Tag Archives: Idris Elba

IN MILD DEFENCE OF #3: CATS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

CATS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Produced by: Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper

Written by: Lee Hall and Tom Hooper – Based on the stage musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.

Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jason DeRulo, Laurie Davidson, Ray Winstone, Taylor Swift, etc.

Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*



I think it’s easy to be overtly negative and nasty in reviews, and that is fine in general, as long as you can justify it. What I have found though is there seems to have been an unhealthy pile-on this Christmas by critics in regard to the film Cats (2019). One could even interpret some reactions to the film as hysterical and unfair bullying. I, in no way have any reason to defend wealthy people such as Andrew Lloyd Webber or the director Tom Hooper. But, this review asks the question: is Cats (2019) a really bad film? The answer in short is: no! It’s just not a particularly good one.

My wife loves musicals and was a fan of the original show. Personally, I don’t like cats, nor musicals generally (there are exceptions); and did not know the original stage production either. So, my expectations were pretty low for the film. What I did know is the original musical stage production was one of the longest running musicals in the West End. Plus, it made grossed over £32 billion in various productions across the world. Clearly a film production would make commercial sense and with acclaimed director, Tom Hooper, at the helm — what could go wrong?



Firstly, it’s an obvious thing to say that stage and screen productions generally work very differently. The original Cats was based on the poems of T.S. Eliot and was adapted organically in the 1970s by the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe and Trevor Nunn. It was released in 1981 and became a phenomenal success. The narrative on stage and screen concerns a tribe of cats, inhabiting the streets, shops, theatres and homes of London, called the ‘Jellicle Cats’. Each year there is a competition as to who will be given a new life and reach the Heaviside Layer. Imaginatively named characters such as: Rum Tum Tugger (Jason DeRulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Mr Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bombalurina (Taylor Swift) and many more litter the screen. Several of these characters compete via song and dance routines, but obstacles are introduced by the nasty nemesis, Macavity (Idris Elba).

As I did not know the original adaptation, I have to say that given the lack of a proper narrative, I am surprised the show took off in the first place. This is clearly a testament to the love felt for the many powerful songs in the show, notably the brilliant ‘Memory’. The film itself is essentially a series of musical set-pieces with a very thin narrative and thematic thread throughout. The rules of the world and mythology are not very well established by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper’s screenplay. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of an opening introduction to the world. So, for me, the film fails to establish believable unbelievability and ease you into the fantasy elements properly. Basically, if you know the original production it is likely you will really enjoy the film. However, I felt it was creatively hamstrung from the start.


Image result for cats film

Overall, much of Tom Hooper’s rendition of Cats (2019) feels rushed in terms of the CGI, the editing, pacing and general flow of the action and events. The first forty minutes sees a flurry of songs from various characters and this left me dizzy. However, there are some excellent set-pieces, rousing compositions, flashy choreography and impactful singing performances in here. Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba I felt were excellent. The rest of the cast, performers and production team also commit wholeheartedly to the project too. They cannot be faulted for certain creative decisions made at studio level. Indeed, whose idea was it to even release the film at Christmas when the Star Wars franchise is likely to defeat all cinema competition.

Maybe the film could have worked better as a lower budgeted, intimate and more stripped-down production. Moreover, while they attempted to include narrative exposition via the character of Francesca Hayward’s innocent stray, Victoria, the film still felt bereft of story. But, as it’s based on a set of poems, this is case with the original show too. Lastly, while Cats (2019) valiantly attempts to deliver a fun, humorous, emotional, energetic and fresh take on the stage show, it does fall short in many places. However, given the catastrophic reviews online and in the media in general, I have to say that it is genuinely enjoyable in places and not as bad as it’s being made out to be. It is still shocking though that such experienced producers and filmmakers would release what appears to be a dog rough work-in-progress product. It just goes to show that however talented you may be, no one is purr-fect!

Mark 6 out of 11


MOLLYS’ GAME (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

MOLLYS’ GAME (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Mark Gordon, Amy Pascal, Matt Jackson

Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin

Based on: Molly’s Game  by Molly Bloom

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Bill Camp

Image result for mollys game POKER

As a species we like to have fun. It makes us feel good to manufacture a chemical reaction in our minds and body to create a high and distance ourselves from our own mortality. One such means of fun is gambling. It is fun right: placing bets on the outcome of a game be it chance or skill?  I mean it must be fun because so many humans do it, right? Nothing bad comes of fun surely!  Nothing bad comes of gambling? Wrong! Of course it does.

Gambling is one of the stupidest things a human being can do. You are willingly handing your money to a bookie or competitor or casino in a game of chance in the hope of winning money. Your hard earned cash is at the mercy of: the turn of a card; the roll of a dice; the kick of a ball; the speed of a horse; and the spin of a wheel. To me THAT is crazy. I know because I used to gamble on the horses and loved it but not when I lost. That high soon dissipated and fun twisted and dug and before you know it you’re in a low-hole and light is getting further and further away the deeper you go.

Image result for mollys game

There are many players out there who will say poker is not a game of chance. It is a keen game of skill relying on intelligence, guts and psychological warfare. I would go along with that but it is, unless fixed, always reliant on major elements of fate. There are a plethora of multi-millionaires out there who have got rich playing poker no doubt. Yet, I bet there are some sob stories too of players who have lost everything at the table.

Such characters litter Aaron Sorkin’s excellent biopic of poker “madam” Molly Bloom.  You’ve got the bankers, hedge-funders, cowboys, sporting legends, A-list actors and gangsters; all co-mingling around a green baize table facing off over the turn of a card. For me it’s an ostentatious representation of hedonistic narcissism. I mean: that money could be used for good but instead is being used for pointless card games which only serve to boost egos and satisfy bottomless, black-hole addictions. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the film is not entertaining because it is.

Image result for mollys game

Sorkin asks us to, at times, empathise for a criminal in Molly Bloom, however, she must be admired for her ballsy attitude, intelligence and organisational skills. Much of the kudos for the film goes to Sorkin’s fantastic script and the sterling performance from Jessica Chastain; who possesses a magnetic on-screen aura reminiscent of the Hollywood stars of yesteryear. Couple of reservations in that with a story about a powerful woman it was disappointing that Costner’s father and Idris Elba’s lawyer got the best speeches at the end of the film. Moreover, at no point did I REALLY care about anyone, aside from Molly when she gets in too deep. But that’s the point: the professional poker world is a shark pool full of predators and Bloom’s story is a complex one, raised above that of your standard crime drama by a zinging screenplay and Jessica Chastain’s nuanced acting.

Mark: 8 out of 11

BEST OF BRITISH TV REVIEW

BEST OF BRITISH: TELEVISION REVIEW

Having grown up with three (and then four channels) on British television I was always used to a high quality viewing experience.  As a kid TV shows were an event and something to look forward to and plan an evening’s routine around.  British shows from my youth that I loved were:  The Comic Strip, The Young Ones, The Singing Detective, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Edge of Darkness, Play for Today, Pennies From Heaven, Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, Monty Python, Boys From The Blackstuff, Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, Prime Suspect, Spitting Image and many more. But with the subsequent invasion of high-end overseas televisual product and the introduction of digital and satellite channels I have at times lost sight of some best shows around at the moment.

Thus, I took a break from watching loads of US imports and movies (still watching Game of Thrones as it’s amazing!) and had a trawl through 4OD (called All 4 now), Netflix, YouTube and other outlets to catch up some of the current Best of British TV shows you can watch online or DVD. Obviously there are hundreds of other great British shows available but here are some of the ones I’ve watched recently:

BLACK MIRROR (CHANNEL 4)

Black Mirror is a dark, horrifying and mind-bending drama which gets into your mind and under your skin; tapping into the perils of technological advancement and effect the media could have on our future lives.

FRESH MEAT (CHANNEL 4)

I watched the first season of this University-based comedy and there’s an attractive young cast, fun performances, knockabout humour but also a bit of heart too as our Fresher’s come to terms with life on and off campus.

FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (CHANNEL 4)

A simple premise of a Jewish family dinner but a lot of laughs as Mum, Dad, their boys and weird neighbour get into all kind of scrapes.  Hilarious stuff especially from eccentric father played by Paul Ritter.

GARTH MARENGHI (CHANNEL 4)

This is an absolute stonewall comedy classic. I watched this under-appreciated gem again for inspiration for a comedy script I’m writing and it fantastically parodies horror and sci-fi TV of the 70s and 80s.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (BBC)

This Dickens adaptation from 2011 starred Ray Winstone as Magwitch plus David Suchet, Paul Ritter and Douglas Booth.  But, the standout was Gillian Anderson as a spectre-like Miss Havisham ghosting through her scenes with eerie grace.

INBETWEENERS (CHANNEL 4)

I watched all 18 episodes of this and then the films and while I used to think it was just rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy it is also hilarious with great comedy moments plus the occasional bit of pathos.

INSIDE NO. 9 (BBC)

Cracking, dark and funny half-hour stories from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton who once again craft some fiendish narratives with a sting in their tale. All episodes are great but I loved the dialogue-free (pretty much) one A Quiet Night In.

LAW AND ORDER (ITV)

A very good adaptation of the American show. I watched the first two seasons and the formula follows the Police and CPS crime process from arrest to conviction (or not depending on the case.)  Some great British character actors pop up throughout and compelling social commentary too.

LUTHER (BBC)

Idris Elba as Detective John Luther prowls the screen like a caged lion enacting furious justice on the killers of London town. Ruth Wilson as his cold-blooded sidekick is also a treat in a formulaic but compelling crime show.

NATHAN BARLEY (CHANNEL 4)

Go http://www.trashbat.co.ck/ and check out the original hipster prick as this hilarious TV satire parodies the Shoreditch gang-star fashion victims in all their gory!   Still well Jackson even ten years down the line. Peace and fucking. Believe!

PEEPSHOW (CHANNEL 4)

Two blokes share a flat.  Oh, and they are romantic and social fuck-ups!  That’s the premise in this brilliantly written classic sitcom from Jess Armstrong and Sam Bain.  I rewatched all 8 seasons in close proximity and it just gets funnier and funnier making great use of the Mitchell and Webb humour-chemistry-combo.  Genius.