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‘Greyhound’ Review

Another day, another film that was meant for theaters going to streaming.

“Greyhound” is set during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, and follows an American escort ship captained by Tom Hanks (who also wrote the script) as it faces off with German U-boats. Rob Morgan and Stephen Graham also star as Aaron Schneider directs.

Originally slated for a May theatrical release, this film was sold to Apple TV for a whopping $70 million after coronavirus hit (if you think that is a lot of cash to pay just for distribution rights, this week Apple spent $105 million to acquire the Will Smith slavery film “Emancipation”). Apple is hoping this increases the worth of their digital library (their subscriber base is tracking behind what they initially hoped), and while “Greyhound” is not the next “Saving Private Ryan” I thought it was a very effective, tautly paced war picture.

Everyone loves Tom Hanks, and this was clearly somewhat of a passion project for him as it’s just the third feature script he’s ever written. Based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepard,” this isn’t necessarily based on a true story, however it does depict a World War II conflict that doesn’t always get the screen time that its Western Front and Pacific Theater counterparts do. Hanks plays Ernest Krause, the commander of a destroyer, who is on his in the middle of his first command. Hanks, like everyone else here, doesn’t have much character development (there is a single flashback scene with Elisabeth Shue to try and add any amount of depth, and it was surely the easiest paycheck of her career), but his Everyday Joe likability makes us root for him.

Somewhat like “Dunkirk,” I think that we don’t get much detail or backstory on these characters because it is meant to drop us into that world and have the “this could be me, my son, or anyone” mentality. The supporting players, including Rob Morgan, Stephen Graham, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, all do solid work filling out this 1942 world, even if you don’t really bother to remember their names.

But who cares about character development; this is a war film! We’re here to see things go boom! And luckily the ship battle sequences deliver. This thing was shot on about a $50 million budget, pretty modest for the genre, and besides some wonky greenscreen sequences early on the staging and the effects are pretty effective. There are points you feel the emotional impact and scale of the events taking place (Hanks remarks after sinking a U-boat that those weren’t simply Germans they killed, it was “75 souls”), and one intense sequence racing against the clock and a leaking oil tanker really had me getting anxious.

Aside from the thin characters, the only real issue I have here is the leader of the German submarines continuously radios into Hanks’ ship to scold the Americans, and he comes off like a cartoon character in an otherwise moderately somber film.

“Greyhound” is certainly worth checking out if you have Apple TV, and at just 91 minutes it is refreshing to have a war film (or any movie, for that matter) that wastes no time getting into things and chooses not draw out its runtime for the sake of self-indulgence. In what has been a weird year overall and solid-but-not-great year at the movies, I think this film ranks among the best we’ve gotten in the first half of things, and at this point, like the Americans in World War II, we’ll take a win anyplace we can get one.

Critics Rating: 8/10  

It’s Perplexing How Bad ‘The Circle’ Is

The_Circle_(2017_film)This may be the first ever movie where literally nothing happens.

“The Circle” stars Emma Watson as a young girl who joins a tech company that wants to put cameras everywhere in the world. I really wish I could give more of a plot summary than that, but as I said above: this movie isn’t really about anything. Tom Hanks and Patton Oswald star as the founders of the company and John Boyega is also in it for a minute. James Ponsoldt directs.

Once or twice a year, I randomly pick a movie that I am going to go in with no preconceived notions about; this means I don’t watch any trailers or read any reviews. I chose “The Circle” as one of these films and walked in not knowing much beyond “Emma Watson joins a tech company run by Tom Hanks.” Upon actually seeing “The Circle” I can’t tell you much more about it than it is Emma Watson joining a tech company run by Tom Hanks.

First things first, the script is awful. Based on a book by Dave Eggers, Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with director Ponsoldt. So you have the man who wrote the original work and the person in charge of translating it to the screen, yet somehow their screenplay lacks any vision or coherency. The basic rule of screenwriting is “show don’t tell,” meaning you should have actions explain motivations and feelings, not dialogue. The film abandons this basic principle and decides to have each “character” (I’m using that term liberally because no one is fleshed out) tell the audience what is happening and how they feel; every person a walking exposition machine and none act like real humans.

Emma Watson has never been accused of being a great actress but here she is extra stale and deprived of charismatic as our lead. She is unchanged from the opening shot of the film to the last scene, and it can be argued she actually isn’t even a protagonist worth rooting for. Tom Hanks is implied to be the film’s antagonist, but it is really just because he’s the CEO of a big social media conglomerate and that’s the stigma we hold upon people in those positions. He never does anything evil or make us hope Watson takes him down, and you can tell Hanks is trying his hardest to give his character *something* to do/be.

Ellar Coltrane, best known for starring over a decade in “Boyhood,” is Watson’s childhood friend (I think? It’s truly never fleshed out) and he is truly awful. His dialogue isn’t helping, but his delivery is atrocious and awkward, and had the audience in unintended laughter. The film also features Bill Paxton in his final career role (the only thing this film will ever be remembered for) and he is sympathetic as Watson’s sick father in his few scenes.

Even if we had interesting characters, they wouldn’t have anything to do. There isn’t anything resembling conflict or tension through the entire film, with only one scene in the entire film actually resulting in something resembling consequence, and even that feels unearned because of how ludicrous and unrealistic it is.

Even the editing is subpar. The film as a whole drags, with the runtime clocking in at less than two hours but you feel every second of it. Some of the way scenes are spliced together are also awkward, especially one where Watson and a friend are having a conversation in two different bathroom stalls but the camera is framed at the same angle for both women so every time is cuts back and forth it is jarring.

The one thing the film has going for it is its concept. Although the “Big Brother is always watching you” idea is about five years too late to be sci-fi and is now pretty much an accepted reality, the film does make a few good points about how willing people are to sacrifice privacy for convenience, and that maybe the tech companies don’t have our best interest at heart. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

“The Circle” is more boring than it is bad. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a good movie, but at least it seems the people involved were trying; this isn’t an Adam Sandler joint. Unfortunately, their efforts are nowhere near enough to make this watchable. Not as enjoyable as a Periscope feed and featuring less drama than your aunt getting in a political argument on Facebook, “The Circle” is a square.

Critics Rating: 2/10


‘Sully’ Gets Oscar Season Off to Solid Start

Sully_xxlg.jpegOh, Oscar season. How we’ve missed you so.


“Sully” stars Tom Hanks in the titular role of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 which was forced to perform an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in January 2009. Aaron Eckhart stars as Sully’s co-pilot and Laura Linney plays his wife as Clint Eastwood directs.


On paper, this has all the workings of a major Oscar player: a real-life story about an American hero, with Tom Hanks on the poster and Clint Eastwood behind the camera. So it may be a little disappointing that “Sully” is good-not-great, but it is still a confidently made adult drama that gets the fall movie season off to a steady start.


It may be somewhat lazy to do, but I find myself comparing this to Eastwood’s last directorial effort, 2014’s “American Sniper.” That was also a good film that had greatness escape its grasp due mostly a shifting narrative; however a strong central performance and powerful set pieces hold it together.


To say Tom Hanks is the reason this film works would be a waste of ink (well, characters on a keyboard). His Sully is a soft spoken, polite-to-a-fault man who hates that people think he is a hero for doing what he views as simply his job. There isn’t much to his character and if this was most any other actor than Hanks it would probably be a boring one; however as we know by this point in his career, Hanks is not most any other actor.


Eckhart turns in a quietly great performance as Sully’s co-pilot and confidant, never questioning Sully’s decision to land the plane in the Hudson but you can see the fear in his eyes. Linney simply has a few scenes talking and crying to Sully on the phone as the obligatory worried wife and she is fine, but unlike Hanks you could slip any actress into the role and it would be unchanged.


As I said earlier, the film’s biggest problem is its narrative. It is based off an event that lasted two and a half minutes but is stretched into a 96 minute movie (very short by Eastwood standards) and although the film is paced well, the way it is constructed is a tad disjointed. The film constantly jumps between the present day investigation against Sully and different perspectives of the crash, and it get a little messy at points. At other times it comes off as underwhelming, as some viewpoints of the crash simply aren’t as engaging as others.


There also isn’t a whole lot on the line, as we know historically that Sully made the right choice (despite what the film wants you to think people think). The trailers also try and paint a Denzel Washington “Flight” plot of Sully being questioned about possible alcoholism or troubles at home, but those are questions answered in one breath and never touched on again.


“Sully” has a strong performance from Tom Hanks and the main crash sequence is invigorating and looks and sounds as real as anything. It may not flow as evenly as one may like or hope based on the talent involved, but just like the white haired seasoned professional on which the film is based, Eastwood shows that even at 86 years old, he still is as capable as anyone in Hollywood to craft a solid drama.


Critics Rating: 7/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘Bridge of Spies’ Well-Crafted But Slow Cold War Thriller

Bridge_of_Spies_posterTom Hanks starring in a Steven Spielberg period piece. Yup, Oscar Season is upon us.

Based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” stars Hanks as a New York lawyer who must organize a swap of a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) and a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell) during the Cold War. Spielberg directs.

The bar is always going to be set high for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks when the two are doing their own thing, so when they team up (this is the fourth time in their careers), expectations are through the roof. So is “Bridge of Spies” the full-blown, hands-down best film of the year? No, unfortunately not, however it is still a very well-crafted espionage thriller that offers solid work from two of the most famous men in Hollywood history.

The best way I can describe “Bridge of Spies” is I admire and appreciate it more than I enjoyed it (much like “Sicario”). That’s not to say the film is not watchable, far from it; you’re more likely to find an honest politician than an unwatchable Tom Hanks film. But the pacing and the dialogue-driven narrative definitely weigh down admirable work from Hanks and Spielberg, as well as Rylance.

The acting in the film is everything you would expect from a Steven Spielberg movie, and saying Tom Hanks gives a great performance would be a waste of time because at this point we expect (and often receive) nothing less. Hanks’ James Donovan is a likable guy who is in way over his head in political maneuverings he doesn’t fully understand.

The real star of the show, however, is Mark Rylance’s captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. Rylance steals every scene he is in, yet somehow does it with a calm, cool demeanor. He is funny without being distracting, earns our sympathy without pandering. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year and if this film gets no other talk in the next few months, I hope Rylance gets recognized for his work here.

“Bridge of Spies” is a Steven Spielberg film is ever there was one. He continues to play by Hollywood’s rules, not trying anything special with the camera or daring with the narrative. There are those trademark Spielberg “one shot” scenes that don’t feel like they’re one single take because of his masterful placement and movement of the camera, which those are always a treat.

The biggest gripe I have is that the film really isn’t paced well, and all too often scenes just drag on. There are select parts here and there that are truly engaging, such as the scene where Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane is shot down, as well as the final spy swap, but those masterfully crafted sequences are sandwiched between scenes of two men exchanging law and politic talk and to the average American in 2015 that is hardly what we go to the movies for.

Rating a film like this really gets at me. Do I grade it based off entertainment factor and replay value, or how well it is crafted? Because the film is well directed and expertly acted, and the 1950’s set designs are spot-on. That being said, will I ever watch “Bridge of Spies” again? Probably not, it didn’t stick with me that much (outside Rylance, because once again, wow).

So if you love Hanks and/or Spielberg and want to see them at their Hanks and Spielberg-iest, enjoy period pieces, AND you are able to put up with a lot of talking, then “Bridge of Spies” is for you. I am giving it an overall recommendation, but before I leave you…did I mention Mark Rylance is amazing here?

Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Mr. Banks’ Full of Magic and Heart


             It may come as a surprise, especially when you look at all the blockbusters that Hollywood releases nowadays, but there once was a time where movies were entertaining due to the charm of its actors and the wit of the writing. “Saving Mr. Banks” not only is such a film, but it depicts the making of one as well.

Tom Hanks stars as Walt Disney, who is struggling to get the film rights for Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson. Disney then invites Travers to Los Angeles in an attempt to persuade her. John Lee Hancock directs.

