There’s much more than a spoonful of sugar in the story behind 50-year-old family classic Mary Poppins, but it goes down in a most delightful way.
SAVING MR BANKS (PG: Walt Disney) is saccharine-coated, yet it’s a superlative confection of Hollywood dream and backstage legend.
So how did Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally convince author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) that her Mary Poppins character was safe in his hands after 20 years of stubborn refusal?
The tale may well have been embellished, but this comedy drama reveals that the cantankerous Travers hated cartoons, musicals and Dick Van Dyke. She had no intention of signing over the rights – until she faced bankruptcy.
But woe betide Disney if her magical nanny suffered any image damage. Her continual interference caused huge problems with the creative team and this cultural clash is witty and poignant under John Lee Hancock’s direction.
Flashbacks to Travers’ troubled Australian childhood expose her vulnerability and motives for fiercely protecting her character.
Thompson’s performance is stunningly eccentric and lovers of the 1964 film will find it irresistible.
> You’ll laugh and you’ll cry, sometimes both at the same time, in a film that offers some wonderful comic moments but also brings home the tragedy of PHILOMENA (12: Pathe).
Judi Dench is on sparkling form as the titular Irishwoman who was a teenager in the 1950s when she became pregnant. Her child was snatched away by nuns at a time when giving birth out of wedlock was treated as a criminal act.
Fifty years later, disillusioned political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) represents her only hope of finding her son, who was sent to America to be adopted.
Coogan is suitabily irascible as the former BBC correspondent, initially turning his nose up at the idea of pursuing a “human interest story”.
But Philomena, brimming with religious faith and optimism, is such a force of nature that he can’t help but be swayed. The odd-couple scenario is exploited to great effect in an inspirational movie.
> Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an action man in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, makes his directing debut with DON JON (18: Warner).
This is an eye-opening and somewhat raunchy tale of a modern Don Juan with a mjaor internet porn addiction.
Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a pumped-up New Jersey gym bunny with gelled hair and sculpted abs who meets his match in the pneumatic Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful blonde whose escapism is found in Hollywood romcoms. The lothario tries to mend his ways, but the pull of porn is strong.
> While there’s just enough slapstick stuff to keep kids mildly entertained, animated comedy adventure FREE BIRDS (U: Entertainment One) is, at best, only a rainy-day diversion.
Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson provide the voices in this yarn about time-travelling turkeys as a pair of wily old birds with a great desire to avoid the chop. They commandeer a secret government time machine and head back to the 17th century in a bid to take turkey off the first-ever Thanksgiving menu.