Screening Room: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

(Walt Disney Studios)

Going back to the well many decades later, Disney delivers a brand-new musical adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books that’s not close to the original but better than it has any right to be.

Mary Poppins Returns opens wide today. My review is at PopMatters:

As the law of diminishing returns for any sequel is one of the immutable laws of the cinematic universe—and all the more so for movie musicals (no matter what those fiendishly wrong fans of Grease 2 might claim)—there was even less chance that Mary Poppins Returns could pull the same rabbit out of one of Poppins’ very fetching hats. Nevertheless, this sequel manages a somewhat impressive feat for the often groan-inducing Disney remake factory: it captures the essence of the original while adding just enough spark to set it apart…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)
‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: It’s Time to Go ‘Into the Woods’

Emily Blunt and James Corden go 'Into the Woods' (Walt Disney)
Emily Blunt and James Corden go ‘Into the Woods’ (Walt Disney)

intothewoods-posterStephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into the Woods threw a couple Shrek ‘s worth of fairytales into the mix (Rapunzel to Cinderella and Red Riding Hood) and used them for a musically soaring but lyrically cynical story about the dangers of dreams granted. Rob Marshall’s lavish Disney adaptation is quite faithful to the original and comes packed with performances ranging from the unsurprisingly good (Meryl Streep’s Witch) to the revelatory (Chris Pine as the Prince).

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

This narrative begins with a Baker and his Wife who are cursed with infertility by their witch neighbor. They can only break the curse by gathering up four talismans that helpfully bring all the other characters into play: “The cow as white as milk / The cape as red as blood / The hair as yellow as corn / The slipper as pure as gold”. The prologue includes an undertone as well, when the Baker adds, “I wish we had a child,” the juxtaposition typical of Sondheim’s best work, layered like so many fairy tales. Some 25 years ago, however, such layering was not the sort of thing that Disney’s heroes and gamines sang about. But the play’s reassessing of fairy tale tropes, its reinvigorating them with old Grimm’s blood and thunder, looked forward to the spunky heroines and broad-chested prince-villains who later cropped up in everything from Beauty and the Beast to Frozen…

Here’s the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in 'Chef' (Open Road Media)
Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’ (Open Road Media)

Chef-posterAfter making a mint with the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau went smaller. In Chef, he plays a chef who loses his job and redeems himself by driving around with his son and best buddy serving up cubanos and beignets. Not a bad life.

Chef is playing around the country now and should be hanging around for a few more weeks before the summer season really gets started. My review is at Film Racket:

Chef is one of those jobs that many people dream of but not that many would actually want to do. A few hours on the prep line in August would burn away most foodie fantasies quite nicely. Carl Casper, the chef played by Jon Favreau in his post-Iron Man palate cleanser, however, doesn’t have many of those grotty concerns mucking up his pretty perfect life. Surrounded by gorgeous women, delectable food, rowdy friends, and a keen-eyed little moppet of a son just dying for his attention, his only real problems are those notes of discontent twanging in his head….

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In Tom Cruise’s latest man-vs-world thriller, he plays a futuristic soldier who dies and dies again in the line of service. Emily Blunt is there to … well, it gets confusing.

Edge of Tomorrow opens wide on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

The spirits of World War II thrum mightily through Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, visually in everything from the sight of aerial troopships soaring over the Dover cliffs to the rakish tilt of Tom Cruise’s officer’s cap. It self-consciously evokes the grand, terrifying spectacle and unifying purpose of the Normandy invasion. This even though the enemy forces occupying most of Europe are not Nazis but multi-tentacled, wolverine-nasty aliens called Mimics who are about this close to cleaning humanity’s clock. It’s up to an initially cowardly Cruise and a fearsomely muscled Emily Blunt to take them out, which they can accomplish by Cruise reliving the same gruesome day of battle until he figures out how to achieve victory…

You can see the trailer here: