Elle was one of those films that came around the time of the Academy Awards. It has a lot of interesting elements, but it features a lot of elements some would first find unwatchable. Is it worth it?
The film begins with a cat witnessing the rape of her owner Michele LeBlanc (that’s right). The masked rapist immediately leaves. Michele just calmly cleans up themes and resumes her life, but doesn’t call the police. Michele returns back to her job as CEO of a video game company where her male employees either lust after her or view her as a ‘bitch.’ She tries to maintain a relationship with her son Vincent but feels detached as she feels he’s being controlled by her pregnant girlfriend. She has a troubled relationship with her mother who is narcissistic and has a thing for younger men. She’s having a love affair with Robert, the husband of her best friend and business partner Anna, but also has caught the eye of her new neighbor Patrick, although his devoutly Catholic wife Anna is unaware of this. Michele also has a troubled past.
The reason why Michele doesn’t call the police is because she has a sordid past. She is the daughter of a mass murderer who was arrested and imprisoned over 40 years ago when Michele was 10 years-old and even involved Michele in his murder spree. His parole hearing is coming up and the events from the past still haunt her. Her friends plead for her to report the rape to the police but Michele won’t, fearing the police have it in for her. Life is hard for Michele as she receives harassing text messages form a man claiming to watch her. She’s also the victim of a hacked video game which shows an alien with her face being raped by another alien. She learns the male colleague who made the hacked video game is infatuated with her but not the rapist. Her ex-husband learned of the news and tried looking out for her safety.
Christmas only adds to the stress as her mother falls into a stroke and her dying wish to Michele is to see her father. Michele tells her son Vincent she believes he’s not the father of his girlfriend’s child. The rapist returns for the third time, but Michele takes of the mask to discover it’s Patrick. Even though she now knows, she still doesn’t call the police nor have an alarm installed in her house.
Michele goes to visit her father in prison only to learn he hung himself. On the ride home, she gets into a car accident. She calls her friends instead of an ambulance, but the only one who responds to the call is Patrick. Michele gives Patrick a shocking confession of her feelings toward him which leaves Patrick shocked and confused. Then the day of the celebration of the launch of the new video game. At the party, she confessed to Anne her affair with Robert, which breaks Anna’s heart. The story ends with a tensely climactic moment and an ending that comes across as triumphant.
The thing about this film is that it deals with a complicated cat-and-mouse situation. Michele wants to get her rapist arrested but she is afraid to call the police, feeling they’re after her. That could also explain why she wouldn’t call an ambulance after the car crash: because of her past. She has a sense of who did it, but she feels an attraction to him. She is caught in situations in her work, in her family and even within her circle of friends at the same time. It’s enough to make anyone snap. It even turns her into a spiteful bitter person to whomever she meets up with. You hope that her rapist is caught but you’re left wondering how will it end? Will he be caught? Will Michele be the one who ends up killed? Will her rapist end up her new lover? It keeps you intrigued.
One thing about this is that this film is a psychological thriller that succeeds in taking subject matter that is disturbing and even unwatchable and turns it into a story that becomes positive in the end. Normally I am very nervous about the subject of rape in a film. In fact the very opening scene of the rape (as witnessed by the cat) and her bleeding vagina in the bath really had me questioning what Paul Verhoeven was up to. I’ll admit I had a mistrust to Verhoeven because I know he has a reputation for films like Basic Instinct and Showgirls. I still haven’t forgotten the misogyny of the latter and I was anticipating misogyny in the film at first. Even the scene that appears like Michele is consenting to the rape of Patrick makes me wonder, in addition to knowing Michele actually gets sexual satisfaction from it. In the end, the film delivers a strong female character who is able to piece the puzzle together. It’s at the end we see Michele as if she triumphed in the situation.
SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING, BYPASS THIS PARAGRAPH: The ending is a surprise as well. Throughout the whole film, you see Michele as a bitter, hurting, troubled woman with the world seemingly against her or bothering her in every which way. However it’s right after Patrick is killed that everything magically becomes right. We see how Rebecca isn’t as hurt over Patrick’s death as she’s moving out, and makes it obvious she knew what Patrick was up to. We see how Vincent has been able to get better in his career and relationship. We see how Michele is finally able to make peace with her father. We also see how Michele makes peace with both Josie and Anna as they’ve both left Robert, and even resumes the strong friendship with Anna. It’s like life for all during the time of Michele being raped was what was causing friction in the lives of Michele and those around her, and it was Patrick’s death at the hands of Vincent that set everything right for all. Normally something like that wouldn’t work in terms of a story. I mean how is it possible for a rape victim to recover from what happened seemingly overnight? But the way it was played out in the story made it look very believable and made it look like the story ended on the right note. Quite an accomplishment, especially for a psychological thriller.
This film is actually an adaptation of a French novel titled Oh. I’ve never read the novel but David Birke does a very good job in creating a story that’s both a psychological thriller and a big puzzle that somehow is able to get all the pieces to fit in the end. Paul Verhoeven also did a good job of directing. I will admit I did get suspicious with him, especially after seeing certain scenes. However it’s in the end that I feel he did a very good job of creating a strong female character despite appearing to push the envelope at times. However making the story work also came down to Isabelle Huppert in her performance of the protagonist Michele. She had to portray a character who seemed to have everything pushing her to snap but somehow keep her composure throughout the ordeal, despite being bitter and spiteful, and appear triumphant in the end. She accomplished that feat excellently. Supporting performances of note include Laurent Lafitte as the troubled neighbor Patrick and Anne Consigny as Anna: the friend caught in the love triangle.
Elle begins as a film that one would expect to be misogynist, but instead paves the way for a female character who triumphs in the end. It’s the film’s surprising twists and turns that make it.
I knew with The Eyes Of My Mother being an Altered states film, I would be taken into the world of either the bizarre, sinister or paranormal. I got sinister this time but I was not too impressed.
The film begins with a truck driver stopping to what appears to be a body in the road. The woman is very much alive but tortured physically. Flashback to at least 25 years earlier. Young Francesca is the young daughter of a Portuguese farming couple. The parents used to be cow ranchers back in their home.
One day, they’re visited by a man named Charlie who needs to use the phone. You can tell by Charlie’s face that he’s not worth your trust. Francisca witnesses Charlie bludgeoning her mother in the bathtub. The father responds by keeping Charlie captive and tortured in the barn. Francisca asked Charlie what it was like killing her mother. He responds: “It’s amazing.”
Many years pass. Francisca develops a blood lust of her own. She keeps Charlie tortured. However she also kills her old ailing father in the bathtub. She kills a stranger named Lucy. She appears to kill a mother named Kimiko and has taken to looking after Kimiko’s son Antonio. Actually Kimiko is alive but tortured in the barn the same way Charlie is: shackled and eyes dug out. Somehow Kimiko develops the strength and the willpower to find her way out on the barn. She however ends up on a road where a truck driver stops to see what’s up. This sets up for an ending that’s too brief.
Stories of ‘bloodlust’ are not that uncommon. If you’ve studied MacBeth, you get possibly the most renowned example of bloodlust. Here in this film, we hear why the feeling of bloodlust from both Charlie and older Francisca: because of its ‘amazing’ feeling. The feel of power from killing or torturing someone with your own hands can give one a feeling of satisfaction. Just ask soldiers, just ask dictators, just ask… the list is endless.
Here’s a case of the ‘bloodlust’ going from Charlie: the killer of Francesca’s mother, to Francisca. She acquires a lust for murder at her own hands from Charlie. She also acquires a desire for torture as demonstrated by her father on Charlie. The whole story revolves around Francisca and her own lust for murder and torture on others. Even the incorporation of the Portuguese language in her conversation takes the element of bloodlust into being like poetry. Even making it sensual.
That’s the best traits of the film: portraying a unique method of acquiring bloodlust and even making it poetic. However the film has a lot of noticeable weaknesses. We see Francesca has acquired this bloodlust but the film doesn’t make it convincing enough in her ability to receive it. It’s like she just received it. She may have been taught the love of murder by Charlie and the love of torture from her father but it doesn’t appear she acquires this bloodlust that believably. It’s like it just happened briefly. The other weakness is that it ended on a weak note and too abruptly. I feel that 77 minutes was too short of a time to have a film like this and the ending just seemed to be the weakest part of the film. Too sudden and too fast.
Despite the noticeable flaw, this is a good debut for Nicolas Pesce as a director and a writer. His first effort has won awards at the Fantastic Film Festival and was nominated at the AFI Fest for American Independents. Kika Magalhaes is another impressive newcomer as she does a great job in embodying her character’s madness. The other supporting characters also did a good job in their roles. Will Brill as Charlie is the one that stood out as you sensed right from the start it would be Charlie starting the trouble.
The Eyes Of My Mother makes for a good Halloween film. It’s very sinister but very poetic and charming at the same time. Nevertheless the flaws are noticeable in the film.
I don’t know about you but live-action comedies didn’t fare so well at the box office this summer. The highest-grossing comedy of the summer was Central Intelligence with just over $127 million. The only other two comedies of the summer to gross over $100 million were Ghostbusters and Bad Moms. Have people lost their sense of humor? For this summary, I will review two movies: Ghostbusters and The Nice Guys.
The Nice Guys
I’ll start the focus on one movie I saw all the way back in May. A comedy I was hoping to do well at the box office but didn’t. I saw The Nice Guys because I felt we were long overdue for a crime comedy or a police comedy. I have to say that this was a funny movie and has to be this year’s overlooked gem.
It takes us back to the 1970’s not just to do with the clothes, hair and music but also of a 70’s thing few 70’s-set movies focus on: the abundance of porn. We often forget that the 1970’s was the sexual revolution’s biggest heyday. A decade of free love at its freest and pornography was prevalent even in the movie theatres. It was even okay back then to take a date to a porno.
Here, they make a crime story set in the deliriousness of the porn business. It doesn’t aim for one-liners like so many other comedies resort to. What it does is it makes comedy of the situation. A case of a private eye and an enforcer who become unlikely partners in trying to solve a murder and who is connected to it. Another humorous situation is at the Los Angeles Auto Show where a clip of the porno starring the murder victim is spliced in to the auto show film to the shock of all. The story even has ironies added into it like how the Holly March, daughter of private eye Holland March, is able to help solve some part of the crime with her know-how. Another irony is how a politician who wants to have the crime solve is actually a part of the instrumentation. It all adds up to a humorous story that will have you laughing at the situation.
The film also gives you this summer’s biggest WTH moment. That comes when the police interrogate a neighborhood boy who showed his penis to a neighboring porn director who was killed. That’s sexual abuse, right? When I saw the interrogation happening, I was expecting a scene of a sexual abuse victim. Instead, the boy comes across as excited as if his exposing could open up opportunity in porn in the future. That was so bizarre. Just reminds you that the sexual revolution of the 1970’s was that free.
Director Shane Black takes a break from directing superhero movies like Iron Man 3 by directing this crime comedy he co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi. It comes off as very humorous in a dark way. I’d like to think he succeeded. Russell Crowe was the right fit for enforcer Jackson Healy. He possessed the right ruggedness for the role. Doing crime comedy is something new for Ryan Gosling but he did a very good job as Holland March. The scene-stealer was young actress Angourie Rice who played daughter Holly March. She did a good job of going just a simple daughter of Holland to all of a sudden one who can best help trace the case and even help solve it, with providing some action of her own. Also a big surprise is seeing Kim Basinger as the politician. I admit it. Like your typical 80’s kid, I always picture Kim as the bombshell she’s most famous for. It was surprising to see her play a role of an older character. I’m not complaining. I think she did quite well.
It is too bad to see that it didn’t make too much at the box office: $57.3 million. There was a time a while back where crime comedies or dark crime dramas were a big hit. I remember the 1990’s were capable of churning out one such movie per year that would be a classic like 1994’s Pulp Fiction, 1995’s The Usual Suspects, 1996’s Fargo and 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Since then, it cooled down. I was hoping this movie would revive some interest in it and rediscover the humor of the crime comedy. Also I feel there’s another message being sent with the lack of success of the film. The 70’s retro in movies has now faded. I know it was very active from the 90’s carried into the 2000’s and showed some muscle at the beginning of this decade but it’s obvious 70’s retro has faded with time.
The Nice Guys is an overlooked comedy from the summer. It’s worth seeing if you have the chance.
Ghostbusters: Answer The Call
From retro 70’s to retro 80’s: the retro phenomenon that still has the most muscle despite retro 90’s encroaching. Now news last year of a Ghostbusters remake featuring an all-female ensemble of Ghostbusters seemed unorthodox at the time. One conservative filmmaker went as far as saying ‘My childhood is ruined.’ However I was willing to give it a chance. I mean this is 2016.
In order to differentiate itself from the original 1984 Ghostbusters, it gave itself the subtitle Answer The Call. Now the big challenge was to decide whether the film was a case of the ghostbusters starting up together or whether these four women were filling the shoes of the men before them. It was decided to be a story where the ghostbusters start fresh. It’s very tempting to compare it to the first Ghostbusters. Actually there’s no escaping it. If you compare the two side-by-side, you will notice a lot of differences. And not just simply the change of genders of the cast. The first is the humor. The new film has humor and lines that are more irreverent that the humor and jokes in the first. The second is the Ghostbuster-wannabe characters. One thing about the first is that the addition of nerd Louis Tully added to the humor of the film. Of course Rick Moranis always specialized in nerdy characters. Having a bimboy character who’s their receptionist play the Ghostbuster wannabe here didn’t fit as well. Plus he wasn’t even that funny. Another is the possessed character scene. I’m sure those of you would agree that the possession of Dana Barrett worked better than the possession of Abby Yates. Even the line “No Dana, only Zuul.” is way more memorable.
Despite the first Ghostbusters being better than the new one in many ways, the second one does have elements that are better than in the first one. The first and most obvious is the better special effects. The film was able to create better and more eye-catching ghosts than they were in the first one. Computer technology has made that big of advances over the years. Another was the rock concert scene. If there was one plus to the movie, it was that where the foursome have to battle a ghost while a rock band was performing. That added to the humor and made it enjoyable.
It’s clear from the start this is a group effort between Paul Feig, Katie Dippold and Melissa McCarthy. This is the third collaboration with the threesome where Feig directs and co-writes, Dippold co-writes and McCarthy acts in. Its often questionable who was the main lead role of the film: whether it was Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert or if it was Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates. I know McCarthy’s star has grown bigger over the years. The addition of two other Saturday Night Live talents Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones make for a good mix of humor.
One thing to note is that personnel of the original Ghostbusters gladly came back for the revamp. There’s Ivan Reitman who’s the co-producer this time around. There’s Bill Murray who makes a cameo as a skeptic to the busters. Dan Aykroyd makes a cameo as a taxi driver, Annie Potts makes a cameo as a crabby hotel clerk, Ernie Hudson appears as Patty’s uncle Bill, even Sigourney Weaver makes a cameo appearance.
Ghostbusters: Answer The Call may not compare to the original. It’s either the freshness or the magic of the first that’s not there. Nevertheless it is enjoyable and does make for some good laughs.
And there’s my summary of the summer’s comedic movies with focus on the two. Hopefully the studios should be able to find the right funny stuff to get the live-action comedy back to being a summer hit next summer.
Surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.
DISCLAIMER: I know this review is late. I’ll admit that this is a common thing of mine that right after the Oscars, I become too tired to do blogging for a while. So please excuse the lateness of my review.
Just before the Oscars were about to be awarded, I admit that I went to see Deadpool. All this buzz about an R-rated superhero movie and setting box office records for R-rated movies. I was tempted to see it. I’m glad I did.
Now I will admit that this was a big risk for Marvel to release an anti-hero movie especially since they’ve had many a comic book hero made legendary because of their movies. They have a reputation of delivering entertaining movies that win big at the box office and even give children, as well as kids at heart, heroes with positive messages.
Deadpool is something else. Actually Deadpool is not a made-for-the-movies anti-hero. Deadpool was created by a Marvel comics cartoonist back in 1991 for another comic series as a supervillain.However Deadpool’s popularity evolved over the years since. Yeah, like I said in my review of Straight Outta Compton, anti-heroes and jerk characters were all the rage in the 90’s more than any other decade.
The surprisingly mammoth success of Deadpool came as a surprise. I think it was a big success because Deadpool reminded us of our like of anti-authority jerks back in the 90’s. Gangsta rap may have had a lot to do with it but but it was like our thirst for jerk character after jerk character was unquenchable back then. Mind you Deadpool had to come at the right time in order for us to be won over by him. I felt that releasing a movie like Deadpool in February was a smart idea. The summer time is the time for superhero characters that are family-friendly. The ones that are meant to win the biggest movie crowds of the season. A February release was better because there’s not as much competition at the box office. And it paid off big-time with the first-ever February opening weekend of $100 million or more.
It should be no surprise that Ryan Reynolds was back as Deadpool for his first-ever feature-length film. It should be a fact that Reynolds was cast as Deadpool since he was described in a 2004 Marvel cartoon as ‘Ryan Reynolds morphed with a shar-pei.’ Reynolds himself even played Deadpool in a 2009 X-Men movie. Here Reynolds was funny as one of those hateable characters whom you actually end up liking for some dumb reason. Morena Baccarin was also good as Vanessa, the one person that can actually keep Wade’s head on his shoulders. Actually Vanessa’s love for Deadpool and her ability to bring him to his senses is what keeps him from being completely hateable.
Ed Skrein was good as the villain but came across as basic as your typical villain in popcorn movies with nothing that really stood out. Tim Miller did very good as a first-time director. Giving such a film like Deadpool to a first-time director could have been seen as a gamble for Marvel but Tim did things right. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were not first-timers. In fact Deadpool is their third feature-length script. They do a very good job in giving the film the needed humor and sass for such a character like Deadpool.
Possibly the most surprising thing about Deadpool has to be its surprisingly huge box-office success. The $132.4 million it made in its opening weekend shattered opening weekend records for the month of February, the winter season and for R-rated movies. It also became the first ever R-rated movie to have an opening weekend of $100 million. As of now its $346.9 million makes it the third-highest grossing R-rated movie ever. The record is held by The Passion Of The Christ with $370.8 million. It’s possible it could break the record as it held onto #5 this past weekend in its sixth week of release.
Now there’s already talk about a Deadpool sequel. I’m not surprised about that given the success of the movie. There’s also been talk of more R-rated superhero films in the future. I will say that the box office success of Deadpool may fuel the desire to shell more of them out but Deadpool’s success is not a guarantee toward a new phenomenon of R-rated superhero movies. Sure, I was entertained by a smart-aleck wise-cracking anti-hero but I’ll bet if another one was shelled out, I’d be tired of them. I will admit this film does kind of remind us how we still have a liking for anti-heroes although not unlimited like it was in the 90’s. It’s not the case like back then when the jerk phenoms won us over but made everyone else who weren’t like them either look like a joke or look forgettable. Sure we may like an anti-hero like Deadpool but I’m sure by now, we prefer our jerk-characters and anti-heroes in doses. We can only appreciate so much nowadays. Besides Deadpool only made it look good to be an anti-hero for those two hours.
Deadpool is the surprise hit of the winter and the surprise of movies this year. It made having an anti-hero character look refreshing and even charming. However I don’t think it will start another anti-hero revolution again. Deadpool charmed us for those two hours but time will tell how much further he can charm us.
Back at this year’s VIFF, I was hoping to see at least one Canadian live-action feature. I didn’t have the luck. I was actually luckier after the VIFF ended as Beeba Boys hit theatres just a week after. I had the chance to finally see it for myself.
The story is about Jeet Johar, a Punjabi-Canadian mob boss who is seen as the big man in Greater Vancouver, especially Surrey. He’s seen by many in the Indo-Canadian community what many would see of a mob boss: a father figure, a leader, a man who helps his community and a man who tells other not to mess with their own.
However there’s another side to Jeet. Despite having a set of loyal men who carry out his actions, he’s a loyal father who’s concerned about his well-being. He’s very upset when his father drinks in front of his son and he’s concerned how his mother feels about him, even though he acts like it doesn’t bother him.
One time, Jeet is arrested for murder. The jury finds him not guilty and he wins the attraction of one of the jurors, the daughter of Polish immigrants. However the police know he’s guilty and they set up a man to join Jeet’s gang and have him set up for what they hope will be his capture.
Jeet faces a load of rivalry from other mob leaders, an Indo-Canadian business leader who has become hugely successful and various other Indo-Canadians trying to get a piece of their own crime action for their own gain. Meanwhile his love for Katya is growing despite her family’s opposition to her love to Jeet.
However with Jeet’s lust for power comes incidents along the way that send him a message he’s doomed to downfall. This comes from members of his gang being killed to even a shootout at his place, endangering his own family. This leads to an ending that is far from predictable but doesn’t make a lot of sense in retrospect.
The film has a lot of of good elements and ingredients brought by writer/director Deepa Mehta: the separation of the values held by the older Punjabis from the younger Punjabis who question and can even ridicule the values and loyalty held by older Punjabis. There’s even the perceived jealousy felt by a lot of young Punjabis towards those who have made it successfully and feel that they have to kill them to get ahead. There’s even the scene of how some children of those who have made it feel a distance from their parents and even feel neglected because of their parents’ focus on making it.
There’s also how one looks at the leader of organized crime as a positive thing, especially the young. That was especially seen in that young Punjabi boy at the beginning talking how Jeet tells others not to mess with them the same way Bruce Lee showed others not to mess with the Chinese. Typical young male with a ‘might is right’ attitude. There’s the feel of power associated by many with the might of the gun. That was shown when one of Jeet’s men gets a young boy to feel what a ‘real gun feels like.’ Even though he unloaded the gun before, it sends a message about how addicting the power of the gun can get. There’s even the feeling they have to rule the night club scenes as shown in many scenes in the film.
The film also includes many other unique and vital ingredients. One unique ingredients to the film include the mix of languages as it goes from English to Punjabi to ‘Punglish.’ Another good ingredient is not just the focus on Punjabi immigrants but also some minor focus on the Ukrainian aquacize teacher and Katya Drobot. Sometimes I think the film is not just showing the struggle of Punjabi-Canadians to exist socially in Canada but the struggles of many immigrants. I found it surprising since I live in Vancouver that is one of the most immigrant-friendly cities in the world.
There’s also the character of Jeet who’s trying to make like he’s the boss but struggles to be a responsible father and is easily infuriated when his father drinks. Soon Jeet would have to fess up as his son now thinks violence is cool.
However the main problem is that the film does not put it all together in a well-constructed manner. The film shows a lot of potential as it features a story within a topic that rarely gets proper focus and has offered few effective solutions in the past. However there are times in which the news stories and even the newscaster herself come off as too cartoonish. There are times when the story goes from telling a story of an Indo-Canadian mob boss turns into ‘preaching’ about the problem. I’ve seen other gangster films before that told a story that reflected a common problem in society without resorting to ‘preaching’ methods. There were even parts that came off as ridiculous such as mob rival Jamie being intruded upon during a fellatio by one of Jeet’s men. All I can say is for each Canadian gangster film like this, there are at least 50 American gangster films that are better.
Mehta brings an ambitious project with Beeba Boys however the problem is it’s not done in a well-edited, well-pieced manner and it comes off as unsteady, sometimes preachy and even confusing at times. I will however give Mehta credit. It’s obvious Mehta, whose 2005 film Water was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, is presenting a topic very close to her concern: the rise in crime among young Indo-Canadians, especially around Surrey and other part of Greater Vancouver. Being a resident of Greater Vancouver myself, I often hear the news stories and concerns however I myself can’t really make a statement about this topic because I don’t have direct involvement with the Indo-Canadian communities in Greater Vancouver. Mehta however is very knowledgeable about this and she feels she has something to say about this. I give Mehta credit for presenting a topic on the big-screen that gets so little focus but I feel that it could have been done better as a big-screen film.
The acting was good but it wasn’t stellar. Randeep Hooda did a good job as playing Jeet Johar: a gangster leader who’s art tough guy, part concerned father and part troubled man. Balinder Johal was the best supporting player as the concerned mother. The mix of IndoPop or IndoRock were some of the best music that could have been added to the score while the more synthesized parts of the score didn’t fit well and took away from the professionalism.
Beeba Boys is an ambitions movie that attempt to send a message as it tells a story. However it makes a lot of noticeable mistakes and it doesn’t compare to many of the crime dramas before it.
This was to be a triple-movie review I had planned to release shortly after the end of the summer. The VIFF, feeling tired, and two illnesses kept it from publishing in due time. Even though most of the films here are on DVD, Blu-Ray or on NetFlix, I still feel this is a focus on summer movies worth publishing even now. Especially since many will be eligible for the technical categories of the Oscars. Hey, don’t rule them out.
And this one is on superhero movies, and rightly so as they’ve become the creme de la creme of the summer movie season. You can easily see why. Their popularity, their ability to bring in a wide range of an audience from children who love superheroes to action movie fans to thriller lovers. No doubt their the hype of the summer. I saw three such movies this summer– The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Ant-Man, and The Fantastic Four — and all three had something to say about them in either their successes or failures.
THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
The Avengers blew us away in their first movie back in 2012. It even set a box-office record for the first ever movie to open with a $200 million weekend. It was right that there be another Avengers movie in due time. Sure enough the sequel came this summer and it was the Age Of Ultron.
It’s one thing to bring a set of superheroes together as one team but also to have one of the superheroes’ main villains to be the bad guy of this Avengers movie is something else. I wasn’t expecting Loki to be the villain. Another thing I liked about this is that in the first Avengers movie, it looked like Tony Stark was stealing the show too often. This time it appeared like there was less of a case of one hero trying to steal the show.
Overall I feel the story worked as it delivered the excitement one would normally expect from a superhero movie. You know that when Joss Whedon tackles a Marvel script, he will deliver. That and dazzling special effects of course. The interesting thing is that the ending leaves one to think that there will be a new generation of Avengers and the original Avengers have retired from their duties as a team. Nevertheless there is talk of the next Avengers sequel — actually the sequel is divided into two parts– and that all the original Avengers will be back. Should be interesting.
The box office results for Avengers: Age Of Ultron are quite interesting. Their opening weekend of $191.3 million made it second only to the first Avengers movie’s $207.4 million as the highest ever. Both would eventually be bumped down a spot six weeks later thanks to Jurassic World’s record-setting $208.8 million. Eventually it would gross a total of $459 million in North America and $1.4 billion worldwide. Its totals make it the eighth-highest ever in North America and sixth-highest ever Worldwide.
The Avengers: Age Of Ultron show some common traits of the first Avengers movie but have some noticeable differences of their own. Nevertheless they still deliver on excitement.
Last year Marvel was able to unleash a superhero ensemble no one had ever heard of, The Guardians Of The Galaxy, and they became household names. Marvel attempted to unleash another unknown superhero to the public named Ant-Man. Although it didn’t have the same buzz as the Guardians, it was impressive and succeeded in making it well-known to the public.
Ant-Man is no recent superhero of Marvel’s. Ant-Man has actually been around since 1962. Here was Ant-Man’s first crack at the big screen. It follows a formula familiar to Marvel superhero movies intended to be the first one of the superhero. It creates a clever opening scenario involving an humorous introduction to the person who will become the hero as well as an opening scene of the person to become the villain. That is to be expected in such Marvel movies as they are shelling these movies out to people of various ages from children to adult sci-fi fans. However it risks being a disappointment if not done right. It was not exactly done wrong but I did feel the beginning emphasized on the humor too much and the scenes involving Scott Lang and Luis started the movie on a cornball note. There were even scenes where Scott–ant-sized as he just discovers the Ant-Man suit–gets himself in humorously troubling situations. I know it’s natural for Marvel to add humor to their films for family viewing and enjoyment but I felt they overdid it there.
I do commend director Peyton Reed and the four scriptwriters for creating a good story that knows how to entertain and thrill. I also admire the special effects team for creating dazzling effects that fit the film well. I also commend the good acting from Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Canavale and the other actors in the film. However I felt there was something missing in this film. I can’t exactly say what. Maybe because I can’t see of a superhero the size of Ant-Man being that believable. Whatever the situation, I felt it lacked a certain shining quality one would find in some of Marvel’s best movies like X-Men or even Guardians Of The Galaxy. Once again I reiterate Ant-Man was no disappointment. It was just lacking a certain flare.
Ant-Man didn’t have the same box-office success as the Guardians Of The Galaxy did last year. It made $179.5 million in North America but also scored an impressive additional $337.9 million internationally. The film’s success has prompted plans for a sequel in either 2017 and 2018. Rudd will be returning.
Ant-Man doesn’t have the same flare as Guardians Of The Galaxy but it is an impressive introduction to a previously unfamiliar Marvel superhero.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR
If there’s one film that failed to live up to people’s expectations this summer, it has to be this year’s revamped version of The Fantastic Four. If you saw it yourself, you could easily see why it was a disappointment.
The opening scene where Reed Richards and Ben Grimm first meet in elementary school and develop a friendship opens the movie on a promising and intriguing note. However whatever intrigue one has in the story is put to the test throughout the movie. The story when the four eventually adopt their superhero personas appears to take forever. I even remember one time around the halfway point, I had to check my watch asking “Are they the Fantastic Four yet?” Even the moments in the story that attempted to stimulate excitement and intrigue didn’t keep me from asking that.
Even after the four have adopted their superhero personas, it appeared that they weren’t together and not yet the team of the Fantastic Four. The middle of the movie does make obvious that the four have their superhero personas and their elements of action to go with it but it left me confused. Even as the four do eventually meet together and do battle against Doom on another planet, I was still left wondering when the four became The Fantastic Four. I felt leaving it until the very end was not a smart thing to do.
It’s not fair to say it’s a terrible movie. When I saw it had less than 10% at Rotten Tomatoes, I wondered how unwatchable it would be. I was expecting a disappointment or a clumsy disaster. It wasn’t. It was very watchable as a movie. In fact I consider Vacation a way worse movie from this summer. Even the young actors of Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and Kata Mara did nothing wrong and did well in their acting jobs. The problem is the movie made a lot of noticeable mistakes. The special effects of the film were excellent and one-of-a-kind but they could not hide just how off the story was.
You can bet that just before the movie’s release and even after, the bad news came out and in various forms. Later on I read stories of how the director Josh Trank lost interest in the project and that it caused problems in terms of finishing the story. If that’s the case, it shows. Even despite the lackluster story, I felt ten years was too soon to release a revamp of The Fantastic Four. I remember the first one. It was a fun story that was enjoyable and a thrill to watch. It appeared Marvel did the right moves. Here, it looks like it’s aiming for a darker story with less comedy which makes it less enjoyable than the first. I can understand the aim for more drama than entertainment but this is a movie that really tests our patience despite the top notch special effects.
The box office results showed how disappointing this Fantastic Four was. It cost $120 million to make but didn’t even make half of it back in North America: $56.1 million to be exact which is less what the two previous Fantastic Four movies made in their respective opening weekends. The foreign box office of $111.6 million kept it from being a complete flop. There was talk of plans to be a sequel at first but the box office numbers definitely will put it in question.
Yes, superhero movies were one of the tour-de-forces of the summer box office as has been in recent years. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron prove they’ve still got it, Ant-Man proves that introducing a new superhero is still a challenge and The Fantastic Four proves even Marvel is not infallible to shelling out flops. We’ll see how next summer’s crop of superhero movies fares.
Summertime may be the perfect time for Beach Boys music but the film Love & Mercy isn’t one to give you that summery feeling that comes with their music. Actually it’s a lot deeper.
The film alternates between two time periods: between the mid-60`s and 1987. In the 60`s, the Beach Boys, consisting of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and high-school friend Al Jardine have hit the big time. Their California sound of girls, cars, beaches and surf have made them a phenomenon. However it`s not to say they face competition from the British Invasion, especially the Beatles.
However something`s not right despite their success. It becomes evident when Brian has a panic attack on an airplane. After the incident, he resigns from touring with the band and goes into seclusion into an attempt to make `the best album ever made.` During the time, he continues to make music but it becomes more his music rather than music of the Beach Boys. Often Brian hires other musicians and usually features the other Beach Boys only in vocals. This leads to a lot of disharmony among the band sensing this may be a vainglorious Brian Wilson solo project. Brian also does other unorthodox things like build a sandbox around his piano and experiment with LSD which even his own wife is comfortable with.
The end result is the album Pet Sounds which received a lot of critical praise but was a commercial failure despite two Top 10 hits. The lack of commercial success is especially rubbed in by his father Murry who acts as their manager and expects the band to succeed just like it was any other act he owned.` He even announces to Brian that the Beach Boys are fired and he manages a new band which he feels has better chart-topping potential. Even after The Beach Boys resume their top-selling ways with songs like Good Vibrations, that changes nothing especially since some of Brian`s other creations are rejected. Brian goes into seclusion after a mental breakdown to the point he alienates everyone including his wife and newborn daughter Carnie.
In 1987, Brian is in a Cadillac store in California where he appears to be shopping for a new car. He stumbles across attractive saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter. However his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy stops him. Brian is able to give Melinda his number. He goes on dates with her in which he was surprisingly honest to the point he even revealed his father`s abusiveness to him and his brothers. It`s obvious Brian is still as troubled mentally as he was back in the 60`s. The accidental death of brother Dennis three years earlier only added to his distress.
Over time, Landy demands more supervision of Brian. Melinda is already sending Landy becoming overbearing and even controlling when he tells Brian out loud to wait for food at a barbecue. Landy`s controlling nature becomes even harsher when Landy supervises his music and even demands that no visitors be with Brian. It becomes especially evident that he has a certain contempt towards Melinda. Melinda tries to get Brian to turn away on many occasions but Brian is too mentally weak to drop Landy. It comes down to Melinda threatening a legal suit to put an end to this and she gets what she needs. The ending tells us that Melinda is the best thing to ever happen to Brian.
The film is not just about Brian`s mental condition but also about the Beach Boys music at the time and even the time in music history when it was happening. Hard to believe the whole time the Beach Boys appeared as the epitome of surfing culture in the early 60`s, only Dennis surfed. They were an act packaged by their father Murry and it paid off into hit record after hit record. However Brian had other creative juices of his own and he felt he had to put it to record.
It showed the inspiration he transpired into the record studio but it also showed the conflict he had with other band members and the commercial pressures expected with every big name act. We often think of the mid-60`s as a time when rock bands did away with the typical `bubble gum` sounds that made them chart-toppers and started getting more creative and changed rock `n roll forever in all angles. True, but it didn`t make them immune to the commercial expectations they faced. Sure, there were albums like Sgt. Pepper that paid off commercially and changed music forever. However there were albums like Pet Sounds that were just as creative but flopped. It`s a gamble no matter how you put it. Even that scene where Murry tells Brian he fired the Beach Boys in favor of a new act, you could tell by the look on Brian`s face it appeared like a case of a father disowning his sons. It sure looked like it.
Without a doubt the mental illness ordeal of Brian Wilson is the focal point of the film. His ordeal is something most of us already know but only few knew the full details. The film gives the story of how it all started especially with Brian`s upbringing and what all happened at its start and most noticeable troubles during the 1960`s. The film also showed why it took so long for it to be resolved. You could easily see why a doctor like Eugene Hardy would make the situation worse than better. It makes you wonder why was Eugene so controlling to Brian? His star status? Landy`s own psychiatrist ego? Or Landy`s own problems?
It also made you wonder why was Brian afraid to leave Landy? Was it because he trusted him? Or was it because Landy appeared to him as the father figure he didn`t get from Murry? Even though the story is about Brian`s mental condition, it`s also a love story as it was Melinda whom Brian meets by chance that becomes the best thing for him. For his life and for his mental well-being. You`re left feeling that way at the end that love really does conquer all.
Director Bill Pohlad and scriptwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner succeed in creating a film that`s both autobiographical and also about the music of the Beach Boys and the time when Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations were released and also about how persistent love solved a decades-long psychological issue. The story however could not shine without the phenomenal acting. Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian who was full of music but very troubled and couldn`t be helped. John Cusack was excellent as the older Brian who was still troubled and too afraid to break free from Landy. Also excellent was Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. She was excellent for portraying the one who knew nothing about psychology but knew how to solve Brian with love. Paul Giamatti was good as Eugene Landy but his performance was as typical as most of the other characters he`s done in past films.
Love & Mercy is a biographical film of a musician but it`s a lot more. It`s about the music of the time and a reminder that one who loves you enough to care can see through hard situations.
Sure, Furious Seven is another sequel. However it is one that has been anticipated hotly. Particularly of a star’s death. Nevertheless does it hold up as a movie?
I admit that the only previous Fast and The Furious movie I’ve seen was the very first one. I can’t really judge it against the ones I haven’t seen. What I can say is that it is for the most part a very cliched movie. There were some notable moments that made the story unique with some cred like Dominic’s love to Letty and Brian’s struggle of being a family man while simultaneously being part of the ‘mission.’ However it had the typical thick action you’d come to expect from an action movie. The plot is nothing you haven’t seen before. It also includes scenes where you’d feel it’s too over-the-top. It’s especially notable when you see Dwayne Johnson come on from out of the hospital with his machine gun. You can see the Mr. Heavy Testosterone acting there. Even the comedic parts from Roman looked too ridiculous and question if it was too over-the-top for this movie. Many times I asked myself during his ‘song and dance’ at the Dubai party “Is this really necessary?”
Despite all this, there are some relevant qualities to the movie. Vin Diesel did well as Dominic. Actually he made the role of Dominic in the franchise. I was better at stomaching him than Dwayne Johnson as he was better at playing a macho character that doesn’t come across as Mr. Testosterone. Michelle Rodriguez was also impressive as Letty as her acting wasn’t as showy or over-the-top. And Ludacris as Tej knew how to keep Tyrese Gibson from unnecessarily stealing the show. And Paul Walker, whom I will focus on later in this review, did a respectable job as Brian.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve only seen the first of the series. The first Furious movie was a good adrenaline rush, especially for those who like to street-race, but had a formula too similar to what you’d find in popcorn movies. I remember turning 2 Fast 2 Furious down because Vin Diesel wasn’t in it. Being a person who’s only seen the first and the last, I have to say the films other biggest quality is showing how far this film series has come. When The Fast And The Furious started, it started as street racers who would find themselves involved in fighting criminal activity Most of which are at high speed. The film ended with a street race. Six sequels later, the street-racing days are over but the fighting crime has continued and even progressed to the point of the type of action you’d come to expect in superhero movies. High speed action scenes continue to occur but this will surprise anyone who has only seen the first Furious movie. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I usually pass on Hollywood sequels because for all intents and purposes, I consider most Hollywood sequels the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. This sequel was common to expect from a Hollywood sequel but it did have some positive traits. Showing how far this franchise has come since the first is one of them. When I saw the first, I didn’t expect it to grow this big.
Finally I’ll focus on the memorializing of Paul Walker in the film. It’s no question that the Fast and The Furious series was what made Paul Walker. Sure, he had experience as a child actor in TV and movie bit parts, sure he had a major role in the renowned Flags Of Our Fathers, but it is his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast and The Furious franchise that he will most be remembered for. Of course the first movie was a product featuring Vin Diesel and hoping to propel his stardom further. Even though it did, it also made a star out of the supporting player: Paul Walker. It was the breakthrough Paul had hoped for. Otherwise his movie career’s peak would have been the Disney Schmalzfest Meet The Deedles. Paul would go to star in all but one of the Fast And The Furious movies. It seems like a bizarrely tragic irony that Paul’s death at the age of 40 came as he was street racing along with his friend and crashed his car at a high speed. The death could even add to the stigma of Paul Walker being Brian O’Conner. So it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that Furious 7 opened huge, albeit a bigger-than-expected $140 million on opening weekend. That set a record for biggest opening weekend for an April release.
As for this movie being a fitting ‘last hurrah’ for Paul Walker, his acting was fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing out of what you’d expect for the role of Brian O’Conner. The ending first seems like a good tribute to Paul and a nice final salute to him. However it would not be too long until the secret was given out that Paul’s look-alike brother was used to film the final screen and that his face was computer enhanced to look more like Paul. Knowing that will make the final tribute to Paul very questionable. Even seen as tacky. It’s also a question whether this movie was intended to be Paul’s last Furious movie right from the start. Right into the plot Paul talks about the challenges of putting his past behind and moving onto family life. That could be a hint this may have been intended to be his last movie. Even the ending of the beach scene will make one wonder if it was planned before his death or after. Something to think about, especially as they’re in the works of making Furious 8.
Furious 7 is your typical Hollywood sequel continuing and building on the formula made popular. It also tries to be a good farewell to Paul Walker. Despite it being off in a lot of areas and leaves Paul’s farewell questionable, it does have some positive qualities and succeeds in entertaining its core audience and pleasing fans of the franchise.
There are no two words in the English language more harmful that good job.
One of the year’s biggest surprises has to be Whiplash. You think a movie about a jazz drumming student and his teacher wouldn’t be one to win people over but you’ll have to see it for yourself.
Andrew Neiman is a 19 year-old jazz drummer who has been accepted into the Shaffer Conservatory to pursue his dream of being one of the greats like Buddy Rich. Despite practicing long hours, he does take time to take things easy watching movies with his father and even dating the girl working at concessions.
That all changes one day when during class, instructor Terence Fletcher who already has an infamous reputation among students substitutes for one instructor. It’s more than instruction as Fletcher is looking for a new drum alternate for the school band he conducts. Sure enough, Andrew catches his eye. Actually Andrew caught his eye days before while practicing alone.
On the first session, Neiman learns that part of Fletcher’s rehearsal methods is manipulating emotions out of his students. It is while rehearsing the Hank Levy song ‘Whiplash’ that Fletcher makes Andrew his target of attacks including berating him verbally especially when Andrew is brought to tears, throwing a chair at him and even slapping him for going off tempo. The rehearsal ends with Andrew being the alternate drummer and relegated to page turner for the lead drummer.
Instead of quitting, Andrew is determined to win over Fletcher and master ‘Whiplash.’ He listens intensely to its drumline and studies videoclips of the drummers. He even cuts his movie time with his father and breaks up with Nicole to intensely pursue his ambition. Then bad luck happens during a competition when Andrew misplaces the drummer’s sheet music. However Andrew is determined to perform ‘Whiplash’ without the notes. To the astonishment of all including Fletcher, he does it perfectly and becomes Fletcher’s new lead drummer.
However it’s short-lived as Ryan a drummer from Fletcher’s former class, is promoted to lead drummer. Andrew is frustrated to the point he confronts Fletcher only to learn Fletcher decides who has earned the part. That only drives Andrew to practice intensely to the point his hands bleed. Just before Fletcher starts rehearsal one day in tears, he reveals to all that one of his former students from six years ago Sean Casey, whom he describes as a ‘marvelous musician,’ died in a car accident. He starts rehearsal on ‘Caravan’, the next competition piece, but has a hard time picking out the right drummer for the song. Fletcher gets all three drummers including Andrew continually trying out the piece for several brutal hours until he makes his final decision at 2:30 am. He decides it to be Andrew.
Andrew buses to the competition but the bus suffers a flat tire. Andrew’s determined to be there on time to the point he rents a car but forgets his drumsticks at the rental office. Andrew only finds that out once he arrives and Fletcher dismisses him for not having his drumsticks. Determined to play, Andrew rushed back to the agency to get the sticks. Speeding to the concert hall and talking to Fletcher on his phone, Andrew is hit by a car. Despite the car flipping over and Andrew bloody and injured, Andrew rushes to the hall to play. A stunned Fletcher lets him play but it’s obvious Andrew is off as his injuries cause him to drop his drumsticks continuously. Fletcher gives him the words onstage: “You’re finished.” That causes Andrew to attack Fletcher onstage in front of the audience.
The attack caused Andrew to get expelled form the school. Soon Andrew learns from the lawyer of Sean Casey’s parents that Casey actually committed suicide and believes it was because of the personal torment endured by Fletcher’s teaching methods right from when he first started. Andrew agrees to testify, leading Fletcher to be dismissed from the school. Just when it seemed to be all over for Andrew, he learns months later Fletcher is performing in a club. Andrew and Fletcher meet up again and it’s during a drink together that Andrew learns why Fletcher teaches the way he does. Because he drives his students to be the next jazz great. And he saw it in Andrew more than the other two. Fletcher agrees to have Andrew as part of the band he’s conducting for the upcoming JVC festival where they will be playing the same songs. Andrew agrees. However things do not go as planned as Fletcher tells Andrew he knew he got him out. On top of it, the band opens with a piece Andrew never rehearsed. This leads to an ending that’s unpredictable and entertaining.
One can simply say it’s a story about a student with the drive and the teacher determined to make him succeed no matter how soul-crushing his teaching methods. I myself saw a lot more to it. I see it as about music and arts in general. We see and hear a lot of great pieces of music, great acting performances and great pieces of art. One thing we don’t often see is that it takes everything out of a person, especially their heart and soul. We also see that here in teaching as Fletcher verbally beats his students into the ground to bring out the best in them. He feels he’s doing the right thing even as he was blamed for Sean Casey’s suicide. He even brings up the example of Charlie Parker who was a substandard saxophone player until his bandleader threw a cymbal at his head. That was the turning point. I myself have taken acting courses and there have been times in which I was encouraged to dig deep into my soul even to the point of remembering some of the more upsetting moments of my life. It’s not uncommon for teacher sin the art to be that tyrannical to their students to bring out the best in them.
It’s not just about a teacher putting his students through such agonizing torturous methods to better his students and bring the best out of them. It’s also about the drive of a student. Andrew is determined to be the best drummer ever. In his mind, he thinks it’s better to be a success even if it means dying in his 30’s and having no friends than it is to be not so successful but live a long life and be beloved. Andrew is willing to practice drumming until his hands bleed, willing to give up his girlfriend and even determined to make a competition even if he’s in a car accident and the car flips over. The crazy thing is that there are a lot of people in the arts that feel that same way. That success in their art is better than being loved and even worth dying for. We see that in Andrew.
Even there, it’s not just about the teacher and about the student, it’s the relationship between the two. Fletcher can be brutal and abusive both verbally and physically but he pushes Andrew because he sees a quality in him he has not seen in a student before. Andrew is driven to succeed but he sees something in Fletcher’s tutelage that he feels he can’t get anywhere else. He senses Fletcher and only Fletcher can help him to be the best jazz drummer ever. And he’s willing to take it on even with the physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Even after both Andrew and Fletcher are both dismissed from Shaffer, Andrew still relies on Fletcher’s judgment on his abilities. Often Fletcher’s teaching and pushing Andrew can remind a lot of people of sports coaches who are that tough on their athletes but are determined to bring out the best in them. Andrew willing to endure it all to be the great he wants to be will remind you of athletes who wholeheartedly trust their coach to the point that they’ll willing to do illegal things like steroids upon their urging.
Without a doubt, J.K. Simmons owned the movie. His portrayal of Fletcher determined to bring out the best in his students even if it requires him to deliver physical or verbal abuse stole the movie. His focus on perfectionism, his love for jazz music and the greats, his portrayal of that kind of teacher will keep you glued to your seat. Even though Simmons owned the film, credit should be given to Miles Teller. He as well delivered an excellent performance of a student with a dream and determined to succeed even if it means taking physical abuse from a teacher. He also did an excellent job of showing how Andrew’s determination to succeed almost destroys him at times. Miles himself also drummed as a kid so it’s kind of natural he was chosen. Plus if director Damien Chazelle was interested in making his film bankable, he could have chosen Nick Jonas as Andrew. Miles was one who could both drum and act.
The film is actually the brainchild of director/writer Damien Chazelle. Chazelle wanted to become a successful jazz drummer in high school. He was in a very competitive jazz band in high school and had an intense music teacher who would become the inspiration of Terence Fletcher. However unlike Andrew, Chazelle knew he wasn’t good enough to excel in jazz drumming and turned to film making instead. You could rightfully call this film his baby. This film has won the Sundance Audience and Jury Award for Best Drama and the reception has been excellent.
Whiplash is as much about the punishing training and studying music students go through to pursue their dreams as it is about the determined teacher, the driven student and the turbulent but solid chemistry between the two. It will also remind all you young ones with musical dreams that if you think chasing your musical dreams is a cakewalk, you couldn’t be wronger.
Saving Mr. Banks is to be the story of how Walt Disney was able to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. The question is not just will it bring the story to life but will it make people want to see it on the big screen?
It’s 1961 and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers is struggling financially. Walt Disney has been trying to get Travers to agree to allow him to adapt Mary Poppins to the big screen for 20 years on account of a promise he made to his daughter. Travers finally agrees, albeit reluctantly but she’s extremely distrustful of Walt. She has stern expectations of Mary being adapted to the big screen such as no musical numbers, no Dick Van Dyke, none of the Disney frilliness and no animation.
Things do not start well for Mrs. Travers. She’s unhappy in Los Angeles with the carefree attitude of the city and by the happy ways Walt Disney, his co-workers and even Ralph the chauffeur do business. Not even Walt’s familiar manners warm up well to Travers. Things get harder as Don DaGradi does the script, the Sherman brothers compose the music and Walt designs the characters. She even has a problem with Mary Poppins being the epitome of sentiment and whimsy, believing she’s the opposite of that. That surprises the Disney crew as they’ve always viewed Poppins as fantastical and known Travers to have a fantastical childhood, as seen through flashbacks.
However things take a turn for the worse when Travers sees the depiction of George Banks. She believes he is completely off-base and leaves distraught. It’s then where the Disney studio realizes that Mary Poppins and its characters are very personal to Travers. It’s through flashbacks that we learn that Travers Goff, her father and the inspiration of George Banks, was indeed a banker but valued his imagination more than work in the real world. Things became too crushing for Travers and he would lose his job and his sanity to alcoholism. Her mother was the stern one of the family who even attempted suicide once.
The Disney team are persistent and try to work things out. Walt even offers to take Ms. Travers to Disneyland to lighten her mood. Things improve. The trip to Disneyland improves her embrace of the imagination, albeit slightly. Travers also has an unlikely friendship with Ralph the chauffeur as he tells her his handicapped daughter loves the novel. Things really improve when she walks in and hears George Banks is given a happier manner and has him singing ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ at the end. But just when things seem to be working out, she learns of dancing penguins in a scene. That infuriates Travers to the point she refuses to Walt the film rites and flies back to London.
Once Disney learns that P.L. Travers is actually an Australian names Helen Goff, he departs to London for one last chance. Walt arrives at Travers’ home and opens up to her during his visit. He tells her that he too had a troubling childhood with a stern father and growing up poor. It was through his animation and his happy characters that he was able to heal and he tells Travers that having a creative imagination would also help in her healing of her disappointment with the world. She eventually agrees but she’s not invited to the 1964 premiere for fear of her panning it. Once news hits her, she shows up at Disney studios demanding to be invited. Her reactions at the premiere are unexpected but those of us who’ve seen Mary Poppins would know the movie would have a happy ending.
There have been movies before about the making some of the most famous children’s stories. I even remember seeing Finding Neverland a few years ago. The film of an adaptation of a novel to movie is not something one would call a fresh idea. Nevertheless it is unique this case of adapting the Mary Poppins novel to the big screen.
We should keep in mind that to make a film like this, it would have to be entertaining and keep audiences interested. It succeeds with some surprises. First is the personality of P.L. Travers. It’s funny that we see this uppity personally and we’re left thinking: “Are you sure this prig is the author of Mary Poppins?” Second is Travers’ feelings towards Disney’s style of creativity and how on earth it would ever be adapted. Crazy thing is we all know it was adapted. Even still the film makes you forget that and wonder if it will, even as the Sherman brothers sing the movie’s songs we all know. Third is that the biggest issue wasn’t the depiction of Mary but of George Banks. Travers designed George to be kind like her own father while Walt was in favor of a stern George Banks like his own father. You could understand how this would cause the two to collide.
The movie isn’t just of the dealmaking for the adaptation. The film is also of Travers’ own inspiration of Mary Poppins from her own childhood. We see how over time Travers had a nanny she thought as magical as her father was dying. We also see her father as a banker but one who believed in fantasy and the imagination. Even after he died, the spirit of his imagination lived on in Travers, even as she tended to her younger sisters and dealt with a troubled mother. Many of us are already familiar with Walt Disney and his fun ways. However we learn more of P.L. Travers and of her upbringing and her own imagination. That’s a good thing because I don’t think most of us ever did. None of us ever expected the author of Mary Poppins to be the stern type. However she was one who would try to come to terms with her imagination as noted in a scene where she’s in bed and confides to hugging a stuffed Pluto.
People should not be fooled too easily. There are many people who think this will be a family movie since this is done by Disney and since this a depiction of Walt trying to convince Mary Poppins to agree to let him adapt the novel to screen. However the film’s depiction of Travers’ troubled childhood as Ginty is what keeps it from being family friendly. Elements like an alcoholic father and a suicidal mother are not entirely for a family audience. It may be okay to bring older children to the film but younger ones are not a good idea.
It’s very rare for a female lead to steal a movie from Tom Hanks but Emma Thompson does just that. She was excellent in embodying P.L. Travers as an uptight prig who still harbored a love for the imagination, though only Walt knew it. She also depicted Travers as a person who still struggled with the memory of the father she cherished. We should be reminded that people that produced some of the most delightful entertainment came from troubled childhood, even Walt himself. Tom Hanks delivers a performance that is more a case of character acting than say mastering a difficult part like he did in Captain Phillips. He was very good at capturing Walt’s fun imaginative way of doing business and he made Walt seem like the Wizard Of Oz at times.
Colin Farrell also did a good job as Travers Goff, the father who was troubled by his job but valued his imagination. Paul Giamatti’s role as Ralph the chauffeur was small but he was able to get notice of his own. The other actors with smaller roles, especially those in Walt’s office, added their own pieces and elements to the movie as well. John Lee Hancock did a good job in directing but nothing that really stood out for this film year. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith do their best in making a story for family audiences with their script. Technical items like the set design and costumes were excellently done in fitting the times they were made in. And Thomas Newman did a great job with the score.
Saving Mr. Banks is a delightful movie despite being too polished and ‘safe’ to excel amongst the top Oscar contenders of the year. It’s biggest success is the acting of its actors and the telling of the story of an author we never new. Even with scenes of the author’s troubled childhood, it succeeds in entertaining young and old.