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Blu-ray Review: Crazy Rich Asians

November 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on the bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a splashy and entertaining romantic comedy that represents a step forward in terms of onscreen diversity in major studio films.

The film tells the story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American economics professor from New York, who was raised by a single mother (Tan Kheng Hua) who came to America when she was a baby so they could have a better life.

Rachel is dating a man named Nick Young (Henry Golding), who unbeknownst to her is actually from an incredibly wealthy family in Singapore, and is considered to be one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors.

When Rachel accompanies Nick home for his best friend’s (Chris Pang) wedding, she is instantly viewed as an outsider by his large family, with his strict mother Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) making no secret of the fact that she disapproves of her son dating a commoner. From here, Crazy Rich Asians follows the classic rom-com formula almost to a tee, but it does so in a deeply satisfying way, while also signifying a landmark moment in terms of representation for non-white characters in mainstream studio fare.

Director Jon M. Chu keeps the film moving at a fast pace despite the two hour running time, doing a good job of weaving together the different characters and story threads, while also splashing the screen with lavish sets and designer clothes. Much of this works as light and airy escapism, but the film also offers a bittersweet look at different cultural expectations that are driven by an adherence to status and tradition, with Rachel struggling to overcome the assumption that she is somehow lesser or unworthy merely because she wasn’t born into a prominent family.

The film is elevated by the strong performances from its almost exclusively Asian ensemble cast, with Wu and Golding making for a pair of incredibly appealing leads, and affirming their status as stars in the making. Awkwafina also steals every moment as Rachel’s former roommate Peik Lin, who is a hilarious and hugely likeable addition to the large cast of characters. This all adds up to an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding film that ranks as one of the best rom-coms in recent memory.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with director Chu and author Kwan, as well as a gag reel, deleted scenes, and the featurette Crazy Rich Fun.

Crazy Rich Asians is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 120 minutes and rated PG.

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Blu-ray Review: Blindspotting

November 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

With just three days left in his probation, Collin (Daveed Diggs) is trying desperately to stay on the straight and narrow so that he doesn’t end up back in prison, but his unstable friend Miles (Rafael Casal) keeps threatening to pull him back down.

This is the basic plot line of Blindspotting, a gripping film that is set against backdrop of an increasingly gentrified neighbourhood in Oakland, California. Things get more complicated when Collin witnesses a young black man get shot and killed by a white police officer (Ethan Embry), an event that will continue to haunt him as he struggles to make it through the next few days.

Directed by Carlos López Estrada, with a screenplay that was co-written by Diggs and Casal, Blindspotting walks a tricky tonal balance between dark comedy and searing drama, with the countdown to the end of Collin’s probation adding a sort of ticking clock mechanism to the film that gives it inherent suspense. The story deals with a lot of timely and complex themes, and does so in a way that feels fresh and unique, all set to a soundtrack of rap songs that provide a compelling sense of rhythm to the film.

By focusing on two young men who are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of crime, Blindspotting is able to show how things such as poverty, racial tensions, and police violence effect two very different individuals who happen to be caught in the middle of it. Collin is black, and trying desperately to move past the stereotype that comes with being an ex-convict. Miles is white, but wears a grill and has adopted the most stereotypical aspects of street culture as a way to fit in in Oakland, making it hard for him to be a good role model for the mixed race son (Ziggy Baitinger) that he is raising with his girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones).

Collin and Miles work together at a moving company, which forces them to deal with a variety of clients, and allows them to see firsthand how their neighbourhood is being rapidly remade to the degree that those who were born there no longer recognize it, which is fuelling the anger that is felt by Miles, and causing him to lash out. The film is mainly worth seeing for the incredible performances of Diggs and Casal, who have electric chemistry together and maintain the film’s live-wire energy as the simmering tension reaches a boiling point during the compelling climax, the centrepiece of which is a stunning confrontation scene that Diggs delivers entirely in rhyme.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with the director and another with the actors/writers, the two featurettes Making Blindspotting and A Director’s Diary, as well as a selection of deleted scenes and soundbites.

Blindspotting is a VVS Films release. It’s 95 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: Green Book

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Taking its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African American travellers that was published annually during the Jim Crow era, Green Book is a road trip film that strikes the perfect balance between being funny and deeply moving.

The film reinvigorates the mismatched buddy movie formula of classics like Planes, Trains and Automobiles to provide one of the most wholly satisfying moviegoing experiences of the year.

Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is a working class Italian-American family man from the Bronx who lives with his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their two sons, and works as a bouncer at the Copacabana night club in New York in order to provide for them.

Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a renowned classical pianist of Jamaican descent who is embarking on a tour throughout the Deep South of 1962, a time of segregation and pronounced racial violence in America. When Tony is hired as Dr. Shirley’s driver for the tour in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with the plan being to get home in time for the holidays, the two men initially clash.

Dr. Shirley is a sophisticate with a regal air about him and a polished way of speaking who plays to sold out crowds of white society folk, while also facing shocking racism as a black man in a deeply segregated country, often at the same clubs where he is hired to play. Tony is a plain-talker who gets by on bullshit and isn’t opposed to using his fists to get out of a tight situation, working hard and navigating the streets his whole life. But as the tour goes on, and they realize the realities of each other’s worlds, the two men come to form an understanding and develop a deep bond between them.

Directed by Peter Farrelly, one half of the sibling duo that made Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, Green Book is an absolutely delightful road movie that uses humour to shine a light on the ugliness of racism and classism in America. Based on a true story, the film is buoyed along by an excellent script, which is filled with any number of small pleasures as our two protagonists banter back and forth, while also delivering many serious moments that movingly depict the realities of the time. This is the sort of film that will make you laugh before making you tear up, and it’s a careful balance that Farrelly navigates brilliantly.

Finally, Mortensen and Ali deliver a pair of great performances as the co-leads, bringing nuance and depth to each of their roles, and playing off each other in ways that are deeply satisfying to watch. This is a crowd pleaser through and through, evidenced by the fact that it took home the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, which is hardly a surprise considering that it got one of the best audience reactions I’ve seen at the festival since Silver Linings Playbook, with people clapping at many points throughout the film. Put simply, Green Book is one of the most enjoyable and powerful movies of the year.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: Widows

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directed by Steve McQueen, following up his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Widows is a twisty and often entertaining crime thriller that is carried by an all-star cast, immersing us in the seedy underbelly of contemporary Chicago.

The film opens with a heist gone wrong that ends up taking the lives of criminal mastermind Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his partners Florek (Jon Bernthal), Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Jimmy (Coburn Goss).

The botched robbery leaves Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) needing to pay off a debt, so she enlists the help of Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), who both also lost their husbands during the heist, as well as tough getaway driver Belle (Cynthia Erivo), to help her finish the job.

The debt is owed to Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is running an underdog campaign for public office against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of a racist career politician (Robert Duvall), and had two million dollars stolen from his campaign by Harry and his crew. The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn and inspired by a British TV series from the 1980s, is a dense work that is somewhat impressive for the way it weaves together so many different story strands, but the film also juggles a few too many characters. Some of them end up feeling underdeveloped, and the plot is a bit contrived at times, revealing the pulpier impulses of Flynn’s other work.

But even if it doesn’t land every moment, Widows is still an extremely well crafted genre exercise that consistently impresses in terms of both its performances and technical elements. The film has shades of Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Brian DePalma, and even if it never quite reaches those heights, it’s slickly directed by McQueen, who brings a strong sense of style to the action scenes. Furthermore, the film is exceptionally put together by Oscar-nominated editor Joe Walker, and also features an excellent musical score by composer Hans Zimmer.

Bolstered by its thrillingly diverse ensemble cast, with moments for almost all of them to really shine, from Davis out in front leading the charge with her fierce performance to the scene-stealing supporting work by Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s vicious gangster brother, Widows is a fun ride that delivers some kickass moments and a few unexpected if far-fetched turns.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: The Front Runner

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from director Jason Reitman, The Front Runner is a polished and expertly acted dramatization of Gary Hart’s failed 1988 presidential bid, that also works as a cautionary tale that is particularly relevant in this current political climate.

The film unfolds over three weeks, opening with Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) entering the 1988 presidential race, becoming the clear front runner for the Democratic nomination following his failed bid in 1984.

But when the media gets wind of the fact that Hart is having an extra-marital affair with a young woman by the name of Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), his campaign is rocked by a scandal that engulfs his wife (Vera Farmiga), his campaign manager (J.K. Simmons), and a young Washington Post reporter (Mamoudou Athie), who ends up in the middle of it all.

The film is a bit slow moving at times, but Reitman brings an engaging observational style to the way that he depicts the unfolding drama and the large cast of characters that get caught up in it, while also showing hints of the ripple effect that these events had on things to come. If Hart hadn’t been forced to pull out of the race in the midst of this scandal, he almost certainly would have won the presidency over George H.W. Bush, which would have seriously altered the course of history as we know it.

The film is equally timely in its depiction of a media that is rabidly obsessed with the personal lives of public officials, bolstered by the need to sell papers through more salacious headlines. The period details of the film are authentic, with an Altmanesque feel to it at times. The script has a rhythm to it that hooks us in throughout the mostly dialogue-driven scenes, with the back and forth conversations detailing the inner workings of a political campaign providing often compelling drama.

I’m a bit of a political junkie, and also tend to be a fan of Reitman’s work, which are likely contributing factors to why I enjoyed this film. Carried by an excellent performance from Jackman, who brings the appropriate amount of righteous indignance to his portrayal of a man trying to salvage his crumbling political career and is backed up by a uniformly strong supporting cast, The Front Runner works as an interesting and entertaining look at a political campaign going sideways.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Blu-ray Review: BlacKkKlansman

November 14, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, is the type of film that will make you deeply uncomfortable to watch at times with its unflinching look at simmering racial tensions in America in both the past and present, and that’s precisely the point of it.

The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department, who decides to cold call the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, in order to infiltrate the organization.

Over the phone, Ron is able to pass himself off as a racist white man who hates black people, and he makes contact with the local chapter president Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), who invites him to join the organization almost immediately. Needing someone to pose as him when meeting with them in person, Ron recruits his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who happens to be Jewish, to help him carry out the undercover investigation.

Despite raising the suspicions of the unhinged Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen), a burgeoning domestic terrorist whose wife (Ashlie Atkinson) is more than happy to go along with his increasingly dangerous brand of racism, Flip is brought into the fold of the extremist group, and is able to connect with the various members who view him as one of their own. But the investigation is complicated by the fact that the real Ron is in a relationship with Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the local Black Student Union, whose events are being threatened by the KKK.

Eventually this ruse leads Ron to have phone conversations with David Duke (Topher Grace), the Grand Wizard of the Klan at the time, who is trying to mainstream the KKK so their message is more palpable to regular people, with the eventual goal being to elect more people to higher office who believe in white superiority. The scenes where they converse over the phone, with their faces shown beside each other in split screen, are some of the best in the film, walking a careful tonal balance between the comic irony of Ron duping the Klan leader into thinking he is talking to a white man and the chilling nature of the beliefs that Duke is so calmly espousing.

While the premise of BlacKkKlansman allows for plenty of dark humour, and there is a hilarious sense of absurdity to the idea of a black man tricking the Ku Klux Klan into making him a member, the film also functions as a searing and powerful look at race relations in America across several decades. This story takes place in the early 1970s, but the film also draws a direct line between the KKK rallies of the past and the terrifying neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville just last year, which was followed by President Trump’s abject failure to properly condemn the violence.

Washington carries the film with a nuanced and textured performance as a man calmly taking on an organization that hates him for the colour of his skin, while also battling entrenched racism within his own police force, and coming to terms with the idea that he is somehow betraying the black community by being a cop. Driver does masterful work alongside him, moving effortlessly between the disgustingly racist language that he is forced to use to blend in as part of the group, while also brilliantly portraying his character’s deeper emotional arc of coming to terms with his own Jewish heritage through the anti-Semitism that he is forced to confront and even take part in.

The film is rounded out by memorable supporting work from Eggold, Pääkkönen and Grace, who all bravely dive into their disturbing roles, showing different shades of the extremist spectrum. Spike Lee directs it all with a style that recalls the films of the 1970s, while also feeling timely and urgent, crafting a film about the past that is entirely of the moment. Mixing elements of dark comedy, thriller, and police procedural, BlacKkKlansman is a gripping film that keeps us hooked throughout every scene of the over two hour running time. It’s often challenging to watch, but that’s the whole point.

The Blu-ray also includes a short but informative featurette simply titled A Spike Lee Joint, as well as an extended trailer for the film set to Prince’s cover of “Mary Don’t You Weep.”

BlacKkKlansman is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 135 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: The Meg

November 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A surprise box office hit when it was released over the summer, The Meg could be best described as that movie where Jason Statham does battle with a big ass shark. If that’s all you’re looking for, and you don’t care about the fact that this is essentially a cheesy B-movie, then The Meg might just be the film for you.

Five years after losing his job when he failed to bring back the full crew of a nuclear submarine, and was deemed crazy for claiming to have seen a giant shark, rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by oceanographer Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) to rescue the crew of a submersible that has become trapped at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

But the researchers have accidentally uncovered an ancient 75-foot shark known as the Megalodon, a massive creature that is capable of biting killer whales in half with its powerful jaws, and is thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago. Now it has returned to wreak havoc upon the crew of the Mana One, an underwater research facility. Trapped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and having to deal with the meddling of incompetent billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), who is funding the whole expedition, Taylor must help them find a way to stop the creature before it reaches the populated beaches off the coast of the Sanya Bay.

First off, it’s hard to describe The Meg as anything other than a mediocre monster movie. Directed by Jon Turtletaub of National Treasure fame, and based on Steve Alten’s 1997 novel, which different studios have been trying to adapt into a movie for years with it having been stuck in development hell for the longest time, in a sense the film actually seems a bit dated. It almost feels like something that could have just as easily been made back in the ’90s or early 2000s, and the jokey tone that pervades most of it keeps the film from being consistently effective as an actual thriller.

The characters are mostly cardboard cutouts, the one-liners are pretty corny, and the story itself is very predictable. The film also takes a bit too long with its setup before we get to the good bits, namely the sight of this giant shark attacking everything that crosses its path. But once the film does hit its stride, The Meg is bolstered by fairly decent special effects, and some of the set-pieces are admittedly kind of fun to watch as it goes along, including a well done sequence involving a diving cage.

It’s no Jaws, but if all you’re looking for is a straight forward and unpretentious giant shark movie that never really takes itself too seriously, then The Meg is a mildly entertaining blockbuster that modestly delivers on those very narrow terms.

The Blu-ray also includes the two production featurettes Chomp on This: The Making of The Meg and Creating the Beast, as well as a brief piece about shooting in New Zealand.

The Meg is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 113 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: Mile 22

November 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Directed by Peter Berg, in his fourth collaboration with Mark Wahlberg following their trio of true life dramas Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor, Mile 22 is a generic action thriller that presents a real step down for both the filmmaker and star.

The film opens with a team of agents including James Silva (Wahlberg), Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), William Douglas (Carlo Alban) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), who work for an elite paramilitary ground unit of the CIA known as Overwatch, infiltrating a safe house for Russian FSB agents that they believe is being used to store large quantities of the chemical element caesium.

When the operation goes awry due to a bad lead, they move their operations to Indonesia. Cut to sixteen months later, and a local police officer named Li Noor (Iko Uwais) surrenders himself at the United States Embassy with a disc that includes crucial information regarding the location of the caesium. But the disc is locked, and he agrees to only give up the password in exchange for asylum in the United States. The Overwatch agents proceed to organize a way to smuggle him out of the country and get him safely to an airbase 22 miles away, but it’s a risky operation with other government agents hot on their trail.

If it wasn’t for the theatrical run that Mile 22 received back in August, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a straight-to-DVD movie. Despite the presence of a genuine movie star like Wahlberg in the lead, this is an incredibly mediocre film that has been edited within an inch of its life, with action scenes that are often hard to follow because of the choppy cuts, and underdeveloped characters that are hard to really care about, let alone become invested in.

