Tag Archives: Taylor Swift

Where the Crawdads Sing

16 Jul

Where the Crawdads Sing’: Accused of a murder in a tale as sodden as the marshes in which it’s set

Delia Owens’ bestselling novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” gets spun into a feature film by Olivia Newman (Paul’s daughter, whose directing has been mostly on TV such as “Chicago Fire”) from a script by Lucy Alibar (whose only other major credit is the stage play that inspired the 2012 indie dystopian hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild”). The result’s highly watchable, even if it feels like Southern-fried Nick Sparks pablum. The drive is the mysterious death of a coastal Carolina town’s golden boy, Chase Andrews (British actor Harris Dickinson, “The King’s Man”) who fell from an observation tower in the middle of a marsh far from any eye, where only the crawdads and marsh rats venture. There’s no tracks at the site, coming or going, and a trapdoor in the tower is left unlocked and open. Foul play is assumed. Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar Jones, “Normal Life”), known around town as “Marsh Girl” because she lives alone in a hut in the swampy remotes, becomes the primary suspect not only because she’s strange and othered, but because she was the covert lover of said it guy.

Natch, we get a backup and rewind to Kya growing up in that shanty with a father (Garret Dillahunt, surprisingly compelling in a one-note part) who’s perpetually boozed up and beating his wife and brood. Over the years, all but Kya leave and one day Pa just ups and goes too, leaving 6-year-old Kya (Jojo Regina) to fend for herself. Hard to believe Ma (Ahna O’Reilly) would walk out on at-risk kids, or that the older sibs would too, but sure enough Kya learns how to cope with the monster and after he’s gone gets looked after by an effusively compassionate and gentle African American couple (Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr., likable in egregiously stereotypical depictions) who run the dockside general store down the meander. Little Kya evades most adults and makes her way around in a ratty Boston Whaler. Later, as a young woman, she’s roundly shunned as an untamed creature of the reeds, yet young men such as Chase and Tate (Taylor John Smith) take to her enigmatic, feral charms – though neither will be seen with her in public. Once that’s all square, the film settles into a “To Kill as Mockingbird”-like trial with David Strathairn (“Nomadland”) playing the part of Atticus Finch as Kya’s solemn yet gentlemanly defender in Tom Wolfe attire. 

The ebb and flow of the courtroom proceedings intrigue for a while, but as holes are filled in with more flashbacks, plausibility starts to go out the window. Don’t get me wrong, Strathairn and Jones put in solid turns; it’s just that their subtly strong, inward performances deserve material that is interested in those efforts, not this forced heartstring-tugging and these strained plot twists. The project has strong allies in Reese Witherspoon, who embraced Owens’ book and serves as a producer, and pop star Taylor Swift, who provides the film’s apt theme song, “Carolina.” The real eye-grabber is the fact that Owens’ novel was her first fiction at the age of nearly 70 – and that her stepson and husband are implicated in an unsolved murder of curious circumstance that took place in Africa nearly a decade ago. Inspiration? If you’re up on the deets, the film’s final frames take on an eerily different tone than what’s on screen.

“Cats” Keeps on Purring

5 Feb

The many lives and allure of big-screen ‘Cats,’ the hairball Hollywood coughed up into a cult

 

tmp-cats som
Usher Cat and Popcorn Tickets – staffers at the Somerville Theatre – run the weekend “audience participation” screenings of the film “Cats.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

A few weeks back I wrote about the second life (of nine?) for the failed film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical “Cats” taking form at the Somerville Theatre. Turns out the film’s reincarnation as an “audience participation” cult – come in costume, drink alcoholic beverages and shout at the screen – has more claws than the studio’s initial Christmas release: Despite its Oscar ambitions, critics tanked it, and hardly anyone filled the theater. (Opening opposite a hotly anticipated “The Rise of Skywalker” probably wasn’t the wisest choice.) To date the film has made barely more than half its nearly $100 million budget and, because of massive digitalization gaffes, had to be reedited and rereleased by Universal two weeks in. As a regular seven-days-a-week run became just slots on the weekend, though, it’s those late-night Friday and Saturday showings that have sold out. To check out just the freaky furball fun and gauge the cinematic awfulness of the talent-laden miscue (it does have Oscar winners galore), I swung by the Somerville Theatre on Friday.

