Monday, December 30, 2013

“Saving Mr. Banks” is A Story Within A Story

Three and A Half Stars

I think "Saving Mr. Banks" is a really touching story about my favorite kind of people, storytellers. “Saving Mr. Banks” is the story of P.L. Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins books. She sells the book to Disney, because she mainly needs the money. Yet, she also, through the process of selling and visiting Disney, has it bring up many things that she remembers from a painful childhood. Often an author sees what they had written differently than those who adapt it. The film isn’t really too much about Disney and the creative process as much as it’s about the childhood of the creator of the works Disney is adapting. I was a bit surprised at how much the film was about P.L. Traver’s childhood. The scenes with the ever stubborn author driving the screenwriter and the Sherman Brothers ,the movie’s song writers, crazy are delightful at times, and at other times, a bit sad because she is seeing this adaptation differently then they are. Emma Thompson is great as the stoic Travers, who is unmoved by the wonder and magic of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his crew. She is simply in this for the money, but also she is concerned about them making a cartoon of her story. Her story is really more about her personal history then her fictional one. Much like J.K. Rowling will tell you Harry Potter is about her depression then simply wands and magic, P.L. Travers sees Mary Poppins as about her awful childhood.

Walt Disney doesn’t quite understand what is wrong with Travers, the charming fellow he is. He has charmed the whole world with his stories and characters, so why not her? In fact, her real name isn’t P.L. Travers and she really isn’t British. She hides behind this all, because of her less than staller childhood with an alcoholic father. Her father is played by Colin Ferrell and is his best role in years. He doesn’t seem like a bad man, as he loves his daughters. However, he can’t seem to get out of his own way, as he is constantly drinking. The script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith goes back and fourth between P.L. Travers as an adult and herself as a child, spending much time in her childhood. The film’s shoots of her childhood are beautifully done. The little girl who plays Travers as a child does a great job, too. That should be noted.

One of my favorite aspects of his film is it’s understanding that the people who create magical tales are often the least magical people themselves. It takes a lot for someone to create fantasy, as it really is an alternative to his or her real life. Fantasy is an important escape, and this film seems to make the case for the importance of escapism. The escapism of writing Mary Poppins is so important to Travers that she cuts off the very real people who care about her. However, Walt Disney himself embraces the escapism of his own world, and doesn’t see why Travers doesn’t either.

I don’t know if this film is entirely what happened as it is produced by Disney Pictures, but I do give them credit for going a bit edgier in this picture. Travers and Disney seem to have a lot in common, however, when we come in the end, we realize that the difference is Walt chose to move on and Travers didn’t. My favorite scene in the film is that conversation between Walt and Travers. Also, I love the scene where the Disney driver, played by Paul Giamatti, says his disabled daughter gave him the Mary Poppins book before he left and he couldn’t stop reading. It made me think of J.K. Rowling, and it made me think that these types of storytellers haven’t really changed much in many years.

It is a serious, somber movie for the Disney Studios, and that’s what surprised me the most. This movie is a somber tale for anyone who’s ever tried to tell a story and the reasons why they tried to tell it in the first place. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories to cope, but at the end of the day, the most important story is our own.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, A Darker Chapter In Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” Saga

Three Stars

Peter Jackson shoots at 48 frames per second, which is double the industry standard of 24 frames per second. He has stood by his style shooting films among criticism and praise in the movie industry. Peter Jackson not only shoots at more frames per second, but also probably stretched out the Hobbit to 2 movies longer than it probably needed to be. However, I have to say that Bilbo Biggins is a great character and J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world is a delight. Dark, funny, epic, thrilling are words I used to describe Peter Jackson’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world, and how he keeps it alive as the classic it is. The books would survive by themselves, but these movies also help keep them alive. Obviously, this is the middle of the three films as we pick up where we left off. I don’t suggest you see this movie if you didn’t see part one.

We open on a rain soaked day in a village where wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits the exiled dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage). He had news to share with him that will affect the journey of Bilbo Baggins and the dwarfs who accompany him. They are on a quest to battle and kill the dragon. It’s a greedy dragon who attacked and who stole all the gold from the good people from Lake Town. Things are getting messy, as Bilbo Baggins and his merry man are going along their quest. Heck, as many devotees of Lord of The Rings saga know, no one makes walking more iconic and thrilling than the Lord of the Rings saga. Things get more at stake as they get closer and closer to the dragon in his large cave.

There are many things that happen in the Hobbit, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s complications make J.K. Rowling’s complications adorable by comparison. Going back to the review, I really do love Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggins. He is one of the greatest characters of all time, in my opinion. I also love the performances of his co-conspires. They encounter kingdoms, dark forces, good forces, towns, different creatures and many things along the way. This installment is darker than the first one, but anyone who has read the book will expect it to be. As usual, Jackson’s visuals are beautiful to look at, and the way he shoots things can be drawn back to his 48 frames a second technique. Don’t quote me on that, because I am no expert but I have a feeling that there is a very good reason he increased the frames per second in his films.

I will say this again. Don’t see this movie if you didn’t see the first one, because you probably won’t know what’s going on. It will be really hard to follow, as the Hobbit feels like one movie cut into three. However, I enjoyed part 2 of the Hobbit. I suggest it for any fantasy fan, LOR fans or people who want to introduce their Harry Potter fan kids to the original epic that started it all. However, I still suggest renting out movie one if you haven’t shown them that. As for the film, I enjoyed it. Its always fun to watch Peter Jackson do what he does best, which is his epic style.

Fantasy has been a hot genre in Hollywood for a while now, ever since J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series has taken off. However, not too many of these franchise starters have really taken off the way Hollywood has hoped. I believe though that Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” sagas are clear winners at the box office because they have a few things different than most fantasy sagas hitting the scene today. One of those is it’s already an established classic. Another is these films are about adults on a quest, and not teenagers with magical powers. Let the nerds complain about how Peter Jackson is milking The Lord of the Rings, and yes I get that, but I also give him credit for keeping the all-encompassing vision of J.R.R. Tolkien alive.