Thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks”

Since it’s 2014 and I resolved to blog more, I’m going to start with the kind of post I wish I’d written more of last year: thoughts on movies.

I saw “Saving Mr. Banks” yesterday, and while I didn’t LOVE it, I enjoyed it quite a bit – and have enjoyed thinking about it in hindsight even more.

I want to say that I first heard of the movie shortly after the Oscars last year, in some kind of “What Movies Will Contend in 2014” slideshow, but it may have been later in the year. At any rate, I remember reading a positive early review of the film this past October. I had high expectations: It’s got Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, it’s a movie about the movies, Disney made it, and who doesn’t like “Mary Poppins”? It was on my shortlist of movies to see in advance of awards season.

As more reviews came out, my expectations dulled – it seemed like more of a kids’ movie, and I wasn’t sure I’d like the backstory about P.L. Travers’ childhood in Australia, which the film used to explain the inspiration behind the Mary Poppins character.

We ultimately know how “Saving Mr. Banks” ends, because “Mary Poppins” is an actual movie we all watched as kids. But “Saving Mr. Banks” makes you think for awhile that there’s no possible way P.L. Travers will hand Disney the rights to turn her book into a movie. That’s what I liked least about this film – it drags on a little with scenes showing how much she resents what Disney is trying to do with the story. And, while I ended up liking the use of flashbacks to her childhood, I thought those were also a little repetitive. The movie turned to flashbacks when something P.L. Travers encountered during her trip to Los Angeles reminded her of an event from childhood. They weren’t forced attempts at moving the story along, which I appreciated. Plus, I thought Colin Farrell was quite good as her father.

Many of the scenes depicting the author’s objections to Disney’s plan for a film adaptation occurred in a rehearsal room. Travers sat around a table with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman and screenwriter Don DaGradi, listening to and summarily shouting down their ideas. This creative trio – with Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers and Bradley Whitford (!) as DaGradi – became my favorite part of the film. Here are three guys who probably expected Travers to come in and fawn over all their brilliant songs and scripts. But even when her dismissiveness annoyed them to the core, they kept at it and found a way to please her.

And when they finally did please her, with the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” it was wonderful. For those few minutes, as the Shermans, DaGradi and Walt’s secretary perform the number for her, I was smiling wide and absolutely loving the film. The Shermans and DaGradi are just so happy – and probably relieved – to se P.L. Travers happy. Jason Schwartzman, who I’d say played my favorite character in the film, was especially wonderful it in that scene. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this video is taken down soon for some copyright violation, but here’s the scene I’m talking about.)

But really, let’s all have a good laugh at Josh Lyman singing and dancing to songs from Mary Poppins! Oh, it just kills me. Bradley Whitford didn’t make or break this movie for me, but every time he was on screen, I thought to myself, “This is the man who delivered the ‘bring me the finest muffins and bagels’ speech.” Same guy.

My final thought: Seeing it with a full theater audience provided an interesting commentary on how central Disney movies have been to American entertainment. You know the line, “Close your mouth please, Michael, we are not a codfish,” from “Mary Poppins”? There’s a line in a flashback scene that obviously hints at it, and everyone in the theater laughed knowingly. Disney can make “Saving Mr. Banks” so meta because everyone’s already seen and loved “Mary Poppins.” This movie seemed self-indulgent at times, but I didn’t care because I was entertained. Disney knows how to entertain pretty well.

Life, Post-Whirlwind.

The last two weeks have been nothing short of crazy.

Since my last post, I have:

• Turned 20
• Seen my mom and sister in person after nearly a month
• Attended baseball games at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park
• Sat in on a satellite media tour (in which the editor-in-chief of Bicycling does several short interviews with morning news anchors in various cities)

Whew. It’s been a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Tour de France started Saturday, so Bicycling had a lot on its plate. If you’re like me, you associate “Tour de France” with “Lance Armstrong,” but there are a lot of other great riders out there who I am excited to follow this year, like Lance’s bitter rival and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain.

We’ve been doing a lot of work to promote Bicycling’s coverage of the Tour de France: its website features tons ofslideshows, previews, rankings, analysis and videos. I created a list of notable and reputable cycling bloggers and am now reaching out to those bloggers – basically, showing them how Bicycling is covering the Tour and letting them know that we’d love for them to take advantage of those resources.

It’s awesome, because I get to practice pitching and communicating with media while learning how to pitch bloggers and traditional media differently.

On the morning of my birthday, July 1, we went to a studio in Manhattan where Loren, Bicycling‘s editor, basically sat on a set for three hours and did short interviews with morning news anchors in different cities (known as a satellite media tour, or SMT, in the PR world). She previewed the Tour de France,

Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel was doing an SMT in the same studio that morning - you can see his being announced on the left screen. Loren is on the right.

answering their questions about the race, Lance Armstrong’s chances, doping, etc. My main job was to record the questions she was asked and just soak up the experience while hanging out in a posh “green room” filled with muffin trays. I was able to see and hear all of the interviews through a screen hooked up in the green room. My view:

Despite not being the world’s greatest socializer, I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping busy and getting out into the city with friends. Lately, I’ve been a baseball fiend, seeing Mets, Yankees and Red Sox games (all in one week). I went to the Mets game with a couple of friends – the Mets lost, but it was fun to see their new stadium (it opened last season) and be part of an enthusiastic crowd. Sorry, Yanks fans – I’d take a game at Citi Field or (gasp!) Fenway over Yankee Stadium game any day.

Going to Fenway Park was ridiculously cool – it’s kind of like a baseball Mecca. (Yankee Stadium is, too, but I have

An outside shot of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

been to the new and old stadiums before this year so the excitement has worn off.) Fenway is old with narrow concourses, but Sox fans are great, the atmosphere around the park is fun, and singing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the 8th inning – a Fenway tradition – embodied everything that is great about baseball.

Tuesday night, I saw the Broadway performance of Mary Poppins because the housing service I rent through was offering cheap tickets. Yes, it was a little cheesy and geared toward a younger audience, but it was fun, especially the part when Bert tap-danced on the ceiling.

Thursday was my 20th birthday. Birthdays are so much better because of Facebook. Of course, they wouldn’t be the same without the customary phone calls and birthday cards, but opening Facebook to find bunches of notifications from friends and extended family is a sweet reminder of how many fantastic people are in my life and how blessed I am to have such dear friends.

The day was made even sweeter because I got to see my mom and sister. I hopped on the Bolt Bus to Boston after work and met them there so we could spend the long weekend together in a city we’ve never explored. (Bolt Bus = free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets = glorious.)

We toured MIT, which my sister is considering for college, saw the Sox game and walked the Freedom Trail (which I highly recommend – educational and enjoyable, especially if you’re into American history). The Freedom Trail can be a bit of a trek and ye be warned: climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Memorial will leave your legs in pain the next day.

My sister Hope (left) and I with the Paul Revere statue on the Freedom Trail.

Another cool Boston spot is the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. It’s situated on a beautiful spot overlooking the bay. You can’t go wrong in a museum where they feature a bunch of Jackie’s outfits, Frank Sinatra music and old Walter Cronkite live footage.

After getting in last night, I headed downtown to watch the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks display on the Hudson River. I didn’t get too close in an attempt to avoid a huge mass of people, but I watched from a sidewalk and had a pretty good view. Even more impressive than the fireworks, though, was this (pardon my crappy phone-quality picture):

The Empire State Building decked out in patriotic colors.

Speaks for itself. Hope you’ve had a relaxing 4th of July weekend, and thanks for reading!