Movie Review ~ Lady and the Tramp (2019)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: American Cocker Spaniel named Lady lives with an upper-middle-class family and meets a mongrel known as the Tramp on the streets. They embark on a romantic journey and eventually fall in love.

Stars: Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux, Thomas Mann, Kiersey Clemons, Ashley Jensen, Benedict Wong, Sam Elliott, Janelle Monáe, Yvette Nicole Brown, Adrian Martinez, Arturo Castro, F. Murrary Abraham

Director: Charlie Bean

Rated: PG

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Waking up on November 12 reminded me of one of those 80s John Hughes movies where the lead character lazily opens their eyes from slumber, blinks a few times, yawns, and then decides a few more minutes of sleep won’t do them any harm.  Then, with a jolt, their eyes snap open and they bolt upright because they’ve Just Remembered Something Important Is Happening Today.  It was on this Tuesday that I found myself acting out these same emotions/motions when I was reminded that the new streaming service Disney+ was launching and with it, a whole catalog of Disney titles and new original programming.  Long in the planning and constantly in the headlines leading up to its induction, this was a big deal and while I was definitely interested in the new movies and series, I was just eager to have easy access to titles that were harder to come by (Flight of the Navigator anyone?  Anyone?) and poured over the catalog with reckless abandon.

There was a new title I made sure to position near the top of my queue and it was the movie Disney+ had been showcasing as a big selling point for subscribing early to their service.  This would be the only place you could see the film as it hadn’t premiered first in a theater so if you wanted to watch, you had to sign up.  Originally conceived as a theatrical release, the live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp was refashioned as a cornerstone of the new Disney+ service and it largely succeeds on this smaller scale where the stakes aren’t quite as high.  Had it been, ahem, unleashed in cinemas it would likely have been held to more scrutiny from finicky nitpicks but it’s easy to slough off concerns when watching from the comfort of your own home.

Until I started doing some prep for this review, I never knew that Disney’s original 1955 animated film was based on a story first featured in a 1943 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Though that classic film has never been too overplayed in my household, I do have several fond memories of it throughout the years but didn’t hold it so precious in my heart that the thought of a live-action remake made me recoil.  What did give me pause was the thought of another live-action remake in 2019 after the tepid receptions of Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  I wasn’t sure I could take another talking animal movie, especially when the bigger budgeted films failed to convince me the technology supported all the furry yapping.

At the turn of the century, young couple Jim Dear (Thomas Mann, Them That Follow) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons, Antebellum) welcome a charming Cocker Spaniel they name Lady into their home.  Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson, Creed) lives a life of luxury, slightly spoiled but not sour.  When not with her family, she visits with neighborhood canines Trusty (Sam Elliott, A Star is Born) and Jock (Ashley Jensen, The Pirates! Band of Misfits), sniffs out a corner of the elegantly trimmed back yard, or chases away a pesky rat that’s been hanging around her house.  In another part of town, mutt Tramp (Justin Theroux, Bumblebee) scrounges for scraps and avoids a determined dogcatcher (Adrian Martinez, Office Christmas Party) who is always in pursuit of any unlicensed animal.

When her young owners start a family and their new baby takes focus away from her, Lady begins to act out, not understanding why she’s the attention she once had is going in a newer, smaller, direction.  By the time Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nicole Brown, Avengers: Endgame) has brought her swaggering, troublemaking cats over for an afternoon that goes horribly wrong, Lady finds herself on the run and falls in with Tramp who takes her under his mangy paw.  Together, they embark on an adventure through town that opens Lady’s eyes to a world outside her block and brings the mismatched dogs closer together.  How long can this pampered dog and streetwise tail-wagger keep away from the dogcatcher, though, and what will happen to Tramp when Lady has to return home?

For what it’s worth, Lady and the Tramp is no dog and is often a downright delight.  Yes, the movie is schmaltzy in all the old-fashioned ways but so is the original film.  You can’t tell me you won’t watch the famous “Bella Notte” sequence (sung by Arturo Castro, Semper Fi and F. Murrary Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel) where the dogs share an Italian dinner under the stars and not get a little choked up out of nothing but happiness.  Director Charlie Bean (The Lego Batman Movie) works wonders with the largely CGI dogs to make you think they’re living and breathing hounds and even if the effect doesn’t always gel and the talking mouths look a tad creepy, the end result worked for me.  Though smaller in budget, I was surprised at how good the movie looked.  It’s 1909 setting was handsomely recreated and I appreciate the timeline wasn’t modernized, it helped keep things simple and focused squarely on our characters.

Creepy talking mouths aside, the voice acting in the movie is quite pleasant.  Theroux and Thompson bring a warmth to their roles, never making Tramp too sly or Lady too snooty.  They balance well with the supporting cast featuring Elliott matched with a dog that looks frighteningly like the actor himself as well as singer Janelle Monáe (Harriet) strutting around as a pound puppy who tells Lady all she needs to know about Tramp.  As for the human actors, I didn’t quite get why the screenplay had the dogcatcher pursuing the clever canine as if locked in a Javert/Valjean epic hunt but I suppose it all adds that extra oomph to an emotional resonant finale.

For the first movie Disney+ had waiting for viewers out of the gate, I’d say Lady and the Tramp scored as a a fine inaugural outing.  It’s about 10-15 minutes too long by my estimation and some trimming would have made the movie an easier sit for younger kids (and this older kid, too) but it’s filled with enough eye-catching moments to keep that interest going longer than you’d expect.  This remake has wisely done away with the outdated cultural stereotypes of Aunt Sarah’s cats, changing their breed and giving them a new song.  That’s going to please some and anger others.  Those upset are free to watch the original film, which is also available to add to your watchlist 🙂 With more live-action remakes heading our way and other feature films planned, I’m looking forward to seeing what quality future direct-to-Disney+ will be like.

Movie Review ~ Semper Fi


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A police officer who serves in the Marine Corps Reserves is faced with an ethical dilemma when it comes to helping his brother in prison.

Stars: Jai Courtney, Finn Wittrock, Nat Wolff, Beau Knapp, Leighton Meester, Arturo Castro

Director: Henry Alex Rubin

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Coming from a large city, I’ve always found myself drawn to movies about small towns and the people that live there.  I’m used to the noise and the constant motion, so much so that when I do find myself in a tiny township the peacefulness found there can almost make me a little too restless.  As a child, I would tire easily anytime I traveled to my mom’s hometown in the southern part of our state because I had to exert so much energy to entertain myself.  Now, I value that slower pace and understand better the appreciation for, I can’t believe I’m saying this, the land.

A slower pace is something I noticed right off the bat in Semper Fi, a drama opening in limited release this weekend and also available steaming/on demand.  Setting his movie back in 2005 in a NY town bordering Canada, writer/director Henry Alex Rubin adopts a rhythm early on the film where conversation drives the movie forward, not necessarily action.  Cutting his teeth working as a second-unit director with James Mangold before moving on to direct the acclaimed documentary Murderball and the vastly undervalued Disconnect, I was familiar with Rubin’s favored approach to character driven dramas.

Four life-long friends and members of the Marine reserves are enjoying a night of bowling at the start of the film and Rubin introduces them by, of all things, their bowling balls.  Cal (Jai Courtney, The Water Diviner) is a police office in town and the unspoken leader of the group alongside ladies man Jaeger (Finn Wittrock, Judy), the hard-working and loyal Snowball (Arturo Castro, Snatched), and Milk (Beau Knapp, The Finest Hours), a family man walking the straight and narrow.  Tagging along is Cal’s half-brother, Oyster (Nat Wolff, The Fault in Our Stars), a screw-up they all take turns playing big brother to if Cal isn’t available.  There’s an instant rapport established between the men so that we believe they’ve known each other all their lives and we’ve just happened to drop in on an ordinary night for them.

The time we spend getting to know them is brief because the men are soon to receive their orders to serve in the war on the other side of the world.  This means leaving their friends and family, some of them for the first time.  The men are about to ship out to Iraq when Oyster gets into a drunken brawl.  Fleeing the scene, he’s eventually picked up and turned in by Cal who is only trying to protect him from further harm.  Winding up in prison for manslaughter based on shaky testimony, he’s serving his sentence as the men head overseas on an eight month deployment.  During this time, Oyster suffers under the watch of vicious guards while the four friends experience their own hardship on the battlefield, coming home heroes but paying a price for their efforts.

The first 1/3 of the film where we are introduced to the guys is your standard bro-tastic passage where the characters are quickly defined and Rubin leaves it to his talented cast to fill in the gaps along the way.  To their credit, all five men take up the challenge nicely with Castro and Knapp delivering the most interesting performances in probably the smallest roles.  Courtney, Wittrock, and Wolff all have showier parts but it’s the quieter moments and decisions that are made in the final 1/3 of the film that made Castro and Knapp stand out for me. I do wish, though, that the one female character that’s given anything to do (Leighton Meester, The Judge) was written with a bit more depth. The middle section where the men return home wasn’t presented in the same PTSD tortured way I’ve grown accustomed to seeing and I was thankful for that.  The men return to a town that hasn’t changed much, and that proves disappointing to them.

I wasn’t quite sure what kind of movie Semper Fi was going to be even at the 60 minute mark and once Rubin landed on a final destination the movie starts to pick up steam.  Though a change in tone does come out of left field (from a different movie all together, if I’m being honest) it at least snapped my attention back into focus and held me there until a rather perfunctory ending.  It’s almost as if Rubin didn’t want to fully leave the quiet of this small NY town so he just turned the camera off…I get it but the movie calls out for something a little more solid to round off some sketchy edges.  There’s some hint of deeper family trauma with Cal and Oyster but it’s only touched on briefly and never fully resolved, it’s almost as if Cal’s actions later in the movie are a substitute for a large discussion he needs to have with his younger sibling.

There are so few dramas out there that show vulnerable side to men and while Semper Fi doesn’t mine the depths of the range of emotions it could have, it does provide some nice moments for its talented cast.  I think it makes a mistake in dovetailing toward a more genre-specific film near the end that it didn’t need to be, adding some useless plot contrivances that cheapens some of what came before.  It’s still a worthy endeavor and interesting watch, but there’s a part of me that wonders what another draft of the screenplay would have looked like with a different third act.  Rubin is on to something here, but it doesn’t totally come together.