Inventor of Xmas? Charles Dickens, Really?

DATELINE:  Ghosts for the Holidays

Dickens with ScroogeDickens with Scrooge!

One presumes Dickens would be appalled that he was given the label as The Man Who Invented Christmas because in 1842 under financial pressure, he wrote a little ghost story in six weeks. We always thought Jesus probably deserved a little credit for inventing Christmas.

Having dozens of movie versions of the famous holiday tale about the reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, it seems only fitting that a charming tale, slightly mythological rather than biographical, would be the latest incarnation of the story.

Dan Stevens, hot off Downton Abbey, plays a stylish, boyish Charles Dickens, a man surrounded by his own spendthrift ways and a brood of interruptions in his home, faces a daunting deadline to come up with a novella to make ends meet.

Stories about writers are usually deadly dull and impossible to show creativity, but this film manages to show how the characters, and caricatures, came to life for Dickens.

No small feat is the marvelous performance of the difficult quarry of Scrooge in the person of Christopher Plummer. He argues he wants his point-of-view better expressed, feeling the story is too one-sided!

The cast is up to the weird exaggerations of Dickens, including Jonathan Pryce as the author’s father. Many people in Dickens’ life take a role in his story.

Cute, by some standards, we see snippets of dialogue picked off the streets as Dickens goes on his daily duties. He hears the best lines and incorporates them into his text. But, it is his debates with Scrooge who visits him in his room that is the heart of the film.

Dickens purists might take issue with the pabulum portrait by Stevens, but this is a sentimental story, intelligently told, without profanity, sexual situations, or other unpleasantness, while maintaining dramatic and psychological effectiveness.

This is a film that insists Dickens did more for Christmas than you may want to believe. Yet, this is more than a holiday fest and more than a simple biographical movie. It is charming, an addition to the Christmas canon.

 

When a Little Dickens Makes a Tale

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Fiennes & Jones

 

When your movie title sounds like a 1940s poverty row production from Universal Studios, you better fire the marketing people (or hire a better writer).

The 2013 film The Invisible Woman may sound like a waste of time, but it is not about John Barrymore overacting in one of his last and worst movies. No, this picture is actually about the young mistress of Charles Dickens.

Directed by Ralph Fiennes, who also limns the great novelist, we learn that great Dickens was a little Dickens when it came to extra-marital affairs.

The uninspiring Reubenesque woman who bore him a passel of brats was a wronged woman. The attention here is on the slip of a girl (Felicity Jones) who bedded the author of Little Dorrit and Great Expectations. This movie falls in between, sort of like Middle March/December romance.

Public relations and moral rectitude were important in Victorian England. And, Boz could not tolerate any buzz about a little loving on the side. You had to leave that sort of thing to Oscar Wilde.

Therefore, to make a movie about the life of Dickens is to focus on the first syllable of his surname to find the right proportion to his work.

Usually we leave this sort of thing to Masterpiece Theatre, or a USA movie of the week.

On the contrary, this is a stately film, more characteristic of the 1950s big studio productions when literate audiences wanted a Cadillac production and grand biography. You can forgive us if we think Shia LaBeouf and Lindsay Lohan ought to be cast as the principals.

When you give Dickens the treatment afforded Burton and Taylor, or My Cousin Rachel, you have an anachronistic movie for those of us who deserve a treat and seldom receive one.

 

A Visitor to Coach Belichick’s Office

 DATELINE: SPORTS SATIRE

 

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Ebenezer Belichick 

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         Stevan Cratchit Ridley 

Following in the shoes of his teammate Alfonzo Dennard who pleaded no contest to DUI in Nebraska this week, Stevan Ridley is pleading no contest to DUF (dropping unnecessarily f*****s).

Our intrepid stringer Charles Dickens sent in this report:

The hanging judge in this case is the warm-hearted Bill Belichick, always filled with the season’s giving at this time of year.

When Stevan came to make his case, Belichick merely asked Ridley, “Are there no workhouses?”

Ridley answered, “All too many.”  Little Stevan made his case, “At this time of year some players suffer greatly.”

Belichick snarled, “Are there no fumbles?”

Ridley cried, “Plenty of fumbles.”

Belichick was undaunted: “And is the Players Union still in operation?”

Stevan noted, “They are very busy at this time of year, dealing with bad officiating.”

The Patriots coach snickered,  “Oh, I was afraid from what you said at first something had occurred to remove them from impeding my justice system.”

The star running back lamented, “Will you allow me to put down the ball on the sidelines and hold one in the game?”

“You wish to play then? Since you ask me, I don’t play myself, and I can’t afford to lose games at this time of year. If you are so badly off, maybe you should play for the Jets.”

“Many won’t go there, and many others would rather die.”

“Then don’t drop the ball or you will decrease the population of the 53-man roster.”

Seeing it was useless to pursue a case with Belichick, Ridley grabbed his football and tucked it under his arm.

As he left the coach’s office, he could hear the words, “It’s enough for a man to understand how to carry a football. That’s your business. Now, my business is to win games and it occupies me totally.”

Ridley did not let the door hit him on the way out.