In Review: Cats

The thing about Cats, the record-setting Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on a series of poems by T.S. Eliot, is that it exists as a piece of pure, unadulterated imagination. No matter how you may try to wrap your head around the spectacle of dancing, nude-appearing felines singing anthems to themselves, it is still, quite simply, a musical about cats being cats. You either accept it for what it is, in its brain-warping glorious incongruity, or you don’t. This remains true in the adaptation taken to even further extremes on the big screen by director Tom Hooper, assembling a cast of recognizable (if not all desirable) names enshrouded in digital insanity. Whether earnestly accepting its big budget spectacle or basking in schadenfreude or agog in horror, you mileage may indeed vary with what is in store.


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In Review: Teen Spirit

Somebody said we got a new pop saga on the screen. Does it love us better than the slew of others can? Turns out that actor and now first time director Max Minghella has made one by the numbers that follows every beat we’re familiar with and almost nothing more. Teen Spirit follows a very familiar pop ascension narrative trajectory to acceptably involving results, relying largely on its ultrahip playlist of pop covers. However, the real draw is its headliner Elle Fanning, giving us a new facet to her reign as cinematic teen ingenue.


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In Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

2008’s Mamma Mia! was somewhat defiant in its shrugging off of the demands of self-serious audiences, presenting an escape from the evils of mundanity, logic, and pretension. It wasn’t something to wrap your head around, for in its haphazard lunacy it delivered tenfold precisely the ecstasy that its audience requested. Now ten years later, such escapism isn’t a mere trifle but a necessary antidote to ensure our sanity and survival. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, its slightly more sedated sequel, is like a soda administered during a diabetic collapse.


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In Review!: “La La Land”

Bursting with chutzpah and a near relentless drive to leave you breathless, La La Land is something special. With artfully uplifting highs and bold cinematic gestures, it’s as audacious as anything at the movies in recent memory. Director Damien Chazelle has created a musical that exists with one foot in the real world and the one in the stylized, swaying its body back and forth between the two to divine effect. Its musical numbers are like if those late-90s Gap commercials also thrived on thematic context and narrative perspective – the smile on your face may be stupid, but the film isn’t.


Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as showbiz dreamers and Los Angeles transplants that fall in love before becoming disillusioned with both. As their career compromises don’t match the ideal, the honeymoon of young love naturally also becomes strained. For all of the film’s exclamation point positivity, it does exist in a world that tells us we can have love or career, but getting neither is even more likely. For La La Land, optimism can be both naive and necessary sustaining force.

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In Review!: “Sing Street”

Like the best of John Hughes and the most confident of modern musicals, Sing Street is addictive and rousing. The newly minted high school band at its center may have dreams beyond their Dublin suburbs, but the film only yourns for the audience’s toes to be tapping.


Along the course of Sing Street, the central teen’s musical tastes develop from exposure to the various subgenres present during its particular 1985 setting. Naturally, his style changes abruptly to incorporate swabs of makeup, bleached patches of hair, and a nuked mane to mimic the influence of Duran Duran and The Cure on his musical infancy. The specificity lent to the film by the exact moment in (especially British) music actually goes to underscore the timelessness of the film and the transforming power of the artform.

That Sing Street can organically chart these seismic shifts happening daily to our hero Conor (a charming and genuine Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) through the lens of music is to be somewhat expected coming from director John Carney. His humanistic approach to character and connection through music have worked previously in Once and Begin Again, with this effort being the best among them. Carney’s characters have always defined themselves through music, but never has he shown more depth to that identification. Like our constantly evolving taste in music and the shifting landscape of popular music, our identities are diverse and mutable, something entirely different from one day to the next.

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