It's MUCH Better Than Cats
You'll want to see it again and again
|Jul 20, 2019|| 2|
LATE-BREAKING ALERT: Hulu’s Veronica Mars Revival is out NOW!
Live footage of the Veronica Mars revival strolling out of the ocean to wreak havoc on your weekend plans and/or editorial calendars
As this was announced around 4 PM EST, we imagine that most True Marshmallows among you have already heard the news, but we highlight it here just in case some of you haven’t. If you’re new to the show, Hulu has the show’s original three seasons now in addition to this 8-episode revival, and the first season in particular is HIGHLY Dames-approved. For dyed-in-the-wool fans, we share the gospel (received from Kathryn VanArendonk, our most trusted TV expert/beloved friend) that this new 8-episode series is the best the show has been since its 2004 debut— an opinion shared by the vast majority of her TV critic colleagues. And to both parties: if you’re hoping to get to the end of these 8 episodes without being spoiled, be VERY CAREFUL with social media the next few days. The season contains some plot points likely to spark BIG REACTIONS. Proceed with caution and we hope you find delight.
Bossy Shouting: THE CATS TRAILER!!!!!!
TFW you and your Co-Dame are discussing the trailer for the movie CATS
CATS, the utterly bonkers musical about whether or not a particularly slutty but very vocally gifted cat can ascend to Cat Heaven and be reborn as, presumably, a less-slutty cat, has been adapted for the big screen. It will be released on December 20, 2019, and this week, we began our psychic and spiritual preparations for this...thing. Dame Sophie is honestly not sure how she got to a place where she is angry and disdainful while also being filled with giddily delighted anticipation. In the immortal words of Stephen Sondheim, the trailer made Dame Margaret feel excited— well, excited and scared.
First, we watched and rewatched and yelled in our various group chats about this very very earnest behind the scenes featurette about it starring Sir Ian McKellan, Dame Judi Dench, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson & the James Bond of our hearts Idris Elba. Wow, so much to unpack here, starting with Jennifer Hudson earnestly drawing a positive comparison between having grown up singing gospel music and participating in the film adaptation of CATS.
We thought we’d see the movie trailer released today, but yesterday, the honchos over at Universal UK chomped on their cigars and spat out of the sides of their mouths as they strolled back to the Executive Suite from Central Casting, “ahhhh, give it to ‘em now, Charlie!” and lo, the movie trailer of CATS, an actual Tony-winning musical about cats who assemble at a junkyard one magical evening to select one of their own for ritual murder and maybe reincarnation, according to their well-established and commonly understood feline religious beliefs, was made available to the world. Again, this is a major motion picture that has been produced & will be released into theaters in the year of our lord 2019 after having been on Broadway & the West End & on tour & on high school stages for a combined bajillion continuous years.
Without further ado, here are some Official Dames Thoughts on the proceedings:
Jennifer Hudson truly gives it her all with her performance of “Memory”, and we are on board with that degree of sincerity even though we think her considerable skill as a singer would be better served in a film that did not make her look, as one of Dame Sophie’s friends put it, vaguely like a Klingon
Human boobs on cats: listen, we understand that reasonable people can disagree, and we have seen a strongly-held argument for amping up every weird and lightly deranged element possible in this production. However, human boobs on cats in CATS is an uncanny valley too far for us. If they ring your bell, we can only say good for you, not for us.
Francesca Hayward looks genuinely winning as Victoria, wow, definitely hire professional dancers for your dance-based film productions!
But if you do hire the principal ballerina of the Royal Ballet for your movie of CATS, maybe don’t get all cutesy-poo about “introducing” her to the world, and also don’t hide her race! Francesca Hayward is a Black woman, but if you didn’t already know that, would you know, based on her appearance in the trailer? Probably not!
Idris' costume is the digital fur technology version of "he's Black, so he's a pimp, GET IT??" We disapprove.
Fat jokes. MUST we? We strongly prefer not to.
See likewise: casting either James Corden or Rebel Wilson primarily to make them the butt of fat jokes. It’s very tired, and we’re tired of it.
Taylor Swift & her sparkly baby blue character shoes. *heavy sigh* *shaking head* In the words of Sir Ian McKellen:
We’ll wrap up with some of the best CATS takes we’ve seen:
Louis Peitzman recognizes there are problems but Remains Quite Into It
The Fug Girls are Not Having It
R. Eric Thomas has made his way through The Five Phases of Dealing With The CATS Trailer
DamesPal Kathryn VanArendonk and her lovely colleague Jackson McHenry went on BuzzFeed’s AM2DM to do their best to explain the plot of CATS, the musical about cats. If you want to see the entirety of their segment, it starts at minute 38 of today’s AM2DM show.
And Wired brought in a feline anatomy expert to weigh in on the CATS character design, to predictably hilarious results.
Hal Prince’s confusion over the original musical is a must-read, if only for giving us the new “Harold, they’re lesbians.”
Natalie Walker’s take is, as usual, both definitive and invaluable.
And finally: Caity Weaver has a definite point:
Dame Sophie’s Assortment of Things That Are Good During A Week When We Surely Need Goodness
Probably my most notable achievement of the week. Bonus: it keeps really well!
Listen, this has been a real high-anxiety week for those of us who like to do things like “stay informed” and “follow the news”. One of the few good things to emerge from the most recent crucible of rhetorical horrors is Adam Serwer’s piece, What Americans Do Now Will Define Us Forever. What it lacks in serotonin-boosting feelings of goodwill toward one’s fellow humans, it more than makes up for in bracing moral clarity. If the rights and responsibilities of US citizenship are conditional for anyone, they are conditional for us all. We have to reject those conditions, every day. Read it, share it, talk about it with your friends & family; it may not feel good, but it is good.
I spent Monday getting tasks done by setting a series of 15-minute timers for myself. It was mostly successful! I still have a bunch of things to work on next week, so I’ll probably do another 15-minute timer day on Monday. If you want to join in the fun, please do. Anyway, in addition to the many loads of laundry and assorted other things I accomplished, one of the happiest outcomes was this easy, delicious blueberry crumb cake. We are in the middle of a disgusting and frankly upsetting heat wave here in the US, so I don’t recommend baking anything at all until we’re past all the air quality and heat exhaustion warnings, but when it does break, and you still have that pint of blueberries in your fridge that need using up, this cake will do quite nicely.
While we’re on the subject of summer fruits, and how best to enjoy them, let me introduce you to the delights of Pico Fruta. I bought a small jar of this spice combo mostly to get free shipping at Penzeys this winter, thinking it sounded promising, and then forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when the act of chopping up a watermelon jogged my memory— the label recommends sprinkling it on your refreshing, cold summer fruits, so I did, and friends. Chums. I’m here to tell you that Pico Fruta will take your watermelon, your peaches, your pineapples, your honeycrisp apple slices, all of them! It will take them from perfectly good but not noteworthily delicious & refreshing to let’s sing about it from the rafters delicious & refreshing. Enjoy!
The Emmy nominations came out this week (I know, but trust me, it was this week) and a lot of them were very good?! For example! Our beloved Fleabag snagged seven nominations, important mostly because it prompted DamesPal Kathryn to wear her Fleabag jumpsuit to pick up her daughter from summer camp that day. We think Phoebe Waller-Bridge would agree that’s the main thing to remember. The F/X historical drama Pose— set in the drag ball scene of the mid-1980s— also picked up 6 nominations, and I’m thrilled. The more people know about the true origins of voguing, created by trans and queer POC, the better. I’m watching the first season on Netflix right now (as is Dame Margaret, coincidentally!), and among the many things the show gets right (the music, the costumes, the many callbacks to Paris is Burning, the overall 1987-ness of it all), the casting of MJ Rodriguez is my favorite. Her performance as Blanca, galvanized by an HIV-positive diagnosis to launch her own House of Evangelista to nurture and train the next generation of talent, is soulful and urgent. Blanca is someone whose side the viewer is instinctively on, even when she’s messing up, because she sees and truly loves talented underdogs with hearts of gold (and she is one, herself). She’ll get under your skin, in the best way. Tre’vell Anderson wrote a wonderful piece about Rodriguez’ performance and how underrated her work is. I completely agree and hope she’ll be nominated for her work in Season 2 with the 2020 nominations.
I love this whole Missy Elliott profile in Marie Claire— everything from her reflections on her ambitions and the scope of her career to the photos, which are every bit as glamorous and fun as she is. She was the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame this year, and I can’t wait to see her inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (she’ll be eligible in 2022). This week also marked the 22nd anniversary of the release of Supa Dupa Fly, which is every bit as good and weird today as it was on its release. Listen to it today, it has lost n o t h i n g, and this leads me to my favorite quote from the profile, which will bring us right back around to CATS: “When I saw Elliott’s video for “The Rain,” off of her 1997 debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, for the first time, it was like every element of my happiest hidden self coming together. I loved how weird it was, with the fish-eye lenses, blow-up black suits, sunglasses that went over the top of your head, and jerky, almost manic dancing.” Missy and friends’ dance moves in “The Rain” are so ubiquitous, so seamlessly woven into our visual and musical culture that you can see their echoes at a few points in the choreography for CATS— see Jennifer Hudson at 1:39 for one immediately recognizable example.
Dame Margaret’s Consumerism Corner and Other Links!
IT’S FINALLY HERE!
CATS was not the only Tom Hooper-directed project to release a trailer this week— thanks to San Diego Comic Con, we were also gifted with the above trailer for the forthcoming TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS and, unlike CATS, it looks… almost perfect? While I will forever mourn the great cast squandered in the phenomenally ill-conceived 2007 movie adaptation of The Golden Compass (Daniel Craig! Nicole Kidman!! SAM ELLIOTT!!!!), my heart is incredibly open to the new embodiment of these beloved characters. Ruth Wilson’s sinister Mrs. Coulter is particularly great in this trailer, and Dafne Keene’s Lyra seems pleasantly wiry and feral. I have loved these books since I was 10, so my excitement at seeing them finally receive a thoughtful, nuanced treatment is all-encompassing. Jack Thorne, the series’ screenwriter, reportedly wrote 46 drafts of the pilot, trying to get it right, and frankly that seems like the level of care the material demands.
While listening to Who? Weekly on Tuesday, I learned that a trend I’ve identified is on the verge of blowing up, so I’m staking my claim in it before it goes wide: Miss Honey, specifically as portrayed by Embeth Davidtz in the 1996 film adaptation of Matilda, is an under-the-radar fashion icon who’s about to blow up. There have been rumblings in this direction since as early as 2016 and, whether stated or not, Reformation has been producing dresses that could double as “slutty Miss Honey” costumes since its founding in 2009, but now, with Leighton Meester specifically naming Miss Honey as the inspiration for the capsule collection she just released with Reformation-adjacent brand Christy Dawn, I bet you’re going to see this comparison everywhere. And really, it makes sense— now that 90s fashion is back again, there is an undeniable charm to being able to dress like that one beautiful elementary school teacher you either wanted to be, or be adopted by. And the long, sweet, floral dresses that mark the style (bonus points if you can wear them over a snugly-fitting white t-shirt) are both (1) vastly more forgiving than most youth-driven trends and (2) ideal for just this time of year, from the dog days of summer-the sun-drenched days of early fall. Target has been making some strong options in this area this summer and spring, from this brown polka-dot number (the weighted average of Miss Honey and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) and this lovely floral wrap dress in both sage green (plus) and golden yellow (plus).
And speaking of television and fashion, I recall my eyes just about rolling out of my head when the (straight-sized) costume designer for SHRILL stated that the extremely charming but very commercially accessible dresses she made for Aidy Bryant were just impossible to find in stores for plus-size women. Now, ModCloth’s new outlet is here to back me up quite affordably. Each for $30 or less, they have a bright plaid a-line dress like those Annie wears to work, an adorably assertive floral dress like the ones she grows into later in the season, and a mint green dress dotted with ice-cream cones that would have fit perfectly into the Fat Babe Pool Party, all available in sizes XXS-4X. Sadly, I still haven’t found a dress as great as the rainbow sequined one Annie wears to her office party but, when I do, you will be the first to know, Dames Nationals.
Earlier this week, in an effort to joyfully support the Amazon workers’ striking for better conditions on said company’s made-up “holiday” Prime Day, I invited my Twitter followers to share some of their favorite backlist series and stand-alones (i.e. books that have been out in paperback for more than a year) and encouraged people to track said books down at their local library. The replies were FULL OF GOLD. This has actually been a very favorite summer lifehack for me, as an audiobook addict: identifying series that are popular enough for the library to own them as downloadable audiobooks, but old enough that the majority of the books will be available with little-to-no-waiting. An audiobook binge is exactly what suits me best on days when it’s too hot to move. If this sounds as good to you as it does to me, here are some series that might be of interest:
Kids and YA books are (1) AMAZING to revisit on audio, and (2) often under-utilitized on library’s digital lending sites as, compared with adults, kids have less casual access to the smart phones and tablets upon which such things would be consumed. So I have been able to take down childhood favorites with almost no waiting and boy, it’s great. For people of a similar vintage to me, Tamora Pierce’s entire back catalog holds up beautifully, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series— narrated by Tim Curry!!!— is an absolute joy, Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart books (although occasionally problematic) are still feminist, swash-buckingly delights, and Jonathan Strouds’s Bartimaeus books, while not actually old enough to be objects of nostalgia for me at 34, are so sharp, funny, and compelling that you’ll feel like you read them as child even if this is your first time encountering them.
Romance series are easy to come by in library collections, but I have confession to make: I can somtimes have a hard time enjoying listening to them because having someone read me a sex scene makes me very uncomfortable. However, that’s not an issue when it comes to Georgette Heyer romances, which come from a less explicit era and are often widely available at libraries. Start with Slyvester and plunge on into whatever else is available— with the caveat that, due to being published in the 1930s, there can be some dispiritingly casual anti-semitism.
But my absolute favorite thing to take down in this manner is mystery novels, especially series. I’m presently working my way through Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books, which I definitely recommend, and last summer I treated myself to Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series— another excellent choice!
And, if all else fails, there is truly always (ALWAYS!!) Agatha Christie to borrow. Due to her stature as the Grand Dame of British Crime, she can get really exceptional narrators— if you can find any of the books narrated by Dan Stevens, run don’t walk to the virtual checkout line. Skip Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but grab Death on the Nile if you’re lucky enough to see it available. It may be her best Poirot book.
And, while we’re on the subject of British excellence, you definitely need to read this New York Times profile of Rufus, the hawk who protects Wimbledon from the perils of pigeons. It’s exactly the kind of sports-adjacent story we typically deem Dames Bait.
And finally, let me close by recommending someone else’s Substack newsletter: Flow State, run by a mysterious collective of ambient-music enthusiasts, which provides something deliciously straight-forward: two hours worth of distinctive ambient music every weekday, with a short but informative write-up of the artists involved. As someone who really needs music like this to focus, but rarely wants to devote active listening time to finding fresh examples of it, this newsletter is a god’s send. With minimal effort, I have a big library of options I can browse to find exactly the right background music for whatever task is at hand. My favorite find so far: Max Richter.
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