MOVIE REVIEW: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018)

1 Hour and 54 Minutes (PG-13)

Mamma Mia

premiered on the stages of London in 1999, then a little less than 10 years later it graced American movie theatres, so it was only fitting that another 10 years would pass before we were given the next iteration.

A prequel hidden in a sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” picks up with Sophie, the eve before she officially re-opens The Hotel Bella Donna in honor of her mother. As she prepares for the hotel’s opening, The movie is both a prequel and a sequel, the plot is set after the events of the first film but transforms into a montage of the moments that brought Donna (Meryl Streep) to the beautiful Greek island of Kolokairi and Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) to her womb. To show their support of Sophie and to mourn the loss of their friend, Tanya (Christina Baranski) and Rosie (Julia Walters) arrive to bolster Sophie, showing her how her mother’s past will lead to her future.

When the announcement came that they were making a sequel, some audience members had PTSD flashbacks of Pierce Brosnan singing and an impending sense of dread fell over them. Many arrived with low expectations, myself included, but most were strangely delighted by the overwhelming amount of silliness and self-awareness the film provided. The casting of the Young Dynamos was incredibly spot-on, I don’t think they could have chosen better actresses to portray them; Young Donna (Lily James), Young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn), and Young Rosie (Alexa Davies) brought smiles to everyone’s faces and had instant on-screen chemistry.

Sophie’s potential fathers were a different story, the casting did well enough but it was clear their priorities were to find semi-decent voices attached to pretty faces, not necessarily actors who could physically mimic or grow into their older counterparts. Hugh Skinner managed the nervousness of Young Harry well enough but had too much confidence to truly sell his more anxious behavior. Young Bill (Josh Dylan) barely attempted any type of Scandinavian accent but at least he managed to be beyond charming in a surfer/sailor kind of way, Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) was one of the bigger disappointments because, while he could sing better than his older counterpart, the lustful romantic personality one would expect to sweep Young Donna off her feet just wasn’t there.

Overall, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is an over the top film, full of unrealistic moments of grandeur, brilliant choreography, a Cher cameo (looking more like Lady Gaga’s rich aunt), and of course an overwhelming amount of ABBA music albeit some of their lesser-known hits. While I feel that more of the songs felt forced into the storyline this time around, I think this film targets a very specific audience. It’s a silly summer film that will leave ABBA lovers feeling like true dancing queens.

PS: If you’ve ever wanted to see Pierce, Colin, and Stellan in glitter spandex then stay through the credits! My my, how can you resist that?

Rating:


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and freelance film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

MOVIE REVIEW: Darkest Hour

DARKEST HOUR (2017)



Going In

Before 2017, I had never heard of the Battle of Dunkirk. But thanks to Hollywood, we’ve all had quite the history lesson this year, with two films (Their Finest and Dunkirk) addressing that particular event in some fashion. Now a third film enters the mix, set during the same time period but not dealing with the battle specifically. Instead, Darkest Hour focuses primarily (see what I did there?) on one man – newly appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As Hitler’s forces close in on England, Churchill must make difficult decisions that would affect the outcome of World War II. Playing Churchill is Gary Oldman, and he is already receiving an incredible amount of critical praise for his portrayal of the famous statesman. It will be interesting to see how his performance compares to that of John Lithgow, who just a few months ago won an Emmy for his own depiction of Churchill in the Netflix drama The Crown.  Also a curiosity is whether director Joe Wright will rebound from his underwhelming 2015 remake of the Peter Pan story. Wright’s experience with period pieces such as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, and Anna Karenina point toward this type of material as being perfect for him, and that provides me with a lot of hope.


COMING OUT

Darkest Hour is my kind of biopic. Joe Wright’s film is a little less of a period piece than I expected, though. With only a few scenes of deep melodrama, it unfolds more like a fast-paced political thriller. Wright directs with a dazzling electricity that moves the film forward at a tremendous pace. Dario Marianelli, composer of the wonderful music in Kubo and the Two Strings, provides an incredible audible energy that matches the intensity of Churchill’s fiery personality and the wartime tension felt at the time. The result is a film that, despite being almost entirely dialogue driven, has the ability to put you at the edge of your seat. Since this story is about the great orator Winston Churchill, it is extremely fitting.

The story is also mostly true and I’d encourage viewers to read up on exactly what took place during these important months in 1940. Although Darkest Hours adds a few dramatic elements toward the end of the film, it mostly does justice to the primary players: Churchill (Gary Oldman), King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane). Anthony McCarten’s script covers only the month of May – Churchill’s appointment through his famous “we shall never surrender” speech. As Germany draws closer each day, Churchill must weigh the pushing of peace talks from the likes of Chamberlain and Halifax against the proposition of seeing the entire British Army wiped out while continuing to fight back. The Battle of Dunkirk does feature prominently here and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will make a perfect complimentary film for a twin bill.

What elevates the film into greatness, however, is Oldman. He is nearly unrecognizable as Churchill, buried under the hefty weight of prosthetics. But where he succeeds most is selling the idea that Churchill truly did use language and words to turn the tide of English thinking toward resistance of Hitler’s regime. Wright and McCarten do a fantastic job of building this up, giving us little moments of Winston’s oratory brilliance, so that when he walks into Parliament for the final speech we fully believe his words will have the power they need. Oldman’s performance feels like a total immersion into the character, his veins seemingly about to pop at any time, and his stutters and pauses perfectly capturing the enormous pressure weighing Churchill down. I’m not sure whether two actors have ever won an Emmy and an Oscar within six months of each other for playing the same character, but Lithgow and Oldman definitely have that chance.

Verdict

Winston Churchill is a fascinating figure. Historian and politician, but also extraordinary leader. His actions within that first month as British Prime Minister changed the course of world history. Had he sued for peace, who knows if Hitler would have been stopped from overtaking Europe (and beyond). Darkest Hour is as thrilling as it is dramatic in telling this very important story of how a leader used words to inspire a nation. A fabulous film in all respects, consider this a must-see and a rival to the title of best film about Dunkirk in 2017.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 060: Cinderella

“Have courage, and be kind” is advice that resonates throughout Disney’s 2015 live-action adaptation of this animated classic. Luckily for us, it’s easy to be kind to this wonderful and enchanting retelling of a beloved fairy tale. So go ahead and settle in, push play, and we promise to have you home by midnight. It’s a lovely conversation and we’ll hope you join us.

Cinderella Review – 0:05:08

The Connecting Point – 0:55:52

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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