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Hammerle on... “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Vice”

January 9, 2019

bob hammerle movie reviews“Mary Poppins Returns”

Though I have long admitted that I cry easily at films, I predict few of you will have a dry eye as “Mary Poppins Returns” concludes. Though it starts a bit slowly, it gradually gains an emotional momentum that will likely soften the heart of the most caustic film fan.

hammerle-rating-poppinsThe talented Ben Whishaw, who provides the voice of Paddington in this year’s colossally funny “Paddington 2,” appears as Michael Banks, a recently widowed father of three who faces eviction from his home for failure to pay a loan. While his sister Jane (the endearing Emily Mortimer) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) try to help him find some bank notes left by his late father that will provide the collateral needed to pay his debt, his five-day window is quickly closing. And then, appearing out the sky holding an old family kite is Mary Poppins, the female version of Superman.

Before going further, let me repeat my observation that I’m sick and tired of recognized movie reviewers whose credibility must be questioned. First, A.O. Scott of the New York Times dismissed the wonderful “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a film that I just saw a second time, and now his colleague Manohla Dargis rips apart this magnificent film. They did the same thing last year with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and I can only wish that they spent a little time outside of New York City to try and touch base with the average movie fan. If they did, they would see in “Mary Poppins Returns” a forceful story where music and the choreography match the splendor seen in last year’s “The Greatest Showman,” a film that many of these same critics also dismissed.

Emily Blunt gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Marry Poppins, a woman whose magical skills are politely used to help the Banks family find a way to overcome grief. Several of her songs are as heartfelt as any you will see on the big screen, particularly “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” where she helps three young kids find a way to embrace the memory of their deceased mother.

In addition, the great Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame on Broadway, dominates as expected in his role as Jack, a blue-collar worker who turns street lights on and off in London. He befriends the Banks family, particularly Jane, and his singing is every bit as powerful as expected. Watch for an incredible scene where his singing and dancing with his fellow street workers is astonishing beyond description.

Yet the secret that elevates this movie beyond most others are some incredible performances from Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. Watch for Streep as she plays Topsy, an over-the-top eccentric who was sought to use her skill to repair an important vase. Lansbury, herself over 90, is equally memorable as she plays a balloon seller during the film’s conclusion.

Yet it is Van Dyke, also over 90, who resonates as a former bank president who reappears to save the Banks family from the clutches of the amoral bank president, a role embraced by Colin Firth. As hard as it is to believe, watch Mr. Van Dyke’s dance scenes, part of which take place on the top of an office desk. Robert Redford (“The Old Man and the Gun”) and Clint Eastwood (“The Mule”) didn’t come as close as Van Dyke to embracing the magic of old age.

I expect that this movie will be a front-runner at Oscar time for the best song, special effects, editing and nominations for Blunt and maybe Miranda. It would be well-deserved, and you simply have to take the time to see this wonderfully entertaining film.

“Vice”

While Dick Cheney remains one of the most intellectually devious vice presidents in the long history of our country, writer/director Adam McKay forces you to remember the tragic consequences of his actions. Other than his love and admiration for his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) and his admirable public acceptance of Mary (Alison Pill), his gay daughter, this man was devoid of a likeable trait.

hammerle-rating-viceMcKay follows Cheney’s development from his early days when he was kicked out of Yale for his alcoholic excesses only to find redemption when Adams’ Lynne tells him that it is either time to get his act together or she will leave him. Adams gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a strong-willed woman who guides her husband with the joint use of a passionate kiss and an emotional whip.

However, this movie belongs to Christian Bale, who literally is transformed into Dick Cheney in the same fashion as Gary Oldman in last year’s Oscar-winning performance as Winston Churchill. Bale is stunning at every turn, and he could very well win his own Oscar as well as bestowing on this film an award in the makeup category.

Film fans will quickly become riveted watching Cheney snare a position with Illinois Congressman Donald Rumsfeld and thereafter use connections to eventually serve as White House chief of staff, House minority whip and secretary of defense. He eventually left government to become CEO of the infamous company known as Blackwater, and their connection did not end when Cheney became President Bush’s vice president in 2000.

As Cheney built his resume, director McKay focuses on his dedication to finding legal authority to have the executive branch escape control and responsibility from both Congress and the American public. His efforts reach fulfillment when the United States Supreme Court, in an opinion joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, who ironically had a previous professional relationship with Cheney, refused to allow Florida to conduct a presidential recount, resulting in Bush becoming president despite winning Florida by fewer than 600 votes.

And then came 9/11, when Osama bin Laden wreaked havoc on our country that had to exceed his expectations. Thousands may have died in New York City, but with the help of Vice President Cheney, we ended up in the Iraq War on false pretenses. Though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the actions of bin Laden, we started a war that removed Saddam only to allow the terrorist organization ISIS to replace him. That responsibility is Cheney’s, and it cannot be forgotten, nor should it be forgiven.

As you watch this nightmare unfold, the movie is at its best as you watch Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Paul Wolfowitz (Eddie Marsan) and Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk) smugly involve our country in a Middle East conflict that resonates to this very day. In particular, there is a hysterically funny moment when those individuals sit in a restaurant where the waiter, played by Alfred Molina, describes a menu that includes all of the excesses our government used in Iraq. This included the use of torture, which was simply excused by Cheney under the theory that the United States does not engage in torture.

Another fabulous moment in the film is when Candidate George Bush, played in unforgettable style by Sam Rockwell, allows Cheney to demand that he will accept the position of vice president if he is allowed to control the military and other foreign service operations. Looking at him for a moment while he devours a hunk of chicken, Bush simply nods as he says, “Okay.”

It is hard to find any reason to admire Dick Cheney despite his admirable fight to conquer heart disease. Thousands of Americans died in Iraq while we still remain in Afghanistan 17 years later. From dawn to dusk, right wing radio stations across the country angrily support a cause that has placed Donald Trump in the White House.

A shameful epitaph is awaiting Mr. Cheney when he says goodbye to a world inflicted with damaging scars he created.•

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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