OPERATION FINALE – DOING THEIR PART TO HELP THE WORLD “NEVER FORGET”

 

The list of top 20 movies that I would want, were I stranded on a desert island, would include My Favorite Year. It is a loose autobiographical event in the life of Mel Brooks, incarnated as the character Benji, when he was working on Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows and Errol Flynn was a guest host. The movie is delightful and comedic and full of extremely memorable lines. One of them is spoken by Alan Swann played by the brilliant Peter O’Toole who, used to declaiming before the relatively small venue of crew and cast members on a movie set, when confronted with the realization that he would be performing on live TV before an audience of hundreds and broadcast out to millions, has a panic attack. Preparing to run out the building, he pronounces to Benji, as though incredulous that they had not understood this before: “I’m not an actor! I’m a movie star!” meaning that he believes himself to be all flash and dazzle and not an artist.

My husband and I have used Swann’s pronouncement to distinguish amongst performers. While there are many movie stars, there are only a handful of actors. Some actors of distinction include hoffman1hoffmanDustin Hoffman, theronCharlize Theron, and streep1streepMeryl Streep, all of whom display an exceptional craft along with an unhesitating commitment, which includes not minding making themselves look ugly, should the roll require it.

SPOILERS BUT ONLY TO THOSE WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE BASICS OF THE HISTORY

kingsleyBen Kingsley falls into this category. Kinglsey is a versatile and mesmerizing actor. From the titular historic Kingsley - ghandiGhandi to the ridiculous kingsley mandarinMandarin in Iron Man 3, from the wise and genlle kingsley schindlerItzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant, in Schindler’s List, to the brutal gangster kingsley sexy beastDon Logan in Sexy Beast, Kingsley displays a repertoire which few could master.

Now, adding to the many suits in Kingsley’s closet, is the portrayal of Adolph Eichmann, the focus of Operation Finale. Kingsley, whose mother’s family was Jewish, brilliantly crafts a chillingly normal portrait of a man who superficially appears like anyone else but on closer examination reveals a hollowness to his soul which he filled with a prosaic ambition to advance a career which only happened to require the systematic murder of millions of innocent people. The morality of his actions did not seem to matter to him one way or the other.

Directed by Chris Weitz, whose family members were Holocaust survivors, (previously known for writing or directing far lighter material such as  Nutty Professor II, Twilight Saga: New Moon, Rogue One, and Antz), Operation Finale is a film about the location, identification, capture, and trial dock2 dockof one of Hitler’s most notorious henchmen, the architect of The Final Solution, the genocidal slaughterer of millions of Jewish families, eichmann and kingsleyAdolph Eichmann. Eichmann is the person about whom the expression “the banality of evil”  Hannah Arendt, reporting on Eichmann’s trial, referred. Arendt recognized these horrific deeds were performed not out of sadism or any evil intent, ditchEichmann by ditchbut by a merely bureaucratic routine functionary going through motions which he thought would advance his career, without any thought or care for the consequences of his actions. To my mind, this is perhaps more horrifying than a serial killer who gets his jollies from inflicting pain and suffering. A serial killer can be temporarily satiated. A Nazi bureaucrat could continue daily for decades without a thought or need to slow.

Forget Regan in The Exorcist or Heath Ledger’s Joker or Michael Myers’ Halloween killer – the frightening matter-of-factness about Kingsley’s Eichmann is as close to an accurate portrayal of the demonic as I hope to ever see.

malkin isaacsOscar Isaac portrays the real life Peter Malkin, a member of the Mossad and survivor of the Nazi genocide, instrumental to this historic Israeli organized clandestine operation. isaacsPresented as historic drama, Operation Finale begins with one of Malkin’s failures and proceeds primarily through his point of view as ephemerally loose threads are found and woven into the net which unearths this man who committed some of the most evil acts in all of mankind’s history – which, given mankind’s propensity for evil acts is saying something.

Also supporting Isaacs’ Malkin are Jewish performers: Melanie Laurent (of both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry) as Hannah, Nick Kroll (raised in a Conservative Jewish family) as Rafi, Michael Aronov as Zvi, Lior Raz  (born in Jerusalem) as Isser, head of the operation, and Ohad Knoller (born Tel Aviv) as Ephraim. Obviously a construct of love and respect for the memories of those slaughtered at the hands of unthinking, unfeeling functionaries, these men and women bear testament to the horrors committed in the name of arrogant totalitarianism, in particular, Nazism.

The film is a re-enactment of the heroic events by the images371MHE58men and women imagesT0P6TZIAwho risked capture, torture and death membert2themselves in Argentina, a country which happily welcomed notorious high ranking Nazis imagesGU3392RLand was still rife with open anti-Semitism.

During the course of Eichmann’s captivity, as the group awaited delayed extraction,  it became necessary for Eichmann to agree in writing to be a willing accomplice to his own extradition. The task evolves from a snatch and grab Mission Impossible adventure to a mental game of cat and mouse. IsaacsAs time begins to run out and the increasingly frustrated and tightly strung agents, some last remaining members of their families, endure proximity to their former tormentor, now prisoner, Malkin takes it upon himself to get inside of Eichmann’s head. We, and they, start to wonder if one side or the other  – Eichmann or the Mossad members – is succumbing to what would later be known as Stockholm Syndrome.

This opportunity to get inside the rationalizations of one of the world’s most notorious people is one of the most valuable aspects of Operation Finale – to remind ourselves that the deeply fundamentally wicked often presents itself as the common and mundane, much like the feral hunters who camouflage themselves in order to get close to their prey. Ted Bundy seemed ordinary, charming and intelligent. Jeffrey Dahmer had a pleasant forgettable face, nothing you’d associate with a serial killer and cannibal. Rarely do those who perform dramatically horrifying actions wear a sign around their neck proclaiming themselves to be masters of evil. Eichmann, as dramatized by Kingsley’s amazing presentation, is no exception.

There is a wise saying by George Santayana in his Reason in Common Sense: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Operation Finale does justice to this moment in history with a film that seeks to help us avoid this perilous omission.

ALPHA – ENGAGING AND BEAUTIFUL PRE-HISTORIC “BOY AND HIS DOG” STORY

SHORT TAKE:

Family friendly (with provisos) pre-historic tale of an injured and lost teen who partners with a wolf for his perilous journey home.

WHO SHOULD GO:

With cautions, anyone.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS (but only for those who have seen no trailers)

A boy and his dog – a classic pairing that dates back all the way to the Roman legend of Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf, and written into classics such as Kipling's Jungle Book and London's Call of The Wild. Movies have been made about this dynamic relationship from the family friendly Lassie franchise featuring such luminaries as Roddy McDowell to the R-rated cult favorite oddity starring Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, when he was himself a puppy, called A Boy and His (telepathic) DogAlpha is yet another installment in this litany of (how my friend Franklin describes all movies as) a love story with a twist. And I am a sucker for a well done dog movie.

The trailer for Alpha, as is unfortunately the case with most movies nowadays, gives away more than it should. So if you have seen any trailers there will be no additional spoilers. However, I did not find, having seen the trailer and the previews of scenes, take away from the suspense, or enjoyment of the movie.

The premise is about a teenage boy, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the new Kurt Wagner/NightCrawler), the only child and son of Chief Tau (Johannes Johannesson, Lem Lemoncloak from Game of Thrones), is taken on his right of passage into manhood buffalo hunt. He is injured, separated from the tribe, and left, thought dead.

In a series of miraculous but plausible events he survives and begins his long and extremely perilous trek home, finding an unlikely partner in a wolf he calls Alpha,  portrayed by Chuck, a Czechoslavakian Wolfhound.

Set 20,000 years ago, in what would eventually be known as Europe, unlike other movies about prehistoric man, Alpha appropriately portrays these characters as perfectly recognizable, modern-looking humans, only without our tech. They are intelligent, with a close knit family structure, established spiritual philosophy and able to communicate complex thoughts with a detailed language. They're courageous problem solvers, in a defended village, who live in large dome-shaped thatched and mud reinforced wigwams – perfectly recognizable modern humans only without the modern conveniences.

I really like the dynamic portrayed between the wise and gentle, big and burly father as he attempts to train and teach his much gentler son to be the next chief of their tribe. It is a universal, even cliche, conflict and eventual resolution between the expectations of a loving father and the inherent predispositions and abilities of an anxious to please son, played out in what I thought was a new and interesting way.

And I thought especially well played out how the father's teachings provided the boy with invaluable assistance to confront the overwhelming challenges when on his own, how the boy used his father's wisdom, in combination with his own unique approach and instincts, to confront the harrowing trials he had to endure through his long, seemingly impossible journey home – how the unprepared boy, faced with almost certain death, embraces his father's lessons to meet these unplanned tests. Both the audience and he realize along the way, that if he survives his adventure, he will become the capable man and leader he otherwise would not have been.

A number of movies have been made about prehistoric man. The introductory music and landscape for Alpha reminded me of the first 15 minutes of Kubrick's 2001. And the premise of a long silent journey of hazard over primitive terrain without hope of outside rescue I found very reminiscent of Quest for Fire.

But this is where the similarities end.

The characters in Quest for Fire were brutish, and almost comically animalistic as they fell out of trees and laughed at injuries they inflicted on each other, taking food and sexual favors in behavior more akin to a tribe of gorillas than a tribe of humans.

Quest for Fire, though well made and interesting, was a very adult film full of graphic cruelty and casual sexuality, portraying humans as projections of the unproven and largely discreditable Darwinian fallacy of a descendance from apes, which nonetheless is still forced into our schooling system. It was refreshing that the makers of Alpha saw pre-historic homo sapiens as virtually identical to our current men, in all of the fundamental ways that unite us as humans.

Though Alpha does include some violence, most of it happens very quickly, and either in the dark or off screen. In addition, there are a few scenes with maggots and dead rotting animals. As a friend of mine noted, however, nothing you would not see on a hot summer day when you go to take out the trash in my hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Depending, of course, as always, on parental discretion and the temperament of your child, I would even venture to say this movie could be appropriate for the very young child, especially if they like dogs. I would not recommend it for a child who was upset unduly by jump- scares, or gross out images.

The cinematography is gorgeous, even occasionally breathtaking, in the panoramic vistas of undeveloped Canada, masquerading as prehistoric Europe.

So, go check out Alpha. Would make a wonderful first date movie for people who like dogs. And don't discount this even for the youngest members of your family, but do check it out first.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS – ADORABLE CAPRA-ESQUE ROM COM CHINESE-STYLE

SHORT TAKE:

In a word Crazy Rich Asians is … adorable. 1950'S style American rom com – mix of fish-out-of-water and Cinderella – set in Singapore.

WHO SHOULD GO:

I'd have to say this was a very good first date movie. For older teens and up because of a little bit of language mostly from Awkwafina and the idea that the two main characters are sleeping together and not married, as well as some of the shenanigans that Nick's friends get up to, especially when at the wedding and the bachelor party. Nothing grotesque but really for an older crowd.

LONG TAKE:

I have long admired Oriental movies because of their "throwback" attitude which heavily favors family, marriage, and a "clean", profanity-light script. Jackie Chan movies and the Bollywood entries like Spyder (click on the name for the review) being excellent examples. Though made by Warner Brothers and considered an American film, the cast of Crazy Rich Asians is mostly Chinese (the first such movie released from a major American company since the Joy Luck Club in  1993). And CRA follows the same template.

CRA is one of the cutest movies I have seen in a long time. The premise is that a young Chinese couple, Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel (Constance Wu) go to Singapore for Nick's best friend's wedding. While an intelligent accomplished woman in her own right, Rachel is the daughter of a single working-class mom. Up to this time Nick has lived modestly, even attending a YMCA which, according to Rachel, smells bad, so Rachel thinks he is just a working class stiff like herself.  In the course of the trip over, Rachel discovers Nick is extremely wealthy, from a celebrity family, and considered royalty in Singapore. The first class tickets with champagne and a full sized bed on the overnight flight are dead giveaways. If anyone remembers the old 1981 Dudley Moore-Liza Minnelli movie Arthur, they would find a lot of similarities, only Nick is not an alcoholic and Rachel is not a shoplifter.  The superficially polite but snobby, cruel friends, his vicious ex-girlfriend, the poor girl's plain talking friend and ally, the conflicts, and the ultimate resolution, are all variation of this familiar Moore-Minelli theme. And in truth, BOTH movies really harken back to Pride and Prejudice, the story of a young woman who marries for love DESPITE, not because of, the fact the object of her affection is rich and she is poor. (Nice of her to forgive him that little peccadillo, eh?)

I love the clever title. Does it refer to Nick's family being "crazy rich," as in Tony Stark rich? Or does it means that rich Asians tend to be crazy? Or both? Probably both.

As I mentioned, CRA harkens back to the values and rhythms of the old 1950s romantic comedies. Honor, marriage, family, hard work, altruism, and a Judeo-Christian philosophy are all virtues to be admired and make the main characters successful. Even the Warner Brothers logo looks pretty retro.

Crazy Rich Asians has a very Frank ("It's a Wonderful Life") Capra-esque feel to it with its simple straightforward storyline, a certain romantic idealism, and the presumption in the goodness of our main characters. Perhaps it would be one of Capra's lesser works, but definitely has that wonderful Capra aftertaste to it which makes you walk out of the theater feeling good. The story is populated with a plethora of interesting side characters both nice and treacherous. There is Nick's controlling mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick's preternaturally kind sister Astrid (Gemma Chan), Rachel's very eccentric best friend Peik (Awkwafina from the awful Ocean's 8), Nick's flamboyantly lovable cousin Oliver (Nico Santos, one of the few non-Chinese, as he is Filipino), and Lisa Lu as the matriach and Nick's grandmother.

Lisa Lu's film pedigree is the most impressive of the cast, dating back to 1958. Primarily in TV all the way back to Shirley Temple's Storybook, her diverse small screen career has covered ground from Cimarron City to The Odd Couple. She has also been in a number of ecclectic and well known films including 1988's Academy Award sweeping The Last Emperor, the blockbuster 2012, and the critically acclaimed Joy Luck Club.

MAJOR SPOILER

There's really only one sour note in this charming tune – and that's the subplot concerning Astrid and her self-described "commoner" husband Michael (Pierre Png). The relationship problems felt awkward and crowbarred in, as if to chide us with the caution that love is not always the fairytale we'd like it to be. But the set up is not fully convincing and the "pay-off" unsatisfying. If we are to be persuaded that Michael would cheat on someone as gorgeous and alluring, affectionate, considerate and kind as Astrid, we must be given more than his casual annoyance of her shopping habits. In a film with a similar set up – Funny Lady, the Fanny Brice bio-pic sequel to Funny Girl, when Brice's second husband, Billy Rose, leaves the famous Ms. Brice for another woman, there is reason. Fanny, for one, had taken off on a ludicrous jaunt to reconnect with her first husband, Nicky Arnstein. When Fanny returns, she finds Billy in bed with someone else. Billy gently explains to Fanny that while he still loves Fanny, this other woman looks at him, Billy, the way Fanny does at Nicky. OK – THAT'S a good reason to be unhappy in your marriage. I'm not saying that they did not BOTH act like complete idiots instead of healing their marriage, but it is a satisfyng REASON which the audience can understand, even if not agree with. Michael, in Crazy Rich Asians just comes off as a disposable random McGuffin.

Aside from that, Crazy Rich Asians is a lovely, funny, sweet movie.

There's no big agenda, no underlying score to settle with any demographic or socially (ir)relevant issue, like the kinds of time wasters pumped out by the likes of Michael Moore, which clog up our cinemas today. Crazy Rich Asians is just a good, old-fashioned, funny modern view of Chinese life in both America and in Singapore set against the background of a lovely romance.

And if you, like I do, want the cinemas to be graced with more movies like this in the future – GO SEE Crazy Rich Asians… Or is it Crazy-Rich Asians? Perhaps CRAZY Asians who happen to be rich? As opposed to rich Asians who are NOT crazy?

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME – A FUNNY TAKE OFF OF BOND MOVIES

SHORT TAKE:

Lighthearted romp from the point of view of a discarded Bond girl.

WHO SHOULD GO:

To paraphrase a Bond title: For Adult Eyes Only. Ears too. Language, violence and adult situations but surprisingly and thankfully little inappropriate sexual content.

LONG TAKE:

You know all those girls who have been bedded and shedded by the Bonds over the last 26 years? To paraphrase a line from Lion in Winter – you could populate a fair city with the fair number of girls who have borne with Bond.

And neither we nor he ever hears from them again. Now imagine that one of them does NOT go quietly into the night.

Mila Kunis (Jupiter Rising, Oz the Great and Powerful and Black Swan) is Audrey, the heartbroken reject of Drew (Justin Theroux) who quite literally loved her and…left. Kate McKinnon (pathetic gender swap Ghostbusters) is Morgan, her more than slightly insane best friend. The two women are very ordinary people. Audrey is kind of quiet and underestimates her own abilities but, egged on by Morgan, takes it upon herself to seek revenge on Drew by burning all of his stuff. Little does she know this includes a trophy which contains something that could get them all killed. And since Audrey's angry vindictive ex-girlfriend texts, mostly written by Morgan, are being monitored by a number of different lethal interests, everyone converges on the shocked Audrey and Morgan. Through what Audrey admits is plain dumb luck they escape to begin the most unplanned of adventures.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Spy Who Dumped Me was that neither of these women had any special abilities, but simply reacted the way any one of us normal mortals might – screaming, running and trying to simply get out of the way. No planned heroics, no endurance of torture, just: "Get me the Heck away from all of this." But fortune has other ideas. Luckily for them, they have a few Guardian Angels: Sebastian (Sam Heughan) a friendly agent and Morgan's marvelously unflappable parents – Arnie, a very successful trial attorney (Paul Reiser, who has a resume which includes the unlikely duo of both Mad About You and Aliens) and Jane Curtain (SNL veteran, Coneheads and Third Rock From the Sun). When informed their daughter has killed someone, Arnie assumes blasely, "Self defense, right? We can fix that." 

If I were to use one word to describe why I liked this movie it would be  "balance." I loved the tone of the movie which balanced just the right amount of realism with comedy.

It followed the straight vertical "rules" of a Bond movie with its intrigue and mystery, guns and car chases, superhuman feats of deering do and gorgeously athletic men and women, but smoothly incorporated the odd angles of the "everyman" perspective. Audrey and Morgan want to do the right thing BUT would very much like to drop this entire mess in someone else's hands.

The characters are all a lot of fun. I thought the yin and yang of Audrey's mousey start with Morgan's literal bouncing off the wall worked really well. Morgan kick starts Audrey's odyssey and Audrey keeps Morgan from running off too many cliffs. Like a human Push Me Pull You from Dr. Doolitte, they made a great pair that kept the tone light but exciting. Kunis is beautiful, McKinnon kinetic, Reiser and Curtain are warm and funny, Heughan is just the right combination of cool and unsure of his new "partners of necessity". And Gilian Anderson (X-Files) has a small role as Wendy, their version of "M".

There's nothing deep and meaningful about The Spy Who Dumped Me, but it is a treat to watch.

I would not want to spoil the plot any more than I would want to remove the chocolate chips out of your freshly baked cookie.

BUT – let's just say: Forget Julius No, Auric Goldfinger, Jaws and Oddjob. Instead, perhaps Drew should have suggested the famous Double "O" watch out for some of the women he left behind.  Hell hath no fury like a woman who is dumped.

DARKEST MINDS – DERIVATIVE TEEN ROMANCE DRESSED UP AS WEAK DEPRESSING SCI FI

SHORT TAKE:

Paint-by-numbers teen-romance/sci-fi full of plot holes and borrowed ideas.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid to older teens only, for language, X-Men style violence and a couple of aggressive advances by pervy bad guys.

LONG TAKE:

Combine Divergent with the new/retro X-Men then flavor with a teaspoon of Children of Men and you have Darkest Minds.

Based on a series of books by Alexandra Reagan, the premise is that a virus infects all children. Most die but the survivors are left with superpowers. The government is afraid of them so, on the pretext of looking for a cure, rounds them up into prison-like camps, where they are overseen by abusive soldiers, given menial tasks to do and occasionally euthanized. One of the internees, Ruby, (Amandla Stenberg from Hunger Games) gifted with mind control, escapes with the help of a sympathetic doctor, Cate (Mandy Moore) and seeks sanctuary with other runaways.

There are so many weak, illogical and unappealing features to this movie that I will only hit upon the highlights.

The two favorite whipping boys of the lazy liberal screenwriters are corporate CEOs and the military. Our military are the scapegoats in this one. All are seen as cruel and abusive to the last remaining children on the planet. Not only is this stupid, but would be an enormous waste of incredible powers displayed by the children. For example, heightened intelligence children are sent to polish shoes. Why? Why are they not put to work creating super gizmos?

Set ups are never paid off. In one scene, our protagonist is cornered by a pervy-acting soldier and another girl deliberately makes him angry to distract him. She is taken away, presumably for punishment, but we never see her again.

Ruby sends a bounty hunter off into the woods to walk herself to death. Then the kids walk off into the same woods without ever mentioning her again. Also, this is almost exactly the punishment Wolverine's dying girlfriend, Kayla, metes out to Stryker at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Along with enhanced intelligence, powers of other children in the camp include telekinesis and the ability to control electricity.

Children who demonstrate more powerful abilities such as mind control or fire breathing are euthanized.

If a corrupt military had access to this kind of firepower, the idea that these children would be either killed or corralled and simply housed is ludicrous. Why would they not at least weaponize them?

There is no reveal as to what was going on in the rest of the world. If it was only in the United States, we would have a significant advantage with a race of super children. Was the virus a pandemic? Where did the virus come from? Was it manufactured ? of alien origin? Was it supposed to be a natural part of humans' development? The writers seem more interested in making the military look inherently evil and jumping right to the teen drama than writing a solid coherent story.

The performances of the children are adequate but fairly banal and what you might expect in a teen romance film dressed up as a Sci-Fi.

It's a shame because they had the skeleton ideas for a really good movie. One thread they could have followed was when the runaways come upon an abandoned farm and one of the older kids mentions simply but insightfully: no children, no economy.

This is common sense the global warming cultists and the abortion mentality fanatics fail to grasp. Putting aside the Holocaust level atrocity of the philosophy that there are too many of us and that children, thereby, are at best an inconvenience and at worst a plague to be minimized or eliminated, it is a basic fundamental of economics that a population does not grow also does not thrive.  This is a concept that the far superior Children of Mendid not just glance at but understood and embraced.

The devastated and abandoned areas in Darkest Minds the children come across are one of the few accurate portrayals of the outcome of the loss of our next generation. To do a crossover moment, this is the landscape that Thanos and those others who believe in overpopulation, would create. Darkest Minds could have been a kind of Children of Men spinoff but this point was never followed up.

Another really good idea which was little utilized was Watership Down, a brilliant story by Richard Adams seen from the point of view of a group of adventuring rabbits. The idea of a group of intrepid outcasts, wandering from one dysfunctional society to another in the wake of a massive catastrophe, rejecting them all, seeking sanctuary and finding it in family would have been a real upgrade to this plot. Instead, Ruby, the main protagonist, finds this book to read to the youngest child in their group. The blessing that God gives to rabbits is quoted: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning." Ruby applies it to her love interest, Liam (Harris Dickinsen), but this is unearned. "The Prince with A Thousand Enemies" is a clever trickster leader who brings his family through a series of dangerous adventures. Liam, while a nice young man, is merely one of a group of kids trying to survive. He's not an especially strong leader, nor shown to be particularly adept at thinking outside the box. If they wanted to make this Watership Down analogy work they should have set it up properly, instead of just throwing it in hoping it would stick by virtue of having been mentioned. This tactic does not work.

Ruby kills somewhat randomly, though not without reason.  She forces soldiers to shoot into an opposing group, gets a helicopter pilot to do a suicide dive, and makes the pervy soldier shoot himself in the head. I only bring this up because elsewhere in the movie the group she is with objects to the idea of joining an anti-government group call the Children's League. They are afraid the League would train them to be soldiers and kill people. Seems a bit inconsistent without at least some espoused rationalization. The screenwriters need to pick a side and stick to it. Is it okay to use these powers lethally or not?

Essentially, this is a so-so forgettable teen romance with about as much originality as Eragon, set against a background of sci-fi which plays out like a first treatment idea instead of a fully fleshed-out screenplay.

Finally, I must wonder why screenwriters almost always see the future as dystopian. Granted a conflict is useful in the creation of an interesting story, but there's no reason a functioning healthy society couldn't be challenged, instead of starting from the assumption that life sucks. Star Trek, Dr. Who and the Avengers – three of the most profitable and long lasting frachises in all of cinematic history – all celebrate more often than not, the advances, achievements, creativity and essential goodness of humanity – and that sentient life is the most valuable thing in the material Universe. You'd think the writers of such depressing movies as Hunger Games, Divergent, Ready Player One, The Road, Book of Eli, 12 Monkeys, Blade Runner, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, and Brazil would start from a more optimistic threshold. After all, what is the point of fighting for a world which will not get any better? Not that these are all bad  movies – on the contrary many on the list are classics. It's just you'd think the truly creative might come up with a more positive outlook on life and our future. As Trek and Who, in particular, have shown, it is possible to have conflict and even make intelligent social commentary and still have a more optimistic view of life. Just sayin'.

WARNING: A little bit of language, some X-Men style violence of gunshots, fire breathing, explosions and people being thrown around, along with the pervy antagonist scenes, makes this suitable really for older teens and up only. If you were comfortable with your kids seeing X-Men, this would likely be fine.

THE MEG – MORE LIKE THE MEH – FORGETABLE POPCORN FLICK – JAWS STILL REIGNS!!!

SHORT TAKE:

Enjoyable, but immediately forgettable, popcorn Jaws near-parody which could have been and, given the improved technology, SHOULD have been better.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid-teens and up for language and violence, though there was not a lot of graphic gore. While a few audience members brought their younger kids, I would not have wanted the "nightmare" duty later.

LONG TAKE:

When I was 16, my brother-in-law joined the military. After his signing in, he, my sister and I all went to celebrate by going to see Jaws, which had just opened at the downtown theater. After the end of the very memorable opening scene, my brother-in-law, a dentist and one of the calmest people I have ever met, stood up and with his usual dry wit straight-faced announced: "O.K. I'm ready to go." He was only half serious and we stayed to watch the rest of this classic.

Although it has kept me well away from the idea of scuba diving for the last 40+ years, I have been hooked, so to speak on Jaws and other disaster-type movies ever since – be they good, bad or indifferent

So, I think I can say with some credibility, the Meg is Jaws Lite. While it has the virtues of a certain parody-like charm, it neglects, with apparent obliviousness, a couple of important features required of a really good monster movie.

SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!

It's not all bad. The Meg is based on a series of five books with the same base name, all researched and written by Steve Alten. At the publication of this review I am part way through the first one and it is fairly engrossing and provides some interesting background.

On the plus side, The Meg has, in abundance, one of the features important in most disaster movies in general, and specifically in the sub genre of monster movies – a sense of humor and/or self-awareness. Examples of where this works is in the quippy lines in Aliens (watching their only escape ship burn, "Maybe we can build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh? Why don't we try that?") or the entirety of Shaun of the Dead. The director of The Meg, Jon Turteltaub, had the Meg's tongue planted firmly in cheek, (though, technically, almost no shark actually USES its tongue – called a basihyal. ed).

And how can it not evoke a few chuckles with Rainn Wilson as one of the major players? A veteran of such notables as The Office, Galaxy Quest and as the "new" Harry Mudd in Star Trek: Discovery, Wilson has carved a niche out as one of the princes of dead pan egocentric humor, like Sam Rockwell and Jim Carrey. 

In addition, there is a small flavoring of homages to the Meg's predecessors. For example, Statham's character quotes Martin Brody from Jaws to "chew on this" and he even references Finding Nemo. There are a few well deserved and needed grins earned throughout the movie. So to its credit, The Meg does NOT take itself overly seriously.

That's a good thing, because, everything else about the movie does not fare so well.

The premise is a string of glued together cliches: Jason Statham (Furious movie franchise)  is Jonas, and no traction is made of his name, which in nautical circles would refer to Jonah – from the Bible – someone considered unlucky to have on a ship. Jonas is a discredited deep sea rescue diver who saw a monster (the Meg) during a mission which everyone attributed to deep diving delusions and panic. He is brought back to his old job when a monster, such as he described, is found and he has to rescue some people. Of course, the fact he has been boozing it up and out of practice for the last 5 years has had no effect on his abilities or physique whatsoever. His ex-wife is in danger. He meets a new cute scientist with an even cuter child (Shuya Sophia Cai), who immediately takes to him. Someone heroically sacrifices himself to save his friends. Random people are devoured after citing Sedgwickisms (after General Sedgwick who was killed by a sharpshooter during the Battle of Spottsylvania Court House right after saying "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.") A greedy CEO (along with the military, CEO's are one of the go-to scapegoats of the lazy liberal screenwriter) abandons people in danger to prevent having to meet financial liability exposure. A kid paddles out into a crowded beach surf just as the Meg decides to smorgasbord the shallows under the watchful eye of his mother (ala Jaws but with a happier ending).There's even an adorable dog, who you know won't be eaten, who jumps into the mix, or rather literally, the water. There is little or nothing new that The Meg contributes to the genre, though it pays decent respect to its brethren films.

The Meg's most serious problem is with its rhythm and structure. Specifically, it lacks two essentials for a scary movie: a sense of urgency and intimacy which can be summed up as: trapped in a ticking time bomb. In Jaws, Brody, Hooper and Quint, who you come to care about,  were all stuck out in the ocean, on a sinking boat, being stalked by a monster white shark. In Jurassic Park, Alan Grant and his plucky band of survivors were stuck on an island, while being chased by dinosaurs. In The Towering Inferno, people were trapped in a high-rise above a fire line. In The Poseidon Adventure (both versions) the ensemble spent the entire movie trying to escape an overturned and sinking cruise ship. The Core had a bunch of scientists stuck miles underground trying to re-spin the Earth's core before all life on the surface was vaporized. You see the pattern. But in The Meg, although people are trapped briefly different places, for most of the film the cast can come and go as they like on boats and in helicopters. There is no sense of a confined space from which emergence would mean victory

In spectacularly successful monster movies, there is a cast who we get to know and with whom we empathize, and while there is often a bad guy involved, such as Paul Riser's corporate weasel in Aliens or Murray Hamilton's self-serving mayor in Jaws, and really great challenges, the primary antagonist is often … time. Something must be done before time Runs Out. And to heighten the sense of urgency, the scenario, as I mentioned above, is usually played out in a confined space from which our intrepid heroes must escape.

In The Meg, the time factor is played with and sprinkled around like random lampreys on a shark, but it is not THE shark. For example, Jonas' wife, Lori (Jessica McNamee) and her crew, are stuck in a bathyscope, running out of air and stalked by the monster. But this is resolved within the first half-hour of the movie. Later, the scientists have to race the Meg to a crowded beach, but none of the people are characters we know, so we don't really care that much. The people in danger are more like NPCs, or non-player characters in a video game, which are only there to populate the scene, but in which we have no investment.

There is no structural time critical deadline which defines the arc of the movie, as there was in the sinking Titanic or the burning Towering Inferno or the Jurassic-Dino-Park-Hunted-Alan-Grant party.

The lack of a temporal framework, the want of an urgent deadline, deflated much of what would have injected a sense of mortally important immediacy into the movie.

And it doesn't help that the suspense is undermined with the trailers. Not only did they give away the most spectacular visual –  the shark bite in the window of the underground bio habitat in front of the little girl, but showing the mom during that scene completely eliminates any tension in the opening shots where she is put in danger by a prehistoric squid. We KNOW she is not in any danger with the squid because she shows up in the Meg-bite scene later in the movie.

In addition there are plot holes. The most egregious is in the premise. The big issue that drives most of the movie is the entry of the Meg from a protected sub ocean into our part of the world. The implication is that this has never happened and would not have happened had the subs not gone to investigate creating a gateway through the cold gas layer acting as a barrier between the Meg world and our own. However, Jonas was fired and in "exile" BECAUSE he claimed he had seen the results of one of these creatures on a ship during a deep ocean rescue FIVE YEARS before. How did it get out BEFORE the deep sea rescue?

Granted this is a popcorn movie but I hate to see distracting holes in plots where a sentence or two could have closed them. For example, they could have mentioned that Jonas' previous mission had taken place near where the research scientists were investigating. Or they could have admitted the possibility these Megs had another entry way into our world. I mean they want a sequel anyway, right?

The Meg was neither more nor less than what I expected it to be. A fun, occasionally scary, popcorn movie. But, especially with the heightened CGI opportunities, it could have been so much more.

There is some youth inappropriate language (understandable as one is being stalked by a 70 foot shark, but still not for children's ears) and a lot of jump scares and violence. Though the majority of the human gore is left unseen in a flurry of action, things like a severed arm and terrified people being pushed and swallowed up by the Meg, again, make it unsuitable for all but mid to older teens and up, at a minimum.

But if you want an excuse to get your date to snuggle closer while she's hiding her eyes in your sleeve, then, by all means, go and have yourself a good shiver — but don't plan on any scuba trips in the near future.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN – HIS LAST NAME WAS MILNE!!! AND OTHER STUPID FILMMAKING DECISIONS

SHORT TAKE:

Christopher Robin attempts to show how a grown up with an intimate connection to a famous child's fantasy book, deals with adulthood in a British version of the equally weak Hook. Dull, ponderously slow, with a poorly thought out plot, while there's no reason NOT to take your child, there is very little to recommend it.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone CAN go.

LONG TAKE:

I REALLY wanted to like Christopher Robin. I had been looking forward to it for months, but the over trailer-ing should have given me a clue. Advertising too much is often a sign the film makers know they have an underachiever and throw everything up on the screen hoping it will attract enough audience to pay for itself.

The good news is there is nothing, per se, wrong with the movie and you can, I think, safely take a child of any age to see it. The biggest danger you run is that they will fall asleep.

The acting is excellent and special kudos go to Ewan MacGregor, the grown up Christopher Robin, who, like Bob Hoskins before him in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, had to perform with … nothing. There was never a moment when these stuffed animals did not seem alive.

The voices were all very familiar. Jim Cummings, the only veteran in the crew, who has been speaking lines for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger since 1988 reprises the voice roles with his very familiar tranquil-laconic Pooh and loquacious-over excitable Tigger. The others re-create the other characters' voices almost flawlessly.  I only wish the story had been as well conceived.

Brad Garrett is the eighth person to groan the apathetic donkey, since Disney’s original featurettes. Nick Mohammed is the fourth Piglet. Peter Capaldi, the twelfth Dr Who (thirteenth if you count John Hurt), is the sixth Rabbit. Kanga is voiced by Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten, the Queen in Dr Who), Roo by Sara Sheen. And Toby Jones, character actor from Sherlock, Dr. Who, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and an Avengers baddie, does a kiddie movie turn as Owl.

Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter, Captain America's first girlfriend) is lovely as Christopher’s wife and Bronte Carmichael is very sweet as Christopher’s little girl Madeleine. The performers acted their little hearts out.

The bad news is that the resulting film was so disappointing it made me mad. So I hereby present to you:

SEVEN REASONS WHY CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, THE MOVIE, MADE ME MAD:

Where should I begin?

How about with a list?

1. Winnie gave me the creeps; 2. the theme was stupid; 3. there were a LOT of missed opportunities; 4. poor character development; 5. profoundly stupid historic inaccuracies; 6. man abuse; and 7. the crowning jewel of all ignorant decisions.

SPOILERS

1. WINNIE AND FRIENDS GAVE ME THE CREEPS

The animals gave me the creeps. They were dirty and old and used looking. Not at all the way a small child would see them or an adult in fond memory. They looked as you might find them mouldering away in some old attic. And, save, for some reason, Rabbit, their faces barely moved. They were virtually expressionless. This all would have made some sense if, as time went on and Christopher spent more time with them, they started appearing cleaner and newer and more alive. But, alas, they continued in their bedraggled state throughout the course of the movie. A child would not have noticed them being dirty so if we, the audience and Christopher are looking at them through his child eyes, then they would have seemed fresh and new. If we are looking at them REALISTICALLY, through the eyes of the jaded and adult Christopher why were they animated at ALL? And, if we are looking at them realistically, why do any of the other humans see them move or talk? If this was all part of Christopher’s delusions, no one else would have seen them animated.

The stuffed animals in Christopher Robin all had more in common with Sid’s toys in Toy Story than in a visit to the Hundred Acre Woods.

2. THE THEME WAS STUPID

The theme was "sometimes you have to do nothing to do something" ….uuum? What? Christopher takes this to heart and brings it to his employer, the owner of a luggage manufacturing company, as a solution to their economic woes. That they should give all of their employees two weeks paid leave so they will buy luggage … to go on holiday. This would be like giving someone $100 to spend $25 in your store and then calling that $25 a profit. Based on this, NO one should put Christopher in charge of a business. NOW – he ALSO, as an offhand comment, suggests they should have a line of luggage for the "common" folk, rather than exclusively produce for the wealthy. Well, OK, that’s a good idea but not when linked to the other one.

3. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

With three screenplay writers, two "story by" credits and based on the works of A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard, you would think Disney could have come up with a tight clever plot. Instead, it plays out exactly what it is – a story mashed together by committee.

Why didn’t Christopher bring his daughter with him when he followed Pooh to the Hundred Acre Woods for the first time in 30 years? Or have the writers have her follow him in? She was available having just seen the red balloon Christopher left her on her bike. He knew she would eventually figure out he had been there. His balloon gift made it no secret he had been in the vicinity, so why did he not just bring Madeleine with him?

From a plot point of view, this would have thematically helped establish a bridge between his youth and adulthood, AND allowed him to see his favorite playground from a fresh set of youthful eyes, AND provided Christopher with someone to bounce dialogue off of aside from talking to himself, of which he does a lot.

Why didn’t he see his reflection in a pool of water as a Heffalump? The idea is casually alluded to but the writers ignored the chance to bring this to the forefront and make it part of his character arc.

There is ONE good line in Hook, when the aged Wendy, finding out Peter has grown up to be an attorney specializing in corporate takeovers quips: "Peter, you’ve become a pirate!" Similarly, an image of the heffalump in place of the grown Christopher’s reflection could have been a touchstone moment. Instead he flails about with an unseen imaginary invisible heffalump to deliberately fool his stuffed animal friends.

Why couldn't, for example, each of the Hundred Acre inhabitants represent a change Christopher needed to make or an issue he had to resolve? Winnie could be his need to relax. Tigger to inspire finding the joys of childhood. Eeyore his insecurities. Kanga and Roo to renew and deepen his relationship with his wife and daughter, etc.  Nope they were just dirty tag overs, apparently abandoned in a dust covered corner of his attic.

4. POOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

There is little transition for Christopher from becoming a man so business oriented he reads hard economic texts to his daughter for bedtime stories to someone talking to an animated bear. Bruce Willis' character, Russ, in the comedy The Kid is inexplicably faced with the incarnation of his 10 year old self. Like the appearance of Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, this manifestation forces the protagonist to confront some unpleasant truths about his grown up self. However, Russ, in The Kid, does not accept the little boy's identifty or even existence right away. Russ, first, seeks professional counseling, takes medication, and enlists the help of his personal assistant, all to simply prove to himself the kid is actually there and that others can see him. Putting aside that this was just a better movie by several factors of ten, this single point is a more realistic portrayal of someone coming to grips with an unknown. And Russ was only faced with a child, not a walking talking stuffed animal.

Alas, Mark Gatiss, we thought he knew better, Horatio. Mark Gatiss, (writer and actor from Sherlock and Dr Who) was roped into embarrassing himself, with a bad toupee, in the thankless task of a caricature bad boss. His Giles Winslow is so shallow it could have been replaced by a drawn stick figure. Gatiss is a wonderful actor but he was given little to do but tell Christopher to work on the weekend, knock over the same display several times in an incomprehensible show of clumsiness, which was neither amusing nor set up for any later pay off, and sulk when thwarted.

5. PROFOUNDLY STUPID HISTORIC INACCURACIES

The movie Christopher Robin shows the father as anxious to send the boy Christopher to boarding school and the mother sympathetic. Goodbye, Christopher Robin, the far superior biopic about the relationshiop between A.A. Milne and his son, was much more historically accurate, based upon the verifying documentation of the real Christopher's interaction with his mother and the fact he wouldn't have anything to do with the fortune made from the Winnie the Pooh stories. It was the MOTHER, in real life, who was callous and cold and couldn’t wait to be rid of the boy. OK, this is a Disney movie. I can overlook that alteration.

In C.R., his father dies while he is in boarding school, making him the "man of the house" when he was about 11. In fact, as accurately portrayed in Goodbye, Christopher Robin, his father didn’t die until after Christopher had grown, been to war, declared MIA, returned, and reconciled with Christopher. Christopher was 36 years old when A.A. Milne died. There was no particular reason for the premature "killing off" of Christopher Robin's father in this Disney misadventure except, perhaps, to explain why Christopher was in an unfulfilling job at a luggage factory. Reality would have provided a better plot point here too. In fact, Christopher rejected all of the money made from his father’s books and ran his own bookstore instead. This could easily have been worked in as a far more interesting character development issue.

Christopher detested his boarding school days and would NEVER have considered sending a beloved daughter there.

Christopher’s obsession with turning his daughter into a career woman was massively anachronistic for the early 1950's.

The real Christopher DID indeed marry but to a Leslie, not an Evelyn. And he did have a daughter but her name was Clare not Madeleine and she had cerebral palsy.

While I completely understand taking creative liberties for the sake of a story, if you are going to diverge THAT MUCH from an established and well known historic figure, why don’t you just create a NEW person out of whole cloth who has, perhaps, been INFLUENCED by the Winnie the Pooh stories and not concoct this absurd confabulation of made up "facts" about a real human whose past was rather well documented and easy to confirm.

6. MAN ABUSE

Here's a quiz for you. What doClick, Jingle All The Way, Kramer vs Kramer, Hook, and even Mary Poppins to a certain extent – all have in common? ANSWER:  Hard working, faithful husbands who are painted as the bad guy because they are busting their buns to provide for their families. In return, all they get is guilt from unappreciative wives and whiny children. I am sick to death of movies who cast men, who deny themselves fun and recreation, who proudly provide for their families, as negligent, solely on the grounds of that hard work.

What do these women WANT? Homer Simpson? Then, if a man is portrayed as fun loving, as in Mrs. Doubtfire, this behavior is presented as grounds on which to dump him and trade up to a rich established guy. And in Christopher Robin they do it again. Christopher is chided by his wife, raled at (behind his back) by his daughter and threatened (subtly) with divorce (I think we'll stay out here at the cottage for a while LONGER). Why? Because he had to forego a vacation when faced, by his superior, with two days to figure out how to cut 20% of the costs in his department without FIRING 20% of his people. I do not think his wife had any sense of proportion.

7. THE CROWN JEWEL OF IGNORANCE

And finally, the most egregious, most nonsensical, most distracting transgression was that the protagonist of the movie, acknowledged as the son of the author of Winnie the Pooh, was called Christopher Robin. His boss, who refers to everyone by their last names, calls him Robin. His WIFE is referred to as Mrs. Robin!!! This is not only wrong, it is profoundly STUPID, and worse, without purpose!! The name of the son of the author of Winnie the Pooh was NOT Christopher Robin!!! It was Christopher Robin MILNE!!! His father, the author of Winnie the Pooh was A.A. MILNE!!! The name "Milne" is never even mentioned!!! It is as though the screenwriters relied for accuracy on someone whose only experience with Winnie the Pooh was to watch one Disney short, for the first time, as an adult. And, I checked, there is no evidence to indicate that Christopher Robin MILNE, though he distanced himself from his father’s books and even his father’s money, EVER distanced himself from his family name. Christopher MILNE even wrote a book himself, The Enchanted Places, under the name Christopher MILNE!!!

You know, even wikipedia knows more than this. Pick up a BOOK why don’t you, Disney screenwriters, and look on the edge for the author's name!

So — take a small child if you must. There’s nothing really WRONG with the movie. But there is little right with it either. Personally, I think you’d be better off digging out one of the books by A.A. MILNE and reading the original to them. Or go back and watch The Kid.

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE – MUST SEE MUSICAL COMEDY FOR MARRIED COUPLES

SHORT TAKE:

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is a very very funny musical comedy revue about dating, marriage, men, women and relationships.

WHO SHOULD GO:

For adults in general and married couples in particular. Might be an awkward first date but is positively a MUST SEE for married couples.

LONG TAKE:

I Love You, You're  Perfect, Now Change is the latest play showing at ACTS Theatre from August 3 through 12 at 7:30pm, and Sunday matinees at 3:00pm. I was privileged to get permission to attend the dress rehearsal and must say it was some of the most fun I have ever had in the theater!

A musical comedy revue of twenty skits with over 40 characters and costume changes, are played by four very gifted actors. Clay and Markie Hebert, Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet make up the intrepid quartet who sing and act up a storm of laughs and a few bittersweet tears.

They all have AMAZING and powerhouse voices with NO INDIVIDUAL MICROPHONES! They sure don't need them. I would have sat for 90 minutes and enjoyed listening to them sing random songs out of any Broadway collection but each of the diverse vignettes is fitted with a catchy song crafted specifically for the tone of the short story it tells sung by its own unique characters. The wide story range stretches from poignant to snarky to slapstick to tender and all will make you smile as they lead you, not only from the beginning of relationships through their maturities, but guide you through every possible emotion a romantic might have.

Clay Hebert does double duty as director, aided by his assistant Ashley Mayeux. Clay was most recently in Godspell. Markie Hebert was the female lead in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Casey Doucet just won an ACTA for his Shrek in the play of the same name. Kelly Rowland is a powerful mezzo-soprano with a flare for comic timing. There is a fifth member of the troupe who is not seen but heard. Andrew Steiner delights the audience with live piano accompaniment, expertly blending these four strong voices.

This is a hilarious send up on the loneliness and difficulties of dating, the challenges of marriage, the tragedy of divorce, and the optimism that it is never too late to find love. With twenty musical vignettes presented for your approval, there is something for everyone involved in the marriage adventure. 

Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet portray an ecclectic collection of characters who are, at turns: hilariously ridiculous, heartwrenching, and adorable.

Clay and Markie Hebert also have a wide variety of personalities to perform, but the scenes where Clay and Markie play man and wife are especially charming as they are married in real life with three little boys. So, for them, this play isn't an observation but a strange kind of out-of-body experience, as they humorously have an opportunity to re-emerse themselves in the excitement, pratfalls, heartbreak, frustrations, and soul fulfilling contentment that highlights the different stages of dating, and varied relationships, with the hope of culminating in the lifetime marital committment.

Make your plans quickly as you'll likely want to see this gem more than once and it only runs through August 12. Get your tickets at ACTS THEATRE

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN – A GUILTY PLEASURE

SHORT TAKE:

Simultaneously a sequel/prequel to the first movie as Sophia and we, the audience, find out the details, in flashback, of how Donna got into her self-inflicted predicament.

WHO SHOULD GO:

If you're a mature adult – sure. Go! Enjoy! But don't take the kids. I really wouldn't, personally, want to explain to my child why Donna didn't know which OF THREE MEN was her daughter's father.

LONG TAKE:

 

You're going to need a scorecard to keep track of this one.

As much as everyone praised the first Mama Mia, let's face it – the story lionizes a promiscuous, irresponsible woman whose only real virtue – granted it is considerable – is that she did not, even for a moment, consider murdering her baby. This one details how she met the three men who became candidates for father. I'm ashamed of myself – but I loved it.

Imagine a two hour music video of ABBA's greatest hits performed by Academy Award winning actors, James Bond, an Avengers regular, a rock and roll icon, and an Untouchable. Don't hurt yourself thinking too hard … all you have to do is go see Mama Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mamma Mia Numero Uno was a movie, based on a play, created out of wholecloth from the songs of ABBA, a Swedish pop band with hits like "Dancing Queen" (Yes – ABBA is the guilty party), active from 1972-1982. Much like The Who's Tommy, the story Mamma Mia was cobbled together from tying together the threads of the band's hit songs, themes and lyrics. The FIRST Mama Mia tale is told of Donna who gave birth to a daughter and raised her alone, on a Greek Island, while running a villa. Sophie, the daughter, now a grown women and preparing to marry, wants her father to walk her down the aisle. She finds her mother's diary and discovers there are THREE candidates. Without telling Donna, her mother, Sophie sends invitations to all three men, signing her mother's name. If it sounds like a Mozart Opera Buffa, you'd be right. And despite my better judgment I really enjoyed the first installment.

After all, Pierce "the BEST Bond" Brosnan, Stellan "crazy Avengers scientist" Skarsgard, and Colin "Kingsman, King's Speech and Importance of Being Ernest" Firth are the three men. The music is ALL ABBA, ALL the time. AND   Meryl (can play pretty much anything) Streep plays Donna, the indecisive lady … correction … woman in question. The singing was terrific, the dancing joyous, the colors bright. It's a feel good movie —– until you consider the foundational premise of the first movie is that of a woman who has three men —- THREE MEN —- in such a short span of time that she does not know who the father is. I mean – come ON – she would have had to…within merely a couple of days, HOURS! – with THREE different guys – and she only MET two of them the SAME FREAKING DAY she became .. friendly! There are professional ladies of indeterminate virtue who are more discerning than that. ARGH! Penny on The Big Bang Theory wasn't THAT slutty.

BUT – if you can put the main character's immorality aside, the original Mamma Mia IS a lot of nonsensical fun as songs are belted out, romances are rekindled, laughs are had and there's a marriage at the end – though not the one we started out with, as the daughter wanders off to start the whole series of mistakes over again. (frustrated *sigh*). Really!?

HERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!!! I TRIED TO DO THIS WITHOUT SPOILERS BUT IT WAS POINTLESS, SO ——- SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!

Which brings us to the sequel Mama Mia: Here We Go Again! Donna is dead – to begin with (apologies to Dickens). Little Miss Sophie has FINALLY gotten around to getting married … and is now pregnant. Donna has been dead for a year and EVERYONE converges back to the island to sing all the hit songs ABBA wrote which did NOT appear in Mamma Mia! number one, WITH the addition of Cher AND Andy "Untouchables" Garcia. The set up is patently unfair. To paraphrase Marlon Brando's Godfather Corleone, it is an offer I just can not refuse. More equitable to ask me to evaluate, objectively, an ice cream Sunday with Hershey's syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream AND mini M&Ms on it. I do not see how I could possibly NOT like it.

If nothing else, this movie carries some serious casting pedigree. Because half the movie is flashbacks, most of the major characters are played by two people each – the younger and the current. So let me help you out:

Pierce Brosnan plays Sam, the second of the three and the one who Donna eventually marries in the first Mamma Mia! Brosnan, along with being more Bond than even Sean Connery, has a varied resume including the lead in the very popular 1980's TV dramedy Remington Steele, reworked the Steve McQueen part in the latest Thomas Crown Affair and was the target of Robin Williams' foil in the blockbuster comedy hit Mrs Doubtfire. The character of Sam, as a young man, is portrayed by Jeremy Irvine – which is REALLY odd because Jeremy Irvine ALSO played a younger version of another member of the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again cast, Colin Firth. Irvine was the 20 year old Firth in the World War II drama The Railway Man. I do not know why they did not choose Irvine to portray Firth in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, but they did not.

The honor of playing Mr. Firth as a younger version this time went to Hugh Skinner, "suitor" as it so happens, number one, as a … pity romance. Skinner is notable for playing one of the barricade boys in Les Mis. Colin Firth meanwhile is ONLY the man who won the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning performance as King George VI in The King's Speech, not to mention stealing every scene he is in, in The Kingsmen semi-parody spy movies, Mr. Darcy in the EXTREMELY long BBC version of Pride and Prejudice AND one of the leads in the wonderful send up of The Importance of Being Ernest.

Then Skellan Skarsgard's youthful doppleganger is played by Josh Dylan who, aside from a small part in Allied, is fairly new to the acting scene. He is "date" number three. Along with being one of the Avenger scientist side kicks, Mr. Skarsgard has also been Bootstrap Bill in the Pirates franchise, a baddie in the Branagh Cinderella opposite Ms. James, and a friend of Firth's Eric in The Railway Man.

Lily James (Branagh's Cinderella) is the early incarnation of Meryl Streep's Donna. Meryl Streep is an icon of the acting business. Chamelon-like she has done everything from the Holocaust survivor tragedy of Sophie's Choice to the wildly eccentric comedy, undead evil heroine in Death Becomes Her. She can sing, dance, and like Dustin Hoffman does not shy from looking really ugly, if necessary for a role. And I bet I know something even the most ardent Streep fan does not. Guys and Dolls, the famous romantic comedy musical about a Salvation Army leader, Sarah Brown, who goes toe to toe with a gangster, Sky Masterton, was based – before Damon Runyon took credit – WAAAY back on a 1929 musical play by Bertolt Brecht called Happy End. A 1977 production at the Chelsea Theater in North Carolina featured Meryl Streep in the role of Sister Lilian, the original name for Sarah and Bill Cracker, who later morphed into Sky, was performed by none other than Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd. Just in case it comes up in a trivia game……..

Christine Baranski (Leonard Hofstadter's blunt and intimidating, emotionally unpresent mother in The Big Bang Theory) is the older version of Tanya and Jessica Keenan Wynn the younger Tanya.

Ms. Wynn needs a special shout out right here. If her last two names Keenan Wynn, ring a bell, it is because she is the fifth in a generation of actors and the granddaughter of THE Keenan Wynn. Keenan Wynn's rich and varied 44 year acting span included everything from the early 1960's TV show The Untouchables to Stanley Kubrick's  Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to The Twilight Zone and Disney movies. And if that's not enough, Ms. Jessica's GREAT-grandfather was Ed Wynn, who you might just recognize from  Twilight Zones and as Uncle Arthur in the ORIGINAL Mary Poppins.

Harry Potter's Mrs. Weasley aka Julie Waters shares the character of Rosie with Alexa Davies.

Meryl Streep reduces Donna's part to a supporting role. This is the first sequel Streep has ever agreed to, so ANY appearance in this movie is of note. She comes on, near the end, in one of the most touching scenes you can conjure. (See below for my list of favorite moments.)

. Amanda Seyfried (Les Mis) plays Sophie, the girl with THREE Dads, and Sky, played by Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark in Captain America), is her husband.

Andy Garcia, who I will always remember for his acrobatic, athletic and amazing save on the steps of a Chicago staircase in The Untouchables, plays Fernando, the manager of the inn Sophie now owns. Garcia is actually a musician in his own right, a bongo and guitar player who gratefully and openly thanks America in general and Miami in particular for all the blessings bestowed on his Cuban-origin family, at the Cuban music festivals in which he plays and sings. And if you know anything about ABBA music (which you must if you want to see this movie) then his name alone give you a MASSIVE hint for his presence in this movie.

And then there's Cher who plays Grandma Ruby. At 72 years old she continues to have a powerhouse voice. Her roughly 53 year musical career started in the 1970's as the Cher part of Sonny and… which produced the hit Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour when I was a kid (note the song that haunts Bill Murray's Phil Conners in Groundhog Day is "I Got You Babe" – their break out hit). She moved on to the quirky rom com Moonstruck with Nicholas Cage and the heartbreaking Mask to the suspenseful whistleblowing Silkwood also with Meryl Streep. Her hit songs include: "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves", "The Way of Love", "If I Could Turn Back Time", "Half-Breed", "Believe", "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down)", "The Beat Goes On", many of which she performed with Sonny Bono.

And now that we know WHO we are dealing with in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the premise is quite simple. Sophie and widowed Dad are restoring Donna's villa into a premiere hotel. Switching back and forth in time, we also follow along as Donna the Younger sleeps her way to and through the Greek Island, eventually getting pregnant with Sophia and decides to stay.

But the sheer jubilance that pervades the movie is irresistible. All practicality and common sense aside, this movie has the charm of every enthusiastic "Put on a Show" musical from Shirley Temple to White Christmas. I feel like Tevya. On the one hand the movie revolves around the behavior of a young flighty woman who treats sex like a sport or party favor BUT once pregnant she devotes her life to her child. There are raunchy jokes and throw away lines but nothing is seen or even acted out. A lot of sexually reckless behavior is considered acceptable but both babies – infant Donna and Donna's infant – are baptized in a (presumably Eastern Orthodox since it is Greece) Catholic church before an altar with a crucifix by a cassocked priest, celebrated by the entire town, as a ghostly Donna sings her blessing. The plot is threadbare and ridiculous but the song and dance numbers are completely charming and whimsical. It is obvious that the storyline is awkwardly cobbled together from the songs and the songs crowbarred into the action but are reworked in creative and appropriate ways as lullabies and nostalgic poetry. Donna was absurdly promiscuous but eventually married, as did her daughter. And as Sophia, herself, points out: "At least this time we know who the baby's father is." That's progress. Sky at first contemplates abandoning his marriage for a lucrative job, but quickly comes to his senses and goes back to his wife to fulfill the promises he made to her and assure her there would never be anything more important to him than his wife and child.

MY FAVORITE MOMENTS:

I Have a Dream sung by Amanda Seyfried as she and her Dad walk through the newly restored hotel as we cut back and forth in flashbacks to Lily James' Donna during her first impulsive trespassing tour of the originally ramshackle estate.

Brosnan speak/singing a snippet of S.O.S. as he mourns his deceased wife, Donna, especially considering that he really did lose his first wife, Cassandra Harris.

Sophie singing a duet of My Love My Life with her ghostly/imagined mother, Donna, in the church just before Sophie's baby's baptism. Sophie recognizes in song that Donna would have wanted Sophie to accept her mother's death, knowing the joy and contentment motherhood had brought Donna, and that her mother, Donna, could rest in peace knowing she had raised her daughter well and left a legacy of love.

As to my FAVORITE favorite moments – I went for a matinee but would have paid a LOT more just to see the scenes where Bond, King George, Selvig, Leonard's mother and Mrs. Weasley sing and dance to Supertrooper and Dancing Queen – SO worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Ultimately – despite its flaws it has an undeniable, albeit nostalgic, palpable charm.