July midpoint movie roundup

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Frozen 2 (2019) is not a scratch on the original film that got us all singing along whether we liked it or not. It takes forever to get to the call to action, has not decent songs in it and seems to borrow heavily from other films like of The Fifth Element. The Screen Junkies summed it up perfectly in their honest trailer which I share with you here to save me anymore writing. Having quite enjoyed Frozen, I was disappointed with this cash-grabbing sequel. 

Hamilton (2020) which is being promoted alongside Frozen 2 on Disney Plus is an entirely different proposition – a hip-hop inspired musical for adults about the founding of a nation and the life of an otherwise overlooked figure in American history. It is quite frankly, without any hesitation, but with some mental scrabbling for the right superlatives, one of the best things I have seen this year. I was totally blown away by it. It’s just an awesome slice of entertainment. 

The performances – a seamless mixture of closely filmed scenes on stage without an audience and a live performance with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience – are outstanding. The writing is impeccable – delivering a dose of history with humour and heart-swelling emotion. And the rapping top notch – Writer and lead performer Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins) absolutely nails the complex, and at times ridiculously rhythmic and sublimely speedy, spitting of bars with word-play and vocal gymnastics aplenty.

I wanted more rapping and less out-and-out typically ‘musical’ numbers, and there seems to be more of the more traditional sounding stuff in the second half of the show, however it’s all great stuff and the way all the themes and lines from previous songs are woven into later songs is wonderful. I certainly found myself humming and singing stuff to myself a few days after watching the show and in comparison I certainly couldn’t remember even one song out of Frozen 2.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) is better than the original film based around the songs of Abba, and this is primarily because the people who can’t sing were kept away from the microphones as much as possible this time around. Instead the bulk of the Swedish pop group’s hits are delivered by Lily James (Baby Driver) as a young Donna (Meryl Streep’s character in the original) and Donna’s daughter Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried, who is doing up her mum’s hotel in Greece after she has died. Yes Donna is dead folks – worst kept secret ever, and really who cares? She still miraculously reappears along with Cher at the end of the film. 

A good portion of the film is devoted to the story of Sophie’s conception which was at the heart of the mystery of who her father was in the original film, and its a pretty enjoyable tale with some good Abba songs along the way. There’s about three old songs that I barely recognised along the way and you have wonder if young Donna had heard of contraception or STDs, but it’s generally good fun and dare I say a better sequel than Frozen 2.

Talking of Eurovision, we were weren’t we? Siggy and I watched the Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) last week. We enjoy the show and with it being cancelled this year, we thought this film would make a reasonable replacement for it. Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ features in an early scene where the young Lars and Sigrit, played in their adult forms by Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, watch their competition winning performance on TV and are inspired to emulate them.

The film is a mostly formulaic comedy with musical moments and not a full-on musical like the three aforementioned films. However it is a well-balanced story written for Eurovision fans. Mamma Mia! veteran Pierce Brosnan pops up as Erick father of Lars who initially disapproves but is won over in the end and Graham Norton plays himself doing his job as the UK narrator for the contest.

While the film is the equivalent of a sports comedy with singing instead of a ball play, there is one section which makes it all worthwhile – and that is when everyone starts singing impromptu at a pre-event party. There are a bunch of previous winners in this sequence including 2012 winner Loreen (Sweden), 2018 winner Netta Barzilai (Israel) and 2014 winner Conchita Wurst (Austria). It was also nice to see, however briefly, Jamie Demetriou (Stath Lets Flats) and sister Natasia Demetriou (What We Do In The Shadows) in bit parts as part of Lars and Sigrit’s entourage.

Old Boy (2013) was given the Hollywood treatment by Spike Lee ten years after the original film by Chan-wook Park (The Handmaiden). I really enjoyed the original and after all the musicals I enjoyed this remake, up to a point. I like Josh Brolin, and Marvel co-star Elizabeth Olsen is good in the film too, but dare I say I missed the extreme violence and action of the original. 

I can’t remember if the original film goes to such lengths to try and explain the main shocking element of the film or whether it happens as more of an accident with some evil schemer being behind the machinations, but the overly sinister and time-consuming plotting of Sharlto Copley’s (District 9, Chappie) larger than life character had me scoffing by the end of the film. It’s a bit of a misfire if you ask me, and I’d recommend anyone vaguely interested in this should really watched the Korean original first. 

The Professor (2018) is not the usual Johnny Depp vehicle in that he’s not playing an overtly wacky character like Captain Jack Sparrow or The Mad Hatter, but I suppose there is an essence of both these characters in the titular academic who is coping with the news that he has only a few months to live. The story feels like something Michael Chabon might have written but is in fact from the mind the director Wayne Roberts.

The film could have descended into more of a farce perhaps suiting someone like Will Ferrell to play the lead, but thankfully what we have instead is an oftentimes philosophical look at coming to terms with mortality mixed with some funny ‘if only’ scenes including a dinner party speech where he tells his boss (who is sleeping with his wife) exactly what he thinks of him. Depp is very good in this but not to a point to make this film at all memorable to be honest. Also I was a bit miffed at the final scene of the film that really felt like a cop out and pretty much a low-budget nod to Thelma & Louise.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) is a Terry Gilliam film that should have starred Mr Depp if filming hadn’t gone so badly wrong decades previously. As it is, we have Adam Driver taking the role as Toby, a disillusioned director trying to film an advert based on the story of Don Quixote, who is pulled into the world of a delusional Spanish cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) who he originally cast as Don Quixote in a student film he made years ago. The Cobbler believes himself to be Don Quixote and that Toby is his trust squire Sancho Panza.

Toby is eventually unable to tell his delirious daydreams from reality as he follows Don Quixote through a series of adventures culminating at a party in fabulous Spanish castle hosted by a Russian oligarch. Portguese actress Joana Ribeiro plays love interest Angelica, who I think was supposed to be played by Vanessa Paradis in the original attempt, and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) has a fun role as the trouble-making wife of  Toby’s boss another Mamma Mia! veteran Stellan Skarsgård. There’s also a small part for Money Heist actor Hovik Keuchkerian as Angelica’s gruff father. Pryce is brilliant as Don Quixote and it was fun to see Driver is a comedy role. 

Lost in La Mancha (2002) is a fly-on-the-wall documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges telling the story of Terry Gilliam’s doomed attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote back in the 1990s. While the preparation and European-sourced budget leave much to be desired, Gilliam faces the perfect storm of well… a storm, an elderly Jean Rochefort suffering from serious health problems and a rather dysfunctional looking team who descend into running around like headless chickens when the brown sticky stuff hits the round spinny thing.  

You have to feel sorry for lead actor Johnny Depp (no really you do, go on, you know you can if you try Heard, I mean hard enough) who was one of the only actors to actually turn up on time for shooting and who was put through the mill somewhat before the film got cancelled and the insurers took control. Obviously Adam Driver got the gig the second time around, but I suspect the young Deppster would’ve been just as good in the role.

Having seen the final successful end result the day before, it was interesting to spot locations and plot elements from the small amount of salvaged footage in the documentary. Its also interesting to see that a very complex scene featuring Don Quixote fighting a bunch of life-size string puppets was left out of the 2018 movie. Perhaps for budgetary reasons?

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