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

The Imitation Game

2014

Dir: Morten Tyldum

 

Starring:

Benedict Cumberbatch

Keira Knightley

Charles Dance

Mark Strong

Matthew Goode

 

The Imitation Game is a nice, well put together, period drama, about the cracking of the enigma code. Throw in a dash of sexual and gender politics and you have what could have been the most intriguing film of the year, sparking mass debate about one of Britain’s modern day heroes. Instead it’s an unremarkable, 40’s set version of The Social Network, but lacking the verve of David Fincher’s direction. The only parts saving this film from being outright dull are the performances, especially from Benedict Cumberbatch.

 

The film follows the life of Alan Turing. A Cambridge fellow, and genius Mathematician. He is employed in secret by the British Army in order to crack the Enigma code. Enigma is the coding machine which the Germans use to send communications. Crack the code, and the war is won. Whilst the rest of the team, headed up by Matthew Goode, attempt to crack the code each and every day, as the settings of the machine change every night, Turing sets out to build a machine which will crack every code, every day, at a pace much faster than a computer. The framing device of the film is a police investigation, with Alan Turing telling his story whilst being interrogated by a Policeman in the 50’s. His crime, being a homosexual.

 

I felt like the film had some major problems. One of them was that it had no real sense of identity. It simply didn’t know what film it wanted to be. It was very much like The Social Network in places, the framing device much like The Social Network’s court room, and Alan Turing being a lot like a 40’s Zuckerberg, with his inability to understand the social norms of the people around him. In other places it was like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, with the arrival of Mark Strong’s MI6 operative the film delves into an espionage thriller. It tries on being a war movie, but that doesn’t fit, nor does it deliver on any real political commentary.

 

The biggest problem with The Imitation Game is that it is too politer. Too nice. Much like Keira Knightley’s character, who wants to make her way as a woman in a man’s world, but doesn’t want to offend her parents. The film lacks the courage of its own convictions. Using Turing’s conviction on the charges of being a homosexual as a framing device, meant that the film should have addressed how down right barbaric the laws in England used to be. Instead the film pulls it’s punches. It doesn’t judge anyone. The most dramatic moment in Turing’s life is left for the subtitles in the credits. Benedict Cumberbatch actually has to tell someone he is a homosexual halfway through the film for the audience to realise, as he appears so asexual throughout the film. It’s as if the film makers are trying their best not to offend anyone, even homophobes. I guess this may work during the awards season when it comes to the conservatives voting for it, but it dulls what could have been a much better film.

 

The Imitation Game is a thumbnail character sketch, which would interest anyone who doesn’t know about Alan Turing. It’s a well performed sketch, but it is still only a sketch.

 

5/10