[Hanksgiving] Big (1988)

Director: Penny Marshall

Cast: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard

Screenplay: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg

104 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

 

Happy Hanksgiving to all, and a glorious Hanksgiving especially to you. What’s Hanksgiving you ask? Well, it’s the tradition of celebrating America’s favorite actor and performer on the last Thursday of November. That’s right, Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Toy Story 4) No one else was using the day, so why not right? This Hanksgiving, let’s talk Big. It’s weird, so let’s jump right in.

Josh is a young man in desperate need of a confidence boost. He likes a girl, and he’s working up the strength to go talk to her, but he finds that he’s just not big enough to make an impression. So when he comes across an old carnival fortune teller machine called Zoltar, he wishes he were big…and the wish comes true. Josh wakes up the next morning with a thirty-year old body, having magically grown bigger overnight. His mother doesn’t recognize or believe him, and the only person he can go to is buddy Billy, who helps set him up with a job working for the MacMillan Toy Company and living in low cost lodging in New York City until they can figure out how to make him normal again. Soon enough, Josh’s childlike knowledge of toys rockets him up the MacMillan Toy Company ladder, attracting the eyes of the beautiful but joyless Susan (Elizabeth Perkins, Sharp Objects, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call) and angering the competitive and cruel Paul (John Heard, The Guardian, Home Alone), but is Josh ever going to get things back to normal, and if he can’t, how long can he keep the charade up?

We’ll start with the big things here. Tom Hanks plays adult Josh, and damn, he is phenomenal as a child living in a grown man’s body. He just gets it so perfectly, and Big is a tremendous showcase for Hanks’s comedic stylings. We all know Hanks now for his serious roles but we forget that he started as a comic actor in things like Bosom Buddies and Bachelor Party. We forget that Tom Hanks can literally do anything. For this film, I’ve read that scenes were performed by David Moscow, who plays younger Josh, first, and them mimicked by Hanks. It’s a brilliant idea that adds layers to a performance and it’s pretty damn easy to pull off.

The supporting cast is fine, from Perkins to Heard, and I should give special recognition to Robert Loggia (Independence Day, Scarface) as Mr. MacMillan, the head of the toy company that employs Josh. The way he connects with Josh on a personal level and sees him like a son is something truly special. We always look at Robert Loggia as a cranky old serious actor but he’s got some nice comedic timing, and it’s on display here.

Now, let’s cover the most batshit element of this movie: the script. Written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, Big’s screenplay is very good but it’s the kind of screenplay that I’m flat-out surprised that it ever got made. I know there were several filmmakers attached to this film over time until Penny Marshall (Awakenings, A League of Their Own) came onboard, and there were several actors poised to play Josh, but the fact that this movie happened is a shock all its own. There’s some very controversial stuff happening in this movie, particularly with the conflict/connection between adult Josh and Susan. I like the risks that the film takes in pursuing the true character choices that would be made, but these are script choices that would never happen today. Who would’ve thought that a movie like Big could actually made some risqué choices?

Big is a fabulous movie that maybe runs a little long near the end of its third act, but it’s fascinatingly put together with a star-making performance from Tom Hanks as he continued to dominate the field as a performer. It’s a not-always-comfortable but very funny look at the absurd situation seen through the guise of relatable and likable characters. This is one that I was very happy to revisit, and I would recommend the same for you. Happy Hanksgiving, and Thanks T. Hanks.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 15 – Witchboard (1986)

or “Still a better Ouija movie than the actual Ouija movie”

Director: Kevin Tenney

Cast: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, Rose Marie

Screenplay: Kevin Tenney

96 mins. Rated R.

 

Making a movie about a Ouija board is really tough, everyone. Seriously, it’s must be truly difficult. How does one make a board game scary?

Jim Maror (Todd Allen, Django Unchained, My All-American) is trying his best to mend his relationship with childhood friend Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols, Merchants of Venus, TV’s Days of Our Lives). The biggest problem is that Jim’s girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party, TV’s Moms Anonymous) used to date Brandon. At a party one night, Brandon introduces them to a Ouija board and the spirit of a ten-year-old boy named David that Brandon has communicated with many times before. Brandon forgets the Ouija board with Linda, who begins using it pretty regularly. As the same time, danger keeps befalling Jim. Are the two series of events connected or merely coincidence?

Witchboard has a problem that regularly happens in bad movies. I didn’t like Jim or Brandon. I marginally liked Linda, though she was mostly underdeveloped. Naturally, our male leads get better over time as they loosen up a bit, but they play like children fighting over a toy.

Director Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Bigfoot) sets a nice tone for the film. It’s a nice mixture of lightheartedness and downright dread while never folding all the way to one side, but that’s about all it has to give.

All in all there’s problems abound in this movie, but I did enjoy the camp level of it, and I think that’s what you really have to have with a film like Witchboard. This isn’t planned as an Oscar film nor is it meant to please everyone. This is a prime example of a film you have to judge on its own merits. What is it trying to be and is it successful in that way? Witchboard is moderately successful as the cheap low-budget ghost story. There isn’t much for scares here, and the film isn’t as good as Tenney’s better effort Night of the Demons, but it is fun at times. Not very fun, but fun enough.

Witchboard is pretty much exactly what I expected. I was hoping for more effect fun for a film like this. We are dealing with a wacky ghost story trying to make a piece of cardboard scary, so I did want more. The film has fun, and the tone matches what I saw on screen. Witchboard is fine for genre fans, but I’m doubtful it will work for others.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons, click here.

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