Bond-ed For Life ~ No Time to Die

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The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading the former MI6 agent onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 163 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: So…here we are.  After a long, very long, extremely long, wait…the new 007 film has arrived.  It’s also the last time Daniel Craig will don the James Bond suits, drive the fancy cars, and play with the cool gadgets, so it’s understandable why the producers and studio behind No Time to Die kept firm with their decision to push back the release date over and over again so audiences could only experience this important chapter in theaters.  This, after the movie was initially delayed on its way to the screen because of a departing director (Oscar-winner Danny Boyle left after disagreements on how the story should go), cast injuries, and damage to the filming studio.  For a time, it looked like James Bond would NOT return, to riff on the famous last words at the end of each previous films’ closing credits.  A release date was finally locked in but then…pandemic.

All that is behind us because the movie is arriving and now the question for the viewer will likely be two-fold.  1) was it worth the wait and 2) is it a fulfilling sequel?  For me, as a life-long Bond fan and with a certain affinity for most of this last cycle of Bond movies with Craig as the star I will tell you what I responded when both the studio and my friend asked me what I thought.  To me, when the 163-minute No Time to Die was over I felt like I had eaten a nine-course meal of my favorite dishes and then topped it off with an extra dessert.  After something so huge, you need time to digest so I was happy to have over a week to think more about it.  Craig’s tenure as Bond has had its highs (Skyfall, Casino Royale) and lows (Quantum of Solace, Spectre) and I would place No Time to Die smack dab in the center of them all, leaning strongly toward high praise for the elegant way it manages to close this part of what has already been a long adventure.

For the first time, a James Bond opening begins in the past and doesn’t even feature Bond at all.  This intro becomes a key piece in action and location later in the movie and is but the beginning of the longest pre-credit sequence in any Bond film yet.  By the time Daniel Kleinman’s haunting opening credit sequence pays over Billie Eilish’s spine-tingling title track (I originally found this song to be slow and boring but, in the context of the movie, the tone and purpose make it near perfect), retired 00-agent Bond and his love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, The Grand Budapest Hotel) have faced down a vicious attack in Southern Italy and in the process revealed certain secrets from the past that have come back to snap at both of their hearts.  Five years later, Bond is alone in Jamaica when he is visited by both his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, The Good Dinosaur) from the CIA and an MI6 agent (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel) who has been assigned his 007 number in the field.  Both are interested in Bond getting involved with Project Heracles, a chemical weapon that has been stolen by a rogue villain.  The CIA wants Bond’s help, 007 wants him to stay out of her way.

Bond can’t help but be curious and when he travels to Cuba to investigate, he’s teamed with new CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas, reuniting with her Knives Out co-star Craig) to infiltrate a secret SPECTRE party where they find an old friend has been keeping a watchful eye over them all.  The deeper Bond seeks the truth, the more he finds that Project Heracles has ties not just to his old foe Ernst Blofeld but to a new enemy, Safin (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody), as well as Madeleine.  And all three are about to re-enter his life in a big way…with a number of surprises yet to come.

As is usually the case, there are a stable of screenwriters credited for this 25th Bond film but it doesn’t feel slap-a-dash or story by committee.  Aside from usual suspects Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) contributed to the final script, and it’s widely known that Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to punch up some of the dialogue and give the film some humor.  Hold that wince if you are thinking there’s an extra dose of comedy that’s been shaken and stirred…yes there is more of a sense of humor to the proceedings, but they are small touches here and there which result in the characters feeling more fleshed out than anything. 

