Hello Kitty (Movie Thoughts: Cats)

MV5BNjRlNTY3MTAtOTViMS00ZjE5LTkwZGItMGYwNGQwMjg2NTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_Before I start writing what I thought about ‘Cats,’ let me quote a verse from T.S. Elliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’

“Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste —
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his name.”

I am sure there will be a lot of people who will hate on Tom Hooper’s film version of the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show. And I could be inclined in joining them. After all, it isn’t my favorite show in the world, and probably the one I like the least in the Lloyd Weber’s canon. The original Broadway show is a plotless mess, and I still wonder how it became a hit. But I can also list a list of things that’s good about it – it ushered in a whole new style of big bombastic theater that permeated in the 80s, and it has a slew of great songs, and one that is very memorable. So I don’t think the film deserves the hate. But does it?

12Hooper probably didn’t know where to start. well, how about an A-list cast? The one assembled here worked very hard, and with some mixed results. I particularly marveled at Ian McKellan’s ‘Gus The Cat.’  Just look at him licking and gnawing and you know he took this role seriously and with a little wink. Dame Judi Dench need only ti give a glance as Old Deuteronomy and there is so much depth in it – that’s a real actress in there, effortless. However, the heart and soul of the show is Grizabella, and I truly disliked Jennifer Hudson’s take – she spends the whole movie in one emotion – forlorn – and her singing of the iconic song is so warbled and overwrought that all feeling is drained from it. Rebel Wilson felt like a young woman thrust into this with no idea what she is doing. And Taylor Swift? I kind of like her Bombalurina, and her ten or so minutes of screen time is worth it.

But what to make of the film as a whole? People who are calling it strange probably never saw it on stage. The premise is strange, but I think its strangeness is part of its original charm.  Hooper adds a new character here, a cat named Victoria, to kind of organize the narrative mess, but I think that’s where it went wrong. He should have embraced the absurdity of the piece. Hell, he should have celebrated it and amped up its weirdness. By trying to make the show ‘conform,’ he ruined it. As a film, I it’s just a mess, but the beautiful mess it could have been.

 

It’s Just Will (Movie Thoughts: All Is True)

large_all-true-posterKenneth Branagh is obsessed with everything William Shakespeare so it would just make sense that he plays the role of William Shakespeare, and in Ben Elton’s ‘All Is True,’ he plays him pretty convincingly. This film is a re-imagined tale of Shakespeare’s last years and I thought the premise was very interesting. It passed the five minute test for me (meaning it got my attention for the first five minutes of the movie)  However, as the story went on, my interest waned. The performances here are a treat – Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway is mesmerizing – and it’s me, ultimately. I wish I liked it more.

Seeing Red (Movie Thoughts: Red Joan)

Red-Joan-movie-teaser-posterThere are a lot of great things in ‘Red Joan,’ but all in all the film doesn’t really make a great impression.  There’s of course Dame Judi Dench in the title role,  which is based on the real life person Melita Norwood, who was found to have been a Russian spy during the mid century, and had been living in a London suburb when she was arrested.  But the  screenplay, by Lindsay Shapero isn’t really too interesting, it lacks melodrama and/or intelligence to make the story soar. While I wasn’t totally bored, I was not too engrossed with it either and if not for the performances (by Dench and Sophie Cookson, who plays the young Joan) I would have probably dozed off.

The Queen & I (Film Thoughts: Victoria & Abdul)

rgjr7Bciafigd_mediumDame Judi Dench is once again playing Queen Victoria in the new movie ‘Victoria and Abdul’ (She played her on ‘Mrs Brown’ previously) so this role is not new to her, nor the audience. And she plays like like she was born with it – you believe her right away, and most times it’s all so second skin to her that she seems like she is just playing, not acting. And at 82, she still commands any scene she is in, even without speaking a word (as evident in her early scenes here)  On one of her state dinners, she chances upon Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and his handsomeness charms her, and one thing leads to another that he becomes her companion, a sort of personal assistant, and mushu (teacher) who lessons her on the Koran, as well as Urdu. The early scenes are fun, as Dench, as the Queen, break all rules and protocol to push Abdul to be a part of the Queen’s household.

But this all sounds too familiar. Frears never really injects sizzle, and the latter half becomes a bit too predictable. I mean, you more or less know what you are gonna get here. Plus, I know the film is getting slammed for white-washing historical events, and while I see that this film is (mostly fiction,) the cutesy elements could have been toned down.

But, I still found myself entertained by it, and for lovers of these sorts of things, the film is definitely a worthwhile watch. And Dench’s performance is still a must-see. I wish I saw something new in it, but there’s no denying it is solid. And The Academy loves British royalty performances, so I predict you will be seeing Dench’s name at least being nominated.

Second Best Is Worse (Movie Thoughts: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

I feel cranky tonight, because I was severely disappointed with “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” I loved the first movie, and was expecting at the very least a pleasant sequel. And this one is slightly less than pleasant that I wonder its reason for existing. Well, a movie with Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith sparring couldn’t be that bad, right? Well, except for that, this is a total waste of time. The overcrowded cast makes for underdeveloped story lines, to start. I was confused as to what is happening with whom. And Dev Patel as Sonny has resulted to eating the scenery here, as colorful and exotic as it looks, still.  I didn’t care what happened to him, never mind root. And the addition f Richard Gere (again the exotic flower here) ad David Straitharn adds nothing. I couldn’t wait for the film to end. Even for fans of the first movie this can be a waste of time. Make it a weekday rental.