John Lee Hancock

Mary Poppins author DL Travers with Walt Disney and Julie Andrews

There’s a scene late in John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks in which author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) barges into Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) office, livid about the fact that the company’s proposed adaptation of her intellectual property “Mary Poppins” may contain a moment of animation integrated into live action, which Disney promised her would not occur. Travers catches Disney putting a cigarette out into an ashtray, blindsided that she caught him in this uncouth moment. Disney says something out loud about not wanting to be seen with a cigarette in his hand, and the scene moves on. We never see the cigarette touch Disney’s lips. There is no still image that exists of Hanks-as-Disney smoking. Yet the Disney-produced film acknowledges that Disney himself smoked and hid that fact from the public eye during the 1960s. Saving Mr. Banks admits openly that there is a distance between the man and the myth, the everyday Walt Disney and his heavily regulated public image. The film makes a gesture of transparency in this direction, yet not enough to actually show the contradiction between the myth and the man. We never see that cigarette hit his mouth. This moment isn’t really all that important on its own, but it is in terms of what it represents: that Saving Mr. Banks is a film which acknowledges the negotiations and compromises that go into making and reinforcing the image of “Disney,” while also exercising careful maintenance of the identity of the Disney brand.

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SAVING MR. BANKS

There’s plenty of heartwarming to be had with John Lee Hancock‘s Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks‘s smile alone tugs at the heart strings, but underneath the picture’s cuddly side there’s a darkness to be found in the flashbacks to P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thomspon) childhood. Playing her father, Travers Goff, is Colin Farrell. Goff is an alcoholic who often hides his pain through storytelling. The parallel for Travers is obvious, but it’s also true in the case of Walt Disney, at least when it comes to the film’s take on Disney. The young Travers informs the older Travers, and the same goes for Goff. It’s a performance we haven’t seen from Farrell before, but ever since Tigerland — Joel Schumacher’s best movie — you could say that for most of his roles. He’s not an actor who repeats himself often or falls back on certain crutches, and that’s likely because, as he tells us, he tries to find roles that push him as an actor. Saving Mr. Banks certainly does just that. Here’s what Colin Farrell had to say about his wonderful time on the film, wanting his experience dictated to him, and, of course, Miami Vice:

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SAVING MR. BANKS

Clint Eastwood’s influence on John Lee Hancock’s work is pretty clear. Hancock wrote one of Eastwood’s best movies, A Perfect World , and one of his lesser pictures, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Since then Hancock has gone on to direct The Rookie, The Blindside, The Alamo, and Saving Mr. Banks. All of his movies have a workmanlike approach. The camerawork is never showy, always with its focus on character and story. The same goes for Eastwood’s films, so it’s no surprise that Hancock learned a few lessons from working with him. One important takeaway for Hancock was to keep a calm set. Saving Mr. Banks shows a very heated creative process, and when we asked Hancock what’s the best way to deal with those conditions, he discussed a lesson from the zen daddy himself, Mr. Eastwood: “Clint Eastwood was my film school. I didn’t go to film school. I was a lawyer and a writer, but I started to get movies made. I did two movies with Clint Eastwood, and he is the zen daddy. I’m not saying I’ve done it successfully, but I like that model of trying to stay as zen as possible, being upbeat, and enjoying the work. You want a creative workspace like that where everyone can do their best work. I don’t like a lot of yelling or running. There are some directors who like chaos and want to be the eye of the storm, but that just confuses me.”

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Shooting one quaint room with only four inhabitants doesn’t exactly scream “cinematic,” at least not in the conventional sense of the word. For a considerable portion of Saving Mr. Banks, we’re watching creative sessions involving P.L. Travers (Emma Thomspon), screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and songwriters Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Bob Sherman (B.J. Novak) attempting to adapt Mary Poppins. Generally absent from those scenes is Tom Hanks, an actor with no shortage of charisma. Not having Hanks’s Walt Disney participating is fine though as the others happily match his charm. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blindside) cast these roles based on the energy needs of that room. Discussing those scenes with Hancock, it’s apparent how much those moments standout for him as well:

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Director John Lee Hancock won the hearts of much of North America with 2009’s The Blind Side. Whether the movie was enjoyable or not, there’s no denying the impact it had that year. Come December there’s a chance Hancock’s newest film, Saving Mr. Banks, will strike the same chord with audiences. It’s certainly deserving of that same success. Author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the woman behind Mary Poppins, has been turning down Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) advances for over twenty years. It’s the book rights he’s interested in, but she’s afraid he’ll turn it into another one of his goofy animated movies instead of appreciating the personal story Travers wrote it as. After discovering that she’s running out of money, Travers begins to change her tune. From that point on, we see plenty of back and forth between her and Walt, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and the two men behind the picture’s music, Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak). The scenes with Travers, the Sherman brothers, and DaGradi sum up the movie. During their creative meetings with Travers, they have to win her over with costume designs, songs, and every nut and bolt of the script. All of their scenes are in a small contained room, and each one of them is a delight. They’re funny and sharp. There’s nothing grand about these moments but they’re naturally charismatic, thanks to the actors’ collective charm.

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Even when it just had a director and two principal actors in place, Disney’s upcoming Saving Mr. Banks already seemed like it was the perfect storm of mainstream appeal. Take director John Lee Hancock, who made mountains of money and received boatloads of acclaim for his sugary sweet The Blind Side, give him two of the most universally loved actors working in Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, and put them to work on subject matter involving one of the biggest legends in entertainment history, Walt Disney, and one of the most enduring children’s stories of all time, “Mary Poppins,” and you have to imagine this film’s potential for box office dollars and warmed hearts is unprecedented. It turns out Saving Mr. Banks isn’t just content to get our attention and then sit back and coast on a winning formula though. Variety has a new report that a trio of actors have just signed on to the film in supporting roles, and they’re three of the best supporting players studio dollars can buy. Joining Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers will be Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, and Ruth Wilson.

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Saving Mr. Banks is a Kelly Marcel-penned Black List script that details the 14 years it took Walt Disney to convince author P.L. Travers to give him the movie rights to her Mary Poppins character. The result of the lengthy courtship was, of course, the Julie Andrews-starring 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins. That movie has made Disney a whole lot of money over the years, so it makes sense that they would be looking to produce any sort of acclaimed script that manages to cash in on Poppins’ mainstream name recognition; especially one that features their company’s founder, Walt Disney, as the main character. To that end, Disney has acquired Marvel’s script and hired The Blind Side helmer John Lee Hancock to direct. That’s all old news though. The new news about this project is that casting has started, and they’re looking at some pretty huge names to play Disney and Travers. According to Variety, Hancock and company are talking to none other than Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson to fill the roles. Just let that sink in for a moment — Tom Hanks may play Walt Disney in a movie about the making of Mary Poppins. Have you ever heard of anything that will make a more violent grab for the hearts and wallets of everyone’s parents and grandparents than that?

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Despite heavy popular and critical love toward The Blind Side, director John Lee Hancock has been cautious to start a new project. He’s signed on for several, including a Denzel Washington-starring uplift-fest called American Can, but he’s been too busy sharing his insights and tips on the festival circuit to get behind the camera. He also typically takes a few years between projects, so it isn’t surprising. However, it’ll be a surprise to see which of his potential films ends up becoming more than kinetic energy, especially now that he’s added another. Deadline Debenhams is reporting that the American popular auteur is close to signing on for Saving Mr. Banks, the script from Kelly Marcel which chronicles Walt Disney’s fruitful attempt to secure the rights for the P.L. Travers book that went on to become Mary Poppins. Yes, Disney is going to make a movie about Disney. Hancock is a great choice here, especially with as saccharine as something like this could be. He’ll no doubt lend is unique ability to shovel down sweetness without causing diabetes if he gets the gig.

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Like sappy movies? Well then, have I got some news for you. Imagine a movie produced by Will Smith, written and directed by The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock, and starring the one and only Denzel Washington. Can you comprehend the sheer force of drama that would be created from the perfect storm colliding of all these inspirational storytellers? You might not have to, because it might be happening; and in a film that suddenly makes my stupid storm metaphor seem to be in bad taste. Oh well, let’s venture on.

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Kevin Carr heads out to the movies this week, giving his take on New Moon, Planet 51, The Blind Side and Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

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We haven’t written much about it yet, but I can tell you that a few folks here at Reject HQ really enjoyed the inspirational story behind Warner Bros. Pictures’ upcoming sports drama The Blind Side.

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