Opening next Wednesday Dec 19 is the marvellously entertaining Mary Poppins Returns, a nostalgic, low tech delight that finds Mary returning to the Banks siblings (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) just when she‘s needed most. It’s thirty years later and times are tough. Michael, now a banker with two children, has lost his wife and faces the family’s first Christmas without her and eviction. Jane grew up and is a loving aunt and social activist, and a constant help. Michael’s manager (Colin Firth) plots to take the Banks home for his own selfish reasons and it looks like they’ll be out in the cold for Christmas. Presto! Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) suddenly appears, helping Michael and Jane to find their joi de vivre and offering fresh ways to deal with their situation. Lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) offers encouragement and a troupe of lamplighters to stop time – literally – to save the Bankses. Original star Dick Van Dyke and newbies Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury delights and new music stays true to the Poppins universe. The 1960’s vibe is pure technicolour magic, an extravaganza reminiscent of those great musical extravaganzas. How often do we get to enter a China pot and explore its animated beauty, or fly with the aid of balloons, or sing and dance on rooftops? Having a tough year? Fly right to the theatre and catch Mary Poppins Returns and you’ll be transported.
Clint Eastwood’s The Mule is based on the true story of a Michigan nonagenarian who transported a fortune in drugs for a Mexican drug cartel and lived to tell the tale. The bank takes over his home and daylily nursery leaving him homeless and impoverished. He’s given a second shot at his granddaughter’s pre-wedding party – he can make money by driving. The family’s given up on him, but he wants to help the bride the way he couldn’t help his own daughter. He takes the job, never asking what is in the bags put in his truck. Meanwhile Bradley Cooper is a DEA rising star keen to make a showy cartel bust. The old man makes a few runs and peeks into the bags, horrified to learn its cocaine. Thugs tell him to do what he’s told, but he’s old and a veteran and he’s going to do what he wants. A chance meeting between the mule and the agent is a game changer. This is a rich character study, beautifully acted by Eastwood as a man who walks his own walk no matter what and finds redemption when he most needs it. Watch for a sly performance by Andy Garcia.
Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a gorgeously animated and welcome addition to the Spider-Man canon puts a contemporary spin on the enduring superhero that feels good and right. It’s set in a spectacular visual universe of gender, age and race equality where a young man enters super herodom with the realisation of his own power and morality. He can to contribute to an ideal world in which good triumphs over evil. Like Peter Parker, Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) is bitten by a strange spider and finds he’s sticking to things. Over time he learns to focus his sticky superpowers and fight crime, and learns how close to home evil can come. It’s dynamic and uniquely original with constantly changing visual and story worlds. It’s the engaging adventure we need now, powered by humour, wit, love and one boy’s dedication to making the world better. Bright colours celebrate the birth of hope and possibility of peace in this surprisingly emotional journey.
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie play two of the most power hungry monarchs in British history, Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I at the height of their political and personal rivalry. Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots sympathises with the headstrong Mary and presents a new vulnerable version of Elizabeth. Mary’s husband King Francis 11 of France dies so she assumes her role as hereditary Queen of Scotland. She seeks Elizabeth’s protection but has a legitimate claim on the English throne; it becomes clear that she’s a threat, forcing Elizabeth and her advisors into high alert and soon, war. Cue terminally repetitive battle scenes and lengthy explanations of royal protocol. The fight for power, Mary’s imperiled future and her attempts to up her worth provide the drama, and Elizabeth’s struggles under the weight of her court are interesting, but that’s all she wrote. Endless explication strangles the life out of the characters and story. Relief never comes. Like the first instalment of a potential sci-fi franchise setting things it’s too wordy, and burdened with detail and therefore flat. We dream of escaping the theatre and opening up the Mary Queen of Scots page on Wikipedia and having done with it.
John Andreas Andersen’s The Quake (Skjelvet) follows the 2015 Norwegian tsunami thriller The Wave in the same town, Geiranger, just outside Oslo. The same cast appears after having survived the tsunami, to witness the warnings and harsh reality of an earthquake. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) traumatised by his experience in the wave, is separated from his wife (Ane Dahl Torp), daughter (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) and son (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) who now live in Oslo. Kristian’s scientist colleague dies in a ceiling collapse in one of the tunnels connecting a major highway to Oslo; a sign that their warnings that the city is in danger are real. He knows that the area is vulnerable to geological movement that could devastate the country. And he’s branded a whistle-blower for drawing attention to the city’s infrastructure problems and the connection between tremors and massive construction. He believes a quake one million times stronger than an historic one that occurred in 1902 is coming and it does. It comes in no uncertain terms like an underground wave eating everything in its path. Pianos fly out of high rises, shattered glass holds victims thousands of feet in the air. Drone footage brings home the treacherous landscapes of the fjords and overhanging cliffs, Oslo’s dense infrastructure and digital scenes of falling buildings frozen in mid collapse, of people and objects being sucked in to the quake vortex. It’s the end of everything as they know it. Why? Because Oslo is under actual real world threat, not to mention the rest of the world, post climate change.
Ethan Hawke directs the musical biography Blaze, the story of Austin musician and composer Blaze Foley. He’s attained almost mythological status since his death in 1989 and enjoys a cult following. Musician Ben Dickey plays the cowboy-styled poet with gusto as a drunk, dissociative alpha male, able to charm with his personality and stories but burdened by alcohol and bad decisions. Charlie Sexton plays his closest pal and fellow traveler Miles Van Zandt; he tells the story of the night Blaze’s friends dug up his grave to get the lottery ticket in his suit pocket then duct taped the casket and put it back. It’s a thin and familiar; the oft repeated charming alcoholic artist who stays true to his values and rejects anything remotely ordinary or distracting or moneymaking. Hawke’s colourful cast includes Kris Kristofferson as Blaze’s ill father, Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn, and Hawke shows up as a radio DJ. Hawke is clearly a gifted filmmaker and a fan and the film itself is good, but I can’t say I am too enchanted by yet another self-destructive artist.
Lars von Trier’s gone full on wackadoodle with his latest, The House That Jack Built on VOD, iTunes and On Demand! Matt Dillion kicks off a twelve year time span as a serial killer with attention deficit disorder who can’t help but revisit the scenes of his crimes to tidy up and check for fibres. His all-female victims include Uma Thurman and von Trier regular Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl and Riley Keough and Bruno Ganz is his shrink and confessor. Jack’s stream-of-consciousness offers appalling, horrific but often amusing insights into his scattered mind; he claims to have killed sixty people. He seems to have little self-awareness as he carries on his hobby while constructing a house in the country and brutalising women. He also keeps a locked bunker. Von Trier creates palpable fear, with occasional sideways glances to life outside Jack’s claustrophobic, art driven imagination – workers scythe a field with incredible grace. Felt my soul turn black watching this stuff but better now, thanks. h
Netflix’ Dumplin stars Danielle Macdonald, who won our hearts in Patti Cake$ and proves her screen appeal once again in the Jennifer Aniston produced, Dolly Parton decorated Dumplin’. She’s the plus-sized teen who revolts against the status quo and her mother (Aniston) in one move. Macdonald is Willodean and she’s fed up with bullying schoolmates and the skinny girls vying for the beauty queen title. But worse is her mother’s barely concealed disdain for her daughter’s appearance; she’s a hometown beauty queen and runs the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant – how she raised a big daughter is beyond her. Dumplin’ and a couple of friends also on the fringes of high school society decide to enter the pageant and bring an end to social elitism. With the help of local drag queens, the girls get ready for their moments and the game slowly begins to change in their favour. It’s a feel good story about isolated teens finding their voices, inspired by Dolly Parton who also looks different and writes new music for the movie. It’s set in a southern USA world most of us wouldn’t recognise today, one that firmly adheres to values of a system based on white privilege and worn out “isms”. Dumplin has its heart in the right place, but seems lost in the mists of time.
It’s Britmas on Britbox! Original programs, exclusive premieres, and live broadcasts featuring stars like Patrick Stewart, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Hugh Bonneville, Stephen Merchant, John Cleese and Mary Berry in a “sackful” of fun and learning with an accent. The Britbox Britmas theme is “12 Joys” of the holiday and programs will fall into one of the following categories: food, theater, lights, carols, family, literature, travel, gifts/shopping, Father Christmas, Christmas crackers, games, and traditions. Anglophiles always enjoy the Queen’s Christmas Message, and there Choral presentations, popular comedy series, cooking shows and tours of the countryside and “Slow TV” with The Lights before Christmas: Luminous London, a slow tour of the world-famous London Christmas lights. Low brow Christmas comedies, highbrow musicales from cathedrals of England and Mary Berry’s traditional holiday dishes mean something for everyone. Fun fact: Berry has been jailed twice.
The CBC has launched an impressive free streaming service CBC Gem that boats 4000 hours of live and on-demand programming that spans Canada, Europe and the world. The new series Northern Rescue starring William Baldwin and Kathleen Robertson and shot in Northern Ontario preems March 1st, but the service is available featuring fourteen CBC channels and original and proven content. I can’t wait to re-watch all of Wallander, the outstanding British Nordic Noir series starring Kenneth Branagh.
There’s exclusive NFB films spanning its history, new indigenous programming and films from partnerships with A71 Entertainment, Elevation Pictures, eOne, levelFILM and Mongrel Media, and international partners BBC Studios, Fremantle International, ITV Studios Global Entertainment and Sky Vision. All children’s programming is always provided ad-free within CBC Gem. Here’s a sampling – past and current seasons of CBC series Kim’s Convenience, Baroness Von Sketch How and Schitt’s Creek . . .
. . . The Great Canadian Baking Show; Murdoch Mysteries, Anne with an E and Heartland; Kids in the Hall and Being Erica. International shows include Fortitude with Stanley Tucci, The Great British Baking Show, Luther, Portlandia, and Top of the Lake: China Girl, The Tudors, Vanity Fair and Little Dorrit. CBC news shows will include local newscasts from across the country plus news docs. Then there’s sports, Canadian films and French programming from ICI Tou.TV streaming service including #Danslatoile, 1001 Nuits and Transformatruc. CBC Gem is available as a free App for iOS and Android and online at cbcgem.ca, and on television via Apple TV and Google Chromecast. An ad-free premium membership is also available for $4.99 per month, which also provides access to a live stream of CBC News Network.
by Anne Brodie – http://www.twitter.com/annebrodie