Blog Archives

Saving Mr. Banks

Despite being one of my favorite childhood movies, there was a lot I didn’t know about Mary Poppins. For instance, it took over 20 years to convince author P.L. Travers to sell the rights – I had no idea! Fortunately, I read a bit about Travers and Poppins before seeing this saccharine er, “treat.” For my sake, let’s pretend that this wasn’t based on the true story of author P.L. Travers, because from what I’ve read about the real lady, a lot of stuff in the movie didn’t happen. Though admittedly, there are some applaudable attempts at homages – Travers not walking out of the premiere but still crying about the animation, for example. Other bits, such as the nanny and Ralph (Paul Giamatti) – though sweeter than a sugar-coated cotton candy teddy bear – appear to be entirely fictional. This aside, let’s get to the real nitty gritty of Saving Mr. Banks.

This photo epitomizes these characters perfectly.

This photo epitomizes these characters perfectly.

When we meet Travers (Emma Thompson), she is pondering about how cherry blossoms look like clams on sticks – a shining light that there’s still some whimsy in this crone. This light is immediately snuffed by scowls and furrowed brows as soon as we learn she is off to Los Angeles to discuss the film rights for the adaptation of Mary Poppins with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself, who she is certain will turn her beloved nanny into an animated clown.

In fact, the only evidence we have of her ever experiencing happiness is by means of flashbacks – days of old in Queensland, spending time with her father (Colin Farrell). As these memories reemerge, they grow increasingly darker, and thus we learn why she desires complete control over this project – yearning for redemption for her father as well as herself in the process of immortalizing his memory. So it would seem, anyway.

Despite having such a talented ensemble, everyone seems like they’re trying too hard, maybe with the exception of Colin Farrell. As well as Schwartzman and Novak – I’d watch a movie on the Sherman Bros. Hanks and Giamatti milk that eye-twinkle for all its worth, while Thompson acts like a child who refuses to smile at a joke. Perhaps if she wasn’t so rigid from the get-go, we could get a better grasp at the fact that she’s a human being, not a horrible snow queen with a heart of gold. (Didn’t they just make that movie?)

Sorry to get back to the biographical falsehood, but shame on them for being too busy making Travers a curmudgeon instead of acknowledging that from her childhood spurred a life of many other stories as well as relationships, including an adoption – wait a second, Disney hasn’t featured an LGBT character yet, have they? Of course, I’m sure if they had incorporated that aspect of Travers’ life, there’d be controversy over the fact that not only was this character terribly one-dimensional, but they also had to make the bisexual as cold and bitter toward’s a famously benign man’s advancements as possible. Alas, this is Disney making a Disney movie about Disney and the importance of remembering the good parts of childhood and the power of nostalgia.

*Sniff*  ...I guess I better give Dad a call...

*Sniff*
…I guess I better give Dad a call…

Wouldn’t you know it, somehow this film still manages to tug at your heartstrings, just a little bit. That’s probably because it hits you with every sentimental sucker-punch imaginable: loved Mary Poppins or even some of the songs? BAM Childhood far from perfect? POW Have you grown old and nostalgic? BIFF Are there things left unsaid to your family? KABLAM Mix that with a Sherman-fueled Thomas Newman score and some lovely camerawork and you have yourself a rather uninspired sapfest.

Final Grade: C+

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Dallas Buyers Club

Much like his predecessors Bale and Fassbender, the transformation is impressive.

Much like his predecessors Bale and Fassbender, the transformation is impressive.

Within the first minute of Dallas Buyers Club, we learn everything we need to know about Ron Woodroof (McConaughey)- he’s a womanizing, rodeo loving, gay-bashing, machismo hustler son of a bitch. And thanks to casual referential conversation, we also know right away that AIDs has only recently made its way into social consciousness as an epidemic- and that it’s a disease only for dem queerosexuals.

Wouldn’t you know it, not to long after learning about AIDs, Ron finds out he’s HIV-positive after a routine blood test. Faced with only 30 days to live Ron fights his way through drug trials and decides to take matters into his own hands, fighting Big Pharma and the FDA for his and others’ right to live, thus beginning the Dallas Buyers Club.

Based on a true story of tenacity and survival, I think one of the key focuses of this film is transformation. This is an account of a man who went from being a simple hustler to someone who challenged an untouchable industry. Was he still a hustler? Well, yes, but he was still trying to help people. In the process, he eventually changed his homophobic ways (slowly and unceremoniously) and  befriended a lovely trans-lady named Raylon (Leto). Of course, this isn’t really a Cinderella story or anything – there’s plenty of heartbreak and ostracism met along the way, all thanks to good ol’ fashioned ignorance, prejudice and human flaws.

Willem would be proud.

Willem would be proud.

There’s been a lot of buzz around McConaughey and Leto’s performances – for instance, #Oscar4JaredLeto is doing its damnedest to trend right now. However, like those doctors who need more “Likes” to cure a dying child, I really don’t think the Academy cares about hashtags, but whatever, good luck with that.

Anywhoo, I think it’s fair to say that the buzz is kind of worth it. Personally, I’ve really been digging Matthew McConaughey’s performances lately, and he does not fail to satisfy in this role. Additionally, I would have loved to see more of Raylon’s side of things and have her be less of a punching bag – alas, this was not her story.

To sum things up, Dallas Buyers Club is a great story of vulnerability, ferocity, and ultimately triumph. The performances are worth the viewing alone – considering they carry the whole movie – even if the villains are dreadfully callous and one-sided. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

Final Grade: B+

WYSHW: Howl

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It's a good time.

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It’s a good time.

When I made an allusion to Ginsberg in last week’s What You Should Have Watched, sadly, I was not referring to the much-anticipated Kill Your Darlings – you see, while James Franco was busy running around doing everything, he did a spectacular little film that didn’t receive much hype, despite its crucial subject matter. This film is simply entitled Howl, and it dives into the epic poem‘s genesis as well as its controversy, which helped shape a revolution in the history of art and publication.

Essentially, there really isn’t much more to it then that. We’re given the 1957 obscenity trial, with Franco as Ginsberg weaving his poem throughout the trial – the crux of each phrase then punctuated by breathtaking animation. The best part is, the rest is history.

It’s one thing to be a fan of Ginsberg before going into this, but I personally think that the subject matter is so strong that anyone who appreciates the power of art, literature and creative liberty will truly admire the message of the film.  The beauty is in the film’s simplicity: this was an action that sparked a generation, delivered with a delicate balance of poignancy and reserve. Check. It. Out.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk a little more about one of Ginsberg’s best buddies – all six of them.

WYSHW: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I told you I wasn't doing Brick.

I told you I wasn’t doing Brick.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (okay, let’s just go with KKBB) is such an odd little film that really not enough people have seen.  I don’t know why – it’s funny, there’s some action and deadgirl nudey bits… maybe it’s just too weird.

Alright…where to begin… It’s the story of Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), a criminal-turned-actor-on-the-fly who shadows real life private investigator “Gay” Perry van Shrike (pre-whale Val Kilmer) for a supposed role, eventually running into a real-life murder case with plenty of twists and turns – and I can’t emphasize “twists” enough.  Stuff gets pretty messed up, but I’m sure you’ve seen weirder.

As you can tell, this story is crazy-layered, just like the film noirs of old.  What’s great about this film is that they took the film noir motif and modernized it just enough to make this film fun and unique.

Oddly enough, Downey’s not the guy who steals the scenes – Kilmer takes his character and runs with it, producing some great one-liners on the way.

A Boondock Saints joke would be too easy.

A Boondock Saints joke would be too easy.

I know it’s lame of me not to disclose more detail, but KKBB is really a movie that you need to experience.  Watch for the dark and cheeky film noir lens, stay for the Downey/Kilmer bromance.

For my next What You Should Have Watched… hmm… I’m feeling saucy.  Let’s show Martin McDonagh some love.

WYSHW: Breakfast on Pluto

“Sugar Baby Love” is now saturated into my brain.

I feel this is an underrated film.  Sure, Cillian Murphy received a Golden Globe nom, but there wasn’t much chatter after its release (and really no one pays that much attention to the Golden Globes).  Based on the book by Patrick McCabe, Breakfast on Pluto is the story of Patrick “Kitten” Braden, a foundling in search of her mother in 1960’s Ireland.  Kitten’s journey takes him from a strict Catholic upbringing to getting involved in The Troubles.

Just Kitten’s journey alone is worth the watch.  The film is divided into short chapters about her life, stemming from her childhood in Tyrellin to her journey to London and back again.  She runs away from home after writing an erotic story of her conception involving the local priest, hooks up with a singer in a glam rock band, becomes a prostitute, works in a fantasy park, becomes a magician’s assistant, gets arrested under IRA suspicion, works in a peep show, and then moves back home to aid her pregnant friend.  Whew that was one long sentence.

Forget finding herself – she figured that out a long time ago – this was all to find the woman who abandoned her, the Phantom Lady who was swallowed up by the City.

She just oozes with fabulousness.

What made this film stick out in my mind the most was Kitten’s character.  Despite shunning from her family and community, she cannot deny who she is and keeps her head up through every situation.  Even when brought in by the police after being caught up in an IRA bombing, she still presses on with a fantastic and enviable charm and whit, almost like an Oscar Wilde in heels (not that he didn’t on occasion but you know what I mean).

Breakfast on Pluto is a wonderfully unconventional film of love, loss and endurance.  The performances are spectacular, especially from Murphy and Liam Neeson.  And have I mentioned the music?  The soundtrack is fantastic – it’s a great mix of sixties/seventies rock pop that mirrors the film perfectly.  Just check it out.

Next time for What You Should Have Watched, another feel good chick flick that occurs in the course of a day.

 

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed

Like yeah, man.

Let’s move up a decade, shall we?  Last time on Don’t Quit Your Day Job, we looked at a retrospective portrayal of the 1950s…sort of.  So I thought it would be appropriate to move on up to the 1960s with Julie Taymor’s musical mystery tour, Across the Universe.

For anyone under a rock who has yet to see this movie, Across the Universe is a loose web-of-life love story set during the 1960s, narrated by means of Beatles songs.  I shouldn’t say narrated, I need a stronger word of great influence – everything is Beatles – even all of the characters have names based on songs.  So if you’re one of those few terrible people who hate The Beatles and still manage to exist, this is not the movie for you.

A circus lead by Eddie Izzard of course.

Now looking at this movie from an objective standpoint, it’s not very special: guy looking for himself finds girl, they fall in love, they fight, they lose each other, they reunite.  Also the lax hippie learns about life’s cruelties and the lesbian joins the circus.  Oh, and there’s confused Janis Joplin (really, Jack instead of SoCo?) in the mix who has a fling with Jimi Hendrix.  I think I covered everything.  It’s a good thing that I ignore objectivity, because this movie would probably kinda suck.

As cheesy as it is, I love this movie.  Because it doesn’t suck.  Then again, I also love The Beatles.  Though some may think that Across the Universe butchered some classic songs, I beg to differ.  All Julie Taymor did was put familiar songs in a different context – and in my opinion, it worked.  These songs have been transformed to create a different meaning, which doesn’t mean that the original feels have gone anywhere.  Just look at “Let it Be”:

True, they kept a heavy song heavy and making it a gospel only made it 1,000 times more heavy.  Now if you just heard it, one would probably think, “Woah, what the hell?  What did they do to ‘Let it Be’?”  But when you add the context of the film (especially with the Detroit riots, oh man) we get a much more powerful, tear-jerking moment.  And this is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Now here’s my personal favorite, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”:

This is a great example of transforming the song.  Totally different context, same words – it’s just different and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Additionally, in that great way that only musicals can do, through the song the character Max expresses his internal conflict and journey.

