Best of Bogart Collection (2014) — PICK
Nebraska (2013) — PASS
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) — PICK
New on home video, Saving Mr. Banks wasn’t up for any of the major Academy Awards, but it’s well worth seeing, largely for the entertaining anti-chemistry of Tom Hanks as a genial Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as a cantankerous P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins.
The film tells the tale of Uncle Walt’s 20-year quest to persuade Travers to sell him the film rights to her beloved heroine. Hanks is a teddy bear, while Thompson is a porcupine; they go together like apple pie and, oh, liver and onions. He lights up the charm, part aw-shucks folksiness, part schmoozing Hollywood con man; she refuses utterly to be charmed.
The real Travers hated the film and would have hated this one, which is history written by the winner, making not only Mary Poppins but Travers a silly figure of fun. Yet it also gives voice to all Travers’ objections to the picture, in the process offering a compelling portrait of a wounded soul whose rigidity is her way of coping with the traumas of her youth (seen in flashbacks, with Colin Farrell as Travers’ adoring but tragic father).
Nebraska, from Alexander Payne, was up for several awards, including best picture, director and actor — but I can’t recommend it, despite a memorable premise, some funny situations, a fine performance from Bruce Dern and handsome black-and-white cinematography. The setup: Dern, a confused elderly man with a penchant for wandering off, is determined to travel more than 800 miles to Lincoln, Neb., to collect a sweepstakes he thinks he has won. His son (Will Forte), after unsuccessfully trying to dissuade him, winds up driving him. Hilarity and pathos ensue, as they pass through Dern’s dying rural hometown.
There are things I like here, including a poignant last act with moving themes of dignity and filial piety. Yet any time I watch a film by Payne (The Descendants, Sideways), I can never escape the impression that he harbors boundless contempt for his characters and their pathetic milieu. There’s one old friend who seems sincere and unselfish, but we don’t get to know him. Why explore a nice character?
Also new on Blu-ray: the Best of Bogart Collection, an inexpensive way to pick up four classics: The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Casablanca. Under $35 at Amazon.
Caveat Spectator: Saving Mr. Banks: Scenes of heavy drinking; disturbing family scenes; an attempted suicide; limited profanity and cursing. Teens and up. Bogey movies may contain stylized violence, gunplay and menace, heavy drinking and innuendo. Generally fine for older kids and up.