Richard sat down with “Mary Poppins Returns” star Emily Mortimer. She plays Jane Banks, the grown up version of the girl in the original story. We talked about her love of the original book and why the story has great resonance for today.
A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns,” Natalie Portman in “Vox Lux” and Jason Mamoa as the underwater monarch “Aquaman.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Lois Lee to have a look at the weekend’s big releases including the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ness of “Mary Poppins Returns,” the Transformers prequel “Bumblebee,” the underwater adventures of “Aquaman” and Natalie Portman as a pop star in “Vox Lux.”
Fifty-four years after Julie Andrews made her debut as “the practically perfect in every way” nanny, who flew in (courtesy of her parrot-handled umbrella) and introduced magic to the lives of the dysfunctional Banks family, the beloved Mary Poppins character is back in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The new Disney musical-fantasy picks up 25 years after the events of the classic, with Poppins, played by Emily Blunt, returning to help the Banks children after misfortune befalls the family.
Set in 1930s London during the Great Slump, a city of gaslights and chimney sweeps, “Mary Poppins Returns” sees the kids from the original Michael and Jane Banks all grown up and played by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer. Michael’s wife passed away the year before and now he, his kids (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) live in the Banks’s family home on Cherry Tree Lane, the house made famous by P. L. Travers.
When the bank calls in the loan Michael took against the house the family risks losing everything. “Pay back entire loan on the house or it will be repossessed in five days,” cackles the lawyer who delivers the notice. On that very day Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), the nanny who helped Michael and Jane as kids, and her magic bag come to the rescue. “Good thing you arrived when you did Mary Poppins,” says Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), former apprentice of Bert from the original film. Mary “I suspect that I am never incorrect” Poppins, helps the Banks family regain the joy and wonder that made their childhood years magical.
From the first song, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”—“Count your blessings,” sings Jack. “You’re a lucky guy.”—the movie establishes its uplifting tone. It’s a frothy, satisfying concoction of nostalgia, music, fanciful visuals, elegance and optimism; a spoonful of sugar in bitter times.
Director Rob Marshall has made a full-on musical that mixes the best of old and new Disney. This thoroughly modern movie feels old-fashioned in the sense that it takes its time with the music, allowing the songs to breathe and the lyrics to sink in. But it isn’t simply an exercise in recollection. The smart new songs (written by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Scott Wittman) refresh a familiar story, mixing seamlessly with snippets of songs from the original film blended into the score.
There are huge musical numbers, including a wild underwater spectacular, but the songs that work best are the more modest tunes like “A Conversation,” Michael’s requiem for his late wide. “These rooms were always filled with magic but that vanished since you’ve gone away.” It is heartfelt and heartbreaking. Ditto Mary Poppins’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go.”
Still, this is a movie that brims with joy. When the spunky Banks kids tell Mary Poppins (no one ever calls her Mary or Miss Poppins, its always first and last names) that they have “grown up a great deal in the last year.” She replies, “Yes. We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”
Like “Christopher Robin” from earlier this year, “Mary Poppins Returns” is ultimately about the importance of staying young at heart. The film essays Michael’s sense of loss and longing, his frustration at not knowing how to go on without his wife but it’s the upbeat attitude that gives it depth. “Everything is possible, even the impossible,” is a cliché but in context it is a call to believe, to have faith. If Michael believes in himself everything will be OK. That’s a potent message, delivered with a spoonful of sugar or not.
The cast impresses, delivering the film’s message with charm and verve. Emily Blunt brings a mix of strictness—“Sit up straight you’re not a flower bag,” she scolds.—and mischievousness to her character, effortlessly slipping into some very big shoes. Miranda provides a dose of musical theatre. Meryl Streep, as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy, offers a fun and funny lesson in perspective and Dick Van Dyke’s cameo as Mr. Dawes Jr. connects the old and new.
“Mary Poppins Returns” feels modern without sacrificing its nostalgic charm. There’s no “Supercallifragilisticexpialidocious” but, like the first film, there is plenty of heart.
I learned a great deal during my interview with Mackenzie Mauzy and Billy Magnussen. The Manhattan based performers brought me up to speed on the rite of passage for all New York actors, Rapunzel’s hair and whether or not Meryl Streep likes men in blue tights.
The pair play Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s Prince in the big screen adaptation of the legendary Broadway musical Into the Woods. The two relative new comers—she’s best known as Abigail on Forever while he made a memorable appearance on Boardwalk Empire and will soon be seen in an upcoming Steven Spielberg spy thriller—help bring fairy tales to life as part of a large ensemble that includes Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep.
Which leads me to the first thing I learned during our chat.
“Meryl’s a beast,” says Magnussen. “She’s the one who got me the job. I was in a play and she saw it and recommended to me [director] Rob [Marshall] and [producer] Mark Platt. The play was Vonya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike and I dress up as a prince because we’re going to a costume party. It’s all about the blue tights.”
“Meryl likes the blue tights,” laughs Mauzy.
Next I discovered the wig Mauzy wears in the film put her at a follicular risk.
“They used my hair and braided it into the extensions,” she says. “It was thirty feet long so I wrapped it around my arm. I had a little fake one for rehearsal but I asked to actually wear [the real one] one day so I could figure out how to be mobile. It’s a tripping hazard! We joke about how I had a really strong left bicep for a couple months.”
Then Magnussen enlightened me on a rite of passage for New York actors, “Once you get on Law and Order,” he says, “you’re really an actor.” Both have done time in the L&O trenches. Mauzy played a child killer named Carly Di Gravia—“It’s weird I remember that name,” she says.—while Magnussen says, “It was one of my first jobs. They bleached my hair white and I was a Southern male prostitute. How do you tell your mom? Hey watch this!”
Finally, one I gleaned one last pearl of knowledge from Mauzy. Apparently it’s OK to call Stephen Sondheim, legendary Into the Woods composer and eight time Tony Award winner, Steve. “Everyone calls him Steve!” she laughs. “He likes to be called Steve! It is weird. Steve Sondheim.”
Johnny Depp had upwards of thirty million reasons to sign on for the new Pirates of the Caribbean outing—co-star Ian McShane suggests Depp is “paid more than the national debt of most countries”—and for that kind of money you’d think he could at least pretend to enjoy wearing Captain Jack’s bandana for the fourth time in eight years.
But he doesn’t.
Perhaps he’s just tired of playing pirate, or maybe he has finally realized the limitations of the swishbuckler but what was once a sublime characterization has become nothing more than his children’s (and their children’s) guaranteed annuity. An actor as gifted as Depp needs stimulation, (and frequently a funny hat, see: Alice and Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and the sooner he abandons the Pirate ship and leaves the family franchise phase of his career behind the better.
It’s hard to imagine that Depp is one of the least interesting aspects of this big budget monstrosity, but it’s true. Geoffrey Rush, fresh off his Oscar nominated turn in The King’s Speech, also takes a paycheck here, but at least tries to shiver the timbers. Ditto Ian McShane. Perhaps they’re both hoping for some spin-off action once Johnny tires of the whole rigmarole, but at least you can’t see them actually reaching for the money.
Not that Depp is entirely to blame for the failure of the movie. Director Rob Marshall shoulders much of the guilt here. People pay money to see the Pirates movies for two reasons, Johnny Depp and the crazy action sequences. The stories have never made any sense, and in that aspect On Stranger Tides doesn’t disappoint, but Johnny’s disinterest and action scenes that are as exciting as you’d imagine an action sequence directed by the guy who made Nine sink the ship.
When I say failure I mean as a piece of entertainment. This is a guaranteed lock for number one with a BO gross that will make Captain Kidd’s legendary buried treasure seem like chump change, but profitability, while important to the suits who green light projects like this, is exactly what’s killing Captain Jack.
Guaranteed licenses to print money don’t come along very often, but when they do Hollywood often takes a counterintuitive approach to their cash cows. Why try that hard, Pirates seems to be saying to us, when people will lay down their money no matter if the story is silly, if the picture is so dark you can’t see the action, if our star has other things on his mind, if this simply plays like a trailer for the inevitable Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Do You Have Any Money Left? Let’s not try to improve or, God forbid, change the formula, the movie gods declare. Let’s stay status quo. Unfortunately status quo kills.
Several years ago you couldn’t take the subway, sit in a coffee shop or go to a bookstore without seeing at least one person deeply engrossed in a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood scooped up the rights and turned the best selling book into a lavish holiday film.
In his follow-up to the Academy Award winning musical Chicago, director Rob Marshall spares no expense to bring Memoirs to the screen. The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully costumed—although there are some historical inaccuracies such as one character wearing a kimono crossed right over left, the way Japanese people clothe their dead—and filled with impossibly good-looking actors. Memoirs looks fabulous and is great eye candy.
On the surface Marshall was a good choice for this material as he is at his best when dealing with theatrical characters, and the Geishas seen in Memoirs are nothing if not dramatic. The problem lies once the viewer tries to scratch the surface. There’s nothing there!
At the heart of the book is a love story that begins when Sayuri—Japan’s Next Top Geisha—is only a child and meets a businessman who is kind to her. As she becomes an adult she never forgets this act of kindness and carries a torch for him. Marshall makes a play for our emotions at this point of the story, but never connects. Because it is such a passionless affair Memoirs of a Geisha feels like a beautiful crystal vase—amazing to look at, but utterly empty inside.
“Nine,” the latest Broadway to big screen outing from director Rob Marshall, is by turns breathtaking and frustrating. A cinematic remounting of the 1982 Tony award-winning musical (which was itself inspired by Federico Fellini’s classic “8 ½”) about an Italian film director in the throws of a mid-life crisis is heavy on the glamour—Kate Hudson’s character tells the director that in his movies “every frame is like a postcard” and that is certainly true here as well—but not heavy enough with story.
When the movie starts world-famous filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mentally blocked. His latest opus “Italia” is only ten days away from the beginning of production and he has yet to have an idea for the film, let alone write a line of dialogue. Edging ever closer to a nervous breakdown, his entanglements with a variety of women, including his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz), wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and mother (Sophia Loren), only push him further down his self made rabbit hole.
The first question everyone has about “Nine” is, “Can Daniel Day Lewis sing?” The answer, in a word (actually a few words) is, no, not really. He speak-sings his two songs in a strange baritone that sounds more like a drunk uncle singing with the wedding band than a big-budget musical star, but I can forgive the singing because his brooding presence anchors every scene in the film. In a movie as cotton candy light as this you need something or someone to affix the story to and Day-Lewis is it.
Marshall takes the movie’s thin premise and stretches it to feature length, keeping the eye interested with stylish camera work, scantily clad dancers and great 1960s Italian locations, fashions and period decoration, but he may have taken the words of one of his characters a bit too seriously. “Style is the new content,” coos Stephanie (Kate Hudson). If that is true then “Nine” is the most substantial movie of the year, meaning that it is great to look at, but somehow, the story doesn’t really connect.
If you are just going for the music however, you won’t be disappointed. Marshall has cut several of the tunes from the original score, added several others (by original Broadway composer Maury Yeston) and wallpapered the movie with memorable songs, set pieces and choreography. Highlights include Fergie’s ode to roaming hands, “Be Italian,” “Cinema Italiano” Kate Hudson’s exuberantly fluffy 60’s pop number and “A Call from the Vatican,” Penelope Cruz’s steamy phone sex song.
“Nine’s” glossy veneer over powers whatever story there is but its panache and energy will keep your eye entertained.