Quiet on the set! for ‘All Is Lost’

One-man and one-woman shows are at home on Broadway and other stages. They’re easy to produce, if not so easy on the actors wielding those 90-minute monologues. But in the movies? One cast member? That’s crazy minimalist for such a dilatant art form.

I won’t officially review All Is Lost — who can top this New York Times treatment, anyway. What he said.

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Thar she blows, just one lonely credit drifting by …

The J.C. Chandor-directed movie is not quite The Old Man and the Sea nor Life of Pi — it’s Robert Redford in a boat hell-bent on self-destruction, proving that he who ends up with the most toys does not necessarily win. Still, amid the deep thematic undertow of this telescopic tale, I had to laugh at the end when the single cast credit rolled. Not often does one see that.

It got me thinking: What other movies dare deal in lone-wolf casting?

Certainly not 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea, which starred Spencer Tracy, a feisty marlin and about 12 bit players including Ernest Hemingway himself (cameo as a tourist ) and his fourth wife (and widow), Mary. Tracy did get an Oscar nomination for his sea crusade, which is more than I can say for Our Man Redford, at age 77 snubbed even worse than Tom Hanks was this year. How many more commanding roles dooyaspose Redford has left in him? He even has to sit idly by while Leo’s The Great Gatsby gets … oh, never mind. That remake nabbed only two nominations, for costume design and production design (the original won for costume design). So as Gatsby the Great, Leo got snubbed just as badly as Redford 40 years ago.

Old man indeed. Tracy’s Old Man was also nominated for best color cinematography (in those days the Academy once broke it down into color and black-and-white — so sorry, Nebraska). It clinched a lone Oscar for score, because in a movie with few other frills, music helps provide much of the thrills.

I never would have dialed up the fatalist feature All Is Lost On Demand if it weren’t for its solo Oscar nomination, for sound editing. I’m soooo glad I did, though. If you want to truly understand what sound editing is all about, plunge into this film.

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Redford had five able-bodied stuntmen standing in for him, but he proved he’s still a pretty able body at 77.

There’s hardly any dialogue. What Redford elicits with his sage, rugged face is a thrumming inner monologue.The lapping waves against the boat’s hull. His fidgeting with ropes and jibs. The rustling of plastic bags, sloshing of water, flapping of the sails, grunts and sighs, probably all of it overlaid in post-production to mask Chandor’s direction. Save for the opening voice-over narration, Redford’s voice isn’t heard until 20 minutes in — an SOS call. And then not again until 1:10, a one-word line beginning with “F.” It’s a wordless wonder, masterfully mixed.

The soundtrack, though, is nothing to write home about —a morose Jaws-tinged theme. But that mix. As shipshape as Redford.

What an achievement. A movie dare that defies formula. The Academy is just getting it all wrong lately.

I asked my friend and movie animal Jon Briggs, another man of few words (spoken, anyway), what other movies have featured just one cast member. I hesitate to say it — because he faithfully reads my blog (when I nudge him) — but the man is a genius. How it went down:

Me: “Hey, Jon, can you think of any movies with just one cast member in them besides Robert Redford’s All Is Lost?”

Jon: “You gonna credit me again in your blog?”

Me: “Mebbe.”

Jon (looking ceiling-ward to activate data sensors, eyes flashing, 20 seconds later): “I think there’s Secret Honor, with that one guy I always get mixed up with Philip Seymour Hoffman [because he goes by three names, starts with Philip, has a face]. … Yeah, I think it was just the one guy. But I never saw it.”

Who does that? Remembers details of a film they’ve never seen? But he’s right, it was Philip Baker Hall, doing a “fictional meditation” of Richard Nixon in a 1984 Robert Altman film. How’d I miss that!? It did win one award: the FIPRESCI Prize from the Forum of New Cinema. Hey, isn’t the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences supposed to represent the arts? Where’s the art? Where’s the science?

Jon’s answer for everything: “I vote for The Counselor.” Not nominated.

But now, in the midst of my Oscar-nominated marathon, I am sidetracked to see Secret Honor. The whole 90-minute shebang is on Hulu, courtesy of The Criterion Collection (part of Jon’s bucket list, and why he hasn’t gotten to it yet — it’s down in the S’s).

Or, SPOILER ALERT, if you’d rather just watch the final scene:

(For other posts featuring Jon Briggs, see:)

Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected (mommytongue.com)

Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)

Goodbye, Mr. Chipmunk: Pick the best rodent flick (mommytongue.com)

Saving Mr. Hanks

Poor Tom Hanks. Once dubbed “the most likable guy in Hollywood,” his star is sullied by so-called Oscar snubs this year — or so the Tinseltown media are buzzing. A Los Angeles Times headline last week asked: “Is the academy over Tom Hanks?”

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Tom Hanks falls for a mermaid in “Splash” — another Everyman’s fantasy.

Save your hankies. From Saving Private Ryan to Saving Mr. Banks to (spoiler alert) getting saved by the SEALs in Captain Phillips, the charming, Southern-flavored (though he’s from California) Hanks has enjoyed a charmed career. Getting his start as a comic actor, with those signature deer-in-headlights, goofball gazes, he made a splash in Splash (1984), made it bigger in Big (1988), and then started to shed his comic veneer with Punchline that same year. His character in that film was a stand-up comedian down on his luck looking for his big break. When he reveals his tears-of-a-clown side in a famous meltdown onstage, Hanks exposed himself as a multifaceted, “serious” actor.

It didn’t take him long to command iconic roles (and million-dollar salaries): He is the astronaut who utters “Houston, we have a problem” in Apollo 13 — heroic not because he flew to the moon but because he survived as his dream to do so died. He’s the good soldier on a hellish mission to extract from the battlefield the last surviving son of one family in World War II in Saving Private Ryan, representing the best of our best, even in a killing field. He’s a 9/11 victim in 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — and not just any victim, but one of those photographed jumping from one of the twin towers. Although his role is small, he looms large as a spiritual guide to those left to grieve and suffer.

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A waif of a Hanks in “Philadelphia.” Take that, McConaughey.

And even though he’s not nominated as best actor this year, he has already plumbed some of the territory the best actor nominees are being recognized for. In 1993, Hanks starred in one of the first mainstream movies to shed light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Philadelphia) — and shed about 30 pounds to do it. (To achieve his own dramatic weight loss as an AIDS patient 20 years later for the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey admits he consulted Hanks — while also eating little more than daily spoonfuls of pudding.)

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WILSON!

Hanks also pulled a De Niro (re: Raging Bull, a 1980 Best Picture Oscar winner) by gaining 55 pounds for Cast Away (2000) and then losing it again during filming. Besides providing catharsis for yo-yo dieters and workaholics alike in that movie, he caught the wave of Americans’ growing love affair with soccer. Not to mention spoonfuls of sugar and Type 2 diabetes.

perdition-splshHe did a sort of prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street exposing Wall Street’s festering greed in 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. I guess his Road to Perdition (2002), in which he plays a hitman whose son witnesses what he does for a living, is maybe the closest thing to Bruce Dern’s delusional dad on a road trip with his son in Nebraska. Or maybe Toy Story — they were both named “Woody.”

That Thing You Do! — which Hanks wrote, directed and starred in — has the retro vibe of American Hustle, although he’s pretty much one of the suits. As for hairpieces to compete with Christian Bale’s, pick any one of his looks from his six roles in 2012’s Cloud Atlas. All bad hair days.

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Hanks plays a karmic, cosmic chameleon in “Cloud Atlas.” And his savage, fake language seems trickier than his New England accent as Captain Phillips, or any of his faux Southern twangs.

And the 12 Years a Slave guy? Well, Hanks can’t compete, but he had some tender moments in 1999’s The Green Mile with his prisoner, that mountain of a man Michael Clarke Duncan. Together, they helped us believe in miracles.

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A glimpse of salvation in “The Green Mile.”

So it’s been there, done that for Hanks. Do you think he CARES whether the Academy no longer loves him?

Poor Hanks. So omnipresent yet so underrated.

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter recently noted that, with this year’s Captain Phillips, Hanks has starred in seven films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar over the years:

Forrest Gump (1994)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Green Mile (1999)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Of those, only Forrest Gump nabbed the Best Picture Oscar. Gump. Forrest Gump. And for only two was he singled out by the Academy for his performance with an acting nomination (Saving Private Ryan, Gump).

It’s not as if Hanks hasn’t been duly recognized by the Academy — he remains one of the few actors to win back-to-back acting Oscars, for 1993’s Philadelphia and 1994’s Gump (beating John Travolta in Pulp Fiction?!?) — but maybe the golden boy has lost some of his golden touch.

0_61_hanks_tomIt could be age-ism — the hefty role of Captain Phillips shows the realistic heft (shirtless) of a nearly 60-year-old middle-of-the-road Everyman. And now that he has joined the ranks of the nearly 26 millions diabetic Americans (7 million of whom don’t know it), you can’t say he doesn’t stay relevant.

In 1998’s You’ve Got Mail (the digital upgrade of 1993’s treacly Sleepless in Seattle), he first opened the can of worms on obsessive hours spent at the computer and online affairs, a precursor to Joaquin Phoenix’s Her fixation.

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The warm-and-fuzzy “You’ve Got Mail.”

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When it comes to roles, you never know what you’re gonna get with Hanks. But it’s likely to feel good.

As gooey love stories go, chocolate lover Forrest Gump was Hanks’ most iconic figure of all. That square of very little brain but big heart stood up for everything American: the plinth of motherhood, battle-scarred vets, persecuted dolts, AIDS victims so callously mowed down, and such fads-turned-fabric of our lives as fitness running (New Balance, made in America), smiley-face memes and the Apple computer. How could he top that marquee role with his fingers in everything? Perhaps only by playing Walt Disney, the magic king himself, in Saving Mr. Banks.

We all love Tom Hanks. Screenwriters, moviegoers, his acting peers, marriage advocates — he has one of the longest Hollywood marriages going, and to the same, original person. True story: While out promoting Saving Mr. Banks on Ellen last year he talked about wife Rita Wilson, saying: “I’m not one to suck up to an audience, but the only thing we really argue about is who loves each other more.”

Awwwwwwwww, darling. He’s still just a little boy in a big person’s body.

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BREATHE, Tom. Breathe.

In Captain Phillips, he takes on real-world piracy — terrorism, again — but he pays wondrous homage not only to the by-the-book union workers but (again) those brave men in uniform. His greatest acting moment — another Oscar-worthy meltdown, I’d say — comes when he demonstrates a type of post-traumatic stress in present tense (emphasis on TENSE). And it’s his interplay with his nurse caretaker that finally has me, anyway, looking for my hankie.

That’s when you realize that Hanks has been nothing but wingman all these years to the people he plays.

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Woody meets … Walt Disney?

Hollywood reporters have it all wrong, confusing the message with the messenger. Hanks would be the first to say it’s about story. But it’s never been about him.

The Navy SEALs, in fact, seem to have slipped into the position of Hollywood darlings lately, what with all of these salutes based on memoirs from these formerly shadowy figures: 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty and Act of Valor, and this year’s Oscar contender Lone Survivor dramatizing a debacle of a mission in Afghanistan (up for Sound Mixing).

Flaws and failures are fertile fodder for films and those who create them. So by passing over Hanks … well, I’d like to thank the Academy.

You probably did the guy a favor.

Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected

The_Century_16_theater_in_Aurora_CO_-_Shooting_locationI give workmate Jon Briggs — a man making his way through a Criterion Collection bucket list — daily briefings on my Oscar movie marathoning. His dependable retort: “I vote for The Dark Knight Rises.”

And just because the Christopher Nolan showpiece isn’t nominated for a single statuette doesn’t mean Briggs’ vote doesn’t count. His is one of countless anti-Oscar comments tick-marking through social media feeds as the Oscar hype reaches its climax, five days before the 85th annual awards ceremony. Briggs feels about award shows much as I feel about the Super Bowl: lotsa grandstanding, wagering and belly-aching over nothing. Still, people get as invested in favorite directors, actors, even studios as others do with sports franchises.

Some have mused that last summer’s epic Batman flick isn’t a player this year because it’s forever tainted by the flickering shadows of 12 people killed, 57 maimed and dozens more forever traumatized in the Aurora, Colo., move theater massacre. Parading it past survivors might refresh their wounds, they say. Ignoring it, letting it die or fade away in some way serves the greater good.

dark_knight_risesBriggs argues merely that the Visual Effects category is a joke with its heavily CGI’ed nominees — that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t rely on as many computer graphic tricks to dazzle, that its more “realistic” studio techniques elevate it to a higher art form. I certainly see his point. Too much CGI or canned action puts me to sleep, and that’s one reason I don’t clamber to see the Lord of the Rings movies, and why I literally have dozed through most of them. That’s also why I mustered respect for Les Misérables director Tom Hooper for forcing his largely untrained cast to sing live, without a soundtrack, for a more visceral connection. And why I look forward to seeing Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, which celebrates the Van Nuys, Calif., recording studio that produced such benchmark LPs as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Nirvana’s Nevermind on an old-fashioned sound board, before digital mastering started isolating musicians and dissolving their chemistry.

Movies, though, are a means to escape reality, and the magic of movies has always been about exploiting the latest technology to make the impossible possible. I, too, am a huge fan of old movies that do so much with so little. I marvel at their quaint resourcefulness. I remember many failed attempts at infusing even more reality, like Smell-O-Vision, into the fantastical cinematic experience. But one day — probably tomorrow at this rate — even the latest 3-D technology, Dolby sound and CGI gimmicks will seem amateurish.

So which is it? Do we want our films realistic or crazy-far-out? Do we go to the movies to divine truths of our world and behaviors, to mirror ourselves, or do we want our minds blown discovering new worlds? Do we ooh and ahh at special effects pulled out of someone’s butt, or at actors like Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig who perform so many of their own stunts? It’s a smorgasbord. Movies bring everything to the table, to serve us all. You can turn up your nose if you don’t dig a dish.

Escaping reality. That’s the horror of what happened in Aurora, when unimaginable reality visited upon them, their brains in an altered state akin to dreaming and truly defenseless because of their own suspended animation. A shattered reality.

And yet the “magic” of The Dark Knight Rises, for me — despite it being a kick-ass great film made more suspenseful as I watched dreading what I imagined those people felt and when they felt it — is that it sits there in the shadows of every film I have seen since July 20, 2012. It is there when the slide comes up instructing me to locate my exits. And I’ve already checked, so no need to remind me. It is there when I am in a sold-out, crowded theater and I don’t know whether to take comfort in that thought or to be frightened out of my wits. It is there when I am alone in a theater, watching the last show before closing and my third movie of the day because I am cramming on Oscar nominees, thinking no one else could be this crazy … and then someone strolls in and I wonder: Could he be crazier, and also be packing?

2007_0605_dupontmetroIt is there when I emerge from the Metro station at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., on my way to see yet another show, and the Walt Whitman quote etched in granite above my head reads: “Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; the hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all dark night — some are so young; some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad.”

And if The Dark Knight Rises is not there, somewhere, during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, I may become just as disillusioned with awards shows as my pal Briggs.

It deserves to be there, resurrected, along with the shadows of those innocents who expired just because they sought diversion from reality at the movies.