Film and drama

Screen Themes: Widows vs The Grinch

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It’s time to go to the movies as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the latest from British auteur Steve McQueen and the new incarnation of everyone’s favourite Grinch.


Directed by Steve McQueen (2018)

British director Steve McQueen (not to be confused with Bullitt star Steve McQueen) built his reputation by directing uncompromising movies about flawed people. His first major release was 2008’s Hunger, telling the story of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), an imprisoned Provisional IRA member who started a hunger strike that led to the deaths of ten people. The director followed up with Shame in 2011, the story of a deeply unhappy sex addict (Fassbender again) whose life is derailed by the arrival of his equally damaged younger sister.

It was 2013’s 12 Years a Slave that really divided audiences, with some feeling that it was a watershed movie about real events, others arguing that it was boring, preachy and couldn’t resist including the “decent white man” (Brad Pitt) for mainstream audiences to identify with. It took McQueen another five years to make another full-length movie and the result is crime drama Widows, telling the story of four women who turn to a life of crime following the deaths of their husbands.

Starring Viola Davis as Veronica, Widows starts out with a bang, then gradually loses steam as it meanders through over two hours of flashbacks, double crosses and oh-so-clever twists. After a lifetime married to successful thief Harry (Liam Neeson, who should be banned from kissing on screen ever again), Veronica is used to a life of luxury and decides to fight for it following the explosive demise of her husband’s gang. She is joined by fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), along with single mother/driver Bell (Cynthia Erivo), inserting themselves into the battle between rival politicians (Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry) fighting for control of the local ward.

I’ve heard one critic describe Widows as “Ocean’s 8 if it didn’t suck”, which isn’t completely unfair, although the two movies are fundamentally very different. Ocean’s 8 is designed as light fun that you’re not meant to think too much about, while Widows is not fun in any sense of the word. None of the actors look like they’re enjoying themselves, none of the characters are particularly likeable and, while the film is beautifully shot, it’s ultimately a fairly emotionless experience.

The Grinch

Directed by Scott Mosier & Yarrow Cheney (2018)

The character of The Grinch was created back in 1955 by Theodor Geisel, better known to generations of kids as Dr Seuss. Since then, the green curmudgeon has appeared in a plethora of books, movies, TV shows and merchandise, culminating in either Jim Carrey’s 2000 adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or the 1966 Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff TV movie, depending on your perspective.

Because everything old is new again in Hollywood, 2018 sees a new version of The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Christmas-hating creep. Except he’s not really a creep, because he loves his dog Max (the best character in the film, if eerily reminiscent of Gromit) and only takes action against the population of Whoville after their seasonal cheer becomes truly obnoxious.

Joining the omnipresent Cumberbatch is a decent cast of voice actors including Rashida Jones as Donna Who, Cameron Seely as Cindy-Lou Who and Angela Lansbury as the Mayor of Whoville, along with standout performer Kenan Thompson as Grinch’s relentlessly optimistic neighbour Mr Bricklebaum. It’s interesting to note that The Grinch is co-directed by Scott Mosier, former production partner of Kevin Smith — and is on track to surpass the lifetime box office of every one of Smith’s movies put together ($228 million).

Aimed squarely at younger audiences, The Grinch lacks both the adult appeal of Carrey’s manic performance and the genuine nastiness of Boris Karloff’s take on the character and, as a result, turns out to be a vaguely entertaining yet utterly forgettable movie. It’s a perfectly inoffensive choice if you want to take younger kids or grandkids over the holidays, but there are better options for older kids and fans of the season.

The Verdict

There are a lot of flicks coming out over the next few weeks and there are a lot of great Christmas movies in history. If you’re in the mood for a realistic heist movie with a bleak-if-generally-positive take on female empowerment, it’s worth checking out Widows before it disappears from screens.

If you’re looking for the best in Christmas movies, I’ll be reviewing a bunch over the next few weeks, including Elf, Jingle all the Way, and the mighty Die Hard. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments.

Widows 7/10

The Grinch — 6/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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