I saw two movies this week and although I expected to like the first one better than the second, that is not the way it panned out! Yesterday my daughter and I decided to have one of our girl’s days and went to see Mamma Mia!
I was looking forward to this movie as fun entertainment primarily, I will readily admit, because I am of the age to vividly remember the Swedish singing group ABBA from the early 80s. I can’t be too sure, but I am recalling vague impressions of dancing around the bedroom with my girlfriends, neon colored scarves a-flying, holding onto tubes of toothpaste as microphones while singing ‘Dancing Queen’ loudly and off-key! So, if nothing else I was fairly certain that two hours walking down memory lane while viewing a light musical-comedy would not be a waste of my time.
Initially it seemed like that was pretty much what we were getting. Instantly I fell in love with the brilliant scenery and vibrant colors used to convey a movie inspired by a Broadway musical. I also instantly fell in love with Amanda Seyfried as the young woman searching for her father.The first scene, when Sophie giddily welcomes her best girlfriends to her island home where they have come to be in Sophie’s wedding, and then bursts into song as she tells them how she discovered the possibility of 3 men being her father by reading her mom’s hidden diary, is fabulous fun. No flash at this point, just three silly girls dancing through the foliage in youthful exuberance as Sophie reads the words of another silly girl from 20 years prior. It set the tone for the whole movie and the story unfolded better and better from that moment on.
This is where the surprises came for me. This was a movie of fun and dancing and music, as expected, but it was also a movie of poignancy, lost love hopefully found again, the romance of new love, dear friends kept for life, of what constitutes a family, of mother and daughter love, of the choices we make in life, and regret…. all rolled into some of that techno-flash of the disco era and catchy songs with astoundingly beautiful lyrics. I will confess, in my youthful fervor of dancing with my girlfriends, I never realized how truly lovely and piercing ABBA’s lyrics were. I had tears in my eyes a couple of times. But mostly I was smiling and laughing throughout. The little boy of some 6 years-of-age sitting near us was clapping and jumping up and down!
Major kudos to everyone who was involved in bringing this amazing piece to the screen. Hugs to the ABBA men who wrote the songs and, I think, had some part to play in the stage production. And a standing ovation to literally every actor in the cast: the already mentioned Amanda Seyfried, the incomparable Meryl Streep, the amazingly talented and willing to act silly Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, the cutie-pie Dominic Cooper, the funny Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, and the perfectly cast extras who flawlessly and humorously sang and danced in the background. I haven’t had this much fun in a theater in ages! Here is an excellent review: The Hollywood Reporter
There are probably flaws if I really wanted to critique and think on it. But I don’t! I was having too much fun to really care if something did not make perfect sense or if Brosnan can’t really sing or if a musical number did not quite fit. Sometimes you go to a movie to disconnect, not work your brain all that hard, and just walk out feeling happy. That is what Mamma Mia! did for us.
That comparison kind of leads me to The Dark Knight. We all went to see the newest Batman on Sunday night. This is a bit tougher for me to write about because I am afraid if I say too much it will come across as if I hated this movie, and I most certainly did not. I suppose when it comes down to it, my emotions and expectations as I walked into the theaters both times this week came to pass. With Mamma Mia! I figured I would smile and have fun, leaving with a joyful heart… I did. With The Dark Knight I figured I would be very impressed by many things, probably a bit depressed, and somewhat overwhelmed… I was.
This is A LOT of movie! Explosions, violence, heavy drama, convoluted plots, twisted psychology, morality statements, more violence and explosions, a couple of dozen main cast members… all wrapped into over 2 ½ hours of literal non-stop motion. I was on the edge of my seat, gasping for air, frantically trying to keep it all straight in my mind, and utterly exhausted when we left! It was brilliant and amazing while also being just a bit too much. One review I found, by Mick LaSalle in the SF Chronicle sums up my feelings, so I will refer you there. Another good one is The Hollywood Reporter.
While I could easily point out the bits that bothered me, I will instead hit on what I really appreciated. The newer Batman created by director Christopher Nolan is everything none of the other incarnations were, and this is good. He is a complex character played with subtle ease by Christian Bale. The stories overall are darker to be sure with lots of thought-provoking sermonizing flying at you along with the bullets and blasted debris. Then, conversely and utterly inspired, you have this Joker who is a mysterious enigma with no motive but to have his brand of fun and childishly cause chaos. No back-story, no rhyme or reason, just a pure villain. Naturally all the write-ups will focus on Heath Ledger’s Joker due to his tragic death, and the natural inclination may be to pooh-pooh it as hoopla because of his way-too-early demise. But that would be an error. I have never, in all my superhero movie viewing, seen a villain not only written skillfully but played so astoundingly. He will probably get an Oscar nomination and the question on some lips will be if it is only because he died. The answer is no. His is a virtuoso performance, a true tour-de-force. Simply put, the movie would have faltered without his Joker.
But, that is not to say there were not other great performances. The always terrific Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, and Eric Roberts, just to name a few. And Christian Bale….man, I really like him! Can’t wait to see him as the newly invented John Connor in next year’s Terminator, but that is off the subject. Is The Dark Knight worth seeing? Well, if you had asked me in the immediate 30 minutes after I left the theater I may not have been able to answer coherently! Now I have had some time to assimilate it all, talk about it to others, and read some of the reviews. In the end I still ‘liked’ Iron Man best as a wonderfully woven summer, popcorn, superhero flick that did not leave me sad. But this one will go down in cinema history as a masterpiece, I am pretty sure, so I am glad I saw it. And, now that I have taken a few breaths and my heart has slowed, I am ready to see it again so I can absorb the subtle nuances that I know I missed amid the detonations and car chases. Any true lover of movies should definitely see this one.