Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Holiday Season Edition

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

It’s been a while.  ’Tis the season to be busier than usual and this holiday season proved to be a formidable foe to free time.  Consequently, this post will feature not one, but three movies that I have seen in recent days and weeks.  Let us hope that the beginning of 2014 affords more time…

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

  1. I trudged out of the movie theater into the bristly cold, New England night after the three hour runtime of The Wolf of Wall Street believing the following things to be true: I was exhausted, I needed a shower to clean myself from the unrelenting visual debauchery of the cocaine hooker-ville that was this latest Martin Scorsese picture, and I DID NOT like the movie I had just watched.

  2. I also believed the following things to be true: I had just witnessed the best acting performance of 2013, the best acting performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, Martin Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas (I am looking at you, The Departed), and a masterpiece (despite the length and the redundancy of misbehavior) of a movie.

  3. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely phenomenal in The Wolf of Wall Street.  His performance as the morally incompetent, but toxically charismatic wolf, Jordan Belfort, is physically and emotionally fearless, breathtaking scene after scene after scene, and as naked (literally and metaphorically) as I have ever seen Leo.   Here, he is the movie star he was always destined to be – free from any inhibition and constraint to cruise control (and frequently out of) his way through an unyielding barrage of the baddest behavior.  His scene work and chemistry with fellow actors is the best of his career and rivals his work with Kate Winslet, his professional star-crossed lover.  Although content-wise, I would not recommend The Wolf of Wall Street to many in or out of my circle, for anyone who enjoys the movies, you must see this pinnacle performance of Leo’s career.

  4. Although appreciating and respecting his body of work and fully believing he is the on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers, I have never been on Team Scorsese (I play for Team Spielberg and more recently, for Team Nolan).  What makes Martin Scorsese prolific has never aligned with what I most love about cinema.  Notwithstanding, The Wolf of Wall Street is a great Martin Scorsese movie and it is hard to believe he could possibly ever have had as much fun making a movie before.  Scorsese creates a vast playground for his actors to take unheard of risks, push every possible button of squeamish discomfort and unchecked mayhem, and to challenge each other to go there.  Every actor in the movie is on some level of awesome and career best (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal was my biggest surprise performance and could not have strayed further from the dopey anguish of Shane).  Jonah Hill (brilliantly cast) gives Leonardo DiCaprio his best and most consistent scene partner (their several near death flirtations in the movie are the clear frontrunners for best scenes), but I may have been even more impressed with Scorsese’s work with the relatively green, Margot Robbie.  She matches the brilliant DiCaprio during each of their marital trysts slap for punch (as excruciating to watch as it was) in a way that speaks to the free creative expression on-set environment that Scorsese must have crafted.

  5. The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie, unlikeable, oftentimes unwatchable, and certainly interpretable as not an indictment, but rather a glorified celebration of the filthy excess and monetary tomfoolery of the protagonist’s world, that provides an exhilarating, exhausting, awesome cinematic ride.  It is not out of contention as potential motion picture in the foreseeable future as either a tentpole of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s outstanding careers or sooner, if critical momentum leads to some Academy Award success.

American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE

  1. American Hustle, portrayed as a cacophony of the 1970s (in music, fashion, culture, and sleaziness) in its trailers, does not disappoint in its period pizazz, but rather in its totally messy storytelling and filmmaking.  Much of its direction and focus feels arbitrary.  It is a movie about too many things so that the ultimate result is that is about nothing at all.

  2. As one could expect from a David O. “character is my focus” Russell film, many of the performances in American Hustle are strong.  Bradley Cooper has a tremendous amount of fun and seems to have been given free reign over his dialogue.  Christian Bale is in method mode, forty pounds heavier, and doing some skillful physical acting.  Although Jennifer Lawrence, America’s muse for over a year now, is woefully miscast and far too young for the part, she manages to sparkle and shine through many of her scenes.  Amy Adams manages to salvage much of the confusion surrounding her character with some expected professional work.

  3. These strong, scene-chewing performers and characters could have all carried their own movies, but put together in American Hustle, they amount to very little.  The parts are far greater than the some in this case.

  4. If meant to be a crime caper, American Hustle lacks the requisite scintillating plot twists.  As a picture about governmental corruption, it puts its foot in the water for too brief a second to matter.  As a movie about a combustible love triangle among relatable characters, it is just too confusing.

  5. American Hustle is a movie that, despite its on paper goods, fails to connect, to entertain, and to inspire any passion.  Without a full understanding of what it aims to do and be, the audience are the ones who are left feeling hustled.

Saving Mr. Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

  1. Saving Mr. Banks does not focus on the making of Mary Poppins, but rather on the courtship of Disney, in the form of Walt (played with American Dream warmth by Tom Hanks) and his writing team, to P.L. Travers and all of the curmudgeonry that comes with her in a belabored attempt to acquire the rights to her book.  As Mrs. (do not call her Pam!) Travers roadblocks each intersection of the direction that Team Disney wants to take, we are more exposed to how her childhood in the Australian Outback may inform her decisions in the present than to why it matters to her now.  The flashback connections do not always yield logical results (seriously though, why not the color red?), and we are left with the impression that Mrs. Travers is just being difficult.

  2. If you are going to see Saving Mr. Banks, it will be worth it to set up a Mary Poppins refresher viewing first.  Much of the whimsy, effective writing, and referential fun of Saving Mr. Banks is in comparison and with a heightened understanding of the motion picture, Mary Poppins.

  3. Although there is a some reasonable chatter contesting just how historically accurate this telling of the Mary Poppins rights acquisition is, the vision of early 1960s Disney studios, Disney hotel welcome packages, Disney rehearsal room door decals, and Disneyland Main Street USA autograph seekers are all a series of the most delightful period movie ornamentation that I have seen in some time (and an appreciated pace change from the bombastic sites and sounds from the seedier scenes of the movies discussed earlier).  For a studio where “movie magic” seems to be one of the ultimate goals, mission accomplished.

  4. Just to clarify: Saving Mr. Banks, a story about the writer of the book that became the movie Mary Poppins (one of the most successful motion pictures ever made by Walt Disney Pictures) and her dealings with Walt Disney, was made by Walt Disney Pictures.  As mentioned, access to certain forms of visual authenticity may be appreciatively enhanced, whereas the objectivity in regards to the less favorable side of all things Disney (including the portrayal of Walt himself) is harder to value.

  5. Saving Mr. Banks is a delicate, delectable, and most pleasant movie that aspires to create a tale of great emotional power (the flashback trope is a constant visitor) out of something far simpler.  When centered on P.L. Travers battles with Walt Disney and the Sherman musical tandem over details and content, there is certain “inside the actor’s studio” intrigue (especially since I had seen Mary Poppins just hours before).  There is additional interest in Travers’ childhood flashback world, but when an attempt is made to fully understand her present obstinance out of her past memories, we are left without knowing really what to say.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, indeed.

 

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Captain Phillips

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

1. Captain Phillips is a taut, clinically precise, tension builder of a movie that drives the dangerous waters of the story of a 2009 Somali pirate hijacking of everyman Captain Richard Phillipps and his US Cargo ship off the Eastern African coast safely to shore.

  1. Tom Hanks, sporting an at times nondescript, an at times unintentionally comedic New England accent that certainly does not pass the native Bostonian authenticity muster station, gives his best (and least Tom Hanks-ian performance) since Cast Away.

  2. With Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips now in bold on his directorial resumé, Paul Greengrass is the most prolific filmmaker working today of true stories of harrowing real life events involving a highjacking (In the case of the brilliant Bloody Sunday, the 1972 massacre of innocents at the hands of British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, the hijacking was of a more metaphoric nature.  The civil rights march was hijacked by the violent actions of the IRA and the British Army.).  All three movies, told through the lens of a hand-held documentarian cinematic style and a straight forward, unsentimental plotted delivery, are successful sojourns in accuracy and realism, but Captain Phillips is most successful of the three at character.  Part of this is due to the undeniable screen charisma of Mr. Hanks and part of this is due to the nature of the real life story (it is really about Captain Phillips fight for survival), but Greengrass also provides a deeper zoom here into both Hanks’ heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips and the mindset of each of Somali pirates.  Much of the action of the movie is spent in the claustrophobic confines of a stuffy life boat and Greengrass allows the audience to endure our own seat as a fateful passenger.

  3. In working under the presumption of complete realism, Greengrass does not often allow for much sentimentality or for an overarching or overbearing message to peer through his pictures (the anti-Oliver Stone, so to speak).  He simply allows for the facts to speak for themselves.  Yet, the story of Captain Phillips does have some pertinent allegorical overtones about the nature of power, both at the individual level (Captain Phillips versus his handful of attackers) and at a much larger level (The inevitability of who is going to lose – the little leaguer Somali pirates – when the US military rescue operation albatross rears its Major Leaguer status, is striking.).  I do not for a nautical knot have any sympathy for the actions of the Somali pirates, but I do appreciate the way that Captain Phillips is not afraid to point out how they do derive from an unjust system of “haves” and “have-nots” that limits options and can lead to a more nefarious existence.

  4. Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing.  Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade.  With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.

 

5 Things You Need to Know: CLOUD ATLAS

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry from CLOUD ATLAS

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

CLOUD ATLAS

1. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious picture that spends almost all of its 172 minute screen symphony as a constant series of crescendos that all never seem to reach full fortissimo.  It is more about the connectivity between movements than about the sanctity of the movements themselves.  As usual, cinemetrician Zach Baron nails it here.

2. If you have read the book, listen to book critic, Kathryn Schulz: “Unlike the book, Cloud Atlas, the movie, is not groundbreaking and dazzling and brilliant and epic and all the rest of those other over-the-top reviewer words. But I also didn’t find it dreadful, or dumb. I’m glad I saw it. I’m inclined to tell other people they should go see it.”  If you have not read the book like me (my Nook Color has been housing the idle e-book of Cloud Atlas for several months now), Schulz contends there is “one massive, all important caveat. You know what that is. Go read the book first.”  Oops.   Prior to reading the book (I am definitely inspired to embark on the journey now), I have a feeling the following will be true: Often thought to be unfilmable, Cloud Atlas is all the better with both mediums in play, the movie would be better without the book as a comparison, and the book is likely even better now that there is a movie.

3. The directing units of Andy and Lana (née Larry) Wachowski (behind The Matrix, it’s troubled sequels, and the catastrophe that was Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, a one-hit wonder), each responsible for independently filming (completely separate crews, cinematographers, production designers) three of the movie’s six time period settings, make significant structural (telling all six stories simultaneously) and casting decisions (a company of actors playing different loosely connected roles in each setting) that will define the movie and it’s subsequent success.  Although I think they do successfully execute these decisions into a viable, beautifully shot and scored cinema experience, by taking this distinctive storytelling path, the final work is condemned to something less than the potential the broad scope of its source material valiantly suggests.

4. Despite some arguable truth to a few of the soul journeys in the actor/character connections (Jim “perhaps the film’s hero” Sturgess and Hugo “the frustratingly clear villain” Weaving’s through lines do succeed), the decision to cast the main cast in multiple roles was a forced convention that acted more as a hindrance, red herring, and distraction to continuity and connectivity than as an asset.  It was more about Tom Hanks (Look he is a cockney murderer from present day England!  Now he speaks an almost indecipherable language as a post-apocalyptic goat herder!) or Halle Berry’s (particularly super swag in her 1973 get-up, mostly forgettable otherwise) journeys as actors than about the journey of the soul.  By making these casting choices, team Wachowski and Tykwer lead the viewer down rabbit holes of inconsequence that are more about the wonders of modern-day makeup than about a well executed character through story.  In a movie in which the tagline is “everything is connected,” it is a cool effect (and do stay a few more minutes for the retrospective actor/character journey in the end credits that is a worthy summation of this convention) that is without real substance.

5. Cloud Atlas is unequivocally a movie (a pretty long one, at that, but worthwhile and enjoyable) that would have worked better as a linear, six part mini-series.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on Afterbuzztv.com and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.