Film Review: MARY POPPINS RETURNS (USA 2018) ***** Top 10

Mary Poppins Returns Poster

Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.


Rob Marshall


David Magee (screenplay by), David Magee (screen story by) | 3 more credits »

MARY POPPINS RETURNS begins with a song-and-dance number in the early morning of London where the fog is still on the ground.  A street lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wore the music for HAMILTON) brings the audience into the spirit of things.

Set in 1930s London, which is the time period of the original novels by P. L. Travers, the story follows Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), who are now grown up.  Michael is living with his three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters), in the house on Cherry Tree Lane.   After Michael has a personal loss, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes back into the lives of the Banks family.   No details on how Michael lost his wife.

The songs are ok for the first half and turns lively and catchy in the second half.  The Sherman Brothers who wrote the songs for the original POPPINS have music credits in this one.  None of the songs in the original are sung in this one, but a few chords of “For a Spoonful  of Sugar”, “Feed the Bird” and ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite” can be heard on the soundtrack.  A song “Trip a Little Light-fantastic’ reminds on of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.  The musical number with the lamp-lights runs similar to the musical number performed by the chimney sweeps on the rooftops in the original.

A few magical segments brighten up the story.  The three children go on wild adventures like into the bathtub with Mary or into rotating ornament.  The grownups disbelieve and the children point to Mary Poppins.  “Mary Poppins never explains.”  These are the same words uttered in both movies.

A bit of romance is inserted in the story between Jack and Jane – not too much, just a hint for artistic purposes.

Emily Mortimer was the special guest present at the special screening.  She praised director Rob Marshall forms vision and one can see his vision realized in the picture – from the imaginative musical numbers to the impressive magical adventures.

The film contains three super cameos.  The first is Meryl Streep playing a Mary Poppin’s cousin, Topsy. With a thick Eastern European accent with coloured hair, bright rags and pearls and necklaces, her musical number is one lively inspiration that turns the film at its midpoint from mediocre to excellent fare.  After Streep’s appearance, the film goes uphill right to the heights of the floating balloons at the film’s end, the balloons given by Angela Lansbury, the balloon lady breaking out in song.  Lansbury has been in a magical musical Poppins type hit years back, the memorable BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS.  But the best cameo of all is Dick Van Dyke, aged masterfully playing Mr. Dawes Jr., the son of Mr. Dawes Sr., who he played in the first film.  Julie Andrews turned down the offer of a cameo.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS arrives 54 years after the original Julie Andrews musical.  It is a long but worthwhile wait.  It is indeed good to feel like a child again.  


Film Review: A QUIET PLACE (USA 2018) ***1/2

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A Quiet Place Poster
A family is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound.


John Krasinski


Bryan Woods (screenplay by), Scott Beck (screenplay by) |3 more credits »

A QUIET PLACE is actor John Krasinki’s third directorial effort, a horror film that premiered at the South by Southwest film festival.  Krasinski also co-write the script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck based on their story.  His first two films (THE HOLLARS, BREIF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN) were, to put it mildly, nothing to write home about .  A QUIET PLACE also stars Krasinki’s wife, Emily Blunt, which is a clear signal to stay away.  But DON’T.  A QUIET PLACE is his assured directorial piece that would put many horror directors to shame.  It is scary, suspenseful and even had the audience (at the promo I attended) cheering at the end.  These are signs of a good horror film, and the film has been getting rave reviews since its premiere.

The poster looks like David Cronenberg’s RABID.  A woman, bloodied lies in a bath tub.  The scene occurs in the middle of the film when Evelyn (Blunt) has to deliver a new born in silence while the monster attracted to sound lurks around the house.

The script concentrates on scary set-ups but omits details and history of the setting.  Nothing is mentioned on how the situation came about.  What brought about the destruction of the human race?  Where did these supposedly deaf creatures come from?  What is the reason the Abbott family is the only one that survived?  But one can argue that if the film works in its aim at scaring, no one should question these omissions in plot.  As Hitchcock as proven in many of his films, the same holds true in A QUIET PLACE.

The placement of an expecting mother having to give birth in silence for fear of monsters attracted to noise is nothing short of brilliant.  The delivery scene kept the audience at the edge of their seats, evident as I looked around the theatre during the segment.

A word of warning!  This film requires a very silent audience, so pick a seat away from others.  The screening I attended had a person bring his own snacks, and one could hear him crackling his packages open and cans of pop.  Really annoying.  The theatre should ban popcorn and snacks for the screening of this film.

The special effects and sound are impressive.  The monster with its big ears and dripping saliva moving around to the sound of a creaking door is sufficiently menacing.

It is well to note that Millicent Simmonds (Todd Hayne’s WONDERSTRUCK) who plays Regan the deaf daughter is deaf in real life.  Krasinksi did not want a non-deaf actress pretending to be deaf.  Most important is the fact that a deaf actress would help his knowledge and understanding of the situations tenfold.  Simmonds who communicates in American Sign Language in the film to avoid sound taught the actors ASL during the filming.  The authenticity comes through in the film.

A QUIET PLACE achieves what it aims at, a solid horror film with a message of strong family values that ends up satisfying entertainment for all. 



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Film Review: SHERLOCK GNOMES (USA/UK 2018) ***1/2

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Sherlock Gnomes Poster

Garden gnomes, Gnomeo & Juliet, recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes to investigate the mysterious disappearance of other garden ornaments.


John Stevenson


Ben Zazove (screenplay by), Andy Riley (story by) | 9 more credits »


SHERLOCK GNOMES is the 3D animated sequel to the 2011 successful animated GNOMEO AND JULIET.  In case one is wondering what Sherlock Gnomes has to do with the original characters, SHERLOCK GNOMES the sequel has Gnomeo and Juliet in it, as two of the main characters, once again voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt respectively.  Michael Caine and Dame Maggie Smith reprise their voice roles (immediately recognizable) as gnomes Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury.

When the film opens, gnomes are being stolen from gardens in London, England.  They will be smashed and destroyed within 24 hours unless Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) foil the culprit who turns out to be Professor Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou).  He is foiled in the London Museum of Natural History and presumed dead.  The film then switches to the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet where Juliet is given the task of making the garden work by spring, the next season.  But gnomes start disappearing once again and Sherlock establishes that Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden is next.  It is!  All the gnomes go missing except for Gnomeo and Juliet who happen to be out of the garden at the time.  The four solve the mystery and save the day – and the garden!

Stevenson is no newbie to animation having directed KUNG FU PANDA and worked in the art department of the SHREK films.  SHERLOCK GNOMES benefits from his experience as evident in the humour that caters to both kids and adults.  For one, the bond between Holmes and Dr. Watson and enmity between between them and their arch enemy Moriarty as in the Sir Conan Doyle novels are kept respected.  The villainous Moriarty is fashioned after Batman’s joker in his laughter and antics, he even saying like in the BATMAN film, that there is a love affair between him and his enemy.  Jamie Demetriou does a marvellous job voicing the cartoonish villain, as do his animators.

Sir Elton John executively produced the film and his songs are featured in the film.  There is even an Elton John gnome playing a sparkled piano.  Immediately recognizable is “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” that is played during the opening credits.  The song is relevant to the film’s message.  The story involves the respect between Holmes and Dr. Watson and between Gnomeo and Juliet.  Both couples are having relationship problems that need to be solved.  These are serious issues dished out for the adults while the younger audience can relish the childish gnome dances.

The animation is impressive especially of the gargoyles that guard the kidnapped gnomes.  The gnomes are also sufficiently detailed in their 3D looks.  Of the voice characterizations, Ejiofor and Demetriou stand out.  Johnny Depp gets away with his British accent as Holmes.

SHERLOCK GNOMES’  budget comes just under $60 million compared to GNOMEO AND JULIET’s $36 million.  It is still a bargain considering Disney’s expensive animated features.  The almost perfect family film!


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Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

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the_huntsman_winters_war.jpgTHE HUNTSMAN – WINTER’S WAR (USA 2016) **
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt

Review by Gilbert Seah

The prequel to SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a film that is written for no reason but as an excuse to milk the box-office for more money in the fairy tale blockbuster special effects genre. The plot involves the sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) of the Evil Queen, Ravenna (Charleze Theron) that was the enemy of Snow White, becoming queen and training kidnapped children to be her army so that she can conquer more lands. Her Kingdom has only one rule – no love is allowed.
Love inevitably blossoms between two children that grow up to become Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. Eric and Sara marry in their own way. The Ice Queen Freya separates them. Eric embarks on a quest to find the magic mirror (that mirror, mirror on the wall who can tell the fairest of them all mirror) in order to save Snow White’s Kingdom. The clumsy story goes on with the quest looking similar to Frodo’s in LORD OF THE RINGS, complete with 4 dwarfs as well.

The dwarfs do enliven the sorry plot. But nothing really keeps one really engaged despite the glossy production, Snow white is noticeably missing in this prequel to Snow White. Her name is only mentioned and that she had been usurped the throne from the Evil Queen. But Snow White was nevertheless unmemorable in the first film and I would bet many would even have forgotten who played that role (Kristen Stewart), so leaving her character out might have been a good decision.

The prequel instead adds Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt, two hot actresses of today. The former plays the huntsman’s love interest while the other, the evil queen sister, the ice queen (similar to FROZEN), which the audience can foresee will end up with a battle of the siblings. This does happen at the film’s climax.

Theron continues the bitchiness with royal effect while Blunt has to settle with a milder villainous performance. Hemswoth does what he is paid to do – look his best and that he undoubtedly does well. Sloppiness shows in the filmmaking when the actors speak with different accents – English, Irish and American.

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who was on the special effects team in the first film takes over the director’s reigns in this one. Colleen Atwood who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design returns to do the elaborate costumes. No doubt the gowns of the two queens are nothing short of stunning with gold, icy white and feathers while the huntsman dons metal and silver. Whenever on queen appears, it seems like a fashion show is about to commence. But these costumes are not sufficient to make the film.

The climatic fight scene is a battle in which all the heroes and villains (male and female) come together in a special visual effects extravaganza that is more a show of lights and magic than action and suspense. It is inevitable who wins here, so no surprises here at all.

The film ends with the narrator saying that while fairy tales come true, none truly ends, promising an unwelcome sequel to this mess. If that is not enough, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is already in the process of a reboot for HIGHLANDER.


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