It was a robust (two-thirds full) and raucous crew (mostly millennials with a boomer here and there), but I was slightly disappointed no audience members were in costume – just the feline-fashioned hosts, Usher Cat and Popcorn Tickets (theater staffers, adding a twist to the phenom) who had a few rules for the audience to follow. “Rule No. 1,” growled Usher Cat, “Don’t be a jerk or a dog.” Another stipulation asked audience members to “take the kitty litter home and not throw any projectiles at the screen,” and lastly, “Cheer for milk!” (when you see it). There were a few rounds of trivia, including the naming of cats in the films “Alien” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Usher Cat made an oblique reference to “catnip edibles” (part of the conjecture for the the rise of “Cats,” theater manager Ian Judge surmised, is the recent legalization of recreational cannabis). Then it was showtime. Continue reading

Let the Furballs Fly

21 Jan

Better than ‘Cats’: Seeing oddly terrible film when ‘audience participation’ is encouraged

Here's The Second "Cats" Movie Trailer

I’ve yet to see the cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” Based on reactions from that first trailer and onward, I’ve been avoiding it. But now I might go check out the feline fetish flick that made Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr write, “I’d pay to unsee it.”

The reason? The critical and box office bomb has become something of an immersive joke, akin to Paul Verhoeven’s pole-dance disaster, “Showgirls” from back in 1995, which audiences came to adore as a garish train wreck.

Riding that wave, the Somerville Theatre has begun audience participation screenings (officially, the late-night Friday and Saturday shows, according to Facebook) with hooting and jeering not only okay, but encouraged.

“It started from the first few screenings,” theater manager Ian Judge said. “Once the word got out that something was horrendously wrong with the movie in terms of it just being so bad, so odd, so unsettling in its half-assed effects, so jumbled in plot and such a bizarre mix of stars and talents, people came in large numbers out of a curiosity.”

Raucous audience reactions didn’t sit well with everyone. “We had to issue free passes to a couple of patrons,” Judge said – leading to the more formal embrace of its lameness.

To get an idea of how bad “Cats” is, it’s a $95 million film that made only $6.6 million in its opening weekend, something a limited, arthouse release would be excited about but a death knell for a big-budget production. By comparison, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” made $177 million in its first days of wide release. On IMDB, “Cats” has a filmgoer rating of 2.8, which is lower than most films made by Steve Bannon (which I had the pleasure to research for the recent run of “American Dharma”). “Showgirls” has an IMDB rating of 4.8.

The film is directed by Tom Hooper, who has such Academy-recognized films in his pocket as “The King’s Speech” (2010) and “The Danish Girl” (2015), and it stars Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson and Rebel Wilson. But it came under scrutiny as soon as its trailer release, with the poor quality and weirdness of its special effects going tsunami viral. An animated or live-action capture film from Pixar or James Cameron takes about four-plus years of visual rendering; the makers of “Cats” did theirs in seven months. The result was so shoddy and uneven that people began hunting immediately for weird and inconsistent fur patterns, bizarre genitalia and butt sculpting, not to mention creepy, monkey-like prehensile tails and scenes in which dame Dench’s human hand, replete with wedding band, showed up. (The studio has reedited and rereleased the film.)

As with classic midnight film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” people come to “Cats” dressed up – in cat ears and more. Judge suspects the legalization of recreational marijuana may be aiding in audience appreciation. And did I mention that the Somerville Theatre sells beer and wine? Belly up to the bar and get your best caterwaul on.

The “Cats” screenings with audience participation take place at 9:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square. General admission is $11.