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.

Advertisements

The Danish Girl

 

Talk about perfect timing! The Danish Girl arrives at the end of a year when the world’s trangender population has received more attention than ever before.

And those stars! The Danish Girl’s title role goes to the incumbent Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. Alicia Vikander, the gorgeous Swedish actress who appeared in Ex Machina and The Man From UNCLE this year, is his wife. Both have been nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for their performances in this film.

The problem with The Danish Girl is, to borrow the Gertrude Stein line, there’s no there there. The story is weak and fragile. Husband Einar (Redmayne) and wife Gerda (Vikander) are artists in century ago Copenhagen. She asks hubby to slip on a gown so he can pose for a painting. He finds likes it!

Gerda paints more pictures of her new model and Einar hits the streets in a dress and wig. He even strikes up a relationship with a man, Henrik (the ubiquitous Ben Whishaw).

She and Einar (now going by Lili) take their art to Paris. They encounter Einar’s old friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is not particularly surprised by Einar’s new alter ego.

The support that Gerda gives her husband as he transitions to his identity as a woman is remarkable. It recalls the support given Caitlyn Jenner this year by her family members. (There is a fringe benefit for Gerda: her paintings of this “woman” are a big hit.)

In time, Lili pursues and undergoes surgery to make the transition complete.

Even with this sensitive treatment by director Tom Hooper, it is not easy to fully grasp what exactly sent Einar on this path. He and Gerda appear to be a happy, loving, sexually active young couple. Then, in short order, the movie’s story is set in motion.

Because of its subject matter and its topicality, The Danish Girl will likely receive huge amounts of praise. But there are, I hope, better, more substantial stories about the transgender population waiting to be told on screen.

In The Heart Of The Sea

That damn whale! Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) wrote the classic American novel Moby Dick. You may have read the book—or maybe skimmed the CliffsNotes—in high school.

Melville, it turns out, was inspired by a true-life story that occurred a few decades before he wrote his novel. In The Heart Of The Sea presents that story as told to Melville by Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) whose younger self (Tom Holland) joined the whaling crew of the Essex when he was just a teen.

Though old Tom keeps threatening to stop, the series of flashbacks continue. His wife (Michelle Fairley) urges him on, as does the eager note-taker Melville.

As In The Heart Of The Sea gets in gear, you know that the whale is going to wreak some major havoc. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt concoct a slow buildup to the encounter with the enormous and violent sea mammal.

Nantucket is the heart of the whaling world two centuries ago. Hunky hero Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) expects to be named captain of his next expedition, but that honor goes to the less capable George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). At sea, first mate Chase disagrees with Pollard when the captain chooses to confront a storm head on, so as to give the crew experience. The outcome is not good.

The voyage of the Essex continues around South America and up the west coast to Ecuador. In a bar, the crew is told of a remote spot in the Pacific teeming with whales. They are also warned about a “demon whale.”

The confrontation with this huge, angry animal is intense. The effort to procure whale oil quickly becomes a mission of survival. The details of the crew’s recovery are some of old Tom’s more agonizing memories.

In The Heart Of The Sea is a well-constructed piece of storytelling. There is drama and conflict throughout. The visual depictions of life and catastrophe at sea are convincingly real, though not quite perfect.

The main thing that bothered me about ITHOTS was this: When he began the voyage around 1920, young Tom Nickerson was 14. Now, he is telling the story in 1850. In the movie, he appears to be much older than 44. (Gleeson is 60 but with his beard and weight looks older.)

In The Heart Of The Sea is a decent, though not great, film. With many solid films having been released recently and others due out in the next two weeks, if ITHOTS is not on your list of films you really want to see, I understand completely.

 

Suffragette

In century-ago London, women are getting angry. They want the right to vote but it is not forthcoming. They make noise. They create chaos. They get attention.

Suffragette, a grim tale of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) and her cohorts, shows the actions taken to get government leaders to acknowledge their demands. When Maud witnesses suffragettes throwing rocks to break store windows, she gets fired up and joins in.

She works in a laundry, where she and other female coworkers are subject to verbal and physical abuse by their male bosses. These men are not happy with her activism. She’s married with a young son at home. But her involvement in the cause leads to the breakup of her family and, ultimately, incarceration. (Ben Whishaw is Mr. Watts.)

While the film is inspired by real-life events, most of the characters including Maud Watts are fictional. Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) is a real person who is the leader of the movement. Because Pankhurst lives her life in hiding, Streep’s presence in the movie is fleetingly brief. Other women in the cast include Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Natalie Press and Romola Garai.

Like certain other period films, Suffragette is generally devoid of color. Clothing is mostly black and white, settings are dark and poorly lighted and sepia tones are occasionally employed by director Sarah Gavron. (The film was written by a woman, Abi Morgan.)

It’s always great to see Brendan Gleason in a movie; in Suffragette he’s a police inspector who has several conversations with Maud. He’s concerned that the movement will generate a martyr, perhaps from the hunger strike Maud stages while in prison. In the end, it is a martyr who becomes a touchstone for change in women’s suffrage in the U.K.

Sadly, Suffragette disappoints on many levels. The second-class status of women is plainly stated but the depths of anguish this condition causes in not deeply explored. Compared to, say, Norma Rae or Selma, Suffragette fails to build empathy for those who are beaten down. Feminists may experience strong emotional connections to these characters, but it’s likely a general audience will not.

Then again, I am a male. As Maud Watts points out, half the people in the world are female. I found the storytelling less than compelling but, hey, women sometimes have different viewpoints from men. (Editor’s note: “sometimes?????”) Certainly, women’s rights is an important issue, but I call Suffragette a nice try that falls short.

Skyfall

“Skyfall” is the best of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig and one of the better Bond films of the entire 50-year series. The action, the locations and the characters are engaging from the first frame to the last.

It starts with an incredible chase scene that involves motorbikes on Istanbul rooftops and hand-to-hand combat atop a moving train. Bond is trying to grab a computer drive that contains the identities of several agents who have infiltrated terrorist gangs. He fails.

He goes to Shanghai—which looks gorgeous in an establishing shot—to get the drive and gets into more hand-to-hand combat. In a stylistic shot from director Sam Mendes, part of the battle is fought in the upper stories of a high rise, in silhouette against the night sky.

Next on the Bond “Skyfall” tour is Macau, in coastal China, near Hong Kong. Here he meets a mysterious woman who takes him to meet Raoul Silver, played with panache by a blonde-haired Javier Bardim. Silver may be the first gay Bond villain. Turns out he’s a former British agent who was captured by the Chinese and has now become a cyber terrorist.

Bond returns Silva to London but, dang it, he escapes and more bad things happen. Bond retreats to his boyhood home in Scotland. He purposely leaves a trail to lure Silva for their ultimate face off.

Among the film’s other characters and actors: The great Judi Dench as M; a new Q, a young geek of a guy, played by Ben Whishaw; Albert Finney as the gamekeeper of the Scottish estate; Ralph Fiennes as a British government official with authority over the spy agency.

There are a couple of nods to the Bond of days gone by, including the use of a classic sports car with special weaponry. And, Miss Moneypenny is back. And while we don’t hear Bond proscribe his preferred technique, we do hear him tell the bartender, “Perfect,” when his drink is poured from… a shaker.

“Skyfall” lacks a classic Bond babe but introduces an attractive, flirty woman we can hope to see in future 007 films.

Despite being a tad too long, “Skyfall” will thrill you and entertain you. If you are a Bond fan to any degree, this is a “must-see.”