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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Eighth Grade (2018)

Eighth Grade. Released: August 3, 2018. Directed by: Bo Burnham. Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson. Runtime: 1h 33 min.

I like Bo Burnham, he’s funny. He got his start on YouTube in 2006 posting funny songs from his bedroom (like “New Math,” which makes math fun). He helped me with fractions with lyrics like “having sex is like doing fractions; it’s improper for the larger one to be on top.”

It’s 10 years later and he’s made something universal with his directorial debut Eighth Grade, a film that’s been helping me through an anxious time – which is way more important than fractions. The film stars a delightfully awkward and convincing Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, an eighth grader just trying to survive her last week of middle school.

Kayla’s an average eighth grader, and you’ll likely see a lot of yourself in her. Every time she sends a cringe-y text or tries to be nice to people who want literally nothing to do with her, you’ll want to stop her. (I still wish someone would stop me from sending a bad text half the time).

I saw myself in Kayla, especially her anxiety of worrying what people will think of her as she goes to a popular kid’s pool party. She describes anxiety as the “butterflies you get while waiting in line for a rollercoaster;” but that’s how she feels when she isn’t doing anything. A character named Olivia (Emily Robinson) helps Kayla through some of these moments, and these scenes are charming.

These messages are what make Eighth Grade‘s story timeless for any viewer, as Kayla’s anxiety and doubts can happen at any point in your life. Because of this, it’s not a film you just watch; it’s one that you experience and remember (even as adult viewers, since we’ve gone through eighth grade too).

Bo Burnham was always a clever guy, but here he shows great understanding of adolescence and the current generation growing up. Eighth Grade is personal, intimate, and so good. Kayla doing YouTube videos feels a lot like how Burnham himself started out – and sprinkling her videos throughout the film as narration is smart storytelling. Elsie Fisher as his star was also great casting, because she’s so convincingly awkward during her YouTube videos, giving life advice to people like her, advice which she tries to use for herself. Her character is relatable, and Fisher herself is very charming.

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Director Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher (IMDb).

Kayla looks like an average teenager, complete with acne and everything. And that’s so refreshing. Fisher becomes Kayla; it’s heartbreaking, heartwarming, and often just crushingly awkward watching her navigate middle school’s struggles and life’s ups and downs – especially romance. It’s entertaining when she sees the object of her affections, Aiden (Luke Prael), and Enya’s “Sail Away” plays on the soundtrack.

Her supportive father is also such an amazing character, played memorably by Josh Hamilton. He’s trying his best…even if Kayla wants nothing more than to listen to music rather than listen to him.

The trend of great father monologues (like in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird) continues with “Eighth Grade.” It’s another great moment; and when I’m bawling in the theatre I always wonder how they deliver the lines without crying. I can barely get through an argument without crying. Kudos to you, Josh Hamilton.

Kudos to everyone, really, and especially Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher. Burnham makes the ordinary feel so entertaining. There’s a full range of characters, so even if you don’t relate to Kayla’s specific situation, you’ll likely relate to someone else. I’m a lot like Kayla and I’ve been like Gabe (Jake Ryan, playing an equally awkward youth who tries to befriend Kayla) multiple times in my life. Burnham writes a solid film and as an all-around full view of Kayla’s world and immerses us completely in it.

Score: 90/100

This review originally appeared on The Movie Buff.

Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

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Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100

Action Point (2018)

Action Point. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Tim Kirkby. Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Dan Bakkedahl. Runtime: 1h 25 min.

I like Johnny Knoxville. He’s funny. But then a terrible film like Action Point comes along and no matter how contagious his laugh is, you (probably) won’t laugh with him. Keep in mind, this is a film that thinks alcoholic bears and Chris Pontius wearing thongs is the funniest thing in the world.

Knoxville stars as D.C. Carver, who we first meet as an old man reminiscing about the good old days when his daughter, Boogie, would visit him at his amusement park called Action Point which the daredevil runs with his friends, complete with a waterslide and an alpine slide and all.

The summer’s 1979 and Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) comes to visit, but attendance is down because a corporate amusement park opens in town. Action Point’s employees need to figure out a way to attract people to the park, and meanwhile a villainous land owner named Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl) really wants the property shut down for some reason. It’s a half-decent plot in the 80s or even the mid-2000s, but in 2018 it’s dull and unfunny.

The film’s inspired by a notoriously unsafe New Jersey park called Action Park and Knoxville was inspired to make the film after he saw a 14-minute documentary called The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever (link here). It’s interesting and makes the lawlessness of the place look totally fun. It’s a shame because this lifeless film doesn’t capture any of that nostalgia or spirit.

The characters aren’t developed outside of D.C. and Boogie. The twentysomethings that work at the park have cool jobs and that would have been fun to explore (like the summer jobs in Adventureland or The Way Way Back) but screenwriters John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky don’t give them anything to do.

Benny (Chris Pontius) is also an employee at the park. He’s a lifeguard but has more interest in telling stupid stories than saving anyone drowning. The character’s awful, and so is Pontius, but he hangs out with D.C. more than the others, so much so he even gets a love interest (Camilla Wolfson).

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Johnny Knoxville in Action Point going down the alpine slide. (IMDb)

A decent part about the film is the father-daughter chemistry between Knoxville and Worthington-Cox as his daughter Boogie. The relationship humanizes the boring D.C., as he’d be a complete asshole otherwise.

The relationship’s one-note and the main drama of it is that Boogie wants to see The Clash in concert this summer and brings it up repeatedly to D.C. When there’s drama because of this it’s not believable because it stems from bad communication from Boogie, and simply shouldn’t be a conflict. The film also thinks you’ll care about the conflict, but you won’t.

The story’s truly where Action Point falls flat on its face. At least with the Jackass movies we knew it was just stunts, and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa had a decent story and good stunts. Action Point has mediocre stunts and a terrible story. Maybe this would have been better if most of the Jackass crew would have been in the film besides Knoxville and Pontius – but these two seem to be the only ones interested in still doing this stuff while in their 40’s. Still, props to Knoxville to doing his own stunts.

The plot’s so paper-thin I’m convinced it only has the scenes of D.C. as a grandpa to pad the 85-minute runtime. It’s 15 minutes of filler throughout and it offers nothing to the story. It’s either filler or Knoxville just wants to be dressed as an old man in all his films, but in Bad Grandpa at least there was a reason.

There’s a scene of him as a grandpa here that’s so bad I considered walking out. It’s a gross-out gag with his granddaughter painting his hideous looking toenails the colour of blood. There’s no comedy here and my gut was telling me this film would never get any better, and I should have listened.

Score: 25/100

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell. Runtime: 1h 58 min.

Writer/director Brad Bird and stars Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are well-aware it’s been 14 years since the The Incredibles, as they address this wait before screenings of Incredibles 2. It is a long time – long enough for Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl) to turn 60, the same age Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) was when they made the original in 2004.

But now Incredibles 2 is finally here and it’s a great nostalgia trip after all these years. I smiled so much during the opening scene because it’s so entertaining, and I thought it was worth the price of admission alone.

Politicians of Metroville still want superheroes to stay hidden and not intervene. Not everyone wants supers to be hidden – as the CEO of a telecommunications company, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have come up with a way to get supers back in the good graces of Metroville.

They want to use Elastigirl (Hunter) to show the government supers can save the day without a lot of structural damage. That’s the main reason they pick her over Bob (Craig T. Nelson) – because he causes the city so much money. “Big problems need big solutions,” Bob explains. This time, Helen’s out on secret missions and Bob’s the stay-at-home dad.

It’s so cool watching Elastigirl fight crime for the bulk of the film this time, as her powers of stretching all over the place is visually more interesting than Bob just using his strength on everything. Plus, Holly Hunter is generally amazing so more screen time for her is welcome. The rest of the voice cast is also really great.

The main plot is Helen foiling the plans of a mysterious figure called the Screenslaver, which is entertaining and has a lot of well-animated, dazzling action scenes. Some aspects are predictable, but the pure entertainment of the third act more than makes up for it. The story’s also very well-written.

I generally loved the plot so much because it’s so cool going back to these characters, and the Parr’s family dynamic still feels fresh after 14 years. The parents do switch roles this time. Bob deals with jealousy of Helen fighting crime and him being pushed into the shadows of parenting, and it’s handled with humour.

He seems more like Bob in this film than Mr. Incredible, but he shines whenever he’s in his super suit. Speaking of super suits, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also has enough chances to shine. Other fan favourite Edna E. Mode (Brad Bird) also has a great appearance.

Bob helping Dash (Huck Milner) with homework and him screwing up trying to help Violet (Sarah Vowell) with boy problems will be relatable for dads. The biggest laughs come from the scene-stealing Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) who’s unable to control his newfound powers. That’s a huge thing Bob has to deal with. Anyone who’s seen the Jack Jack Attack short film will definitely love this sub-plot. He’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the film and Brad Bird seems like he’s having a blast writing this.

Besides the great old characters, we get to know a few new heroes – Sophia Bush as Voyd, for example – and they’re fun side characters that Bird explores. The film’s storyline flows nearly as well as the original and the dialogue’s still sharp and the humour’s great. Michael Giacchino’s score helps a lot with the film’s nostalgic feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Score: 90/100

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles

IMDb

Released: November 5, 2004. Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Brad Bird. Runtime: 1h, 55 min.

