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Elvis (2022) Review

Elvis sees a legendary life all shook up

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS is a dazzling, rhinestone-studded cinematic spectacle that takes audiences on a wild ride through the life of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Much like Presley’s own career, though, the film is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, glittering successes, and baffling missteps.

The film chronicles the rise and fall of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), from his humble beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his meteoric rise to stardom and his complex relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Narrated by Parker, the film offers a unique, if somewhat skewed, perspective on the King’s journey through fame, excess, and eventual decline.

Austin Butler’s star-making turn as Presley is undeniably the film’s crowning achievement. Butler channels the essence of Elvis, capturing his charisma, energy, and vulnerability. His performance is a tour de force, embodying the pure essence of the King without descending into mere impersonation. Butler’s portrayal brings a sense of authenticity to a film that often veers into the fantastical as Luhrmann’s trademark directorial flourishes ensure the film is visually spectacular, blending old-school Hollywood glamour with modern cinematic techniques. The musical sequences burst with energy, capturing the raw power of Presley’s performances and going some way to explaining the artist’s mass appeal to an audience separated from events by nearly seven decades.

However, not all that glitters is gold and Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker is a significant misstep. Laden with heavy prosthetics and an awkward accent, Hanks’ performance feels more like a caricature than a nuanced portrayal, eroding the film’s emotional impact. Parker’s depiction as a cartoonishly evil figure undermines feels out of step with what Butler is trying to do, disrupting the story’s nuanced balance and making it harder to connect with the narrative on a deeper level.

Luhrmann’s trademark maximalism is both a strength and a weakness. The film’s frenetic pacing and overstuffed narrative leave little room for deeper exploration of Presley’s personal struggles and relationships. Important aspects of Elvis’ life, such as his relationship with his mother and the darker sides of his fame, are glossed over or handled superficially, making it feel more like a series of dazzling set pieces than a cohesive story and whether you’re a die-hard fan or just casually acquainted with the works of Mr Presley, you’re unlikely to come out of the movie with any greater understanding of the man, his life and music than you had when you went in.

While it shares the same sense of kinetic energy and opulent style as MOULIN ROUGE, ELVIS lacks the emotional depth and character development that gilded THE GREAT GATSBY. It’s undeniably entertaining, but it often feels like style over substance, a rhinestone-studded spectacle that dazzles but doesn’t fully satisfy.

While it makes a sincere effort to capture the truth of its titular character, it flirts at times with hagiography, avoiding some of the more lurid aspects of Presley’s later life, preferring to focus instead on his music and his influence on American culture. At its core, ELVIS is a film that, much like its subject, is larger than life, full of contradictions and occasionally bizarre choices and deep fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches. It’s a riotous, dazzling experience that celebrates the King’s legacy with all the subtlety of a neon-drenched Las Vegas marquee while also critiquing the forces that drove and ultimately exploited him.

For fork’s sake – Toy Story 4 (2019) asks Game Of Thrones to hold its juicebox.

“Toy Story”, “Toy Story 2” and “Toy Story 3” remain one of the finest movie trilogies ever brought to life on the big screen. “Toy Story 4”, on the other hand, feels like one of those reunion specials that seem to be so in vogue right now, getting the whole band back together only to ignore almost all of them in favour of a new assortment of merchandise characters.

When Bonnie comes back from her first day of kindergarten with a new self-made toy, Forky (Tony Hale), Woody and the gang do everything they can to help the jittery newcomer settle in. But when Forky is lost on a road trip Woody sets out to rescue him only to find himself trapped in an antique store by a sinister doll named Gabby Gabby. But some new friends – and a very old one – are about to show Woody what the world can be for a toy.

First off, this is a Pixar movie and so, of course, the animation and character design are superb, no doubt about that. Also delightful, in the classic Pixar mould, are some of the new additions, like Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) who get the share of the movie’s laughs but unfortunately, they’re poorly served by a story which always feels like two or three TV specials joined together and never manages to become more than the sum of its parts.

As the poster boy and instigator of the plot of “Toy Story 4”, it comes as something of a surprise when Forky all but disappears from the second half of the movie although given how tiresome his popsicle schtick quickly becomes, we should be grateful for small mercies. In its place comes a plot about a sinister toy doll who controls an antique shop and the return of the long-thought-lost Bo Beep. While Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) initially seems like a do-over of Lotso from “Toy Story 3”, her story is a shade more poignant, casting her as the injection-moulded Miss Haversham of the “Toy Story” universe. Being faulty straight out of the box, she has never had a kid of her own and sees her chance of salvation in Woody’s functional voice box. Her desperation for meaning through having a kid of her own is contrasted against Bo Beep’s liberation.

The “Toy Story” franchise has always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with some of the consequences of its superficially enchanting premise of toys coming to life, their relationship with their children and, especially, the occasional nudge nudge wink wink innuendo of ‘being played with’. Where “Toy Story 3” dealt eloquently and poetically with the inevitability of children growing older and moving on from playing with toys, “Toy Story 4” doubles down on the toy/ child relationship being explicitly and repeatedly shown to be pseudo-parental, with the central question being: what is Bo and Gabby’s purpose if they don’t have children? Time and time again, the movie suggests that a toy without a kid is less than whole and even while reaffirming Bo’s right to choose the ‘lost toy’ lifestyle the movie side-eyes it again and again. Forky’s plotline may begin with the existential horror of Bonnie being an oblivious ‘creator god’ but the movie at least has the sense to ignore ‘all the questions’ that the idea (and Trixie the Triceratops) raises.

It’s in how “Toy Story 4” handles Woody, though, that the film takes its biggest risk. He’s the focus of the lion’s share of the action – even Forky’s story is framed by how it impacts Woody – but the rest of the OG “Toy Story” gang are given practically nothing to do (Buzz, at least, gets a fun running gag about his ‘inner voice’). Ultimately, there’s a bold and unexpected choice made here that may sit very uneasily with many “Toy Story” fans, calling to mind the sudden shifts of character motivation and action which caused such consternation at the end of “Game Of Thrones”.

Of course, all this idle speculation and digging for meaning is symptomatic of the fact the movie just didn’t keep me as spellbound as previous Pixar efforts (and particularly “Toy Story” instalments) have done. As for the movie’s target audience, though, they loved it. Mertmas and The Littlest Craggling thought it was fantastic and even Mrs Craggus, while conceding it wasn’t nearly as good as the three previous movies, enjoyed it a lot. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one having a midlife crisis. Maybe I’ve outgrown toy stories. God, I hope not.

6/10 

The Post (2018) Review

It may be a timely reminder of the vital importance of a free and independent press but despite the zeitgeist-harnessing subject matter, there’s something that never quite stops the presses about Steven Spielberg’s “The Post”.

When explosive details of a cover-up spanning three decades and four presidential administrations come to light, the New York Times is the first to break the story. But as the government musters its full powers to prevent and further embarrassing leaks, it falls to Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and The Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to decide whether to risk their freedom and the future of the newspaper and publish the papers.

Between the lead actors and Director Spielberg, there’s an effortless confidence on display here that could easily, in an unflattering light, be taken as smugness. Of course, Streep and Hanks are terrific in their roles, he as the brash, publish-and-be-damned newsman, she as the thoughtful but determined publisher beset by self-doubt and the doubts of the men who comprise her board of directors. There’s a straightforwardness to the narrative which Spielberg handles effortlessly and, save for a handful of electric scenes, there’s a sedate pace which saps the drama.

Superficially, it’s a somewhat ordinary movie. There are no visual flourishes or arch camera trickery just a thoroughly faithful recreation of the time period of the story – it’s quite something to see how newspapers came together to be printed back in those days. Beneath the surface, though, there’s an entire world of subtly and nuance as Spielberg uses light, colour and costume to season the visuals to perfection. The understated aesthetic is a deliberate and understandable move: the power of “The Post”, the importance of it, is in its message, not its medium. It is a warning to the present day from not so long ago.

Hopefully, it’s that cautionary example that will stay with you long after the film itself has faded. It’s a supremely well-made and well-acted movie but remarkable only in its unremarkableness despite the talent involved. It speaks to the quality and skill of all those involved when something which is undeniably very, very good still somehow feels a little bit disappointing.

7/10 

The Circle (2017) Review

Available right now on Netflix, this 2017 techno-thriller seems to have a lot going for it: a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, John Boyega and Bill Paxton in his final role and a plot focussed on subject matter lifted directly from news headlines. So it’s something of a surprise that it all falls so horribly, clumsily flat.

When Mae Holland (Emma Watson) manages to get a job at tech giant The Circle thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), she can’t believe her luck. As she acclimatises to the company’s way of life, she begins to share more and more of her life with the firm’s social media tools. After the company’s technology is instrumental in saving her life during a foolish kayaking incident, Mae agrees to go ‘completely transparent’, living her life in the open, online, much to the delight of the leaders of the company, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt). But The Circle has an agenda, and it doesn’t have Mae’s best interests at heart.

Adapted from his own novel by Dave Eggers, “The Circle” clearly has its critical focus set on the Googles and Facebooks of the world and Mae’s initial introduction into the corporation has more in common with “The Internship” than “The Social Network” although both are clearly present in director James Ponsoldt’s mind as he brings the script to life. It’s in the script the film’s flaws lie, though, and its muddled and incoherent plotting prevents the characters or the narrative from achieving any semblance of momentum and consistency. Ultimately, “The Circle” wants to be a debate on the fundamental principles of privacy versus transparency and while it clearly favours the latter, it offers nothing but logical fallacies in support of it.

It’s Watson’s character who bears the brunt of being mangled in the mismatched cogs of character development and she’s simply not up to the task of making Mae’s seduction by The Circle’s agenda at all convincing, let alone lending any credibility to her position by the end of the movie given everything she’s experienced. None of the expository speeches by any of the characters who deliver them (of which there are more than a few) in defence of a universal surveillance state monopolised by a single corporation would stand up to even the slightest critical cross-examination and, as a result, our heroine comes across as guileless, gullible and utterly lacking in the charisma necessary for her to fulfil the role the story requires. Other characters are simply slapped around arbitrarily by a screenplay which is content to make them do what it needs them to do without investing any time or effort on logical character development or consistency.

Karen Gillan is one of the few cast members to actually try to bring her role to life but her character’s sudden turn for the worse seems to come out of nowhere and has no real impact. Hanks and Oswalt seem unwilling or unable to take their roles as the de facto ‘bad guys’ seriously but then again, the film never really establishes specifically (or generally) whether they are evil, and if they are what they may have done. The late Bill Paxton (in his final screen role) and Glenne Headly (in her penultimate screen appearance) find themselves trapped in a tagged-on Lifetime Movie of The Week subplot which also ensnares “Boyhood”’s Ellar Coltrane but it’s John Boyega who is most wasted in a near pointless role as an off-the-grid co-founder of The Circle who has misgivings about the company’s direction yet allies himself willingly with its profoundly naïve poster child.

There is clearly scope for an intelligent and incisive thriller based around the potential dark side of social media, the intrusive potential of biometric technology and how far we as a society are willing to trade independence and privacy for security and convenience but “The Circle” is not that movie. It’s a slapdash, incompetent waste of two hours of your life which doesn’t just insult your intelligence, it trolls it.

2/10 

Sully: Miracle On The Hudson (2016) Review

There’s an inherent challenge in creating films of real life events, especially when said real life events lasted for a total of just under four minutes. The trick becomes one of spinning out the story enough for a film without over padding it with filler. Thankfully, Eastwood’s economical 96 minute retelling of SULLY: MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON largely overcomes this thanks to a creatively non-linear story structure and an almost-to-the-exclusion-of-all-others focus on the story’s iconic figure: Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger.

As with Flight 1549, it’s in its leading man that the film finds its saviour, Hanks’ easy charisma and skill bringing the underpowered screenplay in for a successful landing. He manages to imbue Sully with the necessary professional nobility without ever making him seem more than just a good man doing the job he loves to the best of his abilities. The screenplay tries very hard to extort some supplementary drama from the subsequent crash investigation but in doing so just seems to unfairly portray the National Transportation Safety Board as vindictive, corrupt and incompetent.

Hanks is surrounded by a decent cast, but there’s little for them to do and almost all of them are upstaged by Aaron Eckhart’s (who’s clearly entered the method hairstyle era of his career *cough* “Bleed For This” *cough”) moustache.

Ultimately between them, Hanks and Eastwood do enough to elevate SULLY: MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON above the Discovery Channel special it could so easily have become but it’s a strain to stretch it out to 96 minutes and it shows, ironically enough, in a final, abrupt volte-face by the NTSB panel hearing which closes the movie.

6/10

Inferno (2016) Review

Even a symbologist as obtuse and oblivious as Robert Langdon can’t miss the obvious signs that this franchise is dead. Bloated, boring and often incoherent, “Inferno” looks to Dante for inspiration but it’s the audience who are made to sit through nine levels of Hell.

When a dazed and amnesiac Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in a Florence hospital room, he quickly comes under attack and flees with his doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). When they find a Faraday Pointer which projects a subtly altered map of Dante’s Inferno in his personal possessions they realize it’s the first clue in a trail left by recently deceased billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster).

It may be the shortest Robert Langdon film to date but it feels like the longest. Dan Brown’s storytelling is getting weaker and weaker and the plotting of “Inferno” is messy and convoluted without ever once managing to be clever. Without the zeitgeist immediacy of “The DaVinci Code” or the papal intrigue of “Angels And Demons”, “Inferno” rehashes themes which were explored more innovatively and intelligently in the UK TV series “Utopia” and a spinelessly studio-driven decision to change the ending of the novel robs it of even the slightest element of narrative interest.

Neither Hanks nor director Ron Howard apparently retain any passion for the source material and both labour to even phone in their contractual obligations to bring this steaming pile to the big screen. Hanks seems bored to be back in the Langdon saddle and it doesn’t help that he’s paired with a similarly disengaged Felicity Jones. Her dead-eyed and guilelessly duplicitous performance is so achingly unsubtle it tips the movie’s hand in respect of Dan Brown’s usual plot twists but even without it by the time of the reveal you won’t care anyway. The rest of the famous faces are so poorly served by the script that they may as well not have been cast at all.

Accompanied by an intrusive and ill matched score from Hans Zimmer – who seems intent on parodying Vangelis – this is a disappointingly toothless conspiracy potboiler that can’t rise above its pulpy origins.

3/10 

A Hologram For The King (2016) Review

Culture clash dramedy “A Hologram For The King” may have taken a few of Tom Hanks’ loyal fans by surprise, or if not quite surprise then possibly left them a trifle bemused. A detached, contemplative and quirkily surreal journey through one man’s three-quarter life crisis, it provides a great platform for Hanks’ natural charisma and provides an intriguing view of life in the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Hanks), a newly divorced, down on his luck salesman takes a job pitching for the IT infrastructure contract for a prestigious new development called the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade. As he waits for his audience with the King, he starts to reflect on his life and his future.

There’s a whimsical and hazy approach to the story, which draws us in to Alan’s current world view while it unpacks some of the myths and preconceptions of what life is like in the KSA. Hanks’ everyman routine works perfectly, especially when his would-be energetically optimistic sales schtick comes up against a culture driven by different priorities and approaches. He’s joined on his journey of self-rediscovery by his driver Yousef, played with scene-stealing comic charm by American actor Alexander Black and a beguiling doctor played with grace and sensuality by Sarita Choudhury. It’s with the latter the story takes an unexpectedly romantic turn as Alan finds in her a kindred spirit and the possibility of hope.

“A Hologram For The King” is an amiable story that unhurriedly allows us to explore its characters against the rich geographical and cultural backdrop of the Middle East with an endearing penchant for fantasy sequences that are vaguely reminiscent of “The World According To Garp”. If nothing else, Tom Tykwer’s bright and playful adaptation of Dave Eggars’ novel has convinced me that I want a full-length version of Tom Hanks performing Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

7/10 

A good man goes to [prevent] war in Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies (2015)

In these troubled times, America and the world could do worse than to look to the pages of history for some salutary lessons on how to deal with the current volatility we live with. It is serendipitous, then, that Steven Spielberg’s magnificent true-life drama “Bridge Of Spies” arrives in cinemas this week to provide the small ray of hope that good, honourable people can make a difference.

When a U2 spy plane is shot down over Soviet territory, the pilot is taken captive and informal contact is made to tentatively propose a prisoner exchange: the pilot Francis Gary Powers in exchange for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet agent who has been arrested and imprisoned in America. Unable to be seen to be negotiating, the CIA asks insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) – who was coerced into defending Abel during his espionage trial – to undertake the negotiations for them.

Although the trailer may give the impression of a ‘ticking clock thriller’, “Bridge Of Spies” is actually a richly entertaining, expertly crafted drama. Hanks is, of course, an old hand at the principled everyman character but it’s his quiet conviction and humble authority which gives the drama much of its potency as Donovan’s belief in justice drives him on in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles. In the hands of other actors, this could have easily become a showy, grandstanding role but Hanks and Spielberg keep it low key to tremendous effect. Mark Ryland is likewise superb as the slyly placid Abel, deftly portraying a man hiding his keen intelligence behind the banalest of facades. There’s a wonderful rapport between the two actors infusing the men they’re playing with a bond of honour and mutual respect.

Spielberg, working from a script by playwright Matt Charman and polished by the Coen brothers, reigns in his usual visual flourishes and instead aims squarely and successfully for authenticity. He skillfully recreates the post-McCarthy Cold War atmosphere of paranoia and fear as well as the shifting, capricious and barbed political and diplomatic manoeuvring required to pull off the exchange. Counterpointing Donovan’s tireless defence of Abel’s rights with the cruelty and brutality of the construction of the Berlin Wall provides a historical perspective on the present day.

“Bridge Of Spies” is an absorbing film from a master director showcasing a note-perfect performance from Hanks and a gripping true-life insight to the slightest of thaws during the iciest period of the Cold War.

10/10 

Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) Short Film Review

Even massive corporate conglomerates make short films! Or do they just make really long commercials?

How did you feel about the announcement of “Toy Story 4”? Delighted? Or a bit wary? The “Toy Story” trilogy is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the Pixar crown and many – and I count myself among them – felt that “Toy Story 3” wrapped up the saga beautifully, beginning and ending with the toys’ time with Andy. We were given occasional glimpses of Woody, Buzz and Jesse’s ongoing adventures in a series of five minute shorts and then we were treated to the Halloween special, “Toy Story Of Terror” which proved that there were still exciting and funny adventures to be had with our old pals. So far, so good – bring on a fourth film, right?

Perhaps in an effort to test the waters, last Christmas brought us another ‘half hour’ special: “Toy Story That Time Forgot” but this time, it didn’t quite click. Set the day or so after Christmas, Bonnie is taken to play with a friend and takes some of her toys with her. Conveniently thinning down the cast, we still get Woody, Buzz and Rex along with Trixie and newcomer Angel Kitty (Jesse, Mr Potato Head and Mr Pricklepants make appearances bookending the story). Compared to the previous outings, the storytelling just feels…off this time. It doesn’t help that the boy Bonnie goes to play with appears to be one of the most spoiled children ever, as his Christmas haul is an eye-wateringly complete set of action figures and play sets as well as a top of the line interactive game system (which keeps the children occupied for much of the story, allowing the toys free reign). Indeed, the story depends on the excessive bounty as we’re back to that well-worn “Toy Story” euphemism of ‘being played with’ being the foundation of a good relationship and a fulfilled life.

