This Is a Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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CREDIT: Jay Maidment/Disney

Mary Poppins is fun and all, but before she showed up again, little Annabel, John, and Georgie could have already turned to their Aunt Jane to take care of all the practical matters that their dad is struggling with. Mary Poppins Returns has magic, or at least attempted magic, in its presentation. Whether or not that magic will hit you squarely in your heart and imagination depends a great deal on your mood, I think. Emily Blunt is acceptably grand in fulfilling her Poppins-y duties, but she’s not as singularly ineffable as Julie Andrews. That’s a tough comparison, sure, but even when considered in isolation, Returns is not much more than a perfectly pleasant passing diversion. And anyway, I’m more interested in Jane’s labor organizing. Not every villain is as sniveling as Colin Firth’s bank manager, which is one reason why unions are so important.

I give Mary Poppins Returns 5 Animated Detours out of 8 Misplaced Documents.

This Is a Movie Review: Affairs Are Revealed and Philosophical Rejoinders Are Dispatched at ‘The Party’

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CREDIT: Roadside Attractions

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Sally Potter

Running Time: 71 Minutes

Rating: R for Pretentious Strong Language and Furtive Cocaine Bumps

Release Date: February 16, 2018

If you want to make the case that The Party is a worthwhile viewing experience, you must remember that Patricia Clarkson is playing a cynical realist and that Bruno Ganz, as her estranged significant other, is playing a spiritualist. (There is another couple made up of an idealist and a materialist, but their philosophies don’t make as much of an impression.) Now you may be thinking, what is a fight between academic theories doing in a movie that is ostensibly about people? And initially, as I realized that wow, this is really going directly after that lecture hall crowd, I was just as disturbed as you may be. But it soon becomes clear enough that I do not especially care what is going on with these people and therefore pompous piffle like commenting about behaving in a “20th-century postmodern post-post-feminist sort of way” actually serves to lend this whole affair some personality.

The occasion for the titular get-together is Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) appointment to shadow minister of health as a member of the British opposition party. As she is getting ready in the kitchen and chatting with April (Clarkson), her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is in the living room, staring vacantly into the distance of the backyard, while Gottfried (Ganz) observes him with curiosity. Some more guests arrive: Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who announce that their in vitro fertilization efforts have finally taken; and topping it all off is Tom (Cillian Murphy), with promises that arriving later for dessert will be his s.o. Marianne, who remains a topic of tension-spiked discussion throughout.

Then, as cinematic soirees tend to go, secrets are revealed and grievances are aired, much of it having to do with affairs. Ultimately, it appears that everyone has slept with the same person or slept with someone who has slept with that someone. Confined to the location of Janet and Bill’s home, The Party often feels like a play, and a one-act one at that, clocking in at just over 70 minutes. There are not many stylistic touches that require this drama to be on film instead of on a stage, save for the black-and-white photography (which does not serve much thematic purpose anyway). At least the short runtime is appreciated. The tone is too caustic for my tastes to be bearable for too long, and since there are no genuine characters, just a bunch of types, it helps that it makes its point quickly and then makes a hard exit.

The Party seems to be commenting on its own shallowness in the banter between April and Gottfried, as she constantly upbraids him for his frequent use of aphorisms, while she continues to make smug, pretentious remarks that are not helpful in any practical way. But Gottfried wins me over right away, because he is just happy-go-lucky while spouting clichés even as his partner constantly insults him. April, however, is too cold to embrace at first. But once it is clear that the film does not exactly agree with what she is saying, you can enjoy her for her ridiculousness and for the relish with which Clarkson spits such venom.

The Party is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Attending university philosophy lectures

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Burnt Pastries

This Is a Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery

Director: Ritesh Batra

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Serious Matters Confronted with British Reservation

Release Date: March 10, 2017 (Limited)

In The Sense of an Ending, Jim Broadbent plays Anthony Webster, the owner of a boutique camera shop who must confront the sins of his past after an old acquaintance passes away and includes him in the will. I would vote for the focus to be waxing nostalgic about vintage Nikons and Kodaks, but alas, the narrative switches back and forth between the present day and Tony’s young adulthood, when he was courting a girl who eventually pursued one of his friends instead. There ends up being a tangle of long-ago secrets that it takes way too long to make sense of.

The film does not engender mystery so much as simmer in its ambiguity. Dinner scenes involve questions being asked and only being answered after staring into space for what feels like an eternity. Is this that famous British reservation, or just tentative filmmaking? If it is the former, the angst of what is left unsaid should be painfully felt, but that is just not the case, at least not until Charlotte Rampling shows up about halfway through. As the present-day version of Tony’s ex-flame, she says more with a piercing glance than the entirety of the flashbacks.

In the midst of sorting out his past, Tony is also on the verge of becoming a grandfather. He accompanies his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) to birthing classes, as the father is completely out of the picture. Susie warns Dad not to make any offensive remark about a lesbian couple in the class, as overly cautious children are wont to worry that their parents will go rogue. But Tony not only keep his tongue in check, he becomes fast friends with the couple. And it is not because of any fetishistic desire to diversify his circle. He just happens to be a sociable fellow who likes talking to people. Funny that his daughter doesn’t know that.

Anyway, I would much prefer if The Sense of an Ending were the adventures of Dad and the Lesbians. At least Tony ends up more reliably friendly than he was in his salad days. Perhaps he can take solace in that ending.

The Sense of an Ending is Recommended If You LikeAtonement But Wish It Had Been Difficult to Follow

Grade: 2 out of 5 Angry Letters