Tag Archives: Tom Hanks



Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up with memory loss in a Florence hospital and immediately has to start running from an assassin together with a doctor (Felicity Jones). The third movie about Langdon paid off financially, so there’s no reason for Ron Howard to change the formula. Once again, Langdon has a puzzle to solve in the culturally most intriguing places of Europe and the director makes it an attractive ride. Shorter than its predecessors, the story still feels heavy-handed and convoluted. But Dan Brown has that one thing in common with Howard – lacking the incentive to change.

2016-U.S. 121 min. Color. Directed by Ron Howard. Novel: Dan Brown. Cast: Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Felicity Jones (Sienna Brooks), Omar Sy (Christoph Bouchard), Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan.



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Bill Paxton 1955-2017

It was quite a shock today for Hollywood and the rest of us to wake up and know that Bill Paxton has died due to complications following surgery. Judging from all the love for Paxton on Twitter, he was really popular in Hollywood. In the clip above from last summer’s Comic Con, he and Sigourney Weaver talk about the impact that one of their movies, Aliens (1986), had.

Born in Texas, Paxton’s first notable “appearance” may be in a now classic photograph from November 22nd, 1963 where the eight-year-old Bill can be seen in the crowds awaiting President John F. Kennedy shortly before the assassination. The photo is now on display in a museum in Dallas. Paxton’s film debut was Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975), but his career got a real boost first when he was hired by James Cameron to play a punk who gets taught a lesson by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).

Cameron kept coming back to Paxton, casting him as a whiny Marine in Aliens, a sleazy womanizer in True Lies (1994) and a deep-sea explorer in Titanic (1997). In between, Paxton had good roles in the vampire movie Near Dark (1987), noir thriller One False Move (1992), Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), the hugely entertaining Twister (1996) and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998), which was one of his best performances.

In later years, Paxton turned to TV and it’s possible that we’ll remember him chiefly as the Mormon businessman with three wives on Big Love (2006-2011), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A great role for him. Paxton fared less well with the current Training Day, which wasn’t liked by critics or audiences and is likely to be canceled now.

He played guys who were bad or pathetic, but we still remember Bill Paxton simply as a good guy. It was touching and heart-warming to read tributes today from virtually every star who had worked with him, from Tom Hanks and Cameron, to Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m sure his name will come up tonight at the Academy Awards. May he rest in peace.

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The Greatest Hits of 2017

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2017 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.


* The Comedian – Robert De Niro gets a chance to redeem himself after appearing in far too many bad comedies. Directed by Taylor Hackford; Danny DeVito has a supporting part.

* Split – … and this is M. Night Shyamalan’s chance to redeem himself after far too many convoluted, bad horror movies. This one has James McAvoy as a kidnapper with 24 personalities.

* The Founder – Early reviews of this drama following the early days of McDonald’s say the movie may not be a masterpiece, but Michael Keaton is aces in the lead.


* The Lego Batman Movie – Will this spin-off to The Lego Movie (2014) be as surprisingly enjoyable as the original? 

* Fifty Shades Darker – Will this sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) challenge its audience more than the original did? The trailer doesn’t look too promising. 

* John Wick: Chapter 2 – Keanu Reeves returns for more action. February really is a month for B-movie sequels.

* A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski delivers a horror thriller, his first since The Ring (2002), and it is set in the Swiss Alps. 

* Tulip Fever – Alicia Vikander stars in this drama set during the tulip craze in The Netherlands in the 1600s. Also has Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis and Cara Delevingne in the cast. Directed by Justin Chadwick, who made The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) look so good.


* Logan – The world seemed a bit tired of all the X-Men movies, but then came the trailer above for James Mangold’s next Wolverine movie, and now we’re all excited again. 

* T2 Trainspotting – Danny Boyle’s long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting (1996) reunites the old cast. Opens January 27 in Britain. 

* Kong: Skull Island – The big ape is discovered during a military mission to Skull Island. The first two trailers look great. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston. 

* Beauty and the Beast – The live-action version of the 1991 animated classic. Guaranteed to be a box-office hit judging from the online interest in the trailers. Stars Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor and Dan Stevens.

* King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Guy Ritchie’s version of the oft-filmed legend. The trailer makes it look brutal. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur.