There seems to be a cynicism in “Toy Story That Time Forgot”, a commercial avarice, which was either not present or was much better disguised in previous entries and a considerable amount of the sotyr is given over to lavish descriptions of the new toys and playsets (which, surprise surprise, were actually available to buy in real toy shops). Now “Toy Story” merchandise is hardly a new concept but it’s so brazen here that it breaks through the storytelling and still impressive animation to undermine the viewing experience. Although it’s still a good Pixar product, and good Pixar equals excellent just about anything else, it’s a reminder that this is a Disnified Pixar which not only thought “Cars 2” was a good idea but that “Cars 3” is too.

6/10 

Craggus’ Christmas Countdown Day 8: The Polar Express (2004)

The award winning book “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg is a charming tale of a magical train which takes a boy who has begun to have doubts about Santa Claus to the North Pole where he meets the man himself and is rewarded with a special gift, forever preserving the magic of Christmas. On paper, the perfect subject for an animated Christmas Movie.

Unfortunately for us, “The Polar Express” we’ve hopped on board is taking a detour on its way to the North Pole, and that detour is taking us straight down into the Uncanny Valley. Director Robert Zemeckis’ baffling decision to adapt this story using motion capture backfires horribly. The production design of the train and the landscapes is well realised, and capitalises on the charming illustrations from the book, bringing them to life in spectacular style. However, the character design is horrible, and the execution even worse. Motion captured from the actual performers, the result is a film populated by dead-eyed, awkwardly inexpressive mannequins.

Adding insult to injury, Zemeckis takes huge liberties with the story. The original tale is gentle, soothing and quite straightforward: the perfect bedtime story. In the original, the journey to the North Pole aboard the train is uneventful but the film, needing to fill its running time, crams the journey with adventure, danger, crises and a mysterious, vanishing hobo. The problem is, all of the crises and risks feel contrived and coincidental. Nothing flows organically from the story, so the passengers and the train lurch arbitrarily from one close call to the next simply to fill up screen time and stretch the story out. Because the danger is contrived, the resolution is never rewarding and provokes tuts and eyerolls rather than gasps and cheers.

Ultimately it’s a deeply frustrating experience because Zemeckis is a talented director and the story has the potential to be magical but this creepily animated, over engineered experiment is the equivalent of a lump of unconvincing fake coal in your stocking.

4/10 

Captain Phillips (2013) Review

When I first saw a trailer for “Captain Phillips”, I wasn’t bowled over. I only had a passing familiarity with the real events the film was based on, and the lacklustre title combined with an underwhelming trailer gave me the impression of a Discovery Channel special with talking heads and stagey reconstructions, stretching out thirty minutes of actual content into two hours of repeatedly recapped programming.

But a friend persisted in championing it and eventually there came a choice between finally capitulating and seeing “Captain Phillips” or going to see “Delivery Man”. Having just endured “The Internship”, it was a no-brainer and I now find myself also indebted to Vince Vaughan’s lack of range because without the prospect of having to sit through another film where he plays the exact same character, I would never have gone to see Paul Greengrass’ absorbing thriller.

Far from being a documentary style, dry retelling of the experiences of the attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, Director Paul Greengrass has crafted an enthralling, tense high seas adventure which works as a straight-up thriller as well as a thought-provoking true-life story. Despite the very modern trappings of the story, there is still an element of swashbuckle here, with Captain Phillips using his skill and experience to first see off the pirates then thwart their attempted takeover of the ship. Based on real events, this is not really a biopic: we learn very little about the captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama or the pirates themselves beyond seeing how they cope with the situations which arise. Instead, the story is king: we are witness to the events and the people involved in them and from the initial skirmishes to the boarding of the ship and through to the kidnap and escape in the lifeboat, the film powers along with confidence, fuelled by stellar performances and never once sagging despite its lengthy two and a quarter-hour running time.

Oscar-nominated Barkhad Adbi is superb as the complex, conflicted pirate leader Abduwali Muse, infusing his performance with an intensity and quiet desperation while Faysal Ahmed’s Najee provides a combustible, vicious element to the pirate crew, threateneing to spiral out of control at any minute. However, this is Tom Hanks’ film and he is at the absolute top of his game here. His performance as Phillips, especially in the post-rescue breakdown scene, is so full of raw, genuine emotional honesty that it’s baffling  he was overlooked for the Best Actor Oscar this year while Christian Bale’s showy, insincere (and ultimately costume-driven) performance in “American Hustle” got the nod. The work Hanks does in the last ten minutes of “Captain Phillips” is the best performance this reviewer has seen all year.

Ignoring the murmurs that the story portrays Captain Phillips more favourably than real life events and judging it on its merits as a film, this as a superb seafaring thriller, based on actual events and populated by expert actors giving their very finest performances.

9/10 

Saving Mr Banks (2013) Review

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, or so the song goes. And while there’s certainly liberal sprinklings of sugar throughout “Saving Mr Banks”, director John Lee Hancock and star Emma Thompson ensure there’s sufficient bittersweet complexity that the whole mixture avoids becoming cloying or syrupy.

The film splits its narrative in two, with the 1961 negotiations between Walt Disney and the fearsomely prickly Mrs P L Travers for the film rights to Mary Poppins prompting the latter to relive her childhood in Australia which provided much of the inspiration for the Poppins books.

Richly laced with acerbic humour, the 1961 scenes provide a satisfyingly light and pithy contrast to the unfolding tale of Travers’ idealistic and loving but ultimately flawed father as he battles disillusionment and alcoholism.

Thompson delivers a magnificent performance as the complex and contradictory Mrs Travers, portraying her simultaneously as a lonely, fragile woman desperately trying to protect characters which to her are more than family as well as the strident, scornful perfectionist, ever ready to deliver a withering and choicely-worded put down. She bristles with a very British formality and much of the comedy initially comes from the collision between Travers’ world of primness and propriety and Disney’s casual and relaxed approach to life. Tom Hanks here portrays Walt Disney the legend, the genial dream-weaver who created an enduring wonderland through his creations and interpretations. This is very much the public Walt Disney, host of TV’s “Walt Disney Presents…” although every so often, Hanks allows a glimpse of Walt Disney the driven creative artist and shrewd business man to peek through.

It’s through her interactions with Walt, the Sherman Brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B J Novak) and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) that Travers begins to reminisce about her childhood although perhaps a more significant relationship ends up being with her driver Ralph, played by Paul Giamatti. The mercurial and infinitely versatile Giamatti is great here as the ‘sunny side up’ carefree driver who gradually shares with Travers the reason for his happy-go-lucky demeanour and eventually earns the accolade of being the only American she ever liked.

Colin Farrell anchors the scenes in 1907 and plays Travers’ father with such gentleness and candour that despite the fact you know how events are increasingly likely to unfold, you find yourself wishing fervently that somehow he will be able to pull himself out of his spiral, for his and his daughters’ sake. Credit must go too to Annie Buckley as the young “Ginty” Travers for giving the scenes she shares with Farrell such emotional weight.

As the two stories intertwine, they bring new insight into almost every aspect of the Mary Poppins story, how the characters and the film came to be created and what they represent. “Saving Mr Banks” is, ultimately, a story of redemption, not rescue.

