The Grinch

2018

Dir. Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, Kenan Thompson, and Angela Lansbury

Christmas is almost here, and what is more Christmasy than The Grinch. Each generation seems to get their defining version of the green, Christmas hating grouch. For some it’s How The Grinch Stoke Christmas, the 1960’s cartoon. For others it’s Jim Carey in Ron Howard’s take on the Dr Seuss classic. For a brand new generation The Grinch will be 3D animated, and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. I probably wouldn’t have had too much expectation for this movie, made by Illumination, the team behind Despicable Me, but then I heard that Scott Mosier was one of the directors. Scott is the producer behind most of Kevin Smiths early work, and someone who I had listened to pretty much weekly on Smodcast, the podcasts he co-hosts with Kevin Smith. Suddenly, I was interested.

The Grinch follows the same old story as the original book by Dr Seuss. The Grinch lives in a world inhabited by Whos. He lives with his dog Max in a mountain on the outskirts of Whoville. The Grinch is a green furred grump who hates everything and everyone, but most of all he hates Christmas. Unfortunately for him, the Whos love it, and have declared that this Christmas will be three times bigger. The Grinch soon sets off on a plan to steak Christmas from the Whos, including young Cindy Lou Who, who is hoping to meet Santa so she can get a special gift for her mum.

There are a couple of nice little touches in this movie, which I think work really well. The Grinch is no longer mean to everyone, he treats Max with a great deal of love. He tries to avoid his friendly neighbours, as they annoy him, rather than being actively rude to them. This portrayal, shows him as a lonely outsider, rather than an evil monster. It makes the message at the heart of the film easier to swallow too. The story of Cindy Lou Who is also a nice touch, and the film focuses primarily on these two characters and their separate quests which collide on Christmas Eve. It’s clever scripting, which allows the movie to breeze by at a quick pace, without getting tangled up in any sub plots.

The animation is splendid, and the world of Whoville is fantastically realised. It’s a real joy to behold, and can’t help but evoke the cinnamon scented feeling of Christmas. The opening sequence introduces us to the town in breathtaking fashion. It’s a great sequence, and I loved the little nod towards Mooby’s, a fictional fast food chain from the View-askewniverse. The Grinch looks great too. The redesign is a more cuddly , child friendly version. Gone are the yellow and red eyes, replaced by something a lot more puppy-dogish.

The voice cast is great. There’s clever casting with Benedict Cumberbatch as The Grinch. He voices the lead character flawlessly. The casting of Pharrell Williams as the Narrator is inspired, and he fits perfectly into the tone of the film. I thought the film was also very funny, in a slapstick sort of way. There’s a couple of tremendous sequences one involving reindeer, and one involving particularly loud snow which were real stand outs.

If there are problems with the film, it may be that the story is too slight. It’s a simple story, told simply, but if you already know it, this film doesn’t offer up anything new. It lacks the depth of Pixar, and as such doesn’t offer any real appeal to anyone over the age of 10. The edges have all been sanded down, and the film plays everything incredibly safe.

It’s not a classic, but if you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit, this is one great way to do it. It’s not Illuminations best film, even though it does look fantastic, but it’s nowhere near the atrocity of Minions. It’s a well told adaptation of the story, but for anyone who has already seen any other version of The Grinch it may seem a little redundant.

7/10

Incredibles 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Helen Hunt, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Eli Fucile, and Sophia Bush.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since the first incredibles film was released back in 2004. Considered by many one of the best super hero movies ever made, the exploits of the Parr family were an instant classic, so it’s a surprise that in a world where we’ve had 3 Cars movies, 3 Toy Story movies, a sequel to Monsters Inc. and a sequel to Finding Nemo, that it’s taken this long. That’s mainly down to writer and director Brad Bird, who has been spending his time in live action, having directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland in the years between. He returns here, bringing his retro-futuristic style back to the big screen. A cynic would say that it’s a safe move after the box office failure of Tomorrowland, but I’d like to believe he felt he had a good enough idea to warrant going back.

Incredibles 2 starts exactly where the first film left off. With Underminer attacking the city, and the Parr family suiting up to stop him. It doesn’t go perfectly, and the Parrs’ get a wrap on the knuckles as they are reminded that superheroes are illegal. Dejected, the Parr family go back to motel living whilst Bob contemplates taking back his old job. This is when Winston and Evelyn Deavor show up. The brother and sister duo behind a huge tech company who want to help legalise heroes again. To do this they require Elastigirl to be the new face of supers. She wreaks the least amount of havoc during her heroics. So whilst Helen Parr is off fighting crime as Elastigirl, it’s up to Bob to look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack whose powers are just starting to emerge.

Structurally, Incredibles 2 follows the same format as the first movie. The premise here though is the role reversal between Bob and Helen. This time it’s Bob left at home, and Helen is the one who gets to shine as a superhero. Bird deftly cuts between the two, finding a sweet balance between huge action sequences and domestic comedy. If the structure is familiar, it does allows for new avenues to be explored. In the first movie Helen’s domestic story revolved around believing Bob was having an affair, here though Bob has to learn to set aside his own pride to allow his wife to shine, and work out that sometimes a subtler approach to parenting is needed. Helen’s action beats could be considered as more of the same superhero antics, but Bird changes the tone here from the first film. Elastigirl is a different kind of hero from Mr Incredible, and the tone reflects that. She uses her brain as much as her powers, and her action beats have more of a Batman influence to them, especially a night time scene which combines the best of The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series.

If the action sequences thrill, the thing that holds the film together is the comedy. The film really soars when the super heroics are combined with everyday family life. This is best summed up when Jack-Jack meets a raccoon. It’s action packed and hilarious, by far the stand out scene in the movie. In a way though it showcases the fact that Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite hit the very high watermark of the first film. Helen is on her own doing the super heroics, and Bob’s parenting, especially of Dash and Violet, is rarely informed by their powers. The scenes with Jack-Jack stand out so much because they flawlessly combine domestic life with super powers.

As we’ve come to expect from sequels the roster of heroes is expanded. We get to meet the new superheroes at a dinner party, which is reminiscent of Watchmen. The disappointment is that they don’t really add much to the film. The only one that stands out is Voyd, who seems to have been modelled on Kristen Stewart. It feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. The villain is suitably different enough from the first film, coming across as a mix between Bane and The Riddler, but is let down by a telegraphed end of second act twist, which is almost identical to the first film.

Incredibles 2 is a fantastic super hero movie. The action is fun, and the jokes are hilarious. It’s flaws are only exposed by the fact it has to measure up to The Incredibles, one of the best super hero movies ever made. If the structure feels slightly tired, it does add plenty of new ideas and tones, some work, and some don’t. It doesn’t plum the emotional depths that we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining ride.

7/10

Isle Of Dogs

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, and Scarlett Johansson.

It seems almost trite these days to describe yourself as a Wes Anderson fan. The director moved from cult hero into the mainstream with his last movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. The director is almost a genre unto himself now, his films defined by their unique visual style, dead pan delivery of dialogue, and Anderson’s ever expanding troupe of actors. Isle Of Dogs isn’t the first stop-motion animation Anderson has made either, his last one being Fantastic Mr. Fox. For any other director these films would be experiments, or oddities in their CV, but Anderson’s sensibilities lend themselves to the format.

Isle Of Dogs is set in a futuristic, fictionalised version of Japan. An outbreak of dog flu, which is threatening the human population, forces Mayor Kobayashi to exile all the dogs to Trash Island. The place where all the cities garbage goes. The first dog to head over is Spot, the Mayor’s Nephew’s Dog. His Nephew, Atari then steals a plane to fly to Trash Island to rescue his dog, being helped along the way by a pack of alpha dogs.

This movie is a complete joy. I was slightly sceptical going in, I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of the format, or if Anderson would skew too young to hold my attention. I shouldn’t have worried, I was in a safe pair of hands, and the film is captivating and engaging throughout. It feels odd to say, but I believe that this is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The level of detail gone into creating this world is stunning, and the film looks gorgeous. Wes Anderson directs his live action films as if they exist in a dolls house, and this style with way in which depth is used, and the way the camera moves in his film, is an ideal match for stop-motion. If anything it expands Anderson’s vision, allowing him to make a film more epic in scope.

It’s primarily a kids film, but there is a deeper, darker heart to it. It has an emotional core that you’d expect from a film about a boy looking for his lost dog, and whilst the dead pan delivery of Anderson’s cast doesn’t immediately lend itself to cutting straight to the heart, Anderson has crafted a deeply moving film about love, belonging and loyalty. There is darkness here though, which is far from cookie cutter. There are themes of genocide, conformity, and political manipulation, which when paired with the history of Japan brings out a deeper meaning. The kids might not understand it, but there is more going on under the surface of this film than it first appears. It’s this darkness which robs the film of its charm in the final act of the movie. The jokes and humour give way to something more serious, slowing down the pace, and ultimately causing it to drag.

There has been some debate about the film regarding Orientalism. It didn’t bother me at the time of watching, but the more I think about it, there is something there . There is a lot of affectionate homage, and this is a fictionalised Japan which does mean liberties are taken. If there are controversial moments, they hold no intent. There are two creative decisions which grate the most. The first is the fact that unless someone is there to translate, the Japanese language goes unheard and ignored. If they could put subtitles down for signs, they could have put subtitles for the Japanese, it’s a cute creative decision to have other characters translate the news segments, but it turns the other moments the language is used into meaningless nothing. Making it a secondary language. The other element which grated was Greta Gerwig’s foreign exchange student. In a film full of Japanese figures, having the only white one become the leader of the resistance is a bit of a problem.

Isle Of Dog’s is another great movie from Wes Anderson. It’s lovingly made, and looks fantastic. It manages to be both funny and moving, whilst riffing on some more adult themes. The politics might be a bit off, but I don’t believe there was any intent to offend. It’s just a bit blinkered. If you’d like to know more about this check out this article https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/isle-of-dogs-jared-leto-orientalism?utm_term=.uf19MBb7O#.tvvplm36j

7/10