Posted on December 19, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Threats, dusting-style disappearances, portrayal of afterlife/reincarnation
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 20, 2019

Copyright 2019 Universal
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”

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Based on a book Based on a play Fantasy movie review Movies Movies Musical Talking animals

Trailer: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights

Posted on December 12, 2019 at 11:38 am

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.

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Based on a play Musical Trailers, Previews, and Clips

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.

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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!

Copyright Universal 2018

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.

For more information and a list of theaters offering the special screenings, please visit

And get ready for a prequel/sequel, coming July 20, 2018!

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Based on a play Musical


Posted on December 22, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
Profanity: Some strong language, racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, references to wartime injuries
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2016
Date Released to DVD: March 13, 2017 ASIN: B01LTI0KQA

Copyright 2016 Paramount
Copyright 2016 Paramount
August Wilson’s towering play, the winner of the Tony and Pulitzer prizes, has been magnificently put on screen by director/star Denzel Washington, who won a Tony for the play’s 2012 Broadway revival, and who works with much of that show’s cast in this version.

Wilson’s own screenplay wisely avoids the usual impulse to “open up” a play by adding locations and reducing the dialogue. The best known of Wilson’s ten-play “Pittsburgh cycle,” one for each decade of the 20th century, “Fences” is a story of epic scope and mythic resonance. The gorgeous dialog makes poetry out of the kind of talk we hear around us all day: the jokes, mock insults, and bragging of co-workers and long-time friends, the intimate humor of a longtime couple, anguished confrontation, bitter recollection, back-and-forth that skims the surface while the emotions roil and explode below. To the extent that it preserves the artificiality of a theatrical performance, it emphasizes its ambitious reach. If a play has a character named Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) who is cognitively impaired following a war injury, who carries a trumpet, and who constantly reminds his brother of a betrayal and survivor guilt, if the tile “Fences” is literal and metaphorical and the character building the fence talks about keeping out the actual angel of death, the audience must recognize these signals of serious, profound, dramatic engagement with eternal themes and be grateful for the chance to be a part of it.

Washington plays Troy, a garbageman who was once a star of a Negro Leagues baseball team but was too old to cross over into the Major Leagues the way Jackie Robinson did. He still keeps a bat and ball in the back yard. He still holds onto the bitterness and dashed dreams of his years as a player. But now, he just wants a promotion to driver, a job only held by white men where he works.

His wife is Rose (Oscar-winner Viola Davis, who also won a Tony for her performance in the revival). We first see Troy bragging to his best friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) about how he laid down the law when he met Rose, telling her he was not interested in marriage. She laughs indulgently and affectionately, but makes it clear that it was quite the contrary. “I told him if he wasn’t the marrying kind, then move out the way so the marrying kind could find me.”

Troy and Rose have a son in high school, Cory (Jovan Adepo), a talented football player. Rose sees football as a chance for Cory to attend college, and Cory desperately wants to play. But Troy refuses, saying “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway.” His mind and spirit have been so constricted by what he has faced that he cannot bring himself to believe that real opportunity exists for Cory. Or perhaps he cannot face the possibility that Cory will do what he could not.

Troy also has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), with a woman he never married. Lyons, a musician, asks Troy for a loan, mostly as a way to find a way to talk to him, to find a way to see if he means anything to him. Troy tells him he should not need to ask for money, and Lyons responds, “If you wanted to change me, you should’ve been there when I was growing up.”

And Troy worries about his brother Gabriel, who lived with Troy and and Rose in a home they bought with his disability money, but who has moved down the street because he wants more independence. Troy feels guilty for not taking care of him, and for living in a house he would not have been able to afford but for his brother’s disability.

And so, he makes a bad decision that will shatter his family’s foundation. The scene where Davis goes from disbelief to shock to fury will be used for decades in acting class, but she is just as impressive in the movie’s final moments. While Troy occupies much of the screen time and dialogue, it is really Rose who is the heart of the story. Troy can brood, but cannot change. He can hurt, but he cannot heal. He is so damaged that he cannot offer his sons love or respect. But see Rose’s strength. Her resolve is not grounded in compromise or concession. Her soul has expanded to encompass all of life’s contradictions. And it is the great gift of this film that it expands ours, too.

Parents should know that this film includes themes of racism and adultery, some strong language, sexual references, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Do you agree with Rose’s choice? Why didn’t Troy want Cory to play football? What do we learn from Troy’s relationship with Gabriel?

If you like this, try: “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Desire Under the Elms”

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