The Man Who Invented Christmas
Shortly after a recent string of flops, author Charles Dickens is inspired to write a new Christmas story to celebrate an often overlooked Holiday. With only six weeks to write, illustrate, and publish the work it seems an impossible and herculean task that our hero tackles through personal debt, a battle with the demons of his past, and observations of the world around him.
That’s the story in a nutshell, but this piece goes much further into exploring the manic energy of a creative force and the inner fires that propel him. Dicken’s work is a phenomenon throughout the world, the characters brought to life with a sense of deep exploration into the dual nature of man and the dual natures of Charles himself. We see how his creative mania affects the people around him, how he is affected by a history of familial debt, and that much of his kindness and charity covers a secret darkness he’s long held back in the form of Scrooge.
Scrooge is brought to life in a way that we rarely see- the character stripped raw and bare and taking shape in the mind of Dickens. Christopher Plummer brings life to this sardonic, cold, and often cruel image of a man who walks ill-formed through the night and only takes pleasure from Dicken’s suffering- it’s Scrooge who plays spirit to the window of Dickens soul in this examination of the creative process.
8 out of 10 and a strong recommend.
The latest from Disney/PIXAR is a fun family film. Celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Coco is the story of a young boy’s journey to the underworld in order to find and receive a family blessing that will allow him to return to the land of the living. Aided by a stray dog he’d begun feeding, Miguel has a passion for music and a family that despises the art itself. Torn between the direction of his heart’s passion and devotion to a family he loves; Miguel’s journey forces him to weigh his responsibilities.
The story is fairly paint by numbers, with a series of cliché tropes and a few interesting characters. Often endearing and genuinely tender, the film doesn’t seem pressed to reinvent the wheel with unfamiliar twists or tricks. All of these things prove unnecessary once we see the beautiful palate of colors and art on display. Fluroescent greens, blues, yellows, and orange take a sharp contrast with the darkness of the Underworld. Sometimes simple is often better when you have such a lush tapestry to work with. Robert Lopez’s signature musical sound comes through in most of the songs and are beautifully sung by the cast.
7.5 out of 10, highly recommend.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The latest film from Martin McDonagh is a darkly look at grief, resentment, incompetence, and regret. Frances McDormand is Mildred Hayes, a grief-stricken mother frustrated with the lack of progress on her daughter’s murder investigation. More starkly haunted by the sheer viciousness of the crime, Hayes is inspired to rent three billboards outside her small town near the location of her daughter’s murder. The billboards bear a message for the local police, singling out popular small town Sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The two engage in a civil battle of wills, exacerbated by Willoughby’s incompetent debuty Dixon (Sam Rockwell).
This is definitely a mouthful of movie and story-telling. Dialogue driven, there is just as much to swallow between the lines as there are the lines themselves. McDormand is simply excellent as the cold, shattered, and ultimately broken woman who must cope with her grief, her regret, and her frustrations. Harrelson, who could have easily been painted as an unsympathetic “good ol’ boy” villain is endearing, frustrated, and torn apart by his inability to catch the murderer. The two forces play off each other well, neither one willing to give an inch and neither one driven by any real animosity between them. There’s genuine affection between the two characters, who were very likely friends before the daughters’ murder.
But if you are looking for an absolutely amazing performance with a truly complicated character, look no further than Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. He is every bit the “Good ol’ Boy” villain- an incompetent officer driven by shame, guilt, and a devotion to his boss that borders on the psychopathic. This is a violent “mama’s boy” who shouldn’t be one hundred feet near a badge and everyone in this town knows it. Everyone but Sheriff Willoughby, who sees only the best in Dixon and the true heart of the man.
The real star of the film is MgDonagh’s script, itself. A brilliantly written piece with so much wound up in the words and those ever important bits of silence, a certain meaning expressed behind words that mean something entirely different, and the implications that don’t always spell things out for the audience. Some will walk away feeling the film ended in one way, others will walk away finding something else entirely, and none of it is “wrong” when all is said and done. Three Billboards is often about our perceptions and the fact that, sometimes, the villain isn’t always so obvious.
10 out of 10. MUST SEE!!!