Posts Tagged ‘Emily Mortimer’

Christmas! It’s a time for family, for sharing, for massive over-indulgence, for lying around in stupefied torpor. What it’s never been before, in my family at least, is a time for enjoying the latest cinematic offerings, mainly due to all the over-indulgence and stupefied torpidity I just mentioned. Still, one thing about family (mine, at least) is their capacity to change and surprise you, and so it proved this year. It turned out that there were not one but two films on release that my small young relatives were quite keen to see, and it was really just a question of who got roped into going to see what and when.

Now, it transpired that Young Niece was particularly interested in seeing Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns. As I believe I may have mentioned before, catching this particular movie was right there on my list of things to do this Christmas season: very near the bottom, somewhere between transcribing the Queen’s speech and then translating it into Basque and volunteering to have an elective laparotomy, so I ducked out of this one. My Significant Other was very happy to accompany her, along with various other senior members of the tribe. Significant Other drew my attention to the fact that, back in the dim and distant echoes of history, I did occasionally indulge in the odd guest post about films I hadn’t personally seen myself, and dropped some loaded hints that it might be a nice idea to revive this tradition for the Poppins movie. She and Young Niece seemed quite keen on this idea and I found I couldn’t in all good conscience turn them down. So here we go, for the first time in ages I will attempt to post a review of a film which I haven’t actually seen.

I have, of course, seen the original 1964 Mary Poppins, a film which used to be just a fondly-remembered family favourite and near-fixture of the festive TV schedules, but which Disney – particularly since the release of Saving Mr Banks in 2013, perhaps – have worked hard to reposition as some kind of iconic, epochal classic of popular cinema. Disney, whose consolidation of their already iron grip on popular box office has started to cause some consternation even amongst those who like much of their output, have also hit upon a lucrative thing in the shape of retooling and reimagining many of their classic old films – a couple of years ago we had the new CGI version of The Jungle Book, due to be followed in 2019 by freshly computerised remakes of Dumbo and The Lion King. All this considered, the appearance of a Poppins sequel only 54 years after the original – the gap is a bit on the long side, I think you’ll agree – is really not as surprising as it first appears.

The details of the plot, at least, are fairly easy to glean from the trailers and a quick visit to Wikipedia: the Banks children from the first film have grown up and  turned into Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw. Whishaw now has children of his own, although his wife has died (a fairly ruthless swipe of the scriptwriter’s pen); in time-honoured fashion, the now-grown children have become rather stressed and joyless drones, in grave peril of forgetting about The Important Things In Life. The fact that the bank is threatening to foreclose on their home and throw them all out into the street probably isn’t helping much. What better time for someone to dust off an old kite which has been lying about the place and summon, not entirely unlike the Woman in Black, the supernatural dominatrix Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), to sort everything out?

Well, in my case I suspect it would have taken a snootful of pethidine to make this particular load of sugar go down, but Young Niece did seem quite impressed when they came out, as did Significant Other. I asked them to provide a few further details, firstly about what they thought of the film in general. (I should probably mention that Young Niece is a talkative ten years of age while English is not Significant Other’s first language.)

‘It was really good, imaginative and creative – it made a real picture in your mind of reality and it introduced the magic. I think it had sort of the same story as the first one with modern and exciting elements – though I think the first one was more exciting, set in the olden times.

‘It was really clever with the director, how he took the old story and turned it into a new story… the actors played it like they were in the moment. Emily Blunt played Mary Poppins really well – she stepped into Julie Andrew’s shoes. She was really sharp but also a lot of fun.’

Anything else to add about Emily Blunt? (Personally, I’m hoping this film doesn’t mark the point at which we lose Blunt to the clutches of bland global megastardom.) ‘When Mary Poppins arrived she was a little bit bossy, but after the fabulous bath everybody loved her.’ (I believe the ‘fabulous bath’ may be a reference to a big special effects set-piece sequence.)

‘Emily Blunt put a lot of character in… she changed the accent in her voice during some of the songs. It’s a little difficult to be the nanny and also the big showgirl.’ (The only other performers to be singled out for a mention were Angela Lansbury – who seems to mainly be present to encourage my father in his tendency to get the original film mixed up with Bedknobs and Broomsticks – and Meryl Streep, whose appearance as Cousin Topsy drew praise – ‘she looked different, which was good.’)

Thoughts on production values? ‘The costumes were very colourful and looked the part – the lamp-lighters were wearing clothes like they would wear… not so colourful.’ (As an aside, nice to see my niece is so aware of the class divide at such a tender age.) ‘The animation was absolutely fabulous, especially the way they did the lamp-lighters and Mary Poppins on the kite. It was just amazing and it looked really real and joyful.’

Any favourite moments? ‘The best bit was when they were working together to turn time back to get the share certificate.’ (I should probably explain the concept of a plot spoiler to her in a bit more detail, now I think on it.) They also enjoyed ‘the stunt with bikes and the gymnastics, how they got up Big Ben… there were some amazing stunts and acrobatics.’

My suspicion was that this would be another film about getting in touch with your inner child and reconnecting with joy and all the usual waffle like that, so I asked them what they thought the message of the film really was. ‘Nothing is impossible,’ was the answer both of them gave, quite independently, which must mean something I expect. In an attempt to include all the generations of the family, I asked our venerable patriarch the same question and he came back with ‘Money isn’t everything’, which is an interesting moral for a film with a budget of $130 million.

So there you go, a little lighter on the piercing insight than usual, and indeed the pithy one-liners, but you can’t have everything, especially considering I was in the theatre next door enjoying an entirely different film while they were taking all this in. They all seemed to come out smiling, anyway, and I expect that if you enjoyed the original film you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Personally I think I would still much rather feed the birds, fly a kite, or chim-chiminee my chim-chim-cherees than go anywhere near it, but everyone is different, aren’t they? Anyway…

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From the Hootoo archive.  Originally published December 13th 2001:

Back in the mid-70s there was a not-very-good John Wayne movie called Brannigan, wherein the Duke played a clearly geriatric cop who comes to London and duffs up all the local villains. The pitch was clearly ‘John Wayne in London’ and the culture clash between him and the local police was one of the main elements of the film. Well, plus ca change and all that, because much the same is true of the new Liverpool-set comedy thriller The 51st State, starring an inexplicably-kilted Samuel L Jackson. Times have moved on, of course, which means we now cheer drug dealers rather than cops – the morality of which rather eludes me – but it’s pretty much the same story.

51st State has hit our screens wreathed in the worst critical notices for a very long time. Like the recent Kiss of the Dragon, it’s something of a fusion movie – director Ronny Yu is Hong Kong Chinese, the star is American, the supporting cast largely British. It’s the story of LA-based ‘master chemist’ Elmo McElroy (Jackson, trading heavily on his Pulp Fiction persona) who’s invented a revolutionary new designer drug. Elmo blows up his nasty employer, Lizard (Meat Loaf, who appears to have some sort of unexplained skin condition), and heads for Liverpool to sell the formula to local villain Durrant (Ricky Tomlinson). His guide to the city is American-hating, soccer-loving lowlife Felix (Robert Carlyle). Little does Elmo suspect that Lizard survived the explosion and has despatched expat hitgirl Dakota Dawn (Emily Mortimer) to retrieve him…

Jackson is the central figure in this movie. Without his financial clout it probably wouldn’t have been made at all (probably because of this he gets named as Executive Producer), and without his superfly charisma it would be almost entirely unwatchable. He cruises through the movie like a barracuda in a fishbowl and the film relies heavily on his presence (‘Look,’ it seems to be saying, ‘it’s Samuel L Jackson next to Denzil from Only Fools and Horses! And now look, it’s Samuel L Jackson sitting in a Mini Cooper! Isn’t that the wackiest and most entertaining thing you’ve ever seen?’ And so on).

He certainly puts everyone else in the shade. Robert Carlyle is off-form, possibly due to the very ropey material he’s saddled with much of the time, and looks about thirteen next to his hulking co-star. Emily Mortimer is actually rather good in a one-dimensional part. The rest of the cast, most of whom you’ll know best from TV if at all, are strictly comic relief and not very comical comic relief at that. Tomlinson’s undoubted talents are criminally wasted, Sean Pertwee – veteran of many a dodgy Britflick – pops up gratuitously, doing a frenetic Gary Oldman impersonation, and the only person who regularly gets laughs is Rhys Ifans as a yoga-obsessed drugs baron.

For all this though, the film does have the odd moment where it realises its potential. Most of this is down to Ronny Yu’s flashy but stylish direction. He stages some impressive action sequences and generally brings the film to life, even though he does go a bit over the top here and there. And I could well have done without yet another British movie where the lead characters are introduced via little captions explaining who they are – a trick done to death since Trainspotting.

So, good cast, good director, what went wrong? Well, it’s the script, I’m afraid, which has little to commend it. The plot hinges on a couple of huge coincidences and too many jokes either fall flat or turn out to be unpleasant rather than funny. One gag, about idiot sidekicks accidentally violently murdering people, is repeated twice to little effect. And – this isn’t necessarily a criticism – this is probably the most foul-mouthed film I’ve ever seen, with entire scenes seeming to consist of characters shouting ****, ****, ****, and ******** at each other1. This is not as funny as the producers think it is. Weakest of all is the stagey, implausible, and uncinematic climax.

If I could make one wish to help the British movie industry it’d be to stop them from trying to hedge their bets and mix genres. This is a comedy thriller, allegedly, but as far as I can tell this is just a matter of labelling so they’ve got an excuse in case the comedy or the thrills aren’t there. Which they’re mostly not. I wish they’d had the guts to go for either a proper, hard-edged thriller or an all-out caper-style comedy rather than this confused film, where the two styles co-mingle. The result is a sloppy film set in an unrecognisable fantasyland, where there’s no real sense of threat or menace and decent jokes stand out like oases in the desert. The 51st State isn’t as bad as you’ve probably heard it is – Jackson, Mortimer and Yu salvage what they can – but it’s not far off.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 9th October 2003:

Actor, comedian, novelist, writer, and film director – yes, these are all words that I have just typed. Also, by a weird coincidence, jobs appearing on the CV of the formidable polymath Stephen Fry, whose debut as writer/director has just been released.

Bright Young Things, based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies, is an examination of the celebrity-obsessed metropolitan culture of 1930s London. Recently in the UK we’ve grown accustomed to people like Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Victoria Hervey basically becoming famous for going to high-profile parties, but this isn’t an exclusively modern phenomenon and Fry’s film is about the forebears of today’s It girls and boys.

Stephen Campbell Moore plays Adam, a posh but penniless young man who aspires to be a writer. He and his friends are part of 1930s London’s party scene, going from one bash to another in search of new and greater thrills. But reality can only be fended off for so long and if he’s to marry his fiancée, Nina (the estimable Emily Mortimer), he needs to get his hands on some good hard cash.

For most of its length Bright Young Things has a slightly rambling, picaresque structure, the different situations all loosely linked by Adam’s increasingly urgent efforts to find some money – whether by tracking down a drunken Major (Jim Broadbent) he’s inadvertently given thirty thousand pounds to, or by becoming a gossip columnist for ogre-ish newspaper proprietor Lord Monomark (Dan Aykroyd). The film switches quite effectively from comedy to drama and back again, with the script subtly but steadily making its points about the intoxicating superficiality of this kind of celebrity culture and its ultimate nihilism.

Members of the cast really fall into two camps – young, relative unknowns who play the main roles, and much better known names and faces providing cameos. And both groups give equally good performances – James McAvoy is particularly good amongst the newcomers, while Peter O’Toole (radiating manic vigour) is probably the standout in a hugely distinguished supporting cast that includes Julia Mackenzie, Simon Callow, John Mills, Jim Carter, Stockard Channing, Sam Kisgart [a then-current running gag referring to my inability to recognise anagrams of Mark Gatiss’s name – A] and Richard E Grant.

The film is handsomely mounted and Fry shows some promise as a director, particularly in the closing stages as the story grows darker and more poignant. But somehow the closing, Second World War-set section, doesn’t ring true (a necessary alteration to Waugh, who was writing in the late 1920s) and quite what the final message of the film is is obscured by the way it concentrates on Adam and Nina’s romance at the expense of nearly everything else. But Bright Young Things remains a classy piece of work, and an impressive debut for Fry.

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