Monday, December 30, 2019

Logan’s Cat Run

A figure writhes in a burlap sack, abandoned by a giant in the middle of an empty alleyway.

This is not Audition. It is something much, much more disturbing.

By this point in time, you’ve probably already read an awful lot about the bizarre realm of hell that is the Cats movie. No, not Cats: The Movie!

Though seriously: if you’re part of the 99.8% of humankind that has not witnessed the 69 minute near-home movie featuring the voices of Michelle Rodriguez and Jeremy Piven, are you really living?

Anyhoo, the opening shot of Cats did indeed make me think of Audition.

And I looked up to the gods and I sang, give me more.

I knew what I was getting into. You don’t look at the internet the week of Christmas 2019 without seeing the headlines. “A Cat-Astrophe!” “Empty the Litterbox!” “Cats Is a Dog” “JUDI DENCH HAS HUMAN HANDS!”

Sure, by the time you’re reading this, your cinema might have the “improved” print, wherein some visual effects were updated a full 10 days after the film’s initial release. Yes, the ever-so-human fingertips were certainly problematic in Cats, but the real, deeper issue came down to the very design. Why even HAVE human hand shapes when fingers are one of the key elements that separates us FROM cats?

Two minutes into Cats, it becomes very, very clear that nobody on the design team of Cats ever actually looked at a real cat. 

You know how Barbie dolls don’t in any way work as examples of human anatomy? Their heads are too large, their legs too long, their pointed feet too tiny to support such long legs and large heads?

Invert all of that and you essentially have the cats of Cats. What they still have in common with Barbie and Ken? Nipple-less breasts and no genitalia.

And yet, AND YET I SAY, will it shock you to hear just how many times Tom Hooper makes a point of having a crotch shot or groin injury?

In fairness, the one set of children in the otherwise drunken adult crowd I saw the film with on a Saturday afternoon seemed to REALLY like it anytime a cat received a groin injury, so there’s that. 

For the rest of the heavily intoxicated audience, Cats packed plenty of alternative entertainment value. The collective gasping at the mustached Shimbleshanks’s wardrobe reveal, a Village People-esque trouser set with sexy suspenders and no shirt! 

The group’s caterwauls when Mr. Mistoffolees’s catchy tune was interrupted by lingering shots on his extremely human fingers! 

The sudden shouts of horror because just when we had finally let our guards down to enjoy some simple tap dancing, the film reminded us that it had found a way to summon H.P. Lovecraft with its human-faced miniature CGI dancing rats.

There is something truly grand about the ambitions of Cats. Long in development hell and expected to be an animated film, this version GOES for it in a way few movies these days do. 

Did it tell its actors?

Watching Cats, I was reminded of the tragedy of Rent: (Not) Live!, wherein a dress rehearsal was used for the final product due to a cast member’s last minute injury. It felt incredibly unfair to its actors, who performed a rehearsal to check their marks, saving their voices with no clue that their practice would air in front of millions.

My point is, did Idris Elba KNOW this is what his Macavity would look like?

Was Taylor Swift shown any kind of rendering of her distractingly large, presumably useless yet very prominent feline breasts?

Did Rebel Wilson see even an early drawing of the CGI kicklining cockroaches she would have to eat on camera? 

Fresh off his public speaking up for the overweight community after Bill Maher’s pointed insults, was James Corden informed that his song—which boils down to four minutes of fat jokes—would play right after Rebel Wilson’s number…which is also visually reduced to four minutes of fat jokes?

And, for some reason, Rebel Wilson stripping off her cat suit to reveal an Esther Williams style…cat suit, a visual gag that gets reused identically an hour later.

By the time Taylor Swift showed up as a naked cat in high heels, sprinkling magical catnip on the quivering feline horde, I was two bourbons deep and could no longer deny the oddest cinematic connection I didn’t see coming this year.

The fine folks at the Alamo Drafthouse already did a great job of showing the parallels between Cats and Logan’s Run, but seriously: substitute LSD-spiked sangria for Swiftian glitter, and Gaspar Noe’s Climax is pretty much Cats in French. The body count is a little higher, but considering the crux of Cats’ plot is Judi Dench choosing one cat to die and fly to heaven on a chandelier hot air ballon, are they so different?

One could make a dozen drinking games out of Cats, all of which would leave its participants, well, ascending to cat heaven on a chandelier hot air balloon. Drink every time you think the cats are going to kiss, but instead stop to perform more snake-like nuzzling movements. Drink when you finally believe you understand the scaling of cats to their surroundings, only to immediately have that undone when a fork that was once the size OF a cat is now dainty enough to fit in her paw hand. 

