A Christmas Carol (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) hated Christmas. When someone greeted him “Merry Christmas!” with joy and enthusiasm, he glared back at them in an attempt to bring down the merriment a couple of notches. Then he would reply, “Humbug!” as he walked away begrudgingly, leaving the greeter in utter disbelief. The only thing missing was Scrooge actually stealing people’s Christmas presents and he could pass as The Grinch. In order to show him the error of his ways and achieve redemption, the ghost of Scrooge’s former associate (Frank Finlay) visited him on Christmas Eve. The ghost informed Scrooge that the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Angela Pleasence), Present (Edward Woodward) and Christmas Yet to Come (Michael Carter) would pay him a visit so he could examine what he missed in life for being such a grouch toward everyone he encountered. Based on Charles Dickens’ short story, I was actually reluctant to see this film because, even though I had not yet seen any adaptation of the same story, I’ve watched countless spoofs to the point where it felt like I knew all key elements in the plot. The film caught me completely by surprise because the acting was strong, the story was interesting and moving, and, despite some of the special and visual effects being a bit dated, the big picture felt timeless. I was even more surprised when I found out later that it was a made-for-TV movie. Scott’s acting stood out to me because I was convinced with his gradual evolution from a penny-pinching blackhole of unhappiness to someone who made an effort to be liked. To his surprise, he might even be a natural at it. The scene I enjoyed most was when the Ghost of Christmas Present took Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s (David Warner) home and learned that Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters), Bob’s son, was not only a cripple but the fact that he was dying and it might be his last Christmas. It was an important scene not only because it was the point where I became convinced I was watching not just a run-of-the-mill Christmas movie, but also because Ebenezer finally allowed himself to feel and accept that he had been wrong, not necessarily about his attitude toward Christmas (which I thought was secondary anyway–not everyone had to accept Christmas), about the way he unfairly judged and treated others. Directed by Clive Donner, “A Christmas Carol” is a highly enjoyable film with a great message. Despite the fantastic elements, Ebenezer’s journey–sometimes funny, sometimes scary, sometimes sad–was believable.
The Pianist (2002)
★★★★ / ★★★★
You can say a lot of things about Roman Polanski since his personal life is often torn apart among the tabloids but you cannot deny that the man knows how to make movies. Not just typical movies that happen to be commercially successful, but movies that are personal, have artistic merit and have distinct emotional resonance. In “The Pianist,” Polanski focused on the survival story of a Polish Jewish survivor named Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) in Warsaw in the middle of World War II. I thought it was interesting how the picture started off with him and his family (Maureen Lipman and Frank Finlay as his parents, Jessica Kate Meyer and Julia Rayner as his sisters, and Ed Stoppard as his brother) and then shift the focus on how he was able to survive on his own with the help of kind strangers and adoring fans (Emilia Fox). Even though this was set in WWII, I thought it felt a little different because we spent the majority of the time observing him from indoors–how he saw the war from his window somewhat from an outsider’s perspective yet still caught up in the middle of it. We also observed how he moved from one place to another and the dangers (and repercussions) of certain decisions he had to make in order to subsist. Back when I saw this this film for the first time in 2002, I did not understand what was so special about a man trying to hide in an apartment instead of joining his comrades to fight against the Nazis. But seeing this movie seven years later, I thought that Szpilman’s experiences were really painful because he had to live with the guilt of surviving as his friends and family were murdered. Yet at the same time, it took a lot of courage for him to want to keep living despite the fact that there were times when he caught serious diseases, hasn’t eaten for days on end, and how the lack of company almost drove him into madness. I was really touched whenever he would play the piano after hiding for so long; it was kind of like watching a man coming back from the dead. I thought it expertly embodied the idea of music being an elixir of life. My favorite scene was toward the end when he played the piano for the Nazi that chose to help him (Thomas Kretschmann). I would never forget that scene because I felt like a lot of things were communicated between them even though they weren’t engaged in a conversation. With such great acting from everyone involved in this film, “The Pianist” was an emotional experience I can only try to describe. I believe everyone should see it at least once because the many layers are worth exploring. It was melancholy, suspenseful, dark yet it was sensitive and truly remarkable.