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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Mama Mia 2! Here we go again, Review: ABBAsolutely delightful--See that film, enjoy the scenes

Mama Mia 2! Here we go again, Review: ABBAsolutely delightful--See that film, enjoy the scenes

Co-incidences and flashbacks galore dot the story of Mama Mia 2! Here We Go Again, a sure-fire recipé for disaster in so many films. Not here, though. Here, they are never one too many. And linking them all are some delightful songs and dances, in a 114 minute long ode to bittersweet things called life and love. A jukebox romantic comedy it is, but so well executed and integrated that it almost earns its place among the best fare on offer this year.

Call it sequel+prequel or follow-up, it comes a whole decade after Mama Mia: The Movie 1, based on the stage musical of the same name and incorporating the songs of the Swedish band, ABBA.#

Sophie Sheridan is preparing for the grand reopening of her mother Donna's hotel, who has passed away a year earlier. She is upset because two of her fathers, Harry and Bill, are have said that they will be unable to make it to the reopening, and she is having trouble in her relationship with Sky, who is in New York, over her memorialising her mother’s life while he is chasing a career.

In the past, unable to decide on a career and overtaken by wanderlust, young Donna says goodbye to her friends Tanya and Rosie, and decides to travel the world. While in Paris, she meets and parties with Harry. She later misses her boat to Kalokairi, the idyllic Greek Island, but is offered a ride by Bill. Tanya and Rosie arrive to support Sophie with the opening of Bella Donna, dedicated to Sophie’s mother.

Back in the past, Donna arrives on the island and while exploring the farmhouse, a sudden storm causes her to discover a terrified horse in the basement. She goes in search of help, only to find a young Sam riding his motorcycle, and he helps her to save the horse. Back to the present, the storm has caused serious disruption to Sophie’s plans for the grand reopening of Bella Donna, and prevented media coverage of the event.

Meanwhile, Harry leaves his business deal in Tokyo to support Sophie, and, separately, Bill gets the same idea. Bill and Harry meet at the docks. Sky, Sophie’s boy friend, also turns up, after telling her on the phone that he would not be able to make it. Donna discovers she is pregnant, but has no idea which one of her three recent lovers is the father. Sofia, the mother of the owner of the bar where Donna and the Dynamos (Tanya and Rosie being the other two members) performed, overhears Donna’s wish to stay on the island, and offers to let her live at her farmhouse, which Donna happily accepts. It is there that she eventually gives birth to Sophie. And now Sophie is pregnant, knowing full well who the father is.

When you are stringing together Part 2 of a musical together with an entire catalogue at your disposal, it pays to avoid duplication, add some new members to the cast, and carry the story forward (in this case, forward and backward) and maintain a song-and-dance routine that outdoes, or at least stands up to the first foray.

The film is largely the handiwork of British writer-director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Me & You, Now Is Good).

Parker has co-written the story and has solo credit for screenplay and direction. Of course, Catherine Johnson wrote the musical stage production and she and Richard Curtis (Australian-New Zealander) collaborated with Parker on the screenplay. Curtis has impressive credentials: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bean, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, Love Actually, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Johnson is a British playwright who has written a lot for television, Mama Mia being the only work that she helped develop for the big screen.

They have stretched and squeezed the co-incidence and trope sponges dry. Everybody who says no eventually says yes. When there are no ferries operating, a fisherman who was helped in getting married to his lady-love by a stranded couple 25 years ago turns up to help. When all modes of transport to a remote island are inoperative, someone arrives on a helicopter. The resto-bar singer is the owner’s son, and he agrees to have the lead players sing, seeing potential. There are no patrons at first, but halfway into the song, a big crowd follows the music inside the bar.

To balance it, though, they have some funny interludes, like when a hotel guest in France rushes down the stairs in a bath-robe, mistakes Donna to be the receptionist and explains his predicament to her in French and English, a judicious 50-50 mix. Stellan Skarsgård reprises his role, as Bill Anderson, a Swedish sailor and travel writer, and as Kurt Anderson, Bill's obese twin brother. We are told that Kurt used to appear for Bill in his school exams, since Bill was a dud. Now, when he has to address an audience, Bill plants Kurt, warning him to deliver his speech, but not to repeat a goat story. Bit naturally, Kurt jumps to the goat story at the first opportunity, and just then the shot is cut.

Parker has his pulse firmly upon the audiences’ fancies, and chapter after chapter is an audio-visual delight. Breath-taking locales, scintillating lighting, elaborate but never gory sets, soft, seductive colours, and a star cast that makes things so much easier. Some of them had expressed their misgivings about singing and dancing, but it all jells in the end. West End choreographer Anthony Van Laast told the less gifted dancers to just raise their hands and wave, which came out natural and honest. 'When I kissed the teacher’s picturisation might remind you of Sound of Music, yet it is so captivating and riveting. Laast deserves kudos for the entire choreography, where we will find it hard to find one wrong or awkwardly unnatural step. Music by Anne Dudley, Cinematography by Robert Yeoman and Editing by Peter Lambert add good weight to the narrative.

