Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

In the opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” around three hundred or so drunken, crazed stockbrokers chant and cheer as Jordan Belfort, the protagonist of the movie, proceeds to toss a dwarf dressed in tights and a helmet at a target with a dollar sign as the bulls eye. The place goes wild, like the crowd at a cockfight.

Wait, wait, did I really just write all that… stockbrokers throwing dwarfs at a bulls eye, in the middle of their office? You bet I did. Within the first ten seconds, Scorsese establishes the ruckus and insanity of “ The Wolf of Wall Street,” and he’s only getting started. It only gets crazier from there.

At two hours and fifty-nine minutes (Scorsese’s longest movie), “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a massive, bold, wildly entertaining crime epic that only Scorsese could have directed. It shares DNA with “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” Scorsese’s own gangster epics, as well as Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” and a touch of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” Like those movies, “Wolf” is about people who achieve a twisted version of the American Dream and how they eventually lose it all, in the pursuit of wanting even more wealth and success. To quote Nicky Santoro from “Casino”: “In the end, we fucked it all up.” Now in his seventies, Scorsese directs the film as if he was in his thirties. He knows this kind of material backwards and forwards, his heart’s in it one hundred percent.

After the opening scene, Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winter (based on a memoir by the real Jordan Belfort, about his time on Wall Street in the eighties) continue to shock us. In a brief montage we’re introduced to Jordan’s (Leonardo Dicaprio) overwhelming wealth. “Look at all the money I have and look how many drugs I take!” he’s essentially saying, and continues to say throughout most of the movie. In great Scorsese fashion the story then goes back in time, to a young Jordan Belfort arriving in Manhattan for the first time, eager, fresh faced and innocent. Like any criminal kingpin Jordan starts at the bottom, when he gets his first stockbroker job he’s told he’s lower than dirt.

Though he manages to attract the attention of a veteran broker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughy) who takes Jordan under his wing. In this brief but crucial section, Hanna takes Jordan’s innocence and molds him into the cocky slimeball he eventually becomes. The scene where Hanna teaches Jordan how to be a big time Wall Street man, beating his chest and chanting like a Native American doing a war dance, is among the best scenes in the entire movie. Put simply McConaughy owns the role (continuing his cinematic hot streak this year) and his presence is felt during the rest of the movie. Jordan becomes a new man.

After running into some trouble Jordan finds himself out of a job but--since he’s become a new man, or rather, a wolf hungry for Wall Street dominance—not for long. Along with his new friend and partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) they become entrepreneurs. What starts as a small operation run out of an old auto mechanic garage with a bunch of yahoos who’ve never sold a stock in their life as the employees, turns into a full blown stockbroking firm (called Stratton Oakmont) situated in the heart of Wall Street. From there Jordan, Donnie and the rest begin rolling in vast amounts of wealth and excess. Drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, yachts, rooms full of drugs, rooms full of prostitutes, rooms full of prostitues and drugs. They make so much money so fast that they practically use hundred dollar bills as tissue paper. During a regular workday, Jordan and the rest of the high ups sit in their conference room and brainstorm ways to spend their money. At one point they have a serious conversation about the logistics of hiring those dwarfs from the opening scene.

Nothing they do is subtle, but they’re arrogant Wall Street guys; this is how they show their dominance. And I suppose I don’t need to tell you that the way in which they acquire most of their money is illegal. So naturally it attracts the attention of an FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) who, when it comes to FBI work, is as confident and determined as Jordan is. A meeting between the two on Jordan’s yacht turns into an amusing and tense showdown of cockiness.

I also don’t have to tell you that Jordan is a bad man, but so is Henry Hill, Tony Montana, and Gordon Gekko. Their climb to the top is fascinating to watch and their entrepreneurial spirit is admirable. Despite all of the bad and utterly tasteless things Jordan does in “Wolf,” he is at heart a damn good salesman, and a great motivator. And as bad as he is, you still have to respect his ambition and intelligence; not just anyone can start a successful stockbroking firm and sustain that success for years.
Also, as with any antihero, the good times eventually start to run out and he must be punished for all his rotten deeds. Dicaprio’s performance is phenomenal, one of tremendous highs and tremendous lows. Audacious and wonderfully over-the-top, at times I was even reminded of Al Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana. And his chemistry with right hand man Hill is infectious. The thirty-year-old comedic actor, from movies like “Super bad” and “Knocked Up,” has sure come a long way, and much like his Oscar nominated performance in “Moneyball” the character of Donnie appeals to his sensibilities as a comedic actor but also allows him to do something different.

Since this is a Scorsese crime picture, he uses familiar techniques. Structurally the movie resembles “Goodfellas,” combining montages containing dynamic and fluid camera work by Rodrigo Prieto with lengthy dialogue-heavy exchanges. Voice over narration (by Jordan) keeps the story moving at a breezy pace and just about every scene has a pop or rock song to underline the action and emotions.

At the same time however, Scorsese finds ways to juice up these techniques and even manages to add in some innovations. For example, near the end of the movie, after Jordan takes at least ten Quaaludes one night he trips so hard that he practically becomes disabled. Without going into too many details, he miraculously drives himself home from a nearby country club, without damage to himself or his car. However, a few minutes later we find out that he actually did cause a lot of property damage and the previous sequence was only fantasy. Through this ridiculous and amusing scene Scorsese subtly introduces the element of the unreliable narrator and it makes you think back over the events in rest of the movie. How much of the extravagant stuff actually happened, and how much of it only took place in his mind? Did Jordan and his associates really hire the dwarfs or did they only talk about it? Even though he’s dealing with familiar material Scorsese still manages to surprise us.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” does run into some editing problems, certain scenes could have been trimmed down or even taken out all together. And since this is a male dominated story the women, such as Jordan’s blonde bombshell wife played by Madison McKinley, don’t have much of a place, and overall the movie doesn’t have the same depth as “Good Fellas” or “Casino,” but that doesn’t make it bad. Even though I generally knew what direction the story was going in, I was continually surprised and entertained by what I saw. Scorsese keeps you on your feet; you’re alive in the world the movie creates. There’s always something to keep your attention. It’s easily his best movie since “The Departed.”


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”—directed by and starring Ben Stiller—is a very positive and uplifting picture, something that’s rare in this age of bleak and pessimistic cinema. It’s a movie about seizing life by the throat and going out and taking risks, making spontaneous decisions and going on wild adventures. It’s a cross between sprawling adventure picture and quirky deadpan comedy. It has some sweet and funny moments and fantastic visuals, but unfortunately the story and characters aren’t all there, and it goes for cheap, forced sentimentality.

Based on the short story by James Thurber, the movie revolves around Walter Mitty, (Stiller) an ordinary man living an unexciting life. He works at Life magazine, handling the negatives of the photos and most of his coworkers don’t seem to know he exists. As a result he has a wild imagination, causing him to space out and transport himself into fantasy (telling off his jerk boss, or suddenly jumping off a subway platform into a building, saving people before a bomb explodes).

This is easily the worst and most annoying aspect of the entire movie. I get that Walter lacks confidence and dreams of a more adventurous life but Stiller can get that point across by showing us one of these fantasies, or maybe two but by about the eighth dream sequence in a span of about fifteen or twenty minutes (I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit) it gets stale and as a result the beginning of the movie is a slog to get through. When we aren’t subjected to the fantasy scenes, we have to watch Walter timidly stumble and stutter through his sentences, talking to others or walking around looking sad.

 Things do pick up a bit; a photo reel from famous Life photographer Sean O’Connell (an intensely funny Sean Penn) comes in, Walter discovers that one is missing (which is going to be used as the cover photo for the very last published issue). In hopes of adding some excitement to his life and also to impress his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) Walter decides to track down the missing photo. The journey takes him to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas. The photography in these scenes (by Stuart Dryburgh), showing the vast, mountainous landscapes is the only really breathtaking thing about the film, though the fantasy sequences also look very stunning.

The other thing I liked about the movie was the supporting cast. Whether it’s Penn, Wiig, the always reliable Adam Scott as Walter’s jerk boss, Patton Oswald as an eHarmony employee or Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mother, the entire supporting cast is spot on, providing humor and partly diverting our attention from Walter’s blandness. Yes, I said it, Walter Mitty is a bland character, played by Stiller in the same uptight, slightly timid and mopey manner of practically every other character he’s played in the past. At this point it’s old and not very funny anymore. He’s utterly shallow and goes through the exact character arc you expect him to.

In fact for all its sense of adventure and wonderment, the movie doesn’t feel very adventurous but stilted and bland; the rousing adventure scenes don’t always gel with the mundane, deadpan back and forths .The film is also mostly devoid of surprise and the few surprises there are (towards the end) really aren’t all that surprising but instead sappy and frustrating. On top of that, much like “Forest Gump,” the picture’s whimsy tends to get infuriating at times, all before it builds to its predictable and underwhelming conclusion.

As much as I like watching bleak films I’m not opposed to seeing positive, uplifting ones. Stephen Frears’  “Philomena” with Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, is a perfect example of a positive and uplifting movie that came out this year but one that doesn’t resort to cheap sentimentality and develops interesting characters. “Walter Mitty” isn’t terrible but considering Thurber wrote the original story in 1939 it’s not surprising that it feels so outdated and insipid.


Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Movie Recap

On a whole 2013 was a great year for movies. Except the peculiar thing about this year is that most of those great movies (some of which made the list, while others just missed the cut) came towards the end of the year.

2013 got off to its usual start, movies in the beginning months all ranged from lackluster to just terrible, (“Gangster Squad,” “A Good Day to Die Hard,” I’m looking at you) the only movie that managed to be great during those rough months was Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects,” released on February

Then, starting in May the summer movie season began and one blockbuster was released after another. However, even those proved to be lackluster or just plain bad. The only real summer blockbuster that proved to be worthwhile was “World War Z” which, after a troubled production complete with rewrites and reshooting, managed to breath new life into the zombie horror genre. And, to a lesser extent there was the sixth installment of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise (which now feels a little tainted with the violent passing of one of its main star Paul Walker).

Hollywood continued it’s current (and unfortunately lucrative) trend of endless sequels and super hero movies (sometimes the two kinds of films merged i.e “Iron Man 3”) and while a few may have been decent and fun to watch there were no “Dark Knight’s” or “Avengers” to be found. The highly anticipated Superman movie “Man of Steel” produced by Christopher Nolan (but directed by Zach Snyder) turned out to be a souring disappointment. I still shudder when I think of those horrible last thirty minutes. Even the long awaited sequel to “The Hunger Games” subtitled “Catching Fire, “ while proficiently made and acted left me unsatisfied (in my opinion of course, I realize that I hold a minority view on this particular movie, which most other critics praised).

But then fall arrived and after the Toronto International Film Festival came and went we started seeing one great movie after another. From the end of October to December I found myself blown away again and again by the high quality of movies that were coming out. In fact four of the films on my list were already or are going to be released in the month of December alone. I’m not saying that there weren’t any great or near great movies earlier in the year ( the already mentioned “Side Effects,’ Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” “Shining” documentary “Room 237” and “Fruitvale Station, for example) but the year definitely hit its stride fairly late.

Since going off to attend college at Western Washington University in Bellingham WA, I haven’t had the chance to see and review as many movies as I used to, but I saw as many as I humanly could. I made sure to catch movies that were being heavily praised and considered award contenders (“Captain Phillips,” “12 Years a Slave”) up in Bellingham, as well as movies I personally anticipated (‘The Counselor,” which was largely panned by critics. But I found the movie’s atmosphere, developing sense of dread and performances all to fantastic.) and when I came home for Thanksgiving and winter break I saw and reviewed as many as I could, and I checked out even more from Redbox (bless that invention!).

But alas, I couldn’t see everything. Most of the stuff I missed were movies that received so so to bad responses from both critics and audiences (“Last Vegas,” “The Book Thief”). I did miss the new Disney animated film “Frozen,” which received glowing reviews, only because I didn’t feel like seeing it. I’ve been in a non-animation mood of late. I know, I know, sue me but in my defense most of the animated fare (including Pixar’s yearly contribution) received lukewarm reactions and the ones I did see (“The Croods,” “Planes”) should have gone straight to dvd.

The only movie I regret missing is the three hour French romance “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which won the Palme d’Ore at the Cannes Film Festival. I just couldn’t find the time for it (it’s three hours after all) and I didn’t want to try and cram it in this last weekend because of all the work I had to do (including this recap, as well as a few more reviews) and not be given enough time to digest it.

So, without further ado lets get to the list, shall we?

(I also want to remind you that you can find all of the reviews I wrote this year on the left side of the blog.)

       1.   The Wolf Of Wall Street (dr. Martin Scorsese)

Not surprisingly, deciding what my number one movie proved to be agonizingly difficult (I even considered leaving all ten unranked) and I went back and forth between this and “Inside Llewyn Davis” multiple times. After two good but fairly forgettable features (“Shutter Island” and “Hugo”) Martin Scorsese returns in style with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” an audacious, darkly hilarious, wildly over the top and excessive (intentionally so of course) crime epic in the same energetic vein as “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Like the characters in those movies, the characters in “Wolf” are after a twisted version of the American Dream and once they achieve it, they lose it all when they want more.

The film continually surprised me, there is always something to look at on the screen and the movie kept my interest all the way through until the end. Leonardo Dicaprio gives what could be his very best performance, one of tremendous highs and tremendous lows as Jordan Belfort, the wolf of Wall Street. He’s a bad man for sure but it’s absolutely fascinating to watch his climb to the top and his entrepreneurial spirit is admirable. The movie isn’t perfect, in fact in my upcoming review I bring up a few flaws, but, in my mind the things I love about it overshadow those few negative aspects. I have a feeling I will be able to watch it again and again the near future, not just attentively (to find new things) but also as something to have in the background as I do work or a movie I’ll be able to throw on when I’m tired and not in the mood to watch something super heavy and complicated.
(Full review forthcoming).

All Is Lost (dr. J.C Chandor)

The concept is so simple—One man, stranded at sea on a sailboat—and yet it’s this barebones approach that proves to be incredibly effective. There are no flashbacks, no volleyballs and no lug headed first mates to get killed off. It’s literally just Robert Redford against the elements. Huge props also go to Redford, who gives a masterful physical performance that’s virtually dialogue free. Not an easy task to pull off.

August Osage County (dr. John Wells)

John Wells’ family crisis drama about an Oklahoma family that argues and argues…and argues. It sounds like a nightmare but actually it’s extremely entertaining and compelling, driven forward by sharp and fiery dialogue. And there’s a raw, emotional honesty being displayed in every scene. Julia Roberts (in what may be her best performance to date) and Meryl Streep give powerhouse performances.

Her (dr. Spike Jonze)

Set in the future, a man played by Joaquin Phoenix (in another one of this years best performances) falls in love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Sounds too silly to work right? Actually, Spike Jonze “Her” is one of the freshest romantic comedy/drama’s I’ve seen in recent years. It manages to blend comedy and sincerity effortlessly, and contains so many clever insights on life and love. The minute I finished watching it, I wanted to see it again.

The Hunt (dr. Thomas Vinterberg)

Here’s an engrossing and heart wrenching little Danish movie that you’ve probably never seen or heard of. The brilliance of ‘The Hunt” lies in the fact that it manages to elicit a strong emotional reaction from the viewer (Most of the time I was so angry I was yelling at the screen) while watching but then, after it’s over, forces you to go back and reevaluate your reaction and examine the movie from all different angles. Mads Mikkelsen gives one of the years best performances as a kind, sensitive man accused of child molestation.

Inside Llewyn Davis (dr. Joel and Ethan Coen)

Aside from containing great performances from all involved and superb craftsmanship, the thing I love most about “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just how contained and narrowed the central story is. The Coen’s aren’t out to tell an epic about the folk music scene in 1960’s New York, but instead they zero in on a single week in the life of arrogant but immensely talented struggling singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaak, in his first great leading performance). The narrative exists on it’s own and we the audience are like visitors briefly passing through. The story had been going on before the movie and it continues on, long after the credits role.

Philomena (dr. Stephen Frears)

Of all the movies on this list, “Philomena” is the easiest one to love. It’s also one of the few movies on this list that’s mainly positive and uplifting (this was a year dominated by bleak depressing pictures). Steve Coogan, who also co wrote the screenplay plays a skeptical journalist who decides to write a story about an old lady, Philomena (Judi Dench) searching for the son she was forced to give up fifty years ago. It sounds predictable and sappy and while it is somewhat predictable it’s done with zero sentimentality. Though, it’s the funny and touching performances by Coogan and Dench and the superb dynamic between them that make the movie as delightful as it is.

Prisoners (dr. Denis Villeneuve)

Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski deliver a gloomy, multilayered kidnapping drama/suspense similar to David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River.” The performances, from Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman (in his darkest, most complex role yet) are both very strong and I found the movie’s deliberate pace a refreshing alternative to all the shaky cam, adrenaline fueled thrillers that seem to dominate the multiplexes these days.

Rush (dr. Ron Howard)

I do not consider myself a fan of racecar movies at all and Ron Howard isn’t a director I feel the need to drop everything to see his next movie. With that said, his Formula One racing picture “Rush” is simply amazing. It explores the rivalry between English racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and German Nikki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) but Howard doesn’t force us to take sides. We love them and hate both of them for entirely different reasons. “Rush” has some of the best character development I’ve seen in any movie this year, and while the racing sequences are absolutely exhilarating it’s Lauda and Hunt that drive the movie forward. Also, for what it’s worth, this was my “number 1” for at least two and half months.

Side Effects (dr. Steven Soderbergh)

Here was the first real great movie of 2013 (it opened on February 8th). Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Side Effects” is a twisty and exciting Hitchcock-ian thriller. I don’t want to get into the plot because it’s never the kind of movie it appears to be for too long. In addition both Rooney Mara and Jude Law turn in excellent performances. Since it came out so early in the year “Side Effects” was sort of forgotten about and overshadowed by other movies. Even so, it managed to stick with me for all those months and gets better with each viewing.

Honorable Mentions: 12 Years a Slave, (Steve McQueen) Blue Jasmine, (Woody Allen) Captain Phillips, (Paul Greengrass) The Conjuring, (James Wan) The Counselor, (Ridley Scott) Dallas Buyers Club, (Jean-marc Vallee) Frances Ha, (Noah Baumbach) Fruitvale Station, (Ryan Coogler) Lone Survivor, (Peter Berg) Room 237, (Rodney Ascher) Short Term 12, (Destin Daniel Cretton) The Worlds End (Edgar Wright).

Next, with that out of the way, here’s a list of the ten most disappointing movies I saw in 2013. These movies weren’t terrible, but ones that I had high expectations for and was let down by. A few of them are from directors whose work I normally like:

The Bling Ring (dr. Sofia Coppola)

Elysium (dr. Neill Blomkamp)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dr. Frances Lawrence)

Man of Steel (dr. Zach Snyder)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (dr. Justin Chadwick)

Nebraska (dr. Alexander Payne)

Only God Forgives (dr. Nicholas Winding Refn)

To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

Trance (Danny Boyal)

You’re Next (Adam Wingard)

It may have been a down year for action/popcorn movies but here are three decent ones that stood out among the rest:

Two Guns (dr. Baltasar Kormakur)

Fast 6 (dr. Justin Lin)

World War Z (dr. Mark Forester)

And finally, here are the five worst movies of the year. No further explanation is needed:

After Earth (dr. M Night Shyamalan)

A Good Day to Die Hard (dr. John Moore)

Getaway (dr. Courtney Solomon)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (dr. Harald Zwart)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (dr. Thor Freudenthal)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

American Hustle, Nebraska, and Saving Mr. Banks Capsule Reviews

In addition to the movie’s I’ve seen and reviewed (or have yet to review) of late, I was able to catch a few other movies on the side. I thought about writing long form reviews for each one but, with all the other work I’ve had to do and considering the fact that it’s Christmas time, I didn’t have the time to write three good, well thought out reviews quickly. So instead, I have written capsule reviews for them below.

“American Hustle,” dr. David O Russell, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper

Energetically directed by David O Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook) and with fluid camera work by Linus Sandgren, “American Hustle” is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Set in the seventies and partly based on a true story, the movie follows con man Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale, sporting an elaborate comb over and a potbelly) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) as they join forces with FBI agent Riche DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to take down politicians like Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Of course, since we’re dealing with con folk we can expect there to be a lot of secret scheming along the way. With an all-star cast that also includes Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife (he’s a con man after all, so of course he has two women), “American Hustle” is mainly an actors showcase and the dynamic between these exemplary players is no doubt the main reason why the movie is as fun as it is. On top of that the production design by Judy Becker, and the costumes by Michael Wilkinson are wonderfully extravagant (very very extravagant) and in keeping with the time period. Structurally, the movie resembles a Martin Scorsese crime epic in the vein of “Good Fellas” and “Casino” (Russell uses common Scorsese techniques, like multiple voice overs, and a combination of montages and dialogue heavy character interactions, for example) and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using these “Scorsese-isms,” sometimes the movie feels like a blatant imitation, which can be distracting. Also, the resolution isn’t quite as cohesive as it would be in a Scorsese picture. Even so, “American Hustle is still hugely entertaining, featuring one of the best ensemble casts of the year. (B+)

Nebraska,” dr. Alexander Payne, with Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb

“Nebraska” is photographed in beautiful black and white photography, giving the movie an art-house moodiness and underlines the stories combination of melancholy and humor. It’s about a feeble old man, Woody (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars from a mega sweepstakes marketing company. Knowing that he hasn’t won anything at all, Woody’s son David (SNL’s Will Forte) decides to take him via car, from Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to claim the prize, and to spend time with him and well, to humor the old coot. Along the way they stop in Woody’s home town, and run into family, old friends, and new acquaintances. Dern, Forte and June Squibb, (as Woody’s wife) along with the rest of the cast turn in great performances, and the level of craftsmanship Payne and co. have put into the movie is masterful. Despite this, on whole “Nebraska” feels kind of slight and the mundaneness of it (it’s set in the plain ol’ Midwest) tends to get repetitive and stale. I also I couldn’t help but feel like Payne is just trying to make fun of and patronize everyone in this Nebraska town. These are plain, narrow-minded people living unexciting lives, getting overexcited about something as stupid and insignificant as collecting a phony million dollar prize. There are some funny and endearing moments here and there but it all begins to wear thin after a while, and I have a feeling that without the black and white cinematography, “Nebraska” would feel even slighter. (C+).

“Saving Mr. Banks,” dr. John Lee Hancock with Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, and Colin Ferrell

The first hour or so of John Lee Hancock’s “Saving Mr. Banks,”—which recounts the true story of the grueling process Walt Disney went through to secure the movie rights to “Mary Poppins” from its protective author PL Travers—is absolutely dreadful. It consists of Travers (Emma Thompson) saying “no, no, no!” to just about every aspect of the planned “Mary Poppins” movie, which can be funny but gets real old, real fast. Not only that, this storyline is constantly interrupted by glossy, melodramatic flashbacks showing a young PL Travers and where the character of Mary Poppins came from. However, after that rough start, as the plot thickens and we learn more about the author and why she’s so protective of her beloved book character, “Saving Mr. Banks” settles into a nice little groove and finishes very strongly. The flashbacks stick around by they feel more and more necessary as the movie goes on. Tom Hanks is perfectly fine as Walt Disney, but the movie really belongs to Travers, and Thompson’s curmudgeon portrayal of her. It’s light fair for sure, but also pleasurable to watch, at least in the second half that is. (B-)