Anika Goes to the Movies (Again!): The Personal History of David Copperfield

Quick Review: 4.5/5 stars. Throw Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Benedict Wong, and a trove of other delightful actors into Charles Dickens’ top hat, shake them about a bit, and drop them in a diversified version of mid 1800’s England and you will have an approximation of what a romp this movie is. Go see it. It will be, I suspect, a perfectly light repast for these troubled times.

David Copperfield

Longer review: I love a good retelling of a classic, especially when it is true to the themes and intent of the original. No “Netflixing,” if you please. No, this a bright brocade covered good time of a film. And you don’t have to worry about any stupid gratuitous nonsense being added, as has been the case for many a lovely tale turned “modern.”

Nope, from beginning to end this was a showcase of what a delight Dickens can be when you don’t have to slog through his writing. He is far too longwinded for most contemporary readers (though I enjoy his style), who expect brevity and a plot that moves apace with our modern world. But when you put all the auxiliary observations and redundant rambling aside, and put his characters up on the screen, something inherently charming and touching almost always takes place.

Jairaj Varsani, who plays young David, absolutely steals the show. He is the sort of wonder-filled, high spirited innocence to his acting that makes him a joy to watch. You wish you could join in the games of tag in Yarmouth and it breaks your heart to see him exiled to the bottling factory in London. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Dev Patel is always a delight, and I keep thinking that he will mellow in style as he ages, but he never ceases to bring an almost over the top physicality to his performances. You are never quite sure where his hands might fling and I often expect the blooper reels of his work to be full of shots of him accidentally hitting his fellow actors. But they don’t. The kind of manic presence he can bring marry’s perfectly with the anxiety of a suddenly penniless, older David, who must employ the evasive tactics learned in youth to keep away from creditors of his own.

The one note of warning I must give is of some over the top corniness in the middle of the movie. If you have a visceral reaction to social awkwardness like I do, then you might want to close your eyes and hum to yourself for a minute or so: once when Mr. Micawber, played by Peter Capaldi, tries to pass himself off as a professor at David’s school, and then during the montage of seeing Dora Spenlow everywhere. That latter isn’t awkward, just very silly. Which I guess is how we are meant to perceive the relationship.

Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie make the perfect Ms. Trotwood and Mr. Dick. They play off one another seamlessly, and I think really embody the characters as they were written. But then, I’m always on board for Hugh Laurie in period dress so make of that what you will.

The other thing I appreciated was that the diversity of the cast is never remarked upon. There’s no inserting horrible racism on the part of Mr. Murdstone, he’s just a horrible person as he is in the books. There’s no heavy handed preaching about the need for inclusion, inclusion is just present. There’s no implication that David’s race is an issue to him and Miss Spenlow getting married; it’s just the issue of money and incompatibility just like the book.

Imagine! A retelling and reframing of a delightful classic that updates it without destroying it. All the themes and characters are still there, and nothing unnecessary is added (FX channel’s A Christmas Carol, I’m looking at you!). It is absolutely adaptation done right.

The costumes are such fun, the dialogue is as winning as when it was written even as it is  changed.

Go see this one. It will lighten your heart.

Until next time, enjoy the show!

Anika Goes to the Movies: The New Mutants

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I am deeply saddened by the loss of Chadwick Boseman. He appeared on my radar as a cameo character in the tv series Castle. (I miss Castle) But I was floored by his performance in Marshall, and I did all the happy dances when I found out he would be playing Black Panther. His range and he presence on screen were easily at the top of his field. So sorry to hear about his battle with colon cancer, but all the more impressed that he continued to work while fighting that fight. My thoughts are with his family.

Quick review: 2.5/5 stars. This one gets a hard meh. Not a fan of underaged sexuality generally. Have a really hard time with depictions of sexual abuse. Don’t love shoe-horned moralizing. I can forgive the above when they really contribute to the story in a meaningful way, or are done with real tact and style. There was none of that. Wait until it streams somewhere and it doesn’t cost you anything extra to view it. Or don’t even do that. You’ll be fine.

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Longer review: If you’ve been passing your eyeballs over this blog for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I LOVES me a good super hero flick. I am trash for all things super powers and world saving. Quirky folks who can do quirky things? I’m here for it.

So this being my first foray back into a public space, risking lungs and mitochondria to take in a movie after the summer season that wasn’t, I was pumped. And maybe that was the problem. I was hoping for too much. My let down, was a hard one.

This whole thing felt like a poorly done prequel. The level of story-telling and characterization conveyed the kind of weakness that assumes you’ve already bought in to the characters’ lives. The only character I really care about is the one that gets the most ignored. And the acting overall (maybe it was the direction?) was subpar.

Dr. Reyes, played by Alice Braga, is by far the most interesting character. How does a mutant with forcefield capabilities get indoctrinated into killing her own? And since the mutant ability of the protagonist, Dani, is to make your fears physically manifest, why don’t we ever see what Dr. Reyes’ is? Dr. Reyes has forcefield capabilities the keep the young, out of control mutants within the confines of the “hospital.” At the point where her orders to kill Dani go south and she is forced to use her powers rather than toxin via syringe to do what she must, she takes forever. This gives time for Dani’s own fear, the demo bear of native legend (so many issues with this by the way) time to show up and maul Dr. Reyes to a pulp. You have a person trapped between impenetrable force and hard floor, a fast compression equals death.

The other truck sized plot hole is that Illyana Rasputin, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, (Who is one of my favorite up and coming actresses. Her range is really superior for her age, can’t wait to see more from her.) is a dimension jumper. If she can pop in and out of her “special place” at will, then why can’t she just return herself on the other side of the forcefield?

No good answers to these questions.

Just lame storytelling.

For which there should be no excuse given that they had an extra six months. They could have done some beta testing and realized, oh, our plot doesn’t work and 90% of our tension is fake.

Illyana’s character is especially troubling. Her backstory, as far as we understand it, is she was a child victim of long term sexual abuse. Her deepest fear is the warped, horror show she has made of her attackers, the caricature “The Smiling Man.” The abuse of children is not entertainment. It makes me sick to my stomach. Illyana’s powers develop from her creation of a “special place” in her head to give her and her puppet pterodactyl Lockheed a way to escape the reality of her situation. It is the sort of tragic coping all abuse victims do, and if they survive to adulthood, the kind of behavior they have to unlearn in order to be functioning adults. To make a trauma-induced coping strategy into a super power is a kind of cultural acceptance of the crime. And while the empowerment of victims to heal themselves and move forward may have been the intent of the writers, killing all of your attackers is not empowerment, it’s derangement. Not to mention they totally make her into a sex object during the movie with an underaged (the characters not the actors) sex scene in a swimming pool. The message, intended or not, being “don’t worry, the objectification of children is fine as long as it’s for a movie, the pedophiles are fantastical monsters, and the other party is a consenting teen.”

All garbage.

The whole thing isn’t even that scary.

If you see the trailer and you’re thinking, “Oh, X-men as a horror flick, cool,” you will be woefully, disappointed. They pulled all the scariest bits for the trailer, and creepiest stills for the advertising and did what Hollywood does best. Lie.

So, no FOMO. You aren’t missing anything.

Now, The Personal History of David Copperfield, that’s a must see. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy the show.

Anika Goes (Back) to the Movies!!

For those that don’t know Arizona, where I fry in the sun, is allowing movie theaters to reopen!!

The hubby and I are taking full advantage and making a day of it. We are headed to cooler temps and a double feature in northern AZ today.

Be on the look out next week for reviews of The New Mutants and The Personal History of David Copperfield. I am trash for anything with Dev Patel and I’ve been waiting on tinter hooks for this one.

I am so willing to brave the virus (in my mask of course) to get that experience back and bring you all of my most excellent thoughts on the art of film. I can’t wait.

ON WITH THE SHOW!!

~Anika