Today, here are quick mini-reviews for: Saving Mr. Banks and American Hustle.
Directed by: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)
Starring: Tom Hanks (The Green Mile), Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee), Annie Rose Buckley and more.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including alcohol use, mild language and more.
Synopsis: “…When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise—one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation…”
One of my most anticipated films of the holiday season, Disney’s film about the making of one their most beloved films did NOT disappoint. Oftentimes, movies about the making of a movie turn out to be either mildly entertaining, to change their focus to that of the filmmaker or simply turn into a documentary. For example, Hitchcock, about the making of Psycho, turned out to be more of a biopic of Alfred and Alma Hitchcock (my review HERE) and less about Psycho. Disney’s latest blends the making of with the story of its creators and is not only the story of how Mary Poppins came to be a movie, but also the journey of the filmmaker and storyteller. Saving Mr. Banks is enjoyably heartwarming “in the most delightful way”; truly a work of art unlike several other films of its kind.
This biographical/historical dramedy doesn’t need a spoonful of sugar to help swallow it. It is just as pleasant and entertaining as Mary Poppins itself. With a cast that flawlessly executes each part (Emma Thompson’s performance as P.L. Travers makes it easy to understand and share the frustration of Walt Disney and his screen/song writers in a fashion both comedic and true).
One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the use of flashbacks and its back-and-forth storytelling that gives an insight into the stuck-in-her-ways author and provides an understanding of her character, passion and past throughout. Tying audiences to her emotionally and making the predictable storyline stronger (seeing as we all know that the movie got made in the end…spoiler alert!) haha. All of the acting and interaction in the film comes across as natural in both stories of the past. The connections sought and acquired will spark laughter, sadness, smiles, tears, frustration and elation throughout this wonderful story. The film also manages to create connections with events of the past with the beloved childhood movie’s songs/characters and makes it all the more special to watch Mary Poppins again.
Audiences will tap their toes to the familiar songs, wipe a few tears from their eyes perhaps, laugh at Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks’ discourses, watch intently as a father-daughter relationship develops and want to immediately leave afterwards and go fly a kite. (I have to quickly mention that Disney impressively makes the scenes of both the early 1900’s and the 1960’s look time appropriate, transporting viewers to that timeframe with the characters through fashion, cars, architecture and more…and it is very well done!)
A multitude of praise comes from me for this fantastic look at a great movie’s past. I rarely read reviews prior to writing my own, but I happened upon one on IMDB that pretty much summed up my feelings. I share those thoughts below in closing:
I just can’t say enough about Saving Mr. Banks, I loved it and I think everyone should see this film. The funny thing about all this is, is that without the film Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks would not exist, and yet Saving Mr. Banks is a film that manages to improve upon what is already a near perfect classic and perhaps even best it. From now on, every single time you watch Mary Poppins, the many events and ideas of that film will take on a whole new meaning. In fact, I can’t wait till the next time I see Mary Poppins again to see how it may affect me more strongly on an emotional level now knowing more of the story. Saving Mr. Banks is just a miraculous kind of movie that we need more of. It’s classic Hollywood drama, so if you want my advice, bring a hankie and just enjoy yourself.
I give Saving Mr. Banks a 10 out of 10! –griffolyon12
SCORE: (5/5 stars)
Directed by: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook).
Starring: Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Amy Adams (The Master), Bradley Cooper (Limitless) and more.
Rating: R for strong language, sexual content, brief nudity, drug usage and violence
Synopsis: “A fictional film set in the alluring world of one of the most stunning scandals to rock our nation, American Hustle tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that’s as dangerous as it is enchanting. Jeremy Renner is Carmine Polito, the passionate, volatile, New Jersey political operator caught between the con-artists and Feds. Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) could be the one to pull the thread that brings the entire world crashing down. Like David O. Russell’s previous films, American Hustle defies genre, hinging on raw emotion, and life and death stakes.”
While the synopsis above gives a decent summation, I disagree that it “defies genre” as I would specify this film as a heist movie to be listed among others such as The Sting, Heist, The Italian Job, Heat, Ocean’s Eleven, The Score, etc. David O. Russell reteams with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper from Silver Linings Playbook and with Amy Adams and Christian Bale from The Fighter and adds Jeremy Renner, Michael Peña and more to the party to bring this intense story to the screen.
Starting slow, American Hustle takes some time setting up the stage for the second and third/final acts. If you can make it through the first act, allowing the strong performances to carry your interest, then the payoff will be worth it come the end. As Russell’s pattern is, this is a film that centers around character first and story second and when those two focuses combine, the result is fantastic.
Heist movies tend to be rather predictable to a degree, but American Hustle spends so much more time on the characters than on the story as a whole that when the twists come they are more welcome and surprising. A major amount of credit must go to the cast and the extent they went to in order to bring their characters to life. From Jennifer Lawrence and her Jersey accent work to Christian Bale who shaved the top of his head for an elaborate comb over and gained 40 lbs, to Bradley Cooper keeping his hair in rollers to Amy Adams undoubtedly being cold in all of her outfits with necklines below her bellybutton, the performances make the film and I expect to see a few nominations come Award season.While several other ratings online (i.e. IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes) give this film a nigh perfect score, certain things keep me from doing so. Russell’s focus on character and ignoring of story plotlines in the first act leaves audiences at a loss wondering what is going on (but it is important to pay attention during the beginning as everything plays a role later). The risky tactic of storytelling used makes audiences choose to sit just to understand what is going on instead of enjoying it BECAUSE of what is going on. Granted, the payoff in the end works and since it is loosely based on some events that did occur (as it reminds us at the beginning) the ending is both believable and acceptable.
If you are offended by language, then this is not the movie for you to watch. As with Russell’s previous films, profanity seems to be like air as the characters live and breathe 4-letter words. However, the tenacious acting of the entire cast mixed with the fact that there isn’t just one hustle going on, but that everyone seems to be hustling everyone at some point in time, makes the film both intriguing and interesting. Double-cross, triple-cross betrayals, deception, corruption, bribery and more, American Hustle has so much drama that leans towards the side of reality as opposed to fantasy and therein finds its overall strength.
Definitely a strong film and contender for performances. It suffers in overall story but makes up for it as the plot thickens. Short of great, yet still original and subtle that pays off come the end.
American Hustle (Score: 4/5)
(Remember, to read this review of mine and over 250 more, check out THE ARCHIVE of movies I have reviewed anytime. Know before you go…or rent…or buy!)
Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!
–T, The Focused Filmographer