In Metroville, superheroes are forced into retirement by the government after getting hit with lawsuits, and the supers promise to refrain from superhero work. Effectively, this makes their secret identities their only identities.

For Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), not being a superhero is a big ask. 15 years after supers are forced into hiding, Bob works in insurance claims by day and hangs out with Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) at night, listening to police scanners. Since he can’t be heroic as Mr. Incredible, the cinematography makes his days look dark and depressing.

When he’s given an assignment by a mysterious person to be heroic on a remote island, everything’s brighter. After this, he and his family are forced into super action – including wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), as baby Jack Jack stays at home with a babysitter.

“The Incredibles” is about a family that must hide their powers – Violet can go invisible and make forcefields and Dash can move at super speeds – but otherwise they’re an average family. Helen and Bob even parent differently like normal families.

Bob says that their powers make them special; Helen wants them to know their powers aren’t the only thing that make them special. They’re mostly on the same page – except in a moment that should be punishment for Dash after he puts a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair, Bob’s just excited that Dash was going too fast to be seen on camera.

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Dash, Violet, Bob and Helen in The Incredibles. (IMDb)

While embracing who you are is an important theme, family’s the most prominent one. One of the film’s coolest moments is when the Parr’s stand together as The Incredibles for the first time, ready to fight the villains as a family. And that moment especially set to Michael Giacchino’s score makes it feel so awesome, and the score is great throughout.

The villain himself, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is well-written by writer/director Brad Bird. Syndrome is a rich guy who creates his own powers by creating gadgets and weapons and his backstory of desperately wanting to be a hero and facing rejection put him on his supervillain path.

The screenplay’s one of the film’s strongest suits as everything flows so well throughout. The lesson that Bob has to learn that being a hero isn’t the most important thing, and that he can be a hero by being a father, is also insightful. Everything’s top-notch here from the dialogue, humour, great characters and action scenes. Bird just brings it to life in such an amazing way.

Bird has some funny comments about villains in general, one of which is an observation on drawn out villain monologues when they could defeat the hero at any moment. “The guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!” says Lucius. Bird also voices scene-stealing fashion designer Edna E. Mode, who designs super suits, and her bit about “no capes” is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Score: 100/100

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean's Eight poster

IMDb

Released: June 8, 2018. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway. Directed by: Gary Ross. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Midway through “Ocean’s Eight”, the spin-off of the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) tells Lou (Cate Blanchett) that there’s no room for men in this heist. “I don’t want a him,” says Debbie. “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.”

This all-female led cast isn’t one to be ignored. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister, and the movie starts with her in a parole meeting – the same opening as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.” She gets released and with the help of Lou, they round up a team for a heist.

This includes Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pick-pocketer Constance (Awkwafina). Debbie wants do this job because stealing is her talent – established by clever little after she’s out of jail. She tells a guard: “I have forty-five dollars, I can go anywhere.”

The heist is at New York City’s annual Met Gala, and the target’s a diamond necklace called the Toussaint, valued at $150 million, which will be worn by Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway).

Hathaway’s fun in the role, playing an exaggerated version of herself, shown best during a fashion-related panic attack. I’m glad the franchise kept that meta sense of humour, even if it’s not as obvious as the scene in “Ocean’s Twelvewhen Julia Roberts plays Tess Ocean pretending to be Julia Roberts.

Everyone’s performances in “Ocean’s Eight” are stronger than their characters. They’re basic characters and Debbie has the most development. Helena Bonham Carter is quirky and entertaining as the Irish fashion designer Rose.

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Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna in Ocean’s Eight. (IMDb)

Rihanna’s also great as Nine Ball. Her hacks are clever, and I love that her computer mouse is a nine ball (pictured above). Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson are charming, and both Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling are amusing. James Corden is among the only male talent and appears in the third act and makes things livelier, and he’s good for a few laughs.

It’s difficult for this film to avoid comparisons to the original trilogy. Steven Soderbergh brought so much style to his trilogy and to the heist genre. In comparison, this is flat, especially during the setup.

Without any great characters here, the cast mainly kept me interested. It’s entertaining enough on its own but it doesn’t have much style under Gary Ross’s direction. Style only shows up on the night of the Met Gala with all of its glitz, glamour and celebrities.

I like how writers Ross and Olivia Milch make the characters steal something off the neck of someone instead of them having to figure out how to get inside a vault to steal the necklace. There’s creativity in the plot and the implementation of the Met Gala plan is decent fun, even if the suspense doesn’t come close to any of the originals.

Score: 65/100