A VERY mixed bag of dramas hits home entertainment this week as the Christmas cinema releases arrive. All four dramas look appealing on the surface but don’t quite come together. Which is not to say they don’t represent excellent viewing.
What promised to be a dynamic event, the adaptation of Tracy Letts’s award-winning play August: Osage County (MA15+, Roadshow, 121min, $44.95) is the most polarising film of last year, about a dysfunctional family of women.
Those who recognise the dementedness of Meryl Streep’s nefarious mum and the chaos and resignation of her daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson) love the melodrama; those who grew up in stable families are repulsed by it.
I won’t offer an opinion other than to note it is equal parts sour and hilarious, and gave Roberts the best movie line of the year: “Eat the fish, bitch!”
Saving Mr Banks (PG, Disney, 120min, $39.95) was adapted in Australia and ultimately made by the Walt Disney Company, as it had to be.
It is the story of Walt Disney’s protracted wooing of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Tom Hanks is a solid Walt and Emma Thompson delivers a wonderful rendition of the snooty Australian-born author who later took on all the worst airs and graces of a Pom.
If you don’t believe the portrayal, wait for the credits. It’s a terrific film, at its best in scenes between the duo and in the studio as the film story comes to cinematic life.
But be warned: the flashbacks to Travers’s upbringing in Queensland (well, a Hollywood backlot) are a bum note to Australians.
The adaptation of blockbuster novel The Book Thief (PG, Fox, 131min $29.99), written by an Australian (Markus Zusak) and starring an Aussie (Geoffrey Rush), is pleasing and provocative.
The tale of a young orphan (a brilliant Sophie Nelisse) who finds solace during World War II by learning to read with a Jewish refugee is a little too warm for a Holocaust pic. More Life is Beautiful than Schindler’s List, The Book Thief is smartly made and Rush is delightful in a role allowing him to mine his clowning skills. But it’s too sentimental to soar in such a dire setting.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG, Fox, 114min, $29.99) so desperately wants to soar. That was clear when reading an extensive piece in The New Yorker magazine six months before its release. The profile of comedian and director Ben Stiller noted his desperation to make a masterwork, and his belief in this picaresque epic based loosely on the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye. Sadly, having read that, it was clear it would not be.
Mitty doesn’t lack for ambition and Stiller delivers some majestic vistas and beautiful scenarios. While a grand sight, it shouldn’t have starred Stiller as the daydreamer on an unlikely journey. The role doesn’t fit Stiller as well as his turn as Tugg Speedman’s Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder but you wish Stiller would lighten up a little, particularly in his serious drama.
The Spectacular Now
(M) Disney (91min, $36.95)
The Veronica Mars Movie
(M) Warner (120min, $29.99)
(M) Transmission (90min, $29.99)
Made in America
Reel Time with Michael Bodey,
every Wednesday in The Australian
Out & About,
Capital city cinema times:
May 10-11, 2014