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Entries in bradley whitford (2)

Friday
Dec132013

Saving Mr. Banks

There’s no telling how much of “Saving Mr. Banks” is actually true. Just how callous was P.L. Travers? Was Walt Disney really out to make dreams come true in adapting her popular book, “Mary Poppins”? And is it true that he essentially acted as Travers’ psyche savior as portrayed in the film? It’s tough to say, though recent articles have pointed out that much of what is portrayed in the film is a fallacy, an illusory look into one of the world’s biggest and most recognizable companies made by that very same company. Surely much of the truth—particularly the occasionally harsh realities of Mr. Disney himself—were glossed over for reputational purposes. But based-on-true-stories don’t succeed or fail solely on their historical accuracy, but rather on their ability to take even what could amount to a small kernel of the truth and craft something worth watching. In this regard, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a rousing success.

The movie, in a nutshell, is about Travers’ (Emma Thompson) popular book’s journey to the big screen. Through flashbacks that portray her rough childhood with an alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) that she nevertheless adored, it paints a picture that explains her hesitance towards adapting it. For over 25 years, Disney (Tom Hanks) tried to convince Travers to allow him to make this movie, a goal he claims stems from his desire to keep a promise he made to his children who adore her book and the characters in it. Over the span of a couple weeks, Travers travels to Walt Disney Studios and puts its employees through the wringer, insisting on having creative control over the final product and demanding all kinds of ludicrous things, like the complete removal of the color red from the movie. Eventually, her stubbornness starts to wane, resulting in one of the most beloved films of all time.

It’s that stubbornness, however, that gives the film its weight, even if some journalists are failing to see the meaning and misconstruing it as misogynistic. Seemingly every ridiculous demand she makes has an explanation, which is explained by the film’s frequent flashbacks. While Ms. Travers may seem unreasonable and cruel at first, these moments shed light on her in a way that builds empathy. By the end, she isn’t painted as a villain, but rather a woman who has had trouble coping with the reality of her childhood.

In terms of storytelling, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a tour de force, managing to jump back and forth between timelines seamlessly and without confusion. All of it adds up to an enchanting whole, one that has lots of things to say and explains itself well, even within its two hour time constraint. Perhaps its most successful idea comes in its emphasis on imagination. Echoing the (admittedly more thoughtful) sentiments of 2004’s marvelous “Finding Neverland,” the film understands the importance of imagination, in the ways it can make something bad seem good and fix past memories to be something of profound happiness. Even as adults, it’s important to remember the good things, even when it’s hard to forget the bad, and that’s what “Saving Mr. Banks” explores so well, even going so far as to say that there’s no greater joy than “seeing the world through the eyes of a child.”

That single line encapsulates the film’s very essence, as the “Mary Poppins” film ended up keeping the memories of Travers’ father alive, but more in the way she wished it had happened rather than as they actually did. In this way, “Saving Mr. Banks” proves itself to be surprisingly moving. Anchored by a terrific, Oscar worthy performance from Emma Thompson alongside a top notch ensemble cast, the film is a real treat. It may be hard to fight off the cynical realization that the film is trimmed in a way to protect the Disney company’s image and it may not portray the events at hand in a fair and balanced way (even if the real recordings that play over the credits create striking parallels between it and what we’ve just seen), but that’s not the film’s intent. “Saving Mr. Banks” has higher aspirations and it succeeds in reaching nearly every single one of them.

Saving Mr. Banks receives 4.5/5

Friday
Apr132012

The Cabin in the Woods

I’ll be completely honest. I have no idea how to review The Cabin in the Woods. After struggling to come up with an opening that puts into perspective what the film is about without giving any key plot points away, I decided to just be upfront. Frankly, discussing even the most basic aspect of the plot is a spoiler and this is a movie that is best to walk into blind. The trailers, surprisingly enough in a day and age where everything is ruined in a short 30 second TV spot, have done a good job of keeping things mysterious and it’s best to keep it that way. The easy thing to say is that I absolutely adored The Cabin in the Woods and I rank it among the top two or three films of the year so far, but elaboration of why seems impossible. The typical movie critic plot synopsis paragraph follows. Let’s see how it goes.

The film follows a group of teenagers as they venture into a cabin in the woods where strange things begin to happen.

Although obvious, that’s about as deep as a responsible writer should go in explaining the movie’s plot. To go further would completely ruin the experience. When watching the film and taking notes, I jotted down the off kilter opening and planned on explaining why the place, time and characters that were present in it were so odd for a horror movie, but doing even that would take away from its impact. What the film does so brilliantly is set up a horror story that we’ve seen a dozen times, complete with your typical “dead teenager” horror movie characters like the jock, the slut, the stoner and the virtuous heroine, and then goes in a completely different direction. The Cabin in the Woods spoofs the construction of horror films by, well, constructing a horror film. That description may be a bit cryptic, but it will all make sense after you see it.

Some critics have been comparing The Cabin in the Woods to the first couple Evil Dead films. First of all (and most obviously), they both take place at a remote cabin in the woods. Where they compare more thematically and creatively is in the places they go and the things the characters do. Such a comparison is not unwarranted and may even be welcome by writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, who throw in what must be a dozen Evil Dead references, including one that they affectionately refer to as the “angry molesting tree,” but The Cabin in the Woods goes much further than Evil Dead ever did. If anybody tells you they saw coming the way the events in this movie transpire, they’re lying through their teeth.

The references to horror don’t stop at Evil Dead, though. Horror buffs will spot a plethora of them throughout, especially near the unspoken ending, and they encompass video games as well, like a hilarious sight gag pertaining to Valve’s hit Xbox 360 game, Left 4 Dead. I hesitate to list more because half of the fun is spotting these references (and only video game nerds like myself will notice the nods to the games), but it’s a major component to the fun.

It must be said that The Cabin in the Woods isn’t particularly scary because it utilizes the same tricks many other horror films do, but that’s precisely the point and in the context of the story, it makes sense. Things we may scoff at in other films are fondly used here to celebrate the horror genre while also pointing out just how stupid it can be. You’ll more often feel like smiling than shielding your eyes because of its clever skewering of horror movie clichés.

No horror fan should walk out of The Cabin in the Woods unpleased. It’s a love letter to them and the genre they love. It wears its adoration for the genre on its sleeve while also bringing it back to its roots and away from the steady stream of so called “torture porn” films that have invaded the theaters in recent years. It’s destined to go down alongside films like the aforementioned Evil Dead and the original Scream as a horror movie classic. It’s just that good. It’s not safe to talk about right now, so as not to deny moviegoers the right to see it as intended, but after a few weeks, when interested parties have already sat down with it, The Cabin in the Woods will be all that is talked about. See it now before it’s ruined.

The Cabin in the Woods receives 4.5/5