Thank you for keeping cinema alive

mr banks

I know the title is a little dramatic, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a film that has impressed me thoroughly in the last couple of weeks. A film that made me think about cinema as a whole and the direction it’s heading in. See in the climate of modern films that are focused on awards or financial gain it’s refreshing to see a film slip in and do the opposite, a film that goes back to the roots of cinema: telling a story.

I’m sure we’ve all been through times when we’ve been worried about the state of cinema, seeing a succession of bad films released, making you think that something needs to save it all. That’s when a special film, or a number of films come along and restore your faith. It happened to me at the start of the year with the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a genuinely spectacular piece of cinema that still remains my film of the year so far, and it has indeed happened again to me.

Recently I sat down to watch a film having been excited to watch it for months, and for once my expectations were not disappointed, or even met for that fact, they were entirely exceeded. The film I am referring to is the proudly non-Oscar winning Saving Mr Banks. 

Telling the story of the writer of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and her struggle with Walt Disney to make the film adaption of her book properly, the film focuses on the events taking place whilst the film was being made and also a separate narrative in the form of Traver’s flashbacks to her childhood and the real Mr Banks. The cast is superb, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers in charge of music and lyrics, but the star of the film undoubtedly is Emma Thompson as Travers herself. Thompson not only managers to capture the grumpy and strict side of Travers who wanted things her way, but also the emotional side of the writer who was afraid of letting her father down and the financial troubles she would face if the film wasn’t made. It was a fantastic performance that completely stole the show and quite rightly so.

Both sides of the narrative are very strong, with Thompson in her later years trying to help make the film in the way that she feels fit, counterbalanced very nicely by Colin Ferrell as Traver’s father in Australia when she was a child. And it’s that second narrative there with Firth has the father that adds depth to the film, because it shows the real Mr Banks and the motivation behind Travers trying to make the film good. We see the two sides to her father, the one who is imaginative and energetic as a fantastic father, and then the side that drinks and struggles to hold his life together. It is an emotional film but at the same time it is fascinating and it really engages you, evoking you to feel this sense of pathos for anyone and everyone that’s in the film.

Now, as many will know I have a fixation on screenplay and scripts, so I was particularly impressed by this film because of how the screenplay captures the balance between comedy and tragedy perfectly. There are times at which the film made me laugh out loud, and they were accompanied perfectly by the times that nearly made me cry, but overall the film had me smiling throughout the running time and indeed past that. It’s impressive as well because the screenplay is actually based upon very strong source material in the form of recordings that were taken of the meetings with Travers, the Sherman brothers and Don DaGradi the script writer. Travers wasn’t going to sign the paperwork for the rights of the book to be used unless she was happy with the film, and so she demanded the meeting were recorded in order to ensure the safety of her book.I have actually listened to the original recordings, and not only did it show how the cast were perfect as their characters, but also how spot on the screenplay is. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith who wrote the film managed to capture the characteristics of the individuals with such precision and it just made me feel even more engaged in the film.

But it’s not just about the fact I liked how the film was made, I also like what the film stands for. It wasn’t about financial gain at the box office, it wasn’t about picking up awards (only receiving an Oscar nomination for Thomas Newman’s excellent score) but it was about the core principal that cinema if founded on; story telling. It wasn’t a film about visuals or padding that a lot of other modern films are based on, but it’s main focus is purely on the characters and the story. For me it was one of the best films of last year despite being overlooked at the award ceremonies, but that makes it more special for me.

I like the idea of the film because the people who made it are clearly passionate about the source material and about the original film of Mary Poppins. It’s actually quite an interesting film in that sense because you learn things about the making of the film and the inspiration behind it, until you come to realise why the book was written in the first place. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that as the title states it shows how Mary Poppins was not about someone coming to babysit two naughty children, it was about helping a man when he needed it most, the man in question being Traver’s father of course.

That is one of the most important features of the film, it has a lot of heart. It manages to be sad but uplifting at the same time, and all in this charming manner that makes me want to watch it over and over again because I know it will never grow old. The way in which the film has a lot of heart is also shown through the fact that it’s three dimensional. It shows both sides of the argument very clearly with every aspect covered, so it doesn’t actually pick a side. What it instead does is allow you to make a judgment for yourself by showing all aspects of Disney, the Shermans and Travers to let you decide.

I honestly could talk about this film for hours on end, it just means to much to me because it’s keeping the spirit of cinema alive in an industry that is becoming more and more fixated upon financial gain. This film goes against that and instead focuses on story telling and the value of entertainment. That’s why for me it’s actually better than some of the films that did do well at the awards. Films such as Gravity that were very good on a technical level and as a cinematic experience, but served little purpose in terms of story telling are no match for films like Saving Mr Banks. This film was about telling a story in a way that the audience could connect with, instead of using visual effects and computer generated fluff to catch their attention. I’m still glad that Saving Mr Banks didn’t win any Oscars and that it was only nominated for one because it supports my argument from recent blog posts that the Oscars don’t matter. So many beautiful and brilliant films are made that go unnoticed by the awards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, and Saving Mr Banks proudly takes its place among those films.

If you liked the film Mary Poppins then you will love this film too. There are actually a lot of references to the original film that you realise after every time you watch it, and not just the brilliant placement of the songs you love. I personally think Mary Poppins is fantastic (I’m sorry Mrs Travers) and so the film had me smiling throughout, but I still think it would be enjoyable if you have at least seen Mary Poppins. That way you would at least have an understanding of the actors, characters and the events of the film. I’ve grown up with the film so this was a real treat for me.

It’s always going to be a special film for me, because both me and my beautiful girlfriend were excited to see this in the cinema but unfortunately missed it. So me being the little old romantic that I am decided to surprise her by buying it on the day it was released on dvd. We sat down to watch it the following evening, barely able to stay in our seats because of how excited we were, but that was no match for how happy we were afterwards; we absolutely loved it. And since then I’ve watched the film about four more times and it just gets better. Unlike films such as Gravity that can be viewed once to see what all the fuss is about and not feel eager to watch it again, Saving Mr Banks keeps pulling me back in like a hoover, and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. I love that film and everything it stands for.

If anyone hasn’t seen the film then I urge you to watch it as soon as you can. Don’t hesitate like I foolishly did when it was in cinemas, just watch it and you will not be disappointed. You may never see Mary Poppins in the same way again, but by the end you will love both films.


The best film series of all time, for me

When I first started writing this blog I touched briefly upon the idea of sequels and prequels and how they can sometimes ruin a film series. For a while in fact it looked as though I would never find a favourite film series, too many of them annoyed me. However, after much thought I have come to realise I might be able to answer the question that I previously couldn’t: what is the film series?

Before about two weeks ago the answer for me was uncertain. The problem I have is that usually I like the original film so much it just means other films added before or after are, in comparison, not so impressive. It’s very rare that a sequel is better than the original film, with the exception of course of films such as the third Harry Potter film, amongst others.

I actually touched briefly upon this idea towards the end of last year with my blog post based on the box office success of the second Hunger Games film. In the post I talked about sequels and how easily they can become terrible or brilliant. The best example I can give is the James Bond series. Over a fifty year period the franchise has trawlled through rock bottom and seen new heights, which just shows how adding films can lead to more being made, or to a franchise nearly being dropped.
But the reason I used to struggle with picking a film series that I think is the best is because I hadn’t come across one that was consistent. For a film series to be good it has to be consistent and strong throughout. Some film series go downhill straight after the first film, but then other have what I call the ‘fading out’ effect. This is where the first film is very good, the second one might be good but not as good, but then it slowly fades out as the films get worse. Be it straight away or gradually it is clear than many film series have weak links in the chain. Take a look at some of the biggest film series of all time, a lot of them have their weak spots:
Back To The Future – a very strong first film, followed by a near enough equally strong sequel, but all it took was a risky third installment for the franchise to lose its touch somewhat. I still really like the series but I can’t say it’s my favourite. Not after seeing Marty McFly in a pink cowboy outfit.
Indiana Jones – the original trilogy was very good and in fact Raiders of the Lost Ark remains a prominent part of my childhood, but the fourth film just wasn’t the same. The risky venture in to science fiction territory provided us with plot holes, stereotypical characters, boring action sequences, cringe worthy visuals and Shia Labeouf. None of which we can forgive. Especially Shia Labeouf.
Terminator – after a good first film and an even better second film, there’s not much to be said about the third and fourth installments. The first two were very well made for their time and still stand as two of the best science fiction films you’ll see, but the two that followed were loud, uninteresting and really quite flimsy.
Alien – regular readers will know that I absolutely love the first Alien film, it is a masterpiece of science fiction and film. The second film is still good, but it has too much of the James Cameron influence for my liking, but then it’s all downhill after that which is a real shame. As I said I love the first film, I think it is one of the best films ever made, but sadly as the third film graced our screen we all knew which way it was heading.
Lord of the Rings – now this one is a real shame because the series has a good starting point with the first film, and is has a very good third film to end it, I’m just not keen on the second film. It’s the film that allowed Peter Jackson to be ill-disciplined so I’m still not grasped by it. Seeing the work that he has done for The Hobbit recently I  now realise upon reflection that the battle of Helms Deep was the perfect opportunity for Peter Jackson to waffle. It is a brilliant piece of film, but it’s bloody long.
Jason Bourne Films – this is the perfect example of the fading out effect. It started with a very strong opening film, but then as the series progressed the films became less interesting and faded out. I’m not entirely sure where this whole Jeremy Renner thing is heading but I’m not interested. And don’t even get me started on the rumours of them making a film with Jeremy Renner and Matt Damon.
Predator – no.
The Hobbit – so far I’m not a fan of the films. I love the book with a passion, and at present I don’t feel the films are even near as good as they can be. There is so much waffle based on content that Jackson has added, and it takes away what made the source text so beautiful in the first place. I don’t have high hopes for the last installment based on the fact they have allowed Peter Jackson to make an entire film based on the battle of five armies. No thank you.
Star Wars – now the original trilogy is good, not very good but they are still classic films in the history of cinema, for whatever reason and so should be appreciated. Then the prequels came. The three films that wasted our time and money, whilst showing how awful George Lucas is as a screenplay writer. They are boring, over-indulgent and lacking in any form of substance. They are films based purely upon George Lucas’ uninteresting screenplay that carries the same weight and substance as the pieces of polystyrene a new electrical appliance is protected by.
Pirates of the Caribbean – the first film is passable, after that it just goes downhill rapidly, and I have to be honest when I say that I didn’t even bother with the fourth film. I saw the trailer and the running time and decided against it. I had enough with the third film. Any director who can’t tell a cast what to do isn’t doing their job properly. So we’re left with a third film that had Johnny Depp being as annoying as he was in the first two films, Orloondo Bland being boring, and then Ikea Knightley still playing the role of a secondary school head girl who get’s frustrated because people don’t listen to her. It’s just an absolute mess.
The Godfather – I know it’s cliched to say this trilogy isn’t perfect, but I don’t agree with a lot of people. Most people would say the third film is awful, but I’d argue otherwise. It is a good film, it just doesn’t live up to the artistic mastery of the first two, which is a shame more than an annoyance.
There you have it, there’s a weak link in many film series. I am aware I have missed many out so if there are any you would like me to address then leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Back to business, I have thought about what the best film series is, and I have indeed made a decision. I must say it’s rather ironic because I’ve gone from having no favourites to suddenly having three. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that they are the best out there, they’re just the ones that are the best for me. So, in no particular order, my three favourite film series:
1. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – intelligently written, well directed, with an all round good cast and an excellent cinematographer. They weren’t just films about a super hero; they’re about character. They are a continuation of Christopher Nolan showing us all how you can make a big and expensive blockbuster without being stupid. The consistency for me is shown through the character development of Bruce Wayne. In Batman Begins we see him become Batman, in The Dark Knight we see him break and in The Dark Knight Rises, they give it away in the title but it’s about him building himself back up. That’s what I love. The films take their time and allow development to happen. Nolan didn’t just focus on the silly outfits and the action sequences (*cough* Tim Burton *cough*), he focused on the human side of Batman, to present him less as an old fashioned style super hero, but a vigilante for modern audiences.
2. Toy Story – it’s difficult to find something wrong with the trilogy, it is water tight. It’s not just because of the strong plot line, superb sense of humour or the fact it’s just a generally entertaining experience, but it’s about the messages and the themes that develop. There’s a constant focus on the value of family and friendship, and that makes them so much more than just childrens films. They’re a rollercoaster of an adventure for the children and an emotional journey for the adults because at the end of the day, the relationship Andy has with his toys is a reflection of the relationship parents have with their children and how they eventually have to leave and be free.
And then as of two weeks ago, a late entry that kick started this post…
3. Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy – now this may be one that’s unknown to some so to make it clear, the trilogy I am referring to consists of the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight starring Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Three films, spanning eighteen years, with two main characters. There are so many words I could use to describe the films, but the two that jump out at me are charming and beautiful. It’s refreshing and rather uplifting to see films where two people just talk. It is rather magnificent to see this relationship develop on screen and see nine years actually pass you by between each film. It just shows that delicate and well-written screenplay can be the most effective weapon in a film maker’s arsenal. It’s just so realistic and hard hitting to see two people move through life, from the initial stage of free young romantics to settled down adults dealing with mundane life. I’m getting to the point now where I literally cannot describe the films because they just make me so happy and it ceases my articulation in order to let me smile. They are just exquisite films that I would recommend to anybody, and if a miserable cynic like me smiled throughout I think that’s a sign that near enough anybody can enjoy them. It’s not about having a set structure of themes and messages, it’s about what the individual gets from them.
So there you have it, the Grinch’s heart has grown a couple of sizes and all it took was some bloody good films. As I’ve said before I don’t think these films are the best, they’re just my favourites. If you’re reading this and haven’t the slightest clue what I’m talking about then I would thoroughly recommend watching the films mentioned. I promise you will not be disappointed.
If you have any comments or opinions then I welcome them, particularly if they are in regards to the films mentioned. Also as I’ve said before if you have any films or film series you’d be interested to hear my judgement on then please leave a comment and I promise to get back to you, either with a straight forward reply or a blog post dedicated to you.