For Your Consideration: Feb. 6, 2015

Yesterday, Amy Pascal announced that she will be stepping down as co-chair of Sony Pictures when her contract expires next month. It’s not a particularly surprising announcement – after the notorious November e-mail hack aired her private, often unflattering feelings towards David Fincher, Angelina Jolie and any number of other key collaborators (not to mention jokes about our President that were at best ill-advised and at worst ignorant), Pascal’s time as a studio head was doomed, and Sony’s subsequent back-and-forth bungling of the release of “The Interview” was just icing on the cake. Why neither co-chair Michael Lynton, nor producer Scott Rudin, (the recipient and main participant in Pascal’s most cringeworthy email exchanges) seem to be getting quite the same grilling from the industry, well, I suppose that’s something to investigate another day.

In any case, Pascal is moving on to run her own production company, which might not be a bad thing. Since she started working for Columbia Pictures (now a Sony subsidiary) in 1988, Pascal’s shown an interesting knack for shepherding both successful prestige flicks and blockbuster fare (give or take an Amazing Spider-Man). This week, here’s three films that Pascal helped develop.

– Ethan

“A League of Their Own” (1992)

Cast: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Rainer, Bitty Schram, Ann Cusack, Anne Ramsay, David Strathairn, Bill Pullman, Jon Lovitz, Tea Leoni

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, Vudu, or iTunes, on disc from Netflix

That rare kind of film that manages to be just as charming and fun as it is enlightening. Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” took a quickly-forgotten slice of American history, the All American-Girls Professional Softball League formed in the middle of WWII, and brought it to breezy, comical – and in the case of Tom Hanks’ Jimmy “There’s No Crying In Baseball” Dugan, iconic – life. Maybe now that she’s got some free time Amy Pascal can reunite with her former lead and get involved in Geena Davis’ female-filmmaker focused festival later this year.

– Ethan

“Casino Royale” (2006)

Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Caterina Murino, Isaach de Bankolé, Tobias Menzies, Jesper Christensen

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

James Bond might be the most durable franchise in film history, but 2002’s “Die Another Day” sure did its darnedest to test that theory. As the series has managed to do in years past (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on the heels of “You Only Live Twice,” “GoldenEye” following “License to Kill”), the Bond production team – an always-complicated mess of developers at Eon Productions, MGM, the Broccoli family, and lately Sony – turned a complete 180, reinvigorating the franchise with a new actor, a new tone, and a hearty helping of theft from the latest action-movie trends. In this case, the dodgy CGI and horrifically absurd plotting of “Die Another Day” were replaced with the grit and brutal action of Jason Bourne and “Batman Begins” – which, led by the smirking, petulant Daniel Craig, ended up getting closer to the suave-but-troubled killing machine of Ian Fleming’s imagination than any previous attempt. The extended Texas Hold ‘Em tournament reeks of excessive mid-2000s fad-chasing, but otherwise “Casino Royale” is as thoroughly entertaining an action film as you could ask for.

– Ethan

“The Social Network” (2010)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rashida Jones, Josh Pence

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Perhaps Sony should’ve taken a hint about cyber-security from Mark Zuckerberg’s antics in the opening sequence of David Fincher’s still-brilliant, moody and incisive critique of the pursuit of power in the digital age. “Citizen Kane” it’s not, but it also kind of is – certainly not so formally ground-breaking (although Fincher’s regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth is on great form here), “The Social Network” is still just as concerned with the alienating and paradoxical sacrifice of personal relationships in the name of wealth and influence as Orson Welles once was. The tools have changed, but the self-corrupting urges at the heart of our society stay the same. Eisenberg is cast perfectly as Aaron Sorkin’s desperately needy and abrasive take on the Facebook founder, while Andrew Garfield broke out as the in-over-his-head, not-so-innocent Eduardo Saverin; but surprisingly it’s Timberlake who threatens to steal the show as Sean Parker, playboy entrepreneur and modern Mephistopheles.

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: Nov. 14, 2014

Leonardo DiCaprio turned 40 on Wednesday, and already he’s had a career more glittering and diverse than most enjoy in a lifetime. After appearing in commercials and featuring as a homeless boy in the sitcom “Growing Pains,” Leo made his first splash as an actor at age 19, playing a mentally impaired boy in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” The role earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod, but for a while it looked like Leo, wooing millions of girls around the world as Jack Dawson and Romeo, wouldn’t graduate from the realm of teenage idols into a serious actor. But just as he went from child star to heartthrob, Leo ground out a career for himself, becoming a well-respected thespian through stellar performances in movies like “Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me If You Can.” He has been nominated for the acting Oscar four times. No joy so far, but with decades still before him, Leo is sure to grab that golden statuette sooner rather than later.

– Elaine

“Titanic” (1997)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, Victor Garber, David Warner, Ewan Stewart, Ioan Gruffudd

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, streaming on Netflix

For better or worse, “Titanic” will remain one of Leo’s defining roles, and while it’s easy to deride him in his heartthrob days, golden hair and green eyes shimmering while sketching nude Kate Winslet, he was already showing glimpses of the talent he would become. “Titanic” is all about spectacle, but Leo gives the movie a levity and a joie de vivre that prevents it from taking itself too seriously. Like the romantic artist-drifter he plays, Leo seems to be enjoying every moment of the ship’s fateful voyage, and his energy and boyish charm play off Winslet’s gumption and moxie to give us one of cinema’s enduring romances.

