Cat-A-Palooza

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Yes. I went. To Cats.

I really enjoyed myself. I was expecting campy badness to the nth degree. I got a big screen attempt at an overly musical musical that does not boast any sort of coherent or linear story. This film is based on theAndrew Lloyd Weber musical—which is people dressed up like cats writhing and singing for two hours. Sure, there’s something about picking a cat to go to the Heavyside Layer. Where that cat gets a new life—this reads strangely like death. It’s a weird two hour long cat sacrifice? How Egyptian.

Cats is based on the T.S. Eliot poem—Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

The current movie has been directed by Tobe Hooper. It features Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, Ray Winstone, Rebel Wilson, etc, etc. A big cast.

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Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy

I had the theatre to myself. Score! They didn’t turn the overhead light off. Bummer. Did I bother to get up and go inform someone of this? No. I was also in the tiniest theatre. There’s ups, there’s downs, there’s can’t be bothered to get up once the magic starts.

So, our movie opens on a woman throwing away a cat in a bag. No kidding. The cat gets out of the bag. We’re in some litter-strewn dumping ground for unwanted felines. Oh dear, oh what the…!

These freaky human-cat experiments, escaped from the Island of Dr. Moreau, spy on this unseen as yet kitty.

Oh my! It’s the WIDE-EYED INGENUE, Victoria. She knows nothing of this new alley cat/feral cat colony she’s lucked into. And she’s a slinky little thing who can ballet her way around several giant set pieces.

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Francesca Hayward as Victoria

Then I start to notice that the ears and tails are, um, moving. Moving. But the cats have human faces. With whiskers. And human eyes.

Nightmares to follow.

But after ten minutes…Nope! Never. I never got used to the cat characteristics mixing so badly with the human ones. That was. No. Nope. I’ve heard the team behind this movie sent in new, improved movie magic cuts to fix the CGI mistakes that made it into the theatrical release. Wish I’d seen that earlier version…yes, I do.

That horrific cockroach/mouse fiasco. I totally agree here. It was horrific to watch mice with children’s faces…ugh. To watch a human-cat hybrid popping dancing cockroaches into her strange whiskered mouth. Surely someone in editing went—what the actual fuck is this? Followed by– cutting room floor time, y’all!

Surely someone did that. A lot. Who thought this looked okay? Who??

But—the cast of this gave it their all. Nobody phoned it in that I could tell. When it got to someone presenting their particular cat, it was great fun. Some were more fun than others. I loved the train one. That kitty can dance!

I am a huge fan of tap. Love the sound, love the precision and mastery that goes into a great tap routine. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, just bliss for me. No, they were not in this movie. If you don’t know either of those names, then hey, you have some great discoveries ahead of you. Oh yes. You do.

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James Cordon as Bustaphor Jones. Notice the giant set piece. Naked cats versus dressed cats. 

The thief cats, eh, it was all right. Judi Dench as [Mama Cat] Old Deuteronomy– loved her and her singing fit her character. Gus the Theatre Cat, played by Gandalf, was sad and dignified, with a weird fluffy tail but his cat grafting seemed to fit him better than others.

Now, I wanted to be charmed by the Memories cat, played by a truly awesome power singer who made Dreamgirls a must-see. Jennifer Hudson dressed as some sort of bag lady meets Nora Desmond—baggy overcoat over sparkly yet grimy duds. Um. Okay. Why does a cat need clothes…as some of the cats had clothes, some did not; it seemed the main characters had clothes, the ensemble did not.

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Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella. Hayward in ballet pose. 

Some sort of overall arc got attempted here with Grizabella/Jennifer Hudson. The wide-eyed ingénue cat, Victoria, grew to like her and drew her into the performance space inside an abandoned movie house. The other cats, who had to be Jellicle cats, had to audition. Audition to be chosen to die/get a new life/change/move on.

Jellicle cats never got explained and I didn’t really care what that was. It seemed a special club made up of cats hungering to find a new life off the streets. Almost a cult of cats that other cats would have to be asked to join. It seemed Judi Dench’s cat got to control all this.

Back to Memory. The song. Who has not sung this song for an audition or for a gigantic Chinese audience? Raise your hand! Yes, I sang this for a giant audience of mostly Chinese people at the school I worked at. Yes, I managed to hit that big note. I also got to sing this with a student who had a lovely voice. Who wanted us to dress like cats. I said no to that. Memories…!

Grizabella belts out the last few verses of the most famous and infamous song ever to burst from Broadway.

And oh yes, she hit that glory note. She hit it to make Betty Buckley and ever other diva who just stood there on a stage and sang that to the heavens proud as punch. Boom. But this moment seemed contrived and false.

As for every minute up until now, most of the other cats hate this cat with an unfathomable passion. Though we do get Victoria singing the Beautiful Ghosts song as Judi Dench’s Old Deuteronmy watches, Victoria singing it to the disgraced cat who lives by herself in the wastelands. That was rather heartbreaking and rang very true. The performer did not have the voice Hudson has, but she brought a tear to my eye.

Yes, I sat by myself in an empty movie house room, with tears on my cheeks. I have surely hit all the sad spinster bingo card squares by now and then some. Sigh.

What cat gets to go to the Heavyside Layer? That was the story. Victoria allows the other cats to explain everything and then burst into song, do high kicks and back arches. She’s a plot device far more than a character.

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Idris Elba as Macavity. Or the Cheshire Cat? Or…?

Ah, the villain of the piece–the very sexy cat-slinky and funky fake green eyed Idris Elba. No other cat had weird fake eyes. If they did, I did not notice. No weird unblinking neon eye lenses slapped in actors eyes that I noted except Elba.

Not even Taylor Swift, who I thought did a great job with her one big number. Well done, madam! Kind of a big band standards stripper music showstopper attempt where she shimmied and strutted in high heels cause…cats wear heels but no other cats had heels on so…yep.

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Yes, that is Taylor Swift, showing up for one song and one song only. 

This bad kitty, Macavity, magicked [?] the other contenders to leave only himself to be picked. So he slunk around, acting all slinky, basically and yes, it was sexy as hell. Then he took off that pimp-ish fur coat and it was…what…what is that? It would be like Darth Vader stripping down to his undies. You’d not be delightfully scared of a baddie standing there in tighty whities. You’d be noticing the train tracks when Darth Vader turned around. Or that hey, it’s just some guy. No big deal.

Macavity and that coat was his look. Stripping that coat off destroyed that aura of menace and charm.

He’s supposed to be a ginger cat, according to the song lyrics we just freaking heard and he’s…kinda dark brown with fixed green eyes. Change the lyrics, dears.

But the movie needs something to play against so we’re not just waiting for the Next Big Song and Dance medley. Otherwise, there’s no tension. None.

Elba as the bad kitty provides some sort of urgency and, um, tension. Though why he’d wish a new life when he seems to relish creeping around being all scary. And he has magic powers. But he has to wait to be picked…yeah, don’t think about the non-plot, do not think about how there’s no actual plot to this thing. Let that go, let that go!

The pacing seemed okay. The first bit of the movie seemed to drag but then it found some sort of strange forward momentum. That’s as close as I can get to…yeah.

Now, I’ve seen Cats on stage. I know there’s no real story there. It’s just a collection of songs, with great dance bits, then the big wallop songs of Act II that do not let up; it’s over. The movie pretty much followed that, sort of.

I’d have ended it with the rewarded cat sailing off to that reward instead of where it did.

I’d have not done that CGI cat-human hybrid shit. Jesus Christ! Help! It never got charming…or forgettable. That suspension of disbelief just refused to stretch that far. I found myself watching the swiveling CGI ears far more than whatever the actors were doing. Maybe Cats the musical is just not adaptable, at this moment, to film.

Did they not learn from the Halle Berry Catwoman mess? Which, yes, I liked. But I can well understand why it tanked. It was over the top absurd, sure, but Berry tried to morph into someone’s idea of a cat. Someone who’s never been around cats. A dog person’s idea of a cat. Okay!

Anyway, thanks for reading my few scattered impressions of a movie I have been dying to see cause it looked like something the SyFy channel put out as a dare. I had a good time, I had the theatre to myself. I could laugh and cry and fart to my heart’s content.

Happy New Year. Go see something silly and fun. Hug your cat. That’s all I got.

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Yes, that is a real cat. My kitty taking a break in her fave box. 

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