I have actually seen several other movies during the last few weeks, so, for your guidance and amusement, I will make a few comments about them. Laziness and ennui prevented me writing fuller accounts of them at the time, but guilt overcomes lassitude, so here goes:
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (or Mamma Mia 2)
I am a sucker for a good musical, and this is a very good musical. Both a sequel and a prequel to the earlier “Mamma Mia!” of 2008, this film is only one step short of being a Bollywood-style production – colour, movement, great exuberance, and great music. The story is set a few years after the events of the first film, and is about Sophie’s preparations to re-open her mother’s hotel in the Greek islands. All the old cast are back; Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, et al. Meryl is there too, but in just a cameo, for reasons that appear at the movie’s start.
But the movie also, in a number of flashbacks, shows how Sophie’s mum, Donna, came to the island in 1979, and how she came to have three different lovers who are all possible fathers of Sophie’s. This requires a group of much younger actors to play the principal characters as their much younger selves in the flashbacks. These youngsters are great and give the older veterans a run for their money. Look out particularly for the very talented Lily James as the younger version of Donna, and for Jessica Keenan Wynn as the younger Tanya. As in the first “Mamma Mia”, all the cast use their own voices for singing the “Abba” numbers. For an accomplished dramatic actor, Lily James has an excellent singing voice. Also look out for a crowning, singing cameo from Cher, as dreaded Grandma. She still knows how to belt out a song.
The film is directed by Ol Parker who also co-wrote the script with, amongst others, Richard Curtis. I wonder if Curtis wrote the very funny scene about the wise-cracking Greek passport inspection officer? Keep an eye out for it. Bjorn and Benny oversee once again a wonderful “Abba” soundtrack. Many of their songs from the first film are reprised in the second one, but there are also quite a few songs in the new movie that were not in the first one. The opening and closing numbers – “When I Kissed the Teacher” and “Super Trouper” – are worth the price of admission alone, and will keep your toes tapping long after you leave the cinema.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of this movie is hearing wonderful “Abba” songs in full-bodied stereo, with multiple speakers, in a cinema-quality sound system. Absolutely superb.
If musicals leave you cold, then this movie is ice-block material for you. If, like me, you enjoy a good movie musical, you will love this one. Five stars (my highest award) from me.
“The Leisure Seeker”
Of all the movies I’ve seen so far this year, this 2017 comedy-drama, directed by Paolo Virzi and based on a novel by Michael Zadoorian, led to the greatest division of opinion amongst my friends. Some really liked it; others thought it sad and depressing. The truth is, it’s a mixture of all this.
The basic story is simple. John and Ella have been happily married for decades and, now in their sunset years, decide to go on a final road trip together, much to the surprise and horror of their well-meaning adult children. Problem is, John has medium-level dementia, while Ella has terminal cancer. So, their immediate futures are anything but rosy.
At one level, this is yet another “road” movie. The two leading characters set off down the eastern seaboard of the US in their RV, whose name provides the movie’s title. They have adventures along the way: some road trash attempt to rob them; John drives off forgetting about Ella; they have medical emergencies; and meet helpful characters along the way. There is much humour in these situations, and you will get a good laugh out of how these two adventurous seniors deal with life on the road.
Yet, overshadowing all this, are their looming dark futures. The concern of their worried adult children raises an important point: should the elderly in their final years be allowed a measure of independence to enjoy themselves, or should they be cosseted and wrapped in cotton wool to prevent harm to them? With dementia and cancer lurking just around the corner, does it matter that John and Ella are grabbing some precious, enjoyable time together, even if it is their last? Those of you with elderly relatives, or with experience of dementia and cancer in the elderly, will readily understand and relate to the issues raised by this film.
In the two lead roles are two outstanding veterans of the silver screen; Donald Sutherland as John, and Helen Mirren as Ella. Both are excellent, although Mirren’s southern accent is not convincing and, for someone with mild dementia, John’s defensive driving is extraordinarily good! Never mind, these are trifling criticisms. Sutherland imparts a gentle, almost innocent and childlike air to John with his uncertain mind. Mirren portrays Ella as loving to her husband, but grittier, more managerial, more willing to confront the real world in a tough, no-nonsense way. The scene where she deals with the would-be robbers is a classic.
The fate of these two characters is perhaps predictable. I certainly guessed it before it happened. The ending is perhaps why some of my friends found the movie depressing. I disagree. The film is both a funny road movie, but also a serious exploration of the problems of old age. I left the cinema silently cheering for both the lead characters, but particularly for Ella.
Well worth a look. I give it a solid four stars.
Most of you know I like a good spy thriller. “Beirut” is not a bad espionage flick.
Mason Skiles is an ex-US diplomat, now in the private sector, who is called back for “one last mission”. His old friend, Cal Riley, a CIA officer, has been kidnapped by an Arab group in Beirut, Lebanon. The group is headed by Karim, a former protégé of Mason’s from some years previously. Karim’s older brother has disappeared, captured by someone. Karim says he will trade Cal for his brother, and wants his old friend Mason to be the negotiator. Only trouble is, the Americans do not have the older brother. Someone else does, Mason has to find out who, and try to work out a deal. In the tricky and murky business that follows, Mason is helped by Sandy Crowder, a CIA agent tasked with his protection. As is usual in these matters, nothing is what it seems …
Written for the screen by Tony Gilroy and directed by Brad Anderson, this is a movie with lots of twists and turns, and (of course) a surprise plot development. In the role of Mason Skiles is the excellent Jon Hamm (a.k.a. Don Draper from “Madmen”). I really like his acting style, and he is very good in this role. As his female sidekick, Sandy, is the ever-reliable British actress, Rosamund Pike. Direction is good, the movie moves along at a smart clip, and Morocco stands in very nicely for 1980s Beirut.
If the film has a fault, it is that the plot becomes so twisted in places, that it sometimes becomes hard to follow. I was forced to discuss the movie afterwards with my companion, to work out several aspects of who had done what to whom! So, this spy flick is either too clever for its own good, or I’m getting slow in my old age.
Despite the complicated story, I enjoyed it. Worth a good 3 ½ stars.
*Fans of American films from the early 1970s should recognise this reference without too much trouble.