Film of the Week: That Thing You Do (1995)

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Tom Hanks directs Liv Tyler, Tom Everett Scott and Steve Zahn in this nostalgic look at a pop band’s one hit wonder. 

I remember watching this small but lovely film 20 years ago on VHS – enjoying it as a well crafted, if slight, pleasure and moving on. Two decades have been very kind to Tom Hanks directorial debut. It’s upbeat, gorgeous and authentic to look at but most importantly incredibly well cast. The always good value Zahn has never been better nor funnier, Everett Scott embodies a young Tom Hanks type perfectly, Hanks has a hoot in a smaller role (part Don Draper, part fairy godmother), look there’s a young Bryan Cranston, and Liv Tyler walks away with the film and our hearts. It helps that the central song is an absolute toe tapper but really this out and out charmer, like it’s pop subject matter, might seem throwaway on first glance yet hits pleasing notes that recent movies no longer seem to care about. I doubt it will be 20 years before I thoroughly indulge in this Oneder again.

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Aloha (2015)

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Cameron Crowe directs Bradley Copper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams in a romantic comedy set around a satellite launch in Hawaii.

Better than its reputation at the box office, in the press, within its own studio and the backlash about honky Emma Stone being cast as a character who is a quarter Hawaiian suggests. Crowe is a director who has gone off the boil since Almost Famous but his lesser films still have the charm of someone trying to emulate mid-career Billy Wilder… or even early career Crowe. If anything the film suffers most from a very messy opening sequence where, in a rush to introduce all the characters and plot stakes in one long 1930s style gush, we are left by the end of the first act with no real idea of the who, the what and the why is going on nor what could happen. The later scenes that are salvage job reshoots are very obvious too; any clip where Cooper’s hands go yellow from fake tan and his hair is a shade darker are obvious signs of a loss of faith in the intended product. Despite all this the film actually settles down into a relatively enjoyable and captivating adult romcom in the last hour, bolstered by an AAA Grade supporting cast and another stand out turn from Stone. On paper she may seem like controversial casting but in the actual experience she pulls off a performance of wide eyed optimism and eagerness to ingratiate herself into her vague Hawaiian roots (the controversial quarter seems an intended joke on the clearly white character) that makes the film. A messy fumble of a flick for sure but I have inkling that on a third or fourth viewing that clunky handicap of an opening wouldn’t matter quite so much and the strands about modern corporate colonialism, death, rebirth, fidelity and tradition might make this a far more inviting prospect for reappraisal. In a decade’s time we could all be kicking ourselves for ignoring what could turn out to be the Blade Runner of sunny romances in terms of richness and depth. And with an ensemble like it has there’s every chance this film will have a long shelf life beyond it’s current horrid status.

6

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Stanley Kubrick directs Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain and William Sylvester in a sci-fi epic from the dawn of man via space travel to a final stage in technological evolution.

Kubrick’s finest work for many still frustratingly rubs me the wrong way. Impenetrable when I first watched it as a teenager, this fifth attempt to appreciate it, having recently read Arthur C. Clarke’s tandem released novella as a type of York Notes, merely made me feel the book was far superior. The SFX innovation to achieve the vision impresses and the HAL chapter is hauntingly well realised (“I can feel it”) but everything around that sequence, the majority of the film, is dull and alienating. Being a massive Stanley fan away from this and Eyes Wide Shut I’ll trust that alienation is the intention and the fault is with me. It can only be attributable to human error.

4

Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

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Stanley Tong directs Jackie Chan, Anita Mui and Francoise Yip in this American set actioner.

Jackie’s charm, skill and stunts keep you happy in a frankly mental fish out of water Kung Fu movie. Away from the amazingly choreographed fights and chases, do not come for anything resembling plot logic or emotional reasoning. The jist seems to be Jackie is protecting his uncle’s supermarket from a colourful motorcycle gang after his uncle sells it to a woman who turns out isn’t Jackie’s romantic interest despite various meet cutes betwixt them. Suddenly there’s a bag of diamonds hidden in a disabled boy’s wheelchair cushion (plus a U rated stripshow involving a tiger) and Jackie has forgiven the gang for mercilessly pelting him with glass bottles to near death in an alleyway so he can now chase a hovercraft through the streets of Vancou… Sorry… The Bronx. Mad as a box of frogs, a reel of the outtakes of stunts being achieved or going wrong set to Ash’s Kung-Fu at the end is the highlight.

5

The Finest Hours (2016)

imageCraig Gillespie directs Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Holliday Grainger in this 1950s true tale of the coast guard rescuing the crew of a torn in half tanker.

The special effects are obvious but convincing, the derring do familiar and the pace respectful making this is a decent Sunday afternoon movie – comfortable and unchallenging. It has some plus points in casting Chris Pine effectively against type (he essentially plays Michael Shannon well) and just simply including Affleck, who brings his usual understated magic to a bland part. It is the kind of old fashioned movie that does nothing wrong yet struggles to justify its existence in the modern marketplace. Maybe the real heroes it was based on, the budget spent to realise it and the talent involved deserved a better film  but you could choose a far worse two hours at the movies at this time of year.

6

 

Triple 9 (2016)

imageJohn Hillcoat directs Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins Jnr and Kate Winslet in a frenetic cops and robbers thriller.

You’ll either leave Triple 9 feeling cheated by the simplicity of the characters, the familiarity of the plot threads weaved together and the murkiness of the storytelling… Or deeply involved by all the heft the stellar cast brings, the red raw and delirious level of detail embroidered into Hillcoat’s vision, and impact of the intense set pieces. It is an ensemble where few survive, the least known stands out, and that will be unsatisfying to many… but for me it was a much needed taste of big screen, adult crime storytelling. A taste I crave.

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