For some of us, the very words “Keven Spacey stars as a real estate mogul reincarnated as a talking cat named Mr. Fuzzypants” inspire a kind of maniac glee. Bad-movie aficionados live for such moments, so the release of Nine Lives, now streaming on Amazon Prime, was like a gift from the gods. Not the merciful gods who dot the divine landscape, but rather the trickster ones — the kind of gods who think it would be funny if they made us watch talking cat movies about self-improvement and redemption that also feature a lot of urinating into purses. Our kind of gods.
Others worship at a different altar, if Nine Lives’ striking 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is any indication. (The additional fact that the film wasn’t even screened for critics is a hilarious addition to its legend, and an equally striking bit of dodgy self-awareness.) Common expressions re-occur: “not funny,” for instance, or “stupid and debasing,” or “cat-tastrophe.”
On the whole, people really did not care for Nine Lives.
Still, while it’s no meow-sterpiece, Nine Lives does feature exchanges like the following:
Do they do MRIs for cats?
You mean ‘cat scans’?
It also includes a pivotal suicide gag — always a winner — and a recurring castration joke sure to please kids and parents alike.
Spacey is Tom Brand, an aptly-named shitheel and absent father obsessed with building the tallest structure in Manhatten, ignoring his family, and, bizarrely, skydiving. When an accident puts him into a coma, his spirit is transferred into a feline named Mr. Fuzzypants, a mystical trick accomplished in the traditional fashion — by Christopher Walken, who runs a sort of Gremlins-inspired cat-store called Purrkins Pet Store because his name is Felix Perkins, which is absolutely a good joke and not the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my entire fucking life. The cat/man is then adopted by Tom’s wife Lara (Jennifer Garner, slumming like everyone else here) and their extraordinarily irritating daughter Rebecca (Madison Weissman).
Sequestered in the cat’s body and only able to communicate with Christopher Walken, Tom has some lessons to learn about family, friendship, selflessness, and life in general. Will these lessons involve personal growth, and also pooping? Will they hinge heavily on the curiously outsized role of base-jumping for no apparent reason? Will Tom’s son David (Robbie Amell) save the company, and also become a man (again, via skydiving)? Only Nine Lives can answer these questions. (The answers are “yes”.)
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Coen Brothers DP, helmer of Wild Wild West), cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (Independence Day, Dolphin Tale), and all five writers cobble these disparate tones and inscrutable tracking shots into a Frankenstein’s monster of feel-good uplift, apparently deciding to throw everything at the wall (including CGI cats, literally) and seeing what sticks.
Nine Lives has a surprisingly rough edge to its saccharine redemption saga, though, what with all the castrating and murder and shitty ex-wives openly described as vampires, but its heart is more or less in the right place. I guess. Would I recommend it? I surely would! But then I’d also recommend having one of your friends kneel behind another of your friends while you knock them over like you’re in a vaudeville routine, so I’m not sure why anyone would listen to me.
In any case, among the talking animal movies — your Beverly Hills Chihuahua, your Karate Dog, your A Talking Cat?!, or even their more human-centered variants like Look Who’s Talking Now — you could do worse than Nine Lives.
It’s not purrfect, but it has its moments, clawing its way to watchability like Tom Brand trying to get a drink of scotch or a box of Fruity Pebbles while his family, reduced to viewers like ourselves except in-frame, look on in bewildered bemusement.
(Streaming on Amazon Prime)
While none of the dinosaurs actually talk in Jurassic Park, sadly, it’s still a pretty good film. The central idea is an accepted classic now, Jeff Goldblum is at his twitchiest, and the effects have stood the test of time. We could go on about how “nature finds a way,” but mainly you just want to watch velociraptors menace our protagonists and Newman get killed. And so you can.
(Streaming on Netflix)
Contrary to popular belief, The Omen‘s third installment is actually the best of the series — I could watch Sam Neill engage in blasphemous monologues in front of a defiled Christ statue till the cows, or Satan, come home — but the original remains incredibly strong. The figure of Damien, and the way it taps into anxieties about the children we bring into the world, remains frightening, Gregory Peck is at his most cluelessly debonair, and the film even has something to say about the structure of global power.
But mainly, it’s all about the strange joy in the maid’s face when she says, “It’s all for you, Damien!” Nightmare-fuel, 41 years later.
(Streaming on Netflix)
Pear Cider & Cigarettes
The boldest — and longest — of this past year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts, Pear Cider and Cigarettes is a decidedly adult affair, so much so that it’s theatrical release came with an on-screen disclaimer. It’s really not that intensely Grown Ups Only — brief nudity, frequent references to drug use, a generally unsettled mood — but it’s certainly no Piper, which predictably brought the award home for Pixar.
That was a cute film about growth and the sort of bravery we need to pick up if we’re going to survive, but Pear Cider and Cigarettes is far better. Equal parts personal essay and staggering set-pieces, it tells a dark story with relatable humor and empathy.
10 Cloverfield Lane
One of 2016’s most welcome surprises, 10 Cloverfield Lane seemed to offer a return to the blockbuster-oriented source material, and instead took a sharp detour into claustrophobia and character study. Here’s a horror movie that, at least for most of its running time, generates its tension by simply refusing to allow us safe ground or a sure sense of who to trust. Like Green Room, another excellent genre movie from last year, the film traps us in a no-frills frightening spot and lets the scares spill out from there. It would probably work just as well on the stage, a backhanded compliment that usually reads as “un-cinematic”. But John Goodman’s performance keeps us on our toes, and the film rolls out its tricks with a kind of offhand unpredictability. It’s tense, funny, and smart. Make some popcorn and turn the lights off.
(Streaming on Amazon Prime)