A tribe of cats known as the Jellicles gather for their annual ball where Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) will choose one cat to send to be reborn in the Heaviside Layer. The cats include Victoria (Francesca Hayward), Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), Gus the Theatre Cat (Ian McKellen), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), and the nemesis, Macavity (Idris Elba), along with his sidekick, Bombalurina (Taylor Swift).
Based on the hit Broadway musical, Cats is a total misfire with nothing that works on any level. The threadbare plot, if you even want to call it that, fails to be even remotely captivating or suspenseful while the characters are one-note and forgettable. The screenplay by writer/director Tom Hooper and co-writer Lee Hall lacks wit and emotional depth. The only glimmer of poignancy comes from a musical number when Jennifer Hudson sings "Memory," but it's an ephemeral feeling that doesn't breathe enough life into this anemic musical.
The actors try their best to invigorate the material with their performances, but they don't succeed. There's simply not enough substance in their roles to provide them a chance to shine. Even Judi Dench and Ian McKellen seem overqualified for such dull and shallow roles. The choreography, costume design and CGI effects look awkward and annoying like nails on a chalkboard. It doesn't help that the actors look somewhat uncomfortable onscreen. If the film and performances were campy, at least this would've been a wildly entertaining guilty pleasure rather than such a disappointing bore. At a running time of 102 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Cats is nauseating, anemic and cringe-inducing. The only way to experience it without any suffering is to wear eye shades and ear plugs while watching it. If you're a cat lover, go watch Kedi instead.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
As Rey (Daisy Ridley) faces Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in battle, she's in danger of joining the dark side. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) pursuades Kylo Ren to try to kill Rey, the Last Jedi. Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and three droids join her in her battles against Kylo Ren and to help her to locate Emperor Palpatine.
Writer/director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio do a great job of keep the plot coherent, for the most part, and of introducing the characters with just the right amount of exposition. Key plot points get repeated at least twice so that there's no confusion. If you're the kind of audience member who doesn't like their hand held tightly, so-to-speak, by a film without much room for nuance or interpretation, this isn't the kind of film for you. There are a few moments of comic relief, but they're far and few between. The dialogue occasionally sounds stilted and unintentionally funny, and the film feels like it's merely going through the motions more often than not. You can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning at every frame.
To be fair, though, who watches Star Wars expecting lots of realistic dialogue and lengthy conversations? This isn't meant to be a slice of life; it's a slice of cake. Fans enjoy seeing their favorite characters in action along with a compelling plot all of which can be found here. Of course, just like in any blockbuster, there's a MacGuffin, in this case the Sith Wayfinder which Rey needs to tracks down Palpatine. What she really wants, though, is to learn about her origins and who she really is. When someone asks her what's her full name, she just says Rey, so it's that subplot that adds a modicum of substance to all the spectacle. The major surprises here come in the form of cameos, so none of them will be spoiled here.
Fortunately, what elevates Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are the performances which are very committed. Daisy Ridley is a natural talent and rises above the material to add some much-needed emotion. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega, who's still reminiscent of a young Denzel Washington, are also superb. The real stars of the film are the CGI effects and the score by John Williams which provide plenty of eye and ear candy along the way even during the less engaging scenes. The filmmakers don't really take any risks when it comes to filmmaking techniques or anything else for that matter, so by playing it safe, the film never rises above mediocrity. At a running time of 2 hours and 35 minutes, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker isn't among the best of the Star Wars franchise, but it has just enough exhilarating thrills, strong performances and impressive visual effects to be a mildly entertaining, harmless Spectacle.