When depicting a real life person in a film, there are so many things that an actor has to get just right, because there is an actual template that they must follow. Both Hanks and Thompson nail their portrayals of their respective historical figures, from Walt Disney’s Midwestern drawl and signature mustache to P.L. Travers’ gleeful nagging and British tone. Both actors become the people they are portraying and are joys to watch.

The real standout of the film, however, is Colin Farrell, who plays Travers’ alcoholic father. Farrell is nothing short of fantastic playing a man whose disease is slowly separating him from his family, but he still has love for his daughters. Farrell provides the film with the majority of its emotion, both laughter and sadness.

Now this may be produced by Disney and be about the making of a children’s movie, but “Mr. Banks” is not all cotton candy and rainbows. There are some seriously deep, almost depressing moments involving Travers and her father, which is both a strength and fault of the film.

While the more heavy tone is handled well and keeps the movie from being too over-the-top schmaltzy, it sometimes comes without warning and the tonal shift may take the viewer out of the film. Once again, it was done very well by Farrell and the director Hancock, just, you know, heads up.

Of course the movie is not 100% historically accurate and the portrayals of the characters are idealized, particularly that of Walt Disney. I mean, the movie is being produced by Disney, so I doubt they are going to show the side of Walt that was a ruthless businessman who was hesitant to give any creative say to a headstrong woman. But that “sanitation” is expected, and Hanks does a good job at showing us the side of Walt Disney that society wants to see.

“Saving Mr. Banks” features great performances across the board, including B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the musical Sherman brothers and Paul Giamatti as Travers’ limo driver. Director John Lee Hancock handles most of the dramatic scenes with finesse, and the Mary Poppins songs will keep you humming long after you’ve left the theater. Sure, it may be Oscar-bait, but it is a well-executed film and fun to watch Hanks and Thompson go back and forth. And in a world of sequels and big budget blockbusters, that is good enough for me.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Take the Gripping Ride with ‘Captain Phillips’


            Wow. That’s the only way I know how to begin this review of “Captain Phillips”. This movie left me speechless and shaking. And I will now attempt to do the film justice and explain why.

In his best performance since 2001’s “Castaway”, Tom Hanks portrays Captain Richard Phillips, the head of a U.S. cargo ship. Based on the true story from 2009, Phillips must survive when his ship is hijacked by Somali pirates off the African coast. Paul Greengrass directs.

Never before have I experienced a film with such relentless intensity. From the moment the pirates are spotted on the horizon to the film’s final seconds, my heart was racing and I did not have a clue what was going to happen next. If you don’t know the true story and how it ends, let me do you an immense favor and tell you to not do any research. It only will make the film that much better.

Hanks is the film’s anchor (boat pun) and is an obvious scene-stealer. When his ship is taken hostage, Phillips tries to keep a calm demeanor, however once he himself is taken prisoner by the pirates he realizes he is in a fight for his life. Hanks is simply on his A-game and when Tom Hanks is on his A-game there are few better.

Not to be outdone is newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays the leader of the pirates. While at first we think he is just a greedy criminal driven by money, we learn his motives and we almost sympathize with him and his crew. Abdi keeps a haunting calmness throughout the whole film which makes his role as the antagonist all the more impressive.

Paul Greengrass, known for “The Bourne Ultimatum”, is masterful here. While at first many of his shots are a bit too close to the actors’ faces, once the action picks up the direction becomes nothing short of wonderful. He creates such tension with his cuts and camera angles and when Hanks and the pirates are in a small lifeboat you, too, feel trapped and helpless.

In previous weeks I have ranted about how intense “Prisoners” and “Gravity” are. Those two films had several incredibly tense moments. I kid you not when I say every scene, every shot, of “Captain Phillips” is so intense it is almost too much. I was on the edge of my seat for near the whole movie and the ending to the film put a lump in my throat and sweat in my palms. It is honestly that good.

If you know me, you know I am sometimes an overly harsh critic. I somehow find flaws in every movie. Well aside from a slow start (literally ten minutes, so it’s nothing) “Captain Phillips” is flawless. Incredible direction, great performances by the two leads and an emotionally exhausting climax that will be remembered for years to come, “Captain Phillips” is by and far the best film of this year…and quite possibly the best film of this young decade.

Critics Rating: 10/10