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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Regarding The Castle Theatre, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae

A few years ago I discovered a cool video with a great song called Bottom Of the River.  I tracked down the artists to find they were a young band out of North Carolina called Delta Rae.  I followed them casually for a few years while listening to their music intermittently.

A few weeks ago I saw through a Facebook post that Delta Rae would soon perform at The Castle Theatre, a local venue located in Bloomington, IL.  Though I’d heard fantastic things about The Castle from friends, I’d never personally visited.  I decided I’d probably never have a chance to see Delta Rae again, so I immediately bought two tickets for reserved seats.

Last night (November 30th, 2016) marked what I believe to be their second stop on the Winter Acoustic Tour.  My wife and I could not be more glad we attended their show.

First, let me offer a few words about The Castle.  I have to be honest, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the staff.  The Castle had some very large men working, but they were all incredibly polite and friendly.  Granted, I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side because some of them were the size of small mountains, but they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and even showed us to our reserved seats (which turned out to be stools).  The Castle itself is a historic theatre, and while its age showed, it also oozed charm.  We had front row balcony seats, and though the stools weren’t terribly comfortable, we had a straight view of the stage that couldn’t be beaten.  We definitely plan to visit The Castle again.  If you live in the BloNo area, make a point to take in a show.

You can check out their upcoming shows HERE.

The opening act featured a duo called Penny & Sparrow.  Truthfully – I’d never heard of the guys.  They got up on the stage wearing ugly Christmas sweaters.  One of them had nothing more than a microphone.  The other wielded a guitar with his microphone.  That was it.  No lights.  No props.  Just two microphones and one guitar.  Furthermore, these guys, frankly, did not exactly exude performers, musicians, or entertainers at first glance.  They looked a lot like guys who might be sitting in a booth next to me at a coffee shop.  Well, the minute they started singing, they proved they were supremely talented.  Their voices were powerful, they harmonized seamlessly, and their songs were absolutely beautiful.  It became apparent very soon that their tempo and pace moved slowly, but the lyrics and the melody haunted my wife and me, and I mean that as a compliment.  As a final unexpected act, between songs, they had the audience rolling.  These two men were hilarious.  They said they were best friends, and they way they bantered with each other and the audience, I believe it.  They played off of each other as only real friends can.  It proved really fun to have your soul wrenched during the music and then find yourself laughing uncontrollably when they addressed us.  Get ready for some serious deadpan when you see them.  Make no mistake, you definitely need to see them.  My wife and I immediately downloaded their album on the way home.  We found that we much prefer their “live” sound compared to their recordings.  Again, that’s meant as a compliment.

Oh, and their Christmas music?  (Don’t forget the sweaters.)  Their Christmas songs were a true pleasure.  They even have a new album aptly titled Christmas Songs.

You can visit Penny & Sparrow HERE.

As for Delta Rae – they were amazing.  The folks can flat-out sing.  Though their performance was far more “produced” than Penny & Sparrow with lights, blowing fans, and multiple instruments, those things did not overshadow their magnificent voices.  In fact, my favorite song of the night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, did not utilize a single instrument and showcased the true beauty of their voices.  While they played some of their more popular songs such as Bottom Of the River, they also performed some unexpected works including a little snippet of I Want To Dance With Somebody.  Though they were a little more stiff than Penny & Sparrow and lacked some of their opening act’s spontaneity, Delta Rae absolutely entertained the audience, and, in my case, even awed.  To have such talent – such virtuosity with instruments along with flawless voices – they were inspiring.

I also want to add that this show occurred on a cold, Wednesday night.  The Castle wasn’t even half full.  My wife and I were but a handful of people in the balcony.  I can’t imagine what runs through a band’s mind, especially one that is nationally known, to look out and see an already cozy venue only half full.  But you know what?  To Delta Rae’s credit, they performed as though thousands watched.  Though low-key, even a little awkward, between songs, these talented men and women were explosive when singing and playing.  They practically crackled with energy.  I’m not saying they were slamming into walls and smashing guitars, I’m saying they were clearly giving it everything they had.  I appreciated that kind of passion, respect, and work ethic regarding their art, their performance, and their audience.

You can visit Delta Rae HERE.

If you have a chance to see Delta Rae, along with Penny & Sparrow, I completely recommend you do so.  My wife and I had a wonderful experience with these bands.  They made us completely forget we had work the next morning.  We were absolutely content to listen to them for as long as they wanted to play.

Here’s a little picture I took with my phone.  I wasn’t sure if it was proper etiquette or not, but I wanted a physical memory, you know?

My deep thanks to The Castle, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae for a delightful night.

delta-rae

Get Mixed Up With Oh, Alchemy!

I’m proud to claim Oh, Alchemy as a local area band made up of very innovative musicians.  Like me, they all have careers that they care about deeply, but their muse is irrepressible and so they write whenever they can, record whenever they can, and rock whenever they can.

I’ve written about Oh, Alchemy before when I attempted my one and only music review, but I stand by my words.  Oh, Alchemy produces fast-paced, eclectic, fun albums comprised of charming, quirky lyrics that convey a strong sense of joy from the lead singer.  The arrangements suit the lyrics wonderfully (or perhaps that’s the other way around), and I really love the choice of instruments Oh, Alchemy uses.  With adept engineering and skillful production, Oh, Alchemy is an auditory feast offering new sound after new sound with each listen.

Because of the strong, catchy beats and fast, energetic songs, Oh, Alchemy is perfect for any occasion, whether it be a quick trip to the grocery store or a get-together with friends.

If you’re looking for an upbeat, enjoyable listen with a great sound and unique songs, I recommend you give Oh, Alchemy a try.

You can find them at

www.ohalchemy.com

www.facebook.com/ohalchemy

@ohalchemy

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Picture taken from Oh, Alchemy’s Twitter page

You Better Know the Score

I once read that Stephen King loves to listen to rock music while he writes.  Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  I get too distracted by lyrics and, well, words.

However, I do actually love to listen to music while I work.  For me, scores work well.

When I say “score,” I’m talking about movie music.  Not the soundtrack, those tend to have songs with words. I’m actually talking about the music you hear during the movie.  I guess you could call it the background music.

Oftentimes the score of a movie is filled with emotion and can really help with my pacing of a story.  The natural cadence of the film score correlates well with my own sense of rising and falling action.  Sometimes I’ll save an especially resonate song for an important scene, a scene that needs me in a heightened emotional state.

My scores of choice?  I currently adore the Cloud Atlas score.  It is fantastic.  I’m also a big fan of Last of the Mohicans, Tron: Legacy, Thor, The Fountain, any Doctor Who from 2008 on, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the last three seasons of Sherlock.

Scores allow me to remain engaged but not distracted, which is perfect for my writing style.

Even if you’re not a writer, do you have a favorite score?  Please do share!

 

Oh, Alchemy: Diplomat – A Music Review

I’m proud to claim Oh, Alchemy as a local area band made up of very innovative musicians, and Diplomat – a fast-paced, eclectic, fun album that is enormously engaging – perfectly displays their talents.

Oh, Alchemy’s songs are comprised of charming, quirky lyrics and really convey a strong sense of joy on the part of the lead singer.  The arrangements suit the lyrics wonderfully (or perhaps that’s the other way around), and I really love the choice of instruments Oh, Alchemy utilizes in Diplomat.  With adept engineering and skillful production, the album is an auditory feast offering new sound after new sound with each listen.

Furthermore, Diplomat is at its heart an entertaining album.  With strong, catchy beats and fast, energetic songs, Diplomat is one of those albums that lends itself to any occasion, whether it be a quick trip to the grocery store or a get-together of friends.

So if you’re looking for an upbeat, enjoyable listen with a great sound and unique songs, I recommend Diplomat and am thrilled to support Oh, Alchemy.

Oh, and for the record, my favorite song on Diplomat is “Past and Presents.”

Tommy, You’re Not Fooling Anyone

Note: Originally Posted 8-23-06

So as most of you know, I am a big fan of the CBS show Rock Star.  I loved it last season with INXS.  I thought I would love it this season also as a new “super” group composed of Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke, and Tommy Lee searched for their lead singer.

I was wrong.

The main reason I am not enjoying Rock Star: Supernova is because of Tommy Lee.  Tommy’s been through a lot of ups and downs during his career, and he’s survived them all.  And before this show, I actually liked Tommy Lee quite a bit.  I accepted him for what he was and appreciated the music he produced.

However, Tommy is guilty of insulting both the contestants and the viewers of his television show.  There are a few attractive women competing for the job of lead singer.  Tommy, at this point, invariably makes a sexual comment to them after their performance.  For instance, last night, after Storm Large gave her rendition of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” Tommy’s objective criticism went something like, “I want to see you without any clothes on.”  Sure, this may have been funny if it was just a one-time thing.  He’s a rock star, after all.  But, he’s doing this, particularly to Storm, now on a regular basis.  Unacceptable.  

It bothers me because Tommy is sending both Storm (who is a talented singer) and the viewing audience a message that he absolutely does not take her seriously.  And because Storm is one of the top two female singers in the competition, that tells us that he is not taking females seriously for the potential role of lead singer.

We all know Tommy is a sexual guy.  We all know Tommy likes the ladies.  Unfortunately, what he’s doing is at best condescending and at worst sexual harassment.  I mean, are we seriously supposed to think that Tommy is going to hire a woman he wants to see naked as his lead singer?  Are we supposed to believe Tommy can play in a band with a woman he wants to see naked and not wind up doing something that could split up the band? 

Gilby Clarke and Jason Newsted seem like classy guys, relatively speaking, and I think I sense them writhing in discomfort when Tommy hits on Storm.  I believe they see the writing on the wall, and Jason and Gilby have been through too much with, respectively, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses to let Tommy ruin Supernova before it has really gotten off the ground.

So what is the lesson here?  The lesson is that Supernova is not taking the females seriously, which means the last month and a half have been a joke.  If you want your lead singer to be a dude from the start, guys, then don’t make it open to females! 

Furthermore, do the ladies, all of whom seem to be taking their musical career very seriously, really want to join a band where they’re going to be treated like a piece of meat by one of the members and apparently hit on non-stop? 

I would hope the answer is no.

My Thoughts On John Mayer In Concert

Note: Originally Published 2-18-07

So, lo and behold, we had a major artist visit Central Illinois!  When my wife and I had the opportunity to see John Mayer at the US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, how could we resist?

Let me get this out there from the get-go, I’m not a huge John Mayer fan.  I’ve never disliked him, but it’s been a long time since I sat down and listened to any of his CDs. 

That being said, just the excitement of being at a concert with a Grammy winner performing had me hitting on all cylinders, so I think Mayer would have had to really offer us a terrible performance to disappoint, which he did not.

In fact, I was surprised at what a good showman he was.  Also, he struck me as very genuine and personable with his audience.  He made a point several times to comment on the energy in the Coliseum, and he was right.  He had a very appreciative and enthusiastic crowd.  Hopefully that news will get around and we’ll see more big names in the heart of Illinois.

He’s a fine singer, but for me, his songs get a little old.  They’re very mellow, which is awesome if you’re reading a book or trying to have a little romance, but I found myself at time wishing he’d move along to whatever song he had planned next.

But, I can tell you for sure what was certainly not mellow-his guitar playing!  I’ve heard Mayer was a pretty good guitarist, but let me tell you, he is tremendous!  I couldn’t believe the things he was doing with it, and he gave us a little funk, a little rock, and a bit of everything in between.  I just wish he’d take some of that raw energy and put it into his songs, but alas.

Of course, his back-up band was very talented, and Mayer made a point of introducing them and giving them each a moment in the literal spotlight.  He also had a giant set of screens behind him that would light up in various colors as well as a pretty cool light show.  Again, he talked with us quite a bit, and he really was pretty funny and, again, very genuine.  He even got tongue-tied on several occasion and made light of it.  He signed all the posters in the front row, talked about two little girls that he thought had to have been his biggest fans in the whole US, and made a point to try to acknowledge all the signs he could read in the audience. 

Like I said, a great musician, but I would love to see him take his guitar skills and apply them to a little edgier music.  But hey, he’s his own man, and I commend him for doing it his way.

His opening act was a guy named Mat Kearney, and man, would I hate to be an opening act.  First of all, he was very good.  But, you know, people were still milling in during his entire set and getting beer and talking to each other; in other words, just generally not paying him any attention.  I was on the floor, row 32, and I stood, along with the rest of the floor, during the entire Mayer set.  We all sat for Kearney.  Poor guy.  Especially because, like I said, he really was pretty good.  Anyway, finally, he played his last song, and boom!, everybody recognized it.  Then you saw all the camera phones flashing and people started clapping.  Ah well, that had to make him feel a little better.

On another side note, the people in my section kept looking back at the sound area, which was not too far behind us.  There were rumors that Jessica Simpson was sitting in there.  You know, she and Mayer are supposed to be an item these days.  Anyway, I gave in and looked myself, and was pretty sure I didn’t see her.  But, when Mayer had nearly finished his encore, there was some commotion behind us, and I turned around and yep, there she was, in the middle of a pack of security guys being led out of the arena.  Let me just say that Jessica Simpson seems to be the antithesis of everything John Mayer stands for, so I don’t see what is going on there.  Well, I do see it, and I guess he’s a red-blooded American male, but c’mon John!  You write songs; you play the guitar, you dress like a normal dude!  She is so far below you in terms of talent, John . . . just please don’t let her drag you into an MTV reality show.  … Please … 

So, all in all, good show, great crowd, awesome guitar playing, and a lot of fun!