Monday, July 14, 2008

These Are the Days of the Open Hand

Of all the winners of American Idol over the past few years, the greatest still I think is Carrie Underwood. I love both country and gospel pop music. Jesus Take The Wheel is the one of best of that combination of music.
Anyone who visits this site regularly knows that I love hearing music stars singing versions of other stars songs. This year Carrie sang a song that George Michael first sang in 1990. That song was Praying For Time and it was performed live on Idol Gives Back, where stars like Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Annie Lennox, Fergie and Miley Cyrus sang to raise money for charities in America and Africa. Carrie really stood out that night, both in how she looked and her delivery of the song.

Mamma Mia!: Simply Gorgeous

Last year the big musical to movie was "Hairspray". It was fun throughout. This year the biggest musical movie is "Mamma Mia!". It is the most joyous film this summer, a definite must see. It doesn't matter if you haven't seen the stage show but if you have, every now and again you will remember scenes from the original theatre production. The movie, thanks to it's cast and beautiful Greek Islands setting, is something that will stand alone by itself. The first song on screen is "I have a dream" sung by Sophie as played by Amanda Seyfried, as she posts three letters to the men of which one may be her father. The whole film is set over 48 hours; the day before and the day of Sophie's wedding to Sky on the island where her mother Donna runs a quaint but ramshackle hotel. When Sophie meets her two best friends, as they arrive for the wedding, the first full song sung is "Honey Honey". This was always one of my favourite Abba songs and it is a wonderful start to the movie. Amanda Seyfried has a great voice and in truth she is easily the best singer throughout the movie. Her recording of "Honey Honey" is below. "Mamma Mia!" does what the movie version of "Evita" should have done, that is; it isn't entirely sung, the songs are performed in between the dialogue. When you are watching this movie the one thing that you notice is how many hit songs Abba had and how great they still sound. The lyrics of each song remain the same as they were originally were written and they are incorporated into the script in a witty, if sometimes corny, way. Meryl Streep is just fantastic in her role as Donna, Sophie's mother and in many scenes is amazingly energetic, especially in the scene where she discovers that 3 of her former lovers are on the island. The humour in many scenes is bawdy, a girls night out type, or a boozy holiday, the type where a group of friends spend half the holiday simply laughing. Christine Baranski as Tanya and Julie Walters as Rosie had my friends and myself laughing each time they were on screen. Like "Sex & the City" this movie is aimed for the most part at women but it is something that children and teenagers will all enjoy immensely. "Sex & the City" has been credited for getting many women back to going to the cinema, "Mamma Mia" will continue that but will also bring many older couples too. Dominic Cooper as Sky is real future big star potential here and his scene with Sophie as they sing "Lay all Your Love on Me" is well, passionate. It is in the characters of the three potential fathers that the film lulls a bit, none of them can sing. Colin Firth hasn't looked as handsome since "Bridget Jones Diary" but his "Our Last Summer" is forgettable but not as bad as Pierce Brosnan's "S.O.S.", which is simply awful. At that point my friend turned to me and asked; "Is this supposed to be funny?". The only other slightly negative aspect that stood out for me was that the villagers on the Greek island really play second fiddle. They are used mainly to be part of a chorus or to join a Pied Piper merry song and dance march. It seems unusual that Donna lived so many years on the island without having a close Greek friend but with so many characters in the storyline, it's obvious that the film makers choose to centre just on Donna, Sophie and the main wedding party guests. Meryl Streep is not the greatest singer ever to sing in a musical but she gives the character of Donna her all and her solo songs are gutsy especially, "The Winner Takes it All". The view of the church in the distance, as she sings this song, is one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinematography I have seen all summer. If ever there was a tourist ad for a sunny destination in a movie it is that scene. Benny and Bjorn from Abba both make very brief guest appearances, both seem to enjoy their cameos immensely. There are parts of the film that it felt almost ad lib. There is one scene where Christine Baranski as Tanya seems to stumble over her lines and they keep on filming. If so, it works really well. Another wonderful aspect of the film is the fact that there are so many women involved in the production of the film. It is Phyllida Lloyd's first major movie as director. Judy Craymer is a producer and Rita Wilson is an executive producer, (along with her husband Tom Hanks.) Ellen Lewis and Priscilla John are the casting directors. At the close of the film there are two songs sung by the cast over the credits and then Amanda Seyfried singing appropriately enough, "Thank You for the Music". "On of Us" and "Knowing You, Knowing Me" are two songs used in the stage show which aren't sung in the movie version. The other song not sung in the movie version, which I loved in the stage show is "Under Attack". The original video of "Under Attack" is below. It seems only right to close this review with Abba, one of the best pop groups of all time.