will Be Blood” and “Narcos: Mexico”

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works. I remember the exact the moment it clicked together for me. It was about half an hour into episode 2 (directed by  Josef Kubota Wladyka ) of Narcos: Mexico on Netflix . The camera crept across the dry, desert landscape toward a hole in the ground, where Rafael Caro Quintero (a.k.a. Rafa, played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía ) was digging furiously, in an attempt create a makeshift aqueduct to help grow his field of marijuana. It recalled images from the earlier sections of Paul Thomas Anderson 's masterpiece T here Will Be Blood, when Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis ) was digging for oil underneath the rocky ground. Then, as I continued to watch Narcos: Mexico , a more striking visual parallel to There Will Be Blood began to emerge. For example, as Rafa and his boss Miguel Ángel F

Watch: ALL OF VENOM: Mashup of “All of Me” and “Venom”

Venom , the latest Marvel (anti) superhero film, limps into theatres this weekend with an unimpressive 30% on Rotten Tomatoes . However, I'm sure that won't prevent it from making boo koo bucks at the box office. What I'm more interested in is how Venom will fit into the annals of film history -- because it does! While this isn't my first Venom mashup video (see my The Venom Drop teaser trailer), I do think that my new mashup, All Of Venom , really speaks to what Venom  ultimately will be remembered for:  Tom Hardy 's committed physical performance and how it plays as a companion piece to the 1984 romantic fantasy comedy All of Me starring ( Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin ). In Venom , Hardy's character Eddie Brock gets possessed by an alien symbiote and must learn to share his host body with said being. In All of Me , Martin's character gets possessed by the soul of the recently deceased Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) and -- yup, you guessed it -- must lea

VIDEO ESSAY: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master"

"He's making all this up as he goes along." NOTE:  I was fortunate enough to attend a rare 70mm screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master on Thursday August 16, 2012 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance were writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and one of the film's actors, Kevin J. O'Connor (both of whom are pictured with me here ). --   The key to the success of Paul Thomas Anderson 's The Master doesn't come in its mammoth achievement of being shot on 70mm film or its carefully constructed parallel origin story of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology practices. Rather, that success is embedded in an intimate scene: a single shot close-up on alcoholic war veteran Freddie Sutton (an unforgettable Joaquin Phoenix ) during a "process of time" session with Lancaster Dodd ( Philip Seymour Hoffman in prime Hubbard form). Up until this scene, the character of Freddie dutifully performed the task of delive

Watch: Errol Morris' 1991 Documentary on Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time"

Yesterday we learned that the brilliant and world-renowned theoretical physicist  Stephen Hawking  passed away at the age of 76. In the early 1960s,  Hawking developed an early form of motor neurone disease, debilitating and paralyzing him throughout the decades. However, he did not let such a devastating physical disability stop him from becoming a truly iconic figure, thinker and leader in the sciences, and in specific, cosmology. Hawking's built a legacy of scientific works, breakthroughs and publications throughout his academic career but it was his best selling book "A Brief History of Time" that caught the eye of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Oscar winner for  The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara ). Morris' doc A Brief History of Time  looks at the impressive life and work of Hawking, told in the signature way that only Morris can, all scored to a soundtrack composed by  Philip Glass . While the film is ava

Watch: TOM & CHERRY (Mashup trailer of CHERRY and TOM & JERRY)

Two big movie releases are available for streaming this weekend: Tom & Jerry on HBO Max and the Tom Holland -starrer Cherry over at Apple TV+. I couldn't decide which want to watch so I spent my evening editing their trailers together.  This is TOM & CHERRY:

Watch: Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE CATS

It's been quite the day for trailers. Ad Astra . It Chapter Two . Top Gun: Maverick . But I don't think anyone was REALLY ready for the promised "digital fur technology" of Tom Hooper 's Cats . The trailer is pure nightmare fuel. While watching it, the first thing that struck me was how dark and dreadful the film looked. Like physically and literally. I started thinking about how the film would probably be enjoyable while on some drugs. Then I started fixating on a shot of Idris Elba on top of a multi-colored lit building and the poster for Gaspar Noe 's Enter The Void  suddenly popped in my head. And after that, there was no turning back...

Video Essay: Mare of EATStown

  Not since Brad Pitt 's performance as Billy Beane in Moneyball have I been this emotionally invested in what a character was always eating or drinking onscreen.  In HBO's Mare of Easttown , Kate Winslet plays Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan. (Winslet is brilliant in the role.) Like Billy Beane, Mare's approach and understanding of her immediate environment or dilemma is translated through what she's consuming; it's as if the food or drinks become company players in her stage drama. And it's not just food either; Mare vapes and smokes too. Anything she consumes becomes important in the moment. My ears are listening to the dialogue and my brain is processing the plot, but my eyes and salivary glands are licking up the drops of condensate beading down her bottles of Rolling Rock.  The foods become so integral to the Mare experience, to the unfurling of her character, that at one point she's even attacked by a full gallon of milk (it's thrown through

Star Wars: Licorice Pizza

  If we were living in the the movie Minority Report , Paul Thomas Anderson 's latest film Licorice Pizza would get arrested for "Precrime." At least in the court of (some) public opinion . Anderson's film -- which I think is pretty great -- has come under criticism for the age gap between its two lead characters (15-year-old Gary and mid-20-something Alana), who go back and forth between friendship and playing flirtatious footsie. At no point in Licorice Pizza do they do anything sexual. Their feelings are sincere and the physical attraction is sometimes there, but it's all never acted on. Does that make the movie immoral? I don't think so. Could Gary and Alana some day end up together? I could see that. And Gary would (presumably) be of age by that point.  This age gap controversy had me thinking about a similar scenario...in George Lucas ' Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace . In the Star Wars films, we know that Queen Padmé Amidala will eventu

The 21 Best Films of 2021

Will movie theaters ever back to what they once were? The ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) pandemic tore a hole into the fabric of theatrical exhibition. I streamed more movies this year than any other. A lot of people did. The one constant is this: Whether you watch them on the big screen or on your phone, good films rise to the top. Here go my picks for the best films of 2021. (And some other notes too.) Biggest Disappointments: The Matrix Resurrections Candyman (2021) Don't Look Up Special Citation : Kanye with Special Guest Drake: Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert Seanne Farmer (director) // Niklas Bildstein Zaar (creative director) Kanye West Free Larry Hoover Concert GIF from Kanye West GIFs Best Needle Drop: "Light House" by Future Islands in Titane Best Supporting Actress : Olga Merediz, In The Heights Best Supporting Actor : Simon Helberg, Annette Best Actress : Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza Best Actor : Alessandro Nivola, The Many Saints of Newark Before w