Posts Tagged ‘tom hanks’

the circle

Mae (Emma Watson) works as a customer service representative in a small company, when her friend Annie, (Karen Gillian) gets her an interview at the Circle, one of the most famous tech companies in San Francisco.  She aces the interview and starts work in the customer experience area.  Mae goes home her first weekend to take care of her father, Vinnie (Bill Paxon) who has MS.  That absence on the weekend earns Mae a visit from Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talal) asking Mae to fill out her personal social media page, and attend more company parties.  Eager to move up in the company, Mae does just that, at one of these parties she meets Ty (John Boyega) inventor of True You, the social media arm of The Circle.  They talk for a while and then she goes back to her residence at the campus of the Circle.   Mae is now fully devoted to her life at The Circle, she video conferences her parents, and hardly sees her childhood friend, Mercer (Eller Coltraine) who now works as a carpenter, and makes handmade chandeliers.   In an attempt to help Mercer, Mae shares a picture of a chandelier that Mercer made for Mae’s mom, but the picture causes a social media backlash, and people label Mercer a deer killer, and he disappears.

While attending another party, Ty takes Mae to a hidden part of The Circle, where the executives keep files of everyone in The Circle and friends and enemies alike. Mae is clearly disturbed by the secrets that the executives are keeping, and by Mercer’s disappearance, she goes kayaking to clear her mind, but she experiences some rough waters and almost drowns  if not for the underwater cameras in San Francisco Bay.  After this traumatic event, and meeting the CEO of The Circle, Mr. Bailey (Tom Hanks) Mae decides to go transparent, having every aspect of her life documented on video.  Not only that but Mae also starts work on the Soul Search software program, which can find fugitives from justice or lost loves in record time.  The Soul Search finds a criminal in under 20 minutes.  The next search is for Mae’s friend, Mercer.  How does that search end up?

Imagine if Google, Amazon, Apple and Go Pro all merged and imagine what the resulting technology conglomerate would look like?  That’s what this movie imagines.  The Circle is very good at identifying  the dark side of social media, the complete lack of privacy, the cyberbullying, the group think, even the vigilantism possible with social media.  Further it explores work life balance issues at a tech company, and how much of an employee’s life belongs to the company.  The Circle as a company feels almost cult-like.  But the story becomes derivative of the Truman show, when Mae straps on a camera, and it makes Mae much dumber than she should be,  and then turns her into a victim of her own success.  The growth of the Circle’s social media software seems a little too quick to be realistic, but there are still many thought provoking ideas in this movie.  The critics panned it, but for the most part, despite some flaws, this is an interesting story.

The acting is very good.  Emma Watson is very convincing as a naïve girl, who joins a tech company, and quickly learns how much of her time belongs to the company.  The writers make her a little dumber than she should be but Watson fights through bad writing and makes the character strong, yet vulnerable.Tom Hanks does a great job playing a lovable Bill Gates type, people forget how ruthless Microsoft was in creating a monopoly for its products, but that’s how Hanks plays Bailey, all sunshine and rainbows on the outside, and ruthlessly controlling on the inside. The writers definitely did John Boyega a disservice by making his role so small, and making his character a shadowy person.  He should have been much better defined and had a bigger role. Patton Oswalt was also very good as the sinister scheming co-founder of the circle.  Oswalt is a comedian, who shows surprising range in this role.

There is nothing visually noteworthy about the direction, but the pacing is good and the story moves briskly, to a somewhat satisfactory conclusion.  James Ponsoldt hasn’t directed anything of note, but he wrote the screenplay and adapted it from the books of the same name.

The Circle:  Tom Hankering to control all of us.

