I’m doing a bit of catching up this week.
Thanks to very early deadlines due to Christmas I was only able to watch and review one movie in my last column. And of course what other movie would I pick to watch but the new Star Wars.
But the week before also saw the release of the film adaptation of “Cats,” plus “Bombshell,” a movie centered around the sexual harassment scandal of Roger Ailes at Fox News.
And of course since this is one of the busiest times of the year at movie theaters, three other films saw a wide release on Christmas Day too.
The first of which stars Adam Sandler in a rare serious role as a jeweler slash compulsive gambler, the second being Greta Gerwig’s take on the classic novel Little Women, and the third is a cartoon where a secret agent Will Smith gets transformed into a pigeon.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “Cats.”
Based on the famous Broadway musical, this film follows a tribe of cats called the Jellicles as they decide which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
A lot has been said about Tom Hooper’s movie adaptation of “Cats” over the past few months.
Adjectives have been thrown around like “unsettling,” “disturbing,” and even ”horrifying.” Not exactly the kind of descriptors you’d expect surrounding a lighthearted musical featuring house cats.
However, having seen the film myself, I can without a doubt confirm these attributes are accurate. Or at least they are concerning a few key scenes.
But first, let me address one of the main complaints this film has received. One that’s popped up continuously since the movie’s first trailer was released.
The character designs of the cats themselves.
And yes, there is something truly unpleasant about watching these human-cat hybrids, and not just in the way they provocatively prance from place to place.
I’ve seen many attribute this unsettling look as simply being “bad CGI,” but I’d argue that most of the visual effects revolving around digital cat fur are actually quite well done here.
It isn’t an issue of lazy, incompetent, or even rushed visual effects artists.
No amount of extra time would make the look of these cats palatable to my eye. There’s no saving it. The design of these felines at their core are simply revolting.
All of these characters occupy this odd uncanny visual space. These monstrosities don’t quite look human, yet disturbingly they’re too human like for comfort. It’s an effect I found impossible to overcome in my mind, even over the span of nearly two hours.
Things only get worse as the film tries to make these humanoid cats appear cat size when compared to their environment.
Not only do they do a poor job of blending in with their environment, but the size of these kitties seem to vary wildly from scene to scene. Sometimes they appear to be the size of young children, others they seem barely bigger than a large rat.
But a poor sense of scale is far from this film’s worse sin.
Just a few minutes into the movie, before you’re even able to begin coping with the concept of these little fur demons’ mere existence, the movie throws you head first into the lion’s den. Into a scene which left many viewers, myself included, horrified, and incredibly apprehensive at what madness may yet come.
Fortunately, nothing comes remotely close to topping this incredibly unsettling sequence of events where a cat with the face of Rebel Wilson performs a song and dance routine with the help of a handful of mice and a swarm of cockroaches, all of which for some maddening reason have human faces.
Rebel gleefully eats some of these human roaches.
In this same routine, Rebel’s cat unzips her very skin, peeling it away to reveal the same skin, but now wearing a sequin vest and shorts.
Truly, it’s a scene that will make your skin crawl from beginning to end.
To be clear, my jaw was agape in shock for most of this movie’s runtime, but it practically fell to the floor during this one amazingly appalling sequence of events.
And for some reason I’ve yet to comprehend, Tom Hooper thought it’d be a good idea to have Rebel’s cat peel off her skin again later on in the film.
Perhaps it was a horrible reminder to those of us who had survived the film thus far. A warning to the audience that things can always be much worse.
And just when you almost, kind of get used to the uncomfortable sight of famous actors covered in realistic cat fur, the movie throws you another curveball in the form of naked Idris Elba in kitty cat form.
Now you may be thinking “aren’t most of the cats in this movie naked from the very beginning?” Of course the answer to that is, sadly, yes, but for most of the film Elba’s fursona of the mysterious Macavity is thoroughly clothed.
That is, until the very end where Macavity is suddenly in the nude, complete with sharply drawn pectorals and well defined abs.
He’s just standing there, naked. And in that moment it no longer felt like you were looking at an actor wearing a very realistic fursuit. It was more like you’re looking at a grown man, stripped down, and forced to pose in front of you.
I just wanted to look away. Even though in my mind I knew he wasn’t actually naked, I still felt so embarrassed for him.
