Mamma Mia!

I'm really disappointed that I saw this as a movie before I saw it on stage. Mamma Mia! has been one of Juliette's favorite musicals since she first saw it in London, eight years ago. (She's since seen it three more times.) So it's no surprise that she was excited about the film. Still, I was a little apprehensive, as I often am about film adaptations of stage musicals. After all, I just about died laughing when I saw Jason Alexander and Martin Short in the L.A. production of The Producers, but the movie version was so lame I hardly cracked a smile. As it turned out, I was right to be suspicious.

One of the biggest obstacles to successfully adapting a stage musical to film is that acting styles are so different between stage and screen. On stage, everything tends to be big, from movements and facial expressions to tone of voice. On the other hand, the camera can capture every tiny detail, so performances tend to be much more subtle and realistic. But subtle and realistic don't work well in a genre where people burst into song out of nowhere. Back in the days of, say, The Sound of Music, film actors were much more presentational in their performances, and, besides, Technicolor just didn't look much like real life. Nowadays, though, a movie has to actually work to be that way. When you look at films like Moulin Rouge or Chicago you see a much more stylized approach to the visuals and performances. Even films that take a more realistic style like, say, Rent or Hairspray, still have a feeling of fantasy to them. Mamma Mia! just didn't have that, and most noticeable way that affected the movie was to make the songs stick out like sore thumbs. That could have been alleviated with some better film and sound editing, but, unfortunately, it wasn't. Especially in the first half of the movie, the songs all just kind of came out of nowhere. It was very jarring.

Another problem? Pierce Brosnan cannot sing. What's more, he knows it. Man, there is little that is more uncomfortable than watching someone sing who knows he's doing a bad job. I respect Brosnan as an actor, but I really think he needs to stick to non-singing parts from now on.

And, of course, as always, I couldn't stand Meryl Streep. Here's an actress who is completely aware of the degree to which she is praised, and it comes out in every moment of her performances. There are few performers I've seen who seem more self-indulgent.

But, despite all that, it wasn't all bad. Juliette and I both particularly liked Amanda Seyfriend, who played Sophie, the girl looking for her father. As Juliette put it, she was "the perfect blend of beautiful and cute." I couldn't agree more--she was just radiant in this film, and her performance had this youthful exuberance that was delightful. What's more, she was an excellent singer, by far the best in the show.

Christine Baranski and Julie Walters were also quite good, and while Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard were both shaky on the vocals, they did alright and were fun to watch.

So, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed this movie, but I got a sense of what the stage play must be like and I'm sure it's much better. Hopefully, having seen the film first won't have ruined it for me.

Viewed: 7/18/2008 | Released: 7/18/2008 | Score: C+

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By Thomas Pynchon

This may be the best book I've ever read that I didn't like. Thomas Pynchon is described by some as the one of the world's greatest contemporary writers, which piqued my interest. And his reputation for dense prose didn't scare me too much, after all, I adore Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gene Wolfe. So, I figured, what the hell? Well, over five months passed before I was done with V, and despite the fact that the book was beautifully written, it was a real slog. I just didn't connect with it. Most of the time I didn't even really know what was going on. Individual lines or even entire scenes would be great, but seemed to have only the most tenuous connection to the rest of the book. Things just happened, for no apparent reason and with no apparent direction. I think that was likely the point--after all, life is, for the most part, aimless and random. But by the end of this book I didn't feel like it was really a worthwhile trek--rather than feeling entertained or enlightened or otherwise enriched, I felt like the author had been messing with me. Maybe I'm too much of a philistine to be able to appreciate a book like this, but if that's the case, I can live with it.

Started: 2/1/2008 | Finished: 7/11/2008

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Like just about everyone I know, I'm a big fan of Pixar. I still haven't gotten around to seeing Cars and Ratatouille, but I've seen the rest and I love all of them. In some ways, this movie is the best of the bunch. As always, the animation has continued to get better and more beautiful--which, considering that the first half-hour or so take place in the middle of a giant garbage pile, is saying something. But what really amazed me was the quality of the storytelling. It's an amazing accomplishment to be able to take two characters who each utter no more than four or five distinct phrases throughout the entire film and make them not only sympathetic but lovable and even relatable. There was virtually no dialogue for the first thirty minutes of the film, and yet it was never boring. And the exposition was about the smoothest I've ever seen. I don't know that I can say that this is my favorite of Pixar's films--for now, that honor still goes to The Incredibles--but despite that I think that this is one of the best executed animated films of all time. I don't know how Pixar is going to top WALL-E, but I can't wait to find out.

Viewed: 7/12/2008 | Released: 6/27/2008 | Score: A

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I've become quite a Will Smith fan over the past couple of years. Certainly the last two films I saw him in--I Am Legend and The Pursuit of Happyness--were very good, and besides being a good actor, the guy just seems really likeable. That might be the only real problem with his run in this movie--the title character is a real jerk, but despite John Hancock's uncouth manner, I couldn't help but like him. Really, though, that's a minor complaint, and I quite enjoyed Hancock. It fulfilled pretty much all of my expectations, being funny with good action. It even managed a few moments of poignancy. All in all, a good experience.

Viewed: 7/5/2008 | Released: 7/2/2008 | Score: B+

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