Of course, this is still a Disney film so there is an element of whitewashing or cherry picking. Both Disney and Travers are portrayed in a favourable light and there is no mention whatsoever of the more unsavoury or salacious aspects of either person and while hitting the broad strokes of the end of the story, it shies away from depicting just how unhappy and angry Travers was with the finished product, a disappointment so profound that she resisted all attempts to licence further Mary Poppins adaptations right up until 2004 when she acquiesced to a musical adaptation, provided (as stipulated in her will) that no Americans, and nobody from the film production were to be involved in the production.

While Mrs Travers may have had her issues with Disney’s “Mary Poppins”, “Saving Mr Banks” is a film with few faults. An utterly charming and unexpectedly moving story of the creation of one of Disney’s most unique and cherished films, this is a film to be savoured and enjoyed. Not only for shedding some light on the creative processes of two of the 20th Century’s most unusual and idiosyncratic artists but also adding some darkness and depth to the whimsical tale of a magical English nanny. You’ll never watch “Mary Poppins” in quite the same way again.

8/10 

Cloud Atlas (2013) Review

You’ll need a map to navigate this atlas

Reflecting on Cloud Atlas feels like trying to capture the essence of a dream upon waking. The first five minutes are bewildering, a cacophony of scenes and characters that seem to collide and disperse without warning. Yet, this initial confusion soon gives way to intrigue, and ultimately, to a mesmerising tapestry that weaves together multiple narratives across centuries. At a sprawling 2 ¾ hours, this film demands patience and attention, rewarding those who endure with a richly layered and profoundly moving experience.

Cloud Atlas is a masterclass in storytelling, blending six distinct yet interconnected tales that span different eras and genres. From the 19th-century Pacific islands to a dystopian future, these stories explore themes of reincarnation, the interconnectedness of all lives, and the eternal struggle between oppression and freedom. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, the visionary directors behind this ambitious project, deftly draw out these themes, leaving viewers with a lingering sense of awe and contemplation long after the credits roll. The revelation of who played which roles throughout the film is a mind-blowing moment that underscores the film’s exploration of identity and transformation.

Watching Cloud Atlas feels like experiencing an “important” film, though articulating exactly why can be elusive. It is a cinematic experience that defies simple categorisation, likely to provoke strong reactions. It is not a film that many will find merely “okay”; rather, it will inspire passionate love or vehement dislike. This polarising effect is a testament to its boldness and originality, challenging viewers to engage deeply with its narrative complexity and thematic depth.

For me, the film was a revelation. I think I loved it. The intertwining stories and recurring motifs felt like a symphony, each movement contributing to a greater whole. The performances are extraordinary, with actors like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent inhabiting multiple roles across different timelines, showcasing their versatility and commitment. However, the most startling revelation is Hugh Grant, shedding his usual charmingly befuddled Englishman persona to deliver a series of performances that are both surprising and compelling.

The visual and thematic ambition of Cloud Atlas is matched by its technical prowess. The cinematography is breathtaking, capturing the vastness of time and the intimacy of individual moments with equal finesse. The score, composed by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil, is a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment that enhances the film’s emotional resonance. Each story arc is meticulously crafted, with transitions that feel seamless despite the inherent complexity of the narrative structure.

Cloud Atlas is a film that demands and deserves multiple viewings. Its intricacies and nuances are such that each viewing reveals new layers and connections, deepening one’s appreciation for its artistry. It is a film that invites discussion and analysis, a cinematic puzzle that is as enjoyable to dissect as it is to watch.

In the end, Cloud Atlas is a bold and audacious film that challenges conventional storytelling. It is a cinematic journey that explores the vastness of human experience, the bonds that connect us, and the enduring power of hope and love. Even if only to witness Hugh Grant finally transcending his befuddled Englishman schtick, this film is a must-see. But more than that, it is an experience, one that leaves an indelible mark on the soul, urging you to ponder the infinite possibilities of existence.

So, embark on this journey. Let Cloud Atlas sweep you away with its epic storytelling, its profound themes, and its extraordinary performances. It is a film that transcends the ordinary, offering a glimpse into the interconnected web of life that binds us all.

9/10