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movies_saving-mr-banks-posterWhat do our friends at IMDb think it’s about?

Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.

What do I think it’s about?

Saving Mr Banks is about that of course but it’s also about how Hollywood works and how an author can’t really hope to keep control of her creation when it escapes into the wider world no matter how hard she tries. Oh and the culture clash between film and books.

Why did I want to see it?

I loved both the books and the Disney film of Mary Poppins even though they are rather different, something I could spot even as a youngster, and was aware that PL Travers did not like the movie at all and never reconciled herself to it. And I have always enjoyed films about film making.

What did I think?

I thought this was brilliant. The central performances were excellent; Emma Thompson was wonderful as always, capturing Travers’ prickliness and uncompromising nature, and Tom Hanks caught the the combined twinkliness and saving-mr-banks-bradley-whitfordruthless business mind of Disney. The flashbacks to Travers’ childhood were really well done and Colin Farrell was particularly good as her charming, feckless, drunken father. All of the minor characters are played by wonderfully talented well-known actors like Paul Giamatti and *sigh* Bradley Whitford. It was a very touching story with a lot of wit and Hanks and Thompson played off each other very well.

What’s interesting is what wasn’t included, namely Travers’ adopted son who has been written out of the story presumably for dramatic effect and not because he was a bit inconvenient. If you want to know more about that side of her life then there was a very good documentary on the BBC by Victoria Coren Mitchell.

There has been a bit of a controversy (that might be too strong a word) about the whether the film soft soaps Travers’ reaction to the Mary Poppins film at the end; I am strongly of the view that they did no such thing and it’s quite clear (to me at any rate) why she is crying at the premiere. Because as she says, Mary Poppins hasn’t come to save the children; she’s come to save their father.


An acting masterclass and great fun with a sense of sadness at its core. I found it very moving in places. And it’s impossible to leave the cinema without singing some of the songs. Also I discovered that the Book God has never seen Mary Poppins all the way through and I have plans to remedy that soon (and an excuse to watch it again myself!)

I’ve waited quite a long time to write about poor old John Carter because of all the nonsense that’s been floating around since before it came out and which only intensified after its release and subsequent dive into cinematic ignominy.

This isn’t going to be a properly measured review of the film (if you want that then I can do no better than to direct you to Carl’s splendid post; some of his companion pieces on the subject are  good as well) but more my impressions of the film and the furore that followed.

First a bit of background. Long-time readers will recall that I have been known to accompany the Book God to films that are not at first glance necessarily my cup of tea because (1) that’s the sort of thing you do when you’re married and (2) I have occasionally been pleasantly surprised – see Immortals and Red Cliff as good examples.

The Book God had been excited about this one as soon as the first stills leaked out, and his excitement slowly infected me as well, but I didn’t know very much about the story except that it was Edgar Rice Burroughs and was about a person from Earth who somehow got stuck on Mars. But that was good enough for me, so off we went one Sunday afternoon to watch the thing; I hadn’t read or heard any reviews though I was aware of some mutterings, especially around the advertising.

Before I launch into bullet-point mode its worth saying that I really, really enjoyed this, the time flew by and its on my DVD-to-buy list.

So there.

My thoughts:

  • What on earth were Disney thinking in just calling it John Carter? True, the poster gives you a clue as to what kind of film this is but for goodness sake, the inclusion of the word Mars wasn’t going to put people off (I say that as someone who has a stack of sci-fi novels and disappointing films (I’m looking at you Mission to Mars) bought solely because they were SET ON MARS)

[See what you have done, Disney, you have made me shouty and use parentheses in an excessive manner, shame on you]

  • And getting back to the whole Mars thing, how can people have watched this film and not realise that it was set on Mars? Apart from the big “of Mars” do-dah at the end, it’s mentioned at least twice in the film including some lengthy fiddling about with a star-map sort of thing. This has led me to the conclusion that some folk are just dim, which is not a very nice way to view your fellow man and I blame Disney for my temporary misanthropy as well
  • OK, so Taylor Kitsch is a bit dull and gloomy but that worked for me as well, not everyone inexplicably transported to another world will be full of joy and wonder and grasp the situation immediately
  • And there were some brilliant stalwart British actors moving the whole thing along; Ciaran Hinds looking a bit odd in his Julius-Caeasar-type grey wig, but c’mon Dominic West was chewing the scenery villainously, and I would have liked to have seen more of James Purefoy
  • Mark Strong. The man’s a class act in absolutely everything he has ever been in and I would bow my head in his presence (if I was ever lucky enough to be in his presence)
  • The heroine was quite pretty and not totally vapid. This is a good thing.
  • I liked the special effects. I liked the properly alien Martians. I liked the big dog thing. I particularly liked the framing device, very sweet (and yay Bryan Cranston).

So I just don’t understand why so many people seem to dislike this so much. It was not dull (despite what Mark Kermode and other reviewers have said) and it wasn’t incomprehensible if you were at least half-awake.

And it was set on Mars.

It’s a real shame it lost so much money and there won’t be any sequels. If I were a conspiracy theorist I would smell a rat, but sadly I just think that the studio got embarrassed by the film.

The whole thing has made me quite cross. Can you tell?

Boxing Day and another opportunity (the third this holiday) to visit the world of A Christmas Carol. This time via the motion capture version from the hands of Robert Zemeckis.

This was a Christmas gift given to the Book God and hadn’t been top of my list as I’ve never been entirely convinced by previous films produced using this technique – The Polar Express was just creepy and Beowulf, though better, still didn’t look right. This, however, was a step up though I still don’t think they ever get people’s mouths to look convincing.

Anyhow, despite the misgivings above and my love/hate relationship with Jim Carrey this actually turned out to be a fairly traditional and rather well done version of the story. Lots of well-known British actors popping up in a range of roles, nice Victorian setting, set pieces clearly designed for the 3D version but pretty good all the same. And a nice warm glow at the end. Carrey’s performance as Scrooge seemed very much based on the great Alistair Sim, but if you are going to emulate someone you can do much worse than that.

All in all more enjoyable than I expected and a possible staple for future Christmas celebrations.

walle200812450_fSo it’s New Year’s Eve and the TV schedules aren’t great (haven’t been so since they stopped transmitting the White Heather Club on Hogmanay, but that says a lot about me, including my age….) and we want to stay up to see in 2009 so how to occupy the time. “Let’s watch one of our Christmas present movies” said I, and picked WALL-E as one we had meant to see in the cinema but never managed for one reason or another.

And this turned out to be a great choice; it’s just the sweetest film, with wonderful characters and a great story and I can’t wait to see it again.

What I loved about this movie = the sweet little love story; the environmental message (not at all heavy IMO); Sigourney Weaver voicing the computer; the animation is absolutely wonderful; cheering on the Captain of the Axiom; the whole thing actually….

What I didn’t like about this movie = not one single quibble. Just loved it to bits

Rating stuff = can (and should) be watched by anyone and everyone

Tissue  count = being a Scottish sentimental old fool I come close to requiring tissue assistance at a couple of points….

Safety cushion = not required (despite the very mild threat promised by the ratings board)

I can’t enthuse about this film enough; it even made a cockroach look cute. Plus, as with all Pixar movies, there are a couple of very, very funny shorts on the DVD. You will never look at a stage magician’s rabbit the same way again.

After some very enjoyable Proms concerts put me in the mood for some more classical music, finding myself home alone and looking for something light to watch, I decided to give Fantasia 2000 a go.

According to the worthy introduction, Walt Disney intended his original Fantasia to be an evolving work, re-released regularly with new pieces along side some old favourites. That never happened the way he had intended until Fantasia 2000 was conceived of and released. As with the original, animators let their imaginations loose on interpreting some well(and lesser) known pieces of music. The only piece left from the original is the famous Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse.

What I loved about the movie = Pines of Rome (whales!); Rhapsody in Blue (Al Hirschfield!); Carnival of the Animals (flamingos! with yo-yos!); Donald Duck on Noah’s Ark; The Firebird Suite

What I didn’t like about the movie = I really, really could have done without the humorous sections between the classical pieces; they may have been amusing the first time (and I’m not sure about that) but grate on a second viewing

Rating stuff = universal; suitable for all

Tissue count = the Donald Duck section is quite sweet, but no tears were shed

Safety cushion = are you kdding? This is Walt Disney

I enjoyed this but in future will probably just dip into my favourite bits.