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Recent Movies: Saving Mr. Banks; Prisoners; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

March 2, 2014

Recent Movies

Saving Mr. Banks

Based on a true story, this film takes place in two different time periods.  One is in the early 1960s when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is trying to convince P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to give his company the right to make a film based on her “Mary Poppins” books.  (We all know the outcome of that.)  The other time period is in the early 1900s in Australia and tells the story of Travers’ very difficult childhood.

This movie was more charming and moving than I expected.  It begins with a comical clash of British vs. American values.  It’s quite funny at times though Travers occasionally goes too far with her put-downs.

She is so obstinate that, if this were a fictional film, the final outcome might not be believable.  Indeed, some of the truth is stretched but not enough to harm the overall effect.

Some of the most moving scenes are those in the early time period.  As the family patriarch, Colin Farrell is very gripping as a man who wants to do well for his beloved family but has the hardest times with his demons of despair.  The flashbacks of these scenes make it easier to understand the difficult personality of the adult Travers.

Her character is also made more human due to the dependable brilliance of Emma Thompson.  When snarky, Thompson does what those great Brits do best:  deliver sharp-tongued wit quickly but comprehensively within perfectly structured sentences.  She is most moving, however, after recalling childhood moments (shown in flashbacks) while struggling to maintain her demands that the film stay true to her stories.  Her face could tell a full story without saying a word.

It’s not a surprise that Thompson is so great.  Her work in the 1990s (“Howards End”, “The Remains of the Day”, “In the Name of the Father”, “Sense and Sensibility” plus a hilarious appearance on the “Ellen” show) would be enough to place her in any hall of fame.  I also recall she was one of the few saving graces in the rather mediocre “Love, Actually” in 2003.  It’s great to see her in a part that showcases her best once again.

Hanks has a very fine monologue near the film’s end.  It summarizes what could be the film’s main theme:  sympathy to families whose sole breadwinners suffered in soul-destroying jobs.  This even came through in “Mary Poppins”.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

Outstanding Achievement:   Performance of Emma Thompson

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Prisoners

In a small Pennsylvania town, the lives of two neighbouring families are turned to chaos due to abduction.

Director Denis Villeneuve does a fine job in maintaining tension throughout this film.  He keeps the mood dark and bleak which is appropriate considering the material.  In the impressive cast, Hugh Jackman is a standout as a very intense and troubled man in a very difficult situation.

The best part of the story is one involving a shocking act by crime victims.  It causes the audience to question the morality of the act and genuinely see both sides of the issue.

The conclusion is fascinating but occasionally confusing with holes in the story.  Thankfully, the Wikipedia summary fills in the gaps that were hard to understand.  The fact that two characters acted like one-man rescue teams without considering asking for help also seemed over the top.  This was especially true in a scene involving a speedy car ride.

Despite the flaws, this was a gripping film whose effect is not easily forgotten.

Rating:   * * *

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The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire

This futuristic American science-fiction is the second in a quadrilogy.  In this segment, a young woman and man are considered heroes for having won a gladitorial battle in the first segment.  Their government tries to control them for their own purposes.

The first half is very intriguing.  It parallels past and modern societies whose people are controlled by tyrants.  Some scenes are frighteningly relevant: using celebrity/royal weddings to distract the populace from the real problems in their lives; and a very cheeky take-off on comptetive reality shows. 

The second half is a radical change from the first in a “Survivor”-like contest in a jungle.  Some of it is thrilling and adventurous but the later part has so many characters and incidents, it becomes hard to keep track.  Unfortunately, the directing by Francis Lawrence is not inspiring enough to maintain interest to justify the movie’s long length at two and a half hours. 

Rating:   * * 1/2

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