Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks (From What? I Couldn’t Tell You)

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I understand the holiday season is all about being thankful for your family & friends and giving to others, butttttttttttttttttttttttttt….what if instead of buying people Christmas gifts, I just spend that money on seeing all the potentially awesome movies that have recently come out or are coming out before the end of the month? Would that be OK? What if I spend the money on the movies but illegally video tape those movies and give copies of them to people as Christmas gifts?

Here’s the incomplete list, in no particular order, of movies that are being released in December that I’m interested in:

  • Out Of The Furnace
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • American Hustle
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • Her
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Lone Survivor
  • Grudge Match

Just kidding on that last one. I don’t need to see a fake boxing match between two guys whose combined age is 137.

Of course I won’t be able to see all these new movies while they’re in the theater, but the ones I do see I’ll be certain to review so none of you readers accidentally see something terrible during this time of joy. You can bet your bottom dollar (who says that still?) that Anchorman and American Hustle reviews will be coming soon.

And that brings me to today’s review.

It’s tough to fairly rank Saving Mr. Banks because the memory of seeing that movie last weekend comes with the memory of my girlfriend and I having to walk three miles from the theater to our apartment at 12:30a.m. after the movie ended (that’s what happens when the theater is in an area with not a lot of foot traffic after midnight, your phone dies, and the buses are all shut down for the night).

Let me back up for a second because maybe some of you haven’t heard of this movie. It’s the story of the lengthy battle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins to get that diabetes-promoting nanny (spoonful of sugar? really?) onto the big screen. Wikipedia calls it a “historical comedy-drama” and doesn’t ever mention the movie being based on true events. I’m thinking the movie dramatizes the actual struggle between these main characters enough that they couldn’t market it as “the true story behind how Mary Poppins became a classic movie.”

The most basic way to describe the plot of the movie is this: An angry Australian woman who wrote the book Mary Poppins is playing hardball with Walt Disney as he bends over backwards to buy the rights from her. We see flashbacks to her childhood that show how she had to deal with an alcoholic father and a mother who tried to commit suicide. But we still dislike the adult version of this person because it makes no sense that her tough childhood would cause her to be such an asshole about this transaction. But then the screenwriter and musical composers of the film sing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” in front of this woman and she suddenly gets up and dances and all ends well….or, more appropriately for a Disney movie, “they all lived happily ever after.”

The movie had many entertaining moments, most of them coming from the hilarious trio that comprised the aforementioned screenwriter and the composer brothers. But my biggest issue leaving the theater was that I would rather have watched the actual movie Mary Poppins than the only-somewhat-interesting backstory of how Walt Disney finally got his hands on that property.

You should see this movie if: You are a huge Disney fan (the person, Walt, or the company); Mary Poppins is one of your favorite movies of all-time; You are so obsessed with Mary Poppins that you’ll sit through a two-hour movie just to hear a couple of the songs from the original movie; you think any movie with Tom Hanks is worth seeing (exactly what drew me to this movie); you like unlikeable main characters.

You should not see this movie if: Slow-moving plots are not your thing; You need lots of action, drama or comedy in your movies; You hated Mary Poppins; You hate Disney (the person or the company); You hate Tom Hanks; You’re scared of kites and/or pears.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give Saving Mr. Banks a 5.5 out of 10. The novelty of it being a sorta behind-the-scenes of the making of Mary Poppins was the only thing that made it interesting…and that carried the movie all the way to slightly above average.

It’s not entirely worthless, but in this holiday season of other awesome movies and other non-movie-watching priorities, I wouldn’t suggest rushing out to the theater to see it. And if you do see it and don’t have “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” in your head for the next 72 hours, then I’m extremely jealous of you.

Movie Review: Captain Phillips (Come For Tom Hanks, Stay For The Pirates)

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At the beginning of Captain Phillips we see Tom Hanks (playing the role of Captain Richard Phillips) preparing for a job assignment that will take him across oceans to the other side of the world. We know that his job is to deliver packages, and we see that he’s leaving his loved ones as his wife drives him to the airport. We also have a pretty strong suspicion that this won’t be an ordinary trip for him.

And as soon as we process all of that information we think, “Wait a sec, I’ve seen this exact movie before. It’s called Castaway. Why are they re-showing Castaway under the guise of a new movie? And how quickly do I have to sprint to the ticket window to get a refund?”

But not to worry, fellow moviegoer, because this is nothing like Castaway. In this movie Tom Hanks isn’t accompanied across the ocean by a benevolent, inanimate volleyball, but rather four Somalian pirates hellbent on cashing in on a big payday.

Captain Phillips is an action/thriller based on true events that occurred off the Somalian coast in April 2009. If you remember that time period, it seemed like we were constantly hearing news about American ships getting attacked by Somalian pirates. This movie focuses on the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship captained by Phillips that was bringing to Africa, among other items, water and food supplies to the 3rd world countries.

As alert to the pirating in that part of the world as Phillips and his crew were, their security and escape tactics fail at the worst possible time when four armed Somalians chase down their ship and ultimately board it. At that point it’s a virtual stalemate between Phillips and his captors. The Somalians control things in one sense because they have guns pointed at Phillips and his crew. But they need help and cooperation from that very crew because they don’t know anything about the super-sized ship they just boarded.

The cat and mouse game escalates from the ship to a lifeboat, and Phillips finds himself in the middle of it all as he becomes the asset the pirates are looking to trade in exchange for millions of dollars.

Hanks’ performance was solid, and I’m sure it’ll generate plenty of Oscar buzz, but I walked out of the theater even more impressed by the actors who played the four pirates. And when I learned that none of them had ever really acted before, I was floored. My hunch is that when you see the movie, you’ll agree with me that the actor who plays the leader of this group steals the show and might find himself with some Supporting Actor nominations during awards season.

What the movie does really well is establish the desperate motivation for these pirates’ actions early on. Even though what they’re doing is wrong, you understand exactly how it could come to this.

I also appreciate that the people making this movie fought off every urge to turn the main character into an action hero or superhero. It would have been so easy to fall back on the tried and true Hollywood template of “main character singlehandedly saves the day by vanquishing the bad guys with borderline superhero powers.” They showed restraint and kept Phillips grounded in reality the whole time.

You should see this movie if: You love nonstop tension/suspense enough that you have no problem literally being on the edge of your seat and white knuckling it for nearly two hours. You enjoy Tom Hanks as much as I do, and you’ll basically see any movie starring him. You want to see some unexpectedly great acting performances from some first time actors. You enjoy “based on a true story” movies.

You should not see this movie if: Holding your breath and having your heart constantly pounding are not physical reactions you enjoy experiencing from movies. You hate Tom Hanks. You had a family member actually involved in a pirating situation and don’t want to relive those awful stories or memories. Thrillers are not your cup of tea. You only care for movies that have a big love story and/or lots of humor. Your fear of claustrophobic spaces is so intense that even seeing something like that in a movie will cause you to hyperventilate. You are a jerk who doesn’t like good movies.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give it a 7.5 out of 10.

So if you’re deciding on a movie to see in the theater this weekend, I’d still give the slightest edge to Gravity over Captain Phillips. But that’s purely because Gravity is a movie you must see on a big screen, preferably in 3-D. That being said, Captain Phillips has the better story.