Bring it to the Banks!

Saving Mr. Banks picture

 

It’s the most magical place in the world, it has provided tons of animated laughs, and it currently has made very wise investments in purchasing Marvel Studios and Lucas Entertainment.  Yes, it’s Disney and like so many companies it is currently shelling out more movies with each passing year.  With the successful animated feature of Frozen released just last month, you would think they had exhausted their movie reservoir, but oh is that a mistake.  This weekend, the latest project opened, one that traded in the battling beauties and talking snowman with a more serious cast and theme.  My review this time is on Saving Mr. Banks, a story that tells of Disney’s acquisition of one of the most beloved movies of all time Mary Poppins.

 

Hopefully most people recognize the name Mary Poppins, the nanny of magic that saved a family from becoming the next reality T.V. series.  Yet how many of you knew it was a book series?  I’ll admit I didn’t, nor did I know of the struggles or origins behind the musical cast that I love watching to this day.  Thus comes Saving Mr. Banks, here to shed some light on the subject, and as the trailer promoted a movie that looks to be entertaining as well.  What’s my call on it?  Read on to find out?

 

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, Saving Mr. Banks stars the dynamic duo of Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.  These two have been in the acting business for quite some time, and their experience once again shows in the roles they play.  Thompson in particular plays the role of the high maintenance, neurotic author P.L. Travers very well, often adding bite to her bark with her intense stare.  The politeness normally seen in some of her characters is pretty much gone, instead replaced with rudeness that when combined with her English accent gives a polite edge to her snide comments.  Yet, behind that demeanor, the audience gets to see the inner emotions and turmoil that are going through the author’s mind, adding more depth to an already complicated character.  The result of the great acting is a character that helps guide you through the fog of Poppins’ origins, and still provides plenty of opportunities for laughs, and further story.

 

As for Hanks, well the man’s ability to amaze me is still as strong as ever.  Not only in look, thanks to some well-done makeup, Hanks captures the friendly, energetic youth that commercials made Walt Disney famous for.  His politician  smile, along with his turn of phrase contains all the whit and coyness that I expected the great Disney to do.  Yet, Hanks charm also bleeds out and helps him not only schmooze Ms. Travers, as well as a few audience members, but also provides some laughs from the well-timed one-liners.  Of course, humor isn’t the only thing Walt has in this film, the background of Walt’s family, and some of his own morals that drove the man to his goals.  All of this is brilliantly executed as Hanks add just the right emotion when needed while not stepping over the overacting barrier.

 

Alone these two are great, but together they are even stronger.  The arguments over the movies provide plenty of laughs, and when mixed with other characters that are part of the Poppins team, this relationship opens up many interactions.  With such a blended and talented cast playing these roles, the result is a plethora of scenes and sequences that will have audience members laughing, or in some cases tearing up, as each piece of the puzzle, both backstory and source of movie ideas, falls into place.  Many of the relationships are more humorous than anything else, but there are plenty of times where the mood changes to a more serious tone that is sweet, moving, and sometimes frustrating.  Something else I love is that all of these characters got decent screen time, many having at least thirty minutes on the screen if not longer.  Thus, the casting department got their money’s worth in this film, and helped create some very memorable characters.

 

Perhaps the other part of this movie that I loved were the flashbacks that provided visual explanation of the events that motivated Travers’ life.  Sure the movie could have saved a lot of time with simple dialog explaining her history.  Instead Hancock and crew created scenes that elaborated the events that motivated Travers’ imagination.  The relationship between her father and her was in particular my favorite, as the bond between the two continued to change over the course of the movie, yet somehow remain constant at it’s core.  Like the modern day relationships, the father-daughter love was humorous, fun, while also moving as various plot twists began to occur.  While some of the memories could have been left out, or I should say edited to be a little shorter, all of these flashbacks were well timed, properly organized, and beautifully orchestrated to provide the emotional punch to drive home the story, with a soundtrack to help.

 

There are some weaknesses to this movie though, in particular is its predictability.  While it’s fun uncovering the truth behind the magic of Poppins, most fans should see some of the revelations coming hours away.  I won’t ruin anything for you, but just keep your ears and eyes open and you’ll make the connections.  The second thing that was a bit weak, was how annoying her attitude got.  Her rudeness in particular is meant to set up the barriers, but there are sometimes when that obstacle gets a little too annoying for my tastes.  I’m sure there were plenty of reasons to set this big of an obstacle, but for almost two hours, well I reach my limits.  Other than a few slow parts though, there isn’t much else I complain for a movie of this type.

 

Saving Mr. Banks is a beautifully crafted movie, with great acting, phenomenal editing and a story that will pull at your heartstrings.  Disney’s crew still knows how to make a good movie, and create a world to get totally immersed in.  So prepared to blast back into the past and enjoy the story of Mary Poppins creation, as I recommend checking this movie out, especially for those looking for a little enlightenment.  However those not wanting to tango on the sadder side of things might want to wait until after Christmas, just in case.  So what do I give this movie, check down below:

 

Biography/Comedy/Drama:  8-8.5

Movie Overall:  8

This Cast Won’t Hustle You Out Of Your Money!

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 Throughout life there are plenty of times where we have been cheated, conned into donating money, answering a questionnaire, or like the Rugrats getting tricked into doing things that are not approved.  Yet despite the negative consequences that come from being played, we all love to watch characters, both young and old, get fooled into doing something just for mere entertainment.  This introduction brings me to the second movie I reviewed today, one that centers on a team who cons people for a living only to get pulled into something bigger.  My second review is on American Hustle, the newest Crime/Drama to storm the silver screen.

 

When you see the trailers for this movie, most of you will probably focus on the all-star cast.  Christian Bale leads the cast as Irving Rosenfield, trading his utility belt and state of the art suit for a bad comb over and a beer belly.  Costume transition aside, Bale does an amazing job again, channeling the spirit of the conman in all his actions, mannerisms, and voice, which wasn’t the gruff batman voice that fooled all of Gotham.  Bale’s character is clever, suave, and smart integrating all the pieces of his stories, and planning his next moves to accomplish his goals of scamming.  Yet, despite his devilish side, Bale also has a more vulnerable side as well, weaknesses that anyone will exploit to manipulate him.  Irving is a balanced character, and well developed to drive the story and the suspense.

The leading lady Amy Adams is our next star, and the beautiful redhead adds another successful role to her belt as Sydney.  Sydney is like the Bella of American Hustle, just with more emotion, action, and pretty much likeability.  Sydney’s quite a con artist herself, but her backstory explains a little more as to why she cheats the public.  One thing that surprised me though, was Adams’ provocative side comes out not only in action, but in costume as well, can we add her to the list of We Saw Your Boobs?” Yet Adams’ character, like most in the movie, eventually gets pathetic to me. Caught so far in their lies and emotions that they soon became as indecisive as the awkward girl from Forks who can’t decide between werewolf and vampire.  At one point it’s endearing and adds another level, but two hours and fifteen minutes of it got annoying.

 

Acting as the rival to Irving is Richie (Bradley Cooper), the federal agent who has the motivation to go the distance and bust crime, just like a certain caped crusader.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Despite the lack of gadgets, Richie is pretty good at sniffing out crime, and catching Irving and Sydney in the act thus leading to the story.  Cooper, despite looking like a Brady Bunch reject, fit well into the part of an eager, justice filled cop.  Coopers blue eyes that continue to swoon the ladies, mirrors his hope, and continues to portray his emotions.  Although a bit overzealous with the yelling, and cursing as well, Cooper does a good job with his character and manages to transition through Richie’s emotions without much difficulty.  Love, obsession, cockiness, and many other human characteristics are all wrapped in this package, and provide a counter balance to Irving’s cool demeanor.

 

Of course the current uprising star Jennifer Lawrence is also high on many of my friend’s lists.  Lawrence plays a different game in this movie, trading in firing arrows and dodging traps, for passive aggressive schmoozing and alcohol infused rants.  While not as iconic as her other roles, Lawrence still pulls out all the stops to bring the pathetic concubine to life, and still maintaining that strong will all her characters have.  Yet for me, I wasn’t a big fan of this character as I was her others.

 

While the acting was definitely one of the biggest strengths of the movie, there are plenty of other qualities that made this movie shine.  For one thing the integration of all these characters, along with a plethora of others, was well done, keeping everyone in the grand picture without forcing them in some out of context manner.  All characters had some integral part, whether it is in opposition to the plan, a thorn in the romantic side, or a pawn in Irving’s clever game of lies as they went for the goal.  Each of the characters, including most of the extras, evolves as the film progresses, never straying too far from their initial motives, but still getting a few blows to their lives.

 

Speaking of the goal, another big strength was the goal was always changing.  At first it’s nothing more than Irving and Sydney just making a living, each scam another step to having a successful life  About thirty minutes into the film though, that goal sets down another path that soon diverges into many tales.  These subplots are not just focused on the grand scheme of the ultimate con, but instead focuses on the different aspects of each character, all tied to the art of scamming.  Love, family, friendship, and pride are all thrown into the fray, as each relationship forms faces the test of loyalty as desires, lusts, and greed interfere.  Each of these transitions acts as a checkpoint, merely a threshold for them to cross into another level that until then was buried or absent.  What does this mean for the audience?  In my opinion dynamic characters whose outcomes are up in the air, leading to suspense, mystery, and a guessing game to keep one into the movie.  The ever-changing plot keeps you guessing, thus for me wondering where they are going next and what will happen to the characters we latch on to.  If you’re like me, then you’ll be feeling mixed emotions for the characters at each stage, bringing out your own emotions and captivating you into the movie.

 

For all the good though there are plenty of weaknesses for me in this movie.  The biggest is the length/pace of the movie, which is deadly slow at points that you just want to take a nap.  While the plot is incredibly detailed, intertwined, and developed, it is a two hour long movie, and for me that needs some fast points to drive us to the end.  American Hustle lacks that fast pace, lacking any chase scenes, hide and seek, and gun play.  All threatening and a few punches are all the action you’ll get in this film, so don’t expect much there.  A dialog filled with the F bomb is something else I don’t particularly like or respect.  Though this is not the worse use of the F word, it still a little too freely used, as if that is the only word in the movie dictionary.  Perhaps the last weakness for me is how annoying some of the characters become.  Realistic as it may be, some of the characters obsession become annoying, their pathetic desires turning the strong into fragile messes.  Yes it is to show how the mighty can fall, but don’t drag it out as long as they did before a solution arises.  There are other things to comment on, but we are running out of space so let’s wrap this up.

 

American Hustle is a great story, with characters you can latch on to and meld into your lives.  An unpredictable story, and dynamic characters are meshed together to create a world that is believable, and drama filled for all who relish in the genre.  Yet the slow pace of this film and the pathetic romantic ploys get old for me and put me to sleep.  Those looking for a good plot movie, and some fantastic characters should pay a visit to your nearest theater.  Warning to you though, don’t take those who complain about stupid decisions, or children as there are some very pathetic and graphic displays.  Wrapping all this together here are my scores:

 

Crime/Drama:  9.0

 

Movie Overall: 8.0

Anchorman 2: The Legend Stays Pretty Much The Same

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 As the Holidays roll around, the 2013 movie regime starts winding down. Hi, Robbie K here back with another review as we kick off the last three weeks of the year with a comedy.  Now I’m a little late as this film snuck up on me with a Wednesday release date, but nevertheless I have returned to the theater trenches to bring you the latest in Will Ferrell’s “unique” brand of comedy.  That’s right this review is on Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

 

When the trailers premiered a year ago, I can’t say I was too thrilled about a sequel to a comedy that was already a bit of a stretch for my tastes.  Nevertheless I went into the movie as unbiased as possible to give this movie a fair review.  So what are my thoughts on it you ask?  They start with the fact that this movie is plain, stupid, laughs much like its predecessor.  Anchorman 2 starts out with the cheesy announcer showing an out of left field shot of Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and a shark, only to state that they had jumped the gun and needed to rewind the “plot”.

 

Already sounding funny/stupid, it’s just getting started; for Anchorman 2’s cheesy laughs and awkward comedy come flooding in from the get go.  While much of the humor was either stale or cheap for me, fans of the original will have no problem enjoying the unfiltered rants of Burgundy and crew.  Ferrell still plays a huge tool, acting idiotically and speaking ridiculous, often racist, things that would in this day and age result in some being shot, beaten to a pulp, or at the least sued.  Of course in Anchorman’s world, the rest of the public are idiots, feeding the newscast egos and providing more fuel for the fire for a continued loop of well… stupidity.

 

Despite how old the comedy was for me though, there were a few lines that had me laughing.  Ferrell’s over enunciation of just about every line was ridiculous, but a few well-timed phrases kept things interesting.  The Champ (David Koechner) had a few whammies as well, but for the most part didn’t have as much of a role as I thought he would.  Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) still has an obsession with the female parts, using some very unique and colorful ways to describe his fetish.  Rudd’s delivery is sound, and his acting still impresses me as he changes from a goofy sexist pig, into a moral driven friend that cares about something else.  Finally there is Brick (Steve Carell), who was pretty much the saving grace for me in this movie.  Carell has stepped right back into the childlike enigma that is Brick, spouting out random interests, and overreacting to situational misunderstandings.  While I didn’t enjoy the screaming, mostly due to the trailers showing the same scene over again, Brick’s character made me laugh every time.  Although they tried to make a female counterpart to complete him and provide extra comedy (Kristen Wiig), I wasn’t impressed with her lines, though Wiig does a great job in whatever role she plays.

 

While the humor wasn’t as funny this time around, I did enjoy the transition of the decades in this installment.  The 70’s are over and on come the 80’s and as many of us know, there were lots of new worlds to explore.  Anchorman 2, not only reintroduces, or introduces for the younger audience members, to the world of 80’s, but also integrated the newscast humor within this world. It kept the jokes tethered to a central point, and organized the humor to allow for better timing and more relevance to the humor.  While not the hardest world to recreate, the set design was nicely retrograded with classic automobiles and outfits filling the screen in all their “glory”.  Hard wood floors, big screen plasma T.V.s and laptops were replaced with their eighties counterparts, and even the new studios had that nostalgic appearance that shows on Nick at Nite made famous.  Regardless all of the 80’s themes do come together in one of the more humorous (and ridiculous) scenes of the movie that not only brings an interesting twist, but also recruits a cascade of celebrities that are wickedly popular.

 

The transition though was not just for humor; as to my surprise Anchorman 2 actually had a story.   You might be saying, the last one did Robbie, so why were you surprised.  Well that’s because the last story was only a device that drove Ron to more situations to be a tool.  This story though is more character driven, having Ron face many challenges that will put his character, and for that matter his friendships to the test.  While many seeing this movie really don’t care about a story, I enjoyed these struggles because with a character as epic as Ron, a little struggle can bring out the greatest potential.  For those who don’t care though, well the tests provide plenty of opportune moments for his humor, which to sound like a broken record is still the same.

 

To sum this review up, Anchorman 2 is an extension of the humor for one of Ferrell’s biggest successes.  If you enjoyed the humor back then, you will probably enjoy it now and this movie has plenty of laughs to offer.  Yet, the comedy is still unchanging, the character development improved but still ridiculous and shallow, and the rest of the movie is mediocre fun.  So with all the movies coming out this year I can’t say this is my number one recommendation, but if you want some easy laughs with some friends, or want to here a good soundtrack check it out.  My scores for Anchorman 2 are:

 

Comedy: 6.5-7.0

 

Movie Overall: 6.0

The Deslowation of Smaug, an adventure further to ERabos

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With the conclusion of finals week and the end to a tough semester, I’m up again to review the blockbuster pictures that are flying in for the holiday season.  This weekend, the legendary quest to take back the lonely mountain of Erabor continues as 13 dwarves, or little people as some prefer, one hobbit, and a legendary wizard continue to trek the unforgiving grounds of Middle Earth.  Although a little later then intended, my review is on The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson’s latest installment.  The trailers that were released months ago, painted great promise for this chapter, with the potential for action and excitement hiding behind every corner.  Yet as I’ve said before, the creators of trailers are masters at their trade, and good editing can greatly escalate a movie’s potential.  Was it worth the hype?  Read on to find out.

 

One of the biggest complaints for the Hobbit was the slow start at the beginning of the book/movie that seemed to bore many of my fellow moviegoers to a level of annoyance.  Well we’re in luck friends, this time the slowness is a fraction of the time… at least at the beginning.  After a flashback that seems rather pointless, despite a possible foreshadowing of a Peter Jackson twist, the film picks up in the heart of the mountains as our company is being pursued by the great white orc.  The chase helps get the momentum going, pushing the film to give just enough details to get a big picture, without putting you to sleep.

 

Despite the linearity of the Hobbit story though, Jackson decides to once again take creative liberties and turn one simple plot line into three, each focusing on a particular part of the company.  The main quest of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) is the main storyline that has the most sustenance and “follows” closest to the original plot.  Gandalf’s tale was greatly enhanced from the book, taking what little detail Tolkien mentioned of his quest and running with it to make an emotional, yet predictable tangent that provided some dwarf relief.  As for the third tale, well it provides a relationship/drama plot line for those looking for more love and less violence, well sort of.

 

Of the three the main quest is my favorite, as Jackson’s team managed to expand on the immense detail crammed into the novel and intertwine it with plenty of things like action, character development, and story.  For action audience will get a blend of dwarves running from CGI creatures, fighting of orcs using well timed throws and stabs, and for the most part watching Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) firing an infinite supply of arrows and slitting throats of various creatures.  Many of these scenes are fantastically done to provide a balanced piece that keeps people on their toes, and drives the plot without overdoing it, well for the most part at least.  While the elves mainly slay the orcs, the dwarves do have some moves of their own, many of which are humorous accidents, and use their wits to tackle their challenges.  All of the action is fun, and well matched with an incredible soundtrack that adds that little extra edge.  Yet like his running time, Jackson still lets his imagination run loose sometimes.  Some of the action carries on a little too much, especially near the end, where the movie has dragged on for so long you are ready for it to just finish so you can go home, or in some cases go to the bathroom.  I love action don’t get me wrong, but when you have as big a project as this, sometimes you need to edit for the theater and save the creative licensing for the director’s cut.

 

Speaking of creative licensing, Jackson has gone to extreme ends to alter the story to add in the blonde elf that made the girls swoon back in the day.  Bloom comes back in his quiet glory, somehow keeping his hair perfectly straight despite the grueling combat he finds himself in.  Ladies, including some of my friends, were happy to have the eye candy, while guys will enjoy the limitless skill the former pirate shows off, perhaps even picturing him or herself firing the arrow.  Story wise it’s a stretch, but Jackson didn’t do a bad job getting Legolas back into the films, even if it was just to go on a glorified hunting trip to impress a certain female.  Depending on how much of a purist you are though, the introduction of Legolas could send you foaming at the mouth for the blasphemy that Jackson beseeched on the holy works of Tolkien.

 

If Legolas wasn’t enough, then perhaps his female counterpart Tauriel will entertain you instead.  Jackson’s movie specific character is the complete package with beauty, bite, and magic all wrapped in one pretty presentation.  Lilly has settled well into the world of Middle Earth, and portrayed the servant class warrior elf with poise, yet show off her warrior vigor without screaming like an animal going into the kill.  Yet the red headed huntress was not just a warrior, but also in love as well.  While the circumstances are odd, Jackson’s approach at the love triangle was not that bad, and Lilly performed beautifully; perhaps a few other actresses should take note for how to show the proper emotion of love instead of the two extremes.  I latched on to Tauriel for all of these reasons, and wished that there could be more adventures to put her into, but Jackson can only go so far with his creativity before it comes crashing down.

 

So I’ve brought up a lot of good points, but let’s use this paragraph to sum up some of the big weaknesses in this movie.  The first is the slowness this movie has to it. While a much better opening than the first, Desolation of Smaug hits plenty of slow parts, especially near the end where the long running time and lack of drive combine to make it seem as time is standing still.  This is most likely do to the second option of Jackson letting his imagination go a little too far for a movie.  Much of the extra details were very good at helping develop the story, but was it necessary?  My opinion no, it could have been left for the director’s cut and we could have cut out about an extra 20-30 minutes.  Yet for those who are all about plot and character development, you might not be too upset with his additions, while again those who are purists will be ready to shoot them down.  Other than a few CGI overuses, and a few boring parts, the movie was still pretty entertaining, though not meant to be seen late at night.

 

Desolation of Smaug is a fun addition to Jackson’s film giants, but for me not worth the hype.  Yet I do encourage people to see it at some point if you are a fan of the series or want to indulge in something new, after all it is still much shorter than the Lord of the Rings films.

 

Here are my scores:

Adventure/Drama/Fantasy:  8.5

Movie Overall: 8.0

 

So until the next movie, this is Robbie K signing off, and wishing that all your days have a defining ending and not a cliffhanger ;).