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poster_petedragonYet another trend from Disney which tends to fall flat with each attempt. However, this one wasn’t as bad as I had expected. In fact that’s the best I could say about it; albeit insanely unoriginal in plot, this live action retell of Pete’s Dragon didn’t entirely suck.

Pete’a Dragon is about a toddler named Pete who’s parents and he suffered a terrible car wreck in the woods of Millhaven, Ore. As the toddler survived, but the parents did not, a legendary docile dragon which the boy names Elliot takes him into its care for the next six years until a logging company and a Forrest ranger discover the boy has been living in the wild all this time. Soon, they learn his dragon exists and a hunter party ensues to capture the magical beast while those who respect the creature look to keep it free and hidden.

Here’s what I appreciated about the film. Elliot never spoke. I was so afraid that character was going to receive the A-typical Disney date rape by having this computer generated character speak English and take that much more reality away from a plot already based in fantasy. However, someone made the decision not to and it worked much better for the integrity of the film, I felt.

I also loved the cast. Bryce Dallas Howard (Lady In the Water) as Grace the forest ranger completely sold her part. She committed and within a Disney fantasy I didn’t expect that from anyone in the film. It was a pleasant surprise and increased my respect for her as an actor.

Frankly, this live action remake of a Disney classic will probably disappoint the die hard fans of the original, I think. I wasn’t one. It’s cute, but I feel this storyline is better in the for of the Steven Spielberg directed classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

poster_moanaI love where Disney is going with its animated films. For years the mega studio has been allowing room for its material to address themes kids truly need to be exposed to, much like the Disney films I remember seeing when I was young. Moana fits into this category; however, when you’re trying to climb to new heights with your material, sometimes, you stumble.

Moana, being less than perfect is that stumble.

Since being an infant, Moana has been drawn to the sea beyond the reef of the island she calls home. Later in life, driven by her father to take over rule of the island, Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, still finds the sea beckoning her for a mission. On the advice of her estranged grandmother, Moana sets out to complete the story of an ancient Polynesian legend of how a demigod named Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), stole the heart of the life goddess Te Fiti which was lost in the ocean during a great battle between Maui and the lava god. Moana sets across the ocean to find Maui and force him to replace the heart to save her island from a mysterious darkness slowly killing it.

With every new major Disney release, one thing is guaranteed; songs. You basically have to expect a musical. Why wouldn’t you? And that’s fine. While the musical movie genre is practically dead once again, Disney has been the only company to continue producing them and have success. My problem this time around is the songs lacked the spark which I expect from most musicals.

Maybe it’s just the theatrical training I received in college, but I’ve always felt and been told songs in musicals are generally ways to express a character’s inner motivations and conflicts, while book scenes focused on the main plot points and outer motivations and conflicts of its characters. Many cast musical numbers express the collective conscious of the group. For example–for those of you who have seen Little Shop of Horrors movie musical with Rick Moranis as Seymour–the opening number of Little Shop had the characters singing about what life is like on skid row, setting the tone for the movie. The musical Rent is the same example; the characters all come together to sing about how broke they are and what they are aspiring to be in general.

For the most part, the musical numbers in Moana do the same; a musical number about how life on the island provides and there is no need to venture out, another number for Moana expressing her need to be whom she knows she is inside, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, the musical numbers themselves lacked the spark other Disney musicals have nailed in the past. It simply didn’t have melodies which people could take home with them. Mulan’s musical number expressing her inner desires, that is memorable. Moana’s, I can’t even recall how it goes at the moment and I just saw the movie a couple days ago. A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast, Just Can’t Wait to be King; these are all memorable musical numbers which stay with you in a time tested fashion. Moana’s numbers lack that and dare I say are even cheesy in spots.

The only numbers, albeit still not that memorable, which I thought were at least effective where Maui’s introduction number “You’re Welcome,” and the “I’m Shiny” number from the massive monster crab Tomatoa, brilliantly voiced by Jemaine Clement (Rio). These numbers were fun and expressed exactly what the viewer needed to know about these characters.

As far as the placement of the musical numbers, and I’m sorry to spend so many inches on this aspect of the movie, if you couldn’t tell from my tone in previous paragraphs, tend to make the movie very formulaic and not so original.

The only other aspect of the film I did not like is what came after the climax. The movie came to a climax which included a strong plot twist–no spoilers here–but after that climax, the denouement of the film fell into the deadly realm of the hoakey. Seeing Te Fiti at long last was so less strong than any adverse character Moana and Maui faced to reach her. It really hurt the film. There were so many book scenes which were executed so strong that when we come to Te Fiti scene, it fell so short the standard the film otherwise established.

That brings me to the strengths of the film. There were several. The theme alone is always one kids need to be hearing on a regular basis; be yourself. The characters were also strong, well written with clearly defined motivations and conflicts, inner and outer. The adversity scenes were extremely strong and effective which helped keep this thin folklore storyline afloat and moving forward with the viewer engaged. In fact, I don’t remember a single scene without a musical number that wasn’t necessary. That fault came with most of the songs.

Disney’s formula for success also comes with an emphasis on the breakout sidekick characters. For Moanna it looked like it was going to be a pet pig, but soon it turned out to be a mentally challenged chicken which provided some laughs but had a little too many of them for what the film needed at the bird’s expense. However, uniquely presented for Maui, that character’s sidekick was an ongoing tattoo of himself on his chest which served as his conscience at times. This animated tattoo was a great addition to the Maui character which gave a sponge bath to an otherwise flat-footed formulaic Disney vehicle. 

In closing, I liked the movie as a whole. It disappointed at the end and the songs didn’t exactly elevate the story as anticipated, but it’s a quality tale of folklore for the whole family. 

poster_fantasticbeastsI just can’t get into this type of movie. I’ve tried, and I DO enjoy the Harry Potter series. However, I am not fanatical about them. My biggest problem with fantasy type films is the verbiage. There are so many terms of beasts and locations and spells that its difficult for me to understand what is being said half the time, let lone be able to identify with the characters and feel engaged.

In this work written directly for the screen by Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling, Hogwarts alum Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), brings his collection of magical beasts to New York City where one breaks loose at a bank and causes a scene for the wizard and an American non-magic amateur baker named Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury). An exiled agent Tina, played by Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs), of the American wizarding community takes the Brit into the authorities for his antics while eventually more beasts get out into the “no-mag” world.

Now Newt and Tina must work together along with her sultry sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol (The Lucky One) and Kowalski, now illegally exposed to all the magic of his surroundings to prove the escaped beasts are not the culprit of repeated dark magic taking the lives of a handful of Americans no-mags.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed about the film; Redmayne, Waterston, Fogler and Sudol. These four characters were well created by their actors. Redmayne was extremely consistent, while Waterston made it easily to see what her inner motivation and conflicts were as we kearned more about her. Fogler had probably my favorite character as Kowalski. I’ve only seen him in movies which were outlandish comedies or the over-the-top bestfriends characters. This role was a character performance but on a more subtle scale than I’ve seen him before. Queenie was hard not to fall for, as Kowalski did.

I also loved the visual effects the film used to create prohibition era New York City; model T cars, pin-striped suits, etc. It looked quite like the real deal and added to the experience.
Before I get into my issues with the film, I’ll last mention I adored the dyamic of the four mentioned characters. Kowalski’s love of the magical world which grows once his eyes are open to it. Queenie’s adoration of him. Newt’s love of animals who are banned from ownership despite having practical uses in the wizarding world and Tina’s passion for making things right and loyalty for those who appreciate her. I loved their storylines between each other. It kept me involved, while the remainder of the film would have lost my interest otherwise.

Now, don’t expect a Harry Potter movie when you see this, despite being a part of that universe set 70 years prior to where the first HP film lands on the universal timeline. The only thing that connects this story to HP is a couple of last names like Dumbledore, L’Estrange and Grindewald. Oh and the sign of the Deathly Hallows. There were no familiar locations since its set in NYC. There were no creatures identifiable to the previous eight HP films. Although I enjoyed the film making itself its own independent franchise for the most part, I just feel die hard HP fans need to realize they may be severely disappointed expecting something similar.

I hated the screen time spent on certain aspects of Newt’s back story. I agree we need to know more about him as a person and a wizard, but honestly what they shared was stupid, and without visuals I really couldn’t care about his days at Hogwarts. I also thought the script attempted to set the character up as an annoying British Sheldon of sorts. At least there was dialogue to say such, but to be honest, even though Newt was a little socially awkward and better with beasts, he wasn’t altogether bad with people nor was he at all unlikable. He was actually charming in his simply way.

Lastly, I think the design of the dark force which threatened lives has been done before. This dark cloud that resembles trying to comb gum out of the carpet has been done before several times; the most recent was Marvel’s Thor: The Dark Age, same effect. I’m waiting for a new way for fantasy filmmakers to present dark forces without a visage in a new way because this dark cloudy thing has gotten old for me.

Overall, I liked the movie. I’ll own it because the four main characters were good and well acted, which is important for a fantasy film I feel. You need your actors to sell it first. However, I feel the writing is generally weak and simply uses “Harry Potter” as a marketing technique. Comparing this movie to Harry Potter is like comparing Saving Private Ryan to Schindler’s List. Same war being represented but far from similar movies.

poster_volunteersWhen I ever say that a movie has no plot, I usually mean in the sense that it follows no identifiable structure. I mean, every movie has a plot obviously, even the worse ones have some mode of plot. Example: douchebag A attempts to sleep with librarian girl B but has to drive to C before she flies to Italy for college. That’s a plot as simple as it is, but the sequences, scenes, themes and beats which tell that story are what really make up a movie’s plot.

Here is another example: A spoiled Yale grad is forced to join the Peace Corps to avoid a deadly gambling debt and ends up in Thailand where he attempts to sleep with the only two attractive women of the region. That’s pretty much the plot of this 1995’s screwball comedy of Tom Hanks’ career, Volunteers.

Hanks (Inferno) stars as the spoiled Ivy leaguer Lawrence who trades identities with his Peace Corps volunteer college roommate to avoid his gambling debt. On his way to Thailand, he meets fellow volunteer Beth, played by Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks’ real life wife), and civil engineer Tom Tuttle, played by John Candy (Uncle Buck). Once in Thailand, the team is stationed in a small village where they are tasked to build a bridge over the region’s main river, even though it’s never clearly stated why the village needed it. Of course, once he’s there, he’s a total jackass and the villagers for some reason love him. He learns this bridge is a point of interest for both the region’s communist regime and its gangland warlord to expand their efforts and power and is offered the chance to sleep with the warlord’s mistress if he can make sure the bridge gets built. And of course his efforts to sleep with Beth turns into a genuine romance.

So basically, a bridge is built and a bridge is blown up. And sex was the only real motivation provided for our main character to do both.

This mess of a story had no direction once it hit Thailand. The writing was so weak and underdeveloped it was like watching a squirrel take a sedative. You know it should have been entertaining but simply wasn’t. I can’t say enough bad things about how piss poor this screenplay was. It would have been so much better if building the bridge was the main goal the entire time and the warlord and communists DIDN’T want it to be built. Then Lawrence would be trying to sabotage the project to sleep with aforementioned warlord mistress and have much more room for a substantial character arc when he falls for Beth. Instead, there was hardly any decent conflict and no story threads were followed through to the point of satisfaction.

The character of Lawrence was also weak. Sex and avoiding responsibility were his only motivations. He was a little witty but mostly he came off pompous. He just wasn’t likable for me, and for a role being played by Tom Hanks, it’s hard to accept.

Also, the movie simply wasn’t funny. At no time did I ever laugh out loud. Actually…I take that back. The only points which made me giggle was when Gedde Watanabe (Gung Ho!), playing the only English speaker in the villager At Toon, kept calling Lawrence by the nickname Asshole. Even after At Toon started to care about the protagonist, he still continued to call him Asshole. For some reason, that bit of funny never got old. But that was all that was funny about the film, period.

The last thing I’ll say is, this is maybe the worst role and performance I’ve seen from John Candy, and that makes me sad to see. It’s a terrible thing to have this as the last role I’ve seen of the late Second City alumn comedian. I will probably have to go rent Uncle Buck to or The Great Outdoors to get this vomit of an over-acted excuse for funny–or even acting–out of my head. There was nothing believable about Tom Tuttle except being a bit of an egoist and an inability to stop talking. Yet another character we aren’t allowed to like.

Overall, this movie was painful once it got to Thailand. It is maybe one of the worst Tom Hanks movies I’ve ever seen and now it is no wonder I’ve managed to have never seen it before.

poster_infernoI love these Robert Langdon movies. And I love the story concept of waking up without knowing where you are or how you got there. I’ve even had a couple of moments like that happen to me, much smaller scale of course, and from those moments I’ve thought of my own screenplay and stageplay ideas from that concept vehicle. I’ve read a couple books and graphic novels with this concept. I think what attracts me to it is that situation creates an instant mystery  Without mystery, your thriller is worthless, I feel.

So, with Inferno, the latest film production inspired by a novel of Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons), we have not only one mystery but two. The first is figuring out why Robert Langdon awoke in a hospital in Florence, Italy. The second is locating the virus left behind by an unhinged idealistic billionaire. However, the film has faults and not as strong as one would think having a double-mystery thriller.

Langdon, once again played by Tom Hanks (Sully), wakes up in a hospital not knowing whom he is or how he got to Florence, Italy. However, after being shot at and rescued by his nurse, he finds a clue to the location of a deadly virus intended to wipe out the Earth’s population by 75-percent, using Dante’s notorious book Inferno as a guide.

Eventually, we learn who is after Langdon and his assistant, whom to trust and whom are the “bad guys,” and eventually we find ourselves in Istanbul for the exciting climax.

I will start with what I loved about the film. One, I loved the double mystery of the film, especially moments like when Langdon discovers he and a partner stole a mask of Dante’s from a museum, which he learned by watching the security video with authorities standing next to him. Scenes like that reveal were strong and excellent. There were several WTF moments in the plot which really kept me involved and caring about the next turn.

Two, I liked the pacing. It felt like a quality thriller with high intensity and always that sense of urgency Robert Langdon stories now need to have and bring that expectation. Director Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code, In the Heart of the Sea) did well to slow the film down in spots to allow the viewer to process certain information to keep up with Langdon and his assistant, Sienna, played by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything).

Three, I enjoyed the locations. Who doesn’t enjoy chase sequences by car or on foot through European cobble stone streets? Seriously. IF you don’t, you’re dead inside.

However, the film isn’t perfect. The pace of the film got disrupted a couple times with a very weak storyline about Langdon’s not-quite romance with investigator Sinsky, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen (Tv’s Westworld). I really struggled to give a shit about lingering “what could have been” feelings between Langdon and this lady. I was okay with the writing establishing their backstory as such, but letting it linger, feeling some sort of closure or inner conflict was necessary to address was a mistake and took away from an otherwise exciting film.

**SPOILER ALERTS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS**

It also seems to me that the company responsible setting up Langdon with a memory lapse and creating this incredibly elaborate fake hospital just to get them to help them find this virus was overkill. Langdon isn’t exactly an FBI profiler. It seems he could have been much easily duped into helping the wrong people until he gets evidence to the contrary than having to kidnap him, distort his memory and pull all the other strings involved. The whole presence of this company was weak, I felt.

I also felt the sequences involving Langdon attempting to get his memory back and having loads of annoying frightful visions really got old. It seemed to occupy the entire first 20 minutes of the film and was really getting hard to watch until we the viewers starting getting hard clues about our mysteries. Until then, it was giving me a headache.

Next, I thought it was obvious Sienna was working for the wrong side. Langdon got played by the person standing closest to him. Maybe it’s easy to spot the double crossing character easier now that three of Brown’s novels have made it to screen, but between Ian McKellan’s character in DaVinci Code, Ewan McGregor in Angels & Demons and not Jones in Inferno, it’s apparent whomever is closest to Langdon is the bag guy or a part of them. I and others I know who have seen the movie saw this twist coming.

That being said, Seinna as a character was quite strong once we learn her entire back story. Between her and billionaire boyfriend Zobrist, played by Ben Foster (The Finest Hours), whom created the virus to kill most of humanity, presented a antagonist presence which truly felt they were doing the right thing for humanity. They felt by destroying 75-percent of it, they were saving humanity’s existence for the future. I’ve always said movies’ most scary villains are the ones who are convinced they are doing the right thing.

Overall, I felt the movie was worth the cost of admission and were not better or worse than previous Robert Langdon films from Ron Howard. This movie just makes me want to read other Dan Brown books awaiting their shot at a silver screen production.

To read the review of Inferno from my Movie Corner writing cohort, Brian G. Felts, click here.

poster_polarexpressEver since I got married, you have no idea how much I’ve been immersed into the spirit of this advanced capture animation production from producer/director Robert Zemeckis. I’ve seen it countless times now. We’ve read the book which inspired it to our kids. We’ve even been on a train which was modeled after the movie with our kids and my immense extended family. All this, inspired by a film that was utterly delightful but slow.

The best thing about the film is that not only do we get one Tom Hanks, we get six. What better title for me to write about during a month when we select Tom Hanks as our theme.

Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express is about a young boy who decides to get on a magical train which stops on his front lawn, claiming to head to the North Pole. He finds his journey joined by a handful of children who each need a renewal of the Christmas spirit in their own ways. The boy is guided through his journey by a train conductor, a hobo and Santa Clause himself, each played by Tom Hanks as well as a couple other small roles.

First off, the computer technology for this film was amazing. The motion capture really managed to represent Tom Hanks’ facial features and unspoken ability and convey them through his animated characters. The capture for the children characters were equally impressive.

The film also had numerous sequences which were both thrilling and heart-warming, at times. Obviously a theme of about believing in Christmas and Santa Clause has been done several times over, but getting to that point is what makes the film unique. The story begins with a train coming out of no where and stopping on a kids lawn. That alone sets the pace for the magic that is to come.

My most favorite sequence was the train’s attempt to get across the frozen lake and it begins to crack. It was intense and exciting and comical to boot. It also was shot-selected extremely well because sequences like this tend to get muttled if the shot decisions aren’t exactly crafted to show each beat of the scene. This is credited to Zemeckis (Cast Away, Forrest Gump) as a director.

Here’s what I didn’t care for about the film. It was slow in most spots, or slow in getting from its strongest sequences to the next. I think the lack of decent pace could be blamed on the lack of music score behind most of the slower scenes. The action sequences had plenty to enhance the intensity, but the slower dialogue scenes had none. I’m not saying a film has to have wall-to-wall orchestra, but some of those dialogue scenes felt like they were taking place in a library because of how quiet it was. It just seemed odd and a little off for a “magical” story.

I also hate the hot chocolate musical sequence. It was well done, but I just felt it was out of place and far from as strong as other scenes of the film. I also felt it served no real purpose, and if you read any of my posts about film, than you know I hate unnecessary screen time.

However, the film has enough excitement, intensity, magic and eventually finishes strong to say this production was well worth my time, and the multiple times I’ve been forced to watch it.

Just a little pool of tidbits about this film, the hero boy protagonist was never named in the movie, but the book refers to him as Chris, the first name of the author. In the film, the looks at a photo of himself of Santa’s lap outside a department store named Herpolsheimer’s, which was a store in the author’s childhood hometown in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is where the film’s premiere was also held.

The actual train captured in the film is modeled after the Pere Marquette 1225, a restore steam locomotive which runs through parts of Michigan during the holidays. The film used audio effects in its sound design captured from the real-life train to use in the sound effects editing.

The film is awkward in spots, but it is a true gem.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard jokes and morning show conversations about how unsafe it is to travel with Tom Hanks. This has come up with the release of Sully, inspired by the notorious Miracle on the Hudson emergency plane landing and the events which followed. With this, Tom Hanks has been in at least two major releases where a character he plays deals with a plane crash.

So yes, maybe flying with a Tom Hanks character isn’t the greatest of ideas, but imagine the story which you would walk away telling. Hanks always chooses, or at least almost always, interesting stories and projects, so if all you have to deal with is a little plane crash, so be it.

This, and the release of the latest Dan Brown book-to-screen adaptation of Inferno with Hanks again as Robert Langdon, led me to start thinking about Tom Hanks movies in general, and great subject to ponder. This guy went from the TV show Bosom Buddies, which is where I first was exposed to him, to some of the best films of our time. Thus the inspiration of my latest Top 5 Favorites post.

Before I get into my personal favorites of his film career, let me review how I remember Tom Hanks coming to power. Since I am a child of the ’80s, my first exposure of Tom Hanks was on the TV sitcom Bosom Buddies where he and fellow actor Peter Scolari had to dress as women to get a decent rent-controlled Manhattan apartment in a building for only female residents. After that, I believe the first movie I saw him in, on VHS of course, was Splash (1984). I was a little over 10 years old and barreling towards puberty, so to be honest it took many years for me to realize Tom Hanks was even in that film, since all I payed attention to was Daryl Hannah as a mermaid.

After that, Hanks went on to star in a series of screwball comedies, some better than others, but it wasn’t until I saw Nothing In Common (1986) on HBO as a teenager that I knew this screwball actor had a major amount of talent and range. Punchline (1988) followed that and I remember watching it with my folks on VHS. During the infamous–in my book–scene when Hanks’s character does his Singing in the Rain performance outside that diner having been romantically rejected by Sally Field’s character, my dad uttered a simple, “Wow, that guy is GOOD.”

Multiple projects later as an actor, producer and director including back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role during the mid-1990’s, and Tom Hanks has carved himself a niche as being one of the great actors of my generation.

Without further haste, here are my selections for what are my Top 5 Favorite Tom Hanks movies thus far. The are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

Subjected for your approval.

poster_savingmrbanksNo. 5 – Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

One icon of cinema playing another icon. Tom Hanks gets to portray Walt Disney, pre-popsicle of course. This movie was so delightful for so many reasons; the cast, the rehearsal scenes, the dynamic Hanks and co-star Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) created between Disney and the creator of the Mary Poppins literary franchise, P.L. Travers, as the two worked to bring the books to the big screen. Hanks has two great scenes for me; first, when he opens up to Travers about his father forcing him to run his paper route and learning the meaning of forgiveness. The other was the scene where, while in rehearsal, Travers demanded the film not have the color red in all the exterior scenes of London.

The film was extremely informative from a Hollywood historic standpoint, particularly in the fact that Disney never acquired the intellectual property rights to adapt Mary Poppins to screen until well after pre-production had begun.

However, Thompson and Hanks really carried the film with an amazing supporting cast, and Hanks as Disney was a prime example of how this actor is a true chameleon. Among the actor’s research and preparation for the role, Hanks visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco several times and spoke with family members including Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller. Supposedly, Hanks himself is a distant cousin of Walt Disney, but I could not find any reliable source on the web to confirm that little tidbit.

To read my full review of Saving Mr. Banks, click here.

poster_castawayNo. 4 – Cast Away (2000)

The beauty of this film is how Tom Hanks can say so much with his physical performance and non-verbal representation without having hardly any lines. The story is about how a FedEx executive whose world is ruled by the clock and having no time to meet goals suddenly finds himself stuck on a remote island when his flight crashes in the ocean, now he has all the time in the world for the next three years until he finally figures out a way to try and escape to freedom or die in the process.

To this day, any time I build something with my own hands, like our dog house or change out a light fixture, and it works, I throw my hands in the air and shout, “YES! LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED!” This refers to one of the more memorable scenes from the movie where Hanks’ character, Chuck, figures out how to start a fire in the wild of the island, probably having never done so in his life. The moment shows Chuck reaching a new level of his own masculinity and is comical since we’ve all had moments of acting like a total tard when no one was looking.

The moment which shows Hanks as a master for me is when Chuck has finally escaped the island and floating out at see with his volleyball co-hort Wilson, who became the only “person” for him to talk to for his years of solitude. However, while napping on his raft at sea, Wilson comes loose and drifts out into open water with Chuck unable to rescue him. Chuck loses his only friend for the previous three years and the next scene shows him sobbing like a child who lost their best friend. That moment brings me to tears every time, and it is all because Hanks does such a superior job of selling it to the viewer.

Hanks gave an interview in 2000 about his preparation for the role, from which he stated the hardest part was losing so much weight to show Chuck three years after being stranded. He said not eating French Fries during that process was torture, I agree it would be. Regardless, his pre-production work paid off in the final project helping create one of his greatest roles and pictures.

There is only one moment of the movie I disliked. During the reuniting of Chuck and girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt (As good As It Gets), when she is catching him up on events he missed over the past three years, she mentions Tennessee not only has an NFL football team in the Titans, they went to the Superbowl and almost one the game but came up short by one yard; one yard away from winning. That’s actually inaccurate. In that Superbowl game, the Titans were down by a touchdown and they needed to reach the end zone to tie the game and send it into overtime. On their last play, the were one yard shy of the goal line. It was one yard to tie, not one yard to win. That has always bugged me for some reason. Maybe Kelly just didn’t understand the game.

poster_punchlineNo. 3 – Punchline (1988)

This movie is not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks films, it is one of my favorites of all time. It follows the plights of two comedians; Steven (Hanks) who is a med-school flunkie and peppered stand up comic and Lila (Sally Field) who is a New Jersey housewife who is trying to break into the craft. She enlists Steven into a sort of mentorship role while Steven eventually falls for Lila. The picture culminates into the lauching of Steven’s career because of Lila’s sacrifice.

The movie in general is a small story from the life of comic Barry Sobel, who was quite popular during the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, Hanks was nothing like Sobel. The actor made the character his own. He was hilarious but also quietly sad, being virtually homeless and emotionally helpless, that is until Lila comes into his life. This is also possibly the best performance I’ve ever seen from Field. Between her and John Goodman (Coyote Ugly) playing her husband, her home life creating adversity for her outer motivation was so well scripted.

Back to Hanks. Like I mentioned in my preface, the Singing in the Rain scene shows how trying to be funny can truly give you a glimpse at a character’s sadness and depression. I just don’t know how Hanks pulled that scene off but it is truly masterful.

In preparation for this role, Hanks–and Fields for that matter–enlisted the aide of actual stand up comics to help them. Helping Hanks was none other than his character’s true-life inspiration Barry Sobel. Sobel and comedian Randy Fetcher teamed with Hanks to help write his character’s stand up routines for the film. Both Hanks and Fields took their learnings to random stand up clubs to get comfortable with the craft prior to filming.

David Selzter (Lucas), writer and director, was a fan of comedy clubs which helped inspire him to write this loosely adapted from true life plot. His work on this project was truly a great example of writing, directing and performance choices working together as a team. That is one of many reasons Punchline is one of my favorite movies of all time and one my favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of Punchline, click here.

poster_savingryanNo. 2 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I think it’s amusing only one movie directed by Steven Spielberg appears among this list, while two appear directed by Robert Zemeckis. I felt the ensemble performances within the eight men of the rescue squad was what made this picture so entertaining. It will take a long time to put an ensemble THIS strong together again.

However, Tom Hanks as Captain Miller was the cornerstone of the casting. Hanks had so many great aspects to his character including the neurological tick which made his hands tremble at times. Also, the script included an interesting game among Miller’s men who kept guessing his backstory but wasn’t really sure until one of the film’s most tense moments. The speech of that scene was actually much longer, and Hanks pleaded to Spielberg to shorten it since Miller wouldn’t be interested in telling his men that much about himself. Spielberg agreed.

The special effects, going hand in hand with the picture’s production design, was flawless and captured the destruction and the era of the German occupied regions of France depicted throughout the story. Two-time Academy Award winning director Spielberg and two-time Oscar winner Januz Kaminski really knocked the visuals of the film out of the park. Overall, you can’t get a better World War II set movie than “Saving Private Ryan.” I have yet to see anything come close, and I doubt I will in the remainder of my lifetime.

One note to Tom Hanks integrity to the craft was a six-day boot camp each of the actors were asked to endure prior to filming. Since the boot camp was terribly physically challenging, one actor voted the team quit, but it was Tom Hanks, who reputed enjoyed the experience, who decided to stick it out in preparation of his role, thus inspiring the rest of the cast to see the camp to its end as well.

To read my full review of Saving Private Ryan, click here.

poster_forrestgumpNo. 1 – Forrest Gump (1994)

This is my second selection directed by Robert Zemeckis which won him the Academy Award for Best Direction in 1995; however, it is my first selection among favorite Tom Hanks starring pictures.

Forrest Gump is just a man who looks to keep things simple, thinks simple and loves a gal who is anything but. However, it is the numerous sequences where Gump’s presence is added to pivotal moments in American history and at times causes them is what makes this picture a delight. That, and of course his friendship-relationship with Jenny, played by Robin Wright (Unbreakable), is what pulls the heart strings and makes this movie an American classic.

My favorite scene to show Hanks’ chops is when he is reunited with Jenny, after she has given birth to her son, also named Forrest. She tells Forrest Sr. the son is HIS from their one night together years before. Hanks’ physical response to the news, knowing he now has a son and concerned for the kid’s mental abilities showed two things. One, there was an emotion of utter fright which Hanks conveyed without using any dialogue, and two, this was the first indication that Forrest was cognitive of his own mental limitations and fearful it was hereditary.

This is of course an ironic notion since it shows a level of sharpness we hadn’t been shown from Gump prior to that moment. The moment gets me in the feelie-goods every time and shows the immense amount of talent Hanks has for his craft, and that scene–in my opinion–won Hanks the Academy Award.

This performance is also one of the best and unique accents Hanks had developed from the film. Watching the DVD extras, Hanks gives an interview where he credits the accent was developed from the natural accent of Michael Connor Humphreys who played Gump as a young boy. Hanks said he had such a great southern accent which “came from his backbone,” he decided to adopt it for his older Gump character. To do so, Hanks sat and listened to Humphreys describe the plot of his favorite movie to him. The movie? Jurassic Park.

Another reason I felt this production was special for Hanks, since the visual effects of the film and locations were demanding on the film’s budget, the A-List actor, whom already won one Academy Award walking on set by that time, agreed to not be paid for his role. Instead, he accepted percentage points as compensation which allowed him a $40 million dollar payday and his second Oscar. Sometimes, Hanks knows it’s about the craft first and the money later, and this brilliant work is a prime example of that. This is just one of many reasons why Forrest Gump is my favorite film in Tom Hanks’ list of productions.

Of course, when you review Hanks’ list of films, choosing a mere five to select as your favorites is extremely hard if not impossible. He has performed in so many absolutely great films, not good but GREAT films, selecting only five to write about can’t be done. Therefore, I have selected–as I do with all my Top 5 Favorites posts–five honorable mentions which almost made the cut.

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Tom Hanks’ character of Donovan is where the message of this film sits. Compromise is about “Give” and take not “Give Up” and take. His resolve and refusal to compromise his negotiation stance helps the audience get behind him as a protagonist. Hanks is as well as he always does in a leadership type roll. I also like how they gave his character a cold during the entire trip to Berlin for negotiations. For some reason, it made him more human. Now, Hanks is always a great addition to any film, but this is the one film where Hanks doesn’t necessarily carry the film. They carry each other. To read my full review of Bridge of Spies, click here.

Captain Phillips (2013)

This is such a great story and well made film, but half of it occurs in such closed quarters, the film becomes a complete study in using one’s face to convey inner motivations and fears. Tom Hanks and Academy Award nominated supporting actor Barkhad Abdirahman, the leader of the Somalie pirates. Hanks is perfectly the man for that kind of trade. The film is intense and the moment when Phillips, the title character, is about to be executed by his captors and he screams out to his family back in New England for even having left them, my heart breaks each time I’ve seen. In addition, after the Navy Seals finally take down the bad guys and Hanks is rescued, his breakdown in the medical unit equally heartbreaking but far more satisfying.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This was moreso a great notch on Leonardo DiCaprio’s resume, but Tom Hanks as a nemesis character on the side of the law is a perfect addition to the dynamic of the film. DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr.–whom I’ve actually interviewed in real life, the true life-inspired character not the actor–serves as an anti-hero, breaking the law and swindling money just to support himself as a runaway. However, Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty is the man attempting to bring justice to the story, so even though he’s the nemesis for the main character, he’s the “good guy.” This makes the film unique and one of my favorites with Hanks on the bill. To read my full review of Catch Me If You Can, click here.

Apollo 13 (1995)

What can I say about this modern classic about one of the most terrible moments in NASA history which turned into one of its finest hours of rescue. From the moment the Apollo 13 mission to the moon is derailed by a faulty coil which blows up an oxygen tank once the three-man crew are in outer space, the film is one of the most intense stories of rescue and government teamwork. Hanks is wonderful as the lead role of astronaut Jim Lovell who was captain of the mission vessel and it’s not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks movies, it’s one of my favorites from director Ron Howard.

The Terminal (1999)

Barely edging out The Green Mile among my honorable mentions is The Terminal about a foreigner (Hanks) who is detained and stranded at New York’s JFK international airport while on a mission to honor his late-father’s memory. However, after a coup in his homeland while flying to the U.S. leaves him without a country to pass through immigration checkpoints, Hanks’ foreign character Viktor uses his time making friends, learning to speak English and battling the strangely anal adversity of an extremely well-written nemesis character in Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Albeit the romance between Viktor and Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) got convoluted at times, this slice of life picture directed by Steven Spielberg was enjoyable from start to finish and there is no reason to consider it one of my honorable mention favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of The Terminal, click here.

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