Film reviews: what's on this week
Saving Mr Banks, Cert PG
It took Walt Disney 23 years of nagging and charming before author PL Travers would release the rights to have Mary Poppins brought to the big screen. The results were unprecedented for the studio in terms of box office reception while Disney has not matched it since in terms of Oscar nominations (13, of which five yielded statuettes).
Mr Disney's perseverance clearly paid off, and the musical remains a staple of holiday viewing for families. But the strife that went into crafting it was significant given Travers' steely grip on the depiction of the particulars.
A year ahead of the film's 50-year anniversary, director John Lee Hancock tells the saga with an odd blend of Disney fairydust and wrenching catharsis.
Emma Thompson plays Travers as the film glides back and forth between her Queensland childhood with doting drunkard father (portrayed by Colin Farrell), and 1961 negotiations in Disney's Burbank headquarters. By that stage, Disney (Tom Hanks) hadn't had a major live-action hit and Travers makes him sweat before eventually signing a deal. She is notoriously protective of Poppins who, it's slowly revealed, was born out of some very deeply bedded childhood trauma.
Trying though Travers is at times, Thompson is formidable as the prim but troubled authoress finally facing the skeletons in her psychological cupboard.
Hanks, meanwhile, is typically imperious as the twinkle-eyed but shrewd studio sultan, disarming Travers with mid-west informality. Farrell grows into a complicated role while peripheral sugar-coating is supplied by Paul Giamatti's chauffeur and Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak as the ingenious Sherman brothers.
Little sisters Elsa and Anna are the best of friends in their happy castle home. They especially have fun with Elsa's freezing trick – she can make it snow whenever she wants. But one morning it goes wrong, Elsa hits Anna with a freezing bolt to the head and although the Troll King (Ciaran Hinds) can set it right, Elsa gets a fright and locks herself and her growing powers away.
As this combined effort by Disney and Hans Christian Anderson is based on his Snow Queen, naturally the parents must die – and die they do, quietly, without too much fuss – leaving Anna and Elsa to grow up in their lonely castle.
Anna (Kristin Bell), doesn't remember her sister's secret gift and cannot understand why they are no longer close. For her part Elsa (Idina Menzel) is terrified of her powers, and dreads her coronation day, but it goes off without a hitch until Anna announces she's marrying this nice prince she just met, Hans (Santino Fonsana).
Elsa goes mad, which means bringing on eternal winter. Amid claims of sorcery, she flees her now frozen kingdom, setting up in splendid isolation in the mountains. But her fearless sister comes after her, hooking up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his faithful reindeer Sven along the way before gaining sidekick comedy snowman Olaf (Josh Gadd).
Naturally no day can be saved without some obstacles, but this motley crew battle on to learn lessons about love and loyalty and being true to oneself.
And it's great. Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, Frozen is sweet and funny and pretty, the 3D is really effective and the tunes by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are mostly enjoyable Disney-style belters.
It's also preceded by the fabulous short Get A Horse in honour of Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday – a brilliant piece of classic meets modern which reminds our jaded eyes exactly why cartoons can be so great.
THE SWELL SEASON
WHEN Once became an international hit in 2007 we were filled with pride for the usual Irish reasons, and because we were glad for Glen Hansard who seemed to have been working hard for so long and because of the romance that had blossomed between himself and co-star Marketa Irglova. The Oscar the following year seemed to top it off.
The Swell Season was the name of the band they toured as and with in the years following the film. Nick August-Perna, Chriss Dapkins and Carl Mirabella-Davis travelled with the band, recording life on the road, concerts, interviews, behind the scenes and some time with Hansard's family.
Shot over several years, the 90 minutes of black-and-white footage the film was cut down to – no mean feat in itself – are a rather fractured hotch-potch of all of these moments, but they work really well to tell a cohesive story.
From the heady early days of their success and romance, the tours and travel that seemed endless, trips home to Glen's parents, his mother's (subtitled!) pride in his Oscar contrast increasingly with his own existential questions. What do fame and legacy matter in the end? Hansard's 40-ish issues around the meaning of life and Irglova's 20-ish issues around fame and just becoming her own person become incompatible, but the show must go on.
A remarkably intimate portrait and story, it fits in very well, albeit they are fiction and fact, with Once and its mythology.
It has most appeal for Hansard/ Irglova/Once fans, but it's also just interesting from a human perspective.
Selected cinemas from Friday
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY
THE targeting of tear ducts together with the generation of warm fuzzy feelings would seem to be the main objective behind writer/director Malcolm D Lee's comedy-drama, The Best Man Holiday.
I've seen this feature described as a Big Chill for black people, and if you can remember that angsty Eighties drama you're well on the way to knowing what to expect from the set-up to this Christmas-themed piece.
Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs, this unapologetic avalanche of schmaltz is intended as a companion piece to late-Nineties release The Best Man, and takes up the story 15 years later. The action takes place over the course of the Christmas Holidays as wildly successful New York Giants running back Lance (Chestnut), throws open the doors of his Gatsby-esque mansion to facilitate the mother of all reunions for his former college friends and their current partners.
Attendees include Lance's best friend Harper (Diggs), a struggling writer whose best years seem behind him. Their once close bond has been compromised by a fling Harper had with Lance's now-wife Mia (Monica Calhoun).
Then there's university don and fund-raiser Julian (Harold Perrineau), whose efforts to fill a hole in his school's finances are being undermined by a raunchy video posted online featuring his wife Candace (Regina Hall). And then there's Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) a sexy reality TV star who... enough already with the backstories? Thought so.
In the interests of brevity, let's just say fault-lines in their friendships are uncovered, terminal illness rears its melodramatic head, Christmas carols get sung and heart-strings are unceremoniously tugged. Short of President Obama showing up in a cameo as Santa Claus, it's difficult to imagine a more carefully contrived Christmas yarn.
A quality cast are worthy of praise but they're let down by a script that has gone off the dramatic rails by the time the credits roll and it's also light on levity.
CERT: NO CERT
THE Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film was last year reinstated at the Edinburgh Film Festival after a brief absence, and this strange, tense project has taken the prize this year.
Leviathan does not hail from the hallways of entertainment cinema, and is instead an art piece designed to hypnotise and cast spells by way of a perspective that is utterly novel.
This other-worldy feel is set aboard an Atlantic Ocean-going fishing trawler. It's night when the camera fades in, peering around the working vessel as it lurches and heaves in and out of the inky sea below a Hitchcockian flock of gulls. Hulking contraptions haul the doomed catch on board where it is butchered in the saturated gloom by exhausted men. We dip under the boat's hull to witness throw-backs, mutilated rays and starfish vanish into the murk. A disorientated shearwater pads clumsily around the deck and a tattooed worker shucks scallops while smoking before dozing off in the mess.
Little is said apart from muffled instructions as the nets are winched in, or the bemusing chimes made by the narrator of Deadliest Catch, which appears to be airing on the mess television. A nightmarish tension grips the frame for protracted phases, as if film-makers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel are designing a horror film for codfish.
Enigmatic it surely is, but Leviathan is essentially a conceptual art piece, there to transport the viewer to a dimension as yet unseen by human eyes. Caution is therefore advised on approach, and the gut feeling is that viewers will either be transfixed or exasperated.
Now at the IFI