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
When one does not have the opportunity to form memories of someone, made-up ones have to suffice. The make-believe memories can be a kinder, gentler, more loving version of the real person. I have heard individuals carry on about someone they barely knew, painting the person in sweet coats of affection; whereas, my memories recall that person being somewhat mean and angry. Growing up there were some relatives I never got the chance to meet; I only had old photographs and other people’s stories to form any connection to the unknown family members. Whenever the mood struck, I would pull out these old photos and study the features and outfits of my relatives. There was one photograph where a bespectacled man dressed in a suit was standing with one foot up on what I thought was a big wooden block. He was holding up a violin as if he was giving it the once over before placing it on his shoulder to play. I would imagine he was practicing for a recital. He would perform in a garden, where the relatives would be seated all around as they listened to the rich deep notes of a concerto. Besides my imagination, any hearsay or tidbits about a relative I would incorporate into elaborate stories; turning some of them into heroes, gangsters, spies, or some other fanciful characters. Where my fake memories were about deceased people, there is a world of difference when the memories are based on someone who is still alive. INSPIRED by a true story, a letter written by John Lennon arrived 40 years late to singer/songwriter Danny Collins, played by Al Pacino (Righteous Kill, Scarface). Seeing the letter sparked Danny into seeking out Tom Donnelly, played by Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Chef), the son he never knew. This comedic drama was driven by its outstanding cast. Al was perfect for this role; he not only looked the part but I was convinced he was this aging singer who was well past his glory days. Besides him and Bobby there was Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Frank Grubman and Annette Bening (Ruby Sparks, American Beauty) as Mary Sinclair. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting in this movie; it was believable and filled with great depth. Now I admit the script was somewhat predictable, besides being manipulative; but I did not care because I liked the way the story carried me throughout the film. There were even a couple of surprises along my journey. The dynamics between the characters were engaging; I was intrigued with their perceptions and memories. And after you see this picture I hope you too will have developed fond memories.
In my world the most powerful two words to use at the beginning of a sentence are, “I love…” Now I love chocolate chip cookies but that is not what I am referring to here. For a human being to feel and express their love for another human is one of the grand prizes for living; at least that is what I think. There is a poem that has the line, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and I have to agree with it. Some folk may disagree with me, questioning how someone can miss something if they have never experienced it. If I understand, it would be similar to saying how does someone miss or know if they like a sweet tasting food item if they have never tasted one before. Okay, that makes sense to me. However, one of the many advantages to being in love is having the comfort that one’s tightrope walk through life now has a safety net below to catch them if they should fall. There are people who fall in love and remain together until death. When one dies the other chooses to remain single for the remainder of their life; on the other hand, some individuals may have the opportunity to fall in love again. I admire the people in both scenarios. If someone later in life is fortunate to find love all I can say is more power to them. To me it is like walking through a forest and coming upon a large mighty oak tree. It may not have the flexibility of a young sapling but it has a wide reach to protect you along with deep roots that have been filled with knowledge and nourishment throughout the years. RECENT widower Fred Barcroft, played by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners) was pushed into a new home by his daughter Lydia, played by Marcia Gay Harden (Miller’s Crossing, The Mist). Neighbor Elsa Hayes, played by Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, Bernie), was quite curious with the quiet gentleman who moved next door to her. This film festival winning movie’s saving grace was Shirley and Christopher. They tried their best, having a few touching moments I might add, to keep the story alive in this comedic romance. There were a couple of parts I enjoyed; however, the story was such a disappointment. It was filled with sappy, predictable, poorly written dialog; this picture could have been so much better. I did appreciate however the idea of folks, who were getting up in years, still making discoveries in their life. Isn’t it amazing what love can do to people?
So many people have told me to “live in the moment,” yet it has always been a challenge for me. Do not get me wrong, I am actually better at it now; but, it takes some effort on my part. Being a credit manager, yoga/cycle instructor and movie reviewer; I have to plan out my days. However, I can live in the moment wherever I am; I just have a time limit on it, aware there is something afterwards that will need my attention. I guess this explains why the word spontaneous is not part of my vocabulary. Ironically, the one area where I am totally in the present is when I am watching a movie. I never sit and wonder what will happen next or how a certain action will cause a type of reaction. This would explain why a film such as this one provided me a fuller thrill experience. With all the different clues and pieces of American history, I just sat back and enjoyed the exciting ride. Nicholas Cage (Adaptation, Face/Off) was his family’s latest treasure hunter, Benjamin Franklin Gates. Handed down from his ancestors was a story about a fortune hidden by this country’s Founding Fathers. When a mysterious clue was finally solved by Benjamin, it led him on a multi-state adventure to historic American landmarks hidden with clues. Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Equilibrium) was the wealthy unscrupulous adventurer, Ian Howe who was intent on beating Benjamin to the treasure at any cost. When getting this DVD I understood the story would be far-fetched, but the way each clue was laid out from scene to scene had me questioning if there really was some truth to this tall tale. With his recent string of poor movie choices, it was good to see Nicholas doing himself proud playing this character. I also enjoyed Justin Bartha (The Hangover franchise, The Rebound) as Benjamin’s assistant Riley Poole and Diane Krueger (Unknown, Troy) as Abigail Chase, a museum employee who accidentally became involved in Benjamin’s quest. If you can sit back and live in the moment, this movie will take you on a wild escapade.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
His novels were not the only place where drama took place. In this movie, Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was filled with substantial drama. Played magnificently by Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the majority of this fiery drama occurred between Tolstoy and his wife of 43 years, the Countess Sofya, played with electrifying fire by Helen Mirren (Arthur, The Tempest). Determined to prevent her husband from changing his will, relinquishing his copyrights and property to the Russian people, Sofya enlisted a confederate in recently appointed assistant to her husband, Valentin played by James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement). The acting was superb in this movie, as the dialog had a fine accompaniment in the musical score. Completing the movie’s feel were the beautiful set pieces, with the attention to detail; I felt as if I had been transported back to Tolstoy’s estate, to witness the final years of this great writer’s life.
3 1/3 stars — DVD