You can dance, you can jive

When I was a teenager and the fair came to town, I wanted nothing more than to win a gigantic stuffed animal. Carrying an over-sized prize on your shoulders was the ultimate babe magnet and a sign of great athletic prowess (at least thats what I believed). I remember that for several years the best prize at our local fair was a humongous yellow bird. While there was a close resemblance to Sesame Streets Big Bird, this particular stuffed fowl had cool sunglasses and a devious look that made it much more appealing to a teenage boy. For some reason, I equated winning this bird to enhanced social status. So with wads of cash in hand, I spent the better part of a week trying to throw a warped softball into a ceramic milk jug. I tried everything from backspin to a knuckleball. I even closed my eyes and tried to use The Force (hey, Star Wars was big at the time). I was convinced that the game was impossible until the gentleman running it stepped out from behind the counter and tossed one in on his second try. After losing the last of my money, the kindhearted carny told me to show up on the last day of the fair and he would, out of sympathy, sell me a yellow bird for an extra $25. I told him that what I really wanted was to know how to put the ball in the bottle that my obsession needed to be squelched. He explained that he could never reveal the secret unless I went to work for the fair (the thought of my mother crying deterred any action). Of course, the real shocker to the story is that I actually showed up on the last day and handed the man $25 just to own that damn yellow bird. It felt as big and fluffy and beautiful as I had imagined, but unfortunately it fell apart less than a month after I acquired it. This weeks feature, Mamma Mia, is a lot like that yellow bird it looks good, but its not very well made. Like the Beatles Across the Universe, Mamma Mia uses the songs of ABBA to create a unique love story. And while the songs are undoubtedly timeless, the story, in this case, wasnt nearly as engaging. Critics have raved about the stage version of Mamma Mia, but I fear the film pales in comparison. For one thing, the singing is borderline atrocious. Meryl Streep, who is great at anything she attempts, is the only cast member capable of projecting her voice without dissonance. However, I will say this about Mamma Mia: I definitely felt that the people involved in this film had a wonderful time making it. Their joy was palpable (it doesnt hurt when the location for your film is a beautiful Greek island). But while the cast and crew may have been swept up by the beauty of the environment and thrill of the project, they unfortunately forgot to tighten up aspects of the film that would have made it easier to watch. My advice for this one is easy: if you love ABBA, give it a try. If you dont love ABBA, dont bother. This film will not convert anyone who isnt already attached to the music. I love ABBA so I enjoyed it to a point, but the sloppy production value left me wishing that more time was spent preparing this film for the screen. A fluffy C+ for Mamma Mia. Got a question or comment for Dom? Contact him at moviediary@comcast.net VIDEO REVIEW Half Nelson Heres one with an absolutely brilliant character portrayal. Half Nelson is the story of an inner city schoolteacher who is adored by his students. The problem is that he is also a junkie. Throughout the film we watch as this inspiring educator slips lower and lower into addiction while trying to maintain respect in the classroom and dignity to himself. This film moved me not only because of the amazing performance by leading man Ryan Gosling (nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this role), but also because the film highlighted an atypical drug addict. If youre in the mood for an intense character drama that stays true to reality, give this film a try.

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