Archive for Tom Hanks

Neighbourhood Watch

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on August 31, 2021 by dcairns

Hard to overstate how terrific CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? is but the same director’s A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD might be even better, even though comparisons are odious (even more odious than other things).

Marielle Heller is a new favourite. And it says something that ABDITN, in which Tom Hanks plays Fred Mister Rogers and Matthew Rhys plays a fictional-but-inspired-by-real-life journalist assigned to interview him, is arguably much more flawed than CYEFM?, but still manages to be even more moving and effective, at least for this audience of two.

We didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers in the UK, although I’ve seen snippets. This might actually be an advantage, because the question of whether Tom Hanks sufficiently resembles Fred Rogers in look and manner wasn’t really an issue for us. I could see how it might be distracting. And I can see how Hanks’ physiognomy dictates certain effects when he smiles protractedly (he can seem slightly eerie) which distinguish him from his model (a little otherworldly but never spooky). Never mind that.

I think MAYBE the use of models and puppets could be integrated more ambitiously into the full-scale action. It’s always fun and charming, though. Apparently the director and cinematographer had rules about everything, but these are not obvious to the audience, and the editor sort of ignored them. But I did sometimes puzzle over why one exterior longshot was a live action full-sized location, and another was a miniature with obvious toy figures and vehicles. Again, it doesn’t really matter, I just think you could have even more fun with this stuff, delightful as it is.

And there’s one noisy sequence — a Cat Stevens song comes in and I think “Oh good, I like Yusuf Islam” and then a bunch of Mr. Rogers clips crash into it and the lyrics and the dialogue are on top of one another, and while a build-up of Babel could be quite effective, instead it’s just two sets of words all the time, shouting over each other, and this was weirdly unsure-footed in a film that’s otherwise so effective.

Those are the quibbles. I’m not even that bothered about whether Matthew Rhys’ particular family troubles, which Mr. Rogers helps sort out, are compelling or convincing. I can treat them as a placeholder and still find the film enormously satisfying because the scenes between Hanks and Rhys are what it’s all about and they work like gangbusters. Although Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is supposed to be interviewing Rogers (Hanks), Mr. Rogers insists on reciprocity. He’s like Hannibal Lector in that way. Only in that way — but here the faint suspicion of some interior darkness is not a disadvantage. Although it might be important to keep in mind that this suspicion might be ALL OUR IMAGINING — based on the ways we read faces, and the way faces are sometimes shaped in ways that mislead us. Rhys’ character is, initially, trying to figure out if Fred Rogers is for real. And Hanks doesn’t tip his hand one way or the other.

They put one of the most incredible scenes on YouTube:

In this scene we also get to see the real Mrs. Rogers. But isn’t Rhys excellent? We enjoyed him a lot in the Perry Mason reboot, but here he’s wonderful, really a master of micro-acting.

A scene Heller and DP Jody Lee Lipes talk about in they’re commentary (yes, it’s worth buying the disc, but you could rent the film on YouTube right now if you desire it) is the first in-person meeting, where Vogel/Rhys tells Rogers/Hanks that he’s having trouble knowing if he’s talking to a person or a character. “There’s you, and there’s Mr. Rogers.”

Heller does something magnificent. She crosses the line. The scene has been elegantly filmed from BEHIND the two characters, with over-the-shoulder shots favouring each face, and for Fred’s reaction (or is it Mr. Rogers’?) she jumps to a shot taken from the FRONT.

It’s not confusing at all, since this is a static two-hander at present, and all the shots show at least part of both characters, so we’re perfectly orientated. But the line-cross kind of turns Rogers (whose name, like Hanks’, is appropriately plural) into two people. YOU and MR. ROGERS. Heller says the scene gets a huge laugh from audiences, without them mostly knowing that it’s the line-crossing that makes them respond that way. Which is fascinating. And super-nerdy. It’s going straight into my first-year teaching where I talk about the eyeline.

Burbanex

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2021 by dcairns
This is a good image

THE ‘BURBS is one of the Joe Dante films I haven’t watched much — I think only once, until now. But I got the excellent Arrow Blu-ray with the alternate cut and ending and a big documentary and a commentary. EXPLORERS and SMALL SOLDIERS are the other two I want to go back to. Oh, and THE HOWLING also because it’s been years.

There are Dante films that are on TV a lot and if they come on and I watch for five minutes I end up watching the whole thing, no matter how many times I’ve seen them — these are the GREMLINS films and INNERSPACE. Even if I channel-hop into them middle of one, I’ll end up staying to the end credits.

But THE ‘BURBS had sort of slipped by me. I remember it was either Sight & Sound or the late Monthly Film Bulletin that said their problem with the ending — and we all knew there had been more than one ending shot — was that the revelations about the creepy neighbours didn’t fall comically short of our suspicions, and nor did they comically exceed our suspicions. Which I think is probably true, but this time round it played differently.

It’s a really fun film. Tom Hanks is superb (and I miss the funny Tom Hanks, fine as he is in straight stuff), Rick Ducommon is great in the Jack Carson role, Carrie Fisher and Bruce Dern, and then the Klopeks are wonderful, and for a while it seemed like only Dante knew how great Henry Gibson was and would use him.

And then this ending. Which is, it’s true, not quite triumphant comically, but also seems to run against what the whole film is about. Tom Hanks has a fantastic speech at the end in which he denounces the curtain-twitching paranoia he’s been sucked into — THEY’RE not the monsters, WE’RE the monsters! And Hanks bats it out of the park. The Klopeks being innocent really puts the audience on the spot. Well, we kind of knew the protags were getting carried away, but this is really strong. So having the Klopeks turn out to be the monsters after all negates that completely. True, the speech still happens. But what people tend to take away from a film is the ending. A weak ending ruins your MEMORY of the experience. The meaning imparted by the ending is always seen as the meaning being promulgated by the film as a whole.

The original ending was going to be Hanks being loaded into the ambulance and Werner Klopek (Gibson) is in there and he’s going to kill him. Which is the ending of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (which also had multiple endings shot, but that was, I believe, based around the question of what order the episodes would eventually run in). But the reason they didn’t end on that note was, “Well, you can’t kill Tom Hanks.” Which I understand.

Weirdly, that ending might have worked better for me in terms of what it’s saying — true, having the Klopeks turn out to be killers seems to retroactively justify all the intrusive snooping and paranoia. But look: our hero’s going to DIE for it. Maybe that sort of works. It doesn’t make being a nosy neighbour look all that attractive.

But now, since Tom Hanks can never die, he has to win, and we get Dern and Ducommon preening xenophobically about their success. And while they’re comic buffoons, and Hanks is now disgusted with them, which helps a little… Fiona was RANTING about the inappropriateness of this ending. I think she took it personally, since we’re both a pair of life’s Klopeks at heart. I was more muted in my dissatisfaction, maybe because I was thinking about the difficulty the filmmakers were up against. If you suddenly have to explain all the weirdness including a human femur turning up in a back yard 10 RILLINGTON PLACE style, you’re into the ending of SUSPICION and it becomes a rather dry box-ticking exercise and anticlimactic to boot. And the script hadn’t been written, and filmed, with that intent in mind. It’s like you’re in a labyrinth and all the exits are sliding shut and you’re being channeled towards the most reactionary finishing line, the one that ends by making the conformists in the audience feel good about themselves.

So it’s a film that could be Dante’s most subversive movie apart from the last ten minutes.

Does the same objection apply to REAR WINDOW, which was kind of the progenitor for THE ‘BURBS? The characters debate whether spying on your neighbours can ever be a good thing, but then it turns out it can. But that also makes us feel rather awkward when Lars Thorwald confronts L.B. Jeffries with his “why are you persecuting me?” speech, and Jeff is even more tongue-tied than usual. Does that get Hitch out of trouble altogether? Is THE ‘BURBS held to a different standard because it’s satire, and so ducking back into being on the side of the normals feels like more of a cop-out?

And if it turns up on TV will I get sucked into watching it again? That’s something I won’t know until it happens.

The Private War of Representative Wilson

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2017 by dcairns

Both Frank Tashlin and Mike Nichols ended their careers with films about, one might say, private wars, but there the resemblance more or less ends. Though, if Bob Hope in THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL and Tom Hanks in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR were to trade places, I don’t know how much difference it would make.

The Nichols film makes for an interesting capper. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who always does these things, it hashes up an unruly true story into a palatable dramatic shape. The REAL story buried inside the true one is that Wilson’s covert funding of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders eventually led to the Taliban, and a US invasion which we’re still dealing with today. The film does its best to acknowledge that without admitting any culpability on the part of its protagonist, which is an impossible balancing act. And when the movie denounces the immorality of funding the mujahideen just enough to make the USSR waste resources fighting them, without giving them enough support to win, it has to kind of ignore the fact that this policy gave us Glasnost, whereas Charlie Wilson’s policy gave us… some very bad things indeed.

What else is bad? Oh yes, the warnography, which consists of strange montages of expensive battle reenactment and cheap stock footage, scored by Thomas Newton Howard with militaristic romanticism. Most of this is just montage stuff, presumably thrown in to stop this just being talk, but the talk is what’s good about it. One little scene showing Russian pilots discussing their sleazy love lives while strafing women and kids, before being heroically taken out of the skies by Wilson’s freshly-supplied rocket launchers would be enough to make you sick were it not immediately followed by a tight closeup of Amy Adams’ tightly-skirted ass, which makes things even worse, but somehow I can’t bring myself to blow chunks while looking at Amy Adams’ ass. But it’s probably an all-time career low in taste for Sorkin and Nichols.

   

When the film is dealing with dialogue, it’s on EXTREMELY sure footing, though. Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific in slightly different modes, and we get great scenes with them and Om Puri and then Ken Stott. Ken Stott as an Israeli? Is it the thing about Scotsmen and Jews both being mean? Whatever, when a terrific Brit character actor turns up completely by surprise, we rejoice.

As this is a political drama, this is fairly male-dominated. Among the females being dominated are Adams, gazing worshipfully at Hanks, and Emily Blunt. Julia Roberts is sexualized, but in charge. Her extraordinary makeup impressed Fiona, if it’s not historically correct for the true-life character, then it’s an inspired invention.

“She’s doing her eyelashes like Audrey Hepburn! And those weird-painted on shadows around her eyelids…” It’s the Caligari approach to cosmetics.

Nichols sure sense of casting and timing is undiminished in all the scenes of scheming and arguing. His compositional sense is less pleasing since he stopped working with Harold Michelson on storyboards, and his sense of structure is diminished without Sam O’Steen as editor — though I’m not sure whether executive interference had something to do with the dumb action scenes and the choppy transitions in the last third. But what you get in this film is just-passable coverage assembled with incredible zip into scenes which showcase terrific actors speaking terrific words. And that’s somewhat rare today, as it was ten years ago when this thing came out and I apparently didn’t bother to see it.