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Archive for the ‘Tom Hanks’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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poster_savingmrbanksHere is another movie I will probably never get tired of watching, no matter how many times. If you read my blog, you know movies involving artists creating, behind the scenes of movies or radio, authors struggling to finish a new work, etc. generally grab my interest immediately. This one fits that bill.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies), began pre-production on the movie musical Mary Poppins. However, prior to producing the mega-hit, Disney struggles to win over the approval of Poppins author P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction). Travers decides to come to Hollywood to make inspections of the pre-production before signing off the rights to the project, while Disney uses the visit as an opportunity to woo the author in hopes of producing the movie with a Disney spin.

My favorite aspect of this movie is the fact that Disney has to learn what Mary Poppins is actually based on. Travers’s infamous character was inspired by true life events from her childhood which touch her on a very emotional and traumatic level, so Disney’s attempt to make them fancy-free and light-hearted is almost an insult to her. Mr. Banks, the father character from the movie, is her biggest struggle to accept from the production. Based on her own father whom she adored, it’s difficult for her to watch Disney present Banks as a monster. These artistic and personal struggles are so well written and unfold perfectly in the screenplay. Credit to writers Kelly Marcel (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Sue Smith.

Thompson is the shining star among the cast. While Travers’ personal story unfolds through the course of the movie, we start to really see the inner conflict with which she struggles. Thompson does an amazing job of conveying what is going on inside the character.

Hanks also gives us a fun representation of Walt Disney, at least how we know him by celluloid archives and reputation. The writing does well to let us know his motivations as well.

The supporting cast involved with the pre-production of the film, specifically Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman as the Mary Poppins writing team. The trio must handle several create meeting scenes with Travers where they are performing song ideas and production design, doing whatever they can to make her happy. Their frustrations and impatience while trying to achieve their goals and get the rights to the material is evident and well performed.

The rehearsal and writing scenes are some of the best of the movie. Watching this cast perform these classic movie musical songs and develop the screenplay was so entertaining, and to be honest, my kids LOVE watching them. The scene where the writers pitch the musical number “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” as the new ending to the film is awesome and my kiddos jump on the sofa singing along every time I put it on. They never get tired of the film as I never do.

A hat tip from the cast should also go to Paul Giamatti (The Lady in the Water) who plays Travers’ Disney-assigned personal driver who eventually strikes up a friendship with the defensive stately author. Colin Farrell also gives as a few great scenes as Travers Goff, the author’s actual father, in flashback scenes to her childhood. His performance truly help us understand why she loved him so much and even made me wonder if I was being a good-enough dad to my own kids. It’s a small but very important roll and Farrell did exceptional with it.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with this film. It’s paced well. Every scene is necessary. The production design for representing Hollywood during the time period is flawless. Performances were spot on, and the direction from John Lee Hancock (The Blindside) truly presents the story in a manner which is easy to get personally engaged and informed without being too complex. It chokes me up several times every time I see it.

If you haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks, I highly recommend it. If you love the original Mary Poppins movie, this film will be that much more enjoyable for you.

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poster_bridgeofspiesThe trailer for this one made it look way more exciting than it actually was. However, what the film lacked in excitement made up for it with engaging the audience with subtleties from its characters and performances.

During the cold war when the Berlin Wall was being erected, Bridge of Spies tells the story of insurance lawyer James Donovan, played by two time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks), who is recruited to represent a Soviet spy arrested in America for espionage. As he mounts the man’s defense, he is soon caught up in a negotiation deal between the U.S. and USSR to exchange his client for an American spy shot down over Russian airspace on a secret recon mission. In the process, Donovan goes rogue and attempts to negotiate the release of an American student caught on the wrong side of the Wall, risking the success of the spy swap altogether.

What engages you about this movie is Donovan as a character, for me. As he develops so does his inner motivations and conflicts. The writing and Steven Spielberg’s direction (War Horse) do a great job of showing how Donovan becomes the “Standing Man,” which Soviet spy Rudolph Abel,played by Mark Rylance (The Other Boylen Girl), eventually dubs him.

Hanks’ character is where the message of the film sits. Compromise is about “Give” and take “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.

I thought it was interesting how Abel became a source of comic relief of the film repeating the same sentence in a handful of scenes.

IF this picture has faults, it’s in the pacing. There’s a lot of political and legal information it provides us to understand most of what obstacles Donovan faces. So scenes where this information is presented tends to drag the film down.

I also thought the subplot between Donovan and his wife as his family feels the repercussions of him representing a high-profile Soviet spy during the Cold War in a pitch-fork culture of the time was very cliched. It’s the same struggle we’ve seen with Kevin Costner’s character in JFK and tens of other films where the protagonist’s family suffers because he is doing what is unpopular but the right thing. I guess there’s just no NEW way to present that type of subplot anymore.

Because of the details and pacing, this film just wasn’t as exciting as the trailer led it to be. However, because of the material and Hanks’ character it was certainly engaging and kept me interested to the end. This film is what I’ve referred to as a non-thrilling thriller. The material is thrilling but not presented in a thrilling manner. It’s an unusual sub-genre and can be very fun at times.

Luckily, this one falls into the “fun” column.

 

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Here’s probably the best romantic comedy of the year. And of course, why not? It’s Spielberg. He could make the idea of dipping an Oreo in a magarita appear loveable. This time, he examines unrequited love between Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ characters in “The Terminal.”

“The Terminal” follows the plight of eastern European Viktor Navorski (Hanks) as he becomes stranded at JFK airport in New York. As he is enroute, Navorski’s homeland government is taken over by a rebelious coup, revoking his temporary visa into America since the US does not accept visa’s from undeclared governments.

So as he awaits either peace in his homeland or declaration of his new government, while being consistently pestered by airport security manager Frank Dixon, played by Stanley Tucci.

During Navorski’s tenure at JFK, he warms up the hearts of those who work there and eventually wins the heart of Amelia Warren (Zeta-Jones), who in turn is too screwed up in the head to really make any relationship with a nice guy like the foreigner work.

As the picture moves on, we discover Navorski’s reasons for coming to America and of course through bitter circumstances, he is able to finally step on US soil and achieve his goal.

The picture is driven much by character inner motivation, especially by Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of Dixon, the year’s first academy award supporting actor possibility to come out of the summer.

Hanks gives no surprises in this picture as the confused but patient foreigner, forced to spend months living at JFK before he even learns enough English to understand those around him. His performance is, well…perfect; Hanks’ usual turnout after working with Spielberg.

However, Spielberg’s shot selection tells this simple light hearted and at times over presented as perfect and creative as possible. It once again shows the aged director is truly a master behind the camera in any genre. 

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By far, this is the best motion picture set to World War II, involving the American military.

“Saving Private Ryan” is about a squad of 8 army rangers who are sent out to rescue a misdropped paratrooper just days after storming the beaches of Normandie during World War II.

The picture stars Tom Hanks (Apollo 13), Ed Burns (Ash Wednesday) and Tom Sizemore (Paparazzi) among what I consider an all star cast.

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.

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 cinematographer Januz Kaminski (Schindler’s List) raw stock film look makes the picture so much more real than what just sets and costumes could do.

Two time Oscar® winning director Stephen Spielberg’s (Catch Me If You Can) care of the subject matter becomes the movie’s heart and sole. It is so obvious Spielberg wasn’t just a director for hire on this project. It WAS his project, making the movie beyond memorable.

The opening D-DAY sequence is very long, but far from boring. However, it does push off the start of the picture’s otherwise two hour screen time.

The only thing I didn’t like about “Saving Private Ryan” was the Abe Lincoln letter analogy, since I didn’t even get the analogy. I liked it as a cool character thing for the general who read the letter aloud, but why it meant so much to his subordinates to show a change of heart in their faces as to whether or not they should use men and resources to find one soldier. Maybe it just went over my head, but I DO think it was overplayed. Not to big deal though.

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.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s something wrong with you.

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