Against all odds a lightweight Broadway musical made up of ABBA songs and an innocuous storyline has become a worldwide phenomenon still running and selling out wherever it plays. Now it has been given the big-screen treatment filmed on location in the Greek Isles. The story basically remains the same (and oddly similar to the 1969 Gina Lollobrigida comedy Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell) about a young girl Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on the eve of her wedding. She has decided to find out who her real father and so she invites all three of her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) ex-loves to the wedding. With the arrival of Sam (Pierce Brosnan) Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) all hell breaks loose as Donna must not only deal with the impending nuptials but also the re-emergence into her life of three very different--and now older former flames. Helping her through the ordeal are her two best friends Rosie (Julie Walters) and the seductive Tanya (Christine Baranski). All this of course is just an excuse to break out into song every five minute with all of the major ABBA hits used to move the story along--or just stop it dead in its tracks. Either way it’s a toe-tapping experience apart from every other film we’ve seen this summer. With a cast not exactly known for their musical skills this version of Mamma Mia is indeed a roll of the dice which has paid great dividends for the most part. With few exceptions (we’ll get to Pierce’s warbling in a moment) the entire cast shines and delivers--beginning with Streep who is simply a force of nature. She’s sensational and can she ever sing! Her big 11-o’clock-number “The Winner Takes It All ” which she belts out against the stunning scenery of Scopelos (where much of the movie was filmed) will remind you of Barbra Streisand’s triumphant anthem “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl. Streep is the real deal--Hollywood’s real hidden singing and dancing queen. You just have to wonder why she hasn’t gotten more musical opportunities in film. Baranski and Walters are delightful sidekicks and each belt out their own numbers in style. Seyfried (HBO’s Big Love) is a great discovery a charmer who keeps the film grounded and unveils a natural singing voice. As for the guys both Skarsgard and Firth get through their limited vocals with seeming ease and have a great camaraderie as does Brosnan--acting-wise at least. His musical numbers while on key exhibit a voice that probably isn’t going to top the charts anytime soon but you have to give him credit for swinging er singing for the fences. Despite his iffy pipes he and Streep display such great chemistry it would be nice to see them re-team somewhere down the line. It’s not often Hollywood offers a Broadway show’s creative team the chance to repeat their stage success but give credit to Universal for bringing in the original director Phyllida Lloyd writer Catherine Johnson and producer Judy Craymer. Consider the fact that they are all over 50--just like three of their key female stars--and you have a situation in which youth-obsessed Hollywood has reversed course--all for the good. Although Mamma Mia is not shot with the kind of razzamatazz style a Rob Marshall (Chicago) might have brought Lloyd’s feature film debut hits the mark with zeal enthusiasm and the gift of fun. It’s a good-time movie with a refreshing lack of pretense and makes it one of the most purely entertaining musical events ever to hit a motion picture screen. Lloyd has re-captured on film the unabashed joy of the theatrical experience and staged it in one of the most beautiful places on earth. If it’s a little disconcerting to see all these older stars belting out a Swedish pop group’s greatest hits it’s also probably just what audiences living in these troubled times need. Our guess is you’ll want to line up and see it again the minute it ends.
Positioned as a memory play When Did You Last See Your Father? attempts to explore the lifelong relationship between a father dying of terminal cancer and his son told through flashbacks and present-day scenes. Arthur Morrison (Broadbent) and his wife Kim (Juliet Stevenson) are both doctors in a small town in England. They have two kids Gillian (Claire Skinner) and older brother Blake (Firth) who is now an author in his 40s with two kids of his own. The story revolves around how Blake tries to come to terms with his father’s mortality and freely travels in time opening with a sequence in which the 8-year-old Blake experiences an embarrassing car incident as his father drives the family to an event. As the film hops and skips through the family’s life--past and present--we see sad and happy moments focusing on Blake’s teen years and early career where dad always seems to upstage him to become the center of attention. Played out against the drama of Arthur’s imminent death Blake grows to accept it--and all that has come before. Although there is a fine supporting cast the film is what they call in the business a two-hander--a searing drama focusing on the relationship between father and son as played by two of Britain’s finest Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. They are both superb and by the very nature of the film given great opportunity to show their acting chops. It is Broadbent’s film right from the beginning however as his Arthur spans 40 years while Firth’s role is shared by some other fine actors (Bradley Johnson Matthew Beard) playing younger versions of Blake. Broadbent gives one of those dominating over-the-top confounding portrayals of a proud man whose immense presence permeates every aspect of his son’s life. Against this kind of formidable competition Firth is wonderfully understated and particularly effective in the film’s final few scenes. Stevenson and Skinner along with Gina McKee as the grown Blake’s wife handle the less demanding female roles with skill and compassion. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) doesn’t try to overpower the simple and literate story with any tricks instead letting When Did You Last See Your Father? live and breathe on its own powered by exceptional performances and a first-rate screenplay by David Nichols. Although the film is based on the actual memoir by the real-life Blake Morrison the story itself is universal and earns its laughs--and particularly its tears--by telling universal truths all of us can identify with. Tucker proves himself to be a fine actor’s director especially with Broadbent whose blustery character could have sailed out of control. Instead we understand this man even if we don’t always like him and much of that is due to the nicely nuanced command Tucker has over the proceedings. A small intimate film with numerous flashbacks like this one is trickier than it looks but ultimately it touches the heart and proves a worthwhile journey perfectly timed for Father’s Day.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Assuming you’ll be able to understand about half of what’s being said due to the mumbling and thick accents here’s the gist of this Miami Vice: James “Sonny” Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are the unsmiling leaders of a top-notch Miami-Dade vice squad whose job it is to take down the bad guys. But when they go deep undercover to expose yet another global drug cartel—which includes factions of the Aryan brotherhood (nice bunch)--their lives are put on the line especially after Crockett ends up falling for Chinese-Cuban Isabella (Gong Li) an intoxicating player for the other side. So back and forth we go: The good guys have the drugs; the bad guys want them back; the boys drive speed boats real fast have sex with their girls in the shower—blah blah blah—until finally some action. And when it all goes down it goes down hard. [Cue the synthetic drum solo.] Although you do miss a bit of that Don Johnson spirit Farrell and Foxx actually hold up just fine as the re-envisioned Crockett and Tubbs minus the jovial rapport and pink T-shirts. They look good in the Armani suits with stubbly faces and the dark sunglasses talking the talk and wielding firearms like pros. Everyone around them are equally Vice-esque especially the two female detectives—Trudy Joplin and Gina Calabrese—brought back from the original show. Played by Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Blow) respectively these girls simply kick ass. The only one who sticks out like a sore thumb is Gong Li. She looks the part—all steely and indifferent—but once the accomplished Chinese actress (Memoirs of a Geisha) opens her mouth she is way out of her element. It’s actually cringe-worthy watching her try to be tough speaking languages (even Spanish) she is not at all familiar with. And on top of that Gong and Farrell have zero chemistry making their supposedly steamy love scenes tepid indeed. What a waste of good-looking skin. Michael Mann is arguably one of the best writer/directors of crime drama today having crafted such sleek hard-hitters as Heat and Collateral. Returning to the innovative ‘80s show that helped put him on the map must have been a no-brainer even if he was reluctant to do it at first. Apparently Mann wanted to make Vice originally as a gritty feature film but got pigeonholed by the network. Maybe that was good thing because in holding back a bit Mann managed to make it one of the coolest crime series ever combining pulse-racing action with synergized music. But after getting burnt out by the network grind Mann is back to revisit the Vice world again taking it in the direction he originally planned. This Miami Vice is a hard cruel place almost too serious. There’s the little Mann stamps all over it—the overhead shots the clipped dialogue the grainy night vistas—but what’s happened between the first Vice and now is how tired the subject matter has become. Undercover cops/drug smuggling movies are old hat something we’ve seen played out hundreds of times before. And unfortunately Mann offers nothing new. Maybe he should have just left well enough alone.