Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

mary poppins returns poster

The two children from Mary Poppins (1964) have grown up and, in Michael’s case, had children of his own. Following the death of his wife, however, Michael’s life is sliding into mayhem. The final straw is a repossession notice on the family home. Can the Banks family – Michael (Ben Wishaw), sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), and the three children who are more looking after the grown ups than the other way around – find a way to save their house before the bank forecloses? Well, perhaps when a strong wind blows in a familiar face…

Let’s not beat about this bush: I can only hope this is the worst movie I see this year, and what a woeful start! It’s definitely not ‘practically perfect’ in any way – more perfectly dire in far too many ways.

Where to start? Emily Blunt looks great as Mary Poppins – her shoes are a highlight of the movie for me, genuinely (!) – but then she opens her mouth and what the heck?! The mangled, talking-through-marbles fake posh accent is like some horrible impression of… I don’t even know what.

Having to listen to that my ears were well primed to start bleeding when the youngers began singing o_O

The rest of the cast are at least tuneful, but the tunes themselves are insipid in the extreme. Not one has stuck in my head – I came out of the cinema humming “Fly a Kite” from the original, after one bar of it is used in the background. C’mon!!

I did quite like the cartoon-world song and dance, something about a book and its cover, but I do not think it belonged in this movie at all. The innuendo, MP’s sudden cockney turn – what?! As much as I usually like Emily Blunt, her take on MP is borderline obnoxious at times, too.

I yawned through a lot of this movie. I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I wish to heck I’d gone to see The Favourite instead.

Some people seem to like this movie, but I really can’t imagine why – unless the ‘U’ stands for ‘under fives only’. I suppose bits of it look pretty good? But it’s so tonally off it was a painful experience. At least the only way for my moving-viewing year to go is up – which must be what that last song meant!

Released: 21st December 2018
Viewed: 4th January 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 3/10

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian rhapsody poster

The first proper album I ever bought was Queen’s A Kind of Magic. I sort of remember the Live Aid concert (I was a little young!) which forms the framework for this bio-pic of, if not the band, certainly lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

I’m still struggling to completely have an opinion on the movie. I *loved* the 2+ hours in the cinema – I laughed, I sniffled, and I could not sit still with the fabulous music. Is it a good movie? I dunno, but it was fun. Is it an accurate biography? I have no idea – certainly the timelines are messed about a little for dramatic effect, but I have to assume that band mates and producers, Brian May and Roger Taylor, weren’t going to let anyone be too mean to the late, great Freddie.

Certainly it all starts well. Moving away from his parents’ traditional family life, Farouk Bulsara offers to replace the singer in Brian and Roger’s band. From the first moment, his showmanship starts to grow and we get a super-speed through Queen’s creation and rise to mega-stardom, with some nice scenes of certain songs being crafted.

The real focus of the plot, however, isn’t the band but the frontman. Freddie has to come to terms with fame, his family’s disapproval of his lifestyle choices, his sexuality, and how these things collide. Fame and fortune aren’t guards against loneliness. Adrift in his own life, he’s easy pickings for the unscrupulous. He does come across a little as a victim, with perhaps hints that the ‘scandalous’ lifestyle was more association and gossip than reality, which may or may not be true.

You can’t review Bohemian Rhapsody without heaping praise on Rami Malek. The climax of the movie – that Live Aid set – is played almost in full. As the camera pulls out over the massive audience, I actually wondered if the big screens at the side of the stage were playing the real footage, so spot-on is Malek’s physical performance.

Absolutely recommended. Make up your own mind on how well it all fits together, but you are guaranteed a foot-stompingly great soundtrack along the way.

Released: 24th October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born poster

There are films that no one should ever, EVER attempt to remake (ahem Princess Bride ahem) and then there are movies on their fifth version and (apparently) stronger than ever. Having only seen this latest version, I’ll take someone’s word for it – because this is a very strong movie, remake or not.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a successful singer/guitarist, but fame has brought issues. Tormented by tinnitus, he’s increasingly drunk and/or high. By chance he stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga), who is all talent and little confidence. The pair are drawn to each other, and the movie charts her rise, his fall, and the tumultuous relationship between them as their positions switch.

I was utterly impressed by this movie. I went in relatively blind, and not expecting much – I’m not a fan of romances, or real life type dramas, and this offered plenty of both. But, oy, does it do them well.

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and she was the weak point for me – not always, but just occasionally she can’t hide her talent and confidence when she’s playing a shy little thing. Still, her voice is amazing. And to be fair, Bradley Cooper holds his own – that was a surprise and a half! It doesn’t overshadow the amazing job he does acting, though, which was also something of a surprise given he more or less started as the ‘pretty one’ from the Hangover franchise.

Reader, I confess I sniffled rather a lot through this. The music is great, but the story is heartbreaking. Take tissues, but do see it.

Released: 5th October 2018
Viewed: 13th October 2018
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

mamma mia 2 poster

Five (movie; 10 real) years have passed since the events of Mamma Mia! It’s a year since (spoiler only if you haven’t seen the trailer!) Donna died, and Sophie has dedicated herself to her mother’s dream. As we join the run-up to the big hotel launch, we also dip back in time to see Donna’s discovery of both the island and her self – and, of course, the events that led to the big ‘who’s the father?’ mix up of the first movie.

Mamma Mia! is one of my slightly embarrassing, go-to feel-good movies. Abba’s music is wonderfully catchy, and the sense of fun the cast are having is contagious. And the gorgeous sunny location doesn’t hurt either!

I was therefore a little dubious going in to the sequel: was it going to tarnish my fun? Nope! 🙂

I still had a few mixed feelings after my first viewing. The songs are less well known, and I felt they were a lot more shoe-horned in (there are a few too many ‘performance’ scenes with the characters hitting a stage) rather than quite as organically telling the story. I also didn’t really feel the need to have Donna’s encounters with Bill, Sam, and Harry ‘justified’, almost as if there’s an apology due somewhere.

But… y’know what, I had to go back and see it again. And I did relax from the scrutinising and just bloomin’ enjoyed it! This is an utterly joyful romp of a musical movie, but also quite affecting: the message of grabbing life by the horns (so to speak) is pretty well done. There is also scope for a need for tissues: there are a few scenes that just ‘hit the feels’, probably more so because the rest of the movie is so bouncy.

Don’t think about it too much. It’s daft. It rocks. Have fun! 🙂

Released: 20th July 2018
Viewed: 24th July 2018 / 14th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

pitch perfect 3 poster

Three years after graduating from Barden University, the former Bellas – the all-female, champion acapella group – are finding the real world less than perfect. Realising how exciting the prospect of a reunion is, they get themselves on a USO tour to entertain US troops abroad (although we’re talking Spain, Italy, and France, for some reason – I’d expected, y’know, warzones?). And just because there HAS to be a competition (a bit of an in-joke in the movie), the headlining DJ Khaled will be picking his favourite from the tour performers to open for his own act.

But can the Bellas compete against actual bands with actual instruments? Will Aubrey ever get her dad to a performance? What about Fat Amy’s dad and his shady past (not to mention very dodgy accent!)?

The reviews for PP3 were less than glowing, but I love the original movie – it’s one of my go-to feel-good movies. The sequel was a bit missable, imo, and I found the new ‘Legacy’ character annoying (also an in-joke on screen here), so my own expectations for part 3 were pretty low.

Thankfully, I was proved wrong: this is a lot of daft fun! There’s a slightly different vibe going on as the group have grown up – okay, still 90% singing, but instead of romance and struggling to find jobs, we get a ‘success at college isn’t life success’ message – just before the stakes are turned up to involve kidnapping, armed combat, and explosions! 🙂

So yes, very silly, but I really enjoyed it. I think it’s better than the middle instalment, if not quite hitting the sheer joy of the original. There’s also a bit of a finality to the tone here, which adds an unexpected tiny dash of poignancy – or, it’s just out and out slapstick, take your pick! 🙂

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2018
Running time: 93 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Greatest Showman (2017)

greatest showman poster

There’s nothing like a rousing, feel-good musical to kick off a year’s cinema – and this is absolutely that!

It’s perhaps a little odd, given the subject matter: the real PT Barnum was a lot less ‘nice’ than portrayed here. While that might kick up some controversy, I say: keep in mind that this is fiction, a story to entertain and uplift, and don’t take it as truth just because of the inspiration.

That said, the basic facts are all real enough, if much mixed up in timelines and intentions. ‘Inventor’ of showbusiness, Phineas Taylor Barnum, did indeed start a circus of ‘freaks’, and he did finance a tour for a singer he had never actually heard sing. The rest perhaps owes more to providing a fulfilling story than reality, but hey: this is showbusiness!

Hugh Jackman might be best known for playing Wolverine, but his heart clearly lies on the stage, belting his lungs out (see also: Les Miserables (2012) and Oklahoma! (1999)). He was made for this role, really, and I thought he shone in it. The rest of the cast also seems – thankfully! – picked for strong singing abilities: no Pierce Brosnan moments here 😉

Ah, the music! The bulk of the movie is spoken, with regular show song moments. The song used in the trailer, This is Me, has been stuck in my head for absolutely months. It’s a belter of a tune, and a perfect summing up of the core message: that those marginalised by society can and should stand up for themselves. While that was the standout track for me, several other songs were close and only a couple were a little unmemorable.

Overall, I absolutely loved this film. It absolutely shines with heart, and is possibly the best musical we’ve been treated to in years, avoiding the pitfalls of so many others: it’s more feel-good (if a little more predictable) than La La Land, better performed than Mamma Mia!, and the story works perfectly, unlike Into the Woods. So, finally – look out, here it comes! 🙂

Released: 26th December 2017
Viewed: 2nd January 2018
Running time: 105 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

A bookish young woman is captured by an enchanted prince. Only love can break the spell that transformed him into a beast – and his servants into various household objects. A tale as old as time, the song says – and sure enough, here we’ve got a pretty straight retelling of the 1991 Disney animation, although this time with real actors.

To be honest, while I do think this was a good updating – a few story elements are brushed up a little, and Belle is a bit more feisty – and I’m aware of quite a few people really loving it, if anything I was just a tad disappointed. Then again, I wasn’t quite the right age to totally adore the original either, so maybe that’s a factor.

The first issue I had is the cast. Emma Watson isn’t a favourite of mine anyway, and I’m not the only one who found her surprisingly wooden in this. So many times the expression on her face was disgust instead of fear, or fear instead something more complex. And while she has a sweet enough singing voice, it really lacks any oomph necessary for this role, and the technical shenanigans to get ’round that become a little too obvious.

It doesn’t help that her co-star is a CGI monstrosity, and I don’t mean that in a particularly good way. With modern tech, I think I’ve just come to expect something… better. Likewise with the supporting cast, all voiced well enough by the likes of Sir Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and Ewan McGregor, but I just felt the CGI lacked a bit of charm at times, or just couldn’t sit entirely comfortably in a ‘live’ setting.

The only cast member I did wholly like was Luke Evans as Gaston – he looked made for the role, and has quite the set of lungs on him! Of course, when you’re left only really liking the baddie of the piece… urm…! o_O

Which is a lot of complaining for a movie I’m about to rate 7/10, and to be honest it wasn’t all that bad – just, as I said, a little disappointing for me. On the plus side, it looks lovely, and the filmmakers took the wise choice to add to the familiar songs, rather than start over, so there was a lot of toe tapping smiles. If the story felt a little bloated in the expansion for me, I’ll bow out gracefully as not exactly being the target audience – new, or nostalgia-led.

If you do enjoy this, you might be pleased to know that live-action remakes are being talked about for all sorts of other Disney classics, including Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King! (you can read more on Cineworld‘s blog).

Released: 17th March
Viewed: 25th March 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10