REVIEW: “THE SECRET GARDEN” (2020) STX Entertainment

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Gardens can be beautiful magical places where we can get lost in the beauty of the trees and flowers, Secret Gardens can be even more magical and in this fifth iteration of “THE SECRET GARDEN”, director Marc Munden and writer Jack Thorne, choose to alter the text in a few notable ways by changing the time period, removing some characters, and adding some dramatic elements. Ultimately, however, The Secret Garden remains the story people are familiar with, and despite some pacing issues, there’s still magic to be found in these gardens.

As the film begins, we are told it’s ‘the eve of Partition’, which was the 1947 bitter division of British India into two separate states: India and Pakistan. This timing is, of course, quite a bit later than the original setting, but the effect is the same. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), is a spoiled and somewhat bratty, young girl living in India with her British parents in the years following World War II. When cholera kills both her parents, Mary is sent to live with her reclusive, hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth). Accompanied to massive Misselthwaite Manor by the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary quickly learns in all the wrong ways, that Uncle Archibald is a grieving widow (his wife was Mary’s mother’s sister) who is not to be disturbed, and his hunchback is not to be stared at. Mary soon learns that her spoiled brat mannerisms will not be tolerated and at first she finds herself frustrated by this new lonely life at Misselthwaite Manor, but as she explores the estate, her world begins to open up.

As fans of the novel will know, Mary’s adventuring eventually leads her to a hidden, magical garden that reignites her imagination and helps uncover some old family secrets. But it’s the plays on Mary’s imagination that are extraordinary here and the wonderful CGI effects allow us to see what she has envisioned. Whether it’s the wallpaper coming to life, or her mother and aunt walking the halls or swinging in the garden and branches twisting and fitting to her every move. We see the past come alive while running through a garden filled with ever-changing plants and creatures and it’s a lovely, refreshing way to present a garden that has seen its fair share of adaptations. As Mary befriends Martha the maid (Isis Davis), and Dickon (Amir Wilson) while wandering the estate grounds, it’s here where the fantastical and supernatural meet reality, as Mary and her new friend go on adventures and find the magical gardens with powers all it’s own.

Mary encounters others on her emotional journey, while hiding it all from Mrs. Medlock, she finds her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) locked up in one of the mansion rooms thinking he is much like his uncle. She continues to visit him despite his objections and soon she and Dickon are sneaking him into the gardens where he finds the true story of himself as well.

The Secret Garden undoubtedly belongs to Egerickx as she undoubtedly carries the film from start to finish. At the beginning you almost want to dislike her even though she is a child, and by then end, she has melted your heart and stolen the film from all her co-stars, yes even Firth and Walters, though they do give wonderful supporting performances. Where The Secret Garden falters is in its pacing as though even though it’s an almost quick 100 minutes, the plot doesn’t really start falling into place until we are hitting the last 20 minutes of the film and it could have benefited being a bit longer. But even bearing that and the story changes, this film is just so visually beautiful you are bound to get lost yourself in a magical secret garden of your own.

Grade: B-

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Review screening link ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

“THE SECRET GARDEN” arrives in theaters/VOD this week 

REVIEW: “MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” (2018) Universal Pictures

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Oh my my my my “MAMMA MIA!! HERE WE GO AGAIN” had me from the moment one with my devotion and love for true icons ABBA & C-H-E-R all in one movie. What I didn’t expect, was an actual good movie.

Starting off, this sequel to ‘Mamma Mia’, which also presents itself as a prequel, in my world, this is a two-for-one deal of epic-ness that I loved from the get go. “Here We Go Again” has a much better story line than the original, and while all your faves return, you also make some great new ones. Writer/director Ol Parker – gets some good deeper cuts in, too with this being a new, complex and more mature story involving the characters we’ve known, and sang and danced along with for the past decade. The film quickly establishes the parallel stories with it’s fantastic opening number of “I Kissed A Teacher” and boom! we are introduced to the world of a young Donna (played terrifically by Lily James). Moving along back into the world of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is re-opening the hotel her mom Donna (Meryl Streep) ran. Donna died the previous year (this isn’t really isn’t a spoiler). In her mom’s honor, Sophie has renovated the place and is ready for a big celebration, with nearly every important person in her life invited, including Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Donna’s Dynamo sisters – Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

“Here We Go Again” explores within it’s flashbacks, a vibrant and spontaneous Donna of the 1970’s, as she seeks an adventurous life – and we see how she meets the three younger versions of the men whom will play major roles in her life – Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine). It would take more space than I have to touch on every performance, so I’ll just sum it up and highlight a few. With this turn as Donna, Lily James is now officially a STAR as she will charm the socks off of you. In one simple, minute-long scene, Brosnan redeems himself for his lack of singing ability from the original. And in spectacular fashion with white silk wig and pantsuit to match, the one..the only..Cher makes a grand entrance in the final act as Sophie’s grandma… and instantly captivates the screen. And though how she gets to the point of singing is a big spoiler that I just can’t reveal, I will happily admit to yelling out “YES! YES! YES” when it did happen, media screening or not. (no one usually does something like this during them – but I wasn’t alone in my squealing joy of this.. so 🙂 )

Every single person here, from our older versions of Harry (Colin Firth) & Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) doing a bit of ‘Titanic’ for us all, to Fernando (Andy Garcia) & Sky (Dominic Cooper), looks like they’re having an absolute blast, and that happiness is resonates throughout the film and spreads to the audience. ‘Here We Go Again’ provides a carefree, yet meaningful, fun energy that’s so hard to find these days, even in musicals. I got chills during performances of “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen”, though those are saved till a little later in the film, as the first half has some of Abba’s lesser known hits dominating – though a true ABBA fan will know them!

Sure Mamma Mia 2! might not be perfect – and I might be a sap for anything musical related to ABBA & Cher – but I can guarantee a good time will be had by all who see it. And the beautiful, sweet final scene has a spirit all its own, touching on loss and new life in ways that will hit very close to home. I can only say — I do, I do, I do, I DO want you to see this film.

Grade: B
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Monday, July 16, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” WILL BE OUT NATIONWIDE/WORLDWIDE ON FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2018

REVIEW: “PADDINGTON 2” (2018) Warner Bros.

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Growing up, we didn’t have the adorable Paddington Bear as he was mostly a British ‘bear’. It was only later that I was made aware of his wonderful adventures. So I was hugely surprised at just how good the first film was and was tentatively cautious when this sequel was green-lighted that perhaps it might cheapen Michael Bond’s beloved family friendly creation.

However, fear not, for this sequel is absolutely terrific on all levels. Firstly it is as funny and witty and as brilliantly animated as the first film. The excellent cast from the first film is also enhanced by a superb turn from Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan. Grant, who hasn’t been as good as he is here in a long time, is even nominated for a BAFTA for his role here as the villian, and rightfully so I say. In fact it is quite clear to the viewer that Grant is thoroughly enjoying himself by playing against type and sending himself up as a faded egotistical actor and total cad who sets Paddington up to be the fall guy (or should that be Bear? 🙂 ) for a dastardly deed. There is a touch of the pantomime villain to his performance, but it works splendidly and it fits his character perfectly.

All the wit and heart of the first film is still evident here and in some ways, built upon. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the ‘nasty’ Knuckles, an old lag and prison cook who loses his angry nature when he succumbs to Paddington’s charms and talents in the kitchen who warms up to Paddington quickly..maybe too quickly. The whole film shows and plays scenes as a child might imagine things to be – for example how the prison works and especially the lovely idea that the warden reads the inmates a bedtime story to help them all get to sleep. There are also loads of great jokes too, some pitched at younger children and some deliberately aimed at the more adult viewer. I took a 4 1/2 yr old and she definitely laughed at different parts than the adults at the screening did and there was a good 10-15 lag time where I was glad they had so nicely given us an adorable Paddington Bear backpack with our own Paddington Beach & storytime book as she started to look through that. It is a bit lengthy of a film for children at 1 hour 45min run time.

All in all this is a worthy sequel and a great memorial to Paddingtons creator, Michael Bond, who sadly passed while this sequel was still being filmed. It is full of laughs, thrills, action sequences, great characters, some wonderful animation and you would have to have a hard heart indeed to not burst into a smile at the end. Also, don’t leave the film before the credits start to roll and you will surely miss Hugh Grant gloriously send himself up with a musical song and dance act as the end credits roll.

Thoroughly recommended to anybody who wants to see film of family friendly fun that isn’t either sickly sweet or too dark for youngsters and still thoroughly watchable to adults too. Great fun and a worthy sequel to the first Paddington.

Grade: B
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, January 10, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
PADDINGTON 2 IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES WORLDWIDE