I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan and didn’t rate ‘Cats’ when I saw it in the West End. I remember thinking it was okay, that’s all. But when I saw the trailer for the new film version I was amazed. Amazed by its exquisite beauty and amazed by the critical storm that followed. Reviews were overwhelmingly bad and just got worse when the alley cats finally hit the streets of post-war Soho. It must be the most slagged-off release in living memory. It made us determined to judge it for ourselves. Was is that terrible?
Not even close. With a top drawer cast – including Judi Dench doing her regal number and a clowder of superb dancers from the Royal Ballet – ‘Cats’ is a sight for sore eyes on a lousy winter’s day – energetic, inventive, atmospheric and visually stunning. I’m not sure what the catty critics saw but it wasn’t the same film I watched.
Our move date from city to country coincided with tickets to see Armistead Maupin’s one-man show at Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Maupin is the author of the Tales of the City series of novels set in San Francisco which chronicle the lives and times of an eclectic group of residents passing through the Barbary Lane boarding house turned apartments owned by Anna Madrigal. We love the books (and subsequent TV serialisations) so it was with heavy hearts we had to give Maupin a miss.
Liam was determined not to miss the next big thing – gay
icon-wise – to come along. And they don’t get bigger than the late, great Judy
Garland. Liam is a BIG fan and was virtually hyperventilating as we took our
seats at Norwich’s Cinema City for ‘Judy’, staring the wonderful Renée
Zellweger in the title role. Liam loves a dead diva.
Covering the brief period when the down-at-heel legend arrives in London in the winter of 1968 to perform a series of last-chance concerts, ‘Judy’ is not exactly a feel-good film. We all know what happens in the end and watching Judy’s descent into drug and drink-fuelled hell makes grim viewing. But the film is strangely compelling and Ms Zellweger is mesmerising – interpreting rather than parodying Judy’s magical stage presence – and all in her own voice. No miming needed. I hear Oscar knocking.
I was a huge Elton John fan as a teenager. I had all the albums, lots of the singles and a large poster of Elton in over-sized star-shaped glasses on my bedroom wall. So it was with great anticipation that we saw ‘Rocketman’, the new EJ biopic. So what’s it like? Well, in summary, the beginning (child protégé to blossoming musical genius) is heart-wrenching. The middle bit (meteoric rise to global super-stardom and descent into rock star excess) is, well, middling. And the finale (reformed addict to legendary national treasure) is foot-tapping joy. Elton’s no-holes-barred lifestyle and multiple neuroses are laid bare – delivered by ingenious scene-stealing fantasy sequences set to his best-known songs. And, there’s no ‘straight-washing’ either to placate the censors in less enlightened lands. It’s all out there in sequin-studded, piano-beating, coke-snorting, vodka-swilling, bed-hopping glorious Technicolor.
Taron Egerton as the Rocket Man is perfect, capturing, though not caricaturing, Elton’s mannerisms, shyness, petulance, sulkiness and explosive presence – both on and off stage. And his voice ain’t bad either. The film is good, rather than great, entertaining rather than profound. My only real criticism is, while Elton’s pain is front and centre – honestly told – it’s a tad self-absorbed with little insight into the hurt and mayhem caused to others by the swirling emotional tornado that is Elton Hercules John. But, I’m still a fan.
New Year’s Day took us to the movies to see The Favourite, a saga of love, rivalry and power, based loosely on the intimate relationship between a sickly and brattish Queen Anne (the last of the Stuarts) and a scheming Svengali-like Lady Sarah Churchill. We anticipated a restoration-style bawdy romp as promised by the trailers and pre-publicity. Instead we got a suffocating tale of court intrigue that plodded on for an age. Bawdy it was, with ripe language, racy dialogue and a few scenes which left little to the imagination. But, on the whole, the film was more darkly disturbing than black comedy, accompanied by a clanging score sounding like a death knell. Despite some great lines, superb acting (Norwich’s very own Olivia Coleman as the volatile queen definitely deserves a handful of gongs), palatial sets, evocative period detail, lavish costumes and gravity-defying wigs, the experience left us punch-drunk. We needed a drink afterwards.
There’s no better way to spend Boxing Day than a trip to the flicks, especially when it’s to see the long-awaited sequel to a classic. Liam and I saw the original Mary Poppins as little ‘uns (though not together, obviously) and it was the child in us both that spit-spotted us to Cinema City to see Mary Poppins Returns. In fact, Liam was virtually hyperventilating along the way. Sequels are so often disappointing, even more so when competing with rose-tinted memories of the distant past. Expectations were high and expectations were exceeded. The film is every bit as magical, charming, melodic and whimsical as the original. Kids of a certain age will be mesmerised, and subtle references to the first film will keep the nostalgic grown-ups happy too. As the closing credits rolled, applause rippled through the crowd. By all accounts, PL Travis, the author of the Mary Poppins books, hated the Disney treatment of the first film so no doubt she wouldn’t approve of the sequel either. But I hope Julie Andrews likes her able successor, Emily Blunt – practically perfect in every way, I say. I feel a barrow-load of gongs coming on.
‘I’m going to see A Star is Born,’ said a colleague of Liam’s. ‘It’s supposed to be brilliant,’ she gushed. ‘Have you seen the original, you know, the one with Barbra Streisand?’
‘That’s not the original’ he replied.
Liam was right. Ms Streisand and her dodgy seventies curly perm was not the first. That honour goes to the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Then there was the more famous remake – the 1954 musical with Judy Garland and England’s very own James Mason. And who could forget the 2013 Bollywood incarnation? No, I didn’t see it either.
Image courtesy of The Atlantic
Now it’s been rolled out again, this time with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the leads. Reviews have been star-bright and Liam’s a sucker for a gay icon – Garland, Streisand, Gaga (though I’m not sure about Gaynor, unless it’s Gloria, of course). Naturally, we couldn’t resist.
It’s a well-trodden plot – a maelstrom of passion and torment as girl on the way up mates with boy on the way down – so no need to recount it here. But was it worth the ticket price?
Well, sort of. Both leads are excellent and Lady Gaga lets it go with both barrels but the film is way too long, the dialogue way too mumbly and the script way too sweary. I’m no prude and I’ve been known to utter the odd profanity myself but, really, there’s no need to say f*ck with every other word. It dulls the effect, especially for a weepy. It left me unmoved. What would Judy say?
‘Mamma Mia!’ is silly singalong foot-tapping ABBA-fest, a huge block of cheesiness that leaves a warm glow inside like a sugary bowl of Ready Brek. It’s one the most successful British films ever. So what about the sequel, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’? Often sequels are rubbish. This one, though, is right on the money, money, money. The one liners are sharper, the flares wider, the platforms higher, the sequins flashier. The cast had a ball and so did we. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end.