Another new review from Mom Under Cover.
Saving Mr. Banks – B
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks (both double Oscar winners) headline this extraordinary story of how Disney’s “Mary Poppins” came to the big screen (albeit in a Disney-fied, whitewashed way). Thompson as author P.L. Travers has no intention of letting Disney turn her beloved Mary Poppins into a movie (and surely not an animated one) even though she needed money and books a trip to California in 1961 to pacify her agent. The movie details the 20 year pursuit by Disney (in order to fulfill a promise to his daughters) to bring Poppins to the screen and particularly, the two weeks Travers spent at Disney studios working on the movie. Thompson, as the prickly, buttoned-up Travers, seems almost overly obstreperous until you hear the actual tapes of the sessions between the real Travers and the Disney team (don’t forget to stay after the credits to hear these!); you will realize she held back. There is an interesting tension between Disney’s attempt to keep a promise to his children and the many promises Travers’ father failed to keep to her. Some reviewers thought there were too many flashbacks of Travers’ childhood, though I did not find them intrusive. It is only when Disney reveals some of his own rough childhood that Travers consents to make the movie. Perhaps a lesson to us all that communication requires honest transparency on each part.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Brave (B+). The new offering from Pixar is set in a magical, medieval Scotland. Big, boisterous King Fergus and his prim and proper wife Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson, Dead Again) have a high-spirited daughter named Merida who is a veritable Katniss Everdeen with a bow and arrow. Now, Merida is getting to that age when an unfortunate ancient custom decrees that she must marry the heir of one of the nearby clans. To refuse would risk triggering an all-out civil war. What’s a girl to do? I don’t think I’m committing a spoiler by saying Merida tries to buck the system, and consequences ensue. All in all, I thought it was quite good. The visuals live up to Pixar’s high standards–it must have taken a whole team of animators (or computer programmers) just to do Merida’s wild mane of red hair. The portrayal of the fraught relationship between Merida and her mother is unusually well done. And Merida’s much younger brothers, who appear to be triplets, are a hoot in their few appearances. The thing that keeps me from giving it a grade in “A” territory is that it did feel just a little derivative of other movies. Still, it’s a very good flick. There are some scary fight scenes involving bears, so it is rated PG, but I would think only the littlest kids would be really scared. The opening short, La Luna, is kind of cute but nothing to write home about.
New review from The Movie Snob
Men in Black 3 (B+). It may have helped to go into this movie with low expectations. I have no real memory of the previous two movies in this series–just a faint recollection that I liked the first one okay and did not care for the second one. In any event, I thought this third installment was quite enjoyable. You may remember that Will Smith (Independence Day) and Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever) star as Agents J and K, who were part of a top-secret agency keeping tabs on extraterrestrials living and occasionally creating havoc among us. Well, this time they throw time travel into the mix, as Agent J has to go back to 1969 and see what’s happening with a much younger Agent K (Josh Brolin, True Grit). Emma Thompson (Dead Again) drops in unexpectedly as top agent O, and Nicole Scherzinger (TV’s Dancing With the Stars) also has a small role. It’s rated PG-13 for “sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content,” and if you don’t like freaky and/or slimy aliens this is probably not the film for you. I got a kick out of it, though.
New review from Nick at Nite
Last Chance Harvey
I took a long flight to New York recently. The diversion on the plane was this film. The film features Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) and Emma Thompson (Men in Black 3) in a unlikely romance. Hoffman, the boorish American, stars as a somewhat pathetic and distance father who is about to lose his job as a jingle writer. He bumps into and then spends the day with Thompson, a lonely and proper Brit, in London. Hoffman is in London for his daughter’s wedding. After several awkward exchanges, Hoffman leaves his daughter’s wedding early, misses his plane home, is fired from his job, and starts to court Thompson in an airport restaurant. I recommend this movie if you are stuck on an airplane. I give it a “smelly food, screaming child, and captain has fastened his seatbelt.”
From the desk of The Movie Snob
Last Chance Harvey (B-). A jingle-writer/would-be jazz pianist is going to London for his daughter’s wedding. He is none too close to his daughter, not to mention his ex-wife and her successful and handsome second husband. While in London, he chances to meet a woman who has never been married, spends most of her free time with or on the phone with her divorced mother, and has more or less sealed herself off from life. Things unspool from there. There were things I liked and things I didn’t about this breezy little 92-minute movie. I have never cared much for Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), and so I found the lead character difficult to like. Emma Thompson (Dead Again), on the other hand, is a pleasure to watch as the Londoner that Hoffman’s character meets. I really liked the various wedding-related scenes, especially the reception. It is sort of a cliché to film a scene of a wedding dinner or reception in which a character threatens to ruin everything with an inappropriate impromptu speech, but this movie does it deftly. I guess my main beef with this and similar movies is the astronomical unlikeliness of two strangers meeting by chance, spending just a little time together, and getting convinced almost immediately that they’ve discovered a soulmate. I’d be tempted to say it never happens, but the Borg Queen reminded me of an acquaintance of ours to whom something reasonably similar did happen. Still, it’s got to be rarer than Hollywood makes it out to be.
From The Movie Snob
Brideshead Revisited (B-). People who see this movie will almost certainly be familiar with the novel (which I am) and/or with the Reagan-era miniseries starring Jeremy Irons (which I am not). Indeed, the novel is one of my favorite books, and I heard things that made me expect the movie would not be faithful to its perspective. Turns out that the movie virtually stands the novel’s point on its head, but it is sufficiently faithful to the book’s plot that I still somewhat enjoyed it. The story (set in the 1930s) is about what happens to Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, Stoker), a non-religious young Brit of no social standing or wealth, when he goes off to Oxford and befriends a troubled classmate named Sebastian Flyte. Lord Sebastian Flyte, that is, for he is an aristocrat, and he comes from a family of aristocrats that is eccentric indeed. They are Catholic, you see, and though they are not all good Catholics, they all take it very seriously. Ryder falls in love with the family estate, Brideshead, and soon enough is attracted to the family’s older daughter, Julia. Anyway, the novel treats Catholicism seriously and respectfully (not surprising, since author Evelyn Waugh was a convert). The movie, however, generally treats it as little more than a pathology, invented and perpetrated solely to make us feel guilty about enjoying ourselves, especially poor homosexual Sebastian. (Although to be fair, Charles’s atheism hardly seems to make him any happier). It is truly amazing how out-of-sync the movie and book are on this point, and I certainly cannot recommend the movie to anyone who can not first been inoculated by reading the book. On the plus side, the movie makers did a good job of handling the most important matter, which was properly casting Julia Flyte (who along with Anne Stanton in All the King’s Men is one of my two great literary crushes). The actress who plays Julia, Hayley Atwell (Captain America), was previously unknown to me, is exactly pretty enough for the part and handles the acting side of it with aplomb as well. Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey) plays the formidable matriarch Lady Marchmain.
From the desk of The Movie Snob
Stranger Than Fiction (B-). This new Will Ferrell movie may look like a comedy from the trailers, but it really isn’t — it’s more of a morality tale. Ferrell (Casa de mi Padre) plays Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent whose apartment is even more sparsely furnished than my house. His completely routinized existence is suddenly upended when he begins to hear a woman’s voice simultaneously and accurately narrating his life as he is living it. The voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson, Men in Black 3), a novelist living in the same city who is plagued with writer’s block as she tries to write a novel about Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent. She has no idea that Crick is a real person, and Crick becomes more than a little upset when he hears the voice toss off the observation that his death is imminent. He spends the rest of the movie (a) trying to find the mysterious narrator so he can talk her out of killing him and (b) trying to make something of the potentially very short remainder of his life. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) does a nice job as a free-spirited bakery owner that Crick first audits, then romances; Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) plays a literature professor that Crick consults to help him in his quest. More interesting than entertaining.
A View From Mars:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (B+) As a slightly reluctant but always overly satiated viewer of these films, the third in the series was no different. This latest installment came off a little darker than the cheery and jocund previous two. Empire Strikes Back-ish or Temple of Doom, if you will. The story basically centers on Harry Potter and crew’s upcoming third year at Hogwarts just in the aftermath of the first prisoner ever to escape from Azkaban prison, which is kind of an Alcatraz for wizards. Needless to say, this prisoner, Syrius Black (Gary Oldman), is after Harry Potter for reasons which were established prior to the first book. The adventures ensue and along the way we meet up with a few familiar faces and a couple of new ones. There’s Emma Thompson as a divinity professor, David Thewlis as the new defender of dark arts professor, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon as the new Dumbledore, etc, etc…. A better name for this one probably could have been Harry Potter and the British Character Actors. Also new behind the camera is Alfonso Cuaron, who brought you Y Tu Mama Tambien. You may think of this as an odd choice for director of a kid’s series, but he also did A Little Princess, which J.K. Rowling has noted as being one of her favorite family kid movies. Also, one can note that although the primary target for this movie is kids, there are some sub-plot lines and scenes that can be taken as adult-oriented. For me particularly, the extended climatic scene could possibly go over the heads of the younger crowds, but it is because of this that definitely made the movie for me. This was a great summer ride that was judged as movie alone. I have not read any of the Potter books, but was told that this was a fairly accurate adaptation that will please the book fans as well those that have not touched the books. I don’t doubt that this movie will make loads of cash and it’s definitely worth it to contribute, if not for the movie experience but because you can appreciate it as the kids we once were.
From the Movie Snob:
Love Actually. (B-) This is roughly 12 different movies about love, mostly of the romantic variety, crammed into a little more than two hours. Most of the dozen different plots intersect the others only tangentially (e.g., Laura Linney works in the same office as Alan Rickman, who is married to Emma Thompson, who is the sister of Prime Minister Hugh Grant . . . .). Inevitably, all of the individual stories are short-changed, and I really wished the director had chopped out some of the less interesting (and even unpleasant) story-lines and focused on the best two or three. Then the director could have explored some of the more interesting issues about love: the tension between romantic and familial love, the effects of infidelity and the temptation to infidelity, love across class and cultural lines, loss of a loved one, etc. But these issues have to compete with too much silliness and too much emphasis on the sexual aspect of love, so what’s left is a long, inconsistent romantic comedy with, admittedly, quite a few laughs along the way. And what’s with this song by Dido that seems to show up on so many soundtracks? I think it’s called “Here With Me,” and it was the theme song for the WB television show Roswell, then it was on the soundtrack for the movie Bounce, and now it crops up in this movie too. I like the song, but come on.