Now, so far all I’ve done in this review is talk about the look of this film, which is certainly the aspect that will stand out to viewers the most. But what of the characters, the story, or the songs? It is a musical after all.
Well I do have to give credit where credit is due. There is one song, and one performance here that is worthy of high praise. And that is Jennifer Hudson performing “Memory” as Grizabella.
She is truly fantastic. I even felt goosebumps. Despite everything else I disliked about the movie, there’s no denying how great she is here.
Unfortunately, her song and her performance were the only ones of the lot that I actually enjoyed.
The large majority of the music here felt completely pointless to me. It was all filled with nothing but nonsense words that did nothing to move the story forward. In fact the story here is basically nonexistent. It’s just cats pointless singing pointless songs.
Most of the characters barely have any personality and wouldn’t be the least bit memorable if not for the famous celebrities portraying them. That or the intense uncomfortable emotions their scenes envoke.
Mostly though, beyond the few scenes of true horror, this movie is just boring.
I don’t see any appeal in watching this film. Perhaps fans of the Broadway musical will see the movie differently. I can’t speak to that. It definitely isn’t an experience I care to repeat anytime soon though.
“Cats” is rated PG.
Wait, seriously? PG? There’s no way I’d ever even consider bringing a child to this movie. Who on earth is in charge of these ratings?
Next up is “Bombshell.”
Based on the real scandal, this film is a look inside one of the most powerful and controversial media empires of all time; Fox News, and the explosive story of the women (Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie) who brought down the infamous man who managed it, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
You know, in the non-stop calamity that was 2016, it’s almost easy to forget a few of the many events that defined such a consequential year.
Case in point, the #MeToo movement.
Just a few years ago it seemed like every day there was a new story breaking about one man or another in a position of power being brought down by a multitude of people, mostly women, who had the courage to stand up to those who abused them.
The list of men who were ousted that year is in the hundreds. It’s little wonder a few here or there may have drifted out of the public consciousness since then.
Which is why I’m thankful for reminders like this movie.
The things that Roger Ailes got away with for decades by being the CEO at Fox News is truly revolting, and this film does quite a good job showcasing just how despicable of a man he was.
John Lithgow is perfect at portraying this terrible excuse for a human being.
Everything about him from his subtle movements, to his facial expressions, and even in the way he carried himself brilliantly showcased the depravity of this putrid, vomit inducing scumbag.
While this film isn’t a slave to complete and total accuracy, it does get the story right where it counts, including the disturbing accounts of how Ailes abused and harassed those employed at the network.
And the less accurate elements of the story, are less there to mislead and more to tell a concise engaging story.
Take Margot Robbie’s character of Kayla Pospisil, a young woman from a conservative family absolutely thrilled to be working at Fox News.
Kayla wasn’t an actual real employee of Fox. Instead she’s a composite character, a person based on various accounts of those who worked at the network during Ailes’s tenure. The same is true of Kate McKinnon’s role.
Despite that though, I found Margot’s performance in the film far and away the most compelling aspect of the movie.
There’s a really down-to-earth aspect of her character. You can almost see her as someone you went to church with before she ran off to live her dream at the giant network. It makes it all the more disturbing to see the ways in which Ailes victimizes her later in the film.
As for Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, I thought both women were fantastic here. They practically disappeared into their roles of Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson.
In fact, they may have done a little too good of a job as they made the likes of Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson come across as very sympathetic. A pill that’s a bit hard to swallow as someone with very little love for their real life counterparts due to their past political statements.
Still, despite any negative feelings I may have, I do respect their bravery in standing up to someone with the power that Roger Ailes wielded. In all honesty I don’t know if I’d be nearly as courageous in the same position.
Overall, I’m really glad I saw this movie.
Even as someone who pays fairly close attention to current events, it can be easy to forget about things with the deluge of information we’re saturated in on a daily basis. Plus, I know for a fact I missed hearing many of the finer, and more troubling, details of this story when it first broke.
Despite the unsavory subject matter, this is a surprisingly easy film to watch. It’s fast paced and slickly edited. With the addition of great performances, and of course the important subject matter, it’s hard not to recommend this timely film.
“Bombshell” is rated R.
Third this week is “Uncut Gems.”
Always on the lookout for the next big score, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic New York City jeweler, makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.
In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.
