Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Casting Emily Blunt as the iconic title character in Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel 54 years in the making, proves to be a stroke of genius.

Casting Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack, a character modeled after Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in the original classic … well, not so much.

Blunt plays the role with her own, sensible spin—not by any means copying what the great Julie Andrews did more than a half-century ago, but offering a practically perfect variation on the infamous nanny. Miranda sports the same cockney accent (though it’s not nearly as gloriously, wonderfully bad as Van Dyke’s) and plays a lamplighter in London instead of a chimney sweep. His part of the film feels like a giant missed opportunity, because while he can sing and dance up a storm, he isn’t funny. Van Dyke was funny.

The result is a movie that has a lot of charm, and some amazingly good sequences, with Blunt powering us through. When Miranda does a Hamilton-like rap in the middle of one of his numbers, it all feels a little off, as do many of his moments.

The movie takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression; the two Banks children, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), are all grown up. Michael, who has lost his wife, is raising his children alone. He’s taken a job at the bank where his dad used to work, but he’s way behind on the mortgage, so the very bank he works for is set to repossess his house. The problems have distracted him as a parent … so in flies you-know-who on a battered kite during a stormy wind.

As soon as Blunt shows up, the movie becomes fun. Blunt is a different Mary Poppins, yet she very much is Mary Poppins. And, man, can she sing and dance. This is most evident in a dance-hall sequence to the new musical number “A Cover Is Not the Book,” where she performs some nice vaudevillian dance steps alongside, yes, DANCING ANIMATED PENGUINS! Blunt sings the song with a cockney accent that puts Miranda’s to shame, and she out dances her co-stars, both animated and live. It’s moments like this that make Returns very much worthwhile.

Because the film is so good for substantial stretches of time, the strange, sloppy moments really stand out. Director Rob Marshall has made some stinkers (Into the Woods, Nine) to go along with his one, genuinely good film (Chicago). Some of the staging in his films, this one included, go from tightly choreographed and impressive to sloppy and unfocused within seconds. There are shots in this movie I’m surprised made the final cut. They look like a dress rehearsal.

For every brilliant sequence like the animated journey into a porcelain bowl (one of two scenes combining live actors and animation), there’s a baffling sequence, like one during which people get really jazzed about riding a bicycle—and there’s just too much of Miranda singing into lampposts. The whole time Miranda was on the screen, I was thinking stuff like, “Christian Bale would’ve been better in this role, because, ya know, Newsies, right?” I suggested this to my Disney partner in crime via text after the movie, and she basically told me to shut the fuck up.

While I might’ve been sitting on the fence regarding this film as it headed into the final turn, my attitude went full positive when none other than the man himself, Dick Van Dyke, all beautiful 93 years of him, showed up as a helpful banker. He not only shows up but gets on top of a desk and dances better than anybody in the movie. It’s only a few seconds but, I’m telling you now, they are some of the best seconds any 2018 film has to offer. Pure nostalgia heaven!

Mary Poppins Returns might be uneven, but lovers of the original will appreciate its honest and semi-successful attempt to recapture the Poppins magic. As for Blunt, she’s miraculous, effectively cancelling out any of the film’s shortcomings.

Mary Poppins Returns is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There have been a lot of Moby-Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab.

There is just no need for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now. Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was the need for a movie about the actual events upon which the classic novel was based.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, an actual whale ship out of Nantucket, Mass., that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the sinking resulted in many days on lifeboats for the surviving crew—as well as some cannibalism.

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Hey, it’s Thor and Spider-Man together!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard—all people who actually existed. However, the story in the film goes way off the real-life script.

In Ron Howard’s film, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge thing and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea. Chase, who published a true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy here, believing a sperm whale, spotted with white blotches, is out to get him.

That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship, and yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming. That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.

This film has the odd framing device of Moby-Dick novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who is telling the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. In reality, the story had gotten out long before—such as in Chase’s aforementioned published account. The whole revelatory framing device rings false.

“Stupid” and “nonsensical” (read: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea. The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is just awful, as are the 3-D effects, if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.

Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. Is it a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Klingon?

Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. They look very much alike.

Howard has made a lot of movies, and this is one of his worst, on the bottom of the pile along with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code—dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.

In the Heart of the Sea is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The release date for Paddington was pushed out of 2014 and into 2015, making me worry that this was a film for the junk heap. Actually, this mix of live action and animation featuring the character created by Michael Bond is actually cute.

Ben Whishaw voices Paddington, a Peruvian bear who travels to England looking for a home. He winds up in the abode of the Browns, where he begins causing major damage, leading to a little marital strife for Mr. and Mrs. Brown (a delightful Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Nicole Kidman has a lot of fun as the film’s villain, who is determined to trap and stuff Paddington.

The movie has plenty of British charm, a couple of really good jokes, and work from Kidman, Bonneville and Hawkins in top form. As for Paddington himself, he looks pretty good—a solid animated creation mixed neatly with real actors and actresses.

Paddington is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews