Blog Archives

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

SAVING MR. BANKS

by Steve Habrat

Director John Lee Hancock is no stranger to crafting crowd-pleasing dramas. He’s the man responsible for such films as Dennis Quaid’s 2002 sports drama The Rookie and Sandra Bullock’s unstoppable 2009 hit The Blind Side. When it came to telling the enchanting story of how Walt Disney managed to get the rights to P.L. Travers’ book Mary Poppins, Hancock was certainly the man for the job. Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks is certainly a well-oiled piece of period filmmaking with several performances that certainly scream for Oscar. It’s a mushy tale about how much the character of Mary Poppins meant to Travers, served up in a candy shell that audiences are guaranteed to savor. Both Hancock and Disney Studios are playing to our hearts with the emotional script from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, but the magic of Saving Mr. Banks really comes alive through the performances from its spread of A-list celebrities. This is Emma Thompson’s show, but Tom Hanks, who is still hot off the success of Captain Phillips, warmly beams his way through his performance as the ultimate dreamer, Walt Disney. And then there is the sweet performance from Paul Giamatti and a particularly touching turn from Colin Farrell, who becomes the film’s beating heart and soaring soul.

Saving Mr. Banks picks up in 1961, with Mary Poppins author Pamela P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) tight on money and low on options. Through her agent, Diarmuid Russell (played by Ronan Vibert), Pamela receives an offer from Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) for the rights to her beloved story so that he can make it into a movie. At first, Pamela refuses to sign over the rights to Disney, who she believes will ruin her very personal story, but her reluctance to right another novel to bring in more money puts her in a difficult spot. With no other alternatives, Pamela travels to Los Angeles to meet with Walt to discuss the project. Upon her arrival, Walt goes above and beyond to charm the scowling Pamela, but each one of his attempts bounces right off her thick skin. Pamela soon begins meeting with scriptwriter Don DaGradi (played by Bradley Whitford) and composer/lyricist brothers Richard and Robert Sherman (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) to pour over every single detail of the script, storyboards, and musical numbers—all of which she finds fault with. As the exasperated Disney crewmembers try to please Pamela, she strikes up a friendship with her kindly driver, Ralph (played by Paul Giamatti), and begins flashing back to her dysfunctional childhood in Queensland, Australia, with her alcoholic father, Travers Robert Goff (played by Colin Farrell), who instilled a vivid imagination inside the young Pamela.

Saving Mr. Banks juggles two storylines, one which flashes back to Australia, 1906, which gives us a glimpse inside Pamela’s upbringing at the hands of her drunken but loving father and her wounded, soft-spoken mother (played by Ruth Wilson). The scenes set in Australia are given a fairy tale glow, romanticized and shimmering in true Disney fashion. The dramatic outback flashbacks are met by the scenes set in 1961, which posses a more humorous side as Pamela grapples with her idiosyncrasies with her beloved character. Thompson plays Pamela as a porcupine of a woman, a prissy control freak who never passes up a chance to put old Walt Disney in his place. When she isn’t complaining that Los Angeles smells like sweat and chlorine, she ripping into ol’ Walt for anything and everything. Initially, she appears to be immune to Walt’s charms and she scowls every time she lays eyes on a familiar mouse that we have all come to adore. When she meets with DaGradi and the Sherman brothers, she stomps her feet and demands that all of their meeting are recorded. She especially detests the songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and she groans over the mustache added to the character of Mr. Banks, an addition that Walt has personally requested. For as cold and heartless as she seems to be, Thompson molds the character into a sympathetic soul who wrestles with painful memories that she feels doesn’t deserve the pixie-dust whimsy that she is convinced Walt will give her story.

Saving Mr. Banks #2

As far as the rest of the performances go, Hanks beams his way through his performance as Walt Disney, a happy-go-lucky businessman who is absolutely perplexed by the whirlwind that is Pamela. Watching his reactions to feisty writer is a treat, especially when she recoils in horror at his suggestion of taking a trip to Disneyland. As his battle to make the movie culminates, he tells a personal story that reveals his understanding over how much the character of Mary Poppins means to Pamela. Then there is Giamatti, who gives one of the most sensitive performances of his career as Ralph, Pamela’s gee-whiz limo driver who makes every effort imaginable to get to know this rigid sourpuss. Watching Ralph develop his friendship with Pamela is hilarious and near the end, it takes an emotional turn that will make your heart swell. Whitford nabs several chuckles as DaGradi, the cautious scriptwriter tasked with battling with Travers on a day-to-day basis. Schwarztman and Novak are a terrific tag team as the Shermans, the composers who just can’t seem to come up with a tune that gets Travers tapping her toes. Then there is Farrell, who just leaps across the screen on the wings of imagination. Behind closed doors, he is a withering heap of a man consumed by alcoholic demons and an illness that threatens to take his life. However, when he is facing the young Pamela in the sun, he is a dancing court jester, her encouragement to never stop dreaming or chasing imagination. Trust me when I say that this role is one of Farrell’s finest hours.

