ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Hard to tell how good or bad this is going to be. The trailer is great and feels period correct. It’s Tarantino so it’s likely to be bonkers, unwieldy, and probably bloody. I will definitely see it. A year in which we get a Tarantino movie, a Scorsese movie (featuring De Niro and Pacino) and a Star Wars movie can’t be all bad.

FREE SOLO

By Alan Yudman

To say that Alex Honnold is a complicated guy is an understatement as big as El Capitan is high. But that complication is what makes FREE SOLO an excellent movie, one that deserved the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

Honnold is a roc k climber. That’s like saying Picasso is a painter or Mozart was a musician. Honnold breaks barriers and does things no sane person would or could do. The feature piece of the movie is Honnold’s quest to free climb the 3,000 foot monolith known as El Capitan in Yosemite. Free climbing is what it sounds like. The climber ascends the mountain by himself, with no ropes. So if you fall, you die. Crazy? Yes. Absolutely. Plenty of Honnold’s contemporaries and heroes have died free climbing. But Honnold seems different. He goes about this in a very scientific way. He’s not the wild man taking risks in every facet of his life. He is methodical. He plans every move, tries to take every possible scenario into account. He trains and trains, then trains some more. And if doesn’t feel it’s right he’s not afraid to stop. Honnold acknowledges the risk. He talks about it being scary and not wanting to die. But he also has a detachment from the risk. That is born out when he goes for an MRI and the technicians tell him his amygdala doesn’t fire. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s that his threshold for activating that flight or fight response is beyond their ability to test it.

FREE SOLO is also about relationships, or more precisely how Honnold doesn’t seem to feel they are necessary. He appreciates his girlfriend Sanni McCandless. I think he loves her, but emotions are more challenging for Alex than climbing a sheer face with no ropes. The movie does not shy away from these difficult relationships. When Sanni leaves right before he takes on El Cap (I wanna be hip just like these climbers), it’s heart breaking. She really believes Alex could die and it is tearing her up. The film crew that shot the movie are all Hannold’s friends. They know he is the most skilled free climber around and they want in on the adventure, but they also don’t want to see him die. Like Sanni, it tears them apart.

The movie also celebrates achievement and that spirit of adventure that used to be so common in the United States (a similar theme of APOLLO 11).

That’s the genius of FREE SOLO. It’s not just a portrait of a climber, that is also a beautiful postcard for Yosemite National Park. It’s an emotional story about a man who is not like anyone you will ever meet. It explores what drives him and how that impacts those that love him. Hannold may climb rocks by himself, but he is not alone.

CAPTAIN MARVEL

By Alan Yudman

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film featuring a woman as the main character is released on International Woman’s Day. Coincidence? Nah, probably not.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is not about empowering women. It is about a woman showing how powerful she is and how she doesn’t care how that fits into your narrative. While most MCU origin stories are about the person finding strength then becoming a badass, Carol Danvers is already a badass. From the trailer, we already know she was a fighter pilot, and now she is a Kree.. an alien race described in the trailer as a group of “noble warrior heroes”. I stupidly assumed that was true, completely forgetting the role Ronan the Accuser (a Kree) had in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I should have known something was up. The movie uses those expectations to provide a satisfying twist.

Here is where I’d normally offer a synopsis of the plot. As I started to try to explain what is going on, I realized it is too convoluted. Now, normally that is a terrible thing for a movie. But in this case, it works. You think the movie is going one way, when it turns on a dime and you wind up going, “whoa”! Danvers’ back story, who the real villains are, how this all ties into the greater MCU storyline. Those threads all tie together in the end and what could have been confusing becomes clear.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is full of satisfying performances. Brie Larson is great. She has the right attitude and brings just enough smart ass and humor to the role to make you love her. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is made younger through the use of digital effects, but it is barely noticeable and you can see how his attitude and swagger develop. Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls seems like a bad guy, but he is given more to do than in his other villain roles and it really shows off his talent. Lashana Lynch plays Danvers’ fellow Air Force pilot and best friend, Maria Rambeau. It is a necessary character and Lynch brings the goods to make her feel a part of the story, not just a character who helps with Danvers’ exposition. I guess they could have gotten any actress to play Dr. Wendy Lawson, but it was nice to see Annette Benning join the MCU. And Jude Law is serviceable as the Kree commander, but I didn’t think he brought much that was special.

I saw the movie in 3D and it was a great use of the effect. It really brings you into the movie and adds dimension to battle scenes.

We have to talk about the soundtrack and costume design. CAPTAIN MARVEL takes place in 1995. The music is a combination of grunge, R & B and rap. It mostly works. Mostly, not all. The costume design is great. They outfit Danvers in jeans, Nine Inch Nails T-shirt and flannel tied around her waist. Come as you are, indeed.

Oh, and yes.. it perfectly sets up AVENGERS: ENDGAME which hits theaters in about 6 weeks.

It is Danvers’ journey from human to Kree and back again that is the heart of the movie. She is fighting herself and her own power throughout. She finally realizes her full potential as CAPTAIN MARVEL when she embraces her humanity. That inner battle is also what places this film in the upper third of MCU movies. It’s not BLACK PANTHER, but it is great in its own way. And comparisons should be left at the movie theater door.

2019 OSCAR PICKS

by Alan Yudman

One day away.

It’s time for the Academy Awards and since I’m a movie blogger it is my responsibility and right to offer my less than expert predictions.

My pick is who I want to win.

Predicted winners are just that, who I think will actually win.

So (fanfare, drum roll, raspberry.. you chose) here they are:

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Couple of thoughts.

Anything but Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody for Best Picture.

The Best Actor category is missing two outstanding performances: Ethan Hawke in FIRST REFORMED and Ben Foster in LEAVE NO TRACE. Either of those performances are better than any of the nominated performances.

Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress are filled with great performances and will be hghly competitive. Glenn Close will win. She deserves it. Her performance is masterful. But, I have loved Melissa McCarthy since I saw CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME and thought since then she should win.

I have not seen any of the shorts nor have I heard anything about them so I don’t know enough to make a prediction.

I have not seen any of the Documentary Features, but have read a bunch about them and heard enough informed discussions to make an educated guess.

“Shallow” will win. “All the Stars”: is a better song. “When a Cowboy Gets His Wings” is quirky good.

THE FAVOURITE will win Original Screenplay. It is bonkers good. But the not nominated EIGHTH GRADE is the Best Original Screenplay of 2018, as the Writers Guild proved when they awarded it with the top prize.

Enjoy the awards. Will try to recap early next week

 

THE WIFE

by Alan Yudman

This is one of those, “whoa, how did I miss this?!?” movies. I thought it was about a long-suffering wife who had had enough of her husband. Guess I should read the descriptions and/or reviews more closely. THE WIFE is a very good movie that has lots of twists, drama and an Oscar nominated performance by Glenn Close.

The long-suffering wife part is kind of correct. But, it is a much deeper problem than that. Jonathan Pryce is a novelist in the mold of Phillip Roth. A New Yorker who writes about the American experience from a Jewish perspective. Spoiler alert… he’s not Phillip Roth. The movie opens with Joseph Castleman (Pryce) and his wife Joan (Close) waiting for a phone call from the Nobel Committee. The call comes. He’s won the Literature Prize and the two celebrate by jumping up and down on their bed.

The movie takes off from there. They travel to Stockholm with their son, David, who is a budding author who doesn’t get the recognition or love from his father he feels he deserves. He does get that support from his Mom. While jetting across the Atlantic on the Concorde, we are introduced to Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) who is campaigning to write Joseph’s biography.

There is a tension between the couple that you really cannot put your finger on. Then we get the drip, drip, drip of a stunning reveal. Screenwriter Jane Anderson and Director Bjorn Runge go back in time to show us how young Joe (Harry Lloyd) and Joan (Close’s daughter Annie Starke) first met and developed their relationship. He was married.. Joan was the other woman who stole him away. The reason may have been love, but there is also another reason which is hinted at and not confirmed until late in the film.

The film plays out like a mystery. There are clues to the “crime” dropped throughout the film. Bone’s talk with Joan over drinks in a bar where he reveals he knows she’s a great writer. Joe doesn’t remember the name of one of his characters when it is dropped at a Nobel event. The allusion to Joe’s many affairs. The way he dismisses his son’s talent, yet Joan believes he has “it”. Joe seems to be running from or dismissing the truth. And we find that is exactly what is happening.

The cast is wonderful, but none more wonderful than Close. She exhibits a control that makes you believe she is the doting wife, but you can see she knows something and that is bubbling under the surface. Then when it finally comes to a head at the Nobel dinner, she doesn’t say a word, but you can see it in her eyes, her face, her manner. It is a perfect performance and it would not surprise me if she finally wins her first Oscar.

Pryce is solid as usual. Max Irons as the aggrieved son is equally good. Slater’s performance surprised me. He is a sleazy biographer who is worming his way into the good graces of Joan and David using fake empathy. He’s slimy and terrific.

THE WIFE came and went and is now only getting a second look because of Close’s nomination and wins at The Golden Globes and the SAG awards. But that undersells how good the wife really is. Maybe Close elevates it, but who cares? A good movie is a good movie. And THE WIFE is worth your time.

LEAVE NO TRACE

by Alan Yudman

I first became aware of Debra Granik with the remarkable WINTER’S BONE. It put Jennifer Lawrence on my radar, and gave her the cred she would use to become one of the best actresses in the world. She was nominated for a best actress Oscar in 2011 based on her remarkable performance. I, like many others, became enthralled with Lawrence almost to the exclusion of Granik. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe Granik’s dark, yet inspiring story about a teenager trying to track down her father while keeping her family together didn’t win more awards (THE KING’S SPEECH won best picture, Natalie Portman won best actress for BLACK SWAN, and Aaron Sorkin won for adapted screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK). Then Granik all but disappeared.

This year she is back with another incredible movie, LEAVE NO TRACE. It is another moving story about being an outsider and trying to live life on your own terms. Ben Foster is Will, the father of a 13-year-old daughter. They are living off the grid in an urban forest just outside of Portland, Oregon. It is the only way he can keep his head together. Will is a veteran with PTSD, who wants little to do with society. He believes he can give his daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) a better life off the grid. They are happy until a chance encounter with jogger alerts authorities to their presence and suddenly they two are thrown into the system.

The film deals with how the two of them adapt. Will tries to fit in, but he cannot do it. Tom on the other hand is making a more serious effort. She starts to make a friend. She seems to be adapting at a slow pace. Then, Will decides they must leave. They are already too integrated into society for his liking, and for his sanity. They leave again in the middle of the night. This time something is different. Tom doesn’t seem to understand it. They wind up in southern Washington.. in a cold and rainy forest that almost kills both of them.

Will is constantly running from his illness. He has episodes in the middle of the night. He is in denial that his lifestyle can save him and he is dragging his daughter along for the bleak ride. But, Tom loves her father too much to abandon him until she realizes that she cannot live his life. She cannot survive. Despite their love, she must let him follow his own path. Even their love cannot fix him. That all plays out in a heart wrenching final scene.

Granik’s story is quiet and powerful. It speaks to love and desperation. It acknowledges that love may not be enough to solve every problem. Granik’s screenplay and direction along with cinematography by Michael McDonough are perfect. It is a postcard for the beauty and danger of the Pacific Northwest. Granik’s camera spends a lot of time on Tom’s reactions and Will’s pain. It is gorgeous and effective. But, it wouldn’t work without two outstanding performances. Foster deserves an Oscar nomination that he may miss out on because of the timing of LEAVE NO TRACE’s release. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the first major American role for Thomasin McKenzie, a young actress from New Zealand. She is incredible. Maybe Granik is the “young actress whisperer”. She has identified a young talent (McKenzie is 18), who definitely has a bright future.

Granik has made only 2 other fictional movies (DOWN TO THE BONE and WINTER’S BONE) before this. So when she decides to grace us with another example of her amazing storytelling ability, Hollywood should stand up and take notice. I wish she would give us more. But maybe we should just be thankful for the gifts she delivers every so often. Because, LEAVE NO TRACE is definitely one of the best films of 2018.

VICE

by Alan Yudman

Maybe it’s still too fresh in our minds and hearts. Dick Cheney’s evil reign as Vice President of the United States still gives me agita. I can’t think of the horrible things he did that have ruined several parts of this country without my blood boiling. But that is a debate and a post for another blog. So, how can you tell his story without sending the audience screaming from the theater in anger. The answer is you can’t, and Adam McKay doesn’t even try in VICE. Instead he embraces it.

The title is most likely an intentional double entendre. He was the Vice President who’s vice was the accumulation of power. And Cheney would do just about anything to achieve his goal. Lies, corruption, twisting interpretations of the Constitution were not left out of his toolbox.

The other challenge was Cheney is a deeply private man. The documents relating to his time as Veep are few because he conspired to not leave a paper trail. McKay acknowledges this difficulty right off the bat in an opening title card.

The casting of Christian Bale as Cheney is inspired. Bale went all in. He gained 45 pounds and shaved his head. He also sat in makeup for hours every day to complete the transformation and it works perfectly. He also has Cheney’s stilted growl down perfectly. But McKay doesn’t just paint a picture of evil. Cheney is a screwup at first before he is mentored by Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell), then a congressman from Illinois. That’s where he learns his craft. He shows Cheney as a loving husband and father who truly cares about his daughters Liz and Mary. He also adores his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). But even that love can be compromised for what he perceives as a greater good (not good.. really, REALLY evil).

This is not a straight ahead biopic. McKay jumps back and forth in time. Sometimes it is a bit confusing, but once you’re on board you figure out what’s going on. Fishing is also a big thing in the movie. McKay used Barton Gellman’s biography “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency” as source material, so Cheney’s love of fishing is a theme throughout. There is also something very Shakespearean about the story. The naked grab for power at all costs, while attempting to balance that with love of family. McKay goes all in on that too. There is one scene where Cheney and Lynne are discussing whether he should accept George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) offer to be Vice President. McKay has written near perfect Shakespeare-style dialogue as Dick and Lynne debate power versus love while lying in bed. It was so good I went searching for which play it is from. It isn’t from any. McKay made it up. Genius. Then at the end Cheney turns to the audience to justify his evil. Man, it was chilling.

The cast is brilliant. In addition to Bale, Adams shines as the loving yet power hungry Lynne, constantly pushing her husband to achieve more. Carrell is a genius choice for the gruff, blunt and sometimes obscene Rumsfeld. Rockwell doesn’t go too far into parody for Bush, which is a brilliant choice. Eddie Marsan is the spitting image of Paul Wolfowitz. Justin Kirk (Scooter Libby), Alison Pill (Mary), Lily Rabe (Liz), Don McManus (attorney/adviser David Addington) are all spectacular. Even seeming stunt casting like Tyler Perry as Colin Powell works great.

There is a lot of comedy in the film. Can you make heart attacks funny? Yes. Yes you can.. each one of Cheney’s is played for a chuckle. McKay makes a lot of choices that seem weird, but in the end they all come together. Jesse Plemons is the narrator who we actually see and plays a pivotal role that I won’t spoil. Then as the credits roll you find you’ve put it all together and see the line from all of this evil-doing to where we are today and how it could happen again and again with the wrong person in the White House.

McKay won an Oscar for adapted screenplay for THE BIG SHORT. Maybe he should win another for this inspired film that will have you thinking for days after you’ve seen it.

THE DEATH OF STALIN

by Alan Yudman

I was recently raving to a friend about THE DEATH OF STALIN after having seen it on cable. That makes it about 6 times that I have seen this marvelous satire from the brilliant and deranged mind of Armando Iannucci. So I decide to check out my review and.. GASP… I realize I never posted a review! Well, time to fix that lapse.

I am a huge fan of Iannucci’s previous work. Everyone loves VEEP, and while it’s still good, it is just a smidge less after Iannucci left after 2015. But that wasn’t my introduction to him. I first became aware of his particular brand of satire with IN THE LOOP (and looking back on my 2009 review, boy did I get that one wrong). That Academy Award nominated screenplay was bitingly funny and a poignant look at the buffoonery of the British and American governments. After diving a bit deeper I realized Peter Capaldi’s character, Malcolm, originated in the British series THE THICK OF IT. I have been able to catch a few of those, but they are incredibly hard to find. Then I realized that he helped create Steve Coogan’s legendary Alan Partridge. So yeah, I am totally in the tank for Armando Iannucci.

That brings us to THE DEATH OF STALIN. The movie is set in Moscow and at Stalins dacha just after the dictator’s death. What we witness is the struggle for power in the days after. This is about 10 levels of hilarious. There are not many Russians in the cast. Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) is a concert pianist, and other than a few other tiny roles, that’s it. The actors are mostly British and American. There is no attempt at accurate accents and it doesn’t matter. Iannucci isn’t going for historical accuracy. He’s going for laughs and biting satire.

Here’s a list of who plays whom.

Steve Buscemi: Nikita Khrushchev

Jeffrey Tambor: Georgy Malenkov

Michael Palin: Vyacheslav Molotov

Simon Russell Beale: Lavrenti Beria

Andrea Riseborough: Svetlana Stalina

Rupert Friend: Vasily Stalin

Jason Isaacs: Field Marshal Zhukov

So, yeah. This is an amazing cast. There are also short appearances by Paddy Considine and Tom Brooke early in the movie that set the comedic stage.

The power struggle pits Khrushchev against Beria. Both are trying to manipulate the rules to seize power. Beale is head of the NKVD, the secret police. Both he and Khrushchev are part of the Government’s and Party’s inner power circle. So the way they try to take advantage of situations are inspired and hilarious.

Everyone is fabulous, but the standouts are Buscemi, Beale and Isaacs. Beale is a legendary British stage actor who has a few movie and TV credits. He is incredible in this. The joy he takes at torturing and using people is amazing. Buscemi is at peak Buscemi. And Isaacs’ menacing, brutal military leader is almost my favorite part of the movie.

This is so layered with not so subtle jabs at American and British politics, you have to watch it at least twice to catch everything. I don’t think that’s bad. Iannucci gets it all in brilliantly and the movie just gets better with each viewing. I keep spotting things I missed the first, second or third time. The parallels to America’s current political culture may not be intentional, but they are certainly there.

Iannucci can make you think about things while making you laugh out loud. Isn’t that what great satire is about? I think it is and THE DEATH OF STALIN is a prime example of a great filmmaker at his peak.

Sent from my iPad

ON THE BASIS OF SEX

by Alan Yudman

This has been the year of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. First was the documentary RBG (review to come.. I’ll admit I have not yet seen it, but I have purchased it). Now a fictionalized story about her first case fighting for equal rights for women. But ON THE BASIS OF SEX is more than just a movie filled with legal briefs and courtroom arguments. It is also a love story about Ruth and her husband Martin. In fact, sometimes Marty comes off looking better than Ruth. But that is a shallow assessment of what is happening here.

The film tracks Ginsburg’s life from her first day at Harvard to the case that put her on the map as a tough litigator. Harvard Law School is rightly portrayed as a boys club that women should feel privileged to join. And their numbers are grotesquely small at this point in history. But Ruth Ginsburg is tough enough to succeed. She also has to overcome a life-threatening health scare for her husband. Despite her family obligations, she rises to the top of her class. Marty is ahead of Ruth at Harvard and when he gets a job in New York, Ruth asks the dean (Sam Waterston) to finish classes at Columbia. He refuses and his argument foreshadows Ruth’s fight for equal rights. So Ruth finishes classes at Columbia. But, she cannot find a law firm that will hire her because she is a wife and mother. More foreshadowing. So she takes a job teaching at Rutgers. Ruth is unfulfilled. She sees herself as settling and pushed to the background. Marty sees this and suggests a gender discrimination case she might take on. It involves a man who was denied a tax deduction for dependent care for his invalid mother. The tax code allowed a woman to take the deduction, but not a man. Ruth sees it as the perfect case for her and Marty to argue together.

Two-thirds of the film involves the Moritz case and how Ruth fights to get the case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. But it also shows her struggle with discrimination and how her unflinching dedication to the precision of the law puts a strain on her relationship with her teenage daughter. It also depicts a passionate and touching love story. Marty is truly ahead of his time in the way he supports Ruth’s passion. They are equals in their marriage. No one is more important. It is a true partnership born out of love and respect. That message is nearly as powerful as Ruth’s fight against discrimination.

Felicity Jones is wonderful as Ruth. She nails the toughness and sensitivity. It is a technically wonderful performance. Her accent is perfect. Some may think that it slips between Brooklyn, generic American and New York. But that seems intentional. She is trying to hide her Brooklyn/Jewishness to break down barriers. But when passions rise, Jones allows the accent to slip back into Brooklyn. It is amazingly skillful. Armie Hammer is fantastic as Marty. His care and love for Ruth are evident. He is fast becoming one of my favorite actors . Justin Theroux is also very good as Mel Wulf, the bombastic head of the ACLU who Ruth must convince to join her cause. There are more great supporting performances from Waterston and Stephen Root, who lights up a screen whenever he appears.

The screenplay was written by Daniel Stiepleman. He has the advantage of knowing the subject very well. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is his aunt. Marty Ginsburg is his mother’s oldest brother. Stiepleman tells the story that Aunt Ruth read the draft of the screenplay like she was reading a legal brief. I think that’s a fantastic image. His knowledge of the subject makes it feel very personal. Mimi Leder brings a much needed woman’s perspective to the storytelling and draws a vivid portrait of Ruth’s struggle in the way she frames Jones in every shot. That is especially evident in the climactic scene in a Denver appellate courtroom.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX depicts an underdog’s fight for justice. It is a lawyer version of ROCKY. Ruth is punching up at the glass ceiling instead of taking on frozen cows. It is powerful and inspiring and a story of optimism and a celebration of a truly remarkable person (I was going to say woman.. but I think Justice Ginsburg would view that as discrimination).

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

MARY POPPINS RETURNS 1

by Alan Yudman

Life is crazy. Living in the USA has become a daily exercise in gripping one’s sanity tightly so as not to let go an fall into the abyss of crazy. So a distraction from all the crazy is always welcome. MARY POPPINS RETURNS is the distraction we all need.

Just in case you were not 100% sure, this is not a remake. Rather, it is a continuation of the story. Some 30 years later, Jane and Michael Banks are grown. Jane is a union organizer. Michael is a widower with three small children. And they are about to lose their family home. They know they can get the money together if only they can find the stock certificate their father George left them and use it to pay off a loan Michael had to take out against the house when his wife was dying. Alas, they cannot find it.

Into this desperate situation floats Mary Poppins. She brings her own brand of quirky wisdom to motivate the children and bring hope to the situation.

The story logically follows the original and is pulled off to great effect by director Rob Marshall, screenwriters Marshall, David Magee and John DeLuca. The music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is fun and fits right into the story. The integration of animation and live action are fantastic and recall the original in all the best ways.

How do you replace Julie Andrews? The answer is you really cannot. But if you have to, Emily Blunt is a fantastic replacement. Yes she can sing. Yes she can dance. Andrew’s Mary was a bit more “sunny” in disposition. Blunt feels a bit more direct and stern. The eternal optimism and the ability to see the best in everyone and everything is there. Blunt is a marvelous actress, so any question about whether she could pull this off should never have been considered. So shut up doubters. Emily is awesome!

I guess chimney sweeps aren’t a thing anymore, so Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack, a “leery”.. one of the men who turn the gas lamps on and off around London. He steps into the Dick Van Dyke slot very ably. Miranda pops off the screen whenever he appears. His song and dance credentials were honed on Broadway, so this is a natural fit for him. Ben Whishaw as the grown Michael is another great young actor who completely knocks it out of the park. His touch song to his late wife early in the film is moving. He can sing well enough to pull it off and his ability as an actor covers up any other minor deficiencies. Emily Mortimer as the grown-up Jane is also great. She’s bubbly and enthusiastic, hitting all the right notes (even the one time she sings). The three children are just great. Pixie Davies (Anabel), Nathanael Saleh (John) and the adorable Joel Dawson (Georgie) are perfect foils/companions for Mary.

Colin Firth is a decent villain. Meryl Streep has a great, fun scene singing with Mary, Jack and the children. Dick Van Dyke’s appearance is heartwarming (no he doesn’t play Bert). And seeing royalty like Angela Lansbury is a treat.

Sometimes the film feels like it is trying just a bit too hard to mirror the original. But the winning performances and the upbeat music and hopeful story overcome any of those extremely minor criticisms. If you are looking to put a smile on your face and leave the theater with a pep in your step, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine of life go down smoothly (sorry, couldn’t resist just one).