Wednesday, 16 October 2013


That Thing He Does.


"That's art, man. What can you do? You aim for something and don't always hit it, but you keep slugging away. It's like any great band that's been together a long time. Not all the records work – but you can still hear the band in there." Tom Hanks In An Interview With 'Rolling Stone'.

Turn on any entertainment or news channel on your television or any page of your magazine or daily paper right now and you might see a fond and familiar face. One that is ageing but still has that playful look of youthful exuberance about it. One where you can still these those trademark eighties curls beneath the grey. A face that reminds you of a teenage boy and 30 year old man all in one. Or the serious and stern look of a depression era Chicago gangster or the sweet and silly look of a man-child who told us about his mother, life and box of chocolates. A man sounding something like a cowboy who could play seven parts in one film, or grew a moustache and play the movie master Walt Disney himself. Yes, its Tom Hanks season once again as the release of the critically acclaimed and Academy awaited of the deep and dark, rough sea depths of 'Captain Phillips' looks to help set sail away from a career cast away before this man reaches Disneyworld in this falls Hollywood. The only question remains, where's Wilson?

Recently I took a walk with my girlfriends father down movie memory lane whilst pushing the next generation of his family in his pram. Making the usual noise about how they don't make films like they used to or how it's all sequels, reboots and no original ideas I talked about the good old days of filmmaking...a time that doesn't seem too long ago. Where Michael Jordan was the 'Space Jam' man in Basketball and Steven Speilberg was THE director chairman of the Hollywood hills. The golden era of the 90's where Tom Hanks was the man. The Bruce Springsteen rock star of modern moviemaking (the pair both hit Oscar gold with their moving and magnificent performances for 'Philadelphia' from studio to screen) before he passed the torch to city of brotherly love co-star Denzel Washington for the new millennium. Tom Hanks silly but sincere, curly haired decade of the 80's seemed like nothing in comparison to his serious year after year hit parade in the last decade of the nineteenth century. It wasn't Han Solo or Indiana Jones but a 90's classic 'The Fugitive' that inspired this writer to tell his mother he wanted to be Harrison Ford, but this young aspiring actor soon saw that just like Michael J in sports or music, the movie world of the 90's belonged to Tom.

That's not to discredit the 30 plus year of three terrific decades of time on the screen that Hanks has given is for the memories, from his humble beginnings to the honesty of his current output. It's just the 10 years of the new age of cinema and his career that just stand out as being that iconic, influential and inspirational. This was a regular Joe, everyman that grabbed the attention of everybody with his straight forward roles, even in a decade that saw dinosaurs run rampant in theme parks. I mean...dinosaurs!! Just like they don't make films for kids anymore like 'Jurassic Park' ('Twilight', come on!), they don't make actors like Hanks, with all due respect to the DiCaprio's, Pitt's, Damon's and new greats of the world. At 57 years of age Thomas Jeffrey Hanks has made more than 8 and a half billion dollars for his movies and so many more memories for his family and fans. It started with a move to New York one year shy of the 1980's and a low budget slasher thriller ('He Knows You're Alone') to start the decade and be the first cut of a classic career. T.V. and game show followed before Tom won big on the biggest of screens.

After playing a disgruntled old friend of the Fonz, it was all 'Happy Days' for Hanks when the beginning of one of the leading mans great director partnerships started with Ron Howard's work on 'Splash'. Making mermaid waves, Tom was cast as the lead while loveable late legend of the 80's John Candy (we miss you Buck) was given the wisecraking best friend role that Hanks was originally meant for. That was just how impressive this young actor was. This Speilberg rivalling acting/directing dynamic duo would go out of this world a decade later in the amazing gravity gravitas of 'Apollo 13' before book ending a Dan Brown double feature ('The Da Vinci Code' and 'Angels And Demons', Hank's lesser known big hits that would have made someone else's career 'Jerry Maguire' complete). The man that was so big and great he made megastar Cruise the 'other' Tom for two whole decades then just got goofier and better. 'Bachelor Party' didn't turn him into a sex symbol but a real stand up comic actor. 'Nothing In Common' did the same, as did the dark, hilarious Sally Field assisted comedian drama 'Punchline'. He copped a buddy role, next to big 80's legend and 'Blues Brother' Dan Akroyd in 'Dragnet' in what seemed like a rush hour, while striking gold in the home entertainment 'Money Pit' and years later he hit a homeward bound, home run, slobbering up to a soppy but anything but sloppy classic one man and dog story as he played another cop in the heart-warming, hilarious 'Turner & Hooch'.

Just when people thought it couldn't get any bigger it did...literally. As a young boy wished he was a little bit taller like Skee-Lo he became a 30 year old Tom Hanks for the bold and beautiful 'Big'. A film that made our mans career and made that piano in that New York toy store a popular tourist destination. The chopsticks where ready for the new king of Friday night movie dates and even though on reflection some of what happened in this film seems just plain wrong, in a sweeter and more innocent time in movies Hanks and films like this where just perfect for the family. Able to channel that mature but youthful man-child essence of his Mr. Nice Guy personality, Hanks was the new kid on the block to make everyone's everyday dreams and the reality and lessons of them a picture perfect for movies whose moral, underlining messages where more subtle and stronger than what's forced down people popcorn full throats today. After ending the 80's on a high, his start of the next decade threatened his status as a household name as 'The 'Burbs' and 'Joe Versus The Volcano' left his hot streak dormant. These lukewarm received films where still explosive however and then in a blockbuster bang it all erupted.

His 'Moneyball' strike and hit alongside pop queen Madonna came with 'A League Of Their Own', as Hank's knocked it out the park, playing a down and out but rough and ready female baseball coach, punch drunk off piss and vinegar. He told the aptly named 'Vanity Fair' make that this modern era of films took him from the fake facade of previous funny films. Showing his range in playing real characters with darker depths and all sorts of flaws he rose like elevators to the top of the rock. 'Sleepless in Seattle' turned his career supersonic and gave his on-screen muse Meg Ryan more star-power and claim that their "relationship" partnership could rival those director/leading man combos. With chemistry to the letter that went electric with the now dated but then forward thinking internet of 'You've Got Mail' and those old bricks and blocks laptop. This leading males career was anything but spam in this new age. In the spectrum of this stars career it really got stellar on the streets of 'Philadelphia'. Springsteen laid the intros superb soundtrack and pink ribbon, haunting and moving tour of the city, while fellow top leading man of his generation Denzel Washington held counsel while the Academy provided the Oscar. An award worthy performance of a man who lost De Niro weight and ultimately sacrificed his health (Hanks has recently revealed he suffers from diabetes, we wish him good health) to portray an AIDS sufferer never jeopardised his reputation. Alongside Washington in 'Philadelphia', Hanks inspired and ignorant time to open their mind and hearts to the rights of homosexual people in the community and workplace.

The heartfelt performances didn't end their for the boss of movies who truly brought that American heartland music feel to the scores of his Hollywood pictures. In 1994 he followed his Oscar year of 'Philadelphia' with another Academy Award for another born in the U.S.A. classic. You could even see the Springsteen similarities in a snow scene of fall family moment, black and white, photographic capturing that you can see in the press photo's of Bruce in the 80's. 'Forrest Gump' is just that timeless a movie. Good enough to beat the 'Pulp Fiction' of Travolta no matter how commercial this is just THE cult classic that will take your emotions all over the place and world as still to this day you'll be unsure whether those tears are of joy or sorrow. From war to peace, the Beatles and John Lennon and all the entertainment and real world inbetween Gump literally runs and runs through it all. With inspired performances throughout (Sally Field goes from 'Punchline' love interest to 'Gump' box of chocs mother in 0 to 60 greys) it's Hanks who owns this storyteller from the bus stop. The comedy is classy, the mix of real world footage a homage and anything but tasteless (they just can't pull things off like this today) and the drama of love and loss devastating. Put it this way it's the "is he smart or dumb" question that will leave you lump in the throat unable to answer. This film grossed it all, even realising Bubba Gump's shrimp dream, to the tune of a multi-million business of nationwide chain restaurants inspired by the movie. I guess Bubba got to go home after all.

Becoming the first and only actor since Spencer Tracy to win consecutive Oscar's it looked like it still couldn't get better for Hanks at his peak, but his prime time in the middle of the 90's was far from done. He soared even higher in his reunion with Ron Howard and Gary Sinise for the amazing, number one hit 'Apollo 13'. Houston had a problem but Hanks and Howard didn't and even this years 'Rush' formula for Ron and latest Clooney and Bullock star powered space expedition of 'Gravity'-that rivals Hanks' current-couldn't takeover or ground this rocket. Another expedition saw him executive produce, co-write, and co-direct an Emmy award winning HBO docudrama 'From the Earth to the Moon' which looked at the history of the space program in twelve part episodes. Tom's career took on a whole new dimension when he voiced the sheriff of all toys in arguably the most popular animation since his namesake and that mouse Jerry. Despite all the amazing CGI animations that have come since from the monsters to the minions, the 'Toy Story' series is still THE standard for modern animations and kids films that can translate to the adult audience with a rivalling ease. Hanks' cowboy character Woody is now as iconic as the futuristic Buzz Lightyear as the friends rival each other as the films most popular characters and yearly Christmas present top sellers. The story of the talking toys with a life of their own that Disney should have wrote decades ago is a modern classic that has made a timeless trilogy that is warming and moving in it's life and now it's own nostalgia. You know this halloween you're in for a treat with their latest trick in the 'Toy Story of Terror' which we're all knocking and waiting for. These favourite toys are something we'll still want to play with for generations.

By this tip of the cartoon stetson cap the sheriff of leading man had done it all from action to animation. All that was left was the light and cameras of directing and chairing that role Hanks brought a coming of age story in the light and warm star shine of 'That Thing You Do'. Recently Tom also starred in front and behind the camera alongside his female equivalent Julia Roberts for a hallmark nice and sincere romantic comedy 'Larry Crowne'. Neither film broke blockbuster budgets or billboard charts, but to Hanks and his formidable filmography they where still great successes. After taking it to the future of space travel with 'Apollo 13', the only way for Tom to go forward was to go back somewhat and that's where he made history and started his classic collaborative legacy with his 90's directing equivalent Steven Speilberg. 'Saving Private Ryan' remains the epic war movie that is haunting, harrowing, moving and meaningful, unlike the tasteless, stylised copycat army of war films that followed. 'Saving Private Ryan' turned Matt Damon into a star, showed the dark depths of last remaining action hero Vin Diesel in a cameo performance and really started the acting talent of a 'Band Of Brothers' that lead to 'The Pacific'. No expense or emotion was spared in a Hanks performance that confirmed him as the best. Today Tom and his 'Captain Phillips' role wants to make factual movie they can show in class, well we where watching this one for countless history lessons when I was just a high-school kid. It's safe to say I got an education.

To close out the decade of the 90's where he took everyone to school Tom Hanks hit the books. The epic, 3 hour adaptation of Stephen King's bestseller 'The Green Mile' was an arresting drama of hope and despair that haunted and inspired from behind the bars to the last walk of a man on death row. Hanks yet again performed perfectly like it was all too easy, but also showcased his humble and heartfelt ability to even take a back seat in a leading role to let his co-star teammates have their time to shine. Here the late, great big soul of Michael Clarke Duncan stole the show and everyones hearts. Hanks too a backseat somewhat as a cop on the chase of another Speilberg classic 'Catch Me if You Can', where the runaway talent of a young but maturing Leonardo DiCaprio roamed free. Then in the first year of the new millennium he went truly alone for the shipwrecked drama 'Cast Away', showing he could make fire and make two hours worth of solitary screen time thrilling and entertaining. He even displayed that gracious standing to the side talent and allowed his iconic soccer ball co-star Wilson warm our hearts and shed our tears. That's just how great this good guy is. All he could do was go bad and as he played it crooked for Sam Mendes epic gangster tale 'Road To Perdition' his character still had the heart and nature of a good man trying to do the right thing in a bad situation. Hanks may not have gone full Denzel villain for the Oscar like in 'Training Day', but his conflicted gangster gun shot at darkness and depth remains one of his most underrated performances and films.

Hanks and his actress wife Rita Wilson produced a hit runaway bride comedy 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', behind the scenes to follow all this but the leading mans time in the lights shining lime was far from shut off. 2004 saw him switch it up all snooty and slimy in the Cohen Brothers 'Ladykillers' comedy and align with Speilberg again for the grounded flight rom-com, drama 'The Terminal'. With solitary and confined elements inspired by his solo work in 'Cast Away', Hanks played a foreigner forced to live in an airport terminal with subtle humour and emotional depth that criminally went over some critics heads as their pens wrote it off. Speaking of 'Cast Away', it's director Robert Zemeckis reunited Hanks with CG (literally his likeness is amazing captured in digital animation) for the warm Winter Christmas favourite 'The Polar Express', which is as beautiful and magical as grown up children's films get. The Dan Brown double that broke Da Vinci codes and box-office records came next before Hanks output filmography took a little bookmark break. Maybe his cartoon cameo appearance in 'The Simpsons' was telling us something as he tussled that boys hair ("Hi, I'm Tom Hanks. If you see me out in public please leave me alone").

The Hollywood Walk Of Fame star returned to the best actor fight for his role in 'Charlie Wilson's War' which began his Meg Ryan rivalling partnership with Julia Roberts. In 'The Great Buck Howard' he then played the on-screen father of his real-life son Colin Hanks who now has his own rap career. After more sequels and classic 'Saturday Night Live' shows (you really have to check his Carrey replacing 'Night At The Roxburry' with king of comedy Will Ferrell), Hanks has returned to the Oscar circuit of late with the Academy nominated film 'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close'. Although his fatherly performance was one of great inspiration and influence it was yet another back seat for normally the star vehicle and driving seat of a movie. The leading man now looks to return to the wheel and turn his career back around to his way this year however. He's ready to play any part like the multiple faces he took on for the book adaptation 'Cloud Atlas'. The ever hard-working man has never stopped working behind the scenes at his love and craft of telling stories on screen, he even does comedy side-shows of Shakespeare in his spare time (a man whose dance card also includes dining with the President and Queen of England) for charity with friends of the business like the genius and hilarious William Shatner and 'Crowne' co-star Cedric The Entertainer. Still, Hanks is a leading talent that deserves centre stage and it certainly doesn't get much bigger in that movie world respect than playing Walt Disney in 'Saving Mr. Banks', being the first actor to ever play the iconic filmmaker...and may we say the right actor too.

First though we see Hanks voyage into dangerous waters with 'Bourne' sequel director Paul Greengrass. True life hijack film 'Captain Phillips' may just be the film of the year and another Oscar for the Academy favourite to start 2014. The man who was once cast away, will wish he was just stuck with a soccer ball after this one. Terrifyingly tense and taught, Hanks restrained passion and emotion looks to be the makings of one of his definitive performances in a redefining moment of his career. Just look at his first meeting with the hijackers (something director Greengrass helped craft to it's effectiveness by not introducing Hanks and cast and crew to the captors (who have no acting experience, for the record but are incredible)) and how he performs as fearful as he can with the full force of every "sure". It's clear to hear and see the captain of 90's classic moviemaking is back on the Academy radar and heading in the right direction for sure. The 80's may have been the career introduction to the 1990's that belonged to him but the new millennium maturity and second decade is far from his swan song. It's clear there is more to this man who is also actively involved in the environment and politics off-screen. Critics used to say this guy always played the same character but the everyman, rare versatile leading actor who has grown and matured over the decades has done it all from romancing comedy to thrilling action in all the depths and complexities of his characters and he's only just beginning to scratch the surface. Everyone's favourite actor of the 90's still has so many more stories to tell today and tomorrow and if you've forgot about yesterday there's always a library of great American tales of Hanks for the memories.

No comments:

Post a Comment