Well it's January aka "Awards Season" so don't expect a flood of quality new flicks out until after the Oscars (or early May). The good news is some of 2013's best are still screening at the Village 8 and it's never to late to hit up The Wolf of Wall Street, for some sex, drugs, finance, evil, and the reunification of Scorcese and Di Caprio. It could have been shorter (three hours long) but it's still pretty awesome.
New this week, but officially a 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks is the based-on-a true story of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he attempts to convince author P.L. Travers (Cate Blanchett) to allow him to make a film of her book, "Mary Poppins." Travers is (rightfully) cautious of Disney and Hollywood and the film is essentially a two-hour cat-and-mouse as Walt pulls out all the stops to woo (trick) her into relenting control of a very personal story.
Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) manages to keep things from sliding too far down into the vat of cheese and bubbling sentimentality and the strong cast, (including Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman) really keep things afloat. The 1961 art direction is pretty kick-ass and Thompson steals the show. She's already getting big talk this awards season for Blue Jasmine but also lays down a stellar (if prickly) performance here.
Saving Mr. Banks is still overly sweet and probably a lot less "based on truth" than it purports but with the talent involved and the nostalgic element (those songs), it makes for a decent, if forgettable, family flick. It's certainly no Finding Neverland, but it will have to do.
Also opening, on the way-opposite end of the spectrum, Lone Survivor is another "based on a true" story. Marky Mark Wahlberg stars as the "lone survivor" of a 2005 Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan that goes to shit. Written and directed by Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) this war movie is built more like a Western, which makes for a better film even as it strips away any context behind what's really happening in the actual war in which it occurs.
Wahlberg's tight, fun-loving-as-the-situation-permits SEAL crew (including Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster) is supposed to be assassinating a Taliban commander when they are discovered by a goat herder and his two children. Rather than kill the innocents or tie them up and let them freeze, the team opts to let the family go, knowing full well they will alert insurgents in the area. It's a great glimpse of morality for an action/war movie, and then things kick into shootout mode.
Berg has a decent eye for gunplay and a fetishistic love of military discipline and brotherhood but he also injects solid characterization alongside the brutality and blood. The horrors of war are really only effective when seen on a personal level — the famous quote is something like "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." Lone Survivor gets there but rather than investigate the real horrors of war this one watches a bit too much like a recruitment film.
Sticking with the cloak and dagger stuff, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens Thursday, Jan. 17 and sees Chris Pine in the famous role from bestselling author Tom Clancy. The plot this time around apparently hinges on financial terrorism and a Russian scheme to collapse the U.S. economy. Just in time for the Olympics I guess. The good news is this one is directed by Kenneth Branagh, so it should be a bit different/weird/Shakespearean, and Keira Knightly is in it too.