MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018) -Good-Natured Sequel Starts Slow, Finishes Strong

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mama_mia_here we go again

Guilty pleasure alert!

I really liked MAMA MIA! (2008) when it came out ten years ago.

I mean, it had a fun cast, led by Meryl Streep, and it included hammy performances by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard— sure, Brosnan couldn’t sing, but I just looked the other way—and it was also the first film in which I saw Amanda Seyfried, and I became an instant fan. Plus, there were all the ABBA songs, which I have always enjoyed. The film was a pleasant surprise.

Now, ten years later, comes the sequel, MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018).

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN takes place five years after the events of the first movie. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mom’s fabulous home on the Greek island of Skopelos and is planning an opulent open house shindig worthy of Jay Gatsby. However, she’s troubled because things aren’t quite right with her hubbie Sky (Dominic Cooper) as he’s been offered a job in New York City and would rather be there than in Greece with her. Plus, of her “three dads” only Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is present, as both Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) have obligations elsewhere.

And Sophie is feeling the pressure because this party is in honor of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) who passed away a year earlier. Alas, Meryl Streep fans, you won’t see much of Streep here since her character is deceased, but since this is a happy musical, she does get to appear in one scene.

Interspersed with this present day story is a second story told via flashback, Donna’s background story. We follow a young Donna (Lily James) and witness how she first meets Sam, Harry, and Bill, as well as how she finds herself in Greece. The film jumps back and forth seamlessly between both stories.

And that’s pretty much the plot of this one.

As far as stories go, the two told in MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN are rather weak. I found both tales rather flat and nowhere near as engrossing as the fun plot told in the first film, where Sophie invited her three possible dads to her wedding in the hope of learning which one was her real dad. That story worked. The ones here put me to sleep.

Of course, you don’t see MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN for its story. You see it for its song and dance numbers, and for its light upbeat style and humor, and on these fronts, the film doesn’t disappoint. The musical numbers are decent, though not as good as the ones in the first film, and the script provides frequent chuckles.

The best part about MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is that it gets better as it goes along and finishes strong, which goes a long way towards helping you forget about its slow opening. And the reason it gets better is during the film’s third act, the heavy hitters arrive, folks like Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, and their presence adds quite a bit. Even Cher shows up as Sophie’s grandmother, looking tremendous for someone in her 70s. And Cher even gets two musical numbers in this one!

And the film saves the best for last. The final number during the movie’s end credits is one of the liveliest of the film.

Lily James has the daunting task of playing a young Donna, a role previously played by Meryl Streep. Plus, she’s asked to carry half the movie since she has a lot of screen time. James is actually quite good here, which comes as no surprise since she has also delivered strong performances in films like BABY DRIVER (2017) and DARKEST HOUR (2017). She also starred as Lady Rose MacClare on TVs DOWNTON ABBEY (2012-2015).

I also thought Alexa Davies as young Rosie and Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya were both exceptionally good. Wynn is the granddaughter of the late Keenan Wynn.

The males didn’t fare as well.  While Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Josh Dylan as young Bill, and Jeremy Irvine as young Sam, were all okay, none of them were all that memorable.

And none of them make you forget the original actors in the roles.

Both Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard once again have field days in their roles as Harry and Bill, and once they enter the movie for its third act, the fun picks up. Pierce Brosnan gets more serious scenes this time around, as he shares some tender moments with his daughter Sophie, and I’m happy to say, he seems to have improved upon his singing!

Julie Walters and Christine Baranski also reprise their roles from the first movie as Rosie and Tanya respectively, and they’re hilarious once again. I wish they had been in the movie more.

Likewise, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper reprise their roles as well, as Sophie and Sky, but they really don’t make much of an impact.  Cooper isn’t in this one much (probably busy with the TV show PREACHER), and Seyfried, as much as I like her, gets stuck with some of the worst lines in the movie.

Much of the dialogue in this one is pretty bad. Director Ol Parker also wrote the screenplay, and while the dialogue in the flashback sequences is okay, some of the stuff in the here and now is flat out dreadful. And most of these clinkers go to Amanda Seyfried, as well as to Andy Garcia.