Drink whenever the human actors are finally in a human acting zone that lets you suspend your constant confusion at what you’re watching, only for said human actor to suddenly perform a cat action so first-day-of-acting-class-exercise that you spit out your popcorn (the otherwise quite good Ian McKellen and his random lick-water-from-bowl motions is especially guilty here). When your eyes just can’t move away from the horrors of human feet with mild CGI cat fur, when they dart away and land on Jennifer Hudson’s Halloween manicure, when a line of spoken dialog hits and it, without fail, includes the tritest cat pun your kindergarten teacher once made…

Accept it. You are drunk. You are dead. Judi Dench is INDEED speaking directly to you, her eyes aimed right at the camera for her final monologue summarizing everything and nothing, “a cat…is not a dog,” she declares, and you’re tempted to ding your empty glass with a knife or shimmy your cat shoulders in agreement. 

It is the only thing that makes any sense in this cruel, genital-less world. 

Cats. Now...and forever

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Joy & Stuff

Whether your favorite Santa is Billy Caldwell or Harry Stadling, here's wishing you the merriest of holiday seasons and whimsical fantasy van rides to the North Pole. 

Unleash your eyebrows and celebrate in style!

Monday, December 16, 2019

There's a Snake In My Hair

Thanks to a little movie called Clash of the Titans, my childhood included a rather odd obsession with the story of Perseus and Medusa. Considering just how great that myth is, it's almost strange to realize just how few films play around with the stony possibilities of gorgons.

Quick Plot: A young artist named Bruno is painting his muse only to discover she's pregnant with his child. Eager to prove himself worthy in her father's eyes, he flees to ask for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, before he can hear the word "no," his girlfriend is mysteriously turned to stone. The next day, Bruno is also found dead, his corpse hanging from a tree. 

The easiest course of action for the town to take is to posthumously convict Bruno of murder/suicide, something verified by Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing!) but unacceptable to Bruno's family. After his father gets stoned during his private investigation, his brother Paul shows up to finish the job. He finds a sympathetic ear in Carla, Namaroff's assistant, who has a mysterious movie condition of slight amnesia that couldn't possible be connected to anything relevant to the main plot. 

The Gorgon is a Hammer production, which thankfully means Christopher Lee is legally required to show up. When Paul declares "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you!" upon the arrival of Lord Summerisle, we in the audience have to wonder just how meta such a line is. 

Directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher, The Gorgon falls somewhere on the high end of low in the Hammer canon. The more subtle stoning horrors are played to good effect, but the lack of a memorable lead (our main character isn't determined until two of his relations die) hurts, not to mention the incredibly disappointing finale with its paper mache level special effects. 

High Points
I'll never complain about a torch-bearing angry town mob

Low Points
One doesn't exactly expect to find transgressive feminist themes in fifty year old British horror, but it's still a shame to see Carla be presented as such an object of a character. While she begins as having her own agency, that quickly goes away once there are enough men on hand to dedicate the rest of the film to saving her. 

Lessons Learned
In the early 1900s, your average upperclassman was an incredibly adept fencer

No-good bohemians make terrible decisions in the middle of the night

The proper pronunciation should be GORgon, not gorGON (note: this comment is aimed squarely at TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, who pronounces it the latter even though NOBODY in the movie does)

The Gorgon isn't a Hammer must-see, but anything that unites Christopher Lee with Peter Cushing has its merits. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

He Sees You When You're Googling

Welcome to another installment of Pretty Little Liars in horror movies! This time, it's the best of the liars, both in terms of character (sassy Hannah Merrin) and actress (the genuinely talented and charismatic Ashley Benson). 

Quick Plot: Emma is a shockingly pleasant economics grad student who has just moved to a fairly spacious 1-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn while she finishes her education at NYU. Having just ended a tumultuous relationship, she's a little hesitant to jump into the dating pool again, even when nice guy Mike throws her some pickup lines about cheese. 

Eventually, Emma settles in comfortably to her new life. She makes a good friend with fellow student Nicole, takes things slow with Mike, and reconnects with her parents over video chatting. 

Unfortunately, we as the audience know this because someone has been hacking all of Emma's electronic devices and spying on her from within (sort of, you know, like Pretty Little Liars). Little by little, Emma begins to realize that something is wrong, leading to such a sad state of justified insecurity that she becomes a genuinely different person than before. 

Written and directed by Branden Kramer, Ratter is a simple story that understands the horrors of being the object of obsession. We don't need grand stalking sequences or brutal torture when we have all the fear we need in Emma's eyes and the cracks in her voice as she finally tells her sweet but so-far-away parents.

You could certainly look at Ratter as a partner to the much crueler The Den. Both tell very similar tales in the same "somebody's watching you" style and rely on their strong lead actresses. Both are (mild spoiler alert) ultimately very heartbreaking because of their leads' performances. I suppose I'm satisfied with having seen both explore this in an effective way, but it doesn't mean i need to experience it again.

High Points
Playing natural to what essentially amounts to a found footage format is harder than it might seem (witness the performances in the majority of the genre), and Ashley Benson is so perfectly natural and likable in the role that it makes Ratter all the more tragic

Low Points
Aforementioned tragedy

Lessons Learned
Wisconsin is more than just cheese (though that remains the easiest talking point)

Antivirus software remains as ineffective in 2016 as it was in the '90s

Seriously, stopping in the middle of a crowded street in Manhattan is no joke

Google Image Search of the Day
The beauty of the word "ratter" is that it also applies to an adorable breed of dog, leaving most of my computer monitor populated by cute but sad Ashley Benson and cute and usually happy these:

On one hand, Ratter is a very well-made and effective thriller. On the other, it's just so damn sad to watch. Take that as a cautious recommendation. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Friend List Network

It was hard enough to keep the Unfriended and Friend Requests straight, only to then find out then there's another movie CALLED Friend Request. 

Which obviously, I have to watch.

Quick Plot: Veronica, an attractive young woman with a social media addiction, is assaulted one night out, her face doused in hydrochloric acid--the kind you can't find at Walmart. The detective on call is none other than Burke (Anthony Michael Hall), the kind of grizzled drunk whose introduced waking up in his truck, half parked on a stranger's lawn, covered in half full beer bottles.

As if we needed more insight into Burke's character, we follow him home to his dump of an otherwise lovely-from-the-outside suburban house, where there's somehow more empty shot glasses than square footage. Burke takes a bite of cold pizza that's presumably been sitting on his table for as long as his Breakfast Club residual checks have been clearing.

Just in case that wasn't enough, he also uses a conveniently open bottle of vodka to clean out a randomly gaping hand wound.

IT GETS BETTER. Burke heads over to his justifiably annoyed captain to get the scoop on the latest case and reluctantly meet his new partner, Laura Chance. Yes, she's a LADY, which means Burke turns on his charm:

Note that he hasn't actually seen her rear, so if you weren't already questioning the skill behind Friend Request, dialogue and spacial consistency are not one of its strengths.

Following Veronica's attack, Laura and Burke head to the department's official IT nerd Cam (officially as in Cameron, but I have to also assume as in webcam because I want to give something to writer Jason Falasco). Turns out, there's a social media slasher on the loose, hunting down victims via the world's most popular platform: Face List.

Not only does our killer find his victims through the platform, but he then steals their user identity to lure the next. Two men are next on the list, with both being skillfully castrated so they can survive without their favorite asset. Burke's ex-wife, a woman with a very specific habit of sleeping with men she meets on Face List, just narrowly escapes a similar fate. Burke and Chance have their work cut out for them, especially since neither seems particularly good at their jobs. 

It only takes our first victim's suicide by mirror (think the Pride scene in Se7en, only funnier) for the pair to be thrown off the case. It makes sense, since they have absolutely zero leads as to the killer's identity.

I won't spoil Friend Request, but please understand that much like Deviant Love, this is a movie almost worth watching for its twist. You might figure it out early, since the economy of characters rule is in full effect. Still, the actual execution of the reveal is ridiculous, and when you take more than 90 seconds to figure out its logic, it's even dumber.  

For people like me, that's a good thing.

High Points
He gets little help from the mostly amateur cast around him and genuinely painful screenplay, but credit to Anthony Michael Hall for tapping into his inner Gary Busey 

Low Points
I don't expect Shakespearean writing from a cheap horror movie that occasionally references the bard, but allow your female characters to, I don't know, talk like somewhat interesting human beings

Lessons Learned
The way to stay alive when spending 18 hours a day mixing your liquor choices is to occasionally supplement your diet with some potassium

Hospital walls are made with incredible noise-reducing insulation

You know how some of the most common advice for how to do regular morning runs is "keep a tidy pile near the door with everything you need?" The same rule applies to assembling your Face List murder kit

Fake Movie Alert
Admittedly, I'm not overly versed in the copyright laws, but let us all take a moment to imagine what the possible Asylum Studios version of Magic Mike might look like. We already have the title:

Stock Photography Alert
Hey, I totally understand and sympathize with the challenges of budgetary limitations, but even Ed Wood wouldn't have let an obvious watermark fill up a frame

Friend Request feels like this decade's iMurders, and that's obviously a great (and terrible) thing. If you're looking to expand your repertoire of cheap social media thrillers that try REALLY hard to stop you from using social media, this one's streaming on Amazon Prime.