Category Archives: Movies

Watching MARY POPPINS RETURNS

Of course I had to see this. The books are favorites in my library, and I loved the 1964 film, even though I was somewhat disappointed when I first saw it because it differed so much from the books. And even at age 13 I knew Dick Van Dyke’s accent was trash. He was still great in every other way. Over many re-watchings, I came to love the film for what it is.

The new one is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it. Emily Blunt’s take on the title character is actually somewhat closer to the books, she has more of an edge than Julie Andrews. Lin Manuel-Miranda does fine as Jack the lamp-lighter, clearly the equivalent of Bert the chimney-sweep in the first film. He does better with the accent and is charming. Here the two original film’s Banks children are grown, and Michael has three children of his own, and is recently widowed. His sister Jane is often on hand for support, but Michael is floundering, and about to lose the family house. Of the original staff, only Ellen the maid is present, now doing all the chores. Admiral Boom is still next door firing his cannon, and a few other characters from the books return or are added in the new film, with fine work by David Warner, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke, all in small roles. The music is pleasant, the songs are fun if not as memorable as the ones in the first film. (It’s telling that I was most moved by a few brief themes from the first film in the background.) The singing and dancing, sets and animation are all well done.

My only knock on the film is that it tries too hard to be like the first film, often imitating and drawing on the earlier work, as in, “we need a dance number like the chimney sweeps,” or “we must have a live action and animation mash-up with music hall number.” Yes, there are some unique ideas, but not many. I did like seeing a few more characters and situations from the books brought to life, and the acting and emotional resonance was fine, it all felt true enough. But, as the Disney trailers for new versions of “Lion King” and “Dumbo” emphasized, Disney now is all about drawing on past successes rather than breaking new ground.

For a young person who hasn’t seen the first film, this one might well become a beloved favorite. It was good, at times excellent, but it will always come well behind the 1964 film for me, and the books are best of all.

Watching: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Image © Marvel. No spoilers.

I did not read a lot of their adventures growing up, except as part of The Avengers, but I always thought the ant and wasp connection was interesting. I heard good things about this film, and it lived up: funny, exciting, action-packed, good characters, interesting ideas. For one thing, the writers thought of many more uses for the shrinking/growing science than I ever imagined. This is a sequel to the film “Ant-Man,” which I haven’t seen.

Paul Rudd as the new Ant-Man looked familiar, but all I could find in his credits that I’ve seen were some “Seinfeld” episodes. He’s under house arrest for crimes committed when helping Captain America (perhaps in a film I haven’t seen). His young daughter visits, and the opening sequence with her is a charming cardboard-cut-out adventure he’s made for her that takes over his house. The original Ant-Man, played by Michael Douglas, is hiding from authorities, using his shrinking power to hide his entire laboratory. With him is his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly, the new Wasp. They are trying to find a way to rescue the original Wasp, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who has been trapped in the quantum realm for decades. They need the new Ant-Man’s help for that, but he’s only days away from freedom from house arrest.

To say the plot is complex is putting it mildly, but it all worked for me. There are plenty of action sequences, hundreds of uses of the shrinking/growing power, which for Paul Rudd’s character often seems to malfunction, and time is taken for nice character moments too. I liked nearly everything about this film, though I don’t think I could give you a coherent synopsis of the plot. Just go with the flow and have fun.

Oh, one thing. I was pranked into staying to the very end of the credits by some “friends” on Facebook talking about the extra scene there of great importance. It’s not. It’s nothing you haven’t already seen in the film. There is a longer mid-credits scene that looks like a coming attractions for a third film. That one is worth seeing.

Recommended.

 

Watching SOLO, A Star Wars Story

Image © Lucasfilm Ltd.

Don’t have a lot to say about this except that I enjoyed it and liked it a lot. I had no problem with two of the main characters, young versions of ones in the original film trilogy, being played by younger actors, Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover. Both did a fine job. That was not even an issue for Chewbacca! Woody Harrelson was great in his role as a world-weary thief/pirate that young Han takes as a role model. Han’s love interest played by Emilia Clarke did fine too, keeping us guessing as to her real plans and motives, and keeping the English accents in the series going. I can’t say I loved it as much as the first three, but it’s well worth seeing.

Recommended.

Watching MISTY (1961)

The film version of Marguerite Henry’s much-loved book for children, “Misty of the Chincoteague” is one I believe I saw on TV or in a theater as a child. In all the years since, I thought it was a Disney film, but when I bought a DVD of it in the Chincoteague Museum last weekend, I found out it was not! It’s just as good as many Disney live-action films, and better than some.

Paul and Maureen Beebe have come to live on their grandparents’ farm on Chincoteague Island, Virginia after the death of their parents. Grandpa Beebe has a small herd of ponies bought from the wild herd on Assateague Island, and he raises and sells young horses from it. Paul and Maureen are fascinated by the wild herd on Assateague, and while there decide an independent and swift mare called The Phantom (pictured above) is a horse they want to buy at the next annual sale, a tradition on the island. Usually only recently born and yearling horses are sold, but Paul and Maureen believe they can talk the Fire Company (who own the horses) into selling The Phantom to them. Their grandfather has told them that a pony costs $100 at the sale, and they work very hard through the spring and summer to raise that amount, first by gentling and training Grandpa Beebe’s own newborns, then by doing all kinds of odd jobs. On a visit to Assateague, Paul discovers that The Phantom has had a creamy-white foal which he names Misty. Now Paul and Maureen hope to buy both horses, though where the second hundred dollars will come from they don’t know.

The big event of the year is the annual Pony Swim, when the entire herd is rounded up and swum from Assateague to the fairgrounds on Chincoteague for the sale. Grandpa and Paul help with this, and Paul even jumps into the water to help a struggling Misty reach the shore. The day before the sale, Paul and Maureen visit the ponies who will be sold and discover that Misty already has a Sold tag! It seems a man from off-island wanted a horse for his young son, and made a pre-sale deal with the Fire Chief. Paul and Maureen’s hopes are dashed!

That’s enough of the plot, which is fairly predictable, but quite enjoyable. The film is beautifully photographed, the score is excellent, and the acting is generally fine, if a bit corny at times. Only six real actors are in it, including David Ladd as Paul, son of Alan Ladd, and later a film executive. Equally good performances are given by Pam Smith as Maureen, Arthur O’Connell as Grandpa Beebe and Anne Seymour as Grandma Beebe. Many small parts are filled by actual Chincoteague residents, who do fine, though their accents are a bit hard to follow.

As an adaptation of the book, this film does quite well. It’s reasonably close in many areas, with some events moved around or somewhat altered, notably a horse race. It also gives a fine portrait of the area, and the publicity from the film helped preserve Assateague and its wild horses. The spirit of the book is captured well, and the horses are damned cute!

Recommended.

Watching IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962)

Images © Disney.

I remember liking this live-action Disney film when I saw it at age 11 in a theater, and after reading the original book, I wanted to see it again. The film has its flaws, but both Ellen and I enjoyed watching it.

The book is quite long, and the film is well under two hours, so I expected it to be much abridged, and it is, but the script does a good job in the time allowed. For starters, headliner Maurice Chevalier as the Frenchman Paganel and co-star Hayley Mills as Mary Grant, daughter of the missing Captain Grant they are searching for are teamed up from the beginning. In this version, Paganel has brought Mary and her brother Robert (Keith Hamshere) to the steam yacht of Lord Glenarvan with the message in a bottle he’s found telling of Captain Grant’s shipwreck. Lord Glenarvan (Wilfred Hyde-White) is dismissive and skeptical, but his son John Glenarvan (Michael Anderson Jr., not in the book, but essentially replacing Lady Glenarvan) is attracted to Mary Grant and sympathetic to her desire to find her lost father. He convinces his own father, Lord Glenarvan, to undertake the search for his lost Captain. (Unlike the book, Captain Grant worked for Glenarvan in the film, which ties them together nicely.)

The story cuts quickly to the first adventure in the Andes of South America, where an avalanche becomes a Disneyland ride with effects that look pretty silly today. Excellent background paintings by Peter Ellenshaw in this film, but some other effects seem poorly done by today’s standards. There are more adventures in the pampas of eastern South America, including the group being stranded in a giant tree by a flood, one of the best moments of the book, and handled well in the film.

This is not a musical, but there are a few songs for Chevalier and Mills by the Sherman Brothers, nothing very memorable or helpful to the plot, but entertaining enough. Soon the story moves on, skipping most of the Australia third of the book except to introduce villain George Sanders as Thomas Ayerton, former shipmate of Captain Grant, who promises to help the search party, but has other nefarious plans. The finale takes place in New Zealand, and involves laughable Maori warriors and a volcano, which again has poor effects by current standards (this was a Disney B-picture, so budgets were constrained). Wilfred Brambell is entertaining as a half-crazed shipmate of Captain Grant long held prisoner by the Maoris, who helps the party escape them.

In all, still fun to watch. Hayley Mills was not only charming, she was an excellent child actor, and it’s easy to believe each character she portrays, at least for me. Chevalier is also fun and entertaining. The rest of the cast is pleasant enough, but those two are the standouts, and deserved their top billing. So, while the book has lots more story, the film is not a bad abridged version.

Recommended.