Saving Mr. Banks Has Few Saving Graces

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Walt Disney Studios’ recently released full length picture Saving Mr. Banks is not the worst movie that the studio has ever released. It is also, hardly the best movie that WDS has ever released. The story presented in this movie is little more than another period piece that can be tossed into the ever-growing pile of movies that are “based on actual events” and forgotten over time. It tries to make up for this by throwing in an attempt at a serious story about Travers’ attempt to reconcile her past and present that ultimately falls flat. That is thanks in large part to the glut of flashbacks and the unevenness of those transitions between the flashbacks. For all of the negatives that weigh down the story, there is at least one positive to the whole presentation. That bright shining light is the acting on the part of the movie’s largely A-List cast. Other than that sole beacon, it’s difficult to ultimately say that there is anything that truly “saves” Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks is anything but one of the best movies that Walt Disney Studios has ever released. There is very little that one can argue actually “saves” this period piece. That’s because ultimately, it’s just one more movie that is “based on actual events.” Co-writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith seemed to have gotten down Travers’ persona. And veteran actress Emma Thompson brought Travers even more to life with her expert depiction of the famed author. However, one cannot deny the fact that Disney likely took a certain amount of liberties with the story of how Travers’ beloved book Mary Poppins came to life. That is just the way of movies that are “based on actual events.” Marcel and Smith had to have known that there are those—like this critic—that would know this, too. So their answer to that was to throw in a personal drama story on the part of Travers that sees her trying to reconcile her troubled childhood as she worked with Walt Disney and his people on their adaptation of her book. It’s a bit much. Add in the glut of flashbacks and the unevenness of said flashbacks, and audiences get what is one more loose brick in this movie.

The attempt on the part of Marcel and Smith to craft a dual-pronged story in Saving Mr. Banks is a major part of the movie’s downfall. It isn’t the end of the movie’s problems, either. The glut of flashbacks that Marcel and Smith toss into the story and their unevenness hurts the script even more. One doesn’t even fully realize that the pair is using flashbacks as part of the story until after about the fifth time that the transition happens. The primary reason for this is that there is little to indicate the separation of the scenes. The story constantly jumps from Travers’ present day life to her childhood growing up in Australia. And because there is no clear indicator of the jump back and forth in time, audiences are left scratching their heads at who the little girl is until again, after about the fifth or sixth time that the transition happens. There is perhaps one clear transition that finally makes it clear for audiences that they are looking into what is supposed to be Travers’ childhood. While Marcel and Smith do finally make it clear what audiences are seeing in the scene transitions, things don’t get much better. That’s because it actually starts to feel like the flashbacks in question tend to happen at an increasing pace. Even in that increased frequency of flashbacks, the transitions between past and present are still not entirely clear. They just seem to happen at random points without any clear separation. It only serves to hurt the movie even more. Thankfully for all of the problems with Saving Mr. Banks, it does have one saving grace. That saving grace is the acting on the part of the movie’s largely A-List cast.

If not for the acting on the part of Saving Mr. Banks’ cast, this movie would possibly be classified as one of the least of Disney’s movies in recent years. That being the case, Casting Director Ronna Kress deserves a standing ovation. Kress pulled in some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this movie. Actress Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction, Nanny McPhee, Nanny McPhee Returns) was an obvious choice considering her time in the role of another literary nanny named Nanny McPhee. McPhee’s character was based on the literary Nurse Matilda. Nurse Matilda’s books came years after Mary Poppins was published. But her stories are arguably far more enjoyable than that of Mary Poppins or even this semi-historical look at how the book was adapted to the big screen. Ironically enough, Thompson’s depiction of author P.L. Travers was just as spot on as that of Nanny McPhee. One can’t help but laugh at the obvious cultural differences between herself and her American hosts. And while he is in a supporting role in this movie, fellow veteran actor Paul Giamatti (The Illusionist, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Duets) is incredible as Travers’ personal driver Ralph. Ralph’s innocence makes him such a lovable character. Jason Scwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeerling Limited, Rushmore) and B.J. Novak (The Amazing Spiderman 2, Inglourious Basterds, The Smurfs 2) are just as entertaining as the famed Sherman Brothers. Anyone that knows the history of Walt Disney Studios knows that the Sherman Brothers are responsible for some of the greatest musical numbers to ever grace the big screen in Disney’s golden age. And their drive to get the songs right despite Travers’ constant refusal makes them such sympathetic characters. Not once did they ever get mad at her for her stubbornness. And their playful nature in playing their songs makes them even more lovable. Tom Hanks can’t be ignored here either, as the one and only Walt Disney. Those in the makeup department got the look of Walt Disney pretty close with Hanks. And one must agree that he expertly channels Disney, too. He worked so hard to get the part down that he even tried to get down Walt Disney’s accent for the role. It’s subtle. But it’s there. And it makes his depiction all the more enjoyable to watch. It’s one more piece of the whole of this movie that makes Saving Mr. Banks at least somewhat bearable.

The acting on the part of Saving Mr. Banks’ cast is the one shining light that makes this movie bearable. The sad reality of this movie is that despite the entertaining portrayals on the part of the cast, there is little to nothing else positive that can be noted of the film. The transitions between Travers’ childhood and adult life are far too many and nowhere near clear enough. And the dual-pronged story crafted by co-writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith ultimately combines with those scene transition issues to make Saving Mr. Banks anything but memorable. Sadly these issues together prove that other than the cast’s acting, there is little to anything else that “saves” Saving Mr. Banks.

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The Best Offer Is One Of 2014′s Best New Movies

Courtesy:  IFC Films

Courtesy: IFC Films

IFC Films’ new drama The Best Offer is one of the most original stories to be released this year. The movie, which stars Geoffrey Rush (The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, The King’s Speech) and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, The Dirty Dozen, Backdraft) sees Rush as a devious art appraiser and auctioneer. The film, which was written and directed by legendary director Giuseppe Tornatore, is another masterful work from a master filmmaker. In an era in which Hollywwood’s major studios are relying almost one hundred percent on prequels, sequels and remakes to bring audiences into theaters, Tornatore has crafted a work that is original. That is the foundation of why any true movie buff should take the time to see this movie at least once. The original script is the foundation of this film’s success. Resting comfortably on that originality is the story’s pacing…at least to a point. Rounding things out for the reasons for the movie’s overall success is the acting on the part of the cast. Rush is the true star of the story. Though co-star Sylvia Hoeks deserves her own kudos for a job well done, too. The pair’s acting will keep viewers mesmerized through the course of the movie’s near two and a half hour run time. All things considered, this drama proves to be one of the year’s most original works and one of the year’s best movies overall.

The Best Offer is more than deserving of being called not just one of the most original works, but also one of the best movies of the year. The very first reason for this is the story’s originality. It is not a prequel. It is not a sequel. And it is not a remake. On another level, it isn’t even another of the seemingly countless overly embellished movies based on actual events. It is an original drama centered on an art appraiser and auctioneer named Virgil Oldman (Rush) who has spent the better part of his life secretly deceiving others. Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore deserves a standing ovation for having crafted the story. That’s because every time that viewers think they have everything figured out, Tornatore throws in a twist that leaves them guessing in the best way possible. Not to reveal too much for the sake of those who have yet to see this masterwork, but by the story’s final minutes, audiences will find themselves torn as to how to feel about what happens to Virgil. The only downside to the entire story is that (again not to reveal too much) it could easily have been shortened. And that leads to the next aspect of The Best Offer worth discussing. That aspect is the story’s pacing.

The run time on The Best Offer just barely tops the two hour mark. To be more precise, it comes in at roughly two hours and eleven minutes long. Over the course of that two-hour plus mark, Tornatore manages to keep the story’s pace relatively solid. At least that is to a point. It would have been so easy to let this story drag considering everything that occurs throughout the story in terms of character development and relationships. But much as with fellow legendary director Martin Scorsese, Tornatore manages to make that run time pass by almost effortlessly. The only time that the pacing suffers is the movie’s final act. It suffers because again as audiences will see, that final sequence is unnecessary. Other than that though, the movie’s overall pacing is spot on and will keep viewers fully engaged. To that extent, the story’s overall pacing becomes another positive to the presentation. It’s flanked by one final positive—the acting on the part of the entire cast.

Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s original script and the story’s pacing both play important roles in the overall success of The Best Offer. The very fact that this movie is neither a prequel nor a sequel, and not even a remake or a piece based on actual events is a major plus. That instantly pulls in any viewer looking for something original. The story’s pacing helps keep viewers engaged. The acting on the part of the cast—specifically that of co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Sylvia Hoeks—makes this work even more worth the watch. Rush breezes through the story. He makes viewers believe in Virgil’s growth, thus leading viewers to be so torn at his final outcome. On the other hand, Hoeks is just as believable as the rather emotionally unstable Claire. There is such chemistry between the pair. It’s obvious considering the believability of the character development between the pair as its relationship grows. That development is another part of what makes the story’s final outcome so surprising in turn leaving viewers torn in the absolutely best way. That feeling of being torn will lead to quite a bit of discussion. And that it could generate more discussion than any major motion picture just goes to prove once more why The Best Offer is one of the best independent movies of 2014 and one of the best movies of 2014 overall.

The Best Offer is available now on DVD in stores and online. It can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Best-Offer-Geoffrey-Rush/dp/B00GS08Y3Q/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1400892448&sr=1-2&keywords=The+Best+Offer. More information on this and other releases from IFC Films is available online at http://www.facebook.com/IFCFilmsOfficial and http://www.IFCFilms.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.