Movie review: Saving Mr. Banks

We were predisposed to like this film, as we are huge fans of all things Disney and enthusiastic fans of the movie “Mary Poppins.”  But this film surpassed our expectations.  The basic plot is the story of how Walt Disney convinced P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series of books to let him make a movie from the books.  Clearly, we all know how the story ends, given the enduring popularity of the movie.

But “Saving Mr. Banks” is more than just how a Hollywood movie mogul convinced a children’s author to license the movie rights.  The movie delves into the traumatic childhood of P.L. Travers (her father was an alcoholic) and how she coped with his struggles.  Emma Thompson does a marvelous job creating a curmudgeonly author who is over-protective of her family (her books) and who adamantly opposes her books being made into either a musical or an animated movie.  She is gradually won over, less by Walt Disney, and more by the Sherman brothers and the scriptwriter, at least, until the climax of the movie.

Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney with a benign touch, although you see glimpses of the iron fist underneath the genial exterior.  But he, too, reveals his complexity of character, combining charm with a touch of manipulation and the revelation of his own difficult childhood.

Be sure and stay through the credits.  The movie plays the actual audiotapes of P.L. Travers discussing the script with the Disney folks.  (I think they do it just to be make sure you know they weren’t exaggerating her cantankerousness.)

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an extraordinarily touching movie about two very different people finding healing and closure in the making of the “Mary Poppins” movie.  The two main characters are well fleshed out and are complex characters.  The secondary characters are well-acted.  I can see why the movie has generated such a buzz.  I do think much of the complexity of the characters and the nuanced relationships between the characters went over the heads of our two kids, so while they liked the movie, it didn’t resonate with them as much as it did with us.  The grownups enthusiastically give the movie two excellent thumbs up, and the kids give the movie two very good thumbs up!

Movie review: Frozen

We all went to watch “Frozen” last night.  “Frozen” is the newest Disney animated movie and is roughly based on “The Snow Queen,” one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.

This is definitely one of Disney’s better animated movies (I’m excluding the Pixar movies from this comparison, as that wouldn’t be fair.)  The story is interesting and even has a bit of a plot twist.  The animation, especially of the ice castle, is stunning, and the music is impressive.  Elsa’s character is voiced by Idina Menzel, from the Broadway music, “Wicked.” The relationship between the two sisters, Elsa and Anna, is complex and loving.  Comic relief is provided by a snowman, Olaf, and a reindeer, Sven.  (It is Disney, after all, so look for stuffed Olafs and Svens in a Disney store near you.)

There is also the requisite romance, but since that part of the movie is part of the plot twist, I won’t say anything more.  It is interesting that the narrative arc, while consistent with all other Disney animated movies, is more complex and rich in this movie than is typical.

There is also the requisite tragedy (the death of Bambi’s mother still haunts me decades after seeing the film the first time).  Let’s just say that you shouldn’t get too attached to Elsa and Anna’s parents.

All in the family (including the teenage daughter and the tween son) enthusiastically give “Frozen” a thumbs up!  We highly recommend seeing it!

Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

This Stephen Sondheim musical is currently playing at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC.  We took the entire family to see it on Friday night, and it was enthusiastically endorsed by everyone (even the 12 year old boy who was definitely not enthusiastic about going).  The humor is occasionally off-color, but most of the humor is a result of comedic slapstick and timing.  The characters even occasionally interact with the audience.  In one memorable scene, the main character is supposed to steal another character’s potion book out of his pocket but inadvertently fails to do so.  (This is not part of the play—he just goofed.)  The main character comes back on stage and promises to rehearse harder to get it right for the next performance.  And then starts laughing.  It was hilarious.

And in the climactic “death” scene, the main character ad libs the humor so successfully that every character onstage breaks character at some point during the scene because he or she can’t stop laughing.  Somehow, this made the scene even funnier.

All the actors are excellent, but Bruce Dow, who plays the main character, is without doubt the star of the show.  His comedic genius is what makes this production so successful.

At the end of the show, the audience is present to witness a (successful) proposal to one of the cast members.  It was a fitting end to a highly entertaining evening.  (Although I hope she doesn’t regret the costume she was wearing at the time of the proposal.)  J

We give the production four thumbs up!

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

We took the family to see “Thor:  The Dark World” over Thanksgiving weekend.  It got a thumbs up from everyone.  The plot was pretty clever for an action-adventure film, a genre not known for its creative plotting.  The acting was also surprisingly good.  I find Chris Hemsworth as Thor a bit wooden, but Jim pointed out to me that it’s not a character where you want a lot of over-acting, so it’s unclear whether he’s a wooden actor or whether the Thor character needs to be portrayed that way (in which case, he’s an excellent actor).  Natalie Portman is excellent as always.  Her role is a bit tricky, as it’s also a role that doesn’t call for a lot of stretch acting, but she plays her character in a restrained way, so it’s neither stereotyped nor overdramatic.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki has the best part.  Loki is snarky, sarcastic, and the most complex character in the story.  And he does an excellent job with the role.

There’s also lots of explosions, battles, and dead bodies, a requirement for the Thor series.  And, spoiler here, the good guys win.  (At least for now.)  It’s all very satisfying.

All in all, Thor is a fast-paced, cleverly plotted and surprisingly well-acted action-adventure movie.  It’s an excellent addition to the Marvel series.  The family collectively highly recommends it.  And don’t forget to stay through the credits when you go see the movie.


We sat 25 people down for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.  The extroverted half of the family was giddy with excitement.  The introverted half of the family was delighted at the crowd and equally delighted when the evening ended.

Here’s the menu of what was served:

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Fried Turkey

Smoked Turkey

Roasted Turkey


Roasted Shrimp


Sweet Potatoes

Dinner Rolls



Orange-Cranberry Sauce

Roasted Carrots

Mashed Potatoes

Acorn Squash

Lentil Quinoa Salad

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Tossed Salad


Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake

Blackberry Pie

Apple Pie

Blueberry Pie

We had a lot of leftovers.  🙂

We have a Thanksgiving tradition where each family member says what they are thankful for.  I am thankful for my family and friends and the blessings of good health that we enjoy.  As we often say in our family, we have inconveniences, not problems.  (This stems from a story from a friend of ours who attended a dinner party where people were complaining about various things.  Then, one elderly woman announced, “I don’t have problems.”  She rolled up her sleeve to reveal a tattooed number on her forearm and said, “When I got this, I had problems.  Now, I only have inconveniences.”)

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with only inconveniences!


Best Buddies Miami 2013

We flew down to Miami last weekend to attend the Best Buddies Miami gala.  Best Buddies is an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with friendships, employment, and leadership development.  We’ve been involved with the organization for 20 years, and Jim is on the board.

The Miami event is especially entertaining because the crowd is some of the best people watching ever.  (Can you say “physical enhancements?”)  This year, Carlos Slim was the guest of honor at this year’s gala, and he and several family members flew from Mexico City to attend.  He is an amazingly unassuming person, happy to meet everyone.  We also met his daughter and son-in-law, who have also been generous supporters of Best Buddies.  The musical performer was Sean Paul.  We had a really fabulous time at the gala.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Miami, just hanging by the pool and enjoying the warm and sunny weather.  It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend and perfect timing, as we enter the crazy holiday season.

You can find out more about Best Buddies at

And here’s a photo from the event of Jim and me:

Best Buddies Miami 2013

Best Buddies Miami 2013