herald

Monday 23 April 2018

THOMPSON STEALS THE SHOW AS PO-FACED POPPINS WRITER

saving mr banks Drama: Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, Ruth Wilson Director: John Lee Hancock Cert: pg

THE idea that the Disney Corporation's version of how its founder managed to persuade the notoriously truculent author PL Travers to part with the rights for her Mary Poppins books, thus giving Disney one of its best-loved films, would be a warts and all retelling, was never going to be on the cards. However, while more than a spoonful of sugar has undoubtedly been sprinkled over how these events unfolded, they do so in a most delightful way.

Beginning in Australia in 1906, we see bank employee Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and his worried-looking wife Margaret (Ruth Wilson) preparing to pack their bags to move to a new posting in the outback. Goff is something of a fantasist and dreamer (and more besides, as we find out later), but instils a love of storytelling and imagination in his children, particularly the eldest daughter Helen (Annie Rose Buckley).

Fast-forward to 1961 and Helen is now PL Travers (Emma Thompson), a profoundly intolerant woman (in real life she was a truly abominable human being, by all accounts) who, yet again, has turned down entreaties from the Disney people for the rights to Mary Poppins. However, faced with a difficult financial situation and granted final say on the script (which was unprecedented for any major studio at the time or pretty much since), she reluctantly agrees to travel to Los Angeles to help knock a story into shape. This is where the real meat of the movie lies.

An avuncular Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) – well, Disney were hardly going to portray their sainted founder the way he appears in most unauthorised biographies, now were they? – proves remarkably tolerant in dealing with the prickly Travers, repeatedly reminding her that he'd been pursuing the rights for two decades on the back of a promise he'd made to his daughters. Such niceties aren't reciprocated, not to Disney and certainly not to screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak), as Travers bitches and moans over every word, refuses to have animation, insists on rewriting songs and gives the set designers nightmares.

frustrating

Thompson is magnificent, giving a portrayal of a woman so cussedly frustrating that you begin to wonder how her fellow actors didn't snap and try to strangle her. Hanks, meanwhile, is his usual reliable screen presence as the indulgent Disney, Colin Farrell very sympathetic as the troubled Goff while Paul Giamatti shines gently as the sweet-natured driver appointed to Travers for her stay in LA.

The strength of the script lies in how, through the use of flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, we get to realise why Travers is the way she is. While Saving Mr Banks does have its occasional slow and sentimental moments, it's a fine, well- constructed film. HHHHI

CARRIE Horror: Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort Director: Kimberley Peirce Cert: 15A

WITH Brian De Palma's 1976 version of Stephen King's debut novel (rightly) regarded as a horror classic, you'd have to wonder what is the point of this exercise. It's certainly not a "reimagining" (to use that terrible cop-out term), given that the plot is exactly the same and certain scenes are word for word and shot for shot from the original, so why has director Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss) revisited such iconic material?

Okay, Chloe Grace Moretz is the right age for the character of Carrie White, but doesn't have the same otherworldy air that Sissy Spacek had, even though she was 27 playing the role. One admittedly excellent early addition to the plot is the fact that Carrie's humiliation when she has her first period in the communal shower is recorded on a phone and uploaded to YouTube but, that aside, it's business as usual.

The story, for anyone who's never seen a horror film, involves a lonely outsider with a religious nut of a mother (Julianne Moore, great as usual, but not as genuinely frightening as Piper Laurie) who discovers she has telekinetic powers that are unleashed with devastating effect when she's humiliated at her school prom. Peirce has more CGI firepower at her disposal than Brian De Palma had in 1976 and goes all-out in the final third but, for all that, the original had far more nuances and subtlety (and we're talking about a Brian De Palma movie, remember) than are on show here. A decent enough way to while away a wet afternoon, but nothing more than that. HHHII

The best man holiday Comedy/Drama: Starring Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Melissa de Sousa, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan Director: Malcolm D Lee Cert: 15A

HAVING been blissfully unaware of 1999's The Best Man, I saw this not knowing it was a sequel, but that doesn't matter as this ensemble comedy/drama is so cliched and clunky it could have been cobbled together from any number of movies.

A group of college friends get together at the mansion of football player Lance (Morris Chestnut) for a reunion over Christmas with all manner of old resentments and rivalries coming to the surface. The tone is bizarre throughout, shifting from vulgarity and sexual innuendo to women having fistfights and then lurching to a scene where small children sing a hymn to the baby Jesus while their cancer-stricken mother looks on. Will there be a mad dash to hospital as one of the women goes into labour? Will there be namechecks to the Man Above? Will there be Christmas songs all over the soundtrack? Will you feel like scooping your eyes out with a spoon? HIIII

ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK: Jeune et Jolie (Cert 18), the latest film from Francois Ozon was a major talking-point at Cannes this year, with its look at how a middle-class teenager (Marine Vacth) becomes a call girl. Vacth was acclaimed for her performance, and we'd love to have seen it but the distributors failed to provide an Irish press screening. Well done again, Lionsgate, ye're playing a blinder.

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