That is not a word! – Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell

Mary Poppins is one of those films that most people love, but who, like me, had no idea where the story came from or that it was originally a book. The author, Mrs P.L. Travers was a fascinating woman as we discover in this film. Emma Thompson really carries this film. Her diversity and skill in being able to portray anyone at any time (I recently re-watched some of the Harry Potter films and she is unrecognisable as Prof. Trelawny) is a blessing to the character of P.L. Travers. She is an unpleasant, particular, and snobbish kind of woman. Although she grew up in the outback of Australia she rejected her Australian nature for a British and Irish obsession. It is the contrast between the character from her early days in Australia with her family and her life after she left Australia that really give this film depth.

The story is simple enough, flashbacks to the little girl, Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley), with the ongoing saga of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) insisting she give them the rights to make the book of Mary Poppins into the film. But it is the simplicity and ordinary nature of the story that makes it a powerful tale. A girl who is continually with wanting to live in an imaginary world and the the world telling her that it is not a fairytale. The dissipation of hope and the insistence of harsh reality. The little girl is washed away through the bleakness of the world and yet, through all of this, she creates a wonderful world of fiction. An escape that captures the minds of millions of people. And it is this essential quality that Emma Thompson is able to present in beautiful clarity through her dealings with Walt Disney and the script and song writers of Mary Poppins.

Another stand out performance for me, mostly because I am Australian, is that of Colin Farrell. His Australian accent is perfectly subdued and subtle. So many times accents can be overdone, and Farrell managed to make it real. His charm and frivolity make the father of Ginty come alive. Without the rawness of the performance this film could have failed to bind together Mrs Travers’ past self and future self. The cohesion of the film is sturdy rather than flippant which is evidently the work of John Lee Hancock (The Blindside, The Rookie) as the director. To create a world where joy is balanced and juxtaposed with sadness.

I would never claim that this film is one of my favourites, it has its flaws, however I do believe that the essence of the film is an important tale to be told, such as the one in Mary Poppins. Without hope, playfulness, and a little imagination, this world is as bleak as we want to make it. We have minds that are capable of making even the smallest of chores a joy. Reality is only as harsh as we imagine it to be, so why not imagine it to be like a spoonful of sugar?

3.5/5

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True love or real love? – Frozen

Frozen - Original Poster - from IMDB.com

Frozen – Original Poster – from IMDB.com

Frozen (2013)

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee (screenplay), Hans Christian Andersen (inspired by the story “The Snow Queen” by), Chris Buck (story), Jennifer Lee (story), Shane Morris (story)
Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel

I love Disney films. Actually, I love most animation films. It is the child in me and the giddy little girl that loves to dream of worlds with magic and kingdoms and the prospect of true love. But as someone that likes to think of herself as a feminist, in my adult years I have become more and more concerned with the fact that “Disney Princesses” have become a whole franchise on their own that take away the great things about the princesses in the 1990-2000s film and reduce them back to Snow White-esque films. The little girl who knows no better than to clean a house, sing a song, and then almost die, only to be saved by a kiss from a creepy guy that has been trying to track her down because he heard her sing once. Seriously, that’s kind of scary. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid portray these women who are only present to be “won” by a prince and then married off to them. Most of the time they don’t even hold a conversation before falling deeply in love. And then we have the 90s princesses. Fierce women like Belle, Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine and Tiana who are women whose first priority isn’t to marry but to be great women. They reject the stereotype of true love and want to be women who are strong and independent women. But they all end up married or in love anyway. Then in the 2010 we were given Rapunzel, a princess who verges between the pre-90s and 90s princesses. Someone who does housework but is also seeking independence and freedom, and who also, just like all the others, falls in love. I love Tangled but there is always that itching feeling that it is coated in that “Disney Princess” franchise femininity that makes me cringe.

In 2012 Disney gave us Merida. The first Disney Princess that doesn’t fall in love. Where the story is about a mother-daughter relationship rather than a prince-princess relationship. And it was great. So when Frozen arrived on our screens this year I was anxious. I wondered whether Disney would continue with this theme of not needing a man to be a whole person, or whether they would go back to their roots that they had tried to get rid of. Disney did not disappoint. They managed to combine both stories of true love and equality in fantastic fashion. Two strong female characters, one your Sleeping Beauty type and the other Merida type. The rejection of traditional “true love” and the exploration of real love, was heartwarming. Elsa and Anna are princesses that I would like to look up to. Women who don’t let themselves be controlled by society but help shape it to fit them and create a world of inclusion rather than exclusion. Disney managed to turn their archetypes of hero and villain around and surprise us for once. It is funny, sad, inspiring, surprising, uplifting and visually gorgeous.

Frozen, even with its flaws (yes it still does have some), is a film that I will watch and re-watch like I have Beauty and the Beast and Mulan. Sisters forever!

4/5

Childhood revisited – Monsters University

Monsters University - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Monsters University – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Monsters University (2013)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Writers: Dan Scanlon (story and screenplay), Daniel Gerson (story and screenplay), Robert L. Baird (story and screenplay)
Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Helen Mirren.

Origin stories have become a real fad in cinema recently. It’s always fun to have a prequel to story you love, but there can be that niggling feeling at the back of your mind of the what ifs. What if they stuff it up? What if the characters aren’t as you remember them to be? What if it’s just a bad film?

Well Monsters University knocked all those what ifs from my mind the moment it started. The humour, the characters, the lightness was all there. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) are back in this funny origins story. Monsters University is where all the great scarers are trained to go on to work at Monsters Inc. Disney is the champion of these types of stories. You know the ones, the little guy struggles against the big corporation to make them see that their prejudices are misplaced and then they all live happily ever after. Of course there is always much more to the story than just that, and Disney definitely know how to make it great. Monsters University doesn’t fail to live up to my high expectations. It is funny, heartwarming, and brings back all the delight of the first film.

Mike and Sully are headed to university. Both have dreams of being the best scarers the Monsters University has ever seen but they are both from very different worlds. Sully comes from a long line of scarers. Mike does not. Mike is a dreamer. He wants to be scary, but what is scary about a small green ball with a large eye? Mike and Sully are not friends. They are competitive, and polar opposites when it comes to scaring. But then they both get kicked out of the scaring major and must work together with a bunch of misfit monsters to win the Scare Games and the respect of their peers.

Monsters University is charming, funny, and has a great moral lesson woven into it. It’ll be one of my favourite animated films in the years to come. Almost everything about this film is great.

5/5

To make or to remake? – Footloose

Footloose - 2011 Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Footloose – 2011 Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Footloose (2011)

Director: Craig Brewer
Writers: Dean Pitchford (screenplay & story) and Craig Brewer (screenplay)
Stars: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough and Dennis Quaid

There is nothing new under the sun, or on our movie screens. Whether it’s book-to-movie adaptations, comic hero films, version 2, 3, 4 or 5 using the same characters over and over again, or just Disney rehashing the same old princess story again, it seems that the majority of the films nowadays aren’t showing us anything new or creative. Don’t get me wrong, there are some gems in this (including Toy Story 3 which I prefer over the second and almost over the first or unique films like Moonrise Kingdom) but studios want to make films that will earn the big bucks, and I will pay to see those big blockbusters like everyone else.

But when it comes remaking films there seems to be complete lack of creativity in this idea. Why would you re-do something that was perfect to begin with? Or at least perfect for the original idea. It confuses me when people think these remakes will be as successful as the original, or even come close to being as satisfying. So when I hit a low point last night and watched Footloose (the remake) for the first time after delaying it for as long as I could resist, I went in with the assumption that it was never going to be as great as Kevin Bacon dancing his arse off in the factory or Lori Singer dare-deviling between the two cars with the truck approaching. You can’t beat that classic 80s recklessness. We may be stupid and reckless nowadays but the 80s kids were competing with their hippy-turned-conservative parents, we were never going to be able to beat that.

The remake wasn’t awful, it had the moments of cheesy triumph over The Man and the brilliance of gentlemanly behaviour trumping the bad boy act. But the entire time I was thinking about the original and how awesome it was. The only improvement I could see (mainly because I didn’t really remember it from the original) was the aunt and uncle’s support of Ren.

With the lack of success that Total Recall has received, along with the remake of a bunch of other films coming to cinemas soon – including Red Dawn, Point Break, Annie, and A Star Is Born – it just makes me wonder, what is the point? I know there are so many brilliantly creative people out there with fantastic ideas for films, if we invested some more money into developing them we could create a new era of fantastic films rather than rehashing films that were fine to begin with.

What do you think? Are remakes worth it? Or should we rebel against the big studios and only support original screenplays and indie films?

The Woman I Wish I Was – Beauty & The Beast

Beauty and the Beast - 3D Poster - from IMDB.com

Beauty and the Beast – 3D Poster – from IMDB.com

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Stars: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and Richard White

There is something truly magical about Disney. It is the fantasy it creates of a world where issues can be overcome, where evil falls and good triumphs, where all things end in the most spectacular of ways. But the endings have never been my favourite part. I also like to see where the characters begin. And this is why Beauty and the Beast is still my favourite Disney film. Not just Disney “princess” film, but Disney film overall. And it is all because of who Belle is at the beginning of the film.

The first time you meet Belle she is walking into the village and the whole town erupts in song around her. The way she treats people through this sequence is what I love and the fact that she is strong, intelligent, polite, respectful, humble, and the same to all people. Her sense of equality breaks through the walls of the judgment she faces from the town, and even when it comes to the ghastly Gaston, she is polite and dismisses him respectfully, if only a little tersely. She is accepting of everyone and the one person she tells her true judgments to is her father, and even then she gives reasonable accounts of why she dislikes someone like Gaston.

Her whimsy, strength, sacrifice, boldness, and adventurous nature continue to be what shapes her throughout the film. When she comes up against the Beast her response is one of fearlessness and willingness to take him on and see past the harsh exterior of his beastly appearance. This is what I love about Belle. I love her character for every single moment of this film, there is never a point when I don’t like her or disagree with what she does. She is honest and kind and thinks of others as well as herself. She is encouraging and joyous of everyone and seeks to treat them as she would like to be treated. The only moment when I think she does the wrong thing is when she goes into the west wing where the Beast has forbidden her to go, but even then I would’ve done the same, just not on the first night I was there… And even then you expect it because, let’s be honest, the Beast is asking for it as soon as he says it’s “forbidden”.

Belle was my role model as I was growing up. She was my heroine of all literature. It was her intelligence and strength that captivated me and made me want to be her. I didn’t necessarily want to fall in love with a prince and live in a big castle but I did want to be strong and wise and kind.

Who has your role model been from a film, book, tv series, or other form of literature?

A Love Story Without A Marriage At The End – Brave

Brave - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Brave – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Brave (2012)

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
Writers: Mark Andrews (screenplay) and Steve Purcell (screenplay) and Brenda Chapman (screenplay) and Irene Mecchi (screenplay), and Brenda Chapman (story)
Stars: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson

One of my favourite Spice Girls’ song is Mama because it’s not your usual soppy song but it’s about girls gaining understanding about their mums and what they have had to put up with as they have raised us. It speaks of a kind of love which is unique, frustrating, and that triumphs in forgiveness and humility. It is simply beautiful.

Brave is not your typical Disney Princess story. It’s the story of a girl who is faced with a situation which is unpleasant any which way she looks and with a mother who, although trying to do what is best for her daughter, is trying to push her daughter along a path that clashes with everything her daughter feels. It is about women with fierce pride and about their tortured journey to try and communicate and understand each other’s point of view.

