MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Cert PG 114mins Stars 4

This unashamedly feel-good sequel to 2008’s musical box office chart buster is another sequinned celebration of sisterly love and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.

With the original pulling nearly half a billion pounds at the global box office, this sticks rigidly to the successful formula.

So once again the irresistible platinum-plated pop tunes of ABBA set the tone for this flamboyant escapist fantasy, which sees the original cast reunite in a split storyline which flicks between events now and from twenty five years ago. 

In the present Amanda Seyfried is organising her Greek island hotel’s grand opening night, and frets about her relationship with Dominic Cooper. Meanwhile a deliciously lusty Christine Baranski and a lovelorn Julie Walters banter for space alongside Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan.

Bless the former 007, he still can’t carry a tune in a bucket but that doesn’t stop him from manfully trying.

There’s a conspicuous deficit of Meryl Streep as Seyfried’s vivacious screen mother, Donna. However the younger version of the character is played in the earlier timeline by Lily James, and the former Downton star treats us to a barnstorming turn worthy of Streep herself.

Bristling with defiance, optimism and enthusiasm, we see how Donna meets a trio of buff and eager suitors who become responsible for the confusion surrounding her daughters parentage.

All this turning back time sets up a show-stopping singing turn by the ever fabulous Cher, who unlike much of the cast, has the advantage of being a bona fide vocalist. It’s one of many preposterous and crowd-pleasing scenes, my favourite of which is set at sea and best described as Dunkirk with a disco beat.

This brazen and cheerfully loopy sense of fun mingles with heartfelt multi-generational bonding and the pains of summer loving.

Among the barely choreographed mass dance-alongs and ill advised attempts at singing lurks a finger so firmly on the pulse of its intended audience it was rewarded at the packed-out world premiere with an all singing and dancing ovation. 

Mamma Mia 2’s manic determination to give you a good time is relentless. I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but if you’re in the mood for irresistible sun-kissed feel good poptastic silliness then it’s terrifically entertaining.

HOTEL ARTEMIS Cert 15 Running time 94 minutes Stars 3

It’s great to see Jodie Foster back on the big screen in this agreeably offbeat, stylish and violent near-future thriller.

After a five year gap she returns with a typically sharp-tongued and vulnerable performance, and has been aged to look twenty years older than real life, but there’s no disguising her distinctive voice or talent.

She plays the in-house nurse who operates as a surgeon and concierge with a humorously doleful Dave Bautista as her much put-upon assistant.

Jeff Goldblum and Sofia Boutella offer great value among the collection of assassins, gangsters and bank robbers. 

Moodily decorated in an art decor style similar to Keanu Reeves’ John Wick movies, the Artemis is a heavily fortified and hi-tec Los Angeles hospital which caters exclusively to criminals.

But when the strict rules are broken, the fragile truce between the guests shatters. As the violence escalates it becomes clear you can check in to this Californian Hotel, but some can never leave.

 

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN Cert 18 Running time 114 minutes Stars 4

This bloody real life kick boxing drama is a full contact contender for sports film of the year.

It’s based on the best-selling account of drug addicted Scouse boxer, Billy Moore, who was sentenced to three years in a Thai prison where he sought redemption in the ring.

Sweating testosterone in the lead role is Peaky Blinders star, Joe Cole. He delivers a  physically punishing performance with most of his dialogue being aggressively Anglo-Saxon.

Local former prisoners are used as actors and filming took place in a real jail, fleshing out the script which is clear-eyed about the squalid conditions and the rape, suicide and extortion suffered by the inmates.

Nimble camerawork puts us in the ring giving the fights a frightening immediacy, and  and we’re battered by a combination of smacks, screams, screeches from the tremendous sound design.

This is as far from Hollywood boxing movies as Bangkok is from Los Angeles, and is an unnervingly immersive, authentic and intense experience.

INCREDIBLES 2 Cert PG Running time 125 minutes Stars 4

It’s been a scarcely credible 14 years since we were first introduced to the animated exploits of films’ first family of superheroes.

And now Mr and Mrs Incredible and their 3 kids are back with brilliant blockbuster adventure.

It’s powered by strongly drawn and relatable characters, fabulous retro design and consummate technical skill, plus a smart and funny script begins and ends the fun with two great action sequences, making for a gorgeous, entertaining and exciting time.

Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter return as the voices of Mr Incredible and his wife Elastigirl, who with their three super-powered kids combat a new super-villain, the mysterious Screenslaver. He has the power to hypnotise the population through their TV screens.

They’re joined in the battle by Samuel L. Jackson’s cool hero and fan favourite, Frozone, and are once again kitted out in costumes by the eccentric Edna Mode.

An admirable determination to deal with gender issues means we hear a lot of how Elastigirl feels guilty being out fighting crime and leaving the kids with her hubby, while he struggles on the domestic front with his super cute and film-stealing toddler, Jackjack.

And the plot deals extensively  with the legality of superheroes which was a reasonably fresh idea in 2004, but not now after umpteen Marvel films discussing the issue. And there’s a lot of navel gazing discussion about the cinema audience’s need for superheroes which will sail over your kids’ heads.

Plus the villain’s identity is obvious and the small stakes involves saving monorails, and super yachts, not preventing the end of the world.

Nevertheless when it works it really works, something which shouldn’t be sniffed at when you consider Pixar’s history of sequels veers from the magnificent Toy Story films to the lacklustre Cars trilogy.

Incredibles 2 has already taken over half a billion pounds at the global box office, so I don’t imagine we’ll be waiting 14 years for the next one.

MARY SHELLEY Cert 12A Running time 120 minutes Stars 3

There’s too little life or electricity in this somber period drama which explores Mary Shelley’s inspiration for the writing of her gothic science fiction masterpiece, Frankenstein.

Handsomely staged, it’s strangely heavy footed for a story groaning with passion, booze and characters committed to the concept of free love. 

It covers the extraordinary two years of Mary’s life from her meeting the celebrity radical poet Shelley to the publication, aged only 18, of her great work. 

Elle Fanning is curiously constrained as Mary, despite us being told she’s inherited the fiery independent mind of her mother, the famous feminist author, Mary Wollstonecraft. 

Douglas Booth is suitably dashing and wolfish as Percy Bysshe Shelley, a 21 year old married father who scandalously sweeps the 16 year old off her feet and away from her disapproving father. 

To avoid creditors they accept an invitation to Lord Byron’s Geneva chateau, taking Mary’s younger stepsister with them, and scene stealer Bel Powley, brings a welcome mischievous energy as Claire.

Tom Sturridge tries hard to provide some flamboyance as Byron, and the louche Lord suggests a writing competition and Mary pours her experiences into her novel of abandonment, loss, death and betrayal.

Director Haifaa al-Mansour presents Mary’s life as the story of a young woman of intelligence fighting to assert herself in a world where power and wealth is consolidated by men, for the pleasure and benefit of men.

It’s clearly an issue close to the heart of the female Saudi filmmaker and her film  touches on a lot of interesting, timely and important subjects. These include how the idea of romantic love facilitates male behaviour while entrapping women, the internal conflict between the romantic and rational, and the financial exploitation of women.

Plus it touches upon how the male gaze is used to frame ideas of female beauty and foreshadows the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry.

Unfortunately al-Mansour chooses to emphasises the message of emancipation over the melodrama. Mary and her sister’s swinging summer of sex, drugs and rock and roll with two notorious rakes is played with all the risque urgency of an episode of TV”s Lark Rise to Candleford. 

Disappointingly tame and tasteful, there’s barely a sniff of opium or a glimpse of a chandelier to swing from.

By the end we’re left in no doubt as to who the inspiration for Dr Frankenstein was, I just wish we’d seen more anger from the person who inspired his monster.