Capsule movie reviews

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Associated Press
‘The Dark Knight’ It’s difficult to separate the movie from its mystique. Even under ordinary circumstances, “The Dark Knight” would have been one of the most hotly awaited movies of the summer blockbuster season. The loss of Heath Ledger to an accidental prescription-drug overdose in January has amplified the buzz around the film ó and his crazed performance as the Joker ó to extraordinary levels. Nothing could possibly satisfy that kind of expectation.
This comes pretty close. Christopher Nolan’s film is indeed an epic that will leave you staggering from the theater, stunned by its scope and complexity. It’s also, thankfully, a vast improvement over his self-serious origin story, 2005’s “Batman Begins.” As director and co-writer with his brother, Jonathan (David S. Goyer shares a story credit), Nolan has found a way to mix in some fun with his philosophizing. Ambitious, explosive set pieces share screen time with meaty debates about good vs. evil and the nature of, and need for, a hero. Batman (Christian Bale) has been that guy. Now, he’s not so sure he should be anymore. He’s protected Gotham fiercely but the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), seems to be putting a dent in organized crime with help from Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman). Then the Joker arrives to send the city into chaos ó and Nolan was wise enough to give Ledger plenty of room to shine, albeit in the actor’s indelibly perverse, twisted way. There’s nothing cartoony about his Joker. Ledger wrested the role from previous performers Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and reinvented it completely. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. 152 min. Three stars out of four.
ó Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘Mamma Mia!’
ABBA songs are, of course, evil in musical form. Just try getting “Dancing Queen” out of your head once it’s burrowed its way in there. “Waterloo,” too, is especially pesky. But “Mamma Mia” might be the most tenacious tune in the 1970s Swedish pop group’s canon. The insanely catchy hit inspired a hugely successful Broadway musical a decade ago and now is the basis for a big, summer movie. “Mamma Mia!” is a massive mess, but it’s fun ó exuberantly goofy, sloppily crafted fun, especially if you’re not in the mood for thinking too hard. (Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the stage production, makes her filmmaking debut here.)
If it works on any level at all, it’s through the sheer radiance of Meryl Streep, clearly having a blast letting loose as its star, the former rocker chick Donna.
Watching the woman who is considered the greatest actress of our time writhing around in overalls on top of a barn or belting out numbers in a spandex jumpsuit and platform boots can indeed be a hoot. Streep was a fan of the show ó and it’s evident. And she can indeed sing ó a talent that’s been on display in bits and pieces in previous movies, most recently “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Amanda Seyfried (“Mean Girls,” “Big Love”) is also solid as her daughter, Sophie, who is getting married on a Greek island and invites three of Donna’s former flames to determine which one is her father. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are splashy scene-stealers as Donna’s best friends and former backup singers, but not everyone fares so well.
Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard should never be allowed to sing in public again ó unless it’s karaoke night and copious amounts of alcohol are involved. PG-13 for some sex-related comments. 108 min.
Two stars out of four.
ó Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic