Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

DVD Review: Romeo & Juliet (2013)

“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” 

It takes a special sort of person to substantively rewrite the dialogue of Romeo and Juliet yet Julian Fellowes still took it on himself to declare Shakespeare’s writing as too impenetrable for da kidz and so replaced it with his own cod-Elizabethan script. It’s a baffling decision – the sheer wrongheadedness aside – as since the narrative of the play remains the same, and the story remains set in vaguely age-appropriate times, nothing intelligent has been done with the adaptation to mark it out as a worthy enterprise.

It’s not helped by a fatally miscast Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, underpowered in her delivery of the text and mismatched with Douglas Booth’s Romeo, there is precisely zero chemistry between these “star cross’d lovers”. There’s always something a bit tricky about how to play the ages of these two (Juliet is meant to be 13…) but as long as they’re cast well together, it works. Here though, they are not, there’s never any danger of believing that they’ve tumbled hard and fast in love (Steinfeld being 15 would make that illegal of course!) and director Carlo Carlei is clearly at fault along with his casting directors.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Romeo & Juliet (2013)”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

DVD Review: The Physician

“How pale and tedious this world would be without mystery” 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Noah Gordon, 2013 film The Physician is a slight oddity in being a German big-budget movie that just happens to be in English. Directed by Philipp Stölzl (who also directed Madonna’s ‘American Pie’ video in amongst a varied career), it has the epic sweep of a properly big production and with stars such as Sir Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgård at the helm, alongside the swooningly handsome lead Tom Payne, it is surprising that it didn’t get a wider release, only now making it onto DVD in the UK.

For it is a hugely fascinating story, following young Robert Cole (Payne) who, once orphaned in 11th century England, vows to study medicine, hoping to find the answers to the illness that took his mother and also to explain his ability to foresee death. First attached to a rough-around-the-edges travelling surgeon (Skarsgård), Rob’s aptitude for medicine soon becomes apparent and a chance meeting with a surgeon of advanced knowledge sends him onto Isfahan in Persia, where the great scholar Ibn Sina (Kingsley) runs the most advanced medical school in the world.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Physician”

DVD Review: Cinderella

“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are”

Who knew what the world needed was a live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. It oughtn’t be as good as it is but somehow the fusion of Disney magic and folktale wonder comes together most effectively, thoroughly traditional in its outlook yet somehow still feeling fresh. Chris Weitz’s screenplay is based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon but both he and Branagh take lots of inspiration from the Disney version of the story too and the resulting confection is really rather bibbity-bobbity-beguiling.

There’s a cleverness too about what it does in spinning new details like giving us a reason that her step-family don’t recognise her at the ball and weaving much humour into the magic spells that get her to said ball. Ella herself is well pitched by Lily James, not quite too perfect to be true but still hugely appealing. It’s no wonder Richard Madden’s Prince Charming tumbles instantly for her (and she for him, those breeches…those boots!) and their chemistry is palpable, one can see why Branagh has cast them as Juliet and Romeo in his upcoming theatre residency in London.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cinderella”

DVD Review: Dogville

“If one had the power to put it to right it was one’s duty to do so – for the sake of other towns, for the sake of humanity”

Lars von Trier’s films are usually highly divisive (for the people working on them as much as the people watching them) but I have to say I love Dogville. Perhaps love is the wrong word for so brutal a film but I just find it so fascinating in the way that it exposes humanity for who we really are and the depths to which we too easily sink in the name of self-interest.

Visually it is unique as it strips away all the artifice of the film set to leave nothing but chalk outlines of the scenery of the Colorado mountain township of Dogville where the story takes place. Such a bare staging heightens the theatricality of the piece and also its nature as a parable, one that those who dislike the film seem intent to ignore, an irony von Trier would certainly relish.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Dogville”