“Saving Mr. Banks”

Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images

Playing at: Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10

Grade: B

Messy, but still engaging, “Saving Mr. Banks” is essentially a two-person show centering on Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.

The Oscar-winning performers are at the top of their games in a film that is bogged down by a clunky structure that detracts more than it helps.

“Mr. Banks” is based on the true story of how Walt Disney (Hanks) convinced author P.L. Travers (Thompson) to allow him to adapt her book “Mary Poppins” into a feature film and the process in which that movie was made. “Mr. Banks” follows the early process of that adaptation, with many difficulties popping up during production due to Travers’ fear that her story would be watered down by Disney.

When “Saving Mr. Banks” focuses on the production meetings and the process that created “Mary Poppins” – which, let’s be honest, doesn’t hold up well since its release nearly 40 years ago – it is at its best. 

Thompson has the challenge of playing a stubborn, slightly unlikable person, but she manages to give Travers a hint of humanity that softens her tough exterior. Hanks is the perfect fit as Disney – very relaxed and charming but also determined to get what he wants. This work compares favorably to Hanks’ other film this year, “Captain Phillips,” showing just how much range he has as an actor.

There is also a nice supporting role by Paul Giamatti that could have been a throwaway, but Giamatti gives it a little spark.

The strength of “Saving Mr. Banks” is nearly undermined by director John Lee Hancock’s decision to frame the film with flashbacks that (while necessary) always seem to come just when the movie is building momentum. It is interesting to see Travers’ childhood and the source of her inspiration for Poppins, but the flashbacks become repetitive, making the film feel a lot longer than the two-hour running time.

If the flashbacks could have been toned back just a bit, “Mr. Banks” could have been the award-worthy movie it aspires to be. As it is, it’s a film that doesn’t quite achieve greatness, but is worth seeing for two great performers doing their typically great work.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Don Jon” (B), the debut effort behind the camera for actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. If this is any indication, Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the screenplay, has a promising future as a director.

Gordon-Levitt does it all in “Don Jon,” also starring as the title character, a New York ladies’ man who has an unrealistic view of women fueled by his addiction to porn.

Don meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who he thinks might be the woman of his dreams.

The relationship starts out fine, but Don’s addiction comes to the surface. Further complicating matters is Barbara’s own unrealistic expectations of men, which are nearly as jaded as Don’s views.

“Don Jon” is a fresh spin on the conventional romantic comedy, with Gordon-Levitt showing a keen eye behind the camera. It’s funny and smart, with good performances sprinkled throughout.

Gordon-Levitt makes Don more likable than he probably should have been, while Johansson has a lot of fun with a role that has a lot more going on than it initially seems.

There is also good work from Tony Danza and Glenne Headly as Don’s parents, and Julianne Moore, who brings an interesting dynamic to the film’s final act.

This film could have fallen flat in the wrong hands, but Gordon-Levitt navigates the potential pitfalls well. It’s an ambitious first feature that sets the groundwork for a promising future behind the camera.

“Don Jon” is rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.

— Micheal Compton’s review of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is available on bgdailynews.com. To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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