Watching and reviewing film and television adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

From Watching The Carol Blog.

Like many of the low-budget versions made available direct to online streaming services, this seems to have been made due to the driving force of one person – in this case, director and production company owner Steven Salgado. Salgado and his company are based in Miami, Florida, which is where this version is set and that actually works well to its advantage as something a bit different, especially with a predominantly Hispanic cast.

Cast and crew:
Very unusually and commendably for one of these things, despite also being an actor according to his website, Salgado didn’t succumb to the temptation to give himself a role here. Also according to the self-same website, he’s also a children’s author in addition to his acting and directing.

The opening titles for the film give a “story by” credit to one Charles Wendel, “based on characters created by Charles Dickens”, which is a bit bloody cheeky given that, no, it really is the same story, updated. Wendel appears to only have this credit on his CV and nothing else, to go by his IMDb page, anyway.

None of the cast are particularly known or have any big credits to their names, although Scrooge actress Kate Katzman had appeared in the Walt Disney biopic Walt Before Mickey as his wife, Lillian Disney.

Underdone Potato:

Our female Scrooge on this occasion is one Ellen Scrooge, owner of the successful drugs company Scrooge & Hernandez, which she founded with her partner Marley Hernandez who is now deceased, having died one year ago rather than the usual seven. The opening sequences show a very sparse and spartan existence for Scrooge, which I thought might be a budgetary and practical thing but the film did open out a little as it went along, so I think it was more of a stylistic choice to show the coldness and isolation of her life, which certainly does come across.

We get to know three of the harassed and harried employees at Scrooge’s office – Santiago, Gabe and Roberto, the latter of whom has a sick grandson called Tim. I did half-wonder whether Gabe might be named in honor of the original Scrooge prototype, Gabriel Grub, but I suspect it’s probably actually just coincidence.

There’s quite a lot of non-specific pseudo-business talk about “the numbers” which doesn’t really convince. From a 2020 perspective there is a certain resonance in Scrooge cynically wanting to know what the biggest-growing diseases are so they can be telling the most profitable drugs with which to treat them. She’d have loved the covid vaccine scramble!

The version of Nephew Fred here is Ellen’s sister, Jennifer, who calls her to invite her to Christmas dinner but is casually dismissed. There is a sort of version of the two charitable gentlemen, too, with Ellen pretending to make a phone call to avoid a charity worker in an elf outfit selling candy canes in the lift of the building where her company has offices.

The Marley sequence runs a little closer to the original – ‘runs’ being the operative word, as Scrooge is confronted with his spirit while out jogging at night. It’s quite a brutal scene in some ways, with Marley grabbing and squeezing her around the neck, which does feel quite jarring and I’m not sure really suits the style of the film at all.

Past:

The Ghost of Christmas Past arrives almost immediately after Scrooge’s traumatic encounter with Marley – he’s an Uber driver, or perhaps more accurately a fellow passenger in what appears to be a driverless Uber. Very modern.

We see some scenes of Ellen’s childhood, firstly a happy Christmas with her mother and father and then a less happy one when her mother has died after having her sister, and her father is struggling with the young Ellen’s anger and resentment about it all.

We also see the founding of her drugs company with Marley, and her romance with a man named Jack – the Belle equivalent here. Ellen seems to have some sort of superpower in this scene, when she gets home from work and says she’s going to freshen up in the shower, and is all done and made-up and in a different dress in about 10 seconds flat!

Jack asks her to marry him, but she is horrified by the idea and the whole relationship ends. There’s no version of the second Belle scene, but Scrooge does tell the ghost that she heard Jack got married and had children.

Present:

Ellen wakes up after her visions of the past thinking it was all a bad dream – but as she gets out of bed and walks through her flat getting ready for work, the Ghost of Christmas Present – a young man in a suit – is sitting on her couch waiting for her. She resigns herself to the fact that there are now going to be further visions.

We see her sister and her sister’s partner Carlos, with him trying to point out to her that it’s no good waiting for Ellen to change her ways; Jennifer will always be disappointed and let down by her. We also learn more about Roberto, Santiago and Gabe. The latter two come back to the office midway through a Christmas Eve drinking session because Santiago’s left his wallet there, and end up having a fight over whether Santiago is in love with Ellen.

Roberto we see caring for Tim, who we learn is a mad soccer fan – or “football” as he refers to it, which surprised me for an American production, but perhaps that’s more common in the Hispanic community there or else he’s just a stickler for terminology! The Spirit tells Ellen that Tim could be treated by a drug Roberto can’t afford – one her company took off the market because it wasn’t profitable enough.

Yet-to-Come

This is by far the most striking of the ghostly visitations, with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come realized as a masked, goggled figure all in black, like some kind of sophisticated home intruder or SWAT team member.

The latter feeling comes across from the green night vision-type lighting the whole section is done in, while the former comes from the aggressive and frightening way in which the Spirit suddenly enters Ellen’s home an basically abducts her into the visions. Indeed, so shocking and violent is its attack that the Spirit grips its hand tightly around her throat at one point, which like Marley doing the same earlier feels unnecessarily violent and out-of-step with the rest of the film.

