Mike at the Movies

Photo | Submitted Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson star in “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Photo | Submitted
Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson star in “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Mary Poppins Returns! (PG)

What a total delight this movie is! Pure magic from the first bars of the opening waltz, “Underneath the Lovely London Sky,” to
the reprise of the waltz at the end, this should keep you enthralled, as did the original in 1964. I will freely admit that I choked up at Mary’s first appearance, floating out of the clouds beneath her sturdy umbrella and its talkative handle with her bag firmly clasped and her toes at right angles to each other.

The magic continues through the marvelous Disney orchestrations and the singing of Emily Blunt, who sparkles as Mary, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, the lamplighter. I would take you through each highlight, but nobody has that much space. Suffice it to say that there are show-stopping numbers throughout, from the sentimental Michael Banks (Ben Winshaw) ballad to his dead wife to the warning “The Cover Is Not the Book,” reminder that there is “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and the utterly fantastic orgy of dance, “Trip a Light Fantastic With Me” and closing waltz, “Nowhere to Go But Up.” The choreography is brilliant and clever, sometimes astounding as in the “Light Fantastic” number, and the script is always touching and never far from the point: Remember your childhood, never forget it and let it guide you to a better old age.

The cameos are all effective, notably Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy who has to frequently function upside down to Angela Lansbury’s turn as the Balloon Lady and Dick Van Dyke from the original cast as a still nimble Mr. Dawes Jr. I personally gave a little cheer when he appeared, and he did not disappoint. When Disney is on, they seldom make a mistake, and this is a perfect example. Only a couple times does the score refer to the original, and the level of creativity is magical in its own right.

The film should appeal to youngsters of today and should set off sighs of reminiscence among the older audience the film will attract. No, it’s not like the original; it’s better. If you need a lift during a trying time, this is the film to give it to you. Enjoy and spread the word: “Mary Poppins is BACK!”

Vice (R)

I originally wrote an incredibly long, detailed review of this film but realized I was doing too much homework for you. Check Wikipedia or any other source for Cheney’s record of employment and biographical highlights. The film concerns itself with the following.

Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) was a ragamuffin drunk when he met Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams), who became his alter-ego and sometimes replacement, especially in his first successful run for Congress. She told him, after he got tossed from Yale for drunkenness, to shape up or she would ship out. He adopted her thirst for power.

As the film portrays it, Cheney didn’t even know which party he belonged to until he heard a speech by Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). What little of politics Cheney understood was keyed on a belief in the unitary executive theory, which held that, in most cases, the Constitution allows a president to control the entire Executive Branch and can even overrule courts. The first example of Cheney’s application of the theory came when George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) asked him how he saw the role of VP. Cheney quietly reeled off a list of duties he thought belonged to the office, and the end result was an assumption of presidential powers unprecedented in US government.

The increase in war profiteering that emerged from entry into the Afghanistan conflict came from Cheney—his former company, Halliburton, saw an increase of 500 percent in defense contracts early on in the war. Due to Cheney’s soft-speaking style and his preference for saying little and observing everything, the film builds slowly, interrupted by three heart attacks that he survived. Bale’s approach to the role makes Cheney’s belief in conspiracies and secrecy even more spooky.

One is left with the impression that Cheney was a dangerous, destructive force for everybody but the rich and the Republicans. The “R” rating is mostly for language.

Welcome to Marwen (PG-13)

This may sound weirder than it plays, but what we have here is a man living out his nightmares and love life while in the midst of a severe foot fetish. Artist Mark Hogencamp, aka Capt. Hogie (Steve Carell), is the victim of a severe beating in his hometown in upstate New York. As a result of the attack on him, by five jerks, one brandishing a swastika tattoo on his arm, Hogencamp lost the ability to draw, all memory of everything, and an addiction to his medication. He has also assembled, for lack of a better word, a posse of women of the fantasy town who look after him.

One who does not have his best interests at heart is Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger). She acts as a curse on everything Hogie is trying to accomplish. Did I mention a foot fetish? Hogie wears stilettos when he recreates his imaginary capture at the hands of Nazis (fantasy) and he has collected 287 pairs over the years (real life)! He is also devoted to his women. “I never go anywhere without my backup,” he declares. Indeed, most of them accompany him to his final trauma: testifying at the sentencing of the five who assaulted him.

In the meantime, Hogencamp constructed a 1/6-sized village he called Marwencol. It has everything: churches, music halls, houses, streets—all reproduced accurately. In his mind, Hogencamp jumps between reality and fantasy, and for some that may be off-putting. But the cement that holds the whole thing together is a remarkable, even stunning performance by Leslie Mann as Nicol. Capt. Hogie falls for her and creates a wonderfully disastrous scene for a proposal using a Purple Heart. It fails, of course, because Hogie has made the mistake of wandering from fantasy, where they could get married, into reality, where it is clearly impossible.

I loved the fantasy-reality mix and Carell is proving himself a master of characterization. The entire cast sparkles in their distinct concern for Hogie. His fantasy is correct in one important way: He always has backup.

Bumblebee (PG-13)

My Australian grandson, Brock, introduced Bumblebee to me many years ago by playing and replaying one of the Transformer movies on a DVD in our home theater. I must admit I didn’t capture his enthusiasm then, but with the help of Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. as Memo and a fine supporting cast, I fully enjoyed this feature that focuses on the relatively small, beat up Transformer who finds himself on Earth with the mission of defending the planet from evil Decepticons. As B-127, he is outmanned and deprived of voice and memory but, with the help of Charlie, he is resurrected into a fierce warrior.

Hailee Steinfeld and Bumblebee have a wonderfully warm relationship, and the automators of the Bumblebee character have enabled him to exhibit emotions at a high level. The story romps along—this film is distinctly for teens and below—with very little subtlety but a lot of heart. It even indulges in an antiseptic teen love affair as Charlie’s next-door neighbor, Memo, has a huge crush on her. The plot includes a little nerd-snob action with the svelte Tina (Gracie Dzienny) insulting Charlie, and Bee crushes her car in return.

I usually gag at heavy CGI content in films, but I tolerated it here because the film is so teen-oriented and it’s a Transformer movie, for heaven’s sake!

John Cena as Agent Burns is his usual macho self, but he helps the duo of Bee and Charlie out of several scrapes at the end. There is a very funny switch at the end of the film that had me laughing out loud. Purely for laughs, the film can appeal to accepting adults as well as their kids. Brock is certain to enjoy it.

Second Act (PG-13)

Jennifer Lopez needs a rom-com every once in a while to remind folks about her look in clothes—as revealing as the office allows (check) and her lack of appeal as a rom-com star. In this one we have the classic “poor girl with an inflated resume” (Jennifer Lopez as Maya), an old, loyal boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), an understanding but competitive fellow office mate, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), and a boss, Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), who is willing to overlook the lack of experience in  corporate sales exhibited by Maya.

Of course, the two women get into a contest to find a more organic skin cream. Maya does new market and scientific research, while Zoe works to improve on an old formula. As the plot wanders to its inevitable conclusion, there is confusion galore. Not a stellar offering by anyone here, though not intentionally bad. There are better soft comedies around.

Check one out.

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