HOLLYWOOD — ABBA songs are, of course, evil in musical form.
Just try getting “Dancing Queen” out of your head once it’s burrowed its way in there. “Waterloo,” too, is especially pesky. But “Mamma Mia” might be the most tenacious tune in the 1970s Swedish pop group’s canon.
The insanely catchy hit inspired a hugely successful Broadway musical a decade ago and now is the basis for a big, summer movie. “Mamma Mia!” is a massive mess, but it’s fun — exuberantly goofy, sloppily crafted fun, especially if you’re not in the mood for thinking too hard.
Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the stage production, makes her filmmaking debut here, and her years of directing opera and theater don’t seem to transfer well to the big screen. Some shots look totally green-screen fake; sometimes shadows obscure the actors and at other times the lighting is so flat and bright, it makes everything look like some low-budget effort airing on PBS. And the excessive use of zooms was probably unnecessary, unless Lloyd was aiming for a kitschy 1970s vibe — a movie version of an ABBA video, perhaps (although the story is set in 1999).
If “Mamma Mia!” works on any level at all, it’s through the sheer radiance of Meryl Streep, clearly having a blast letting loose as its star, the former rocker chick Donna. Watching the woman who is considered the greatest actress of our time writhing around in overalls on top of a barn or belting out numbers in a sparkly, spandex jumpsuit and platform boots can indeed be a hoot.
Streep was a fan of the Broadway show, and her passion and enthusiasm explode on screen. She can indeed sing, a talent that’s been on display in bits and pieces in previous movies, most recently Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which loves Streep, may as well go ahead and give her the Golden Globe for this performance now. Her showy rendition of the ballad “The Winner Takes It All” ought to seal it for her.)
HOLLYWOOD — ABBA songs are, of course, evil in musical form.
- At the Movies
- Mel Gibson returns in 'Edge of Darkness' It's been seven years since his last film, but Mel Gibson is still playing martyr. One might fairly call Gibson "The Crusader," and not just because of his widely known religious views or because he directed "The Passion of the Christ."
- 'Saint John of Las Vegas' no divine comedy The deadpan comedy "Saint John of Las Vegas" opens with Steve Buscemi walking into a Vegas convenience store, plopping down an envelope full of cash and asking for a thousand lottery tickets. "Why not?" he asks with a mixture of defiance and despair.
- FILM REVIEW: 'Tooth Fairy' full of smiles, clichés Just weeks after something dubbed a "squeakquel," we have a movie advertised with the tagline: "You can't handle the tooth." One quakes for the marketing that awaits us for "Marmaduke."
- Vampire thriller 'Daybreakers' is DOA The only lesson to take away from Ethan Hawke's horror-action tale "Daybreakers" is that vampires cannot run the world's affairs any better than we tasty humans can.
- Effects wow but story limps in 'Avatar' When a film brashly asserts that it will change moviemaking forever, one feels the urge to either take its "king of the world" arrogance down a notch or hail it as the masterpiece it claims to be.
- 'Ninja Assassin' sports a dull blade When considering the meager merits of the bone-snapping, blood-splattered "Ninja Assassin," it's best to remember the words of John Goodman's PC-challenged character in "The Big Lebowski": "The man in the black pajamas, Dude. Worthy ... adversary."
- ‘Princess and the Frog’ is a hearty hop The spirit of animation maestro Walt Disney lives on. The studio has gone back to its roots with a fresh, funny retelling of a classic fairy tale in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation after a five-year hiatus.
- Wildness intact, ‘Bad Lieutenant’ returns It’s post-Katrina New Orleans and there are snakes in the water — none bigger than Terence McDonagh, an exceptionally corrupt detective, who slinks through town snorting coke, smoking heroin, harassing women and brandishing a .44 Magnum stuffed in the front of his pants.
‘Planet 51’ proves unable to support intelligent life
It’s been a big year for animation, with a great variety of styles represented by “Up,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and the upcoming “The Princess and the Frog.”
- 'The Blind Side' focuses on the feel-good The redemption-minded sports flick "The Blind Side" serves its inspiration straight-up with no twist. Writer-director John Lee Hancock wisely lets the true story of Michael Oher — the African-American teen who found a home and, eventually, football stardom, after being adopted by a wealthy Memphis family — speak for itself.
- Army drama ‘Messenger’ delivers fitfully It’s an unenviable task, making films about the war on terror for audiences that don’t want to sit through dramatizations of the same bad news they get for real out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ a saddle-sore mess “Gentlemen Broncos” is a comedy so weird, so off, so simply wrong that even freakish hero Napoleon Dynamite would have a hard time lending it his catch word, “Sweet.”
- Gorgeous ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ roars to the screen “Where the Wild Things Are,” the book, is just 339 words long. But in turning it into “Where the Wild Things Are,” the movie, director Spike Jonze has expanded the basic story with a breathtaking visual scheme and stirring emotional impact.
- Sheen shines in the gritty ‘Damned United’ You don’t have to be a soccer expert, or even know all that much about the sport, to get sucked into the competing personalities and personal dramas of “The Damned United.
- Showmanship Moore’s top commodity in ‘Capitalism’ How do you make a movie about the country’s current economic crisis and actually get people to see it? Two obstacles most obviously arise: illustrating such a potentially dry subject in a compelling way, and persuading audiences to pay money for information they can get at home — and feel depressed about — for free.
- ‘Reasonable Doubt’ like ’80s TV movie Beyond its generic, forgettable title, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” feels like some throwaway 1980s TV movie, with its implausible premise, dizzying twists, cheesy montages and melodramatic score.
- '9' is breathtakingly original Despite their roughhewn appearance, the resourceful rag dolls in "9'' obviously were crafted with great love and care, both by the scientist who made them in the film and the mastermind behind them in real life, director Shane Acker.
- 'Extract' tastes too bland Ten years ago, Mike Judge satirized the absurdities of the workplace experience from the perspective of put-upon employees with "Office Space." It didn't do much when it came out but, as we all know by now, it became a cult favorite on cable and home video, to the point where it changed the way you looked at the common stapler.
- Big Fan' a vivid portrait of sports geekdom Jim Rome urges his listeners (or "clones," as he so lovingly calls them) to have solid takes, to bring it, when they dial into his sports talk radio show.
- Quentin Tarantino's new movie has its glorious moments If only Quentin Tarantino the director weren't so completely in love with Quentin Tarantino the writer, "Inglourious Basterds" might have been a great movie rather than just a good movie with moments of greatness.
- No go: Paramount won't show critics 'G.I. Joe' It's the biggest movie of the summer that practically no one has seen. "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" opens Friday, but Paramount Pictures isn't screening the blockbuster for critics beforehand. Only a select few writers from blogs and movie Web sites have seen it for review — such as Harry Knowles, the self-professed "Head Geek" from Ain't It Cool News — and their opinions have been mostly positive.
- 'People' is both funny, frustrating If only Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen hadn't gotten in the car. If only they hadn't left Los Angeles, where everything in "Funny People" was going so well, and driven north to Marin County, where everything falls apart. Judd Apatow would have had his most mature, accomplished film to date.
- 'G-Force' topples 'Harry Potter' at box office An elite squad of guinea pigs has worked its own brand of magic at the box office, taking the No. 1 spot from boy wizard Harry Potter.
- 'The Ugly Truth,' battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy, that isn't pretty t the end of the drearily formulaic romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth," as our two leads are finally admitting they've fallen for each other (no spoilers here, folks), Katherine Heigl's character asks Gerard Butler's why he's in love with her. Basically, he says he has no idea, only he phrases it with a word we can't reprint here. Our sentiments exactly.
- ‘Shrink’ showcases Kevin Spacey’s strengths Say what you will about some of Kevin Spacey’s more questionable choices over the past decade, movies like “Pay It Forward,” “K-PAX,” “The Life of David Gale” and his labor-of-love Bobby Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea.” When he’s on — when he has strong dialogue to work with and solid actors to play off of — he’s got a presence and a command that are tough to beat.
- New 'Harry Potter' goes to head of class Harry Potter has kept his fans waiting for two years, the longest school break they have had to endure for a new movie adventure about the teen wizard. It's been worth the wait.
- 'Bruno' quickly goes out of style The problem with "Bruno" is Bruno himself. Compared to Borat — and it's impossible to avoid the comparison — there simply isn't enough to the character to build an entire feature-length film around him.
- Review: 'Ice Age' is 'yawn of the dinosaurs' tale There's more action and cuddly creatures for kids to love in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" than in the animated franchise's first two installments. For their parents, it's more of the same, a "Yawn of the Dinosaurs" adventure with some new faces and places but the same central characters rehashing the themes of the first two movies.
- 'Public Enemies' dazzles the eye but drags With "Public Enemies," all the pieces would seem to be in place for an epic gangster drama: director Michael Mann, who has an affinity for complicated criminals; stars Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, who are famous for immersing themselves in their roles; and a thrilling true story of brazen bank robbers on the run.
- 'Moon' a haunting sci-fi tale "Moon" does something extraordinary: It seems familiar and derivative, yet upends your expectations about science fiction and surprises you over and over. Melancholy and mesmerizing, equal parts mystery and character drama, it keeps you guessing until the end.
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