Podcast: SJ 263: American Baking Show; Survivor; Green Book; Kathy Griffin: Hell of a tory: Michelle Wolf: Joke Show; Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America; Cats; The Rise of Skywalker

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about American Baking Show; Survivor; Green Book; Kathy Griffin: Hell of a tory: Michelle Wolf: Joke Show; Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America; Cats; The Rise of Skywalker; and more!

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Judd: The year is 1980. Its three o’clock in the morning, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is home alone in his London flat. There are several rails of the purest Columbian lined out on his glass coffee table. He gazes at his shelves stocked with books, there only to make him look smart and impress his guests, in search of inspiration for his next Smash Hit Musical. His heart is racing, and he’s in a self-induced panic. How will he ever top Evita? And why was Patti LuPone such a bitch to him? Was it something he did? All of a sudden his eyes fixate on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In an “A-Ha” moment, he snatches the book from the shelves and starts flipping through the pages. “Yes,” he thinks, “Yes, yes! It’s all right here! I will write repetitive songs, with far too many stanzas, and use the prose as inane lyrics! The costumes will be based on contemporary New Wave Punk, which will be both creepy and immediately passé! I’ll use the finest synthesizers that 1980 has to offer! It will be CATS! Now and Forever!”

And thus, Andrew Lloyd Weber unleashed an undying hellscape that has cursed the stages of theater districts around the world. It’s evil fueled by pedestrian suburbanites, willing to spend a small fortune on an authentic “Broadway Experience”. Thirty years later, that evil has been brought to the Silver Screen.

I’ve seen Cats on stage twice, which is twice too many, and where the stage play fails and the movie succeeds is that I was finally able to follow the plot. Once a year the Jellicle Cats get together for the Jellicle Ball. Each cat sings a song about his or herself to their leader, Old Deuteronomy. At the end of the ball, Old D picks a cat that will be put to death. Yes, the show is so bad, all the cats WANT to die at the end. The reason I believe I’ve never understood the plot before is the same reason a person’s mind represses traumatic experiences.

Cats is directed by Tom Hooper who directed the film adaptation of Les Miserables, and stars Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, IanMcKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ray Winstone, Jason Derulo, and Jennifer Hudson, who luckily escapes with little screen time and the only song in the show that doesn’t make one wish for deafness. The script adds to the original “plot” of the movie by having the villain, Macavity (Elba), kidnap other cats in order to be the only one left to be euthanized. In the stage play, he only kidnaps Old D (now played by female, Judi Dench). The plot is further enhanced by the kidnapped kitties fighting their guard, Growltiger (Winstone), to escape and return to the mercy killing. Also, Macavity can teleport.

The CGI kitty costumes are extremely detailed and no more or less uncomfortable to see than the cat suits the stage actors wear. There are moments though, especially in the long shots and when dealing with miniatures like the mice and cockroaches, where lighting effects are poorly done and look cheap.

The real standout is Hudson, with a heart wrenching rendition of Memory that almost makes the first 90 minutes worth it. Almost. The audience was silent except for a few sniffles after she completed her number. Though maybe they were reacting to Hooper’s decision to give Grizabella a perpetually runny nose.

The film has an uneven tone, and it wants to appeal to children, but I can’t imagine they won’t get bored. Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots) brings her brand of humor to the screen and it feels misplaced. At the end of the day, the movie itself is only as good as its source material. However you feel about the stage play, you’ll feel about the movie. The actors do what they can with the material, but they aren’t able to elevate it to something new (or watchable).

Judd: 1 star

Jumanji: The Next Level

Swanner: Right away I was trying to figure out how there was going to be a sequel to the Jumanji reboot. I mean, they destroyed the game after they arrived back to the school. Well, it turns out that Spencer went back to get the game and had it hidden in his basement. After feeling down after his sort of break up with Martha, he goes back to the game to see if he can regain that confidence he felt walking around in Dwayne Johnson’s body for an adventure. The problem is that his friends go to find him at home, only to find the game and to make the decision of going back into the game to save their friend. 

Director Jake Kasdan and his co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg take us back to try to live through another level of the game. They have made sure that everyone is back for the fun, with a few new characters both at home and in Jumanji. One really fun element they added is that not everyone ends up playing the same characters from the last time, which adds to lots of awkwardness and laughs. I didn’t think this new level was as hard as the first level, so that was disappointing, but they did add some familiar elements from the Robin Williams original, which was a nice touch. 

As I mentioned, the original cast is back with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Colin Hanks, and Nick Jonas. I also mentioned some new folks including Awkwafina, Danny Devito, and Danny Glover. They all bring good energy to the film. Since this is a sequel, it does lose that “Wow” feeling from the reboot, but that is how it goes. The extra characters do weigh things down a bit, with too many different storylines, even though I couldn’t tell you which story to cut. The best I can suggest is to see the reboot, and then go to the theater and see what happens to our heroes as they take us back to Jumanji.

Swanner: 3 stars