Saving Mr. Banks Has Disney Magic

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

It’s hard to live in southern California and not be touched by the magic of Walt Disney. It’s pretty much everywhere (even though I, myself, have never been to any Disneyland). The magic of Disney (whatever Walt’s own personal failings) is really the magic of the movies, which in Los Angeles is all around us.

Also, the behind the scenes workings of filmmaking is our daily life here. We know, for example, that Walt Disney’s cough was so strong, you always knew he was coming before he got there. (In fact, he died of lung cancer in the period shortly after this particular movie took place.)

What is kind of shocking (though really welcome) is that over the years, Disney’s image is so whitewashed that you never (or rarely) see any images of him drinking or smoking, both of which he certainly did. I applaud the filmmakers, and even moreso Walt Disney Pictures, which is presenting this movie, for showing Walt’s truth, finally.

That part was nice. All of the Disney elements were wonderful, a joy to behold, as with most Disney stuff.

What makes this particular show a tough sell is the rest of it.

Mind you, I saw it with a roomful of screenwriters in Hollywood, who pitch their trade (or dream of pitching their trade) every day. They know what is allowed and what isn’t. (One must know the Hollywood code to live here, and even moreso to work here.)

Bradley Whitford welcomes Emma Thompson to Disney

Bradley Whitford welcomes Emma Thompson to Disney

So it’s almost comical to watch a movie about, essentially, a crotchety writer who doesn’t want to sell the rights to her book. She makes herself the biggest pain in the butt you can imagine, and then some (all of this was really, in fact, TONED DOWN for the movie!).  For example, at one point, she huffs to Mr. Disney, “There will be no RED in this movie.” Done. No color red, at all. WHAT?

What is really missing from the script, actually, is any pushback from Disney, and I know there had to be some. Someone somewhere saying, this broad’s crazy! There is only eyerolling and some asides, but they basically go along with her nuttiness. This entire movie, btw, would never fly today.

Walt Disney actually pursued her for 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. Can you imagine? I cannot.

However, I, like most, have a magical remembrance of the wonder that was “Mary Poppins” that came of this struggle. Obviously old Walt knew what he was doing.

Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney) and Emma Thompson (as P.L. Travers) are extraordinary to watch on screen. The fact that this crotchety old bitch is made not only watchable, but at moments even likeable, is such a credit to Ms. Thompson’s acting that she is guaranteed an Oscar nomination for this.

It was a joy to see some singing and dancing from Bradley Whitford (the gruff Josh in “The West Wing”), BJ Novak (“The Office”) and Jason Schwartzman (many things, but most recently his own band, Coconut Records) are great as the Sherman brothers, who wrote the memorable songs for “Mary Poppins.” Melanie Paxson is quite wonderful, too.

BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman play a pair of songwriting brothers.

BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman play a pair of songwriting brothers.

Paul Giamatti makes the most of P.L.’s driver, adding some much-needed heart and warmth.

What is kind of shocking when one goes to a movie expecting the backstory of the making of “Mary Poppins” is that all of the above is only half the movie. And you might think, if you’ve seen the previews, where it mentions her father, that the other half takes place in jolly old England, and that her lovely dad was a chimney sweep. Nope.

Down to the wilds of Australia we go. That’s both what’s jarring and surprising, and exquisite and wonderful about this movie. Aside from the amazing acting, I credit the director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) and the editor Mark Livolsi for creating luminous lush joyous sequences.

Colin Farrell plays the girl’s dad, and does a lot with the role. Rachel Griffiths, as you may’ve already seen in the previews, plays the person that Mary Poppins is based on, although it’s not totally clear who she is in real life. (The girl’s mother’s sister? Some Australian governess?)

As a film experience, I do recommend “Saving Mr. Banks.” This you should know though. She finally caved on selling the rights because she needed the money. After all this folderol she put everyone through, she ended up hating the movie so much that she never let anyone else adapt anything of hers again. She died not speaking to these people ever again, bitter and alone.

Whereas Walt created, as he said he would, a joy for generations. In fact, I urge you to go watch “Mary Poppins” again. Remember too, that the landmark sequence that this woman complained about so much (the penguins and the animation) was ground-breaking for its time (to have live action and animation in the same sequence). Walt was busy making history and making children smile while this woman was bitching and complaining. I’d say, over the long haul, Walt won. The magic always wins.


Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Les Miserables Adds One Miserable One to Its Audience (Not Me)

Here’s my journey with Les Miserables. I originally read the book in French in college. I loved it. Victor Hugo’s way of describing a situation just took my breath away. (I highly recommend checking out the book.) It is lush with detail and description, as books of that age were, and I have fond memories of the scenes playing out in my head as Hugo wrote them.

Then, when I first saw Les Miserables onstage, I was somewhat stunned and shocked at how much they endeavored to get onstage in such a short time. Of course, when you are condensing a massively intricate book into a few hours of stage time, some thing are going to have to go. So, I mourned them, but I cried throughout watching the show. At the big rousing number at the end, I was on my feet with the rest of the crowd, crying and singing along. It remains one of my most treasured theatre experiences.

Now, we get to the movie. And I have heard many rumblings from various people and critics. This one today prompted me to write this review:

It all really seems to boil down to this. If you are an avid reader and/or an avid theatregoer, preferably one who loves musicals, preferably one who loves and/or has seen this musical,  you’re going to enjoy the movie. A lot.

This poor man was way out of his element, and frankly, I don’t know why his wife didn’t just leave the poor sod at home.

Here’s what the experience of the movie was for me.

First, the whole “they’re singing live” is really, truly groundbreaking. For me, it was one of the most exciting things about the movie. It really was like combining the best elements of the play with the conventions of filming a movie. Maybe average theatregoers (like our Mr. Walsh) can’t understand that, but it’s truly a big big deal.

Let me explain a bit more. One of the greatest things about live theatre is that you are right there. If the actor forgets a word or is a bit off-key, it’s real. It’s in the moment. It’s life, it happens. In our saturized, prepackaged worlds of perfection (TV, film, magazines), all of that has been airbrushed out, sweetened, autotuned, so that ALL we have are sappy singers who can’t sing but with a few turns of a button they sound fantastic. ****COUGHTaylorSwiftCOUGH*****

And here we have a musical with VERY difficult songs, and the actors are singing them right there. What you see is what you get. And, I might add, NEVER been done before. Never, in any musical ever filmed. What it produced, for me, was a really stunning work of film that moved me nearly as much as the musical version. And that, for me, has never happened before (I usually always prefer the stage version).

A lot of people made fun of Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (saying they were out of place in the film). Well, this segment of the musical (which of course is nonexistent in this fashion in the book), is meant as comic relief. Every musical has to have some comic relief, or it’ll be dreadfully dreary. Especially this one.

In the musical, these two characters were the most fun, and were one of my favorite moments of the production. Their song was light and airy and funny. However, the movie lays bare the truth of how they are picking pockets and bamboozling people, and up close like that, it’s really not so funny. These two actors, precisely because of their quirks and known peccadillos, are absolutely perfect for these two roles. But these parts were not my favorite parts of the movie.

The “obligatory tragic love story” as the man wrote is, indeed, there. And yes, in movies, and even moreso in movie musicals, the whole love thing is a glance across a room. This is nothing new. The whole Sharks-Jets war was fought over Tony spying Maria for a moment at a dance, too. Falling in love, according to this theory, happens the moment you see someone. You know it instantly, and there it is. Now this magic occurrence doesn’t happen for everyone, you may never know it in a lifetime, but certainly those who’ve experienced it describe it this way.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, while not standard movie choices for these parts, perhaps, were just wonderful, both of them.

The average moviegoer review I referred to commented how Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean have their fight in “one neighborhood.” I’m not sure where the fault is with this. That Americans don’t know the difference between the city of Paris and a suburb of Paris or a city far in the country? Dunno. It’s QUITE clear in the book that they traverse many miles of distance in their battles. Even in the stageplay, it’s clear that there is a chase at hand.

But let me just clarify a bit. When Jean Valjean leaves Inspector Javert at the beginning, he has traveled FAR to get away from him. You see him on a mountaintop in the movie, whereas he was originally in Paris. OK? That’s far. So far away that he becomes another man, with another name.  So much so that when Javert sees him, he doesn’t recognize him. He has heard of his fame and benevolence, and doesn’t connect the esteemed mayor before him with the lowlife convict he is chasing. Actually, I would have to check again, but I believe in the book, it’s a short visit to this town, and then back to Paris.

Valjean travels back to Paris to give away his identity AND to take care of Cosette. When he finds her and realizes he can’t leave her, they flee, but it is again to the country. So there is a bit of chasing going on, which you really have to know the book or the musical to fully realize. Also, in the movie, when Valjean realizes that Javert is again on to him, he mentions to Cosette that they have to flee again. He mentions another home they have in another city. But this was in French, so maybe it flew past our poor beleaguered audience member.

As far as Russell Crowe’s singing (and portrayal of Javert)… I was glad it was Russell Crowe. I can’t imagine anyone else in movies who both sings and can stand toe to toe with Hugh Jackman in a menacing way. That said, he was the one weak link in the movie to me. He just wasn’t mean enough. You really have to feel Javert’s meanness to your core, and he was way too nice. Also, you have to really know two things about Javert: One, he takes pity on no one, ever; two, he is a soldier who lives and dies by his rules (one of his rules being that he takes pity on no one, ever). If you don’t understand this about him (and Crowe really didn’t convey that), you won’t understand with full gravity why he does what he does late in the second act. But as a good soldier, he feels he has absolutely no other choice. The song is supposed to explain it, and the cinematography goes a long way toward this, but… still…

People have also taken issue with Tom Hooper’s direction (especially the continued use of close-ups). Here’s what it is. He filmed the stage musical, nearly exactly. There was very little of the magic that you look to a film director for. A new take on it, an inspired way of staging, etc. It was just the musical, straight-up. As close as possible. And, in that context, the close-ups on the actors, singing their solos kinda makes sense. It may be, and is, annoying to an audience expecting the distance of a movie; but if you are only expecting “the movie version” of the musical, you’ll be fine.

I’ve been saving for last the things about this movie I loved the most.

I want to give credit to all the technicians: the costumers, the makeup artists, the set designers, who made this version of 1800s Paris look as gritty and dirty and loathsome as it probably was.

But the gems of this movie to me were two people.

First, the luminous and amazing Anne Hathaway. She has one big number, and she is phenomenal in it. I am among the chorus of people who truly believes she is looking at an Oscar for this performance. I was sobbing at the end of her song (like many, I am sure). Sadly, she’s not in much of the movie (as she wasn’t in much of the play).

But the real, true revelation to me of the movie was Hugh Jackman. I’ve long admired him as an actor. And a singer. And a stage showman. He’s won an Emmy for his hosting of the Tony, but that’s about it for awards for this man. Well, that has to stop.

Of all the people who had really the weight of this movie on their shoulders, it was mostly Hugh Jackman. Of the people who would cause the whole “we’re going to sing it LIVE!” concept to sink or swim, it rested with Hugh Jackman. And because he is so knock-it-out-of-the-park awesome in this role, I truly believe that not only will he chalk up his first (so well-deserved) Oscar nomination for this role, but I think he’s going to muscle aside the current favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis, for it.

Singing and dancing is tough. But carrying every scene (nearly), going from scruffy convict to esteemed mayor (convincingly), to father caring for his child–it’s just incredible to watch. And the songs he performs (to perfection!) along the way. It’s truly a tour de force. Added with that, the fact that not only has he never won, he’s never been nominated, I really believe Jackman is going to walk away with the Best Actor Oscar this year.

Boy, is that going to piss that dude off! heh




Jonesy’s Jukebox Returns! To the Evil Empire…

Remember back, if you can, to winter of 2003. Terrestrial radio was boring, bland, much as it is now. The only real “alternative” radio station in Los Angeles was the CBS monolith called KROQ. Not much of an alternative. People were turning to their iPods in droves.

Then, suddenly, on Christmas Day 2003, with a blast of The Ramones “We Want the Airwaves,” a real alternative was born, and they called it Indie 103.1. From that day till its final terrestrial one, January 15, 2009, we were graced with some of the best radio ever to cross airwaves.

But it was on February 10, 2004, that radio was truly changed forever. That day was the day the irrascible, farting, belching, dead-air-flaunting machine that is Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols began his radio career with his trusty producer, Mark Sovel, Indie’s visionary music director, by his side.

There were three versions of Jonesy’s Jukebox. The second version had Indie’s production director, Chuck P. as producer. But the Jonesy-Chuck P. mix just wasn’t the same thing. Jonesy seemed to want more of a lackey, someone he could kick around, and in came Kevin Begley, from Boston’s WFNX. Young, green, he suited the bill perfectly. Except for one thing.

The Sovel-Jonesy mix was an equal pairing. Modest Sovel, of course, will deny this, but while Jonesy was the star, the Sex Pistol, the legend, Sovel was also tops in his field of DJdom. For every Jonesy push, Sovel pushed back. Takes a lot of strength to do that. Strength that both Chuck P. and Begley ultimately lacked opposite Jonesy.

You can talk to anyone who listened to Indie 103.1 regularly. Every person will wax rhapsodic over which bits were their favorites. Whose show they liked the best, or listened to the most. Which guest really bowled them over. But among the hardcore listeners, the jewel in Indie 1031’s crown is, was, and always will be the Jonesy-Sovel pairing. Or “Shovel,” as King Jonesy decreed him to be.

Even today, as news came over the transom about Jonesy’s Jukebox once again hitting the terrestrial airwaves, the recurring question hitting my inbox was: “Is he doing it with Shovel?” (Aka, is it gonna be great again? Or crap?)

More on that later.

Cause there’s another big ugly pink elephant in the room. During Indie the upstart’s years in terrestrial radio, not only were they at first not taken seriously; they were then openly harrassed by the monolith KROQ. The big station (I took to calling it “The Evil Empire” on my podcast and blog) spent quite a lot of time kicking the little station that could. They might say it was all in good competitive fun. But it did get ugly.

After hanging on for five long wonderful years (a Sex Pistols reunion and tour of Europe in the mix), way past when anyone thought they would, Indie 103.1 ended its terrestrial operations, gutted its staff and opted to keep the Internet version of the station, which was still drawing ads, going. It’s still going now (

One thing KROQ was good at during those five years and after is stealing Indie’s best stuff. Bands, songs, playlist items, even staff. I suppose it’s no surprise then, in these recession days when Yahoo has to suck it up and be happy that Bing is now their search engine, that we find, beginning Sunday: Jonesy’s Jukebox will once again start spinning the tunes. (YAY! Applause) On the Evil Empire, KROQ. (Hmmm.)

It is with trepidation that one hears that news if one is a hardcore Indie 103.1 fan. But I’m happy to tell you that it’s the good version of Jonesy’s Jukebox: the one with Shovel alongside. We can only wonder if “Fast Food Rockers” and songs accompanied by melodica are far behind. (This version’s focus is more “new music,” apparently.)

Those Jukebox shows were truly magic. The more interaction with Shovel the better, in my view. Jonesy can get a bit ornery, even for the most dedicated listener. Thank God, Shovel’s there to balance him out, to bring the funny. Radio truly almost doesn’t get better than that.

I know it’s KROQ, but listen, won’t you?
The fourth edition of Jonesy’s Jukebox begins airing Sundays from 7 pm to 9 pm, this Sunday, October 10, on KROQ, 106.7 in Los Angeles. You can also stream it here:
KROQ radio stream

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Changes the Game

“It’s a game changer,” my friend said, as we exited “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” perhaps not even realizing the multilevel nature of his comment. By “game,” he meant that it was the most original film he’d seen since “Pulp Fiction.” It’s also true that it changes the game of filmmaking because it comes at us like a videogame.

Pilgrim must vanquish seven levels of Exes. As he does so, they turn into coins at his feet (each level more coins). At one point, he “gets a life” from out of the air, or the scoreboard on the screen, as the case may be. It’s like that. You may find this extremely annoying. Especially if you’re not a fan of videogames, or have never played them.

Pilgrim plays very much like an amped-up version (sonically and visually) of Michael Cera’s earlier “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.” We have star-crossed lovers. We have obstacles. We have a band, and rock and roll as a backdrop.

I truly think it’s safe to say that those who love videogames, rock and roll or great love stories will enjoy this film. The only flaw I could find with it is that the beloved heroine, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, wasn’t really as life or death as she needed to be. But maybe that’s just our age, everyone is lackadaisical.

The fight sequences, as you would expect, get more intense and spectacular as our hero gets a level further. Mae Whitman, so quiet and reserved on TV’s “Parenthood,” here kicks some serious booty. It’s wonderful. The final one, with Jason Schwartzman, is brilliant and wonderful and fun. Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick gives a very different version of herself as Scott’s beleaguered sister.

All of it comes from Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, but writer Michael Bacall and writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) give it shape and keep it flowing along. Very fun movie.

Favorite Songs Playing on Indie 103.1 dot com


2. LADYHAWKE My Delirium


4. TIMBER TIMBRE Lay Down in the Tall Grass

5. ANNA TERNHEIM What Have I Done?

6. HENRY CLAY PEOPLE Working Part Time

7. WILCO (w. Feist) You and I

8. SHE & HIM Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

9. EARLIMART God Loves You the Best

10. ALEXANDRA HOPE Dangerous

Kanye’s Stunt Was Staged, Or Who Are We Kidding, WME?

Let’s look at the facts for a minute here.

Kanye West gets up on stage and interrupts an acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards by Taylor Swift.

The audience boos, the country is in an uproar (it’s all Twitter can talk about for awhile). There are rumors of him “being drunk” (as if that makes it ok or understandable).

The next day, everyone apologizes to everyone, and we go on.

Except this. It was fake. And here’s why.

Jay Leno, whom NBC is banking a heck of a lot on with his new 10 pm gig, just happens to have his first show right after the VMAs. Funny. His guest is Kanye West. Huge ratings.

Two days later, Taylor Swift is on The View, also talking about the VMA debacle. Also huge ratings.

Except this. BOTH guests were booked prior to the VMAs.

And, further, both guests are clients of agency William Morris Endeavor (WME) Entertainment. Coincidence? I think not.

Remember that Bruno/Eminem debacle, which later turned out to be staged? Both of them, also clients of WME.

Now here’s the thing.

Do these people actually think this kind of media manipulation works? Obviously they do. They did it with Bruno/Eminem and came back for more for the VMAs.

They don’t, apparently, realize that we are in a different age now. The age of transparency. Where a person is accountable for their actions. Further, where things can be checked with a few keystrokes.

The end result of all of this, to my eyes, is that everyone looks bad.

Eminem. Bruno. Kanye. Taylor Swift.

But most especially the charlatans at William Morris Endeavor, who use these old school tricks when we are in new times. Shame on you!