Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

Image result for mary poppins returns movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – A Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for this movie and noticed it was PG, I thought, “Huh.  That might be one for the kids and me.”  We weren’t in a rush to see it, mind you, but as the reviews kept praising it, and as Rotten Tomatoes continued to maintain a 97% “fresh” rate, I got more and more interested.

I can’t necessarily claim to be a huge Spider-Man fan, nor can my two daughters (ages 10 and 6).  I loved his comics as a kid, but generally lost interest in Marvel as an adult.  Don’t hold this against us, but we are a DC family through and through.

With all of that being said, if you like Spider-Man even a little, I urge you to see this movie.  It has earned every single positive review it has received.  I loved it.

There are so, so many reasons to enjoy it.  First of all, the voice acting is superb.  Check out this cast list and you’ll understand the high quality.  The animation also won me over.  You’ll have to see it to really understand what I’m saying, but it’s refined yet rough, classic yet edgy, bright yet dark.  Best of all?  It’s not afraid to do, well, anything.  Colors pop, word panels appear, dot matrix appears and disappears–it’s a visual feast.

It also wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.  As cliche as it sounds, this movie will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you cheer, it will make you think–it engages virtually every emotion available.  And while I think it was perfectly appropriate for my six-year-old, my ten-year-old picked up on the messages of self-confidence, self-sacrifice, supporting others, and what it really takes to be a hero.  There existed in this movie an inspirational message that managed to pierce this old forty-two-year-old heart of mine.

However, the absolute best trait of the film can be summed up in one word: fun.  My gosh, this was a fun movie!  The plot is so ridiculously “comic book” that you can’t deny its charm.  Kingpin builds a machine that breaches other dimensions, which then pulls many “Spider-People” from various realities into that of Miles Morales, a teenager recently infused with the powers of a spider-man.  The movie treats its story seriously, but it doesn’t ever take itself too seriously.  I mean, Spider-Ham is in this thing!  And while I would ultimately call this a comedy, it has some heart-wrenching moments made all the more so by fantastic voice acting.  Oh, and the action.  The action is mesmerizing.  They do their best with the live-action movies, but only animation can truly capture the essence of Spider-Man.  Just look at the poster below and you’ll get a sense of the movement displayed within the film.

Even if you’re only moderately interested in Spider-Man, I highly recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  It’s family friendly, beautiful to behold, funny, action-packed, and delivers several moral messages pertaining to heroism, family, friends, and self-confidence.

I hope you’ll check it out. Image result for spider man into the spider verse movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Aquaman – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a classic hero’s quest story with incredibly innovative special effects and a great sense of fun, Aquaman is for you.

Jason Momoa absolutely shines in this third appearance as Arthur Curry.  He seems to be having a blast, which brings a certain level of mirth and joy to a character typically not known for such attributes.  His Aquaman is brash, tough, a smart-mouth, physical, and arrogant, yet Momoa plays him with such a subtle sense of nobility and goodness that you can’t deny his charisma.  Watching Momoa play Aquaman alone makes the movie worth checking out.  He’s having such a great time that we can’t help but join in the fun.

However, if you’re a fan of the classic hero’s quest story, Aquaman will delight you as well.  With a name like Arthur, the search for a mystical weapon, and a right to the throne, it’s almost a given that a hero’s quest must ensue.  I love that they did not shy away from Aquaman’s obvious similarities to the legend of King Arthur.  Almost every classic archetype is addressed in Aquaman, which is partly why I believe this movie will be a huge success.  The mysterious bloodline, the search for identity, the reluctant king, the quest into parts unknown, the need to unite kingdoms, the monster, the mentor, the loving mother, the wise father, traitorous siblings–it’s all there.  Like with Star Wars, Superman, and the Matrix, Aquaman hits primordial beats that we unconsciously desire.

If it’s action you crave, though, Aquaman will not disappoint.  Director James Wan is mostly known for action and horror movies.  This experience serves Aquaman very well.  There is very little downtime in this movie.  It’s almost nonstop action, and that action is so stimulating, so interesting, and so frenetic that you cannot refuse its brilliance.  Our first encounter with Aquaman occurs in a submarine, and while it’s not the most lavish or extravagant in terms of effects, it’s most definitely my favorite action scene in the whole movie.  The scene is tight, compact, and brutal.  Can you imagine having a fist fight in a submarine?  Now imagine that one of the combatants can rip the hull apart with his bare hands.  James Wan leans into this circumstance and creates an intense fight unlike any other.  There’s also a point when Aquaman and Mera must enter a place called “The Trench.”  This part of the movie is pure horror.  Even so, it’s also oddly exquisitely unique.

In fact, Aquaman is unlike any other movie that I’ve seen, and I mean that literally.   You will see special effects in this movie that you’ve never before witnessed, specifically in regards to the underwater scenes.  I still have no idea how they did it, but they have the actors talking underwater and it looks so real that their hair is actually flowing in conjunction with their movement as though they are actually underwater.  We all know that water exerts a certain force upon objects moving through it–one does not move underwater as one moves on land.  They captured this very well, too.  The actors don’t walk, they float.  They don’t run, they swim.  Part of me wants to watch the “making of” features to find out how they did this, but part of me also wants to just enjoy the movie magic as it is.

Incredible as the special effects are, the real beauty of Aquaman is in the details.  If you care to notice, you will see detritus floating in the water around the actors.  You will see creatures on the rocks, wreckage in the background, and tiny bubbles emitting from various sources.  And when Aquaman walks out in his “super suit” … it’s breathtaking.  They’ve done the impossible–they’ve made Aquaman’s gold shirt look freaking cool.  They zoom in tight on it, too, and when they do you’ll see every little scale, every overlay, every tiny piece of craftsmanship.

On that note, James Wan and the rest of the creative team have not just made a world for Aquaman to exist within, they’ve developed an entire universe.  They have birthed specific kingdoms, and each has it’s own appearance, technology, and history.  After all, most of the planet is covered in water.  James Wan seems to be taking full advantage of the possibilities this environment provides.

If I’m being objective, though, the movie has some issues.  While I appreciate the “hero’s quest” story, it never really pulled me in.  Does anyone truly doubt Arthur will win out in the end?  Some of the performances fell a little flat with me as well.  While Amber Heard looks great as Mera, I never felt any real chemistry between she and Momoa.  In fact, I think Momoa had more chemistry with Nicole Kidman, his on-screen mother!  Furthermore, the movie runs a tad long.  At two hours and twenty-three minutes, some of the spectacle began to feel like too much.  There are plenty of places they could have trimmed the movie up a bit.  I also found the music really distracting.  I love music scores, so I always pay attention to that aspect of a film.  The music did not suit this movie well … at all.  Truthfully, there were some odd choices in terms of actual songs–it all seemed to be a big of a hodgepodge.  Finally, there are some flat-out goofy moments in this movie–pure cheese.  You’ll know it when you see it, but there’s no refuting that it’s there.

But you know what?  That goofiness is part of Aquaman’s charm.  This movie wanted to have fun.  DC movies have been knocked for being too dark as they tried to recreate Christopher Nolan’s tone.  Aquaman is anything but dark.  It’s fun to watch a hero being a hero while having fun.

Image result for aquaman movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Grinch (2018) – A Movie Review

My six and ten-year-old daughters were very excited to see this latest rendition of Dr. Seuss’ classic, so I made a point to take them on opening night.  I believe they’ve seen the classic cartoon movie, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey live-action version.  This will be relevant later.

I have to be honest, for a Friday night, five o’clock showtime, the theater didn’t have many empty seats.  As you can imagine, most of those seats were occupied by people whose feet didn’t touch the ground.  It seems as though a lot of people were genuinely excited to see this.

At a brisk hour and a half, the new Grinch is perfect in terms of length.  It’s just long enough to tell a story, but brief enough to avoid anyone getting bored.

Well, most anyone.  More on that soon.

My daughters thought it was hilarious, cute, and delivered a nice message about reaching out to others while also forgiving past grievances.

So, for the kids, especially those who haven’t seen Jim Carrey’s version, this is probably a really cool movie.

That being said, I was bored silly.

In my opinion, you’ve already seen the best parts during the previews.  Otherwise, it hits most of the same beats as what you’ve seen before while adding new, unnecessary elements.  It’s nowhere near as clever as Jim Carrey’s movie, nor is it as entertaining.  Of course, I’m forty-one, so I’m sure I’m not this movie’s demographic.  And that’s totally fine.  I’ve got my Grinch movie, let the kids have theirs.  Just be prepared to take one for the team on this one–it’s not great.

However, there is much to appreciate.  The animation is absolutely beautiful.  The snow, the hair and fur, the Christmas lights–it’s all stunning.  The characters’ movements are also incredibly fluid and natural.  This movie looks good from an artistic and technical perspective.

There are also a few laugh-out-loud gags.  I wasn’t miserable, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And when I looked over at my kids, they both wore a smile ear-to-ear.  I honestly think your children will get a kick out of it.

Is it suitable for young children?  Absolutely.  In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch is the nicest Grinch you will have ever encountered.  He’s mean for maybe five minutes before he sees the errors of his ways, and he’s not even that mean.  This version is far more sanitized, wholesome, and family-friendly than ever before.

If you’re looking for a family movie, it’s hard to go wrong with 2018’s The Grinch.  The kids will love it, and it’s just short enough that the parents will be able to endure it without complaining …

Much.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Grinch (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – A Movie Review

My wife and I took our daughters to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Friday night and I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the most striking aspect of this movie is that it looks exquisite.  The costumes, sets, and scenery are gorgeous.  It seemed to me that much of it featured real people on real sets.  There existed some CGI, of course, but generally speaking it appeared that the actors were interacting with actual props and materials.  The movie wielded a certain weight that many CGI-laden films do not.

Furthermore, I found the actors and actresses both capable and, more importantly, likable.  It’s hard not to like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, though, isn’t it?  Mackenzie Foy, who plays Clara, is easy to root for even while not being particularly charismatic, and her nutcracker captain, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is also generically appealing if not particularly memorable.  I’d like to say, though, that I think both of these new faces have great potential.

Believe it or not, Sugar Plum stole this movie.  She crackled with electricity and proved very entertaining to watch.  Oddly enough, I couldn’t place her–I couldn’t figure out who played this fairy.  Imagine my surprise when the credits revealed Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum!   I think this is probably my favorite part ever played by Knightly.  I’ve never seen her so relaxed, magnetic, and … well, fun!

Best of all?  The ballet dancing!  It should come as no surprise that they included quite a bit of ballet in this film.  I found the inclusion of ballet inspired.  They didn’t just toss it in for the sake of throwing it in there–it serves a real purpose to the overall story and looks fantastic.

Again, the whole movie is really a sight to behold.  While the story is full of adventure and even a little creepy at times, it’s incredibly intricate at all levels.  Everything looks like a piece of art.

Both of my kids enjoyed The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, though neither of them were “wowed” by it.  Anytime we see a new movie, at least one of them usually says it’s their new favorite, but that didn’t happen this time.  I’m not really sure why.

In my opinion, you should certainly take your kids to see it.  It won’t make their hearts skip a beat, but it’s still a very well-crafted family film that will probably please everyone, albeit in different ways.

Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, and Jayden Fowora-Knight in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Mother! – A Movie Review

Though this film came out in September of 2017, I just got around to watching in on Amazon Prime Video.  I remember the reviews were mixed at best with most unable to pinpoint the exact nature of the movie.  This controversy, along with the fact that Darren Aronofsky wrote and directed it, made it required viewing in my mind.

I knew things were going to get interesting as soon as the title appeared on screen with the exclamation point appearing a few beats after the word “Mother” with an emphatic sound effect.  The punctuation seemed almost comedic in delivery, which gave me the sense that things were going to get a little crazy.

I was wrong.

Things got a lot crazy.

The premise is that a young unnamed woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence, lives in a huge house in the middle of the countryside with her older, also unnamed, husband.  Played by Javier Bordem, he is a writer suffering block.  As he struggles to create, she busies herself with repairing the house bit by bit due to a horrendous, and mysterious, calamity that occurred at some previous point.

A stranger soon appears at their door, played by Ed Harris.  He brings general chaos with him as a bad house guest after Bordem’s character, the husband (none of these characters are given actual names), invites him to stay.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays Harris’ wife, and she’s the next to show up.  She too brings bedlam.

Lawrence says very little in this film, but her facial expressions tell the viewer everything they need to know.  She is a doting wife trying to appease her husband at every opportunity, yet it’s obvious she is irritated to no end with the rude interlopers.  As are we.

As the movie continues, more and more strangers appear with the husband inviting each and every one of them in.  The wife cannot understand why he’s inviting insanity into their lives as she constantly strives for self-control.

The film next shifts into a higher gear as it somehow grows even more surreal.  It really captures the helplessness of a nightmare — it felt very much like some bad dreams that I’ve had.  Lawrence’s character can only accept impossible events as normal occurrences even though her eyes endlessly scream, “This cannot be happening!”  As we watch, we are saying the exact same thing to ourselves.

There are many theories as to what this film is about.  I personally feel that it is about the creator’s need to constantly destroy those things created.  Or maybe it’s about purgatory, and Lawrence’s character is trying to atone for mistakes made in life.  Or maybe Bardem’s character is the devil, intent upon making people suffer in their own personal Hell, one person at a time.  Or maybe it’s about the fact that no matter how much control we think we have, no matter how hard we fight to build the perfect life, the discord of the world outside will always disrupt our harmonious existence.

Or maybe it’s about none of that.

Who knows for sure?

I will say this, though — the sound effects in this movie are amazing.  I watched it on my Kindle with earbuds which enabled me to enjoy every anxious breath, every creaking floorboard, and every conversation from the next room.  I’ve never felt such impact by sound in a movie.

The camera movement also impressed me.  I love the way the camera follows characters around the house, up and down the stairs, through shortcuts from room to room.  It’s very fluid, yet also sometimes dizzying.

Finally, Lawrence absolutely portrays a sympathetic character trying so hard to deal with the pandemonium surrounding her.  Bardem plays a likable husband who infuriates us nonetheless.  Harris and Pfeiffer manage to irritate us from the moment they walk on screen until the moment they walk off.  There’s also several surprise appearances that I won’t spoil for you.

I don’t really know if I actually liked Mother!, to be honest.  It certainly captivated me.  It absolutely demanded my active engagement.  However, I’m not sure I would recommend it to the casual movie goer.  It’s definitely aimed at those with a lot of patience and a high threshold for ambiguity.  It’s a strange movie.

If you give it a watch, or if you’ve already seen it, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.

Image result for mother! movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest books HERE!)

 

 

Operation Finale – A Movie Review

Operation Finale is a movie based on historical fact.  It chronicles a team of Israeli agents sent to Buenos Aires in Argentina to capture the Nazi war criminal named Adolf Eichmann.  As records show, they were delayed several days after securing Eichmann and had to keep him in a safe house as they awaited extraction.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, an actual member of the team that captured Eichmann.  He is credited with wrestling Eichmann to the ground when the murderer sensed something amiss.  Ben Kingsley plays the high-ranking Nazi official who organized the transportation of Jews to their deaths who, along with several Nazis, took refuge in South America.

My wife loves historical movies, so we went together to see this.  She enjoyed it even more than I did, and that’s saying something because I liked it quite a bit.

We agreed that for such a complicated story, it was surprisingly easy to follow.  The editing felt very smooth and the story unfolded fluidly.  Though I can’t say I totally remember every character’s name–there were several–each appeared visually unique and had a distinct personality which made them simple to recognize.

In fact, overall all, we thought the acting was superb, particularly in regards to Ben Kingsley.  Kingsley played Eichmann as a regular man.  He did not portray him as a two-dimensional villain, nor did he deliver a pompous, raging despot.  Fifteen years after the war’s end, Kinglsey characterizes Eichmann as quiet, reserved, even gentle.  But every once in a while, you see a flash, a brief glimpse, of the conniving, murderous Nazi hiding behind those eyes.

The filmmakers utilized another shrewd storytelling technique as they revealed snippets of Eichmann’s past, little by little, in short, potent vignettes.  Those scenes eventually piece together a vision of Eichmann that is horrifying and in stark contrast to the man being held prisoner at the safe house.  I specifically loved the image of him annoyingly wiping ink off of his cuff during a Nazi meeting.  He wore the same expression upon his face as he wiped something entirely different from his uniform near a death pit.  These little touches were remarkably effective at conveying character.

Make no mistake, however, even though Eichmann seems powerless while in custody, he is not.  He’s engaged in subtle, almost imperceptible, mental warfare with his captors, and the audience is led to believe he might just outlast them all.

Though I liked the movie very much, I’m the first to admit it’s a little on the slow side.  This disciplined pacing, though, absolutely illustrates the tension in the safe house as they waited nearly ten days to take Eichmann to Israel.  During this holdover, everyone is beginning to climb the walls, and it’s Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin who must keep his head for the sake of them all.

Truthfully, I entered the theater believing most of the movie would occur in the courtroom.  I thought we were going to see quite a bit of Eichmann’s trial.  This did not prove to be the case, and I felt totally fine with that.  We all generally know the outcome of that trial, but I knew virtually nothing about Eichmann’s detainment.  They were smart to zero in on the more enigmatic material of the story.

Operation Finale is a period film that appears authentic in terms of both era and locale.  It does not offer much in the way of special effects.  It’s fairly quiet.  But it’s also focused, deliberate, and well-constructed.  In the end, it was nice to experience a movie intent on delivering a captivating story with superb acting.

Image result for operation finale

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest books HERE!)