Philip Steuer

Philip Steuer

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Saving Mr. Banks Review


Excellent

This true story only barely avoids becoming sloppily sentimental, thanks to a solid cast and a final act that generates honest emotion. Awash with the Disney spirit, the film breaks free of the marketing machine to recount events that are lively and often very funny, but also manage to be sharply moving. It's the kind of crowd-pleaser that deserves to do well both at the box office and in awards ceremonies.

Set in 1961, it's the story of how Walt Disney (Hanks) finally lures PL Travers (Thompson) to Hollywood to woo her into signing over the film rights to Mary Poppins after some 20 years of pestering. She is equally determined to protect her creation, which is very close to her heart. But she agrees to work with the screenwriter (Whitford) and composers (Schwartzman and Novak) as long as she has veto power. Her demands are crazy ("I don't want the colour red anywhere in the movie!"), but everyone tries to win her over. Eventually Walt realises that he needs to find out exactly why Mary Poppins is so important to her. And that the story is more about Mary's affect on the family's father, Mr Banks, than the children.

Indeed, in parallel flashbacks we see Travers' childhood in rural 1906 Australia, where she lives as a young girl (Buckley) with her lively father (Farrell) and shattered mother (Wilson). Her dad's alcoholism is the driving force of these scenes, which feel like a completely separate film intercut with sunny 1960s Hollywood. But they add weight to Thompson's remarkably detailed performance, which is marvellously withering and hilarious, and also subtly emotional. Her interaction with the buoyant Hanks is sharp and jagged, and the film's nicest scenes are between Travers and her driver, sensitively played by Giamatti.

Continue reading: Saving Mr. Banks Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Review


Good
This third instalment in the Narnia series changes the director and studio, as well as the setting (from the land to the sea). The result is a rousing adventure that's enjoyable even if it still feels rather sanitised.As war rages in Britain, Lucy and Edmund (Henley and Keynes) have left London to live with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Poulter). One day when he's taunting them about tales that they were royalty in Narnia, a painting comes to life and pulls all three of them into its watery depths. Rescued by now-King Caspian (Barnes) and his first-mate mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Pegg), they embark on an epic voyage in the ship Dawn Treader, sailing off the edge of the map on a quest to restore balance to the kingdom.The story is much more cinematic than other Narnia chapters, and director Apted makes the most of both the ship and the islands they visit along the way, adding a sense of scale and scope. Clever camerawork makes the digital creatures feel more matter-of-fact (to everyone except the horrified Eustace), and only a few dodgy effects (mainly the mermaids and a dragon) let things down on the technical side.In addition, the actors are more relaxed this time, giving more confident, natural performances. Franchise newcomer Poulter is especially good, walking the fine line between being a loathsome jerk and a needy young boy. So it's a shame that the plot feels so simplistic, composed of a series of set pieces as the ship stops at various ports of call and our heroes encounter seemingly random inhabitants who helpfully give them information to continue their journey.

Continue reading: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review


Grim
Since the first comparison made with C.S. Lewis' Narnia fantasy series is to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, it is worth noting that - as recently mentioned in the New Yorker - Tolkien hated the Narnia books because their ideological underpinnings constrained the fiction itself. Tolkien was as devoutly religious as Lewis but you didn't see the hobbits going to church on Sunday; Middle Earth was a pretty pagan land where mythology, not theology, was the rule of the day. Lewis was a different sort, of course, and though the seven Narnia books were brilliant fantasy, they also had an irksome tendency towards preachiness. This same problem afflicts The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the (potentially) first Chronicles of Narnia film, a crass product of merchandised morality from Disney and Walden Media, a media company owned by Christian evangelist billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Director Andrew Adamson makes his live-action debut here after the two Shreks, but it's an easy transition for him, given that a good portion of the film has a CGI/character complexity ratio about as high as the last few Star Wars films. Although Narnia doesn't lend itself well to the cheeky pop culture reference-o-rama that Shrek did, it shares those films' same treacly sentimentality and market-researched plasticity.

Continue reading: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review

How to Eat Fried Worms Review


Weak
Remember cute little Hallie Kate Eisenberg, the curly-haired "Pepsi girl" who pretty much charmed the pants off of everybody? Yeah, well, she's 14 years old now, and, let me put it nicely, she's got a bit of a Haley Joel Osment/Macauley Culkin-as-grown-ups thing going on. Let's just hope she stays off the sauce, because even though she may have utterly lost that precociousness, she at least has a shot to stay out of rehab.

Oh yeah, and there's this movie she's in, an adaptation of the beloved 1973 novel How to Eat Fried Worms. I remember loving this book when I was a kid, but today I can't really remember the actual plot (except there was a lot of worm-eatin' in it). Maybe that's for the best. The word is that the film has taken some liberties with the book, but aside from modernizing the story, I couldn't really tell you what was different.

Continue reading: How to Eat Fried Worms Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review


Grim
Since the first comparison made with C.S. Lewis' Narnia fantasy series is to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, it is worth noting that - as recently mentioned in the New Yorker - Tolkien hated the Narnia books because their ideological underpinnings constrained the fiction itself. Tolkien was as devoutly religious as Lewis but you didn't see the hobbits going to church on Sunday; Middle Earth was a pretty pagan land where mythology, not theology, was the rule of the day. Lewis was a different sort, of course, and though the seven Narnia books were brilliant fantasy, they also had an irksome tendency towards preachiness. This same problem afflicts The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the (potentially) first Chronicles of Narnia film, a crass product of merchandised morality from Disney and Walden Media, a media company owned by Christian evangelist billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Director Andrew Adamson makes his live-action debut here after the two Shreks, but it's an easy transition for him, given that a good portion of the film has a CGI/character complexity ratio about as high as the last few Star Wars films. Although Narnia doesn't lend itself well to the cheeky pop culture reference-o-rama that Shrek did, it shares those films' same treacly sentimentality and market-researched plasticity.

Continue reading: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review

The Rookie Review


OK
The Rookie, as you may have figured out from its television advertising blitz, is the true story of Jimmy Morris, a 35-year-old high school science teacher and baseball coach that takes one last shot at his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. It's definitely an inspiring story, but unfortunately the filmmakers never manage to build a strong momentum as the story wends through Morris's life.

The primary shortcoming of the film is that it takes three or four separate stories and loosely strings them together, while leaving out perhaps the most interesting story of all. Granted, the centerpiece of the film is how a high school science teacher makes his way to the major leagues, but this story seems rushed and almost an afterthought by the time we get to it. Instead, the filmmakers take up too much time early on relaying a tenuously related fable about nuns and the origins of baseball in Jim's rural Texas town, and then mill around in Morris's childhood, focusing on his strained relationship with the stern father that did not support his dream.

Continue reading: The Rookie Review

The Shape of Things Review


Extraordinary
Neil LaBute, you're a cruel, cruel man.

After the somewhat senseless Your Friends and Neighbors and the bafflingly bad period piece Possession, LaBute has at last returned to his roots with the kind of story that made In the Company of Men such a kick in the nuts.

Continue reading: The Shape of Things Review

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