Movie review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Christmas movie season continues. After a couple of comedies (A Bad Moms Christmas and Daddy’s Home 2), we now have a biographical drama – The Man Who Invented Christmas!

IMDb summary: The journey that led to Charles Dickens’ creation of “A Christmas Carol,” a timeless tale that would redefine the holiday.

Writing

The Man Who Invented Christmas‘ script was written by Susan Coyne (a Canadian playwright and TV writer), based on a historical non-fiction book with the same name by Les Standiford. Even though the screenplay was based on historical fact, I still question the accuracy of the film’s narrative, as the cinematic adaptations of biographies tend to usually strive for an entertaining rather than truthful story. And this movie’s narrative was certainly compelling, mostly due to its content but also structure.

The Man Who Invented Christmas told (though great dialogues, I might add) the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of one of the most beloved novellas for readers of all ages – Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I do particularly remember reading the book as a child while laying down in bed with a cold during winter. Seeing this film made me want to definitely reread the book this winter. I would probably understand it in a completely different way now, not only because I watched this film but also because I just studied Charles Dickens’ other works, last of which I read and researched only last month – Great Expectations.

If the movie is to be believed, a lot of different elements from Dickens‘ life acted as the inspiration for the novella. One of the elements was Dickens’s struggles with the concept of class: the class divide and the class consciousness. He was known as ‘the writer of the people’ and yet, he was very much part of the upper/middle class. However, he had experienced lower class life as a child in a workhouse and those experiences haunted him the rest of his life. Dickens‘ father’s belief that he belonged to a higher class even if he had no funds to back up his membership also influenced the writer. The portrayal of the competitive literary scene of the 19th century Britain also acted as a neat realistic background for the story.

As much as I have enjoyed the content of the narrative, I also really loved its structure (a.k.a. how the inspiration behind A Christmas Carol was portrayed in the film). I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Dickens interact with his characters and move around his version of London in the story. It was as if the magical atmosphere of the book was transferred to its behind the scenes story. I loved seeing the parallels between Dickens and Scrooge too and liked the idea that both of them needed to learn to open themselves up to the world and see the hopeful side of it. It looks like writing was a form of therapy for Dickens. Lastly, I absolutely adored the picture’s message about the importance and the usefulness of imagination and storytelling.

Directing

The Man Who Invented Christmas was directed by Bharat Nalluri and this was the first film of his that I have seen. I thought that he did a stellar job. I loved the fairytale-like atmosphere of the film – the said aura made the movie more than just a biographical drama. The pacing was quite good too. The cinematography (by Ben Smithard) was good and varied as well, while the orchestral soundtrack (by Mychael Danna) was grand and emotional. Lastly, the narrative’s sentimental message and a heart-warming conclusion were brought to life in an excellent manner. My favorite scene of the movie that just epitomized all that was great about it was Stevens as Dickens looking at the first published copy of his new book and getting emotional about it. That single scene underscored both the hardships and the joys of creativity as Stevens‘ character seemed both relieved and excited.

Acting

Dan Stevens starred as Charles Dickens and did a great job. His performance was quite theatrical, which really fit the fairytale aura of the film (but would have been odd in a more realistic setting). Stevens seems to have a hard time escaping historical roles – he was just the Beast in 18th century France (Beauty and the Beast) and, of course, who can forget the beginning of his career and Cousin Matthew on Downton Abbey? If you want to see him in more contemporary roles, The Guest and Legion are both excellent (even though Legion is maybe set in the past – the visual style of that series makes it really hard to pinpoint its time period).

The supporting cast of the movie was full of great talent. Christopher Plummer was just amazing as Scrooge (I should not be surprised at how great he was after looking at his IMDb: he is, basically, the cinema royalty, and was even in The Sound of Music all those decades ago). Jonathan Pryce was also quite good as Dickens’s father. On the female character side, the movie didn’t have much (it was set in the 19th century, are you even surprised at the lack of female leads?). Having said that, it did attempt to do something with Dickens’ wife, played by Ger Ryan (she mentioned something about wanting an adventure of her own – not an idea that a woman would have had in the 19th century but definitely would have had nowadays) and Anna Murphy as Tara (an Irish housemaid, whose tales kickstarted the writing process of A Christmas Carol).

In short, The Man Who Invented Christmas was a unique biographical drama with a lovely message and a touch of theatricality.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Man Who Invented Christmas trailer

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Movie review: Death Note

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest of Netflix’s original films (and, arguably, the most interesting one) is streaming worldwide, so, let’s talk about it. This is the review of Death Note.

IMDb summary: Light Turner, a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.

2017’s Death Note is a live-action adaptation of a beloved anime/manga franchise. The Netflix’s version of this IP has been called the ‘American adaptation’ with the hopes of stopping or minimizing the criticism on the topic of whitewashing. Weirdly, I haven’t seen the same argument being used to defend Ghost in the Shell. Also, I find it strange that, in this day and age, somebody would make a movie purely for the American audience, when it is definitely gonna be seen all over the globe.

Writing

Death Note’s script was written by Charles Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides (the duo behind 2011’s Immortals – a Henry Cavill pre-Superman film), and Jeremy Slater (who wrote, oh no, 2015’s Fantastic Four). Going in line with the idea of Americanization, the screenwriters efficiently grounded the film’s story in an American life by opening the movie with the sequence set in a stereotypical American high-school. This was a first and a very obvious change from the original material. As I’m not familiar with neither the original Death Note anime or manga, I’d be interested to find out what other changes occurred? How were the characters different (excluding the race switch)? How much of the original plot-points were retained? Were the changes made because of the Americanization or for some other reason? The picture still did have some Japanese elements (mainly two: the word ‘Kira’ and its meaning remained and a few minor Japanese characters were involved in the narrative).

Speaking about the fantasy part of the story – I found it very fascinating and now I get why every anime fan loves Death Note. I thought that the film set up the mystical side of its story very well, although Light’s transition into being the full-on Kira figure was a bit sudden. Nevertheless, I did like that the movie raised questions about the vigilante justice (on a massive scale) and questioned the limits that some people might be willing to push past. Other, more real-world-related topics, which were touched upon in the film, were bullying, anti-socialness, and the unproductive parent-child relationships.

As the narrative is usually made or broken by its characters, let’s discuss them. I very much enjoyed the writing for Light. I loved how smart he was and, yet, how he still made stupid mistakes appropriate for his age (like telling his girlfriend about the book, although, I’m quite happy that the scriptwriters allowed him to ‘show and tell’ rather than act like Iron Fist, who only tells his story without any proof and expects others to believe him). Light’s opposite and equal – L – was also quite nicely realized. I loved the fact that the stand-off between these two was happening on a whole other level of brilliance. Their genius-ness could be seen in 1)L’s initial detective skills and 2)Light’s ability to avoid culpability in the end. I also liked how the main difference – one’s readiness to kill and other’s refusal to, was highlighted in the movie.

Another important character in the film was Mia, Light’s girlfriend. The writing for her was the worst, mostly because the secrets and the reveals, related to her, were fairly obvious. However, I noticed an interesting parallel between Death Note’s notebook having an influence over Mia similarly to how Tom Ridley’s diary had a hold on Ginny in HP2.

Directing

Adam Wingard directed the 2017’s Death Note and did a good job. His previous work mostly belongs to the horror genre and it looks like he brought elements of it to Death Note too and turned the psychological thriller/detective thriller into more of a horror film. He did that by using plenty of jump scares and really gruesome and gory violence. The graphic content didn’t detract from the plot but it didn’t add to it either. The final product also definitely had a feeling of a Hollywood film, due to its soundtrack (by Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross) and all the slow motion (so the Americanization of the property continued from the script into the visuals and the sounds).

The character design of Ryuk was quite good. He looked terrifying enough and kinda reminded me of the clown in the new IT film. I applaud the filmmakers for using mostly practical effects – puppets and costumes -to bring this character to life (CGI was only used for the face). I’ll comment on the look of the other characters in the acting category.

Lastly, the 3rd act of the film was quite strong. The final chase (L going after Light) was neatly paced and I liked its instrumental score and the urban setting. The ferry’s wheel sequence was also exciting and entertainingly crazy, especially when all the characters came clean.

The director’s next project is Godzilla vs. Kong for Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

Acting

Nat Wolff was really good in the lead role of L. He played the lead character as a psychotic but vulnerable genius.Wolff is slowly building his career, he first popped on everyone’s radar with a small part in The Fault in Our Stars and later starred in the John Green follow-up movie Paper Towns.

L was played by Lakeith Stanfield. The actor had previous small roles in Selma, Straight Outta Compton and Get Out (which I’m going to review in a couple of days). The idea to cast an African American actor in the role added some diversity and accuracy for a US-based film. Still, I don’t think that this type of diversity can work as an apology for not casting Asian talent in any of the lead roles. And yet, while the character did not retain neither its original race nor the iconic hair, his sitting position remained the same, which was a nice. Also, if we take the character’s look on its own and don’t compare him to anyone else, I have to admit – L did look very cool .

Mia was played by Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys). I thought that she was the weakest of the cast. Her character’s shadiness was very obvious, presumably because the actress performance lacked subtlety. Willem Dafoe voiced and did the facial expressions for Ryuk. His voice fit the character neatly and the facial expressions were sinister enough.

In brief, Death Note was an okay adaptation of a beloved anime (but honestly, the bar has been set pretty low by Ghost in the Shell). Whitewashing aside, the film had a couple of writing problems, but, in general, was enjoyable.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Death Note trailer 

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Movie review: Beauty and the Beast

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Disney’s juggernaut Beauty and the Beast has landed in theaters, so, let’s review it!

On a personal note, Belle was always the character I most closely identify with, in that we were both more interested in books than the real world. Also, weirdly enough, Disney fairytales seem to be the only romances I can stomach because l seem to prefer love stories set in a fantasy world rather than real one.

Disney has made quite a fair few of the live-action fairytales: Alice and its sequel, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficient, Into The Woods, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The BFG, and Pete’s Dragon. The re-tellings started dark (almost as a comeback to the original print version of the tales) and have gotten lighter and more faithful to the Disney animated versions. The new Beauty and the Beast film is the most faithful to its animated predecessor out of all of them because the live action movie will also be a musical. While all the other live-action adaptations have featured some variations of the traditional songs neither of the previous movies have been full-on musicals.

Writing

2017’s Beauty and the Beast’s script was written by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). I thought that the duo of writers crafted a beautiful and faithful adaptation that was inspired by both the Disney animated version and the original French fairytale (which I, sadly, haven’t read in its original form but have definitely read a few re-tellings). I didn’t notice any big changes from the animated film but I highly appreciated all the additions. I really liked that they expanded Gaston’s character: gave him a war background and made him more cruel and villainous not just empty. I also enjoyed seeing Agatha or The Enchantress taking on a more active role in the story. Similarly, both Belle and the Prince received more development – their family backgrounds were incorporated into the narrative. That really helped The Beast’s character – his vainness was justified by his upbringing and, thus, made him more likable.

Speaking more about the writing for Belle – I really loved the fact that this time around Belle tried escaping from the very beginning and that it was explicitly stated that she find out about the curse. Moreover, I loved that they added the idea that both Belle and The Beast were outsiders and that that helped them reach a common ground.

Finally, to address the issue that a lot of people pointlessly made a big deal of – LeFou being gay or having a ‘gay moment’ in the movie (wtf that even means?). Personally, I loved all the subtle progressive additions to the plot: I absolutely loved the moment with the three musketeers being dressed in the lady’s outfits and one of the giving a positive reaction. The way that moment came into play later, during the final dance with that musketeer and LeFou briefly meeting was also nice. Even though the idea that feminity and homosexuality go hand-in-hand is bit stereotypical, it was still a nice moment and a definite step (even if a tiny one) forward. Additionally, the fact that LeFou realized that he was too good for Gaston was so important! In general, I really enjoyed what they did with the character. I applaud the filmmakers for seeing an opportunity to make a modern and sophisticated alterations/enhancement and taking it. Moreover, the screenwriters still managed to keep the comic relief aspect of the character and even made his jokes more mature and commentary-like instead of the slapstick cartoonish humor of the animation.

Directing and Visuals

Bill Condon, who has a diverse list of movies in his filmography, ranging from Twilight 3 and 4 to The Fifth Estate and Mr. Holmes, directed the picture and did a brilliant job. From the opening shot of the film, the visual were just plain gorgeous. The CGI characters and the backgrounds and the actual physical props blended seamlessly (hats off to both the production design and the special effects teams). The opulent opening sequence acted as an amazing visual set-up and explained the Prince’s greed and vainness effectively. The Sound of Music reference with Belle singing on the hill was also nice. The final action sequence appeared to be elongated and was definitely more suspenseful than the one in the animated version – I can easily see why they did that – even fairytales have to have a big 3rd act action sequence in Hollywood’s mind. My only criticism for the movie was that the second hour before the 3rd act felt a bit slow. And yet, I still understand why they had to slow down – they needed to show Belle and The Beast falling in love. In fact, I actually appreciated that the falling in love montage was longer, and, hence, more believable. In general, the picture had all the right feels – from the heartbreaking sadness to the Disney staple of eternal romance. Lastly, the animated character credits and the French translations for the credits were neat finishing touches.

Musical Numbers

Alan Menken was responsible for the music of the picture and did an amazing job. I felt that all of the musical numbers lasted for a longer time (the movie is half an hour longer than the animated picture) and I also loved the huge scope of them – they had way more extras and dancers than I expected. All the theatricality and drama of the performances was just great as well. All the old songs sounded familiar and yet brand new. I loved all the classics – Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. The new songs – How Does a Moment Last Forever, Evermore, and Days in the Sun were also great and fit the old soundtrack well. The fact that the filmmakers got Celine Dion to sing one of the new songs during the credits was also great and a nice reference to her work on the animated film. I also really liked the Ariane Grande/John Legend version of Beauty and the Beast.

Acting

Emma Watson as Belle. Watson is always going to be Hermione in the majority of people’s minds but I hope that she will also get remember as Belle as she was stunning in the role: sweet but also tough enough. I also thought that she did a good job with the singing. Next step for her career is to star in an awards movie and maybe even snag a nomination for it.Some of her recent films include Noah, Colonia, and the upcoming The Circle.

Dan Stevens as The Beast. He was amazing. I could actually see him through all the motion capture CGI and his singing was also excellent. Steven’s career has had its ups and downs. He first got on everyone’s radar through Downton Abbey, but then he made a decision to leave the show just after a couple of seasons in order to star his movie career Well, that didn’t happen as soon as he probably planned. The role of The Beast is his most high-profile role to date but his performance 2014’s The Guest has also been positively accepted. Interestingly, Stevens also made a decision to go back to TV – be it in a very different role than the Cousin Matthew one – this time playing the titular mutant on Legion.

Luke Evans as Gaston. A perfect casting if I have ever seen one. Evans was just oozing charm as Gaston and even though I wanted to completely despise the character, I just couldn’t. Evans got his big break with The Hobbit movies and Dracula Untold and he was also recently in an indie experimental film High-Rise and The Girl on The Train big screen adaptation.

Josh Gad as LeFou was also brilliant. I really liked actually seeing him on screen after only listening to him in Frozen (he was Olaf for those not in the know).

My favorite voice actors were Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Thompson just has a motherly sounding voice that was perfect for Mrs. Potts, while McGregor was super funny as Lumière. I can’t really comment on McGregor’s French accent or lack of it, cause I don’t speak French but I know that he had some difficulties with it. Well, I didn’t mind and actually liked how he sounded. It was also nice to hear McGregor singing cause I think that the last movie I heard him singing in was Moulin Rouge more than 15 years ago. The fact that he went from Trainspotting 2 straight to a Disney fairytale is also pretty funny.

Other cast member included Kevin Kline as MauriceIan McKellen as CogsworthAudra McDonald as Madame de GarderobeGugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, and Nathan Mack as Chip. All of them did a fine job. Lastly, Stanley Tucci played an original character – Maestro Cadenza. I didn’t really think that the picture needed a new character but his presence didn’t hurt the movie either. That final gag with the teeth and the piano keys was actually quite funny.

In short, Beauty and the Beast is an amazing adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s immensely entertaining and provides a great opportunity for some quality escapism into a fairytale world.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Beauty and the Beast trailer

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