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.

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

TCFF19 Review: JOJO RABBIT (2019)

JoJo Rabbit is one of those films that I’d call deceptively-flippant. If you’ve seen at least one trailer or promo clip, you’d automatically assume this would be a bizarre comedy. Well you wouldn’t be wrong either, but there is so much more in this than meets the eye. That’s the beauty of Taika Waititi‘s work, who’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood (though it has been a long journey for him as a New Zealand filmmaker). This work is perhaps more akin to Hunt For The Wilderpeople a comedy/drama with a young boy at the center of the story.

Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson and Roman Griffin Davis

The movie started out as rather bizarre… I mean seeing Taika playing a pudgy, halfwitted version of Adolf Hitler takes a while to get used to even after seeing all the promo photos of him in that role. I also think some of the comedic bits of the Nazi soldiers in the Hitler’s youth camp are deliberately fantastical, as is the nature of a satire. Young Johannes aka JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) is bullied at camp, but kids are more resilient than one thinks. His imaginary friend Adolf somehow helps him cope. The story is contrasted with the kind of resiliency young Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) has to endure, the girl JoJo’s own mother (Scarlett Johansson) hides in her attic. Now, I feel like the less you know going in the better you’d enjoy this film, so I’m not going to reveal anything else other than what’s shown in the trailer.

Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa

Taika sure has a gift in casting. In his debut role, Roman is perfect as the innocent JoJo who’s brain-washed to hate something he doesn’t even comprehend. He has a certain natural charm about him, not as riotous as Julian Dennison was in Hunt For the Wilderpeople, but just as affecting. I love seeing Thomasin here as a smart, defiant survivor after her amazing performance in Leave No Trace, I hope she continues to get more prominent work.  The tentative bond between JoJo and Elsa is truly the heart and soul of the film. There is real pathos in the conversations between them, and also between JoJo and his mother. And so it’s wise for Taika to keep the screen time of famous actors like Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell relatively small, but with compelling and unexpected character arc. SPOILER ALERT [highlight text to read] I think by making Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf who runs a Hitler Youth camp as a closeted gay man is perhaps a way to humanize some of the Nazi soldiers, who might have been trapped in a society who also don’t welcome them. The only one actor who I think is rather wasted here in a deliberately role is Rebel Wilson, but she is so hilarious that she’s still fun to watch. Oh can I just say I absolutely adore fellow newbie young actor Archie Yates who plays Yorki, JoJo’s bespectacled BFF. He’s such a fantastic comic relief a la Taika’s Korg in Thor: Ragnarok.

Roman Griffin Davis and Archie Yates

I thoroughly enjoy this film and I will champion it come award season. The story is adapted from Caging Skies novel by Christine Leunens, Taika said it was given to him by his mother. I think it’s tricky to make a satire and it’s definitely not for everyone. I think some of the earlier scenes that seemingly make light of the Holocaust and how horrible the Nazis were (set in a famous Beatles’ song no less) might ruffle some feathers, and I wouldn’t blame them. But if people could get through 15-20 minutes and finally get to the heart of the story, it’s so well worth the journey. Naturally some scenes are tough to watch, even the comical ‘interrogation’ scene with the Gestapo secret police (led by Stephen Merchant) made my skin crawl. SPOILER ALERT [highlight text to read]: JoJo compiles a journal about the Jewish people that are filled with the terrible lies and brainwashing stuff the youth camp are teaching him, and he’d often hurl insulting stuff at Elsa.

JoJo and his imaginary pal, Adolf

Now as for Taika himself. Well, to say he’s the perfect Hitler would likely NOT what he’d like to hear. He’s said in interviews that he had to play the role given most actors would shy away from playing such an audacious character. But yet, even despite how flashy the role is, the filmmaker is able to make us focus on what matters–JoJo’s journey in overcoming hatred and bigotry… and better yet, learn to love someone who’s different from himself. That alone I think is quite a feat. A brilliant balancing act of tragedy and comedy in a bizarre yet poignant style… that’s definitely Taika’s unique gift of storytelling. I sure hope he gets to create more original films in addition to all his work for Disney/Marvel.


