Arthur Christmas

Christmas is a popular time of year for many reasons.  Some people like the winter season, some like the music, some like the deals on shopping, some like the food, some like the time with family, and Hollywood likes to give us Christmas movies.

Arthur Christmas is an animation about the Christmas family–GrandSanta, Santa Malcolm and his wife, wannabeSanta Steve, and Arthur.  What I liked about the movie is that the Christmases are a bit dysfunctional, like most families.  GrandSanta reminisces about life in his time, Santa doesn’t want to turn the reins over to Steve, who’s next in line, and Arthur doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

This might sound like Arthur Christmas is making fun of Christmas, but it’s not.  Arthur loves Christmas so much that others think he’s obsessed, and no one really takes him seriously.  It turns out that he’s the one who believes in the real “spirit” of Christmas–making sure no one is forgotten.

Arthur Christmas is humorous and well-done, with a number of subtle jokes that I particularly enjoyed.  The people cast to do the voices were spot-on as well, especially Hugh Laurie as Steve and James McAvoy as Arthur.  Arthur Christmas is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that I think the whole family could enjoy.  I recommend that you check it out and celebrate the season!

X-Men: First Class

I don’t really know why I like the X-Men movies, since they are rather bizarre if one spends any time thinking about the premise.  However, I do like them, as a general rule, so I was excited about the newest installment, X-Men: First Class.

First Class is another prequel, so it’s possible that someone unfamiliar with the other movies could watch this one and enjoy it.  In fact, I think this is the best of the lot.  It explains the origins of Professor X and Magneto, and how they are simultaneously friends and foes.

James McAvoy had the task of taking on the younger version of a character (Professor Xavier) played so well by Patrick Stewart.  I imagine that was daunting.  However, it didn’t seem to hold him back at all.  In fact, he was rather brilliant.  And Michael Fassbender was wonderful as the tortured Erik, or Magneto.

I also really enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique.  Another charming character was Nicholas Hoult as Hank, who becomes Beast.

It was interesting to watch how the story begins, a story we–those who have watched the other movies–already know the ending to.  Knowing what is going to happen didn’t take away from the charm of First Class. I think First Class was aptly titled, since it is first in the class of X-men movies.

Ah, the passion of the Russians!

A couple nights ago I watched The Last Station, which is based on a novel of the same title, written by Jay Parini.  The movie (and the novel) is about Leo Tolstoy’s last years, and the fight between Tolstoy’s wife and one of Tolstoy’s “apostles.”  Tolstoy seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by his wealth and position in society, especially when there were so many peasants that didn’t have enough food.  Because of parts of Tolstoy’s writings, some of his followers started “Tolstoyan communes.”  Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya felt that Tolstoy should leave his copyrights to his family (he had thirteen children with Sofya), while Tolstoy’s apostle, Vladimir Chertkov, felt that the copyrights should be left to the “Russian people.”

Chertkov sends in a young Tolstoyan follower, Valentin Bulgakov, to be Tolstoy’s secretary and his spy.  Chertkov wants to know all the details about what Sofya says and does.  It’s not long before Bulgakov is torn between his intense admiration for Tolstoy and his growing sympathy for Sofya.

Part of the excellence of this movie, along with the scenery and the costuming, is the casting.  Christopher Plummer is the beleaguered and sometimes confused Tolstoy, Helen Mirren is the volatile and passionate Sofya, Paul Giamatti is the plotter Chertkov, and James McAvoy is the impressionable and devoted Bulgakov.  On a side note, I found that McAvoy looks a little like a young Anton Chekhov.  It’s interesting that a Scot can look like a famous Russian author!

Some people may think this movie is only interesting to people who like Tolstoy’s writing.  I think, however, that it is interesting because it shows how someone’s teaching can be twisted by those who claim to follow his or her words.  In the movie, Tolstoy says about someone else, “He is a better Tolstoyan than I am.” 

The words of a teacher can be twisted to better suit the ideals of an “apostle.”