“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).

“007: SPECTRE” movie review

SpectreA brilliant Bond film and excellent followup to the wildly popular Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops in MGM and Columbia’s Spectre the 24th official title in the Bond 007 franchise. After the soaring success of the previous chapter in the Bond anthology, who would have known that this final appearance of Daniel Craig as the heartthrob MI6 “paid assassin” would be just as thrilling! Just the opening sequence of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat, and the many throwbacks to past Bond film plots or characters will capture your attention for the two and a half-hour runtime. Even Blofeld, the original Bond villain, and his fluffy white cat appear in this epic Bond story. The jaw-dropping action will satisfy even the most ardent and long-time James Bond fans. Whether you’re an old-school or new 007 fan, you are definitely in for a treat. Some of the most refreshing and getting-back-to-authentic Bond elements, of the Craig chapters in the series, is the lack of over-the-top and at times absurd gadgetry, and a return to the very essence of what makes this franchise stand the test of time.

After the tragic events at Skyfall and the destruction of MI6’s massive facility on the Thames, James Bond 007 (Craig) is following a lead in Mexico City thanks to a cryptic posthumous message from the former Agent M (Judi Dench). When the actions in Mexico City draw the attention of the UK’s new head of security and Agent M (Ralph Fiennes), 007 is both grounded and puts the very existence of MI6 in jeopardy. After an unauthorized mission to northern Africa, 007 learns of the sinister crime syndicate known as SPECTRE. Coming face-to-face with the leader of Spectre, 007 learns of a chilling connection between the leader and himself. From northern Africa to the Austrian Alps, 007 must race against the clock to stop a big surveillance data collection organization from being the eyes of the world, and take out the leader of Spectre before he has his hands in the security pockets of several countries around the world.

This final chapter in the Craig Bond series has it all: action, romance, espionage, intrigue, and car chases. But probably the best elements of the movie are connected to  getting back to the very core of what has kept this franchise alive for over 50 years and 24 official titles. Despite the success and popularity of the 90s Brosnan 007 movies, they tended to place a lot of significance on the futuristic and ultimately impossible gadgets. Understandable, because the 90s were a time of massive personal electronic device innovation and the dot com boom. However, this emphasis on the gadgets took away from the plot and character development. Still, those era of Bond movies were exciting and still popular today amongst mostly the newer Bond fans. Returning to the very essence of what make Bond the 007 that fans adore is what makes the Craig films unique and exciting–especially in Skyfall and Spectre where 007 truly comes into his own. We still get some gadgets and the famous Bond film cars, but there is a degree of believability and realism that exists in these films that did not exist in the 90s Bonds. Even though these are still high concept films that have over-the-top action packed sequences, these movies still have a sense of old-school espionage class about them. An interesting side note: there is definitely a hint of the plot from Tomorrow Never Dies in this current installment.

No 007 movie would be complete without an original song that is eerie, romantic, and mysterious all at the same time. The title song from Skyfall performed by the incomparable Adele was an outstanding work of music and lyrics. It truly embodied the film itself and cemented her career as a master of soul/jazz. I cannot say the same for Sam Smith’s performance of “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I was not all that impressed with his performance and I thought the song itself paled in comparison to 2012’s “Skyfall.” Despite the fact that I didn’t personally care for Sam Smith performance or the song, it definitely still had that Bond theme flare about it. Between the graphics and editing, you still knew that you were watching a 007 movie without needing to see the poster or title. Looking to the next vocal artist, I’d like to see Elle King perform the next Bond theme song after her very Bond-ish sounding “Under the Influence.” Regarding the film score, Thomas Newman shines as he so often does with his remarkable talent for capturing the soul of a film in the score that accompanies it.

Facing the popularity of Skyfall, it was definitely a monumental task for Mendes to direct this Bond film. And although I do not feel that Spectre is better than Skyfall and at times I felt that I enjoyed the previous one more, I still thoroughly enjoyed this present installment of the anthology. And to my pleasant surprise, Dame Judi Dench makes a small cameo appearance as the M we’ve had for nearly 20 years. In respect to the characters in and of themselves and their personal/interpersonal relationships with one another, I really felt that the chemistry between M, Q, 007, Money Penny, and Blofeld was right on the ‘money.’ There really isn’t much in the way of traditional or conventional character development but that is commonplace in high-concept films. However, the glimmer of development in both M and 007 was enough to show that these characters and actors were almost made for each other. It was never awkward or boring to watch their interactions with one another.

Ready for an actual spy movie filled with assassins, intrigue, espionage and romance–especially after having sat through Bridge of Spies??? Then definitely watch the next chapter in the Bond, James Bond 007 anthology SPECTRE! Prepare yourself for over two hours of excitement, explosions, and dynamic car chases. Return to old school Bond! Watch as many plot elements through the years and even the villain who started it all make it full-circle.

“No Escape” movie review

NoEscapeLook for an escape–from this movie. The Weinstein company’s No Escape is an over-the-top, absurd, and confused movie. Often times I can find something positive to say about even the worst of films, but this one IS the exception. Rumor has it that this movie was almost nixed from a theatrical release, and I can easily understand why that is. This film has no idea what it is, and tries to fit the tropes of multiple genres. Because of the state of confusion that this movie is in, the plot lacks adequate structure and the pacing is ridiculous. Is it supposed to be funny when people die??? Is it propaganda on not doing business in Asia??? Why are the events in the opening of the movie never explained??? I could go on and on. From the casting to the writing and direction, this film took events that actually happen in that part of the world, and treated them with irreverence and disrespect. Simply stated, don’t get trapped into watching this movie from which there is no escape.

No Escape is about a family that relocates to Southeast Asia for a a bright new future. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) travel with their kids to the other side of the world in order for Jack to take a new job as an engineer with a water treatment company in (most likely) Cambodia. Upon arrival at the airport, they meet frequent British visitor Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who offers them a ride to the hotel that both are staying in. The morning after Jack’s arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a civil war-like battle in the streets. Unbeknownst to Jack and his family, he and his coworkers are the target along with other Westerners. Virtually trapped in the small Cambodian town, Jack and his family, with help from Hammond, must escape to safety. Only, around every corner there are rebels who will stop at nothing until they see blood flowing from those they see as a threat to their way of life.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is quite literally nothing positive I can say about this movie. Interestingly, it starts out with an intense scene that sparks excitement and suspense. So, I can understand how this film even got the green light. It did what all screenplays should do–capture the attention by showing something big/important within the first 3-5 pages. I suppose, that is kind of positive. But, had the producers just read the next several pages, they would have realized that this is a travesty of an idea for a film. And casting Wilson in the lead did not help the film’s case any. Unlike the performances in True Story delivered by James Franco and Jonah Hill, that proved these icons of comedy can play serious roles, Wilson just proves that he needs to be confined to comedies, satires, rom-coms, and parodies. The casting choice for Brosnan as the eccentric British traveler was acceptable, but his character also suffers from poor writing and direction.

It is unclear what the message is supposed to be. On one hand, it can be read as a ‘don’t travel to Southeast Asia if you are a Westerner’ but it can also be read as a ‘the West needs to stop exploiting the East.’ Unfortunately, the message/subtext is opaque at best. Instead of treating the plot of this movie with the reverence it deserved, due to civil wars like the one depicted in the movie happen in that part of the world on a fairly regular basis, the movie plays it too close to a satire or dark comedy. It never quite crosses the threshold into blatant comedy, but it gets pretty close. There were numerous times that the audience laughed at the deaths of people. And understandably so, because the scenes, actions, and dialog were choreographed in such a way that they begged for chuckles and giggles from the audience. My roommate, who is originally from that part of the world, was made very uncomfortable by the movie due to the lack of respect for what real people face everyday in some parts of the world.

There is a great lack of explanation for most of the scenes and motives in the movie. The events in the opening of the movie are never re-visited, despite the scene that follows states “17 Hours Earlier.” So, I am unsure what the significance was in the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Furthermore, the entire reason for the revolt against Jack’s company and other Westerners is vaguely explained in some rushed exposition by Hammond. Even after his hurried explanation as to the source of the resentment that sparked violence, Hammond fails to actually explain in such a way that even Jack completely understands. It is like the explanation for the violence was an after thought–just stick it in there somewhere. If the intent of the movie was to highlight the fact that Westerners have been known to exploit the resources and workforce of the East, it should have been done in such a way that the movie did not make a mockery of itself.

Perhaps after this early release, Weinstein will decide to pull this movie from cinemas. I mean, Sony did that with The Interview, even though that movie was fun and entertaining and should have been shown. Much like the Taken movies could be subtitled “don’t leave America,” this movie could easily be subtitled “don’t do business in or visit Southeast Asia.”