FlixChatter Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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Directed by Rob Marshall | Screenplay by David Magee

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters

There are few things I hold dear to my inner child’s heart, one of them being Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Regarded as a classic, the 1964 film succeeded on so many levels. There was Julie Andrews’ groundbreaking performance as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke’s Bert the chimney sweeper is equally lovable (despite his fake cockney accent). There was innovative special effects and animation. There was song and dance and my, oh my, was there! Richard and Robert Sherman’s memorable songs took the film into new heights for a musical and it had so much heart in the performances and execution (never mind P.L. Travers’ objection to the film).

So, when Disney announced a sequel, I was excited, cynical and partly in disbelief. After all, this was the tallest order of the highest magnitude. I came in with low expectations. But that changed a bit when Emily Blunt was cast as she looked ‘practically perfect’ (referencing the perfect nanny herself) in the title role. This time around, Poppins has returned to look after the Banks children 25 years after the events from the 1964 film. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with 3 young children, is working at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank like his late father before him.

Disillusioned by the loss of his wife a year prior and financial ruin and the threat of losing their family home literally knocking at their door, Michael, along with sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) search in vain to try and find a way to pay off Michael’s loan before the bank (Fidelity Fiduciary mind you) takes their house away. Whishaw is quite good in his early scenes singing A Conversation a touching lament to his late wife. Mortimer looks quite a likeness to the younger Jane Banks so that was a nice touch. However, we don’t see much of her throughout the film. She plays a labor activist, an homage to the elder Mrs. Banks who was a suffragette.

Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack the lamplighter in parallel to Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper. Like Bert in the first movie, he plays Mary’s counterpart on their adventures and performs the opening song and rudimentary lamplighter army sequence (Trip A Little Light Fantastic). Miranda is an accomplished performer and it shows especially with the opening (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.

Emily Blunt is stunning as Mary Poppins. She holds her own in her rendition of the title character (even to unfair comparisons to Julie Andrews) and also does justice to the material in front of her. Her shining moment is the sweet The Place Where Lost Things Go. Blunt’s dance number with Miranda on A Cover Is Not a Book is exceptional as is the choreography and production. Her performance is noteworthy in this regard and is rewarding to watch.

Mary Poppins Returns is an entertaining, albeit a templated version of the original film down to the character and plot-lines. Its predictability isn’t a total downside as we all know things will turn out all right in the end. But it does feel a bit lacking I suspect from Disney’s too-cautious efforts to make it right. The film is well-crafted down to a T but that meticulousness and dare-I-say bombastic-ness of its musical approach may be its weakest points. Marc Shaiman’s music and Scott Wittman’s lyrics do all they can to match the vivaciousness and grandeur of Richard and Robert Sherman’s work on the first film. But they weren’t able to capture that heart and subtlety that so permeated the original Mary Poppins. There’s no heart wrenching performances like the younger Jane and Michael’s The Perfect Nanny”nor the touching nostalgia of Julie Andrew’s Feed The Birds. This may be an unfair assessment as I believe Mary Poppins Returns stands on its own. But the things that made the original a classic just isn’t quite there.

The filmmakers gathered a great cast but Meryl Streep’s turn as cousin Topsy probably should have been given to Julie Walters, another great actress who plays Ellen the Housekeeper, in a wasted tiny role. But perhaps that is due to too many greats on set. In effect, it’s a valiant effort by everyone involved from the writers, actors, and songwriters. Memorable were the performances but the songs not so much. It’s a great looking film but not the classic that it could have been.

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So what do you think of Mary Poppins Returns? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Paddington 2 (2018)

Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Though I enjoyed the first movie, it wasn’t as if I was clamoring for a sequel. But hey, not all sequels are inherently bad. I loved it so much that when I got home, my hubby and I actually re-watched the first Paddington. You know what, this sequel actually surpasses the original!

I love that writer/director Paul King gave the ever lovable bear an enchanting backstory and here we’re reminded once again where he came from (Peru) and how he got his genteel manner. “If you’re kind and polite the world will be right,” that’s his mantra, which is something everyone of us should live by. This movie has sooo much heart and the kind of British humor that really tickles my fancy. All the shenanigans he runs into in various jobs are hysterical, the barbershop and window-cleaning scenes had me in stitches. But the best scene is definitely in prison, and Brendan Gleeson is a riot as the fearful prison cook with a fun name, Knuckles McGinty.

But the real scene-stealer here is Hugh Grant who embraces his brilliant comic timing and puts it to good use. He plays Phoenix Buchanan (another fun name!), a has-been theatre actor who’s now relegated to doing dog food commercial. The various disguises are hilarious, hard to pick a favorite though the nun-scene is a particularly memorable one. It makes for some fun AND funny action scenes as Paddington has to retrieve the stolen gift for his aunt Lucy, as well as clear his name.

The Brown family (with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville reprising their roles as Paddington’s adoptive parents) are fun to watch as well. It’s amusing to see the incredible range of Hawkins’ acting ability in two extremely different performances (the other one is in The Shape of Water) in the span of a single week. I love how no scene is wasted in this movie, even the seemingly-throwaway scene of each family member’s new hobby has a purpose later in the movie. Julie Walters is always a hoot as Mrs. Bird, oh and one of my fave comedians Richard Ayoade also made a cameo!

In the end, the star of the show has always been Paddington himself, voiced brilliantly by Ben Whishaw with his wonderfully soothing voice. It’s a VERY British movie and so of course the Anglophile in me loved every moment. This jolly good fun ride is accompanied by a lively score by Dario Marianelli (whose Pride & Prejudice is my listening staple). A thoroughly joyful experience, this is one franchise I hope will keep on going.


*Yep this one gets a rare perfect score from me, I can’t find a single thing wrong w/ it!


Have you seen Paddington 2? Did you love it as much as I did?

Day 4 Review – TCFF 2015 Gala Screening: Brooklyn

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Three of my most highly-anticipated films at TCFF premiered on Saturday. Two of them are studio features, Youth & Brooklyn and one is a small indie drama The Dust Storm, which I have reviewed here along with my interview w/ one of the director and cast members.

It was quite a whirlwind day starting with the Future of Film panel at 1pm with Rob Nelson from National Society of Film Critics, Ryland Aldrich from Twitchfilm.com and Emma Griffiths, Emma Griffiths PR. It’s great getting insights from film experts on the changing landscape of film promotion/distribution and various film trends. I also got to meet director Samuel Hathaway before his red carpet (check out my interview w/ him on The Old, Old Story), as well as David Spaltro whom I met a couple of years ago at TCFF. Great to see him back in town for his psychological horror film In The Dark (review & interview post coming next week!)


So here’s one of the reviews from Day 4:

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Brooklyn

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I’ve been waiting to see this film since it premiered at Sundance and so imagine how thrilled I was when I saw it on TCFF lineup!! I’ve been a fan of Irish thespian Saoirse Ronan since Atonement, Hanna and How I Live Now, which also premiered at TCFF two years ago. Suffice to say her casting was the main draw for me to see this and she did NOT disappoint.

As an immigrant myself, naturally the story of a young Irish immigrant moving to the United States resonated with me. Of course our circumstances are very different, but I identify with the feeling of homesickness and the challenges of navigating a whole new environment. Brooklyn is set in the 1950s. It opens with Eilis Lacey, the youngest of two Irish sisters living in a small town in County Wexford, Ireland. She’s offered a chance to move to New York City by a priest, for a chance of a new life. Her older sister Rose strongly supports that idea, even if that means she’d have to be the only one looking after their mother.

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The journey on the boat is quite excruciating for Eilis, but somewhere along the way she always ended up finding a friend to help her through it. The same way when she arrived in Brooklyn to stay in a Mrs. Kehoe’s Catholic boarding house along with four other girls. I LOVE Julie Walters here, she’s definitely the comic relief with her comments like ‘no talking about the Lord’s complexion at dinner!’ or ‘giddyness is the eighth deadly sins!’ She’s strict but not without a sense of humor. The always reliable Jim Broadbent provides an excellent supporting turn as the compassionate priest Father Flood who arranged for Eilis’ immigration.

Homesickness is like most sicknesses. It will make you feel wretched, then will move on to somebody else…

I love the quote above from Father Flood to Eilis, and sure enough, soon Eilis’ able to overcome her homesickness as soon as she finds romance with an Italian boy Tony (Emory Cohen) who’s handsome and effortlessly charming. There’s a James Dean-esque vibe in his performance and perhaps that’s intentional. Soon he invites Eilis home to meet his very Italian family. I love the cultural aspects of the film, showcasing the different lives of American immigrants from different countries. There are amusing scenes such as when Eilis’ fellow boarding house friends teach her how NOT to splash spaghetti all over her blouse during dinner, and Iarla O’Lionaird as Tony’s smart-aleck-y 8-year-old brother Frankie was definitely a scene stealer!

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Life doesn’t always go according to plan however, and Eilis’ life changed abruptly that compels her to return back to Ireland. Life if full of tough choices, and that’s what happens with Eilis when she finds herself back in her home town. Suddenly there’s a decent life waiting for her in Ireland that she didn’t find before she moved to Brooklyn. A tentative romance also develops with a friend from her high school Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) that complicates matters. There’s nothing like two romantic prospects on both sides of the Atlantic that would get any girl torn, but there’s also more to it than that.
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I love how the seemingly-simple story of an immigrant girl can be so deeply poignant and moving. I remember liking John Crowley‘s British indie Boy A with Andrew Garfield, and he’s certainly has a way for capturing the anguish and torment of young people. The same with screenwriter Nick Hornby who penned About A Boy in crafting a heartfelt character-driven piece.

It’s definitely Saoirse Ronan‘s best work amongst her already illustrious career. At twenty, she’s the right age to portray Eilis, and she infused such gravitas into her role. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. Visually, the set design of 50s Brooklyn and Ireland are believable, captured beautifully by cinematographer Yves Bélanger. But to me, it’s the story that I will remember most of all. Lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

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Have you seen BROOKLYN? Well, what did you think?