Yup, veteran actor Andy Garcia is in this one as well. Sadly, his lines are so bad he doesn’t even sound like a real person. I like Garcia a lot, and I’m glad to see him in movies again. He enjoyed a bigger and better role in the recent comedy BOOK CLUB (2018), where he played Diane Keaton’s love interest. Here, he plays a character named Fernando, and if you’re familiar with ABBA songs, you know where that’s going.

Also, a quick shout out to Maria Vacratsis who steals every scene she’s in as an elderly Greek woman named Sofia.

And if you look fast you’ll see Jonathan Goldsmith show up quickly as Fernando’s brother. While Goldsmith’s acting career dates back to the 1960s, he’s most famous nowadays for his long running stint as “the most interesting man in the world” on Dos Equis beer commercials from 2006-2016.

I can’t say that I liked MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN all that much. I definitely enjoyed its third act and was glad it built towards a strong conclusion, but taken as a whole, its story just never really grabbed me.

Not that it matters in the long run. I saw it in a packed theater on a week night, a theater filled primarily with women of all ages. I think I saw one other man in the theater, and I’m not complaining, mind you. There’s nothing wrong with being surrounded by women of all ages. It was actually pretty nice.

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN certainly played like a sequel, in that it’s not as fresh or as lively as the original. But as long as there’s not a MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO ONE MORE TIME! it’s all harmless good fun.

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Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jackie Chan Returns in THE FOREIGNER (2017)

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Jackie Chan is back, and he’s taking on Pierce Brosnan in today’s thriller, THE FOREIGNER (2017).

Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) is a quiet store owner living in London whose world is shattered when his daughter is killed in a terrorist bomb attack.  He seeks out answers, demanding to know who killed his daughter. A group identifying itself as a new faction of the IRA claims responsibility for the London blast, and so Quan’s search leads him to Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former officer in the IRA who’s now working for the British government.

Quan isn’t the only one demanding answers.  The British government wants them, too, and Hennessy promises to find them.  He assembles a group of his IRA contacts and puts them on notice with his suspicions that someone in their circle is part of this new faction.

When Quan shows up at Hennessy’s doorstep looking for the names of the bombers, Hennessy tells him he doesn’t know who is responsible and quickly dismisses his visitor without a second thought.  But Quan is relentless, and soon he is bombing Hennessy’s home and threatening his family unless he is given the names of the terrorists.

Hennessy’s search for the terrorists leads to some  unexpected answers, while his efforts to apprehend Quan, who is a former special forces soldier, repeatedly fail.

THE FOREIGNER tells two different stories, and as such, at times seems like two different movies.

The emotional story is Quan’s, as he vows that nothing is going to stop him from finding the people responsible for his daughter’s death.

Quan Ngoc Minh is a serious somber role for Jackie Chan, and it’s not the usual lighthearted fun action role that Chan generally plays.  Quan is an older, more reflective character who goes all in to avenge his daughter’s death. Chan doesn’t play the character as unhinged but as extremely determined and focused.  He somehow manages to keep Quan a sympathetic character throughout, even when he is blowing up Hennessy’s property. It’s an impressive performance.

But while Quan’s story is emotional, it’s also just a simple revenge tale, and as such,  is far less interesting than the more intriguing story of Hennessy’s investigation into his IRA contacts.

As Liam Hennessy, the former IRA officer who’s now in the difficult position of siding with the British government, Pierce Brosnan delivers a solid performance, showing grit, determination, and eventually despair.  That’s because the deeper Hennessy digs, the more his world unravels.

Hennessy has the double whammy of learning some unsavory things about both his IRA connections and people very close to him, while being unable to fend off Quan who is hiding in the woods outside his home and is constantly attacking him.  The scenes where Hennessy expresses frustration and disbelief that his trained security detail cannot handle Quan are some of Brosnan’s best.

Both the IRA storyline and Quan’s vengeance story are dark, grim tales, but there is a disconnect between the two that prevents this movie from really taking off.  The two stories never really come together in a satisfying way.

One reason is that they are so different.  Quan’s revenge tale is right out of an old Charles Bronson movie, while Hennessy’s investigation into the depths of the IRA is more akin to a political suspense thriller.  They don’t mesh all that well, and the biggest reason for this is the film’s climax. For Quan, there’s only one solution, and in this movie just like in those Charles Bronson movies, whether or not he achieves it is never really in question, and for Hennessy, the answers he finds have less to do with what Quan wants to know and more to do with his own past.  And so their two stories aren’t exactly on a collision course with each other.  They connect, but only long enough to send each of them on their merry ways.

If you like Jackie Chan action scenes, you won’t be disappointed. Director Martin Campbell does a nice job with them, and they were probably my favorite part of the movie.  My only beef is that there weren’t enough of them.

The Hennessy scenes are taut and intriguing.  The investigation into who is behind the bombings is compelling and hard-hitting.

Director Campbell is no stranger to action thrillers.  He’s directed two James Bond movies, GOLDENEYE (1995) the first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, and CASINO ROYALE (2006), the first Daniel Craig Bond movie.  Both films are excellent.  Campbell also directed GREEN LANTERN (2011), which was not so excellent.

David Marconi wrote the screenplay, based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather.  It’s an okay screenplay.  It has believable characters and tells two compelling stories, even if they don’t mix together all that well. Marconi also wrote the screenplay for LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).

Chan and Brosnan are helped by a solid supporting cast.  Michael McElhatton from TV’s GAME OF THRONES (2012-2016) plays Hennessy’s loyal right hand man, Jim, while Dermot Crowley from TV’s LUTHER (2010-2015) plays Hugh McGrath, one of Hennessy’s IRA brothers who may have his own agenda.

Charlie Murphy plays Maggie, a woman who Hennessy is having an affair with, and Orla Brady plays his wife Mary, who has her own issues with her husband.

And Rory Fleck Byrne is very good as Hennessy’s nephew Sean, a tracker and an assassin, who Hennessy eventually employs to find and take out Quan.

But the two best performances in THE FOREIGNER belong to the two leads, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Chan is excellent in a far more somber and serious role than he usually plays, and Brosnan is just as good as the increasingly beleaguered Hennessy whose world is under constant threat.

THE FOREIGNER is a decent thriller featuring two veteran actors. Its two separate stories don’t always gel, but the acting, directing, and writing are strong enough to make THE FOREIGNER an enjoyable action movie.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

Brosnan Kicks Butt in THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

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November Man - posterStreaming Video Review:  THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

by

Michael Arruda

I wanted to see THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014) when it opened in theaters last year, but for some reason or other, I missed it.  Now that it’s available on Netlflix Streaming, I finally caught up with it.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan as a former CIA operative who’s lured back into one last job and finds himself, among other things, squaring off against his former protégé.

Peter Deveraux (Pierce Brosnan) is trying to enjoy his “retirement” from the CIA.  He owns a coffee shop in Switzerland, and life is good.  However, his old boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) tracks him down and asks him to do one more job.  Hanley wants Deveraux to bring in a woman Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) from Russia whose life is in danger because she has information which will ruin the political career of the man who’s about to become president of Russia, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski).  The Russians want her dead and have put one of their most dangerous assassins, a woman named Alexa (Amila Terzimehic), on her trail.  Deveraux can hardly say no to this assignment, as Natalia is the mother of his twelve year-old daughter.

So, Deveraux travels to Russia to extract Natalia, and all goes well, at first, but then a squadron of agents descend upon them and kill Natalia.  Deveraux retaliates and recognizes one of the attackers as David Mason (Luke Bracey), his protégé, and he realizes that this was a CIA hit, which contradicts the information given him by his old boss Hanley, that they wanted Natalia alive.

David’s current boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) wants to know why Deveraux was there, and fearing that his former agent will seek vengeance for Natalia’s death, he orders David to find Deveraux and kill him.

Deveraux meanwhile tracks down a young woman named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who has information on a missing woman who holds the key to Federov’s downfall.  It’s this missing woman who Natalia knew about and is why the Russians wanted her dead.  Now they want Alice dead as well.  Deveraux vows to protect her, and together they set out to find the mystery woman, all the while remaining one step ahead of both the Russians and the CIA.  Deveraux also has a personal score to settle, as he wants to know why the CIA wanted Natalia killed, and he wants to get back at those responsible for her death.

While this may sound confusing, it really isn’t.  In spite of its twists and turns and political intrigue, the plot of THE NOVEMBER MAN is relatively easy to follow.

And since I understood this one from start to finish, I found myself really enjoying THE NOVEMBER MAN, as there was enough going on in the story to hold my interest, there were decent action scenes, and the cast more than held their own.

Pierce Brosnan leads the way as Peter Deveraux, the tough-as-nails CIA operative who earned the nickname “the November Man” because when he was through with a job, no one was left standing.  I dunno.  I can think of months with worse weather than November.  Anyway, Brosnan is excellent here.  I’ve always liked Brosnan as an actor, and as much as I liked him as James Bond, I’ve liked him better in other movies.  He almost always delivers the goods, and his performance here in THE NOVEMBER MAN is no exception.  He displays more range and emotion in the first twenty minutes of this movie than he does in any Bond film.  He’s also more bad-ass than Bond in this movie, and as such he’s completely convincing as a deadly CIA assassin.

Luke Bracey is less convincing as Deveraux’s protégé Mason.  He’s a pretty face and a muscular body, but he lacks Brosnan’s weathered toughness, and not once in this movie did I believe that Mason would actually best Deveraux.  I had to scratch my head when Mason’s boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) sends Mason in to kill Deveraux.  If Deveraux is as dangerous as they say he is, why send in a “baby” like Mason.  Isn’t there someone more seasoned?  Plus there’s the obvious emotional connection.  Mason can say all he wants about how he’ll get the job done, but the fact remains the two men were best friends.  It’s not the most convincing plot point.

Olga Kurylenko fares better as Alice, the woman who Brosnan spends most of the film trying to protect.  Kurylenko is terribly sexy, and as Alice she gets to do quite a lot in this movie, as she is much more than just a target that Brosnan has to guard.  She’s quite the effective heroine.  Kurylenko also made a big impression starring opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – she must like the James Bond types— and she was also good in a smaller role in the Tom Cruise science fiction film OBLIVION (2013).  She’s excellent here in THE NOVEMBER MAN.

Bill Smitrovich is also exceptional as Hanley, Deveraux’s former boss.  Smitrovich is a familiar face, and he’s been in lots of movies and TV shows, including IRON MAN (2008) and TED (2012).  I’ve liked Smitrovich in a lot of these roles, but his performance in this movie as Hanley might be my favorite.  He’s adept here at playing a two sided shadowy character, and he’s quite the bastard when he needs to be.

Amila Terzimehic looks impressive as Russian assassin Alexa, but she’s not in this movie a whole lot and as a result never becomes the villainous force she could have been.  Likewise, Will Patton, who I always enjoy, isn’t on screen very much either as the current CIA chief Perry Weinstein.  So, Patton’s impact is also limited.

THE NOVEMBER MAN was directed by Roger Donaldson, a veteran director who’s been making movies for decades.  He directed Pierce Brosnan previously in DANTE’S PEAK (1997) the very average adventure film about an erupting volcano.  THE NOVEMBER MAN is better than average.  It’s a nicely paced slick thriller with convincing action scenes, a couple of exciting chase scenes, and some effective fight sequences that don’t disappoint.

The screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek based on the book There Are No Spies by Bill Granger has enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned spy movie fan satisfied, and it also boasts decent dialogue, especially for star Pierce Brosnan, who gets to chew up the scenery in some scenes.  Finch wrote the screenplay for PREDATORS (2010), the PREDATOR reboot/sequel that I liked a lot, while Gajdusek co-wrote OBLIVION (2013), the Tom Cruise science fiction film which also starred Olga Kurylenko.  I expected the screenplay for this one to be decent, and it was.

Sure, things become a bit far-fetched towards the end, and the plot does get somewhat convoluted, but it never reached the point where I flat out didn’t believe it, mostly because Brosnan remains convincing throughout.  He’s the glue which holds this movie together.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is a well-made actioner, solid throughout, and it’s led by an impressive Pierce Brosnan who turns in a gritty rugged performance.  The former James Bond can still kick some serious butt.

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