“Saving Mr. Banks”
What this film does effectively is explore relationships. The most direct relationship exploration is between the total opposites – the reclusive writer of “Mary Poppins,” P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson and the extrovert Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks. But Thompson as a crotchety Travers inadvertently incites interactions that develop characters in a strong, story-driven way. Director John Lee Hancock used the same technique in “The Blind Side.” But this time, it’s more subtle, and the actors are more nuanced. Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are an all-star supporting cast just doing their part to make a good film. And equally as compelling is the music. The script builds the soundtrack around the film. We watch the songs evolve. It’s not an earth-shaking film, but it’ll have you singing, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” – worth a watch.
“August: Osage County”
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Talk about an all-star cast. Check out this list – Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch. Then for good measure, throw in a few quality TV method actors with Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson. Oscar and history be damned, Streep deserved another award for her performance. But all the members of this cast take almost equal turns making you laugh and feeling sorry for them and pissing you off. Roberts has never been more powerful. Lewis proves why she was a cinematic darling in the ‘90s. Cooper and Shepard are as even-handed and dependable as always. Breslin is a talent with the best agent ever. Nicholson’s name should be seen more and more. It’s one of those stories that lays itself bare, warts and all, and dares you to look away. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s worth a watch.
Yes, Vin Diesel was in “Saving Private Ryan.” Yes, he was the voice of “The Iron Giant.” But let’s be honest, Diesel’s career kicked into gear with this character back in 2000’s “Pitch Black.” Back before all the car chase movies and the flops in between, he played an antihero in a sleek sci-fi flick. Then in 2004, came “The Chronicles of Riddick,” a torpidly overblown sequel. This follow-up was so bad it took almost a decade to return to the franchise. So, would franchise writer/director David Twohy and Diesel (controlling producer) take us back to the sleeker wasteland of the original film or the wasted banality of the second? The answer is a bit of both. There’s enough back-story to totally confuse newcomers and casual fans. But don’t worry about it because it’s almost the exact same plot as “Pitch Black.” There are plenty of stock characters to disembowel, decapitate and double-cross. There are plenty of clichéd computer-generated monsters. There are more than enough flat one-liners. Riddick’s first name is Richard, so let’s do what the last name tells us to do and be rid of the Dick already – pass.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge