Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)

A fast-paced and uncompromising opening scene introduces us to our lead character Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman), a well-regarded writer on the cusp of releasing the follow-up to a popular and critically praised debut novel. On a rampage to rub his success into people from his previous life, he exposes all his character flaws. He’s rude, frank and cynical and it’s hard from this point to feel any sympathy for him, which on an emotional level makes it hard to connect with him as a central character. Indeed, not many of the characters emote any kind of solicitude at any point in the film, bar perhaps Philip’s long-suffering girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss). This, however, doesn’t necessarily make for a bad piece of cinema. Quite the contrary.

Schwarzman is at home in a role full of self-importance and low in empathy for those around him.

Schwartzman is at home in a role full of self-importance and low in empathy for those around him.

Philip’s story carries on from here, through the prolonged breakdown of his relationship with Ashley, making a connection with similarly cynical writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) and his lonesome daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) and later on a young and jealous academic Yvette (Josephine de la Baume). It doesn’t refrain from taking gambles on the attention span of the audience, taking several sharp turns in the storyline to cover a lot of ground in a short time frame (109 minutes).

It is communicated in a form that serves as a kind of fake biography, with a narration taking a matter-of-fact tone that gives us a knowing reassurance, almost as if the person behind the voice is channeling his words from a future where it is known that Philip Lewis Friedman is one of the world’s most renowned writers. This is reinforced by the closing credits, where we see a montage of book covers released by the characters from the movie. To be honest, it is the only way the film could tie itself together. Each character is introduced to us from a position of imbalance and for the most part they spiral into a world of depression and failure. It wasn’t until a brilliant final scene that I felt like there was a reason to drag us through the emotional dirt; it perfectly balanced a fine moment of acting from Schwartzman with some clever lighting and cinematography, on top of which laid an overarching statement that justified the cause behind the story itself.

Elisabeth Moss gives an emotional charge to Ashley as she grows in confidence

Elisabeth Moss gives an emotional charge to Ashley as she grows in confidence.

Schwartzman is in fine form throughout, in a role not too dissimilar to others we’ve loved to hate him in (Rushmore, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Irritating and overly-confident characters are something of his forte, which is funny if not just because he comes across as anything but irritating in interviews he gives. Moss is also given the opportunity to portray a character of real emotional depth who grows in confidence as the story progresses. It’s a shame that her segment of the film seems like something of a departure from the central thread that was otherwise progressing nicely, though overall it was necessary for the final payoff.

I’ve intelligently reviewed this as this film exits cinemas, though it is seeing a home media release on Masters of Cinema Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD in late July.

Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

I was inevitably sceptical about watching this. It’s a film that was created, in part, by Walt Disney Studios and stars family-favourite actor Tom Hanks as family-favourite animator, voice-actor and business magnate Walt Disney. If there’s ever any story that’s going to sugar-coat the facts, it is this.

Fortunately for Saving Mr Banks, Walt Disney is not the main character. That honour goes to Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers. Even more fortunately, her portrayal is up there with the finest of her career.

The story centres around Disney’s ongoing pursuit of producing a film adaptation of Poppins, something that Travers had resisted for years due to her apparent hatred of everything the company has ever been associated with.

In particular, we pick up the main thread story as she embarks on a short two-week trip to the studio headquarters to meet with a small creative team consisting of music legends the Sherman brothers (brilliantly portrayed by Jason Schwarzman and B. J. Novak) and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). Her main intent is seemingly to sabotage every ounce of creativity in the hopes that the film is never made, lest the essence of her perfectly sculpted tale be destroyed.

This is intertwined with flashbacks to her time growing up in 1907 Queensland. These are the real standout portions of the film, and they shy away from the watered-down story we are unravelling in 1961 Los Angeles. Colin Farrell‘s turn as Traver’s alcoholic father is exceptional and this story is key to understanding how she acts in later life. I wished we had been treated to longer in Australia, but this tale was never going to be a three hour epic.

Back in LA, the story moves along at a reasonable pace, adding enough humour to the mix to ensure we don’t forget how magical the film making process is when Walt is driving it. This often works, but I shook my head in disbelief at the scene in which Travers finally changes her mind and starts to support the film. I won’t spoil it, but I’d love to know whether or not this really happened. I suspect not. It is somewhat ironic that a story centring on someone’s dislike of the Disney filmmaking process should be treated in exactly that manner.

Hanks didn’t have a lot to work with and that’s to be understood. That said, he still gives a stellar performance and he can’t be faulted. He will be considered for the awards season regardless, but not for this film – Captain Phillips is a much meatier role for him to be proud of, and one that will doubtless be featured heavily when the awards nominees are announced in January.

The praise in this film, rather, should be heaped upon Thompson for successfully portraying what must have been an immensely difficult character to master. That she makes us warm so much to a person that was evidently so emotionally cold is something worth admiring, even if everything around her is so sugar-coated.

Saving Mr Banks is released in cinemas in the UK on 29th November 2013.