Tag Archives: Ian McKellan

The Golden Compass

I watched this back in 2007 because I adored the book(s) (by Philip Pullman) and was optimistic. Oh 2007, the days of wild optimism.

The movie is…not good. It’s not rotten, there are some attempts at goodness, especially from Nicole Kidman and the visual effects department. But it’s like someone put The Golden Compass through a strainer to sift out all the best bits and made a movie with the wrong bowl.

Yes, movie studios were desperate to recreate that Harry Potter magic, but Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was always a little more cumbersome than its wizarding counterpart; Pullman’s work was not specifically meant for young audiences. But some intrepid readers found him anyway, and loved the way he combined physics, philosophy, and theology but made them accessible via a young protagonist. Those are not exactly movie-friendly themes, and the trilogy’s criticism of religion was of course controversial. When the film got released, christians boycotted it for its anti-religion reputation but secularists balked at this theme’s dilution (and some would say absence).

The film shows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan living in a parallel universe where a dogmatic ruling power called the Magisterium opposes free inquiry and every person has their inner spirit manifested as an animal, which they call a daemon. Before settling into a single shape in adulthood, the deamons of young children tend to shape shift quite a lot. Which is not much use when children are being kidnapped by an unknown group called the Gobblers who are supported by the Magisterium. Lyra joins a tribe of seafarers on a trip to the far North, the land of the armoured polar bears, in search of the missing children.

MV5BMTc4MzIwNTM0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTAzNzc4._V1_

There’s more to it than that, a lot more to it. It’s not so bad when you’ve got the book in your hands. You can take a break when you need to think on things, or digest others. You can flip back a few pages, read with new insight and understanding. But movie audiences have to take what you’re given, and if a director foolishly tries to stuff too much detail into too thin a story, it’s not just overwhelming but it turns what should be a fun entertainment or a version of escapism into an exercise in fact sorting and memory retention.

There are some dazzling effects and I’m not going to lie: armoured polar bears are kinda the best. Which is why so many of us rooted so hard for the movie. But the movie was too self-important, too busy setting up the next in the series that it forgot to give us a satisfying experience in the present. Which, as you know, not only resulted in its poor performance at the box office, but it ground production on the next two to a complete and final halt. No one will reattempt this for another quarter century. Which is really too bad, because if you’ve read the book(s), you know there’s a compelling story in there, and it shouldn’t be this hard to tease it out.

Cats

I knew Cats was bad. It was unanimous and what on this big blue planet is ever unanimous? People love or they hate Rise of Skywalker. They love or they hate The Witcher. They love or they hate Henry Cavill. They love or they hate Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. But Cats has united us, just in time for the holidays: everybody hates Cats.

I’ve never seen Cats the musical because in my house growing up, cats (little c) were verboten. My mother was viciously attacked by one as a child and held a deep-seated fear. Although I’m not afraid of them, I’m extremely cautious and skeptical of them. Being very firmly a dog person, I’ve never seen the appeal of a cat: they’re not friendly or loving. It’s not just that they don’t return your affections, they spurn them. Sean, however, grew up in a cat house. And a Cats house as his entire family took in the show when he was a boy, although I dare say they missed the point as they named one of their cats Macavity even though he’s the villain (and all this time I thought they were being clever because Sean’s dad was a dentist. nope) and another Mistoffelees even though their cat was female whereas the Cats cat goes by Mister.

Anyway, we both knew Cats was going to be bad but I thought it might be funny-bad or entertainingly bad or even meme-able bad. Instead I just prayed for a sudden and nasty plague of feline AIDS and tried not to audibly gasp when the movie was once again not over but churning into yet another song about the exact same thing.

The movie (and very likely the show, but I haven’t seen it) is about a “group” of cats called the Jellicles. I don’t know why they’re a group or why they needed to name their group. Are they a gang? A mafia family? Do they commit hate crimes together?

One night a year they all get together to participate in a Suicide Pageant. They each sing a song, and judge Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) decides which one will die. Naturally I assumed Old Deuteronomy was the villain of the film, but not so. Apparently it’s a real honour to be chosen for cat-on-cat euthanasia; all the cats talk about ascending over to the Heaviside Layer like it’s the greatest thing. Which I suppose confirms what I’ve always believed about cats: they’re a miserable bunch, angry at life itself, waiting impatiently for it all to end. Which also describes a Cats audience.