Considering that Saving Mr. Banks is a Disney production, the film’s sets and cinematography look like a million bucks. While there was no filming in Australia, Hancock does a marvelous job transforming various locations around California into the dusty Australian Outback. It should also be noted that there isn’t a single shot in the entire picture that isn’t crisp, clean, and gorgeous, always eager to show off the fantastic period clothing and set design. Hancock and his screenwriters also do a marvelous job with revealing little secrets about Pamela’s past to the viewer, whether it is her dislike for pears or her fury over Mr. Banks having a mustache on screen. Every little reveal is balanced throughout the picture, one being just slightly more emotional than the last one. Overall, while there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Disney studios has sweetened this story up in places, Saving Mr. Banks is still a wholesome little movie that touches on the importance of imagination and pleas with each and every one of us to never loose our child-like sense of wonder. Thompson and Farrell are Oscar worthy in their respective roles, Giamatti’s Ralph is unforgettable, and Hanks is clearly having a grand old time slipping into the skin of Walt Disney, a role he was born to play.

Grade: B+

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Up until yesterday, my favorite Wes Anderson film was 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the hilarious aquatic escapade that was one of Bill Murray’s finest hours. I think I may have a new number one pick. The hipster auteur’s latest quirky adventure Moonrise Kingdom could be his crowning achievement, one that has staggering amounts of feeling and emotion behind every single frame. If you were to just show someone Moonrise Kingdom without telling them who the director is, they would be able to figure it out at lightning speed just by the obsessive compulsive organization of every frame and the deadpan humor. This is perhaps Anderson’s most stylish film to date (yes, even more so than The Fantastic Mr. Fox), yet Anderson’s work has always been plagued by style threatening to overtake the narrative but not in Moonrise Kingdom. Along with screenwriter Roman Coppola (son of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola), Anderson crafts a fragile tribute to young love and innocence that will slowly take over you for the hour and forty minutes that it inhabits the movie screen. It is a love story that could only be told by Anderson himself and no one else.

Moonrise Kingdom begins on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, where twelve-year-old “Khaki Scout” orphan Sam Shakusky (Played by Jared Gilman) and forgotten bookworm Suzy Bishop (Played by Kara Hayward) have run off together into the thick wilderness. After waking up to discover that Sam has “flew the coop”, bumbling Scout Master Ward (Played by Edward Norton) quickly alerts island police Captain Sharp (Played by Bruce Willis), who puts together a ragtag search party that consists of Suzy’s parents, Mr. Bishop (Played by Bill Murray) and Mrs. Bishop (Played by Frances McDormand), and the rest of Ward’s “Khaki Scouts” to locate the two lovebirds. Sam and Suzy are quickly discovered and ripped away from each other, but the “Khaki Scouts” begin to suspect they have made a terrible mistake by helping the adults. They quickly draw up a plan that would reunite Sam and Suzy, taking them on an adventure of a lifetime. Their adventure threatens to turn deadly as a violent hurricane makes its way towards the island.

Anderson makes what could possibly be the most organized film of his career, every single shot done up to maddening perfection. A leaf is perfectly placed on the corner of a picnic blanket while a Tang can is tilted just right. Yet it is a lot of fun to spot the tiny details that he throws in to make it 1965, the Tang inclusion actually being the funniest one along with all the slouchy horn-rimmed glasses that obscure the eyes. Anderson finds a way to allow the whimsical composition to really compliment our misfit heroes, a magical frame to compliment the magical feeling that has wormed its way into their small hearts. Gilman and Hayward give some of the finest and most touching performances of the year so far, even more amazing because these are child actors. I was completely engrossed in their budding young love, chuckling over their first encounter, which takes place a year earlier in 1964, where Sam sneaks into the girls dressing room during a church play and demands to know what kind of bird Suzy is playing. She’s a raven, if you must know. Their connection is misunderstood by the melancholic adults that wander the island, all who are searching for some strand of happiness to shake them out of their funk. You will find yourself longing for the spark that these two kids find earlier on. They just understand each other from the first time their eyes lock. Hey, isn’t that what love is all about?

While Gilman and Hayward own every scene in Moonrise Kingdom, the adults do a fine job of keeping us engulfed in all the surreal dramatics. Norton seems right at home as Scout Master Ward, a lanky buffoon who stomps around his campsite spouting off camping tips to his “Khaki Scouts”, the best one being his questioning the shoddy construction of a dangerously high tree house (one of the film’s best jokes). Bruce Willis as the deflated Captain Sharp is a character that just longs for someone to share his time with in his cramped little trailer. He carries on an affair with Mrs. Bishop, who crushes his spirits even more when Mr. Bishop begins to suspect something is up. You’ll beam when he finally gets his moment to shine in the final moments of the film. It is such a nice change of pace to see Willis actually doing something more than running from explosions and firing a machine gun. Murray chews up his scenes as the preoccupied Mr. Bishop, a man who barely notices his own family until he suspects something odd going on between Sharp and Mrs. Bishop. McDormand is cold as Mrs. Bishop, an equally preoccupied and firm force in the Bishop household. She’s hilarious as she storms through the house bossing Suzy and her three younger brothers around with a bullhorn. Also keep an eye out for hilarious cameos from Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman.

Moonrise Kingdom is brimming with an innocence that never seems to slip away. Suzy and Sam seem more comfortable dancing away on a secluded beach rather than attempting to get “fresh” with each other. It is almost paralyzing to the viewer when Sam and Suzy are separated and Social Services (Played by Tilda Swinton) shows up to have Sam carted off to an orphanage. It is devastating to see these two misfit children, who glow when they are in each other’s company, separated by a sea of frowning adults that don’t have a clue what happiness is. That is the exact message of Moonrise Kingdom, young love may be reckless, a bit irresponsible, but it knows what it wants and we can’t possibly fault it for that. Gloom and routine are for the adults! It is that longing to be young again that really hits hard in Moonrise Kingdom, making the older viewers walk away aching for an innocence that can never be obtained again. Overall, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s masterwork, a flawless film that is warm, dreamy, and relentlessly funny, drenched in the sunrays of summer, feeling the wind in its hair, and relishing the sand between its toes. Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best films of 2012 so far.

Grade: A+

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

by Corinne Rizzo

Totally sophisticated in most of his characteristics, Mr. Fox finds himself living in nature’s version of the suburbs after spending the majority of his foxhood stealing poultry and looting cider from the local farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. In an effort to move up in the world and out of the fox hole his family began in, Mr. Fox buys a tree trunk for the family to move into—right across the valley from his old chicken thieving stomping grounds—and his old ways begin to haunt his instincts. The hardship of instinct versus the inclination to do what is right puts Mr. Fox, his family, and his friends in some compromising positions and Wes Anderson’s sixth film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (based on the original children’s text by Roald Dahl), not only tells the story of the secret lives of foxes, but builds yet another invitation only universe in which to entertain the endless details that create a classic Wes Anderson film.

So, Fox meets farmer, farmer has chickens, chickens get stolen, farmers get mad, Fox gets caught, farmer traces Fox to his residence, farmer does everything in his power to kill Fox.

This is the basic plot of Fantastic Mr. Fox, though if Wes Anderson has anything to do with it, the plot can be considered a bit more complex than that. In fact, Anderson makes it a habit in his films to show how complicated things can really become either by giving a character an inclination toward drawing maps or continually document, or expose early on in his films the tribulation that each of his characters bear. In The Royal Tenenbaums, for example, the audience is introduced to each character by Alec Baldwin’s monologue. The survey of personality traits gives the viewer all of the information that is needed to anticipate any combination of conflict between the characters, while in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson shows Mr. Fox himself as quite dexterous in the making of “master plans”.

The viewer is at that point given the essential plot out line and has become familiar with the players, leaving the imagination to begin piecing possibilities together, though you never can quite tell what Anderson has in store, even when the director gives you that essential information.

On that note, Fantastic Mr. Fox is complicated in plot and runs a good eighty-seven minutes, which is a whole lot longer than most want to sit through an animated film. Anderson’s twist on the story and the choice to use stop animation, though, is what drives the film. Voices like George Clooney, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman bring the familiar cynical tone to the characters that are popular in Anderson’s films, adding to the sophistication of the characters.

Important also to the film is the sense of humor these actors can bring to the characters. Often a scene that seems too sentimental or serious is broken by the true animalistic nature of each forest beast. Mr. Fox, wearing a suit with his hair all groomed does not hesitate to break a chicken’s neck with his teeth or growl and scratch when he doesn’t get along with someone. This is true for all of the characters and each one seems to have one of those moments in the film where they kind of just lose it and show what Mr. Fox calls the truth about himself, which is the fact that he is a wild animal.

The stop motion is incredible and crafty. Each creature has his own personae: Beaver, Beaver and Badger are attorneys, Kylie  (an opossum) is kind of like a superintendent, and so the list continues. But what is so stunning that the puppets are dressed to the nines, all throughout the film. Ash, Mr. Fox’s son, even wears layers and layers of clothes, all modified with holes for his tail and ears. The imagery is seamless and clean and the expressions of the characters are meaningful and distinct.

Everything from a toothy fox grin to the twitchy radar ears of a scavenger, Anderson and his stop motion team have taken a children’s story and mastered it into a film enjoyable to all ages. The tendency toward foul language is replaced simply by the word “cuss” and the only sign of alcohol or drug abuse is that of the Bean security rat living in a cider cellar, which is the cleanest we have seen Anderson yet, but also displaying some of his strongest creative moments.

Grade: A-


Top Five Reasons to Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox:

1)  Bill Murray plays a badger.

2)  You get a run through of every character’s latin animal names…so it’s educational.

3)  Really the whole film is about eating.

4)  The Beach Boys dominate the soundtrack.

5)  The film can be used as a gateway to exposing your family and friends to other Anderson films.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

by Corinne Rizzo

The death of an immediate family member can take time to recover from. Weeks, months, years can pass and still one might find themselves just below the lines of reality, almost waiting for the next fucked up thing to happen, but when you’ve got a brother like Francis, played by Owen Wilson in Wes Anderson’s fifth feature, who hides the fact that he’s attempted suicide and executes an elaborate trip to India via rail, all to become close to his two other brothers again, the mourning process expedites and the bullshit habits that have been sliding by since that death are no longer tolerated. As Francis says best, after getting his shoe stolen, “We’re in an emergency here,” and with that, The Darjeeling Limited thrusts these three brothers onto a path of healing that none of them would have taken alone.

The film opens with Adrien Brody’s character, Peter, chasing down a train that he’s about to miss, bypassing Bill Murray as the business man, who was simply casted for this one scene, and this is where the symbolism begins. Yes, all great movies have hidden and blatant attempts at sending a message, but The Darjeeling Limited is defined by these moments without getting cheesy or overworked. Here, Peter is a hair away from missing the opportunity of a lifetime, to recover from a personal tragedy and reconnect with his brothers, though it is apparent, just as it is apparent that he is about to miss the train, that Peter is the one that needs the most convincing. In fact, it’s possible that he wasn’t going to get on that train at all, considering we learn that he never told his wife Alice that we was going in the first place.

When Peter does make it onto the Darjeeling Limited, a character in herself, brightly colored in turquoise and golden yellow, he travels down the entirety of the train, the commuter portion, the economy travel portion, to the compartments of the upper class, where he finds his brother Jack asleep and his brother Francis missing.

The audience can immediately see Peter’s mood change once in the presence of Jack. They celebrate by smoking cigarettes and when Francis gets to the cabin, the phrase “Let’s get a drink and smoke a cigarette,” is used for the first time to signal a state of celebration. Almost as a marker to signify getting over a hump.

The use of painkillers and alcohol in this film are commonly attributed to the three brothers being addicted to these substances, though the use of these drugs is directly related to the family experience and nowhere in the film is anyone fiending or even talking about them other than the one scene where everyone is explaining what they have after a coincidental moment of everyone trying to relieve their own pain. Again, symbolism exists here, even for the most conservative audience member.

Peter is wearing his father’s sunglasses, which have a prescription in them, causing his head to constantly ache. Francis ran his motorcycle into the side of a hill, smashing his face in and Peter…well Peter has a lot of growing up to do. Not that Anti Film School condones the use of drugs, though the use of drugs in film can have an interesting outcome.  We are open to these things.  In film.

Peter, Jack, and Francis stop in what are considered the most spiritual places in India, all coordinated by Brendan, Francis’s only friend and assistant, and while in these spiritual places are overcome by consumerism attempting to track down power adapters, shoes and pretty much anything else money can buy, including a deadly poisonous snake (chosen by Peter), which eventually gets them confined to their compartment, and ultimately thrown off the train, upsetting the plan to find their mother, Sister Patricia Whitman, somewhere out on a mission.

The plan to find Patricia was also masterminded by Francis, and never unveiled to his brothers until just before they were thrown off the train.

The boys go through stages of wanting to kill each other, then stages of unrelenting affection and back again and The Darjeeling Limited is the story of their estrangement and their subsequent bonding, all of which couldn’t happen in a more beautiful setting.  The colors are extravagant and breath taking, the scenes are crisp, the wardrobes, when not stunning, provoke a sense of humor.

Inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray and peppered with the sounds of classic Indian films (and also The Kinks), Wes Anderson kills it in The Darjeeling Limited, bringing again his sense of adventure to the story of family dysfunction and unconditional love. His passion for story telling is apparent in this film more than any other by saturating the story of Francis, Peter and Jack with color, sound, and humor.

Grade: A +

 

Top Five Reasons to Watch The Darjeeling Limited:

1) Adrien Brody’s debut in Anderson films (let’s hope he sticks around).

2) All of Anderson’s films have a sense of antiquity that in this film is broken with the use of an iPod and dock.

3) The music!

4) Kumar Pallana

5) Check out that scene where Peter “goes to pray at a different thing”. What the hell is that kid watching him for and what is he holding?

Rushmore (1998)

by Corinne Rizzo

In Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s second film, the director displays a highly stylized form of storytelling. In watching a film like Bottle Rocket, the viewer can learn that our writer/director (teaming with Owen Wilson), has a knack for developing characters, but from Bottle Rocket to Rushmore, Wes Anderson takes a not just a step toward a style that will carry him through the duration of his career, but some sort of anti-gravity moon leap.

Son of a barber, fifteen year old Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzman, attends Rushmore Academy where he is the founder of every extracurricular activity known to man.  And while Max reigns supreme at bringing groups together for everything from the Beekeeper’s Society to Calligraphy Club, his ability to keep up his GPA ends up standing in the way of the thing he loves most: Attending Rushmore Academy.

In perfect synchronicity with his academic probation, Max falls in love with Rosemary Cross, an elementary school teacher at Rushmore. Following their initial meeting, Max takes monumental measures to ensnare Ms. Cross’ affection by breaking ground on a new addition to the school in honor of her. An aquarium.

When his actions get him expelled from his cozy prep school and thrust into public high school, it takes Max a bit to acclimate. Rushmore is the story of Max’s acclimation to the outside world—and finding ways to combine the best of both worlds.

The film opens with a series of theatrical vignettes representing the characters of the film, followed by a similar series, displaying Max’s extracurricular accomplishments. These short vignettes that give the viewer an inside look to the makings of a character is Anderson’s first attempt at the aesthetic, which appears in each sub sequential film.

If you’ve ever seen a Wes Anderson film outside of Bottle Rocket and have been impressed with how cool his characters can seem, how much cooler they are set to a rocking soundtrack, and what slow motion can do for a character’s development, note that Wes Anderson’s ability to convey these things begins with Rushmore. It combines an the elegance of pomp and the grit of the human condition. Like a muddy ballet flat.

On the topic of elegance and grit, Bill Murray makes his debut in the Anderson cannon, paralleling Royal Tennenbaum’s relationship luck down to a long term hotel check in. Also in the film is Luke Wilson, playing a character at the butt of the most popular joke in the film.

With a perpetual fall in the air, the leaves constantly turning and changing, and the overcast skies, Rushmore is the foundation of Wes Anderson’s moody, intellectual, and character driven style.

Grade: B+

Top Five Reasons To Watch Rushmore:

1) You’re going to want to know if they really are O.R. scrubs.

2) It is the beginning of all stylistic choices made by Anderson in his films.

3) Kumar Pallana (keep an eye out!)

4) Can you just see Anderson’s gears churning with the marine biology thing?

4) The soundtrack.