Nine Lives

For F*** Magazine

NINE LIVES

Director : Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast : Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Malina Weissman, Robbie Amell, Christopher Walken, Mark Consuelos, Cheryl Hines
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 27 mins
Opens : 5 August 2016
Rating : PG

Nine Lives posterTo paraphrase Brad Pitt’s David Mills in Se7en, “aww, what’s in the litterbox?” Kevin Spacey is forced to embrace his feline side in this family comedy. Spacey plays Tom Brand, the owner of the multi-billion-dollar corporation Firebrand. The company is on the verge of unveiling its new headquarters in New York, set to be the tallest skyscraper in the Northern Hemisphere. Preoccupied with beating a competing high-rise being constructed in Chicago, Tom neglects his wife Lara (Garner) and young daughter Rebecca (Weissman). He also refuses to give David (Amell), his son from his first marriage who is also a Firebrand employee, the time of day. Rebecca wants a cat for her birthday, so Tom begrudgingly heads to a pet store to get her one. Felix Grant (Walken), the proprietor of a pet store named ‘Purrkins’, sells Tom a Norwegian Forest cat dubbed ‘Mr. Fuzzypants’. After an accident leaves Tom in a coma, his spirit is transferred into Mr. Fuzzypants. The cat has to convince Lara and Rebecca that he actually is Tom, while Firebrand exec Ian (Consuelos) threatens to take over the company.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman, Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken

There’s something fishy going on here, and it’s quite possible that the story behind the making of Nine Lives is a fascinating showbiz farce involving lost bets and blackmail. We can’t prove this, of course, so we would like the EuropaCorp lawyers to hold off. Yes, this comes from Luc Besson’s production company, stars Kevin Spacey and is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of Men in Black fame. It’s a weird set of people to be collaborating on a family movie which would be right at home on the Disney Channel. And it’s so obvious we shouldn’t need to point it out, but yes, this is a wholesale rip-off of Disney’s own The Shaggy Dog – a rip-off that required a staggering five screenwriters to assemble. Even weirder, Sonnenfeld has a self-professed dislike for cats and is allergic to them. “Dogs can be trained, but dogs work for love and food,” he said in an interview “Cats don’t care about love and really don’t care that much about food, either.” This total lack of a desire to be there does show in the work.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman

“I’ve got a wife, an ex-wife and two kids. I don’t need another thing to feed,” Tom scoffs early on in the movie. It’s a cliché through and through – the ambitious businessman consumed by his job, placing no value on human connections, who has to be taught a lesson by way of some magical realism. It’s never exactly explained what products or services Firebrand offers, though Tom’s face on the cover of Wired magazine implies it’s some sort of tech juggernaut. It’s hard to imagine that Spacey is aching for cash, what with insiders speculating that his per-episode salary on House of Cards is $1 million. Still, he isn’t exactly phoning it in, and for the bulk of the movie he’s performing Mr. Fuzzypant’s inner monologue (so no CGI mouths grafted onto actual cats). The deadpan delivery makes the lines a fair bit funnier than they have any right to be. And it’s not like it’s possible for a performer like Spacey to make material like this worse. Norwegian Forest cats Jean, Philmon, Connery, Roxy and Yuri are credited as playing Mr. Fuzzypants – they may not be Oscar winners like Spacey is, but credit where credit is due.

Nine Lives Jennifer Garner and Malina Weissman

Garner’s recent filmography features a significant proportion of safe family comedies, and there’s not too much to say about her performance here. Weissman, whom some might recognise as young Kara on Supergirl, is sufficiently likeable as a daughter yearning for her father’s care and attention. Cheryl Hines is reasonably funny as Tom’s catty ex-wife, and the hunky Amell is believably earnest as a son seeking his father’s approval. Walken is basically reprising his role from Click as the mystical store-owner who gives our protagonist a dose of self-reflection. Walken is a reliable ‘one scene wonder’, but his scene-stealing prowess is not on display here.

Nine Lives Robbie Amell

If you’re a cat-lover, there are plenty of adorable shenanigans performed by both animal actors and computer-generated felines to take in. However, a stiltedness and insincerity permeates Nine Lives. There really aren’t too many wildly inappropriate jokes beyond the standard “cats peeing/getting neutered” chestnuts, but one has to question the decision of having a company’s Initial Public Offering be a crucial plot point in a family film. The movie’s climax also takes an unexpectedly dark turn. The visual effects work is conspicuous, but not laughably terrible. On the level of a “so bad it’s good” curiosity, Nine Lives is fodder for a drunken movie night with friends and there’s a degree of enjoyment in seeing Spacey muse about urinating in a handbag. That said, it’s hard to recommend spending even one dollar on Nine Lives.

Summary: Director Barry Sonnenfeld coughs up quite the cinematic hairball. We’re still very curious about what made Kevin Spacey say yes to this one.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

A Walk Among the Tombstones

For F*** Magazine

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Director : Scott Frank
Cast : Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Ruth Wilson, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Sebastian Roche, David Harbour, Mark Consuelos, Astro
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Opens : 18 September 2014
Rating : NC-16
Running time: 114 mins

Pierce Brosnan strutted his “older man of action” stuff recently in The November Manand now Liam Neeson, the definitive “older man of action” of the moment, is at it again in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a former NYPD cop, now an unlicensed private detective and a recovering alcoholic. Drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Stevens) engages Scudder’s services when his wife is kidnapped and killed even after he’s paid the ransom. While doing research in the library, Scudder befriends homeless teenager TJ (Bradley), whom he takes under his wing. Scudder discovers that the psychopaths responsible are targeting young women related to figures in the drug world, knowing they would be unable to go to the police for help. Working outside the law, Scudder must prevent the serial killers from striking again.
            
A Walk Among the Tombstones is adapted from the 10th book in Lawrence Block’s long-running Matt Scudder series (there are 17 books now). Jeff Bridges played Scudder in 1986’s heavily panned and largely forgotten 8 Million Ways to Dieand this film has been in the works for quite a while, with Joe Carnahan attached to direct and Harrison Ford to star at one point. Writer-director Scott Frank’s realisation of A Walk Among the Tombstones is slick, stylish and foreboding, lean and effectively chilling. At times, it seems reminiscent of David Fincher’s work, if more pedestrian. A slow-motion sequence in which the killers leer at a young girl walking her dog, set to Donovan’s “Atlantis”, is a very darkly comic touch. The book was published in 1992, but Frank chooses to set it in 1999, hinting at Y2K paranoia with the symbolism of people being “afraid of all the wrong things”, as the tagline goes. This doesn’t seem to add a lot to the story but it is an interesting textural detail.
           
          However, beyond the look and feel of the film, the story is a pretty conventional one. Yes, the serial killer antagonists are very creepy, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in dozens of police procedural or detective TV shows. They drive around in a van, kidnapping women to torture and kill and they’re unbalanced and evil – not exactly a unique or compelling situation for our hero to be up against. It’s a good thing then that our hero is Liam Neeson, a master at the art of being quietly intimidating. He’s effortlessly cool throughout the film and you’ll want to cheer when he snarls “are you listening, motherf***er?” through the phone at the kidnappers. More than that, it’s entertaining to watch Neeson’s Scudder just doing some old-fashioned sleuthing about, cleverly cajoling information out of various subjects. Neeson is sufficiently low-key and yet never seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film. He also has the approval of author Block, who thought Neeson would make the ideal Scudder since watching him in Michael Collins.

            Less conventional than its main “catch the kidnappers” plot is the relationship between Scudder and tagalong kid TJ. TJ could have very easily been unbearably irritating and Brian “Astro” Bradley did get on many nerves as a contestant on American X Factor. However, he holds his own opposite Neeson and their interactions lend the film a slight hint of dry levity without the character being “the comic relief”. There’s some sentimentality there too, TJ stricken with sickle cell anaemia, having nowhere to go and drawing superheroes in his sketchbook. The scene in which Scudder chastises TJ for picking up a gun he found in a dumpster is particularly well done and a discussion about cool detective names displays a self-awareness of the genre without it being obnoxious.

           
           Some fans of Liam Neeson have bemoaned that since Taken, the Oscar nominee has starred in a string of run of the mill actioners that don’t particularly test his abilities as an actor. A Walk Among the Tombstones puts less emphasis on the running and the shooting -though there is some of that, to be sure. While the role of Matt Scudder isn’t wildly different from the cool tough guys we’ve become accustomed to seeing Neeson play, there is more here for Neeson to sink his teeth into and this film certainly is more of a grown-up, intense, sometimes disturbing thriller than his more action-oriented movies. And isn’t it nice that the novel’s original name was preserved instead of the title being changed to some snappy synonym for “vengeance”?
Summary: Liam Neeson fans will want to take this walk, his lead performance as the old-school detective and the creepy atmospherics making up for the familiar narrative.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong