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Saving Mr. Banks




Reviewer: Philip Price

Director:  John Lee Hancock

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

Released: 29th November 2013 (UK)

There is just that something that comes with movies about making movies and how the behind the scenes dynamics somehow connect more and serve as dramatic material in their own right that gives, at least certain audience members, a rush of fascination especially when paired with a film or some other piece of pop culture that has become a mainstay over time. There is no doubt that the 1964 Mary Poppins film has become a soft spot for generations of children that have fallen in love with the songs and the characters that are now iconic, but what many people even fail to realize is that Mary Poppins herself was not the creation of the Disney studios and it’s figurehead Walt Disney, but instead of a small English woman by the name of P. L. Travers who took the nanny very seriously as she was more than a fictional character to her creator but the heart and soul of her childhood that would shape the woman she became and the code she would live by. This is made apparent in Saving Mr. Banks until the terribly particular author comes in contact with Mr. Disney and is able to find common ground with a man who’d made his fortune from portraying himself and pumping out products that conveyed the happiest man the world could offer. There is a complex relationship at the heart of this film that gives us not only a look at the shaping of one of Walt Disney’s productions in the latter half of his career, but it also chronicles the creative process in a way that you realize the depths to which some people hold onto moments past in their life and how it inspires what is the centerpiece of their existence to the point they find it hard to let go, to let it become something new and how that can both be a weight lifted and a new burden all at once. I began the film, excited to see what was in store for the audience as, obviously, I love movies and so I love movies that detail the industry and how other movies are made, but as we are introduced to Miss. Travers and her constant scrutiny I was at first repulsed by the way in which she not only treated the people involved in the production, but everyone around her to which she is then somehow able to become a more respectable figure whose complexities don’t excuse her attitude, but endear her more to the audience which is credit fully due to the performance of Emma Thompson.

Beginning in 1961 we are introduced to Miss. Travers (as she prefers to be called) and her agent discussing the fact she has little to no money left and as she’s not written any new material for quite some time and it is in her best interests to consider Mr. Disney’s offer to make a motion picture based on her beloved Mary Poppins. We’ve all seen the trailers where it is made clear that Disney’s quest to obtain the rights pits him against this uncompromising writer who is somehow unable to resist the charm and spectacle of what Disney brings to the table. As this is produced by Disney studios it is somewhat funny to see the way in which this kind of competition is staged. Disney is an admirable man, no doubt and Hanks plays him with an air of mixed confidence and delightful optimism in everything he does. He is a man who made his name on an animated mouse that took the world by storm and he was no doubt in love with that character as much as Travers treasured her dear Mary Poppins. And so, I wondered why there might even be a level of misunderstanding between these two artists that come from a similar place and share what could ultimately be summed up as similar values. There is even a point in the film where Disney speaks to his assistant about how he felt when a larger corporation tried to purchase Mickey Mouse from him and how hard it would have been to let him go and not dare to create his own empire. I also wondered why Travers might not try to pitch the adaptation to other studios, but despite the fact she might have that surely wouldn’t be documented or mentioned in this film. What we have here is a story loose on concrete facts and vivid in its interpretation as far as the true relations between Travers and Disney go, but what I think allows the film to rise above the easy target it could have been with its credentials and position on the subject matter is that it essentially goes back and serves as the movie Travers would liked to have seen adapted from her stories through the function of flashbacks to her childhood. It may not capture the make believe or fantastical elements of her Mary, but it captures what is hopefully the spirit of her drive and reason for why she was the way she was and why she so badly needed to be that person.

It was for two weeks in 1961 that Travers went to California and Walt Disney pulled out all the stops overwhelming Travers with a Beverly Hills Hotel room filled to the brim with Disney memorabilia and on the working days bombarding her with screenwriter Don DaGradi (a playful Bradley Whitford) as well as hoping to convince her to being open to the idea of the film being a musical with the help of the Sherman brothers, Robert (B. J. Novak) and Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and their lighthearted tunes. This storyline is clearly where the emphasis was placed in terms of marketing and star power, but there is a tug of war going on in this film to the point it feels like every other scene is alternating with the backstory of Travers and how it influenced her writings. In those flashback scenes, while at first feeling somewhat out of place and forced, we are eventually taken to a rather dark space in that these were not happy people yet they enabled themselves to live in a world where they were constantly surrounded by small children and the natural innocence and joy their existence brings with them. Young Miss. Travers or Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) as she is so lovingly referred to by her father, the inspiration for the titular Mr. Banks, is growing up in Maryborough, Australia in 1906 and is seemingly embarking on a new adventure as she and her family move to a new house in a small town where her father has acquired a new job as the local bank manager. Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) is a man who relies heavily on the drink though and it is well known throughout the local community. His wife, Margaret (Ruth Wilson) is clearly unsure of herself and overwhelmed when the thought of taking on the role of a mother is pressed down upon her. There is nothing singled out in terms of why she feels this way or has come to think of herself as being unfit, but it is understood both by the audience and by Thompson’s Travers in that it was simply not a role everyone was cut out for. These small details that hint at what we saw in the Julie Andrews picture are nice nods, but it is Farrell’s performance and the retrospective of seeing a young Travers that allows these flashbacks to become more than just a function of the storyteller. They emphasize the scene they either follow or precede and build upon the one another to result in the greater effectiveness of the film as a whole.

It is tough to like Thompson’s P.L. Travers right from the get go as she looks down upon anyone not sharing her views or living in accordance with her particular lifestyle and just as you might expect her character arc makes a turn towards the more accepting point of view by the conclusion (if that is a spoiler, I’m sorry, but that much is spoiled by the trailer and the real reason to see this isn’t story revelations but the value in getting a peak behind the curtain). Thompson is hard to dislike as an actress, but even here she is able to make the quips and complaints of Travers someone we are interested to understand rather than simply writing off as a picky witch. The film conveys convincingly why this story means so much to her, but further why the small details are so critical to her when being considered for the film representation. There is one scene in particular that resonated more than any other with me and that perfectly symbolizes how well director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have blended the two overlapping stories they are telling here. Walt Disney has requested the Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins have a mustache, but Travers is keen on the fact he is clean shaven. It seems insignificant and is even highlighted by the first real push back we see from Robert Sherman in that he calls out whether or not Mr. Banks having a mustache really matters. The scene then cuts to Farrell shaving his chin with his small Ginty watching on below and asking why he does such a thing. Farrell’s Travers replies with a statement asking what kinds of kisses she prefers and that a man should always be clean shaven for the sake of his young daughters cheeks. It is a touching moment that connects with the older Travers in the most distant, but critical memories of her mind and it is in Thompson’s performance that we see the pain of not being able to let go and give up what has been so precious and inspired her throughout her life. Farrell plays Travers with such wide-eyed enthusiasm it is pure joy to see him in a role that doesn’t have him lurking in the shadows, but the aspects that do lean toward the dark recesses of life give the actor an opportunity to show great range and deliver a fine and unexpected performance that truly gives his adult daughter his vivid imagination while instilling the restraints on the indulgences that caused his downfall. Saving Mr. Banks is an intensely engaging film if not a bit of a schmaltzy one that teaches us it’s not always best for the soul to remember how things actually happened, but to allow one’s self to move past it and not live a life dictated by the past.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★



Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★



A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★



Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

Assassination Nation 2 Movie Marker

There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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