That Thing You Do! (A-). Today was way too cold to venture out and do anything, so I decided to revisit this old favorite. I could hardly believe it was released in 1996! Anyway, if you like feel-good movies, you should keep this one within arm’s reach at all times. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) wrote, directed, and starred in this rags-to-riches story about an Erie, PA garage band that hits it big circa 1964, with the help of a mostly benevolent manager (Hanks). Tom Everett Scott (Hallmark TV’s Christmas Connection) plays the band’s drummer, a good-natured jazz-lover; Steve Zahn (Sahara) is the goofy guitarist; and cute little Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) plays the girlfriend of the band’s moody leader Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech, Flight 7500). The film also features Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) in a very early role as the drummer’s girlfriend. Bryan Cranston (Argo) also pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role (as astronaut Gus Grissom!). The DVD also contains a short making-of featurette, two trailers, several commercials, and two music videos of songs from the movie. This movie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so get yourself a copy!
California Typewriter (C). This new documentary about typewriters and the people (mostly men) who love them is strangely uncompelling. We learn a little about the invention of the first practical typewriter in Wisconsin in the decade or so after the Civil War. We have some monologues by some people who still use and love typewriters, such as Tom Hanks (That Thing You Do!), John Mayer, and David McCullough (1776). We meet a collector of old typewriters who is still trying to get hands on one of the very first run of typewriters produced in Wisconsin back in the day. We meet the folks who own and run one of the last typewriter repair stores (called California Typewriter). And we meet a guy who disassembles old typewriters and makes sculptures with them. One of the first Christmas presents I can remember wanting as a kid was a typewriter, and yet this documentary still didn’t do much for me. Maybe the four other people in the movie theater with me liked it more than I did.
The Circle (C-). When this movie ended, I said to myself, “I thought it was just getting started.” The movie never takes off. It is based on a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson, Noah) getting a job at a big brother version of Facebook that basically records and monitors multiple aspects of a person’s life (and physiology) as well as in society. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) channels his inner Steve Jobs as the leader of the technology and social-media giant, making presentations to his Circlers with a coffee cup in hand showing off his latest technology on a stage. You get the gist that he has some sinister plan, but it was never clear to me what exactly it was, but maybe I just got bored. John Boyega (The Force Awakens) plays Ty, who actually founded the Circle but managed to go “off line” and lurk around the Circle mothership without anyone noticing or even knowing who he is for the most part. Ty befriends Mae rather quickly, but the relationship storyline doesn’t really go anywhere for a long time. It appeared to me to be simply a tool used near end of the movie, and then the movie suddenly ends. Overall I found the movie unrealistic and trying way too hard to be cool and mysterious, relying upon its casting over its storyline. Bill Paxton (Aliens) makes an appearance as Mae’s father. This was apparently his last role before his unexpected death and I’ve read that there is a dedication to him at the end of the credits. This movie is supposedly based on a book. If you like reading, I’d suggest trying the book instead.
Tom Hanks embodies Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in much the way he became Walt Disney. Hanks and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as co-pilot Skyles are good partners in this movie. Eastwood does not develop any of the other characters and did not use Laura Linney’s talent–as Sully’s wife, she is seen mostly tearful and on the phone. Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), as one of the NTSB investigators, is also pretty one dimensional. The movie tells a story we know and still manages to create drama and deliver a hero. Be sure to stay for the credits (surely this goes without saying).
A Hologram for the King (Book: B) (Movie: C). I finished reading the novel (by Dave Eggers) yesterday, and today I saw the brand-new movie based on the book. I thought the book was pretty good, and the movie was fair-to-middling. It’s a story about Alan Clay (Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do!), a formerly successfully salesman who’s now in his mid-50s and not so successful. We join Alan on his way to Saudi Arabia, where he’s going to try to sell a high-tech video-conferencing system to the King himself. He’s pretty desperate; his debts are mounting, and his daughter will have to drop out of college if he doesn’t close the deal. But the Desert Kingdom operates under a whole different set of rules, and Alan’s already fragile mental state is further threatened by a weird lump on his back that he thinks might be cancer. I was curious to see if they’d get big stars to play the main supporting characters—the young Saudi guy who drives Alan around when he oversleeps, the Danish woman he accidentally befriends while he’s trying to figure out what’s going on at King Abdullah Economic City, the doctor who looks at Alan’s lump—but they didn’t. (Tom Skerritt, Alien, does pop in as Alan’s dad.) As I say, I thought the book was pretty good, but they definitely softened Alan up a little bit, as befits a character played by Tom Hanks, and they left out some of the book’s darker bits.
Bridge of Spies (B+). So, I set out to see Crimson Peak, but somehow I got the time messed up and arrived at a theater where it wasn’t playing until much later in the day. Casting about for something else, I saw that I was in time to see this movie, which I knew had gotten good reviews. So I bought my matinee ticket and was pleasantly surprised to learn during the opening credits that Steven Spielberg (War of the Worlds) directed and the Coen brothers (True Grit) co-wrote the screenplay. The movie itself was even more of a pleasant surprise. Based on true events, the film stars Tom Hanks (That Thing You Do!) as Jim Donovan, a Nuremberg-prosecutor-turned-insurance-lawyer. In the late 1950s, a Communist spy is arrested in New York, and the feds recruit Donovan to defend the Commie (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl). Needless to say, his vigorous defense of the hated spy doesn’t win Donovan many friends. Then the feds have to turn to Donovan once more when U-2 pilot Gary Powers is shot down over the U.S.S.R. and captured. Can he go alone into East Berlin and negotiate a prisoner exchange? Although this is all ancient history (and the movie clocks in at a lengthy 141 minutes), Spielberg and Co. make it fresh and exciting. Alan Alda (The Aviator) and Amy Ryan (TV’s The Office) pop up in small parts as Donovan’s law partner and wife respectively.
Captain Phillips. A-. I never got around to seeing this film in the theaters last year, but it received nominations for Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, so I figured I would see what the buzz was all about. Good grief, this was a surprisingly riveting movie. When it started and I realized that it was about the Somali pirates raids on U.S. ships off the coast of Africa, I tensed up, thinking that I probably wasn’t going to be all that enamored with the film. Wrong. The film draws you in as it sets up the scene for a raid of the US MV Maersk Alabama. This is the telling of the true story of the 2009 hijacking. Captain Richard Phillips is played by Tom Hanks. Hanks’ performance is so amazing that I totally got lost in the fact that it was Tom Hanks and I felt like I was right there with him during every tense moment. I am really surprised that he didn’t at least get a nomination for Best Actor out of this one. The story is a good one and with a good outcome. Even if this were fictionalized, the suspense of the story would make it a good movie to see, but knowing that it is based on true events makes it all the more incredible. I recommend this move whole-heartedly.
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks (both double Oscar winners) headline this extraordinary story of how Disney’s “Mary Poppins” came to the big screen (albeit in a Disney-fied, whitewashed way). Thompson as author P.L. Travers has no intention of letting Disney turn her beloved Mary Poppins into a movie (and surely not an animated one) even though she needed money and books a trip to California in 1961 to pacify her agent. The movie details the 20 year pursuit by Disney (in order to fulfill a promise to his daughters) to bring Poppins to the screen and particularly, the two weeks Travers spent at Disney studios working on the movie. Thompson, as the prickly, buttoned-up Travers, seems almost overly obstreperous until you hear the actual tapes of the sessions between the real Travers and the Disney team (don’t forget to stay after the credits to hear these!); you will realize she held back. There is an interesting tension between Disney’s attempt to keep a promise to his children and the many promises Travers’ father failed to keep to her. Some reviewers thought there were too many flashbacks of Travers’ childhood, though I did not find them intrusive. It is only when Disney reveals some of his own rough childhood that Travers consents to make the movie. Perhaps a lesson to us all that communication requires honest transparency on each part.
Toy Story 3 (B+). I enjoyed the first Toy Story but never got around to seeing the second one. But I don’t think that really affected my enjoyment of this latest edition, which is getting rave reviews. Andy is getting ready to go off to college, so he’s packing up his toys to store them in his mom’s attic. A mix-up occurs, and instead they are packed off and donated to a day-care center. It seems like a great break for the toys — until they are consigned to the play room for the toddlers, who play a little too rough for the toys’ taste. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can) comes to the rescue! All this stuff is good but not particularly great. The ending, though, has the heart that the rest of the movie lacks. I got a little misty, I won’t deny it.
Charlie Wilson’s War (A-). Maybe this wasn’t really an A- movie, but I just enjoyed the heck out of it. You’ve probably heard all about it — Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies) plays a Texas congressmen who is exceptional in no way except for his willingness to stick up for the people of Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He teams up with a Houston socialite played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) and a misfit CIA man played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and together they put together back-alley arms deals for the mujahedin worth a billion dollars. Next thing you know, Afghanistan = the USSR’s Vietnam. Hanks and Hoffman are great, and Roberts isn’t annoying like she usually is. The supporting cast is also great and easy on the eyes, including Amy Adams (Enchanted), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and Shiri Appleby (TV’s Roswell). The movie does leave you very curious to know how much is fact and how much is fiction — from what I’ve heard, the real story was so unbelievable they had to tone it down for the movie.
The Polar Express (A-). A local reviewer said that the IMAX 3-D version of this movie was a “groundbreaking spectacle” or some such thing, so I made a point to see it in that format. In my opinion, he was right. On the huge IMAX screen, the visuals were incredibly spectacular, and the 3-D effects were great. The story is minimal — a little boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus is startled when a train (“The Polar Express”) stops on his street right in front of his house in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. Told that it is bound for the North Pole, he hops on and joins a gang of kids already on board. Only three are given any individuality, and I must register my complaint that the only kid with glasses quickly emerges as an irritating know-it-all. Such stereotyping! Anyway, the train has some adventures en route to the North Pole, and there are some more even after it arrives. The end. My best friend declined to see the movie on the ground that the computer-generated animated characters were “creepy,” and I have to admit that they are a little unsettling — extremely lifelike, except for their flat and often unfocused-looking eyes. And if you don’t like Tom Hanks, that could be a problem because he voices several of the characters. But if you can get past those little issues, it’s a fun ride. (And remember to see the IMAX version — I seriously doubt the normal-sized, 2-D version is nearly as impressive.)
The Terminal (C+). For some reason I just couldn’t embrace this light summer movie. Maybe I’m getting too old and cynical, I don’t know. The premise sounded promising enough: Tom Hanks plays a fellow from an Eastern European nation that falls into civil war while he is on a flight to New York. Consequently, his passport is invalid when he lands, and he is consigned to a legal limbo–unable to enter the U.S. and equally unable to return to his war-torn homeland. So he has to live in the international lounge area of the airport indefinitely, until the situation in his home country settles down enough to give him a normal national status again. Hanks’s performance is fine, but too much of the rest of the movie didn’t work for me. The bureacrat-in-charge at the airport, played by Stanley Tucci, is too consistently and inexplicably mean to the hapless Hanks to be believable. Hanks’s delicate relationship with a gorgeous flight attendant (the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones) is nice enough, but it suffers from some unbelievable moments along the way too. There’s some other unbelievable and sappy stuff too. By the end, I was more than ready to get out of that danged airport.
I don’t know if the low grade stems from the fact that I had reasonably high expectations that weren’t met, I still can’t watch Leonardo DiCaprio without wanting to vomit because of Titanic (his career went downhill after Growing Pains and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), or I want to put a bullet in the back of my head every time I hear Tom Hanks mutilate an accent (he’s right up there with Kevin Costner in that department). The movie was alright, but I wasn’t overly impressed with any aspect of it. Christopher Walken’s performance was good, but I think that it was merely accentuated because you were forced to watch DiCaprio and Hanks through the rest of the movie. I found it interesting that it was based upon a true story (and this also made me take notice of the monotony of my daily existence); however, it just didn’t do it for me.