Picoreview: Cats: I have seen it twice and have no regrets.
Simultaneously, there are an awful lot of things I’d have done differently. I’d have started by not casting Rebel Wilson, or doing *that* with her song. Especially the latter. A great deal could have been forgiven if they’d stuck with the stage show’s method of creating the cockroaches and mice (which is “have the cats dress up as the cockroaches and mice”, which was funny rather than horrifying and mind-bleeding, and as I use those words, I remind you that I actually quite loved this movie, which perhaps gives you a standard of 1. my trustworthiness about movies in general, and 2. how awful it was).
I also, and this is EXTREMELY KEY, would have put the dancers in unitards of appropriate cat colors, and used motion capture reference dots like they do with, say, Avengers. Apparently what they DID was just putting the performers in green suits and hope the animators could deal with it, which…
Look. I was not one of the people who ran screaming from the trailer. I was DELIGHTED with the trailer. I *genuinely feel* that the costuming and CGI here are the natural progression of the stage show into modern film production special effects. That said, you really have to use those tools correctly, and…they did not, in this case. In fact, given that there were NO REFERENCE DOTS for the animators to work with, it’s astounding they managed as well as they did. Those poor, poor animators.
But honestly, I did love it. It’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the stage show. They cut a couple of songs and added one as an Oscar contender and it should definitely not win. For inexplicable reasons they attempted to insert a Macavity subplot, which would be fine if CATS had ANY PLOT WORTH MENTIONING TO BEGIN WITH–
–and here I interrupt myself to say that a lot of people see its plot as “a bunch of death cult cats get together to see who is going to die next,” and I find that really interesting because I honestly never thought it was about death. It’s about the new life, the next life, because cats, of course, have nine. I genuinely never saw it about “choosing somebody to die,” because it’s right there in the text: Old Deuteronomy will choose the cat who will now be reborn and go on to a different Jellicle life. So I’ve been sort of dismayed by all the IT’S ABOUT CATS DYING takes, which I feel miss the point.
Idris Elba, unexpectedly, was quite terrible. My sister, with whom I went to the movie the second time, could not handle Ian MacKellan’s Gus lapping up milk and things, although I honestly thought he was really wonderful in the role. For reasons that were meant to induce tension and instead were sort of embarrassing (and tbf, even having loved it, a lot of it was embarrassing), they made Mistopholees incompetent, which was weird and wrong.
But overall, truly, the first time through I just enjoyed it hugely and the second time I was frequently sitting there just enjoying this unironically and then I’d look over to see my sister watching the film through the fingers pinching her the bridge of her nose, and then the absurdity, the absolute INSANITY of it, would strike me, and I’d start laughing.
I said this to Deirdre, who said, “I ENJOYED it, it’s just so fucking BIZARRE I’m questioning my entire childhood.”
Also Deirdre: this is EXACTLY like the stage show
Her son, who came with us: BUT WHY
Me, in Deirdre’s ear, at the Addressing of Cats, regarding Munkustrap: I love his emotional integrity
Nephew, simultaneously in her other ear: that guy is having paranoid delusions
I feel like this nicely sums up the possible spectrum of reactions to CATS. :) :) :)
Also my nephew, after several minutes of baffled ranting (“what IS a jellicle cat? Why did it have no plot? What was GOING ON with those mice?”): I think I want to see that again
So there’s that. :)
On the topic of “What IS a Jellicle cat?!?”, Dad got me a copy of Old Possum’s Book of Cats for Christmas, and I learned something: TS Elliot had written the poems for a 4 year old godnephew who called dogs “poor little dogs” which he pronounced pollicle dogs and cats “dear little cats” — jellicle cats. (Pollicle is much less of a stretch than jellicle, there, but I’m not a 4 year old in 1932 or whatever so what do I know.)
On one hand, this is totally unnecessary information for the show. On the other, IT’S ACTUALLY VERY USEFUL TO KNOW. Because although there’s AN ENTIRE SONG telling you what a Jellicle cat is, that song, and others in the play, are also full of contradictions. Like, I’ve spent my whole life unclear on why there are songs about Jenny Any Dots, whose coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots
when Jellicle cats are black and white
and Busterphor Jones, who’s not skin and bones
when Jellicle cats are rather small
on the other hand, Jellicle cats are roly poly but
Macavity’s a ginger cat, who’s very tall and thin
and so on and so forth full of inconsistencies. On a fundamental level I always apparently wanted ‘Jellicle’ to somehow correlate to a breed, and having learned this one stupid little bit of trivia about it being a small child’s word, I NO LONGER HAVE THAT NEED.
I don’t know if I’ve still got my CATS program from the Broadway show in 1987, but I don’t remember it *having* that bit of trivia, which I feel would have made my life just a little bit less uneasy for all these years.
Anyway, the truth is CATS works better as a stage show. The immediacy of the cats being on the stage, of the audience being there literally surrounded by the story, allows what my sister not incorrectly referred to as the FUCKING BIZARRENESS of it to slide away a little. I really don’t think it’s the makeup or the CGI. I think it’s the intimacy of theatre vs the remove and physical size of the movies.
I am, however, still *really hoping* that there’s gonna be a sing-along at my local theatre before it leaves… :)
Picoreview: The Greatest Showman
Picoreview: The Greatest Showman: I am conflicted about The Greatest Showman.
I wanted to love it unconditionally. I went in prepared to. Unfortunately, I ended up liking it conditionally, perhaps because I grew up doing musical theatre and I have Far Too Many (Entirely Correct) opinions about what makes a musical work, and The Greatest Showman…missed a lot of them. I felt like it’s a musical by people who don’t fully understand how musicals work (which, given that the music was written by the people who did the IMHO excoriable La La Land, supports my opinion, although the fact that one of the screenwriters wrote the screenplay for Chicago does not), and it felt very much like a sophomore effort to me in terms of trying to achieve a timeless movie musical. I expected more, which would be…fine, if I couldn’t also see very clearly how more *could* have been achieved. I feel like they have half a good musical there and that they really didn’t know how to get the rest of it together.
I thought everybody did a splendid job in their roles. I loved watching Hugh Jackman sing and dance for us, and think he was totally robbed at the Golden Globes. My dad was blown away by Zac Efron, whose voice is so good it made me feel badly for Jackman a couple of times, even though Jackman did just fine. (Efron’s a better dancer, too. And man, I *really* wish he’d gotten cast as Cyclops. He would have been So Good.) Michelle Williams did as much as she could with a very thin role, and Zendaya did more than that with her almost-as-thin role. I loved Keala Settle and I hope “This Is Me” wins the Oscar, and oh, how crushing, I just found out Rebecca Ferguson didn’t actually sing the Jenny Lind role. A woman named Loren Allred did. Aw, how disappointing, because holy smokes what a voice. I loved her song. Anyway, the point is that individually I thought everybody did a fine-to-excellent job in their roles; it’s not their fault the musical itself is desperately flawed.
Spoilers beyond the cut.
There’s a part of me that wants to go check out all the Hamilton fic that I’m sure exists, all the alternate universes where things went…better. And the rest of me is like NO NO NO because that way lies doom.
But there’s also the part of me that keeps thinking of the Neil Gaiman bit where somebody is talking to a late 20th century Earth person & says something to the effect of, “Who’s President? Ah. Clinton? And Bush before him, and Reagan…? Ah. Yes. You live in one of *those* timelines…”
And I keep thinking, maybe that’s it. Maybe we live in one of *those* timelines. Maybe it’s not Clinton and Bush and Reagan and Nixon, maybe it went wrong a long time before that: “Ah. Hamilton married Eliza? Had the affair? Wrote the Reynolds Papers? Shot by Burr? You poor bastards, you got stuck in one of *those* timelines.”
Because you could, y’know. Draw a thru-line from Hamilton’s disgrace to Trump’s rise. It’d be conjecture, the world has more moving parts than that, but you could. And if you can draw those lines, you can draw a whole different line along where it might have gone differently.
Maybe only writers do this to themselves, but it does make me want to explore that whole AU.
life’s a show…
We’re watching a tv show where one of the storylines is set in India. In the second episode there was a spontaneous song and dance routine. Ted said, “I’m pretty sure people in India don’t actually spontaneously burst into song and dance all the time, but if they do, we’re really living in the wrong country.”
I then got into a discussion on Twitter about how movies from America in the 1950s also suggest that Americans drop into song and dance at the drop of a hat. A friend said when he was a child, musicals *enraged* him, because WHAT?! *WHAT*!? WHAT WAS THAT? PEOPLE DID NOT DO THAT!!!!
I said it was true, and more’s the pity that they didn’t, although that I had grown up in musical theatre and my entire family was in fact so strongly inclined to break into song and dance at the slightest provocation that a family friend once said visiting our house was a lot like walking into a musical.
He said that explained some things. O.O :)
Anyway, it reminded me that the other day as I was bringing Henry to school, we passed a woman who was singing, “Do you hear the people sing?” to her daughter. She stopped there.
Naturally, I sang, “Singing the songs of angry men?” back at her.
She stared at me, aghast.
Definitely not living in a musical, then. What a pity.
Although, to be fair, like the second time I met my friend Irish Kate, we encountered a ruined set of stairs that went up a while and then stopped. Equally naturally, the other friend I was with and I both sang, “There would be one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down,” and Kate finished off by singing, “And one more leading nowhere, just for show.”
It was *obvious* she was The Right Kind Of Person. The best part was she was astonished that it was even conceivable that someone might *not* sing that song, under those circumstances!
Picoreview: Into the Woods
Picoreview: Into the Woods: Not bad. Not *nearly* as bad as it could have been, which sounds damning with faint praise and isn’t intended to. It may even verge on satisfying, although it’s not entirely satisfying, because I’m too familiar with the stage play.
Many of the performances are very, very good. Most, even. Chris Pine is terrific as Cinderella’s Prince, Shatnering it up way more than he does in Star Trek, and, as everybody has said, the Princes’ Agony is very funny indeed. Meryl Streep is–well, she’s Meryl Streep. She largely manages to make the role of the Witch her own, which, when you’re following Bernadette Peters, is a pretty strong showing all by itself. Etc, etc; almost everybody is very good.
The movie didn’t fix any of the major problems I have with the stage show (and as much as I love it, I have *issues* with the stage show, which I think is hugely misogynistic), but I didn’t expect it to. It did introduce other problems through the changes it made, resulting in–well, chaos, basically. Ted’s not familiar with the stage show and thought the movie was okay but far too chaotic. He was agog when I said there were two plot threads that had been cut entirely. He couldn’t imagine how they’d be stuffed in, although as it happens they both anchor the Rapunzel thread, which he had found to be utterly unmoored.
It also turned out Ted wasn’t familiar with the old-school Cinderella stories, and was straight-up horrified at the step-sisters’ prince-getting antics and fate. That was actually kind of fun, because he threw me a few appalled looks during those scenes and afterward was like “OH MY GOD” and I was like “oh no that’s the original story” and he was all “augh!” I was such a fan of the older, darker fairy tales when I was a kid I never imagine people don’t generally know them, and he *does* know some of the others, but Cinderella’s was new on him. O.O :)
…everything about this commentary is going to be spoilery because it’s comparing the stage play to the film and even if I’m not *comparing* I’m talking about the changes made to the script, so…spoilers ahoy, but I’m not cutting it because it’s a 30 year old play. :)
I maintain that the Wolf should have been played, as he is in the stage play, by Prince Charming (Chris Pine, in the film). Although, because of other changes they made to the script, having him play the Wolf is not putting the ring on it that it is in the stage play. The Wolf is a sexual predator, as is Prince Charming, but by casting the Wolf as someone else and removing the Sleeping Beauty/Snow White subplot (which also deprives us of the Agony reprise, which is, IMHO, even funnier than the original), you end up with “Prince Charming is kind of a jerk” instead of “Prince Charming is a sexual predator” or at the very least “Prince Charming is a *total* player.” It’s not nearly as strong a position as the stage play takes, and I think it should be.
That said, Johnny Depp was almost fine in the role of the Wolf, as he only fell into Depp Mannerisms twice in the five minutes he was on the screen and could almost sing the whole of his song.
The same, unfortunately, can’t be said of the boy who played Jack. Giants in the Sky is one of my favourite songs ever, and the poor kid–I don’t know if his voice was changing, or if he just simply didn’t have the capability to sing the song, but he was flat all over the place and he didn’t even *try* for the final high note. They cut his other song, which is very funny, entirely.
In fact, I felt they’d cut a *lot* of the humor from the show. Jack’s song, the Agony reprise (people have been saying they can’t see how they could top Agony with a reprise, but lyrically it’s very funny and I don’t think it needs to be topped in melodramatic performance), a bunch of stuff with Jack’s mother, some of the Witch’s best lines…really, aside from Agony, I thought all the humor got dropped. A friend thought all of Little Red Riding Hood’s funny bits fell flat, although I thought she was perfect. Possibly, though, her straight-man deadpan delivery wasn’t as funny because most of the normal-funny got dropped.
Despite all of that, though, it wasn’t a bad adaptation. It’s not as Disneyfied as I thought it might be (I had gone in with the impression that the Baker’s Wife’s final song and the subsequent plot points had been eliminated), and overall I enjoyed it. I’ll probably own it, and all that, so, y’know. They did their job. :)
Okay. Lemme talk about the misogyny of the show in general. There are *much more specific* spoilers past this point, again for both the film and stage show, so I will put this behind a cut, but if you’re familiar with either version or don’t care about spoilers, read on. This isn’t like Birdman where I think it should Be Revealed To You as part of the Experience Of The Show. :)