LIVES WELL LIVED – movie review

LIVES WELL LIVED

Shadow Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Sky Bergman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/18
Opened: February 16, 2018 in small markets, later tbd

Moe to Joe (both are 50): Hey Joe, would you like to live to 100?
Joe to Moe: Don’t ask me, Moe.  Ask the guy who’s 99.

Being a curious guy who at age fifty is thinking of mortality, Moe should take a look at “Lives Well Lived.”  The characters portrayed in this doc by Sky Bergman (who wrote, directed, edited, produced and photographed the doc) are from 75 to 103.  Spoiler alert: none of the forty folks interviewed, representing 3000 years of wit and wisdom, show interest in dying earlier than 100.  The elderly subjects are from California, where the Philadelphia-born California transplant director teaches photography at California Polytech in San Luis Obispo.  Why doesn’t anyone feel like bowing out of life before 100?  It could be because they are mostly cherry-picked group of citizens, middle-class to upper-middle-class, involved in sculpting, painting, dancing, yoga, reading, and taking long walks along the leafy roads in and about San Luis Obispo.

They do have wisdom to apart, but come up short on wit. In fact the only bon mot came from a fellow who is asked how he happened to have 9 kids.  His reply?  “My wife couldn’t take her hands off me, and since I never have a headache, I had no excuse.”

As for the wisdom, there is nothing that you don’t already know, because, after all, is there anything original on this subject; something that hasn’t been said in hundreds of self-help books, in movies, on TV, and in your own life? Examples: Family is first.  Be kind.  Have curiosity.  Take some risks.  Take one day at a time (whatever that means). Don’t worry about failure: it teaches.  There is one comment on the border of originality: “Never try to change anyone, not one bit.”

Obvious points aside, Bergman has succeeded in accumulating some dandy archival film.  Nazis occupy Europe.  People are poorly clothed during the Depression.  Japanese-Americans in California are interned in camps, though the husband of one inmate fought for the U.S. and is shown in military attire (he was killed in action).  Whites protest school integration with signs like “Racial mixing is Communism.” Shots of the train leading some lucky children out of Vienna on the kindertransport program to Britain.

The most interesting fellow grew up helping his parents make mozzarella in their food establishment, then taking time out to attend medical school while going home daily to continue baking cheese and then studying medical texts until midnight.

Did anything come across that I could relate strongly to?  Of course, but the principal comment to the question “What should young people take away from this” was a wish that young people would stop texting.  “They’re oblivious to the beauty around them.” Amen.

The film was shown at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival, which was attended by Evelyn Ricciardi, who wanted most at the age of 103 to see herself on the screen for her 15 minutes of fame.  She died three weeks after her birthday and is eulogized by Ms. Bergman.

Unrated.  72 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

HOPE GAP – movie reviews

HOPE GAP
Roadside Attractions/Screen Gems
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: William Nicholson
Screenwriter: William Nicholson based on his play “The Retreat from Moscow”
Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/5/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

In one scene Grace (Annette Bening) sighs that after a while, unhappiness ceases to be interesting. This may be true but “Hope Gap,” filled with unhappiness and meditative poetry, remains interesting throughout. Perhaps the major reason for this is the near-miraculous performance of the kind that Annette Bening gives. Or maybe because the film written by directed by Williams Nicholson in his sophomore contribution (his play “The Retreat from Moscow” compares the costly withdrawal of Napoleon’s forces from Moscow to the end of a three decades’ long marriage), pairs two thesps who work so well together that they convince of their inability to get along. The story is based on the marriage dissolution of the writer-director.

As you watch Grace and her long-term husband Edward (Bill Nighy) argue, you might be tempted to side with Edward, who has been worn down by his more outgoing wife’s insistence that he talk, even fight. In fact her nagging gives the appearance that she is a shrew who wants to make her man not what he really is, and in fact Edward states that she has been in love with her fantasy of a husband. Then again, you’d want to consider that she may have a good point. Women generally like to talk while men like to act, or so Esquire Magazine sometimes tells us, and Edward, who is a high-school teacher who discusses poetry as though he were declaiming to college majors in English literature, is clearly introspective.

Though Edward is actually in love with one Angela (Sally Rogers), the mother of one of the pupils, he has waited to tell Grace of his unhappiness and his wish to change gears somewhat past middle age. He wonders, as do we in the audience, whether he has been unhappy during the entire length of the marriage. He uses his own son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) as a sounding board, is advised by the twenty-something lad who lives alone and so far as we see has no girlfriend or love life, to keep the bond with his wife. When Edward tells Grace “I’m no good for you,” he uses the standard self-deprecation that both sexes have employed in efforts to mitigate their guilt.

Like Jamie, who is given a considerable role to show his personality when he is with two friends his own age, Jess (Aiysha Hart) and Gary (Nicholas Burns), Nicholson does not take sides, allowing us in the audience to spend the evening with our own friends discussing who is more at fault. Edward’s guilt aside, what is most fascinating is watching how Annette Bening, the only one in the cast who is not British, takes on the king’s English in registering a wide range of emotions, particularly the rage that is covering up the intense feeling of abandonment and lack of agency in negotiating with the person she has lived with for twenty-nine years. Yet she has only a vague inkling that they may have been a mismatch from the start.

There is an extra dose of disappointment to see that Seaford is a spot perfect for a romance of people during their mature years. Anna Valdez Hanks films on location in the south of England which looks over the English Channel from its white cliffs. Some may argue that we do not know enough about the couple, something that may give us insight into the one-sidedness of their split, but we see enough to fill in the backstory with our imagination.

The film will be appreciated by a prospective audience in middle age or beyond, though it’s a pity that dramas focusing on the mature are rarely attended by the callow.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

ORDINARY LOVE – movie review

ORDINARY LOVE
Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Lyburn
Screenwriter:  Owen McCafferty
Cast: Lesley Manville, Liam Neeson, David Wilmot, Amit Shah
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/10/20                                                                                
Opens: February 14, 2020

Liam Neeson & Lesley Manville in First UK Trailer for ...

People go to movies because they like to laugh, but they also like to cry.  In the classic downer, Arthur Hiller’s 1970 movie “Love Story,” a young couple fall in love.  Death strikes, especially tragic since the couple have their whole lives ahead of them.  You would expect the primary audience to be people of about the same age, 20-somethings.  On Valentine’s day comes a new weepie, “Ordinary Love,” which deals with people in the sixties, now retired.  You might expect an audience to be older than the ones that attended the Hiller film, but that’s just a guess.  Though neither of the principal characters passes away, the story is filled with the ways that the two cope with a diagnosis that confirms that the lump that Joan (Lesley Manville) feels in her breast while in the shower is cancer.  Though her hopes were up at first when the doctors were not sure, they were dashed after the final test.  Since Joan has a partner, her husband Tom (Liam Neeson), is drawn into the drama.  Tom has the time free to escort his wife to and from the hospital, though whatever physical difficulties are involved in transporting from a Belfast suburb to the big city hospital is nothing compared to the emotional torment that such a situation provokes.

Some psychoanalysts tell us that when two married people, even those who have lived together for decades, encounter a serious illness, the sick person, who faces surgery, mastectomy, reconstruction of the breast, all followed up by a course in chemotherapy, is not the only individual who suffers. A serious sickness could threaten a marriage, no matter how fond the husband is of his wife. Petty arguments notwithstanding. Tom sometimes baits Joan with comments that he considers witty but which are taken in a negative way by Joan.  Now, however, the normal, quiet household of an average couple is strained to such an extent that when Tom lets slip a thoughtless comment—“We’re in this together” as though they share a burden equally—you can sympathize with Joan’s fury.

The directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Lyburn, who worked together in 2012 on the film “Good Vibrations,” may be stepping out of their comfort zone by morphing from a duo about a story of a man who developed Belfast’s punk-rock scene into tackling one of a generally stay-at-home couple giving each other ordinary love.

Since Owen McCafferty, whose script for “Mikybo and Me”—about two young pals obsessed with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who run away to Australia–contributes ordinary dialogue for this ordinary couple, the principal joy of “Ordinary Love” is in the acting.  Giving themselves over this a slice of life, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville come across so bonded with each other that you might swear they were actually married.  They take us from their suburb of Belfast into the big city medical system (filmed on location by Piers McGrail), allowing us to see UK’s health coverage up close and personal.   The sadness mounts when we are introduced to Peter (David Wilmot), whom the couple run into at the hospital, where they learn that Peter has terminal cancer.  Peter had once taught Joan and Tom’s daughter.  Oh, and young Debbie, perhaps the only child of the marriage, had died a decade ago.

This, then, is a story well told, one that expects a mature audience as drawn into the ordinary lives of these people as youngsters might be riveted by “Lord of the Rings.”

91 minutes.  © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B

THE GOLEM – movie review

THE GOLEM
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Doran Paz, Yoav Paz
Screenwriter: Ariel Cohen
Cast: Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golen, Brynie Furstenbwerg, Daniel Cohen, Adi Kvetner, Lenny Ravich, Alex Tritenko, Olga Safronova
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/8/19
Opens: February 1, 2019

“The Golem” is a folklore story that over the years, at least since 1915, has been reinterpreted to bring the action up to what modern audiences crave. For example, the original, the 1915 version “Der Golem” shown in the U.S. as “The Monster of Fate,” was the opener of a trilogy that continued with versions in 1917 and 1920. (The 1920 version was shown years ago at Lincoln Center with a live organist to replicate the way that folks saw silent movies a century ago.)

Generally, the entire series of Golem films revolve around the way Jews discover a chance to defend themselves against the anti-Semitic Christians (so-called Christians would be more accurate for the haters). There is also the element that recalls the proverb, “Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.” This would apply as well to the Frankenstein episodes wherein Dr. Frankenstein creates what was looked upon as a monster though he was in truth a gentle person, persecuted by the population until the monster turned killer.

In the current version scheduled to open in New York’s Jewish Community Center or JCC February 1, the Israeli Paz brothers utilize the tropes of modern horror. But there’s a difference. Here lies notable element that would resonate with any persecuted people, in this case Jews who because they form only a minority wherever they live are picked on, oppressed, persecuted, and condemned, usually by anti-Semites who need scapegoats for their own problems. That’s where “The Golem” resonates with real life. In 1948, after centuries of being a minority in every country, Jews took Israel as their homeland and acted quite differently from the way they lived their lives in the diaspora—meaning outside of the homeland. Realizing the absurdity of trying to reason with the enemy, Israelis were forced to fight five wars, when losing a single one would mean the end of the Jewish State. Without a golem to protect them in 17th century Lithuania, village Jews would have been destroyed.

Doran and Yoav Paz are known primarily for their 2015 film “Jeruzalem”—scheduled for a sequel shortly—and which deals with a flight of young adults to Jerusalem where they encounter a Biblical nightmare. Similarly, in 17th century Lithuania, a woman becomes a hero by conjuring a powerful figure, a golem, to save her village from anti-Semites who blame them for a plague. Specifically, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), unable to provide her husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) with a son after the loss of their child, violates the standards of the Jewish community by seeking solutions to two problems. One is that she wants to create a figure out of mud to replace the boy she lost. Second is the need for protection against hostile men on horseback. A plague makes Vladimir (Alex Tritenko) suspect that the Jews are at fault, as his young daughter has become frightfully ill. He gathers his landsmen with the aim of wiping out all the Jews and burning down their entire village. When Hanna sculpts the figure of a boy in the mud, she has someone who can save the Jews, but at the same time, like the Frankenstein monster, he will turn on the community, which makes for a rousing, violent, bloody conflict. See it on the big screen.

In this community in 1673, women did not have nearly as great a role in Jewish prayers as men. Under Judaic law, ten men would form a minyan. Without the minyan, prayer would not be effective. Women were not allowed to join any minyan, which makes this “Golem” a horror tale that shows how Hanna has been seriously underrated by the men—though she got substantial help from a male, the title golem (Daniel Cohen), able to wave his arms and decapitate the enemy one by one. If he turns on his own people, it’s the fault of the folks he saved. The town healer Perla (Brynie Furstenberg) wants to destroy the boy as a freak of nature who could, and does, turn violent even against the Jews.

Some might argue that the dialogue is not on a Shakespearean level, but the picture’s simplicity will draw young audiences, including young women who would not usually be caught dead in a horror show. Fine performances abound by Ishai Golan, and especially Furstenberg. The orthodox Jews serve as a splendid Greek chorus.

Filmed in Ukraine and Israel, “The Golem” is in English with no subtitles.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – B

ON CHESIL BEACH – movie review

ON CHESIL BEACH

Bleecker Street
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dominic Cooke
Screenwriter: Ian McEwan from his novel
Cast: Saoirse Ronana, Billy Howie, Anne-Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough, Emily Watson, Samuel Wes

Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 4/12/18
Opens: May 18, 2018

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The soundtrack is filled with the beautiful music of Schubert and others while at the same time finds a place for Little Richard’s assertive (and in this case ironic) “I’m ready, ready ready, I’m ready ready ready to rock and roll.” “On Chesil Beach,” adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel by the screenwriter, finds two young people who are anything but ready to rock and roll. The opening sentence if Ian McEwan’s novel goes: “They were young, educated, and both virgins on this their wedding night and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.” That pretty much sums up the theme.

If you were born after 1970 you might find that sentence incredible. The sexual revolution, which began with the invention of the birth control pill and was furthered by resistance against authority during the Vietnam War, really was a upending of the old conventions. Both women and men who started their adult lives in 1962, the year this film begins, might well be virgins. Some were considered technical virgins, meaning that they “everything but.” However Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) and Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) were not even that. In fact shortly before their wedding Florence is seen reading a sex manual that must have been written in the forties, looked on by her kid sister Ruth (Bebe Cave), who appears more excited about the subject than Florence. For his part, Edward seems untutored by his parents Lionel Mayhew (Adrian Scarborough) and Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff), his father being an elementary school teacher in a profession looked down upon by Florence’s haute-bourgeois mother Violet (Emily Watson) and to a lesser extent the father Geoffrey Ponting (Samuel West).

Dominic Cooke, who directs and who is at the helm of a miniseries of Shakespeare histories, projects the genteel nature of life in a small English town, where Edward may be considered more of a hayseed than is the love of his life despite his scholarly affinity for history. Florence is involved leading a chamber music string group whose music is given ample and most welcome time on screen by the director.

Social classes notwithstanding, the meeting of these two college graduates at a function is the foundation of love at first sight, the two unable to resist each other, their eventual marriage a natural climax to their affection. This is why it is nothing short of tragic (despite some comic undertones) that the two in their honeymoon suite on Chesil Beach, are nervous: the young man’s leg shaking nervously under the table, his partner’s hand maintaining a tight grip on her dress. Their failure at sex on their wedding night could have been treated as a slip, nothing more, but the couple lack experience even in the ways of solving disputes.

There is an argument here for having sex before marriage which, strange as it seems today when couples live together for months and years and may never even tie the knot. In fact co-habitation should be as required by law just as are the requirements of a blood test for a marriage license.

Though this is essentially a two-hander with hardly a scene that does not include either principal actor, side issues are explored. One involves a terrible accident on a train station when Edward’s mother Marjorie is hit by a door and brain damaged. On the tennis court, Florence’s dad shows his infantile side, ready to break his racket when he fails to shut out his future son-in-law in what should have been a friendly match.

The two principals are made for each other; that is, until the wedding night changes them forever. At twenty-four Saoirse Ronan, soon to play the title role in “Mary, Queen of Scots,” was generously awarded for her performance last year as Lady Bird. Less known in the U.S., Edward Howle had a smaller role in last year’s “The Sense of an Ending,” here fitting in quite well as an equal to Ms. Ronan.
While some critics may show displeasure at the way the film ends, I see nothing wrong with the use of sentiment on the screen, even of the Hallmark variety.

Unrated. 110 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER – movie review

WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER

Kino Lorber
Director:  Amos Gitai
Screenwriter:  Amos Gitai
Cinematographers:  Oded Kirma, Eitan Hai, Vladimir Truchovski
Cast: Amos Gitai, Yitzhak Rabin, Tzipi Lipni, Tzipi Hotovely, groups of Muslims and Jews
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/18
Opens: January 26 at New York’s Quad Cinema

Toward the conclusion of Amos Gitai’s documentary a carousel is spinning, but while its few inhabitants appear to be having a good time, the carousel exists here as a symbol.  Talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been going round and round, a veritable merry-go-roundelay, just like the subjects in Arthur Schnitzler’s play “Der Reigen,” also known as “La Ronde.”  Peace talks between the two sides have occasionally appeared to make progress, such as when Bill Clinton brought Yasser Arafat together with Menachim Begin—and the two adversaries actually shook hands.  In another instance, an extremist Jew was so fearful that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was on the verge of agreeing to a settlement that Rabin was killed to the cheers of other extremist Jews.  Killed by a fellow Jew!

Here we are today, the sides still apart, no talks scheduled between Abu Mazen on the Palestinian side and Bibi Netanyahu on the Israeli’s.  But not to worry: talks will resume, and a peace agreement will remain somewhere over the horizon.  “West of the Jordan River” is another talk-fest, this one initiated by Amos Gitai (Gitai is a Hebrew translation of his parents’ name Weinraub), an Israeli filmmaker with 62 credits, lots of shorts, the last one being “Rabin: The Last Day” about the aforementioned Israeli leader’s assassination.

Not that the doc will lead to peace and a joint chorus of Kumbaya, but it’s an entertaining enough film, some, but not I, would say hopeful, filled with mournful music (that I could do without) between each segment of chats with the locals. Surprisingly Gitai knows his own language, Hebrew, and also English, plus some French for having lived in voluntary exile in France.

But when he converses with Arabic-speaking people, he needs a translator.  He probably need not worry this time that his movie will inflame his fellow Israelis and force him to bolt to France as he did in 1982 after screening his doc “Field Diary,” which found Gitai chatting in Nablus and surrounding areas, making time to hear a fellow under house arrest.  His leftist credentials never wavered, and there’s an implication even with this current film that he belives Israel’s intransigence is the principal reason for instability between the two peoples.

“West of the Jordan River” is not as antagonistic.  He does not goad Israeli soldiers with his camera as he did in “Field Diary.”  And the folks with whom he chats are friendly, though some get pretty excited even though they do not curse the Israelis.  Not all the action takes place West of the Jordan, as much of the dialogue is within Israel proper and a few clips near the beginning in Gaza.  In Gaza, which the media portray as the home of the most militant faction against “Zionists,” people lean into Gitai’s van to say that they want to work in Israel; that they can build their community just as the Israelis built their land, if only they could have the freedom of their own independent nation.  One gets the impression that these Arabs are told that if they moderated their language and even sounded conciliatory, they would have the most chance of making the final cut of the film.

The trouble with everything here is that while Prime Minister Rabin is interviewed, suggesting that he is not the pacifist hippy that some made him out to be, and while a more militant deputy, Tzipi Hotoveli, is on camera with a mystical explanation of the land, most of the talk is with ordinary people. Ordinary people do not make peace or war with the exception of revolutions that succeed by winning the support of the armed forces. It’s all well and good to sit around like the members of Breaking the Silence, a left-leaning activist group that conveys information on life in the occupied territories; and with Arab and Jewish women forming a support group citing how sons on both their sides lost their lives.  But nothing will get done until those in power can carve a peace with definite borders—less likely than ever, Gitai believes, because a “very reactionary” government under Netanyahu has held power for ages with large support, the prime minister having said during a recent election campaign that he has no use for a two-state solution.

Again blaming his own people for the obstinacy, Gitai interviews a pair of settlers, people living on ground that Arabs vociferously claim as their own. We hear one settler, a young woman who was stabbed by an Arab resident living nearby, state that the land does not  belong to anybody; it belongs to God.  And in the Bible, God promised to rent all the disputed land to the Jews.  Who can argue with God?  Probably the Muslims, whose own Koran probably makes no such promise.  Gitai spends the most interesting minutes with an Arab boy of about ten who says that when he grows up, he wants to be…no, not a fireman or a cop or an astronaut, but a martyr.  Asked whether he likes life, the boy responds, yeah, but martyrdom is better.  Does this say anything about what the upcoming generation might do absent a peace?

Unrated.  84 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS – movie review

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Bleecker Street
Director:  Bharat Nalluri
Screenwriter:  Susan Coyne
Cast:  Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Miriam Margolyes, Simon Callow
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/11/17
Opens: November 22, 2017

click for larger (if applicable)

Perhaps the biggest difference between movie critics and an ordinary audience is that most people probably prefer sentimental stories, whether comedies or drama, while critics consider such emotions gooey, sticky, clinging to the teeth, saccharine.  Perhaps that’s why Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” sold far more in its time (or even at present) than “Bleak House,” “Martin Chuzzlewit” (which tanked when first released, and even “A Tale of Two Cities.”  Everybody loves Christmas, a time that people feel charitable, have tender words for those of us who are less fortunate in health or prosperity, and may enjoy a good laugh or a nice cry.  With “The Man Who Invented Christmas” one might expect critics to trash the sentimentality, but I for one could not bring myself to follow in the paths of writers with hearts of ice.  That’s not to say it’s the next “Vertigo” or my favorite 3-hanky movie “Lassie Come Home,” but it’s quite entertaining, even absorbing, though its principal performer in the title role, Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens, has the periodic, wide-eyed expressions that make one think that this movie is made for children.  (One critic, formerly on TV until he like all his colleagues, was dropped, said that the principal role could be played by a cocker spaniel.  Not entirely true, even though I adore the long-eared spaniels.

We tend to think that mature writers are in their forties or fifties by the time they turn out their magnum opus, but Dickens, who died at fifty-eight, knocked out “A Christmas Carol” at the age of thirty-one—while he was working with his wife on producing ten children.  Since many novelists write what they know, or rather what they have in some way lived through, the movie makes clear that Dickens, suffering from writers’ block after his last three books tanked, was inspired by real people whom he turned into legendary figures.  Scrooge, for example, one of his villains along with Oliver Twist’s Fagin, was like a miser he knew.  Scrooge visited him in dreams and hallucinations, played by Christopher Plummer in the role of a fellow who thought only of money and believed that he could live without friends and family—at least the ones who were not painted green.  By contrast he glamorized a poor family who despite having a crippled and sick child, Tiny Tim, were happy.

Bharat Nalluri, who directs and whose “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” about a fired London governess who is catapulted into the world of celebs, adapts freely from the real life of Dickens (available in Wikipedia, or course), showing the author’s own family as a mixed bag—including his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark), his ne’er-do-well dad John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce), and his servant Tara (Anna Murphy).  Scrooge’s conversion, after getting looks at three ghosts who reveal the poverty of the rich man’s life, is too sudden to be believed.

Outside of the central plot, we get a glimpse of what life in the mid-19th Century was like for intellectuals, as we see Dickens hanging with his agent John Foster (Justin Edwards) at the Garrick Club.  You can take the kiddies to this and not suffer at all watching this appealing, if saccharine film, the cruelest segments showing the young Dickens’s misadventures in a so-called workhouse (that’s the kind of place that gets orphan Oliver Twist whipped for asking for doubles in soup) and a caged crow who has hardly room to walk in his small cage but is thankfully liberated before the conclusion.

Rated PG.  104 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story –  B
Acting –  B-
Technical – B
Overall – B