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Bizarre ‘Cats’ is far from ‘purr-fect’

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:30 AM January 12, 2020
Scene from“Cats”

Scene from“Cats”

We’ve never been fond of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Cats,” often singled out by musical-theater aficionados for its lavish sets and costumes, vibrant choreography and catchy musical recall. But where theatergoers are concerned, it’s always been a love-it or hate-it kind of thing—and that’s all right. Taste is subjective, after all.

But the musical’s jump from stage to screen, this time directed by Tom Hopper (“Les Miserables,” “The Danish Girl”), is an exercise in indulgence that is more excruciating than gratifying to watch.

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What a way to mishandle and blow the chance to create something satisfying from a stellar cast that could have elevated the metaphor-heavy material and created something magical from a story about a group of cats. These alley cats and stowaways (Franchesca Hayward) are waiting to see who among those vying for this “existential” lotto gets chosen by old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) for a new lease on life.

You don’t need to know rocket science to realize that Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella is in dire need of a break from all the hissing, teasing and bullying she endures from everyone around her. And wouldn’t her scene have been just as memorable if Hopper didn’t show her looking “api” and crying with “uhog” all the time?

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Judi Dench

Judi Dench

Halfway through the film, you just want to put her—or the suffering viewers—out of her misery!

Certainly, the movie, which has a far-from-impressive 20 percent rating on Rotten Tomato, needs more than just nine lives to keep its fake-looking felines viewable.

To be fair, you’ll have a fun time watching the likable Taylor Swift work her way through limited choreographed movement that easily gets lost in the catty lyrics she sings as Bombalurina. Or the lithe and limber James Corden embracing the fullness of his appropriately cast girth in the role of Bustopher Jones.

Or the loony Rebel Wilson breathing wacky life into Jennyanydots the Gumbie Cat. Then, there’s the vocally underwhelming Ian McKellen (Gus the Theater Cat) and Idris Elba (the menacing Macavity) trying to get their incomprehensibly character-sung messages across.Truth is, we’ve always been huge McKellen and Elba admirers. But, as a theater director, while it has always been our preference to cast actors who can sing more than singers who can be taught to act, it is imperative for us to hire performers who can also “execute” the notes well—correctly, convincingly and not just in character.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Dench also isn’t that much of a singer, but at least she manages to hit the notes that matter.

If all an actor does is recite and “character-sing” every single note of a tune, then what’s the point of making him “sing” at all? He might as well do a straight play.

The screen musical’s “flashy” movement is likewise more distracting and bizarre than appealing. In fact, it’s difficult to take a character’s individual tale seriously when his ears are always moving. Yes, we know it means “something” when we see a cat’s ears flicker, flatten to the side or face-forward—but so much meaning or emotional insight is lost in the midst of all that twitching.

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Moreover, there’s more appealing conflict to be had in man’s own quest for redemption and rebirth. You need not immerse yourself in the tale of the Jellicle cats and the Heavyside Layer they all wish to ascend to, just for you to appreciate the beauty and power of the enduring show tune “Memory” or mouth T.S. Eliot’s whimsical verses about feline psychology.

It isn’t every day that we see these formidable stars all wrapped up in fur and whiskers while they sing, act and dance, but in “Cat’s” case, it’s a novel distraction that quickly overstays its welcome.

Trolls, lurkers get their just deserts in horror flick

Damien LeVeck’s cautionary production “The Cleansing Hour” takes a swipe at the idiots on social media who expect everything to be spoon-fed to their vocabulary-deficient and idiom-ignorant heads. In the end, troll-channeling stupidity becomes an infectious virus that consumes the gullible and the easily swayed.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In “The Cleansing Hour,” there’s relevant commentary about consumption and excess in the age of social media lurking under the guise of the horror genre.

On the surface, the movie follows what happens when a webcast streaming a fake exorcism ritual goes awry. But something goes horribly wrong when Lane (Alix Angelis), a last-minute replacement actress in the elaborately staged, clickbait hoax streamed by childhood buddies Drew (Kyle Gallner) and Max (Ryan Guzman), suddenly becomes possessed by a nasty host-seeking demon.

Their run-in with the devil forces Drew and Max to dig deep into their past and revisit their experience with a cruel grade school teacher that continues to haunt their nightmares. But painful memories aren’t the only ones threatening to put their lives in peril. It doesn’t take long before their fraudulent plan opens a can of worms that reveals unspeakable acts of betrayal.

The live broadcast eventually attracts 17.9 million global viewers, from as far as Washington, DC, London and South Korea, to Oman, Israel and India. They think that “Father Max,” who’s pretending to be a Vatican-trained expert, is up for the devil-exorcising task! But when a ravenous imp appears on the set, Drew and Max realize just how “green” they are at monster-busting.

Is there any hope of redemption for “The Cleansing Hour’s” fake priest and his luckless pal? Or is this just another case of a false prophet getting his comeuppance?

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TAGS: Cats, Musical Theater
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