Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End

There’s nothing more redeeming to an okayish sequel than to get another chance and make a trilogy. For those keeping track, this is the third Pirate’s movie and the one where Jack Sparrow is stranded on the Bonneville Salt Flats, erm, I mean Davy Jones’ locker. We also visit the foreign and mysterious South China Sea and Chow Yun-fat. Yeah, I don’t know how they talked him into the movie either, but it works.

Behold, Davy Jones’ locker. If you squint, you can see the Wasatch Range in the background.

The Story

We left the second Pirate’s movie with several unresolved issues. Will still hadn’t saved his father like he’d vowed. Jack was eaten by a Kraken, which simply cannot be because he’s the reason we watch these movies. Barbossa continues to have an unhealthy interest in the Black Pearl and since Jack is interwoven into the Pearl’s fate, is still part of the story. Davy Jones corrupted himself and Flying Dutchman and it’s crew by not fulfilling his duty of escorting dead souls of those who died at sea to the afterlife. Elizabeth feels horrible guilt because she believes she’s responsible for Jack’s death – which she is. Shackling someone to a mast while a Kraken is attacking tends to do that.

Meanwhile Lord Cutler Beckett, the project manager of the East India Company, has angered pirates far and wide by executing anyone associated with piracy in all of the Caribbean – which is literally everyone. This compels the Brethern Court, consisting of the nine pirate lords of the sea, to convene and find a way to stop him.

The former crew of the Pearl, now under Barbossa and on a boat from the South China Sea, rescue Jack from Davy Jones’ locker in what can be only called a cinematic extravaganza of special effects. One of those is finding Jack and the Pearl in the otherworldly white expanse of Davy Jones’ locker. If you ever want to see it, simply head 40 min west of Salt Lake City on I-80. Bizarre place, the kids love it.

Back to the story, Jack is needed to cast a vote at the Brethern Court, as he’s the pirate lord of the Caribbean and never appointed a successor before getting mixed up in Davy Jones’ affairs. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Swann inadvertently becomes the pirate lord of the South China Sea. They, and the other pirate lords, argue about how to handle Beckett and after lots of dialogue choose to go to war. They believe they’ll win because they have Calypso to do their bidding. And…they’re wrong. It seems no one told her that her love, Davy Jones was the one responsible for trapping her in a human body in the first place.

She causes a maelstrom, another wickedly cool special effect which draws the two hero ships into it’s spiraling waters. A great sea battle ensues, lots of crazy happens, and at this point is where the spoilers will get me into trouble.

The cover for Keira Knightly’s new album (no, not really)

My Review

This is my second favorite pirates movie after The Curse of the Black Pearl. We see some incredible new places, I particularly love the visuals of entering the ice cave into the upside down world. Is this still a complicated Pirates movie? Yes. There’s a heck ton of different storylines happening and I still haven’t quite figured out what Jack’s deal was with Davy Jones that started this whole mess in the first place.

For being complicated, at least everything feels like it fits. We know what Beckett is up do thanks to the second movie, so having him expand this role and become an even greater threat makes sense. The new characters introduced served an important role and were woven into the stories of the characters we already knew, which is fairly important. It’s what makes a sequel not feel accidental.

The only really weird part that should have been given a lot more attention is the strange relationship between Jones and Calypso. If her anger was to become a key element of the climax, then it’s important for the audience to understand where it was coming from on a very relatable level.

Yes, that is Keith Richards.

Recommendations

This is a solid movie that’s easy to like. All our favorite characters return and do fun things. There is action and cool places and dramatic effects. Yes, there is complexity, but for the most part, all of it fits together. As with all the Pirates movies, this is not great for young audiences due to the violence, dramatic explosions, and the whole bit about Will having his heart cut out, which is thankfully off screen.

As for objectionable material, yes there is a bit of kissy kissy there at the end, but all clothes stay on and it’s fairly chaste. There isn’t any swearing and everyone keeps their clothes on, although apparently ample cleavage is now okay for Disney so proceed with caution if that makes you uncomfortable.

All-in-all it’s a fun adventurous romp.

I give Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End 4/5 solid campy goodness with only a few weak spots.


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Book Review: The Diabolic, by S. J. Kincaid

This book was recommended to me by a friend in the writing world when I told her what else I’d been reading and happened to mention my random foray into science fiction. She thought this would be a great fit as while The Diabolic is set in space, it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else. Thanks DawnRay for the suggestion, it was certainly an entertaining read.

The Story

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a creature made to serve as a bodyguard for Sidonia, a galactic senator’s daughter. The two grow up together and have become close. Part of Nemesis’s creation process made her completely loyal to Sidonia to the point that Nemesis expects to give up her life to protect Sidonia.

Nemesis is given that chance when Sidonia’s father angers the Emperor by acting against the decree of the Galactic Court with his interest in science. As punishment, Sidonia is summoned to the court, a vast city-like space station called the Chrysanthemum. To protect Sidonia, Nemesis is altered to appear like Sidonia and is sent in her place.

It is there at the Chrysanthemum that Nemesis discovers not only that there is more to the ruling class of the galaxy, but more to herself as well.

My Review

This story has a super cool premise where the main character is not quite human but is forced to fit into a human world. She literally sees the world from an alien perspective knowing she’s different from everyone around her and therefore shouldn’t expect to be treated the same.

So, by forcing her to pretend she’s a human is quite possibly the most difficult thing that could be asked of her – a brilliant plotting choice. Everything from that moment forward encompasses that struggle of how to act “normal” when you feel so out of place, and that someone else’s life depends on how well you succeed.

Clearly, it doesn’t go well. Nemesis makes huge critical errors that put her in the spotlight in more ways than one. She not only draws the attention of those she’s trying to hide from, but she draws their hatred as well. It’s the opposite of what she was originally sent to do.

For a character who is supposed to be emotionless, this is an emotionally driven story which makes it all the more engaging. The settings created within the story are places that I would love to visit if they were real, including vast gardens with opulent salt baths and domes that reveal black endless space.

While it’s an exciting book, there are elements that as a writer I felt could be stronger. The settings were really cool but there were plenty of scenes where once the setting was established, there was no further mention of the character interacting with the space. There was also plenty of what we call “filter words” where instead of just showing the reader what was being seen or felt, it’s dumbed down by first saying “I looked,” or “I felt,” or “I tasted.” It’s a little thing, but it reminds the reader that they are in fact reading.

My recommendations

Yes, this is technically a YA adventure thriller. However, it’s hugely violent and there are some pretty graphic descriptions of people literally being torn apart. With the main character being a professional killing machine, this isn’t unexpected, but it’s enough that I feel it appropriate to warn off younger readers and leave this one to the older teens.

Within all of this is a pretty turbulent romantic subplot that never steps into anything more than a kiss, but there is plenty of teenage angst wrapped up all around this, so if you really can’t stand that, you’ve been warned.

As for language and swearing, I have the hardest time remembering specifics, especially when I listen to the story as an audiobook. Nothing shocked me, but I want to say there might have been some PG-13 swearing.

I give The Diabolic a 3.5/5 for having some fascinating worldbuilding and characters but also having way more political drama than I was expecting.


TV Series Review: Picard, Season One

I’ll admit I had some huge reservations about this new chapter in the Star Trek universe. Picard has always been my captain. The Next Generation was the Star Trek I grew up with. I had so many expectations that it would take nothing short of a minor miracle to fulfill them all.

Good thing I believe in miracles.

The Story

Time has passed since Captain, now Admiral, Picard has commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise. He’s retired and doing the thing he always envisioned he’d do, managing the Chateau Picard vinyard in La Barre, France.

And he’s bored.

He left active duty with the Federation with a bad taste in his mouth. One of his last efforts as Admiral blew up in his face when the Federation didn’t give him the support he needed. The resulting deaths still haunt him.

So when a mystery falls into his lap, he’s not only intrigued, he feels obligated to act. Back during the events of Nemesis, his dear friend, Lieutenant Commander Data, sacrificed himself to save Picard. This new mystery is linked directly to some of the more mysterious parts of Data’s past, namely where he came from and who created him.

If he can solve the mystery, he will not only save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, but he might also find resolution over the death of his friend.

My Review

As with any long standing science fiction universe, you can expect the story to be complex and nuanced. There are several planets, species, cultures, and goals all colliding with each other. Add to this the emotional motivations of each playing character, of which there are many, and that’s a lot of information to track.

The writers handled this challenge well. They avoided the common pitfall of using massive info dumps, instead choosing to carefully present information one crucial parcel at a time. For me, it was not unlike putting together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to reference the picture. I enjoyed the challenge, but it was too complex for my teenager (and too mature for the younger kiddos).

From the acting, to the effects, to the writing and dialogue, Picard delivers everything a true TNG fan could ever hope for. We have so many of our favorite elements coming into play. There’s the Borg collective, the friction with the Romulan Empire, Picard’s past as Locutus, and diving deep into the concept of synthetic life and what it means to be alive.

There are also plenty of other elements that come into play to add extra spice, such as using a non federation ship and seeing what happens when Picard must step outside the rules. One of my all time favorite Voyager characters, Seven of Nine, falls into the story in a way that’s both true to her character and essential to the plot. Win.

I can’t wait to see what direction they take as the story continues to unfold. As for me, I’m thrilled with the story so far.

I got my minor miracle.

Recommendations

This is a more mature Star Trek and definitely not for younger viewers. I recommend viewers be at least high school age considering some of the themes and situations. While the use of coarse language is fairly minimal, it’s still there as well as casual intimacy, graphic violence, and intense scenes.

If you loved TNG, and are okay with an increase in the intensity, you’ll love it. Easy as that.

However, if you’ve never been into Star Trek and want to start, this isn’t a good place to do so. There’s a lot of history behind many key characters that will be lost on you. The show might still be enjoyable, but I think you’ll miss out on many of the emotional notes.

I give Picard a rare and shining 5/5 stars for the amazing work that went into the story telling and all the emotional punches.


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TV Series Review: Good Omens

I have a sneaking feeling that I might run across lots of mixed feelings on this one. While the two authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both have huge followings, they also tend to push the boundaries of the expected into often dangerous territory. In Good Omens, what’s a more dangerous subject than the coming of the Antichrist?

Like I said, it’s loaded with ideas and history that plunges us straight into dangerous territory.

The Story

Like most good fiction, this one starts with a monumental “What if?” What if the child who was meant to grow up to be the Antichrist was accidentally switched at birth? What if the demon assigned to watch over him, has actually been watching over the wrong child?

The story centers on this demon, Crowley, and his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale. These two beings have been on Earth as representatives of Hell and Heaven respectively since the beginning of time, and have formed an unlikely friendship. Not only that, they’ve grown accustomed to the comforts of life on earth and aren’t thrilled at the prospect of the coming of Armageddon, which will end it all.

While the hosts of Heaven and Hell are eager and anxious for Armageddon to finally happen, both Crowley and Aziraphale are willing to do anything to delay it and possibly prevent it for as long as possible.

My Review

I’ll state right now that I’m a biased watcher. I’ve always enjoyed Prachett and Gaiman’s unique spin on stories and their deep dives into unique characters and what makes them tick. I’m also super biased because the two leading actors are none other than the exquisite David Tennant as Crowley, and the ever intriguing Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

Honestly, the show itself gets forgiven a lot because of these two factors alone.

As a whole, I found the series fascinating to watch. The story is complicated and there are lots of twists and turns to keep track of, which for me is a perk. There are multiple driving forces to push and prod the story in different directions, and all of them are working against the goals of the other.

What I particularly liked is the sheer brilliance of the dialogue between Crowley and Aziraphale. The debates between them and the huge amount of history shows up in these little revealing snippets deepens their characters and the history of the world itself. They care for each other in a way that’s taken millenia to grow. It’s no surprise that most of the watchers who enjoyed the show want to see these two characters in a more serious relationship beyond friendship.

Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of work if you don’t mind diving into a story that centers around Armageddon and all its associated lore.

Recommendations

Obviously if you already enjoy Prachett and Gaiman, you are going to like this show. It has all the charm, depth, and humor you’d expect from a collaboration between the two. While it is complicated, so are most of their writings. Those who already like reading these two authors will be fine in keeping track of what’s going on.

I would warn those who have sensitive religious views to either watch the show with a grain of salt, or steer clear. It doesn’t shy away from this being an end-of-the-world type story and brings in enough theological material to support the differing world views surrounding the prophecy. This might make some watchers uncomfortable.

When it comes to objectionable material, there’s a wide but thin smattering of language, violence, and innuendo that some might find offensive but are neither remarkable or overblown. What’s there is appropriate to the situation.

I rate Good Omens a solid 4/5, a great show but you really have to pay attention.


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Movie Review: Onward

Watching this movie happened as a bit of a fluke. Youngest kiddo needed something to watch in the evening after a busy day and we’d worn out our usual favorites. We’d seen the trailer and it looked interesting, but wasn’t something we were going to make a special effort to see.

That was before the lock down and the world was our very large oyster. It took a few weeks to reach the attitude of “heck, why not?” when it came to watching pretty much anything. And, it was on a streaming service we already had. Win.

The story

In New Mushroomia, magic and mythical creatures are a part of history. The world was full of elves, centaurs, pixies, and manticores and their magic was the force that made things work. Everything from transportation to interior lighting was taken care of using spells and unicorns.

Then technology happened – and it was easier, faster, and every one could use it. Fast forward a few generations in New Mushroomia and magic is nothing more than a part of history. People keep small dragons as pets and drive mini vans.

Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf trying to make it through high school in one piece and survive his driving test. He’s shy, has a hard time talking to people, and would much prefer if he never had to leave his house ever again. He also has a wild older brother who lives and breathes fantasy role playing games.

On Ian’s sixteenth birthday he and his brother are given a gift from their deceased father, a real wizard’s staff with a single spell, the power to bring their father back for a single day.

But, this is a movie and something has to go wrong. In the process of attempting the spell the boys only bring half their father back – his now very alive pants. They set out on a quest to finish the spell before it wears off.

The rest of the movie turns into a fantasy twist reminiscent of Indiana Jones where the boys hunt down clues in unlikely places and test their courage. Are they successful? That would be an awful spoiler and I won’t tell you. But – I will say that it has a satisfying ending.

My review

Onward is urban fantasy at its most entertaining. It’s relatable, down to earth, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a real problem for the boys to solve that’s incredibly important to them, but isn’t so big that it feels forced. They’re not saving the world. They just want one more day with their dad.

After everything, I ended up liking it more than I expected to. My biggest worry going in was that there wouldn’t be enough relatable material. Not a problem, we’ve all been teenagers and had to navigate that world. Add to that sibling issues, trying not to get in trouble with mom, and then layer on top of it a chance to see a dear parent who died too soon, if only for a day.

Yep. It hit all the feels. Not only was there action and adventure, there were also sweet moments of reflection and introspection. There were emotional highs and plenty of laughs as well as moments of loss and sacrifice.

I’ll admit, I cried at the end.

Recommendations

This is a solid family film that I think anyone would enjoy, although those who like any form of fantasy would especially like it. There is enough action and laughs that even very young kids will find lots to entertain them, although the climax scene might be too intense for some.

Because the boys quest is wrapped around being able to see their father one more time, I’d counsel anyone who’s recently lost a parent to proceed with caution. While I feel the film redeems itself, it might be too much to take.

I give Onward 4.5/5 stars


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Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

Holy snot balls, Batman! Did you know it’s been 20 years since Galaxy Quest came out. I could have sworn it was only like, I don’t know, eight? The time has flown by and yet Galaxy Quest is one of the rare movies we watch at least once a year. Even better the whole family likes it, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

To celebrate, the lovely people at Screen Junkies and FANDOM, created a documentary that was released November 26th, 2019. While we watched this one weeks ago, I wanted to review it today because our family recently visited the one and only Goblin Valley this last weekend. This is where the weird alien planet was filmed and is a favorite camping spot of ours.

Never Surrender is entertaining in that “Wow, I never knew that” kind of way. While a large part of the film is spent with the actors themselves reacting to just how many people love the movie and consider it their favorite, and another large chunk was spent in loving memory of the late Alan Rickman – the best parts for me were when they talked about the development of key story ideas.

For instance, did you know that the Thermians unique speech patterns and body language weren’t part of the original script? Instead, they were an accidental invention of Enrico Colantoni, the actor who played Mathesar. Mind blown.

While I would never doubt it for a heartbeat, I didn’t realize there were so many cosplayers devoted to Galaxy Quest. Two of the people interviewed for the documentary are Utah’s very own Harold and Roxanne Weir who do an amazing Mathesar and Laliari. I’ve caught them doing other cosplays, such as Harold’s spot on Severus Snape, at conventions and events I’ve attended as an author. Seeing them in the film was a special treat.

For those of you who love Galaxy Quest, you’ll enjoy this documentary. There’s a little of everything in there from the history of the story’s development, to the actors reminiscing, to the development of key scenes.

I rate Never Surrender 4/5 stars – solidly good.

The Hobbit, Extended Edition

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised that my entire family was excited to watch every single hour of the extended Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. As a geek parent, these movies are part of our heritage and an important milestone to pass on to the next generation. Not only do they represent an icon in the history of fantasy, which is understandably important to me, but they also mark a turning point in movie history. Lord of the Rings, Return of the King swept the Oscars and was the first high fantasy to do so.

Just as you can’t just watch part of the Star Wars saga and call yourself a fan, you can’t just watch Lord of the Rings and not the Hobbit. The stories build off of each other and give valuable backstory to their characters.

Last week we embarked on a new adventure following Bilbo Baggins deep into the Lonely mountain and narrowly escaping the jaws of the dragon Smaug. We watched as power and riches nearly destroyed the last dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. We saw how in the wrong hands, the ring of power corrupts its wielder. We learned that the most important power one can have is that of grit, determination, and courage, although magic is nice at times.

When Hobbit originally came out, I boycotted it. I was mad they choose to stretch a single slim novel into three fairly long movies. When this had been done with other books I liked, it always resulted in massive disappointment. I love the books of both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the huge success of Lord of the Rings as a movie wasn’t enough to convince me to invest my time into watching the entire Hobbit trilogy in all its extended glory.

It didn’t help that when Hobbit came out my personal situation had changed drastically from when LOTR came out. LOTR came out when I was in college. The Hobbit came out when my youngest was one. Going to movies was difficult at best. I have a whole long story of how we tried to take a nursing baby into Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking he would sleep only for him to cry the whole time and then explode a diaper.

Time heals all wounds and when it came time to find the next movie to watch as a family, the Hobbit was a perfect fit. The kiddos already liked LOTR and knew the characters and at a run time of nearly 9 hours, it would take several days to finish – perfect for all those nights we were scratching for something to do while stuck at home together.

Turns out, the Hobbit is an excellent series of movies. Yes, I know that the screenwriters took lots of liberties with adding elements that didn’t originally exist in the book, but they stayed true to what we understand of Middle Earth and the world Tolkien created.

Is it a family friendly film? Sure. There’s no course language, no nudity (unless you count the extended scene where the dwarves are playing in the fountain at Rivendell, I don’t), and while there’s expected violence, there’s very little graphic injury. The same as LOTR, there are, however, several horror elements so I don’t recommend the Hobbit for young or sensitive viewers.


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Jumanji 2: The Next Level

What’s the best thing to do to a movie that did relatively well? Make a sequel!

This writer dies a little inside when this happens. When you have a good story there are specific elements that have to be in place to make that magic happen. It’s a combination of character, location, and problem that makes the story come alive and makes an audience excited to watch.

I’ve harped on this a few times before (ahem, Frozen 2, I’m looking at you). When a story has a satisfying ending and everyone is happy, it leaves little room to add more to it. The big bad has been defeated and there’s literally nothing else to do that makes sense. This is true for this sequel. They ended the first movie in the Jumanji series with the characters destroying the game console, literally breaking the chance of anyone to ever be trapped in the game ever again.

Which is why writing this sequel would be a challenge. We reenter the story when the characters who were originally high school students are now in college. With that single choice, all the problems our teenagers had are now being faced by adults and that change in attitude shifts the meaning of everything.

My Review

I only half liked the movie and that’s because the three main actors are are some of my favorites. Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan can come to dinner anytime and I would be ecstatic.

The movie itself suffers from script writers literally inventing problems just to be able to create a new movie. With our main characters now older it introduces a whole host of adult problems. No longer is the biggest problem about embracing who you are and rocking your best self, now it’s more about not being afraid to maintain a long distance relationship and with the inclusion of some new characters, worrying about bad decisions made years ago.

This is where I think the largest misstep happened. The main character Alex has a crazy grandpa who is staying at his house as he recovers from hip surgery. He and his old friend turned enemy get sucked into the game. It was supposed to be funny, but like I said, this movie was geared toward a teenage audience and spending a huge amount of time dealing with older people acting in an over the top stereotypical elderly way really got on my nerves. Maybe that’s because I’m not a teen, not sure. All I know is the ideas and imagination of the first movie came across as truly fresh and funny and in the end I liked it.

For Jumanji 2, yes there was a good message at the end. All the characters got their happy ever afters, again. But to get there they had to go through a lot of the same stuff as the first movie, but this time with the grandparents in tow. It led to lots of awkward that was hard to find funny. My kids were amused by it, but clearly didn’t like it as much as the first one by far.

Did I mention they snuck Awkwafina in there?

Recommendations

If you loved the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and you want to recapture that magic for another movie, The Next Level will get you 60% of the way there. There is the same body switching hijinks and the same puzzle solving mentality that came with the first movie enough so that it’s an okay watch.

If you were hoping for something that elevates the “Welcome to the Jungle” experience, you will probably be disappointed. Most of the story is the same problems as the original but compounded by needing to explain it to these older characters who just can’t get a clue no matter how hard it’s thrown at them.

I give it Jumanji: the Next Level 3/5, a solid Meh.

Cats 2019: Just, why?

Back when I was a teenager and at the time deeply involved in modern dance, I went to see Cats on Broadway. It was quite the experience. I didn’t know what to expect but was excited because it was one of the musicals where I’d grown up listening to the music.

Even with all that, it was weird. I loved watching the talent of the dancers and the sheer athleticism it took to do the unique cat-like choreography. Hearing the music from a live performance carries it’s own special kind of energy. With all that there’s plenty to enjoy even if the story itself doesn’t seem to work.

Most people don’t know that Cats: The Musical was originally a collection of poems published in 1939 called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot. In it, and to no surprise, each poem talks about different cats and their names. In 1954 six of these poems were set to be performed with a speaker and orchestral accompaniment in a work called “Practical Cats”. They were later adapted into the musical using several of Eliots unpublished works. Interesting note, Grizabella, the cat chosen to be the jellical cat and the one who sings Memory, wasn’t in the original Practical Cats book and was also pulled from the unpublished works.

When Cats left Broadway, movie producers saw this as an opportunity. It had earned 3.5 billion in the US over the course of its 18 year run, there had to be enough people interested it seeing it blown into a silver screen masterpiece. There needed to be changes to create a better storyline and the inclusion of several big names to spice up the appeal and thus the Tom Hooper Cats disaster was born.

Meet Victoria, the newest cat to enter the Cats pantheon of odd characters

What they did right

While most will criticize the CGI used to make people look like actual cats, they did a remarkable job making cat/human hybrids. The ears, whiskers, and tails all acted like they would on a real cat. The real problem wasn’t the CGI itself, but the very real issue of creating something that hits all the uncomfortable notes of the uncanny valley. A super realistic cat/human hybrid is creepy.

They used ballerinas and professional dancers to do all the heavy lifting, and thank heavens! Cats is known for its complicated and energetic choreographed numbers and the film lived up to that expectation. I would watch it just for the dancing and dump the rest.

The locations, even if they mostly were CGI were interesting and appropriate. This is more of a challenge than you’d think. Every thing would have to be created in a different scale to reinforce the idea that these people are supposed to be cats.

Hey look, they created a character so Taylor Swift could play too. How nice.

What they did wrong

They made the movie believing it would be successful. They spent over $100 million and recent numbers say they only grossed $76 million.

Okay, that’s harsh. The Broadway musical did well because people knew what it was going in and there’s something special about a live performance that movies can’t live up to. Trying to make it fit the masses and hope for the same success was asking too much.

Huge mistake #1 – They made the cathumans too realistic to the point they were uncomfortable to watch. There was a thin layer of CGI fur that was all that separated my eyes from what looked like a bunch of naked people running around and singing. Like I said, uncomfortable. The stage musical can get away with it because the dancers are clearly wearing unitards.

Huge mistake #2 – They tried to make it a more compelling story by adding extra elements to help explain what was going on that didn’t really work. It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, the “story” of Cats will never be a compelling one because 90% of the screentime is spent in all the introductions. There’s no time to build up what any of the important stuff is or why it matters.

Huge mistake #3 – They put human faces on cockroaches and mice. Not even joking. And worse, some of the cockroaches get eaten by cathumans. So gross. And, we just won’t mention the whole part with Rebel Wilson in all her nearly naked cat furriness. I’m scarred for life.

I wasn’t lying. It’s not pretty.

My recommendations

If you loved the stage musical of Cats and want to revisit those moments, you might like the movie. But be warned, they changed the tune of several of the songs. All of the good songs are still there, but a few of the minor ones got a significant face lift. Also, if you enjoy good choreography and watching great dancing, then you’ll at least enjoy those moments. However, there aren’t enough of them to justify wading through the whole movie.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of Cathumans, or seeing far too much of Rebel Wilson. or if you really need your movies to have a story and a point, then you better skip this one.

I give the 2019 Cats a 2/5

Watching the Extended LOTR with Kids – all Twelve Hours

Being stuck at home has very few perks, being able to watch the entire extended Lord of the Rings movies with the whole family ended up being one of them. My kiddos hadn’t seen any of them before. Until recently the youngest was too young to understand or be okay with the action scenes. It might have been desperation talking, but we deemed it the perfect time to add a whole new universe to their ever growing list of sci-fi/fantasy experiences.

Normally when we suggest doing a family movie night, the suggestion is met with a mixed bag of whining and gnashing of teeth. One of the three will be cool with it and the other two, depending on how teenagery they feel about the whole thing, will try to respectfully (or not so respectfully, depending on how the current Fortnight match is going) decline.

This time ALL THREE wanted to watch, and not just the first movie, or the first part of the first movie. No, they all wanted to watch all three movies. That’s a whopping 12 hours of family togetherness. Win.

I’m not sure if it was stir crazies caused by day after day of being stuck at home with a dwindling list of things that sound remotely interesting to do, or if Lord of the Rings holds some mystical appeal that attracts our nerdiness like a magnet, but I’m grateful. For eight nights over the course of two weeks, we snuggled up on the couches, popped popcorn, and watched the epic unfold.

For a movie that’s turning twenty in 2021, the story and the cinematography has stood the test of time remarkably well. It was amazing when it came out, it’s amazing now.

As a lifelong fantasy fan, having my kids enjoy something that I love is a dream come true. We played spot the Peter Jackson and discussed Andy Serkis’s evolution from minor role, to major character. We cheered the good guys winning and hid under blankets when Shelob crawled out of her spidery hole. We all cringed when Aragorn starts singing and hooted when he and Arwen smooched on screen. There might have even been a few tears shed as Eowyn witnesses the dying breath of King Theodred.

While I can’t plan on this amount of sheer movie attractiveness ever happening again, I can rest assured that hubby and I have done our part in teaching the kiddos their geek legacy.

Favorite moments from the films include Gandalf smacking his head inside Bilbo’s home at Bag End, Gandalf decking a throughly panicked Denethor with his staff, watching my 8-year-old crouch on the end of the couch just like Gollum, and Samwise carrying Frodo up the mountain.

Next on the list: The extended Hobbit movies. We’ve got a whole box of microwave popcorn and apparently endless opportunities for family togetherness – let’s do this thing!

What are you all watching with your families? I’d love to hear about it!


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