Have you seen JOJO RABBIT? If so, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – ROCKETMAN (2019)

Directed by:Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Lee Hall

I’m always hesitant to review biopics; it just feels weird to critique a story about someone who actually exists, and it’s tricky to talk about the writing, because who am I to say if something seems rushed or melodramatic if it actually happened that way? Fortunately, this movie still gives me a lot to talk about.

Rocketman chronicles the life of iconic musician Elton John (Taron Egerton), from his childhood with a self-absorbed mother and emotionally distant father (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) to his meteoric rise to fame after teaming up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and his following struggles with substance abuse and depression, feeling cripplingly lonely despite being adored by fans all over the world.

Taron Edgerton with Bryce Dallas Howard and Richard Madden

While story-wise this is a straightforward biopic, it’s also a jukebox musical, incorporating several of Elton John’s more well-known songs into non-diegetic numbers used for exposition and scene transitions. It’s a creative use of the music, and I love that it’s used in a different context than just scenes of Elton writing or performing within the narrative. But the pacing is a little weird; there are a few musical numbers at the very beginning, but then there’s a long stretch without one, and the few that come after that are inconsistent. It’s a great storytelling method in theory, and the musical numbers don’t dull the darker aspects of Elton’s life; the titular song “Rocketman” is performed during a heartbreaking suicide attempt, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” sung by Bernie Taupin after following an argument with a drug-and-booze-addled Elton John, nearly made me cry. I just wish the filmmakers had committed to the style a little more.

Edgerton (Elton) with Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin)

Besides that, though, I don’t really have anything else to complain about. The cast is spectacular; Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John, both dramatically and musically (Egerton does his own singing in the film). Jamie Bell is wonderful as Bernie Taupin, and he and Egerton have excellent chemistry. Richard Madden is amazing as the suave but slimy John Reid, Elton John’s abusive manager and ex-boyfriend. After only seeing Madden play the noble Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, I was impressed to see him pull off a much more villainous role.

Madden as John Reid

Obviously, I can’t talk about an Elton John biopic without addressing the costumes, which are just as spectacular as the music and the acting. Besides being beautiful and elaborate and wonderfully glittery, they play as much of a role in the storytelling as the music does; the movie begins with Elton bursting into a drab, gray room for a substance abuse group therapy meeting wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, matching bedazzled demon horns and enormous wings, and heart-shaped rhinestone sunglasses. As the scenes alternate between him in the group therapy setting and flashbacks of his life and career, he gradually strips the costume away.

Even if you’re not a hardcore Elton John fan (which I’m not; I spent most of my childhood thinking of him as “the guy who wrote the Lion King songs”), I would absolutely recommend checking out Rocketman. It’s a fascinating look at a musical idol’s background with an incredible cast and memorable music. It’s definitely a movie I plan on watching again.

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Have you seen ROCKETMAN? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – THE HUSTLE (2019)

Directed by: Chris Addison
Written by: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, and Jac Schaeffer

The Hustle follows two con artists: bold and brash Penny (Rebel Wilson) and cool, calculating, professional Josephine (Anne Hathaway). The two meet when Penny travels to the glamorous French Riviera town where Josephine lives in the hopes of scoring some bigger cons, and Josephine feels there isn’t room for the both of them. The two make a bet on which one can scam a young tech millionaire, Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) out of $500,000 within a week to prove which con artist reigns supreme-and Penny has learned more of Josephine’s tricks than Josephine might realize.

My biggest gripe about The Hustle is that the story it delivered wasn’t the story that was advertised; from the IMDB plot summary to the TV and radio commercials, the movie was described as being about “female scam artists […] who team up to take down the men who have wronged them,” and that really doesn’t happen at all. That would have been an interesting twist on the con artist movie trope, especially considering this movie is already a remake of a remake (1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story). Firstly, the two barely team up; Josephine briefly trains Penny in her more sophisticated scamming ways, and the pair does scam a handful of men out of expensive engagement rings, but the team-up portion of the movie doesn’t last long; most of the focus is on the two women competing, which is a pretty tired relationship dynamic. Secondly, the women don’t target “men who have wronged them.” While Penny does focus on men who are exceptionally shallow, and Josephine briefly mentions that men underestimate women, which is why it’s easy to scam them, none of it is personal; they’re just doing it for the money and the jewelry, which, again, isn’t exactly a fresh motivation for a con artist story.

The leading ladies are the movie’s saving grace; while the material isn’t brilliant, Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway do a spectacular job with what they’re given. Rebel has proved her comedic skills time and time again, and her performance in this movie is no exception. Anne is hilarious as well, especially when she’s pretending to be someone else for a con (her German doctor persona toward the end cracked me up), although as just Josephine she is a bit one-note. The supporting cast is good as well; Alex Sharp is genuinely likable as Thomas Westerburg, and Nicholas Woodeson as Albert, one of Josephine’s employees, gives an especially funny performance despite having next to no dialogue.

While the plot and dialogue are pretty forgettable, the acting is enjoyable, so while I wouldn’t say The Hustle is worth seeing in theaters, it might be worth a watch if it’s available on Netflix or any other streaming service.

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Have you seen the latest THE HUSTLE? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

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Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written By: Dana Fox, Erin Cardillo, Katie Silberman
Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes

Isn’t It Romantic is a masterpiece. Not in the sense that it’s ideologically revolutionary or that it’s even necessarily going to stand the test of time, but it is skillfully conceived, written, acted, shot, and edited in a way that can only be described as masterful. I’ve seen it twice and, while that has scratched the itch for now, I have no doubt that I will watch it again. And again. And again.

The movie opens on Natalie (Rebel Wilson) living an average life in a dingy, stinky version of New York. She has a tiny apartment, a disobedient dog, and a job as an undervalued architect at a small office where she works alongside two friends (Adam Devine and Betty Gilpin). One thing leads to another and, after spending several hours complaining about the unrealistic, flawed nature of romantic comedies, Wilson wakes up in one herself.

From the moment that Natalie wakes up, we are in a different universe. Everyone is beautiful, coupled off, and dressed in eye-popping color. The streets are brightly colored, the air apparently smells like lavender – even the parking signs have engagement rings on them instead of, y’know, parking instructions. Not only that, but Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles suddenly becomes the soundtrack to Natalie’s new life and she finds herself on the receiving end of some unwelcome (but wholesome!) romantic attention. This romantic attention is almost without fail the romantic comedy staple of Natalie tripping, being caught by a handsome stranger, and dramatically locking eyes.

But she hates it:  partially because that doesn’t happen in real life and partially because she “knows” that she isn’t special, so she doesn’t trust them “being so nice” to her. Isn’t it Romantic is a good parody (birds fly in heart formations in rom-com land! someone screams “thank you!” every single time an item gets thrown from a window!), but it’s more than that. The audience gets to see Natalie grow her confidence and self-love and becoming more comfortable as the star of the ridiculous romantic comedy she woke up in – even if that means running in slow motion at the appropriate moment.

Rebel Wilson puts on an exuberant, nuanced performance. She is the one straight character in a story full of over-exaggerated tropes (speaking of which, big ups to Priyanka Chopra for possibly the best hair flip of the decade and Betty Gilpin for going from awkward girl next door to cultivated she-demon in the space of one movie), but Wilson does so with verve, making the audience laugh, cringe, and get a little emotional right along with her.

Of course, there are flaws in masterpieces. There were a few parts of the movie that could have used tightening (although that is probably more of an editing issue than a writing one – the snappy dialogue and funny tone were impeccably done by the writing team) and Liam Hemsworth’s performance didn’t work quite as well for me on a second viewing, but any issues are nominal. 

There are plenty of things that are wrong with romantic comedies as a genre–and most of those are laid out very effectively by Natalie towards the beginning of the movie–but there is a lot of good in them, too. Isn’t it Romantic makes fun of the bad parts, elevates the good parts, and constantly references classic romantic comedies. (My personal favorite was “you had me at hello-copter.” I’ll leave it up to you to find the rest.)

See Isn’t It Romantic. If you like parodies. If you like rom-coms. If you like Rebel Wilson. Shoot, if you like playing I Spy, you should watch it and see how many of the references you catch. From a cast that easily hits key touchstones, incredible visuals, and a fun (ultimately feel good) storyline, Isn’t It Romantic is one of the good ones.


Have you seen ‘Isn’t It Romantic’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

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Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think?