Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saving Mr Banks

Plot: The story of the making of the 1964 Mary Poppins movie sounds dull, but it actually is great. Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson), the author of Mary Poppins, is reluctant to sell film rights to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She goes to Los Angeles to work on the script, but objects to nearly everything. Mrs Travers is very opinionated and hard to work with because she sees the characters as personifications of people from her sad childhood.  Eventually Walt understands and adapts the script and finally she trusts him to make it -- that is not a spoiler,  because you knew that.[imdb]    [photos]

Review: Saving Mr Banks starts with light sitcom humor as the negative and dour Mrs Travers goes to LA and hates everything.  Soon we get some really gorgeous images of her childhood in Australia and see how much her father loved her. The child actor is really cute. The photography is wonderful. Emma Thompson gives us over the top dialog with cool sincerity. 

In the middle of the movie, song writing is the highlight as they argue about the familiar songs from the film. I liked when Walt listens to "Tuppence for the Birds," in the night when everyone else was asleep. I also liked the toe-tapping scene when they sang "Go Fly a Kite."

Later the flashback scenes become more serious and the interplay between the present story and past story create sentiment and tearfulness. 

Tom Hanks inhabited the character of Walt Disney so much that his overly familiar face did not distract me at all. He seemed just like the old Walt Disney that I had seen on TV. Hank's Disney persona might have been too nice, because I can't imagine the Disney studio saying one bad word about their founder -- except they did show him smoking. 

Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Annie Rose Buckley

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Rating: 4.0 stars

More: When I got home, I watched all the songs on Youtube. Maybe I'll even download Mary Poppins.

Even More: Saving Mr Banks is so sweet and sentimental -- it is an antidote to last weekend's Wolf of Wall Street which was hip-deep in F-words and misogyny. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Plot: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) began as a stock broker who he got fired, and began to sell penny stocks at his own firm using deception and high pressure sales techniques. He fired up his high pressure sales people with alcohol, cocaine, and prostitutes. Soon he is rolling in money, divorces his first wife, amps up his drug use, buys a yacht, and marries model-pretty Naomi (Margot Robbie.) He attracts the FBI's attention, and tries to avoid getting caught.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Wolf of Wall Street is a wild ride about preying on people, both the investors and the women be they strippers, prostitutes, girlfriends or wives. It shows constant drunkeness, drugs, and naked girls -- and a constant contempt of un-suspecting investors who get cheated out of their money. Interspersed among the wildness, like little TV commercials, is monolog or dialog to advance the story. At first, its funny in a satirical way. As the drunken, drug-fueled, sex parties blur together, there is a dreariness - which might have been Director's Scorsese's intention.

A highlight is how good Jordan is at firing up his people. His speeches, as delivered by DiCaprio, really are inspirational. You can see why these sales people were so captivated. Later as his world is crumbling, DiCaprio paints a clever salesman/conman determined to preserve himself -- top performance. 

Jordan, the wolf, feeds on women just like investors. In addition to multitudes of strippers and prostitutes, his two wives are treated badly too.  Director Scorsese is showing the predatory behavior toward women, but it is over-the-top like The Great Gatsby's parties, as if he wants the audience to enter into the debauchery. One wonders what the women sales people were thinking. There always were women on his sales team, and they seemed to roll with it. 

There are funny scenes -- sit-com humor where the ridiculous situations just become laughable. One of these is when Leonardo becomes so drunk he can't stand, and must wiggle across the floor, through a door, and down steps to his car. Very funny.  

I liked Jonah Hill -- but my wife found him too annoying to be funny. Margot Robbie starts out as eye candy, but gets some substantive scenes before the end: a token bit of feminism.  Visuals are unexceptional -- but I did like the early party scene with a marching band in their underwear. 

There are two messages; that working hard without morals can make your rich, and an Occupy Wall Street, anti-one percent message that rich people don't play by the same rules. 

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Based on the book by Jordan Belfort

Rating: 3.25 stars: I can't decide. I was weary of all the partying, but plot kept moving, and the suspense at the end was real. I wondered how well this represented the financial services industry. The message raises the score a little, but the misogyny drops it down. Leo was good, and the sales culture was interesting. In the end, there is a lot to talk about, so that is why the extra quarter star. 
More: It makes me think about the ethic of brokerage houses, and whether I should do business with them. 

Even more: Leo deserves a best actor nomination. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Hobbit; The Desolation of Smaug (2D)

Plot: Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the Dwarves are journeying to the Lonely Mountain to kill the dragon, Smaug, who captured the mountain's hidden cavern and pile of gold from Thorin's (Richard Armitage's) grandfather decades ago. We rejoin our heroes as they seek shelter with a giant bear before entering the dark Murkwood Forest, where they are attacked by giant spiders and then captured by elves. They escape with help from boatman Bard (Luke Evans) while being chased by elves and orcs. Bilbo helps them enter the mountain though a magic door, and then sneak up on the dragon, who is a formidable foe. The movie ends with a cliffhanger naturally since this is the second part of a trilogy.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Smaug: The Hobbit II is a "road" movie -- all transitions from one adventure to another. Happily Tolkien provided many stories to adapt, and with the aid of new subplots concocted for the film, we have continuous suspense. Dramatically it starts in the middle of a story, and ends with nothing at all. Why did it end here?  The other basic flaw is the mix of comic and the deadly: like silly fat dwarves in barrels killing bad guys. 

Tolkien's story has an enormous body count, and I grew tired of the fighting because it seemed random after a while. The fighting is comic-book hero style with bloodless deaths administered by a single blow from the heroes.  

Many of the visuals are impressive with grand sets highlighting clever designs. I saw this in 2D because of the high-frame rate 3D from The Hobbit I, was terrible, terrible, terrible. 

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly

Directed by: Peter Jackson, based on the book by JRR Tolkien

Rating: 2.5 stars: an improvement from the awful first installment. Still suffers from the absence of dramatic structure and a blah empty ending. Recommended for Tolkien fans -- non-fans should stay away. 

More: Why is there so much fighting in Tolkien? He was in the army in both World Wars, and most of his WWI unit died. Maybe his fantasy is escapist, but this fantasy is much bloodier than modern fantasy.