Tag Archives: Movie Review

Mary Poppins Returns

As a kid I watched the original Mary Poppins a great many times. The film is indelibly etched in my brain. Did adult me have doubts that Mary Poppins Returns could be worth my time? Of course. But Sandra and I both plunked down our ticket moneys and saw the movie on Wednesday.

Before I talk about how much I liked it (hint: a lot) I’ll tell you about the previews. There was one for the upcoming CGI+live-action Dumbo, and one for the upcoming CGI+live-action Lion King.

SANDRA¹: “That’s… a lot of CGI remakes.”
ME: “Guys guys guyyys I found a room full of people paying to see a Mary Poppins sequel.”

The Mary Poppins sequel was, well, practically perfect in every way. I didn’t think anyone could hold a candle to Julie Andrews performance, but Emily Blunt has a much more robust skill set than I gave her credit for. Specifically, wow, the woman can sing. 

On the other side of that coin, there was no way anyone could step into the amazing dancing shoes of Dick Van Dyke, and as it happens, Lin-Manuel Miranda is very wise. He danced well enough, but he sold us with his singing, which (no surprise) he does an outstanding job with.

Blunt and Miranda had a very high bar to clear, they cleared it.

Everyone else did a fine job

, too. I recall a couple of moments in the original Mary Poppins when the child actors didn’t quite come up to the level of the other performers, places where I imagine the director saying (quietly, and to no-one in particular) “It’ll do. It’s probably the best take we’re going to get.” There were no such moments in Mary Poppins Returns. The kids sold it brilliantly.

Mary Poppins Returns clears my Threshold of Awesome.

¹ We’re not the sorts of people who talk during movies, but we’ll whisper and giggle quite a bit during previews.

Robin Hood

On a hunch, I decided to treat Robin Hood as a secondary world low-magic fantasy in which I’m allowed to forget everything I have learned about Earth’s Europe’s seventh century weapon technology, and pretend the whole thing is happening on a different dimension’s medieval Earth.

It was a good decision. If you’re going to get knocked out of the film by a repeating ballista weapon emplacement which can be operated by one person, or by English longbowmen conducting urban warfare as if their bows are tactical carbines, you’ll be throwing your drink at the screen before the end of the first act. As I own a refillable mug for the local megaplex, that would be a great loss for me. I asked “why don’t they have their swords out?” exactly one time, then took a couple of deep breaths and one deep sip of Coke Zero¹.

Letting the technology be whatever it wanted to be was certainly helpful, but ultimately this retelling of the Robin Hood myth made the mistake of straying from the mythos in order to be unpredictable, and managing to be predictable anyway.

That said, the action scenes were pretty beautiful. It was Robin Hood filmed with the sort of cinematic fight choreography we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Marvel movies. Egerton’s Robin Hood felt like a nod to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man². The archery was quite cool, especially when Robin is schooled by Jamie Foxx’s Little John on using his shooting hand as a quiver. Queuing up four or five arrows at a time, and then firing them rapidly, without reaching for more arrows, made beautiful sense. Whether or not it’s practical, it worked far better than the old “fire two arrows at once” thing.

While I’m whether-or-notting(ham?), let me point out that whether or not you think this film is worth seeing in theaters, you probably don’t get to. That ship sails soon, which means renting³ Robin Hood (2018) when it’s available. Ultimately, the film did not disappoint me, but I’d set my expectations correctly for enjoying it. It comes nowhere near my Threshold of Awesome, but it was fun.

¹ Yes, yes, it’s Coke Zero Sugar, but you can’t expect me to say the word “sugar” when there isn’t any in my drink. Until waiters start getting my order wrong, those two syllables are superfluous.
² Just so we’re clear, Tom Holland’s gymnastics put him in a class by himself in every sense of that phrase. Egerton can nod at it, but I don’t see him doing back flips.
³ As an alternative to renting, I’ll often wait until a film hits the discount Blu-Ray bin, because it only costs a tiny bit more, but it gives me a permanent souvenir of my questionable life choices.


Ralph Breaks the Internet

Up until about a third of the way through the film, Ralph Breaks the Internet had me worried. It wasn’t doing anything new, and the conflict was a pretty soft one, and I was afraid the film wasn’t going to give us anything like the joy¹ we got from Wreck-It Ralph.

And then it got better. Lots better. We’ve known for years that Princess Vanellope is technically (and literally, and actually) a Disney princess. Disney owned this, and went on to own (and give themselves a good roasting for) all the associated princess tropes they’ve built during the last eighty years.

Snippets of the “princesses” scene have appeared in trailers, but the full scene takes it further. And then Disney doubled-down on it, and gave Vanellope a very, VERY Disney Princess moment of her own.

Speaking of trailers, there’s a trailer for the film which features a mobile game called “Pancake Milkshake.” I felt just a little robbed when that scene didn’t appear in the film, but then I sat through the credits and let’s just say that if you feel robbed about that kind of thing you should sit through all the credits too.

Ralph Breaks the Internet clears my Threshold of Awesome, and is going to be on my must-buy list when the Blu-Ray is available.

¹ Wreck-It Ralph also gives us a master class in how to unflinchingly bottom out the protagonist during that moment when they do the wrong thing by trying to do the right thing. I still cry when Ralph smashes that car.
² The comparison between this sequel and the sequel to The Incredibles is a stark³ one. With Ralph I felt like there was serious risk of Disney letting us down, but they knocked it out of the park. I felt like Disney/Pixar had an easy win with The Incredibles II, but they managed to foul out.
³ If I were the sort of person to make pop culture puns I’d say the comparison goes beyond being merely stark, and heads into the territory of Eddard Stark, but I’m not that sort of person⁴.
⁴ Because footnotes don’t count. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I finally made it back out of the house to see a movie. I wish I’d enjoyed the movie more.

Fantastic Crimes of Beastly Grindelwald or Something Like That suffers from some altogether too common pop-cinema ailments. Unmotivated action, Flanderization, and tokenism top my list, but I should also point out that it felt long and by the end I didn’t really care what happened to key characters, and those are more likely to dampen the spirits of movie-goers.

Unmotivated action is pretty easy to understand. It’s when you don’t think a character would do a thing, and the story never gets around to explaining why the character did the thing.

Flanderization is when a character in a series begins as a well-rounded, interesting person with quirks, but as the series progresses they are defined only by their quirks. It gets its name from Ned Flanders of Simpsons fame. Fantastic Beast’s Queenie Goldstein captivated us in the first film with her mind-reading, her smarts, her cooking, her effortless beauty, her kindness, and yes, being a little ditzy. This film mostly just gave us ditzy. It was pretty disappointing.

Tokenism is when a demographic is represented by only one character in the film, and it’s made worse when that character falls into one or more negative stereotypes. The only Asian woman in the film, Nagini, played by Claudia Kim (you may remember her as Doctor Helen Cho from Age of Ultron) happens to be cursed to turn into a giant serpent. Because serpent-ness is an Asian thing?

The good news is that everyone on screen did brilliantly with what they were given. Even when they weren’t given very much, they acted it to the nines, and did everything they could to make it work.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t quite fall past my Threshold of Disappointment because I wasn’t expecting much. It doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, however, which leaves it in far too ordinary a place for something with “fantastic” right in the title.