The Silver Bullet ~ The Post

 

Synopsis: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government. Inspired by true events.

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (limited) January 12, 2018 (wide)

Thoughts: At the Oscars last year, buzz began to build around a rumored collaboration between Hollywood’s most favorite people. Director Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), & Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) would team up to tell the story of the Pentagon Papers.  Over the next weeks and months, we would get a tidbit here and there but The Post has flown quietly under the radar.  Until now.  I’m sure a number of Oscar hopefuls woke up this morning to see the new trailer for The Post and felt their hearts sink a little bit because it looks like this obvious Oscar bait is going to snag quite a lot of attention.  With an honest-to-goodness all-star cast of A-Listers and well-respected character actors in supporting roles, this looks like a slam-dunk.  If Spielberg can keep this one trucking along (please let it come in under 2.25 hours!) there’s a chance The Post will be headline news during Award Season.

Movie Review ~ Sully

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Chelsey Sullengerger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, Katie Couric

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: While I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to visit destinations near and far there’s one nagging thing that always hampers my trip…flying. I wouldn’t say I hate it, I just strongly dislike it and would prefer to road-trip my way across the U.S. and cruise my way over to European destinations. The irony is that I have a particular fondness for movies where airplanes are the central focus. So while I get a sheen of panicked sweat when the plane door closes and I’m locked in for the long haul, I get a nice little rush when I fire up a flick where the stewardess has to fly the plane or Wesley Snipes kicks terrorist butt.

I let you in on this little secret of mine because after seeing Sully, my biggest take-away is that I’d like to have a captain/crew just like the one from U.S. Airways Flight 155 on all my flights moving forward. Showing how captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, first officer Jeff Skiles, and the flight crew kept calm in the face of clear and present danger is one of the many things that director Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, American Sniper) and company gets right…even if the overall film winds up being more economy than first class.

Adapted by screenwriter Todd Komarnicki from “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, Eastwood’s film is a straightforward by-the-numbers affair and that’s likely where it lost a little spark for me. Sure, it would have been easy to overdramatize things and that wouldn’t have been right either…but instead of a smooth ascent Eastwood reaches his cruising altitude and goes on auto-pilot. (I think that’s the end of my flight-related metaphors/puns…maybe)

In a trim 95 minutes, Komarnicki and Eastwood take us through the events of that day in January 2009 when shortly after take-off Flight 155 hit a patch of birds that caused both of its engines to fail, leaving the plane gliding without power. Drawing on forty years of service, Sully (Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks) navigates the plane to a miraculous water landing on the Hudson River, saving everyone on board. Over the course of the film this incident is replayed several times to heart-pounding effect and largely without a booming score to tell you how to feel.

It’s the investigation after the landing as the NTSB/ insurance companies search for someone to blame that disappoints, waffling between holding Sully and Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen) accountable and vindicating them as the heroes they certainly were/are. Hearings with the NTSB, headed by Mike O’Malley (Concussion), Jamey Sheridan (Spotlight), and Anna Gunn feel like acting exercises to see which of the three can glare, grimace, and judge all at the same time. For the record, O’Malley wins but only because Gunn never bothers to raise her voice (or her pulse) past a stage whisper.

Komarnicki puts in some awkward encounters Sully has with a public that wants to thank him but doesn’t know quite how to put that into words. So we have uncomfortable scenes where he’s kissed on the cheek by a make-up artist, hugged by a hotel manager, and lauded at a pub by local NYC bar huggers. Katie Couric pops up as herself recreating her exclusive sit down with Sully and the flight crew appearance on Letterman is shown with less than seamless integration between archive footage of the host and the Hollywood actors.

On the acting side of things, Hanks scores with his understated delivery and inherent dignity. Admittedly, it isn’t a big stretch for Hanks but in his own Hanks-ian way, he gives a powerful performance that’s more than a little reminiscent of 2013’s Captain Phillips. Hanks has an easy rapport with Eckhart…even when Eckhart’s Swedish Chef moustache threatens to take over the scene. Perhaps stymied by her scenes being entirely comprised of phone conversations, Laura Linney (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows) is particularly bad as Sully’s wife. Holding down the homefront while Sully deals with the NTSB, Linney’s character could be excised all together and nothing would be lost. In fact, Komarnicki’s barely-there rough sketches of Linney and a handful of other minor players/passengers is so poor you begin to fault the acting when it’s actually the writing that’s a failure.

Though some of the performances and directorial choices kept the film grounded (yeesh…why is Eastwood still composing those dirge-like scores, ahem, themes for his movies?), it’s Hanks that will make you want to check your luggage and hop on board. The recreations of the events of that day gave me that thrill I was looking forward to, I just wish everything else was as tight as those sections.

The Silver Bullet ~ Sully

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Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of his 155 passengers.

Release Date: September 9, 2016

Thoughts: Though he doesn’t wear a cape, Tom Hanks is the unquestionable superhero of moving movies. The amazing story that came to be known as The Miracle on the Hudson made its captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a media darling and Sullenberger’s recounting of his courage under fire made for good reading.  Judging from this first look at Sully, there’s more to the story than most of the public would ever know as it shows the rippling backlash after Sully’s moment in the spotlight. While I feel it looks awfully similar to the 2012 fictionalized Flight and that J.K. Simmons would have been a more ideal Sully, Hanks (Cloud Atlas) and director Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) make this one something that might fly high this fall.

Movie Review ~ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding.

Stars: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, John Stamos, Rita Wilson, Louis Mandylor, Gia Carides, Elena Kampouris

Director: Kirk Jones

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I actually did something I don’t normally do when preparing for seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2…I didn’t go back and watch the first one until after I had seen the sequel.  It had been well over a decade since I’d seen the out-of-nowhere-blockbuster original (and yes, I saw it twice in the theaters) and since there was such a huge gap between the two films I wanted to see what going into this one a little foggy on details would be like.

It’s been fourteen years since My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the little indie that could, produced for $6 million dollars it wound up grossing around $368 million after the international box office returns were factored in. The film set all sorts of box office records, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and inspired a host of similar titles to get the greenlight…as well as an ill-advised sitcom adaptation starring most of the stars of the movie that didn’t make it past a half dozen episodes.  While writer/star Nia Vardalos would show up here and there in awfully familiar romantic comedies over the years, she never tapped into the same kind of fame.

Though it picks up fourteen years after the first film, somehow Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett, The Boy Next Door) are the parents of a high school senior, Paris (Elena Kampouris, Labor Day).  Paris is at the age when everything her family does embarrasses her…which would be understandable with a normal family but in the Portokalos family where one goes, dozens follow.  As Paris weighs college choices that could either keep her close or let her roam free, Toula and Ian confront certain realities about how the spark they once had seems to have dimmed at bit.

Next door (the Portokalos family seems to occupy the houses on a complete city block), Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan, Pixels) are shocked to discover that their marriage license was never officially signed by the priest…so they’ve been living in sin for the past half-decade.  Maria sees this as an opportunity to get Gus to give her the wedding she never had before they came to America so another big fat Greek wedding is orchestrated.

Look, good art this ain’t nor does it try to be.  It’s very much in the same spirit as the original and it doesn’t reek of a desperate cash grab had this arrived two years after the first film.  It has the feeling that producer Rita Wilson and Vardalos were out to lunch reminiscing about the old days and Vardalos jokingly pitched another film that seemed to make sense after a few mimosas.  Sure the story is thin and formulaic, hitting the same beats as the original and Vardalos has made an unwise choice in straying from the central family focus to other marginal familial side-stories (including rather lamely outing one of the relatives as gay) that just weigh down the running time.

I was surprised at how many cast members, down to the smallest part, returned from the original.  People who were little more than background extras in the first one pop up in more visible roles in the sequel and that creates a certain pleasant continuity that you don’t really see that often.  Vardalos and Corbett are able to recapture that same charm that made them appealing while the tough looking Constantine easily wins you over with his tender heart.  Kazan has unfortunately had a great deal of plastic surgery over the years and looks like a jack-o-lantern and Andrea Martin steals the movie whenever she’s onscreen.  Producer Rita Wilson pops up with John Stamos for two of the most awkwardly shoe-horned-in cameos in recent memory.

The film doesn’t put up much of a fight and nor should you.  It’s harmless entertainment, much less obnoxious than I thought it would be.  It’s actually kind sweet when you get right down to it and it’s not short on showing some genuine heart and soul.  There are far worse films you could spend your money and time on…including several that Vardalos starred in after My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll find the same sort of enjoyment in this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ Bridge of Spies

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Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Thoughts: Director Steven Spielberg (JAWS) has been pretty quiet lately. The last film he released was 2012’s lauded Lincoln but while he was attached to any number of rumored high-profile projects he’s making his return with this Cold War thriller starring Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, Cloud Atlas). Reteaming with Hanks for the fourth time, Spielberg seems like a good fit for this period piece that could be thinking man’s action film after a summer of brainless blockbusters. With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Unbroken, Inside Llewyn Davis) and supporting cast that includes Alan Alda (Wanderlust), Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods), Amy Ryan (Birdman), and Mark Rylance…expect this one to attract a lot of end of the year awards talk.

Down From the Shelf ~ A League of Their Own

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two sisters join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amidst their own growing rivalry.

Stars: Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Jon Lovitz

Director: Penny Marshall

Rated: PG

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:   There are certain and specific indicators that summer is on its way: the greening grass and budding trees, the rising temps and thawing snow drifts, the appearances of short shorts and sandals (with and without socks), and the baseball season openers from coast to coast. Just as bears come out of hibernation and seek nourishment, so do the baseball fans trek to their stadiums hoping to catch a fly ball. Baseball has been called the national pastime and baseball films remain the most popular subject for sports related films.

Up until A League of Their Own was released in the summer of 1991 (and pretty much ever since) the baseball genre has been dominated by films that targeted the male moviegoers. Whether it was appealing to their comedic side (Major League, Bull Durham) or tugging at their macho heartstrings (Field of Dreams, The Pride of the Yankees), you’d be hard pressed to find a strong female presence that wasn’t relegated to the arm of the star pitcher or as the wife of the general manager.

So it’s no wonder that A League of Their Own was such a big deal because not only did it introduce a female centered film but shone a light on a time in history that many had forgotten or were unaware ever existed. For 12 years, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League operated with 15 teams featuring a grand total of 600 players. With World War II occupying the public interest, baseball executives like Philip Wrigley and Branch Rickey wanted to make sure that the sport wasn’t forgotten during that difficult time.

To keep the cherished sport viable and considering so many men were away at war, the executives turned to female players to begin this new league that would make history. Though looking at it now you can see the sexist and misogynistic overtones (short tunic dresses replaces the baseball pants worn by men), it was the athleticism of the women that left the lasting impression on the record books.

Director Penny Marshall was on a winning streak at the time and though her original casting of Debra Winger and Moira Kelly as ace baseball playing sisters recruited from a rural town who join the Rockford Peaches fell through, I think she was dealt a better hand by bringing Geena Davis and Lori Petty in as replacements.

The rivalry that develops between scrappy pitcher Kit (Petty) and her sister Dottie (Davis) plays out among other small slice of life stories brought to us by a talented cast of women that not only act their parts with style but trained hard to become believable baseball players. Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell became fast friends offscreen, mirroring their Abbot and Costello-like relationship onscreen and Megan Cavanaugh is a scream as the shy Marla who makes up for her lack of camera-ready looks by consistently knocking balls out of the park.

Let’s not forget that some notable men pop up here as well: though Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips, Joe Versus the Volcano) is the top-billed star, he’s wise enough to find a balance between making sure his character is developed while being sure not to step on any moments that spring forth from the likes of Davis and Petty. Jon Lovitz has a dynamite supporting role as a hysterically crass recruiter and Marshall gives him just enough slack to do his shtick without steamrolling everyone else.

Inspired by a story from Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson, the script from Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell (Splash!, Gung Ho!, Parenthood) is fairly episodic and isn’t above introducing a character for a comedic bit only to ignore them completely for the rest of the film. This approach actually helps the film not feel as long as it is by breaking up the action into what could be seen as innings along the way.

Most sport films tend to wear me out when we’re in game mode but the opposite is true in A League of Their Own. Marshall and the screenwriters have packed so much into their fictionalized story that much of the film’s developments happen on the field, in the dugout, or in the locker room. The scenes where we are away from the baseball diamond are the ones that dip in interest, but luckily those are few and far between.

Lovingly book-ended with real players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the film still works all these years later because baseball seems to be (to me) the one sport that is truly timeless. The comedic moments are still light and play off the strengths of the actors while the more dramatic sequences are handled with an honest hand, though it’s easy to see some manipulation at play.

This is one film I find myself revisiting often and I always walk away with a sense of satisfaction because there’s a winning completeness to the movie as it touches all the right bases. So now that the days of summer are creeping their way toward us, it’s time to dust off this film too if you haven’t seen it recently.

Make sure to check out Forgotten Films for more reviews in the Big League Blogathon!

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Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby

Movie Review ~ Captain Phillips

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Max Martini, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Corey Johnson, David Warshofsky, John Magaro, Angus MacInnes

Director: Paul Greengrass

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 134 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  For some reason, I resisted seeing Captain Phillips longer than I should have.  Though I had many chances to attend it during its advance screening phase I either found another screening to attend or came up with a reason why I didn’t want to sit through it.  I got the feeling this was one movie that you had to be in the right frame of mind/mood to see and I didn’t want to see it just because it was next on my list.

Finally, in the last few weeks it was the right time and after seeing it I wished I hadn’t waited so long.  Though I knew the basic plot of the film and how it was all going to turn out, I had deliberately distanced myself from further details so I could let the movie fill in the gaps for me as it developed.  I’m glad I did too because Captain Phillips turned out to be one of the more gripping films I’ve seen all year, housing two unforgettable performances.

The film begins with two men heading to sea.  The first man is Tom Hanks (Joe Versus the Volcano, Cloud Atlas, Splash!) in the titular role, an old school sea captain that finds himself taken hostage by Somali pirates when they make their way onto the cargo ship he’s piloting.  The second man is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirates who makes a bold play for such a large ship and winds up increasingly over his head as his hurried plans go awry.  Though neither men know it at the outset, both are embarking on a trip that will alter their lives (and the lives of the men that serve under them) forever.

Director Paul Greengrass has staged his previous films (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) with a herky jerky handheld camera style that sent more than a few green faced audience members running for the bathroom but thankfully there’s precious little of that here.  The rugged camerawork of Barry Ackroyd perfectly captures the oncoming meeting of the two captains and Greengrass works with editor Christopher Rouse to amp up the tension slowly until the final act of the film turns into a total edge of your seat nailbiter.

Working with a script from Billy Ray (Color of Night, The Hunger Games) adapted from the book by the real Captain Phillips that wisely refuses to make the Somali pirates totally evil, the film gets more interesting as it goes along because we begin to understand why these Somali men have gone after the ship with such vigor.  We know they are in the wrong but without being overly sympathetic to the pirates there is empathy shown that makes the film that much more commanding.

I’ve grown accustomed to Hanks being solid in every movie he’s involved with.  Though I think his genial personality has given him a few more free passes on lousy films than the normal Hollywood star would get, there’s no denying that the man has charisma that only maturity in the business can bring.  I found him to be slightly miscast as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks with too many aw shuck-y moments but as Captain Phillips he reminds us all why he’s won two Oscars and been nominated for three more.  I had been told that Hanks was particularly effective in the final ten minutes of the movie and while that’s definitely true, I found him to be locked and loaded for greatness from the moment he appeared on screen.

If Hanks hits a home run than Abdi knocks it out of the park.  A former cab driver in Minnesota, Abdi was picked along with three other Somali actors for roles in the film and Abdi delivers one of my favorite performances of the year.  In a role that’s equal parts bravura machismo and childish naïveté to the danger he’s making for himself, Abdi dissolves completely into the role at times alternating between fear and desperation in his quest.  Without giving too much away, I think there’s one decision Abdi’s character makes with the full knowledge of what the outcome will be…yet he makes it anyway because it’s the only choice his character can live with at that point in time.  It’s a haunting performance, totally captivating, and honestly unforgettable…writing about it now I still shudder at several passages of the film he has total ownership of.

This is a great film – don’t be a wuss like me and put it off for so long that your attention is clouded with other less worthy films.  Hanks and especially Abdi do incredible work and if I’ve failed to mention anyone else in the film it’s not because they aren’t great as well…it would just be unfair to single out any one of the talented ensemble that supports Hanks/Abdi deliver the performances they have.

Not to be missed.

Movie Review ~ Saving Mr. Banks

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.

Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker

Director: John Lee Hancock

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: I have to be honest and say that I was probably pre-destined to enjoy Saving Mr. Banks.  As a huge fan of all things Disney (especially the early days) and growing up watching Mary Poppins I was looking forward to seeing how the studio that produced the classic film would handle a tell-all tale surrounding its creation.  Would it be a warts and all expose of the dark side of the House of Mouse or would it be a toothless feature length ad for the BluRay release of Mary Poppins?

While there are no warts to be found in the film and the sappy quotient is kept to a minimum, the overall effect of Saving Mr. Banks is one evoking a certain nostalgia for the golden age of filmmaking and Disney itself.  Who knows exactly how “honest” the script from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith is but I can tell you that as a viewer I was moved and as a fan I was impressed.

Saving Mr. Banks is really two films in one.  The first follows Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson, Beautiful Creatures) as she travels from England to California to attend working sessions during the pre-production stage of the film version of Mary Poppins.  It’s well documented that Travers flinched at the idea of her beloved novels being turned into childish films and when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, Joe Versus the Volcano) finally got her to agree to a meeting after over a decade of trying to get the rights he found the writer’s demanding requests to go down more like ipecac than a spoonful of sugar.

The second film springs from the mind of Travers as she recalls her childhood in Australia and the interaction she has with a father she idealized (Colin Farrel, Dead Man Down).  An alcoholic, her father was the center of her world and even through his failures he remained on a pedestal for her entire life.  We see how elements of her upbringing inspired the Mary Poppins books and can see why she so kept her novels so fiercely protected from those that would sully the memory of not only her creations but her beloved father.

Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) weaves together both stories in a nicely seamless way, keeping the movie afloat through some rough waters near the end when the movie starts to lay it on thick.  Overall, I didn’t mind that extra dose of syrup because it brought me back to the salad days of the studio when they had contract players and churned out many live-action classics. 

The film provides an interesting peek into the studio system that existed on the Disney lot in the 50’s and 60’s and the period design from Michael Corenblith is right on the money.  It was nice to see the Disney park recreated in the way guests would have seen it back then and the film historian in me loved seeing early production sketches of Poppins essentials that have stood the test of time.

Performance wise, Hancock has assembled the right cast…many of whom turn in surprisingly effective turns.  That’s never truer than in Thompson’s commanding performance as the chilly Travers.  She’s so cross and mean-spirited at times that it takes an actress of Thompson’s class to keep her this side of biddy without making her cartoonishly mean.  There’s Oscar buzz around Thompson and it’s completely warranted for her steel jawed ice queen that may not ever totally melt but thaws nicely.

Tom Hanks proves a bit more troublesome in his role as Walt Disney. Perhaps it was too much to hope that someone could truly portray Uncle Walt as good as the real deal but still I just never felt like Hanks got the job done.  The actor is so good-natured and easy to like but I had a hard time warming up to his off the mark Missouri-cadence and squinty stare…though he does muster up that same twinkle Mr. Disney had when addressing an audience. 

With each passing film I become more impressed with how Farrell has turned his movie career around.  He’s gone from Next Big Thing to Yesterday’s News and has come back nicely with a string of roles that are unexpected and unexpectedly sincere.  He’s wonderful here as the trouble father of Travers and gets the right emotional oomph out of his final scenes.  There’s nice work from Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina, The Lone Ranger) as Travers exhausted mother, Rachel Griffiths (Muriel’s Wedding) as a late in the game familiar visitor, and B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom) as the songwriting team of The Sherman Brothers who suffer the most wrath from Travers red pen.  Not usually a fan of Paul Giamatti (12 Years a Slave), I’ll say that his role as Travers’ chauffer has perhaps the most emotional payoff in the film and I enjoyed his performance quite a lot.

Though mysteriously rated PG-13 (for a few scary moments involving some blood), this is one film you can bring the whole family to.  Pair it with Mary Poppins when you get home and you’ll have a practically perfect double feature.

The Silver Bullet ~ Saving Mr. Banks

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Synopsis: Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.

Release Date:  December 20, 2013

Thoughts: It’s not a huge Hollywood secret that getting Mary Poppins to the big screen wasn’t an easy task.  In fact, it wasn’t an easy task to get the woman who wrote the book that inspired the classic Disney tale to even meet with Walt Disney about his long held wish to bring the magical tale of a nanny to life.  By all accounts, P.L. Travers was fiercly protective of her creation and it was only when faced with some thin funds that she finally relentented….much to her eventual chagrin.  No fan of the finished product, Travers liked the screen adaptation of Mary Poppins about as much as Stephen King liked the 1980 film based on his novel The Shining.  This Christmas tale about Disney and Travers is made by the House of Mouse itself so I’ll be interested to see how warts and all they make it.  I’ll admit that only the last half of the trailer really caught my attention when it becomes more about the reasons why Travers was so close to the material…but coupled with a nice production design and canny performances, this should be a nice way to end 2013.