* Ghost in the Shell – This manga adaptation has Scarlett Johansson in the lead as “The Major”. 


* Going in Style – The trailer promises no fireworks, but I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to watch Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Ann-Margret at work. 

* The Fate of the Furious – The eighth film in the franchise adds Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron to the cast. The trailer is quite explosive. 

* The Lost City of Z – Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam star in James Gray’s film about a real-life explorer who disappeared while searching for a city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

* The Circle – A thriller about a big tech company, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.


* Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This sequel comes with a fun trailer that promises more of the laughs and thrills that made the original a hit.

* Snatched – Goldie Hawn returns to the big screen after a 14-year absence, playing Amy Schumer’s mother in a raunchy comedy. 

* Alien: Covenant – Ridley Scott returns with this sequel to Prometheus, a film that (judging from the trailer) seems firmly grounded in the Alien universe.

* Annabelle 2 – A sequel that hopefully will improve on the lackluster first filmLights Out director David F. Sandberg has his work cut out for him. 

* Baywatch – The film adaptation of the cheesy 1990s TV show aims for babes, laughs and a few thrills. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are in the leads.

* Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – The fifth chapter in this franchise. Javier Bardem joins the usual gang. 


* Wonder Woman – The DC films have largely been disappointments so far after Man of Steel (2013)… but this one could change that. The trailers have us all excited. 

* The Mummy – Universal aims to create a monster universe the way Marvel and DC have created cinematic universes out of their superheroes. This one looks exciting, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in the leads… but I was hoping for scary.

* Cars 3 – Pixar’s least interesting franchise is beloved by children; this chapter promises to be a little darker in tone. 

* Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Colin Firth returns as a dapper agent in this sequel, and he’s joined by several other big stars. Will bigger equal better?

* Transformers: The Last Knight – The fifth movie in this franchise, and Michael Bay shows no sign of wanting to change it for the better. Audiences will show up anyway.

* The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola directs this Western, which is set during the Civil War and has Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the cast.


* Spider-Man: Homecoming – Tom Holland introduced his Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and here comes a stand-alone movie that looks like a lot of fun. 

* War of the Planet of the Apes – The third film in this series pits Caesar against an aggressive colonel played by Woody Harrelson. The trailer is no disappointment. 

* Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan delivers a historic epic depicting the famed WWII evacuation of Allied soldiers. As expected, it looks amazing. One of the summer’s few major blockbusters to be grounded in real-life events.

* The Dark Tower – An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that combines Western with sci-fi. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.


* The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, about a bodyguard who has to deliver a client to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator. 

* Villa Capri – Another action-comedy starring an unlikely duo, this time Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in a story that looks very much like Midnight Run (1988).


* It – Stephen King’s novel was turned into a miniseries in 1990, but here comes the film adaptation. Bill Skarsgård plays the terrifying clown Pennywise.

* American Made – Doug Liman joins forces with Tom Cruise for a thriller about a pilot who becomes a drug smuggler. Based on a real-life story.

* Flatliners – A remake of the 1990 movie, which starred Kiefer Sutherland. He’ll make an appearance here as well. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).


* Blade Runner 2049 – The highly anticipated sequel has Denis Villeneuve directing. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard. 

* The Snowman – Tomas Alfredson is directing this adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestseller, with Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson in the leads. 

The month also has fresh sequels in the InsidiousFriday the 13th and Saw franchises. If there’s anyone out there who still has confidence in them. 


* Thor: Ragnarok – The third film in the series stars Thor and the Hulk, you know, the guys who were too busy to make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War… Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will also show up.

* Justice League – The DC universe’s answer to The Avengers, uniting its big heroes. Zack Snyder has a lot to live up to.

* Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Branagh’s all-star remake of the 1974 classic will feature himself as Poirot.

* The Darkest Hour – The story of Winston Churchill’s early days in World War II. Gary Oldman plays the Prime Minister, Joe Wright is directing. 


* Star Wars: Episode VIII – Rian Johnson is directing this film, which will likely devote some time to give Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) a dignified farewell. 

* Jumanji – A remake of the 1995 movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black. 

* Downsizing – Alexander Payne directs this drama-comedy, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig. 

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sullyAfter depicting a controversial ”hero” in American Sniper (2014), Clint Eastwood crafted another watchable portrait of a real-life man who struggled with his experiences of an intense life-and-death situation. In 2009, captain Sullenberger made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City, instantly becoming a media sensation; the film follows the subsequent investigation as Sully’s decisions are questioned. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart are very solid as the two men in the cockpit; watching them handle a potentially disastrous event is credible and exciting. The story is told in deliberately slow fashion, with good visual effects that serve the film well.

2016-U.S. 96 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Tim Moore, Allyn Stewart. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki. Book: ”Highest Duty” (Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow). Cast: Tom Hanks (Chesley ”Sully” Sullenberger), Aaron Eckhart (Jeff Skiles), Laura Linney (Lorraine Sullenberger), Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Ann Cusack… Katie Couric.

Trivia: The real-life Sullenberger, his crew and the passengers of flight 1549 appear at a reunion during the end credits.

Last word: “I talked to Jeff on the phone and he explained everything that was going on mentally and physically with him and how he dealt with it. I think the most interesting thing that people want to know is what were you thinking while this was happening, and they didn’t have time to think. They just had time to react and rely on their training.” (Eckhart, Yahoo)

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A Hologram for the King

hologramforthekingWashed-up salesman Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) goes to Saudi Arabia to secure a major IT contract with the King, but runs into both practical and personal obstacles. Dave Eggers’s novel is a comment on life and realities after the Great Recession, but this film adaptation pays little interest in those themes, settling for well-staged but brief flashbacks to Clay’s life in the U.S. Relying almost entirely on Hanks’s winsome performance, the film follows his misadventures in the desert, attempt to rebuild his career and potential romance with a Saudi doctor (Sarita Choudhury). Slight, but done with a light touch.

2016-U.S.-Germany. 98 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Tom Tykwer. Novel: Dave Eggers. Music: Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer. Cast: Tom Hanks (Alan Clay), Alexander Black (Yousef), Sarita Choudhury (Zahra), Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ben Whishaw, Tom Skerritt.

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Bridge of Spies


bridgeofspiesAfter defending a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance), resulting in a guilty verdict, attorney James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is contacted by the USSR in the form of a backchannel message, indicating that they might be interested in a prisoner exchange… Set at the time when the Berlin Wall was erected and the U.S. pilot Gary Francis Powers was shot down and captured in the Soviet Union, this exciting, fact-based drama takes us behind the Iron Curtain as Hanks tries to manipulate both Russians and East Germans in Berlin. History is cleverly made to fit a formula; credibly, engagingly staged and very well acted by Hanks and Rylance as the enigmatic spy. 

2015-U.S. 142 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Music: Thomas Newman. Production Design: Adam Stockhausen. Cast: Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan), Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda.

Trivia: Years earlier, Gregory Peck and Alec Guinness were considered for the leads.

Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Rylance). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actor (Rylance).

Last word: “We shot [the Berlin Wall scenes] on the border of Poland and Germany in a town called Breslau. There’s a Polish name for it, but when the Germans invaded Poland they changed the name to Breslau. […] There are still bullet holes in all the buildings from WWII there. They never repaired it. We went to the area to the closest to East Berlin that looked just like East Berlin. […] We actually built that wall. A wonderful production designer, Adam Stockhausen, who does all of Wes Anderson’s movies and he did ’12 Years a Slave’ – won his first Oscar for that – he did our movie and did an incredible, exceptional job really making a modern scenic look exactly the way it looked all those years ago.” (Spielberg, Collider)

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The Greatest Hits of 2016

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2016 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.


* 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay leaves his robots aside for a while, taking on a politically sensitive subject. Looks far from another Zero Dark Thirty (2012) though.

* Kung Fu Panda 3 – Another entry in this popular animated franchise.

* Jane Got a Gun – Natalie Portman stars in a Western, alongside Ewan McGregor, about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband.


* Hail, Caesar! – Another star-studded comedy from the Coen brothers, where we follow the adventures of a Hollywood “fixer” (Josh Brolin). Looks like great fun. 

* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – A film adaptation of the bestseller that promises blood, gore and Victorian romance. Stars Lily James. 

* Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as the dim-witted models that we first met in 2001. The sequel is on a large scale and has many cameos, including Justin Bieber.

* Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero in a movie whose first trailer was wildly praised at its release during Comic-Con. The character is tied to the X-Men movies. 

* The Witch – This low-budget horror movie, which follows a 17th century Puritan family as it encounters evil in the New England woods, premiered at Sundance last January and is finally bowing in theaters. 


* London Has Fallen – The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013) moves the action to London. Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are back as the President and his Secret Service agent.

* Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is back with a movie following a Hollywood screenwriter. Starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, the trailer looks very “malicky”. 

* The Divergent Series: Allegiant – The last book in the popular series has been divided into two movies; here’s the first part. 

* Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – The most talked about superhero movie of the year, a follow-up to Man of Steel (2013). Starring Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.


* The Boss – A new Melissa McCarthy comedy is usually worthy of some attention. This one has her as a ruthless former executive who’s sent to prison. Her husband Ben Falcone directs.

* The Jungle Book – Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Disney classic was originally supposed to have premiered in 2015. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.

* Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater’s new movie has been described as sort of a sequel to both Boyhood and Dazed and Confused.


* Captain America: Civil War – The third Captain America puts Cap (Chris Evans) in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). This year’s biggest Marvel event.

* Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the famous whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s take on how Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. Expect controversy.

* The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back with another action-comedy that looks overly familiar… but the trailer is funny, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem game.

* X-Men: Apocalypse – This one follows X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and has the younger versions of our most famed mutants battling the world’s first mutant.

* Alice Through the Looking Glass– I was no big fan of the original Alice in Wonderland (2010), but we’ll have to see what Muppets director James Bobin has up his sleeve. Several of the first film’s stars return.


* The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist – The first film was damned scary, so James Wan’s sequel had better be good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the ghost-hunting couple. 

* Warcraft – Duncan Jones is adapting the famous game and we’re all wondering if this is the one that will change the sad reputation of movies based on video games.

* Finding Dory – The follow-up to Finding Nemo (2003) has the same challenge as The Conjuring 2 – how can you top a beloved sequel? The trailer shows that Pixar likely has found the lovely tone of the first movie.

* Independence Day: Resurgence – 20 years have passed since the first Independence Day, and this sequel brings back some of the old stars as well as new ones. And, of course, the aliens are back.


* The BFG – Steven Spielberg directs this family-friendly story about a giant. Based on a Roald Dahl story, the script was written by the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote E.T..

* The Legend of Tarzan – Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan in this take on the classic story, directed by David Yates. The trailer suggests a rather traditional approach. 

* Ghostbusters – The remake of the 1984 comedy classic has women replacing the male ghostbusters of the original. Stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig; directed by their Bridesmaids helmer, Paul Feig.

* Star Trek Beyond – The third movie in this new franchise premiered a trailer a few weeks ago that sent fans into a rage. Will it honor the predecessors or turn into a new Fast and Furious?

The Bourne sequel – It still doesn’t have a title, this fourth movie in the franchise to star Matt Damon, the first since 2007. Paul Greengrass is back as director.


* Suicide Squad – David Ayer directs this dark DC Comics adventure that unites supervillains recruited by the government. Will Smith leads the cast; Jared Leto plays the Joker. 


* A Cure for Wellness – We don’t know much about this project, but it’s a supernatural horror movie directed by the very uneven Gore Verbinski. Dane DeHaan has the lead role. 

* Sully – Clint Eastwood directs this film about the pilot who heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays “Sully”.

* Deepwater Horizon – The story of the 2010 disaster that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is directed by Peter Berg and stars Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.


* The Accountant – Warrior director Gavin O’Connor is back with a thriller starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons.

* Gambit – After Deadpool comes this, another spin-off set in the X-Men universe. Doug Liman is directing, with Channing Tatum in the lead.

* Inferno – Ron Howard is once again directing this third entry in the franchise that began with The Da Vinci Code (2006); Tom Hanks also returns as Robert Langdon.

* Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s antihero, now directed by Edward Zwick. This time, Reacher is accused of an old homicide.


* Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surgeon who discovers a world of magic and different dimensions. Another Marvel adventure gets its big-screen treatment.

* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates’s second movie this year is a return to Harry Potter world for him; this is a prequel set in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne.

* The Great Wall – Hollywood’s love affair with the Chinese market continues with this film about a mystery surrounding the construction of China’s Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon.

* The Founder – The story of the man who turned a small hamburger joint into McDonald’s stars Michael Keaton.


* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A stand-alone film, a prequel to Star Wars (1977), depicting a team of rebels trying to get their hands on the plans for the Death Star. Directed by Gareth Edwards. 

* Passengers – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this space romance set in the future, directed by The Imitation Game‘s Morten Tyldum.

* Assassin’s Creed – The second adaptation this year to possibly save the reputation of movies based on video games. Stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. 

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A League of Their Own


leagueoftheirownWhen America enters World War II, Major League Baseball is forced to change; a newly formed women’s league attracts unorthodox players… and one very reluctant coach (Tom Hanks). Big (1988) director Penny Marshall reunited with the star of that film for another charming comedy, this time a reality-based depiction of how women battled 1940s prejudice in a very male field. Done with a light touch that works in spite of the running time; the sentimentality of the final moments hits home because of how attached to the characters we’ve become. A great feel for the period helps, and this is a dynamite cast, including Hanks who’s hilarious as the drunken coach.

1992-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Elliot Abbott, Robert Greenhut. Directed by Penny Marshall. Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel. Song: “This Used to Be My Playground” (performed by Madonna). Cast: Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan), Geena Davis (Dorothy “Dottie” Hinson), Madonna (Mae Mordabito), Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn… Garry Marshall, Rosie O’Donnell, Téa Leoni, Bill Pullman.

Trivia: Debra Winger was allegedly first cast as Dottie. Followed by a TV series in 1993.

Last word: “There was a big tryout where [the actresses) were judged on running, catching, hitting. Throwing is always the hardest for girls because they throw differently. But I would not read — and really good — actresses unless they could play ball, or were trainable.” (Penny Marshall, New York Daily News)

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Dead Wake: Lusitania and the Movies

If you’ve never read anything by Erik Larson, it is high time. I recently finished his latest, “Dead Wake”, and was as thrilled by it as the other books by him that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The first, “The Devil in the White City” (film rights sold to Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010) followed the serial killer H.H. Holmes during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The second, “In the Garden of the Beasts” (film adaptation has been planned with Tom Hanks in the lead) depicted the U.S. Ambassador’s family in Berlin as they witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

I’m not the only huge fan of Larson’s work. In the clip above, Conan O’Brien has the author as a guest on his online show Serious Jibber-Jabber, the place where O’Brien can talk to people without feeling the need to “entertain” (meaning he doesn’t have to introduce a masturbating bear).

I mentioned those plans of film adaptations not only because this is a blog about movies and TV, but also because Larson has a knack for turning real-life stories from the past into incredibly exciting (and potentially cinematic) drama. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Dead Wake” also was scooped up by some Hollywood producer, although the budget for a film likely would have to be very high. Published earlier this year, the book follows the famed luxury ocean liner Lusitania on its last voyage across the Atlantic in 1915. Larson familiarizes us with many of the passengers and crew, while also introducing us to the men aboard U-20, the German submarine that would eventually sink the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing over a thousand people and contributing to America’s decision two years later to enter World War I.

In O’Brien’s interview with Larson, and in the book itself, there’s talk of a newsreel depicting Lusitania’s departure. In “Dead Wake”, Larson describes it in detail, which makes watching it in the YouTube clip above all the more intriguing. The quality is pretty good. We see passengers arrive, there’s Lusitania’s captain in one shot, and then we see the ship depart. Oddly fascinating, obviously because of what happened to the ship one week later.

The fate of the Lusitania has not really been depicted in movies, in spite of its place in history. Being overshadowed by the Titanic only three years earlier probably had something to do with it. However, the clip above shows all of The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), which is, amazingly, a partly animated silent short about the disaster. It’s the earliest surviving animated documentary. If you’ve read the book, the film is particularly fascinating. Also note that it was made at the time when people still thought that the ship was sunk by not one but two torpedoes.

It remains to be seen if we’ll ever see another movie about the sinking of the Lusitania.

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Remembering Robert Loggia 1930-2015

Robert Loggia passed away four days ago at the age of 85. In the clip above, the actor is interviewed by film historian Alan K. Rode in 2011. It’s not clear from the start, but the movie they’re talking about is The Garment Jungle (1957), an early programmer that Loggia did, and he talks about how the original director Robert Aldrich was replaced after some turmoil involving Columbia head Harry Cohn. Loggia is looking very alert, which is why his death, reported as due to complications from Alzheimer’s, comes as a surprise.

The Garment Jungle is however not one of the films we remember the most when we talk about Robert Loggia. Ever the tough guy, his voice became raspier with time and he was always credible as a gangster. His fans like him primarily in Scarface (1983) where he plays the Miami mobster who’s eventually “removed” by up-and-comer Tony Montana (Al Pacino). Twenty years later he would delight  Sopranos viewers as a aging mobster reminiscing together with Uncle Junior about the good old times.

There’s no doubt though that the most delightful clip you’ll ever see of Loggia is him playing the piano with Tom Hanks in a scene from Big (1988) that has gone down in cinema history. So charming.

Loggia was born in New York City and served in the U.S. Army before embarking on a career as an actor on several TV shows. He usually landed supporting roles in movies and had a wider breakthrough in the 1980s, capped by an Oscar nomination for his work as a private investigator in the thriller Jagged Edge (1985).

Perhaps it was Patton Oswalt who best captured our sentiment upon hearing of the actor’s death. Here’s what he tweeted:

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Saving Private Ryan: Spielberg’s Hymn to the Fallen


savingprivateryanSteven Spielberg has directed several masterpieces over the years, but this one is the most controversial. The general sentiment expressed by snobs is that the first 20 minutes, depicting the invasion of Normandy, are outstanding, but the rest is typical Spielberg mush. It’s as if the fact that those 20 minutes are the bloodiest and most shocking of this director’s career automatically makes it more compelling. But there’s more to filmmaking than cleverly edited blood and gore. Saving Private Ryan has also become one of the ultimate “guy movies”, the kind of film where it’s OK to cry at the end. We wouldn’t do that if Spielberg had failed to engage our emotions after the conquest of Omaha Beach.

June 6th, 1944. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his 2nd Ranger Battalion are among the troops landing on Omaha Beach, facing intense resistance from machine guns. The German defense of the beach is crushed, but the losses are heavy. In Washington, the military leadership is informed that a woman just lost three of her four sons and that she will receive all three telegrams in one day. Mrs. Ryan’s remaining son, James, is a paratrooper who’s missing in action somewhere in Normandy. General George Marshall (Harve Presnell) orders Ryan to be found and sent home to take care of his family. The mission is handed to Captain Miller, who assembles a group of men from his company. None of them is particularly enthusiastic, because the mission looks like a propaganda deal without any real value…

A theme of random death
Those first 20 minutes are indeed noteworthy. Watching the invasion on a big screen, as bullets seem to whizz past you, is genuinely unsettling and the theme of random death runs throughout the film. There’s a brutal sense of humor, as in a scene where a bleeding soldier is killed by a stray bullet to the head just when medics managed to stabilize him on the beach. Since D-Day has always been hailed as a great victory, audiences at the time of the film’s release were shocked to see just how gruesome the invasion was. It takes some heavy breathing for us to calm down after that opening, but then the film gets to introduce its characters properly. As Captain Miller and his men move deeper into the French countryside looking for Private Ryan, that sense of fear and unease that we got from the opening stays with us (and the soldiers) and there are a number of other incredibly intense encounters with German troops that keep us on edge, especially near the end, which has a big battle in the ruins of a town. Spielberg and screenwriter Robert Rodat examine the meaning of leadership, courage and values in war, while also making sure that we commit to these characters, especially Captain Miller as portrayed by Hanks. It’s a combination of honesty, bravery, skill and complete lack of bullshit that makes Miller so compelling – and the ending such a tearjerker. The effort to make the film as realistic as possible is combined with old-fashioned American mythology of the scenes back home, but it’s Spielberg’s artistic vision and hard to resist. The film is beautifully and patriotically bookended by images of a big American flag waving in the wind; John Williams also wrote an amazingly powerful hymn for the score that fits this patriotism well.

The bleached colors of Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography remind us of newsreel footage from the war. Combined with Michael Kahn’s editing, the overall effect of these two artists’ achievement under Spielberg’s guidance is almost as devastating and gripping as that other WWII masterpiece they made five years earlier, Schindler’s List.

Saving Private Ryan 1998-U.S. 169 min. Color. Produced by Ian Bryce, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn, Steven Spielberg. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Robert Rodat. Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski. Music: John Williams. Editing: Michael Kahn. Cast: Tom Hanks (John Miller), Edward Burns (Richard Reiben), Tom Sizemore (Mike Horvath), Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg… Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, Paul Giamatti.

Trivia: Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were allegedly considered for the part of Miller.

Oscars: Best Director, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director. BAFTA: Best Special Effects, Sound.

Last word: “Robin Williams introduced [Damon to me]. I thought he had a great American everyboy look, and he was also a fine actor. Who knew he was gonna go off and become a movie star overnight and win the Academy Award for screenplay? And not be the anonymous actor I had in mind? But he looked the part. You know, the people in World War II actually looked different than people look today. A lot of the people I cast in this picture, I was looking at their faces, to match the faces I saw on the newsreels.” (Spielberg, RogerEbert.com)

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The Celluloid Closet

celluloidclosetThe two directors, who made the AIDS documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), reunited for another gay-themed film, one that was based on Vito Russo’s 1981 book on how homosexuals have been portrayed in Hollywood movies. Making this documentary was a long process, with Russo as an active participant right up to his death in 1990. Expanding on and updating his book in this format is obviously very rewarding, with many fascinating clips showing how gays have been robbed of dignity throughout the history of cinema, depicted as laughable, frightening or something that we should be ashamed of, or hidden. There have been many variations of this, but progress has also been made. Terrific, enlightening interviews with actors, filmmakers and writers who offer different perspectives.

1995-U.S. 102 min. Color. Produced and directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. Screenplay: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Sharon Wood. Music: Carter Burwell. Narrated by Lily Tomlin.

Trivia: Co-executive produced by Tomlin. Among those interviewed: Tom Hanks, Tony Curtis, Gore Vidal, Susan Sarandon, John Schlesinger, Whoopi Goldberg, Harvey Fierstein, Quentin Crisp, Jay Presson Allen, Shirley MacLaine, Farley Granger and Harry Hamlin.

Last word: “We were refused some footage from ‘The Agony and the Extasy’, because Charlton Heston insisted Michelangelo was not gay. Richard Burton’s estate denied us access to ‘Alexander the Great’. We were not allowed to use ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ because they thought we were out to ‘out’ Danny Kaye when our purpose was to deal with Andersen’s homosexuality. Some lawyer was worried about Cole Porter…” (Friedman on the resistance he and Epstein faced, Film Scouts)

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philadelphiaWhen Philadelphia attorney Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is suddenly fired from his law firm after the senior partners realize that he has AIDS, he enlists the support of a homophobic colleague (Denzel Washington). After the success of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Jonathan Demme found a story that in a way is just as terrifying. The naked fear of AIDS (and of homosexuality) is tangible in a film that focuses perhaps too much on the ensuing trial, but finds its heart in the awkward relationship between Hanks and Washington’s characters. Both are brilliant, and the director creates greater relevance by tying the story into a loving, melancholy portrait of the city as a whole.

1993-U.S. 119 min. Color. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner. Songs: “Streets of Philadelphia” (Bruce Springsteen), “Philadelphia” (Neil Young). Cast: Tom Hanks (Andrew Beckett), Denzel Washington (Joe Miller), Jason Robards (Charles Wheeler), Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas, Ron Vawter… Joanne Woodward, Roger Corman, Bradley Whitford.

Trivia: Bill Murray, Daniel Day-Lewis and Robin Williams were allegedly considered for the part of Beckett. Robert Castle, who plays Hanks’s father, is a priest and the subject of Demme’s documentary Cousin Bobby (1992); he would go on to appear in numerous films (especially Demme’s) after this one.

Oscars: Best Actor (Hanks), Original Song. Golden Globes: Best Actor (Hanks), Original Song. Berlin: Best Actor (Hanks).

Last word: “The film doesn’t shake a stick at people who are afraid of AIDS. I think it’s completely understandable for people to recoil at the idea of AIDS if they haven’t known someone, or if they don’t have a loved one who is already fighting AIDS. I was terrified of AIDS and people with AIDS until my friends and loved ones started getting it. Then I had to come to terms with my own fears and fight against my own personal ignorance, created by the lack of information out there.” (Demme, EmanuelLevy.com)

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