Disney has once again created a beautiful tale of strong female characters and a story that reflects our day and age. The idea of independence, of choice, and of the power to be who you are is one that has really been taking shape for a while now but has really come out in our narratives recently. And I love it. It is a wonderfully powerful role model and heroine for young women and allows us to break out and explore the world in our own way. It is about coming to the realisation that our mother’s want the best for us, but that we also need to teach them as much as they teach us. Ultimately it is a love story between mother and daughter.

I loved this film because it was typical Disney with it’s great comic timing in animation and its brilliant narrative of adventure, discovery, forgiveness, and triumph. The biggest surprise in this film is that there isn’t really an “evil” that the protagonist is fighting against. There is a witch but she isn’t necessarily evil, and there is a mad bear but he’s just sick with power and loneliness. There is no evil villain but there is the battle of pride which Merida and her mother have to come through. It is this aspect that makes the film different from other Disney princess films and appealing to me as a viewer. I didn’t have high expectations for Brave because I was afraid it was going to be underwhelming like Princess and the Frog was. But Brave really blew me away as it was a beautiful animation and narrative that made me laugh and sigh and come out of feeling uplifted. And that’s what Disney films are meant to do right? They are meant to make you dream and make you feel like anything is possible in the world. Merida is a wonderfully strong heroine and I loved this film so much it may end up bumping Tangled down into third place in my top Disney films list. Beauty and The Beast will always be my favourite but Brave is about a restored mother/daughter relationship and that is a wonderful breath of fresh air in Disney films as it makes up for all those evil step-mothers and their mistreatment of their children. Now we have a magnificent mother character in Disney.

Worst Titled Action Film Ever – John Carter

John Carter - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

John Carter – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

John Carter (2011)

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton (screenplay), Mark Andrews (screenplay), Michael Chabon (screenplay), and Edgar Rice Burroughs (story “A Princess of Mars”)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

Yes yes, I know, it wasn’t the greatest action film ever. For anyone who hasn’t seen it John Carter is a little bit of everything. Indiana Jones meets Stargate meets Star Wars (Phantom Menace style rather than Return of the Jedi unfortunately) meets Thor meets Gladiator. Did Disney decide it wanted to make a movie that had every possible reference to a cult action film in the history of action film? Because I think they succeeded in doing that, but failed in providing a good script to do so. The storytelling did not seem to be the main focus of this film rather it tried to get all the special effects right, and in that it did pretty well. The creatures were brilliant, the landscape beautiful, and the action scenes were good enough, but I am sad to say that it just didn’t hold up in the storytelling department. Also why call a film “John Carter”, seriously championing the race to worst titled action film ever award. The acting by Taylor Kitsch was okay, but I just wasn’t sold by him, I’m sure they could’ve found a better fit for the John Carter role, although he may not have been my type – I just wanted him to get his hair off his face most of the time, but maybe that was a hair & make up error rather than the actor in particular. I wanted to be on his side but I was more going for the heroines of the film than any of the male characters. Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris character was much more compelling and I kind of wanted the film to revolve around her rather than John Carter.

In saying all that, I could go on about the other negatives, I have to say I quite enjoyed the ridiculousness of this film. It was fun and silly and exciting and I did eventually get drawn in by the characters and the story (mainly because I just gave up trying to wish it to be a better film and just started enjoying it) and I came out of the cinema feeling satisfied that it was just a fun film, as terrible as it was.

I know I can be quite generous with films and my critiques aren’t the most in depth but sometimes films are just meant to be enjoyed, as silly as they are. I mean if you look at the Star Wars franchise you can see that George Lucas may not be the best storyteller/script writer known to man, but gosh he makes exciting films that will forever be immortalised into film history as films that changed cinema forever. John Carter won’t ever be up on that same scale, but it’s nice sometimes just to watch a bad film for entertainment purposes and to get lost in the world that the filmmakers have tried to create.