Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

Maybe it’s because I am a child of the Seventies, or that I have always loved movies with singing, or just that it is Summer-time, but I thoroughly enjoyed “Mama Mia !”, and now I will repeat that experience with the totally unnecessary but still fun sequel. “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” has no depth, it is frequently campy beyond description and there are some songs that just don’t do much for you. So What? It is also visually inventive and gorgeous to look at, it has a two to one ratio of good ABBA songs to mediocre ABBA songs, and it is full of pretty people who all look like they are having a blast making fools of themselves.

The  marketing department that choose to release this in the middle of the summer, probably will re responsible for half the take at the box office. This is a movie that works because it is so light and insubstantial that your head will not hurt from trying to think about plot lines or what dialogue you should be paying attention to. Like a revue show on the Vegas stage, or an RKO or MGM musical from the golden age, this film story makes little sense and doesn’t matter. What you really want is to hear the songs and see the choreography. There are a few repeats from the first film of musical selections but the staging is all new and there were plenty of ABBA songs to fill out a second film, although some of them are justifiably obscure.

Once again the setting is primarily in the seas off of Croatia, and the landscape is spectacular. Anyone who has every taken a vacation somewhere and asked themselves when they were leaving the location, “How could I live here, what can I do to make that happen?, knows how the beauty of a place can transfix you. On film, you can also control the lighting and angles to make it even more attractive, and so this production does. Now to insure that people will really like what they are seeing, you fill the movie with lovely young women, who have romantic crushes and flings with handsome young men. When you race forward to present day, the young women and men are now old but they are vibrant and handsome in their advanced states.  Lily James and Amanda Seyfried are glowing, longhaired blonde pixie dream girls. They may lack the requisite mania to make the characters the stock issue in other films, but their smiles and enthusiastic singing are the stuff of summer romances. The young men who are cast as the youthful counterparts to Pierce Brosnon, Stellan Starsgard and Colin Firth, are effectively familiar and they carry most of the load when it comes to singing, so we only get snatches from their less tuneful older versions.

Director Ol Parker makes the film flow smoothly with inventive staging that frequently suggests his theatrical roots. As we bounce back and forth from 1979 to today, there are transitions using back to back walls, images appearing in mirrors and actions that begin with one set of characters but finish with the other set. Maybe they are not completely new inventions but they work well at moving things along and keeping the energy of the story from lagging too much. Anthony Van Laast put the dance sequences together in a vigorous manner that may lack the grace of a Busby Berkley extravaganza, but is compensated for by the diverse chorus of dancers who are not all 20 something models. Even the geezers in the cast look like they can dance a little, and if not, they look like they are having fun trying.

Meryl Streep who crooned her way through the starring role in the original film, appears in only one number near the end and then in the end credits. Lily James does the heavy lifting as the young version of the slightly promiscuous Donna. It is a bit of a leap when Meryl does come in because her Donna is definitely a different version of the character she and Lily are playing. Andy Garcia has become a go to older romantic lead, following his earlier turn this year in “Book Club“, another film to appeal to the geriatric set. Finally, Cher shows up and makes a movie star sort of impression with a minimal amount of screen time. She has one song that she chers [shares, ha ha] with Garcia and then sings in the ensemble closing credits.

If you were seeing this as a revue on stage, you would clap along and sing the chorus and when the finale shows up you’d stand up and boogie in place. The demographics on this film will definitely skew over thirty and female. At an 11am screening on a Friday, the theater was packed…with walkers, wheel chairs and canes. Forget your age, and your dignity. Don’t pay any attention to the usual standards that you might apply to a movie. This is a little like the song lyric from the 1990s, “Disco lemonade”. Have a cool drink on a warm summer day and dream of “sex and candy”.

The Foreigner

Doesn’t everyone like Jackie Chan? Although he has made some political statements over the last few years that I think are ill informed, I still love the guy. He is a true athlete with charisma to burn and even at his age he makes most younger action stars look like they are standing still. His new movie was produced by him and financed by Chinese media companies, but it is as slick an action spy film as you might hope to see for the price. As an added bonus we get two former Bond veterans to go along with it.

If you watch the trailer you might be expecting a straight action revenge film, but there is a lot more involved here. Quan is a bereaved father on a one man mission to take out the terrorists that killed his daughter. To do so he must squeeze whatever resource he can to find out who is at fault. Here is where the extra material comes in. Pierce Brosnan is a Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland, working for the British, he happens to be a former terrorist with the IRA who now seeks the best interests of the area in peace. There are conflicting goals for the people he represents and he is caught in the middle. The plot is full of multiple double crosses, switching loyalties and complex twists of real political events. It’s the usual spy territory and Jackie Chan just happens to have dropped into it.

 

I’ll make a confession here that will probably result in a few points being deducted from my “Man Card”. As  reference let me include this two and a half minute scene from the 1985 movie “VisionQuest”:

 

The way this character responded to Pele’, is the way I respond to Jackie Chan. I feel elevated as a human being when I see the stuff he is capable of doing. I teared up at “Rumble In the Bronx ” twenty years ago because Jackie Chan is so damn graceful and amazing. I didn’t choke up today, but I should have, because he is older than I am and he still does this incredible stuff. He is also a very solid actor in this part. There is no clowning around in the film. We don’t get a shot of that 1000 watt smile of his. Quan is nearly a broken man, and he fights back the tears and memories in a way that reminds us that Chan is not just an athlete but an actor as well.

Brosnan gets a chance to act as well. He is reunited with the director of his first 007 outing, Martin Campbell. Campbell has twice revived James Bond, first with “Golden Eye” and then a dozen years later with “Casino Royale”. He knows his way around material like this. There are some great action sequences true, but he also gets the drawing room show downs right as well. He may not be anyone’s idea of an auteur, but he clearly knows his way around a movie like this. Brosnan is good as the duplicitous minister with a hidden agenda that ties into the events but also shows how good outcomes can’t necessarily justify bad deeds.

 

“The Foreigner” is a well made , standard issue action spy film that is elevated by the presence of the two stars. It may not play well for MI-5’s public relations but those of us who like to see justice done in the cinema world, now have one more film to add to the list. Now can we please get that Jackie Chan, Liam Neeson, Jason Statham movie going? If Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell are available, let’s cast them too.

Double O Countdown: Die Another Day

Unfortunately, this should not take long. This was the hardest post to find seven things for since it is at the bottom of my list of Bond Films. Don’t get me wrong, I will still watch this thing if I happen by it on the satellite, but I won’t be proud of myself. It’s too bad too because there are some great concepts, they just get swallowed up by preposterous CGI and incredulous plot points.

001  Laser Surgery

The fight between Bond and a Samoan henchman in a laser lab designed to change peoples faces if the start of too much technology getting in the way of the story. Except it does have a good money shot.

002  Screwing with tradition

Purists will squawk about it, but I enjoyed a variation on the famous gunbarrel opening.

I liked the variation of the bullet coming right at the audience. Of course it is a CGI tip off of things to come.

003  Escaping from your own side.

Bond is returned to the British in exchange for Zao, and promptly put under lock and key by M and the suspicios intelligence community that thinks he broke under pressure. He fakes a heart attack so he can use a defibrilator on his Doctors and step off a ship in Hong Kong Harbor.

Of course James Bond has the audacity to simply appear at his favorite hotel in Hong Kong, soaking wet in his pajamas and still manage to swagger. ( A characteristic the villain mocks later in the film)

A call to his tailor, a fine meal and some Bollinger and all is right with the world again.

004  Fan Service Underground

In a secret vault, in an abandonded underground station, M and Q have some more uses for 007.

M grills him about what he learned while out of their sight in Cuba, and then points him at the suspected enemy.

Before “Q” provides him with the ultimate conclusion of any credibility, we get a little tour of the vault with past souvenirs from other adventures.  If you can’t make it good, at least make the fans happy.

005  Honey Ryder, 2002 Style

Mimicking the first appearance of the first Bond girl, Halle Berry shows up on the screen like Venus rising from the surf.

I don’t think there is any doubt about why she is in this movie. Maybe the most beautiful Bond girl since Solitaire.

006  Insider Fan Service

The sleeper agent in Cuba offers to assist Bond and while they talk in his office, Bond casually picks up a book.

The title is the same one as a book that Ian Fleming owned. He took the name of the author for his main character because it sounded so mundane to him: James Bond.

007   Torture in more ways than one.

There are two unfortunate things about my favorite element of this movie. First, it occurs very early on in the film. In fact, the best sequence of the movie finishes just after the titles.

James Bond is caught and brutally tortured to give up information.

The last bit of North Korean cruelty is that as they exchange him for their own spy, they let him think he is being executed.

The second unfortunate thing about my favorite part of the movie is that James is not the only one being tortured here. The whole audience is subjected to an atrocious Madonna song as the Torture sequence is mixed with the title credits and song. Had they used this music, 007 would not have been able to hold out for 14 months.

James Bond will Return in “Casino Royale”

Double O Countdown: The World is Not Enough

As I go back through all of the Bond films, some things change and some stay the same. I continue to believe that Sean Connery was the Best James Bond and that Pierce Brosnan was my least favorite. I think the weakness of Brosnan’s films was the dialogue. Too many times, bad puns or sexual innuendo are forced into a scene and it just stiffs. He looks great in the part and he is a solid actor. His scenes with the villains are usually solid, but his sequences back at MI6 are often leaden. “The World is Nor Enough” exemplifies this pattern. A confusing early premise, is overcome by effective antagonists and good action scenes. I formerly thought “Tomorrow Never Dies” was a better film, but I think I’m now of the opinion that is is Brosnan’s second best outing as 007.

001  A Joke or Not?

Having just bitched about the bad sex jokes, I’m joining to undermine my position and list one of them as a favorite element of the film. It probably stands out because so many don’t work and this one did, for the time. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it? Let’s look and you decide.

In the middle of the pre-title sequence, James comes back to London and gives Moneypenny a cigar that he received from a treacherous Swiss banker. She looks at him coyly and says, “I know just where to put this.”  She waits a beat and then tosses it in the trash. I think we just got a Clinton-Lewinsky joke in a Bond film.

002  Part Two of the Pre-Title Sequence

After a shootout and escape from a tall office building, Bond returns a large sum of cash to MI6 and the rightful owner. It turns out to be explosive and an Assassin with a rifle is on the Thames right outside the building during the fracas. Bond jumps into a mini-boat that Q is working on and a chase ensues.

It starts with a rocket like launch out of the facde of the smoking MI6 building.

Halfway into the chase the mini boat does several 360 degree rotations.

The boat is partially submersible and James adjusts his tie in true cool 007 style.

After several minutes of crashes, building blown through and some unnecessary comic moments, the boat launches out of the water and Bond launches himself onto a dangling rope to continue the chase.

003  Once Again, I show my fondness for James Bond on skis.

He meets Electra King out on the slopes near a mountain range where her pipeline is supposed to go, and they are attacked by a bunch of flying snowmobiles that James later calls “parahawks”.

Lots of Ski action and explosions follow their arrival.

There is even a nice reversal of a moment from an earlier Bond film. As one of the snowmobiles goes off the edge of a cliff, James makes a cutting remark and begins to turn away. Suddenly, the Russian made parahawk launches a back up parachute. “The Spy Who Loved Me” is reversed and the chase continues.

004  M is Kidnapped

When M was played by crusty old guys like Bernard Lee or Robert Brown, there was never much emotional investment in the relationship with 007. In the books, although he sees James as an valuable agent, M sometimes hints of a paternalistic relationship. No such effort was made with the films.  As the series continued though, Judi Dench suggested a more maternal interest in Bond, and when she is threatened, it makes the concept more believable.

We discover Electra King’s real character and in an embarassing breach of security, all of the agents with M get killed and she is taken captive and moved to Istanbul for the climax of the film.

Two long sequences of exposition occur with M and Electra and then M and Renard. Both allow the actors some chances to chew a little scenery and make their characters more interesting.

005  The Action Climax in a Submarine

Weighed down by the second most annoying Bond girl in the series (right after Mary Goodnight), Bond tries to rescue Christmas Jones and stop the detonation of a nuclear device. Oh yeah, this all happens on a sinking submarine.

Gravity applies to everyone, even under the sea.

James will have to exit and reenter the sub at some point.

Of course it is not a smooth re-entry.

Denise Richards shows us why she was cast in the picture in the first place. She is no Jacqueline Bisset, but a amateur bar t-shirt contest can’t be far away.

Nice miniature work to finish off the sequence.

006  The Antagonists [Spoilers Ahead]

As usual, a beautiful Bond girl will die after making love to our hero.

Less usual, she dies at the hands of 007. In a moment of typical Bond tough mindedness, Bond shoots the treacherous heiress that he has been wooing.

Creepy Terrorist, Renard the Anarchist is revealed to be dying slowly as he gains strength and loses all feeling of pain. (sounds like Darkman)

I have liked Robert Carlyle since “The Full Monty”. He had several good moments in the film. I could have used a bit more of his presence at times but generally a solid bad guy.

Robbie Coltrane

Valentin Zukovsky is not really a bad guy in this film, but he does have an occasional difference of opinion with Bond. I just appreciate that the character and actor came back for a second helping of Bond, oh yea and of caviar.

007  The Title

Being a Bond fanatic, I knew where the title came from when it was first announced. I had a conversation on the radio with Rod Lurie about it a few weeks before the films release. Sometimes it s a joy to be a geek about something.

James Bond’s Family Coat of Arms with the motto translated for you who did not already guess.

James Bond will Return in : “Die Another Day”

Double O Countdown: Tomorrow Never Dies

A middling Bond is better than most other films, but still it is less than one might hope for. “Tomorrow Never Dies” is not a bad film, it just seems to be missing some of the things I like so much about 007 films. The romantic angle does not really work. The Villain is not particularly interesting, and James seems to struggle to make his witticisms work. I enjoy this movie, but it is not one of the films that i have seen more than a dozen times (probably only ten or so). With that said, here are the Double O Seven things I did like best about the film.

001  The one bad pun that actually works.

There is a horrible sequence where Bond and M are meeting in her car and they start trading quips. Moneypenny jumps in with a particularly leaden attempt to flirt and be clever. It is one of the most painful exchanges of dialogue I can think of in a Bond film. There is a much better piece of verbal humor later in the film. It still is a bit out of place, but it comes close to a line that I could imagine Sean Connery making work. As Bond and his Chinese counterpart are brought to the Saigon headquarters of media villain Elliot Carver, a giant banner with his image hangs off the building.

Bond’s comment: “Another Carver building. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he developed an edifice complex.”

002  Back Seat Driving

I suppose we should be wary, knowing where all the fancy car technology will lead Pierce Brosnan to in his final appearance as James Bond,  still this tool seems plausible. The Q provided BMW that James drives in Germany, can be operated by remote control in his cell phone. That gives him the chance to escape from the bad guys in the back seat of his car.

He launches a series of weapons at his pursuers that slow them down or stop them in their tracks. Included in the arsenal are road tacks, miniature rockets, a cable saw and the like.

The thing that seems to give him the biggest kick though is the simple out maneuvering of the chase cars with his own vehicle. The expression on his face here reminds us that there is a funny side to Mr. Bond that is not just bad double entendres.

003  “The Future Mr, Gittes, the future.”

Elliot Carver is a thinly disguised version of media mogul Robert Maxwell who had died mysteriously a few years prior.  The tabloid style and high tech trappings of the film are not too distant from some of the real life media demagoguery that we see these days. I enjoyed Carvers attempts to write and report stories, often before they happened.

The Future News Today. Carver as a character is blah, but the idea of media manipulation of the news is actually old school as he mentions William Randolph Hearst himself.

004  Joe Don Baker is back.

Big lug Jack Wade, Bond’s new CIA contact is back for his second film in a row. Baker was also in “The Living Daylights” as a different character. That means he was in three out of four Bond films in a decade.

Greeting his uniformed, counterpart an American Air Base in Asia, you can see the way we Yanks are having our chains yanked. Bond id fit, with great posture and clothes. Wade is a good ole boy with a gut, an informal manner, and n Aloha shirt that would fit nicely in my collection.

Wade may not be the model of cool that we would hope for an American spy, but he provides a nice touch of humor for James, in a style that the rest of the cast would not have been able to carry out.

005  HALO Jump

This was probably my first time hearing of this technique and it was a nicely effective sequence in the film.

Bond gets prepped by American intelligence personnel, and we get to have some exposition of the HALO strategy. A five mile free fall in a high altitude suit at a speed above terminal velocity, and then a quick release of the chute close to the ground.

A similar stunt is done in the rebooted Star Trek movie twenty years later.

006  A Chase sequence that is a little different.

Trying to get away from carver’s minions, Bond and Wai Lin, handcuffed together, grab a motorcycle and streak through the streets of Saigon. The varius cars that chase them fall away, but only as more and more eloborate escapeds are shot.

A helicopter joins the chase and the maneuverability of the motorbike suddenly loses much of it’s advantage. After all, the sky has no alleys that it has to take to follow the spies.