The original was the year’s top movie in 15 countries and has been seen by 60 million people. This 16 song extravaganza will garner many more viewers, and, by all indications, many more millions of dollars. Many Indians who were in their teens or older will also remember the tracks that were palgiarised by Indian music directors and made into Hindi film songs. I recall at least three sexual puns/jokes, none of which were overtly vulgar. It must be that content that has attracted a UA censor certificate. A gentle warning to Indian audiences too: If you are uncomfortable with unmarried girls having sexual relations, getting pregnant, not knowing who the father of her child is and a few pointed jokes at genitals, you could give Mama Mia 2 a miss.

Of ABBA hits, Mamma Mia! and Dancing Queen are included, alongside lesser-known songs, such as When I Kissed The Teacher and Kisses of Fire. Cher and Andy Garcia’s version of Fernando has already been released as a single.

Of the cast, everybody is in great spirits and they get into the songs and dances without much ado.

Amanda Seyfried as Sophie Sheridan, Donna’s 25-year-old daughter, Meryl Streep as Donna Sheridan-Carmichael, Sophie’s late mother, and wife to Sam, who appears, predictably near the end, Lily James (new to the franchise) as Young Donna, Dominic Cooper as Sky, Sophie’s partner, Christine Baranski as Tanya, one of Donna’s friends, Jessica (daughter of yesteryear’s actor, Keenan Wynn) Keenan Wynn as Young Tanya, Julie Walters as Rosie Mulligan, Alexa Davies as Young Rosie, Pierce Brosnan as Sam Carmichael, widower of Donna. Jeremy Irvine as Young Sam, Colin Firth as Harry Bright, a British banker, Hugh Skinner as Young Harry, Stellan Skarsgård as Bill Anderson, a Swedish sailor and travel writer, and as Kurt Anderson, Bill's obese brother, Josh Dylan as Young Bill (Both, his English accent and his broken French will have you laughing out loud).

Andy García, old dependable, plays Fernando Cienfuegos, the manager of the Hotel Bella Donna, and an old lover of Ruby’s and Cher (who is three years older than Meryl Streep) is cast as Ruby Sheridan, her mother, and Sophie’s grandmother. Omid Djalili (Arab name, pronounced in India as Ummeed Jalili) as a Greek immigration officer, who has a fixation about short hair, Celia Imrie as Vice-Chancellor who cannot help dancing to the tune of her students, at a staid convocation, Maria Vacratsis as Sofia, a local who owns the bar and shack which eventually becomes Donna's home, a firebrand performance and Panos Mouzourakis as Lazaros, Sofia's son, whose band plays at the bar—all are in fine form.

When a grandson in born to the three ‘fathers’, they start comparing his looks to themselves: he has “my ears”, says one; “my feet”,” says another and is promptly warned not to remove his shoes to compare, “My Piercing blue eyes”, says Pierce Brosnan, aka James Bond, 007. For your eyes only, Mr. Bond? But that one had Sean Connery.

A feel good film that makes you feel really good, even better, Mama Mia 2! Here We Go Again, is absolutely delightful, but just falls short of getting into the ‘great’ rating category.

Rating: *** ½

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nd4cLL_MP7M

#ABBA

ABBA was a four-member band. The songs were written and produced by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and interpreted vocally, with passion and commitment, by Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad

It was their third album, simply entitled ABBA, which brought them into big time.

‘Mamma Mia’, also from the ABBA album, returned the group to the UK Number One spot, which they occupied a total of nine times, between 1974 and 1980. ‘Mamma Mia’ was Number One for ten weeks in Australia, which was the first territory to release it as a single.

The spring of 1978 saw the group embarking on a major promotional campaign in the USA, leading to a Top Three single with ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and a Top Twenty entry for ABBA – The Album. The hit singles ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘Chiquitita’ were followed by ABBA’s sixth album, Voulez-Vous, released in April 1979. Earlier that year, Björn and Agnetha announced their divorce. This did not mean the end of ABBA, but it did overthrow their image of two happy, music-making couples.

In March 1980, ABBA toured Japan, for what turned out to be their very last live concert, in front of a paying audience. The rest of the year was devoted to the recording of ABBA’s next album, Super Trouper, containing classic hits like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and the title track.

In February 1981 the final blow was dealt to ABBA’s happy-couples image of the 1970s, when Benny and Frida announced their divorce. This still didn’t stop the four-some from working together. At the end of the year, ABBA’s eighth album, The Visitors, was released, with ‘One of Us’ as its biggest hit single.

The hugely successful musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, premièred in London, in 1999. The musical opened on Broadway two years later, and quickly spread across the globe; it’s been seen by more than 60 million people in over 440 cities. The première in ABBA’s home country of Sweden in February 2005, was attended by Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida. A hugely successful movie version of Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, opened in July 2008. Ten years later, Here We Go Again.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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