Tom Hanks

Editor’s note: Two Life & Arts staff writers discuss big releases that are garnering buzz for the awards season. This week they focus on “12 Years A Slave.” 

Colin McLaughlin: “12 Years A Slave.” Wow. Just wow. I’ve been doing my best not to jinx the movie or send people to see it with ridiculously high expectations, but I find it hard to see how anyone can be disappointed by Steve McQueen’s brutal examination of slavery. “12 Years” has yet to see a wide release, and so “Gravity” still looks like the film to beat. I don’t want to be like some other unnamed Oscar bloggers and state that “12 Years a Slave” is, without any doubt, this year’s Best Picture winner. At this early point in the race I think the question about this film isn’t, “Will it win?” but, “What could prevent it from winning?” Thoughts?

Lee Henry: Well, a week ago I would have had an answer for you, and that answer would have been “Saving Mr. Banks.” It was supposed to be the “King’s Speech” equivalent for this year: feel-good period piece based on a true story and featuring several beloved actors exchanging witty repartee. From what I’ve read, the movie only delivers on the last item. While that’s certainly enough to propel Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks into individual nominations, it’s not going to be enough to compete with “Gravity” and “12 Years.” Both Hanks and Thompson are Academy darlings with two wins under their belts, and both are as charming as anyone else in the business. Thompson has a much tougher category than Hanks though, who is being predicted by several pundits as a frontrunner to win.

 

CM: From what I’ve heard, “Saving Mr. Banks’” best bet is a supporting actor win for Hanks as Walt Disney. Not only will the role likely gain him a second nomination for this year, it also poses a serious threat to Michael Fassbender, whose role as the sadistic slave owner in “12 Years a Slave” had many calling the supporting actor race early. But Fassbender is giving the Academy the cold shoulder, refusing to campaign for supporting actor. We may see Hanks take home his third Oscar this year. 

LH: Yeah, Fassbender had a nomination all but ensured and he’s ruined it by playing the “I’m an artist” card. He’s not thinking about how this move negatively affects “12 Years a Slave’s” momentum. Regardless of Fassbender’s anti-campaign strategy, I think he’ll still get in. The award for supporting actor seems to be becoming a three-man race between Fassbender, Hanks and Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club.” We both saw “Dallas Buyers Club” over the weekend, and I think we can agree that his work as a male-to-female transgender HIV-positive drug addict is stellar. Now this may sound like an over-the-top made-for-Oscar role, but Leto owns it and creates a fully developed, tragically funny character. 

 

CM: I see Leto as the real potential upset in the supporting actor category. He’s never been nominated and he’s not much of a household name, but he’s delivered a solid body of work over the last decade in movies like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Lord of War.” With Fassbender’s status now up in the air, this year’s supporting actor race could become a battle between young first-time nominee Leto and two-time winning legend Hanks. The most exciting races in recent years have been defined by the old versus the new. 

LH: Agreed. Leto has an uphill battle ahead of him though. The Academy has rewarded women playing female-to-male transgender characters multiple times, most notably Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” but that’s never gone the other way. That’s a big hurdle for Leto to jump and he may not have the name recognition or actor cred. It all depends on how Focus markets him and his co-star, the equally awesome Matthew McConaughey. 

 

CM: McConaughey’s physical transformation alone was impressive. But, he radically alters his body and still manages to deliver the best performance of his career. He’s completely overhauled his career in the last 18 months with strong, varied performances in “Mud,” “Bernie” and “Killer Joe,” and “Dallas Buyers Club” could be one that sends him home with the Oscar.

Being stranded on an island with no company other than a bloodied volleyball couldn’t stop him, but a health scare just might. 

 

Renowned actor Tom Hanks, who currently stars in “Captain Phillips,” revealed in an interview with comedian David Letterman that he has type 2 diabetes.

 

In the interview, which aired Monday, Oct. 7, Hanks acknowledged that he had suffered with symptoms of diabetes for over 20 years but received official confirmation recently.

 

Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form, occurs when a person’s body does not produce enough insulin for proper use.

 

The unexpected news came after the late night host admired Hanks’ recently trimmer physique, which Hanks attributed to his recent diagnosis.

 

“I went to the doctors and they said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been living with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated. You’ve got type 2 diabetes, young man,’” the 57 year-old actor reported.

 

The “Cast Away” star continued by saying that his doctor recommends that he gets back to the shape he was in in his younger days of high school, a goal the dashing actor finds nearly impossible.

 

“Well, I’m gonna have type 2 diabetes because there is no way I can weigh as much as I did in high school,” Hanks joked.

 

When questioned by Letterman about how much he weighed in high school, Hanks answered with a shocking “96 pounds. I was a very skinny boy.” 

 

Despite his recent diagnosis, Hanks isn’t down for the count. After all, Hanks lost a whopping 55 pounds for his role as Chuck Noland in “Cast Away”. If anyone can get back to a healthy weight, it is Hanks. 

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski 
Genre: All of them 
Runtime: 172 mins

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

“Cloud Atlas” isn’t a film that can be assessed on any sort of traditional scale. It has half a dozen protagonists, scoffs in the face of three-act structure, and spends the majority of its running time cutting between timelines, a single edit sometimes bridging centuries. It’s also the year’s most ambitious film, an unprecedented feat of storytelling from directors Tom Tykwer and Andy & Lana Wachowski.

It’s a dense, challenging work, and “Cloud Atlas” moves at a blistering pace. In its first 20 minutes or so, it hits us with a barrage of names and faces, setting up six different stories in six different timelines, all of them overlapping in one way or another. Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) sails across the Pacific in the 1800s, while struggling composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Winshaw) reads his journal in the 1920s. Halle Berry stars in a thrilling segment set in the 1970s, and her story is turned into a novel that publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) contemplates in 2012 before being locked away in a nursing home. In a dystopian future, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) finds herself leading a revolution, and Zachry (Tom Hanks) leads a crew of refugees in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

It’s a lot to absorb, and “Cloud Atlas” struggles to get off the ground at times. Its opening is easily its weakest and most challenging section, as it struggles to set up the various narratives it will be following. However, once it gets going, “Cloud Atlas” quickly becomes one of the year’s best films, an epic work of genuine, touching optimism. It’s an uncommonly upbeat film, focused on the ways that people can do good for one another, and perhaps “Cloud Atlas’” best feature is the way that its character arcs function within the story.

You see, each of the film’s principal actors pop up in multiple roles, often reoccurring in each of its segments. For example, Tom Hanks plays a doctor tending to Adam Ewing, a hotel clerk renting a room to Robert Frobisher, a doctor giving information to Halle Berry’s Luisa Ray, a vengeful writer working for Timothy Cavendish, an actor Soonmi-451 glimpses on a movie screen, and post-apocalyptic badass Zachry. The act of casting the same actor in multiple roles is more than a parlor trick, and watching six different versions of Tom Hanks figure out what it means to be a good person over the progression of six different timelines makes the conclusion of Zachry’s story all the more meaningful. Plus, audiences are treated to Hugo Weaving playing half a dozen distinct villains, and that alone makes “Cloud Atlas” worthwhile.

The three people responsible for making “Cloud Atlas” the film it is are Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, and their construction for the film is inspired. Once “Cloud Atlas” gets rolling, it’s rare that a sequence unfolds without three or more timelines cutting their stories together, each edit perfectly timed to heighten suspense or draw a parallel. It’s a breathless, hypnotizing way to tell a story, and the way “Cloud Atlas” unfolds establishes a cinematic vocabulary and mode of storytelling that’s refreshing in its simplicity and precise execution.

It can challenging for an actor to play multiple roles and make them distinct from one another, but everyone in “Cloud Atlas” is up to the challenge. Halle Berry and Ben Winshaw are effective in their big segments, but just as impressive is the way “Cloud Atlas” renders them unrecognizable in other timelines, dressing Berry up as an old man or Winshaw as a brutal post-apocalyptic tribesman. It’s a strong, commendable commitment to theme and message, and one of many ways that “Cloud Atlas” bends the barriers of how a traditional Hollywood film functions.

Two performances stand above the rest, however. Doone Bae plays futuristic waitress-turned-revolutionary Sonmi-451, and watching her make that transition is the most fascinating transformation in “Cloud Atlas.” She starts out oblivious and innocent, but once she starts to deal with the ugly realities of her world, it’s heartwrenching. However, Bae maintains a basic serenity throughout, and her final moments are the most powerful in a film full of big emotional wallops, a perfectly timed series of edits tying two of the timelines together in an unexpected, satisfying way. Jim Broadbent also deserves commendation for his work as Timothy Cavendish, a publisher condemned to a nursing home by his villainous brother. His escape from the home is the most broadly comedic segment in “Cloud Atlas,” but probably its most plainly heartwarming, and Broadbent anchors the segment with his easy, befuddled charm.

There’s clearly a lot to discuss about “Cloud Atlas,” and it’s a film I can’t wait to really dig into. A second viewing already offers up numerous rewards, some coming from being able to spot actors in roles you may not have recognized them in, or simply being able to better appreciate a particularly resonant edit. “Cloud Atlas” manages to balance political thriller, science fiction, period drama, and slapstick comedy without ever overdoing it, and its steadfast belief in humanity’s basic goodness is uplifting in a way that very few films can manage these days. The result is a film that’s required viewing, a beautiful feat in writing, editing, directing, and acting - an unapologetic masterpiece.

Review

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks star in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which was directed by Stephen Daldry. The film chronicles a son dealing with the loss of his father in the 9/11 attacks. (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers)

Since the dawn of cinema, Hollywood has been quick to exploit tragedies new and old for cinematic value, not to mention the occasional awards season boost in prestige. It wouldn’t be too difficult to amass an impressive DVD collection solely from films based on the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II, and the period is represented almost annually in the Best Picture race. Therefore, it’s only fitting that the greatest catastrophe our generation has ever faced, Sept. 11, be mined for similar cinematic gravitas. Unfortunately, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, is not the film to begin addressing that horrific day, with a shamelessly manipulative, nauseatingly twee helping of Oscar bait.

From its very first scene, “Extremely Loud” launches a full-scale attack on the audience’s heartstrings, staging a fairly offensive credits sequence featuring Tom Hanks falling from one of the Twin Towers. You see, Hanks’ Thomas Schell is the father of 9-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn), a young boy teetering on the line separating precocious and autistic (although Oskar’s voice-over informs us he was never officially diagnosed). When Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet a year after his death, the grief-stricken boy is convinced that there’s something out there that his father meant for him to find and proceeds to travel all over New York City in search of the single lock that fits his key.

One of the last films to attempt to wring the final bits of pathos out of the Holocaust genre is “Extremely Loud” director Stephen Daldry’s last film, “The Reader,” which was bafflingly nominated for Best Picture in 2008. Unfortunately, Daldry has just gotten better at turning up the big emotions, and “Extremely Loud” is shamelessly calculated to shake every last tear out of its audience. From a pervasive voice-over that reveals every thought running through its lead’s head, to the way the film deals out its flashbacks so its most manipulative moment (a recording of a phone call made from inside a collapsing tower) is saved for last, the film feels tailor-made to devastate at every turn.

Despite this, the film manages to be something of a bore, flabby and overlong with too many self-indulgent flourishes and detours, some more effective than others. Many of the characters Oskar encounters in his journey are relatively compelling figures, especially the mute tenant played by Max von Sydow. Sydow gives a soulful performance without dropping a line of dialogue, and the excruciating pain in his face as he listens to a tape from inside the towers is more convincing than any other element in the film. Also strong are Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright as a couple driven apart by the tragedy.

Hanks is as affable and charming as ever, but the plot requires that his role be a strictly supporting one. It’s a shame, since Hanks usually brings a sense of play and adventure to the film that’s lacking elsewhere. Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock does her best as Oskar’s grieving mother, but much of her material is the most cloying in the film, and too many of the plot’s biggest contrivances are hung on Bullock being equally naïve and streetwise, which makes for a bit too much to swallow. Meanwhile, Horn is fairly terrible, unable to give the film momentum, genuine emotion or even likability. Oskar is shattered by his father’s death, but Horn isn’t quite equipped to express that, and instead endless voice-over spells out every bit of subtext the film could have had. Horn is mostly reduced to acting like a petulant brat, often being needlessly cruel to his mother.

The fact that films like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” exist is worrisome. Sept. 11 was for many Americans one of the worst days of our lives, and done right, a film about that day can be a devastating but rewarding examination of the still-wounded American psyche. Done wrong, you have things like a CGI Tom Hanks leaping from the Twin Towers or Nicolas Cage trapped beneath their rubble as in “World Trade Center,” a reduction of everything that happened that day to a vehicle for stars looking to get some positive reinforcement. Meanwhile, honest, chilling efforts such as Paul Greengrass’ “United 93,” are underappreciated and ultimately forgotten. I shudder to think that someday, the Oscar-bait Holocaust film will be replaced by the 9/11 film, and if they’re all as calculated and soulless as this film, we are in for dark days indeed.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” tells a story that in the right context could have been effective, but by putting such a small story in the context of such a massive event, it feels not only cheap and offensive, but also like Daldry is trying to lessen the significance of what happened on Sept. 11, which is the worst thing a film like this can do.