The Lane Train

News and Pop Culture for the Blog Generation

Weekend Movie Preview: The Musical vs. The Man

Posted by thelanetrain on July 17, 2008

In what has proved to be a whirlwind summer movie season with some terrific hits and box office bombs, the madness continues to roll on with a couple of this weekend’s anticipated releases.  The main duel will be between Mamma Mia, the movie version of the hit musical based on the stylings of ABBA, and The Dark Knight, the latest in the Batman series featuring the late Heath Ledger as the joker.  So really, the choice is between a flashy, flamboyant musical or watching a guy in a full leather bodysuit, or as I like to call it, a jackpot weekend for the gays.

After The Jump: More movie details, and what the critics are saying (SPOILERS!)

Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia is the cinematic version of the musical that has played on practically every single continent and has achieved a status of worldwide recognition.  Having seen the New York musical, I can say that it’s very fun to watch and delivers a lighthearted, good feeling to those who watch it.  As the story goes, Sophie, a young 20 year old, is engaged to Sky and lives with her mom Donna on a small greek island.  Sophie wants her father to give her away at the wedding, but has never known who her father is.  She finds her mom’s journal and discovers that three men could be her dad, so she invites them all to the island without telling Donna.  The fathers, Sam, Harry, and Bill, have all had relations with Donna, but Sam emerges as the one with the most complicated history.  Donna’s longtime friends Tanya and Rosie also attend the wedding and provide support for Donna.  Even though Sophie wants to get married immediately, Sky is upset because Sophie insisted on inviting her potential fathers and Sky wanted to travel more while still in his youth.  Ultimately, Sophie and Sky decide to push back the wedding, and Sam and Donna rekindle their former relationship.  It is unclear at the end of the film who the actual father is. [from Wikipedia]

The film features a prominent cast including Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Christine Baranski.  After it’s two earlier releases this summer in Greece and the United Kingdom, it opened as the top box office draw in both nations.  However, American critics have been a little more…critical.  Rotten Tomatoes has given the movie a 50% rating, with critics giving equally mixed reviews.  Some have called the movie “aggressive, laugh-out-loud fluff”, while others, using ABBA’s lyrics as puns have said “My, my, easy to resist this.”  One major point that has critics in a tizzy is that virtually none of the cast members are known for their singing.  As Rex Reed of the New York Observer writes:

“None of them can sing, and nothing they do looks natural. Rarely have I witnessed so many pros appear so clueless.”

Clueless is a little harsh, and sure, the movie and plot have a campy structured feel, but give the actors some slack for at least trying to use their chops.  Still, in my opinion, it would have been a better choice to hire actors who have had at least some singing experience, especially if you plan on making the film version of a worldwide musical phenomenon.

The Dark Knight

On the other end of the spectrum, The Dark Knight is the latest in the Batman series, with Christian Bale reprising the role of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego.  In this chapter, Gotham is overrun by the Joker and his mob while simultaneously dealing with a new D.A. and the issue of whether or not to expose the true identity of Batman to the public.  The plot is intricately laced with many of the major characters facing personal and ethical decisions, such as D.A. Harvey Dent choosing whether or not to support or curtail Batman’s vigilante activites, the Joker choosing just how much crime he will let loose upon the helpless city of Gotham, and Batman faced with decisions of how much justice he could promote while simultaneously preserving his own true values and ethics.  In the end, the characters end up in radically different places and stages of their lives, ultimately accepting the consequences of the choices they have made in the process.

Like Mamma Mia, the film contains a solid cast, and aside from Ledger and Bale, the film also stars Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.  Most of the major buzz about the film comes from Ledger’s untimely death earlier this year (which occured just as production was wrapping up).  Initally, critics agreed that Ledger’s performance was worthy of a posthumous Oscar nod, but said praise has cooled since the film’s New York premiere.  Overall, The Dark Knight is being widely embraced by critics, garnering a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Aside from obligatory Ledger praise, critics are also calling the movie a technical and directorial success for director Christopher Nolan, and highly recommend watching the film on an IMAX screen (Nolan did film a considerable amount of action sequences using IMAX technology).  Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post, however, dares to speak out in a sea of unanimous praise:

“[Ledger’s] performance is also the most interesting thing in the film, and when the Joker is absent, The Dark Knight loses most of its energy and dynamism.”

As odd as the quote seems, it should really come to no surprise considering the buzz the movie has been getting in anticipation of its opening.  Almost no attention has been paid to the surrounding actors, and the movie, which headlines Christian Bale, is really squarely focusing on the Joker’s conflict and role.  I still haven’t seen this movie, and when I do, I will probably join the other critics in their profound support for the late Ledger, but I would like to give the other actors some credit as well (unless, of course, the other actors truly pale in comparison to Ledger’s performance and gravitas).

If The Dark Night doesn’t finish at the top of the Box Office this weekend, it would be a sad day for movie buffs.  Mamma Mia should be a good candidate for number two.  As for the other major movie opening this weekend, the much downplayed Space Chimps, well, I hope it makes just slightly more than Meet Dave did in its first weekend.

UPDATE 2:46 PM: This guy has the balls to say how Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight wasn’t so great.  But he hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Public flogging, anyone?

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