“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” movie musical review

You won’t be able to resist the singing and laughter! A major summer box office win for Universal Pictures! Ten years ago, I loved Mamma Mia! and now I equally enjoyed the sequel that seemingly came out of nowhere. I danced, I jived, I had the time of my life, and you will too! The entire original cast is back, and not only them, but select supporting and atmospheric characters as well. Mostly filled with new additions to the Mamma Mia! musical soundtrack, you still get the crowd favorites, those showstopping numbers Dancing QueenSuper Trouper, and of course Mamma Mia. Selections from other songs from the original motion picture (and ABBA Gold album) also make appearances. In our world that seems to be filled with so much negativity, hate, and sadness, a movie like this is needed to lift the human spirit, let go of all your cares, and give yourself over to the timeless music of ABBA and the hilarious antics of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Just like I will be the first to tell you that if you’re searching for the most fun show on Broadway, to select Mamma Mia!, the same rings true for the sequel to the original adaptation. It is so much fun! It might be kitschy fun, but immensely entertaining and very well produced. While some movies and movie musicals comment on society or deal with hard topics, this is a refreshing film that reminds us that it is okay to attend the cinema for no holds barred fun in order to uplift the human spirit.

It’s been ten years since Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) threw her wedding to find her dad, and she is working diligently to remodel and reopen her mother’s hotel. Sadly, Donna (Meryl Streep) has passed away and left the responsibility of running the hotel to her daughter. In order to do her mom proud, Sophie is putting the finishing touches on the grand opening party when she receives some troubling news and a storm wreaks havoc on the hotel. Channeling inspiration from her mother, Sophie reflects on all the stories her mother told her about how she met her dads and came to the island. We get to spend a significant amount of time with young Donna (Lily James) as she makes her way in this world. From graduation to making a home out of the farmhouse and falling for Harry, Bill, and Sam along the way. Sophie learn how her life parallels her mom’s in so many ways. Reuniting with Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), she moves forward with determination to see her mother’s dream all the way through. Just when she’s had enough surprises in her life, Sophie finally comes face to face with her estranged grandmother Ruby (Cher).

There is beauty in simplicity. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again delivers an amazingly fun movie musical built upon a simple plot with iconic songs. It’s a juke box musical. While it may lack the depth, introspect, or critical value of other movie musicals, it possess a power to make an emotional connection that doesn’t hit you hard or seek to change your worldview on an issue, but instead uses the power of song and dance to make you smile. Genuinely smile. The kind of infectious smile and laughter that fills the auditorium at the movie theatre. Sometimes filmmakers are so concerned with upholding the art of cinema, packing in powerful messages, or visualizing deep themes that the desire to entertain for fun gets forgotten. Not only is this the most fun at the movies you will have this summer, but it’s a movie that is solidly produced. It has a command cast featuring performances by Meryl Street and Cher and a lovable cast of familiar and new characters. Whereas the original movie relies mostly on top tier ABBA songs that are generally known to fans and public, this movie employs mostly second and third tier ABBA songs. Fortunately, these lesser known songs will soon find their way into karaoke libraries and mix tape play lists on Spotify and AmazonMusic.

Do yourself a favor and head to the movies this weekend to smile, laugh, and sing along with Mamma Mia: Here We go Again! I enjoyed it so much, that I could definitely watch it again myself. But tomorrow night I need to watch Universal Pictures’ other release this week Unfriended: Dark Web (coincidentally, another sequel that came out of nowhere).

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“Darkest Hour” film review

Outstanding! A gripping film that serves as a testament to rising above all odds to lead and protect. An inspirational biographical drama during one of the western world’s darkest hours. Gary Oldman’s performance as the famous United Kingdom Prime Minister is absolutely remarkable. For history enthusiasts, you will swear that you are watching THE Winston Churchill battle his own homefront of politicians and protecting against the Nazi advancement prior to the United States stepping in following Pearl Harbor. The impact of this film is greatly enhanced by the release of Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier in 2017 as this film depicts what was going on in Churchill’s office prior to the valiant rescue operation. The climax of the film includes Churchill’s “We Shall Fight” speech that rallied Parlament behind him–at least during WWII. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten chooses to interject as much amusement and humor as possible in order to balance out the otherwise cranky Churchill and the dire, deadly position that the people and government of the United Kingdom were at the time. Although it is not uncommon for historical dramas to take creative liberties in telling a visual, cinematic story, Darkest Hour sticks closely to historic accounts but does add in material that aids in constructing a cinematic film.

A thrilling biographical drama that takes place during the crucial days of the Nazi’s march to the sea to conquer western Europe. With France nearly fallen, the United Kingdom is faced with the most deadly enemy it has ever faced in all centuries leading to this very moment. The United Kingdom is searching for a new Prime Minister in the wake of an abrupt end to Churchill’s predecessor. With both the liberal and conservative sides of parliament at each other’s throats, it would take a special leader to unite the government in order to defeat the Nazis. Generally unpopular, but being the only public servant that had the least opposition from both sides, Churchill was a reluctant choice by the King and his colleagues in Parliament. Darkest Hour depicts Churchill’s rise to power and the giants he faced on his first days in office. While he is known to be an unapologetic monolith, a force to be reckoned with, this film also shows his more humble side. All within the span of a few weeks, Churchill is tasked with leading Parliment, unifying the government and people, and protecting the free world.

If you haven’t seen Dunkirk, you should watch it prior to Darkest Hour or at the very least follow up with it because it helps to paint a portrait of what was facing Churchill on his first day in office. Oldman’s performance is nothing shy of exceptional. Although all the performances are excellent, including Lily James’ supporting role, Oldman’s contribution to the film aids in creating the masterpiece that is Darkest Hour. The altruistic behaviors and vulnerable sides of Churchill are brilliantly woven into the narrative, an important move because in films past, he was always shown to be the brilliant orator and rallier that history remembers him as. Oldman’s commitment to character, in terms of speech, posture, and more is incredible; his personal commitment aside, the overall look and feel of Churchill is supported by amazing makeup work and costuming. The energy that each and every character brings to the screen is unquestionably precise and highly effective. While this is a story that takes place during wartime, the character-driven nature of the film is more closely aligned with a heavy courtroom drama than a typical war film. No mistaking it, it is still a war movie, just not in the traditional sense.

While the actors can bring unique, exceptional energy and screen presence to a film, it is often built upon the foundation of excellent writing. Despite the film exceeding the two-hour mark, no scene ever comes across as filler, unnecessary, or simply extra information. Screenwriter McCarten’s adaptation of the life and times of Winston Churchill is precise, efficient, and powerful. He chooses a no holds barred approach that is unapologetic as Churchill himself. As closely as McCarten aligned his screenplay against what we know from history, he chose to invent one particularly inspirational scene in which the Prime Minister leaves his chauffeur and takes the London Underground (what we call a subway)–a mode of transportation that he remarks never using earlier in the film. It is this scene that paves the way for the bombastic, poignant “We Will Fight” speech that will nearly have you standing up in your seat during his ovation on screen. Such a brilliant move by McCarten to invent a scene that truly feels like it very much could have taken place. It’s a scene that also shows Churchill’s heart for the people he was trying his damndest to protect against the evil across the English Channel.

Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a must-see film! His direction of this biographical drama is an outstanding work of cinematic excellence. Few directors could have captured the power of these events and the determination of Churchill as Wright has done. The approach of Wright and McCarten may prove to be precisely what is needed for Oscar nominations. Highly recommend for anyone who is fascinated by history or more specifically the events that took place at the time of and leading up to Dunkirk. Darkest Hour also displays a remarkable adhesion to history while adding in elements that provide a much more comprehensive experience that work to inspire audiences.

“Baby Driver” movie review

Exhilarating! Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is an accelerated non-stop comedic action-thriller that will have you in high-gear the entire drive time. Wildly entertaining! It offers up the best car chases, excellent characters, and displays solid writing in this subgenre of action films. During the golden age of Hollywood cinema, grand getaways, robberies, and car chase movies were a staple. Sony/Tristar, et al, demonstrate that one of the foundational plot types that provided audiences with thrills back then can be effectively resurrected today to embody the engine that drove those motion pictures and install it into a new, sleek body design to mesmerize and impress audiences of today. Certainly, Baby drives to the beat of his own mixtape in this movie, but the film itself goes further and integrates the rhythm of action into the sound design of the motion picture. Not to be left behind on the 80s throwback movies and TV shows bandwagon featuring hipsters and mixtapes, Wright crafts a summer film that rises above the all too cliché CGI robots taking to the sky and pirates swashbuckling across the seas to remind us that little can compare to the squeal of the wheel, love, and the witty turning of phrase. In short, Baby Driver is a self-aware pop-culture film but has the soul of a James Dean motion picture.

