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Worst of 2016: Nine Lives

Nine Lives

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Continuing my spotlight on the worst films of 2016, today I am going to be covering the Kevin Spacey talking cat movie, Nine Lives.

The plot of Nine Lives, according to IMDb, is as follows:

A stuffy businessman finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat.

The director of Nine Lives was Barry Sonnenfeld, who is best known for movies like The Addams Family, Men In Black, Men In Black II, Men In Black 3, Get Shorty, Wild Wild West, and RV.

The screenplay for Nine Lives has five credited writers, including Caleb Wilson and Matt Allen, who previously wrote Soul Surfer and Four Christmases.

ninelives20162The cast of the movie includes the likes of Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential, House of Cards, American Beauty, Swimming With Sharks, Se7en), Christopher Walken (Suicide Kings, The Deer Hunter, King of New York, Dead Zone, Catch Me If You Can, Seven Psychopaths, Pulp Fiction, Kangaroo Jack), Jennifer Garner (Alias, Dallas Buyers Club, Juno, Daredevil, Elektra), and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm, RV, The Ugly Truth).

The cinematographer for the film was Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who also shot the movies Stargate, Independence Day, The Haunting, Universal Soldier, and Dolphin Tale.

Don Zimmerman acted as a co-editor for the movie, adding to a long list of credits that includes Marmaduke, Half Baked, Patch Adams, Over The Top, Cobra, Galaxy Quest, The Cat In The Hat, Night At The Museum, and Liar, Liar.

ninelives20163The visual effects for Nine Lives were primarily provided by the company Rodeo FX, which is credited for work on movies like The Amazing Spider-Man, Terminator Salvation, Source Code, Jupiter Ascending, Jonah Hex, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Warcraft, Gods of Egypt, and Deadpool, among many others. On top of that, they provided all visual effects work for Game of Thrones seasons 4 and 5.

The famously odd-looking cat, Lil Bub, who has a massive social media following that numbers in the millions, has a cameo appearance in Nine Lives as one of the cats under Christopher Walken’s care.

Nine Lives was made on an estimated production budget of $30 million, on which it took in a lifetime, worldwide gross of $44 million. While this covered the production budget, it likely didn’t net much of a profit after post-production and marketing costs.

Critically, Nine Lives was, understandably, not received well. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.2/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 11% from critics and 43% from audiences.

ninelives1The first and biggest problem with Nine Lives is one that plagues most productions that feature talking animals: bad CGI. While technology has improved since movies like Cats & Dogs and Son of the Mask, the computer-generated cat work that appears prominently in Nine Lives is still solidly within the uncanny valley: it is good enough to be convincing on one level, but still obviously not natural to an off-putting degree. While this might be passable in limited use and in low-light conditions, the effects sequences are almost all in full light, and are often painfully prolonged.

One of the things that bothered me the most about the film were the cat-related sound decisions made on the part of the production. During the sequences where Kevin Spacey inhabits the cat, his attempts at communication with humans are shown from other characters’ points of view as being intense, pained, and jarring feline yowls. Not only is this profoundly annoying to listen to, but it doesn’t always make sense: cats have a range of noises that they can make, so why would communication attempts always come across as yowling, as opposed to purring or meowing?

It is worth noting that, despite the inane plot, most of the prominent players in the film put in surprisingly decent performances. Spacey doesn’t seem to be totally phoning in his role, despite the fact that most of his role is voice-over.  Likewise, Jennifer Garner has some moments of genuine emotion, and Christopher Walken is his usual eccentric self.

As far as other positives go, I have to say that I kind of like some of the design choices for the movie, particularly in regards to the color palette. For instance, each of the primary locations has a unique color theme: Walken’s store is dominated by greens and browns, giving it a natural and home-y look, which is a stark foil to the Firebrand offices, which are immaculately white with bright, red trim. Likewise, Walken’s store is cluttered and busy, and he always has complicated patterns in his darker-toned clothes. In contrast, Brand and his corporate building are almost always shown in bright solids, with little to no patterns involved: everything is sharply angled, sleek, and clean-cut. This is a minor thing that often gets overlooked in movies, and is usually meant to cause subliminal associations as opposed to overt ones. In Nine Lives, however, the stark contrasts and vivid colors contribute to a cartoon-y, hyper-realistic atmosphere that actually works pretty well. In most movies, these over-the-top colors and contrasts might be a distraction, but in this very specific case, they fit.

One aspect of the film that I have seen some reviewers complain about is the plot’s focus on corporate minutiae.  Even though it didn’t stand out to me when I was watching the movie, it is definitely a problem that so much of the plot is about corporate back-dealings and Kevin Spacey’s will: not only because it doesn’t make for interesting watching, but because the core demographic for the film, children, generally aren’t going to understand or care about it.

Related to this, I have a bit of an issue with the moral compass of the movie. Initially, the curse is put upon Kevin Spacey so that he would learn to appreciate his family. Prior to the transformation, the biggest object between Spacey and is family is his new skyscraper: a surrogate image for his ambition, hubris, and obsessive work behavior. After the transformation, Spacey’s son winds up taking on the task of completing the building, in an effort to both prove himself and solidify his father’s legacy.

However, this focus on the building by his son bothered me. Spacey’s son is always shown in the context of his job: he is never revealed to have a family or partner of his own beyond his cold mother and Kevin Spacey, despite clearly being an adult with an accomplished career. As the plot progresses, he is shown distancing himself from his warmer step-family in order to focus on the building project, just like Spacey did. In the final act, he even goes so far as to neglect being present at his father’s potential death bed so that he could commit a corporate power play. It seems to me that this character should have come away from the story having learned not to devote all of his life to work, like his father had. Instead of the idea of legacy being tied into a company or a building, both characters should have come away understanding that loved ones, good will, and relationships are what really build a legacy. Instead, the conclusion vindicates Spacey’s obsession with his building and company being the symbols of his legacy: both are retained/completed, letting him have his cake and eat it too.

Despite my issues with the writing and the effects, this movie could certainly have been a whole lot worse. In fact, a number of reviews lamented that it wasn’t, because it would then have had more entertainment value. As it stands, I think that some children might just be entertained by Nine Lives: there are at least enough requisite bodily fluid and excrement jokes to meet certain infantile humor quotas. That said, there is no way that I could recommend this movie to anyone. The positives are outweighed by the negatives, and the negatives aren’t even entertaining negatives that could help you power through.

 

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Worst Movies of 2016

Howdy loyal followers! We’ve had quite a year, haven’t we? With 2016 coming to a welcome close, I wanted to appropriately slam the door in its back with a quick rundown of the publicly perceived worst films of the year.

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We all know that opinion is subjective, so I want to re-emphasize that this is a list I generated based on public perception. Basically, I took 14 currently published year-end “Worst of 2016” lists, then tallied up how often each film was listed. I thought that would be pretty simple and data-driven way to make my list. Unfortunately, I was very, very wrong about that first part. Between the handful of lists I initially pulled, I wound up with nearly 100 films, which included some obviously contentious, contrarian picks like Hell or High Water, Rogue One, and Captain Fantastic. For the sake of brevity, I’m only listing out movies here that appeared on more than 2 lists, but if you want to see the final version of my working document with all of the tallies and the sources used, you can find it here.

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Interestingly, there was far from a consensus pick for the worst picture of 2016: the most consistently reviled movie was only on 10/14 rankings. For the fraction-impaired, that means that just under 72% of the lists I pulled had it present at all, let alone at #1.

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Without further ado, here are the publicly perceived worst movies of 2016:

  1. Independence Day: Resurgence
  2. Mother’s Day
  3. (Tie) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice / Suicide Squad / Warcraft
  4. (Tie) Gods of Egypt / Alice Through The Looking Glass
  5. (Tie) Dirty Grandpa / London Has Fallen / The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  6. (Tie) Yoga Hosers / Nine Lives / Zoolander 2 / X-Men: Apocalypse
  7. (Tie) Hillary’s America / Sea of Trees / Man Down / Inferno / Collateral Beauty / My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Are there any movies that you expected to see that didn’t make the cut?

IMDb Bottom 100: Nine Lives

Nine Lives

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Mercifully, “Nine Lives” is the very last Paris Hilton movie I have to cover in the IMDb Bottom 100. I will need to double-check, but I am almost certain that she makes the most appearances of any actor in the list. Lucky for me (I suppose), her role is very minimal in “Nine Lives”. Unfortunately, the movie is still really bad even after her early departure (she is the first death in the movie).

oh good
oh good

Outside of Paris, these are the most British characters I have ever seen. As the movie says, they are “chap(s) of chaps” (that is an actual line). As it interestingly turns out, the nationalities of the characters come into play in the plot (which is actually one of the few strengths of the film).

The nine characters are introduced to the audience as they go on vacation in an inherited Scottish home of one of the their family’s. After way too many slow scenes of small talk, a mysterious snowstorm traps the entire party on the grounds. Killing time, one of the characters discovers an ancient book in the home’s library. If you are familiar with “The Evil Dead”, you should have an idea of where this goes.

I'm sure we will all get out of this just fine
I’m sure we will all get out of this just fine

As it turns out, the book is cursed by an ancient Scotsman who was the original keeper of the lands, but was executed by English who overran his home. For unclear reasons, this Scottish ghost is capable of possessing people, which leads to murderous shenanigans.

The possessions in this story reminded me slightly of “The Horror Express”, which I also recently reviewed on this blog. Not only is the possession transferred in a viral manner from person to person (whoever kills the host is subsequently possessed), but it is always indicated by the discoloration of the host’s eyes. In “Express”, red eyes indicated possession, whereas solid black eyes indicate it in “Nine Lives”. It doesn’t dramatically impact the quality of the film, but it was a small thing that I thought looked pretty good. Credit to where it is due.

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The plot is pretty straightforward once the killings start: their numbers are progressively whittled down, until one three of them remain. At this point, they have figured out how the possession transfers, which creates an interesting scene after the last host is defeated. The character who has mortally wounded the host has to make the decision to kill herself in order to prevent the ghost from continuing its massacre, which would have been pretty cool for a better movie.

I had a lot of good things to say in this particular review, but I want to make something absolutely clear: this movie is insufferably boring. It is objectively one of the least horrible movies I have seen in the IMDb Bottom 100, but the pacing and execution of all of these otherwise pretty good ideas is extremely poor, which makes it all the more frustrating. In particular, it takes way too long to get going in the beginning, with a lot of unnecessary scenes of socializing. the movie also never manages to build a decent atmosphere, and none of the characters ever quite clicked as particularly relate-able to me. Without the investment in the characters or the buildup of dramatic tension, the movie just winds up being slow.

There is way too much of this
There is way too much of this

Overall, I don’t recommend this one. There is very little action or investment to be had in the film, and subsequently not much entertainment value. If the filmmakers hadn’t taken the story so seriously, I think some comic relief would have gone a long way towards humanizing some characters and breaking up the monotony. Still, this is without a doubt the best Paris Hilton movie in the Bottom 100.

I mentioned “Horror Express”, but there is another movie I was reminded of while watching this: “You’re Next”. It manages to execute on a couple of elements that I liked in “Nine Lives”, namely the claustrophobia of the setting and the fear of knowing that the villain is among your party. And, despite the Scottish ghost being supernatural, there were no additional powers given to the possessed, so the battles were always human vs human, another common element with “You’re Next”. So, if you are interested in the plot outline of “Nine Lives”, go throw “You’re Next” and “Horror Express” in a blender.

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Even after being pulverized in a blender together, they are both far better movies to watch than “Nine Lives”.