Movie Reviews: Saving Mister Banks
Tom Hanks shines in Saving Mr Banks, plus the rest of the week's releases
Saving Mr Banks
(PG, general release, 125 minutes)
Director: John Lee Hancock. Stars: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti.
For better or worse, it's hard now to imagine a world without Mary Poppins in it. The frothy but absolutely irresistible Disney film was part of mine and a million other childhoods, and its songs have become annoyingly embedded in the collective unconscious.
But as this winning, moving and amusing drama from John Lee Hancock proves, Mary Poppins nearly never happened at all. The 1964 film was based on the book of the same name by PL Travers, a crusty and formidable Australian author whom Walt Disney himself spent 20 years doggedly pursuing.
The great showman was sure her novel about a nanny with magic powers who descends from the skies to put manners on a dysfunctional Victorian family would make a terrific movie, but Ms Travers was a tough nut to crack.
As Saving Mr Banks opens its 1961, and Walt (Tom Hanks) has finally persuaded Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) to come to Hollywood and review his studio's plans for a Mary Poppins film.
She arrives reluctantly, partly motivated by money problems, but is horrified by Disney and his razzmatazz, and gives Walt's writers and songsters hell at every opportunity.
Emma Thompson does a wonderful job of embodying the obnoxious author, and in flashbacks to her childhood we find out what her problem is.
Colin Farrell is very good as Pamela's feckless but lovable father, Paul Giamatti gives a lovely turn as her long-suffering Hollywood driver, and Hanks is fantastic as the wily, sphinx-like mogul. He really is one of the great film actors. ****
(16, general release, 100 minutes)
Director: Kimberley Pierce. Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde.
The thing that distinguished Brian De Palma's 1976 Stephen King-inspired horror film Carrie was its heightened, nightmarish tone and grand guignol madness. Sure it was camp, but good camp, and Sissy Spacek's rapid descent into madness was quite something to behold. So why do we need a remake? Well, we don't -- in fact this handsome-looking production is not the first rehash of De Palma's film -- a so-so TV movie starring Patricia Clarkson was released in 2002.
This new Carrie adheres for the most part to the schema of the original, but it is set in the present day and Carrie's tormenters come armed with the latest technology. Julianne Moore plays Margaret White, a God-obsessed misery guts who puts the fear of Jesus into her only daughter, Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz), who grows up to be an awkward and neurotic teenager.
When Carrie screams blue murder while getting her first period (she doesn't know what it is) her classmates crowd around her, helpfully throwing tampons and the sorry scene is later posted on the internet. One of the girls, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), is consumed with remorse and gets her boyfriend to invite Carrie to the prom. But that well-meaning act will have very nasty consequences.
Though pointless, Kimberley Pierce's film is competently put together and reasonably well acted, though Ms. Moretz doesn't quite manage the heartbreaking gullibility and innocence of Spacek's performance, possibly because those genteel qualities are no longer accessible to modern actresses. ***
(G, general release, 91 minutes)
Director: Jimmy Hayward. Stars: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Colm Meaney.
"Hang on to your nuggets" goes the catchline for this frantic and frankly insane animated feature that involves turkeys, time travel and America's founding fathers.
Co-written and directed by Jimmy Hayward, Free Birds is a wild and undisciplined caper that starts out pretty frenetically and makes less sense the longer it goes on. Owen Wilson provides the voice of Reggie the Turkey, a lonely outsider who can't understand why the other birds at his farm won't accept that they're being bred for Thanksgiving slaughter. He's for the chop himself until the US President makes an unexpected visit and chooses Reggie to be this year's "pardoned turkey".
He's whisked to the White House where he becomes the pet of the President's daughter and settles back to a life of pizza and daytime television. His heavenly idyll is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Jake (Woody Harrelson), who involves him in a quest to travel back to the 1600s and save turkey-kind by radically altering the traditions of Thanksgiving.
Free Birds is every bit as daft as that summary makes it sound, and the screenplay fails to adhere to its own insane logic. Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler provide good voice performances, but in a doomed cause. **
(No cert, IFI, 87 minutes)
Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Stars: JDeclan Donnelly, Johnny Catcombe, Adrian Guillette.
No words or voiceover or narrative of any kind punctuate this eerily poetic experimental documentary film from Lucien Castaing-Taylor, and in fact you could argue that it doesn't really meet the minimum requirements of a documentary at all.
It's certainly interesting to look at, however, and follows the remorseless progress of a mid-sized American fishing trawler through the moody swells of the north Atlantic. Cameras above and below decks and even underwater give a compelling sense of how gruelling the experience of trawling is for both man and fish.
Especially the fish. Terrible things happen to sundry species of sea-dwelling unfortunates as they spill out on the ship's deck and are summarily butchered by the chain-smoking, leather-handed crew, and particularly shocking are the indignities loaded on the unhappily stranded skate.
Some of Leviathan's imagery is quite staggering, especially those sequences shot just below the water's surface that almost succeed in giving you a fish's perspective on being caught. But Leviathan feels more like an arthouse installation than a feature film, and I'm not sure to whom I'd recommend it.
To the fishies perhaps -- it could be their Saw, or Friday the 13th. ***
Jeune et Jolie
(18, limited release, 94 minutes)
Francois Ozon's intense drama stars Marine Vacth as a beautiful but disillusioned 17-year-old girl who takes to prostitution to revel in the attention of men.
The Best Man Holiday
(15A, general release, 123 minutes)
American comic sequel in which a group of college friends reunite after 15 years and discover that old rivalries and crushes have not been forgotten.