The Man Who Invented Christmas is a charming story of the origin of the world’s most famous Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, and is a delightful departure from the usual sugary fare offered up with most holiday films. Masterfully blending bits of the real life Dickens and his fictional characters the story behind the story gives us a magical window into the mind of a Dickens that has had a few flops after a string of hits and is suffering from writers block.
With a growing family to support and worries about finances Dickens seeks an advance for a new book – one he hasn’t yet written. With just six weeks before the holiday he finds himself facing his own demons – and his parents - along with a host of Christmas ghosts and characters that, as he puts it, “won’t behave”. Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) plays a tortured Dickens who draws inspiration from his family and friends. An enormous amount of the fun in the movie is the interactions he has in his mind when he manifests the characters.
Splendidly cast as Scrooge, Christopher Plummer creates a wonderful curmudgeon and sarcastic muse. He brings charm and dimension to a role that has been played by some of the greatest actors of the last century and he does so with relish. Both his guide and his tormentor, Scrooge draws out of Dickens the detail and vivid descriptions that make the story and the characters within it so memorable.
The satisfying score by Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”) is an integral part of this story. Unlike so many holiday films where traditional music overpowers the movie and its characters, Mychael Danna’s themes are like pervasive aromas in the holiday home, never cloying, always making you feel welcome.
This movie is a holiday treat you’ll want to see every year. ... See MoreSee Less
Justice League is a good bit of escapism. If you’re looking for a couple of hours away from the bad news that is often all too present in real life there are enough super heroes in this film to give you a break from it all. DC’s first full-fledged offering of a true ensemble film brings together known box office quantities Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and introduces the lesser-known Aqua Man, Cyborg and The Flash to the big screen.
This isn’t a movie where you have to do a lot of thinking; the plot is as thin as a DC comic issue, but what else would you expect? The story line is a straight-forward “save the world” theme and doesn’t offer any significant twists or surprises. Still, there are entertaining elements to it; the special effects are dazzling and the film moves at a fairly fast pace, especially considering it is an ensemble work. DC paid some homage to the classic characters from the comics and television shows of the Sixties while updating others.
The movie opens with grim reminders that Superman is dead, which has apparently caused the world to fall into degradation and chaos without the Kryptonian to defend it. Regrettably, Henry Cavill, who plays the Man of Steel, turns in an uninspiring performance that is also moribund. Amy Adams returns as a Lois Lane who is stuck in grief over Superman’s death.
Batman, played by Ben Affleck, is still trying to rid Gotham City of bad guys, but his efforts seem as ineffective as Affleck’s bored portrayal of the caped crusader. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is far more entertaining to watch but was relegated to a rather minor role. Recognizing he’s fighting a losing battle, Batman decides to create a team to defend the world. His best move in the film is to recruit Wonder Woman.
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, who has spent the past century under the radar of humanity, is finally stepping forward to take a lead role in defending the Earth. Gal Gadot, like her character, also emerged as a leader in the ensemble, putting in a fine performance, balancing strong warrior characteristics with compassionate understanding and humor. The scenes with Wonder Woman and the Amazons as they separately fight off evil are high points of the movie.
Introducing the other members of the newly formed Justice League - Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg - was a stumbling block for the film. Fans may be put off by the lack of character development, particularly for Aquaman. In an effort to update the character, DC left actor Jason Momos portraying an Aquaman that doesn’t even know he’s King of the Seven Seas. Yet even with this handicap, Momos’ Aquaman is fun to watch and has some of the better one-liners in the film. Cyborg, played by Ray Stone, wasn’t given much to do besides sulk over his newly found cybernetic mutation.
Of the newer characters introduced in the film, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash was particularly entertaining. Miller created a Flash that is both believable and amusing as an accidental teenage superhero. He steals every scene in which he is paired with the Man of Steel.
Danny Elfman’s score moved the action along. He deftly blended the disparate themes of his 1989 Batman along with threads of John Williams’ iconic Superman theme and riffs from Junki XL’s Wonder Woman. Elfman came to the movie quite late. He works hard to compete with wall-to-wall expensive special effects. He particularly succeeds in the movie’s third act, a traditional time in Marvel super hero films where all the characters come together for a final action-packed showdown.
Despite an uneven beginning, Justice League will no doubt give Marvel’s Avengers a run for their box office money. We all want someone to save the world and DC’s given us a new collective of super heroes to take up the task. ... See MoreSee Less
This week on The Score with Edmund Stone: just in time for Thanksgiving, movies featuring cooks in the kitchen, including Babette's Feast, Ratatouille, The Tale of Desperaux, No Reservations, Chocolat, Fried Green Tomatoes, Big Night, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Eat, Drink Man, Woman, and Julie and Julia. A feast for the ears is coming your way. Tune in to All Classical Portland this Saturday, November 18th at 2pm. www.allclassical.org/... See MoreSee Less
The brilliance of Agatha Christie’s classic novel, Murder on the Orient Express, is in the delightful complexity of the intricacies of motive and opportunity for the vast cast of suspects. Those intricacies are somewhat lost in the 2017 retelling of the whodunit.
The ensemble cast is extraordinary, including Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, and Lucy Boynton. The movie is brimming with talent but the cast individually do not have enough screen time to really showcase it. Branagh’s Hercule Poirot is a wonderful portrayal of the finicky detective, and his character is the only one that truly has the opportunity to fully develop. Pfeiffer gives a great performance as Caroline Hubbard. Johnny Depp as the thuggish art dealer who becomes the murder victim, is simply Johnny Depp playing another gangster type. With this many stars, it’s hard for any of them to really shine.
That said, the movie is still a treat for Christie fans. It holds its fascination through the entire movie including the long denouement at the end. The film, which is also directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a visual treat with outstanding camera tracking and cinematography. Patrick Doyle’s score weaves through the complex story line beautifully, moving from initial warm and even playful melodies for the establishing opening scenes before meandering along with wealthy passengers as the Orient Express steams relentlessly through snow-filled mountain landscapes. Midway into the movie the score mirrors heightened tension as Inspector Poirot moves with precision, challenging the alibis of everyone on the train, before arriving at the only possible conclusion.
If you love a mystery this will get the “little gray cells” fired up. For Christie fans, this is a must-see. For others, it may just be a nostalgic retelling of a classic. ... See MoreSee Less
This week on The Score with Edmund Stone: we begin a new occasional show about how great movies opened in a particular year, in this case 2001. We'll include Planet of the Apes, Monsters Inc. and the launch of five franchises: Lord of the Rings, Fast and the Furious, Harry Potter, Oceans and Shrek. tune into All Classical Portland this Saturday, November 11th at 2pm. www.allclassical.org/... See MoreSee Less