Walt Disney Studios, 2014, directed by John Lee Hancock, with Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, 125 minutes, Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements including some unsettling images.)
If you’ve never read P L Travers’ books, and only know her most famous character from the silver screen, you don’t really know Mary Poppins.
Not long after I had seen the Disney movie when I was around 12 years old, I came across one of the books in my local library. I started reading and was almost at once disappointed. Disney’s Mary Poppins was a nanny extraordinaire, but this woman in the book was nothing at all like what I had expected.
On the printed page, Mary Poppins was uptight, pedantic, inflexible and a disciplinarian, in short nothing less than a stereotypical Edwardian prig.
Like most of the children of 20th century America I was at a loss to understand how the character in the book could have anything in common with the charming woman who had won my heart in the movie theatre.
What happened in between those two productions, of course, was the intervention of Walter Elias Disney. And thereby hangs the tale of “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Not your run of the mill Disney fare; this film not only has a somewhat darker, more introspective tone, it also brings us the unique experience of seeing Walt Disney himself – here portrayed by Tom Hanks – playing a role as a major character. Emma Thompson is P L Travers, the author who has kept Disney at bay for 20 years, unwilling to allow her precious property to fall into Walter’s crass commercial Hollywood hands.
The movie flashes back and forth between Travers’ childhood in the Australian outback and her present day experience encountering Walt Disney and his staff in Hollywood with undiluted horror and disapproval.
In Australia, we meet Travers’ father, played by Colin Farrell as a loving man possessed by the sort of demons we don’t usually find in a Disney movie. Her mother, seemingly helpless in the face of such challenges, teeters on the brink of psychological collapse.
When the worst comes to pass, an aunt on her mother’s side of the family arrives to take the family in tow, complete with bird handled umbrella and carpet bag.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Walt connives and cajoles to bring his reluctant author to heel. Nothing seems to work: Travers is absolutely shrill in her disapproval of a pretty, singing, dancing and fanciful Mary Poppins and the songwriting Sherman brothers can’t seem to compose anything that even comes near to winning her tolerance, let alone consent.
It goes without saying that a compromise is reached, but I’ll leave it to you to see the movie itself and learn how.
Disney is not known for works of deep melodrama and those thinking that this is a family picture will be distressed by some of the movie’s action and dialogue. I would suggest that children younger than 14 should stick with the Disney musical. This one’s more for the parents.
Mind you, it IS a good film; Hanks does his best to submerge himself in the role of Walt Disney and although he doesn’t altogether look like him, he comes close enough that the screenplay works.
Thompson is drawn, fraught and spinsterish with an attitude so uptight she practically squeaks audibly whenever she moves, yet she manages to become a sympathetic character.
Paul Giamatti is an unexpected delight as her dedicated limo driver while she’s in L-A and, as noted above, Colin Farrell takes a role for which he is more than well-suited and makes the most of it.
And there’s more than a little irony when you consider that the same woman who gave the world “Nanny McFee” is also the one who gave us this neurotically obsessive authoress.
The current season is a virtual bonanza for anyone who cares to comment on the U-S Presidential Primary Election Season.
I rather suspect that one of the unanticipated drawbacks of political cartooning nowadays is the nagging suspicion that no matter how timely and outrageous you may try to be, by the time your work sees the light of day, something has already happened that has exceeded your most fanciful imagination.
With that in mind, let us try and feel a little sympathy for our stalwart commentator, Tom Tomorrow…
Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012, with Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel and James D’Arcy, 98 minutes, Rated PG-13 (Brief Adult Language, Themes and Situations)
Although I am not as young as I used to be, still I count myself lucky: I got to watch and see one of the most creative, distinctive, unique and commanding film directors of them all at the height of his powers: Alfred Hitchcock.
In a few days it will be the 36th anniversary of his death, a few months from now will be the 117th anniversary of his birth. I feel confident that if the widely-acknowledged “Master of Suspense” were somehow still here, I know which one he would rather celebrate…
Sacha Gervasi’s film doesn’t require the viewer to have a formal background in the Hitchcock oeuvre, but a working knowledge of Sir Alfred’s filmography does enhance appreciation of the proceedings.
Oscar winner Michael Caine, naturally-endowed with a Londoner’s accent, slips effortlessly into Hitchcock’s often-parodied laconic style of speaking. The makeup and costume departments obviously labored long and hard to recreate the signature profile and corpulent body with, it must be said, some success.
However, one never is able to quite shake the awareness that you’re watching Michael Caine, even if your ears tell you you’re hearing “Hitch.”
Insofar as that effort fails, it is the film’s greatest shortcoming, although younger audience members, not so familiar with Hitchcock’s iconic face, may fail to pick up on this discrepancy.
In any event, Caine does superbly in carrying the mood of the piece.
Cast as his wife, screenwriter and lifelong support, Alma Reville, Helen Mirren turns in a portrayal that is precisely on target.
Scarlett Johansson, who seems to never waver in the quality of her performances, is actress Janet Leigh.
As the film opens, it is 1959, Hitchcock is riding high on the success of his most recent movie, “North by Northwest,” and, at 60 years of age, is casting about for his next project.
He’s read a book about a particularly gruesome murder in Wisconsin several years previously and he’s struggling to turn it into a screenplay. Paramount Pictures, his studio, is leery about the project and even his wife, Alma, thinks the story needs a lot of work.
Alma has an apparent platonic friendship with another screenwriter, but could their joint writing sessions be … something more? For his part, Hitch is busy obsessing over his latest “Hitchcock blonde”, in this case: Janet Leigh. Is his obsession part of his creative process?
James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins, the closeted gay actor whose career is about to become forever associated with the role he is going to take on.
He is to play Norman Bates.
The movie Hitchcock is trying to get produced is called “Psycho”.
Film lovers already know the ending, so the tension of the story needs to carry the interest.
The screenplay, chock full of nuggets of the usual Hitchcock Trivia, makes all the obligatory stops: his appreciation of fine wine, his insistence on using storyboards to plan every frame of the picture, his fondness for his dogs, his dependence on drivers since he has never learned to operate a car for himself, his near-legendary obsession with blonde actresses and so forth.
Hopkins’ Hitchcock is well-portrayed, but it must be said that Mirren, as Alma Reville, less burdened by widespread familiarity within the world of movie fans, has license to make more of her character. And she does, helping drive the film’s tension when the story leaves the studio back lot and moves into the private world of the Hitchcocks as husband and wife.
But in the end, as the Hitchcocks themselves would tell you, it all comes down to the screenplay. Does it work? Does it hold your interest? Do you end up caring about these characters even when you KNOW how the story turns out?
The answer to all three questions is a resounding “Yes!”
“Hitchcock” is a movie that appeals to everyone, whether they worship the Master of Suspense, have only a casual familiarity with his films, or even have never seen the man’s films at all.
Enthusiastically recommended! (4.75 out of 5 stars)
The current race for the White House is beginning to look like one of those old school matinee serials that used to be a staple of the movie going experience: full of new perils and unforeseeable twists and turns every week!
Not to mention the cliffhangers, which beggar description in a process that used to be several steps above your average professional wrestling match…
Come to think of it, if TIT (The Incredible Trump) IS somehow vanquished, maybe we can look forward to seeing him live and in person the next time the WWE comes to town!
Let’s see what Tom Tomorrow has to say about all this, shall we?
As always, thanks to everyone who comes to visit this humble blog! I look forward to seeing you again real soon!
Or: How I came to be flattened like a roadkill pancake along the Information Superhighway during the 2014-2016 US Presidential Campaign.
For almost my entire life, I have been an avid follower of the news in general and American Politics in particular.
My parents encouraged me to read the daily newspaper and what were then the leading weekly news magazines. Every four years my parents openly discussed the Presidential races around the family table.
The night of the general Presidential election, the results were closely monitored at the television set and in 1964 I remember my Dad filling out a U-S map as Democrat Lyndon Johnson won state after state in his victory over Republican Barry Goldwater.
At that time, the country was increasingly polarized by the undeclared war in Vietnam, not to mention racial disparity and the seeds of financial disparity as well. Differences of opinion were earnest and deeply held, but the tone of civil discourse was mostly just that: civil.
President Richard Nixon, aided greatly by mega-diplomat Henry Kissinger, brokered “Peace with Honor” in Vietnam and opened relations with the Chinese mainland, even as his domestic advisors attempted to subvert the United States Constitution in an effort to conceal the White House involvement with the “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate. Nixon ultimately resigned and we told each other, “The System works.”
But Nixon turned out to be just the kind of political role model we didn’t need. He had gotten away with more than that for which he was punished and that observation did not go unremarked. It was only a matter of time before somebody would attempt to succeed where Nixon had failed.
In the last year of the previous century, in the election of 2000, George W Bush succeeded to the Presidency under the murkiest political circumstances in the nation’s history. Quite possibly the most clear-cut model of a figurehead ever elected to the Oval Office since Warren Harding, Bush functioned largely as a kind of ventriloquist’s dummy while Vice President Dick Cheney (who had selected himself for his own office) set policy in conjunction with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Former Secretary of Defense AND Former Vice-President Dick Cheney
It is especially ironic to note that Bush’s father preceded him to the Presidency and was himself a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. More than a few of the intrigues Bush the elder had set in place would be the targets of the intrigues the second Bush White House would set into motion.
Cheney and Rumsfeld, with nary a day’s worth of military experience between them, engineered a course of action that steered the United States into multiple military misadventures in the Middle East, ostensibly to prevent the use of non-existent weapons but in fact designed to benefit select multi-national corporate interests in the Defense and Energy Industries along with certain allies in the Middle East.
It was a collateral benefit that such gambits also served to fuel a spirit of jingoistic nationalism, a useful distraction from the overarching reality to distract the masses who were required to be fodder for these machinations.
Since that time, the kind of terrorism these wars were meant to crush has only flourished and spread further into the Western societies to which they are opposed.
And now, the domestic American political scene, which once was thought to be impervious to the kind of megalomaniac despotism that once was the exclusive province of Depression-era fascism, Communism and Third World military juntas, shows signs of infection itself.
In his novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” George Orwell writes that the main function of War is to destroy the output of Human Labor in order to keep the citizens focused on the need to produce more goods and services to replace those destroyed in the conflict. The key here is the element of distraction.
In July of 2015, Slate columnist Daniel Engber had already written about Presidential Campaign fatigue.
Not only is his proposal ingenious, it’s also most amusing to read some of the ultimately erroneous assumptions he makes. None of us are truly psychic..
What remains to be seen is how far the American electorate will move toward authoritarian totalitarianism. Georg Hegel, the philosopher of the latter half of The Enlightenment, famously observed, “What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.”
One of my favorite writers, the late John Brunner in his epic novel “Stand on Zanzibar,”boiled it down this way: “Papa Hegel he say the only thing we learn from History is that we learn nothing from History. I know people who can’t learn from what happened last week. Hegel must have been taking the long view.”
Yes friends, those who neglect to study history are inevitably doomed to repeat it.
Hence the current political climate in the U-S, fueled largely by people who don’t realize they are not blazing any sort of new trail but rather are barrelling headfirst down a well-worn rabbit hole with a cement dead end.
And this is really why I and so many other Americans are feeling the effects of Campaign Fatigue so early this year.
This just in!: In case you’re prepared to dismiss me as just a lone shrill voice in the wilderness, please click on the link below. It leads to a story on the subject of “Presidential Election Burnout” among voters long before the General Election is scheduled to take place. And interestingly, the phenomenon is NOT limited to just the current campaign!
We still have more than 7 months to go before the General Election!
I for one am stocking up on over-the-counter pain relievers and select antihistamines in order to combat anticipated headaches and threatened sleepless nights.
I feel terrible about Brussels and Istanbul, and I’ll miss some of the coastal cities when the oceans overwash them, but what I really want…
Wait a minute! I just had an idea!
Why don’t we pass a law requiring all political parties to hold their conventions from now on in COASTAL CITIES! Yeah, THAT’S the ticket!.. We’ll just say that it makes the media coverage look better and the politicos will fall for it like overripe apples!
America, you don’t have to pay me for this one: consider it on the house, a freebie if you will. Just remember me with gratitude when I’m gone.
Writings of a Mrs. Mommy is the Mommy blog to my Writings of a Mrs's blog. This blog will be more about my busy life with 8 children and the many adventures on how the Mrs. and Mr. manage it all! Humor, stress, love, food and photos will be the main focus. Alex and Jenn plus kids make TEN!