Sunday 16 October 2011

The Great Buck Howard

I'm going to tell you a secret. I like films that don't have a lot of conflict. The ones that swim on by, where the issues they face are subtle ones that require the complexity of human emotion to pull them through. Just like life. How often do we fly off the handle, get into fist fights, or blow shit up?

Hardly ever. 

Life is more subtle and I like it when films are too. I'm in a minority; because the box office shows that people want monkeys jumping off of bridges and big metal oversized toys knocking over buildings in Manhattan. I always liked Rom-Coms. Of course, society says that those films are for the women -- but so what if I like watching 'One Fine Day'. Relationships are fascinating, and I like the comedy. Even though things will work out, I like seeing what obstacles they'll get over to make it. But I like the obstacles to be about the characters -- it's takes real talent to create characters we care about.

'The Great Buck Howard' is one of those films where not a lot happens. A character called Buck Howard, played to perfection by John Malkovich, is a has-been entertainer -- a hypnotist and a 'mentalist', who refuses to acknowledge that his time is up, he's finished. His road manager, Troy Gable, is played by Colin Hanks. Most of the film is the two of them going from town to town as Buck Howard performs his show. Not a lot more happens. Yet a lot happens. I know that makes no sense but I'm sure you know what I mean.

Colin's role is one that his father, Tom, would have done in the 1980's. I saw a comment on IMDB where someone said "Tom, stop trying to make your son the next you!", and when you watch this, it's hard to deny, because they're so alike. Sadly, Colin isn't Tom. He doesn't have that magic. But that's fine -- Tom was the everyman loveable genius on the 80's and 90's. Colin is a fine actor but he'll be something different.

Tom Hanks was always my favorite actor. That's not true these days, I don't think; because I feel like he's lost himself a bit. Or maybe Hollywood has lost him, because once you get past forty-five it's harder to get the great roles. You have to reinvent yourself. That's okay for most actors, but not for Hanks -- because he's our everyman; we just want him to be himself. 

But there is a side of Tom Hanks I really love. It's the version of him we get in 'You've Got Mail' and on Letterman appearances. An all-round good guy, a laugh, a hoot - someone who enjoys the magic of life. I like that version of Hanks. We saw it with 'That Thing You Do' - a lightweight comedy that he wrote and directed; full of the playful equilibrium I enjoy in movies. And we see it here with 'The Great Buck Howard' - a film he produced and financed through his company, Playtone. It's directed by Sean McGinly, a director who caught the attention of Hanks with his film 'Two Days'. The film is packed with Hanks' friends and regular collaborators; including Steve Zahn (Actor: You've Got Mail, That Thing You Do, From The Earth To The Moon), Playtone Co-Founder Gary Goetzman (Producer: Larry Crowne, The Pacific, Charlie Wilson's War) and numerous others. 

It's one of those films that you just sink into. A fascinating title character in Buck Howard, coming to terms with his fading popularity; and Troy trying to figure his own life out -- with a little help from an unexpected love interest; Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt). Predictable? In some ways. But most films are predictable. We can go one of two ways; make crazy films like 'Inception' or stylish nonsense like 'Donnie Darko', or we can go deeper in the small and personal stories that fascinate us. Most people will choose the former, but I'm going to stand up for the latter. 

'The Great Buck Howard' is not a great movie. You'll only watch it the once. But that's enough; it's one of those films with engaging characters and a well paced story that does just enough to allow you to fly away into its world for an hour and a half. That's more than enough for me -- and it's actually quite rare. It's also fun to see Tom Hanks in a small role (he has two scenes; as the Father of his real-and-fictional-son.)

This is a film you probably didn't know about, because there are a lot of films you don't know about because they don't get wide releases, because they're not a safe bet. They disappear into nothing unless we dig them out. But it's great they exist -- there are so many little gems out there, full of our favourite actors. There are people out there who like stories and interesting characters and relationships rather than high concept plots and car crashes. It's good to know they exist. 

Do you know the film 'The Moguls'? It was also called 'The Amateurs' for a while. It's a comedy about a small community who are fed up with their lot in life -- so they come together to make a porn film. Sounds tasteless and crude, right? But it's not. It's a heart-warming tale, full of great performances and big laughs. It stars Jeff Bridges, Ted Danson, Patrick Fugit, Jeanne Tripplehorn and many others. 

These films exist. It's good to remind ourselves of that. I tend to enjoy them more than the big budget FBI-world-ending things. And I know I'm not alone. Check these films out if what I say resonates with you at all!

Care to share?


  1. I'm always love finding films that slipped under the radar. Since you watch "rom-coms" as I do, (and I get tons of crap for it but who cares), did you like "Up in the Air" with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga? That's one of my favorite though I find it more of a dramatic film.

  2. The Moguls is excellent and another film that got forgotten about. Although I am not a fan of Rom Coms - I certainly agree with you about exploring these little gems of films

  3. Just watched The Great Buck Howard and found your blog in the process. I enjoyed your thoughts, and suggestions. (I found the movie under Indies on NetFlix.)