This movie awards season has been particularly controversial. Saving Mr. Banks is one of those films that, even with a generic, feel-good premise, has experienced controversy over the perceived accuracy of their characterization of Walt Disney, the late, major Hollywood player, and their portrayal of the historical events that led to the film Mary Poppins. In fairness to them, people involved in the film have been open about the liberties taken and the looseness of their interpretation of events, instead focusing on telling a particular type of story. Because of the beautiful way they achieved telling that story, I can overcome these historical inaccuracies (if they are so) and enjoy the movie as a whole. I feel like others should as well.
There are really two major things that Saving Mr. Banks has going for it. The first is the spot-on, heartwarming performances from its cast – from leads Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson (especially), to smaller characters like Paul Giamatti and Bradley Whitford. While compared to other Oscar-season films their roles may not be as meaty, they did really well with what they had and completely owned their parts.
The second thing it has going for it is that, while the actors embraced and owned their roles, the movie itself embraced and owned the heartwarming, nostalgic factor of the story. Many films would be saved by doing the same instead of trying to overcomplicate or overdramatize their stories. Instead, Mr. Banks is a highly self-aware and confident film – it knows what it wants to be and, thus, is able to do so in a fantastic fashion.
While some of the elements of the flashbacks (a huge part of the story) were clumsily handled, most of Saving Mr. Banks is well-plotted and well-shot. The sounds and imagery also added to the overall feel of the film.
What Saving Mr. Banks lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for in solid scriptwriting and great performances. It also provides interesting insight into the power dynamics in major filmmaking. Of equal importance, it is a movie that will evoke positive memories and emotions from its audience. It deserves to be taken on these terms. And, on these terms, Saving Mr. Banks is triumphant.
For all the talent that Naomi Watts possesses, it’s highly disappointing that she is in yet another clunker with this movie – the last movie I watched of hers, Adore, was the worst movie of 2013 for me. It’s early in the year yet for Diana, but I hope that this is the worst of this year as well because it was awfully painful to watch.
The first issue with Diana is that the script is unbelievably boring and composed of minute, non-cohesive snippets. While focusing on Diana’s affair with Hasnat Khan and her jump into a more visible humanitarian presence should be interesting, the script never feels like it comes together enough to seamlessly connect the two. What’s worse is that neither aspect is really well-plotted in the movie. At times, it was confusing, but mostly you just couldn’t muster up enough excitement to care.
As poor as the script was, the directing was equally as bad. It is impossible to understand how a film on one of the most interesting women in the past few decades could have such little verve and so few iconic scenes. I especially hated how the director handled the beginning of the movie because it just did not make sense, did not add anything to the movie and, in fact, made it look cheaper than it should be.
I wouldn’t say that the acting was horrible, but nobody in this film had anything good to work with, especially with some of the terrible lines they had to utter. Terrible lines also lent itself to terrible characterization. Diana came off as equally “besotted schoolgirl”, “passionate do-gooder” and “sort-of-psychotic partner”. In real life, she may have been all or none of these things, as all personalities are complex. But the transitions between these character traits need to be believable and need to be rooted in something. By not putting an effort into doing this, the film sadly maintains Diana as a caricature of a character, rather than humanizing her and telling her story the way they probably wanted to.
Everything about Diana felt like a high-school film project, with its laughably bad script, boring and sometimes unfathomable directing choices, stilted dialogue and acting, and very poor attempts at characterization. A fan or not of the late princess, you owe it to yourself to skip this one.
Halfway through Her, you are struck by both the sweetness and the sadness of its story. You find yourself both uncomfortable with the central relationship and quite eagerly rooting for the happiness of the characters. It is in the able dichotomies evident in Her, which by all accounts can be a simplistic story, that the film shows its mastery.
Importantly, even with the simplistic core of the story, Her manages to raise many interesting questions – much more so than many of the movies touted for the upcoming Oscar race. For myself, I found myself wondering mostly about what constitutes a relationship, romantic or not – with technology, yes, but even taking aspects of that relationship with other humans. I found myself wondering about the essence of knowledge and of being. And i found myself wondering about how interaction is defined- by myself and by society. All these questions cause Her to stay in your mind long after you leave the theatre.
For that, credit needs to be given to the brilliant mind of Spike Jonze, who both wrote and directed it. Credit also needs to be given to the perfect performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the understatedly great performance by Amy Adams and the risky voice work done by Scarlett Johansson, all of whom inject believability and empathy into the story.
Her is buoyed by one of the most interesting concepts in film this year tackled in a non-formulaic way. It is also visually stunning from its scenery to its costume choices. Everything seems well thought out. While at times the script veered into convenience, which lets down the movie a bit, Her manages as a whole to remain solidly and believably plotted. It is deserving of its awards buzz.