 

Advertisements

defying-the-nazis-sharps-war

In 1939 Waitstill Sharp, a Unitarian minister, and Martha Sharp, a social worker, received a call from Everett Baker asking them to help Jewish refugees in the Sudetenland.  17 other people refused the call from Baker, but on February 4th 1939, they left their young children behind and headed to Prague Czechoslovakia.  They made contact with the Unitarian church in Czechoslovakia and its leader Norbert Capek and learned how to destroy documents and launder money.  In March 1939, Martha helped an unknown refugee called Mr. X escape Prague.  Waitstill not only arranged for the Jews’ release, but also laundered money, so that they would have means when they left Czechoslovakia.  The Gestapo soon learned of the Sharps’ work, and came after them, they escaped Czechoslovakia, and went to the United States on the Queen Mary, just as France and England declared war on Germany. In 1940, the Sharps were summoned back to Europe from Fredrick Elliot, President of the Unitarian Association.  So again, despite Martha’s objections, they went back to Europe, this time to Portugal to rescue refugees from France.  They negotiated a large shipment of powdered milk to hungry children and started to get refugees out of France.  They helped Jewish writer Lion Feutwanger escape from a French concentration camp, and come to the U.S.  At this point Martha stayed in France to help children of Jewish refugees.  All told, the Sharps saved about 20,000 Jews from the Nazi aggression in Europe, but the time apart took a toll on their marriage. In June 2006, the nation of Israel awarded the Sharps the Righteous of the Nations, an honor only bestowed on five other Americans.

This documentary is an exhilarating yet ultimately sad story about two people who lived their religion so thoroughly that they sacrificed their comfortable suburban lives to rush headlong into a European continent heading inexorably toward war.  The exhilaration comes from knowing that people still believe so faithfully in God that they are strong enough to look evil in the eye, and still do what is right.  The train rides and ship rides that the couple takes with the refugees are harrowing, yet thrilling. The sadness arises from the fact that they could not find personal happiness with each other. Hollywood would have put a happy ending on this story, but real life is much more intriguing. It’s all the more heartbreaking when the viewers hear the couple’s love letters to each other.  But even more riveting than the Sharps’ personal story are the interviews with the refugees that the Sharps saved.  Many of them were kids at the time, and they are amazed that people with no personal stake in their future saved them from certain death.  It’s a mixture of joy and sorrow watching these people speak, joy that they are alive, sorrow that man’s inhumanity to his fellow man can reach such epic proportions.   I’ve seen many WW II and Nazi era stories, but this documentary proves that there are still more stories of extraordinary courage that remain to be told.

Tom Hanks adds an earnest emotional strength to this documentary that is evident from the beginning of the film.  Hanks’ voice somehow suits Waitstill Sharp, upstanding, honest, earnest, heartbroken, all these qualities come through Hanks’ voice, and the documentary is better for it.  Little known actress Marina Goldman stars as Martha Sharp.  There are no other voiceovers in the film.

This is a typical Ken Burns documentary, still photos, voiceovers, historians, and a compelling story that cries out to be told.  These are the hallmarks of a Ken Burns documentary. The film starts out with a collage of Nazi atrocities, book, burning, Kristallnacht, and Hitler speaking to rapturously cheering crowds, this collage captures the interest of the viewer immediately, and holds it.  Ken  Burns had help directing this movie, Artemis Joukowski,  the Sharps’ grandson actually co-directed with Burns and did all the interviews with the refugees and historians. Joukowski’s involvement in  the film makes the story seem more personal and the emotions more intense.

The Sharps’ War:  Never dull.

splssh

When Allen Bauer (Tom Hanks, David Kreps) was 8 years old, he fell into the water during a family trip to Cape Cod.  Just before he was rescued, he thought he saw a girl in the water, but he chalked it up to his imagination.  Twenty years later Allen is unhappy.  Allen runs a produce company with his brother Freddie (John Candy, Jason Late) but has just broken up with his girlfriend Victoria, and he tells Freddie that he wants to go back to Cape Cod, because he always feels better there.  The trip to Cape Cod does not go well for Allen.  Again, he falls off a boat, blacks out, and wakes up on a deserted island, where a mysterious girl kisses him, and swims away.

A scientist named Dr. Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) is also on Cape Cod, looking for a scientific discovery that will shake up the worlds of biology and zoology.  He thinks he has found what he is looking for but can’t get photographic evidence of his discovery.  Back in New York, Allen is back to being depressed, but the same girl who saved Allen in Cape Cod is in New York, and has Allen’s wallet.  Allen picks her up from the police station, without knowing her name, or anything about her, and they spend the night together.  The next morning, while Allen goes to work, the mystery girl goes to Bloomingdales, gets a new wardrobe and learns English in a day, from watching television.  She tells Allen her name in her language and shatters the tv’s in the electronics department.  She finally settles on and English name, Madison (Daryl Hannah) and she tells Allen that she can only stay with her for 6 days.  They go out on a couple of dates, and Allen knows Madison is hiding something from him, but thinks it’s an immigration issue, he even proposes marriage, which Madison politely declines.

Dr. Kornbluth follows Madison to New York intent on proving his theory, but failing at every turn.  After a while apart from Allen, Madison decides to accept his marriage proposal, and tell him her secret, but she never gets the chance.  What is Madison’s secret?  Will it ruin her relationship with Allen if the truth comes out?

Why am I watching Splash 32 years after its release, and why do I think it’s a classic movie?  One, it’s funny, with Hanks teamed with Eugene Levy and John Candy, there are plenty of laughs in this movie.  Two, its romance is sweet.  Allen is a man looking for love and he finds it, just not the way he expects. True, at first the love story seems more like one based on physical attraction, but there are enough grand gestures to make the love story realistic enough.  At the end of the film, Allen has to make a really difficult choice, and the ending helps make this a great movie.  Three, it captures Tom Hanks in his first big budget movie, before Big, Toy Story, Forrest Gump, and the many blockbusters that made him a bankable superstar.   Four, there’s going to be a remake soon, I bet it won’t be as good.

Hanks was still someone green when he made this movie, opting for loud pronouncements of humor, rather than being subtle, but still shows the sweet sensitivity that made him a superstar.  It is well worth watching him here.  This is undoubtedly Daryl Hannah’s best film, she gives Madison both a sweetness and simplicity that is very appealing.  She also learns that falling in love is difficult, and watching Madison’s heartbreak is difficult, Hannah makes the heartbreak believable.  John Candy also gives a great performance, he is wildly funny, but he also have a few lines about love that ring true, and he delivers them well.  Eugene Levy is also wonderful in this film, he is cast as the bad guy, but shows such great range that by the end of  the film, the viewer actually feels empathy for his character.

This is one of Ron Howard’s early directorial films, he gets some picturesque shots of New York, keeps Madison’s secret under wraps for as long as possible.  He gets great performances from Hanks, Hannah, Candy, and Levy and paces the film well, so it never drags.

Splash:  Mer-made for romantics.

 

ST. JAMES PLACE

 

In 1957, Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is caught by the F.B.I.  Constitutionally, the U.S. had to provide Abel with legal counsel.  The New York Bar decides on insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to represent Abel.  At trial, Donovan finds out that the F.B.I. didn’t have a search warrant.  Nonetheless, Abel is found guilty.  Donovan plans to appeal the verdict, but his legal associate, Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda) and Donovan’s wife, Mary (Amy Ryan) want Donovan to drop the appeal, however, Donovan presses on, and loses his appeal in the Supreme Court 5-4.  Donovan was successful in getting jail time for Abel instead of the death penalty, because he felt that Abel could be used in case there was an American taken by the Soviets.

In 1960, U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) was shot down over Soviet territory, and jailed by the Soviet Union.  Negotiations involving Donovan and the Soviets began almost immediately for a prisoner swap, Abel for Powers.  Complicating matters during Donovan’s negotiations for Powers’ release, an American student named Fredric Pryor (Will Rogers)  is detained in East Germany.  Donovan insists that Pryor be released along with Powers for Abel.  Does Donovan get both Powers and Pryor released or does he have to settle for a one for one prisoner swap?

There is a problem with Bridge of Spies, and that is that despite staying close to the actual facts of the true story, it loses any excitement of a spy swap in the minutiae of the details of the case against Abel.  Later in the story, the Pryor subplot is thrown in as almost an afterthought, why should the viewer care about a student in East Germany, except that student is a pivotal part of the film.  It may be difficult to contemporaneously tell three stories at once, but Stephen Spielberg is a legendary director and I expected more from him.  The story was written by Ethan Coen and I expected better storytelling ability from him.  The ending also implies a mutual respect between American lawyer and Russian client that may not have existed.

Tom Hanks plays what he always plays, good guy, this time going against the conventional wisdom, but he does so in such an emotionless, technocratic way that it’s difficult to care about the character.  The movie takes great pains to point out that Abel is from England, which explains Mark Rylance’s almost Scottish lilt, but did Rylance deserve the Oscar?  I would have to say no, he was absent for large swaths of this movie, and his performance was so understated, that he was speaking in almost a whisper, there was hardly anything notable about it.

This seemed like a vanity piece for Spielberg, it’s an important topic, a valuable piece of historical drama, but I think Spielberg mishandled it badly, the pacing was impossibly slow and tedious in it ponderous telling.  There was some hand-held camera footage too, that trend is getting old fast. It was a long story that was in dire need of some editing. Spielberg did not get especially good performances from Hanks or Ryland, and everyone else including Alan Alda had bit parts.

Bridge of Spies:  A Bridge Too Far

savingmrbanks

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) continues his 20 year negotiation with P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) author of the Mary Poppins children’s books.  Disney flies Travers to the Beverly Hills hotel, because he made a promise to his little girls that he would turn the books into a movie.  Travers hates the songs, she hates the first draft of the script, and she refuses to animate any of her characters.  While negotiations drag on, Travers recalls her not-so-idyllic childhood with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and mother Margaret Goff.  (Ruth Wilson) Does Disney ever get the book rights to the Mary Poppins books?

The answer to the question is pretty obvious, so that’s not where the drama lies in this movie.  The drama in Saving Mr. Banks emerges from P.L. Travers backstory, which contains a lot more pathos and pain than I expected, I thought this movie would be light, jaunty, family fare, but it’s more than that. Saving Mr. Banks is a real emotional powerhouse, and it comes to that emotion honestly, not through tried and true tearjerker shortcuts.  There are also funny and sweet moments like seeing how the songs were constructed, and hearing the vast emotional range of the songs in Mary Poppins.

The acting is superb.  Tom Hanks is at the top of his game playing the amiable, happy-go-lucky Walt Disney.  The world is Disney’s oyster, and he’s sure he can charm Travers into turning over the book rights to Disney.  Hanks turns on the charm full tilt, but what makes his role special, is that when the role demands seriousness, Hanks delivers.  Emma Thompson has the hardest role in this movie, she is the one rejecting all the script modifications and turning down the money, but Thompson plays Travers expertly, not as a harpy or shrew, but as a loving human being who wants to stay true to the characters she created. Thompson’s matronly manner also adds a comedic edge to the role.  Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, add some excellent comedy relief, and Paul Giamatti adds a touching note in a smaller role.  Young Annie Rose Buckley does an excellent job in a pivotal role as Ginty.

The writing is excellent, the director moves the pace along, and I don’t think the professional actors in this movie need a lot of help from the director in terms of line readings.

This is a wonderful movie, not just for kids, but it has a lot of emotional heft for adults.  Saving Mr. Banks is a true family film.

Saving Mr. Banks.  Bank on it.

CLOUD ATLAS

In 1849 Adam Ewing (Jim Stugess) goes on a journey on a slave ship.  His father-in-law, Haskell Moore, (Hugo Weaving) makes a lot of money from the slave trade.  When Adam feels empathy for  a slave on the ship, Autua  (David Gyasi), Dr Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) tries to kill him.  Does he succeed?

In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) is a gay music composer in love with Rufus Sixsmith (James D”Arcy) Frobisher wants to work with Vyvan Ayers, (Jim Broadbent) on his musical master opus, “Cloud Atlas Sextet” and make himself famous in the process.  Robert sleeps with Ayers’ wife, Jocasta (Halle Berry), but is distraught that he can’t spend his life with Sixsmith.  He writes to Sixsmith that he is going to kill himself, does he do it?

In 1973, a young reporter, Luisa Ray (Halle Berry) is covering a story about the dangers of nuclear power.  She gets stuck on an elevator with a much older Rufus Sixsmith, who’ a physicist now.  Ray also meets Isaac Sachs (Hanks) who takes her on a tour of the plant.  They feel a connection to each other and plan to meet later.  Sixsmith ties to get a damning report about the plant.  Plant manager, Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) wants Ray and Sachs out of the way and hires Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving to kill Luisa Ray.  Does he succeed?

In 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) is a book publisher, trying to sell the latest book of author Dermot Hoggins (Hanks) Hoggins is a brutish type who threatens a reviewer who wrote a bad review of his book.  The book becomes a best-seller, but Hoggins wants more money from Cavendish.  Cavendish needs to escape because Cavendish doesn’t have money.  Timothy turns to his brother Denhome, but Denhome traps Timothy in a nursing home, run by a sadistic nurse, named Nokes (Weaving)

In the year 2144, in Neo Seoul, a fabricant, a clone bred for servitude named Sonmi. (Doona Bae) Soonmi is tired of conforming to a consumer based society.  Sonmi finds Hae Joo Chang (Sturgess) a human born in a womb, they fall in love but can they escape this authoritarian society?

In 2346, humans living on a planet that is not earth, live in a very primitive fashion.  Zachary (Hanks) is trying to protect his family from an intra-tribal war.  The other chief is called the Kona Chief, (Grant)  and he is a bloodthirsty cannibal.  Suddenly a stranger named Meronym (Berry)  appears from a different part of the planet.  She is technologically advanced, and tells Zachary to follow her, but there is a voice in Zachary’s head (Weaving) that tells Zachary to kill Meronym, does he listen to that voice?

I did not like Cloud Atlas.  The basic themes were alright, freedom from an autocratic society, and non-conformity in the face of intense pressure to conform.  But then it strays into past lives, and new age doctrine, and I’m sorry, but that turns me off.  The stories are all supposed to be interconnected , but the connections are tenuous at best.

The vignettes borrow heavily from other movies First off the interconnectedness of the storylines reminded me of Babel, the  journey on the slave ship is reminiscent of Amistad, the Halle Berry investigating a nuclear accident was like Coffey meets China Syndrome, the nursing home story feels like  One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the futuristic Korean story is Blade Runner meets 2046 meets Soylent Green, and the thing is all the original movies that this movie borrows from are better than this movie. The fourth and fifth stories are my favorites, because the fourth one is good comedy relief and the fifth one is good science fiction, but 2/6th of a good movie is a pretty bad movie.

The movie is written by the Wachowski siblings, and has all the strengths and weaknesses of their Matrix movies, some good science fiction and a lot of mushy sentimentality that boils down to the phrase “Why can’t we all get along?”  Cloud Atlas was a book, so I will blame some of the shortcomings of the movie on the book, but since I never read the book, I don’t know where the book goes off the rails. And three hours is too damn long for any movie.

The acting is good, but not by the big stars, Hanks and Berry just embarrass themselves trying different accents and hiding behind prosthetic make-up.  Broadbent, Ben Wishaw, and James D’Arcy are very good. Doona Bae is a revelation, until she tries to play a Mexican woman in the 70’s, then she embarrasses herself.  Similarly, Wishaw and Darcy embarrass themselves playing Koreans, it is cringewothy. Hugo Weaving is great, but he is always great.

There is nudity and violence, so keep the kids away, and maybe Cloud Atlas will put the adults to sleep.

Cloud Atlas:  A roadmap to nowhere.

Captain-Phillips-Movie-2013

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is the captain of the cargo ship the Maersk Alabama.  In early 2009, the Maersk Alabama is scheduled to sail around the cape of Africa.  Phillips is well-aware of the threat of kidnapping by pirates.  He is made more aware of this threat when he gets an e-mail saying that the Maersk Alabama is headed toward a highly dangerous kidnapping area.  Before the Maersk Alabama ever sets sail, Somaili pirates Muse (Barkhad Abdi) Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) Najee (Faisal Ahmad)  and Elmi (Mahat Ali) are planning the kidnapping with the aid of Somali warlord. Hufan (Issak Farah Samatar)

The Somalis try to board the Maersk Alabama once, and are repelled by Phillips and the crew, but on the second attempt, they are successful and board the ship. Muse emerges as the leader of the pirates, and quickly he finds Captain Phillips and begins to search for the rest of the crew of 20.  The crew for their part, does everything it can to sabotage the pirates’ efforts.  They turn off the power on the ship, they break glass on the floor of the ship so that one of the barefooted pirates cuts his foot, and two or three of the Maersk crew even capture Muse, and they work out a trade for Captain Phillips for Muse, but the trade goes wrong, and the pirates escape with Captain Phillips, on-board a lifeboat.  Now, it’s up to the Navy and a Navy Seal Team to rescue Phillips.  Do they do it?

One of the reasons I like this movie is because it is an intelligent story and not just a shoot-em-up action movie.  The captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama do not have guns , or weapons of any kind so they have to use their wits and stall until the Navy sends a ship to pressure the pirates.  This is an intelligent script, because it makes the Captain sympathetic, even when he is under extreme pressure of injury or death, Captain Phillips actually tends to the injuries of the pirates that are trying to injure him.  The film points out that the Alabama is delivering food and supplies to Africans. Phillips even gives the pirates a way out of the crisis.  This is an intelligent movie because it makes the pirates sympathetic.  Kidnapping should never be condoned, but one can realize that abject poverty can lead to irrational behavior.  These pirates have nothing to lose, and so they are willing to lose everything.  Phillips and Muse gain a grudging respect for each other, because even while they are working at cross-purposes, they both realize that no one can get hurt or they both lose.

The direction also helps this movie set a tone.  The atmosphere in this movie can only be called claustrophobic, you can feel the the closeness in the ship, the tightness of space, the overall cramped feeling.  This is achieved by filming on an actual ship and not a soundstage.  Director Paul Greenngrass is to be applauded for deciding to film this on a ship, this adds to the suspense.  Greengrass knows his way around an intelligent action movie, he’s directed both the Bourne Supremacy and the Bourne Ultimatum.

The acting is superb as well, many watching this film will say that this is a pedestrian effort by Tom Hanks, but those who say that miss one of the strengths of Hanks’ career, making the common man do extraordinary things.  In movies like Catch Me If You Can, The Green Mile, Larry Crowne, even Toy Story, he plays seemingly ordinary men who bring people together with his leadership.  And in the last 10 minutes of Captain Phillips he gives such a virtuoso performance, so emotionally powerful that it is spellbinding.   He does try to affect a New England accent in this movie, it’s not very good, but that’s a minor glitch in a great performance.  Another standout performance was given by Barkhad Abdi, who played Muse, he was menacing, he had to be, and he conveyed that very well.  He also played the role with, charm, guile, humor and intelligence.  He humanized a reprehensible character, Muse wasn’t taken in by most of what Phillips told him, and that made the movie even more interesting to watch.

This movie has everything, a great story, supplemented by superb acting and excellent directing; all make for a taught thriller that is a must-see.

Captain Phillips:  A Commanding performance by Hanks.