Victoria, the lead cat, newly abandoned and adopted by the Jellicles, undergoes some pretty ambitious white-washing considering its actors are covered in fur. Francesca Hayward, the ballerina who plays her, is Kenyan-born and black, but you wouldn’t know it or even guess it to look at her cat. Although I suppose that’s a fairly minor insult compared to how dirty they did Jennifer Hudson, who plays Grizabella. Grizabella is a down-on-her-luck cat roundly rejected by the asshole Jellicles and by Cats director Tom Hooper who knows she’s a star but decides to bury her in a mound of garbage. Grizabella looks inexplicably terrible, which is particularly sad because when Hudson sings that one Cats song everyone knows (Memory, and damn right she sings it twice), it’s the only time the audience willingly faces the screen. But Hudson is so moved by the lyrics, she’s constantly got lines of snot running from her nose to her mouth, glistening in the movie lights, making sure we gag to the fullest extent of the law. Considering how much money was spent to digitally alter away any trace of male “bulge” you’d think a CGI swipe or two under her nose would have been wise, but no.

Cats is 7 hours long, so maybe think about bringing some knitting or a crossword or a roast beef with you to the theatre. Technically the run time is just under two hours and that’s all that will have passed outside the theatre. But inside it’s a marathon shit show. As I said before, the Cats story takes place over one fateful evening, a time conceit which usually gives a film a nice sense of urgency but in this case it feels like the movie never goes anywhere. We just stand in one spot singing about the same thing over and over until somebody dies. Literally! And there’s a slideshow of celebrity cameos – Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ian McKellan – who show up for a song and then disappear again into the night, perhaps to form their own real-life career suicide club for having appeared in 2019’s biggest flop.

And Cats had that distinction before it was even in theatres; even the trailer creeped people out. The cats are weird human-cat hybrid. Human faces and human hands poke out of fur and CGI ears and tails twitch as though they have a life of their own. Everything in the movie is scaled up so the cats appear…well, not quite cat-sized but definitely weird. Everything about this movie is off, never mind the fact that they walk on two feet, except when they don’t. And they’re all naked and barefoot except when they’re not. A couple of them wear sneakers, one wears pants, another a sparkly jacket. Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzips her fur to reveal another fur pelt wearing a jazzy ensemble…that she’s kept hidden under her skin this whole time? Doesn’t that get hot?

Cats’ greatest sin is of course that it’s boring. It’s got one memorable song and a bunch of filler. The numbers are repetitive. The dancing is a big yawn. Cats, making its London debut in 1981, needed some updating. Perhaps the kindest thing would have been to lose the ballet in favour of something a little more modern. Nobody wants a musical overstuffed with songs that drag without moving the plot forward coupled with dance that struggles to connect with anything current or relevant.

People have hated this movie so universally that director Tom Hooper re-edited it furiously, and a new cut, with yet more CGI effects, is being rushed to theatres as we speak. But unless Star Wars is sold out, you won’t be seeing it, right? Because you value your time and money? And because Cats sits in your belly like a hairball you can’t wait to go home and hack up.

p.s. Since the only good thing about the movie is Jennifer Hudson’s 4 minutes, here she is for free on Youtube singing Memory:

Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I watched this movie with Jay on our way to Paris and it was awesome. Guardians of the Galaxy is still my favourite superhero movie of 2014 but Days of Future Past was almost as good, and I was not expecting that at all.

I read X-Men as a kid and loved it (it was probably my 2nd favourite comic behind Spider-Man). Then in my early 20s, the first X-Men came out, and I loved that! And the 2nd movie was possibly better than the first. And then the third movie came along, and it was so awful it ruined everything that had come before. It was very similar to the Matrix trilogy in that way. But unlike the Matrix, this franchise has done the impossible and resurrected itself.

This movie works in a lot of ways. It is a bridge between the entertaining prequel (X-Men: First Class) and the original trilogy. It is a standalone timetravelling adventure starring a bunch of familiar faces (it was very cool to see so many people from the previous movies make appearances, and all of them felt natural rather than squeezed in). And it is probably the most satisfying reboot I have ever seen. Too many superhero franchises have been rebooted lately, for no real reason other than a lack of imagination. I don’t need to see Peter Parker get bitten by a spider again. I didn’t ask for a new take on the Fantastic Four whose only purpose seems to be retaining the movie rights. But I was satisfied, and even excited, to see the slate wiped clean here and feel that the future for this franchise is brighter than ever. I am looking forward to see where they go from here (and apparently it involves Apocalypse!!!).

By the way, please stop putting extra scenes in the credits. It was alright once or twice but it’s played out at this point, and for the last several movies I have had to look it up onYoutube after the fact.

Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable movie, though probably too dense and convoluted for someone who isn’t a fan. But better that than another origin rehash! It gets 9 angst-filled outcasts out of 10.