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Cats Zooms Past So Bad it’s Good Territory

Cats

Look, Cats was always going to be a disaster. There’s simply no way you could take the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and turn it into a coherent film because Cats is and always has been nonsensical garbage dolled up with amazing costumes, dancing, and setpieces. Notice I didn’t say music, because Cats has exactly one great song, “Memory,” and the rest is more ridiculous garbage.

Imagine the amount of cocaine that was ingested in the writing, conception, production design and staging of Cats beginning with TS Elliot’s poetry to the 1981 musical to every production of the musical since then to this film. Every bit of celluloid screams “WE ARE ON DRUGS” up to and including the way the cats’ CGI animated ears and tails WON’T STOP MOVING. Yes, cats can and do move like that, but apparently “Jellicle” cats can and do EVERY 2 SECONDS.

One way the film does improve on the play is its attempts to actually convey some sort of plot: every year on a special night, our band of jellicle cats meet and their matriarch (played by Maggie Smith) chooses one to go up to kitty cat heaven and be reborn. So the cats put on a series of elaborate song and dance numbers to compete for that honor, like you do. Except one of the bad cats (played by Idris Elba) is trying to rig the competition in his favor by kidnapping other top kitties. It is not a plot-forward movie.

Instead, you basically get a dozen little vignettes each devoted to introducing one cat or another and there’s singing and dancing. Ok, the dancing is pretty great. Francesca Hayward plays Victoria, our audience surrogate cat, who is new to the junkyard and this band of jellicles, so we learn through her eyes. She is an amazing dancer. There is no way to oversell how great she is. It’s just such a shame she isn’t in a better film, especially one that doesn’t weirdly sexualize her so much.

What do I mean by weirdly sexualize? Well, you come away from the film with a weird feeling like. . . maybe director Tom Hooper has a cat fetish? If you are a cat furry and love the Cats musical, then this movie is 100% for you. Everyone else? Ehhhhhh. . .

Is it so bad it’s good? Like a cult classic sort of way, like a sneak in some edibles and enjoy it way? No. It zooms past so bad it’s good territory that it’s so bad it’s bad again. I pity anyone who goes to this movie high on drugs. It’s going to be a bad trip.

Cat Meow GIF by Cats Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

This film has such an amazing cast and they are all wasted here. I have no idea what Idris Elba is doing in this movie. I have no idea what Judi Dench is doing in this movie. I have no idea what Ian McKellan is doing in this movie. I have no idea what Jennifer Hudson is doing in this movie. Ok, I sort of know what James Corden, Jason Derullo, and Rebel Wilson are doing in this movie and that is hamming it up as much as possible. I have no idea what Taylor Swift is doing in this movie.

And speaking of Taylor, she has a new song she co-wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber and it is exactly the unholy abomination a combination of those two would be. Meanwhile, Jennifer Hudson seems determined to make “Memory” hers as much as possible, full-on ugly-crying under the weight of all that makeup and CGI as if to say, “Remember when Anne Hathaway ugly-cried in Les Mes and you all ate it up? Well here’s THIS.” When she finally lets loose and belts as hard as she can, it’s actually pretty good for a few seconds. But it can in no way redeem the rest of this thoroughly inexplicable movie.

Cats will have a fanbase. There will be people who love this. I’m glad they’ll find what they like. And I will say this for it: between this and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, one of these two movies took a big audacious swing. And there’s something to be said for that. Yes, it’s still a giant festering garbage fire, but at least they were thinking big enough to ask, “What if Cats, but with CGI ear and tail twitching and more like humans and sexier?”

1 out of 5 stars

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is Revealed

Warning “don’t get attached,” director and writer James Gunn has revealed the cast to his upcoming The Suicide Squad, a quasi-sequel to Suicide Squad based on the DC Comics property.

While roles aren’t announced returning from the first film are Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie will be Harley Quinn, Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, and Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag.

Guesses as to who will be playing who? Sound off in the comments!

Movie Review: Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

David Leitch is one of the most kinetic directors working today. From his background in stunts and parlaying that into the masterwork that was the first John Wick, he catapulted into being one of Hollywood’s most visually interesting directors by following it up with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. And now with Hobbs and Shaw hitting theaters, you may wonder if we’re getting a watered-down- by-franchise Leitch, or if we’re getting more of the same of his brilliance. It is decidedly the latter, as Letch takes the mismatched buddy cop action comedy and destroys it in a giant explosion. This is a comic book movie that isn’t based on a comic book.

It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of fun.

The film begins with one of its most interesting visual flourishes, showing our two protagonists played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham as they go about their days and tracking down, unbeknownst to them, the same bad guys. Their settings and methods are different, and therefore Leitch lights them in very different ways but often splits the screen between the two to show a stylistic contrast.

This is classic Leitch, and especially some of the Shaw moments feel right out of John Wick or Atomic Blonde. It’s almost like the rule that dialogue should come from character, but as a visual medium, film has the ability to develop their characters based on their movement, lighting, and editing.

Leitch just shoots The Rock differently– like he’s this giant wall, a force of nature. But a final sequence set in Samoa is something that none of Leitch’s previous films felt: personal, important. Placing native Pacific Islanders and showcasing them in a way that highlights what is special about one of the most overlooked groups in popular media (indigenous/native people of any type, really).

While we have Executive Produce Dwayne Johnson to thank for insisting as part of doing this film that it include representation for Pacific Islanders, Leitch is able to make this come alive and feel special and, dare I say, cool. It’s sort of a mini-Black Panther moment for Samoans, and that’s unique and a great example of using your privilege to uplift others.

But the best performance here is Idris Elba as Brixton, the bad guy. Also, his motorcycle, which leads me to ask, “Should David Leitch do a Transformers movie?” But, as the leader of a cult of technology-obsessed-and-enhanced bad guys, he’s not really that different from most action movie bad guys. But his keniciticsm is unsurpassed by anyone else. Essentially, his cybernetics and AI upgrades allow him to analyze and dodge almost all attacks. It’s the 21st-century version of what Sherlock Holmes/Robert Downey Jr is able to do in the Guy Ritchie films.

We also have Vanessa Kirby as Hattie, an MI-6 agent who is the third wheel to the Hobbs and Shaw axle this film is built around. Similar to the way Leitch has been able to elevate his femme fatales in Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 as major asskickers, so too is Hattie incredibly capable– easily able to square off against The Rock and Statham.

Leitch is a gifted comedic director (as showcased by his work on Deadpool 2), and this comes through in Hobbs and Shaw, where he even has his Deadpool 2 stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob Delaney cameo. In many ways, Deadpool 2 is the most similar of Leitch’s films to Hobbs and Shaw: they’re both the least visually experimental and groundbreaking, but they take the successful formula and kinetic action and place them in the bounds of a franchise. And fans eat it up.

However, as I said, this film is pretty braindead and expects viewers to completely ignore the laws of space, time, and geography. Jaunts from Moscow to Samoa seem to take mere minutes, and London to Moscow is an overnight red-eye flight. Also, apparently Moscow and Ukraine are really, really close to each other.

But perhaps the most egregious is a final climactic action sequence with a literal ticking clock running that expects us to believe that in the space of a half-hour we go from complete darkness before dawn, to golden-bathed morning on a clear summer morning to a torrential downpour. Time and weather do not work that way. Oh well. At least it all looked cool. Just don’t think about it too hard because its ridiculousness strains all credulity.

All this makes me think how absolutely spoiled we were by last summer’s Mission Impossible: Fallout. It’s instructive that director Christopher McQuarrie started in scriptwriting and Leitch started in stunts. Both of these films are the culmination of decades of their work in Hollywood– and it’s sort of a “two roads diverged in a wood” parable. McQuarrie brought the tight storytelling aesthetics of his early masterwork scripts like The Usual Suspects to become Fallout, and Leitch brought the kinetic popcorn sensibilities of his early stunt work and stunt directing to make Hobbs and Shaw feel all killer, no filler. But not everything needs to be so cerebral.

Still, I was not expecting to like Hobbs and Shaw as much as I did. It’s braindead, but it’s fun and lets Leitch paint on a much bigger canvas than before. Whether or not you have any investment in the Fast and Furious franchise, you could walk in and be entertained. Oh, and make sure you stay through the credits — all the way through — because the guy who made Deadpool 2 isn’t going to leave you without a tease for what’s next, would he?

3 and 1/2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Molly’s Game

mollys game posterAaron Sorkin‘s newest film (and his directorial debut) is super Sorkin-y. Fans of his previous work will rejoice and enjoy this film, as well as recognize some of his most favorite tropes.

Jessica Chastain plays the eponymous Molly Bloom in this true story of how a former Olympic level skier ended up running one of the most exclusive poker games, first in Los Angeles and then New York. Her clientele included movie stars, tech gurus, musicians, wealthy financiers, and. . .  the Russian mob. This, of course, brings the FBI down on her, and most of the movie is told in flashback as she and her lawyer (Idris Elba) go through the government’s case against her.

This combination of courtroom drama, sports, and emphasis on quick, quippy dialogue is classic Sorkin. In fact, the opening scene that sets up Molly’s story is perhaps one of the most quintessentially Sorkin-y things possible, almost bordering on self-parody. Other of his favorite tropes that show up? Drugs/addiction, therapy, and honor. He did everything but start quoting Gilbert and Sullivan, although he does make several references to Arthur Miller and James Joyce.

Sorkin is a masterful scriptwriter– a lesser scribe might have gotten bogged down in explaining to us all of the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. But because Molly comes in as a neophyte to poker, we get to go on her journey with her. Instead of getting bogged down in the intricacies and odds of each hand, they speed through the more technical aspects with the help of some clever on-screen tutorials. It’s not quite Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining the math behind credit default swaps in The Big Short, but almost as good. For an example of how not to handle these scenes, you can see Casino Royale where James Bond’s friend Mathis explains every hand of poker to Vesper, deflating the tension of one of the more intense scenes of the film in what is otherwise an almost perfect film.

Chastain and Elba shine with real chemistry, although in some of the longer monologues Elba’s accent come through a little bit. Another standout is Michael Cera, who plays a certain movie star Molly only refers to as “Player X” (one of the key plot points in Molly’s refusal to name the people who played in her game) and has the most interesting character arc in the film. Cera plays one of his fellow actors with a joy and contempt rarely seen, and it makes you wonder what personal interactions Cera may have had with this person in real life to color his portrayal.

Mollys Game book

The actual Molly Bloom and the book Sorkin based his screenplay on.

But what you really get is a slice of just how awful people are in each of these industries. Sorkin skewers the way the rich and powerful all treat people as things, as commodities to buy, as things to be replaced when you tire of them. And as awful as the mobsters in the movie are (actually most of them are nice guys, giving Molly deniability she knew they were in the mafia), it’s the Hollywood and Wall St. guys who are undeniably the worst.

Molly’s Game becomes a sort of populist critique of the 1% voiced by the most hoity of the toity elites, Sorkin himself.  This is neither new nor unexpected territory for him — after all, he gave us President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing as a sort of proto-Obama when Barack was still an unknown state senator and law school professor.

This movie was going along great until its near-climax, when Kevin Costner shows up as Molly’s estranged father to explain the movie. As a trained psychiatrist and college professor, he gives her a “three minute therapy session” to explain her motivations to us in case we weren’t paying attention. The scene is eyeroll and cringe-worthy, immediately derailing this from Oscar-worthy to. . .  “Well, that was really good.” Pro-tip: If you want to take a five minute bathroom break when Molly goes to the ice skating rink, you will enjoy the movie more. It’s seriously that bad.

Despite Costner-interference, this is a sort of “Peak Sorkin” moment. It’s great to see him directing his own films, though one wonders if teaming with a more skilled director would instruct him to tone it down a little (and get rid of the Third Act Deus Ex Therapist). But the rest of the film is amazing.

Fans of Sorkin will enjoy themselves, and other audiences will also likely have a good time. Oscar buzz for this film for Chastain, Elba, and Sorkin himself are warranted. Just beware the Costner.

4 out of 5

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Usually when films get around to their third, the quality dips… a lot, and we’re left with a shell of a franchise that tarnishes what’s come before. Thor: Ragnarok not only bucks that trend, but delivers a film that’s not only the best of the three Thor films released so far, but also one of the best in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Taika Waititi with a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, Thor: Ragnarok is a visual treat of a film that feels like a comic come to life in many ways. This shouldn’t be surprising as both Kyle and Yost have written comics themselves and have a long history in animated comic based franchises. Pearson was part of the team behind Agent Carter, a television series focused on a kick-ass female lead, which in itself makes some of the film not surprising.

With Odin deposed from the throne the evil Hela returns to take over Asgard and the Nine Realms. Thor is sidetracked as he’s sent to the world Sakaar where he’s forced into a gladiator role and comic book Spartacus. That latter part is a new take on comic writer Greg Pak’s “World War Hulk” storyline that saw the Hulk in a similar role. But, here the Hulk is a companion Thor must win over as we find out where he’s been all these years.

What’s immediately noticeable about the film, beyond it’s different visual tone, is the comedic sense of it all. Waititi is the director behind the hilarious shorts featuring Thor and a roommate and that same humor is here. It’s a dry sense of humor where quips are given back and forth and visual jokes are few and far apart. Chris Hemsworth in the title role plays off the humor well delivering it all with a seriousness that makes it all even more entertaining. But, that humor is also mixed with lots of action that’s well paced and keeps things flowing through the end battle. An action film with comedic elements or is it a comedic action film? That’s a hard one but the laughs were enough that I missed dialogue either because I was laughing or the audience was, making the film one you’ll need to see multiple times to get everything.

But, back to Waititi and the visuals. With an energy about it that feels like Blade Runner, Fifth Element, and bubblegum pop mixed together, the worlds are bright and visually stunning each in their own way. Sakaar is a mixed of colors which enhance each scene and brought into the design of every character. Watching the film I couldn’t help think this was Jack Kirby’s brilliance brought to the screen for us to enjoy. Warriors for the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum, look like the design of Kirby’s Celestials. The film is almost an homage to his brilliance, fitting for the year we celebrated his 100th birthday. All of it pops in the IMAX 3D I watched the film in.

The movie expands the cast too. Hemsworth is his usual entertaining self getting to up his comedic chops. Tom Hiddleston as Loki has his moments as well but generally plays the mischievous straight man to everyone else’s jokes. Mark Ruffalo, who is a newcomer to the Thor franchise, brings more interest to Bruce Banner and the Hulk, creating a neurotic man both lost and afraid of what might happen. But those newcomers are where things stand out. Idris Elba as Heimdall gets to step up and be a badass in the film, making me long for more Elba in the Marvel Universe. Goldblum brings a cosmic disco sense to it all in his Grandmaster making a villain fun. Karl Urban as Skurge is possibly the low point with just too little to do. But, Cate Blanchett as Hela and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie are the two real highlights.

Blanchett delivers a villain role that is badass and tragic and very intimidating. She is Thor’s better in every way and this is the first villain in a Marvel film I felt this. She’s not defeated in some battle, she kills unknown amounts of people, and she does it with her own hands. Thompson too rocks as Valkyrie a bounty hunter who has a history with Asgard and Hela. Her initial badassness is confirmed later as the real battle begins and again we get a character who is every bit Thor’s equal. The two women being such highlights makes me think Pearson’s role with Agent Carter might have helped. Two commanding women are not something we generally see in a Marvel film, let alone two that are better than the male lead in so many ways. Hela whips Thors as and Valkyrie gets the better of him again and again. The tide feels like it’s turning a bit when it comes to female characters in comic adaptations with the addition of DC’s Wonder Woman who herself rocked the big screen this year.

The story itself is solid with few flaws and a finale that actually doesn’t disappoint. Third acts generally have been letdowns when it comes to comic films and this is the exception to the rule.

IMAX 3D just immersed me in the movie with moments actually causing me to feel like I was falling and moving too, a fun addition to it all.

Is the film a must see? Yes, on the big screen and preferably in IMAX 3D. Then you can see it again when you realize you’ve missed a lot from laughing and being entertained. One of the best Marvel releases yet and one of the best and most entertaining films released this year.

Overall Rating: 9.35

Blanchett, Goldblum, Thompson, Urban, & Ruffalo Join Thor: Ragnarok

The cast of Thor: Ragnarok has gotten a dose of actors worthy of gods. Marvel has announced that Two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett will be playing Hela, along with Jeff Goldblum who joins the cast as the eccentric Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson will bring Valkyrie to life, and Karl Urban will be playing Skurge.

Mark Ruffalo will also be in the film as Bruce Banner/Hulk which answers the question from Captain America: Civil War, where he’s been.

These new additions will join Chris Hemsworth returning as Thor; Tom Hiddleston as Loki; Idris Elba as Heimdall; and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Ruler of Asgard.

Thor: Ragnarok comes to theaters November 3, 2017.

Marvel also released some concept art showing off Hela.

Thor Ragnarok concept art

Review – Thor


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Marvel Studios Thor PosterIt’s funny when you’re really torn on your thoughts about something, how the end rating of it can be rather difficult.  That’s where I sit with Thor, Marvel‘s first movie spectacular of 2011.  There’s so much to like and at the same time, so much to dislike.  From wasted characters to what’s a real long origin story, whose heart is  rushed, to amazing visuals, some pretty decent acting and easter eggs for the comic books die hards.  There’s a lot here that can get me to go either way.

The movie is an origin film.  The majority focuses on Thor’s banishment to Earth and his learning of humility.  That’s pretty much it.  There’s some plotting and some interesting action scenes, but really, it’s Thor on Earth, talking and complaining.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Chris Hemsworth as the title character does quite a good job.  He just feels like Odin’s son and plays brash and arrogance well.  You do see some growth, though his break through comes off as rushed and too short of a time.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki also stands out though the character doesn’t come off as scheming as I’d expect (for the God of mischief, he does very little).

The supporting cast is varied Anthony Hopkins as Odin is amazing, just a force of acting nature that’s perfect for the role.  Natalie Portman is decent as Thor’s love interest, but isn’t given much to do.  Similarly Stellan SkarsgårdKat Dennings (who I have a massive crush on), Rene RussoIdris ElbaRay StevensonTadanobu Asano (why does he have that accent?)Josh Dallas and Jaimie Alexander all are there, but the movie might haver been the same without them or not as well known actors in some of those roles.  Dennings and Portman aren’t the strong female characters they should have been, instead falling for Thor on looks alone and belittling the character.  Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is always entertaining and here he’s given a beefier role than previous Marvel movies.

The biggest difference is the structure of the movie.  Spider-Man, Iron Man and Hulk dealt with the origin of the character for a short while, Thor on the other hand, it’s the entire movie.  The second part is infinitesimal compared to the previous movie’s story structure.  My other gripe is the special effects.  It’s very difficult to make this movie have that same realism of Spider-Man or Iron Man, but many of the special effects come off as the quality you would have seen in the original Superman movies.  The green screen is replaced with CGI in this case.  Those effects though do make Asgard stand out as the  beautiful, rich world we’d expect, full of awe and wonder.  But, when it came to the overall effects, it made me wanting.

There’s tons of small moments for the comic book fans and much is set up for next year’s Avengers and even this year’s Captain America: The First Avenger.  Enough was present I’d need a second viewing to catch it all.

I wasn’t blown away by the movie, but it was good.  It’s definitely a film to see in the theater and especially in 3D which added a richness and depth some of the scenes needed.  Overall though, there was a certain magic missing from this.  That magic that made me think a person could crawl up buildings, build a super suit or most importantly a man could fly.

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Idris Elba Talks Thor and Racists


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Actor Idris Elba made news when he was cast in the role of Heimdall in the upcoming Marvel Comics movie Thor, but that news wasn’t positive.  Some white supremacists got up in arms over a black man being cast as a Norse god.  In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter the actor blasted the critics and racists who had an issue with the casting.  The actor had this to say:

We have a man [Thor] who has a flying hammer and wears horns on his head. And yet me being an actor of African descent playing a Norse god is unbelievable? I mean, Cleopatra was played by Elizabeth Taylor, and Gandhi was played by Ben Kingsley.

Bleeding Cool gave some other examples of minority roles including Noah Ringer playing Aang in The Last Airbender. Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh were in Memoirs of a Geisha and Reece Shearsmith as Papa Lazarou.  I’ll also throw in C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man and since it’s on tv while I write this, Eddie Murphy in Coming to America.

The majority of the article is focused on roles for black actors and came on the heals of the NAACP Image Awards.

Idris Elba in Thor

White Supremacists vs. Thor


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Thor and HitlerIt looks like the upcoming Thor movie from Marvel comics is getting some attention by the Council of Conservative Citizens (aka white supremacists).

The ranting and raving is over actor Idris Elba, who you might know from The Wire, who portrays one of the Asgardians.  I guess talented African American actors can’t play fictitious mythical comic book characters.

Check out the call to hate below:

Kyle Rogers sent a message to the members of Council of Conservative Citizens.
Kyle Rogers
Kyle Rogers December 15, 2010 at 10:45am
Subject: Boycott Thor by Marvel Studios
Marvel Comics has a long history of promoting the extreme left-wing that goes all the way back to the 60’s. Just last year, the comic book company declare war on the TEA Party movement.

Now Marvel has taken their anti-white, radical campaign even further. They cast a black man as a Norse Deity in their new movie Thor, coming out May 6th, 2011. Even though Marvel co-produces an explicitly pro-black (and anti-white) cartoon for BET, they don’t think white people should have anything that is uniquely their own. Not even their own mythology and folk tales!

CofCC webmaster Kyle Rogers has launched a new website called http://www.boycott-thor.com and a facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Thor2011-by-Marvel-Studios/180374758655178

Visit these sites and click the “like” button on the facebook page.

Thanks,

Um, yeah…. feel free to report the group to Facebook for inciting hate and racism.

(h/t to Larry Handlin for the heads up)