– Elaine

“Catch Me If You Can” (2002)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe

Available to rent or purchase on iTunes and Amazon Instant, on disc from Netflix

In retrospect, Spielberg’s charming dramedy seems something of a turning point for DiCaprio – part of his transformation from teen idol to a respected and adventurous leading man. As real-life con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., DiCaprio uses his boyish good looks and enthusiasm in service of schemes only a teenager could dream up, faking his way through an adult world he can barely understand but certainly knows how to enjoy. Doctor, lawyer, detective, airline pilot; Frank takes everything he’s absorbed from pop culture, adds in a smattering of bullshit and powers through it all. The how-did-he-do-that con scenes (accompanied by John Williams’ jaunty, jazzy score) are the most fun, but Spielberg’s film has a real heart in the scenes between DiCaprio and Hanks, as the dogged federal agent pursuing, and, bizarrely, befriending Frank at the same time.

– Ethan

“The Great Gatsby” (2013)

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Baz Luhrmann’s addled adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s class novel at least gets points for trying, I suppose – for every horrendous passage of Nick Carraway’s voice-over narration or over-saturated Baz-infused rumpus there’s a counterpoint of fine character work by the director’s spot-on cast. And leading the pack is DiCaprio, who nails everything about the grasping, idealistic, tragic Jay Gatsby: the false bravado glued together by a sincere charm and deep-seeded desperation, the juvenile worldview packaged inside a street-smart operator. Everything about DiCaprio’s performance screams superficiality (his entrance, with fireworks blazing and Gershwin blaring, is one of the finest moments of Luhrmann’s career), from his gleaming smile to forced accent – until the genuine, lovestruck Jay Gatz pokes through, in tender and comic moments. The scene where he has tea with Nick and Daisy in Nick’s cottage is a delight – a superb bit of physical comedy from DiCaprio mixed with a real, endearing romantic yearning.

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: September 5, 2014

With the studios oddly continuing to treat late summer like the new January (I guess they’re steering clear of the continued “Guardians of the Galaxy” juggernaut, but really, no new blockbuster for Labor Day? Really?), once again our most noteworthy release of the week is actually a re-release. Last week we celebrated the 30th anniversary of “Ghostbusters,” now we’ve turned to a more prestigious, though still *hackhack* beloved *hack*  pop culture classic. Yes, it’s been 20 years since Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” and the multi-Oscar-winner is back in select theaters this weekend.

Have we been over how much I hate this movie? I don’t think we have enough space in this introduction for me to get into it. But suffice to say it’s a personal theory of mine that more people would see “Forrest Gump” for the condescending, trite tripe it is if it weren’t for the fact that the protagonist is played by Tom Hanks, only the most likable everyman to grace the screen since Jimmy Stewart. I get it – Tom Hanks is great! I love him too! So let’s go watch him in some other movies. We’ll even stay in the same time period! For your perusal and serious consideration, three Tom Hanks movies from the ’90s – that are all better than “Forrest Gump.”

– Ethan

“Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)

Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Victor Garber, Rita Wilson, Bill Pullman

Available to purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Once upon a time, someone at a studio would notice that two young actors had that elusive something called chemistry, and lo! a rom-com was born. While we seem to have forgotten this magical formula in favor of superhero movies (see Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone), “Sleepless in Seattle” remains an example of savvy casting based on the leading couple’s chemistry. Inspired by (and featuring) “An Affair to Remember,” the movie manages to convince us of the couple’s final destiny together when they’re only onscreen together for a few minutes. A young and dashing Tom Hanks is at his broodiest here, staring into the water with his back to the camera, illuminated only by the night lights of Seattle, while Meg Ryan is sweet and quirky, somehow able to convince us that she has fallen in love with a guy she only heard on the radio. “Sleepless in Seattle” is sincere and unapologetically romantic, and in this age of irony, bromances, and alien invasions, that’s refreshing.

– Elaine

“That Thing You Do!” (1996)

Cast: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Obba Babatundé, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Ellis, Bill Cobbs

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A cheeky, breezy musical comedy, “That Thing You Do!” manages to be simultaneously superfluous and essential, a perfect cinematic equivalent of the film’s subject: a one-hit wonder band maneuvering the perils and benefits of their fleeting fame. Pop music can be terrifically difficult to fake, but the film’s title track (written by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger) is that rare movie track that sounds exactly like what it’s supposed to be: a catchy, disposable trifle that manages to catch a wave in the summer of 1964 and get The Wonders (or, say it with me now: the Oh-Need-Ers) a record deal; and a real manager, played by Hanks with slick, though not unkind, pragmatism. As it happens, “That Thing You Do!” was also Hanks’ debut film as a director – and, choosing to ignore the little debacle of “Larry Crowne,” we might be able to think of Hanks himself as a bit of a one-hit wonder, in that respect.

– Ethan

“The Green Mile” (1999)

Cast: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Sam Rockwell, Patricia Clarkson, Gary Sinise

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

On the list of great prison movies, “Shawshank Redemption” will undoubtedly rank first. But “The Green Mile,” made five years after Andy Dufresne crawled to freedom (by the same director and based off another Stephen King novel no less) looms near the top. It’s another story of the relationship between a black man and a white man in prison, but while the first movie was about the tenacity of the human spirit, “The Green Mile” is a spiritual, supernatural film, where a Christ figure makes us reflect on our sins by absolving them. Tom Hanks stars as the captain in charge of Louisiana’s Death Row during the Depression, exuding his likable Everyman charm even in this least charming of roles. The movie is intentionally slow-paced and invites us to soak up the powerful emotions it evokes. We get to know the prison inmates, the rhythm and humdrum of prison life, and ultimately, the grisly horror of the electric chair.

– Elaine