It’s great to see the players back in action, from Ben Whishaw’s (Cloud Atlas) tech-guy Q to Naomie Harris’s (Rampage) Moneypenny.  I’m glad the writers gave Ralph Fiennes (Dolittle) as M a bit more depth this time around because in Spectre there seemed to be a bit of stunted growth after being introduced so nicely in Skyfall.  (Note, make sure to keep your eyes open for a scene where M is sitting in a portrait gallery and observe the paintings – it’s just one of several nice touches that callback not just to other Craig films, but all the way back to the beginning.) Waltz (Big Eyes) had his chance in the previous film to make an impression and he was sort of just…Waltz.  There’s little more to elaborate on than that.  Of the new crop, Lynch has the best success in a role that feels like a good step forward for the series but, like Halle Berry’s Jinx who played opposite Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, the character becomes a second thought once Bond decides to get back in on the action.  Per usual, I’m not entirely sure what Malek is up to in performance or accent but it’s one of the weaker villains in the Bond franchise…yet he has one of the deadliest lairs.  The appeal of Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods) is totally lost on me.  So, there’s that.

Fans have been waiting eons for Bond to return and he’s come back with a high-wire epic that delivers maximum bang for your buck.  It’s a hefty movie with a generous run time so be prepared to settle in and I’d advise skipping any/all bathroom breaks so you don’t miss any action.  Things change on a dime in the life of a secret agent and despite the constant aural reminder of another title tune from an older Bond film, you do not have all the time in the world to take it in.  When the stakes are this high, there’s no time to wait for No Time to Die.

Movie Review ~ The Personal History of David Copperfield


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical masterpiece, chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it.

Stars: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rated: PG

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Right about the time this pandemic hit and the country shut down, I was closing on a condo my partner and I were set to take our time painting and moving into with the help of our friends and family.  Now, this new social distancing term and all that went with it meant that our friends couldn’t help us move or be with us to paint so we were on our own.  To while away the hours slapping primer and two coats on the entire place, we decided to go all literary and listen to Jane Austen’s Emma because it was a rare Austen neither of us had read.  As a reward not just for toiling away in Behr Eggshell over the course of several weeks but for getting through the novel, we movie buffs thought it a good idea to make our way through the filmed versions of Emma before watching the 2020 version that arrived this year because, well, there couldn’t be that many to get through right?  Wrong. So wrong.

Watching the various versions of Austen’s tale come to life so soon after reading the book illustrated that there were different ways to breathe energy into a novel but that it’s all based on interpretation.  There was a four-and-a-half-hour version of Emma that in some ways moved faster than the 1996 much-loved Gwyneth Paltrow version.  You also can’t forget 1995’s Clueless which we all know was writer/director Amy Heckerling’s loosely inspired modernization of the classic.  It all goes to show that you can have your Austen fancy or you can have your Austen cool but when the characters are written so well to begin with no amount of fussing around with them is going to totally ruin the heart of the piece.

So, why all this talk about Emma in a discussion of a new view of Charles Dickens David Copperfield?  Well, it’s to address off the bat that this isn’t going to be the David Copperfield you have come to expect from your BBC adaptations or your Masterpiece Theater Sunday evening appointment television showings.  While certainly not in any way a faithful adaptation of a novel Dickens published in 1850 and was known to be his favorite, The Personal History of David Copperfield is a richly realized one that rather blithely removes the most despondent pieces and revels in the fanciful.  It also wisely knows the difference between modernization and revisionism and walks the line between the two with ease.  The result is one of the most surprising and surprisingly entertaining films of the year.

Director Armando Iannucci is likely a familiar name to those that followed the HBO series Veep.  As the creator and showrunner for the first four seasons, he helped establish that political satire and its irreverent humor so I went into this film expecting it to have that same fast style and brusque energy.  The quick interplay was there and it definitely has the energy that I’ve come to expect from Iannucci but not in that same kind of rough and hot to the touch feel it has had before.  It’s softer here and allows the story to be propelled forward by the characters and their choices, not by plot machinations.  That’s a significant achievement when you’re working within a storyline where a seemingly endless set of maladies befall our leading man throughout.

For those unfamiliar, David Copperfield is the story of a young man (Dev Patel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who spends the majority of his growing up years encountering one set of colorful characters after another.  At his birth, his arch aunt (Tilda Swinton, Suspiria) arrives to assist but leaves promptly when she discovers he is not a girl.  His young, widowed mother (Morfydd Clark, Crawl) marries again, this time to a wicked man with an even more wicked sister (Gwendoline Christie, Welcome to Marwen) and soon he’s living with an always in-debt landlord (Peter Capaldi, World War Z).  During a brief stay with his aunt he’s introduced to her eccentric cousin (Hugh Laurie, Tomorrowland) before enrolling in a respected school where he meets lifelong friend James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard, The Goldfinch) and first encounters the meek but not mild Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw, Little Joe).  He’s loved from afar by Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar) and pursues dotty Dora (also played by Clark) all the while hoping to secure his future happiness.

There’s a lot for Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell to cover in two hours and it’s a remarkable accomplishment that they managed to cram as much story in as they do.  Obviously, some of it has to go and a good chunk of the book’s latter half is missing, with several storylines either combined or excised.  What’s been removed are the sallower portions of Dickens novel, leaving the remaining moments more light-hearted and vibrant.  One could argue that the characters needed a little more strife but Iannucci and Blackwell give David and his extended family a fair amount of business to overcome.  The villains in a Dickens story are always of the scheming and grasping variety, making them perfect for the likes of icy Christie and the gleeful apathy of Whishaw.

Along with the sharp writing, Iannucci has cast the film with a spectacular amount of top-tier talent and it all starts with Patel’s nicely metered approach to the title character.  Patel is an actor that has grown on me greatly over the years and continues to get better with each new role he takes.  I also especially liked Jairaj Varsani as the young David, showing again that its possible to play precocious without losing your audience to alienation.   As usual, Swinton mines every syllable and skin cell for maximum effect, and you simply can’t end 2020 without seeing her go crazy over a persistent donkey presence on her property.   If the film has a drawback, it’s that it’s so packed with welcome faces in episodic segments you don’t always feel you’ve rounded out the corners with each character before they’ve vanished for good.  That goes for the strong supporting players as well, many of whom have but a few lines/scenes to make an impression yet manage to leave an indelible on in their wake.

Purists may scoff and, honestly, I see their point in some way, but there’s an abundance of joy in these 120 minutes that have been hard to come by.  That’s something celebrate and not over-analyze.  A week after the extremely nasty and unpleasant Unhinged became the first film to re-open theaters, here comes The Personal History of David Copperfield on its heels to remind the rest of us what possibilities there are on the big screen…though it works just as well on the small one too.  I was thankfully able to screen this one from my home and would not have reviewed it otherwise.  Please, decide carefully if venturing into theaters is the right choice for you as well as anyone in your home that you may be returning to.

Movie Review ~ Little Joe

The Facts:

Synopsis: A plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species takes one home as a gift for her teenage son and finds her newest creation blossoming into something sinister.

Stars: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox, Kit Connor, Phénix Brossard, Leanne Best, Lindsay Duncan

Director: Jessica Hausner

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though I was a pretty good gardener when I was growing up, try as I might I just cannot keep a plant alive in my apartment.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t have control over the heat and being on the top floor it tends to rise, making our place nice and toasty during the winter but a steam box during the summer.  Normally, this would be good for plant growing but the Midwest greens that I’ve been trying to keep alive these past years have just not taken to any kind of tending I’ve tried.  I swear they should put up a warning sign about me at my local flower shop, barring any future plant sales.

Watching a movie like Little Joe, it makes me glad my green thumb has turned a rosy shade of pink.  This paranoid sci-fi yarn is a neat little corker that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year and walked away with a major prize.  It was nominated for the Palme d’Or (that went to the excellent Parasite) but did manage to snag Best Actress for its star Emily Beecham.  I saw Little Joe without knowing the breadth of its Cannes reach and, in a way, I’m happy I did because I was able to judge the movie and the performance on my own without having that “awards prestige” applying undue influence.

Single mother Alice (Beecham, Hail, Caesar!) has a job as a high-tech botanist working to create a new species of plant designed to induce happiness in all that come in close contact.  Her company is pushing their scientific groups to meet a deadline so they can introduce their line of flora at a convention that’s rapidly approaching.  With a competitive edge developing between the plant breeders, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) may have used some questionable methods in their sequencing but with the results so positive, what’s the harm?  Dubbing their flower Little Joe after Alice’s son (Kit Connor, Rocketman), the cherry-red flower is indeed alluring and has a strange affect on those that spend an extended amount of time with it.

When Alice breaks protocol and brings a Little Joe home to give to her son, she notices changes in the relationship they used to share.  What was once an open and friendly bond has now turned secretive and harsh, with Joe spending more time with friends he introduces to Little Joe and excluding Alice from his conversations.  At the same time, a co-worker of Alice’s (Kerry Fox, The Dressmaker) starts to put together that the plant is the cause of shifts in personalities, first in the devoted dog she brings into the laboratory and then in the people she works with daily.  Unable to see the connection on the outset, Alice brings her initial fears about Joe’s behavior to her therapist (a serene Lindsay Duncan, About Time) who suggests the paranoia may be linked to a past event Alice has tried to put behind her.  The longer Alice waits to take action, though, the less people she’ll have to trust because Little Joe has a secret…and perhaps even a plan to keep anyone quiet who threatens to expose its endgame.

I can say Little Joe reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and it not be too much of a spoiler, because it’s not that kind of a movie.  This isn’t that same type of alien horror film but something manufactured by humans that just happens to bite back.  Director Jessica Hausner co-wrote the script with Géraldine Bajard and she’s definitely on to something with her tale of mass-produced happiness that turns deadly. You can easily draw lines between the flower and modern technology.  Could be a stretch but sub out Little Joe for a cell phone or any other kind of tech gadget and see if that doesn’t fall in line with the feeling of exclusion Alice falls into when her son and co-workers turn their backs on her.

If only Hausner had found a way to round out the movie with something a little more interesting.  I kept waiting for the film to take a left turn and get out of the sane lane but it seemed stubbornly stuck in its course forward and that’s disappointing.  Right up until the end, I was almost begging for something other than what was happening to happen just so I could give the movie a higher final score – there just had to be some other way to put a button on this story than what was presented here.  It’s a fault in storytelling that became a flat note to end what was otherwise a strong showing.

That’s especially sad because Beecham is so very good as the increasingly addled Alice.  When the film begins she’s cool as a cucumber, with her Dorothy Hamill haircut and slightly out of date clothing.  (Though the movie is ostensibly set in modern times it looks to the ‘80s and late ‘70s for style inspirations)  Giving strong Nicole Kidman vibes, Beecham earns that Best Actress award from the Cannes jury by metering out her unraveling in small ways and never giving over to the huffy puffy hysteria the situation might bring other actresses to.  Instead, her reactions are muted shock and an almost instant realization of her part in the problem at hand, never being able to fully absolve herself of what she did to bring about the events of what transpire.  Which, come to think of it, may inform the ending that I so desperately didn’t like.  In supporting roles, Whishaw is nebbishly fine pining for Alice but it’s Fox who steals the show as an already tightly wound woman who has her coils curled further when she becomes the only voice of reason.

Worth seeing on the big screen if only to see the glorious cinematography from Martin Gschlacht (Goodnight Mommy) of all those dramatic crimson petals set against the sterile confines of a lab setting, Little Joe blooms early but wilts under pressure of an ending that’s too pat.  I wonder if Hausner had anything else in mind to bring the movie to a close of if this is what she planned all along, it’s hard to imagine a concept so slow burning for 95 minutes would just throw in the towel so easily in the last ten minutes.  Still, I would recommend this based on those 95 minutes because they’re well done.  It’s a perfect selection for those that miss the paranoid thrillers so popular in the ‘70s and audiences that appreciate their sci-fi horror on the reserved side.

The Silver Bullet ~ No Time to Die

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Synopsis: Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Release Date:  April 8, 2020

Thoughts: Fans of James Bond have had to wait a little longer than usual for the 25th adventure of the international spy…but at this point we should be counting our blessings No Time to Die is arriving at all.  Star Daniel Craig (Skyfall) famously had become a bit grumpy with playing the role and it took some convincing for him to return to finish off his contract and it’s now been confirmed this will be his last outing as Bond.  When Craig finally signed on, the film went through several directors, which further pushed back its release date.  Script problems, onset injuries, and other maladies surrounding the production continued to delay Bond’s return.

Thankfully, this first look at No Time to Die appears to find Bond back in fighting form with the five-year gap between Spectre and this film hopefully worth the wait.  Plot details are thin but we know recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) is the villain and Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) have been added to the cast as strong females Bond has to contend with.  Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was behind season 1 of HBO’s True Detective and with a script punched up by Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story), my excitement for this one was already brewing but now the heat is definitely starting to rise.

Now…who is singing the theme song??

Movie Review ~ Mary Poppins Returns


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.

Stars: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson

Director: Rob Marshall

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: The journey to make Mary Poppins in 1964 was so fraught with tension and hard feelings that it’s no wonder it took 54 years for a sequel to make its way into theaters. If you don’t believe me, check out the entertaining Saving Mr. Banks for a little history lesson…however revisionist it may seem to be.  What child didn’t grow up seeing the titular magical nanny educate the Banks children and bring order to their family while teaching the biggest lesson of all to their workaholic father? I vividly remember seeing it not only in my house but at school on special occasions when they’d get out an old reel-to-reel projector and gigantic screen.

Over the years the popularity of P.L. Travers creation never really went away, even inspiring a long-running West End and Broadway musical that’s now making the rounds in a community theater near you. You can’t keep the old girl down and in 2018 she’s returned in an all new sequel that’s a surprisingly spry near-equal to its half-century old predecessor. The Walt Disney Company took a huge gamble in dusting off this treasured property and turning it over to director Rob Marshall and it has paid off handsomely; Mary Poppins Returns is a true movie event, a hard-working winning combination of fantasy, music, and heart-tugging emotion.

It’s been thirty years since Jane and Michael Banks spent a wondrous few weeks with Mary Poppins but life at #17 Cherry Tree Lane has moved on. Having recently lost his wife, Michael (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) now lives in his family home with his three children and gets the occasional visit from Jane (Emily Mortimer, Hugo) who has followed in her mother’s footsteps and continued the fight for equality for all. When the bank threatens to foreclose on his house and gives them less than a week to come up with the money all hopes seems lost…until a familiar figure appears from the sky.

Making her grand entrance clutching a kite, Mary Poppins (the divine Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place) has lost none of her dry wit and charming aloofness. She soon sets up shop with the new generation of Banks children while keeping her eye on Jane and Michael as they scramble to find a lost set of bank bonds that could get them out of debt. While their father worries about their future, Mary Poppins helps his children adjust to the present through adventures in undersea realms, at the upside-down dwelling of Mary’s cousin Topsy (a wack-a-doodle Meryl Streep, Hope Springs), and in the painting on a porcelain pot.

Having directed the film versions of Chicago, Nine, and Into the Woods, Marshall knows his way around a movie musical but this is far and away his most accomplished and polished work to date. With the old-school appeal of a Hollywood song and dance spectacular, Mary Poppins Returns is the kind of throwback everything-including-the-kitchen-sink experience they just don’t bother to make anymore. Disney and Marshall had the good sense to give audiences exactly what they want in a sequel to a cherished classic…and then some. While not a remake of Mary Poppins per se, it does seem to hit the same beats as that earlier film even down to a splendid animated sequence and a visit to one of her zany relatives.

Even if Marc Shaiman’s songs don’t stay in the brain quite as well as the tunes created by the Sherman Brothers, they feel like they exist within the same universe and are performed with exuberance by Blunt and company. There’s no ‘Feed the Birds’ level accomplishment here but ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ stirs the right amount of feelings and ‘A Cover Is Not The Book’ is a clever bit of wordplay that the Sherman Brothers would get a kick out of. Streep’s oddball ‘Turning Turtle’ is something only she could pull off and Whishaw’s plaintive ‘A Conversation’ gives the actor a nice jumping off point early on in the film. Marshall and his co-choreographer John DeLuca also nicely avoid the trappings of filming huge musical numbers for the screen by letting the audience see the entire company dancing rather than always cutting into close-ups. ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ arrives late in the game but is a true show-stopper.

If the film makes one miscalculation, it’s in the misappropriation of time given to Lin-Manuel Miranda (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as Jack, a lamplighter friend of Mary’s that’s a stand-in for Bert the chimney sweep from the first film. Whereas Dick Van Dyke’s Bert was someone that occasionally popped up in the action, it feels like Jack is shoehorned into the plot at every turn and it begins to take away from the time we want to spend with Mary and the Banks family. At times, Jack becomes the driving force of play and that made the movie feel like it was veering too far in the wrong direction.

Still, it’s hard to argue that Blunt commands the movie in no uncertain terms whenever she’s even close to the screen. I personally think Blunt is the perfect choice for any part she turns up in but here there’s a real chemistry between actress and role that is rarely seen. No one is going to erase the performance of Julie Andrews from our memory and Blunt doesn’t even try to recreate that particular take on the role. Smartly choosing to give Mary an updated look that sets her apart from her 1964 appearance, Blunt’s Mary is just as staunch as Andrews but doesn’t soften quite as easily. She’s also riotously funny with her droll line readings and incredulity at the state of affairs she encounters upon her return. Andrews won an Oscar for her work and I expect Blunt will get a nomination as well.

Filling out the cast is Colin Firth (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) playing a rare villain role as a bank manager eager to claim the Banks house, Julie Walters (Paddington) as put-upon maid Ellen, David Warner (Waxwork) as Admiral Boom, and Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast) as a wise Balloon Lady with a magical touch of her own. Then there’s Van Dyke (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) dancing up a storm and keep your eyes out for the original Jane Banks, Karen Dotrice, making a cameo outside of Cherry Tree Lane.

Bound to rake in some serious money this holiday season, Mary Poppins Returns is that rare sequel that feels like it wasn’t done for the money but for the greater good. I know it’s all about the bottom line but this is one film that feels like it could heal what ails you…even if just for two and a half hours.

Movie Review ~ Paddington 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw

Director: Paul King

Rated: PG

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Two short years ago Paddington, Michael Bond’s famous bear in the blue coat and red hat, finally got his first big screen adventure and it was a lovely bit of whimsy that snuck up on me in the best way possible. With its message of kindness filtered through quirky characters and a colorful kaleidoscope of production design, Paddington strangely wasn’t the huge sleeper hit in the US it should have been. Still, enough critics took note of its quality, coupling that with its snazzy UK box office a sequel was greenlit, and boy, are we lucky to have another one of these charming films!

The lovable bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) has settled into life with the Brown family at their comfortable home in London. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Breathe) is going through a mid-life crisis, dying his hair and exploring new yoga poses while Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water) attention is focused on swimming to France. Their children, Judy and Jonathan, are both preoccupied with their own teenage interests while their housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters, Brave) keeps the house running and everyone fed.

A popular fixture on their winding street that has a way of bringing sunshine to all he encounters (save for stodgy Mr. Curry of the neighborhood patrol), Paddington is living his best life, even if he occasionally gets into a spot of trouble.  In this outing, Paddington’s Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton, Maleficent) is still back in darkest Peru and he wants to get something special for her in celebration of her 100th birthday. Though at one time she planned to visit London with her late husband, they never made the trip but her adopted nephew finds the perfect gift in an expensive hand-made pop-up book of the sights of city in the curiosity shop owned by Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent, The Legend of Tarzan).

While visiting the opening night of a dazzling ‘steam circus’ with the Browns, Paddington mentions the book to Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, Cloud Atlas), a washed up actor that happens to be the descendant of a magician who was desperate to acquire the same pop-up tome. Evidently, contained on its pages are clues to finding a wealth of jewels hidden away by the proprietor of the circus. When the book is stolen and Paddington is jailed for the crime, he has to find a way to clear his name before Phoenix can acquire the bounty.

Returning director Paul King doesn’t yield to the episodic nature of Bond’s original creations.  This is a bear and family that have adventures and Paddington 2 hits the ground running, barely leaving any time to catch your breath.  Bounding joyously through scenes that find Paddington bungling a job at a barber shop to his revolutionizing the lives of his fellow inmates by educating the gruff cook (Brendan Gleeson, In the Heart of the Sea) on the tastiness of orange marmalade, the movie will leave you smiling.  It’s so focused on celebrating the innate goodness in people and kindly revealing how unfortunate it is to be someone who can’t find the fun in life, I can’t pick out anything that felt like a misstep.  It’s also a legitimately funny and ultimately moving (bring a tissue or two) bit of family entertainment, something of a rarity these days.

While both films earn a strong recommendation, I’d give the edge to this sequel, if only for the fact that the first one dealt with a bit more intense villain (Nicole Kidman’s sinewy meanie wanted to stuff Paddington!) and Grant’s character is just a sad song and dance man that wants money to finance a West End revue.  On that note, make sure to stay through the credits for an incredibly pleasing musical production number featuring Grant tap-dancing to Stephen Sondheim.  Nominated for three BAFTA awards (take that, The Post!) the good news is that there’s already a Paddington 3 in the works, let’s hope nothing gets in the way of its release within the next two years.  While we’re at it, this would make a great series for Netflix…just a thought.

Movie Review ~ The Danish Girl

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danish_girl

The Facts:

Synopsis: A fictitious love story inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts

Director: Tom Hooper

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I gotta say, I feel like the best way to enjoy The Danish Girl is to read nothing about it before and nothing about it after.  Reading nothing beforehand will help keep the story at the heart of the movie a secret for that much longer, allowing the rich performances to reveal themselves slowly.  Looking deeper into the real life events that led to the construction of the piece is bound to be disappointing as you learn how many liberties were taken with characters that have gained your trust over the previous two hours.

It was only after I’d seen The Danish Girl that I discovered the movie, adapted by Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff’s novel was a mostly fictitious retelling of the lives of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.).  Artists in 1920’s Denmark, the movie presents the two as a lovely young couple that support their individual work and have an open honesty that allows them to speak truths both private and painful.  A more successful artist than his wife, Einar keeps painting the same landscape over and over again while Gerda struggles with finding her own voice through her canvas.

What begins as a silly bit of harmless dress-up uncovers a secret desire Einar has harbored that will change the path not only of his life and his marriage, but the path of many men and women in the decades that followed.  Einar spends time transitioning between himself and his female alter-ego, Lili Elbe, first behind closed doors and then in public until the line between the male side and female side is blurred and the choice to live one life becomes a necessity for survival.

An Oscar winner for his stellar work in 2014’s The Theory of Everything, Redmayne takes a similar immersive approach in his portrayal of Einar/Lili.  There’s no holding back when taking on a role with a certain set of requirements and Redmayne meets all of these challenges with believable grace and dignity.  Redmayne presents Einar/Lili not as a stereotype or freak of nature but of a human being struggling with a duality of identity that there is no precedent for.  It’s become cliché to call a performance brave but that’s simply what it is.

He’s matched step-by-step with Vikander’s layered performance as a wife supportive at the outset but who begins to have doubts as her marriage takes on a new direction and the question of what it means to be female is floated between the couple.  Some of her own value as a woman is examined and Vikander takes us through each one of these stages of transformation with a realistic hand.

Director Tom Hooper (reunited with his Les Miserables star Redmayne) is a bit too focused on the production design (which, by the way, is gorgeous from the intricate set design to the period perfect costumes) and less concerned with the narrative motion of the piece.  It’s teeters into a languid stage near its middle section when it should be ramping up its pace.

Then we get to the overall validity of the story being told and, I’m sorry to say, as important as the piece is it’s just not honest and the way the movie presents itself as truth is disappointing considering it’s a story about authenticity.  Taken as fact, the movie greatly misses the mark.  Taken as a work of fiction, The Danish Girl is a strongly acted work of revisionist history.  Here’s hoping that one day down the line a more fact-based retelling is attempted.

Movie Review ~ In the Heart of the Sea

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Jordi Molla, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Riley

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I finished the book that In the Heart of the Sea was based off of mere hours before I caught its big-screen adaptation and it’s probably the reason why I didn’t like it as much as I maybe would have had I not recently experienced Nathaniel Philbrick’s well-researched book.  Philbrick’s historical recounting of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex was a straight-forward piece equal parts storytelling and instructional guide.  Details about the whaling industry, on-board dynamics, and deeper looks into the backstories of the characters was something no film could capture fully…so it’s hard to blame the filmmakers for diverting so far away from the truth.

Well…actually…there is some blame to be had here because what was already a storied tale of survival on the high seas has been unnecessarily Hollywood-ized.  Events have been falsified, details overlooked, and certain aspects have been downright made up to serve…who?  Not the lovers of historical fiction that made the book a bestseller, that’s for sure.

Unwisely adding bookends to the piece featuring a young Herman Mellville (Ben Whishaw, Paddington) interviewing one of the survivors of the wreck (Brendan Gleeson, Song of the Sea) as he researches what will become his celebrated novel Moby Dick, the film starts off on the wrong foot by including this imagined meeting.  Historically it doesn’t make sense, just the first of many ill-advised missteps.  The old man recounts his time aboard the Essex (including scenes where he wasn’t even present) which ran afoul of one massive whale that destroyed the ship and set a band of survivors in lifeboats to fend for themselves on the harsh open sea.

After seeing the equally disappointing Unbroken last year, this survival against all odds seems a bit been-there, done-that so screenwriters Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver take some major liberties with the historical facts and add in events that never happened.  In the film, the whale returns several times to taunt/terrorize the men hanging onto life when in reality the massive mammal appeared only once when it originally capsized the Essex.  While the extra whale sightings may add some fairly nice tension to the mix (Silver and Jaffa wrote Jurassic World so they know how to craft a creature attack), knowing that it never happened pushes the film into Jaws: The Revenge territory.

There are other false happenings that I won’t spoil for you here…but the more the story took untrue turns, the less I cared about the film as a whole.  Director Ron Howard (Parenthood) reteams with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods) and the results aren’t nearly as notable.  Hemsworth is a stiff actor and while his physical appearance may have made him an ideal candidate on paper for the headstrong sailor he’s playing, his performance never makes it out of the bilge.  Also feeling a bit lost is Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as the combative Captain, in the book he’s a social leader done in by his inability to lead by example but here he’s a brat at sea.

The film was shot in 3D and it’s used to good effect here.  Unfortunately, much of the film is CGI-d to death so it can feel like you’re watching an animated film at times.  The camera is constantly moving so those prone to sea-sickness may want to take a Dramamine before embarking on this voyage.

When it was delayed from its intended release in March of 2015, many thought that the studio was positioning the film to play big on the high seas of awards season…but the final product is a total land lubber, unable to find its sea legs.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Danish Girl

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Synopsis: The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

Release Date: November 27, 2015

Thoughts: Could Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) be the first actor in two decades to win back-to-back Oscars? Based solely on the trailer for The Danish Girl, it may just happen. I know, it’s bold to make that serious of a suggestion so early into the awards season and only going off a 2 ½ minute trailer…but this looks like a seriously majestic performance from the young actor. Based on the true story of one of the first male-to-female gender confirmation surgeries, it’s directed by Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) and co-stars Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina, herself getting awards buzz), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall). With transgender people figuring so prominently into the mainstream media in the last few years, this long in development film feels timely and valuable.

The Silver Bullet ~ Spectre

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Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: First things first…if you haven’t seen 2012’s Skyfall yet I’d suggest not watching this teaser for the next installment in the James Bond franchise. Not that it gives a lot away, but I found more than a few references to the previous film that may spoil a few of the more intriguing wrinkles the 23rd 007 introduced. For Bond’s 24th outing, director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) are hoping to capture that same lightning in a bottle that made Skyfall so very, very entertaining. From the looks of it, they’re headed down a similar path to success…because this is a wonderful tease at what audiences can expect come November. As a huge Bond fan (check out Bond-ed for Life), I’m anxiously awaiting this one.