The Grinch (PG)
Verdict: Benedict Cumberbatch in the limelight
The tagline on the animated reboot of Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch is: ‘It’s never too early to be annoyed by Christmas.’
With Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the title role with wicked relish, you will find yourself entirely in agreement with that sentiment.
You, too, will be irritated by the cheery folk of Whoville, their crass consumption, their sickly-sweet carols, their perky, pesky kids and their lurid holiday decorations.
You’ll find you would just rather be home in a cave up Mount Crumpit, sitting by the fire with Benedict the Grinch, accompanied by his dry, grouchy humour and his faithful dog Max. Stuff Christmas.
Of course, this isn’t the message the venerable Dr. Seuss intended, and children will no doubt see the film as a traditional lesson in the power of love and sharing at Yuletide. But as a parent, you can enjoy The Grinch for different, darker reasons, and even award yourself a restorative nap midway when the plot sags a little.
Stretching the ten-minute storybook How The Grinch Stole Christmas! into a 90-minute movie was never going to be easy. This new holiday classic comes from Illumination, the studio behind Minions, and draws on Dr. Seuss’s illustrations from 1957.
The original rhyming couplets are there too: ‘Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!’
The film is a sweetly funny tale with less edge than Jim Carrey’s green-faced, psychotic mayhem in the 2000 live action comedy How The Grinch Stole Christmas. For those who have not performed the book at children’s bedtimes, the Grinch is a hermit and misanthrope so put out by the celebrations of the citizens of Whoville that he decides to steal Christmas itself.
He raids each house and makes off with the presents in a reverse-ferret Santa move. But the kindness of a tiny girl melts the Grinch’s heart …
The computer-animated version sticks some filler in the middle with the addition of an overweight reindeer named Fred, and attempts to woo mothers in the audience by creating the new character of Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones) who is the single mum of Cindy Lou (the little girl who catches the Grinch stealing) as well as demanding boy twins.
Donna works the nightshift, and cares for her three kids by day, with supermum resilience.
But most people will empathise more with the 53-year-old Grinch, asking himself ‘How much emotional eating have I been doing?’ when the cupboard is bare, and perfuming himself with Mold Spice before he goes out. The story also has a Freudian poke into the Grinch’s damaged childhood.
Thus his Scrooge-like disgust at the loud, colourful assault of the Whos in their jolly Xmas jumpers singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen seems completely understandable — especially for audiences facing Black Friday soon at the start of the Christmas shopping season.
Particularly well sketched is the dog Max, who uses a contraption worthy of Wallace and Gromit to make the Grinch’s morning coffee — he even adorns the cappuccino foam with a sad face. Max’s charm and unquestioning loyalty almost steal the show.
Verdict: Trial by fire for a marriage
Carey Mulligan plays Sixties housewife Jeanette Brinson in the exquisitely acted adaptation of the Richard Ford novel Wildlife. The drama is set in Great Falls, Montana, a small town where the only excitement comes from wildfires in the mountains nearby — until the Brinson family suddenly finds that the heat has spread into their lives.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Jerry Brinson, Jeanette’s husband, but the story is mostly seen through the ever-widening eyes of their 14-year-old son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) as he watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate, and struggles to understand.
The retro-Americana in every scene is a delight, from diners to gas stations and ancient pick-up trucks, and the colour palette indoors seems to be smeared with mustard. But there is also something flat and reserved about the action, a cool distance between audience and protagonists.
This is the first film directed by actor Paul Dano, and he co-wrote the script with his partner Zoe Kazan.
Young Joe has something of the lugubrious Dano about him, as he is buffeted by events. His face takes on the worry and his hair seems to recede like that of an older man.
Things start to go belly up for the Brinsons when Jerry loses his menial job at a golf course, swills a lot of beer, then decides to take the more manly route of leaving home to fight wildfires at a dollar an hour.
The move is taken by the practical Jeanette to be abandonment — and a call to action.
Suddenly, Jeanette’s housewifely dresses are replaced by sleek outfits, and her hair shoots up into a bouffant bun. Warren Miller (Bill Camp), the rich old owner of a local car dealership looks like he might give her a job, if not more…
Mulligan is brilliant at showing her internal conflict, the swings between doubt and determination, and the need to be loved as a woman, as she tries to find a better place for herself and her son in an unequal world.
Outlaw King (18)
Verdict: Robert the Bruce plays Game of Thrones
Despite Outlaw King’s panoramic landscapes and big-budget battles, the medieval action epic is only showing in a few cinemas, and will mostly be seen on Netflix, where it debuts tonight.
The film has a fine cast, led by Star Trek’s Chris Pine as the Scottish noble, outlaw and king, Robert the Bruce.
This is the largest feature ever made in Scotland, but when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, it wasn’t the size of the production that surprised viewers. It was Pine emerging stark naked after a dip in a chilly loch.
Director David Mackenzie was nonplussed by the fuss, and pointed out how unfair it was that the full-length treatment was constantly demanded of female actresses on screen. Indeed, there’s a funny, raunchy, and loving bedroom scene between Robert and his queen-to-be — played by Florence Pugh, now on TV in The Little Drummer Girl.
Here, she exudes girlish warmth and steely determination. But back to waging war, which is the bloody core of Outlaw King. The year is 1304 and Scotland is under the English rule of Edward I (Stephen Dillane), after failing to agree on an heir to the throne.
That other blockbuster hero, William Wallace (last seen in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart), has been hanged, drawn and quartered by the English. Robert, who has knuckled down under English rule for practical reasons, suddenly sees the Scots revolting when Wallace is killed and decides to fight for Scotland’s independence — and the crown.
Edward I and his manic, immature son, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), are not best pleased, and kidnap his wife. Thus Robert is ready for revenge. Pine does a good, gruff Scottish accent, although occasionally his expressions under his beard seem to run the gamut from A to B. Or is that Scottish stoicism?
The film’s final battle scene is hardcore but if you’ve got the stomach for it this is a compelling drama.
They Shall Not Grow Old (15)
Verdict: Extraordinary and extraordinarily moving
There have been many harrowing dramas about World War I, but Peter Jackson’s extraordinary documentary is as close as we can come now to seeing it as it was lived, as it was endured (wrote Brian Viner, after the film’s UK premiere last month).
There is no narrator, no solemn-voiced Kenneth Branagh or basso-profundo Ian McKellen.
Instead, in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, Jackson uses film and sound archive to their greatest imaginable effect, marrying incredible moving pictures with more than 150 personal testimonies recorded decades after the carnage, played one after another for 100 enthralling minutes.
They Shall Not Grow Old goes on general release today, and will be screened on BBC2 at 9.30pm on Sunday.