Christine Baranski

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas

“I’m all toasty inside,” says the Grinch when he discovers that Christmas isn’t about presents and toys – but about something else that fills us with joy. That seems to be the aim at least behind this live action retelling of Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s book. The movie, sweet but not cloyingly so, is a fine addition to the Christmas canon, and you may find yourself, like the Grinch, getting leaky and reaching for the tissues by the time the credits roll.

Under the direction of Ron Howard, The Grinch lovingly recreates the world of Whoville, where Christmas reigns eternal. The town is a living mall display, a place of fun house proportions that is perpetually festooned in bright holiday colors. It also buzzes with the frantic energy of Black Friday. The residents of Whoville are serious about their celebrations, and it’s a constant race to buy gifts, decorate the house, and ready themselves for the great Whobilation, a town-wide festival that culminates in the crowning of the year’s Holiday Cheermeister.

It’s all a little too much for six year old Cindy Lou (Taylor Momson). She wonders to her postman dad (Bill Irwin) if the preparations aren’t a tad superfluous (because Dr. Seuss is all about rhymes and SAT vocabulary) and if maybe everyone should slow the heck down. When the Grinch (Jim Carrey) leaves his home in Mt. Crumpit and makes an unexpected appearance in town, she decides to spread some Christmas cheer and invite him as her honored guest at the Whobilation, much to the dismay of Mayor May Who (a perfectly priggish Jeffrey Tambor), who wants to be the center of attention yet again. The Grinch isn’t altogether pleased either. Not only will he have to tear himself away from his miserable hobbies, which include eating glass and yelling into the void, he’ll also have to subject himself to an avalanche of holiday cheer.

Naturally, it would fall into the hands of a child to help the big people rediscover the true Christmas spirit. Momsen is delightful to watch and wonderfully captures Cindy Lou’s wide eyed innocence, a quality that allows her to see past both the superficiality of Whoville’s holiday hustle and bustle and the Grinch’s grumpy attitude. Truths somehow ring truer when delivered by a cherubic child, and the filmmakers exploit this at every turn. I was too busy gobbling up the message of anti-materialism and love and good will to care about the opportunism though.

Besides Momsen, a few actors also put in strong performances. Christine Baranski has a small role as Martha May Whovier, the love interest of both the Mayor and the Grinch, and while she doesn’t have much to say, she has a surprising repertoire of suppressed sighs and sidelong glances. Narrator Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, does get quite a few words in even if he doesn’t appear onscreen. If ever you need to be lulled to sleep by a warm Welsh voice, his is the one. Dr. Seuss has never sounded so melodic and his rhymes so whimsical.

Of course this is really Jim Carrey’s show, and your feelings about the movie may be affected by your tolerance for the actor. Mine is generally low, but perhaps swayed by the film’s message of generosity, I thought he was well suited for the role. Carrey gets away with much of his histrionics because the Grinch makes sense as a snarky meanie who is secretly nursing a traumatic childhood wound. But his hysterical asides can be overbearing and not everyone has the patience for his manic showcase. He really redeems himself and the whole movie with the Grinch’s epiphany, however. It ranks up there as one of my favorite Christmas moments on film, a simple, mostly subdued moment of clarity that immediately fills the heart, both the Grinch’s and your own.

Released: 2000
Alt Title: The Grinch
Prod: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
Dir: Ron Howard
Writer: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Cast: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Bounty Hunter (2010)

the bounty hunter

The Bounty Hunter, much like actual bounty hunting I assume, is a messy affair that stretches the bounds of credibility and takes off in a hundred different directions. It gets you somewhere, but you might go screaming and kicking along the way. That’s because this is one of those romantic comedies both roundly derided by critics and garlanded with multiple Razzies.

Well, rotten tomatoes be damned because I liked this movie about as much as I was prepared to dislike it, which is to say a lot. I won’t be adding it to any “best of” list, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that’s a welcome alternative to the sedate romantic movie night in. An energetic action-romance-comedy, it embraces all its genre tropes to the point of predictability yet still finds a creative spark in its execution.

Investigative journalist Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) and ex-cop turned bounty hunter Milo (Gerard Butler) are a divorced couple still at each other’s throats. He tries to bring her in after she skips a court appearance and bail is revoked. But when her instincts lead her to a possible murder at his former precinct, they have to figure how to work together rather than how to constantly unhandcuff themselves from bedposts. The relatively straightforward plot turns into a free-for-all, however, when at least a half dozen supporting characters parachute in and out as bondsmen, bookies, and snitches. Before long, it’s not just a story about the couple pursuing a possible murderer and crooked cop but also about evading gambling debts and delusional lovers.

At many points, the film just turns into a frantic chase, through a golf course, through a tattoo parlor, through a strip club. You’re not really sure who’s after who, and one crony is just as good as any other. But the chaos hums along thanks in large part to an unrelenting cast. They dive into the absurdities so whole heartedly that I couldn’t help but jump on for the ride.

Aniston and Butler make an explosive team and are appealing whether together or apart. Having betrayed my generation by never watching Friends, I finally understand Aniston’s star power. She’s a clever actress, asserting herself physically and emotionally as Nicole. Instead of walling off different sides of her character, she manages to be at everything at once, a dedicated journalist batting away obstacles and a lover cognizant of her own shortcomings. Butler also impresses by lifting a generic role into a character I could love and hate. It was satisfying to see Milo get tased in the neck after chucking Nicole in his trunk, but it was also easy to forgive him when he admitted his romantic feelings, albeit while ducking debt collectors who were using his ex-wife as collateral.

The supporting roles don’t go unappreciated either. Jason Sudeikis milks his scenes as Nicole’s obsessive coworker who takes it on himself to protect her from Milo. Christine Baranski and Cathy Moriarty both add dramatic flare as Nicole’s mother and a snarling bookie, respectively. Everyone gets their chance to add their own brand of eccentricity to the film, and the sum effort somehow works.

Released: 2010
Prod: Neal H. Moritz
Dir: Andy Tennant
Writer: Sarah Thorp
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Cathy Moriarty, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Peter Greene, Dorian Missick, Carol Kane, Adam LeFevre, Adam Rose, Christine Baranski
Time: 111 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Mamma Mia!

mamma mia

Mamma Mia! is the cinematic equivalent of an exploding party supply store. It’s a chaotic, freewheeling mess of sequins, feather boas, and novelty beach props crashing into a dazzling slate of singing and dancing superstars. The spectacle is good, boozy fun if you’re not invested in plot and don’t need an excuse to break out in song.

Based on the stage production which is based on someone’s strained imagination, the movie takes place on a picturesque Greek island where Donna (Meryl Streep) owns a holiday villa. Her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is engaged to Sky (Dominic Cooper), and their wedding promises to be a grand affair. Guests begin to descend on the island, including her raucous friends and former bandmates, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski). But unbeknownst to her, Sophie has also sent invitations to Donna’s former lovers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), one of whom could be her biological father. With the nuptials less than 24 hours away, Sophie’s secret becomes too big to keep and threatens to ruin her big day.

Not to worry though – this is an ABBA extravaganza. A film whose musical lineup includes “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trooper,” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” can’t possibly end on a sour note. Just look at those exclamation marks. It’s the sheer exuberance of the song and dance numbers and the abandon with which the actors perform them that lessen the guilt of indulging in such shameless entertainment. The gaudy theatricality of the whole project works in its favor, demanding that viewers let loose a little. If James Bond doesn’t mind embarrassing himself in a polyester one piece, then surely the audience can forgive the below average singing voices and utter lack of character development.

It’s a mystery, for example, why Sophie is so desperate to have her father give her away when she’s had no contact with him her whole life or why all three men, who presumably had no more than a weekend fling with Donna, are so eager to scramble back to the tiny Greek village after twenty years. The sheer will with which Catherine Johnson, who penned the book and screenplay, corsets her story to give shape to the songs is impressive, even if the results are less so.

One reason is casting, which clearly didn’t take musical abilities into account. Seyfried holds herself well along with veteran Baranski and relative newcomer Cooper, but even the infallible Dame Meryl shows some strain. Still, she is better than any of her leading men, whose reedy warbles surely belong in some musical hall of infamy. At least they have their careers to fall back on.

“Dancing Queen” by Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters:

“Lay All Your Love On Me” by Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper:

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by Amanda Seyfried:

“Voulez-Vous” by Mamma Mia! cast:

Released: 2008
Prod: Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Dir: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Catherine Johnson
Cast: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård; Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper
Time: 109 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015