‘Cats’ lovers say critics overlooked the music, dance — and some award-worthy acting
Regarding “Here’s Where ‘Cats’ Went Wrong” [by Ashley Lee, Dec. 26]: All of the problems of the movie “Cats” should be laid at the feet of Tom Hooper, the director. Chief among the complaints are the artificial-looking costuming and makeup. One need only view the DVD of the London production to see how these were done successfully for the camera. The oft derided breasts and crotches of the movie costuming could have taken a cue from the theatrical versions.
Overlooked in the negative reviews of the movie, however, are the outstanding performances by two of the cats: Gus the Theatre Cat, performed by Ian McKellen. His is a performance truly worthy of nominations. Second, Judi Dench, Old Deuteronomy, with another star turn that adds depth and warmth to this previously aging and somewhat aloof male character.
Also on the positive side are the music and dance numbers — the heart and soul of this show — choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and performed by the entire cast, with special mentions to Laurie Davidson (Mr. Mistoffelees), Danny Collins (Mungojerrie) and Naoimh Morgan (Rumpleteazer). In the original musical, the plot is minimized, but in the movie the plot assumes a proportion that just gets in the way of the fun.
What puzzles me most about this movie is how Andrew Lloyd Webber allowed such a travesty to be made of one of his most remarkable and enduring works. The show “Cats” has had more than nine lives. Sadly, this movie is not one of them.
Lee dissects why she thinks the stage musical “Chicago” made a successful transition from live theater to the movie screen, attributing much of that success to the story being “rejiggered into a linear narrative.” What she apparently doesn’t realize, however, is that the stage musical wasn’t the original incarnation. “Chicago” was originally a 1927 American comedy-drama silent film produced by Cecil B. DeMille and directed by Frank Urson.
The plot of that silent film was drawn from the play “Chicago” by Maurine Dallas Watkins, which was in turn based on the true story of Beulah Annan, fictionalized as Roxie Hart, and her murder of her boyfriend. One would have to assume that both the original play and the silent film would have provided an ample basis for aiding the most recent filmmakers in transitioning the musical to the screen — no “rejiggering” required.
I realize that the critics, Justin Chang and others, have given “Cats” terrible reviews, [“‘Cats’ Is a Horror — and an Occasional Hoot,” Dec. 20], but I enjoyed seeing “Cats” on Christmas Day. I loved the stage production that I first saw in London and has been one of my favorite shows because of the wonderful whimsy, creative and fanciful cats, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music. And Judi Dench was the scene stealer — she made a wonderful Deuteronomy. Justin Chang, just remember that those of us who love to follow the music enjoyed “Cats.”
While I admire the artistic judgment, credentials and writing of your film and theater critics, Justin Chang and Charles McNulty [“‘Cats’ Leaps to Film Infamy,” Dec. 23], the palpable glee with which each assaulted the recently released “Cats” and its Broadway forebear annoys me. I respect critics whose personal integrity mandates they “call them as they see them” and, that being so, the battlefield will on occasions be strewn with a few bodies. It is, however, their smug contentment — born of mere opinion — in pummeling away at “Cats” that indicates that neither could care less that the productions they glibly savage are the result of hundreds of individuals attempting to create something worthy of acclaim.
Regarding: “A ‘Memory’ Worth Having” [by Mikael Wood, Dec. 24]: I have no idea what holiday cheer Mikael Wood has been imbibing, but for this longtime fan of “Cats,” Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” was the low point of the film. This is not Hudson’s fault but director Tom Hooper’s. He obviously encouraged her sobbing theatrics. He also approved the awful makeup and costume, which made her character look like a drag queen who’d been locked in Western Costume for too long.
Children and art
Regarding Mary McNamara’s column “There’s an Art to This Visit” [Dec. 28]: Years ago I was tasked with taking a friend’s 6-year-old son into an art museum while she sat with her toddler outside. It was as eye-opening and memorable an experience for me as I hope it was for him. As we walked around and stopped at random paintings, I would ask him why he thought the artist used a particular color or what he thought the artist might have been feeling as he created the piece.
Perhaps I was fortunate, since my friend’s son was engaged and articulate. I learned a lot about how to help a young child develop an appreciation for art, and to a great extent it was my young companion who taught me.
Arguing over the millennium
I know I don’t keep up with all the purportedly hippest stuff in pop culture, but I was baffled and appalled by many of the supposed hits in “The Millennium 100” [Dec. 22]. The list was confused in scope by including quite a few worthy high-culture efforts that I don’t think belong in the “pop” category at all. And at least a thirdstruck me as superficial, trendy nonsense. I applaud mention of “The Wire” and #MeToo among the highlights that I consider worthy, and it’s certainly important to cite “Hamilton,” “Mad Men” and a few other creative productions for their relevance to a defined cultural period.
But too many items ruined the list with tacky or marginal content better suited to the latest celebrity gossip on “TMZ,” a trash TV show you had the gall to include for its tawdry approach that you absurdly praise for “helping to reshape journalism”—horrors!
The crazy inconsistency of your selections was not about variety so much as critical incoherence. Try harder with the next millennium.
Missing from the “Millennium 100" list is Mike Judge’s 2006 film “Idiocracy,” which deftly explained the reason behind so much of today’s world, from face tattoos to the election of President Trump, as well as some of the questionable selections on your list.
Latin albums of the decade
Ernesto Lechner’s article on his picks for best 10 Latin albums of the decade [“Latin Music: Best of the 2010s,” Dec. 26] was very well done. His descriptions of each choice said so much, encouraging this reader to relisten, or hear for the first time, all of these artists.
World War I ‘Wonder’
Regarding “Bold Maneuver” [Dec. 24]: Director Sam Mendes’ WWI epic “1917” is indeed an engrossing and moving achievement. Josh Rottenberg’s article cites other movies about the Great War — “Paths of Glory” (1957), 1981’s “Gallipoli” (1981) and “War Horse” (2011) — noting that “few ... have broken through with audiences in a major way since the 1930s.”
To that short list, might I add director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (2017). The scenes depicting trench warfare and the Amazonian princess leading the solders in a heroic charge across no man’s land had a gritty “you are there” feel — surprisingly authentic for what some might reflexively dismiss as “just a superhero movie.”
“Wonder Woman” grossed over $821 million worldwide and was 2017’s 10th highest-grossing film. It deserves to be recognized among cinema’s memorable dramatizations of World War I.
Paul Robert Coyle
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