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Mary Poppins Returns

(** 1/2) PG

     Now that Walt Disney Studios, under the leadership of head honcho Bob Iger, long ago decided to abandon all original projects in favor of well-worn properties it owns and controls, it should come as no surprise that a sequel to the beloved 1964 film Mary Poppins has finally materialized.

Mary Poppins Returns, w/Mortimer, Miranda & Blunt

Considering what an unenviable and daunting task anyone attempting something of this scale had ahead of them, it’s a surprise that the resulting film, Mary Poppins Returns, works as well as it does. That preceding statement doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a great film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an admirable effort that occasionally rises to the occasion but mostly plays it safe by not straying from the proven path, a strategy which I guess will work well enough for most of those who make seeing this film a priority.

Twenty years after the events of the first film, the now grown Banks children find themselves dealing with might be termed as ‘big people’ problems. Those adult Banks kids, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are now facing such calamities as the death of a spouse and foreclosure of the family home. Enter Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) who shows up once again to put things in order. As a subplot, we’re also treated to a romance between Jane and the lamplighter, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is actually pretty good here), who is supposedly a protégé of the Dick Van Dyke character, Bert, from the original film. Colin Firth also shows up for good measure as an evil banker who’s painted in such broad strokes that you expect him to twirl his moustache at any given moment.

I must elaborate on the note-perfect performance of Emily Blunt in the role of Mary Poppins. She’s clearly done her homework and proves herself really adept and a worthy successor to the role that Julie Andrews played so well. The guest cameos of cast members from the original film also manage to brighten things up when the film threatens to collapse under its desperate need to be liked.

The biggest problem with the whole endeavor is how calculated and manufactured it all feels. You never feel a real heart beating underneath the proceedings. There are fleeting moments here and there that bring to mind memories of the best elements of the original film and that’s where it seems to work best. All of this serves to remind us how taking the risk of out of the movie business is also robbing us of some of the joy and magic found in the films from decades gone by. For instance, a movie like the original Mary Poppins surely couldn’t get financed in today’s corporate climate as it would be deemed too risky and that’s a real shame.

The Mule (***) R

In his second directorial effort in the past eleven months, the 88 year old Clint Eastwood’s latest project, The Mule, delivers the goods for fans of the actor/director. In spite of a final act that feels as if it needed one more pass at the writer’s table, the film will more than satiate those who’ve been missing the presence of Eastwood on screen. Even if he’s basically playing a variation of the same character we’ve seen many times before, it’s still enjoyable to watch the actor at work and The Mule, with its ripped from the headlines true story, gives him an ample opportunity to do just that.

Eastwood’s character is Earl Stone. It’s established early on that Earl was never cut out for the role of husband or father, having ended his marriage after ten years and totally missing his daughter’s wedding. Where he does excel is in the field of horticulture, a talent for which he’s been amply rewarded over the years. Earl apparently has run a somewhat successful business that, due to the loss of his clientele to the world of the internet, has now forced him into foreclosure proceedings. The fact that Earl is ‘not a plan B type of guy’ has put him into a precarious position.

Dianne Weist & Clint Eastwood in The Mule

Faced with an inability to earn a living, Earl is offered a job where he’s told to simply drive and gets paid pretty well for it. Eventually he discovers that he’s actually running drugs for a rather large drug cartel that is very pleased with his efficiency on the job. In fact, they like Earl so much that the enticements to stay become larger and larger to the point where it’s hard for Earl to simply say no.

Earl is eventually introduced to and also befriends the head of the cartel for which he works but when an internal power struggle ensues he finds himself at odds with his new employers. Add to this the fact that Earl’s family is going through a crisis as well.

I must say that those planning on seeing The Mule should be forewarned. This is a movie that’s not going to sit well with some audiences in the modern day and age in which we live due to the politically incorrect nature of Eastwood’s character, Earl.  Eastwood tosses off one liners that will certainly offend certain members of the movie going audience but it’s done in service to the movie at hand. This is about a man who, even at the age of 90, is striving to do better. Sure the ending is a bit preposterous but there’s much to admire on the journey to the destination and redemption.

Both of these movies are playing in Hickory and all around the area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.