Shoplifters

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for sex and nudity. In subtitled Japanese.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

In “Shoplifters,” we meet two of the main characters as they ply the family trade in a Tokyo food market: The dad, Osamu (Lily Franky), gives his young son Shota (Jyo Kairi) the high sign, blocking the view of a clerk while the boy snags as much merchandise as he can before running out of the store.

Is this a playful father-son lark or something more sinister? Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda leans into the ambiguity in a movie that feels cozy and affirming one moment, but then undergoes several intriguing shifts as new information comes to light.

On their way home, Osamu and Shota encounter an abandoned little girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), whom they bring home to feed and warm up. Soon, she’s part of a tight-quartered family that includes Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Andô), Shota’s sister, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), and grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), the family matriarch, whose small house the family has colonized as squatters-with-benefits, despite having construction and laundry jobs in the city.

With its air of intimacy and fractious affections, the movie is a discreetly observed drama about resourcefulness, loyalty and resilience in an era of obscene income inequality and a fatally frayed civic safety net. Although the protagonists here are liars, cheats and thieves, Kore-eda’s sympathies are clearly with people he perceives as forced to subsist on what they can take from wealthier institutions. As one character notes in justifying the family trade, if the store they’re robbing doesn’t go bankrupt, who’s being hurt?

But as the story proceeds, Kore-eda throws more troubling questions into the mix, so that a winsome film with nods toward “Oliver Twist” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” becomes something far more complex. In recent films like “Our Little Sister” and “Like Father, Like Son,” Kore-eda has resorted to manipulation and melodrama to get the audience’s attention and investment. Here, he harks back to his harrowing 2004 film “Nobody Knows,” about a family of abandoned children, applying more rigor to a story whose ethical quandaries are presented with equal parts compassion and toughness.

The deeply flawed heroes of “Shoplifters” may not always be right. But they’re not wrong, either, if only because they’re willing to make their own contract with one another, after society has cruelly written them off.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

 

Mary Poppins Returns

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and brief action.

Theaters: Opened Wednesday.

 

This delightful family film is 50 percent sequel, 50 percent reboot and 100 percent charming. While it offers a new story about the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nanny and introduces a new star in the role, the telling of it is heavily seasoned with nods to the 1964 original.

Emily Blunt steps into the title role that made Julie Andrews a star, and Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, while technically not taking over the part of original co-star Dick Van Dyke, is playing a character that could pass as his identical twin. While both Blunt and Miranda are marvelous actors, singers and dancers, their most amazing feat is getting us to bond with their characters without making us feel we’re deserting the beloved ones created in the first movie.

One way it does that is by paying its respects to the original via a steady stream of visual homages, song-and-dance flashbacks and even the casting. Youngsters encountering Mary Poppins for the first time can thoroughly enjoy this on one plane while adults savor its many nods to its predecessor.

The story takes place 25 years after the original. The Banks children, whom Mary took care of in the first movie — Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) — now are adults who face the prospect of losing the family home to a ruthless banker (Colin Firth). Mary reappears in their lives just when they need her most.

Director Rob Marshall, who oversaw the Oscar-winning adaptation of “Chicago,” is a maestro of musicals, so much so that he was able to get established headliners like Meryl Streep, Julie Waters and Angela Lansbury to sign on for minor roles. And there’s a guest appearance near the end that is downright magical.

In revisiting one of the most beloved family films since the invention of celluloid, the filmmakers left themselves no margin for error. Even coming up a bit short would have been seen as disappointing by the legions of “Mary Poppins” aficionados. In an all-or-nothing situation, they got it all.

Jeff Strickler