Preview, “Downton Abbey” is a big ol’tease

The House. The Abbey. Promises of all your favorite characters making the journey from Brit TV/PBS small screens to the big one.
“Next year.”

Really, if you’re not doing a prequel, then you simply MUST get this posh soap opera into or out of World War II. Two fascinating periods, with Great Houses (as they were in the WWI portions of the program) taken over for military purposes. Or under threat in the End of Empire/Taxes Go Up, great estates broken up days right after WWII

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BOX OFFICE: “Spiderverse” to top $35, “Mule” might hit $18, “Mortal Engines” sputter and die

boxTook the girlfriend to a nearly sold-out small town Florida showing of “The Mule” Friday night.

Warner Brothers didn’t put a lot of promotional money behind Clint Eastwood’s 40th film as a director. It wasn’t previewed in most of America. Perhaps they think his audience has aged out of going, unless the film becomes a Red State phenomenon — “American Sniper,” for example.

But the old guy’s still a draw — older, all white audience I saw it with. And they were tickled with the film, about a 90 year old drug mule who made his living, for decades, growing day lilies.

The film is performing a bit better than expectations. Some had it opening at $11 million, but projections went as high as $17. Deadline.com is saying, based on Friday’s take, that it’ll manage $17.8 or more for its opening weekend.

That’s about half of what the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” is taking in. Deadline is calling this a $35 million opening weekend hit. Projections had been pushing this one well over $40 million, and unless they count last weekend’s $1.9 million as part of its opening weekend (not sure they do that), this won’t come close to that.

$35 million is what the animated “Sing!” opened at a couple of Decembers back. So.

The BIG story has to be Peter Jackson’s farmed-out production of “Mortal Engines.” He produced and co-wrote the script for this steampunk sci-fi based on the Phillip Reeve YA novel. It cost a fortune, and you can see that money up on the screen.

But nobody is going. It was projected to bomb, but nobody thought it wouldn’t clear $10. It might not top $8 million. A $100 million budget disaster.

“Once Upon a Deadpool” isn’t making any real money, either — $3-4 million, tops. Won’t cover the cost of Ryan Reynolds and Fred Savage and that “Princess Bride” set, much less the re-edit.

“The Grinch” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” are still performing — with “Grinch” hauling in another $12 million. Kids cartoons are still smart money in Hollywood.

“Creed II” will clear $5 million, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has closed the gap with “A Star is Born” domestically — over $180 million by midnight Sunday — and has owned the overseas box office this holiday season. Everybody loves Queen.

 

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Movie Review: Eastwood Dawdles, jokes and amuses as “The Mule”

Clint Eastwood pulls one last bait and switch with his latest — perhaps last — picture, “The Mule.” 

From the tenor of the trailers and TV commercials, we gather that he’s directed and stars in a drug trade thriller — tense, guilt-ridden, an old man’s late life understanding of remorse.

Actually this drama, inspired by a true story, is Eastwood’s most whimsical picture in years. It’s about a 90 year-old’s dalliance in the drug trade, driving (ever so carefully) cocaine from El Paso to Chicago), collecting big paydays, shrugging off threats and evidence that he’s dealing with deadly people in a business bathed in death.

We know it’s going to turn dark. Nick Schenk’s cutesy, logic-straining script (aided and abetted by Eastwood’s handling of it) has a hard time making that turn. But Clint twinkles, old-man-shuffles and jokes his way through it like a guy who never gave up his career of comedies with an orangutan. He makes it entertaining and lets the moral lessons about generational foibles, family and the power of guilt go down easily. 

Earl Stone has made his Peoria, Illinois living in the soil — raising, competing and selling day lilies. As a 2007 prologue makes clear, he’s most at home with the flowers and his fellow day lily traders — conventions, contests, charming the ladies who buy his hothouse flowers. 

“I love’em,” he confesses at one point. “They’re worth all the time and attention.”

So was his family. That 2007 prologue has a second theater of action. His daughter (Alison Eastwood) is getting married. And his bitter ex-wife (Oscar winner Dianne Wiest) is quick to remind her that “He missed your baptism” and every thing that came after it. Why would he change now?

Daughter Iris never forgave him, any more than ex-wife Mary did. But granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) is wholly charmed and full of hope for the old man.

Because 17 years later, the “damned Internet” has killed his business, put his house in foreclosure and made him — seemingly — more attentive to family. Mary, Iris and Iris’s husband aren’t falling for this abandonment of “work comes first.” But Ginny, on her own wedding day, is more forgiving.

But that wedding is where elderly, down-on-his-luck Earl meets a guy who knows a guy. And he’s impressed that Earl has an ancient Ford pickup and a perfect driving record. His “friends” might have some work for him. 

Her doesn’t let the first automatic weapon he sees waved around by the tattooed cartel thugs scare him off. That’s Eastwood’s most adorable wrinkle in this very old man. Nothing rattles him. Even threats, jabbing a pistol in his rib cage, don’t phase him. Or register. 

As the runs, delineated by intertitles — “First Run,” “Third Run,” etc. — add up, the Mexicans, particularly Emilio (Robert Lasardo, type cast but spot on) and Bald Rob (Noel Gugliemi) let themselves get tickled by the codger who dodges the cops for them. They indulge his eccentricities, school him on cell phones and “burner” phones. They call him “viejito” and “abuelito.”

Earl moseys down the back roads, stops to help a couple of Prius-driving “Negros” learn how to change a tire, buys a fancy Lincoln pickup and starts throwing money around — at his family, his broke VFW post. And then the Big Boss (Andy Garcia, “cute” too) gives him “a minder.” Tense, no-nonsense Julio (Ignacio Serricchio) is a signal that things are about to get darker, that Earl’s pleasant demeanor towards his “beaners” (unfiltered racism makes an appearance) is going to be tested.

This is the story we care about. The one we’re never given a reason to, the one that should add urgency to the “thriller” nature of “The Mule,” is law enforcement — the patient, ponderous Feds, led by Laurence Fishburne and his field agents (Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña) trying to stop up this coke pipeline. 

Eastwood lets his fill stop — repeatedly — to catch up on their efforts to find out who is running all this coke into Chicago. These interruptions are never more than mildly diverting, and considering the higher (murderous) stakes of the cartel, we never for a second consider law enforcement the scariest of Earl’s problems.

Not that he notices. He’s just singing along to “I’ve Been Every Where, Man” on the truck radio, stopping at the home of “the best pulled pork sandwich” in the country, his favorite small town motels where his favorite small town hookers are close by. 

A running gag — the “mañana” Mexicans, culturally stereotyped as lazy and slow, are the ones in a hurry, the ones freaking out at Earl’s dawdling, his “family” delays. He’s constantly lecturing Julio to “slow down.”

Shoehorned in? A police stop of an innocent man who freaks out and does a three minute bit on how “This is the most dangerous five minutes of my life,” a brown man stopped by a trigger happy generation of mostly white cops. Also jammed in? “I want to meet this ‘Tata,'” (their name for Earl), says the Big Boss (Garcia). Couple of old guys joshing and joking around a Mexican drug lord’s mansion.

“Who’d you have to kill to get a place like this?”

No drug lord would want to meet a mule. Kind of defeats the purpose of distancing yourself from drug trafficking by HIRING a mule.

But damned if old Clint doesn’t keep this amiable, amoral tale shuffling along, damned if he doesn’t show us the human cost — not so much of the drug trade, but of a life lived for “work” instead of family. 

“The Mule” is not one of Eastwood’s greats, but it does hold your interest and keep you tickled, almost from first to last. That’s more than you can say for what could have been his “last” film, “The 15:17 to Paris.” And if this is his final film, a grinning, goofy drug smuggling grandpa isn’t a bad way to be remembered. 

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Dianne Wiest, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Ignacio Serracchio, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood, Andy Garcia, Clifton Collins Jr

Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood, script by Nick Schenk. A Warner Brothers release. 

Running time: 1:56

 

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Preview, A convict seeks redemption from “The Mustang”

Mathias Schoenaerts stars, Connie Britton’s his shrink and Bruce Dern is the grizzled old horse handler with loads of folksy horse sense in this drama, produced by Robert Redford, about inmates looking to patch the holes in their souls by working as horse trainers. 

“The Mustang” opens March 19 in limited release. 

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WEEKEND MOVIES: A not-necessarily-for-kids cartoon, “Into the Spiderverse,” is set to dominate, will “The Mule” pull its weight?

Good reviews or bad, “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” was sure to own this weekend, as the comic book fanbase is seriously hyped up for this alternate version of the web slinger — which features any number of Spider Women, Spider Noirs and Spider-Hams. And the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. 

I’d been hearing $35-39 million for the opening weekend for this two hour animated film, from Variety and others. It’s already picked up $1.9 million from last weekend’s pre-release release (paid) showings. And it made another $3.5 million Thursday night (I don’t think they add the last weekend total to that.

But Box Office Mojo is saying $40 million is the ceiling, thanks to the hype (I didn’t love it, and will be watching for reports of how wider audiences take its I-say eye-straining action beats and animated focus). 

And the Box Office Guru is guessing $41 million for the wide wide wide release. 

That should suck ALL of the money away from Fox’s PG-13 “Princess Bride” gag re-release of “Deadpool 2.” The Guru says $5 million is all that’s left in the tank for that late spring release. Box Office Mojo is saying it won’t crack the top ten — $3.2 million or so. So sorry Mr. Pool.

Warner Brothers has downplayed its “other” holiday release — a dark Clint Eastwood drug trade thriller, “The Mule,” which has a touch of “Gran Torino” about its foul and racist old man as drug runner story. Oscar winners and Oscar contenders decorate its cast, but they didn’t preview it in much of the country, especially the corners where Clint is King (Flyover States). 

They’re either hiding it because it isn’t great, refusing to promote it at the expense of “A Star is Born” or some hazy version of both. Eastwood himself may have suggested the strategy, as he is now thinking of Bradley Cooper as his Warner Brothers go-to actor/director successor.

In an event, a paucity of reviews greet its opening. 

Saving the worst news for last, “Mortal Engines” finally comes to the big screen, the movie Peter Jackson wanted to make before “The Hobbit” ate up his life. He produced the film of Phillip Reeve’s novel, co-wrote the script and one of his production team — his storyboard artist for years and years — gets the directing credit. Steampunk sci-fi riding indifferent reviews into theaters, both the Guru and Mr. Mojo say $11 million is what this YA pic should earn by midnight Sunday. 

Box Office Mojo says it’ll do a solid $17 million this weekend. Box Office Guru figures $11 million is all he has left in the tank as a leading man. 

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Preview, Jamie Lee Curtis is a Threat to Tika Sumpter in “An Acceptable Loss”

A thriller with hints of an administration with a freewheeling view of American nuclear power, a fearmongering politician (Jamie Lee Curtis) who wants to use The Bomb and Tika Sumpter as the aide who helps her sell the threat they’re facing so that she can do it.

What the aide knows could get her killed.

“An Acceptable Loss” has hints of Bush and Obama Administration figures, doctrines and actions — just familiar enough to seem real. It opens Jan. 19.

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Preview, “Captive State”

A bit of science fiction satire aimed at the “state” of things as they are today — privacy, control, “monitoring,” etc.

Vera Farmiga and John Goodman are the big names in the cast of “Captive State” — which is about American ten years after the aliens have taken over.

It opens March 29.

 

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The Screen Actors Guild Nominations are out

wife.jpgI’m going to limit this to SAG’s motion picture nominations. The TV stuff is so far removed from the Emmys (as are the Golden Globes’ TV nominations) as to not impact the “real” awards that come from this time of year’s “awards season” buzz.

But if you want to see the TV noms, here’s SAG’s website. 

And yes, the SAGs look more than a little bit like the Golden Globes nominations of last week.

No Lucas Hedges notice for “Ben is Back,” “Boy Erased” or “Mid90s.”
But two Emily Blunt nominations, support for “The Quiet Ones,” lead for “Mary Poppins Returns.”

No Ethan Hawke for “First Reformed,” but Sam Elliott gets noticed for his support in “A Star is Born.” No Redford for “Old Man and the Gun.” No Jackman for “The Front Runner.” No Willem Dafoe for “At Eternity’s Gate.”

No Lin Manuel Miranda honor for “Mary Poppins Returns.” See my review for why that might be (Golden Globes nomination aside). 

I always like the ensemble nominations, which they throw out there as a sort of “Here’s what WE think qualifies a film for best picture” category.

So they figure…”Bohemian” and “Crazy Rich Asians?” Probably not. Maybe.

All these folks talking up “Roma” for best picture take note. There are no “performances” in the movie that anybody is lauding.  None. And if you’ve never watched a black and white movie before and don’t know what a beautifully shot — shades and contrasts, etc. — such film looks like, maybe start to let it go.

There’s nothing here for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” either. There are outlier critics who are shouting this title from the rooftops. To the sound of crickets answering them back.

As insiders always note this time of year, the largest voting bloc in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of actors, Screen Actors’ Guild actors. So these nominations point toward where Oscar is headed more surely than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes nominations do, historically speaking.

My take? I almost always go for honoring a lifetime of work, rarely giving in to newcomers who just blow us all away.

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Pulling for Glenn Close and Richard E. Grant, Amy Adams. Grant’s been an entertaining character actor for decades and decades, and his clumsy, needy gay BFF and drunk in “Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a delight.

Close is WAY overdue, and “The Wife” is another stellar turn in a career packed with them.

And if Close wins the Oscar, that leaves Amy Adams as the best actress of her generation never to win an Academy Award. There are many, but she’s so good she gets nominated every year. Let’s not let her wait as long as Julianne Moore. Her supporting turn in “Vice” could correct that.

Kind of up in the air for Best Actor, as Annapurna isn’t screening that one in my part of the world and I bailed out of critics’ groups, which is how you get screeners of everything everybody wants to win awards for.

Bale looks brilliant in the “Vice” trailers, but it’d be nice if Dafoe could pull an Oscar nomination out of his turn as Van Gogh. Him, I’d root for.

The Theatrical Motion Picture Nominees are:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
CHRISTIAN BALE / Dick Cheney – “VICE” (Annapurna Pictures)
BRADLEY COOPER / Jack – “A STAR IS BORN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
RAMI MALEK / Freddie Mercury – “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY” (20th Century Fox)
VIGGO MORTENSEN / Tony Lip – “GREEN BOOK” (Universal Pictures)
JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON / Ron Stallworth – “BLACKKKLANSMAN” (Focus Features)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
EMILY BLUNT / Mary Poppins – “MARY POPPINS RETURNS” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
GLENN CLOSE / Joan Castleman – “THE WIFE” (Sony Pictures Classics)
OLIVIA COLMAN / Queen Anne – “THE FAVOURITE” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
LADY GAGA / Ally – “A STAR IS BORN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
MELISSA McCARTHY / Lee Israel – “CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
MAHERSHALA ALI / Dr. Donald Shirley – “GREEN BOOK” (Universal Pictures)
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET / Nic Sheff – “BEAUTIFUL BOY” (Amazon Studios)
ADAM DRIVER / Flip Zimmerman – “BLACKKKLANSMAN” (Focus Features)
SAM ELLIOTT / Bobby – “A STAR IS BORN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
RICHARD E. GRANT / Jack Hock – “CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Lynne Cheney – “VICE” (Annapurna Pictures)
EMILY BLUNT / Evelyn Abbott – “A QUIET PLACE” (Paramount Pictures)
MARGOT ROBBIE / Queen Elizabeth I – “MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS” (Focus Features)
EMMA STONE / Abigail – “THE FAVOURITE” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
RACHEL WEISZ / Lady Sarah – “THE FAVOURITE” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
A STAR IS BORN (Warner Bros. Pictures)
DAVE CHAPPELLE / George “Noodles” Stone
ANDREW DICE CLAY / Lorenzo
BRADLEY COOPER / Jack
SAM ELLIOTT / Bobby
RAFI GAVRON / Rez Gavron
LADY GAGA / Ally
ANTHONY RAMOS / Ramon

BLACK PANTHER (Marvel Studios)
ANGELA BASSETT / Ramonda
CHADWICK BOSEMAN / T’Challa/Black Panther
STERLING K. BROWN / N’Jobu
WINSTON DUKE / M’Baku
MARTIN FREEMAN / Everett K. Ross
DANAI GURIRA / Okoye
MICHAEL B. JORDAN / Erik Killmonger
DANIEL KALUUYA / W’Kabi
LUPITA NYONG’O / Nakia
ANDY SERKIS / Ulysses Klaue
FOREST WHITAKER / Zuri
LETITIA WRIGHT / Shuri

BLACKKKLANSMAN 
(Focus Features)
HARRY BELAFONTE / Jerome Turner
ADAM DRIVER / Flip Zimmerman
TOPHER GRACE / David Duke
LAURA HARRIER / Patrice Dumas
COREY HAWKINS / Kwame Ture
JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON / Ron Stallworth

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (20th Century Fox)
LUCY BOYNTON / Mary Austin
AIDAN GILLEN / John Reid
BEN HARDY / Roger Taylor
TOM HOLLANDER / Jim Beach
GWILYM LEE / Brian May
ALLEN LEECH / Paul Prenter
RAMI MALEK / Freddie Mercury
JOE MAZZELLO / John Deacon
MIKE MYERS / Ray Foster

CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Warner Bros. Pictures)
AWKWAFINA / Peik Lin Goh
GEMMA CHAN / Astrid Young Teo
HENRY GOLDING / Nick Young
KEN JEONG / Wye Mun Goh
LISA LU / Ah Ma
HARRY SHUM, JR. / Charlie Wu
CONSTANCE WU / Rachel Chu
MICHELLE YEOH / Eleanor Young

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (Marvel Studios)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Marvel Studios)
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Netflix)
BLACK PANTHER (Marvel Studios)
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (Paramount Pictures)

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Movie Review: It’s Emily Blunt to the Rescue in “Mary Poppins Returns”

There’s magic and charm, dazzling dance numbers and a genuine show-stopper in“Mary Poppins Returns.” 

But you have to take this overlong and perhaps overdue sequel to Walt Disney’s 1964 classic on its own terms, wash those unforgettable tunes out of your head and maybe forget Julie Andrews’ stern but warm turn in the title role. 

It’s more somber and downbeat, more in the tradition of Disney’s sad but droll film about the making of “Mary Poppins,” “Saving Mr. Banks.”

There is no “Spoonful of Sugar” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” or “Chim Chim Cheree” among the nine new songs, though composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Whittman (Broadway’s “Hairspray”) come up with a couple of  minor jewels of their own. 

Replacing the joyously rubber-legged hoofer Dick Van Dyke proves to be harder than getting a new Mary Poppins. Lin Manuel Miranda is a “Hamilton” sized talent — at the keyboard. As a singer and dancer, he’s adequate. So try not to notice how much editing there is in his dance numbers.

The New Mary? Let me be Blunt. Emily B. rescues this picture just as surely as Mary Poppins made her name “Saving Mr. Banks.” She puts her stamp on the character — sharp sarcastic edges without the “Spoonful of Sugar” — and ensures Mary Poppins casts her helpful spell on another generation of the hard-luck Banks family. 

Decades have passed, and London is in the middle of “The Great Slump,” which we labeled more accurately “The Great Depression” here in America. 

Chimney sweeps are rare, but lamplighters are still lighting and dousing the gas streetlamps of smoky, gloomy London. That’s what Jack (Miranda) does for a living. When he’s not singing “(Underneath) The Lovely London Sky,” a rather half-hearted opening (pre-credits) number.  

Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is newly widowed and depressed, overwhelmed with three kids to raise in the old Banks townhouse on Cherry Lane. His days as “an artist” are over. He clerks at the local bank, which is about to foreclose. His world is unraveling.

His sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a labor activist, still single, but doing what she can to help Michael and the dotty and dyspeptic Ellen (the adorable Julie Walters of “Mamma Mia!”) with Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). 

But if Dad and Aunt Jane cannot find their father’s old stock certificates, Banker Wilkins (Colin Firth) will have his attorneys (Jeremy Swift, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) take the house. They have a week to track down the paperwork. 

It’s a good thing Georgie finds granddad’s old kite, which his father has tossed. A windy day in London town, and there she is — “Mary Poppins Returns,” via a kite string. She’s got a hint of Nanny McPhee to her, which considering the cacophony these kids kick up, is a good thing.

“I’ll thank you not to dawdle.”

Whatever Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) can do to save the adults, the skeptical kids — “We don’t NEED a nanny!” — are won over in an instant. Director Rob Marshall (“Into the Woods,” “Chicago”) pulls out all the Disney stops in her first two absolutely dazzling numbers. 

“Can You Imagine That?” sees her taking the unbathed children upon the sea — in their tub, which becomes a dinghy — and under the sea to show them “Everything is possible, even the IMpossible.”

And  “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” my favorite, has Mary leading the children onto the scene depicted on a fine piece of family china (Royal Doulton) the kids have cracked. They’re drawn into an animated rendition of an old fashioned English Music Hall. Old school 2D (hand-drawn cell-style) animation one-ups and two-ups the actor/animation interaction of the original “Mary Poppins.”

The ballad “Where Do the Lost Things Go?” is a lament for the past, childhood and that missing stock certificate. Blunt manages every one of these tunes with panache and skill, even if she is no operetta endorsed soprano with a two-octave+ range, like Andrews. 

Fixing the cracked bowl is something that can only be managed by the wildly eccentric Madame Topsy (Meryl Streep, vamping to beat the band), who sings “Turning Turtle,” about the topsy turvy nature of her world (one day a month). Hearing Streep rhyme “turning turtle” with “loose girdle” is one for the ages. 

This film’s version of “Chim Chim Cheree” is “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” and involves Jack and his fellow lamplighters. It’s more visually striking than memorably tuneful. The choreography — dancers hanging from lampposts — is fun, but you can’t help but notice the flurry of edits it took to make the dancing impressive. 

It’s a typical modern musical with a multicultural cast and visual grace-notes — a bit with the lamplighters riding off into the foggy gloom on their bicycles (a few BMX tricks included) is stunning. 

But whatever it took to make this “Mary Poppins” light on its feet, it’s rare that the tone turns sunny. The gloomy start (I’d have cut that opening number) and pervasive fog and heavy subject matter — death, lost childhood innocence, impending poverty, etc. — never let it soar.

Trotting out a few screen legends — the great David Warner is Admiral Boom, a character straight out of Dickens and the original “Mary Poppins,” Angela Lansbury has a nice closing curtain number — “Nowhere to Go but Up,” and Dick Van Dyke from the 1964 film shows up for a little song and dance — helps. 

It’s just so hard to forget that close-to-perfect first film and so very hard for “Mary Poppins Returns” to ever escape its show and trip its own “Light Fantastic.”

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MPAA Rating:  PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep

Credits: Directed by Rob Marshall, screenplay by David Magee, based on the Mary Travers books. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 2:10

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Book Review: Sally Field takes a look at her life “In Pieces”

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Film fans long ago made up their minds about Sally Field. The woman spent the better part of 20 years living down her “You like me…right now you like me” Academy Award acceptance speech, a meme before we were using the word the way we do now.

But the ex-child star, “girl next door,” two time Oscar winner and big and small screen mainstay for over five decades has had a fascinating career of highs and lows, fallow periods followed by triumphs, blunders overcome with movies that endure, and big roles in them.

I was watching a re-broadcast of “Punchline” a few nights ago while reading “In Pieces,” Field’s brittle but breezy autobiography, trying to remember why I preferred that film’s grit to the funnier TV period piece “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  I think it’s the failing. Field has always made failure and struggles seem just like that. When she struggles, missteps (buying jokes) and gets kicked, she lets us see that it hurts. Field always has.

Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan)? Not so much. Prettier, younger, funnier — sure. But for all the arch situations the show cooked up, the script and performance with its Lenny Bruce turns, she hasn’t let us see her sweat.

Field, however easy it always seemed — TV’s “Gidget” to “The Flying Nun” to movies to Burt Reynolds to Academy Awards (“Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart”) and onward — had to work to let us see the effort.

“In Pieces” doesn’t dish about co-stars (much), doesn’t wholly explain the career, the choices, the pitfalls, the struggles and personal trials. The dynamic on the combat zone known as “Steel Magnolias” is worth its own book.

But Field talks about being molested as a child, the rough accommodation she made with her mother over the decades, the fights she had with agent and her molesting actor of a stepdad over TV work she didn’t want to do (“Flying Nun”), the #SallyToo “audition” for her sexpot turn in “Stay Hungry” and the humbling experience of being offered Mary Todd Lincoln by Steven Spielberg, having that offer removed when Liam Neeson dropped out of the film.

She can almost bring you to tears in recalling Daniel Day Lewis’ generosity, somehow sensing that she would kill for the role which she was too old for, especially after he was cast. He agreed to meet her, to hear her out.

Only he turned that into a costumed audition with both of them improvising their way through a few minutes, in character and on tape. Lewis set it up, Spielberg went for it and Field got another great part that on first blush, few would think of her for.

sally2.jpgWhen I say “breezy,” I mean “In Pieces” is a quick read. The book has a little drama and her writing just enough gravity about it when the moment calls for it.

She dismisses much of what she did as a child actress and truthfully, poor mouths the TV work in general, but relishes her first decent movie part (hanging with Robert Mitchum, who marked her for great stardom in adulthood, on the set of “The Way West”) and stayed with TV until that Big Break — “Sybil” — gave her a shot at movies.

Mitchum got to sidle up to her Oscar-winning self much later in life and give her a “What’d I tellya?”

Movie star biographies that don’t kiss and tell (Burt Reynolds didn’t like competing with her, a few details about relationships and marriages) aren’t the most scintillating reading. But Field, like somebody who doesn’t mind us seeing her sweat and watching her fail, retells anecdotes about getting humiliated by Actor’s Studio guru Lee Strasberg in front of a class filled with the less famous, and that late-life humiliation of getting, losing and reclaiming Mary Todd for her own with relish and style.

If you’ve ever been a fan, ever gotten over the hubris of “You really like me,” it’s a pretty good read.

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