FlixChatter Review – CATS (2019)

Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper

Most people who know me probably think I’m a huge Cats fan; I’m a choir nerd and a crazy cat lady (my Instagram account is mostly pictures of my boyfriend’s three adorable kitties), so a musical that combines two of my loves sounds tailor-made for me. Honestly, though, I never really got into it. I saw it at the Orpheum during an anniversary tour, and while I appreciated the beautiful music, clever choreography, and elaborate costumes, I had trouble connecting with the story- unsurprising, considering it’s based on a collection of T.S. Eliot poems. When I heard the musical was being adapted into a movie, though, I figured I would give it another shot.

Cats is about a group of alleycats called the Jellicle Cats (no, I STILL don’t know what Jellicle Cats are; based on the songs, it sounds like they’re basically just normal cats but some of them are maybe magic?) preparing for the Jellicle Ball, an event where their leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses one cat to ascend to the “Heavyside Layer,” basically a cat heaven where they will be reborn into a better life. The cats each perform for Old Deuteronomy in order to convince her to choose them. However, a nefarious cat named Macavity (Idris Elba) is also trying to be chosen, and is doing his best to get rid of his competition.

Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the uncanny valley CGI character design. It’s not quite as bad as I was expecting-at least close up. The CGI fur is very realistic-looking, and it seems to be combined with practical costuming and makeup in some cases. That said, the full body shots looked so much creepier, and I am still super weirded out by how aggressively human the faces look. They put so much detail into the bodies, but the faces are mostly left as is, save for some CGI whiskers and occasional tufts of fur. Couldn’t they have done something with makeup or prosthetics? As it is, all I could think of was that scene in What We Do in the Shadows where Jemaine Clements’s character tries to turn into a cat.

Besides the unsettling character design, the movie is mostly pretty to look at. The production design is beautiful, and the choreography is impressive (if not necessarily well-shot); mainly casting professional ballet dancers was one of the best things they could have done for the movie. Some of the “cat-like” movements are a little uncomfortable, though. There’s this weird sexual energy about it, which for some stories or musicals is totally fine, and I know the stage show has a similar vibe, but knowing that it’s about literal cats makes it kind of awkward.

The other big topic I obviously have to comment on is the music. Overall, it’s decent; the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic hasn’t endured as long as it has for nothing. Several of the songs are fun, catchy, and in some instances, haunting. I liked the ensemble numbers, although the orchestration sometimes drowns out the vocals in some parts. Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella  obviously sounds fantastic in the best-known number, “Memory.” Jason Derulo gives a solid performance as the flirty and energetic Rumtumtugger; his diction suffers a little because he’s trying to sing with a Cockney accent, but I still really enjoyed his voice. Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is especially delightful; he has such a clear, bright, strong tone.

Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina only has one song, Macavity, and it’s…fine. She was obviously a stunt cast, because they gave her a song that’s not that vocally taxing. The song itself has this sultry vibe that Taylor’s breathy voice sort of works for, although it some parts it sounds more breathless than breathy, and I really would have loved to hear some more power behind the chorus. My biggest issue with the music was the shoehorned in Oscar-bait song, Beautiful Ghosts. It was written by Swift and Webber, but it definitely sounds more like the pop star’s song than the Broadway composer’s and doesn’t really fit the rest of the show’s tone. Worse still, it comes immediately after Grizabella’s first snippet of “Memory,” and having this slightly pretty but underwhelming song follow it dampens the effect of that moment.

The rest of the cast quality is pretty mixed. Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy and Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre cat are amazing actors in general and could make reciting the phone book sound good, so they do well with what they’re given. Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots and James Corden as Bustopher Jones are pretty groan-worthy; they’re the comedic relief, but they have way too much addded dialogue that’s basically just the individual actors’ brands of humor, and it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the movie. Idris Elba tries so hard, and he’s clearly giving it his all, but his character has been rewritten from a mysterious and malevolent presence to a cartoon villain, so there’s not much to salvage there. Lastly, newcomer Francesca Hayward as the abandoned kitten Victoria is, again, fine. She’s primarily a dancer, so her acting and singing aren’t spectacular, but she does okay with what she’s given. Her role in the movie is mostly as an analogue for the audience-someone for the other cats to explain the plot to- so there’s not much needed from her acting-wise.

This movie isn’t great. It’s not even so bad it’s good, which would at least be fun. Honestly, the source material just doesn’t lend itself to being adapted to a movie. Even with the added dialogue explaining the weird plot, the lyrics are still pretty bonkers and the anthropomorphized felines writhing around is uncomfortable, and  and while that might work on stage, it just doesn’t in film. Even if the character design hadn’t been terrifying CGI and the cast had been stronger, I don’t think anything could salvage Cats as a movie.

laura_review


Have you seen CATS? Let us know what you think!

[Last 2014] Weekend Roundup + Mini Reviews of The Trip To Italy, The Immigrant, Exodus: Gods & Kings and Into the Woods

Hello hello! Hope you had a lovely long Holiday weekend. It’s quite a nice and relaxing holiday for me, though it ended up being a pretty busy one hanging out with friends. I did fit in some movie-watching, even went to the cinema for Exodus though it was more of a last-minute decision when some friends invited us.

LastWeekendRoundupMovies

Just a quick thought on each of them as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review them…

The Trip to Italy
It’s not as fun as the first film, The Trip. Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon‘s schtick and they’re really not very likable characters. The impersonations are getting a bit repetitive, but some are still fun to watch, especially when they’re talking about all the Bond actors. The Italian scenery and food imagery are truly drool-worthy however.

3halfReels

The Immigrant
The main draw for me is the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard. Two things that this movie have going for it are the performances and the intriguing story. I’m not generally fond of Jeremy Renner and here he’s just ok, not as compelling as the other two actors. The star is definitely Cottilard who remains alluring no matter how destitute they made her up to be. Now, if only the pace and direction had a bit more life to it. It felt overlong and tedious, even if the actors were able to hold my attention for the most part. The finale did pack an emotional punch, but I wish it had been more evenly-handled throughout, especially since the story strikes a chord with me.

3 Reels

Exodus: Gods & Kings
Now, Ted’s given a full review of this but since I just this earlier today, I figure I’ll give my own two cents. Well, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought. Perhaps having a very low expectations helps, but I’m glad to say I didn’t find it boring even if it certainly lacking that *epic* touch I expected from Ridley Scott. Performances are good, especially the two leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, but Scott took way too much liberty with the story and character of Moses. There are too many to mention here but let’s just say this story is more inspired by the Biblical tale than an actual adaptation. It’s one thing if a reimagining of the centuries-old story actually enhances the adaptation, but in this case, the alterations are much to its detriment and much of it just don’t make sense. Still, I don’t think this was an abomination as some critics describe it but I think keeping the integrity of the story would’ve served this film better.

3 Reels


IntoTheWoodsBanner

I have to admit I’ve actually never heard of Stephen Sondheim‘s play before this film, apparently it’s been around for nearly 3 decades. But since I grew up watching a ton of Disney fairy tale movies, the idea of reimagining some of Brothers Grimm fairy tales intrigues me. I’m all about crafting a twist to a classic story, so long as they do a good job of it. Alas, I feel that Into The Woods might be a much better fit as a stage performance as it’s all about showmanship instead of a compelling narration.

The main players are comprised of the Baker & his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), and the wicked witch (Meryl Streep). The rest are basically supporting characters: Jack and his mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Johnny Depp’s in a glorified cameo.

IntoTheWoodsStills

Not a bad cast at all, and I must say they all did a good job singing and performing the songs. Some fare better than others of course, Kendrick could’ve done well on the stage version of this with her beautiful voice and Streep also has quite a lovely voice. Much have been said about her performance as the witch, but seems that at this point she could just be reading a restaurant menu poetically and they’d shower her with a plethora of awards. I think she’s rather over-the-top here, though that’s perhaps the direction she was given. Her song has the most memorable melody of the entire movie, but I don’t think her performance itself is THAT extraordinary. I think my favorite has to be Pike & Magnussen’s (the two Prince brothers) hilarious and unabashedly campy rendition of Agony. Ironically, it’s the least agonizing rendition of the rest and it got the whole theater cheering for its flagrant goofiness. Corden has the most screen time aside from Streep and I think he’s a good and likable actor that’s able to hold his own. He has a nice chemistry with Blunt, who’s always lovely to watch no matter how little she has to work with.

