The Grinch Review

Special Order 937 from Illumination Entertainment’s upper management:

“Priority one. Ensure return of cash profit. All creativity secondary. Audience expendable.”

If that Alien reference was to crass or obscure for you, let me clarify. I’m catching on to Illumination Entertainment’s (the makers of Despicable Me, Sing, etc.) business model of putting financial gain before creativity and filmmaking passion. They actively strive to meet the animation industries bare minimum requirements for a passable mainstream picture. The character models and backgrounds they use are cheaply rendered and don’t have a lot of detail, all to save a quick buck. Their stories are average and likely to go for cheap sentimentality to appear emotional and deep.

Case and point, The Grinch.

I’m sure you know the plot to this classic Dr. Seuss story. It takes place in the town of Whoville, inhabited by a group of jolly people that love the Christmas season. Yes, everyone loves Christmas, all except for the mean old Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) who lives atop a mountain with his pet dog Max. Harboring a hatred for all things Christmas, The Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas by thieving the Who’s holiday gifts and possessions.

A fun, stylish children’s book that rejects consumerism and materialism around Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! becomes a little more relevant with every passing year. This 2018 interpretation of The Grinch doesn’t take much of a stance on anything, and its reason for existing is questionable. Nothing added is new to the story and therefore is quite predictable and bland. It’s the cinematic equivalent to a rice cake. You eat it because it’s filling and not too unhealthy, but it’s still bland and not very tasty.

The Grinch himself isn’t very “grinchy”. He’s more just a slightly irritable jerk than the ultimate antithesis to Christmas joy. Less mean-spirited, more goofball. Heck, The Grinch smiles more than probably every other incarnation of The Grinch put together. I think Illumination did this so that his character would appeal more to young children, but in the Chuck Jones animated version The Grinch looks menacing, and kids love that TV special. And to top it all off, they had Benedict Cumberbatch voice him, which really baffled me. They thought, “Hey, Cumberbatch is a big star that audiences like, have him voice The Grinch!” The problem there is that he doesn’t fit the character well, completely wasting his acting ability.

It’s tragic because there’s some decent voice acting from very talented actors throughout The Grinch, including Cumberbatch. Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, and even Pharrell Williams (who provides the narration) lended their voices for the film. It’s too bad their roles in The Grinch didn’t allow them to utilize their unique acting abilities. All except maybe Kenan, who really gets to be vocally expressive in his role as an obnoxiously jolly individual.

Overall, I believe young children and parents may enjoy the bright colors and “in your face” slapstick humor, but the reality is that this film had so much potential to be something more. Illumination has the talent, money, and resources to pull off something exciting, something magical that is truly memorable for all the right reasons. But with films like The Grinch they play it safe, making a film that’s so sanitized and cautious that there isn’t a truly new idea in sight. And sooner or later their shortcuts are going to reflect in their box office revenue.

I’m fully aware that studio films must be made with a financial profit in mind. Period. But with animation companies like Disney, Laika and DreamWorks there’s at least some give and take with money vs creativity. They take some gambles and put their all into making something people won’t only want to see, but something they can come back to years later and still enjoy. Bottom line, a clear artistic vision is always present with these studios, even if the film isn’t very good. I still go back and watch movies like Coraline, Beauty and the Beast, and Shrek 2. Unfortunately, I can’t see myself going back to view Illumination’s The Grinch ever again.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint





The Imitation Game Review

The Imitation Game has garnered the reputation as one of the best films of 2014. I constantly hear people talking about just how wonderful it is. So naturally, I decided to check it out for myself.

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a socially awkward mathematician named Alan Turing hired by the British government to break the Enigma Code. The Enigma Code was a secret cryptic language used by the Germans in World War II to send secret messages among themselves. Turing and his colleagues worked feverishly to invent a machine that could understand this code. As we follow Turing along this difficult journey, we also begin to learn about his unfortunate past.

My initial reaction was for the most part positive. I had a few issues with where the plot went, but other than that I enjoyed my experience.

Out main cast consisting of Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, and Charles Dance all did well acting in The Imitation Game. I wasn’t as impressed with Cumberbatch’s character as everyone else in the world seemed to be. He played a very quirky genius that didn’t understand humor and would get very cocky. I’ve seen a lot of protagonists like this before, and his just wasn’t that special to me. That being said, I thought Cumberbatch’s acting was phenomenal. Cumberbatch really became the character for this role, and my mind was convinced it was looking at the real Alan Turing and not just a guy pretending to be.

About halfway through the film is the point where my level of interest began to wane. I think The Imitation Game picked up too many subplots, bogging it down. We deal with Alan’s homosexuality, his relationship with his wife, and the shady things going on with his new friends.

The main plot point gets solved surprisingly early in the film, so we transition the focus on a couple smaller plot points that I just named above. Ones that I wasn’t quite as invested in because the film mostly focused on solving the Enigma Code the first hour. Therefore the second half felt less focused and a little more scattered. I much preferred the more focused first half of The Imitation Game.

The film even throws in some moral ambiguity a little past the halfway point. It introduces the idea of sacrifices in a war. The idea of allowing small amounts of innocent civilians here and there to die to ultimately win the war (thereby saving the world from tyranny) is a fascinating topic. I love when a film like The Imitation Game really makes you think where you stand morally. A ‘what kind of choices would you make’ kind of thing.

For a guy like me who loves historical fiction films, The Imitation Game was an enriching experience. I would recommend The Imitation Game to others who like historical fiction, or enjoy when a film tackles controversial subject matter. The quality of the performances and the meaningfulness of Alan Turing’s story is enough to bring audiences in droves. Even though I had some issues with it, I think The Imitation Game is a good film with good intentions.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint