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Entries in paul giamatti (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
Oct072011

The Ides of March

Political thrillers and political dramas are separated by a very fine line. Even slight changes in things like pacing and lighting can make what would otherwise be a straight forward film become edgier and darker. The two can be mixed together, and often have to great success, but some movies don’t make that conscious decision. Some movies can’t make up their mind on what their ultimate goal is and end up suffering because of it. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Ides of March, is a perfect example of that.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a man whose life revolves around politics. He has worked, as he puts it, on more campaigns at the young age of 30 than most of his elders. His latest job comes in the form of Democratic GOP candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney). Governor Morris is the first person he has ever truly believed would change the way we do things and make a difference in people’s lives. He’s an optimist and trusts those around him, but he’s about to get a lesson in dirty politics when he gets caught up in a media firestorm after meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the assistant to the Governor’s GOP opponent, and his simple life begins to unravel.

There’s a fundamental problem with The Ides of March. It thinks it’s penetrating politics when, in reality, it’s doing and saying nothing that the American people aren’t already aware of. It shows that politicians and those working for them begin with a set of unwavering ideals they promise to hold true before compromising them once they see the true face of politics. They quickly realize that politicking is a dirty game and, if they ever hope to get ahead, they must do things their young, naïve selves thought they never would.

As such, The Ides of March is political piffle, a movie that aims for the Oscars, but, aside from some possible acting nods, lands much lower. It’s a shame because Clooney has proven himself to be a fantastic storyteller with 2005’s Good Night and Good Luck, another politically charged (but media oriented) film that had much more to say than this. As terrific as he is behind the camera and in front, I’m afraid this will end up being little more than a blip on his impressive career.

Still, this is a solid film. A disappointment, sure, but solid. It’s entertaining, relatable to today and serves as yet another vehicle for Ryan Gosling who once again proves himself to be one of the most prolific and versatile actors currently working, but it’s inconsistent. In a way, it’s too cinematic, taking a story that should be told in a straight, dramatic fashion and over stylizing it with contextually inappropriate filmic techniques. Political backstabbing is treated like murder, leading the characters to secretly meet each other in closed down, darkened bars where eerie, silhouetted figures loom in the hall. The media is treated like a peeping tom stalker, the villain in a horror movie, and paranoia begins to eat away at the characters, bringing them to make decisions that lead to the oft heard and obvious political message. Simply put, the film has an identity crisis. It never settles for one tone and doesn’t do a good job of cohering multiple ones.

George Clooney, an outspoken Democrat, sometimes seems to treat this movie more as a cathartic outlet to speak in favor of gay marriage and taxing the wealthy than as a story. As an outspoken Democrat myself, I’d be lying if said I didn’t agree, but as a critic, it’s hard not to question his intentions, especially when the majority of the scenes he appears in are at speeches where he defends his left wing beliefs. Nevertheless, these moments fit comfortably into the story, so they aren’t so much scandalous as they are simply obvious. But that’s the entire movie’s problem. It’s just too obvious. Only those without knowledge of past political scandals or what goes on behind the scenes of a political campaign will find something enlightening. For the rest of us, The Ides of March is watchable, but underwhelming.

The Ides of March receives 3/5