FILM REVIEW – SACHIN CHATTE
Film: Mary Poppins Returns, Cast: Emily Blunt, Ben Wishaw, Emily Mortimer, Directed by: Rob Marshall, Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins, Rating: * * * 1 / 2
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a sequel to the cult classic film of 1964 starring Julie Andrews – with a time period of 54 years this is perhaps the longest gap between a film and its sequel. Revisiting a classic is always a double edged sword – on one hand it makes it easier for the filmmakers because there is a certain template that is established and on the other, comparisons are bound to galore, which can be unfair.
I am happy to report that the return of Mary Poppins is cheerful and welcome. It pays tribute to its predecessor in the most delightful way and also manages to hold fort on its own. With top production values and a story that tugs the heartstrings, this is as charming as a sequel could get.
It helps that director Rob Marshall, the man behind ‘Chicago’ (2002) and a choreographer himself, is at the helm of affairs in this PL Travers story.
Set during a time before WWII during the ‘Great Slump’ the two kids Michael (Ben Wishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), from the original film, have grown up now. Michael is a widower with three kids while Jane is a labour activist. The children, Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and little Georgie (Joel Dawson) are sweethearts and trying to ease their father’s life in the absence of their mother. But all is not well at home – in fact the home itself is not well – there is a loan which is overdue and the house is supposed to be taken over by the bank at a short notice.
It is time for an angel to appear and she descends from the sky with an umbrella, which is a sight to behold. Emily Blunt plays Mary Poppins and she does it with elan and an air of remarkable confidence. In fact, Blunt is so talented that she could play an umbrella and impress you with her performance.
The super nanny takes charge of the proceedings and befriends the kids even though the adults don’t quite believe in her. With a lexicon that involves words like “Pish-posh”, “Spit-spot”, she uses them like no one else can and charms the children and the audiences alike.
While Michael struggles to arrange money to save his house from a greedy banker (Colin Firth) of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, Mary Poppins takes the kids on some memorable outings – including one where we see Meryl Streep in a cameo. Mary’s old friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) meanwhile is busy helping her and developing a crush on Jane.
There are some superbly choreographed songs – ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is nothing short of stunning and as a tribute to the previous film, there are some beautiful good old-fashioned hand-drawn animations.
One of the best scenes is saved for the last as we see Dick Van Dyke, all of 93 years of age, dance and dazzle on the screen as he plays a role related to the original film.
A special mention also has to be made of the production and the costumes which give the film that extra appeal.
With or without a spoonful of sugar, this medicine was made to bring a smile on your face.
Film: The Mule, Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Directed by: Clint Eastwood, Duration: 1 hr 55 mins,Rating: * * *
With a career spanning over seven decades, actor/director Clint Eastwood will turn 88, this May – and he is still going strong. He has been directing films with regularity in the last few years and age has certainly not been a deterrent. Inspired by a true story, ‘The Mule’ shows that the ‘man without a name’, still has something to offer to cinema – both as an actor (he makes a comeback of sorts here but only time will tell if this will be his hurrah) and a director.
Here, he plays a 90-year-old man Earl, who has had a tough life – an ex army guy, his family life is in tatters. He missed his daughter’s (played by Alison Eastwood, his real life daughter) wedding and she refuses to stay anywhere near him, his ex-wife chides him every time and his only connect is with his granddaughter. Add to it, he doesn’t have money or a house to live for the rest of his life in peace.
Out of the blue, an opportunity presents itself – all he has to do is take a bag and deliver it safely to the other. With a clean record and given his age and attitude, it turns out to be smooth sailing for him and even though he learns that he is dealing with drugs, the money is too hard to resist. Old Earl is quite a character – occasionally charming, sometimes selfish and rarely politically correct (he helps a black couple fix their car on the highway but uses the N word to refer to them). He also hates new technology, especially mobile phones and people who can’t live without their gadgets.
But he is good at his job of delivering the goods and climbs the ladder very quickly and makes a lot of moolah. He is shown to be a Robin Hood of sorts as he gives some of it away but doesn’t stop dealing with drugs.
Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement authorities are itching to make a bust with two agents (Bradley Cooper and the proverbial sidekick Michael Pena) hot on the heels of the delivery people known as the Mule.
As a thriller of sorts, the film works up to a point. But it starts getting preachy about the whole family comes first thing and even some of the characters are very sketchy – like the DEA agents, drug cartel (Andy Garcia plays the boss). The morality shown in the climax is questionable, we are supposed to sympathise with the main protagonist but that sympathy is propelled artificially.
But without being judgmental, it is a fascinating story and Eastwood shows that there is still more left in the tank, as an actor.
Film: Bhai – Vyakti Ki Valli (Marathi with English subtitles), Cast: Sagar Deshmukh, Irawati Harshe, Directed by: Mahesh Manjrekar, Duration: 2 hrs, Rating: * * *
Purshottam Laxman Deshpande popularly known as Pu La and even PL was one of greatest contemporary cultural icons of Maharashtra. He was the PG Wodehouse of Marathi writing and had he been born before the Englishman, it could have been said that Wodehouse was the PL of English humour.
The Maharashtrian was more than just a humorist – he was also a composer, script writer and even an actor. Mahesh Manjrekar’s attempt to capture his life on the big screen is sincere but there is also what appears to be a marketing gimmick – the film is split into two parts (the second instalment due next month). If Attenborough could make the epic ‘Gandhi’ as one film, one cannot see a plausible reason for this story to be split into two parts.
It opens with PL in the hospital in a serious condition – his wife Sunita and director Jabbar Patel (Sunil Barve) are awaiting their friends and the story keeps cutting back and forth with flashbacks. We learn about PL’s childhood and there is nothing really that stands out in that episode. In fact throughout, his character doesn’t come out as powerfully as one envisages him to be. There is also something about those odd close ups of various characters from time to time – that should have been left on the editing table. The story picks up some pace when we see the grown up PL (Sagar Deshmukh) – the incident of his second marriage (his first wife died within a week after tying the knot) with Sunita (Irawati Harshe) where they informally sign on the dotted line is amiable. Once they are married, we also get a fair sense of his obsession with his work, ignoring his family life.
While the story ends abruptly leaving most of the more enchanting parts of his life for the next part, the rendition of Kanada Raja Pandharicha and particularly Sanware Aye Jaiyo by three legends, Vasantrao Deshpande (Padmanabh Bind), Kumar Gandharv (Swanand Kirkire) and Bharatratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (Ajay Purkar) gave me goose bumps.
Irawati Harshe’s performance as the wife stands out while Sagar Deshmukh in the lead role is earnest. Hopefully, the whole of the next instalment and not just the climax will give us a high.
To Bee or Not to Bee
Film: Bumblebee, Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Directed by: Travis Knight, Duration: 1 hr 53 mins, Rating: * * *
This is the sixth film in the ‘Transformers’ franchise and the first one not to be directed by Michael Bay (praise the lord for that). The series was nearing extinction but this film will in some ways help resurrect it and the change in guard is for the better. But there is only so much of story that one can tell about robots that can turn into cars and vice versa but at least this Travis Knight film doesn’t inflict that the kind of mind-numbing action that the Michael Bay films did.
‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel to ‘Transformers’ (2007) and if Shia LaBeouf was the star there, Hailee Steindfeld steals the show here. The focus in this film seems to be more on developing a story around a human and a robot. Set in the late 80’s (with lot of pop music as proof), Steinfeld plays Charlie, an 18-year-old girl who still hasn’t come to terms with her father’s death and more often than not, she is at loggerheads with her mother.
Meanwhile after a fight with the Decepticons, an Autobot named B-127 crash lands on earth and transforms himself into a yellow Beetle car. Charlie gets the car as a present and upon seeing the true avatar of the car, christens B-127 as Bumblebee.
A couple of Decepticons (one of them has a female voice (Angela Bassett) which is a first) are sent to earth to hunt down Bumblebee, and Charlie along with her neighbour friend Memo has to defend her new robot friend not only from the ET’s but also from the government authorities lead by an army professional (John Cena).
As strange as it may sound, the best parts are Bumblebee as they are the ones that don’t have any action because once that starts, it reminds you of Michael Bay films – and after all there is only so much you can see of one metal body fighting and flinging another.
‘Bumblebee’ works more as a coming of age film – there are several pop culture references and many songs in the sound track – Charlie even likes to put on the headphones and listen to music but that only made me miss Edgar Wrights ‘Baby Driver’ (2016).
Hailee Steinfeld shows why she is rated so highly among the younger generation of actresses – the rest of the cast just has to go through the motions. Apparently, there is no plan for the next edition of Transformers – it may not be a bad idea after all to end the series on a high.