Reel Critics: Between two worlds

A major studio making a movie about one of its own blockbuster hits sounds like a bad idea. The potential for self congratulation is obvious. But "Saving Mr. Banks" is a worthy Disney project that entertains on its own merits.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson — with four Oscars between them — bring all the right moves to their high-profile roles. Hanks channels Walt Disney with an impish side to his persona. Thompson is pitch perfect as the cantankerous P.L. Travers, author of the "Mary Poppins" books.

Two plots are hard at work here. There is the amusing story of how Disney convinced the tightly wound Travers to sign over the rights to her beloved fictional character in 1961. But there is also the compelling and dramatic back story of Travers' own difficult childhood in 1906 Australia.

The movie oscillates back and forth between these two worlds 55 years apart. The revelations of Travers' early life illuminate the dynamics at work behind her creation of the world of "Mary Poppins." Like so many Disney movies, you'll laugh and cry in equal measure and be glad you saw it.


Do the 'Hustle'

Super charged, sexy and funny, "American Hustle" is director/co-writer David O. Russell's latest after his enjoyable "Silver Linings Playbook." Like that award-winning film, it features an outstanding acting ensemble, a screwball plot and lots of surprises. It's also a love story.

The film opens with Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) doing an elaborate comb-over that would make Donald Trump proud. It's symbolic of Irving himself: a careful coverup of his vulnerable side in a brash effort to look successful.

For Irving is a con artist, as he will proudly tell you. He meets Sydney Prosser (an electrifying Amy Adams) and together they expand Irving's phony loan business. Sydney reinvents herself as a posh Englishwoman for their schemes, and the two become inseparable.

But greed gets the better of them, and they find themselves working for fiercely ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, as tightly wound as his perm) with dreams of entrapping shady politicians. Richie also has a thing for Sydney.

Complicating this corkscrew plot is a big-hearted New Jersey mayor (an excellent Jeremy Renner) a sheik, the mob and a brassy, dimwitted blonde (Jennifer Lawrence) who threatens to blow the entire operation.

"Hustle" is set in the 1970s: the era of disco, tons of gold  jewelry and unbuttoned shirts for days. The rapid-fire pacing gives a "GoodFellas" type vibe and the actors, particularly Bale, have never been more magnetic. 

There's a hint of danger and wild unpredictability here — and that's just the hair. This is one of my favorite movies of the year: I'm ready to see it again.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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