It’s revealed in the opening credits sequence, which offers an overly rushed backstory, that Wahlberg’s character is neurologically different, and he keeps a rubber band around his wrist that he pulls back and snaps to stop his mind from racing. But the film doesn’t give him enough room to properly develop this trait, and the script seems disinterested in offering a deeper exploration of what could have been a really fascinating character. The plot is muddled, only offering the bare minimum amount of explanation that is needed to string the various set-pieces together, which makes it hard to keep up with what is even going on at certain points.

There are flashes here of what could have been a more interesting movie, and Iko Uwais does get to show off his impressive fighting skills at certain points, but Mile 22 is ultimately too disjointed and poorly assembled for it to work. It clocks in at just under ninety minutes to credits, and while I respect the choice to keep it short, the film also feels like it has been hacked down from a longer cut with little thought for continuity or character development, and it just sort of careens between action sequences without any real flow or connective tissue to make any of it really stick.

The Blu-ray also includes the six brief featurettes Overwatch, Groundbranch, Introducing Iko Uwais, Stunts, Iko Fight and Modern Combat, as well as cast interviews from the film’s Los Angeles premiere, a selection of soundbites, and some B-roll footage from the various fight scenes.

Mile 22 is a VVS Films release. It’s 94 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: Boy Erased

November 10, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, which documented his experience of being sent to a program meant to “fix him” for being gay, Boy Erased is an emotional and at times harrowing drama about the horrors of conversion therapy that provides a powerful showcase for Lucas Hedges.

The film focuses on Jared Eamons (Hedges), a young gay man who feels forced to stay in the closet due to the religious beliefs of his family, but gets outed at college after becoming the victim of a serious sexual assault, and is sent by his Baptist preacher father Marshall (Russell Crowe) to a gay conversion camp run by the “ex-gay” councillor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton).

The program blames being gay on problems in the family, and the participants are subjected to invasive psychological exams and different therapy methods built around a system of punishments and rewards meant to change their same-sex attraction. Although his well-meaning but misguided mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) initially goes along with it, she starts to realize that maybe her son doesn’t need to be “cured,” and becomes a fierce champion for him.

Directed by Joel Edgerton, making his second feature following his twisty stalker thriller The Gift, Boy Erased smartly keeps the focus on its actors first and foremost, and is built around another moving and nuanced performance from Hedges. With his deeply sensitive eyes, the exceptionally expressive young actor becomes a powerful conduit for the audience, taking us on this emotional journey right alongside his character. There are obvious similarities to the closeted teen that he portrayed in Lady Bird, and he is also able to approach the role from a personal place, with Hedges himself recently coming out as being sexually attracted to both women and men.

Kidman does strong supporting work, offering a touching portrayal of a mother learning to accept that the unconditional love she will always have for her son includes accepting him for who he is, delivering several powerhouse scenes throughout the film. Crowe has his share of moving scenes as well, taking on the challenging role of a pastor and father who seems sincere in his belief that being gay is a sin yet still wants the best for his son, despite being unable to fully accept him and ultimately making choices that are very damaging to him.

Edgerton nails his portrayal of a charismatic, salesman-type leader who walks the fine line between assertive and abusive, with something deeper going on beneath the surface that causes us to question if he even believes what he is preaching, or if he has just gotten caught up in the act and is still trying to convince himself that he has been “cured” of his own homosexuality. The film also features memorable supporting roles for Xavier Dolan as a member of the program who desperately wants the therapy to work, as well as Troye Sivan as an openly gay artist that Jared meets at college who helps him start to open up. Sivan also performs the moving original song “Revelation” on the film’s soundtrack.

The film depicts the emotional toll that conversion therapy has upon the participants, and the often abusive methods that are used, including a genuinely disturbing scene that shows a mock funeral for one of the clients. While Boy Erased is obviously critical of conversion therapy, and challenges the outdated belief that homosexuality is an “illness” in need of treatment, which continues to fuel enrolment in these programs, it is also careful not to be overly critical of religion itself, showing the intentions of Jared’s parents as more misguided than truly bad. They honestly view being gay as a problem that needs to be fixed, and this idea – not their belief in God – is what needs to be changed.

If I had one criticism of Boy Erased, it would be that the film is at times assembled in a way that makes it feel more like a collection of scenes, giving us the feeling that the overall finished product is very good where it could have been great. But even if the film itself never quite adds up to more than the sum of its parts, there are still a lot of very powerful scenes here, and Boy Erased is a moving, well acted and very topical story that can do a lot of good just by being out in the world. Edgerton has said that he wanted to make the film to help end conversion therapy once and for all, and that’s a very noble goal indeed.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: The Grinch

November 9, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

First published by Dr. Seuss in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has become a beloved staple of the holiday season, with its rhyming story and heartfelt message about rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas. The book has been adapted multiple times over the years, furthering the prevalence of the story.

First there was the beloved 1966 TV special, which still holds up beautifully year after year with its gorgeous hand-drawn animation and iconic songs. It was followed by Ron Howard’s feature length, live action rendering of the story starring Jim Carrey in 2000, which is remembered by some as being a garish mess and viewed by others as a misunderstood childhood classic.

This was followed by a stage show, which incorporated elements from both the animated special and the live action movie. Now Illumination has brought the story to the screen once again, this time as an animated feature simply titled The Grinch. Yes, it takes some liberties with the original story, but the film really won me over with its beautiful animation and huge amount of heart. It works because it mostly stays true to the spirit of Dr. Seuss’ book, while expanding it in some heartfelt ways.

The basic story remains the same. The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) lives alone in a mansion atop a mountain that overlooks Whoville, and every Christmas he gets irritated by the increasingly elaborate holiday displays that are put on by the Whos, from their brightly coloured decorations to their constant singing. It’s the seeming frivolousness with which the Whos celebrate Christmas that the Grinch resents, so he hatches a plan to steal Christmas, with help from his faithful dog Max, an obese reindeer named Fred, and a collection of elaborate gadgets.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a great vocal performance in the title role, not only using an American accent but also doing a thoroughly convincing Grinch voice as well, capturing both the annoyance and emotion of the character perfectly. This version of the Grinch is more lonely and sad than he is truly bad, and while he still has moments of meanness, like during an early trip down to Whoville to get his groceries, he is also presented here as a hugely sympathetic protagonist. This just makes his awakening at the end all the more heartwarming and bittersweet.

While some might say that the point of the original story is that nobody really knows why the Grinch hates Christmas – it’s literally right there in the rhyming text that “no one quite knows the reason” – I think this choice actually works quite well in how it gives a slightly new angle to this retelling. This story is as much about “why” the Grinch stole Christmas as it is about “how” he does it, and the moments that show the Grinch’s loneliness, including a few heartbreaking flashbacks to his childhood in an orphanage, are some of the best scenes in the film.

The film’s secondary storyline focusing on Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a precocious kid who in this version is far more than two and has an overworked single mother (Rashida Jones), isn’t quite as well fleshed out and feels somewhat more derivative. It’s still charming stuff, but the scenes focusing on the Grinch himself are naturally the strongest parts of the film. The subplot with Cindy and her friends hatching a plan to capture Santa Claus at times feels like it was added to pad out the story to feature length, but it is still sweet to watch and does tie in quite nicely to the main story by the end.

The film itself looks great, with Illumination’s bright and colourful animation style being a good fit to bring this world to life. The narration by Pharrell Williams is, of course, written in rhyming verse, lifting many quotes directly from the page while also fleshing out the story and going in its own direction at certain points. There are a few moments from the original text that I wish the filmmakers had kept in, but overall The Grinch does a pretty wonderful job of paying tribute to the classic story while also feeling like its own thing, setting a new high bar for Dr. Seuss adaptations.

I found the film to be very entertaining to watch, and also genuinely touching at certain points. It not only has the potential to make your own heart grow three sizes by the end, but it might just make you tear up as well, as it did for me. It’s ultimately the beating heart at the centre of it all that makes this version succeed, and The Grinch is a delightful movie to watch as we head into the Christmas season, especially when paired with the 1966 classic.

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