Threats, dusting-style disappearances, portrayal of afterlife/reincarnation
Date Released to Theaters:
December 20, 2019
Date Released to DVD:
April 6, 2020
I was not hoping for much from “Cats.” I knew that the record-breaking, popular-for-decades Broadway musical did not have much of a plot, just songs with lyrics from the poetry of T.S. Eliot and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and spectacular dancing. So that’s all I hoped for — an all-star cast singing and dancing. Some of the singing is fine, and the dancing is great, when you can see it, but the whole thing is so badly misbegotten that it does its best to keep its most entertaining elements out of sight.
I mean that literally. There’s one simple rule, going back to the days of Fred Astaire, for dance in movies: get the camera out of the way and let the audience see the dance as fully as possible. We want to see the shapes the bodies make, we want to feel the way they interact with the rhythm and with each other, and we want to see their feet. There are dance numbers in “Cats” where the camera moves away from the feet or out of beat with the rhythm. Why? They also give “Memory,” one of the most iconic songs of the last 30 years to Jennifer Hudson, one of the greatest singers of the last 30 years and have her put most of her energy into emotion instead of singing.
The movie’s credits highlight ballerina Francesca Hayward in her first film appearance, playing the young ingenue cat, Victoria. She is thrown into the garbage inside a sack at the beginning of the film, and we learn about the world of the cats as it is explained to her. The various felines introduce themselves, including Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) the house cat, who teaches mice and even cockroaches to sing and dance, the magician Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), the down-at-the-paws Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), filled with regret and self-doubt, “the tap-dancing railroad yard cat Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae), and the wicked Macavity (Idris Elba) “the Napoleon of crime.”
Presiding over everyone is the magisterial Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench), who has the power to select one “jellicle” cat (a term Eliot made up) for a second chance at life. As cats comes forward to introduce themselves, it’s like a feline “Chorus Line,” everyone auditioning for that one big chance.
All of that would be fine if there was some joyful energy behind it, but it is mostly just dreary. Some of the musical numbers, especially McRae’s tap dance, could could have provided that lift if the camera would have stopped long enough to let us see what he was doing. Taylor Swift brings all of her considerable Swiftian panache (though an uncertain hold on an English accent) as Bombalurina, but the movie then sinks back into its trudgey tempo, leaving us to wonder at the furry costumes with ears and tails constantly twitching, so skin-tight it only emphasizes the human and decidedly un-feline forms and movements. It’s a close call what we get more of, silly “cat got your tongue”-style references, the word “jellicle” or Hayward’s lovely face, even in fur and whiskers, which director Tom Hooper keeps cutting back to. Not to sound catty, but it just reminds us how much less enthralled we are than she is.
Here’s a tip. “Cats” is a purely theatrical experience. You want to make a movie about it? Try making it about a theater troop putting it on, and try not have it turn unto “Noises Off.” Even if it did, it would be more entertaining than this version.
Parents should know that this film includes some mild sexual references, nuzzling, some disturbing dusting-style disappearances and death references, and sad songs.
Family discussion: What do you think “jellicle” means? Do you agree with Deuteronomy’s choice? Which was your favorite cat and why?
If you like this, try: “The Fantastcks” and “Nine”
Really looking forward to “In the Heights,” the musical Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote before “Hamilton.” Director Jon M. Chu showed his mastery of musical numbers in the third and best of the “Step Up” movies, and his mastery of wit and romance in the context of cultural and economic issues in “Crazy Rich Asians.” This trailer looks like everything we hope for from this movie will be there and more.
1776: A Broadway Musical About the Signing of the Declaration of Independence
Posted on July 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm
Celebrate the 4th of July by watching the entertaining and inspiring “1776,” based on the Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The movie does not shy away from the terrible compromise on slavery that the founding fathers agreed to in order to make this country one nation, with a fault line that would shatter our deepest convictions enumerated in the very document our country was established on. The characters are really brought to life with all of their courage and hope as well as their faults and fears.
EHere’s a glimpse from a recent Broadway staged version, with Santino Fontana of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
And from the movie, with William Daniel as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams.
Celebrate Mother’s Day with a Mamma Mia Sing-Along!!
Posted on May 9, 2018 at 3:10 pm
You know what moms love? Well, breakfast in bed, of course, and hand-made cards and poems, but after that, they love “Mamma Mia!” And there are free screenings all across the country this Sunday for Mother’s Day!
In anticipation of its upcoming Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Universal Pictures today announced that free sing-along screenings of the blockbuster musical comedy Mamma Mia! will be available on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, at 25 theater locations across the U.S. and Canada. Each guest who requests a ticket the day of the screening—at a participating location—will be given one free admission to the 10:00 a.m. showing, up to theater capacity.
Free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and may only be picked up at the theater box office starting at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 13. This offer is valid for the 10:00 a.m. showing of Mamma Mia! The Movie on May 13, at participating locations only.