I didn’t know much about this movie going into it, beyond that it starred Adam Sandler and that the film wasn’t anywhere near his usual wheelhouse of low effort comedies.
Yet while watching the movie, it began to remind me of another crime thriller also distributed by indie film darling A24. 2017’s “Good Time” starring Robert Pattinson.
And seeing as both movies feature the same director duo, Josh and Benny Safdie, I think I may have been onto something.
So for the few reading this who’ve actually watched and enjoyed “Good Time,” you know you’re in good hands with this film.
Those who haven’t, oh boy, let me tell ya, you’re in for a wild ride when you give a camera to the Safdie brothers.
This film is relentless in just about every aspect.
Even the most banal conversations have this sense of tension, this pure feeling of chaos.
Scenes are often filled with uncomfortable closeups, much like “Good Time.” So much so it can be disorienting at times. Yet the Safdie brothers have a rare talent for taking visual pandemonium and distilling it into this spellbinding intensity that I find impossible to look away from
It’s like what Paul Greengrass tries to do in his movies, but here it actually works.
As for Adam Sandler, I think this might actually be my favorite role I’ve ever seen him in. Though to be honest, I was never much into his comedic work. So if you have a particular love for “Billy Madison” your mileage may vary.
Still, I don’t mean the comment as backhanded praise. He really is quite good here. In fact, I’d say he was perfectly cast.
For Sandler’s character Howard, absolutely nothing ever seems to go his way. An especially bad thing considering he’s a compulsive gambler.
Just when you think something might finally be going his way for once, things somehow end up getting ten times worse.
The entire film seems like a downward spiral for Howard. One where he’s trying to manage his own failing marriage, a relationship with his girlfriend, his jewelry store, his past gambling debts, and his insatiable desire to keep putting money that isn’t his on the line.
He’s a character that stresses you out just from watching his life play out. It’s a kind of anxiety I appreciate in a movie though.
And it’s for that reason I found this one of the more unforgettable movie-going experiences of the year, much like the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time” from a couple years ago.
Look, I’m definitely not gonna say this movie is for everyone.
Those anticipating anything remotely resembling a typical Adam Sandler comedy should avoid at all costs. This is not a funny movie.
It is a very well made film though, one I can wholeheartedly recommend to those who have enjoyed the Safdie brothers’ past work.
“Uncut Gems” is rated R.
Fourth this week is “Little Women.”
Based on the famous novel by Louisa May Alcott, this film follows the lives of four sisters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Meg (Emma Watson), as they come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Though all very different from each other, the March sisters stand by each other through difficult and changing times.
I have to admit, I really didn’t know much about the story of Little Women before going into this movie.
Of course I’ve heard the title mentioned here and there before, but it was never a tale that interested me.
That all changed when I heard Greta Gerwig, Academy Award nominated director and screenwriter for 2017’s “Lady Bird,” was hired by Sony Pictures to create her take on the classic book.
And the news got even better when it was announced that Oscar nominated actors Saoirse Ronan, from “Lady Bird,” and Timothée Chalamet, from “Call Me by Your Name,” were cast in starring roles. And not only that, but Laura Dern, Emma Watson, and Meryl Streep were thrown in for good measure.
All that sounds like a recipe for greatness, regardless of what the story’s about. And luckily it turned out it was.
The story here covers two seperate, yet pivotal points in these young women’s lives, and the film periodically cuts both periods throughout.
Pre-adulthood, when the March sisters are still living at home, and a few years later with the March sisters trying their hardest to make their fledgling childhood dreams come true, all to varying results.
This method of storytelling can be a little disorientating at times. Sometimes it took me a moment to figure out which period of the story I was watching.
But the filmmakers used this style of editing to their advantage, and it certainly made a couple key moments near the end of the movie land with more impact.
Of course the stars of the show here are our four leading ladies. Each of them has this wonderful genuine air about them. It’s impossible not to find them somewhat relatable in one way or another.
I absolutely loved it when the four of them were together under the same roof.
They have this wonderful chaotic chemistry together. When they’re talking, their very matter-of-fact period dialogue comes flying at you a mile a minute. It’s like a whirlwind wherever they go.
But the thing I found most genuine is the way they thought about themselves, and each other, later on in life.
They’re all so disappointed in their own lives, and funnily enough they have an inferiority complex to one another. Each of them think they’re a failure compared to their seemingly more talented and successful sisters.
As someone with an older brother and two sisters of their own, it’s a feeling I find incredibly relatable.
Overall, I liked this film quite a bit.
I don’t think I loved it as much as I anticipated considering the pedigree of the cast and crew, but not because of any glaring flaw I can pin down. I think it just might be a genre I have more difficulty enjoying is all.
I could see some being put off by the flowery 19th century inspired dialogue, and the editing style may leave a few audiences confused for a second or two, but I would hardly call either aspect detrimental to the enjoyment of watching this movie.
If you love Little Women this is an adaptation of the story I can recommend without reservation.
“Little Women” is rated PG.
Finally, last this week is “Spies in Disguise.”
Super spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) and scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) are almost exact opposites. Lance is smooth, suave and debonair. Walter is, well, not.
But when events take an unexpected turn, this unlikely duo is forced to team up for the ultimate mission that will require an almost impossible disguise, transforming Lance into a pigeon. Faced with a unique set of challenges, Walter and Lance suddenly have to learn to work together, or the whole world will be in peril.
Ah, Blue Sky Studios. The once 20th Century Fox animation studio, best known for making “Ice Age” and four “Ice Age” sequels, is back at it again.
Since Walt Disney’s acquisition of Fox, including Blue Sky, many have speculated on what would become of this animation company.
They do seem a little redundant for an organization like Disney. I mean with the likes of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, do they really need a third one?
Funnily though, only a little over a year ago, Disney did have another, lesser known animation studio under its belt.
Best known producing every low budget Disney sequel in the early 90s and late 2000s, Disneytoon Studios, or Disney MovieToons as it was known back then, was only recently shuttered in 2018 after John Lasseter left Disney due to a history of alleged sexual misconduct coming to light.
That shakeup, plus the dwindling sales of straight to DVD movies gave Disney good reason to shut the studio down.
But now suddenly Disney is back up to three animation studios again. And I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Blue Sky Studios.
Of course “Spies in Disguise” was long in production before Blue Sky got bought by Disney, so this film was gonna be released one way or another. If nothing else to recoup expenses.
But what happens after this movie? Well I imagine part of the studio’s future will depend on how well this movie succeeds at the box office. Only time will tell that.
As far as the film itself, I went into this movie with fairly tepid expectations.
I didn’t think the trailers for it looked too bad, but Blue Sky’s past films have been the definition of a mixed bag, and they’ve definitely disappointed me before.
That said, I have to admit, I was pretty shocked by how much fun I had while watching this movie. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this is Will Smith’s best film in years.
Granted, in the wake of movies like “Gemini Man,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Bright” the bar has been set pretty low for him. Regardless though, this did end up being a surprisingly entertaining movie.
As you’d expect of a film from Blue Sky, there is quite a bit of slapstick humor here. Thankfully though, the movie has a lot more than physical humor going for it in the comedy department.
The dialogue between Will Smith’s and Tom Holland’s led to by far the funniest moments in the film. There’s an unexpected edge to Smith’s animated spy persona here. I have to say, I was definitely taken off guard by some of the things that came out of cartoon Will Smith’s mouth.
Plus overall, the comedic timing is really good and the writing here pretty dang clever. Not just for Smith and Holland, but even for the movie’s minor characters.
But this movie isn’t just a pure comedy. It is a spy film afterall. Luckily the action here doesn’t disappoint either.
It’s all very fast paced and pretty dang slick. It feels like there was quite a bit of effort in how every scene was frame. Not just the action, but also in the more emotional character moments too.
Even though the story here is pretty cliche, and you can see most pivotal scenes coming a mile away, I have to give credit where credit’s due.
The filmmakers tied the movie’s theme with the characters’ motivations way better than many other animated features in recent memory. Heck, this narrative feels more competently executed than even Disney’s last release of “Frozen II.”
What else is there to say? I legitimately had a blast watching this movie. Perhaps I enjoyed it a bit more due to my lack of confidence in the film, but I still think it would make for a fun time at the theater for the whole family.
Color me optimistic. If Blue Sky Studios can keep their movies up to the same quality as this one, I see them carving out a decent niche over at the Walt Disney Company. I’m surprised to say it, but I’m actually looking forward to see what they come out with next.
“Spies in Disguise” is rated PG.