Once it’s dragged her away – literally – it shows her a vision of a weeping Roberto about to kill himself after Tim’s death, and Santiago crying in the company’s office because she has died. This was one part of the film which I found a little frustrating, as we weren’t given any reason or explanation for why Scrooge might have died at such a young age.

What’s To-Day:

Perhaps unsurprisingly after such a violent final visit, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a thoroughly changed woman. She puts on a bright red dress and goes to visit her sister, where she learns that Jennifer is pregnant and she is thus going to be an aunt.

The following day she goes into the office and gives Santiago and Gabe raises, as well as starting a programe to try and get drugs to those in need more fairly and cheaply. She also gives Roberto another week to do the work she’d set him, and somehow she’s managed to buy some football tickets from somewhere for Roberto to be able to take Tim to what is presumably a big game.

There’s also the little implication that romance might, perhaps, blossom between her and Santiago, as they have rather a sweet little moment where she says she drinks beer sometimes, and he tells her that he knows a place which has some good ones.

Review:

In my review of the 2012 Irish version, I mentioned how easy it is for a low-budget version to simply get lost and ignored among all the others, and how in my view they would have been much better off doing something more distinctive. Rather than attempting to make it a Victorian English version, they should have taken advantage of their location and made an actual Irish-set version of the Carol.

This is something which this version gets absolutely right. Okay, so there are a fair few contemporary US-set versions with female leads. But this adaptation’s Miami setting and predominantly Hispanic cast and characters definitely gives it a unique flavour.

It’s also a cut above the 2012 Irish version and others of the Amazon Prime monstrosities by actually looking and feeling like a proper film. The picture quality is good, and while the camerawork is occasionally a little too shaky above and beyond the calls of naturalism, the performances – with the exception of Reinaldo Gonzales as Roberto, who I found quite wooden – are generally good and overall it’s a polished production for its level of budget.

The script is mostly decent, although it is a little clunky at times and could have done with another pair of eyes over it. Ellen’s sister referring to her as such so the audience knows who they are is one example, as is Marley explaining their company’s entire business plan to her in the Christmas Past section, when you presume she would already have known all that!

Tonally the only misstep is, I think, the violence of the attacks against Ellen from Marley and from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I think even in a version with a male lead, Scrooge being gripped so aggressively around the throat would have seemed a bit much, and here it’s a very uncomfortable shift in tone from most of what’s around it.

But overall, this is certainly an enjoyable watch for a contemporary version with a bit of a difference to it. While I certainly couldn’t place it in the first rank of adaptations, if you’ve seen quite a few versions in the past and want to try something you haven’t watched before, then you could do far worse than to give this one a try.

In a nutshell:

A good stab at doing a contemporary version on a low budget. Very watchable.

Links:

Amazon Prime

IMDb

Balladeer’s Blog’s Tenth Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this brand-new adaptation of the Dickens tale

From  Balladeer’s Blog.

Directed and co-written by Steven Salgado, this adaptation of the 1843 novel sets the story in present-day Miami. Though some may try to pigeon-hole this indy film as “a Hispanic-American Christmas Carol” that would not be quite accurate.

Yes, the movie gives us Roberto instead of Bob Cratchit and Scrooge & Hernandez instead of Scrooge & Marley (Marley is Hernandez’s FIRST name) as well as a nearly all-Hispanic cast, but viewers are not hit over the head with it. There is no attempt to drag present-day politics into the story and ethnicity is not used as a gimmick. It is not even commented upon that the characters are all Hispanic-American, a refreshing change in a 2019 film.

This movie looks absolutely gorgeous. There are probably Miami Tourism videos that don’t make the city look this sunny and appealing. I’m not exaggerating. The cinematography in this flick makes everything look good enough to eat.

Kate Katzman portrays Ellen Scrooge, CEO of Scrooge & Hernandez Pharmaceuticals. Marley Hernandez died just one year earlier instead of the usual seven years. The astonishing youth of nearly all the cast members seems to be the reason for this. Ellen looks like she would have still been in High School seven years earlier, not already a partner in Scrooge & Hernandez.

Katzman, sad to say, turns in one of the the worst performances in the movie and was clearly cast in the lead because of her blonde bombshell looks and breast implants. (Boobaneezer Scrooge?) She comes across like a petulant little girl when she’s trying to be the cold, money-grubbing and amoral Scrooge of the story’s beginning.

Later, when Kate as Ellen Scrooge is supposed to be happy and warm she wears an awkward smile that is so comically forced she seems to feel genuine distaste toward the other characters instead of fondness.

As mentioned above, the Bob Cratchit stand-in is “Roberto” (Reinaldo Gonzalez), the oldest cast member by several decades. That’s not a cruel insult, it’s just that the striking youth of all the other performers makes him stand out like an octogenarian in a world of twenty-somethings. Tiny Tim is his GRANDSON instead of his son.

Roberto is just shoehorned in as the Cratchit equivalent. He has very little screen time and virtually no impact on the story. Instead the movie gives us Santiago (Alex Jerome Garcia), another of Scrooge’s abused yet loyal employees. We spend a LOT more time with Santiago and his coworker Gabe (Peter Lu Marti).

It soon becomes apparent that Santiago is in love with Ellen Scrooge and sees the warm and caring person who may be lurking beneath her surface iciness and greed. Obviously he’ll be a replacement for Scrooge’s lost love from the past.

That being said, I wish the filmmakers had just jumped in with both feet and instead made Santiago the Bob Cratchit figure. It would have saved the time wasted on redundant scenes of Scrooge’s harshness toward her employees. Tiny Tim could have been his son instead of grandson AND it might have made an interesting twist to have the Cratchit figure be a single dad who’s romantically interested in his crusty boss.

Instead of a Nephew Fred this Scrooge has a younger sister Jennifer (Eliana Ghen), again, presumably because of how young Ellen is. Jennifer pops up on Scrooge’s smart phone to invite her to Christmas Dinner but is, of course, rebuffed.

Early scenes also establish that Ellen, like her late partner Marley, has been overcharging for medicine and taking helpful drugs off the market once the profit margin sinks below a certain level.

On to the spirits:

MARLEY’S GHOST (Rafael Gerardo Rey) – This ghost appears to Ellen Scrooge as she’s jogging along some dazzling nighttime Miami scenery. He is in chains but like everybody except Roberto is very young. He looks like a soap opera hunk. Rey is the only actor who does a worse job than star Katzman.

Marley’s Ghost provides his usual warning about Scrooge facing the same damnation he endures and about the visits from three spirits. The dialogue here is a step up from the previous scenes and that helps. An attempted variation on the bit where Marley shows Scrooge the host of wandering spirits doesn’t quite work. 

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST (Moises Contreras) – This ghost appears to Scrooge in the form of a homeless beggar. He transports her to scenes from her past via a car. We see that Ellen’s mother died giving birth to her younger sister Jennifer, and Ellen has always blamed her for their mother’s death. These scenes are actually fairly moving, or maybe I’m just a sentimental dork. Sadly, we don’t get a Fezziwig equivalent.

Moving along to the adult Ellen, we see that Marley Hernandez helped cultivate all her ugliest instincts and reinforced her every cold-hearted quality in the name of money. Ellen’s pursuit of wealth causes her to lose her romantic partner of the time, a stiff who proves that even a male version of Scrooge’s lost love Belle can slow things to a crawl. 

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT (D.L. Lewis) – This ghost is dressed as stylishly as a GQ model but I have to ask: Would it have killed them to have him surrounded by Christmas Plenty as a nod to the source material?

 At any rate, this spirit – who teleports our main character to different locations through magical snaps of his fingers – shows Ellen that Roberto’s grandson Tim is dying and crippled and that a medicine she took off the market as unprofitable could save his life and ability to walk. Next we waste time with Santiago and Gabe as Ellen is shown that Santiago is in love with her. From there it’s a quick visit to the home of Jennifer and her husband so that Scrooge can see how disappointed her sister is that she never accepts her Christmas invitation.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME (No one credited) – In a nicely disturbing touch, this silent spirit manifests as a masked intruder who seizes Ellen Scrooge and roughly drags her along to show her the future.

This adaptation of the Carol clearly states it is the following Christmas being shown to our protagonist. The novel used strong hints that it was just one year in the future but some adaptations make it seem further off.

Roberto is seen mourning the late Tiny Tim and is so upset that he puts a pistol to his temple and kills himself. That escalated quickly. (Had to be said.) Ellen is also shown that Santiago is the only person who mourns her passing.

MORNING AFTER CONVERSION – Scrooge is returned to her bed and looks at her smart phone to make sure it’s Christmas Day and that she hasn’t missed it. NOTE: I would have made it so that Ellen’s earlier uses of her smart phone had her interact with a Siri-type computerized voice, so that when she finds herself in her bed she could ask “Siri (or a generic substitute), what day is it?” Yes, I’m THAT desperate for some crumbs from the source material.

Anyway, Ellen embraces her second chance and visits her sister Jennifer for Christmas Dinner. We get a scene that heart-warmingly parallels a nice bit from the Christmas Past vision of her family at the holidays. It’s a visual touch so you need to see it to appreciate it.

This film’s equivalent of the Charity Collectors at the beginning was a woman (Chloe Malaise) dressed as a Christmas Elf selling candy canes for charity. Ellen snubs her in that early scene but encountering her a second time she gives her literally thousands of dollars in exchange for her candy canes. 

The next day Scrooge makes amends with her employees, drops a hint to Santiago that she’d like for him to ask her out and as for Roberto – who is reduced to a virtual afterthought here – she punks him like in the novel. She also revives the medication Tim needs to survive and regain the use of his legs.

This version of A Christmas Carol is listed as a comedy, but don’t expect laughs. It’s more light-hearted than actually funny. And though the earliest portions are fairly lame the strength of the story raises this production to an acceptable level by the very end.  

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