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Why I’ll Continue to Dislike Mamma Mia

Making a movie is hard. Making the crappiest B-movie requires thousands of man-hours and and Sisyphean struggle. Making a moderate cheeseball popcorn flick for a major studio, such as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a huge undertaking, from which humans rightfully earn a hefty salary.

So I accept the “Get Over Yourself, Shut Up and Singalong, Dorks” spirit of this review from The Onion:

That said, I can’t actually follow the advice proffered. This is why:

  • I Dislike Musicals. Musicals are that genre of entertainment that interrupt the story so one ore more actors can sing a song about how they feel about certain aspects of the story. I do not like this device and never have. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t need the story explained to him. Sit me down midway through any piece of entertainment, and within five minutes or so I’ll be able to figure out who is who and what part of the story we’re in. So I don’t need the ingenue to describe her romantic longing to me with string accompaniment. You want to not be where you are, got it. Let’s get you there.

    This isn’t a hard and fast rule. I do like some musicals, either because the story is good enough for me to look past the singing device, or because the musical numbers are entertaining enough to overcome my antipathy. I like Guys and Dolls. I like West Side Story (although “I Just Kissed a Girl Named Maria” is the classic example of the kind of song that violates my rule above. I know you kissed her bro, I JUST SAW IT). I like Singing in the Rain (even with the over-the-top movie-within-the-movie that stops the story cold in its tracks. It’s fun enough so that it doesn’t bore me). I liked Rent. There might be one or two others (I’d probably like The Sound of Music better than I did as a kid if I watched it today. I didn’t hate it then, truth be told).

    But a musical in which the story is wrapped around old pop songs that were not written for that story? No thanks. Which leads me to…

  • I Really Dislike Jukebox Musicals. The trend of building a musical around a pop musician’s body of work reeks of the genre’s desperation for “relevance”. It has not resulted in good musicals. It has died the death and needs to be buried. However much I dislike Oklahoma, I appreciate that the songs in Oklahoma were written for that story. They are a part of the story. I’m not big on Rogers & Hammerstein, but I recognize how hard they labored for their art. Jukebox musicals are dreadfully lazy by comparison. They are to actual musicals what The Emoji Movie is to Wreck-It Ralph.

    So instead of a variety of songs written in a variety of moods, to suit the story (yes, I don’t like the result, but that’s just my opinion), we have a story shoehorned to fit around ABBA songs, which mostly all have the same mood and tone. Which brings me to…

  • I Really Really Dislike ABBA. ABBA has an emotional resonance and wavelength that does not reach me. All of their songs are in that orchestral-disco pop style that formerly made me cringe and now provoke weary sighs. There’s a strangeness and a cloyingness to them that I cannot get past. Yes, they’re a multiplatinum, international success. Yes, millions worldwide love them. Good for them.  I do not. A musical based on ABBA songs nights as well be the Ludovico treatment to me.

    Why are they singing again? MAKE THEM STOP SINGING

All of which means nothing more than I’m Not Their Target Audience. Which is fine. Lots of people like ABBA, and even more like musicals. So I can simply ignore this product for one more to my liking. If you’re the sort of person who likes this sort of thing, then that’s completely cool. I like enough of my own dumb stuff, which is by no means superior to your dumb stuff. Which brings me to…

  • Mamma Mia is Transformers for Women. Which is to say, it’s wish-fulfillment schlock, appealing to women in the same way that dumb action schlock appeals to men. Husbands and boyfriends dragged along to see this will feign Interest and Appreciation the same way wives and girlfriends do for a Fast and Furious sequel. Emotional Europop and romance and Cher snarking it up are just car chases and ‘splosions and “Yippie-ki-yay, motherf$%*er” for the fairer sex. And since it’s obligatory to lament the very existence of dumb guy schlock every time it makes its presence known to us, it should be equally obligatory to do the same for dumb chick schlock.

Sound fair?

Would the Real Queen Elizabeth Please Stand Up

“Awkward Elizabeth” portrait uncovered…

Dr Benjamin Wild

Queen Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603) carefully controlled her image and the depictions of it. Many of the portraits that immortalise England’s Good Queen Bess, from Nicholas Hilliard’s ‘Pelican Portrait’ of c.1574 to the ‘Rainbow Portrait’ of c.1602, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, depict the ruler with an almost androgynous, whitened face that is ageless, and virtually identical. This was the point. Elizabeth sought to defy time and the effects of aging in much the same way that she defied contemporary expectations of her sex to rule without major political opposition for almost forty-five years. Painters seem to have adhered to what amounted to a ‘stock’ representation of the Queen.

The perfect, poised and poisoning mask that proclaimed Elizabeth’s determination and physical capability to rule was enhanced by allegorical symbols that were embroidered on her costly garments or held in her hand, from snakes that symbolised wisdom to sieves…

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The Aging Hero: a Thorough Defense of The Last Jedi

I mentioned in my Series of Thoughts on the Last Jedi the whole “Messiah Can Only Save You Once” aspect of the Hero. Robin Rowland does a more systematic Defense: connecting the tragic tales of King Arthur, Odysseus, Theseus, and others. In a nutshell, when the hero ages, the time of his glories pass, and the wearies of peace and the costs of past acts catch up to him.

So for the aging male hero (we’ll talk about Leia and females later) there are number of destinies (sometimes choices but often the rule of the Fates). The hero can, as Campbell observes, turn to the dark side and become an emperor and tyrant. Or the hero embraces the light side to become a saint, a sage, a world redeemer. The third choice is to choose or be fated to embark on a final journey, what Campbell calls the departure of the hero. That journey is not always pleasant or successful, but that last journey to departure is the story of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.

I would add the story of Beowulf to this as well. After he kills Grendel and his mother, Beowulf returns home and rules his father’s people well and wisely for decades, until a dragon rises. Beowulf fights the dragon but is slain by it (a companion kills the dragon), and the land is left with no king (for some reason, Beowulf has no children). This mirrors Luke’s final act in the Last Jedi, dying into hope to give the Resistance a chance to escape. There is a piteousness Beowulf’s defeat, as there is a piteousness in Luke, a despair at ever overcoming the Darkness. And as with Beowulf, a companion must complete the hero’s task. Wiglaf, who kills the dragon, is something like Rey in this.

This doesn’t mean anything if your principle objection to The Last Jedi is the null plot lines or the shoed-in romance between Rose and Fin or the way Vice Admiral’s Holdo’s Clever Plan turns out to be the opposite of clever. But if your problem with it was that you don’t like to see Luke Skywalker reduced to a state of wretchedness and despair, then that’s something worth reconsidering.

In any case, Read the Whole Thing.


“Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.”

-G.K. Chesterton

Last Tomorrow Edits are Final.

This lovely strange trip of a book is done and I’m ready to push the baby bird out the nest.

This is a story I’ve been imagining and tweaking with for some time. It’s time for it to meet the world.

Watch this space.