Mamma Mia!

♫ You can dance... ♫

♫ You can dance / You can jive… ♫

25Star

by Ken B.

There’s a scene in Mamma Mia! that plays out like a pop culture journalist’s fever dream (well, that’s almost every scene in Mamma Mia!, but this one in particular): Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, and thirty or forty nameless extras dancing on a pier, belting out ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. Benny Andersson has a five second cameo as a piano player on a boat during that sequence. It is indeed something to behold. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen when a handful of world famous actors got together for 108 minutes and told a flimsy story through relentlessly bouncy covers of ABBA songs, this is your chance to see that visualized.

The story is set on a Greek island, where Donna (Streep) has run an old hotel for several years. Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is about to get married to a man named Sky (Dominic Cooper). Sophie wants her father to attend her wedding, but Donna was a single mother, and she doesn’t know who to invite. Instead, after investigating her mother’s diary from years ago, she secretly sends out invitations to three possibilities: banker Harry Bright (Colin Firth), architect Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), and writer Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgård). She hopes to identify her father from the moment she sees him. Of course, it won’t be that easy.

The first thing to be addressed in a musical is the music. Every song, of course, is a cover of a song by ABBA. If you’re familiar with their discography, you know what to expect. The singers range. Meryl Streep is quite good (is there anything she can’t do?), as is Amanda Seyfried, a fact that would be solidified a few years later in Les Misérables. Everyone else falls somewhere along the mid range of tolerability, except Brosnan. A large part of his career has been sealed in the history books as the James Bond of the mid ‘90s and early ‘00s, and to put it nicely, singing won’t be joining those ranks anytime in the near future. Or ever.

It’s clear the primary ideals of Mamma Mia! were not particularly artistic. Its demands were simple: Provide two hours of light entertainment packed with music that will both suit fans of comedies, ABBA, and the popular stage musical it’s based on. It doesn’t particularly care about fleshing out a story, or even a compelling place to put the songs. They seem too deliberate to exist (kind of like those vocabulary assignments you got when you were ten where you had to put all of the words of the week in sentences, and it was always really forced). Because that’s how the placement of the music comes off in Mamma Mia!, it really hurts the overall flow of the film at times.

Still, there’s little ability to deny an overwhelming sense of fun Phyllida Lloyd’s film contains. The scenery is picturesque, the pacing is bouncy, and the cast seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves, regardless of how good (or bad) their singing is. There comes a time when an otherwise totally non-recommendable film can keep its head above water on entertainment value alone, and Mamma Mia! fulfills that quota with impressive ease.

There’s almost no doubt in my mind that the reason Mamma Mia! was released in the same weekend as The Dark Knight in July 2008 was to generate sufficient counter-programming to the bleak and depressing world the middle entry of Nolan’s saga represents. Indeed, while the superhero film reigns far superior in my book, Mamma Mia! has a well formed idea of what its own demographic will want, and does indeed fulfill it for the most part. This is a casually fascinating movie, and quite easy to comprehend. Its target audiences already knows it will like it, and those outside of it know they won’t.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Soundtrack

Mamma Mia!

The World is Not Enough – Review

The World Is Not Enough cap2

2Star

by Ken B.

The World is not Enough almost feels like a slew of ideas for action scenes and one-liners were thrown together, and then a connecting plot was picked out of a hat. We expect the James Bond movies to be better than other action films, and when it’s not, that’s all the more of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Due to the excessive action sequences, it would be a crime if the special effects weren’t amazing, which they are, and the performances are very good for an action movie, ranging from the straight-edged M (JUDI DENCH) to the comic relief, “R” (JOHN CLEESE, who is one of the few people you can say to be hired to do comic relief in a movie and could pull it off every time, regardless of the surrounding script), who works with “Q” (the final performance of DESMOND LLEWELYN), and of course, Bond (PIERCE BROSNAN) himself.

The plot here concerns the assassination of Sir Robert King (DAVID CALDER), a tycoon whose money was just retrieved from a Swiss bank. The trail of clues leads to a series of Russian terrorists, including Renard (ROBERT CARLYLE), who literally can’t feel pain. The plan here is to create a nuclear meltdown to ruffle the petroleum prices.

Interesting, right? Kind of? Sort of? Well, the plot did not seem of upright concern for this one, which is kind of disappointing, considering that this is a 007 movie. I can’t reiterate this enough, it appears that the ratio of action scenes to plot was somewhere around 9 to 1. It starts all well and good. The speedboat chase at the beginning of the movie is wonderful to look at. And then, things slowly descend into a confusing mess.  Around the climax of the film, which contains so many gun flashes, sparks, and downright old fashioned gasoline powered explosions I had to shield my eyes a couple of times. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that before. But oh – when you can see the explosions and flashes, they are truly magnificent.

I found the title song by the band Garbage to be oddly mesmerizing, accompanied by the title sequence which does not disappoint in looking like a David Lynch fever dream, as modern Bond sequences happen to do. Speaking of Lynch, the song sometimes did sort of have a dream pop undertone, kind of like Julee Cruise could in her work for Twin Peaks. Never mind. Making comparisons between these two sides of cinema is a futile effort. (I couldn’t keep going, anyway – Twin Peaks is as far as my personal knowledge of Lynch’s filmography goes after stumbling across it on Netflix.)

When compared to the lexicon of the James Bond franchise, The World is Not Enough just doesn’t stand up. It’s like a just-above-mediocre general action movie was ported into this series, established for longevity and quality. It has all the classic elements; exotic locations, Bond girls sure to intrigue half of the population, and a lot of explosions. The problem is, when The World is not Enough combines these things together, it doesn’t work nearly as well as we know the series can. In the middle, this 128 minute movie strays towards boring (except when a giant helicopter with steel jigsaw blades cuts buildings and bridges in half. Otherwise, the action becomes kind of repetitive). What I’m getting to is saying that The World is Not Enough is not a very welcome addition into the James Bond family. This is a completely passive, largely unsatisfying event.

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