The magical English nanny returns to help the next generation of the Banks family.
Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Review by Jon Kissel
I like to think of myself as open-minded enough that the phrase ‘this movie is not for me’ doesn’t apply. I can generally get on board with a film pitched at any audience, about any segment of the population, and find something to appreciate or a problem that doesn’t simply distill down into an inability to ‘get’ it. Live-action musicals might be the exception to the rule. Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were both in regular rotation in my parents’ home, and they always kept me at arm’s length. I just can’t get onto their whimsical wavelength, and it’s persisted through the modern musicals of Rob Marshall like Chicago and Mary Poppins Returns. A decades-later sequel to a film I’ve at least come to respect, Mary Poppins Returns gets minimal credit for not simply being an updated shot-for-shot remake of an old Disney property a la The Lion King, but that credit doesn’t count for much when it’s applied to a member of my least favorite genre.
For Joel and Ethan Coen, some things, like scenes that don’t seem to fit in a movie’s structure or unreliable fantasy sequences of indeterminate meaning, are expected. That makes it all the more noticeable when they leave all that stuff out. True Grit contains no Mike Yanagita sidebar, nor an eerie stagecoach ride towards what may or may not be the afterlife, but it’s still unmistakably a Coen Brothers film, and their highest-grossing one to boot. Persistently versatile and effective across genres and time periods, the Coen’s include all the hallmarks of the Western, with cowboys and Indians and outlaws and grand vistas, but they can’t help but put their pet themes of cosmic scales of justice onto a recognizable framework. The result is a thing that works, an actor’s showcase and a joyful adventure, a reminder of why Westerns have persisted for so long and a modern rejoinder to the kinds of films the Western archetype John Wayne, star of the original as this is a remake, used to churn out. True Grit is evidence that the Coen’s can be purely entertaining whenever they want to, one more gift for a pair that can do no wrong.
The Mercury Seven got their epic in The Right Stuff and so did the crew of Apollo 13, and now Neil Armstrong gets his cinematic apotheosis in Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a Kubrickian masterwork from a director who’s said all he has to say about jazz. Finding fertile new ground in the space race, Chazelle instills his historic representations with the flintiness of his Whiplash characters, portraying Armstrong as a difficult man who, in his difficulty, may have been the only person capable of emerging from the trying 1960’s intact. Utilizing you-are-there filmmaking and the best of Ryan Gosling’s oft-internal performances, First Man signifies Chazelle’s emergence as a singular auteur in total control of his art.
I’m as big a fan of Pixar as anybody, but there’s something about the opaque nature of creating computer graphics that makes the iconic studio’s style of animation somewhat less impressive. I have no doubt there’s a level of craftmanship in turning all those one’s and zero’s into photorealistic water or curly red hair, but I can’t help preferring the stop-motion of Laika and Wes Anderson’s pair of animated movies or the hand-drawn elegance of Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon. Movies from these studios inspire the viewer to momentarily step back and marvel at the amount of finely-tuned labor that went into a single frame. Cartoon Saloon’s The Breadwinner has several of these moments within it, but it doesn’t subsist on visual awe though there’s plenty of it. Studio co-founder Nora Twohey’s film leaves behind the Ireland of Cartoon Saloon’s earlier Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea for Talbian-ruled Afghanistan and a desperate story of survival under tyranny whose charm isn’t lost in spite of its dire setting.
To a greater or lesser extent, all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies have been partly about movies, or his life as viewed through the prism of movies. Reservoir Dogs is about acting and performance, and Inglourious Basterds is about film being the literal weapon that topples fascism. His characters talk about movies, and model themselves after other fictional characters. Despite Tarantino’s obsession with cinema, none of his work has featured characters who actively work in the movie business, with the odd exception of Basterds’ Goebbels. Tarantino’s filmography, now supposedly with only one film left to go, would feel incomplete if he didn’t put aside his criminal/assassin/historical surrogates and just make a movie about actors already. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a title befitting a man constantly making references and allusions to days of cinema past, sees Tarantino do exactly that as he indulges in a nostalgic journey into mindless TV serials and B-movies filmed on dingy backlots. Despite functioning as a potentially infantile time travel device into a hazy period Tarantino missed out on, the film’s low-stakes setting allows him to do what he does best without having to worry about outbursts of violence, resulting in perhaps in his most mature and meaningful film.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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