It seems that biographical films are often more dramatic and heavy than they are light-hearted and fun, and even rarer are they both at the same time, but Saving Mr. Banks manages to pull it off quite well without seeming forced or bipolar.
Saving Mr. Banks is the true story of the making of the Disney film Mary Poppins and the reluctance of the author of the books it is based on, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), to relinquish the film rights to her characters. When she visits Los Angeles to meet with the film’s creative team and with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks), heads clash as the fight to keep the heart of her story and her characters become flashbacks for Travers, revealing the events of her childhood that inspired her beloved Mary Poppins.
The obvious star of this movie is Emma Thompson as the stubborn P. L. Travers, whose money is disappearing and desperately needs for this film to be made in order to help her out financially. Unfortunately, she refuses even the slightest deviations from the way she had the story and characters composed in her head, and Thompson’s portrayal does a fantastic job of making the character both frustrating and, in the right moments, comedic. The character’s quirky way of dealing with various people and circumstances, such as the surprise of the endless Disney stuffed animals waiting for her in her hotel room, are often hysterical, but her moments of grief in response to various flashbacks to her father (Colin Farrell) are even more heartbreaking…in a good way. Farrell’s performance is the other highlight of the film, with his role as her father, Travers Goff, bringing even more joy and more heartbreak. There is a juxtaposition of a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunk within the character, which Farrell does an outstanding job of portraying.
Tom Hanks does a pretty good job as well, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching Tom Hanks pretending to be Walt Disney rather than simply watching Walt Disney himself, probably through no fault of his own. I was impressed by the tiny details he got right, such as the tell-tale cough that hinted at the lung cancer that would lead to his death less than three years after the premiere of the film in 1964, but the fact that it was Hanks playing Disney just couldn’t get out of my head. Perhaps this is because he doesn’t look much like Disney, whose face I’m quite familiar with, which, as I said, isn’t his fault. Really, this is a minor complaint that doesn’t detract from the film – just a slight disappointment. Another petty disappointment was with the portrayal of the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B. J. Novak), the duo responsible for some of the most classic Disney songs of all-time, including but not limited to “it’s a small world (after all),” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (which I proudly just typed correctly without help), and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” Aside from the fact that I thought that they could have hired better singers, I think part of my slight disdain for B. J. Novak, whose character in NBC’s The Office television series I dislike quite a bit. (Told you it was petty.) Again, though, this doesn’t really make me enjoy the film any less because, aside from the excellent performances of Thompson and Ferrell, we are treated with great performances from Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, and Annie Rose Buckley, who plays P. L. Travers as a child in the flashbacks.
I purchased the soundtrack for this film a couple of weeks before I was able to see it in theaters, and I must admit that I was initially pretty unimpressed. Sure, it sounds pretty, but it’s a Thomas Newman score that sounds like a typical Thomas Newman score, in the same vein as his scores for Finding Nemo and The Help (my review). However, I reserved judgment as best I could until I had heard the music in the context of the film, and, thankfully, it works much better as a supplement to the film, which is what really matters. (As a brief side-note, the Deluxe Edition of this soundtrack is worth the buy as it includes original demo recordings of the Sherman Brothers singing songs they composed for Mary Poppins, as well as recordings by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.)
I can’t speak to the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the film, but, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it matters too much. A film is meant to entertain or inform, and Saving Mr. Banks does both, whether it gets all the facts correct or not. It will have you laughing and crying from the very start of the film, largely thanks to Emma Thompson’s incredible performance. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy, but whether or not she will win the Best Actress award remains to be seen. Either way, this movie is worth your money to see before it leaves theaters.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements including some unsettling images
1 Comment | tags: annie rose buckley, b. j. novak, bj novak, bradley whitford, colin farrell, dick van dyke, Disney, emma thompson, finding nemo, it's a small world after all, jason schwartzman, Julie Andrews, los angeles, Mary Poppins, p. l. travers, paul giamatti, richard sherman, robert sherman, saving mr. banks, sherman bros., sherman brothers, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, The Help, there's a great big beautiful tomorrow, Thomas Newman, tom hanks, travers goff, walt disney, walt disney studios | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
Thomas Newman is a composer who I’m fairly familiar with; I own his soundtracks for Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Help, all of which are pretty good. BUT they are all quite outside the action genre, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Newman was composing the score to the newest James Bond film. I must admit, I was a bit unimpressed during my first listen, but over time, especially after seeing the film, I’ve grown to really enjoy it and was happy to see it nominated for Best Original Score at the 85th Academy Awards.
The very first track, “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul,” opens with the familiar trumpet notes heard in David Arnold’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” from Casino Royale (2007), called “The Name’s Bond…James Bond.” This transitions into a sort of groove that takes us completely through the opening chase sequence through the bazaar and on top of the train. It perfectly captures the excitement and anxiety of the moment, pushing forward with brass and an energetic percussion beat. There are a lot of these action-packed tracks that match the action-packed film, including tracks such as “Granborough Road,” which uses mainly strings to drive the music forward and closes with a soft rendition of the “James Bond Theme” on guitar, and “Welcome to Scotland,” which relies again on brass and percussion. A wonderful moment in the soundtrack is heard in “Breadcrumbs” when we’re treated to a more complete rendition of the main theme, typical of the James Bond films of old.
The score is not without its light moments though, which is appropriate since this is one of the more thoughtful and contemplative of the film series. “Day Wasted” features a shimmery sort of electric background before the strings come in with gentle interruptions that hint at the main theme. A later track, “Mother,” which almost sounds like it has a couple of featured voices, though it may just be an instrument that emulates the voice. Halfway through the track, warm brass sounds join the mix, helping to emphasize that Bond is home again and is being faced with his past. Other more gentle tracks include “Enjoying Death” and “Close Shave.”
Newman has done a fine job with the music to Skyfall after taking over from David Arnold, who had composed the scores to five previous Bond films. My one disappointment is that, aside from the main theme, the bits of Adele’s “Skyfall,” and a couple of instances of repeated musical ideas, there isn’t another unifying theme heard throughout the soundtrack. I had the same complaint in my review of James Newton Howard’s score for The Bourne Legacy, which lacked the unifying theme heard in John Powell’s scores to the original Bourne trilogy. Despite that disappointment, the score to Skyfall is an excellent action film score, which you don’t often get.
I would be remiss to not say a couple of things about Adele’s “Skyfall,” the title song for the film, though it was not composed by Newman (bits of it can be heard in the soundtrack tracks “Skyfall” and “Komodo Dragon”). It’s probably my favorite Bond title song (that I’ve heard), and I’m certain that it will win Best Original Song at the 85th Academy Awards.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” 5:14
2. “Voluntary Retirement” 2:22
3. “New Digs” 2:32
4. “Sévérine” 1:20
5. “Brave New World” 1:50
6. “Shanghai Drive” 1:26
7. “Jellyfish” 3:22
8. “Silhouette” 0:56
9. “Modigliani” 1:04
10. “Day Wasted” 1:31
11. “Quartermaster” 4:48
12. “Someone Usually Dies” 2:29
13. “Komodo Dragon” 3:20
14. “The Bloody Shot” 4:46
15. “Enjoying Death” 1:13
16. “The Chimera” 1:58
17. “Close Shave” 1:32
18. “Health & Safety” 1:29
19. “Granborough Road” 2:32
20. “Tennyson” 2:14
21. “Enquiry” 2:49
22. “Breadcrumbs” 2:02
23. “Skyfall” 2:32
24. “Kill Them First” 2:22
25. “Welcome to Scotland” 3:21
26. “She’s Mine” 3:53
27. “The Moors” 2:39
28. “Deep Water” 5:11
29. “Mother” 1:48
30. “Adrenaline” 2:18
31. “Old Dog, New Tricks” 1:48
Total Length: app. 80 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
2 Comments | tags: Academy Awards, adele, best original score, best original song, Bourne trilogy, casino royale, daniel craig, david arnold, finding nemo, james bond, James Newton Howard, Jason Bourne, lemony snicket, series of unfortunate events, skyfall, The Bourne Legacy, The Help, Thomas Newman, wall-e | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
As a child, Finding Nemo wasn’t a film that I caught in theaters. In fact, I didn’t see it at all until a few years after it had been released. Though not my favorite Pixar film, it’s certainly an enjoyable one, enough to convince me to go catch it in theaters when it was re-released in 3D back in September of 2012. I’m a firm believer in the idea that films were made to be seen on the big screen, so I always try to go to theater re-releases of films I enjoy, even though 3D is sometimes less than okay. However, Finding Nemo 3D was a great theater experience that also translated well to the recent 3D Blu-Ray release.
In case you’ve been living in a hole in the ground for the past ten years, Finding Nemo is about a single father, Marlin (Albert Brooks), whose son is kidnapped by a diver and taken to Sydney, Australia. In order to find his son, Nemo, he traverses the entire ocean, meeting along the way a forgetful fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a friendly shark named Bruce (Barry Humphries), a gnarly sea turtle named Crush (Andrew Stanton), and a pelican named Nigel (Geoffrey Rush). All the while, Nemo (Alexander Gould) and his new tank friends, lead by Gill (Willem Dafoe), must devise a plan to help them escape from the dentist office where they are being kept before the dentist’s careless niece can get her hands on the young clownfish.
The people at Pixar have always astounded me with their ability to pack so much humanity into their often inhuman characters, i.e. the toys of Toy Story, the bugs of A Bug’s Life, and, later, the robots of Wall-E. In Finding Nemo, we have FISH…just about as inhuman as you can get, as far as living organisms go. But that doesn’t stop us from sympathizing with Marlin as he struggles to find his lost son or rooting for Nemo as he succeeds in overcoming his fears faced in the fish tank at the dentist office or shedding a tear when Marlin has given up hope and says goodbye to Dory. These characters are just as endearing as any human character out there, if not more. They teach us to trust each other, especially those we love, that it’s okay to let go sometimes, and that we can and should learn from our mistakes.
In addition to the fantastic characters, this film is also visually stunning. The physics of the ocean and its inhabitants feel very authentic – even the physical movement of the fish – despite the fact that everything is animated. The 3D is also well-done (one of the best films I’ve ever seen in 3D), with it fully absorbing you into the atmosphere of the film. The 3D home release is even better than it was in the theater; on a high-definition 3D TV, everything is crystal clear and fully immersive.
Pixar has a track record unmatched by any other film company. Though perfection is impossible, I would say that Pixar has several “perfect” films, and Finding Nemo is one of them. The characters are three-dimensional (in a character growth sort of way, I mean), the story is touching, and the score by Thomas Newman is one of the best of all of the Pixar films. With humor appropriate for both children and adults and several important life lessons to be learned, there is much to be missed if you’ve managed to never see this film – and I’d even recommend the 3D version, if you don’t mind the glasses.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1 Comment | tags: 3D, A Bug's Life, albert brooks, alexander gould, barry humphries, blu-ray, bruce, clownfish, Disney, disney animation, disney pixar, Disney/Pixar, dory, ellen degeneres, eve, finding nemo, geoffrey rush, gill, marlin, nemo, nigel, Thomas Newman, Toy Story, wall-e, willem dafoe | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
A month ago, I had only seen one or two Bond films, one of them being Sean Connery’s You Only Live Twice. However, in preparation for the release of Skyfall, I snagged a couple of copies of the first two Daniel Craig James Bond installments and caught myself up. Casino Royale was a lot of fun, but Quantum of Solace was significantly less so. Nevertheless, I had high hopes for Craig’s third entry into his Bond legacy, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
(Though it should be obvious, I would like to point out that 1) I am not a longtime James Bond fan and 2) likewise, I am not a James Bond expert. I am not attempting to appear to be either of these in this review.)
I loved everything about this movie, from the exhilarating opening sequence, to the opening credits featuring the fantastic title song by Adele, to the character development, to the villain, to the final climactic action sequence. Daniel Craig was back in full force, giving us a Bond that was (to me) highly reminiscent of Christian Bale’s performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman earlier this year in The Dark Knight Rises: our hero is growing old and is struggling with physical tasks that were once easy for him, so he considers retirement before realizing that the situation is bigger than him and his wants. (Am I the only one who kept finding this parallel throughout, including lines referring to characters originating in “shadows” and “storms coming?”)
Though I’m sure it was a departure from the typical Bond film formula that has been in place since the first film 50 years ago, I appreciated the fact that romance didn’t play a huge part in this film as it did in the previous two. However, that’s not to say that Skyfall ignored the previous 22 films in the James Bond franchise; in fact, it seemed to me (though, keep in mind, I haven’t seen many Bond films and am merely assuming) that there were plenty of references to the older films, such as the classic car, Q’s quip about “exploding pens,” and several others that I’m sure I missed due to lack of education.
Where Skyfall especially succeeds is in the choice of its villain, Mr. Silva, played by Javier Bardem. He comes across as truly sinister, but he still maintains an air about him that allows for several laughs. What really makes him appear so evil, though, is the fact that he doesn’t make an appearance until the movie is halfway over. The first half of the film is filled with terrorist attacks, random murders, exploitation of sensitive information – and it’s all done by a villain who we haven’t even met yet. Bardem plays the role convincingly, with all of the malicious intent and residual hatred that we expect from a villain of his caliber.
From start to finish, Skyfall had me captivated, not only with its exciting action sequences and impressive character development, but also with the tremendous scope of the landscapes and locations presented throughout…it just looks good. Plus, with a terrific performance from Judi Dench, a nice sort of cameo from Albert Finney, and a promise of more Ralph Fiennes in the future, everyone stepped up to the plate and gave more than their fair share to help knock this film out of the park. Boosted by a wonderful score from Bond newbie Thomas Newman, Skyfall more than redeems the not-nearly-as-good Quantum of Solace and promises more to come…Bond 24 has a lot to live up to.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Thomas Newman, here!
2 Comments | tags: 007, adele, albert finney, Batman, casino royale, christian bale, daniel craig, james bond, javier bardem, judi dench, quantum of solace, ralph fiennes, sean connery, skyfall, the dark knight, the dark knight rises, Thomas Newman, you only live twice | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.
Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.
Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotional. Each track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.
I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Aibilene” 3:07
2. “Them Fools” 2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake” 1:22
4. “Mississippi” 3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations” 1:43
6. “The Help” 2:18
7. “Jim Crow” 1:45
8. “Skeeter” 1:03
9. “Miss Hilly” 1:13
10. “Write That Down” 1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List” 3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs” 2:03
13. “First White Baby” 2:00
14. “Celia Digs” 2:06
15. “November 22” 1:11
16. “Not To Die” 1:28
17. “My Son” 2:50
18. “Trash On The Road” 1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful” 2:56
20. “Constantine” 4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials” 1:32
22. “Sugar” 1:49
23. “Amen” 3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue” 2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” 6:29
Total Length: app. 60 min.
iTunes Album Link
1 Comment | tags: Academy Award, acoustic, acoustic guitar, chad hopkins, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, composer, Emma Stone, emotional, guitar, Howard Shore, Hugo, James Horner, Jim Crow, John Williams, Kathryn Stockett, Ludovic Bource, Michael Giacchino, Octavia Spencer, orchestra, Oscars, sotd, Soundtrack of the Day, soundtrackoftheday, Southern, The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, The Help, Thomas Newman, tin tin, tintin, upside down cake, vibe, Viola Davis, War Horse | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews