Movie Review ~ Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch

The Facts:

Synopsis: A grumpy Grinch plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville.

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, Keenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury

Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier

Rated: PG

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: It’s probably wrong to admit it, but I went into the screening of The Grinch actively trying to dislike it.  I didn’t see the point of yet another retooling of the classic Dr. Seuss tale when there was already a perfectly wonderful book from 1957 and classic holiday special from 1966 that have stood the test of time.  Though Universal had already tried to bring The Grinch to life in 2000’s ghastly How the Grinch Stole Christmas featuring Jim Carrey as the green meanie, it didn’t weasel it’s way into the holiday canon and is widely regarded as a majorly misguided misfire.  18 years later they’ve teamed up with Illumination Entertainment (the animation group behind the Despicable Me and Minions movies) for a colorful retelling of the familiar tale and, as much as I wanted to dismiss it, I found myself succumbing to its charms.

It’s the week before Christmas and the tiny town of Whoville is getting ready for the big day. Houses are decorated, presents are bought, the holiday spirit radiates out of everyone.  Overlooking Whoville is Mount Crumpit, home to The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange) who can’t stand Christmas or the Whos.  As Christmas Day draws near, The Grinch comes up with a plan to steal Christmas from the Whos, hoping to prevent Christmas from coming.  Dressed up as Santa, The Grinch makes his way through Whoville on Christmas Eve robbing the sleeping Whos of every speck of yuletide garb and gifts, aiming to toss it off a cliff.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock and never allowed to watch television you know how it ends up, so it’s not a spoiler to say that eventually The Grinch welcomes not only Christmas into his heart but the Whos as well.

Screenwriters Michael LeSieur (Keeping Up with the Joneses) and Tommy Swerdlow have taken the original 69 page book by Dr. Seuss and expanded it to a 90 minute family friendly film that maintains the structure sourced from Seuss.  Most of the rhymes are still there in the narration from Pharrell Williams but the screenplay adds in extra material for The Grinch and especially Cindy Lou Who.  The 2000 script for the live action film was similarly overstuffed but it was in service to special effects and production design, not story.  Here it feels more organic and in line with giving the characters a more modern feel.  That may displease purists who appreciate the simple joys of the original Seuss tale and even though I’d count myself as one of them I didn’t really mind the updates.

More time is spent on carving out distinctive personalities for several of the Whos. Cindy Lou Who’s mom (Rashida Jones, Tag) is now an overworked single parent raising her daughter and twin boys and Bricklebaum (Keenan Thompson), the merriest Who of all, is all about having the best holiday decorations on display.  Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast) is heard briefly as the mayor of Whoville ready to light their enormous tree and who tasks the Whos with making Christmas three times as big as last year.   Cindy Lou herself (Cameron Seely, The Greatest Showman, whose animated alter-ego looks strikingly like Amy Poehler) is a tom-boyish do-gooder that wants to forgo presents and ask Santa to help her mom out instead.  Her infamous meeting with The Grinch during his nighttime burglary is now orchestrated by her as a way to get some face time with the guy in the red suit.

As The Grinch, Cumberbatch has the unenviable task of following in the aural footsteps of Boris Karloff who voiced the green guy in 1966 and did the narration as well. His Grinch is more nasal and nerdish, less outright cruel but still just as unflinchingly mean.  It was wise for the writers to ease up a bit on his harsh-ness because sitting through even an hour of that would be something he could never bounce back from.  Time is spent exploring his history and explaining why he hates Christmas so much as well as providing moments of interplay with his faithful dog Max and a new character, a rotund reindeer named Fred.  I wish the filmmakers would have let Cumberbatch narrate the film as well in his deep accented voice, Pharrell’s reading just doesn’t land with any weight.

While the score from Danny Elfman (Dark Shadows) is a nice callback to the original tunes from 1966 there is a fairly awful reworking of ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ and a positively hideous closing number, both performed by Tyler, the Creator. Though the soundtrack is filled out with other holiday numbers, I was a bit taken a back that ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and the phrase “Remember Christ our Savior” was featured prominently in one comedic sequence.  In a film aimed at international audiences across all religious beliefs, it was an interesting inclusion on the part of the studio.

As we near our own holiday season there will be a host of movies out there for families to choose from and I’m pleased that for a second week in a row we have a movie that I’d feel comfortable suggesting as an all-ages option. The Grinch is rated PG for brief rude humor and honestly, I don’t even remember what that was.  It’s refreshingly free of fart jokes and bathroom yucks and, like The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a movie parents will likely be as entertained with as their kids.  Please promise you’ll watch the 1966 version first, though!

 

Movie Review ~ Keeping Up with the Joneses

keeping_up_with_the_joneses
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Patton Oswalt

Director: Greg Mottola

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When asked by a friend about my thoughts after screening Keeping Up with the Joneses, all I could offer up was, “It’s stupid.  Not bad, not unwatchable…just stupid.” If you’re ok with ‘stupid’ then by all means get thee to your local theater and plunk down those bucks to see a movie that gets it wrong from the get-go.

The problem is, I feel, with the cast.  Not that Zach Galifianakis (Muppets Most Wanted), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), Isla Fisher (Now You See Me), & Gal Gadot (Triple 9) are wrong for the movie…they’re just in the wrong roles.  Stick with me here, ok?  How many times have we seen movies where statuesque women and movie-star handsome men play secret agents in disguise? And in how many features do they have sidekicks that aren’t quite runway ready but are more than capable of carrying lighter material?  That’s the problem…all four actors above the title in Keeping Up with the Joneses are simply playing into expectations dictated by their Q-scores.

I think I would have enjoyed the movie more had Galifianakis and Fisher swapped roles with Hamm and Gadot because it would have afforded them (and audiences) a chance for something different.  Hamm could certainly have handled the comic bits and I think Galifianakis would have been able to smooth out some of the roughly scripted staid edges screenwriter Michael LeSieur couldn’t do himself.  And why couldn’t Fisher have been the confident super-spy that shows repressed suburban mom Gadot how to wear French cut lingerie and trade bullets with bad guys?

Sadly, no one asked my opinion so Keeping Up with the Joneses is just your standard spy comedy where everyone is simply coasting along to pick up their paycheck at the end of the week.  There’s little joy in the telling of the tale where government operatives Gadot and Hamm pose as new neighbors in a cul-de-sac populated by the employees of a local software business.  Galifianakis is the HR rep for the company and Fisher is his homemaker wife that’s the first to notice the new couple on the block is too good to be true.  When a mole offers to sell a valuable computer chip to the top bidder, the two couples become involved with a little espionage and a lot of poorly constructed action sequences.

If there is a VIP of the movie, Fisher is certainly it.  Possessing good comic instincts and a true talent for physical comedy, Fisher easily outperforms Hamm and Galifianakis, both of whom barely lift a finger to bring anything new to the party.  I wish Gadot’s role wasn’t quite so one-dimensional, though her role-reversal of power with her seemingly more macho counterpart is a nice wrinkle.  The supporting players are a collection of desperate scene stealers clearly compensated with free meals from their scenery chewing.

For all its brightly lit suburban bliss and basic cable action scenes, director Greg Mottola’s (Superbad) film looks pretty cheap.  I expected some of the sets to tip over if people leaned against them and the few special effects would have been impressive had this come out the summer after Tron did.  Keep your eyes open for a scene between Galifianakis and Hamm that was clearly a reshoot – both men are wearing wigs so fake looking you’d swear they raided the discount Halloween bin at CVS.

Possibly enjoyed as a rental down the line, Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t worth much of an effort this fall.