The movie musical continues its renaissance with Mary Poppins Returns, director Rob Marshall’s sequel to the 1964 classic Mary Poppins which starred Julie Andrews as the magically efficient nanny, Dick Van Dyke as Bert the chimney-sweep (with the Cockney accent to end all Cockney accents—not in a good way), and David Tomlinson as the dignified Mr. Banks. In Mary Poppins Returns, set some twenty years after the original, the Banks children are grown, with Michael now a widower with children of his own—and in desperate need of guidance from the returning Mary (Emily Blunt), especially since the bank is about to foreclose on the family home. There is plenty to enjoy about Mary Poppins Returns; it is beautifully filmed with a lively animated interlude in the style of the original; the supporting performances are generally good, including Lin-Manuel Miranda as a cheerful, worshipful and resourceful lamplighter, Colin Firth as a bank president with ulterior motives, and Emily Mortimer as Michael’s activist sister. Emily Blunt inherits the title role and is a very fine Mary Poppins, floating in on her trusty umbrella, simultaneously exuding strength, rigidity, and amusement as she helps Mr. Michael (Ben Whishaw) emerge from imminent financial catastrophe (partly of his own making) and rediscover life’s wonder and promise. Blunt may not be as musically divine as Andrews, but she has a fine voice and manages to make the most out of the new songs by Marc Shaiman.
Which brings me to the major shortcoming of the sequel, the songs themselves are pretty lackluster. Yes, the new songs contain echoes of the original score by Richard and Robert Sherman, but Shaiman’s tunes are pretty much forgettable—when they’re not being derivative. In addition, some of the numbers go on for what seems like an eternity (as in the lamplighters number), while others are completely superfluous (was the Meryl Streep interlude really necessary). In addition, in turning Michael into a clueless sad sack, the script by David Magee almost negates the effect the wondrous Mary had on the original family. In the end, while this Mary is worth checking out for the performers (including some not-so-surprising appearances near the end). I doubt it will have the staying power of the original.
If you didn’t like Dick Cheney going in to see Vice, Adam McKay’s new satirical bio-pic on the powerful Vice President (who insisted that President Bush let him handle the little things like foreign policy and energy) is not destined to give you the warm and fuzzies. It is a scathing, blistering look at Cheney’s rise from being a barely competent bureaucrat to the CEO of Halliburton, and finally to the Vice-Presidency, where his decisions read like a playbook for how to enable big business and the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. However after spending two hours with this fellow, you’re no closer to seeing what made Cheney tick than you were at the beginning. Christian Bale transforms himself once again, and his Cheney is certainly interesting to watch—but the insights into his character are lacking (perhaps there is not there there). Amy Adams impresses as Lynne Cheney, a force in her own right, while Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell contribute some amusing and scene-stealing turns as Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, respectively.
ON THE BASIS OF SEX
Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex stars Felicity Jones as the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she begins Harvard Law School, after first being questioned (by Sam Waterston’s Dean) why she is there—taking a place away from a man). In short order, she helps her husband and second-year law student Martin (Arme Hammer) when he has a bout with cancer, transfers to Columbia and graduates (Dean Waterston refuses to let her finish her Harvard degree at Columbia, even though there is precedent), and finds soon enough that the unenlightened late 1950s culture won’t allow for female lawyers. She then becomes a professor, and later lands a tax case which involves discrimination towards a man—but might pave the way for opening up discussion and eventual change regarding discrimination toward women. On the Basis of Sex won’t win any awards for cinematic innovation, but it makes its fair share of points about the difficulties of effecting change in the face of complacency and male entitlement. Felicity Jones makes a convincing, grounded, tenacious Ginsburg, while Arme Hammer and Justin Theroux (as Mel Wulf of the ACLU) provide capable support. You know where the movie si headed all the way, but it’s a fairly entertaining ride.
There is a lot of praise being heaped on Glenn Close in The Wife, and she is excellent, playing the wife of a Nobel Prize winning author (Jonathan Pryce) as they travel to Sweden for the awards ceremony. Close has resentments to spare and a secret that most of us will discover before it is shared with the audience. And while Close does deserve the praise, let us not forget the excellent Mr. Pryce, who has been neglected in all the awards talk. He is superb as an author battling his own demons and insecurities, and forever falling short. Close and Pryce—as well as Christian Slater as a persistent biographer—are very good indeed. What threatens to scuttle the film is Max Irons as the Close and Pryce’s forlorn, resentful son, who has none of the subtlety or grace of his imposing parents. One wonders how he emerged from their union—and why they don’t send him back to America.