Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

A Friend in Me

News of the World

by Hope Madden

From the moment Sheriff Woody lamented that snake in his boot, it’s been inevitable that Tom Hanks would star in a Western. Not because he personifies the bruised masculinity, the solitary grit—that’s just ornamentation, anyway.

Tom Hanks would inevitably be the hero in a Western because we believe he would do the right thing, however difficult that is.

The Western News of the World is a film we’re less inclined to expect from director Paul Greengrass. His kinetic camerawork and near-verite style that lent realism to United 93 and added tension to his Jason Bourne films hardly suit a Western. He adapts with a more fluid camera that underscores the tension as well as the lyricism inherent in the genre.

He also takes full advantage of our faith in Tom Hanks.

Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who travels from town to town reading news stories to weary people looking for a distraction. In his travels he comes across a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel, wonderful) who’d been raised by Kiowa people and is now being returned against her will to her natural aunt and uncle.

Reluctantly, Captain Kidd agrees to transport her 200 miles across dangerous territory. Not because he wants to or because he will benefit in any way from it. In fact, he will probably die, and she with him.

Greengrass adapts Paulette Jiles’s nove with the help of Luke Davies. An acclaimed poet, Davies can be a handful for some directors. His material, even when done well, as it was with Garth Davis’s 2016 film Lion, can feel overwrought and overwritten. But Greengrass’s touch is lighter, his style always bending more toward realism than poetry, and here he’s struck a lovely balance.

Westerns lend themselves to poetry of a sort. News of the World offers a simple hero’s journey, understated by Greengrass’s influence and Tom Hanks’s natural abilities. A damaged soul faces an opportunity to prove himself, perhaps only to himself, and he takes it. And he is forever changed.

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet, 2020

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year! Oh, our favorite thing about Oscar nominations is the excuse it gives us to dredge up those old horror flicks lingering in every good and bad actor’s past. This year’s crop was especially ripe, too. Here are the handful that made the final cut.

5. Al Pacino & Charlize Theron: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A guilty pleasure, this one. Theron’s screen debut just two years earlier came from an uncredited role in the clearly inferior Children of the Corn 3, but she has no lines in that and how do we pass up a two for one like this movie?

Al Pacino plays to type as Satan, disguised as NY lawyer John Milton who invites unbeaten Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) to join the firm (after Lomax knowingly gets a child molester acquitted). Lomax and his saucy wife Mary Ann (Theron) head north, but Milton keeps Kevin working late and Mary Ann becomes isolated and then paranoid and then possessed.

Theron’s performance is solid throughout and Pacino’s a lot of fun chewing scenes and spitting them out. Reeves is Reeves. But this is such a ludicrous, over-the-top morality play—one that Theron plays for drama and Pacino plays for camp—that Reeves’s goofball in the middle feels somehow right.

4. Tom Hanks: He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Tommy’s first show biz performance came by way of Armand Mastroianni’s bride stalker, He Knows You’re Alone.

The first problem with the film is the plot. It is absolutely impossible to believe that any knife wielding maniac is scarier than a bride just 24 hours before her wedding. She’d kick his ass then slit his throat, all the while screaming about seating arrangements.

The bride thing is a weak gimmick to introduce a slasher, so we watch a shiny knife catch the light just before slicing through some friend or acquaintance of bride-to-be Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney).

In the film that’s little more than a smattering of ideas stolen from Wes Craven and John Carpenter, surrounded by basic stock images and sounds from early 80s slashers, the only thing that stands out is Hanks. In an essentially useless role, Hanks introduces the idea of comic timing and natural character behavior. Too bad we have to wait a full hour for his first scene, and that he only gets one more before his girlfriend’s head finds its way into the fish tank and he vanishes from the film.

3. Renee Zellweger: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)

Written and directed by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper’s co-scriptor for the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation amounts to one bizarre cabaret of backwoods S&M horror. You’ll think for a while it’s a regular ol’ slasher, what with the unlikable teens, broken down car, and bad decision-making. But if you stick it out, you’ll find it tries to be something different – something almost surreal, kind of madcap. It doesn’t work, but it counts that they tried, doesn’t it?

A profoundly unconvincing set-up involves Renee Zellweger as well as several colleagues no longer in the acting profession. They deliver teen clichés while wandering into a truly weird situation. The four prom-goers are terrorized by Matthew McConaughey, now leader of Team Leatherface, and his bizarre band. It’s not necessarily weird in a good way, but weird is rarely ever entirely bad.

There’s a visit from a limo-driven S& M maestro of some kind, paranoid delusions of Big Brother control, a more clearly cross-dressing Leatherface, but absolutely no tension or terror, and shocking little in the way of horror, either, regardless of Freaky Limo Guy’s line: I want these people to know the meaning of horror.

(Hint: they should watch the original.)

2. Brad Pitt: Cutting Class (1989)

Someone’s killing off folks at the nameless high school where Pitt, as Dwight Ingalls, portrays the horny, popular basketball star repressing rage concerning his overbearing father. Perhaps he’s bottling up something more?

Sexual frustration, no doubt, as he spends every second on screen trying to get somewhere with girlfriend Paula (Jill Schoelen, frequent flier on bad 80s Horror Express).

Usually, when you look back on a superstar’s early career and find low-budget horror, one of two trends emerges. Either the superstar stands out as clearly the greatest talent in the film, or else they just cut their teeth on a very small role. Sometimes both. In Pitt’s case, well, at least he looks like Brad Pitt.

Still, it’s fun to see him try on some tics and idiosyncrasies he’ll come to rely on in later, better roles. (Like Pitt’s Oceans character Rusty Ryan, Dwight eats in every scene.)

The freakishly uneven tone, the film’s episodic nature, each scene’s seeming amnesia concerning other scenes’ actions, and the whiplash of comedy to psychological thriller to comedy all add up to an exercise in incoherence.

1. Laura Dern: Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)

Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.

Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually probably happened).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B4EyMoMmzY

Good Neighbors

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

by Hope Madden

My God, I love Fred Rogers.

I didn’t watch the show as a kid, preferring Under Dog, Scooby Doo and other dog-related animation. But the last time I cried, not from sadness but from gratitude and longing, was during Morgan Neville’s beautiful 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I sobbed. In public.

When news reached the world that Mr. Rogers was due for a biopic, surely each of us realized in our own separate ways that Tom Hanks was A) perfect, and B) going to make us sob all over again.

No way that was just me.

Hanks doesn’t love Fred Rogers as much as he entirely accepts him, and that’s the magic of this performance. While the rest of us may look on Rogers and his deep, genuine and implausible goodness with suspicion or awe, it’s nearly impossible to accept him as one of us. Hanks does. He doesn’t plumb for human frailty, he takes Fred Rogers on Fred Rogers’s terms, and that’s why Tom Hanks has two Oscars already. His performance here is unerring, eerily so.

Truth be told, though, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not really Fred’s story. Rather, Mr. Rogers is the transformative catalyst for cynical NY magazine writer Lloyd Vogel. Vogel is played by Matthew Rhys and loosely based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, whose Esquire article is the inspiration for the film.

Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) structures the film much like an episode from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and that almost-surreal-but-not quality serves to underscore the absurdity of the situation as Lloyd sees it: Who is this guy? Is this really what he’s like?

That healthy skepticism and Rogers’s ability to break it down creates the thrust of the film, but it’s also a window for the audience to question, accept and then celebrate this lovely man.

With two films in two years, the late children’s programming icon is having quite a moment. It’s hard to be sad about that.

Hanks for the Memories

Toy Story 4

by Hope Madden

Almost 25 years ago, Pixar staked its claim as animation god with the buddy picture masterpiece Toy Story, where Tom Hanks and writer/director John Lasseter taught the world how to create a fully developed, nuanced and heartbreaking animated hero.

Woody and Buzz returned twice more over the next fifteen years, developing relationships, adding friends, enjoying adventures and life lessons all the while creating the single best trilogy in cinematic history.

And a lot of us wanted them to stop at 3. Is that partly because Toy Story 3 destroyed us? Yes! But also, it felt like a full story beautifully told and we didn’t want to see that completed arc tarnished for profit.

Toy Story 3 made an actual billion dollars.

Profit calls.

Right, so let’s drop in and see how the gang is doing. Woody (Tom Hanks in the role he was born to play) loves Bonnie, the youngster who inherited the ragtag group of toys when Andy left for college and we left the theater racked with sobs. But the cowboy just doesn’t feel the same sense of purpose.

Enter Forky (Tony Hale, who could not be better), a spork with googly eyes, hand-made and much-beloved friend to Bonnie. Forky longs for the trash, and Woody takes it upon himself to make sure Forky is always there for Bonnie. But when Bonnie’s family rents an RV for an end-of-summer road trip, Woody finds it tough to keep his eyes on the restless refuse—especially when a roadside carnival offers the chance to reconnect with old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Will Woody cast aside Forky, bestie Buzz (Tim Allen) and gang to rekindle something lost and taste some freedom?

Josh Cooley (who co-wrote Inside Out) makes his feature directorial debut with this installment. He also contributes, along with a pool of eight, to a story finalized by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (his credits include the three previous Toy Story films) and relative newcomer Stephany Folsom.

The talents all gel, combining the history and character so beautifully articulated over a quarter century with some really fresh and very funny ideas. Toy Story 4 offers more bust-a-gut laughs than the last three combined, and while it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of TS3 (what does?!), it hits more of those notes than you might expect.

Between Forky’s confounded sense of self and Woody’s own existential crisis, TS4 swims some heady waters. These themes are brilliantly, quietly addressed in a number of conversations about loyalty, devotion and love.

This somewhat lonesome contemplation is more than balanced by the delightful hilarity of new characters Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively).

And the creepy yet tender way villains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her posse of ventriloquist dolls are handled is as moving as it is funny.

Characteristic of this franchise, the peril is thrilling, the visuals glorious, the sight gags hilarious (keep an eye on those Combat Carls), and the life lessons far more emotionally compelling than what you’ll find in most films this summer. To its endless credit, TS4 finds new ideas to explore and fresh but organic ways to break our hearts.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of April 16

Two-word titles available for home viewing this week. Do you want to watch a slick, important movie about that reminds you just how far America has fallen? Spielberg for you. Rather watch that same Liam Neeson movie you’ve grown to need somehow in your life? That’s here, too.

Click the film title for the full review.

The Post

The Commuter





Must Never Be Silent

The Post

by Hope Madden

It is Oscar season, people, and we have a big story to tell. Assemble the heavy hitters!

Spielberg – check.

Tom Hanks – check.

Where do you go from there when you’re making the Big Important Film? The one with potential blockbuster legs?

Correct: Meryl Streep.

It is official: The Post has it all, beginning with the almost-too-relevant story of a newspaper casting off its personal associations to hold the government accountable by sharing actual news with citizens of the United States and the world.

“If we live in a world where the government tells us what we can and cannot print,” says Ben Bradlee by way of Tom Hanks, “the Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

The year is 1971. The New York Times has just published parts of the Pentagon Papers, a decades-long study that proves the government lied for years about what was happening in Vietnam. The Washington Post wants desperately to be seen as one of the big news outlets, so they’re working to publish similar content of their own when Nixon decides it’s in his purview to suppress the freedom of the press.

A timely reminder of the struggle to maintain an informed public, Spielberg’s latest is also a testament to Post publisher Kay Graham (Streep). The film offers an insightful image of her difficult road and her courageous actions.

Like Spotlight, also co-written by Post co-scribe Josh Singer (writing here with Liz Hannah), this story encapsulates a watershed moment in journalism. No, not the struggle for a free press. The introduction of profit into the mix. Part of the film’s tension comes from the fact that the Pentagon Papers became available at the same time that the Post was being made public, which introduces yet another powerful contributor toward determining what is and is not deemed appropriate news: money.

It’s a lot to tackle, but naturally, Spielberg has it all well in hand and he doesn’t limit his spectacular casting to Streep and Hanks. Look for great ensemble performances from Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and about 30 others.

Spielberg’s passion and polish come together here as an expertly crafted rallying cry. He’s preaching to the choir, but he preaches so well.





Delete Your Account

The Circle

by George Wolf

Warning: your uploads could have a downside. The cloud? Might get dark and stormy.

Despite noble intentions of The Circle, it’s often this obvious and cheesy in its quest to alert us to the growing invasion of our privacy.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is thrilled when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) get her a foot in the door at The Circle, the gold standard of tech companies. After the most hip of hipster interviews, Mae joins The Circle in an entry level position and is positively starry-eyed to be so close to Circle guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, GD national treasure) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt).

But, in one of the film’s most painfully forced scenes, two Circle employees stop by to tell Mae that even though her work is fine, their records show she’s not taking advantage of the ‘social” aspects of The Circle, and she won’t be a true member of the “community” until she gets with the super happy program!

Do you think she does?

Director James Ponsoldt has impressed with The End of the Tour and Smashed, while writer Dave Eggars, adapting his own novel with help from Ponsoldt, penned Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go. Those are fine resumes, but The Circle is crafted more like a young adult re-imagining of 1984.

Mae’s specialness is realized right away, and as she rises quickly through the ranks, her previously peppy and pretty friend Annie starts showing up to meetings looking like a zombie in sweats. Subtle. And who’s this new friend Ty (John Boyega)? Apparently all the cameras and data crunchers on campus weren’t alarmed by his constantly suspicious lurking, but one look at Mae, and of course Ty knows he can trust her with his secrets.

Hanks is perfect as the Steve Jobs-like figure Bailey, affably spouting mantras such as “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft,” with a disarmingly inviting malevolence. Watson, after a solid turn in Beauty and the Beast, is just over-matched to the point where pained faces stand in for real emoting.

While the film takes on a serious and credible subject, it only seems interested in diving surface deep. Altering the book’s original ending doesn’t help, and The Circle feels like a cop out, downplaying any aspect that could have given it more urgency and settling for melodrama that already feels outdated.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Abandon All Hope

Inferno

by Matt Weiner

Good versus evil. Heaven versus hell. The first 15 minutes of Inferno versus the last 105 minutes…

Director Ron Howard’s latest Dan Brown adaptation reprises Tom Hanks as the clearly tenured Professor Robert Langdon, once again caught up in a global conspiracy that will require his knowledge of symbols, art and religious icons to solve a series of puzzles.

And this time, it’s not just Catholicism that hangs in the balance—Langdon soon learns he’s tracking a deadly virus that, if released, would wipe out much of the world’s population.

Langdon spends the first 15 minutes of the film recovering from a bullet wound and massive head trauma, with no memory of the last few days. He hears voices and suffers violent hallucinations plagued with visions of medieval horror. The quick cuts are unsettling, as if Jason Bourne dropped acid while watching The Omen.

The Dantean grotesques invading Langdon’s head and complete lack of plot coherence also hinted at the chance that maybe, just maybe, Howard would pull off the greatest conspiracy of all and turn a lavish studio tentpole into an unhinged Italian horror send-up.

And then Langdon’s memory starts to come back. That’s when the rest of the film segues from Dario Argento to standard thriller. (You can reliably track the dullness of the movie with the sharpness of Langdon’s puzzle skills.)

It’s not that the thriller portion of Inferno is bad, although it is equal parts frenetic and nonsensical. Based on the source material, though, the relentless pacing is probably for the best, or else you’ll start to wonder when the World Health Organization started building up lethal military commandos without the United Nations getting concerned. Or why nobody is too bothered by the existence of a secret multinational security company that almost destroyed the world. (Or why the movie wastes the electric Irrfan Khan as the group’s leader.) Go in with the right expectations, though, and Inferno won’t disappoint.

Where Inferno really misses the mark isn’t so much its tiredness as a thriller but its complete lack of relevance. Paranoid classics like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men oozed 1970s zeitgeist like blood on bitumen.

But in 2016, at the climax of the United States election—of this election, in these times—Inferno opts to menace us with an asocial Silicon Valley businessman (played by Ben Foster) whose views on humans are just a hair to the right of some actual Silicon Valley CEOs and venture capitalists.

Forgive the plot. Forgive Robert Langdon’s haircuts. Forgive Foster, whose face earns infinite goodwill by reminding you that he also spent 2016 onscreen in Hell or High Water.

But in a movie that, including the end credits, makes rational sense for maybe 20 minutes, the biggest unsolved mystery is how little feels at stake—and how unimaginative the film thinks about what the end of the world as we know it might look like.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 

 





Wing and a Prayer

Sully

by George Wolf

Carrying a true American icon both in front of the camera and behind it, Sully lands with a smooth craftsmanship as fitting as it is inevitable.

In January of 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson, landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River after dual engine failure, saving the lives of all 155 souls on board. Based on Sullenberger’s own memoir, this tale of American heroism in the face of extreme circumstance probably had Clint Eastwood’s name on the director’s chair before the Captain even finished his book.

And really, who else is more suited for the helm of a vessel in peril than Tom Hanks?

Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki rightly anchor the film with the miraculous landing, while highlighting the human drama of a conflicted hero and the lives that hung in the balance during 208  fateful seconds. We get a subtle overview of Sully’s four decades of flight experience, nicely balanced with glimpses into the lives of his passengers and the seemingly random events that brought them all together.

It’s a strange thing for an actor to reach the level Hanks has, where he is universally regarded as such a treasure that his startling performance three years ago in Captain Philips became some sort of jarring reminder that, oh yeah, he’s good. This title role bears obvious similarities, but Hanks is able to illustrate the differences with easy grace. From Sully’s nagging self-doubt, to a determined defense of his choice to bypass nearby runways, to the stifling effects of sudden fame, Hanks carves out layers that are unique and deeply felt.

Eastwood builds the tension quietly, maintaining a consistent tone of understatement that makes the spectacle of the water landing all the more breathtaking (and worth the extra dough for IMAX). Kudos, too, for the almost Rashoman-style approach to framing the tragedy, and the respectful acknowledgment to the painful memories rekindled by the image of a crippled plane in NYC.

Not every scene embraces subtlety and not every line finds its mark, but Sully does, because it approaches the story precisely the way Sully himself seemed to approach his job. It’s a film that is modest, prepared and professional, with important moments that rise to the occasion.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Old Pros at Work

Bridge of Spies

by George Wolf

It’s October, so if you hear “Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, two hour twenty minute historical drama” and think Oscar bait, you’re not alone.

But Bridge of Spies also walks the walk, emerging as a taut, effective and absorbing film, as finely crafted as you would expect from the talents involved.

It’s also a wonderful slice of history, especially for those not familiar with the story of Jim Donovan.

As the Cold War rages in the late 1950s, Donovan (Hanks) is an insurance lawyer with three kids and a wife (Amy Ryan) in a big house in the New York suburbs. When the CIA nabs Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the head of Donovan’s firm (Alan Alda) volunteers him to help the Feds and give Abel just enough of a defense to make the trial seem legit.

Going through the motions doesn’t sit well with Donovan, even as his commitment brings a cost “to family and firm.”

Complications arise when the Russians capture one of ours, and a prisoner exchange seems in the best interest of both parties. That’s not the sort of thing governments want to officially participate in, so Donovan is sent to Berlin to negotiate the deal.

Standing alone, the true events are undoubtedly compelling, but onscreen they unfold like an intentionally old school genre thriller, crafted by veteran artists wearing their considerable skills like a perfectly broken-in pair of shoes.

Spielberg’s sense of pace and framing is casually impeccable, Hanks perfectly embodies Donovan’s inner journey, and Rylance is sure to get Oscar consideration for his scene-stealing perfection.

But there’s more. Composer Thomas Newman (what, not John Williams?) provides a gently evocative score, and Matt Charman’s script gets an assist from none other than the Coen Brothers.

As the tale moves from courtroom motions to clandestine spy games, it’s punctuated by perfectly realized moments that speak to more universal themes. Schoolchildren frightened by the thought of war, a mad dash to make it over the Berlin Wall, or a pledge to be a justice system that doesn’t “toss people in the trash heap”, all linger just long enough to resonate without manipulation.

By the time Donovan heads to the bridge for the prisoner transfer, the only chance of letdown in the film comes from being lulled into complacency by the skill of people who just know what the hell they are doing.

You knew Bridge of Spies would be good. It is.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars