Queen songs in movies - #2
FAFC presents - THE FAVOURITE - Sat 27th July

Playing a game with Mary Poppins called "Catch-Up"

So it’s been a long time since I sat down and wrote about any of the movies we’ve presented on a Saturday night. To be brutally honest with myself, it’s nearly twelve months, because I haven’t managed a post-movie review at all so far this summer. That is rather disappointing, not to say indecent, since we have a particularly good line up and the movies which have slipped past without comment have all been top notch. So I shall try and make amends right now…

A-star-is-born-from-left-bradley-cooper-lady-gaga-2018-ph-neal-preston--warner-bros-courtesy-everett-collectionOur season opener, A Star Is Born, remains a fine and powerful piece of work, but my second viewing felt a bit tepid, and with the story established from a previous viewing (and, of course, three previous versions and about 50 years of history) instead of gaining new insights on performance and direction, to me it felt a little bit over-familiar and slightly glib. I still rate it highly, and feel that Bradley Cooper’s multiple achievements in acting, directing, composing and singing were unfairly overlooked, but I didn’t get as much pleasure from this second time around.

MV5BNTFiZTZhYTItNmM0Ni00ZDhkLThmMzktZDFmZTRlZjU5NmIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjAyODg1OA@@._V1_The same cannot be said for Green Book, for which the merit of its Best Movie Oscar award grows on every viewing. Mahershala Ali is masterful as a man who is a minority in every situation, not just by dint of his skin colour. The way in which his ‘outsiderness’ is revealed alongside his eternal struggle to maintain his dignity is gripping. Viggo Mortensen’s hired muscle might have become little more than a comic foil, but there is depth in his love for his wife and family, and his personal journey of development just about offsets the potential pitfalls of the ‘white saviour’ trope.

983bf378-8b30-495b-a973-77d6772aa7d9-movie-review-10-31I could write a lot about Bohemian Rhapsody, but I won’t because so many people enjoyed it. I have two issues with the movie. Firstly, as a biopic based on fairly recent events,  I would expect it to have a much stronger connection to the true events. Instead the film-makers played havoc with the timeline of history in order to generate drama in the storyline. I could reel off a whole bunch of inaccuracies (Freddie was friends with the guys in the band long before the previous singer left, Freddie never ‘left the group’ so there was no reconciliation, Freddie did not get his AIDS diagnosis till after Live Aid so there was no dramatic revelation on the eve of the concert, plus others) but most of these did not affect most people’s enjoyment. Though they did mine…

Secondly, I read that the involvement of Brian May and Roger Taylor in the making of the film had impacted the screenplay. They resisted the idea of this becoming The Freddie Mercury Story, and wanted to make sure that the band members got equal credit in the story of Queen,  and in some cases equal screen time for their characters. This resulted in some rather forced scenes (I can only believe that the genesis of ‘We Will Rock You’ was there purely because Brain May insisted it was included) and - for the more technical - the scene where the band meet manager John Reid for the first time has some very strange editing to ensure each band member is on screen for equal minutes. And there are other examples...

I will say that the Live Aid concert footage is very well executed, very powerful, and filled me with nostalgia and an urge to get the concert DVD off the shelf and relive that wonderful day again.

Finally, I get caught up current, and now I can talk about Saturday night and Mary Poppins Returns. I had kept my own council about this, as I was really not looking forward to it, anticipating a highly anti-climactic sequel with little more value than a DVD to entertain the kids on rainy days. My reaction therefore was surprising. I certainly enjoyed it, but mostly I was intrigued. I would love to have been a fly-on-the-wall during the script meetings and the screenplay planning…

Mary-poppins-sneak-peek-tThe producers had the thankless task of resurrecting one of cinema’s most cherished characters, and following up a much-loved movie with a stellar reputation and five Oscar wins. They had to balance three major elements; original material to tell Mary’s new story, deliver her message and complete her mission; scenes which everyone would expect from the ‘template’ of the first movie; and enough ‘homage’ to respect the original film and to leverage the goodwill it carries.

I thought they got the balance just about right. The template gave us a song and dance number by lamplighters instead of chimney sweeps, a live action-animation song and dance number, a wacky relative of Mary Poppins who spends time on the ceiling. Homage gave us the Admiral, the kite, the refrain from ‘Feed The Birds’ lilting through ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’, a quick nod from the penguin waiters, and cameos from Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice, the original Jane (Did you spot her ?).

But most internet debate centers on the messaging, and how it differs from the moral values and lessons that Julie Andrews brought to the original Banks family. I thought that the impact on this family of Emily Blunt’s Mary was more peripheral than her earlier visit, and she tended more towards grief counseling the children, than restoring family values and a sensible work-life balance. It's hard to see exactly what influence she has on the older Michael, either directly or through the children's adventures. Then again, I’ve read as many different interpretations of what Mary Poppins represented in 1964 as I have actual reviews, which in itself is significant. Mary Poppins always allowed you to take whatever you want from her no-nonsense, ‘never explain’ theory of life as an adventure with consequences. So it’s almost impossible to be right about what this films message is. Or, indeed, wrong. And, of course, she never explains herself...

Trying to judge this movie against the iconic 1964 version and its ridiculously good soundtrack is pointless. If the first movie did not exist, this would be a joyous, slightly overlong romp, with a few catchy songs. It would almost certainly generate its own sequels based on this wonderful English nanny character, and would probably be a much watched item on the DVD shelf.  And that’s good enough to count as success.

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