Sneaking past a helicopter flyng low requires being high. Fortunately for the two agents, they ended up on top of a building right across from another building of equal height.

A very impressive stunt.

After going high, our two heroes have to go low to finally get the best of the pursuers. It’s all a bit preposterous but it is a fun sequence.

007  Michelle Yeoh

The Chinese martial arts star is not much of a romantic counterpart to Bond, she and Brosnan just don’t seem to have that kind of chemistry, but in the action beats of the film she is aces.

Wall walking like Batman, except she walks down the wall rather than up. A jaunty wave at the more earthbound 007 gives her a little more personality.

She is an accomplished Martial arts star, so naturally she gets to kick some ass.  The best bit in the fight is a Jackie Chan like move where she walks up a wall, flips over her opponent and reverses their situations.

It was a terrific moment that we needed more of in this adventure.

James Bond Will return in:

“The World is Not Enough”

Double O Countdown: Goldeneye

We enter the decade long reign of Pierce Brosnan as 007 with this spectacular reboot of the franchise after a long layoff due to legal wrangling. Maybe the anticipation of a new Bond film after six long years, or the final arrival of the heir apparent was enough to satisfy my hopes, but I think it really came down to a very good film. Unfortunately from my perspective, it was the high point of Brosnan’s turn at bat.

001 The Opening Bungee Jump

For others it might rank higher, I think it is a terrific pre-title moment, but the one CGI shot at the end makes it just a little less than perfect for me.

The  pause before the leap, the way the cameras shift between viewing angles, and the stuntman reaching in for the piton gun as the jump is nearing the end are all perfect. And then this happens.

It’s just fake enough to take you out of the moment. Still, it is one of the best openings since “the Spy Who Loved Me.”

002  Two Great Character Actors who will Make Return Visits.

Robbie Coltrane as former KGB man Zukovsky, now a Russian mobster, fills the bill as a former adversary who becomes an uneasy ally in tracking down “Janus” the head of a rival Russian Syndicate.

Joe Don Baker, who was one of the bad guys in “The Living Daylights, comes back to the series as CIA man Jack Wade, a more workaday and slovenly Felix Leiter, providing a little comic relief and exposition along the way.

Each of these characters will join James in a future episode.

003 006 Traitor

Purists might not like the idea of a Double O turning on his clan, but admittedly, a Double O woill make a fearsome opponent for James Bond. After establishing some bona fides in the opening, Alec Trevalyn disappears but Sean bean is too big a name to be gone after five minutes.

Bond goes to meet the mysterious “Janus” and the two faced god turns out to be his old friend, a traitor with a grudge. For the rest of the movie they trade masculine put downs and engage in the kind of one upmanship we would expect from a couple of alpha spies.

Why don’t you just die?

You First.

004  Xenia Onatopp

Another double entendre name and a fem fatale with bloodlust. The evil female side kick to the villain in this movie gets off on inflicting pain and death. The scene where she machine guns a room full of unarmed computer programmers has her facial expression as if she were arriving at a sexual climax.

So she is definitely a sadist.

She and Bond have several encounters of foreplay before their climactic scenes.

Sex was always the way to get the drop on 007.

Naturally, her demise will be a variation of her favorite method of execution, a squeeze that robs the victim of life. Her squeeze is provided by a helicopter and a tree.

005  Judi Dench “The Evil Queen of Numbers”

Bond is none too pleased to discover that the new “M” is a woman, and that as an analysit she depends on statistics to make her decisions. She is equally unhappy that she has to rely on a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, who is a relic of the cold war.

They establish a chilly truce, but you can see that loyalty to the cause will eventually warm up the relationship. Dench will be “M” for six more films.

006  The Hero of the Franchise Martin Campbell.

 Campbell, who will return to the franchise to reboot it again ten years later, is a director know for action films and well paced scenes. This film is full of explosions, running and vehicular mayhem. He was the right choice to update the style of 007 in 1995.

007  Tank Ride through St. Petersburg.

A muscular chase scene with 007 pursuing the rogue general and the girl in trouble, through the Russian city with abandon.

A building or a bridge is no match for a  piece of armoured equipment like this.

The film makers also wait until the start of this scene to unleash the Double o Seven theme on the audience. The result is action bliss.

 This was the Bond film that was needed to answer the question of whether Bond was still relevant.

James Bond will Return in:

 “Tomorrow Never Dies”