[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

[Freedom Films] Rocky (1976)

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Director: John G. Avildsen

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

119 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sylvester Stallone)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Talia Shire)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burgess Meredith)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burt Young)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Gonna Fly Now”

iMDB Top 250: #213 (as of 1/18/2016)

 

Today, on Independence Day, we look back on American Films about America. We will be taking some time to look at Rocky, the 1976 Best Picture winner, in this limited series of reviews during major American holidays. Rocky is the first sports film to win Best Picture. It also holds the distinction of being the Best Picture with the most sequels, six as of this year’s upcoming spin-off Creed. In 1975, Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables, Grudge Match) had less than $200 in his bank and not enough money to feed his dog. He believed in his screenplay and vision so much so that when the script was purchased, he gambled his career on the bet that he could perform. When casting Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers (Predator, The Comebacks) was hired when he made a crack about Stallone’s inability to act. Ironically, Weathers didn’t receive an acting nomination but Stallone did.

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Rocky Balboa (Stallone), also known as The Italian Stallion, is a southpaw boxer who hasn’t had luck in life. He boxes when he can, but in order to make ends meet, he has to hustle for a loan shark. He can’t seem to get closer to the woman he cares for, Adrian (Talia Shire, The Godfather: Part II, Palo Alto), and his closest friend is a drunk named Paulie (Burt Young, Once Upon a Time in America, Rob the Mob), who happens to be Adrian’s brother. But when Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world, needs a gimmick for his upcoming New Year’s Day fight, he calls upon the little guy, The Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa himself. Now, with the help of aging manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith, Grumpier Old Men, Santa Claus), Rocky is going to try and take on the biggest boxer in the business and seize his chance at being a somebody in this film from director John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid, 8 Seconds).

Rocky is a great sports film, one of the greatest ever. Director Avildsen gives his greatest work as a filmmaker here, ably controlling several variable factors to make a compelling character piece. I think what makes it such a strong and moving film is the likable underdog in Rocky, written and played well by Stallone, and the focus on creating interesting characters first and foremost and keeping the focus on them over the actual sports moments. It’s just like how the best war films are about great characters experiencing war. Stallone and Avildsen worked well together to fix issues as they came up, with Stallone writing scenes like the one where Rocky points out the mistake on his shorts the night before the fight or him calling out the oversized robe. These scenes were added due to production errors but because of the partnerships, you’d never notice. Well, I guess now you would.

We also get great work from Shire, Young, and especially Meredith, who gives a performance that only seems cliché because of how many films copied it later. I even really loved Weathers as Creed even if he didn’t get the nomination.

The terrific score from Bill Conti is the stuff of legend, a piece of musical brilliance imitated but rarely met. The Academy Award Nominee song “Gonna Fly Now”, also known as the Rocky Theme, stands with it as a franchise signature.

Rocky suffers from some uneven cinematography not counting the fight scenes, which are top notch.

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So is Rocky the best film in the series? Yeah, I suppose so, but I do enjoy watching it in conjunction with the sequel, Rocky II. In fact, I love the Rocky series in general, with the notable exception of Paulie dating a robot in Rocky IV (still a great film, but I mean…c’mon…). Rocky is, from a technical sense, a great film with an ending that challenges the conventions of most other similar films. See this one, and love it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Happy 30th Birthday!] [Top 250 Friday] #51: Back to the Future (1985)

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Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover

Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

116 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “The Power of Love”

iMDB Top 250: #44 (as of 03/04/2016)

 

Director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Flight) is one of my all-time favorite directors. Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite films. I could watch it as well as both sequels over and over again until the end of time, but when I was really young, it was just the third film that I was addicted to. I must’ve watched our old VHS tape a thousand times. I ruined that tape. It wasn’t until my teen years that I understood and fell in love with the original film.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, TV’s Family Ties, Annie) is a slacker, a young man addicted to a dream of musical stardom. Those around him attribute his failings on his strange friendship with Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), an equally floundering individual who has potential but hasn’t invented anything of significance. But when Doc invited Marty to see his ultimate new experiment, a time machine in the body of a DeLorean, Marty ends up on an adventure through time as he tries to avoid creating a paradox while also trying to get back to the future!

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Zemeckis turned an incredible screenplay with Bob Gale into an incredibly crafted film about more than just time travel. The true path of the film centers on Marty’s inability to connect to his parents, Lorraine (Lea Thompson, TV’s Caroline in the City, Left Behind) and George (Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland, Open Season 3), until he meets them as teenagers in 1955. His completed film is perfect in every way, but it took some time to actually get there.

Michael J. Fox so well embodies a 1980s teenage like Marty McFly that it’s almost impossible to see the character played by anyone. His performance is perfect casting, but his hiring didn’t happen smoothly. Fox had to pass on the role due to his heightened role on Family Ties, so Zemeckis hired actor Eric Stoltz. Stoltz was a method actor and did his best with the role, but he just wasn’t working out actor several weeks of trying. By that time, Fox’s commitment to Family Ties had been able to free him up, so he replaced Stoltz and the rest is history. Apparently, other future big names like Johnny Depp also tested for the role, but he wasn’t very memorable.

There were other problems with the cast. Crispin Glover hadn’t been as infamous a performer as he was later known for. The actor, who famously went…how do I put it…batshit as his career derailed into minutiae, got so nervous while performing some lines that he had to mouth the lines and fix them in post-production. His performance as George McFly, a loser who doesn’t think himself worthy of his future wife’s love.

The rest of the cast worked perfectly. Christopher Lloyd gives the best performance of his career as Doc, Lea Thompson as Marty’s mother who unknowingly has the hots for him in 1955, and of course Thomas F. Wilson as the legendary bully Biff, who improvised many of his most famous lines like “make like a tree and get out of here.”

Perhaps the most well-known character in the film is the time machine itself. It is so wonderfully 80s that it helped define an entire generation of moviegoers. They used three DeLoreans in production (ironically more DeLoreans than were actually sold).

The set design in the film is very important. The production needed to find dual sets that displayed how things change between 1955 and 1985, yet also how things stay the same. In fact, they used actual set pieces from the 1959 original pilot for The Twilight Zone to emulate 1955 Hill Valley.

The score from Alan Silvestri is so grandiose and well-complementing with Huey Lewis and the News’ Oscar-nominated songs that it turns what could be construed as a relatively simple coming-of-age story into a cosmic cool tale of sci-fi that raises the stakes of the adventure. Huey Lewis himself cameos early in the film as the judge of Marty’s band. In fact, music plays such a big part in placing scenes within a particular time period as well as the characters. In fact, when Marty is performing “Johnny B. Goode” later in the film, he emulates the best current musicians like The Who (kicking over the speaker), AC/DC (playing on his back on the floor), Chuck Berry (hopping on one leg across the stage), and Jimi Hendrix/Eddie Van Halen (with the emphasized guitar solo).

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Back to the Future is a classic film that has ages so perfectly. The film is virtually flawless and each time I watch it, I discover something new (it took me so long to catch the Twin Pines Mall reference that Marty butterfly-effects after traveling to 1955). It helped launch one of the most recognizable and beloved franchises in film history and remains a film that other filmmakers only aspire to reach. I recommend it to teens today who haven’t seen it as a part of popular culture. Hell, I recommend it to everyone.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[Happy 30th Birthday!] Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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Director: Martin Brest

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton

Screenplay: Daniel Petrie, Jr.

105 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

 

Can you already hear the song? I know I can, because thirty years ago today, the world was introduced to Axel F, and alongside it, Beverly Hills Cop, a rollicking good time at the movies that doubles as a pretty taut thriller.

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Beverly Hills Cop boasts one of the best soundtracks in motion picture history as it tells the story of Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, Trading Places, A Thousand Words), a Detroit cop who just got forced into vacation after a close friend with a troubling past is killed right in his apartment. He decides to take his vacation in Beverly Hills and, along the way, try to solve the murder. Aiding him, whether they like it or not and whether or not they know it, are Beverly Hills’ Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, The Santa Clause, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts) and Sargent Taggart (John Ashton, Gone Baby Gone, Middle Men).

Beverly Hills Cop is an early work for major director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman, Gigli) and boasts some of his craziest attempts at weaving thrilling set pieces with laugh-out-loud, and crazily enough, it works. Murphy is at the top of his game here, absolutely everything he throws at the screen lands perfectly, and he is equally matched by the bumbling (but not over-bumbling) Reinhold and Ashton, a perfect buddy-cop duo if there ever was one.

The screenplay from Daniel Petrie, Jr. (Turner & Hooch, In the Army Now) is a smart and simple one, but never tries too hard to convolute itself. Director Brest is able to work from so many angles here, it is incredible how well it all works together. We believe that Axel Foley is the kind of guy that can weasel his way into the enemy’s office, or into a luxury suite hotel room, or for that matter, evading the arrest and termination of his employment multiple times.

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I have to say that the Beverly Hills Cop grew on me. The first viewing didn’t go as well as I thought it might, but it just sticks with you. The musical work by Harold Faltermeyer and the incredible supporting work from Paul Reiser, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, and Jonathan Banks do not go unnoticed. If you haven’t seen Beverly Hills Cop in its first thirty years, don’t wait another thirty. See it now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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