Tom Hanks is a wonderful performer, one of those rare Hollywood stars whose acting ability equals his charm and charisma. That said 2022-2023 isn’t going to be remembered as one of the best years of his career.
His Dutch accent as Col. Tom Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is a blemish on the bio-pic that’s hard to get past, and while his lead performance in “A Man Called Otto” isn’t poor, it’s not particularly noteworthy either in a middling production that is touching, but yet ultimately as forgettable as what you had for lunch on an ordinary Tuesday.
Not bad, but not all that memorable.
“A Man Called Otto” is a remake of a Swedish hit “A Man Called Ove,” that nabbed an Academy Award in 2015. I can almost assure you this snoozy re-imagining won’t be in the running for an Oscar.
The film’s major crime is its ordinariness, but that is a frightful offense at today’s box office where subtly is a trait not only overlooked but almost forgotten.
Some might find this tale about a widowed man dealing with deep depression interesting, and even humorous as circumstances and his neighbors keep interfering with his intentions, but director Marc Forster’s film from a script by David Magee plays as so ordinary and commonplace that’s it’s almost as unnoticeable as Otto feels after his whole world is turned upside down without the love of his life, Sonya (Rachel Keller).
She was his spark, and without her, he’s not necessarily lost, but he has no reason to go on living, either.
Thankfully he is surrounded and saved by his neighbors, and though he’s slow to warm to them, Otto ultimately finds a reason to hang on. Mariana Trevino plays Marisol, one of Otto’s needy neighbors, and her performance actually sparkles in an otherwise ordinary movie. Mack Bayda is solid as transgender teenager Malcolm, who was thrown out of his house by his father. Otto eventually takes Malcom in, and through that and other acts of kindness Otto regains his place in a world he had thought he had lost with the death of his wife. Otto builds connections that don’t exactly replace the relationship he had with his wife, but they do help him find a reason to keep on living.
Admittedly, that’s a worthy message even if it is relayed in a fairly mundane and drab manner.
As a side note, the movie also features Hanks’ son Truman as a younger version of Otto.
The Old Way
Had I stumbled across “The Old Way” on a streamer and bothered to watch, I probably wouldn’t have been that disappointed.
However, when I go to the movie theater I do expect more than a retread of ideas brought to life with more originality and flare 50 years ago. Better Westerns — much better Westerns — play daily on cable television, almost hourly.
Specifically “The Old Way” will remind you of classics “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “The Unforgiven,” and probably a score of other films. Yes, it’s that derivative.
However, one bit of inspiration by screenwriter Carl W. Lucas almost made the experience worth the price of admission. Almost mind you. Lucas and director Brett Donowho want the audience to consider if psychopathic behavior exhibited by the lead character is hereditary, learned or both.
Nicholas Cage stars psychopathic gunslinger Colton Briggs, who has given up his murdering ways because of the love of a good and quite beautiful woman Ruth (Kerry Knuppe). Briggs has even become a businessman, running a general store. While at that store with his young daughter Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), Briggs’ wife is murdered off screen at their farm by a group of desperadoes, The wild-eyed leader, James McCallister (Noah Le Gros) claims to be Briggs’ brother.
Once Briggs buries his wife, he plans to hunt down her murderers. Before taking off in the night, he draws his pistol and almost shoots his daughter while she is in bed, but after looking her in the eyes, he holsters his pistol and opts to bring her along on his quest for vengeance.
Soon we learn that young Brooke has the same temperament as her father. She also is a psychopath who feels no empathy, sympathy or remorse. This setup interested me, but ultimately the showdown with the crew that murdered Briggs’ wife and Brooke’s mother is so by the numbers that it’s almost comical.
I enjoy Westerns, even bad Westerns to a certain degree, but this film is so sparse and derivative that it’s difficult to stomach. Cage isn’t bad, but his character is intentionally emotionless, so his performance is quite stale and lifeless.
Nick Searcy (“Justified” and “Greater”) as Marshall Jarrett offers the best performance in the film. His exposition drops may be the most artful and entertaining aspect of the movie.
Similarly, it’s hard to judge Armstrong’s performance. Was she good at showing no emotion or is she just an ungifted young actress?
The cinematography by Sion Michel is perhaps the best work in the lackluster production. His establishing shots gorgeously standout in an otherwise less than artful endeavor.
Classic Corner – Bonnie and Clyde
In a very real sense, there are movies made before “Bonnie and Clyde” and movies made after the 1967 classic directed by Arthur Penn.
While Hollywood’s Production or Hays Code, which governed the type of action, behavior, and language used in motion pictures, had been in decline since the mid 1950s, “Bonnie and Clyde,” produced by and starring Warren Beatty, drew an undeniable line in the sand by becoming a box-office hit that Hollywood wouldn’t ignore.
Viewed through today’s eyes, the film might seem a bit tame, but its frank depiction of sexual situations and the graphic nature of its violence stood out upon release. The film’s climax, which featured Bonnie and Clyde being ambushed by law enforcement, was one of the bloodiest scenes depicted on film at the time thanks to the use of squibs.
Squibs are special-effect devices equipped with a very small explosive charge connected to a bladder of fake blood. Hidden under the clothing of an actor, the detonation of a squib graphically mimicked gunshot wounds.
Prior to Penn’s film, there was some blood depicted in gun battles in Hollywood pictures, but not of the explosive variety that became common very quickly after the movie’s release.
The film tells a condensed version of the story of gangsters Clyde Barrow (Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway). The couple and their gang pulled off a series of heists and bank robberies in the early 1930s that became legendary. The film offered a romantic but also brutal and hyper-realistic view of crime and its effects that Hollywood had all but shunned since the introduction of the Production or Hays code in 1934.
Audiences not only found the concoction entertaining but seductive, and producers and directors were more than willing to feed that appetite.
Though films had already become more daring in the type of material presented to audiences, the financial success of “Bonnie and Clyde” is seen as the tipping point for the introduction of the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system in 1968, which is still in place today.
The movie made a star out of Dunaway, whose sexually charged and frank depiction of Bonnie Parker was somewhat of a landmark at the time. It prompted scores of copycats in lesser films throughout the next decade.
Gene Hackman also gained notice playing Clyde’s even crazier brother Bubba, and like Dunaway he became a major star in the 1970s.
Michael J. Pollard is unforgettable as the dimwitted getaway driver C.W. Moss, but it is Estelle Parsons as Blanche, Bubba’s wife, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Beatty is handsome and taciturn as Clyde, offering an understated performance that still stands strong against the movie’s showier performances.
The film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including ones for all the major categories, but it won only one other besides Parsons’ for Burnett Guffey’s artful yet graphic cinematography.
“Bonnie and Clyde” is streaming on HBO Max.