Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: A Street Cat Named Bob

“Fifty Shades Darker” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

There’s a moment early on in “A Street Cat Named Bob” where homeless heroin addict James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) endures something dreadful and rough. No, I’m not talking about the hours spent playing guitar in the London streets for spare change. Nor am I talking about the moment a ruthless restaurant owner throws a perfectly good steak dinner away because James can’t pay for it, forcing him to eat half a soggy sandwich in the rain. Even after he and his companion Baz (Darren Evans) nod off in a stranger’s car, and James is picked up by the police and sent into a rehab program, he has not yet faced this most terrible of ordeals.

I’m referring to a moment shortly after James meets a stray ginger cat that he names Bob (played by the actual Bob the Cat, around whom the best-selling novels this movie is based on were written). Bob has a nasty gash and has to get stitched up at the vet. As a result, Bob has to be on antibiotics for two weeks. James’s choice between food money and paying for the pills is the least of his worries. This poor man has to go through the horror and agony of giving a pill to a cat. Anyone out there who has had to give an uncooperative feline a pill knows all too well of the troubles and tribulations it entails. It is its own special brand of hell, unmatched by few other things one must endure. Granted, life on the streets was pretty tough for James. But it wasn’t until he had to give a cat a pill that I said to myself, “You poor, suffering man.” My heart immediately went right out to him.

I immediately fell for the cat as well. He is adorable, and with the exception of some natural animosity toward a mouse that lives in the wall in their flat—plus one small frog—he’s pretty friendly and cuddly. James turns his life around by bonding with Bob while in the addiction recovery program. The relationship is symbiotic. Bob needs a home and someone to care for him, and James needs a support system. His family has rejected him, and as his social worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) points out, it’s important for him to have someone who is there for him. In this case, that someone is Bob.

James also finds a bit of human companionship in neighbor Betty (Ruta Gedmintas). She’s a fourth level vegan (she jokes that she doesn’t eat anything that casts a shadow) and a free spirit. She has no interest in drug addicts, even recovering ones, so James tells her he’s a musician. This is mostly true—he makes his money as a busker (street performer), and his profits have gotten even greater since he started performing with Bob, the real main attraction, sitting next to him. People love that cat, and it’s heartwarming to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction. Plus who can resist Bob when he wears those colorful little scarves?

“A Street Cat Named Bob” only gets a bit too mundane and predictable with Betty. Their relationship goes in the direction it inevitably has to in order to milk the drama out of it, and given that this is based on the life of the real James Bowen, there may be truth to it. All I can say about it is that it proves the point that animal lovers make that pets are better than people. This is because if you love a pet, the pet will love you back unconditionally, no matter what. They won’t get all judgey, project their hang ups on to you, or tiresomely force you to explain yourself. This is not to say that pets can’t be annoying or frustrating in other ways, but there is a simplicity in a relationship with a pet that should be appreciated.

As uplifting and positive as “A Street Cat Named Bob” is, it’s not a total family affair. There are some heavy adult themes involving junkies, drugs, overdoses, and poverty. Yet those themes are handily overshadowed by an adorable ginger cat who somehow magically really does make everything feel all right. You see him on screen and you know that things are going to get better—and they do. The movie is a triumph of heart and spirit, without getting too cutesy or schmaltzy with the cat. Bob is there like an anchor for James, to keep him from back sliding into heroin. This is a great movie for all pet lovers, particularly those who have cats. My strong recommendation is to Buy it and watch it with a cat on your lap. Or on your shoulder. Movie: A Street Cat Named Bob [Blu-ray]Book: A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life.

Also New This Week

Fifty Shades Darker

After the abysmal slog through mild-mannered depravity that was “Fifty Shades of Grey,” there was real fear that the follow up, “Fifty Shades Darker,” would be just as bad—or worse. Maybe it’s due to the extremely low expectations I had for “Darker,” but it wasn’t. Actually, it was a bit of an improvement over the first movie.

That’s not to say that “Fifty Shades Darker” is perfect. Far from it. Jamie Dornan is still as suave and charming as a department store mannequin as Christian Grey. There’s an aura that charismatic romantic leading men give off. Everyone from Douglas Fairbanks to Cary Grant to Leonardo DiCaprio, to name only a few, has it. It’s intangible, but when it’s there, you know it because you feel it. It’s a magnetism. Dornan either doesn’t have it or doesn’t bring it to the “Fifty Shades” movies. The absence of it is palpable.

Then there’s Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele. I know that part of the issue is that the character is written like a pouty child, but does the part really have to be acted that way too? Is there no semblance of adulthood that Johnson could have brought to the character? She’s also a rather dull heroine, mostly playing catch up and reacting to what’s happening rather than being in control of the story. However, in a story in which she is the submissive to Grey’s dominant (or as he corrects her in the movie, sadist), I guess that’s the point. Fair enough.

The dialogue is still cringey, but not as much as in the first movie. Perhaps this is due to setting the bar so low, but there were only a few spots that seemed silly and/or awkward here and there, rather than constantly throughout the entire movie.

Enough of the bad stuff—here’s where “Fifty Shades Darker” improves on its predecessor: The sex. It’s a lot kinkier and involves some interesting and surprising devices. I admire it for pushing the boundaries of taboo. Part of the issue with “Fifty Shades of Grey” is that it plays it too safe and doesn’t go too far beyond the ordinary. The most dramatic moment in that movie is a severe spanking, and that horrifies Anastasia to the point where she breaks things off with Christian. On a side note, there is a similar set up in “Darker” where Anastasia is horrified by something Christian does, and I was ready to lose it over the thought of her yet again calling it off because of this event, but thankfully the movie pulls back and does not go in this direction.

Which brings me to the next saving grace of “Fifty Shades Darker,” and that is the plot. Rather than a ho-hum romance involving a contract, we get to see Christian and Anastasia’s relationship blossom into something meaningful. There are even sub plots involving Christian coming to terms with his past and who he is, as well as Anastasia making a career for herself at a publishing house and dealing with a sleazy boss named Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who I am sure will be the source of much trouble in the final movie, “Fifty Shades Freed.”

While certainly not perfect or great, “Fifty Shades Darker” is a step in the right direction for the series. Even without the low expectations, it is a clear improvement over the first movie and it gives me hope that the last movie will at least be decent. Having said that, given the problems that still exist in this movie I am, at best, cautiously optimistic. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Making Contact,” cheesy chiller from 1985 directed by Roland Emmerich, about a young boy who believes he is talking to his dead father through his toy phone; “The Accidental Tourist,” great movie from 1988 about a travel writer who has to pick up the pieces of his life after his son is killed and his marriage falls apart, starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis; and “Serial Mom,” tongue in cheek John Waters comedy in which Kathleen Turner doles out the proper punishment for wearing white after Labor Day.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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