Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney Pictures

Rated PG-13 for mature themes and unsettling images

Period Piece Recounts Disney Effort To Secure Rights To Mary Poppins

P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was the pen name of Helen Lyndon Goff (1899-1996), the creator of the children’s classic Mary Poppins. When his daughters were young, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) promised to turn their favorite book into a movie, since they were so enchanted by the British nanny with magical powers.

Little did he know that the effort to secure the film rights would drag on for a couple of decades due to the uncompromising author’s inflexibility, as she insisted that any adaptation remain faithful to the source material. The protracted courting process finally proved fruitful in 1961, when Walt wined and dined the reluctant writer at hisHollywoodstudio while making an elaborate sales pitch to turn the story into a musical.

He would succeed in wooing Travers with the assistance of his screenwriter (Bradley Whitford) and songwriting team (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), although the deferential chauffeur (Paul Giamatti) assigned to drive her around during her stay would also play a pivotal role.

That productive two-week visit is revisited by Saving Mr. Banks, a dramatization directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side). The picture’s title is a reference to Mary Poppins’ employer George Banks, who was among the many characters Travers was trying to protect.

Credit consummate thespians Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson for approaching their lead roles in such convincing fashion that a period piece about a contract negotiation actually proves entertaining. Hanks pours on the folksy charm impersonating the legendary Disney opposite the chameleon-like Thompson who takes her sweet time as the steely Travers to soften from skeptical to enthusiastic about the proposed project.

While Saving Mr. Banks certainly waxes sentimental and ends on an upbeat note, a Mary Poppins sequel was not to be, despite the fact that the original won five Academy Awards. For, Travers and Disney had such a big falling out prior to the picture’s release that she wasn’t even invited to the premiere.

Furthermore, she remained so enraged about her book’s mistreatment at the hands of the studio that she went to her grave refusing to entertain overtures for another adaptation, even reaffirming that preference in her will. However, the truth never seems to get in the way of a syrupy cinematic send-up with a stock, “happily ever after” ending.

To paraphrase Mary Poppins, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps revisionist history go down,” and in a most delightful way!

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 125 minutes

 

 

A Madea Christmas

Lionsgate Films

Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude humor and sexual references

Tyler Perry’s Back In Drag For Adaptation Of Holiday-Themed Play

Mabel “Madea” Simmons is the moralizing, motor-mouthed senior citizen created and first introduced on stage by the incomparable Tyler Perry. The compulsive granny is a self-righteous vigilante who can’t help but intervene on the spot whenever she sees an innocent victim being bullied by a sadistic villain.

At the point of departure in A Madea Christmas, the eighth screen adventure in the popular film series, we find her working as Mrs. Santa Claus in a downtownAtlanta department store. The seasonal job affords the politically incorrect impersonator an opportunity to shock kids and their ears-covering parents with a profusion of her trademark off-color asides and English-mangling malapropisms.

Soon after she’s unceremoniously relieved of her duties, Madea decides to drive with her niece, Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford), to tiny Bucktussle, Alabama, to spend the holidays with the latter’s daughter, Lacey (Tika Sumpter), the local schoolmarm.

What neither of them knows is that Lacey recently eloped with a likable local yokel, but failed to inform her mom about the marriage because Conner (Eric Lively) is white. She fears her mother might object to the interracial liaison. Complicating matters further is the fact that coming along for the ride is Oliver (JR Lemon), Lacey’s ex-boyfriend who’d like to rekindle a little romance.

Meanwhile, Oliver has told his parents, Buddy (Larry The Cable Guy) and Kim (Kathy Najimy) about the nuptials, and they are arriving soon from Louisiana, so something’s gotta give. But rather than come clean, Lacey enlists her new in-laws’ help in hiding the truth.

Unfolding in accordance with the age-old “One Big Lie” TV sitcom formula, A Madea Christmas is a pleasant, if predictable, modern parable peppered with plenty of humorous asides. Tika Sumpter and Eric Lively manage to generate just enough chemistry to be convincing as shy newlyweds.

But the production is at its best when Madea and equally-outrageous Buddy are trading barbs toe-to-toe. For instance, when he tries to tell “the one about the two rabbis and the black dude,” he’s cut off by Madea asking if he’s heard “the one about the stray bullet that kills the redneck for telling the story about the two rabbis and the black dude.”

Sassy sister squares-off against backwoods hillbilly for lots of harmless laughs!

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 105 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening Christmas Day 2013

 

47 Ronin (PG-13 for intense violence, disturbing images and mature themes) Martial arts saga, set in 18th century Japan, about a biracial outcast (Keanu Reeves) who joins a group of grieving samurai seeking vengeance for the murder of their sensei. With Ko Shibasaki, Hiroyuki Sanada and Min Tanaka. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

 

August: Osage County (R for profanity, sexual references and drug use) Meryl Streep heads an A-list cast in this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan’s reunion for the funeral of its self-destructive patriarch (Sam Shepard). Ensemble includes Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson.

 

Grudge Match (PG-13 for violence, sexuality and profanity) Sly Stallone and Robert De Niro co-star in this comedy about a couple of aging boxers coaxed out of retirement for a rematch three decades after their first scheduled bout was canceled. With Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin and Kim Basinger.

 

Justin Bieber’s Believe (PG for brief profanity and mature themes) Reverential biopic offering a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at the 19-year-old pop icon. Featuring appearances by Usher, Will.i.Am and Ellen Degeneres.

 

Lone Survivor (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) memoir recounting his harrowing ordeal as a member of a team of Navy SEALs ambushed by the Taliban while on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. With Eric Bana, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch.

 

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (PG for violence, crude humor and mild epithets) Ben Stiller directed and stars as the title character of this remake of the 1947, Danny Kaye classic based on the James Thurber story about a mild-mannered milquetoast with a fertile imagination. Support cast includes Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly, Kathryn Hahn and Shirley MacLaine.

 

The Wolf Of Wall Street (R for violence, graphic nudity, explicit sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Cautionary biopic recounting the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a notorious penny stockbroker convicted of securities fraud in 2003. With Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner and Jon Favreau.

 

The Invisible Woman (PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and brief violence) Historical drama revolving around Charles Dickens’ (Ralph Fiennes) clandestine relationship with the mistress (Felicity Jones) he kept hidden from the height of his career until his death. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Michelle Fairely and Tom Hollander.

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