Movie Review: “Saving Mr. Banks”

Starring
Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak
Director
John Lee Hancock

The trailer for “Saving Mr. Banks” resembles the film only slightly more than “The Shining” resembles that fake trailer for the film that made the rounds 10 or so years ago. In the trailer, “Mr. Banks” looks light and fun, with a little playful back-and-forth between the frigid, overprotective writer and the movie executive who’s looking to turn her pet project into box office gold. Nora Ephron made this movie with Meg Ryan four or five times (twice with “Banks” star Tom Hanks, strangely enough), and we all know that it ends with the two finding some middle ground while learning to be more understanding of others.

Except that this movie isn’t even remotely like that. Instead, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a dark, painfully sad journey of a grown woman still looking to redeem her long-lost father, occasionally broken up by moments of levity. This makes for a more emotionally complex story, which is a nice surprise, but it doesn’t always make for a better story. The flashback timeline is informative, but the present day timeline is more interesting.

It is the year 1961, and P.L. Travers (a spot-on Emma Thompson) has been fielding calls from movie mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for 20 years about adapting her book “Mary Poppins” for the silver screen. Her answer has always been a steadfast ‘no,’ but when a financial adviser friend of hers reminds her that she’s almost out of money, Mrs. Travers agrees to fly to Los Angeles, meet with Walt, and consider the possibility of allowing Disney and his team to work their “magic” on her beloved Mary. From the beginning, though, Mrs. Travers has objections to their treatment of the material, and in flashback, we see why: as a young girl in rural Australia in the early 1900s, Mrs. Travers had a wonderful relationship with her father (Colin Farrell), an otherwise unreliable and occasionally foul-tempered drunk who nonetheless adored his eldest daughter “Ginty” and encouraged her to think creatively. She lost him at an early age, and she’s clearly still stinging from the loss, and the fact that Disney and his staff doesn’t understand what “Mary Poppins” means to her, in both a literal and figurative sense, infuriates her.

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Drink of the Week: The Suburban

The SuburbanToday’s beverage serves a dual purpose. First, it continues my ongoing interest in classic cocktails featuring more than one variety of hard liquor. Secondly, it highlights the fact that you’re erstwhile cocktail explorer will very likely be soon be exchanging one not-quite-urban home base for another. Yes, if all goes as planned I’ll soon be leaving the vast quasi-suburban enclave that is Orange County, California only to very possibly move to the  more centrally located, yet no less suburban, not-quite-city we call the San Fernando Valley — which is Los Angeles in the sense that you get to vote for the mayor of L.A.

As for the Suburban cocktail, it’s a very relaxing but ultra-sophisticated drink that won’t be too all tastes. You might call it “urbane.”

The Suburban

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dark rum
1/2 ounce port
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

The ingredients might be unusual but the methodology is as routine as can be. Combine your various boozes and bitters in your cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Purists will insist on stirring the concoction but I say shaking will also work. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink a toast to Walt Disney, who envisioned fantastical wonderlands-cum-bedroom communities — most of which never came to be — in Orange County and elsewhere. (Uncle Walt’s company did finally build one planned community, Celebration, Florida, during the 1980s.)

***
For this drink, I used my go-to rye, 100 proof Rittenhouse. Some recipes call specifically for Jamaican Rum, but I used the very decent (and more reasonably priced) dark Whaler’s Rum from Hawaii because that’s what I had on hand. For the exact same reasons, I also used the inexpensive tawny port I’ve been using for a number of drinks lately.

As for the history of this beverage, which dates back to the early 20th century, it apparently has more to do with horse racing than civic sprawl. Even so, for now, the self-indulgent question remains, will Drink of the Week Central end up in one of the bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley, where my new day job is located, or will I be taking advantage of my beloved hometown’s growing subway system with a move to the vastly more cityish Hollywood/Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Koreatown axis, or will I split the difference and land in North Hollywood or Studio City?

All I can tell you is that, if suburbia be my destination, I’ll try to make it the laid back no-judgements utopian Never Never Land envisioned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, who also sings, in his fashion, in the song below. Okay, that may be unlikely, but at cocktail hour there’s a little bit of Hasbrook Heights in every home. (The song actually starts at around 0:15.)

  

A Chat with John Landis (“¡Three Amigos!”)

There’s no point in writing an intro for our conversation with John Landis when we’ve already given a perfectly serviceable synopsis of the man’s life and times on his page within Bullz-Eye’s Directors Hall of Fame – which you can find right here – but we will say that we’ve been looking forward to chatting with Landis for quite some time. Although his publicist regretfully informed us that he didn’t have time to talk when we were pulling together the Hall of Fame, we’d kept our fingers crossed that we’d get an opportunity to talk to him one of these days, and at last that time has come, courtesy of the Blu-ray release of “¡Three Amigos!,” which hits shelves on Nov. 22nd.

Bullz-Eye: First of all, in case you haven’t heard, I should let you know that we put you into our Director’s Hall of Fame last year.

John Landis: Oh, thank you very much!

BE: Our pleasure. After all, we’re a guy-centric site, and it would be fair to say that you’ve made a few movies that have been appreciated by many a man over the years…including, of course, “¡Three Amigos!”

JL: [Laughs.] So did you get a chance to watch the Blu-ray, then?

BE: I did. It looks fantastic.

JL: Yeah, I was able to restore it to the way it’s supposed to be seen. I’m very pleased with the way it looks.

BE: I was actually going to ask you about that process. I presume there’s at least a little bit of difference when it comes to restoring a comedy for Blu-ray versus, say, a full-on special effects extravaganza.

JL: Actually, no. [Laughs.] That would be an untrue presumption. I mean, every picture’s individual, and it depends on the look you were going for with that particular movie. When they made the Blu-ray for “Animal House,” I was upset. I thought they made it much too bright and clean. “Animal House” is supposed to look dirty and funky. [Laughs.] I remember the technician, when I had to check it, he kept writing on his chart, “Image degraded per director.” But every movie you make, you try – or at least I do, anyway – for a different kind of look. On “¡Three Amigos!” I was really trying to go for those beautiful westerns that Hollywood used to make in the ‘50s. The Technicolor pictures. We wanted the colors to be incredibly vibrant. You know, the old DVD wasn’t even the correct aspect ratio. So I’m happy that I got the chance to restore it.

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