Sully – LFF Review

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On the 15th of January 2009 Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was flying an Airbus out of New York’s LaGuardia airport. Following a massive bird strike Sully lost both engines and was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River for fear of crashing into New York city. The whole event took less than four minutes and Sully is widely regarded as a modern day hero. Seven years later Clint Eastwood has stretched and padded those four minutes to make them into feature film and thrown in a bad guy for good measure.

In Sully we get Hollywood’s favourite everyman Tom Hanks stepping into the lead role and bringing with him his reliable air of humble gravitas. Sully doesn’t see himself as a hero but the film forces him to defend his status as one as it shows the pivotal four minutes intercut with an investigation into whether or not Sully actually had to land in the Hudson; the alternative theory being that he could have safely made a return trip back to the airport. The bulk of the film is Sully wringing his hands about this disagreement and the wildly exaggerated depiction of the aggressive investigation into the crash landing. It seems than in making Sully a hero Eastwood decided he needed to make someone the villain. Clearly Eastwood is a fan of Unbreakable.

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Further padding out the film are flashbacks showing Sully’s past flying planes and scenes of his wife fretting at home. Feel sorry for Laura Linney who is reduced to looking concerned while talking into the phone and peering out of the window at photographers. Hanks’ Sully seems almost cold towards his wife so any emotional weight intended to be brought by their relationship is non existent. The flashbacks also add nothing to the film beyond showing us that Sully has always enjoyed flying and that flying isn’t always easy. Nothing revelatory there. These are mere distractions from the flight investigation which is itself a distraction from the crash which we get to see numerous times over from moderately different viewpoints.

It doesn’t feel nice to say that the story of Sully is too bland to make a decent film. There is no doubt that the real Sully did something brave and heroic but this very lack of doubt is why there is no drama in the rest of the film. Outside of the thrilling minutes of the crash the film is nothing but filler. Tom Hanks does his best but Sully, a wonderful man I’m sure, isn’t particularly interesting to spend time with. The resultant film is a completely non-cynical patriotic celebration of Sully and is just missing him standing in front of a slowly waving American flag to complete the canonisation.

Sully’s actions deserve celebrating but they do not deserve this lightweight drama. Never has a film based on true events suffered so much from a lack of material.

Saving Mr. Banks – LFF Film Review

SAVING MR. BANKS

Mary Poppins is a special film for me; it is one of those childhood films that I have watched countless times and so holds a special place in my film-loving heart. Because of this a film about the creation of the classic musical is not going to have to try very hard to win me over. That said I wasn’t expecting Saving Mr. Banks to get to me so much that I’d have to start keeping a tally of just how many times I had cried. From the opening moments when a piano played the film’s overture to the closing credits I was a mess.

Saving Mr. Banks covers the period in Disney’s development of Mary Poppins when the original novel’s author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travelled to Disney studios to work on the script and decide whether or not she would finally be willing to relinquish the rights. Travers did not want any singing or animation in the film and generally disapproved of any attempt to Disney-fy her book so screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) were given a hard time by a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) was heavily involved in the project as if he couldn’t get Travers to sell him the film right he would be breaking a promise he made to his daughter decades earlier.

Alongside the story of the making of the film we see flashbacks to Travers’ childhood and meet the inspiration for Mr Banks, her father Robert Goff Travers (Colin Farrell) and for Mary Poppins herself (Rachel Griffiths). While the scenes at Disney are mostly fun and played for laughs, as Travers’ British bulldog nature comes to clashes with the cheery American sensibility of Disney and friends, the childhood scenes gradually turn from lighthearted antics to an all more serious nature. By the end of the films things have all gone a little bit tragic as we see the real reason Travers wrote the book and why she is so defensive about any changes Disney wants to make.

This being a Disney film about Disney they obviously don’t come out too badly but they are brave enough to poke a little fun at themselves and their overly cheery nature. In one scene Travers says to a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear “Poor A. A. Milne” which shows they aren’t censoring the real writer’s disdain for Disney adaptations. As for the cast, everyone is firing on all cylinders as Emma Thompson once more manages to break the whole audience’s heart simultaneously with a single subtle look, and even Colin Farrell pulls of both comedy and pathos convincingly. Worth noting that Paul Giamatti rounds out the cast as Travers’ chauffeur who slowly wins her over with his sunny charm.

The combination of the dramatic childhood scenes, the heartwarming period at Disney, and my own personal connection to the original film of Mary Poppins proved to be a little too much for me to handle. At five separate occasions I found myself welling up in spite of myself and tears were frequently falling down my cheeks. In the scene when Let’s Go Fly A Kite is first performed all three elements combined together and left me an emotional wreck. I consider myself as someone who very rarely cries at films but that one scene had me weeping like never before in a cinema. I just hope none of the other critics saw.

Would this film be of any interest to someone who hasn’t seen Mary Poppins? Probably not but as someone who considers the film and integral part of their childhood it is a completely subjective masterpiece that hit me in just the right spot to have me making a spectacle of myself in public.

One star for every moment I got all weepy.

Saving Mr. Banks is in UK cinemas on 29th November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

The Da Vinci Code – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #2

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The Da Vinci Code was Audrey Tautou’s first Hollywood film, and she couldn’t have picked any better, really… until we actually saw the dratted thing. Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, a faithful adaption of an acclaimed book, upset religious folk worldwide and Tautou herself; on the face of it The Da Vinci Code should have been amazing, but it seems that when you combine all of those great things you get a film that is a mind-numbing snore-fest.

The film follows symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) as they talk their way through Europe and fool a host of goodies/baddies played by the likes of Ian McKellan, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno and a white-faced Paul Bettany who are all trying to uncover (or keep covered up!) the secret of the Holy Grail.

The largest pitfall with a film like The Da Vinci Code is that not only is there not a huge call for the genre (conspiracy-adventure?) but that the people that do want to watch it want something that won’t put them in a boredom coma. 146 minutes of revelation-revealing via talking just isn’t as fun as running and shouting and chasing. I’m not one to generally advocate dumbing down but National Treasure has 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and The Da Vinci Code only has 64%. Imagine that percentage if there’d been a little more action helping its stars and highbrow plot.

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Obviously Hanks and Tautou are solid as always but their chemistry with one and other is destroyed by the film’s emotional emptiness and bland, shadow-filled styling. Not helping the situation is the film’s adherence to taking itself completely seriously. Like, more seriously than The Passion of the Christ. Not only does that suck all of the fun out of the story but it makes the lighter moments dumb and super dramatic moments laughable.

More than anything The Da Vinci Code feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe I’ll give the 174 minute extended cut a whirl just to make sure that it wasn’t a lack of runtime that broke the film. Regardless, simply because from the outlook The Da Vinci Code seemed to have made all of the right choices I shan’t let it besmirch the good names of Hanks, Tautou or Howard in my mind and neither should you. We’ll just have to live with the fact that when a book is adapted as faithfully as everyone always wants it to be it kind of sucks.

Cloud Atlas – Film Review

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You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little confused.

I came out of watching Cloud Atlas, an epic 162 minute long exploration in storytelling consisting of six strands spanning 472 years with a cast taking on multiple roles, with my mind fully blown only to discover when researching the film online that it had been panned by the critics, ignored by American audiences, and completely snubbed by all major award ceremonies. What was going on? Did I see the same film?

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Recently I have been struggling to stay awake in the cinema as films constantly breach the two-hour mark without managing to keep me engaged for the duration. Prometheus, Lincoln, and Holy Motors have all been treated to the sight of me jerking awake after my brain has decided it would rather make its own entertainment than continue watching the events unfolding on-screen. Cloud Atlas is minutes away from entering three-hour territory and yet the time flew by and I was enthralled throughout. If your film’s duration equals that of The Hobbit and I manage to stay awake even after a full day’s work then you deserve an instant five stars.

Speaking of The Hobbit… In the same amount of time Cloud Atlas manages to tell six different stories whilst Peter Jackson ekes out just one third of a book. In David Mitchell’s original novel the six different plots (three in the past, one in the present, and two in the future) are each told in two parts. Each story’s first half follows another before they are each concluded in reverse order. In the film adaptation the six stories are introduced one after another and then inter-cut and overlap throughout the rest of the film.

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The constant swapping of storylines is disorientating at first and the film demands your full attention in order that you manage to follow all the various threads running concurrently. Perhaps it is this active engagement that had me so engrossed. I couldn’t let my mind wander for a moment for fear of losing my footing as six stories unfolded at once. Not only does the narrative sextet span various time periods; the film also encompasses every genre of film there is. Drama, comedy, romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and adventure are all represented next to, on top of, and through one another.

The monologue of a lovestruck man from 1936 will play out over footage from a dystopian future and a slave rigging the sails on a boat in the mid-19th century will smash cut into a laser fight high above a city without anything jarring. The three directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski have created a superb cinematic blend of styles, tones, and genres. What ties the six threads together isn’t necessarily obvious and certainly isn’t obliquely explained to the audience; another sign that this is not a film underestimating its audience but expecting them to keep up and think for themselves.

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As mentioned earlier the majority of characters across the diverse plots are played by the same core cast. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and Keith David all play between four and six distinct characters, often taking on various genders, ages, and races with the aid of some excellent prosthetics. Hugh Grant is frequently the first to admit that he mostly plays the same character in all his films but in Cloud Atlas he raises his game to match those around him. Everyone is on top form and it is a shame that so much work has gone into a film that has been completely overlooked.

Cloud Atlas is a visual feast filled with every genre of film and every emotion. I always hesitate to use this word but there’s no denying that Cloud Atlas truly is epic. Amazing that fantasy, comedy, drama, thriller, romance, sci-fi and period settings can all meld into the one film. Mind-blowing.

Who cares what anybody else says? I bloody loved it.