Saving Mr. Banks
If a movie studio OTHER than Disney was making a film about the making of “Mary Poppins,” I’d be interested. Considering we now know Walt Disney himself was something of a ruthless businessman underneath the charming exterior, his clash with author P.L. Travers over the rights to her classic children’s novel would make a fascinating case study of the methods Disney used to build his empire. However, there is perhaps no company on Earth more preoccupied with upholding its founder’s mythical image, and so it sure looks like we’re going to get a piece of sentimental self-congratulatory garbage based entirely on everyone’s fond memories of the Julie Andrews film.
That hardly means that awards season success is out of the picture for “Saving Mr. Banks.” Possibly just the opposite in fact. You might remember John Lee Hancock as the director of “The Blind Side,” the last bit of sentimental self-congratulatory garbage to inexplicably crack the Best Picture field. And Disney has assembled a fleet of likable actors for the ensemble, including Tom Hanks as Walt himself (Hanks is clearly enjoying himself immensely, but will he bring any of Disney’s darker shadings to the film at all?). Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzmann, B.J. Novak, Paul Giamatti – these are great actors who I’m sure will milk plenty of fun out of the endless “Mary Poppins” callbacks. But can’t we just go back and watch the original?
The Spectacular Now
I’m really kind of a sucker for adolescent coming-of-age stories: see my love for “Adventureland,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” etc. “The Spectacular Now” played very well at Sundance, where it won over even some critics who didn’t like those films I mentioned (or Neustadter and Weber’s previous twee effort, “(500) Days of Summer”). Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) and Miles Teller (“21 & Over,” “Project X”) in particular have been praised for giving authentic performances, and I can spot some talented ensemble players (Kyle Chandler, Bob Odenkirk) lurking around the edges of this trailer. I suppose it’s just the fact that these kinds of film are getting old hat in the American indie scene that has my anticipation somewhat muted, but it’ll be interesting to see if “The Spectacular Now” can distinguish itself.
Out of the Furnace
Scott Cooper’s taken his time in crafting his follow-up to “Crazy Heart,” which finally landed Jeff Bridges his first Best Actor win back in 2009. From what we see here, it looks like Cooper’s formal skills have accordingly taken a significant step forward: “Crazy Heart” was mostly notable for its performances, but there’s a “Winter’s Bone”-bleakness to every frame here that seems suitable for a rough-around-the-edges country justice genre film. As we saw in James Mangold’s “3:10 to Yuma” remake, Christian Bale makes an exceptionally good reluctant hero, and he’s got a great counterpart to work with here in Woody Harrelson (giving his bat-shit all, as he generally does). Plus, with this and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” rolling out this year, I’m thrilled to see Casey Affleck getting back on the board again.
The music playing at the end there is a re-recording by Pearl Jam of their early 90s hit “Release Me,” and frontman Eddie Vedder also contributed at least one more original song to the film. That might give the Academy a chance to redeem themselves after ignoring Vedder’s sterling work on “Into the Wild,” but since Pearl Jam has a new album dropping at some point this year, I’m sure the music branch will find some way to DQ the rock legend’s contributions.
Did I mention Sam Shepard? Sam Shepard.
I’m not really the right person to go to for Austen-fawning, but I’m sure this film will play gangbusters with the PBS crowd. While the blatantly recycled storyline looks eye-roll-inducing (is it really a tribute to Austen to just re-enact her narratives in a modern setting?), I do enjoy the bits here with Jennifer Coolidge (one of the gems of Christopher Guest’s acting troupe) and I’m glad for former “Flight of the Conchords” star and Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie to be getting some more attention.
Oldboy (red band, NSFW)
One of the most curious (and Internet-argument spurring) projects in recent years, Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s cult classic revenge thriller doesn’t seem to be taking a radically different approach from the original. Even much of the iconography is the same. Unlike some, I hardly thought Park’s film was an untouchable masterpiece – like pretty much all of the Korean director’s movies, it’s basically an exercise in excess style – but one does wonder what the point of a remake is if you don’t change a thing. Will Lee keep all of Park’s shocking (but empty) narrative flourishes? Or is this just an appropriate matchup with an American director who hasn’t done much of anything of substance since “25th Hour?”