THE CAT RETURNS

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Ladies and gentlemen, all this snow has really done a number on me.  I mean, the subways are running with delays, schools and businesses are closing, and there’s a salt shortage in the city!  Now, I’m not saying my actual schedule of get up, eat, sleep, walk, sleep, sleep, walk, play with things on strings and wires, eat, sleep has changed much, but boy, that guy shoveling the sidewalk outside sure is keeping me up.  Just stop it, already – you’re scaring all the birds on the fire escape away!

Anyway, with all this free time I had not being able to sleep as soundly as I would like, I decided to take in a foreign film.  I chose THE CAT RETURNS, a 2002 Japanese film put out by Studio Ghibli.  Although not directed by Ghibli’s founder, Hayao Miyazaki (best known for SPIRITED AWAY and the like), it still has Studio Ghibli’s stamp all over it.

The story concerns Haru (voiced in English by Anne Hathaway doing an Anne Hathaway impression ala Mia from THE PRINCESS DIARIES), a clumsy high-schooler who just can’t seem to get anything right.  One day she saves a cat from getting hit by a truck with her lacrosse stick, although I’m not sure why she bothered since the guy had eight lives left.   Anyway, we find out that the cat she saved is Prince Lune, heir to the throne of – wait for it – The Cat Kingdom.

(Disclaimer: I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of said Cat Kingdom. To do so would be a felony in Cat Kingdom law.  Whoops.)

cat king

The Cat King – a delicious Tim Curry – offers her repayment (read: RETURNS…!) in excess.  The returns, however, come in the form of extra lacrosse sticks, a field of cattails in her front lawn, live mice in her school locker, and a pack of cats following her all over town.  This does not help her awkwardness at school, and she is appalled at what her life has become.

Not to fret, says an employee of the Cat King.  We’ll take you back to the Cat Kingdom and you’ll marry the Cat Prince.  She says yes.  This will solve all of my problems.  I agree.  Poor girl.

(Kids – do not think that marrying the first cat that comes along with solve all of your problems.  We may be the best creatures on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we’re a fix-all.)

The employee leaves to spread the good news.  He’ll be back later to pick her up, he says, and leaves.

Haru has a change of heart.  She doesn’t want to marry a Cat Prince.  But what can she do?  That guy has already left!  Gah!

Then a disembodied voice tells her to seek out The Cat Bureau.  They’ll help her.  Of course.

Here’s where we meet the sidekicks of the tale.  The Baron (a dashing Cary Elwes), Muta (a curmudgeonly Peter Boyle), and Toto (Elliot Gould as a crow) all join her cause.

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But then the Cat Kingdom cats come and take her away.  Rats!  Muta is able to steal a ride on the backs of a herd of stampeding cats (like ya do) and follows her into The Cat Kingdom.

Once there, such strange happenings occur!  In preparing for the wedding (which she has to do – she agreed to it!), she brings up a good point.  She’s not a cat.  Not to worry, the dastardly Cat King says.  You’re well on your way.

And just like that – OMG SHE’S TURNING INTO A CAT!  It’ll take full effect at the end of the day.

turning into a cat!

It’s a good thing the Baron comes in to save her!

With pluck, determination, and comedic happenstance, they save her from marrying Prince Lune (who turns out to be a really nice guy and had no idea what his dad was up to) and deliver her safely home, where she does not end up turning into a cat.

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She finds herself, learning to be happy with who she is, and doesn’t even care that her crush broke up with his girlfriend.  She doesn’t need some boy to be happy.  (Get it, girl!)

All in all, it was a lovely film.

Filled with cats.  Did I mention the cats?

So now it’s time for the score.  And this film gets a score of……………………………

cat returns pawprint plot

Holy kittens!!!!!  A perfect 100!!

Caveat: This film is animated, so I can’t say you’re going to see real, live cats acting their faces off.  So, a modified 100, we’ll say. 🙂

With that, I’ll see you next time, folks.  I’m going to enjoy myself another snow day.  Meow!

– Franny

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MY CAT FROM HELL

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Watching reality television has never been my modus operandi.  I’ve never reveled in watching humans live out their lives for the world to watch while they’re prompted to be more interesting by their producers.  Plus, let’s be for real here – where’s all the cats??  Why should reality television be dominated by those two-legged things?  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I stumbled upon Animal Planet’s MY CAT FROM HELL.  I was so pleasantly surprised, in fact, that I binge-watched both seasons available on Netflix in two days.

MY CAT FROM HELL is a show about just that: cats from hell.  Cat owners with disagreeable cats from all walks of life call up cat behavioralist Jackson Galaxy – a tattooed, gouteed, super-hip guy who carries around his cat tools in a hollowed-out guitar case – to save the day.  Through hard work and surprisingly simple solutions, all of these cats (and their guardians, as Jackson calls their humans) are veritible angels by the end of the episode.
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My own humans learned quite a bit about me and others of my feline kind, even though I’m obviously nowhere near anything resembling a “cat from hell.”  It turns out that most domesticated cats can be categorized as either bush-dwellers (who like to stay low to the ground) or tree-dwellers (who like to be above the action).  And it turns out that most tree-dwellers from hell can be “cured” just by installing cat-shelves!  Jackson advises any tree-dweller owner to create a space where their cat can circumvent a room without touching the floor.  I’ve already set my humans on this task.  We’ll see what they come up with.

This show is incredibly addicting, and not just for cat guardians.  Cat guardians, however, will squeal with joy at all the wonderful cats wandering across the screen and will gain a new appreciation for their own wards when faced with the scary awfulness that is some of these cats on screen.  And it’s hard not to like Jackson Galaxy, crazy cool guy that he is.  I highly recommend this Animal Planet series and encourage all to celebrate the whiskered carnivores in MY CAT FROM HELL.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for!

The score for this show is………………………………………………

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80 POINTS!

It failed the Bechdel Test because, let’s be honest, there’s never a scene where they don’t talk about the cat.  Which, honestly, is as it should be.

Until next time,
Franny

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UNCLE BUCK

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Sometimes it’s nice to revisit the past.  And by the past, I don’t mean as far back as my last review.  I also don’t mean a past that I can remember.  I do mean a past that my humans can remember, though.  Well, kind of.  Both of my humans were at least alive the era of John Hughes.  And more importantly, the era of John Candy.  And even more importantly, the era of UNCLE BUCK.

UNCLE BUCK (1989) has a simple premise: What happens when you put your schlub of a relative in charge of three high-strung kids?

The answer is, of course, movie magic.

Here’s how we start: Cindy and Bob Russell are average middle-class Americans who are very focused on their work and their busy lives.  They have three kids, one of whom is a “dreamer” of a little girl, one who is a young Macauly Culkin (literally), and one who is really angry teenage girl.  They don’t know their kids, their kids don’t know them, and they eat Chinese food for dinner a lot, apparently.  So not good things here in Chicagoland.

One night, however, Cindy’s dad has a heart attack.  The couple need to go to Indianapolis.  Immediately.  They can’t even wait until the morning (so the film purports).  Who should they get to watch the kids?  They have school, after all – they can’t come.  The neighbor?  Oh no.  Friends from work?  Out of town themselves.

“What about Buck?” asks Bob.

Bob’s brother Buck, played by John Candy, is the black sheep of the familiy – big, loud, living in an apartment, no job, an avid bolwer (the shame of it!), dating a woman who (gasp!) sells tires, smokes cigars, drinks a lot, and is often seen at horse races.  Not necessarily Mary Poppins, here.

Ahh, but they have no choice.  Best call him up.  He comes over in his lemon of a car, and the chaos ensues.

The film from there on is basically a series of vignettes that detail the ridiculous insertion of this character into the formerly orderly lives of the three children.  There’s a lot of angry teenage fighting, especially when Uncle Buck disapproves of Tia’s new boyfriend.  There’s a lot of Macauly Culkin with his eyes wide open looking surprised.  And there’s a lot of John Candy just being a funny fat guy, including a particularly great scene where he makes a giant breakfast for Macauly Culkin’s birthday.

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Eventually, all the humans learn the importance of family, and the kids appreciate their parents a little more for all they do.

It’s sweet.

Now, the cat factor:  In a terribly funny scene, Uncle Buck tries to get the family cat to come inside.  He calls for it, he chases it through the bushes, and he picks it up.  He carries it inside while it caterwauls in dismay and scratches his face and arms.  Once inside, he asks, “Who let the cat out?”  One of the children answers, “We don’t have a cat!”  Out the cat goes back on its merry way.

Now, as much as I don’t appreciate a scene of a human forcing a cat to do something against its will, I even have to applaud the comic timing in this bit.  Well played, John Hughes.  Well played, John Candy.  Well done, Johns.

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UNCLE BUCK is a quintessential end-of-the-eighties film and, even though my parents probably weren’t even alive then, it’s cinema gold.

And the final cat factor is………………………………

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50 points!!!  

It’s a good flick with just a bit of cat, but that bit of cat is a bit of great.

Thanks for stopping by!  Check back soon for more reviews!

– Franny

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PORTRAIT OF JENNIE

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My male human fancies himself a writer. I put up with this because “writing” usually means “sitting on the couch in soft pants and thinking,” which ends up providing me a soft place to sleep and a captive ear-scratcher. All day long. I’m telling you, my life is HARD.

Now, my human is a writer of many things, but lately, he’s doing crazy stuff like making up alternate steampunk universes and post-apocalyptic landscapes. To spark his creativity, he’s been venturing into the great canons of sci-fi filmmaking. The limit of my interest in technology begins and ends with the remarkable CGI Richard Parker in Life of Pi (we could be TWINS), but with a soft lap just waiting to be napped in, I resigned myself to settling in for a classic of the genre—1948’s Portrait of Jennie.

The film opens with Joseph Cotten as Eben, a dejected artist wandering snowy Central Park as a pensive voiceover tells us, “those were the years when therewas a hunger in you for more than food… It was a winter of your mind when the life of your genius seemed frozen and motionless.”As a cat, I understood this well. Under an icy arbor, Eben meets a strange little girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones), dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing. They strike up a merry conversation, and Eben begins a sketch of what will become the eponymous Portrait of Jennie.

Eben’s return to his boarding house is where the reason I’m reviewing this film comes in. THERE’S A CAT! The landlady (Florence Bates) meets Eben at the base of the stairs, and informs him there’s a package waiting. Eben fetches it and leaves, and we’re treated to a brief scene in which the landlady and her elderly friend discuss… something. I didn’t hear a word, because one of the cutest cats ever captured in black-and-white was prettily weaving around their ankles. I got very excited, but I hate to say, this was the beginning and the end of that charming kitten.

The film continues, and Eben runs into Jennie intermittently over the next year. Strangely, it seems she has aged 9045568_origsignificantly between each meeting. By meeting number three, she’s of marriageable age and they become engaged. Perhaps I’m a prude, but wasn’t she thirteen less than a year ago? Anyhow, Eben is naturally a bit suspicious, and does some digging. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll leave the plotting there. The only thing I’ll tell you is that Eben does finish the Portrait of Jennie.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this little movie. It is predictable and a bit trite, but there are also some real gems in the screenplay, though not quite enough to call it “great.” The story is engaging and never lags, and while I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romance, Jennie is undoubtedly magical. The most impressive element of Portrait of Jennie, though, is the massive, atmospheric shots of winter in New York City by cinematographer Joseph August. It’s incredibly beautiful, evocative work, and worth a Netflix queue jump there. My favorite moments were those shot in Jennie’s convent/college, filmed at the Cloisters in Northern Manhattan, right near where I live. I’ve been known to spend time in the nearby park with my humans, but I’m not allowed inside since it’s a “museum.” Like I care. It was a great pleasure, though, to see the nooks and crannies of the Cloisters through the literal lens of 1948. This exemplifies my experience of Portrait of Jennie on the whole—you know what it is, but that doesn’t take away from the beautiful, enjoyable journey.

Me, in Fort Tryon Park (the leash was a compromise).

Me, in Fort Tryon Park (the leash was a compromise).

So, for Portrait of Jennie, a small 30 paw-points, but a good-hearted recommendation.

Till next time,

Franny

Pawprint Plot Jennie

DEREK

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I’m about more than just feature-length films here at Franny’s Feline Film Forum.  This site will include entertainment reviews of all kinds – film, television, theatre, ballet, opera, et al.  Because that’s just how awesome a cat I am.

Today’s review is concerning the latest Netflix television series “Derek,” written by, directed by, and starring Ricky Gervais.  Thank goodness my humans have Netflix, otherwise I’m not sure how I’d keep myself occupied while they were out of the house doing whatever they do all day.  Anyway, I was excited about the series and blew through it in two days.

First and foremost, let me say that I’ve always been a fan of Ricky Gervais’ work.  And not just his comedy, but his actual writing style – the human themes present in his stories, the down-and-dirty everyman quality to his heroes, and his unabashed courage when it comes to uncomfortable subjects.  In that aspect, this series is a dream.  All of those qualities are there in droves.

Shot in mockumentary form, “Derek” shows us the happenings at Briar Hill Care Home, a small nursing home in the British suburbs.  We meet Hannah, the overworked and overwraught young manager of the place (Gervais sure does love his almost-mousy heart-of-gold leading ladies); Douglas, the unattractive, self-proclaimed bachelor caretaker; and Derek (Gervais), a naïve and gentle-hearted employee of the home.  We also get to know Kevin, an out-of-work friend of Derek’s who hangs around a lot, as well as all the residents and some in-and-out characters that pepper the series.

There’s not an overall story arc to the series – instead, we have the usual sitcom formula of same characters-different problem each episode.  Hannah is always fighting against the company that owns the home trying to get rid of it.  Douglas is always fixing something and yelling at the suits for her (one could claim he plays the hero more often than not in most episodes).  And Derek is always there, loving everybody, being kind to everyone, and showing us all that life is a gift worth living to the fullest.  Also, one of the residents dies in almost every one of the seven episodes.

There has been a lot of controversy over the character of Derek that I’ve read on my cat entertainment news sites.  Some claim he’s portrayed as mentally challenged and the whole thing is then offensive.  Gervais himself has said that he’s just simple and child-minded.  I could argue either way, but I’ll believe the man who wrote, directed, and portrayed the guy.  My only concern is that there’s not as much forward-momentum in the story as I would have liked.  Again, it seems like Douglas is the hero of the story because he’s always the one who stands up to the “bad guys.”  Derek often seems there in the background, an afterthought.  It’s not until the final episode of the season that he really goes through an emotional journey and we see a struggle and a change in him.

As for cats, there really aren’t many…  You would think that a show about a nursing home would be filled with felines.  Alas, it’s just not the case.  It’s only in Episode 2 –when a local animal shelter brings in dogs and cats for the residents to play with for the day – that we see any whiskers at all.  And out of all the animals brought in, there’s only four cats.  They spend the episode sitting on laps being petted.  At the end of the episode, Hannah decides to stay for the overnight shift so that the animals can spend the night with the residents.  Then we see another shot of one of the cats, sleeping peacefully beside one of the elderly.  That’s it.

So, as far as cats go, the score is………………………..

Pawprint Plot Derek50 POINTS!

There are multiple cats, and they interact with humans, but that’s about it.
Humans might like it more, though.  It’s a pretty good show for humans.

Keep watching for more feline reviews!

– Franny

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First furry review: WE BOUGHT A ZOO

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“We Bought a Zoo” has a deceptively simple plot:  Adventure-Seeker/Widower/Single-Father loses himself in a giant project to escape his pain.  Don’t count it out yet, however.  There are plenty of cats in here to keep us interested for the duration.

Of course, you say to yourself.  There must be cats in this story – after all, it’s about a zoo.  But this, our first installment here at Franny’s Feline Film Forum, has no domesticated beasts in it at all.  Instead, it’s the big cats that reign surpreme.

Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, the aforementioned Adventure-Seeker/Widower/Single-Father.  He doesn’t know his troubled fourteen-year-old son (he draws morbid artwork instead of applying himself in school).  He couldn’t get by without help from his seven-year-old daughter (she makes the lunches and reminds her dad about daily chores).  His job has hit a stand-still.  And doggonit, his neighbors are a bit noisy.  (“Their happy is too loud,” his daughter Rosie informs us.)

What’s a guy to do?  Move.  And, boy howdy, they find the perfect house.  It’s big, it’s gorgeous, it’s…. a zoo?  Apparently if they buy the house, the small zoo on the property comes with it.  Oh dear.  Now we’re having second thoughts.  This is crazy, Benjamin says.

Cue first cat:  we have a close-up on Solomon the lion and his oh-so-wise eyes.  It’s almost as if he’s pleading with the Mees to stay.

And stay they do.

What happens throughout the film is your run-of-the-mill fixer-upper story.  The zoo’s in shambles, but Benjamin’s got heart, so he puts his whole self into it.  Along the way we have a pretty girl for him (Scarlett Johansen), a new friend for his son (Elle Fanning), and a rather surly zoo inspector (John Michael Higgins) intent on keeping the zoo from ever opening.  Of course there are the usual trials and tribulations, ups and downs, etc, etc, but wait – the kittens return to keep it interesting.

One of the secondary plots concerns the seventeen-year-old tiger Spar.  He’s old.  Really old.  Too old.  He should be put down.  His medicine is expensive and it takes extra effort to keep him up and about.  Plus it’s almost as though he himself has given up.

The entire zoo staff says it’s time to let him go, but Benjamin won’t budge.  He can’t imagine just losing hope, throwing in the towel, and all other expressions of helplessness.  He’s fought so hard for so long that he can’t even imagine the zoo without him in it.

Wait a minute…  Are we still talking about Spar the tiger here?  Benjamin’s self-reflection and veritable demon-examination culminates in his inevitable purification.  It’s time to move on, Benjamin Mee.  Live your new life.

And live it he does.  But will the zoo ever pass the inspection?  Will anybody ever come?  And what about all those relationships with his son and the love interest and such – how will those turn out?  I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself how all the humans do.  But don’t worry; they don’t detract too much from the cats.

So the verdict is………….

We Bought a Zoo review90 POINTS!!!

Go see it!  There’s plenty of cats to go around!!

Stay tuned for more of my reviews coming soon!!

– Franny

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