Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

 

Released: November 9, 2018. Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones. Runtime: 1h, 26 min.

When I went to see “Overlord” in November, I overheard a mom saying to her kid “Are you excited for your first movie?” Knowing how cool it is to see your first movie at a theatre, I was bummed he was seeing something as mediocre as “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” for his first movie at the theatre.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is the third adaption of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the titular Grinch in a version that doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the story.

This time, The Grinch isn’t particularly feared and is just seen as meaner than the average Who. He still doesn’t like Christmas, so when the Who’s bring in a gigantic Christmas tree, he hatches a plan to put an end to their happiness: Steal Christmas.

Illumination Entertainment’s animation style fits Seuss’s style, especially his inventions which the animation brings to life well. I like their vision of Whoville, but the animation is the only good part of the film, even though it makes Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) look like a Martian with her pigtails sticking up in the air, and the character design’s similar to “Despicable Me.”

As for the story, there’s just not enough plot for a feature film. It’s just told with very little creativity, and there are no Jim Carrey kind-of antics to distract from the lack of story.

The Grinch featured

Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (IMDb)

Cumberbatch is fine as the Grinch, but he’s not terribly memorable. Nothing about this film is memorable, and the main source of laughs come from the Grinch’s cheery neighbour (Keenan Thompson) and the Grinch’s dog Max and an overweight reindeer, and the Grinch trolling the citizens of Whoville made me smile, but those moments were the only times I did.

Pharrell Williams’ monotone narration also does not help matters of entertainment. Since you already know which direction is going, I was getting antsy for the Grinch just to steal Christmas, but it feels like it takes forever to get there. There just aren’t many interesting characters to watch in this one, as the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s interactions are extremely limited until he makes his Christmas heist.

Even then, it’s a bit of a cliche way for Cindy Lou to meet him – setting up a Rube Goldberg trap to try to catch Santa Claus so she can ask him for something selfless.

We know about the Grinch’s loneliness and we know that he steals Christmas and that his heart grows three sizes, but this version doesn’t delve into any kind of new backstory or anything interesting, for that matter. And it was just kind of weird seeing a version where the people aren’t afraid of the Grinch. But for this version, the filmmakers just unfortunately don’t do anything to make it memorable.

Score: 50/100

 

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August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit 2Released: December 13, 2013. Directed by: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Runtime: 161 min.

Many thought “The Hobbit” franchise would have peaked with the first chapter, last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” but that isn’t the case. Some may not find out because this made about $11 million less at the box office in its opening weekend, but box office performance isn’t relevant to the film’s quality. This is a great continuation.

In “An Unexpected Journey,” we left off with the group looking at the Lonely Mountain. The film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) discussing how Thorin should take back his homeland. The conversation turns out to be the time where they first discuss the journey. The dwarven company, along with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarve’s homeland of Erebor from Smaug the Terrible, the flying furnace. Meanwhile they encounter other companies in order to achieve their goal, Bilbo found his “courage” in his encounter with Gollum in the previous film, and they are still being chased by the Orks led by Azog the Defiler.

I think it’s a better film, as well, because it has a better handle on its tone. Last year, some may have been thrown off by its often silly tone; this is a bit more serious. It still has its fair share of comedy, but it isn’t as constant. When it is present, it’s entertaining – and very funny. The adventures of this company is consistent and memorable. A scene where the hobbits are in barrels is directed so well by Peter Jackson. It’s one of the best scenes of the film because it’s so fun, creative and the action is incredible. There’s also a great action scene where they encounter giant spiders that were mentioned in the first installment, and I liked it even more because it made me think of Ronald Weasley say “Can we panic now?” from “Harry Potter 2.” Those are the action scenes I’ll discuss; they’re awesome. Anyway, I also like Peter Jackson knows how to please his fans because there are some familiar characters, here.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears when the dwarves encounter elves and the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s a real treat. He has a lady friend he’s interested in, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); and she acquaints mostly with Kili (Aidan Turner). Evangeline Lilly is completely badass here, and even outshines Legolas occasionally. She’s a great actress portraying a great, noble warrior. I think her character is fascinating when she talks about the Elven beliefs, like saying that starlight is precious and brings hope. She is a character full of wonder, and that is something that makes her entrancing. It also makes the viewer feel full of wonder.

Interestingly enough, she is an original creation for this film – because the film makers felt they needed both a red head, and some female badassery. She certainly kicks ass, and one of my favourite visual sights from the film is the way her auburn hair looks in the sunshine. That’s poetry, folks, am I right? It’s cool that original characters get made for Tolkien’s universe. I love the world J.R.R. Tolkien has created, with all of its mythology, even if some names might be difficult to pronounce or remember.

Anyway, it is also nice to see some dwarves get more chances to shine, and they’re not just another number to the company – we’re actually starting to care about them. So the main dwarves, meaning the ones that get the spotlight shone on the most, are Thorin, Balin and Kili. Thorin seems to be warming up a bit, but he hasn’t lost sight of that badassery. Balin is the voice of reason, which I enjoy. I noticed that Ori (Adam Brown), a dwarf who had a lot of funny lines in the first film, wasn’t used very much in this; another testament that the filmmakers are trying to improve the tone, and try to give everyone a good time whilst watching the film. I’m sure this will be loved by many, because it has good comedy and it’s a fantastic adventure film.

Bilbo has found his bravery within the One ring, but he is evidently changing. (It’s funny to see that men are sometimes obsessed with jewellery, too. Haha!) Martin Freeman is a hysterical source of comedy in occasions where he doesn’t exactly know what to next. It’s simple but effective, and that is a favoured type of comedy. I love Freeman as Bilbo, because he is a little man with much care but a whole lot of bravery that cannot be measured. Gandalf went out on his own in this film when they split up at a forest, which was a bit disappointing to me. The film was switching between the main company, to Gandalf. It is nice that Gandalf isn’t the one saving the day all the time, so Bilbo gets some chances to do so, but it also takes away some of the great presence.

One presence that makes up for that is the villainous Smaug, and oh boy, is he worth the wait. Benedict Cumberbatch uses motion capture animation for his movements, and he moves graciously. He is a scary dragon, and he is a chilling villain. What a beautiful CGI-creature he is, too. The visuals are phenomenal, like the first, as is the New Zealand scenery. I really enjoyed the darker scenery, too, when characters had to go through caves. I guess the only thing left to say is bring on the next film, because I need to see how it ends. Maybe I’ll just go buy the original book that is, what, 75 years old now? Yeah. There’s an idea. I will read the book, but I will still eagerly await the film, because I love Peter Jackson’s direction of these tales.

Score85/100

12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Release Date: May 16, 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Runtime: 132 min

Summer 2013 seems like a time for vulnerable heroes. First, Iron Man/Tony Stark of Iron Man 3 experienced anxiety after the events of The Avengers. Now, it’s Captain James Kirk’s time. After losing something he holds dear, he takes his U.S.S. Enterprise crew after a Enterprise agent turned war criminal, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), to settle a personal score. This mission is really bigger than any of them ever expected it to be.

It has become apparent that the plots for Star Trek movies are essentially spaceship wars, where the ship with the biggest guns wins, and it is practically always, the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are also traditional revenge stories; and they don’t elevate above that, because they stick to the formula. These stories are average, but this franchise makes them fun, maybe because it’s a revenge story set in space with big weapons on spaceships. The fun story-lines still don’t make me feel incredibly impressed. That is the reason why, while both of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been well-done, I am not so eager to seek out any of the Star Trek TV shows or movies with Shatner and Nimoy. I’m good with watching Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto rock their roles.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol become more primary characters of the Enterprise, as well as, of course, Kirk and Spock. However, there isn’t enough of a focus on Uhura (Zoe Saldana) or Bones (Karl Urban), and the mostly secondary characters of Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) become more secondary. While they have critical duties to fulfill, it feels like they have a very limited amount of screen time. Bones is usually the prime comic relief character, and while he does produce a few good yuks; Scotty’s the main comic relief in the movie. Will you hear many complaints about that? Probably not, because Simon Pegg is very funny. The whole crew still works as an ensemble, where Alice Eve makes this sci-fi fun a little more sexy. We are still able to become invested with these characters, where even Vulcans become human. The computer-esque, logical thinking Spock is very likeable; and Quinto is such a strong actor, that you might yearn for more of him in roles where he doesn’t have pointy ears and a bowl-shaped haircut. The layer of emotional vulnerability that is added to Kirk is creative, and so is the contrasting layer added to Spock; where he is afraid to portray specific, all-to-familiar, painful emotions.

Some of the best scenes are emotionally powerful ones, as well as some fun scenes where the crew mostly banters in a hilarious way. While that isn’t good for an action movie, the amusing banter is more than welcome. Some of the action sequences are stunning and usually thrilling. That’s the point, they’re bigger, they’re badder, they’re bolder; even if they don’t feel quite as magical as they did in 2009’s Star Trek. More than a few are forgettable, but some really special ones stand out. The story is mostly easy to follow, even if it has the tendency to be complex.

That is mainly thanks to the main villain, John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is a booming on-screen presence. When Kirk relentlessly hits him, he just stands there without a scratch with a facial expression that asks, “What are you trying to do, puny man?” He’s savage, he’s deadly, he’s brilliant, he’s terrifying. He makes Eric Bana’s Nero look like a forgettable, little mouse. I think it further exemplifies the influence of The Dark Knight‘s Joker on blockbuster, good vs. evil action movies, where writers are now trying to find the next, big, brilliant terrorist mind. This guy just might be him. Cumberbatch is the most memorable part of the movie, and he absolutely dominates every scene. Even when he isn’t on-screen, the audience misses him. This isn’t Pine’s show, not Quinto’s, and not even Abrams’ any longer. He dominates it so well, in fact, it should hereby be known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

In a nutshell: While I wouldn’t call this 2013’s best film, I will call it 2013’s best action and science fiction movie. There are memorable action scenes, good twists and turns, and amusing dialogue exchanges. The villain outdoes the villain of its predecessor; but I think the crew isn’t utilized as well. To Trekkies, the plot might feel reminiscent of a few prior movies; so contrary to one of the franchise’s most prominent taglines, it’ll feel like it is going where prior movies have gone before. Still, this is really fun summer entertainment.

83/100