ONLY FOR A MOMENT did I catch a glimpse of a shadow against the wall before it retreated. I quickly changed directions and walked away from the alleyway. Purposely I tried keeping my footsteps quiet by taking little steps with the soles of my shoes rolling from heel to toe against the pavement. It did not help as I heard a rustling sound behind me. Darting into a gangway between two apartment buildings, I saw each of them had wrought iron fire escapes that mirrored each other. They looked like origami figurines with a limb reaching out to grab me. Walking up to one of the fire escapes I grabbed a hold of the bottom rung of a ladder that easily gave way for me to pull it far down enough for me to hoist myself onto it. Quickly I made my way up to the first floor and cowered against the building in a crevice of a black area the nearby street lamp could not reach. The dark shadow I had seen lengthened down the alley towards my location. A looming figure attached to the shadow came into view… WHAT YOU JUST READ was something out of my imagination. I apologize if you wanted to find out what happened next, but that scenario never took place. However I will tell you as I was writing it I was looking at it as if it really did take place. You see whenever I write a piece of fiction I see everything in my mind first and then it appears before my eyes. My own version of virtual reality I guess you can call it. In fact I have been accused of not paying attention in class or when someone is speaking directly to me because I do not maintain constant eye contact; I actually am listening to them and picturing what they are telling me. When I think about it I have always had this capability, even before I found my fondness for writing; all that was needed was an imagination. Being a visual learner I certainly can attest to the benefits of visualization. What a surprise it was to see Charles Dickens did the same thing in this comedic drama. DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS RECENT works Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey-TV), was desperate to overcome his writer’s block and produce a successful story for the holidays. All he needed to do was look at the people around him. This film festival winning movie based on a true story also starred Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as John Dickens, Simon Callow (Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Leech and Miriam Gargoyles (The Age of Innocence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mrs. Fisk. The idea for this story was a new twist on the Christmas Carol story. I enjoyed watching the process Charles Dickens went through to create his iconic story. The acting was a mixed bag for me; I thought Christopher Plummer far outshined Dan in this biographical film. At times I thought the humor was a bit much, inching the Charles Dickens character closer to buffoonery. I may have felt this way because Dan was not totally believable to me. I would have preferred added focus on creating more drama in the script. Despite these issues there still was a certain charm to this picture and fans of Charles Dickens or at least his novel “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the imagination used to bring the novel’s characters to life.
2 ½ stars
The couple sitting next to me either thought the armrest between us was radioactive or rigged to explode. No not really, they were heavy into performing public displays of affection, known as PDAs. I do not have an issue with a kiss, hug, neck massage, tickle or the holding of hands; but when 2 people are intensely trying to invade each other’s body in a public area like the aisle of a grocery store or on a crowded train, I have to wonder what is going on that they need to show the world they are in love that much. Honestly, I interpret it to mean there is something lacking in their relationship and they are overcompensating for it. On the flip side when a person does not want to be out in public with their significant other, I usually make the assumption there is something they are hiding or embarrasses them. Based on the biographical book of the same name, this romantic drama revealed a side of Charles Dickens that was unfamiliar to me. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Red Dragon) directed and starred as Charles Dickens. Upon meeting the young daughter of Mrs. Frances Ternan, played by Kristin Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The English Patient), Charles Dickens became enamored with her to the point where his wife Catherine, played by Joanna Scanlan (Notes of a Scandal, Girl with a Pearl Earring), knew something was afoot. The first thing I have to tell you is how surprised I was about the story. Witnessing the actions of Charles Dickens in this Oscar nominated film I could easily see him play one of the characters in his novels. The scenes in this richly detailed film went from sparse open expanses to muted fully appointed rooms. Each aspect of this movie was well thought out. Felicity Jones (Hysteria, The Tempest) as the young woman Nelly did a beautiful job of acting as did the other actors. If I separate each part of this film I had no complaints about them individually; however, what failed for me was the directing. This story was so dragged out; I had a hard time staying focused. One of the comments I heard a fellow viewer say afterwards was if he saw the back of Nelly’s head one more time he was going to scream. I am sure Ralph is proud of this film, but if I had done this picture with the same results I would have tried to keep it hidden away from my friends.
2 3/4 stars
Real magic is something I find when reading a book. The author is the mapmaker while I travel along the route they laid out before me. The magic begins in my imagination when the printed words (yes, from a book that is in my hands) gently soak into my eyes. When I read the word “villa” I conjure up a sprawling terra cotta structure, guarded by tall majestic trees with long green arthritic arms stretched out trying to hold hands with each other. A character in the story can mention a musical instrument and I will hear it playing in my mind. Some of you already know I prefer seeing the movie first then reading the book afterwards. The reason being I usually find the book better than the film. My imagination paints such a vivid picture of what I am reading; it is hard for a director to recreate what I have already seen. Since I have read this classic Charles Dickens story and seen the previous film versions of it, I will review this movie as if it is the first time I am seeing the story on film. The story revolved around a young orphan named Pip, played by newcomer Toby Irvine and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Now is Good). Partially motivated by his attraction to Miss Havisham’s, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger), adopted daughter Estella, played by Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre, Anna Karenia); Pip diligently struggled to become a respectful fine gentleman, worthy of Estella’s affection. The two stand out performances in this dramatic romance came from Ralph Fiennes (The Duchess, Skyfall) as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter. The rest of the cast was not bad; they just did not stand out compared to these two. I thought the cinematography was wonderful, both indoor and outdoor scenes were richly detailed. The issue I had with this film festival winner was how dry and disengaged everything seemed. There was not much life in this movie; I found my mind wandering through portions of it. There was not as much drama as one would imagine with a Charles Dickens story. So with everything I have just said; if I now compare this version to the ones that came before, this was a pretty movie to watch that did not have much to show for it.
2 1/3 stars