The Meg **
Dir: Jon Turteltaub
*ing: Bingbing Li, Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Shuya Sophia Cai, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Cliff Curtis, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Page Kennedy, Rainn Wilson, Robert Taylor, Winston Chao
Jon Turteltaub, the man behind those gawd-awful Raiders Of The Lost Ark knock-offs known as National Treasure and its sequel, now gives us a shark movie that Steven Spielberg would be embarrassed to have mentioned in the same breath as his Jaws.
The movie – made with an obvious eye towards the Chinese market – has expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) being recruited by a nerdy billionaire (Rainn Wilson) and a renowned Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao) to rescue a deep-sea submersible from the (literal) jaws of a megalodon, a 75-foot long shark long considered extinct. Now Jonas not only has to overcome this fearsome creature but also his guilt-ridden past with only the help of a motley crew, including Chinese scientist Suyin (Li Bingbing) and her little daughter, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai).
So we have characters which never go beyond clichés, special effects which are iffy, a script which never can quite make up its mind whether it deliberately wants to go down a campy B-movie route (it doesn’t but constantly feels like that it might) and which never comes close to building up any tension or a visceral feeling of terror (partly due to opting for a PG-13 route). Just about the only positive is the easy appeal of Li Bingbing and the cuteness of Shuya Sophia Cai.
Cut to chase: This monster movie has no teeth.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again *** ½
Dir: Ol Parker
*ing: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Andy Garcia, Celia Imrie, Cher, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan
The first Mamma Mia! somehow managed to suck the life out of the splendidly joyful stage musical laden as it was with the miscast Meryl Streep (too old for the role and declaiming for all that she’s worth) and singing that veered from the very good to the woeful. Then with most of the best Abba songs already used up in the first movie I really didn’t see the point of a sequel. Yet, money will talk and with the original having raked it in a follow-up was inevitable. So, here we are, almost ten years to the day with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
But, wait a minute. Writer/director Ol Parker seems to have wrought a minor miracle with this very cleverly titled sequel. The plot may be just as thin – the movie moves back and forth between the present and the past as Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is in the middle of relaunching her late mother’s quaint little Greek inn as the Bella Donna Hotel while we also learn how Donna (Lily James in her most likable screen outing yet) got involved with three men simultaneously three decades earlier – but the sequel manages to surpass the original in almost every way. From the expertly choreographed numbers to a script which actually manages to wring some genuine emotion out of thin material to the much-improved singing as well as some well-applied dollops of humour (thanks mainly to Christine Baranski and Julie Walters and their younger versions) the movie hums along nicely. Then, of course, there are the songs. Even if the soundtrack consists of some lesser known Abba ditties (and some that surprisingly didn’t make it to the screen the first time around like ‘The Name Of The Game’) it just goes to show what good songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were, crafting numbers that were not only immediately hummable but boasting lyrics that may often sound trite but which – just as often – ring true. So by the time ‘Dancing Queen’ comes along again, you have no choice but to submit not only to the nostalgia but acknowledge the awesomeness of Abba. Then Cher’s cameo and a moving paean to the bond between mothers and daughters, ‘My Love, My Life’ at the end of the movie are just about the perfect icing on this frothy confection.
Cut to chase: It’s silly but sweet and surprisingly effective.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection