Nanny McPhee Returns (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang)


Nanny McPhee Returns

Quoth the raven, nevermore.

(Universal) Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Daniel Mays, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Sinead Matthews, Katy Brand, Bill Bailey, Ewan McGregor, Sam Kelly.  Directed by Susanna White

It’s been five years since movie audiences in the States met Nanny McPhee, the wonderfully magical nanny from the Nurse Matilda series of books by Christianna Brand. Has she been missed?

We’ll get to that question in a moment. First, to the plot; fans of the first film will certainly recognize some of the particulars. While the first film was set in the Victorian era, this is set during World War II as the Green household is struggling. Isabella Green (Gyllenhaal) is trying to keep her head above water while her husband Rory (McGregor, mostly seen in family photographs and a touching flashback scene when Isabella washes her wedding veil) is off at war. The bucolic family farm is in big trouble; Isabella doesn’t have the money to make the next tractor payment. Without that tractor, they won’t be able to harvest the barley and if the barley isn’t harvested, they’ll lose the farm.

Young Norman (Butterfield), the man of the house while his dad’s away, has come up with the solution of selling the piglets to Farmer McGregor (Bailey) who’s willing to pay them enough money to make the tractor payment. His sister Megsie (Woods) and brother Vincent (Steer) are none to pleased about it, although they are more or less resigned to losing the piglets in order to keep the farm. However, with their dad gone (and no word from him in over three months) and their mom working in the shop of chronically confused and forgetful Mrs. Docherty (Smith), the three are acting out and constantly bickering like, well, cats and dogs.

To add to the misery, their snooty cousins from London, Cyril (Vlahos) and Celia (Taylor-Ritson) are coming to stay with them to escape the bombs of the Blitz. Now everybody is fighting, and snarky Uncle Phil (Ifans) is plotting to get Isabella to sell her half of the farm so he can sell his half to pay off the gambling debts he’s run up, otherwise two hitwomen – Miss Topsey (Matthews) and Miss Turvey (Brand) will take his kidneys instead. Hey, there’s a war on – all the good hitmen are in the Army!

To bring peace to her household, in pops Nanny McPhee (Thompson, reprising her role – as well as her position as writer and producer – from the original) with a flatulent blackbird on her shoulder. As before, when she is needed but not wanted she must stay; when she is wanted but no longer needed she must leave. Also as before, she is decidedly not attractive with several nasty warts, a snaggle tooth and broomstraw hair. Most importantly, as before, she has the crooked walking stick which when banged once on the ground produces magical results.

It’s these magics that made the first Nanny McPhee so visually delightful but as in the first, while necessary to the plot, it is the heart of the movie that makes it compelling. In the first movie, that heart made one of the more wonderful children’s movies of recent years; here the heart is not as evident.

The performances are satisfactory enough, particularly among the child actors. In particular, Vlahos, Butterfield and Taylor-Ritson might easily have been cast as the leads in the Harry Potter series had they just started filming it this year.

There are some moments that do tug at the heartstrings. One of the best is a scene between Cyril, Norman and Cyril’s dad (Fiennes), a high muckety-muck at the War Office. The gulf between Cyril and his father is evident and it is just as plain that neither one of them knows how to bridge it, although they both desperately want to. It’s superbly done, and ranks with moments from recent Pixar movies like Up, Wall-E and Toy Story 3 as some of the best kidflick scenes in the past few years.

Gyllenhaal also does well as Isabella. She maintains a pretty decent British accent, and manages to walk the fine line between melancholy and manic cheerfulness without seeming fake in either; it takes skill to make them both work so organically but then again Gyllenhaal has plenty of skill. Thompson is surprisingly muted in her role as Nanny McPhee; she was certainly much more of a presence in the first movie but seems content to remain in the background for most of the movie other than to bang her cane occasionally.

When the cane is banged, some imaginative things happen, mostly involving animals like synchronized swimming pigs (who also fly, which puts rout to that particular cliché) and a kleptomaniac elephant but also saluting statuary.

Where the movie falls short is in the humor, which mostly revolves around pratfalls, poo and farting. I realize that kids don’t have the most sophisticated humor on earth, but I think that the filmmakers underestimate the sophistication of modern kid audiences; it was, in other words, dumbed down a little too much. Kids are far smarter than we tend to give them credit for; the odd thing is that the kids in the movie are pretty savvy and mature. Why wouldn’t the kids watching the movie also be?

I wasn’t as taken by the sequel as I was the original, but there is enough charm here to motivate me to give it a tenuous recommendation. It was released in the UK in March and did solid box office business there as well as in Europe; enough so there is rumblings that a third Nanny McPhee movie may be in the works down the road. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how excited I am about seeing it after this one. Hopefully Thompson will be able to recapture the magic of the first and combine it with the kind of casting that was done for the second; now that would be movie magic indeed.

In answer to the question I posed at the beginning of the review, she was obviously missed in Europe where the movie has done well, but not so much in America where it has not; to be fair, the original Nanny McPhee didn’t do so much business in the States either. Still, I found that I liked the character very much – the love child of Dumbledore and Mary Poppins – and was looking forward to seeing the sequel. While I was disappointed, I am still hopeful that should a third movie be made, it will be better. Does that qualify me for a Leap of Faith medal?

REASONS TO GO: Gyllenhaal and Thompson are two of my favorite actresses and I can’t quite say no to a movie both of them would be in. There are some well-done scenes in the movie.

REASONS TO STAY: The humor is dumbed down unnecessarily to a barrage of pratfalls and poo jokes.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of poo humor to keep the kids in lowbrow laughs; however, there are some themes that have to do with wartime and death that might make it a tough viewing for smaller or sensitive kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: On the Courage medal that Nanny McPhee wears, there is clearly an engraving of a lion, a nod to The Wizard of Oz’ Cowardly Lion. Also, as Nanny McPhee and the boys approach London, there are several anti-aircraft balloons seen floating in the air; the one above Battersea Power Station is in the shape of a pig, a nod to the 1977 Pink Floyd album cover for Animals, which depicted the same scene.

HOME OR THEATER: Unless your kids are clamoring to see it, you can get away with waiting for the DVD/Blu-Ray to come out.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Big Fan

New Releases for the Week of August 20, 2010


August 20, 2010

Emma Thompson has a message for the critics.

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS

(Universal) Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Oscar Steer, Eros Vlahos. Directed by Susanna White

The sequel to the surprisingly charming Nanny McPhee returns Oscar-winning actress to the role of the magical nanny who appears when she is needed most and wanted the least, this time with an entirely new family in an entirely different era. She must help a rural family and their posh city cousins get along, and along the way help them learn to work together to save the family farm. As there has been only Ramona and Beezus and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore to fill the family film market void since Despicable Me, this should do very well even if it’s only halfway decent.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for rude humor, some language and mild thematic elements)

Get Low

(Sony Classics) Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black. A curmudgeonly hermit in a small Appalachian town during the Great Depression decides that he doesn’t want to miss his own funeral – who knows what is going to be said about him when he’s not around to defend himself – so he arranges with an unscrupulous funeral home director to throw a funeral for himself while he’s still alive. At the funeral, he determines to reveal a secret that will change the lives of those who live in that town for good.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material and brief violent content)

Lottery Ticket

(Warner Brothers) Bow Wow, Ice Cube, Loretta Devine, Bill Bellamy. A neighborhood in the projects is turned upside down when a young man buys a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million. He will have to find away to keep it from larcenous and sometimes underhanded  and even threatening neighbors over the course of a three-day holiday weekend in order to claim his winnings.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language including a drug reference, some violence and brief underage drinking)

Piranha 3D

(Dimension) Jessica Szohr, Richard Dreyfuss, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell. The residents and visitors of a small town of Lake Victoria that is also a spring break magnet must find a way not to become chum when a tremor unleashes some prehistoric piranha. Here’s some advice; if you don’t want to get eaten, don’t go swimming!!!!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use)

The Switch

(Miramax) Jennifer Anniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum. When Kassie, a hip New York single woman, hears her biological clock ticking down, she decides to have a baby anyway despite the objections of her neurotic best friend. While at a party to celebrate Kassie’s impending motherhood, the sperm donor’s contribution is accidentally lost, forcing the best friend to substitute his own, something he keeps hidden from Kassie for seven years when the progeny of the insemination begins to show character traits disturbingly similar to the neurotic best friend.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language)

Vampires Suck

(20th Century Fox) Matt Lanter, Emily Brobst, Ken Jeong, Jenn Proske. A young woman must decide between two boys – one of whom is a vampire, the other a werewolf – and looking incredibly stupid. She picks option “C.”

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content, comic violence, language and teen partying)  

Four-Warned: August 2010


Four-Warned: August 2010

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE 

1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (1.5)
2. THE EXPENDABLES (2.4)
3. NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (2.5)
4. THE OTHER GUYS (2.7)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE) 

1. LEBANON (1.9)
TIE. TALES FROM EARTHSEA (1.9)
3. THE TILLMAN STORY (2.2)
4. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED (2.4)

TIE. THE WILDEST DREAM: THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST (2.4)
 

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

AUGUST 4, 2010

SICILIAN GIRL (Music Box) Genre: Crime Drama. The true story of a 17-year-old Sicilian girl who broke the Sicilian code of silence by testifying against the Mafia. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.0 Sounds like a powerful drama; hope I can see a trailer for this soon.

AUGUST 6, 2010

CAIRO TIME (IFC) Genre: Romantic Drama. A 40-something fashion editor is assigned to Cairo and finds that the exotic city awakens strong feelings in her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A Harlequin romance for the indie film set?
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED (Anchor Bay) Genre: British Crime Thriller. A young heiress is kidnapped and held for ransom by two ex-cons, but she doesn’t intend to be used as a pawn. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 This looks to be the sleeper suspense movie of the summer.
FLIPPED (Warner Brothers) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Boy meets girl in grade school. Girl thinks its love, boy thinks she has cooties. Boy and girl grow up. Stuff happens. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening wide on Aug. 27). RATING: 3.0 Could be a really sweet coming-of-age story despite my smart-assed summary.
LEBANON (Sony Classics) Genre: War Drama. An Israeli tank crew gets caught up in a life-or-death situation during the first Lebanese War of 1982. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles on Aug. 13). RATING: 1.9 Could very well be Das Boot for tanks.
MIDDLE MEN (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Comedy. An entrepreneur gets involved with Internet porn and makes a fortune but turns his life upside down. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 These “based on a true story” Internet tales are coming thick and fast.
THE OTHER GUYS (Columbia) Genre: Action Comedy. Two deskbound NYPD detectives are called upon to support the department’s reigning supercops. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 Anything that reunites Talladega Nights director Adam McKay with Will Ferrell is aces in my book.
THE OXFORD MURDERS (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A professor of logic and one of his students races against time to solve a string of murders. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 John Hurt is one of my favorite actors so this is a slam dunk for me.
STEP UP 3D (Touchstone) Genre: Urban Drama. A tight-knit break dancing team from the Bronx enters a global competition. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Not a single thing about this movie appeals to me, but then again I’m as far from their demographic as you can get.
THRU THE MOEBIUS STRIP
(Hannover House) Genre: Sci-Fi Animated Feature. Age-old enemies must learn to work together against a common enemy to save their humans. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Supposedly based on the works of Heavy Metal artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who I must admit I admire a great deal.
TWELVE
 (Hannover House) Genre: Gritty Urban Drama. A drug dealer on the decadent Upper East Side sees his life turned upside down when his cousin is arrested for murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 An impressive cast but the trailer held no magic for me.
THE WILDEST DREAM: CONQUEST OF EVEREST (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. A young British mountaineer attempts to re-create George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 climb to see if it’s possible that he might have summated Mt. Everest before perishing. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 I love these types of documentaries; nobody does ‘em like NatGeo.

AUGUST 13, 2010

ANIMAL KINGDOM (Sony Classics) Genre: Aussie Crime Drama. A young boy is brought into a notorious Melbourne crime family after his mother dies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 This has been getting all sorts of accolades worldwide; might be the real thing.
EAT PRAY LOVE (Columbia) Genre: Dramedy. A married woman chucks her marriage, her house and her life in order to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Despite the presence of Julia Roberts as the lead, I’m thinking this is an ode to self-worship.
THE EXPENDABLES (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. A team of mercenaries finds themselves fighting for their lives after a job goes horribly wrong, and may end up having to do the right thing in spite of themselves. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Nearly every notable action star of the last 20 years is in this; either it’ll be classic or a real mess.
LA SOGA (7-57 Releasing) Genre: Action Thriller. A sensitive young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his family by a Dominican drug lord; he is eventually transformed into an amoral assassin for the Dominican Secret Police. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.1 Haven’t yet seen a trailer for this, but the concept is intriguing, sort of a Latin La Femme Nikita.
SALT OF THE SEA (Lorber) Genre: Romantic Drama. A Brooklyn-born woman of Palestinian descent returns to her homeland to claim what’s hers. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.3 This could pique my interest, but again I haven’t seen a trailer for this one either.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Universal) Genre: Trendy Comic Book Action Mash-Up. A young dweeb who plays in a band falls hard for a much cooler girl than he deserves and is forced to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends for the right to woo her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 My son Jacob has an absolute chubby for this movie, which means that seeing it might make me hipper or merely depress me over the state of modern youth culture.
TALES FROM EARTHSEA (Disney) Genre: Fantasy Anime. A young ambitious wizard must right the wrongs he loosed on the world through his own recklessness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The latest from Studio Ghibli and the first from Goro Miyazaki, the son of the legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki; also based on the beloved fantasy novel by Ursula K. LeGuin.

AUGUST 18, 2010

VAMPIRES SUCK (20th Century Fox) Genre: Horror Spoof. A young human girl must choose between competing boyfriends – who happen to be vampires. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 I agree that the Twilight saga richly deserves a spoofing but lately these types of movies have been majorly craptacular and at worst, unwatchable.

AUGUST 20, 2010

DOWN TERRACE (Magnet) Genre: Dark Comedy. A father and son struggle to keep a crime family together even while an informant in their midst threatens to tear it apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Sounds a bit like “The Sopranos” on Ritalin.
LOTTERY TICKET (Warner Brothers) Genre: Urban Comedy. A winning lottery ticket puts a quiet neighborhood into an uproar. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Sorry, the trailer looked kinda awful.
MAO’S LAST DANCER (Goldwyn) Genre: Biography. The story of international ballet star Li Cunxin who overcame tremendous odds to realize his dream. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 I’m not usually a big fan of movies about dancing but the trailer for this one looked very good.
NANCY MCPHEE RETURNS (Universal) Genre: Family. The magical nanny comes to rescue a family whose father is off at war. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 I actually liked the first film very much, so interested in seeing what they do with the second.
PIRANHA 3D (Dimension) Genre: Horror. Mutant flesh-eating fish take over a Spring Break hangout and prepare to munch on a co-ed buffet. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 2.9 The original wasn’t John Sayles’ finest hour; did we really need a remake of it?
THE SWITCH (Miramax) Genre: Comedy. A neurotic man switches the donated sperm for his best friend’s baby with his own. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The trailer made this look like 90 minutes of awkward.
THE TILLMAN STORY (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. The story of the pro football star that gave up the NFL to serve his country and would later be killed by friendly fire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 This could well be the Best Documentary Feature Oscar winner.
WHAT IF… (Jenkins Entertainment) Genre: Christian Drama. A man who gave up the cloth and his high school sweetheart for a business career gets to see what his life would have been like if he’d chosen differently. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Sort of like It’s A Wonderful Life for the God squad.

AUGUST 27, 2010

CENTURION (Magnet) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A Roman legion charged with wiping out the savage and terrifying Picts find themselves battling for their own survival behind enemy lines. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Looks like a cross between Gladiator and Last of the Mohicans.
CHANGE OF PLANS (IFC) Genre: Indie Drama. A group of ten friends gather for a summertime dinner party, where their personal issues begin to surface. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.3 Yet another look at the failing relationships of a group of 20-somethings.
GOING THE DISTANCE (New Line) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple fall madly in love, then have to continue their relationship via long-distance. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 An attractive young couple (Drew Barrymore and Justin Long) make this appealing.
THE LAST EXORCISM (Lionsgate) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A priest agrees to document his last exorcism, with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a real good frightfest.
THE MILK OF SORROW (Olive Films) Genre: Indie Drama. A woman is severely affected by the psychological effects of a war on terror in Peru. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles Sept. 3). RATING: 3.3 Not for the squeamish or the sensitive.
TAKERS (Screen Gems) Genre: Action. A group of high-tech bank robbers try to stay one step of the cops as they pull off their biggest heist yet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The trailer didn’t excite me any.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

The Other Guys, Middle Men, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Nanny McPhee Returns, Going the Distance