A MAN CALLED OTTO (2023)

January 5, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Grumpy people are everywhere these days. In fact, two-time Oscar winner and all-around likable guy Tom Hanks (FORREST GUMP, PHILADELPHIA) may be the only one who catches us off-guard when he’s grumpy. Here, Hanks plays Otto, the neighborhood curmudgeon who patrols the community daily drenched in full-fledged annoyance over topics like pets, recycling, traffic, and parking. In fact, Otto is annoyed by most people and just about everything they do (and these days, who amongst us isn’t).

The film is an American remake of the Oscar nominated Swedish film, A MAN CALLED OVE (2015), which featured a terrific titular performance from Rolf Lassgard. Both films have been adapted from Fredrik Backman’s novel, “A Man Called Ove”, with writer-director Hannes Holm behind the 2015 version, and screenwriter David Magee (LIFE OF PI, 2012) and director Marc Forster driving this one. Mr. Forster has previously directed some interesting and diverse movies including, MONSTER’S BALL (2001), FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006), THE KITE RUNNER (2007), QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), WORLD WAR Z (2013), and CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018).

We join Otto on his morning rounds, and that’s when we witness his constant annoyance on display, while also meeting some of his neighbors like Jimmy the friendly power walker (played by Cameron Britton), as well as the ultra-friendly new neighbors, very pregnant Marisol (a superb Mariana Trevino), her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their herd of young kids. There is also Otto’s estranged friend Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones), who is now very sick, his wife Anita (Juanita Jennings), and Malcolm (Mack Bayda) a local boy whose parents kicked him out because he’s transgender. Malcolm has a connection to Otto’s late wife, and it’s her passing that has not only caused Otto’s personality to shift into grump mode, but also pushed him to explore ways to join her ‘in a better place’, although he can’t quite manage the next step.

Marisol is really the major force in the story, as her unrelenting friendliness and persistence in connecting with Otto, slowly breaks down his defense as he finds a reason to live. Director Forster uses flashbacks to help us understand Otto’s background. Hanks’ own son Truman Hanks plays him as a young Otto, while Rachel Keller portrays young Sonya, the girl that wins his heart. A devastating personal tragedy can certainly impact a person to the point where their personality and outlook changes; however, we also see how a positive influence … here with Marisol … can help pull someone out of a dark emotional hole.

Tom Hanks (coming off his roles as Colonel Tom Parker in ELVIS and Geppetto in PINOCCHIO) is so familiar to movie goers that it’s comical to see him go full grump, although it should be noted that he’s more Walter Matthau in BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) or GRUMPY OLD MEN (1993) than he is Clint Eastwood growling “Get off my lawn” in GRAN TORINO (2008). In other words, despite some similarities to ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002), the film is never quite as dark as it portends, even with Otto’s congenital heart issue and the redevelopment threats from the perfectly named Dye & Merica Real Estate Company. This is designed and presented as a sentimental mainstream film that is easily relatable, and it will undoubtedly have that appeal.

Opens in theaters on January 6, 2023

WATCH THE TRAILER


DIGGING FOR FIRE (2015)

August 26, 2015

digging for fire Greetings again from the darkness. If one is evaluating the most misleading movie trailers of the year, this one would definitely be a contender. Rather than the carefree, laugh-a-minute, hanging with buddies, offbeat comedy it’s presented to be, it’s actually a rather dramatic observation piece on adult responsibilities and the changes we go through with marriage, kids, jobs, and so on. Think of it as an adult-coming-of-age weekend.

Writer/director Joe Swanberg has become a festival favorite with such previous films as Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas. He co-wrote this script with Jake Johnson, who also stars as Tim, husband to Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt). As the film begins, we quickly realize Tim and Lee are terrific parents to their young son Jude (director Swanberg’s real life son), but are also a bit emotionally-strained with the whole marriage and adult responsibility thing.

A pretty amazing ensemble cast delivers a 90 minute acting seminar based not so much on plot, as two separate spousal adventures. Using a client’s beautiful home as their own family retreat, Lee and Tim quickly decide to spend a weekend apart – so that Tim can finish their taxes, and Lee can hit up her parents for Jude’s pre-school tuition. Of course, watching Tim work on his taxes wouldn’t be much of a movie, so instead, he finds a rusty revolver, and what appears to be a human bone, in the backyard. With Lee and Jude gone, Tim invites his friends over for beer, snacks and help with the gun/bone mystery. This leads to appearances by Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina, Mike Birbiglia, Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick.

Lee’s trip home permits quick exchanges with both of her parents (Judith Light, Sam Elliott), an ego-boosting interlude with Orlando Bloom, and a visit with old friends played by Ron Livingston and Melanie Lynskey. Ms. Lynskey’s appearance seems especially fitting, as the tone of the movie is very much in line with her TV show “Togetherness” with Mark Duplass. The “tone” is related to people who aren’t so much unhappy being married as they are curious as to what they are missing. These people haven’t adjusted to the fact that life isn’t always a party, and it’s not really possible to recapture the carefree days with your old friends. Sam Rockwell’s character is a stark reminder of this.

The book “Passionate Marriage” makes multiple appearances in the movie, and it’s clear that the lead characters believe they are losing their self, rather than evolving. It asks the question about what is “happy”, and just how crucial it is to be open to the changes life brings.

The classic song “Li’l Red Riding Hood” from Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs gets a prime spot during the film and is much more enjoyable than the slightly annoying New Age score that is overused through many scenes. This isn’t really a mystery about the gun and bone, and it’s not really about old friends or saving a marriage. It’s mostly about coming to grips with life and taking joy in the good things … like a cute little boy and a trusted partner with whom to share each day.

watch the trailer:

 


SLEEPWALK WITH ME (2012)

September 11, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Today, Mike Birbiglia is a very funny and talented stand-up comedian (check youtube). The movie is based on his real life struggles as a boyfriend/won’t-be-husband and young bartender/comedian. The efforts of the comedian honing his craft are much more interesting than watching just another guy who can’t commit, but the film does a nice job of blending the two story lines so that it’s a bit more relatable.

Mike Birbiglia portrays Matt Pandamiglio. Say that ten times every morning and your verbal dexterity will skyrocket. Matt is in a relationship with Abby (Lauren Ambrose) and he admittedly is not ready to commit to this wonderful woman whom he clearly doesn’t deserve. We learn this as he speaks directly to the audience while driving. While Abby drops hints, she remains true and loyal and patient.

Some of the funniest scenes involve Matt’s parents, played by Carol Kane and James Rebhorn. Kane just wants her son to be happy (and married to Abby), while grumpy Rebhorn just wants his son to grow up. As Matt and Abby live together and the stress of pending marriage, failing career and adulthood bear down on him, Matt begins to suffer from sleepwalking. It’s kind of funny at first, but quickly turns dangerous. A small time gig becomes Matt’s break and he ends up hitting the road for an endless stream of minor gigs at clubs and colleges. It’s here that he stumbles on comedy gold … his relationship.

 The stand-up style is awkward and clumsy, yet funny … unless you are Abby. I got a bit frustrated at how little Lauren Ambrose was given to do as the lead actress (and a very talented one), but this is mostly an autobiographical presentation of Birbiglia’s real life path. It was interesting to see the group of real comedians give us a peek into the close-knit community of touring comedians. Even Kristen Schaal (Fllight of the Conchords) makes a brief appearance, as does Loudon Wainwright III.

This is an unorthodox movie that still works thanks mostly to the talents of Mike Birbiglia. He was also assisted by co-director Seth Barrish and co-writers Joe Birbiglia (his brother) and Ira Glass from “The American Life”. If you enjoy stand up comedy, you will probably find this Sundance award winner entertaining and interesting.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a glimpse into the struggles of an up-and-coming stand-up comedian strikes your fancy OR you are familiar with Mike Birbiglia’s fine work

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have had your fill of fear of commitment stories

watch the trailer: