Tom Hanks

The Money Pit (1986, Richard Benjamin)

Without any subplots–and a running time, sans end credits, less than ninety minutes–it seems likely The Money Pit had some post-production issues. There are a bunch of recognizable character actors–Josh Mostel, Yakov Smirnoff, Joe Mantegna–who show up for a scene or two then disappear. Still, Money Pit is a great example of a (possibly) problematic production working out rather well.

Most of the film belongs to Tom Hanks. While Shelley Long’s along (sorry) for the ride, she doesn’t have much to do until the halfway point. She’s the straight woman to Hanks, who gets to do a lot of physical comedy as they watch their house fall down around them. Often in hilarious scenes.

Long does get the film’s single subplot, involving her ex-husband Alexander Godunov. Besides Hanks giving a great comedic performance, Money Pit is singular because of Godunov. He’s perfect as a self-aware egomaniac. Even when he’s loathsome, he’s likable, a feature the film references a little too much.

There are some great lines in David Giler’s script, though they eventually give way to all physical comedy. Director Benjamin handles both perfectly fine, but he and cinematographer Gordon Willis really excel at the latter. Sadly, editor Jacqueline Cambas besmirches the otherwise fine work of the crew. From the first few scenes, it’s clear Cambas can’t cut a scene well.

The Money Pit sometimes stumbles, but when it’s funny, it’s exceedingly funny. And it’s got an excellent resolution sequence at the finish.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Benjamin; written by David Giler; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Jacqueline Cambas; music by Michel Colombier; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Art Levinson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Walter Fielding Jr.), Shelley Long (Anna Crowley), Alexander Godunov (Max Beissart, the Maestro), Maureen Stapleton (Estelle), Joe Mantegna (Art Shirk), Philip Bosco (Curly), Josh Mostel (Jack Schnittman), Yakov Smirnoff (Shatov), Carmine Caridi (Brad Shirk), Tetchie Agbayani (Florinda Fielding) and Douglass Watson (Walter Fielding Sr.).


Splash (1984, Ron Howard)

Splash has a strange narrative structure. The front’s heavy, likely because the filmmakers make a real effort to establish Tom Hanks as a listless young (well, youngish) man. Of course, Hanks is a listless man with an apparently great job as a produce whole seller, an amazing Manhattan apartment and limitless funds. Then the end’s light, which is probably because Atlantis wasn’t in Splash‘s budget.

Strong writing from Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman–not to mention great direction from Howard and a mostly outstanding performance from Hanks–makes the first act sail through. Some of it’s so good, it takes Splash a while to recover from not pursuing those story threads.

The film’s often a slapstick comedy, especially when it follows Eugene Levy around. He’s in pursuit of Daryl Hannah, who’s the mermaid Hanks is unknowingly dating. Well, he knows he’s dating her but not the other bit.

Hannah’s got the most important role in the film. She doesn’t just have to be the ideal combination of sexy and sweet, she’s also got to be able to pull off being a genius. Apparently mermaids are all geniuses. Mer-people. It’s never explained; Howard and company offer just enough to make it passable without raising too many questions.

Levy’s okay–his role in the script is the weakest–but John Candy’s supporting turn more than makes up for him.

Howard expertly handles the film’s various tones, with excellent photography from Donald Peterman.

Lee Holdridge’s score is nice too.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman, based on a screen story by Friedman and a story by Brian Grazer; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Grazer; released by Touchstone Films.

Starring Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer), Daryl Hannah (Madison), Eugene Levy (Walter Kornbluth), John Candy (Freddie Bauer), Dody Goodman (Mrs. Stimler), Shecky Greene (Mr. Buyrite), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ross), Bobby Di Cicco (Jerry), Howard Morris (Dr. Zidell), Tony DiBenedetto (Tim, The Doorman), Patrick Cronin (Michaelson), Charles Walker (Michaelson’s Partner), David Knell (Claude), Jeff Doucette (Junior), Royce D. Applegate (Buckwalter), Tony Longo (Augie), Nora Denney (Ms. Stein), Charles Macaulay (The President), Ronald F. Hoiseck (Dr. Johannsen), Lou Tiano (Bartender), Joe Grifasi (Manny) and Rance Howard (McCullough).


Apollo 13 (1995, Ron Howard)

While Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon’s characters are the only ones in danger in Apollo 13, they remain calm for almost the entire runtime. There’s no point to panicking, something Hanks points out in dialogue. Instead, director Howard focuses on an exceptional assortment of character actors–as the NASA Mission Control–for the dramatic parts. Even Kathleen Quinlan, as Hanks’s wife, has to keep it together for the most part.

Otherwise, regardless of how it actually happened, the film’s dramatics wouldn’t work. Apollo 13 isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a science and engineering drama. Howard creates a genre with the film; I don’t think anyone has attempted to follow in his footsteps.

There’s no history synopsis at the start, so unless an unknowing viewer paid attention to the opening titles, the finish might be a surprise. Howard has to keep up the tension for both kinds of viewers, informed and not. He and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill probably had a hell of a time putting the film together; they make it appear seamless and organically flowing

Wondrous photography from Dean Cundey and fine music from James Horner assist.

Hanks and Bacon have the most to do, with Paxton and the earthbound Gary Sinise providing sturdy support. Great work from Quinlan. Ed Harris binds the Mission Control scenes.

Of the outstanding character actors, Loren Dean, Clint Howard, Gabriel Jarret and Christian Clemenson stand out.

Apollo 13 is assured, masterful work all around… but especially from Howard.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, based on a book by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (Gene Kranz), Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Jean Speegle Howard (Blanch Lovell), Tracy Reiner (Mary Haise), David Andrews (Pete Conrad), Chris Ellis (Deke Slayton), Joe Spano (NASA Director), Xander Berkeley (Henry Hurt), Marc McClure (Glynn Lunney), Ben Marley (John Young), Clint Howard (EECOM White), Loren Dean (EECOM Arthur), Tom Wood (EECOM Gold), Googy Gress (RETRO White), Patrick Mickler (RETRO Gold), Ray McKinnon (FIDO White), Max Grodénchik (FIDO Gold), Christian Clemenson (Dr. Chuck), Brett Cullen (CAPCOM 1), Ned Vaughn (CAPCOM 2), Andy Milder (GUIDO White), Geoffrey Blake (GUIDO Gold), Wayne Duvall (LEM Controller White), Jim Meskimen (TELMU White), Joseph Culp (TELMU Gold), John Short (INCO White), Ben Bode (INCO Gold), Todd Louiso (FAO White), Gabriel Jarret (GNC White), Christopher John Fields (Booster White), Kenneth White (Grumman Rep), James Ritz (Ted) and Andrew Lipschultz (Launch Director).


The ‘burbs (1989, Joe Dante)

Until The 'burbs gets around to actually having to pay off on its premise–the strange new neighbors are really serial killers–it’s quite good. There’s no way the third act pay off can deliver and the film’s quality takes a number of hits in the last half hour or so. Olsen’s script is, technically, at fault… but it’s hard to think of how the narrative could have unfolded and not had problems.

What the film does have, even with the last act problems, is some of Dante’s most enthusiastic work. The film’s perfectly casted–I counted three times the actors were trying not to laugh during a scene–and he gets these great performances. Olsen’s script sets up these fine characters, Dante and the cast are able to turn them into something even better… then the script abandons them. At one point, Carrie Fisher just disappears. Instead of figuring out how to incorporate her (or even just keep her around), Olsen sends her away. Coincidentally, Fisher disappears about the time the film hits the bumps.

Tom Hanks is very good in the lead. He manages not to get overshadowed by Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun, who are a lot wackier. Wendy Schaal’s good as Dern’s wife (she too disappears though) and Brother Theodore is hilarious as one of the villains. Corey Feldman is a tad broad… and looks a little old for a teenager.

Amazing Jerry Goldsmith score.

With its marvelous Dante direction, The 'burbs is almost a success.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Dana Olsen; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Marshall Harvey; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Larry Brezner and Michael Finnell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Ray Peterson), Bruce Dern (Lt. Mark Rumsfield), Carrie Fisher (Carol Peterson), Rick Ducommun (Art Weingartner), Corey Feldman (Ricky Butler), Wendy Schaal (Bonnie Rumsfield), Henry Gibson (Dr. Werner Klopek), Brother Theodore (Uncle Reuben Klopek), Courtney Gains (Hans Klopek) and Gale Gordon (Walter Seznick).


Small Fry (2011, Angus MacLane)

I find Small Fry to be a little confusing. Not just in the narrative, though the plot also has an incredibly big hole, but the approach in general. It’s a Toy Story short, only MacLane gives it enough plot it could be a feature, not just a short.

A “Happy Meal” version of Buzz Lightyear tries to impersonate the real one, only to be found out by Woody. Meanwhile, the real Buzz has to get out of a fast food joint. He meets some other discarded Happy Meal toys and cuteness ensues.

The big surprise is Tim Allen and Tom Hanks being back. While the animation is still wonderful, this short screams Disney cash in. It seems like the exact thing Pixar didn’t want, back when Disney threatened to make Story sequels alone.

Small Fry manages to be cute and competent, but pointless.

Though Jane Lynch’s scene is really funny.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Angus MacLane; written by Josh Cooley; animated by Eric Luhta; music by John Powell; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Tom Hanks (Woody), Joan Cusack (Jessie), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Teddy Newton (Mini Buzz) and Jane Lynch (Queen Neptuna).


Dragnet (1987, Tom Mankiewicz)

Dragnet was a hit. I’m always shocked when good comedies are hits. Good comedies haven’t been hits since I’ve been able to legally buy cigarettes.

There are a couple things, right off, I don’t want to forget about. First is Tom Hanks. He’s such a good comedic actor, what he’s done since–the serious man bit–is nothing compared to what he does here in Dragnet. Tom Hanks, to reference another 1987 comedy, is at his best when wearing women’s lingerie.

The other thing is the script (which had three screenwriters, so it’s hard to compliment the right person)–but the script is brilliant. Dragnet‘s structure is impressed and the pacing is fantastic, but the film has these two characters–Dan Aykroyd and Alexandra Paul–who the audience is supposed to laugh at in almost every scene… but the audience also needs to root for them (and their romance–I mean, Ira Newborn’s got a great piece of music as a love theme–but rooting for the rubes’ romance should be a tall order but isn’t here).

Paul has a harder acting job, since Aykroyd is, after all, the hero.

The film’s nearly perfectly cast… Christopher Plummer is great, Dabney Coleman too. Only Jack O’Halloran is problematic. He looks perfect in the part, but once he starts “acting,” it fizzles.

Mankiewicz is a fine director. He’s got a good sense of composition mixed with a nice, straightforward style. The editing is quite good as well.

It’s just an excellent comedy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Mankiewicz; screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel and Mankiewicz, based on the radio and television series created by Jack Webb; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Richard Halsey and William D. Gordean; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by David Permut and Robert K. Weiss; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dan Aykroyd (Sgt. Joe Friday), Tom Hanks (Pep Streebeck), Christopher Plummer (Reverend Jonathan Whirley), Harry Morgan (Captain Bill Gannon), Alexandra Paul (Connie Swail), Jack O’Halloran (Emil Muzz), Elizabeth Ashley (Jane Kirkpatrick), Dabney Coleman (Jerry Caesar), Kathleen Freeman (Enid Borden), Bruce Gray (Mayor Parvin) and Lenka Peterson (Granny Mundy).


The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard)

Hans Zimmer did the score for The Da Vinci Code? I hope he apologized to James Horner for all the plagiarisms (particularly from Horner’s two Star Trek scores and then Aliens).

I don’t know where to start with The Da Vinci Code, except maybe to say it’s the finest film of its kind. It’s actually amazing–even to me, someone who tried to watch Bloodsport–but The Da Vinci Code is the most soulless film I’ve ever seen. It’s not even in a bad way. It’s just perfectly clear absolutely no one involved with the film, from Ron Howard cashing his paycheck to Tom Hanks cashing his, cares at all about the motion picture they are making. The cinematographer–Salvatore Totino (whose work I am unfamiliar with)–doesn’t even care if the lighting in an interior (shot on set) scene matches. At the start, I at least thought–as Howard needlessly spun the camera around–the photography would be professional. It is not.

My degree in fiction writing is only at the master’s level; studying the fine work of Dan Brown is, I believe, a select post-doctoral program–possibly involving lots of French actors speaking English (Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou) and British actors doing poor Spanish accents (Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina). In other words, I have no idea if the most interesting aspects of The Da Vinci Code are from the source novel or from Akiva Goldsman’s magic quill. For example, Hanks’s apparent superpowers. He can do some weird thing where letters flash white and rearrange themselves. He can also conjure up holographic representations of the past or faraway objects. Tautou has a similar power, but she can interact with these conjured apparitions. Her powers are different, because she’s the descendent of Jesus. The movie never makes clear where Hanks gets his powers from, but it might have something to do with his hair looking really stupid.

If I were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas–and could pay someone to read the novel to make sure the elements aren’t in there first–I would sue Howard and company. The Da Vinci Code not only borrows full scenes from the third Indiana Jones and lines from the first, Howard and Goldsman go so far as to steal the Force. They steal the Force and give it to Tom Hanks and his bad hair. There’s something wrong about that one.

The film’s notoriety–and the Vatican’s denunciation of it–is misplaced. It’s such an absurdly terrible film, I can’t believe the Vatican didn’t get behind it all the way. Besides it being sacrilegious and all, it’s so stupidly handled, it’s not going to convince anyone of its credulousness.

The film is not, however, intentionally incompetent. It’s just such a giant paycheck for everyone involved (except maybe Goldsman, who did better writing work on his first great epic, Batman & Robin). Ian McKellen, so terrible in all the films he can’t stop lauding, is actually kind of funny here. Almost every delivery is mocking the film and the dialogue–one could really study the dialogue Goldman writes for Hanks… it’s particularly stylized and recognizable and atrocious; McKellen even goes so far as to mock Hanks, whose performance might be the film’s worst (except for Bettany, Tautou, Reno and Molina). Jürgen Prochnow, who has done the made-for-cable tripe Da Vinci belongs with, brings some humor to his performance as well.

I’m not exactly sure how Howard and Hanks, who made Apollo 13 for you know who’s sake, rationalized making this project. They didn’t demand it be good or even attempt to be good. The film moves well-enough, the frequent stupidity and the short scenes keeping up a decent pace, and surely some good screenwriter could have come in and tried to make something enthusiastic out of the material. With all the special effects and the terrible music (Zimmer sets a car chase to some classical movement in an astoundingly incompetent sequence), with Hanks summoning a miniature solar system, it’s bewildering. There’s a lengthy scene with Tautou and Hanks trying to find some hidden secret–the clues are all written in sweat, only visible under black light, all encrypted so only Hanks can decode them. Just to stretch this asinine scene out, there are three different messages. If only Hanks can read them, why not just one? Howard doesn’t even try to disguise the pointless material.

The whole film–given the competency of everyone involved (except Goldsman, who’s always awful)–is something of a mystery. It’s a fine example of the sad state of Hollywood filmmaking. But at least it’s really, really funny. I’ve never had a movie so vehemently refuse to engage my brain–I’m even considering writing a monograph about it, examining the film scene-by-scene.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Brian Grazer and John Calley; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Jürgen Prochnow (Vernet), Paul Bettany (Silas), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Jean-Yves Berteloot (Remy Jean) and Etienne Chicot (Collet).


The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990, Brian De Palma)

It’s amazing anyone could screw up The Bonfire of the Vanities–and I’m only making that statement based on the movie and the material in it (never having read the book)–but if anyone was going to do it, adapter Michael Cristofer is the one to do it. When the movie started–it has a beautiful opening title sequence, followed by a wonderful De Palma steady-cam shot (the following seventeen million steady-cam shots are not, unfortunately, wonderful)–I thought David Mamet wrote the screenplay and the worst I was really in for was a bad Melanie Griffith performance.

Was I wrong.

Blaming Cristofer for all the film’s problems–even the majority of them–is a mistake. The producer–oh, it’s De Palma, how convenient–or the executive producer who didn’t realize making Bruce Willis’s reporter the main character would create a fantastic black comedy are the ones who made the biggest mistake. Whoever saw Tom Hanks’s performance the first day of shooting and didn’t realize he had to go (Hanks essentially plays the same character he did in Volunteers, only without the humor… it’s painful), that person made the second biggest mistake. The film’s potential as a black comedy, the media circus version of Wag the Dog (there’s a second Mamet reference), set in New York City, with Willis’s detached, smug performance (perfect for the role), and a Dave Grusin score. It’s a shame De Palma got a hold of this picture. It’s from Warner, so I’m going to guess Cristofer was set for the project regardless of director (Cristofer just coming off Witches of Eastwick), which is a still serious defect but a good director for the project would have known to eighty-six him.

De Palma tries real hard to make Vanities visually interesting; he’s got Vilmos Zsigmond wasting time with those endless steady-cam shots I mentioned earlier and I guess they’re supposed to substitute for creativity. De Palma simply cannot direct much of the script, the human scenes between people, the comedic scenes. He just can’t do it. When he does, it looks like a UHF commercial for carpet-cleaning. The movie’s also atrociously edited.

Like I said, Willis is good and if he’d run the whole show, the movie would have been good. Hanks is bad, though he gets a little betterå towards the end. Griffith isn’t good, isn’t bad. She’s occasionally funny (but, of course, De Palma doesn’t know what to do with it). Kim Cattrall is awful (again, De Palma’s fault for not understanding comedy). Kevin Dunn is really good… Morgan Freeman is wasting time. Saul Rubinek starts good, ends bad (again, has more to do with direction and lack of script–I was stunned to read Rubinek’s character was one of the novel’s central figures).

I think there’s some other stuff I really liked in the movie, but I can’t remember it right now. The Bonfire of the Vanities has got to be De Palma’s biggest failure, artistically speaking, since he didn’t approach it with anything but contrived, bestseller-to-blockbuster mentality… it’s unfortunate.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Michael Cristofer, based on the novel by Tom Wolfe; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by David Ray and Bill Pankow; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Richard Sylbert; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tom Hanks (Sherman McCoy), Bruce Willis (Peter Fallow), Melanie Griffith (Maria Ruskin), Kim Cattrall (Judy McCoy), Saul Rubinek (Jed Kramer), Morgan Freeman (Judge Leonard White), John Hancock (Reverend Bacon), Kevin Dunn (Tom Killian), Clifton James (Albert Fox), Louis Giambalvo (Ray Andruitti), Barton Heyman (Detective Martin), Norman Parker (Detective Goldberg) and Donald Moffat (Mr. McCoy).


Volunteers (1985, Nicholas Meyer)

The oddest part of Volunteers is the opening credits. I queued it because I’ve been reading Ken Levine’s blog (he’s one of the screenwriters) and he did a whole write-up on it a while ago. I suppose I knew, but had forgotten, Nicholas Meyer directed the film. Volunteers is his follow-up to Star Trek II, which would have been considered a success for him. He even brought James Horner along from Star Trek to score Volunteers. James Horner should not score comedies (though he does use some of his other material, I think from Star Trek and Aliens, in the film).

Since Meyer brings nothing to the film, all the responsibility falls on Tom Hanks, who does the whole film with an exaggerated New England accent. He manages to keep the accent for the whole film too. The film takes place in 1962, just after Kennedy started the Peace Corps–I missed that detail somehow, I just thought they were showing the old film clips over the titles to be historical–and I’m wondering if my misunderstanding affected the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes are mildly amusing. Tom Hanks is acting like a prick, which he’s very good at doing, but nothing really made me laugh. Then, once he gets to Thailand–maybe just on the Peace Corps plane–Volunteers starts getting funny. It might have more to do with John Candy. Candy is good in Volunteers, better than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. Still, he’s not the best supporting cast member–Gedde Watanabe is great.

Since I saw the film for Levine, I suppose I do have to say something about the writing. It’s good and funny. There are quite a few laugh out-loud moments in Volunteers–most of Watanabe’s lines for a forty minute period are real funny–and the film’s never predictable in the story progressions, with the regular exception of the romance between Hanks and Rita Wilson. The film’s become a footnote in Hanks’ biography for that reason. She’s not good, but it hardly matters, the film isn’t interested in her character. The funny stuff is going on elsewhere.

Even with the traditional romance story-arc, Volunteers ends on an unexpected note, managing to stay truer to itself than expected. The film’s humor isn’t irreverent–Levine and co-writer David Isaacs are sitcom writers who write for good shows–but it is a referential humor. One would need to know, for example, about the CIA’s activities in East Asia, which might not have been too much to ask in 1985, but certainly is too much today. Hanks’ performance is also so unlike his regular performances (he only had a few years before he found his shtik) doesn’t help its accessibility either. Still, there’s no excuse for its bad reputation. It actually needed to be longer–Levine and Isaacs set up a few jokes they never finished and could have….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, from a story by Keith Critchlow; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Ronald Roose and Steven Polivka; produced by Richard Shepherd and Walter F. Parkes; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Lawrence Whatley Bourne III), John Candy (Tom Tuttle), Rita Wilson (Beth Wexler), Tim Thomerson (John Reynolds), Gedde Watanabe (At Toon), George Plimpton (Lawrence Bourne Jr.), Ernest Harada (Chung Mee), Allan Arbus (Albert Bardenaro) and Xander Berkeley (Kent Sutcliffe).


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