Overall though, I just can’t get into the story. It’s convoluted for no apparent reason and the third act just got too somber and dark for its own good, which seems disconnected from the lighter scenes that precede it. In fact, the stories don’t feel well-connected at all, they just seem randomly thrown together for amusement sake. Much like the equally star-studded ensemble of Nine, Rob Marshall seems more adept at assembling a bunch of fabulous crews and actors but he’s inept in making the most of the performers to tell an engaging story. I’ve only seen three of his work, including the overrated Chicago which I don’t think deserve the Best Picture Oscar. In fact I wish it hadn’t, as it encouraged Marshall to think he’s a great director.

As I walked out of the theater, I wonder if it had been ill-advised to adapt this material on the big screen. I mean if they absolutely had to adapt it, perhaps Disney should’ve gotten someone who’s more of a bold visionary filmmaker. Someone who could breathe some real sparkle (to match all that fairy dust) into this adaptation and make it entertaining in the process. As it is now, the movie is mere window dressing with gorgeous set pieces, pretty costumes and lovely songs, but it inspires more of a ‘huh?’ reaction than ‘wow.’

2Reels


Well, have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

FlixChatter Double Reviews: Beyond the Lights & Begin Again

Neither one of these two indie films were even on my radar but I’m sure glad I got to see them!  Beyond the Lights is currently out in select theaters and Begin Again are now available on VOD.

Beyond the Lights 

BeyondTheLightsBnr

The first time I learned about this movie was when I saw a photo of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in full S&M getup with purple hair and I thought, is that the actress from Belle? I absolutely loved her in that movie so she’s definitely the main draw for me to see this.

The film introduces us to the protagonist Noni Jean when she’s in her early teens. Raised by her driven & ruthless single mother Macy (Minnie Driver) who took her to various talent contests, it’s apparent that failure is not an option for her. Fast forward over a decade later, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has blossomed into a Rihana-like pop star on the brink of superstardom. She’s just won a Billboard Music award as part of a hip-hop duo with Kid Culprit (played by real life rapper Machine Gun Kelly). Noni is seemingly at the top of her game, being touted as a hot new artist with fans and paparazzi and throng of fans hot on her trail. But the pressure of fame drives Noni to the point of self destruction, as the more famous she becomes, the more she feels invisible. Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), a young cop who’s assigned to be her security that night saves her just in the nick of time. ‘I see you,’ he says, and somehow that gives Noni just enough hope in her to keep going.

BeyondtheLights_Still1

Noni and Kaz are inevitably drawn to each other, and it’s no brainer that the two end up together. Some people compare this film to The Bodyguard but I honestly never thought of that movie the entire time I was watching this. For one, the relationship between the two characters are more on equal footing as Kaz isn’t technically working for Noni here and Noni herself isn’t quite in the same level as Whitney Huston’s character who’s already reached superstar status.

Though at first glance this film may appear as a romantic drama, it’s actually so much more than that. Yes there are romance and romantic scenes, but it’s all part of Noni’s journey of self-discovery and being able to stand on her own two feet. It’s also a commentary on the image-obsessed music industry that exploit female sexuality to sell records. The outfits that Noni wear in the movie would make even Lady Gaga blush [or maybe not], there’s one particular outfit where her upper body is only covered by a string of chains and nothing else. It’s a not-so-subtle hint that Noni is metaphorically and literally in chains, the fact that she’s always in the shadow of her rapper partner and is also controlled by her mother within an inch of her life.

BeyondtheLights_StillsBy the same token, Kaz’s life is in a way also controlled by external influences who push him for a political career. He’s also got an ambitious police captain father (Danny Glover) with his powerful allies and the pressure is getting to him as well. It’s an interesting parallel life story but the movie is more about Noni, which is truly the beating heart of the movie.

Mbatha-Raw is astounding in yet another career-making performance that shows her acting chops and versatility. Noni requires a tremendous physical as well as emotional commitment from the actor, and the British actress totally owned her role. I certainly hope she’ll get some kind of recognition come award season and that Hollywood continue to cast her in prominent roles. I also love the casting of Minnie Driver here, who I think is an underrated actress. Though I don’t agree with Macy’s actions, I don’t see her as a *villain* and the film does give us a glimpse into her character’s motivations.

The film itself is not perfect, there are moments that feel awkward or too schmaltzy. Pacing also feels a bit off as some scenes feel more drawn-out than they should be. The scene of Noni & Kaz on the plane makes me cringe, and Nate Parker‘s constant shirtless scenes also feel gratuitous that it made me laugh. That said, I’m impressed by Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s direction and the story kept me engaged and fully-invested in the main character. Last but not least, the music is definitely the highlight here, thanks to Mark Isham‘s emotive score. The song Blackbird holds a special meaning to Noni and by the time she sung a rendition of it towards the end, I wanted to get up and cheer for her!

This film seems to be under most people’s radar but I really hope that people would give it a look. I know I’d readily watch this again and the soundtrack is definitely worth buying!

3halfReels


Begin Again

BeginAgainBnrThis movie wasn’t even on my radar until fairly recently, and I haven’t seen Once yet which was Director John Carnet‘s critically-acclaimed debut. Well, I like Carney’s storytelling style and he’s assembled a great cast to tell the story.

Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a distressed record producer of an indie label who’s been having a very bad day. Clashing with his business partner that leads to him losing his job and feeling estranged from his ex-wife and teenage daughter, he ends his day at a bar to drink his woes away. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley‘s Greta is nursing a broken heart having just split from his musician boyfriend and was dragged to perform a song by his BFF in attempt to cheer her up. Well it’s not exactly a meet cute, but you know that their encounter somehow would change their lives profoundly.

BeginAgainStillsThe film is told partly in parallel between the two characters, giving us a glimpse into their lives and how they intersect. The acting felt so natural and right away I connected with the two leads and their journey. This might be one of my fave Keira Knightley‘s performances and nice to see her portraying a plain and relatable girl, a role she seems to relish and have fun playing. Ruffalo is a reliable and charming actor and he’s just so likable and endearing here even at the moment of a life crisis. He embodies an artistic and idealistic guy who can *see* and feel music so deeply and he’s so convincing at it. The film took us on a ride with Dan & Greta sharing music on their iPods and hanging out together around NYC (which could double as the city’s tourism video). Music is infused throughout the film and so there are lovely musical moments here. Two of my fave scenes are featured in this week’s music break, but there’s also a fun one when the group play on a rooftop.

I LOVE the spontaneity and adventurous spirit as Dan assemble a group of amateur talents to make up a band for Greta and the recording process in various places – in an alley, rooftop and even a subway station – is fun to watch. This movie is so enjoyable and engaging that I even tolerate seeing Adam Levine playing a douche bag (convincingly, natch) but I have to admit he’s pretty decent here and I could see why they cast him. James Corden and Hailee Steinfeld also lend memorable supporting roles as Keira’s BFF and Mark’s daughter respectively, though Catherine Keener is a bit underutilized. Overall though, this is Dan and Greta’s story and both Ruffalo and Knightley shine in their roles.

The finale isn’t tied up in a neat little bow which I think gives the story even more poignancy, the way Roman Holiday was to me. Of course parts of me want a happy ending, but the more I think about it, I like it the way it is and there’s a genuine element of surprise when things don’t go as you expect it. I can’t recommend this movie enough, and trust me folks, you won’t be disappointed!

4 Reels


Have you seen these films? Well, what did you think?

Music Break: Beyond the Lights & Begin Again

This past week I saw two wonderful music-themed films and the soundtracks have been playing in my head since. So I figure why not feature both of them in one post since I’m planning to post a double review of them later in the week.

Both films feature a female protagonist and both stories offer interesting commentaries on the music industries from two VERY different spectrum. So take a listen at my favorite tracks from both films …

BeyondtheLightsPosterThis one is my absolute favorite… it’s emotive and stirring, especially when it’s sung by Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s Noni towards the end of the film. It’s a defiant song that becomes the unofficial anthem for her at a pivotal point in her life. I love love the melody of the song and the beautiful arrangement by Mark Isham, it’s perhaps one of my favorite songs of the year so far. I was already so impressed by Gugu in Belle, but she totally blew me away here. Her transformation into a pop-star persona is incredible, and she clearly has the vocal chops to actually be a recording artist for real!

This second one is pleasant but more familiar, perhaps because it’s written by Diane Warren, who’s responsible for so many movies’ romantic ballads. It’s performed by Rita Ora.

BeginAgainBanner

I knew there’ll be some awesome music featured in this one, as Margaret already featured them in her Soundtrack Wednesday post. I still want to feature ’em again here, especially the two soulful ones sung by Keira Knightley. I had no idea she could sing so well and with such raw emotion. I LOVE this scene when Mark Ruffalo‘s character first saw her singing in a bar and his reaction to her singing is so endearing.

I had to include this awesome video posted by Interscope Records. It’s a cute & poignant scene featuring Keira and James Corden as they record a song together as a voice mail message. The melody is wonderful but the lyrics are so moving and really, who can’t relate to a broken heart? We’ve all been there, if only I knew how to turn my feelings into such beautiful music!


Hope you enjoyed the music break! Have you seen either one of these films?

TCFF Day 8 Film Highlights and Interview with ‘The Big Noise’ director Dominic Pelosi

TCFF_2013CoverageBnr

It’s already Day 8 of TCFF! Boy, time flies when you’re having a blast! We’ve got a bunch of great films screening today, check out our host Ingrid Moss introducing what’s playing today:


I’m excited for The Big Noise and One Chance (aka the Paul Potts movie), which couldn’t be more different in terms of story and tone. But hey, the eclectic schedule works for me!

TheBigNoise_OneChance

I’ve posted the premise and trailer of One Chance in this lineup post. Now here’s the premise of The Big Noise which plays at 4pm today:

Morris Falzon works with his father George in a small law firm in Sydney’s Inner West. With his personal life a mess and the business falling apart, Morris is thrown a lifeline when a dying client reveals he is leaving Morris a small fortune in his will. It seems his luck is about to change. However, when his client stages a miraculous recovery, it seems it’s back to the grindstone… or is it? Morris and George hatch a plan that will either make or break them – literally.


Director Dominic Pelosi kindly granted me an interview about his film. Check it out below:

TheBigNoise_title

1. I just saw the film Nebraska by Alexander Payne at TCFF that’s also filmed in black and white. So I’m curious what made you decide to shoot your film in b&w?

Black and white for me gives a separation from reality that I find to be a more traditional approach to cinema and seems to be somewhat under-utilised these days. Whilst aesthetically black and white appeals to me greatly it is also highly dependent on the script – the muted image can often aid in the tone of a film, given that The Big Noise has dark undertones it seemed a logical choice for the story telling. In addition having a very limited budget, scenes were often shot months apart allowing the black and white hopefully, to smooth any inconsistencies in the footage.

2. I read that your cast are largely unknown. How did the casting come about for your film?

Casting nonprofessionals was a choice made very early on, which made the casting process much easier in a sense. If the script called for a lawyer, then we would approach a lawyer, or if it required a real estate agent then we would try convince a real estate agent to do the part. This was a process that heavily borrowed from the Italian neo-realist filmmakers which to me can provide an organic performance; the actor doesn’t have the tools to rely on, the tools that modern viewers have become accustomed to seeing. This can obviously have varying results, but the overall tone is something that I think is unique to this process. We did however cast a couple of professional actors in minor roles to try and better balance some of the more dialogue intensive scenes.

The_Big_Noise_still1
Maurice Marshan as Morris Falzon


3. Would you speak a little (or a lot) about the Italian-Australian community depicted in your film? Does this film stem from a personal experience? I’m also curious what was the significance of the title.

Many Italians migrated to Australia in the 50’s and much like anywhere else set up pocket communities that maintained much of their heritage. My brother Andrew (screenwriter) and I have grown up around that type of community as our father arrived in Australia from Italy in the mid- 50’s. The Big Noise borrows heavily from those experiences. That element of the Italo-Australian community has somewhat faded in recent years and in a way The Big Noise depicts the struggle for that 1st generation to adapt to that change. The sense of uniformity in Australia has been slowly blanketing these pockets and there was certainly an attempt to present this in the film. To comment or have an opinion on this point wasn’t my intention, rather to show the consequences of big societal changes on the individual – this particular story was something both Andrew and I know well so the Italian-Australian angle became a good vehicle for us.

4. The writer of your film, Andrew Pelosi, I presume he’s related to you? Did you both come up with this film concept and how was your experience working with Andrew?

TruffautShootPianoPlayerWe both share very similar interests and love, for the most part, the same movies. One of our favourite films is Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, so we spoke about someday possibly making something in that type of framework and tone. Andrew gave me a script that he has been able to evolve over time to suit our actors and budget restraints that I felt had a similar spirit to Truffaut’s film. He was able to conceptualise ideas that we had expressed to each other into a much more digestible screenplay with regards to plot etc. We would then work together in fleshing things out throughout the filming process. We are extremely close anyway so making a film together was fairly seamless, there were times like any relationship where I’m sure he’d had enough me. We will no doubt continue to make films together.

5. Since this is your debut and your film was made on a small budget, what was the biggest hurdle/challenge, as well as rewarding moments, that you faced when you made this film?

Not having a great budget meant undertaking many of the necessary technical aspects of filmmaking whilst trying to direct. This probably proved the most difficult aspect for me personally. Learning the camera and pulling my own focus whilst trying to get a performance from a nonprofessional actor definitely had its moments. But was also the most rewarding aspect. I’m not sure if we could have made the film any other way. For many of the actors this being their first time performing in any capacity meant that having a crew of two or three people (at most) allowed for a level of comfort that wouldn’t be found on many film sets.

The film is also around 50% in Italian which made it extremely difficult for me as I don’t speak a word. Our father translated those scenes for us as Andrew is very limited in the language as well. There are two key actors that don’t speak a word of English so trying to direct them was challenging, I would attempt to direct them by physically showing them what to do. Editing the film was a real process, trying to correct technical errors and cut a film that was true to the script took a very long time, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. Working with nonprofessional actors and having them be involved with something that they wouldn’t have ever thought of being involved in perhaps provided the greatest satisfaction. It is certainly something I hope to continue on future films.

THANK YOU Dominic for the insightful interview!! Hope you’ll check out The Big Noise when it plays near you!


Second screening added for August, Osage County
Tonight (Oct 24) at 9:15 pm!

Now, another film I’m super stoked about is August, Osage County. Since I’m flying to NYC on Saturday morning, I couldn’t see the original screening at 6pm. Fortunately TCFF just added a second screening tonight, wahoo!! Check out the latest poster w/ Julia Roberts attacking Meryl Streep, that about sums up the dysfunctional family plot, doesn’t it? Plus the cast is just killer! Check out the trailer on this post.

August_OsageCountyPoster


TCFFTickets

There’s still time to get your tickets!
General Admission $10; Opening/Closing Gala $20; Centerpiece Gala $20; Sneak Preview Galas $20. Festival Passes can also be purchased: Silver $50 for 6 films; Gold $70 for 10 films; or Platinum $120 for 12 films + 2 tickets to Opening, Closing or Gala. (Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening, Closing or Gala Tickets).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.


Stay tuned for more TCFF coverage. So any of the films above that caught your eye?