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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PBS’ DUCKumentary Feathered Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ Nature has always been one of its best shows.  And compared to so many other shows of its ilk that are out there it is the cream of the crop.  Its latest release, An Original DUCKumentary proves yet again why Nature is the prime example of a wildlife show done right.

An Original DUCKumentary takes viewers into the lives of some of our fine-feathered friends from birth to adulthood.  This is a wonderful program for the entire family and for ornithologists and those studying aviary sciences.  General audiences will love simply watching the feature’s outstanding cinematography while those with a deeper interest in the different species of ducks will appreciate both the cinematography and the more scientific explanations of each species’ general body construction and habits.  The subtle narration by acting veteran Paul Giamatti (Sideways, The Illusionist, Cosmopolis) is a nice touch, too.  There’s something about his delivery that is perfect for just such a setting as this.  Both Lenny Williams and Chris Biondo are also to be commended in this new feature from PBS.  The pair was responsible for the music used as a bed throughout the show.  Just as Giamatti’s delivery was a perfect fit for narration, the control of the music by Biondo and Williams’ gentle musical touch added its own extra subtle nuance to the presentation.

The narration and music definitely play their own part in the success of An Original DUCKumentary as already noted.  This is something that far too often, documentarians get wrong in crafting their presentations.  Together, the pair have come together to make a presentation that will keep audiences engaged and entertained.  One example of that match comes in a scene in which a number of different species of ducks had come together at a stopping point on their migration.  Giamatti describes almost as if he were right there in person how each group actually works together in its own way to protect all of the ducks from predators while others rest and look for their mates.  There’s something oddly humorous about Giammati’s delivery as he talks about the male ducks’ attempts to lure a female.  There’s almost a certain slightly dry wit about his narration as he talks about the birds’ mating habits.

Along with the narration, music, and cinematography, there is one other aspect of An Original DUCKumentary that makes it enjoyable for both general audiences and those more deeply interested in studying ducks.  That factor is the inclusion of a listing of each duck featured throughout the feature at its end.  Audiences are presented with a collage of different ducks that is highlighted, one duck at a time, complete with its name.  It serves as one more way to get audiences who might have otherwise not had any interest in studying ducks interested for the first time.  For those who are more seasoned birders, it’s just one more bonus as it specifically highlights each species featured.  Along with the other noted aspects of this feature, it’s one more reason for any viewer of any level of experience to check out this stand out dock…er…DUCKumentary.  It’s available now on DVD and can be ordered online direct via the PBS store at

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Cosmopolis An Interesting Topic For Any Film Studies Course

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

When one thinks of the term “artist” one’s mind generally leans toward images a painter.  While that image fits, the artist as painter is just one type of artist.  In the film world, writers and directors can be considered artists, too.  Instead of using a brush and a canvass, the director and writer use cameras sets, and script pages as their canvasses.  And just as the work of visual artists isn’t for everyone, nor is writer/director David Cronenberg’s new adaptation of author Don DeLillo’s book, Cosmopolis.  It would be lying to say that this movie is easily accessible by any means.  That’s especially the case for those who have not read DeLillo’s book.  And even for those who have read it, there are differences.  It’s both because of those differences, and because of Cronenberg’s own ambitious vision that this adaptation of Cosmopolis likely won’t appeal to all audiences.

While Cosmopolis does have its negatives, it also has its positives.  The movie’s cinematography is an example of both the positives and the negatives surrounding this art flick.  The camera angles used throughout the movie’s near two hour run time help to heighten the story’s tension in its more powerful moments.  Those more powerful moments also include some of Eric’s (Robert Pattinson) conversations with those individuals whom he encounters on his cross-city journey.  On the other hand though, sometimes, the quick cuts can be enough to leave some viewers feeling dizzy and confused as to what they’ve just seen.  So to that extent, the cinematography behind Cosmopolis is something of a mixed bag.

Just as much of a mixed bag as the cinematography here is the general story itself.  On the one hand, those who have read the book may be left wanting more in some cases as there were some elements of the book that were left out of the movie.  But in its defense, Cosmopolis isn’t the first movie to every make changes in adapting the written word to the screen.  This is always a delicate exercise.  There are those who are so hardcore about adaptations that even the slightest difference could lead to anger and outcry.  For those who have never read the book though, the movie’s general story may leave them feeling just as confused and dizzy even without its cinematography.  It may be confusing at points, but those who really give this story a chance will see that in essence, it is a commentary of sorts centered on everything that society in general has become.  Keeping that in mind, one will understand why this is one of those movies that takes more than one watch to really take in everything that it offers.  It’s one of those movies that really require a viewer’s full attention to fully comprehend and appreciate it at any level.  Given that chance, this art film will still remain very much a niche film.  But audiences will have at least a new understanding of it and this perhaps even a different take on it, too.

Duets Does Hit One High Note

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Despite what the major critics may say, Duets is actually a surprisingly good movie, especially in comparison to other ensemble movies such as Valentines Day, New Year’s Eve, etc.  Sure it’s slow at many points and drags on probably more than it should.  But what ensemble movie doesn’t suffer from this.  The story behind the characters is what gives Duets its heart.

While the movie focuses on six characters, the real story behind duets is between that of Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) and Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher).  When Todd and Reggie first meet, Reggie had just robbed a trucker with whom he had hitched a ride.  Todd, on the other hand was drunk out of his mind, and completely messed up.  During the course of their cross country journey to the Karaoke Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, seeing what Todd has let himself become causes Reggie to have a change of heart.  Rather than try to rob Todd, Reggie actually becomes reformed in a sense.  He even tries to get Todd to see what he is throwing away by getting Todd’s wife to come see the state in which Todd has gotten.  In the end, both Todd and Reggie become good friends, leading to quite the bittersweet ending to the movie.  Essentially, their story can be summed up in one word:  Redemption.  Both Reggie and Todd show that redemption is possible in a variety of situations.

The story between Reggie and Todd is the central point of Duets.  Some may argue in disagreement over that.  But the amount of emphasis placed on their journey makes their story come across as the heart and soul of the movie.  That isn’t to say that theirs isn’t the only good story presented here.  The story between Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her father, Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) while somewhat weak is a heartwarming one that shows even after such a long time, the pair is able to come together, and be a father and daughter.

Billy’s (Scott Speedman) story is perhaps the weakest link in Duets.  Audiences know that his reason for hitting the road was that he came home one day to find that his wife had cheated on him with one of his friends.  He ends up running into Suzy Loomis (Maria Bello).  Suzy is a karaoke hustler, for all intensive purposes.  Audiences don’t really see very much of this story as again, most of the story focuses on Todd and Reggie.  That’s honestly perfectly fine.  Had the story focused solely on Todd and Reggie, Duets would have been a far better movie than it was with the added storylines.  Those extra stories felt more like filler material than anything else.  That aside, Reggie and Todd’s story alone gives Duets just enough heart to stand on its own merits.  Because of those added stories, most audiences probably don’t “sing” Duets’ praises.  But any audience who can see past the extraneous storylines in this movie will see that it does actually have a high note that makes it an enjoyable watch.