Friday, January 10, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Review

The Disney company has a way with magic. It's something every child at some point in their life knows, especially when it comes to the classic Walt era of the Mouse House. But no piece speaks to the levels of his visual creativity and abilities more than the Oscar winning Mary Poppins. Though by far not my personal favorite Disney film, Poppins is a masterpiece in so many ways and will always be treasured as such.

But what exactly was the inspiration behind the famous flying nanny? Not too many people seem to know and always believe that she came from within Walt's own imagination. But in actuality, Mary was born from the mind of an Australian woman that many would come to know as P.L.Travers. She was a mysterious creature, much like Poppins, who came in and out of the public eye as quick as the wind. But what many know her for, beside her books of course, is the history between her and Walt. Saving Mr. Banks, the new film from Disney, gives cinematic life to these behind the scenes moments.

We begin in the past, with a familiar phrase from the original story, where we see a young girl and her father (played brilliantly by Collin Farrel) interact. We later learn this is Travers (who's real name was Ellen) during her not so "Perfectly Perfect" childhood. At the same time we meet a now middle aged Travers, who has been requested to meet Walt Disney for two weeks in California. This meeting would hopefully bring Mary Poppins to the big screen (a deal that had been a twenty year long struggle for Walt and company.)

The moments that occurred during those two weeks were some of the most interesting in Disney's history. With an unforgettable performance by Emma Thompson as Travers, you remember every single aspect of them, even down to what condition her perfectly permed hair was in. Thompson gives the kind of performance that people showcase in Oscar montages, make speeches about (like Meryl Streep did here), and quote for years to come. She's thrilling in every detail, and brings heart to a character that the public assumed had no soul outside of what came from her finger tips onto the page.

Walt is played by the always enchanting Tom Hanks, who though looks really nothing close to Mr. Disney, brings a similar sort of charming aura that can be instantly connected to his real life counterpart.  This goes very much along with those in the supporting roles, especially Paul Giamatti as Ralph (P.L's driver), who gives the oil to revive Thompson's inner Tin Man.

But what must be noted above all other aspects of this film are the elegant choices that make this a love letter to childhood nostalgia. From the recreation of the original Disney Studios title card, to the replication of the linoleum hallways of the Burbank office, this is pure Disney fanatic heaven. The moment that presents this effort at it's best comes when Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) plays "Feed The Birds" in the rehearsal room. Many a knowledgeable "DVD extras watching" Mouseketeer can tell you that this was (by many accounts) Walt's favorite song, and the moment perfectly expresses this. 

Though as with any Hollywood film, the level of truthfulness can be lacking, especially when you know some of the "source material". By most accounts it's been said that Travers was not a fan of the final product put on screen of her beloved Mary. So when the final act of the film is shown, it can be hard to swallow these fantasy renderings of history, even with a spoonful of sugar. 

But when all is said and done, Saving Mr. Banks is a great movie. Though that is a generic term for a review, that's really the best way to describe it. These are the kind of cinema experiences an audience craves for: A great story that involves all your emotions, steers up your own personal connections, and leaves you feeling inspired in some degree, even to "Fly A Kite" perhaps.

9.6 out of 10
Monday, January 6, 2014

Magic Retrospective: Captain EO

One of the things I don't often talk about too much on my blog is my love for one singer: Michael Jackson. Yeah the man was the coolest back when I was a kid, and to this day is in my top 3 favorite vocalist of all time. He was enchanting, cute, and full of energy. Anything he did in the 80s/90s (bandaids on his fingers, the glove, the socks and black shoes) was godly and had to be copied.

Because I was around during the 90's era of MJ, I sadly missed a good chunk of his 80's glory, including his work for the Disney company: The 3D epic Captain EO. But luckily with the advent of VHS tapes (including one that my mom used to tape the one time they aired the 2D version on MTV) I got to see the retro classic even though it had disappeared from the Disney parks respectively.

After MJ's sudden death in 2009, Disney decided to pay tribute to the legend by bringing back Captain EO into the parks across the world. This finally gave me the chance to see the flick in it's full in theater effects glory for the first of several times during both my vacations to Disneyland and later in Epcot at Disney World.

But what exactly is Captain EO? It was a 3D film (involving such talents as George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola) that told the story of, well, Captain EO. He's a rainbow decked badass of a ship captain who leads his gang of bizarre creature/robot friends through the galaxy. His sidekicks included the infamous Hooter (a turquoise mini elephant), the two headed orange creature named Idey and Ody, the robot Major Domo, and the always precious Fuzzball.

On this particular mission, Captain EO and crew have to find the Supreme Leader (played by the stunning Anjelica Huston) and give her some sort of present, but what could it be? Turns out this lady is one mean witch, who needs the "gift" of song and dance to bring her back to her former day-glow glory.

Captain EO is full of all the nostalgic qualities that many kids of the 80's and 90's hold tightly to their hearts. It in many cases is what I consider to be the epitome of my childhood, representing all my favorite things: Outer Space, Bright Colors, Cuddly Creatures, Adventure and of course, Michael Jackson. It just has everything, and in 17 minutes takes the audience on an enchanting (and slightly cheesy) joy ride of awesome. 

There are a few things that people remember most about Captain EO. One would be Hooter, the character mentioned previously. Hooter would ALWAYS get into trouble, and EO would be there to give him a good smack talking or yelling in this case. 

The other element many people fondly remember was, of course, the MJ songs. The two featured ("We Are Here To Change The World" and "Another Part of Me") are considered to be two of his best by many Jackson fans (the hardcore ones like me, at least.) In my opinion, "Another Part of Me" is the better of the two, which shows since it later ended up on Jackson's album, "Bad". 

But the thing I would consider my favorite aspect of Captain EO? It's such a small moment, but many know of it. When EO transforms the Supreme Leader into her more beautiful self, Michael does what could be considered, by any account of filmmaking before or since, the cutest smile ever captured on celluloid. 

If there was one image that could sum up my childhood. Look at those perfect teeth! The adorable eyes! It's all just precious! 

So in short, I will always love Captain EO. Whether it's in the parks or not, it's a classic and always will be. If ever I am down and need a good on my face, EO and his crew are always there with some sparkly rainbows and such. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Magic a'la Mode's Best Movies of 2013

2013 has come to a close, and that means it's list making time over here in the blog world! As someone that's done a lot of film criticism this year, I wanted to give a list that reflected my favorite flicks of the past 12 months. The ones that will stick with me for years to come and should be watched by all of you lovely people that take the time to read this sparkle insanity of a website.

Keep in mind this is my personal list, as in some of these movies might not be considered Academy Award winning by many out there, but I believe they bear mentioning. So here we go!

10) Pacific Rim

I couldn't make this list without including what was hilariously dubbed among my friends as "Dalin: The Movie". Featuring my dream cast, director, and scenario, Pacific Rim took the action genre films of 2013 to new, cheesy, epic heights that hadn't truly been achieved prior.

Yes, the script is less than stellar, and yes there are tons of tropes from both of the respected sub-genres (Mecha/Kaiju) showcased. But the charm of Pacific Rim is that it comes off more as an homage than something trying to advance what had been done in the past. It breathes life into the stone cold path that Bay's Transformers films had left, and yet doesn't take itself too seriously. So bravo Del Toro, you achieved what every fanboy has dreamed: giving the audience the ride of a lifetime.

9) This is The End/The World's End

Yes, this is a tie. Both these films are excellent and both deal with the same subject matter. But they are in no way shape or form the same movie. But why couldn't I pick one over the other?

Well for starts, lets discuss the American side of this story with This is The End. I can say without a doubt that The End is the best comedy film of 2013. It jumps leaps and bounds over its competitors in both it's biting dialog and incredible boldness. The last 10 minutes of this movie are some of the funniest moments put to film, ever. Channing Tatum, need I say more.

But The World's End has a slightly more serious edge that made it equally as enjoyable. This story of friendship is oddly aided by the surprise genre twist towards the middle of the movie, one that is best experienced without knowing anything when seeing it for the first time.

So in essence, if you are looking for an easy double feature, give these two a try. Just remember to bring the tissues, and the Backstreet Boys t-shirts.

8) Don Jon

Sex is a really awkward topic to deal with in Hollywood. It either comes off as incredibly over the top or never gives both angles to the partners involved. But who would have thought the kid from Angels in the Outfield would be one of the only filmmakers to get it right? I sure didn't. 

In Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial/writing debut, we get an equal side representation of romance. Levitt's character is a porn addicted wise guy, who falls for Scarlett Johansan's rom-com addicted girly girl. But what puts Don Jon beyond it's competition is it's honest, realistic take on the tropes and moments every human has in a relationship. With surprising supporting work from 80's dad Tony Danza and the effortlessly beautiful Julianne Moore, Don Jon is 2013's When Harry Met Sally, except with a lot more smart phones. 

7) Spring Breakers

I'll be blunt, you are either gonna love or hate Spring Breakers. For me, I was on the positive side. It could easily have been the worst thing to have ever been made, or the best. But during a long train ride home after seeing this MTV style art house attack on the senses, I came to the conclusion that the end result was something way ahead of it's time.

Directed by the ever so annoying Harmony Korine, we see what could be his most "accessible" film. But by no means should this give you an idea to watch this with say your mom or dad. No, this is the kind of film that midnight showings were made for, the kind you will quote for years to come.

All I can say is: "Spring Break .... forevah."

6) American Hustle

Ever since last year's Silver Linings Playbook, I've become a huge supporter of David O. Russell's work. He has an excellent handle on his actors, and gives equally great parts to women and men. But nothing got my attention more than the perfection he put into his latest effort, American Hustle.

With tons of charm, spunk, and attention to detail, American Hustle is a film that sits comfortably on the shelf with other crime tales such as Goodfellas or Casino. But what makes it stand out is the brilliant female leads. Amy Adam's shines here, with Jennifer Lawrence being absolutely unstoppable in her charm. With the addition of an effortlessly composed soundtrack and set design, American Hustle screams to be 2013's awards winner, and deservedly so.

5) The Wolf of Wall Street 

If American Hustle is the 101 for Oscar winning filmmaking, The Wolf of Wall Street is the rebellious guidebook in the back of the library. No, Wolf will probably win no awards this season. It might not even get nominated past the always interesting Golden Globes (though, by god, is this Leo's best performance.) But unlike all the other films that will be nominated/win, Wolf is a movie people will talk about 20 years from now.

From the ads, this looks like a modern day Wall Street, but this ain't your daddy's Gordon Gekko. No, this is one of the boldest films to come out in 2013, and even with it's 3 hour running time stays fresh, exciting and incredible in every detail. It has easily skyrocketed to my favorite Martin Scorsese film, which was almost unthinkable after The Departed.  

4) Prisoners

When many people first saw the trailer for a little crime film called Prisoners, most regarded it as a straight up ho-hum drama. But in actuality, Prisoners is by far the scariest film I had seen in all of 2013. Sure, films like The Conjuring and Insidious 2 were amazing in the horrors they offered to the audience. But for me, those are more popcorn flicks by comparison. 

In my case, a true horror is something that could happen in real life. Prisoners is definitely one of those kind of films, and was so intense that afterwards myself and the rest of the audience were completely silent. For weeks I couldn't stop thinking about the pain and power this film had over me. It truly left a mark that I will remember for years to come. 

3) Saving Mr. Banks

As many of you know, anything related to Disney will always be a favorite of mine. So of course, I had to put one of their releases this year on the list. And as much as I adored Frozen to pieces, Saving Mr. Banks just had something a little more memorable than the other. 

Maybe it was the fact that the actual Disneyland (my favorite place in the world) was on screen, or maybe it was the affection given to the old time charm of the original Disney classics pre-Walt's death. But I think what really grabbed me was how obvious this film was a love letter to nostalgia. From the opening titles sequence, to the Mary Poppins score references, to even the reflections of history within key moments (like Walt hearing Feed The Birds for the first time), Saving Mr. Banks is incredibly charming. 

But many would wonder why this isn't my number one? Well maybe it's the Disney "expert" in me, but I think with what the public actually knows about what happened during the production of Poppins, its hard to watch something that comes off much more like a fairy tale. But maybe that's the way Walt would have wanted it. 

2) The Place Beyond The Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines was a film that actually was completed in 2012, but was officially released earlier in 2013. But regardless of the release date, Pines is one of the most surprising films I have ever seen. The marketing and editing truly led you to believe that this film would go one way the whole ride through, but trust me this story is as layered as a Shrek approved onion. 

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper give both of the best performances of their career, with equally stunning cinematography by Sean Bobbitt to go with it, making this film is truly one for the ages. It's a modern American fable that I hope finds a wider audience in the future. 

1) Her

Films can sometimes be an incredibly personal experience. One that changes and shapes you into the person you are meant to be, touch you, and stay with you. Many of the films in 2013 did that unlike in years past, but the one that sticks the most to my heart is Her by Spike Jonze. 

Her tells the story of a lonely guy from the not too distant future who falls in love with his Operating System (computer.) Sounds awkward and possibly awful? At least interested? Well prepare yourself because this possibly bizarre plot is one of the most touchy and beautiful pieces of cinema to ever be created (in my opinion.) No film has felt more human than one that involves Joaquin Phoenix talking to his OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) for 2 hours.  

Maybe it's the simplicity in the stylistic choices, the amazing acting by every single person in the cast, or the relatability of the characters, but this movie truly reached through me and gave me this big hug of emotions that I just never wanted to end. 

And there you have it! That's my top 10 list of movies for the year of 2013. I hope there are some surprises you weren't expecting! 

What are your favorite films of the year? Let me know in the comments below!



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