Darkness and Light Four Star Weekend: The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia!

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Today is "Saturday at the Movies with my friend Jean from Sizzling Popcorn and MTMD. Last night we both saw The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! and decided to collaborate together on an EntreCard blogosphere movie review. We hope you'll enjoy!

MTMD: Where is the dividing line between a movie and a morality play? When is a movie a fun escape, and when is it a descent into the darkest corners of our minds? Today at the Movies with MTMD and Sizzling Popcorn, we examine both Darkness and Light with our reviews of Batman: The Dark Knight, and Mamma Mia!

How are you this evening, SP?

SP: I'm doing fantastic! Just came out of Mamma Mia! and whoa!....Mamma Mia! was hilarious!

MTMD: I agree. And I'm glad I saw it after The Dark Knight, because by the time THAT movie ended, I needed some laughter.

SP: That's true! Batman returns in The Dark Knight, the second film in the revamped franchise. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to fight crime in Gotham City. The Joker, a new criminal king pin, shows up in town, threating to kill one person each day Batman doesn't reveal himself. Batman is caught with a dilemna: die as a hero or live as the villain. What will he choose?

MTMD: Without giving away the answer to that question, I have to say that this movie impressed me beyond words. I thought it was a fine cinematic achievement that not only surpassed Batman Begins, but set a new standard for the way real moral questions are anguished over by fictional characters in cinema. What did you think?

SP: The Dark Knight brings realism to the franchise, which sort of was lacking in the first four films, but those weren't made to be dark. They were made to entertain the comic book and TV series fans. Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker was phenomenal! His effort was the glue that kept this movie together. I find that a lot of superhero films these days raise questions about morals. Let's take Spider-Man for example. "With much power comes much responsibility." I think that it's good for films to bring up these questions as it makes us think, but it also reminds each and everyone of us what we personally believe.

MTMD: Exactly. And while Batman is not a hero in the usual sense of the word, guided by conscious his actions were more heroic than that of the District Attorney, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckart. I find it amazing that through all Bruce Wayne / Batman has been through, and with all the reason he has to kill, he absolutely will not compromise his morals at the expense of his own reputation--still choosing to find another way. I find that inspiring, and I believe it gives a much stronger message than the homilies of Spiderman.

SP: I'm not sure how the weather was in North Carolina today, but this morning I checked the national weather on CTV NewsNET (the equivalent to CNN or Fox News in Canada) and from Vancouver, British Columbia (the West Coast) all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia (East Coast) the forecast was thunderstorms. All day it was either dark or thunderstorms. For us in Canada, it really was "The Dark Friday".

MTMD: And I don't think they get any darker than with Heath Ledger as the Joker. I must say, I was so captivated by the late Heath Ledger's performance. It was arresting. Tragic, sinister, humourous at times in a very dark way, calculating and diabolic. I can't recall any character ever as dark as the Joker, or better played than perhaps the sole exception of Anthony Hopkin as Hannibal Lechter. Could Oscar be calling for Ledger come February?

SP: I think that Heath will not just be nominated, but that he will be rewarded with an Oscar for his compelling performance. I can't think of any other actor that could do a better job. In the early development stages, Christopher Nolan had thought of Marilyn Manson, but I'm glad he never went that route. Going that route might have attempted to make The Joker scarier, but he would have been a complete nightmare trying to act. I'm very well pleased with Nolan's decision to cast Heath Ledger.

SP: Locking yourself in an apartment for a month to prepare yourself for your role is intense! Too intense for most actors.

MTMD: The only other actors that I know of who performed such feats were Ledger's co-star, Christian Bale--losing over 100 pounds for his role in The Machinist, and Adrien Brody for his Oscar winning role in the Pianist. So, what was the highlight of The Dark Knight for you?

SP: What I really liked was the bat sound when the tension was increasing to a climax. I had no clue what was going to happen and then all of a sudden they switch to another character in the film. What was your favorite scene?

MTMD: I noticed the sound effects as well and thought they were brilliant! But to answer your question, I really enjoyed all the places where everyone got to choose what was right from what was wrong. And it wasn't just the main characters of Harvey Dent or Bruce Wayne as Batman. But Lucius Fox in taking a stand about one man possessing too much power and the way Bruce Wayne resolved it in the end, and even more so the way the passengers on the two boats had to decide if they would choose to kill the others on the other boat so that they could live, or if they would not make that choice resulting in everyone on both boats dying. The most surprising scene was the choice the convicted murderer made--which to me was a microcosm of the entire film--that with one shining example, good could overcome evil in Gotham City--and if it could happen in Gotham, it could happen in the rest of the world.

I think Christopher Nolan went to lengths to bring that out in the film without being preachy, condescending, or over the top. I believe this gives all of us hope. I mean, I would have expected the convicted murderer to make a different choice, just as I'm sure we all think we know what to expect from those from Palestine or Syria or Iraq or Iran or China or anywhere where we hope for the best, but in reality, we all really expect the worst. To me, scenes like this in blockbuster movies like this one give me hope. And when the entertainment industry can pull this off in a film like the Dark Knight, that so many around the world will see, I think it gives the world hope. And that's the most of what we can expect from art.

SP: I totally agree with that. Whether we're good or bad, we have choices to make. Even though we might be bad, we can still make good choices and vice versa. "It's not who you are, but what you do that defines you." - Batman Begins

MTMD: Or...it could be one of 22 ABBA hits that drive the movie adaptation of the blockbuster Worldwide Theater Hit Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Stellen Skarsgard, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and the music of ABBA in what is by far the most unabashedly joyful, exuberant, and fun movie ever to appear on the silver screen!

SP: Yes...could you give the readers the scoop on the film?

MTMD: It would be my pleasure. Essentially, the story is simple. Days before her wedding on a Greek Island where her mother Donna owns and runs a Villa, Sophie sends out three wedding invitations to her three possible fathers. All her life Sophie was told her mother did not know who the father was, but upon discovering her mother's diary, three possible candidates emerge. As everyone arrives in Greece for the wedding, an inter-generational love story plays out with numerous intersecting love triangles. One of the characters, Tanya--played by Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Christine Baranski, actually comments "How Greek" referring to a Greek Tragedy. But this movie, built more around incorporating ABBA's legendary catalog of worldwide hits than a story made to hold water is at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from darkness and tragedy. When you hear ABBA music, it's almost impossible not to find yourself grinning or your foot tapping along to the beat. Watching this talented cast tell this story while breaking into song with ABBA's biggest hits is nothing short of pure joy and light.

SP: As I was catching this flick tonight, I heard people around me singing the tunes they knew. Mamma Mia! is interactive, especially during the closing credits. Do not leave the theater until you see the treat the cast has for you in the credits.

MTMD: I'm sure the 30 million theater goers who have seen the musical on stage have already tipped off the movie goers.

SP: I really like Donna's (Streep's) two girl friends, Rosie and Tanya, as they're wildly hilarious! And I would have never expected to hear Pierce Brosnan sing, but he does! His voice might not be the best, but he can certainly hold a tune.

MTMD: Well, I'm going to have to disagree with you on Pierce Brosnan's singing credentials, however you're dead-on about the hilarity of Rosie and Tanya. The major criticism with the stage show was that ABBA's music out-shone the cast and the story. With the movie and this amazingly talented cast, I think the hilarious and touching performances turned in by the entire ensemble rise to the occasion and shine as brightly as ABBA's music in the movie. The prime example is one of the early scenes where Meryl Streep and Julie Walters and Christine Baranski sing Dancing Queen--ABBA's biggest hit. Just as their performance got the entire Greek island singing, every time Dancing Queen is heard in a bar or club, everyone gets up and dances. It was no exception in the theater.

SP: The "Dancing Queen" scene reminded me of a Viagara commercial from a couple of years ago. In the commercial, all the men were leaving their houses and walking on the streets with big smiles on their faces. In the movie, the women were leaving what they were doing to follow the others as they were going down to the dock singing "Dancing Queen".

MTMD: LOL! Or it could have been the Pied Piper of Hamlin....when ABBA music is played, who can resist? I sure couldn't. I had a wide grin plastered on my face for the entire two hours of Mamma Mia!

SP: I had sent my parents to a premiere of the movie as I was at The Dark Knight premiere and they said that they had a big smile on their face throughout the movie. What do you have to say about the moral of this story?

MTMD: Well unlike The Dark Knight, there is no moral to Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! is just plain escapist fun. In the world we live in with so much tragedy and natural disaster and darkness, people need an outlet. Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway shortly after 9/11. I think it quickly became a hit because in dark times, people need escape and a way to have fun more than ever. ABBA's music is joyful, and I suppose that's the reason why their music has endured now for 35 years. And I'm certain that's why the musical is, and now the movie will be, such a massive hit.

SP: How would you rate Mamma Mia!?

MTMD: You know, I'd rate both The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! 4 Stars for different reasons. I'd give The Dark Knight 4 Stars for story and for character and
for acting and for being the complete package of being a morality play in the form of a movie that will stand the test of time. I'd give Mamma Mia! 4 Stars because it is pure fun and unabashed joy. There has never been a movie like this in the history of the silver screen. There have been comedies, there have been musicals, but Mamma Mia! is just pure joy packaged into a two-hour tribute to having fun for the sake of having fun, and to one of the greatest pop groups the world has ever seen.

SP: I'd give The Dark Knight a Sizzling Popcorn rating (4 1/2 stars) for it's direction, score and cast. Heath Ledger's performance put this movie over the top and makes it the best blockbuster of the summer and one of the top 10 movies of the year. On the other hand, I'd give Mamma Mia! a Popcorn rating (3.5 stars) for the fun memories of the ABBA hits and it's well-know cast. Whether you've seen the play or not doesn't matter. If you're looking for a film to relax to and have fun with Mamma Mia! is the way to go!

MTMD: And that, as they say, is The Name of the Game! Thank You For The Music!

SP: That's all folks!

MTMD: Until next time, this has been Saturday Night at the Movies with MTMD and Sizzling Popcorn.

Thank you for reading.

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10 comments:

Atniz said...

3.5stars? Not bad.. Maybe, it is worth a watch then.. I can't hit the cinema yet, my baby is still 9 months old.. why all these good movies releasing during this period.. Can't they hold it till Christmas..

July 19, 2008 3:03 AM
Henson Ray said...

Hmmmm....I wasn't as enthusiastic about "Mamma Mia!" as you. I thought it was a lot of fun...but the singing was just okay, and some of the acting (even from Ms. Streep) was so...how do I say this?...BAD...that I felt like someone had left the best takes on the cutting room floor. Honestly, the editing of this film was sometimes so amatuerish. I wondered where the Hell the continuity guy was for some of the scenes. And the director allowed her actors to have a lot of fun on the shoot (obviously!), but that doesn't always translate for fun in the audience. This movie could have used a much stronger hand. I do agree about Brosnan's singing...talk about uncomfortable...people were laughing and squirming in their seats...especially during his last solo effort.

Part of the campy fun of the show was having the songs pop out of nowhere, almost as if they forced the lyric of the song to somehow fit into whatever scene was taking place. But in the film, the actors talk/sing so much of the beginning of the tunes that it loses some of the comic surprise of the song. I hated the way "Chicquitita" began. It took way too long to get into the tune of the song.

And...in my opinion, the women were too old for these roles. Donna and her friends are supposed to be in their early forties, and these women were clearly in their fifties (or higher). Not that it ruined the film or anything, but it might have been interesting to see the characters played by a younger set of women. (And men.)

So did I like the film? Yes, it's a lot of fun. But is it as good as I expected it to be? Not really. Although the final procession to the church on the top of that huge hill is just stunning. I just can't believe all the attendants at the wedding could actually make it up all those stairs. Maybe they should have hired a helicopter to lift some of the people up there.

Anyway, I know I will be in the minority on this.

July 19, 2008 7:28 AM
SizzlingPopcorn.com Admin said...

Thanks again for the collaboration! It was another fun time doing this.

Atniz: Hollywood always puts out the fun blockbuster and superhero movies during the summer when the target audience (youth) are out of school. In November and December, we'll get the Oscar-bound movie push. These movies might not be blockbusters, but they'll contain great acting or visuals. The Dark Knight could fit in both categories: a blockbuster and Oscar-bound movie.

July 19, 2008 10:08 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Atniz--if you're looking for fun and escape, you can't beat Mamma Mia!

This HAS been a great summer for movies....lots of diverse films for just about everyone. If they held them to all December, some would be lost in the crowd for sure.

Henson--There are two ways to look at it--review Mamma Mia! as a typical movie in which case I would have been so overly critical even I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone, or review it for what it is--pure fun and escapism.

I believe Mamma Mia! succeeds brilliantly because the cast of stars actually match the ABBA songs for what the stars add to the film in hilarity. The thing about the story is that it is very weak. The thing about the music is that it's very strong. So the only way that this movie could possibly succeed is if all the stars let loose, put it all out there no holds barred and try to put performances out there that, even if they can't steal the thunder from the music, at least contribute enough so that the music does not outshine the acting.

In the stage productions, the actors are mostly tools to get to the next ABBA song. That was not the case in the movie version.

While there are obvious differences between the movie and stage version, the movie succeeds on because somehow it brought the characters, and more importantly their performances, to the forefront.

I couldn't agree with you more about some of the clunky editing. Pierce Brosnan really did NOT belong in this film. He butchered both SOS and the absolutely brilliant new take on When All Is Said and Done.

When All Is Said and Done was written about Frida and Benny's Divorce. That it could be reinterpreted as a song of new beginnings demonstrates what an amazing song it really is. There were no lyric changes. Just a new musical arrangement. And, unfortunately, Pierce was entirely the wrong person to sing it.

I don't think you're in the minority on your take on this film at all. But I think that for a movie like this one, you have to put your critic's pen away and enjoy it for what it is. Watching Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters cut loose like this was physical comedy on par with Lucille Ball.

But in terms of the casting, there are many alternative choices I would have preferred, and there were discussions to this effect years ago on the ABBA message boards. We were dreaming who we would cast if Mamma Mia ever became a movie.

Some of my choices would have been:
Sam--Ewan McGregor
Harry--Patrick Wilson
Bill--Gerard Butler

Donna--Michelle Pfeiffer
Rosie--Kate Winslet
Tanya--Sandra Bullock
Sophie--Anne Hathaway--although Amanda Seyfried sang beautifully.

Of course, Ewan McGregor was in Moulin Rouge, Patrick Wilson and Gerard Butler were in The Phantom of the Opera, Michelle Pfeiffer was in both Grease 2 and The Fabulous Baker Boys and Sandra Bullock sang in the Prince of Egypt. Whether any of them would want to sing again in another musical, well, who can say?

But I think after Meryl Streep signed on as Donna, that's when all the other casting fell into place. If Donna was going to be pushing 60, as Meryl Streep is, suddenly the rest of the adults had to be in that age range as well.

In any case, I will admit my review may have been slightly skewed--I saw Mamma Mia! just 20 minutes after I saw The Dark Knight. That contrast could only have helped my perceptions of Mamma Mia!

But one thing I will say that will not change, the Dancing Queen sequence was joyous. I really did have a wide smile throughout the whole sequence. That's the effect of the music. Every time Dancing Queen is played, people smile and get up and dance. The music is infectious. Dancing Queen is the musical equivalent of Aldous Huxley's "soma" from Brave New World. That sequence was brilliant in the movie, it just got more fun and more outrageous with every musical measure--and Benny's cameo in that sequence was icing on the cake.

Sizzling Popcorn--my pleasure. Next time we'll need to do a thriller!

July 19, 2008 11:23 AM
crazy working mom said...

Well, thanks for the great review! I want to see Batman. It's hard to get away with kids, but I think this would be one to see on the big screen! :)

Have a wonderful weekend.

July 19, 2008 8:19 PM
Dianne said...

Awesome reviews! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments and opinions - I haven't seen either movie yet, but plan to do so soon (thanks for not giving away too much lol.. I hate that, and won't go looking elsewhere for it either!)

July 19, 2008 9:45 PM
Aneesh said...

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July 20, 2008 6:57 AM
Amy Lilley Designs said...

Like you Matt, I had a smile on my face for the entire movie of 'Mama Mia'...I laughed out loud, and I wept (yes, even while smiling), as well (big time bleeding heart)...the scenery just added to my dream of visiting Greece...even if it wasn't an Oscar worthy blockbuster movie, you could feel that these folks had the time of their lives making it...ESCAPISM, you say, NO JOKE it was DELIGHTFUL @ the Providence Place Mall, while it was 96 degrees and humid outside...no complaints from me...and yes, 'Dancing Queen' was FABULOUS!

July 20, 2008 9:57 PM
faeryrowan said...

Nice collaborative review. And here I thought I was the only one who saw Mamma Mia for what it truly is - "pure fun and unabashed joy." It's of its own wonderful kind, hence people (especially those who are so critical about it) should have seen or known what it's all about before even deciding to watch it. Love the movie! Enjoyed a few hours just sitting there, relaxing, and not thinking at all. Will watch The Dark Night next. Thank you for a wonderful review!

July 22, 2008 3:53 AM
movie buff said...

this is one of the few plays i've actually seen, which ended up being great... it's funny to think of ol' Pierce taking a stab at singing though, yeeesh

August 13, 2008 11:07 PM

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