THE GRINCH | Movie Review

The Grinch

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Grinch’s 2018 comeback is to Christmas what Black Friday is to the holiday spirit: commercially perverted to the core. But what else should be expected from a family animated movie that has been promoting an updated Christmas staple since the early days of November?

Benedict Cumberbatch is the new voice of the ill-tempered but lonely Grinch, who lives a solitary life in his cave high atop a mountain that overlooks Whoville. The miserable green guy has only Max, his faithful dog and best friend, to keep him company and, other than occasional trips to Whoville to get food, has nothing to do with his neighbors in the valley.

It’s during one of his reluctant shopping trips that the Grinch encounters Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a pig-tailed and fearless little girl with a precocious heart. For Christmas, she wants Santa to give her struggling single mother, Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), the break she needs and deserves. Only, Cindy Lou Who plans to trap Santa so that she can ask for her request in person.

Grinch, perturbed by family and friends gathering together to celebrate in Whoville, plans to dress up as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick to steal everything associated with the holiday and turn the town’s Christmas Day joy into grief.

In effect, our understanding of the Grinch’s motivations are the same and we get to see a little more into Cindy’s character. Sounds like a good way to add something late on so that the second half might not feel like retread! Unfortunately, albeit with a tad more set-up, the plot leads to the same Cindy and Grinch interaction and resulting events as the original version.

The Grinch does more than triple the running time of the original TV classic, which is to say this animated big-screen version is three times too long and ten times as unnecessary (much like Jim Carrey’s live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas from 2000).

Other than padding the plot, backstories for the main characters, and additional comedic relief, The Grinch is ultimately faithful to its source material. But it never improves upon it – for it may look better with more advanced animation but underneath the paint job is the same old overpacked sleigh.

Most disappointingly, the voicework, outside of Cumberbatch’s starring role, is unmemorable. Of the notable failures, Pharrell Williams replacing Boris Karloff as the story’s narrator and Tyler, the Creator’s update of Thurl Ravenscroft’s “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” amount to interesting choices by the filmmakers that, despite trying, cannot replace either of those iconic performances. The same could be said of this Grinch update itself.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET | Movie Review

Ralph Breaks The Internet

by REGGIE WOLTZ

It took six years for a Wreck-It Ralph sequel to take shape, and it quickly proves why. Ralph Breaks the Internet mostly eschews the video game cultural mash-up of the original to tell a kid-friendly story set inside the Internet. It’s such a different beast than its predecessor, and yet it’ll likely reach a similar adult audience as the original, as the barrier between gamers and memers isn’t too high, if it exists at all.

As far how the plot handles that transition, screenwriters Phil Johnston, also serving as co-director, and Pamela Ribon simply have the arcade owner plug in the establishment’s first Internet router. But an overlong first act has the unfortunate job of setting up the circumstances that bring Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) into the world wide web. There are too many scenes that exist to re-establish their friendship while they play in the same world as the original. It feels like a lifetime establishing Vanellope’s reason for going into the Internet (they have to find a spare part for her arcade machine on Ebay), and the script doesn’t clue us into Ralph’s arc until hers is ending.

But things pick up significantly when the pair starts exploring the Interweb. The jokes are largely simple, such as birds in a tree tweeting primarily photos of cats, and yet just clever enough that they feel fresh. The smart personification of pop-up ads (Bill Hader voices J.P. Spamley, get it?) breathes some life into the early Internet scenes, but the story really comes alive when Vanellope enters an online racing game far more violent and hardcore than her candy coated arcade machine. She’s inspired by that game’s popular racer Shank (Gal Gadot), and thus begins a journey of finding her true home. Splitting from Ralph, their individual journeys give Ralph Breaks the Internet some surprising emotional power in its second half.

Still, the animated sequel feels very much mass-produced and corporate-approved. When the entity doing the approving is Disney, the result is more often than not a mixed bag. When Vanellope visits a family friendly Disney fan site, it’s hard not to feel directors Johnston and Rich Moore sucking up to their corporate overlords. Nods to Marvel and Star Wars aren’t so much hidden as they drive the plot and humor. But then, sometimes the Disney brand is just undeniably strong and, when manipulated in clever ways, can be used effectively. Ralph Breaks the Internet‘s best scene sees Vanellope entering a room filled with all of the classic Disney princesses, from Snow White to Moana. It is an extended sequence written out of pure joy with not an ounce of cynicism. It’s one of the best moments of popular cinema this year, and gives way to one of the film’s other transcendent moments: a hysterical yet poignant song sung by Vanellope about finding where she belongs in a gritty, ultra-violent racing game.

The film draws her arc so smartly, that when it starts wrapping up as Ralph’s is getting started (far too late), the story at large starts to feel like overkill. And yet, the script still weaves in a powerful message about the nature of friendship that, while not wholly original, is relatively unexplored in children’s media.

So while the rough first half could definitely have been shorter, a lot of Ralph Breaks the Internet ends up being worthwhile. As a visual send-up of some of the Internet’s most popular corners, the film is clever and inventive, even if the jokes themselves likely won’t age well by the midway point of the 2020s. But this being as it may be, there’s an artfully written sequencing for the film and a strong heart rooted in friendship. By no means a classic, or capable of making much of a stir on the actual Internet, this animated sequel is coded to entertain, and that it does.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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CREED II | Movie Review

CREED II

Reviewed by Reggie Woltz

While I’m still not sure Creed, with its 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was quite as good as everyone makes it out to be, it was certainly better than it had any right to be. What sounded like a joke—a spinoff of the Rocky series starring Apollo Creed’s son, (born out of wedlock), as he masters prizefighting under the tutelage of the Italian Stallion—was instead inventively filmed (the one-shot fight midway through the picture stands out as a brilliantly cinematic scene) and passionately performed.

Similarly, Creed II seemed like it would be a cash-in nostalgia play: newly crowned champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is challenged to a fight by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his hulking monster of a son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu). Ivan, of course, killed Adonis’s father in Rocky IV before losing to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and losing the Cold War altogether.

Creed II could have been a silly rehash of Rocky III (a champ abandoned by his trainer because he’s unlikely to beat the physically imposing, impassioned challenger) and Rocky IV (the Russians: still bad all these years later!). But, like its predecessor, Creed II is much better than it has any right to be. And that’s almost entirely because of the work done by Lundgren and Munteanu, who make the Dragos not only sympathetic but kind of sad.

After Rocky’s humiliation of Ivan in front of the Soviet Politburo—during which the Soviet crowd literally started chanting Rocky’s name, recognizing America’s greatness and the implacability of its champions in a moment that signaled America would triumph in the Cold War once and for all—Drago was cast out of Russian society. His leaders shunned him; his people spit on him; his wife left him and Viktor. This isn’t a mission of revenge; it’s a mission of rehabilitation. Drago wants to reclaim the family name, restore their glory, and maybe even win back his wife.

It’s rare for the villains in these films to have interesting motivations. Usually they’re just guys to beat, obstacles to overcome. But the Dragos are interesting, they have a life and world all their own. And that helps Creed II transcend the sequel doldrums that afflict much of the rest of the film. Steven Caple Jr. has replaced Ryan Coogler behind the lens, and his work here is competent but not much more. Visually speaking, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the climactic fight, or anything else, really.

Michael B. Jordan remains charismatic and compelling, his expressive face and chiseled body dominating the screen. By film’s end he too is a father, worried about the world his daughter will face and the challenges she will have to overcome—and weighing what he owes to his father, the boxing great cut down by the hulking commie. Rocky, who probably gets a bit too much screen time, gumming up the momentum of the movie, is having dad problems all his own, trying to work up the courage to reconnect with his somewhat-estranged son.

Creed II sometimes barely feels like a boxing movie, and I mean that in the best way possible: It’s a film about what parents owe their children, and vice versa. The physical combat that frames these conflicts is little more than window dressing.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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