Meet Baby (Elgort). Yes, that’s B-A-B-Y Baby. He’s the unparalleled talented getaway driver for Doc’s (Spacey) Atlanta crime ring. With earbuds in place, playing classic rock or his own mixtapes, Baby drives, speeds, and maneuvers to the beat of his tunes. No police force is a match for his ability to evade his would-be captors in order to return Doc’s henchman (and woman) to the secret lair. As chance would have it, Baby meets Debora (James), the girl of his dreams, at his usual diner. All that stands in his way is one more job for Doc, or so he thinks. With payment in full of his debt to Doc on the horizon, Baby sees this as his opportunity to make a clean break and to ditch his shady lifestyle of crime. But when Doc approaches Baby with yet another job, Baby must decide to whom his allegiances lie and protect those he loves.

Any veteran filmmaker will tell you that it’s vitally important to hook the audience within the first three to five minutes of a film. Fail to hook producers at the beginning of the screenplay, and it’s file-thirteen for those 120 pages. As a director, it’s encumbered upon him or her to grab hold of the audience’s attention, creating the urge to want more, to know more. The first scene of Baby Driver is an incredible display of excellence in writing, directing, and the technical elements of motion picture creation. The magic of this scene lies in the ability for Wright to wow the audience, without leaving anyone “out there in the dark” (Sunset Blvd) overly-stimulated or left with the feeling of utter exhaustion. The scene is perfectly stimulating. It sets the bar high for the film, and continues to keep it up there for the entire runtime. Just like the pace of Baby’s driving, the pacing of the film is exquisitely handled and couldn’t be better! The biggest difference between this robbery/getaway film and similar films such as The Fast and the Furious is substance. In addition to the incredible cinematography and sound design paired with out of the world car chases, the film provides heart, soul, and qualitative substance that forms the foundation upon which the more superficial elements are laid.

The cast couldn’t have been more brilliantly selected. One of the hallmarks of an Edgar Wright film is the charismatic leads that display solid chemistry on screen. Just who are our heroes in this film? You’ll just have to watch it and decide for yourself. I love it when films take the more conventional concept of heroes and villains and turns it on its head. For whomever you decide are the heroes, you’ll certainly find yourself actively rooting for their survival and rooting for the villains to meet their demise in shockingly creative ways. When Kevin Spacey isn’t busy being the President of the United States, or more recently, an ex-President, he is the king pin of an Atlanta-based crime syndicate that stages fantastically wild robberies. And Baby is indebted to him and must reluctantly aid and abet as the best getaway driver ever to hit the screens in recent years–think a modern-day James Dean. Jaime Foxx plays the veteran head henchman extremely well and adds his own repulsive, yet comedic charm to his role. It would have been far too easy to play off Spacey and Foxx’s conventional talents to steel focus away from the central plot, but Wright strikes a perfect balance between his leads and the story. Elgort and Spacey’s on-screen chemistry was crafted with strategic precision in order to quickly solidify the frenemy relationship between the two characters. With Elgot increasing in popularity, Wright could have deflated to playing up the attractive bad boy tropes but instead allows Elgot’s Baby to develop organically throughout the film.

If you are seeking a summer film that clearly demonstrates a movie in which all the creative elements work seamlessly together in the manner in which they were respectively intended, then don’t miss Baby Driver while it’s in theatres. The energy you will feel in this film is nearly unparalleled by any in recent times, and that’s because both the major and minor components work together like a well-oiled machine. You will be at full throttle as you are instantly transported from your auditorium seat to the passenger seat in Baby’s car.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella (2015)Bibbidi Bobbidi Bomb! That’s precisely what the most current adaptation/remake of the timeless classic is. Watch as everything you loved about the original Disney Classic is sucked out of this version. But, after this same tired story has been remade again, and again, and again, and again, what can you expect??? From the casting–with Cate Blanchette being the exception–to the writing to the over all poor execution of the famous fairy tale, you will understand why Disney had to add the Frozen short film prior to the opening credits just to get people to see this travesty unfold. On that note, it too was poorly produced and shoved down the movie patrons’ throats. After the tragic adaptation of the beloved Into the Woods, laughable revisionist Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent, and this year’s flavor of Cinderella, I am fearful of the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; however, this story has been remade so many times that I won’t bother. But, I will tell you that in an effort to add some new zest to the story, Disney does modify some of the events and adds in additional backstory. And, I will say that I liked the modifications and additions. So, I suppose the whole thing wasn’t a total flop.

One of the cardinal rules of filmmaking: don’t remake a classic and virtually change nothing! Your audience will most likely be bored to tears. It was Cecil B. DeMille who said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling.” Unfortunately, the storytelling in this movie was not artful or original at all. And I use the term original lightly. I’m aware that many films are based on other works of literature or plays. However, it is vitally important that, when adapting a work of fiction, adding something new is required. Nobody wants to see the same thing over and over. Good examples of creative twists on the Cinderella story were Ever After, with Drew Berrymoore, and the funny, entertaining Cinderella with the beautifully talented Bernadette Peters. Both these versions took the familiar story and created something new. Speaking of Ms. Peters, I have yet to understand Disney’s blatant aversion to casting her in roles that are made for her, such as the witch in the recent Into the Woods and the role of Godmother in today’s Cinderella. Another excellent choice for Godmother would have been the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer.

On the note of casting, I am overall very disappointed with the performances. I will directly point out that I am very happy that Disney chose Lily James for the iconic role of Cinderella, because she boasts a very natural beauty that is not typical of those ordinarilly chosen to play–or drawn to play–Disney princesses. She is someone girls could look up to and not feel like they could never measure up to the unrealistic Disney princess image that often graces the screen. Another positive casting choice was Blanchette as Lady Tremaine (stepmother). She played the role with excellence and truly brought the character to life. At first, I wasn’t too sure about her when the cast was initially announced; but, I stood corrected when everything from her look, to her tone of voice, to her attire screamed ‘I am the evil stepmother.’ She took the Disney villain to a whole new level with the addition of taunting and belittling. As far as the rest of the cast, yes–including Helena Bonham Carter (as Godmother)–I am very disappointed and was constantly thinking of who else should’ve been cast in the various roles. 

Pacing is very important to the structure of a screenplay, and the pacing was way too quick for this story. There were many times that it felt like key turning points or plot twists were just glazed over for the sake of runtime. Another area that structurally suffered was the very ridged narrative. It’s like we jumped from scene to scene without well-crafted transitions. An example of this is when Lady Tremaine has Ella’s glass slipper. We are never even given any clue as to how she thinks to look for the iconic shoe. One of the elements that made Ever After such a hit when it came out was the writing and casting. It took a story most people are familiar with and came at it from a whole new angle. This angle allows the storytellers/filmmakers to include what was loved in the more fictitious fairy tale and build upon it to being the story as close to reality as possible. Between the narrative structure and the casting, this live-action Cinderella still remains a favorite by many. Likewise, the (also Disney, by the way) movie musical adaptation of Cinderella in 1997 made its mark on the classic tale/broadway show by giving it an impeccable cast and adding new musical numbers (“Falling in Love with Love” being a fantastic addition). As you can see, both these movies (as well as Into the Woods and the other Cinderella adaptations over the years) often put their own spin on the story to essentially create a new experience for the movie audience. I find that this version of Cinderella failed to create something new and simply rehashed poorly what has already been done.

Note to Disney: Disney, you need to try something new! Please stop your current trend of creating live-action versions of your beloved animated movies that made you the king of the industry that you are, because you are losing sight of the art of storytelling. I really hope this live-action adaptation of the animated movie is not a foreshadow of what we are to expect with Beauty and the Beast. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do not cast Angela Lansbury as Ms. Pots–and no one can play that role like she can. Movie go-ers beware: this is not your childhood Cinderella.