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Archive for December 22nd, 2019

by Sam Juliano

The Wonders in the Dark staff (James Clark, J.D. Lafrance, Jamie Uhler) as well as Lucille and I would like to wish our dear friends and loyal readers a very Merry Christmas this coming Wednesday!  I always say the same thing, but isn’t it amazing how time flies.  We are on the cusp of another new year and we are a year older.  The site recently completed its eleventh year, another remarkable achievement.  This past year on a personal note had more than its share of heartbreaks and adversity.  We lost our 89 year-old Dad in October, our favorite pet, a cat named Dylan two weeks after that and Lucille had that frightful benign tumor radio surgery which was a success.  Here at the site we continue to receive extraordinary reviews from Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance as well as another year of Jamie Uhler’s fantastic horror fest writings and chairmanship of the annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival, which is moving towards its fourth year.  My ongoing Caldecott Medal Contender series -in its eighth year- is moving forward, albeit as a slower pace than in the past because of all the roadblocks I’ve mentioned.  I want to thank the reading community for the amazing comment and page view numbers that again have greeted the series.  We hope everyone has a peaceful and happy time for the end of the year festivities.  Lucille and I (along with Sammy and Jeremy) attended the annual holiday bash Saturday night in Butler, N.J. at Lucille’s sister’s home.

We saw three films in the theater this past week (one will actually be watched tonight, Richard Jewell, so I will return to this post to revise).    I’m mad. In all the years I’ve watched and sometimes reviewed movies for various publications dating all the way back to my college newspaper days I can’t remember an instance when I thought a film was tons better than a critical consensus as awful as that which greeted Tom Hooper’s “Cats” based on the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical. In short I really liked “Cats” and found the director’s phantasmagorical approach a perfect fit for the undisciplined material culled from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Film critics too often look down their noses at musicals, yet the far more uppity theater critics lavished much praise on the show, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran for 18 years, most at the Winter Garden Theater where I witnessed this alluring and infectious hodgepodge of feline immersion four (4) times. After seeing some really extraordinary films over the past weeks I was due to see a dud and the vast majority of reviews are promising that “Cats” is exactly that. But no, put on the brakes. Hooper makes terrific use of London backdrops, and opens up the work to incorporate a bonanza of dance, ballet and song, with a few clear showstoppers like Jennifer Hudson’s “Memory”, “Mr. Mistoffeles,” “Macavity: The Mystery Cat,” “Shimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” and “Old Deutoronomy.” Francesca Hayward is absolutely smashing as Victoria, Ian McKellan is wonderful as Gus and Judi Dench is charming even with her non-existent singing voice. Laurie Davidson and Robbie Fairchild are splendid, though Taylor Swift is severely underused. Hooper is bold and takes some risks (not all of them work) but largely I found “Cats” a major surprise. Let the critics hate and use this film for their negative status quo but for some of the rest of us we can renew our vows in accepting how and why we loved this Broadway show in the first place. Oh yes, the cat fur CGI was effective and Hooper gets away with breaking every rule of narrative flow and continuity. On film this feat is tricky as opposed to the stage where a “revue” can be workable. The film is captivating! 4/5 with a half star upgrade still possible. Lucille, Sammy and I saw the film at the Teaneck multiplex Thursday evening. (more…)

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