The 400 Blows

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Re-watching “The 400 Blows” again recently, I felt a connection with the young hero Antoine Doinel I hadn’t felt in the other times I had viewed it. I had always liked “The 400 Blows” well enough as Francois Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical ode to his youth, I could see what made it so revered as a film, there were so many things I admired about it, yet I could never really say I loved it. I took it out of my DVD collection without much enthusiasm to watch it, I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for, but on a whim it seemed fine enough to keep me occupied.

At first it took me awhile to get into the film, but paying closer attention, I was soon enthralled by the look, the joy, and the utter freedom it exhumed. It’s funny how some films have a different effect on you the more you grow, and the more you change as a person, “The 400 Blows” has definitely changed for me in a great way.

On my most recent viewing of the film, I found it to be really about an escape. We follow young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a boy who is neglected from his parents, his mother who had him out of wed-lock doesn’t seem to care for him much. His step-father at first treats him fairly and doesn’t seem to mind his company, but he later grows to resent him, after he is caught lying to his class, and stealing from his work.

School for Antoine isn’t much of a refuge either, he is constantly bombarded by his strict teachers. At the beginning of the film he is caught with a picture of scantily clad woman which is being passed around by his classmates, afterwhich, he is forced to stand in the corner and miss recess. Later he is accused of plagiarism for an essay he wrote where he took a passage from a book by Balzac whom he considers his hero, and despite his efforts, he is given a zero grade for the paper. His teachers and his parents represent all the authority figures in Antoine’s life who seem to have given up on him, it’s no wonder he tries every means possible to escape from such a reality.

Truffaut’s film follows Antoine in a series of vignettes which see him in his home life and at school where he suffers, but the film also shows his more joyful moments when he is able to live his life freely from his familial and educational institutions. First Antione is shown one day skipping school with his classmate, as they go to an amusement park and enjoy a ride that spins them around so fast, they are elevated from the ground and pinned to the wall . Later we see Antoine go to the movies, and this happens more than once in the film, in fact the one happy moment he shares with both of his parents is when the three of them all go to the movies together. Truffaut, of course loved movies himself and saw them so much as an escape from his own troubled childhood.

But Antoine gets into more trouble as he sees himself forced to run away from home for good and soon becomes a thief stealing a typewriter from his step father’s work. When he is caught by a security guard, he is sent to jail and later to a youth detention center, but for a young by like Antoine who yearns to be free, nothing can keep him caged up for long.

“The 400 Blows” can be described as a youthful film, not just because of its subject matter, but because of how it broke all the rules that came before it. This was the first film by director Francois Truffaut, who was mentored by the French film critic Andre Bazin who’s memory this film is dedicated to. Bazin became a father figure of what is now known as The French New Wave, this included young French filmmakers like Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Alain Renais, and Jacques Rivette. They brought a youthful iconoclasm to film that was new and rebellious. These sometimes were thought of as a more personal expressions of filmmaking which sparked a revolution. If this was the case, then Antoine Doinel became the new cinema’s poster child.

But despite being revolutionary, “The 400 Blows” today looks very small and intimate, and if you take away the impact it had on film, the story itself doesn’t lose any of its significance. Truffaut takes us into the world of childhood that isn’t really touched upon in most films. Very often childhood is idealized and sentimentalized in movies, you sometimes lose the sense of isolation, loneliness, and cruelty it can sometimes come with. Antoine Doinel has often been compared to a Dickensian hero like Oliver Twist, or David Copperfield I suppose where their childhood was far from ideal. However despite the realism Truffaut brings to the forefront, he doesn’t forget the joy and the youthful exuberance of being a young man at a certain age. The fact that Antoine never loses his sense of play and adventure makes him such a compelling character and someone to root for. We feel for him every time he is caught either skipping school, or for stealing a typewriter because we know he doesn’t belong in a system ruled by the authoritarian figures that populate this film. Near the end of the film where his mother visits him for the last time and tells him the only future for him is to find a trade, and probably land a job at a mill, for Antoine this would be a death sentence.

The final moments of “The 400 Blows” are probably the most memorable as Antoine makes his escape from his prison and runs towards the ocean. Truffaut gives us one long tracking shot of Antoine just running through the country side with the camera right beside him. There is no music, just the sound of the country and Antoine’s feet as he moves closer and closer to his hopeful freedom. The final freeze frame image of the film has become iconic, it’s of Antoine reaching his destination to the ocean and looking back at what is behind him. Looking at Leaud’s face in this image, it’s rather ghostly as it resembles a time that looks to be long ago, and the face seems to be a mix of defiance but also uncertainty of what’s to come for him, a child who is maybe too lost, or too naive to realize how frightened he may be.

Of course we were not kept in suspense for too long to see what happened to Antoine Doinel as Truffaut and Leaud would return with the character in a series of films “Stolen Kisses”, “Bed and Bored”, and “Love on the Run” as well as a short film “Antoine and Collette” all of them are worth watching. Each film depicts Antoine at a different age, and had Truffaut not died suddenly at 52 from a brain tumour, perhaps we would’ve had more films of him as an older man, wouldn’t that have interesting?

But “The 400 Blows” has that special feeling of youth the other films seem to miss. Truffaut is able to examine the endless possibilities, and the freedoms met in childhood. Growing older, and maybe as we get more complacent, we forget these possibilities sometimes, and we see, or maybe we fear that we have become part of that establishment which would not allow Antoine to enjoy the great discoveries life has to offer. Watching this film again I yearned to feel what Antoine was feeling, he didn’t want to be caged or told what was right or what was wrong, he wanted to find his own way, on his own terms, he was not letting anyone tell him how his life was going to turn out. If we all had the strength of Antoine Doinel, how unlimited life would feel.

 

 

 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

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“Who can turn the world on with her smile?” So says the opening lyrics of one of the most famous theme songs to any television show. Why it’s Mary of course. You can go by her character name Mary Richards, a 30ish single woman living in Minneapolis working in a small, humble newsroom, or you could go by the woman who played her Mary Tyler Moore, who is one of the great icons of the world of television. But Mary was sure to wave that huge million dollar smile at the world every week in her humble yet groundbreaking sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and people loved her for it, and we still do.

There was nothing ever very big about “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, it began sort of as a quiet revolution. When it was first produced, the creators were tasked to make a big starring vehicle for Moore, who made a name for herself as Laura Petrie  on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” ( another ground breaker in its own right). Moore had pedigree and star appeal, something that the heads at CBS thought would be a safe bet for a hit show, what they got was an ensemble comedy that revolutionized sitcoms.

The show centered on Mary Richards a single woman in her thirties who leaves her home for the big city of Minneapolis after her boyfriend leaves her. (Mary first started as a divorcee but was changed to just single after fears of “Dick Van Dyke Show” fans being confused she could have divorced Dick Van Dyke and that would be horrible since they were the perfect couple). She begins a job as a news assistant for WJM, a small local news show with never enough budget to compete with the big boys. At the helm is Mary’s boss/producer/closest confidant Lou Grant (Ed Asner), a man who can be tough and hard drinking in one minute, but sweet and sincere the in the next. There is also Murray Slaughter (Gavin McCleod), head-writer for the news who shares a desk with Mary, and becomes her best friend at the office. Then there is anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), a dull headed nincompoop who can’t get through one newscast without following it up in one way. Ted could be cheap, insensitive, naive, and childlike, and the butt of people’s jokes, but despite all his flaws, everyone would later love him.

At the beginning of the series, Mary’s life in the newsroom, was often balanced out by her life as a single girl. Many story lines would revolve around the men that Mary would date, and she would often have many adventures in the single life with her best friend/sidekick Rhoda (Valerie Harper). Mary and Rhoda’s friendship created a powerful dynamic that was usually at the heart of many of the early episodes, and the chemistry between Moore and Harper was impeccable, you could really believe they were best friends sharing everything together. But this wasn’t really seen in television before, it was a relationship between two women who were allowed to be women. Earlier you could say this was done as far back as “I Love Lucy” with Lucy and Ethel, but that sitcom dealt more with outrageous situations for those two friends, they never really talked about real world every day problems.

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That was the secret behind “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, it never looked at their stories as if they were changing the cultural landscape, yet by showing two single women talking about their lives, they were able to accomplish just that. There were other times too, for instance when WJM had on its payroll Gordy the weatherman who just happened to be black, it was never really commented on, yet if you tuned in that same night to a show like “All in the Family”, the idea of a black man working in a white dominated workplace would be the topic of an entire show. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” never really went in for social commentary, and when it did, such as in an episode that focused on a new friend of Mary’s who is revealed to be anti-semitic when she doesn’t want Rhoda, who is Jewish to join her country club, it didn’t really gel with the rest of the show.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” never needed to be hard-edged, that’s not what it was striving for. It was strongest when it was focused on character development, the stories didn’t have to be important culturally, but they were important for the world of the show. There would be episodes that could feel mundane to the naked eye, such as Lou asking Rhoda to redecorate his apartment, or Mary throwing one of her parties that ended up being awful, but the writing was sharp, and the performances were so well honed, it was a pleasure just to tune in.

By the end of season four, Rhoda left Minneapolis to New York (And a spin-off), leaving Mary more alone than ever, and the series gained momentum by turning into a full forced workplace comedy focusing mostly on the newsroom. The story lines turned a bit more serious such as a long arc involving Lou getting a divorced from his wife and entering the dating world for the first time in a long time. Murray would later have a serious discussion with his wife about her wanting another baby, then having the two of them adopt a young boy from China. Even Ted would grow into a more thoughtful lunkhead with the introduction to his girlfriend/wife Georgette (Georgia Engel). The show entered its next phase with Mary even leaving her old apartment, which is where she would share quality time with Rhoda, and move into a more upscale living quarters. For some shows, these changes would look desperate, but for these folks, it all seemed so natural, never straying from the tapestry it created. In fact with these changes from season 5-7 became the show’s highest creative, and acclaimed peak winning Emmys for Best Comedy Program three years in a row, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was firing on all cylinders.

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Ironically it was when the show was at its peak it also dropped in the ratings in its final season which caused CBS to cancel it. Knowing in advance it was being cancelled, the producers decided to write a finale for the show, and one that is still seen as one of the greatest emotional curtain calls of any sitcom. After the newsroom acquires their newest in a long line of station managers, Mary, Lou, and Murray are all fired with the incompetent Ted being the only one who keeps his job. On their last day together in the office, Mary gives a speech that basically sums up what the whole show was about, and what it meant to viewers of the show… “I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with. And not my family. And last night, I thought, ‘what is a family, anyway?’ They’re just people who make you feel less alone… and really loved. And that’s what you’ve done for me. Thank you for being my family.” Watch this episode and try to hold the tears in.

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“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended in a way it was meant to end which is what some shows don’t get the chance to do. Sometimes shows lose cast members, or show runners, or just run out of steam by the time the lights fade on them, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” left still on top and game to play on and on, that’s what makes it such a perfect sitcom. The show is one of the most lighthearted, and sweet shows ever put on television, yet it wasn’t afraid to put a twist of cynicism in the works, particularly when it came to the world of television news. In one episode Mary decides to shine a light on a politician who she finds incorruptible only to find that no one wants to watch something like that, also that thought of the uneducated Ted Baxter keeping his job while the other smart, hard-working people are fired is a bitter pill to take when you think about it.

But “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” wasn’t bitter, and if it ever was, it didn’t wallow in it for very long before someone made a joke. In the show’s most famous episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust” the show rides the line of comedy and pathos by dealing with death but finding humor in it when  WJN’s beloved children’s entertainer, Chuckles the Clown  dies when he goes to a parade dressed as a peanut but is crushed when an elephant steps on him. The writers give the best defense on how humor can be used to cleanse us from grief, and how it can show how ridiculous life can be even in the face of death.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” came at a time when television wasn’t really thought of as artistic or important. It’s only now in our “Post-Sopranos” mindset that we see television as a true art form. But the shows we have today didn’t just appear out of thin air,  their influences are there; there would be no Liz Lemon or Leslie Knope without a Mary Richards. There were smart people behind these older shows, and if they look tired with old tropes on the outside, then it’s best to revisit them, you might just be a bit surprised at the substance that is there. For the record, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was developed in part by James L. Brooks who would go on to co-create “The Simpsons” as well as become a famous writer director for movies such as “Terms of Endearment” and another story of a single girl in a newsroom “Broadcast News”, so it’s safe to say this show was in some good smart hands.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” has already been remembered in the pantheon of classic shows, it represents a cultural shift from housewives to working girls, comedy hijinks to real people with real situations, it was smart, clever, heartwarming, and always went for the laugh, a true classic if there ever was one.

 

 

Lincoln

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There is a pivotal scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” that comes about half way through the film. Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) is sitting in a telegraph office, he is alone but for two telegraph dispatchers Homer and Sam played by Adam Driver and David Homer Bates. Lincoln is at a crossroads himself where he must decide on pressing the thirteenth amendment, which would abolish slavery, or agree to a proposed peace to the Civil War which was now in its bloody fourth year. In the scene Lincoln is talking to his young dispatchers wherein he evokes the geometrical theory of Euclid.

LINCOLNEuclid’s first common notion is this: “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”

Homer doesn’t get it; neither does Sam.

LINCOLN (CONT’D)That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works; has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is “self-evident.”

(a beat)

D’you see? There it is, even in that two-thousand year old book of mechanical law: it is a self- evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. We begin with equality. That’s the origin, isn’t it? That balance, that’s fairness, that’s justice.

After this speech, Lincoln has made the decision and decides to send a telegram to delay the peace talks in order for the amendment to go through. The speech itself is an illustration of the kind of man Lincoln was, someone who spoke through stories and anecdotes all the time to get his point across, but the speech also works as a thematic piece to what the film is trying to get across. The film has many of these speeches in the film, and Lincoln/Day Lewis speaks them in a very warm tone, that of an enthusiastic storyteller, if Lincoln weren’t President, he probably would’ve made one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“Lincoln” the film is an illustration of what made Abraham Lincoln such a great man, it’s not a full bio pic, nor is it a full portrait of who he was, instead it’s more of a story about politics, and the people who were with Lincoln as his advisors and associates. It’s not just the king, but the men behind the throne.

“Lincoln” is based in part on the  brilliant book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is the story of Lincoln’s entire political career and his carefully selected cabinet members which were full of both allies and enemies who Lincoln recruited in order to have a balanced group of differing opinions on how the country should be run. As the book illustrates beautifully, most of Lincoln’s cabinet grew to have a shared respect and admiration for him by the end of his administration.

“Lincoln” the film takes a microcosm from the book about the passing of the thirteenth amendment, and creates a taut political drama behind its passing. It begins near Lincoln’s second term as President in January 1865, although his historical emancipation proclamation which claimed the freedom of slaves, has been passed, Lincoln sets his sights on abolishing slavery for good by putting through this amendment to the house which must now be voted on. The core of the film is how Lincoln and his co-conspirators gather enough votes for the amendment to be passed.

His chief right hand man is his secretary of state William Seward (David Strathairn) who appoints a few shady chief negotiators (Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawks, and James Spader) to bribe, coerce, and negotiate some men from the opposition party to vote yes on the amendment. Lincoln himself dips his hand in some political dealings of his own most, memorably with his leading critic Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical Senator who wants nothing more than to see slaves free, but also has an, outrageous tone that enfuriates the opposition, something Lincoln wants to temper in order to procure more votes from them.

Also at Lincoln’s side is his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), who is seen as her husband’s social butterfly, creating elaborate parties at the White House, but also someone who is deeply troubled, grieving over the death of their young son, who passed away from an illness, and is afraid to see her oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) wanting to join the Union Army and be lost to the War. Despite a few domestic scenes all of which are very effective, particularly the ones performed by Day Lewis and Field, the main drive stays on the passing of the amendment.

This is a very talky film probably the most talky in Spielberg’s long career as a filmmaker. The script and the dialogue is literate and poetic containing some of the best words found in a modern film. Written by Tony Kushner (who wrote the groundbreaking play “Angels in America”, as well as co-writer for another highly politically charged Spielberg film “Munich”), the words do service for Lincoln the storyteller, weaving allegorical tales throughout the film, but also serve to show how articulate a President he truly was. The best scenes are the quiet ones with Lincoln in contemplation, or in conversation, he was a great conversationalist and humourist as it has been documented. Kushner also fuses his language with some of Lincoln’s own, and it melds beautifully, it would be hard to know which exactly are some of the things Lincoln said. This is probably highlighted best in Lincoln’s cabinet meeting….

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 I can’t listen to this anymore. I can’t accomplish a goddamn thing of any worth until we cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war! I wonder if any of you or anyone else knows it. I know! I need this! This amendment is that cure! We’ve stepped out upon the world stage now. Now! With the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment now! Now! Now! And you grouse so and heckle and dodge about like pettifogging Tammany Hall hucksters.

Many of the speeches in the film are tailor-made actor showcases, but they are written and delivered as if by a Shakespearean company of actors, you revel in its eloquence, if only more films could be as literate as this.

As Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis commands the screen, he truly immerses himself as the famed President, at one point, I was so lost in the performance, I couldn’t see the actor at all and only the man he was playing. Yet despite the greatness of his performance, and unlike his towering turns in films like “Gangs of New York” and “There Will be Blood”, Day Lewis isn’t the whole show here, and he doesn’t dwarf his fellow actors with his abilitily. Each actor is given moments to shine, Jones in particular who bites through Tony Kushner’s words with devilish glee, and Sally Field is a great scene partner for Day Lewis matching him beat for beat in their bedroom scenes. David Strathairn keeps his title as one of the most valuable supporting actors in any movie he’s in, and James Spader’s Mr. Bilbo is such a memorable creation, just a movie about him would be worth seeing.

The look of the film is unlike most of Spielberg’s works, although we do get his signature light through a window pane moment, most of the film is muted in dark colors of grey and black, Spielberg with his collaborator Januz Kaminski keep the proceedings dim to compliment the backroom deals going on in Washington. Yet Spielberg does let light in such as in the House chamber where the Senators meet to vote on the bill. The billowing of the Senators and lightness of the room calls to mind the optimistic look at politics much like it is seen in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”.

Indeed this being a Spielberg film, the optimism does come through despite the dark dealings and political underhandings going through, it is done for a noble cause, yet it isn’t a cookie cutter look at the ends justifying the means. The film stays ambiguous with the state of the country after the passing of the amendment which doesn’t shy away from the people who were opposed to it. Some of the opposition are humanized, mostly seen as people who have lost loved ones in the war. One man even admits he is a prejudiced man but it is something he can’t help.

“Lincoln” was a labor of love for Spielberg, who wanted to make it since the 1990s, and he structures it beautifully. Spielberg has always been a master of the invisible camera, which basically illustrates that he rarely finds the need to show off. Yet Spielberg is always a master of knowing what a scene is about and knows how to cover one while making it cinematically compelling. He usually isn’t given enough credit for creating films as different from the next, yet if you look at Lincoln, you would have trouble finding one of Spielberg’s films that fits with its aesthetic.

I have found myself surprised at how many times I’ve seen “Lincoln” since it was released four years ago. I hate the term “prestige” or “Oscar Bait” when it comes to films like this, it seems to diminish it a bit as a film only made just to win awards. “Lincoln” creates a world of politics that does not get seen very often in film. It remains intriguing for its simplicity of storytelling, its magnetic performances, and pitch perfect dialogue that not only matches the time, but is used to illustrate the film’s themes and metaphors.

I think “Lincoln” is one of Spielberg’s best films, it showcases how refined a filmmaker he really is, and also his dependence on great collaborators such as his cinematographer Kaminski, and his screenwriter Kushner. Above all it’s with Day Lewis, who creates the Lincoln I think Spielberg wanted to convey, the wise, thoughtful, articulate President. It’s never a hero-worship film, those movies have been made before, we never forget Lincoln was a human being above all, and with this film, we get a better understanding about why he was so great.

 

Things I saw in October

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Don’t Breath (2016): Solid horror/thriller about a group of home invaders who invade the wrong home when they break into a blind man’s house, the only difference is this blind man is the type with a specific set of skills. If you’ve seen the trailer which gives away too much, you’ll know what to expect, however it does have an unexpected reveal you don’t see coming. Expertly directed with a small running time, this is a tight economic thriller that does exactly what it needs to do. (3 stars out of 4)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) Tim Burton’s latest is a very convoluted story about a young boy who stumbles upon an alternate world where children with…shall we say special gifts live. They are hidden from the world and protected by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Evil forces led by a creepy looking Samuel L. Jackson want to kill the children and take their life force by eating their eyes. The story starts off promising, but it doesn’t have the sense of wonder and imagination that is seen in the best Burton films. Green is always great to see even though she is wasted here. Asa Butterfield plays the young hero but he is far too wooden to be compelling, and then the story becomes more confusing with too much expository dialogue. Still it’s better than “Alice in Wonderland” although that isn’t saying much. (1.5 stars out of 4)

13th (2016) Ava Duvernay’s new documentary which is streaming on Netflix is a bold and compelling look at the United States prison system and how it became a new form of slavery to the black community. “13th” is a reference to the 13th amendment to the constitution which abolished slavery after the Civil War. Duvernay documents the rising number of prisons and institutions which began incarcerating more and more African-Americans each decade. The stats are staggering, the film is even-handed as it hones in on practically each administration in America in the 20th century leaving no stone un- turned. Duvernay’s passion and anger is felt throughout. She made a mark for herself two years ago with the Martin Luther King film “Selma” but I think she has outdone herself here. She shows a fiery conviction that is reminiscent of a Spike Lee film, I look forward to her next film. (4 stars out of 4)

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) Wonderful documentary chronicling the mystery behind obscure singer songwriter Rodriguez, a musician who recorded two albums that went nowhere in North America but made him a political hero in South Africa during Apartheid. But suddenly Rodriguez dropped off the map with only legends surrounding his disappearance. The film serves as both a mystery as it follows some Rodriguez loving fans being detectives to find out what happened to him, and also a great music bio about this man who some people called the next Bob Dylan. Plus it puts Rodriguez’s music on display for a great soundtrack. The film was acclaimed when it was first released winning the Oscar for Best documentary and it was a modest hit as documentaries go, but if you haven’t seen it, seek it out especially if you are a music fan. (3.5 stars out of 4)

Side Effects (2013) Steven Sodebergh’s swan song to feature films (so far) is a very small but affecting thriller set inside the world of prescription drugs. Rooney Mara is a depressed housewife who is put on new medication by her new psychiatrist played by Jude Law. Things go awry from there and without spoiling anything, the plot turns to murder, double crosses, ruined careers, and a very surprising twist at the end, making this a very enjoyable old school thriller, it also slyly comments on what looks to be the overabundance of self-medication but it never gets preachy. Sodebergh has always been an interesting filmmaker making stylish choices and he makes a conscious effort never to look like he’s repeating himself. Also fun to see an all-star cast in such a smart film, Mara in particular is a stand-out as she usually is. (3.5 stars out of 4)

Mamma-Mia (2008) Oh what can I say? Do you love Abba? Do you love Meryl Streep singing Abba? Do you love the comic bravado of Christine Baranski? Have you ever wondered what Pierce Brosnan (The second best Bond after Connery) sounded like singing? Then you should see “Mamma Mia”. If none of those things interest you then why watch it? “Mamma Mia” was made for a particular set of people I think, it’s one of the fluffiest films I’ve ever seen, as in there aren’t really many stakes here despite having three men all of whom might be the father of Streep’s daughter Amanda Seyfried, all happening before her wedding. But hey who cares, it’s Abba, it’s Meryl Streep singing Abba! It’s Christine Baranski doing her thing that I love, you get Pierce Brosnan being Pierce Brosnan, also Colin Firth being Colin Firth, and Stellan Skargaard being…Stellan Skarsgaard in an Abba musical. Cheesy, fluffy, fun. (2.5 stars out of 4)

Luke Cage Season 1 (2016) The Marvel Netflix television universe started off very promising starting with season 1 of “Daredevil “and then took an even bolder approach with season 1 of “Jessica Jones”. But then season 2 of “Daredevil” started showing cracks focusing on too many antagonists and storylines. The same problem arises with “Luke Cage” which is half of a really good season. “Luke Cage” as seen in “Jessica Jones” is a bulletproof strong man, he has relocated to Harlem, and begins cleaning up the corrupt city streets. Things are going just fine until mid-way it changes focus and suddenly the down to Earth blaxploitation update this show started as becomes more comic booky. Although not as much of a disaster that “Daredevil” season 2 became, “Luke Cage” loses its tone and by the time you get to the season finale it feels less grounded and real. What saves it is the cast with everyone doing great in their respective roles. Still this started so promising and only came up meh. (2.5 stars out of 4)