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Tom Hanks

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Tom Hanks and his furry costar Schmagel in a scene from the film. Photo by Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove (2012) spent forty weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. First published in Swedish, the English version received almost unanimous raves. The author attributed his inspiration to a newspaper article about a man named Ove who had created a stir while purchasing tickets at an art museum. As a result, Backman created a series of blog posts: “I am a Man Called Ove.” Here, he vented about the world’s many minor aggravations. Eventually, this became the source of the book.

The novel’s Ove is a curmudgeon of the first order. A rule follower, he adheres with almost religious fervor to the letter of the law. He is also deeply mourning for his wife, who passed away six months before the story starts. Forced into retirement, he sees nothing to live for and is determined to end his life so that he may join her. However, a chance encounter with his new neighbors changes his entire course. Reluctantly, Ove becomes drawn into their day-to-day drama and becomes a hesitant but invaluable ally. This involvement shifts Ove’s view of life, and he finds new purpose, mending fences and making changes.

A Swedish film, adhering closely to the source material, was adapted and directed by Hannes Holm, and starred Rolf Lassgård as Ove. Released in 2016, the well-received film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and is now Sweden’s third-most-watched Swedish theatrical film of all time. 

In 2017, it was announced that Tom Hanks would star in an English-language remake. (He is also a co-producer, along with his wife, Rita Wilson, Fredrik Wikström Nicastro, and Gary Goetzman). The danger of the material is leaning into its sentimentality and eschewing the darker tones. 

Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Christopher Robin) and screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi) have marginally avoided too gooey a center. While maintaining the plot and most details, this incarnation is distinctly more emotional than the novel or the Swedish version. However, taken for itself, A Man Called Otto is a surprisingly fast-paced, heartfelt two hours and a worthwhile journey. If there are moments that might feel saccharine, the end is both rewarding and cathartic.

The story revolves around Otto, first seen buying five feet of rope sold by the yard. He argues that he does not want to pay the additional thirty-three cents. Even though planning on using the rope to end his life—and clearly, the change would not make a difference to his future—he obsesses on principle. The scene establishes the man and his views.

Each day, Otto makes his morning rounds of the community. Neighbors attempt to engage him, but he responds, “I have too many things to do.” (This mantra will eventually shift from the negative to the positive.) While Backman’s Ove is taciturn, Hanks’ Otto borders on chatterbox, with a running commentary muttered under his breath. Occasionally, his vocalizations conjure an irate Mr. Bean. 

A few changes bring the film into the present: A gay character is now transgender. Social media becomes a force for good. But, overall, the throughline remains the same. 

The major narrative shift is in the use of flashbacks of Otto’s life. The book and earlier film reveal Ove’s history as a series of bad breaks, hard work, and patience. Important is his particular hate for the bureaucratic “men in the white shirts” responsible for many of the worst events in his life. In Otto, the flashbacks are used almost exclusively for his courtship, marriage, and life with Sonya (Rachel Keller). This obscures much of the causality in the story that showed Sonya bringing him out of his misfortunes. (Tom Hanks’ son Truman plays the young Otto, but his work fails to link the two Ottos.) Ove is a man marinated in sourness. Conversely, one suspects Otto is a false Grinch, masking his too-large heart.

Of course, the film’s purpose is Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks is the great American Everyman, so his Otto becomes not a scarred survivor but a reflection of what anyone would become from this loss. Like Jimmy Stewart, Hanks is unique because he manages to be all of us but wholly himself. Different from Backman’s Ove, Hanks makes Otto his own. 

There is a wonderful eclectic nature to the neighborhood residents. In particular, Mariana Treviño brings humor and grounding to Marisol, the new neighbor. In addition, Treviño offers a warm but knowing presence, suspecting that there is more going on with Otto than he shows. 

The interactions between Treviño and Hanks are the highlights of the film. (Christiana Montoya and Alessandra Perez deserve special mention for playing her children with an energy that is neither precocious nor shrill.)

In the end, A Man Called Otto is a different, if gentler, take on a touching, tender, and uplifting tale. 

Rated PG-13, the film is now playing in local theaters.

Tom Hanks, right, stars in 'Pinocchio,' which uses both live action elements and animation. Pinocchio, left, is voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth. Photo courtesy of Disney +

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Disney continues to revisit its animated classics as source material for live-action films. These include 101 Dalmatians (along with a sequel and a prequel), Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent, with its shifted point-of-view), Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, and Mulan. Most have received mixed reactions, but this has not stemmed the flow. Added to this list is the newly released Pinocchio, now streaming on Disney+.

Cynthia Erivo is the Blue Fairy in ‘Pinocchio’

Pinocchio finds its origins in the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote of a Tuscan woodcarver named Geppetto who creates a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. The name “Pinocchio” is a combination of the Italian words pino (pine) and occhio (eye). The character’s iconography and adventures bridge three centuries: The puppet dreams of being, given spirit guides, and a nose that grows when he lies (occurring only once in the novel). 

Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) deservedly earns the accolade “masterpiece.” Pinocchio, the follow-up to the studio’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), is only equaled by its predecessor. Three years in the making, Pinocchio was a critical hit. Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, the unnamed staff writer described the film in glowing terms: “… the picture is a masterpiece which sets another milestone along the road of screen entertainment …. a new source of joy for which [the creators] deserve and will receive the gratitude of millions who will see it.”

A scene from Disney’s ‘Pinocchio.’

Pinocchio has been seen on both the big and small screens nearly two dozen times. Casts have included the Pinocchio’s of Sandy Duncan, Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman), Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Roberto Benigni. Geppettos include Burl Ives, Danny Kaye, Martin Landau, Carl Reiner, and Drew Carey. In addition, a host of famous actors appeared in supporting roles.

For the newest incarnation, director Robert Zemeckis has co-adapted the screenplay with Chris Weitz, but the entire film feels like a scene-for-scene remake of the original. Where it attempts to find something new, the substitution does nothing to enhance the storytelling. Instead, it is different for its own sake. 

A few new elements are introduced into the plot but add little to the overall effect, with even the best moments falling short. “Clever” touches receive acknowledgment—cuckoo-clocks with Disney images (Snow White, Roger Rabbit, Sleeping Beauty, etc.)—but seem slightly out-of-place. The mix of live actors and CGI results in the “real” people appearing as if traveling through a virtual reality app. 

Tom Hanks is Gepetto îs Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’

The story remains the same. Inventor Geppetto fashions Pinocchio and wishes upon a star. The puppet then finds himself duped into various dangerous scenarios: encountering the fox and the cat who sell him to Stromboli, the wicked puppeteer; the journey to Pleasure Island where the children are turned into donkeys and sold; being swallowed by a sea monster; etc. Pinocchio’s spiritual guides are, of course, Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy. 

Tom Hanks makes a heartfelt Geppetto, a widower in mourning for his wife and son. He infuses the character with a deep kindness interwoven with a fragile and broken soul. He puts a smile on the puppet so he will “always be happy.” The image of his setting out to find Pinocchio, packing his beloved cat, Figaro, and cradling his adored fish, Cleo, is touching. One could wish Hanks’ make-up to be a little less extreme, with bushy hair, mustache, and eyebrows worthy of their own zip code. 

Cynthia Erivo makes a beautiful, fully present Blue Fairy. The voice work is good, with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth’s sweet and never saccharine Pinocchio. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Jiminy Cricket a southern flavor but conveys his concern as the puppet’s conscience. Lorraine Bracco (a friendly seagull) and Keegan-Michael Key, as Honest John, the con-fox, are fine if a bit one note.

The story’s heart remains to be “real” is to be brave, honest, and unselfish. While spelled out clearly, the concept sometimes gets lost in the visual noise. The pacing is uneven and often slow. The comic violence (Stromboli locking Pinocchio in a case) feels jarringly vicious. Jokes referencing Chris Pine, agents, taxes, and educational curriculum do not land so much as thud. The original music is oddly utilized and snuck in, almost as spoken verse and Alan Silvestri’s new songs unfortunately fail to enhance the film. In the end, Pinocchio feels like light-beer-and-water: all the same but less.

Upcoming and in development are live-action versions of The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan (as Peter Pan and Wendy), Snow White, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Bambi, The Aristocats, and Lilo and Stitch along with sequels to The Lion King (Mufasa: The Lion King), Aladdin, The Jungle Book, and Cruella. With the track record of previous adaptations, one must wonder—other than money—what Disney hopes to gain. 

Rated PG, Pinocchio is now streaming on Disney +.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann has left his kinetic imprint on a range of cinematic works. Known for his bold visual style and thumping soundtracks, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), and The Great Gatsby (2013) are among his most prominent projects. With Elvis, he has turned his sights on one of the most iconic performers of the twentieth century. Working from a screenplay co-written with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner, Luhrmann presents an almost hagiographic portrait, smoothing out many of the rougher edges.

Elvis begins with Luhrmann’s usual frenetic assault. Slow-motion, quick cuts, aggressive music, and even a dissolve into a comic book set the tone for an original, if over-the-top, approach. However, within thirty minutes, the film settles into a traditional biography with only occasionally departing from a straight narrative. It becomes surprisingly pedestrian, given Luhrmann’s signature style. Predictable montages with cities superimposed on a map indicating travel seem a throwback to films of a previous century. Perhaps this is to put the action in its time, but it leans more towards creaky than homage.

The film tells the story from the perspective of Elvis’s agent, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He serves as narrator and villain, tracing the singer from his poverty-ridden childhood through Parker’s elevation of the singer and Elvis’s meteoric rise. Much is made of Elvis’s fascination with African-American music of Memphis’s Beale Street. The huckster Parker becomes guide and gatekeeper to the naive young man, with something Faustian about the story: Parker as a corpulent Mephistopheles making dreams come true.

The film covers little new ground. In two and a half hours of playing time, Elvis reveals bits and pieces but never creates a full portrait of any of its characters. Luhrmann pulls his punches, making Elvis an almost benevolent figure, eschewing many darker elements. The drugs and sex are touched upon but then relegated to the background. While Parker states that Elvis was “the taste of forbidden fruit,” these are seen only in sanitized glimpses.

The greatest star of many generations was the victim of bad choices and insidious management. There are harrowing moments—particularly when his father decides to get him on stage when he should be in a hospital. But these moments are too few and far between. Instead, the movie focuses on performances and the push-pull relationship between the manager and the managed. Nods are made to Elvis’s devastation over the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy and his desire to make bigger statements. But they are skimmed over. 

His career is played in fast-forward, his army service and movies receiving only perfunctory glances, segueing to television, and finally to Vegas. The Steve Allen debacle, with Elvis in tails singing to a hound dog, makes for a decisive moment, and the entire residency at the International Hotel receives more than a cursory treatment. 

Tom Hanks gets points for giving the least “Tom Hanks” performance of his career. His almost freakish Parker is an obese fat suit and distorting prosthetics, calling to mind Jiminy Glick or Danny DeVito as the Penguin. The shadowy “Colonel” was a fraud and a charlatan, not southern but Dutch. For some strange reason, Hanks opted for an untraceable European accent (and sounding nothing like any of the available clips of the real Parker). One expects lines like “He’s the greatest carnival attraction I’d ever seen; he was my destiny” to be followed by a maniacal laugh. He creeps around the film’s periphery, wandering in his purgatory casino.

In theory, the reason for biographical films is to explore historical figures, acknowledge their accomplishments, explore them in the context of their times, or gain insight into what made them unusual, exceptional, and memorable. However, more often, the films become a celebration of the actors’ work: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; Jennifer Hudson in Respect; Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line; Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, etc. Somewhere along the way, the portrayal subsumes the persona.

Austin Butler delivers as Elvis. He captures the King in every look, shift, and shrug. He embodies the roiling doubts and the desire for more. Whether struggling with career choices or trying to care for his dysfunctional parents, he infuses each moment with integrity and star power. His vocals are excellent, and he has found the required nuances. (Butler sings all the earlier songs and then is blended with actual Elvis recordings for the later years.)

By the film’s end, little has been revealed about the man or the myth. There are events and interactions and a bit of trivia but not much depth. Unlike Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, the gloriously messy look at Elton John, Elvis chooses not to reflect its subject in style or approach. There is nothing “Elvis” about Elvis. Instead, Baz Luhrmann offers a by-the-numbers biopic with a mesmerizing central performance. It is something, but perhaps not enough.

Rated PG-13, the film is now playing in local theaters.

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Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks star in the film adaptation of Paulette Jiles's 2016 novel. Photo by Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Set in 1870, Paulette Jiles’s 2016 novel News of the World is the story of a ten-year-old girl released after four years in captivity. Kiowa raiders had murdered her family, and she had been taken hostage, with the girl raised as one of the tribe. A freedman, entrusted with the girls’ return to her family, turns her over to his acquaintance, seventy-one-year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. Thus begins Kidd’s journey of reuniting the girl with her only remaining relatives. 

The screenplay, by the film’s director Paul Greengrass, in collaboration with Luke Davies, follows the basic premise. However, in the film, Kidd comes upon an overturned cart. The freedman charged in taking the girl back is hanging from a tree, a victim of a lynching in the still roiling post-Civil War Texas. Kidd attempts to shelter the girl with an army comrade until the Bureau of Indian Affairs representative can deal with the situation. After this fails, he takes it upon himself to see the girl home.

Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks star in the film adaptation of Paulette Jiles’s 2016 novel.
Photo by Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

In the novel, Kidd was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. One of the major changes from page to screen is that Kidd is now a guilt-ridden veteran of the Civil War, plagued by what he had seen and what he had done. This shift gives immediacy to the story as well as lowering Kidd’s age to in his 60s. In both book and film, Kidd travels from town to town giving live readings from newspapers, working for nickels and dimes.

The drive of the film is the unlikely pair finding common ground and understanding. The girl, whose given name is Johanna, was given the Kiowa name Cicada. She speaks no English and is almost feral. Having been orphaned twice, she is appropriately wild and untrusting. Throughout their time together, Kidd and Johanna strive to communicate, and a growing understanding arises. Ambivalence gradually gives way to a deep bond.

The narrative becomes a series of encounters, each one bringing them closer together. When three ex-Confederate soldiers offer to buy the girl, it sends the action into high gear. It is a chilling moment.  (It would have been stronger had it not been present in every single promo for the film.) This horrific offer culminates with an extended shootout that is well-staged if a bit too long. What is revealed in this deadly encounter are the girl’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. 

There are further confrontations, including a radical band of militia working to “cleanse” the country from “outsiders.” In addition to keeping the tension high, it shows Kidd’s more liberal and healing view of the world. This element, along with a handful of other moments, are more than a nod towards current political divides.

Tom Hanks is one of American cinema’s most beloved actors. His name is a  guaranteed box office success and, most of the time, critical praise. His career is a roster of exceptional performances — Cast Away, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and many others. His recent portrayal of Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood showed him at his best. Much like Jimmy Stewart, allowing Hanks’ persona to come through is what has made him an enduring star. It is the ability to see Hanks through whatever role he is playing that gives him uniqueness. Even as the child in a man’s body in the comedy Big, we were aware of Hanks, the actor, and embraced that awareness.

However, with Kidd, something more is required. As the damaged Confederate Civil War veteran, there is a sense of the dress-up about his performance. He is, as always, thoroughly engaging, but somehow it seems superficial. He is watchable but never quite transcendent. One must wonder if the producers, the director, and the writer didn’t just say “let Hanks be Hanks” and called it a day. 

Tom Hanks in a scene from the movie.

Part of the problem lies with the character itself. He is a struggling but inherently good man. He never once flinches from taking on the responsibility of returning this girl to her family. A more interesting choice would have been some vacillation or even resentment with the charge or that his primary interest had been fiscal rather than altruistic. This would have provided contrast and allowed for more arc and texture. Hanks is never less than very good, but he doesn’t achieve the level of greatness we have seen in so much of his work.

Helena Zengel, as Johanna, is remarkable. Both rough and insightful, willful and cowed, we watch her watch the world. With a tragic history, she is as wounded as Kidd. There is the spark of fire that never masks the deep pain. Greengrass has brought out a range of shades in her performance, enhancing a remarkable and burgeoning young talent.

Elizabeth Marvel is the hotel owner Mrs. Gannett who turns in a sensitive performance. She makes the most of her two brief scenes, reflecting both Kidd’s past and the world in which they live now. 

The rest of the cast is not given a great deal to play. As Almay, who attempts to purchase the girl, Michael Angelo Covino represents pure evil. Likewise, Thomas Francis Murphy’s racist Mr. Farley makes a clear statement. Both do well in what are one-note roles.

In many ways, News of the World is a traditional western with all the standard expectations. It is episodic, stringing scene after scene, event after event. It is entertaining, but the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The journey is predictable, leading to a conclusion that mostly satisfies the need for a happy ending.

Rated PG-13, News of the World is now streaming on demand

Photo from Sony Pictures Entertainment

By Jeffrey Sanzel

There is no greater American icon than Fred Rogers — the Mr. Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Generations of children have grown up under the tutelage of the man whose sole quest was to let children be children. His soft-spoken and often simple wisdom has been explored, dissected and parodied for decades. But, ultimately, his pure and honest humanity has shown through.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is inspired by Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say … Hero?” Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fizterman-Blue and Noah Harpster have chosen the source as a jumping-off place to create the fictional story of an emotionally lost and damaged journalist whose life is altered by profiling the beloved television host.

The film is in no way a biopic of Rogers. If one is seeking an account of Fred Rogers, then the heartfelt 2018 Won’t You Be My Neighbor? documentary explores Rogers with a wealth of archival clips and interviews. It is as both straightforward and as complicated as the man himself and an indispensable contribution to his legacy.

Photo from Sony Pictures Entertainment

Instead, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood draws upon Rogers’ ethos and how it affected and continues to influence the world for good.

Matthew Rhys plays journalist Lloyd Vogel, whose closet full of demons has disconnected him from the world. The story focuses on the dysfunctional relationship with his estranged father (a dimensional Chris Cooper) who walked out on him and his sister when their mother was dying. 

Vogel struggles to communicate with his frustrated wife (the always terrific Susan Kelechi Watson), to face his life as a new father, and to deal with the world in general. At first, he is resistant to the ministrations of Rogers, but gradually, he realizes the power of embracing Rogers’ philosophies. The film is Vogel’s arc, with Rogers a catalyst for change.

Rhys manages the transition from depressed and detached to self-aware and almost reborn with a slow, methodical intensity. It is an unsurprising performance but one in which we can invest. While the resolution is inevitable, his pain is palpable and his growing awareness authentic. 

The surrounding actors are strong and Heller has brought out subtle and absorbing work from the entire company, including Christine Lahti (Ellen, Vogel’s Esquire editor), Enrico Colantoni (Bill Isler, the president of Family Communications), Maryann Plunkett (Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife), Tammy Blanchard (Lorraine, Vogel’s sister), and Jessica Hecht (Lila Vogel, Vogel’s dying mother). The entire ensemble is fully present, bringing nuance to the action.

However, the heart of the film is Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. There is no actor more suited to don the sweater than Hanks, and he does not disappoint. Eschewing imitation, Hanks evokes the soul of the man, making sure that his Rogers is not a hagiography. We see joy, pain, introspection and a man who struggles but never ceases to search for peace and understanding in a difficult world.  

And while his screen time does not rival Rhys’, Hanks dominates each moment with an open presence that makes him unique among even the greatest movie actors. Whether engaging with his public, watching a playback of a scene he has just shot or voicing the Neighborhood puppets, he is riveting. A scene that focuses on a moment of silence in a Chinese restaurant is as wondrous as a subway car breaking out into the show’s theme song. It is all reflected in Hanks’ understated yet overwhelming portrayal.  

The takeaway from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is that we must face life’s trials and that we can grow from these challenges. It is a message — and a film — of which Fred Rogers would approve.

A scene from ‘Toy Story 4’. Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

By Jeffrey Sanzel

A film that aims to explore the pains of growing up, that endeavors to touch on love and loss, on sense of self and self-worth, takes on a huge challenge. That the movie aspires to a balance of humor and honesty makes it even more challenging. That an animated feature is told through the eyes and voices of toys seems impossible. However, as seen through the first three Toy Story movies, it is more than attainable. In a franchise that grew in both depth and art with each film, finding more laughter and more tears, it is the exception to every rule. The newest addition, Toy Story 4, is certainly one of the best films of the year.

Woody introduces Forky to the other toys. Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Here are 100 minutes of pure entertainment, alternating between laugh-out-loud funny and poignantly touching, in a film that never feels like a sequel. It plays on multiple levels, providing jokes and slapstick, clever asides and deep insights, so that audiences of any age will be completely engaged from start to finish.

Woody (the always marvelous Tom Hanks) now belongs to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) but has been put aside for cowboy Jessie (Joan Cusack). This does not change Woody’s mission to make sure Bonnie is taken care of at all times. When Bonnie reluctantly goes to kindergarten, she finds solace in creating Forky, crafting him from a spork, googly eyes and a pipe cleaner — an opportunity that Woody engineers. Forky becomes Bonnie’s obsession and solace. What she doesn’t realize is that Forky (a scene-stealing Tony Hale) does not want to be a toy. Eventually, guided by Woody, Forky learns his value.  

Toy Story 4 is what we have come to expect in the series without ever feeling like it is a repeat of its earlier chapters. The movie includes a wild road trip, a dazzling carnival and a range of hijinks and colorful characters that make for a nonstop adventure. 

Eventually, the crew is reunited with the now self-actualized Bo Peep (a sly and knowing Annie Potts) who has found freedom in being a “lost toy,” living a full life in what can only be labeled renegade and off the grid with a posse of like-minded toys. Much of the latter half of the film also centers around an antique shop, ruled by Gabby Gabby (a flawlessly wicked Christina Hendricks) and her minion of ventriloquist dummies. Gabby Gabby is, at first, the villain of the story; but there is much more to her and her journey.

The film features many returning voices including Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear (comically learning to listen to his inner voice), Wallace Shawn as the neurotic Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head, Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head (from archival recordings), Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Bonnie Hunt as Dolly and Carl Weathers in a terrific running joke as three different Combat Carls. All of them deliver incredibly enjoyable performances, mining the most of their individual and team moments.

Newcomers include Keegan-Michael Key as Ducky; Jordan Peele as Bunny, an outrageous plush pair; and Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a second-rate Evel Knievel toy. There are wonderful cameos from Mel Brooks (Melephant Brooks), Carol Burnett (Chairol Burnett), Betty White (Bitey White) and Carl Reiner (Carl Reineroceros).

Josh Cooley, whose directorial credits include The Incredibles, Cars and Up, has beautifully guided the entire film. The excellent screenplay is by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton (with a total of eight people credited with “story by”). The literally hundreds of artists who worked on the picture have contributed to an emotionally seamless and visually stunning whole.

If the ending doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of Toy Story 3, it is still wholly satisfying, bringing to a close a classic and heartfelt odyssey. While perhaps not perfect, Toy Story 4 comes pretty close.

Rated G, Toy Story 4 is now playing in local theaters.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep lead an all-star cast in Steven Spielberg’s film about the release of the Pentagon Papers. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

By Kevin Redding

Like a reporter punching away at keys to hit a deadline, “The Post” is fast paced, reflective and inspired in its depiction of the most pivotal moment in American journalism: In the summer of 1971, the Washington Post risked it all to publish the Pentagon Papers, a decision that exposed the lies of political leaders surrounding the Vietnam War and firmly protected the First Amendment against suppression by the occupant of the White House.

Carried by a terrific ensemble of seasoned actors and actresses — including Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson — this docudrama is an incredibly entertaining, pulse-pounding and extremely timely work by a legendary filmmaker who proves he’s still at the top of his game.

A scene from ‘The Post’

In the beginning of 2017, Steven Spielberg was antsy. Antsy because he was sitting around in postproduction limbo, waiting for the special effects to be assembled on his upcoming blockbuster, “Ready Player One.” Antsy to get back behind the camera and do what he does best. And perhaps a little antsy in observance of the state of America around him, in which the president of the United States wages war on the media on a day-to-day basis via Twitter and continually discards foolproof facts as “fake news.”

Enter “The Post,” a film whose screenplay Spielberg read in February, began shooting in May and released nationwide in late December. “When I read the first draft of the script [written by newcomer Liz Hannah], this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years,” Spielberg said in an interview with USA Today. “This was a story I felt we needed to tell today.”

A fitting entry in Spielberg’s recent arsenal of films celebrating “American values” (“Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies”), “The Post” is certainly not subtle in its intentions as a reflection of today’s climate, championing the merits of the press and villainizing leaders who wish to stamp it out. This is all done through the masterful vision of Spielberg, who moves the camera like no other director, knowing exactly when to hold on a moment and when to deliver a visual treat for the audience.

The Washington Post reporters in the film — seen schmoozing in cigarette smoke-filled newsrooms, racing to track down sources, and click-clacking away on typewriters in an effort to make the public aware that their leaders knew the war in Vietnam was a losing battle for decades, yet continued to let young soldiers die mostly to avoid the humiliation of an American defeat — are the heroes, “the small rebellion,” as Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikian calls them.

Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon is portrayed only as a dark silhouette in a voyeuristic shot through the windows of the White House as he barks into a phone to administration officials that “The press is the enemy” and must be silenced with an injunction. He also asserts that no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be allowed in the White House.

As stated in the movie by Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the famously tough, feather-ruffling editor of the Post: “We have to be the check on their power. We don’t hold them accountable, my God, who will?”

The heart and soul of the movie lies with the working relationship between Bradlee and Katharine Graham (Streep), the Post’s publisher who inherits her family’s newspaper after her husband — Philip Graham, publisher since 1946, who succeeded Katharine’s father — dies, catapulting her into a position neither she nor anybody else ever expected her to fill. Throughout the course of the film, Graham finds her voice and becomes a leader in the male-dominated business, a journey that’s handled beautifully and satisfyingly. And, like everything else, hits a poignant note in modern times.

After The New York Times receives and publishes several top-secret pages of the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon administration hits it with a lawsuit, prompting the courts to rule that the Times cannot publish any more of the documents or any of its findings.

Not one to be outdone by the New York Times, Bradlee encourages his assistant editor, Bagdikian, to chase down the Times’ source for the leak, who delivers to the Post a total 7,000 pages of the documents. In an especially thrilling scene, Bradlee hosts a small team of reporters in his living room to sift through and make sense of the piles of papers, all while his wife (Paulson) serves sandwiches, his daughter sells lemonade, and a pack of lawyers and newspaper investors balk at their plan to undermine Nixon’s authority and publish them, fearing it will result in the paper’s demise.

Graham must decide whether or not to allow the documents to be published. By doing so, she risks the legacy of her family’s newspaper and also the friendships she has with many Washington, D.C., players, including Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson, who is largely involved in the deception of the American public. Although we, the audience, know the outcome of the film’s events, it’s great fun to watch it unfold, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a history lesson presented by some of the finest actors, and the greatest director, that ever lived. It’s an incredibly human and powerful story that serves as a great reminder that the voices of the governed should always be louder than those of the governors.

Rated PG-13 for “salty language,” “The Post is now playing in local theaters.

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was watching television late at night, after my wife drifted off to sleep, when I first saw him. I don’t tend to stop channel surfing when a comedian appears.

He looked like a friend of mine, he had a devilish smile and he wasn’t shouting or barking obscenities at me. He was balding and overweight and was the definition of unglamorous. He was talking as if I was in the room with him and he was sharing observations with me. I’m going to paraphrase one of the first jokes I heard.

“Getting old sucks,” he began.

“You know, when you’re in your 20s and you come in and tell the doctor your shoulder is bothering you, you have, like a hundred options. The doctor can take a piece of your hip and put it in your shoulder, he can make you a new shoulder, and he can fix you right up so you’re good as new.”

The audience nodded appreciatively.

“But, then, you get older and you go to the same doctor with the same complaint and you wait. The doctor smiles at you and listens to your symptoms but, then, he doesn’t offer any heroic solutions. He gives you that understanding look.”

“So, what can we do about this?” you say.

“Well, you can take some Advil if you want,” he says with a shrug.

“But what about all those other options?” you ask. “What about moving around body parts, building a new shoulder and fixing me up so I’m better than I was?”

“Those are no longer possible,” he says, as he shakes his head slowly.

Getting old is difficult. I know doctors and lifestyle coaches and entire industries are dedicated to reversing the effects of aging. Lines on your face? Hey, no problem, there’s a cure for that. Putting on weight as you age? Sure, we can fix you right up, send you food, cook food for you, or convince you through hypnosis that you, in fact, don’t need food.

If a character Tom Hanks played in “Cast Away” could survive for several years on an island by himself with just a volleyball for his friend and a few fish and coconuts here and there, you can most certainly get through a day without coffee, doughnuts or any of the other bare necessities that call to you from the addicted parts of your bodies.

When our kids were small, we used to pack the back of the car with everything we might need. Pack ‘N Play? Check. Stroller? Check. Diaper bag? Got it.

As they got older, we didn’t have much to bring and just told them to get in the car and buckle themselves in.

Somewhere along the lines, though, as our kids needed less to go from point A to point B, we wanted more. Our conversations before we leave the house go something like this.

“I can’t find my vitamins,” my wife says. “Did I take one this morning?”

“I don’t know, but do you know where my reading glasses are?” I ask.

“No, but when you start looking for your distance glasses, they’re on your forehead,” she smiles, pointing at me.

“Oh, good, thanks. Have you seen my Invisalign braces?” I ask.

“I’m not sure if the ones in the kitchen are your new ones or your old ones, but there’s a set on the counter,” she offers.

As I scoop up my plastic braces, I see something familiar next to them.

“Hey, honey?” I shout. “Your vitamins are on the kitchen table.”

Getting old may be challenging but it can also be comical. Just ask comedian Louis C.K.


‘We have parts of the plane and we also have the pilot, who is quite alive and kicking. The pilot is in Moscow and so are parts of the plane.’  Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, 1960

By Rich Acritelli

It was a great time to be alive within American society during the 1950s and 1960s. Our nation defeated the fascist powers of Germany and Japan and was the strongest country to emerge from the fighting of World War II. These decades saw the growth of Levittown, Mickey Mantle hitting home runs, massive goods and services being consumed by our citizens and “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Honeymooners” on television.

While this nation enjoyed these positive times, the United States was engulfed in the Cold War. These concerns are depicted through Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ production of “Bridge of Spies.” Once again these two Hollywood icons have created a unique film that will not only be well perceived in movie theaters but will be used by future high school and college teachers to describe the impact of this epic conflict.

Directed by Spielberg, this movie does a masterful job of showing how our government functioned during those tumultuous years at home and abroad. Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer who was part of the prosecuting team that convicted the top Nazis at Nuremberg in 1945. He was also approached in 1957 by the government to provide a capable defense for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance, who was arrested with American military intelligence.

While he was apprehensive at first to take this case, he understood that even enemies of the state were entitled to due process. Through this part of “Bridge of Spies” Spielberg depicted how Donovan was able to see both sides of the Cold War through the Soviet perspective. This aspect becomes dominant within the film when Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down over communist territory in 1960. The creators of this movie supremely showed the paranoia that our Central Intelligence Agency held in training its pilots for the dangerous and secret operations that it conducted.   

Powers, played by Austin Stowell, understood the gravity of the Cold War and accepted the risks inherent in taking high-altitude pictures of enemy troop movements and weaponry. When Powers was shot down, it presented a dilemma for our leadership, which did not want our pilot to be executed for espionage.

During and after his defense of Rudolph Abel, Donovan stressed the need for our government not to execute this spy and to treat him with some decency. Although these were humanitarian views, Donovan continued to counsel the government about the need to show fairness out of the fear that eventually one of our own spies would be caught by the enemy. Well, the movie shows how his assessment comes to fruition.   

Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, played by Peter McRobbie, pushed Donovan to travel to East Berlin to engineer an exchange of the Russian spy for Powers’ release from captivity. From a historical point of view, Spielberg produced the hysteria of the earliest moments when the communists erected the Berlin Wall. “Bridge of Spies” teaches the viewer how the communists tried to isolate the eastern part of Berlin from the western world, the chaos between these powers and the pressure that was placed on Powers to break under imprisonment.

Donovan was tasked with not only getting Powers back but also an American student who was caught behind the wall. With common sense, intelligence and poise, Donovan understood that this incident could have triggered a massive war between these two political and military foes.

The all-star cast also includes Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Billy Magnussen, Michael Gaston, Domenick Lombardozzi and Eve Hewson.

Once again the combination of Spielberg and Hanks has made a film that will be respected by moviegoers that never get tired of watching this type of American history. It is possible that these two men could be one of the best teams to ever make movies of this magnitude. “Bridge of Spies” is a historic thriller that will continually show you how difficult the Cold War was to wage for our government and the serious national threats that were always present against our citizens during and after this time period.

‘Bridge of Spies,’ is now playing in local theaters. Rated PG-13.