2018 Summer Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Film Title: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Young Donna (Lily James) sings with The Dynamos in the sequel to the 2008 sleeper hit Mamma Mia! (Source: Variety)

Based on the popular stage musical, the 2008 sleeper hit Mamma Mia! was a campy, silly, and harmless yet somewhat enjoyable film. It featured a great cast singing their own renditions of ABBA’s greatest hits (as well as some overlooked ones)–some good and some bad–on a beautiful island on the coast of Greece. The classy yet overhyped Meryl Streep was the heart and soul of the movie. Ten years later, the original cast are back in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. They join other talented actors to sing, dance, jive, and have the time of their lives. The sequel is like a B-side of a vinyl record. Nobody asked for another one of these movies, but if there is one surprise to come out this summer, it’s definitely this one!

This movie is a prequel/sequel; going back and forth between 1979 to the present day. One year after the events of the first film, Donna (Meryl Streep) has passed away from…who knows what? Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is struggling with her marriage with her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper). She invites her relatives to the grand reopening of the villa, under the management of Señor Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia), on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi dedicated to her mother’s memory, while unaware about the arrival of an estranged guest (Cher).

Meanwhile, in flashbacks, the audience learns how young Donna (Lily James) graduated from Oxford University with her friends Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies). She decides to travel around Europe where she falls in and out of love with three handsome beaus–Swedish sailor Bill (Josh Dylan), Irish architect Sam (Jeremy Irvine), and English banker Harry (Hugh Skinner)–who would become Sophie’s possible fathers (Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth, respectively). To tell their story, they sing and dance the night away.

A sequel might not have been the most necessary, but it’s interesting to see how the story started and continued after the original, where Sophie’s actual biological father being left ambiguous. Being a fan of ABBA, how hard is it to resist?

James made a brief singing debut in the 2015 remake of Cinderella, where she sang a snippet of the English lullaby “Lavender’s Blue” and the famous “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” during the credits. She also sang a little in last year’s action film Baby Driver. This movie, however, features the performance of her lifetime.

Her spectacular performance captures the bubbly, energetic and optimistic spirit of Streep, with her long, curly blond hair and infectious smile–not to mention, amazing singing voice. It’s hard not to smile and tap your toes during her delightful rendition of “When I Kissed the Teacher” in the opening scene at her Oxford graduation. From that moment on, she’s on fire! She joins along with a talented young cast; particularly Irvine, in which I’m surprised to see him deliver another good performance seven years after War Horse.

It’s a shame Brosnan doesn’t have the same beautiful voice as Irvine’s. I still can’t get over his botched rendition of “S.O.S.” from the original. Thankfully, he doesn’t sing a whole lot–with the exception of “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper”, but that’s with the entire cast. Other than that, the song covers in this movie will have you dancing in the aisles–from the hilarious rendition of “Waterloo”, set in a Napoleon-themed restaurant in Paris, to a seductive version of “Why Did It Have to Be Me?”, set on Bill’s sailboat.

Writer/director Ol Parker joins Richard Curtis to bring forth some really funny moments–as well as some great one-liners, too–and really emotional ones. Robert Yeoman (a frequent collaborator of Wes Anderson) brings forth gorgeous cinematography–I particularly love the editing trick where the camera pans away from one character and cuts to another (i.e. the “One of Us” sequence).

While I smiled through the whole movie, it did have its fair share of narrative flaws. For instance, do we really have to know Bill has a twin brother? There are times in which the film feels forced and rushes a bit. Nevertheless, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a rare sequel that slightly outshines the original. The spirit of Streep still remains intact. Be on the lookout for cameos by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

Also, thank God for Cher and her version of “Fernando”!

3/4

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2016 Summer Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

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Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) sings her heart out in Stephen Frear’s latest biopic of the world’s worst opera singer (Source: The Telegraph)

Director Stephen Frears has been directing movies ever since the 1970s. But, he didn’t became well-known until 1985 with My Beautiful Laundrette, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which featured themes involving homosexuality and racism. Frears had some hits during the 21st century including High Fidelity, The Queen, and Philomena (one of my favorites). Given his old-fashioned style, it’s hard not to be impressed by him. With Florence Foster Jenkins, his latest about the world’s worst opera singer, this is another marvelous movie to add to his massive film repertoire.

Florence (Meryl Streep) is a socialite living in New York City with her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). She has dreams of becoming an opera singer. St. Clair hires pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg a.k.a. Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory) to accompany her hitting the right notes. Once she hits the stage, Florence thinks she has the most beautiful soprano in the world; while others say she lacks any singing ability. She eventually plans on singing at Carnegie Hall. St. Clair does everything he can for his wife leading up to the big event.

Some of you might be thinking that this movie sounds too good to be true. That is correct. As the founder of the Verdi Club, Florence was really that bad of an opera singer. Almost every audience member tried desperately hard to hold in their laughter while performing in the 1930s and 1940s. However, she was influenced by some well-known singers. For instance, the late David Bowie has a copy of her infamous record The Glory (????) of the Human Voice. He stated, according to The Telegraph, “Florence had, and was unaware of, the worst set of pipes in the world.” He would say that she had so much enthusiasm on stage, she would throw roses to the audience and the basket itself. That’s one of the reasons why Streep’s portrayal is one of the best of the year.

It’s an odd performance for sure, given she can be a wonderful singer (e.g. Into the Woods) and is loved by every member of the Academy. Meryl Streep brings the eccentric personality with a passion for music almost to perfection. Once she starts singing badly, you can’t help but start cracking up on what you are hearing. At the same time it’s easy to feel bad for her since she had been chasing her dreams ever since she was a kid. In one peaceful moment, Florence talks to McMoon about how she wanted to be a concert pianist. “When the nerves damaged in my left arm, that’s not to be,” she says. Then, they start playing Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor” together. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets an Oscar nod.

As amazing as Meryl Streep is, the biggest standout is Hugh Grant as her husband St. Clair Bayfield. He goes to great heights to make Florence not the best singer in the world, but good enough. Seeing him dancing is definitely worth the price of the ticket. If he doesn’t get nominated for Best Supporting Actor, maybe Helberg’s portrayal of McMoon will. Not only did he actually play the piano, but he also provides the film’s wit.

Stephen Frears brings the old-fashioned feel that the audience often sees every once in a while. Every shot is something to truly behold. It’s quite refreshing to see something as funny and delightful as Florence Foster Jenkins. One of 2016’s best.

4/4

Movie Review: Suffragette

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The women of 1912 England fight for women’s rights in “Suffragette”

Throughout the 20th century, women around the world fought for equal rights. They risked everything-family, jobs, and most importantly, their courage to fight for this gigantic issue. While Great Britain was struggling to have women the right to vote, America passed the 19th amendment in 1920. The fight for equal rights is still going on today.

Suffragette proves it.

Director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan bring 1900s London to life in this unflinching but flawed historical piece. After delivering a phenomenal performance in Far from the Madding Crowd, Carey Mulligan hits it out of the park again as Maud Watts, who has a loving husband (Ben Whishaw) and a loving son (Adam Michael Dodd). She has been working underground as a laundry worker ever since she was a child. Along with other protesters including Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), Maud begins to support women’s rights under Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in an extended cameo, unfortunately), but she must play cat-and-mouse with the State.

I would not be surprised if this gets nominated for any Oscars (we all know how much the Academy loves Streep). I definitely wanted more. Other than that, I’m glad I went to see Suffragette.

3/4

Movie Review: Into the Woods

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The Witch (Meryl Streep) explains to the baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on what she needs in Rob Marshall’s “Into the Woods”

While Disney is remaking their classic movies for the new generation including Kenneth Branagh’s version of Cinderella coming out in March (which I’m quite looking forward to seeing), we get something a little different. Based on Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical, Into the Woods is a musical featuring characters inspired by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. following a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wishing for a child. They encounter a once-beautiful witch (Meryl Streep), who has put a curse on the baker’s family tree long ago. They agree to go into the woods to end the curse three days time before the rise of the blue moon to give the witch four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Along their way, they meet Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), who are out to fulfill wishes of their own.

With gorgeous sets and costumes, terrific and well-choreographed musical numbers, and a great performances from the cast (even Johnny Depp makes a big step-up from his last dreadful performance in The Lone Ranger as the Big Bad Wolf), director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and his team make a wonderful musical about having all wishes come true that is witty and charming, and surprisingly dark and twisted that is perfect for the entire family. I cannot wait to buy the soundtrack. One of 2014’s best.

4/4

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his group of animals in "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his group of animals in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of Wes Anderson’s favorite books. Ever since he was child, he thought no one can make a better adaptation of the book other than himself. Once he became a filmmaker (as of today), he succeeded in creating a stop-motion animated adaptation not only for kids, but also for adults.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is living a fantastic life as a newspaper columnist, has a fantastic wife (Meryl Streep), a fantastic – albeit different – son (Jason Schwartzman), and fantastic friends. Before he moves into a tree home, Fox gets advice from Badger (Bill Murray) that the tree is located near the homes of three wealthy and mean farmers, Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon).

One day, Fox and his buddy Kyle the Opossum (Wally Wolodarsky) decide to raid the farmers’ to get some food. This drives the three farmers up the wall once they found out their food has been stolen. So Fox and his furry friends are forced to move underground to prevent from getting killed.

I had never seen animation that was funny and colorful until seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson puts so much energy into making the film. His usual quirks are so ingenious that it’s impossible not to laugh-out-loud. Not to mention the running gag where every character replaces every bad word in the book with the word “cuss”. That is censorship at its finest.

4/4