I like this look on Bono.

It also doesn’t hurt that this movie is just so darn good-looking.  Say what you want about Julie Taymor (okay, except anything about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, we don’t talk about that), but this lady knows what she’s doing visually (I know I’m gonna have to cover Titus sometime later on What You Should Have Watched).  Taymor made this film trippy, gritty and beautiful, providing an almost synesthetic experience.  Really, come for the music and stay for the substance.

There’s just so much going on in this movie, and the characters encompass nearly every element of the decade – it wasn’t all free love and rainbows, there was also wars and riots.  So though, like most period-based pieces, there were many romanticized aspects, the bad stuff wasn’t left out either – there was still some reality to this acid daydream.  Just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on, and explode.

WYSHW: Beginners

I’m honestly not a huge fan of love stories or chick flicks per say, mostly for the obvious reasons: they’re completely unbelievable and thus too easy to disassociate oneself from the characters.  Of course, there are some unique exceptions, and today I’m talking about the newest one I’ve seen.  That would be the 2010 Mike Mills dramady Beginners.

A well-deserved Oscar for Mr. Plummer.

Beginners paints a portrait of a graphic designer, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who is dealing with the death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who had revealed himself to be gay shortly after the death of his wife.  While recanting the unloving relationship between his parents, he meets an extraordinary young woman (Mélanie Laurent).  In a subtle snowball effect, Oliver learns the importance of happiness and what it means to love someone.

This shirt. This shirt needs to happen.

 

 

Now, in my last What You Should Have Watched, I stated that this would be a love story that everyone needs to see – I really wasn’t kidding.  It doesn’t matter if you’re single, taken, heartbroken, gay, straight, or one of the many in-betweens, Beginners is a love story unlike any other and worth your time and attention.  It combines the best and worst realities of life in a beautiful, honest way, while still being charming and lighthearted. The result is a story and message of hope and resilience and the importance of relationships – romantic or otherwise.

Yes, he can talk.

So I implore you, dear readers, please give this movie a gander – if not for me, do it for Arthur, the Jack Russel who loves you.  You won’t regret it.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a Canadian horror film that’s no show and all tell.

WYSHW: Colour Me Kubrick

What is that drink?

I love John Malkovich.  I love Stanley Kubrick.  I know I’m not the only one who has a great admiration for one or both of these incredible people. At the same time, I’m not totally surprised that people haven’t even heard of the 2006 comedy Colour Me Kubrick, in which Malkovich plays a man who spent years posing as Stanley Kubrick without even knowing anything about him.

Inspired by a true story, Colour Me Kubrick follows a man named Alan Conway, a flamboyant socialite who under a thin guise as Stanley Kubrick, exchanges money, drinks, dinner, getaways and sex for an opportunity to be in his latest project.  As insane as the premise sounds, it actually worked, like in real life.  Did you click the link?  Crazy, right?

“I shaved off my beard off.”

 

Colour Me Kubrick showcases one of Malkovich’s…quirkier performances, such as in Red or the more notably underrated  The Great Buck Howard.  As a result we are given a sympathetic but enjoyable character who you’re not sure if you love or hate.

Like I said, most of the film relies in the story, because it is that unbelievable – and liberties were taken but that doesn’t make it any less of a story.

What can also be appreciated are the Kubrick film references throughout the film, namely from A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Spartacus (as seen in the trailer).

…I’ve got nothing.

Colour Me Kubrick may not be the most deep or profound films out there, but it’s certainly different and worth checking out, even if it’s for the name-dropping.

Next time on WYSHW, I defend an art-house film about the power of story-telling.