Mamma Mia, 2008

Mamma MiaJuly 18, 2008
Dir. Phyllida Lloyd
Prod. Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Genre: Musical Romantic Comedy
Based On: Music by ABBA
Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski

I’ve been watching this movie a lot lately. It’s just one of those films that I can watch over and over and a lot of the time I’ll have it on in the background while I’m working. Maybe it’s because it just feels like I’m listening to music.

Mamma Mia was originally a musical based on the music of ABBA and was adapted into a film in 2008.

Meryl Streep stars as Donna Sheridan, single mother to Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) who sets out to find out who her father is before she gets married. The catch? There are three possible men who may be her father, but she doesn’t know which one it is and nether does her mother.

I love this film! I went and saw it when it was in theatres and it was so great because everyone in the theatre was jamming along to the music.

It was pretty obvious from the start that this film would be a huge success, a big reason for that being the all-star cast.

When you have Meryl Streep as the leading lady and acting opposite actors Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, and Julie Walters, to name a few, you know the bar is going to be set high.

Everyone is so recognizable which I love. You see an actor or actress in this film and it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen them somewhere else. And everyone can sing! I know that should seem obvious since Mamma Mia is a musical, but I wasn’t expecting it from some people!

I wasn’t expecting Karen from Mean Girls or Mrs. Weasley to be able to sing. Not only that, but now every time I watch Captain America I can’t stop laughing because before he was Howard Stark, many people saw Dominic Cooper dancing in sparkly spandex while singing “Waterloo”.

It truly is one of the best things I have ever seen in my life.

Mamma Mia is, of course, all about the music. Some of the songs will have you laughing, some of them will have you crying, but all of them will have you dancing.

I can’t really choose a favourite song in the film because they’re all so good, but “Dancing Queen”, “Does Your Mother Know”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers” are three in particular that I listen to over and over. “Slipping Through My Fingers” is the one that really gets the emotions going so be warned, but “Dancing Queen” is definitely one that will have you on your feet.

Of course, the music wouldn’t make us feel any of these things if it weren’t for the cast and crew. Obviously people feel something beforehand because some people have seen the musical or many people (I’m assuming) listen to ABBA.

But in the case of a movie, the challenge is making the audience feel something right off the bat, a connection to these characters they’re seeing. Because if the audience doesn’t care, then what?

But from the opening scene you can’t help it, immediately there is a love and connection for these characters. They’re all just so much fun! There isn’t one character in this film where you go, “ugh, I can’t stand them!” That feeling doesn’t exist in this movie!

Maybe it’s down to the writing, the directing, the actors, or the music. Whatever it is, that connection is there right off the bat and you can’t help but like them and want to know more.

The scenery helps too. Even if you didn’t like the characters, I’d keep watching just for the scenery because the settings in this movie is truly a sight to see.

Mamma Mia was filmed in various locations with majority of the outdoor scenes being filmed on location on a small island in Greece and oh my goodness this movie makes me want to up and move to Greece. It’s so gorgeous!

I feel like I should have known it was filmed on location because there’s no way you could manufacture water that blue, but at the same time it doesn’t seem possible for water to be that blue in nature without anyone doing anything.

God the wanderlust is strong with this film. You’re going to want to pack your bags and move to Greece, signing “Dancing Queen” all the way.

The last thing I really want to talk about for this film is the costumes. The costume department did a top notch job with this one because each character is so distinct in how they dress. From Harry’s (Firth) business suits to Tanya’s (Baranski) expensive dressed to Sky (Cooper) constantly wearing swim shorts, each character is so individual and unique that it just makes this film even more special.

It gives them all personality and really shows that you what kind of lives they live whether it be single and structured or on the island swimming every day. The costumes tell a story in themselves so kudos to the costume department.

Mamma Mia is a spectacular film and musical. The cast do an amazing job bringing these characters to life and the music is something I listen to over and over again.

If you haven’t seen this film I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not typically a fan of musicals, if you like music and top quality acting, you’ll like Mamma Mia.

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Les Miserables, 2012

Les Mis
December 5, 2012
Dir. Tom Hooper
Prod. Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Genre: British Epic Romantic Musical History Drama
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen, Daniel Huttlestone, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, Fra Fee, Alistair Brammer, Gabriel Vick, Hugh Skinner, Iwan Lewis, Stuart Neal, Hadley Fraser

In 2012, Tom Hooper took on a project so risky that many people were doubting it would end well. That project? Turning the iconic Les Miserables into a film.

Now, this wasn’t the first film adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel. There have been many versions of this story told through film, theatre, and more. However, it is always a risk to take something so well-known and beloved and make it new.

Les Mis follows the life of Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man who, after being released from prison, makes the decision to turn his life around and become a better man. He adopts a young girl, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), the daughter of Fantine (Hathaway), a factory worker he didn’t protect. Years later Valjean is caught in the middle of the 1832 Paris Uprising when Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) falls for one of the revolutionaries. All the while Valjean has been on the run from Police Inspector Javert (Crowe) who has been hunting Valjean since he was first released from prison.

This is a story that requires a lot of care. Taking place over many years and involving many characters, Tom Hooper had his work cut out for him. However, between the phenomenal singing from an even more phenomenal cast to sets designed so realistically you’d think they filmed on location, Hooper did a marvelous job at directing the film.

One of the main keys to any film or show is getting the casting right. If even one character isn’t portrayed correctly it can throw off the whole dynamic. Thankfully, Les Miserables didn’t seem to have this problem. Having Hugh Jackman as the lead character, Jean Valjean, was a brilliant choice. The man is not only well-known for his acting in films, but also for his theatre performance. Les Mis scored again when they put Jackman opposite Russell Crowe, who actually got his career started doing musical theatre.

Also amongst this band of amazing actors are Anne Hathaway, who excels in her role of Fantine and brings the emotion right out of the screen. Samantha Barks as Eponine is so skilled at what she does that you will feel everything she does. You will want to fight right alongside her and cry right as she does. Amanda Seyfriend, who had previously been in the musical movie, Mamma Mia, plays the role of older Cosette and Eddie Redmayne (who recently won an Oscar) portrays her love, Marius. Seyfriend’s voice is light and soft, while Redmayne brings something so raw to his performance. The voices are already brilliant on their own, when put together they make a strong couple.

I could honestly go on all day about the amazing actors in this film, but I don’t want to bore you so I’m only going to mention two more. Aaron Tveit in the role of Enjolras and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. Tveit had the challenge of portraying this character who is described as being almost God-like. He has to exude strength and passion. Tveit succeeded. You will truly feel like he’s leading you into a revolution when you watch this film. Huttlestone was only twelve when he did Les Mis, but when it comes to his singing, you can forget all about his age. While he has a voice that is young and is perfect for this character, he plays Gavroche so well that you will view him the same as all the other actors.

Of course, none of these actors would be very good if they couldn’t sing. Thankfully they can as they had some serious songs to perform. One of the things that makes this a stand out musical movie is the fact that they made the decision to sing live. Instead of going into a studio to record the music and then playing the track over a video of the actors mouthing the words, they sang every song live on set and that’s what they put in the film. I feel like this really helps get the emotion across in each song and gave the actors more freedom in what they were doing.

In ‘Valjean’s Soliloquoy’, you can hear the tremor in Jackman’s voice, you can hear the raw emotion in ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and when they sing ‘Can You Hear the People Sing’, well, you’re going to want to build a barricade right there in your living room. Each and every song is done brilliantly. Majority of the songs from the musical are in the film, with only a couple being excluded, and there is also an entirely new song that was written specifically for the film.

Alright, so we’ve established that the actors are amazing and the music is brilliant, but what about the behind the scenes stuff? What about the sets the actors are standing on? When I first watched this film, I almost believed they were standing on a real street in Paris; that Tom Hooper actually had Jackman dragging Redmayne through the sewers. But no, that wasn’t the case. The street where the barricade takes place was actually built inside, as was the ‘Lovely Ladies’ set. No matter how many times I see this film this always amazes me. I feel like I could walk down that street and go inside the buildings because of how real it looks.

However, one of the things that was very real was the barricade that was built in the film. According to Tom Hooper the prop department had built a barricade and they had it set up on wheels so they could bring it on set when they needed it. But for filming purposes they obviously needed to film the boys building a barricade. Well, the barricade the actors built was so good that they just had some people come in and hammer it all together to make it safe. So they actually did build a barricade in the film.

I have seen this film many, many times and I expect I’ll see it many more. Why? Because it’s so brilliantly done that I can’t get enough of it. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether or not you like musicals.

Fun Fact: Many of the cast members in the film have been in a stage version of Les Mis. The actress who plays Eponine, Samantha Barks, played the same role multiple times, including in the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables at the O2 theatre. Meanwhile, Colm Wilkinson, who plays the bishop in this film, played the original Jean Valjean in the first stage production of Les Mis.

Have you Seen Les Mis? What was your favourite part of the film? Favourite song?

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