Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns

You need this movie. Mary Poppins Returns will make you smile. It will make you happy.

Unless you’re a hard-edged grouch. Or a person who thinks nothing could ever capture the magic of the original Mary Poppins. Hey, the new version brings some new and different magic.

They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Well, not often. Director Rob Marshall successfully brought Chicago and Into The Woods to the screen in this century, but the big movie musical is a rare bird these days. He was a natural choice to bring Mary back.

Mary Poppins Returns has trippy visuals, catchy songs and a pair of lead actors who are perfect. Emily Blunt in the title role blends the prim and proper Poppins temperament with a touch of whimsy. Lin-Manuel Miranda as lamplighter Jack delivers a thousand-watt smile and big time charisma.

Set in early 20th century London, the Banks kids from the original Mary Poppins are grown now. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a widower with three kids. (“Dead mom,” you know, has become a Disney trademark.) The children are cute but not sickeningly so. Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), Michael’s sister, is unmarried and provides a vague romantic possibility for Jack.

The family is about to lose their house during an economic “slump” because Michael took out a loan and failed to pay it back. Banker Wilkins (Colin Firth) is foreclosing on as many homes as he can. Something has to be done to save the home! Of course, the nanny who mysteriously reappears plays a big role in getting the mission accomplished.

The film’s highlights are the fantasy segments and the songs. Blunt’s “Can You Imagine That” is an earworm. Miranda’s performance (with a company of dancers) of “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” is a showstopper. It’s the song that will likely lead into intermission when the inevitable stage version appears. (Although the sight of all the lamplighters marching down the street carrying lit torches triggered a Charlottesville flashback for a brief second.)

The film has just enough of Dick Van Dyke to satisfy fans of the 1964 original Poppins film. Julie Andrews chose not to do a cameo. Her spot was taken by Angela Lansbury. Nonagenarians rock!

Meryl Streep’s turn as Mary’s cousin Topsy and the song she shares with the cast are less than great but her wacky upside down curiosity shop has strong possibilities as a future attraction at Disney parks. Topsy’s over-the-top Russian accent elicits a comment from Jack which may be an inside joke about Meryl’s proclivity to employ accents in her many roles.

Mary Poppins Returns is an upbeat film for the whole family. (Rated PG.) If you can stand a little bit of goodness and light and joy and fun in your life, don’t miss it.

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My Holiday Movie Guide—(With Best Bets for Grownups and Families)

Holiday time is great time to go to a movie or two (or three). There is truly something for everyone this season, so enjoy!

“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”—The acting, the story and the story telling are good, but it is the title character that dominates this film. She demands your attention when she is on screen. Sure, most of the credit for the character goes to the novelist, but let’s stand up and applaud actress Rooney Mara for bringing life to Lisbeth Salander. Be warned: some of the sexual violence is intense. Overall, TGWTDT is an excellent film and an indelible character. (Scroll down for longer review.)

“The Adventures of Tintin”—Steven Spielberg’s animated adventure is shot in the “performance capture” technique seen in “Polar Express” and “Avatar.” The visuals here are stunning, the 3-D is great, but the plot is one that young kids may have a hard time following. Tintin has been popular in Europe for decades. Will American audiences embrace him and this film? I’d guess yes.

“We Bought a Zoo”—Yep, the title is a spoiler. Matt Damon is a widower who buys a rundown private zoo. With his two kids and the dedicated staff he inherits, he works to get the zoo back up to speed. One kid is a pouty teen boy. The other is a seven-year-old girl who is the cutest kid in a movie since Drew Barrymore in “E.T.” Among the zoo staff is eye candy Scarlett Johansson. Perfect family film.

“The Artist”—This silent movie, filmed in black and white, is a huge hit with critics. The concept and the storytelling are clever. The performances and the music are outstanding. Though set in Hollywood, the two leads are French actors who are unknown in the US. A familiar face is John Goodman, who makes the most of his screen time as an exec guiding his studio through the transition to talkies. It’s different, but a great movie.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy”—Based on the British spy novel, TTSS has a story that is just okay—not that special. The acting is good, especially by lead Gary Oldman. It’s set in the early 70’s, so we see artifacts of the era including reel-to-reel tape recorders, teletype machines and even a pair of hotpants. You might want to opt for something else in the multiplex.

“War Horse”—This is a classic—a story of a boy and his horse. They both go to World War I for Britain, separately. The movie follows the horse through all his war adventures. If you are the emotional type, bring some tissues. If someone you know loves horses, you must take her/him to see this. The cinematography is outstanding. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

“Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol”—Action galore. Tom Cruise and his M:I team are out to save the earth from nuclear annihilation. Sounds simple, right? But it turns out to be complicated. The film’s highlight is the sequence with Tom climbing on the outside of that extremely tall building in Dubai. In a genius casting move, Simon Pegg of “Shaun of the Dead” fame, appears as the team’s timid electronics guy. See it on the IMAX if you can—a big screen for a big movie.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”— Robert Downey Jr. brings massive on-screen charm. The film crew brings the gimmickry, which provides much of the film’s fun. The plot, however, is a bit of a mess. Jude Law returns as Watson, Holmes’ assistant, consultant, rescuer, foil and chronicler. Good, not great.

“Young Adult”—The lead character in “Young Adult” is not especially likable. The movie, though, has a lot to like. Charlize Theron plays a woman with baggage who returns from the big city to her small hometown in Minnesota. There are some big laughs in “Young Adult, “ but it also serves up some thoughtful takes on modern American life. Directed by Jason Reitman who did “Up in the Air” and “Juno.”

Also still around:

“The Descendants”—My pick for best movie of the year. Family drama with comedic elements, set in Hawaii. George Clooney is a likely Oscar winner in the lead role.

“The Muppets”—The “feel good movie of the year.” This musical comedy has a funny script, great songs and an old-timey look.

“Hugo”—This movie about a boy living in a Paris train station takes a left turn midway and flashes back to the early days of filmmaking. Nice visual effects and excellent 3-D.

“My Week with Marilyn”—Michelle Williams will get an Oscar nomination for her performance as Marilyn Monroe in this story, set in the 1950’s.

“New Year’s Eve”—Standard romantic comedy with scads of stars. Some end up happy; others, not so happy. In the formula of last year’s “Valentine’s Day.”

Best bets for grownups:  “The Descendants,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Artist,” “Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” “Young Adult,” “My Week with Marilyn.”

Best bets for families: “We Bought a Zoo,” “War Horse,” “The Muppets,” “The Adventures of Tintin.”

Only go if everything else is sold out: “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Hugo,” “New Year’s Eve.”