Bonus Watching: Cats (2019) and Ready or Not (2019)
List Progress: 12/12 (+9)
Cats (2019) is a beautiful fever dream from which I hope to never wake. I saw it on opening night and then saw it again on Sunday, and it was beautiful both times. By which I mean, this movie is terrible, but in some very fascinating ways.
I quite enjoyed the 1998 video adaptation of the 1980 musical as a child, so I have some firm ideas about what the characters “should” be, but I tried to clear that from my mind going in and let Cats be its own distinct piece of media. While there’s one major character change that I disagree with (Mr. Mistoffelees was done so dirty), most of the movie’s failings are purely of its own creation.
The CGI is bad, but people with a lot more experience in these matters have already discussed that. What I do feel qualified to discuss is the writing. Cats (2019) fails on some very basic matters of planting and pay-off, many of them created through their own tweaks to the story. The musical Cats is very much an ensemble piece with no lead character, but in order to give it a more traditional narrative, one of the featured characters, Victoria, is promoted to lead. But while giving Victoria more screen-time and a new song is good, the film forgets to give her a real arc. It is ostensibly about her becoming one of the Jellicle cats, but this is essentially completed by the third song and she feels like a full member of the tribe after that, just with more close-ups. And this creates the dreaded issue of the finale.
So the first and last songs of the musical are clearly supposed to be delivered to the audience. This works in a theatrical space because we understand that the cats are putting on a show for us. But the movie elects to perform the first song to Victoria, asking her if she is a Jellicle cat. This creates a problem, because by the end of the show, she is integrated and part of the ensemble, no longer needing to be sung to. So for the first time in the film, five minutes from the end, all of the characters break the fourth wall and Judi Dench sings directly into the camera. It is cringe-inducing and terribly constructed, and what elevates a bad film to a transcendentally awful film.
There are some sincerely good musical numbers, and I love how much it is encouraging me to go back and watch the 1998 version. But on the whole this thing is just a trainwreck, in ways the internet is already dissecting within an inch of its life.
I cannot wait to see it again.
Would I Recommend It: Yes yes yes yes yes.
Ready or Not (2019), on the other hand, is a sincerely well-made bit of film work. This horror comedy movie is not trying to be anything particularly subtle or groundbreaking, but it tells a taught, tense and funny story with a lot of good acting to carry it along.
Young working-class Grace has just married her husband Alex, whose family comes from a line of very rich and very successful board game creators. On their wedding night, they must take part in a supposedly-harmless game, depending on what card she draws from a family heirloom box, but when Grace draws “Hide and Seek”, all hell breaks loose. The family has actually found their wealth and success through Satanic rituals and sacrifices, and the “Hide and Seek” card is the only one in the deck that requires the family hunt down and murder the new spouse. It takes a bit for Grace to realize they are serious and her life is suddenly at risk, and the rest of the night unfolds with her trying to survive until dawn.
The movie isn’t perfect; it has a bit too much perverse pleasure in how it kills off female side-characters for shock value. But Grace, Alex, and the family members are all well-drawn and interesting, and they play with the comedy horror material well. I probably wouldn’t have watched this one if not for a delayed flight that got us stuck on a runway for an hour, but I’m glad I did.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, sincerely this time.