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Tag Archive: Tom Hanks


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.  And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

— United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, NY Times v United States

The Post is the next in a prestigious line of the drama sub-genre of motion pictures focusing on journalism, a group featuring great films like Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, The China Syndrome, Call Northside 777, and Zodiac.  The Post could be seen as a sequel of sorts to another film classic from this group, the Academy Award-winning 1976 film All the President’s Men.  That film, which told the story of The Washington Post coverage of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, co-starred Jason Robards as executive editor Ben Bradlee.  The Washington Post is again front and center in The Post, this time with Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as publisher Katherine Graham (who was an active player in the events in All the President’s Men, but the character did not appear in the film).

With director Steven Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks attached to the film, it’s likely The Post will be a big Oscar contender next March.  The Post tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to disclose The Pentagon Papers over the course of a few weeks in June 1971, an extensive government study that would show that the government had hidden from the public and media the true extent of U.S. activity in the Vietnam War.  The decision of the Supreme Court would stifle the media for 15 days before finally providing some guidance on when the government may restrict the press from certain disclosures.

The film features plenty of familiar faces, including Alison Brie as Graham’s daughter Lally Weymouth, Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield (Post editorial writer and confidante of Graham), David Cross as Post editor Philip Geyelin, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara (President Johnson’s secretary of defense), Tracy Letts as Paul Ignatius (President Johnson’s assistant secretary of defense), Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian (the reporter for The Post at the center of the Pentagon Papers coverage), Michael Stuhlbarg as Post managing editor Eugene Patterson, and Zach Woods as Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who disclosed the Pentagon Papers and was charged with espionage.

Check out this trailer for The Post:

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the-circle-gillan-watson

The Circle is no doubt another in a long line of topical dramas starring the great Tom Hanks.  Everyone loves Tom Hanks, the actor, yet his roles have become predictable.  If you’re making a movie and you want to bring instant sympathy, respectability, or authority–especially if the source material doesn’t have much of its own character development–Hanks is your guy.  He reportedly brings in $10 million to $20 million per film, and double or triple that if he negotiates profit sharing deals, which may explain why he’s not in many special effects-heavy films.  Where his performance is always reliable, it’s the films themselves–the stories and settings–that have often let us down once we crossed into the 21st century.  What will be his next Philadelphia or Forrest Gump?  His next Splash or Big?  These days he’s the go-to guy for biopics (Charlie Wilson’s War, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Sully), historical teleplays and documentaries (Band of Brothers, The Pacific), and novel adaptations, especially the never-ending Robert Langdon series (The DaVinci Code, etc.).  The Circle fits in as a novel adaptation, this time an adaptation of a novel about the horrors of our modern technological age written by Dave Eggers and directed and co-scripted by James Ponsoldt.

circle-movie-poster

But Hanks isn’t the real draw for this film, it’s the mega-sized co-lead actors who all hail from the biggest genre franchises that really make this a movie we might want to check out in the theater this April and not wait for the home release.  The star is Emma Watson, Hermione of the Harry Potter franchise whose other big 2017 film–Beauty and the Beast–with Watson in the lead role as Belle, will be released only six weeks prior to The Circle.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens and this year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi star John Boyega (ex-Stormtrooper Finn) has next billing.  Oddly enough someone just as popular in the U.S., the U.K., and Asia should have next billing in the trailers, yet she’s seen but not listed in the title credits.  That’s the popular Doctor Who companion Amy Pond and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy, Karen Gillan.  That’s some pretty popular acting names and pop culture street cred for a flick outside the sci-fi and fantasy realm.  But that’s not all.  The Circle also features beloved comedian and nerd crusader Patton Oswalt, fan fave Bill Paxton (Aliens, Apollo 13, Edge of Tomorrow, Training Day), and familiar face Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Monk). 

the-circle

The plot follows a new worker (Watson) at a trendy tech company (think Google), where this fictional company and its outlandish benefits encompass and suffocate the workers’ private lives.  Here’s a new trailer for The Circle, followed by an earlier version of the trailer:

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John Williams conducting Star Wars

Few individuals have stood apart from their peers in their professional endeavors as much as maestro John Williams.  Last week the American Film Institute presented Williams with its life achievement award, the 44th awarded and first for a composer.  It’s certainly about time.  With five Academy Award wins and 50 nominations, Williams holds the record for the most Oscar nominations of any living person.  Three of his scores, for Star Wars, Jaws, and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, are on AFI’s list of the top 25 scores of all time.  This Wednesday night the AFI award event will be televised, and guests honoring Williams include George Lucas, Steven Spielberg–both who owe the most to Williams for their individual successes–as well as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, Tom Hanks, Itzhak Perlman, J.J. Abrams, Bryce Dallas Howard, Will Farrell, Steve Martin, Seth McFarlane, and Daisy Ridley.

You may not remember the first time you heard a familiar tune from Williams, but for those more than 40 years old it was no doubt the theme from television’s Lost in Space series, featuring an end credit to “Johnny” Williams.  He also provided the piano music for the Academy Award winning, and AFI recognized comedy Some Like it Hot.  For everyone since then you can define your generation by your earliest familiarity with his music, whether it’s the Main Title to Star Wars, the Jurassic Park theme, or the theme to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Those whose introduction to Williams was Star Wars: The Force Awakens have plenty of great music to discover.

Williams is of a rare breed of American composer whose songs stick with you forever.  He’s in an elite club with the likes of musicians Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin.  For more than 60 years Williams has set the bar for–and defined worldwide for moviegoers’ ears–our expectation for modern programmatic movie music.

John Williams

Stepping aside from his success at major memorable themes, one of his greatest skills is his juxtaposition of opposites.  Just listen in the Jaws soundtrack to the busy streets of Amity in the “Montage” and the cheery adventure theme from “The Great Shark Chase” among his well-known bass horror cues.  Some of his most brilliant compositions are tucked away behind giant, epic scores, like “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back and “Escape from Venice” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  And would modern audiences even know a march beyond nationalistic music if not for “The Superman March,” “The Raiders of the Lost Ark March,” “The March from 1941,” and “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back? 

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Reptillus Maximus and Woody

Following on the Halloween special Toy Story of Terror, Disney- Pixar Animation is queuing up a new Christmas special airing tomorrow night on the ABC Network with a replay Sunday, December 7, 2014, on ABC Family, and Friday, December 12 on the Disney Channel.  Toy Story That Time Forgot brings back Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their friends for a half-hour special harkening back to the days when franchises would roll out a special holiday show, like Peanuts and Garfield and even Star Wars.

As with Buzz and Jessie’s (Joan Cusack) prior entrances, the kids have some new toys heading their way this Christmas.  Toy Story That Time Forgot features the two dinosaurs Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and introduces some new characters into the playroom–a set of battle dinosaurs led by Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd).

Toy Story That Time Forgot poster

Look for the return of other toys, too, including stuffed hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles).

After the break, check out four short previews for Toy Story That Time Forgot:

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

If there’s one thing these lists demonstrate, it’s that great fantasy stories are enduring.  All four of us have named several films that reach deep into the literary and oral tradition of myths, legends, traditional bedtime stories, and classics of fantasy literature.  It’s not surprising that what makes a great fantasy movie is the same stuff that makes a great story, period: amazing worlds, epic quests, doomed romance, and soaring imagination.  More than half the movies on my list are direct retellings of well-known tales, and all of them are adapted in one way or another from earlier source material–be that a novel from the 1990s or a play by William Shakespeare, or anything in between.

It’s neither accidental nor surprising that my personal favorites list went this way, but there are plenty of contenders that just narrowly missed the cut and are worthy of mention, at least in passing.  I’ve been thoroughly impressed by recent films Stardust (adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel) and Prince Caspian (from CS Lewis’s beloved Chronicles of Narnia), but I haven’t seen either film often enough to declare it a favorite… yet.  Likewise, two classics from my childhood deserve a nod, and would have made the cut if this were a Favorite 15: the glorious Jim Henson/Brian Froud collaboration The Dark Crystal; and Willow, which is just as good as any other high fantasy film made in the last century.  Lastly, because I feel someone should mention it, yet it somehow gets overlooked whenever we start talking about great fantasy films, is one of the few mermaid movies ever made (surprisingly enough), 1984’s fantastic classic Splash.  It gets overshadowed by Hanks’s Big from a few years later, but it really is a wonderful movie that deserves to be better remembered for its contribution to the genre.

But. You’re looking for the ones that did make the cut, so here is my winnowed-down list of my ten alltime favorite fantasy films:

1.  The Princess Bride
Art has suggested that we define great fantasy by the age at which we’re introduced to our favorites, and I tend to agree.  This Rob Reiner masterpiece came out when I was thirteen, which is the ideal time to experience this wickedly smart, hilarious, and romantic fantasy romp.  But viewers can enjoy it at any age!  There are no roles in film history to rival Carey Elwes as Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts or Mandy Patinkin’s iconic Inigo Montoya, but Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, and all the others turn in perfect performances, too. T he memorable scenes and imminently-quotable catchphrases ensure this film’s status as a fantasy legend.

2.  Ever After
When you’re a fairy tale fan, the golden goose (so to speak) is, of course, Cinderella.  No other tale so captures our love of the genre and our hope for true love to lift us from the drudgery of our daily lives.  Everyone knows this story, and making it fresh and new and wonderful is hard!  But Ever After was up to the challenge, and more.  Set in the intensely naturalistic setting of early Renaissance France, this adaptation builds on the basic rags-to-riches framework to deliver a complex and deeply satisfying tale of smart lovers who complement one another, yet are set apart by a nearly unconquerable divide.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that Dougray Scott makes for a Prince Charming any woman would swoon over.

3.  A Knight’s Tale
Carrying on with the argument that retellings fit in the fantasy genre, magic or not, I’m sneaking one of my very favorite movies–period–onto this list.  Turned off by the truly dreadful previews, I nearly missed this one–and I’m so glad I didn’t.  From the ensemble cast (Heath Ledger!  Rufus Sewell!  Paul Bettany!  That guy from Firefly!) to the wacky rock soundtrack, Chaucer has never been so much fun (and he was no wet blanket to begin with).

4.  Mary Poppins
No film explores the power of childhood make-believe adventures better than this Disney classic.  Who didn’t want their toys to put themselves away?  Or spend an afternoon popping in and out of chalk drawings, riding magical carousel horses and winning the derby?  Or laugh themselves into flight?  A spoonful of sugar and the confident wink of a magical nanny makes it all possible.

5.  Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Tales of King Arthur and the Holy Grail have been centerpieces of Western fantasy as long as we’ve been telling stories.  The third, and arguably the best, installment of the Indiana Jones franchise brings that classic quest to the screen better than any film, ever.  (I’m talking to YOU, da Vinci Code.  You too, Excalibur. *shudders*)  (The second-best film adaptation of the King Arthur legend is, of course, the 1960s classic Camelot with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.)

6.  Portrait of Jennie
For pure romance and starcrossed lovers, you can’t ask for more than William Dieterle’s sweet Depression-era tale of a starving artist and the doomed model who shapes his career, and his life.  It has all the makings of a gothic mystery–but the tender performances of Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones make this instead a sweeping story of the power of love to reach beyond time and death.  Fans of Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve’s Somewhere in Time should look this one up.  (And fans of Portrait of Jennie should look up the marvelous children’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce.)

7.  Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
The best installment of one of the most beloved fantasy series of our age.  Need I say more?

8.  Beauty and the Beast
No one was surprised when this Disney adaptation of Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s classic French fairy tale became the first-ever animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (and thus changed the awards structure forever).  The lavish production, with its marvelous soundtrack, brought this tale as old as time to life with all the wonder and beauty we expect in our fairy tale films.

9.  Arabian Nights
I have expressed my love for these stories on borg.com before, and this made-for-TV miniseries starring Mili Avatal absolutely swept me away.  The production is gorgeous and epic, with a bold and brilliant cast that includes fine performances by Jason Scott Lee, John Leguizamo, Rufus Sewell (!), and Andy Serkis.  It offers up all our Arabian Nights favorites: Ali Baba, Aladdin, and, of course, Scheherazade and her deeply disturbed husband, played with heartbreaking madness by Dougray Scott (who, really, we could stand to see A LOT more of.  Just sayin’.).

10.  Much Ado About Nothing
This is last on my list not because it’s my least favorite of the ten; far from it–it’s actually my alltime favorite movie!  But of the ten, it’s the one that feels the least like fantasy to me, although it has neither more nor less magic than The Princess Bride, Ever After, or A Knight’s Tale.  Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh at the height of his early career, this utterly perfect adaptation of Shakespeare’s lusty romantic comedy is set against the breathtakingly beautiful Tuscan countryside and features fantastic performances by Emma Thompson, Brian Blessed, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Michael Keaton, and Denzel Washington.  I want to step inside this movie and live there, every time I watch Much Ado–and if that’s not the very definition of fantasy, than I don’t know what is.

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