Film No 31 (2015) Road to Perdition

Road to PerditionWhen I was a child, the world of adults was a mystery to me. Like a foreign country, I had no passport to travel there and insights into what grown-ups did when we kids weren’t around, were rare and usually unintentional. Adult conversations ended when children entered the room and most of our knowledge came from what the big folk chose to tell us; we were protected. Information about the grown-up stuff was on a ‘need to know’ basis. Mostly, we didn’t need to know. In ‘Road to Perdition‘, young Michael Sullivan’s childhood is destroyed in the instant he crosses the invisible boundary into adult activity, witnessing first-hand what his father does for a living.

Mike Sullivan Sr (Tom Hanks) is a hitman, working for local gangster John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney has been good to Mike, raising him as his own, crediting him with more respect than his natural son, Connor (Daniel Craig). Mike has sons of his own, Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) and Peter (Liam Aiken) and one day it occurs to Michael Jr that he has no idea how his father earns his wages. When Mike goes out one night, his son hides in the car. Watching, hidden, the young lad sees his father shoot another man dead.

Having been spotted by Connor Rooney, Michael has unwittingly thrown his family into the path of danger: Connor tries silence the boy but makes a terrible mistake. As a contract is taken out on Mike Sullivan’s life, he and his son have no choice but to run.

Hanks and Hoechlin sidestep cautiously around one another to start with, unused to relating to one another in any other way than as parent and child. But when Mike realises he will have to rely on his son to drive the getaway car, the dynamic of their relationship changes. Sullivan Sr does not want his son to be like him, but has he placed Michael in a position where he has no choice?

Directed by Sam Mendes, this film is beautifully crafted. The cinematography is exquisite, hence the Best Cinematography Oscar and BAFTA in 2003, awarded posthumously to Conrad L. Hall. As well as an impressive cast,  the music is haunting and the plot gripping. Definitely one to watch. Just make sure your littlies are not peeking through the keyhole!

Film No 19 (2015) : Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banks 1PL Travers, the creator of magical nanny Mary Poppins, needs to raise some cash. Her agent therefore suggests that she renew negotiations with Walt Disney, who has been trying unsuccessfully for many years to acquire the rights to turn the Mary Poppins stories into a film. Travers is not keen, as she is certain that her characters will not be interpreted faithfully. Nevertheless, she makes the journey to Los Angeles to meet Mr Disney. Once there, she agrees to be involved in writing the screenplay for the movie, but she has many stipulations about it; no red, no animation, no whimsy. Her relationship with the other writers is strained as they fail to grasp the extent to which Travers’ creations are personal to her, plus she is disdainful and dismissive of Disney’s fantasy worlds. After a troubled journey the film version of ‘Mary Poppins’ is finally released. This story is interspersed with flashbacks to Travers’ past as the daughter of an alcoholic, growing up in the Australian town of Allora. It is through these recollections that the autobiographical nature of Travers’ characters becomes apparent, explaining her deep emotional attachment to them.

I bought ‘Saving Mr Banks‘ from the bargain bucket at the supermarket. Having watched it, I wish I’d kept my £3. No doubt that sounds harsh, but this film, based loosely around a true story, did nothing for me at all.

Emma Thompson is one of my favourite actors, but I found her portrayal of PL Travers to be contrived and over-acted. Reading around the subject of the real Travers, I have discovered that the author was probably not a likeable person, but in ‘Saving Mr Banks’ she appeared as a collection of exaggerated personality traits rather than a complete person. It was also difficult to associate the young Travers, a pretty and engaging young girl who adored her father, with the socially inept, bossy and lonely person she became as an adult. Notwithstanding the traumatic effects of childhood events, an adult as weird as PL Travers must have been a pretty odd kid! Tom Hanks puts in a credible performance as Walt Disney but it was stretching the point to expect me to believe that after 20 years of discussions, the difficulties between himself and Travers were resolved after his one visit to the UK.

So, a big disappointment. Rather than a spoonful of sugar, I felt as if I needed half a bottle of whisky and two tranquilisers to help this movie go down!

Film No 37 (2014) : The Polar Express

polar expressTV dinners are a rarity in our house. I am a bit of a stickler for sitting at the table and Talking Properly. I made an exception though, for an hour or so of magical escapism shared with my teenage son to watch ‘The Polar Express‘ on ITV2. Sure, he did it to humour me, but I appreciated the gesture.

Tom Hanks plays several main characters in this motion-capture generated movie, which looks on the screen rather like computer drawings – each eyebrow, bird feather, snowflake is stylized yet detailed. I like the finished product, it adds to the make-believe atmosphere of the movie.

It’s Christmas Eve and a small boy is laying awake, listening for Santa, when he hears the sound of a steam train outside. The conductor seems to be expecting him, and despite his initial reluctance, the boy boards the train. Destination : North Pole, where all the Doubters are confronted by the big man himself, resplendent in red and just about to set off on his magical present-dropping sky-ride. A sleigh-bell falls from the reindeers’ reins and the hero gets to keep it, savouring its sweet jingle as a reminder of the truth of the Spirit of Christmas. When he gets the bell home though, and his parents think it is broken, it becomes obvious that only those who Believe, can hear its tinkling.

Some parents take the view that there is no Santa Claus and to pretend to our children that he is real, is tantamount to a gross dishonesty. How can we impress the importance of telling the truth upon the kids, at the same time as lying to them about Father Christmas (and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy…)? Rubbish. I cannot recall ever having met a single adult whose life has been blighted by the myth of St Nick. On the other hand, I know many, many people whose recollections of hanging stockings and leaving a carrot for the reindeer, form the bedrock of a lifetime of happy memories. Long live the Spirit of Christmas.

If the Polar Express passes through your town this Christmas, have your ticket ready.

Film No 23 (2014) : The Terminal

The TerminalOne of the factors I didn’t consider fully when I decided to watch 50 films and read 50 books, is the cost. In an effort to save a few quid, I have unashamedly plundered the DVD collections of several friends. ‘The Terminal’ was one of those movies I gleaned from a raid!

When Viktor Navorski’s (Tom Hanks) homeland is subject to a military coup just as his plane lands at JFK airport, his entry papers for America are no longer valid. As he could be arrested for stepping outside the Terminal building, he decides to wait. Despite the airport manager creating opportunities for him to ‘leave’, Victor waits. For over 3 months. During that time he is befriended by the staff and tries to foster a romance with Amelia, an airline worker. We also find out the purpose of his visit to America, a promise to his father.

Tom Hanks character acting is second to none. Viktor is a believable character, but there is a vague fairy-tale feel about the film, despite its contemporary setting. There is something quite innocent about Viktor, he is a moral man, driven by honest principles. However, I did think the film was over-long, it dragged a bit in places. There is only so much riveting action you can set in an airport building.

A good film, but probably not enough interest to sustain a young audience. As my own teenager observed, ‘its alright’. My sentiments exactly.

Film No 19 (2014) : Catch me If You Can

catch meFrank Abagnale Jr is a real person. A man with a brilliant brain. He used his intelligence to master the forgery of bank cheques, getting his hands on over 2.5million fraudulent dollars! Combining this skill with his natural charm, Frank assumed a succession of false identities. ‘Catch me if You Can’ is a dramatization of his life and it’s one of my favourite films.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Jr, with Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale Sr and Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent determined to corner the elusive trickster. Frank Jr starts learning his trade from his Dad, a failed businessman, who shows him how to blag free suit hire and a limousine for a trip to the bank manager. caprioWhen Frank Sr and his wife separate, Frank Jr is forced to change schools. On his first day of term, his formal clothes set him aside from his classmates. Rather than be made a laughing-stock, Frank pretends to be a supply teacher, taking lessons and setting work for his peers. He gets away with it for a while, which gives him the self-assurance to attempt bigger and better cons. So begins his career as an impersonator. Frank poses as a Pan-Am pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, not to mention a brief spell as a Special Branch officer. This disguise is so effective, it manages to deflect even Hanratty!

When you watch the film, you just can’t help marvelling at the blatant cheek of the guy! He succeeds in hood-winking the people around him through sheer effrontery and quick wits. He is clearly not a chump though; Hanratty is desperate to find out how Abagnale cheated his way into the American Bar – the answer is rather surprising. Actually, Frank does get his comeuppance, but there is a marvellous twist in the tale. Great film. Catch it if You Can.

Film No 6 (2014) : Captain Phillips

capt phillipsWatching the BAFTAs inspired me to catch up with some recent award winners – Captain Phillips’ actor Barkhad Abdi was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role as Muse, the young leader of a group of Somali pirates.

The film is based on the true story of an American commercial cargo ship boarded by pirates whilst navigating between Djibouti and Mombasa. The pirates are desperate, but young, volatile and disorganised. Their composure deteriorates throughout the kidnapping; they turn on each other in violent outbursts. When they capture Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) in the ship’s lifeboat as they try to flee, the American Navy mobilises its considerable forces in an attempt to save him and end the stand-off with his captives.

Although I sensed that there must be a positive outcome for Phillips, it was by no means a given. The traumatised captain at the end of the movie is testament to the shocking experiences he has undergone and there are no winners. The film is a grim reminder of the downside of globalisation, with the divisions it creates.

It’s a tense thriller with a fair amount of violence. I find it hard to believe that this film has a 12 certificate – to my mind, it is adult viewing.