By Marc S. Sanders

There’s A Man Called Otto who seems to be liked by everyone except himself. People in his neighborhood happily say hello to him every morning as he shovels the snow off his walkway.  They will try to chat with him on their morning jog.  He won’t even allow his work, where he was forced to retire, to send him on his way with a celebratory going away party. 

On the other hand, Otto prefers to occupy himself with insisting that the UPS truck driver not drive down their block, sniffing out whose dog left behind a present on his yard and scaring off the real estate agent in the fancy BMW who attempts to convince elderly residents to sell their townhomes and move into assisted living.  A new family moves in across the street and they appreciate Otto’s grumpy insistence of properly parking their car with a U-Haul trailer attached.  What Otto doesn’t appreciate is how one more attempt at a planned-out suicide is foiled by their disruption.

I’m told this late 2022 release is an adaptation of book called A Man Called Ove, which was also turned into a European film that is supposedly better than this picture.  I can’t offer an opinionated comparison as I have neither seen that other film nor read the book.

Tom Hanks is the title character in this film from Marc Forster.  He’s very good and right for the role.  I’m one of the few who find Hanks to be miscast on occasion.  Not here though.  His performance had me thinking back on a more subdued Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt.  Hanks has transitioned finally to the older generation of characters that are not as wide eyed with discovery, innocence and gusto that were depicted in films like Philadelphia, Big or Forrest Gump.

Marc Forster is striving to tug at the heartstrings.  Flashbacks of Otto when he meets his eventual wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller) hint at what led to his current state of nonstop crankiness.  Otto’s a widower but why is he so bitter with himself or any kind person who comes his way?  The younger Otto is portrayed by Truman Hanks, one of Tom’s sons in real life.  It’s inspired casting, because there is a consistency towards the mannerisms and personality within the two separate performances.  Truman Hanks and Rachel Keller pair up nicely as young adults from different backgrounds who convincingly fall in love.

The standout though is the pregnant wife/mother of the new family who’s moved in. Mariana Treviño is Marisol, and she is superb in her comedy as the Hispanic neighbor who is always getting in Otto’s way with prepared home made food to bring over while she relies on the grouch to babysit her children or give her a ride because she doesn’t have a license.  Eventually, a terrific scene arrives where Otto is teaching her to drive, and the two characters open up to one another despite their different backgrounds.  Treviño carries so much range with her part.  She’s ditzy but intelligent, sensitive, and very warm, lovable, and funny.  Every time she appears on Otto’s doorstep, Marisol is a new surprise.  You might think at first that she’s scatterbrained.  When you see her next, she’s intuitive.  Otto may think she knows this person from just one or two encounters, but Mariana Treviño’s performance is so well done and beautifully written that even the viewer really doesn’t know her until the climax of the film.  If A Man Called Otto had gotten a little more publicity traction upon its release, she could have been an Oscar nominated contender.  I think she was definitely worthy of more praise than I could uncover.

The script sets up a lot of questions that carry the film and keep it interesting.  Otto’s internal crisis is one thing, but there’s also a neighbor’s mute husband who apparently shares history with the title character.  There is also a scheme being plotted out behind this pesky real estate agent who blasts his hip hop music from his luxury car. (TRIVIA: Another son of Tom Hanks, Chet, is the rapper heard on the radio.)

I was never really convinced that A Man Called Otto could be a real-life story, however.  Call me a cynic, but the number of sweet natured people all living in one small space seems far-fetched.  These happy go lucky folks, including a transgender teen (Mack Bayda, wonderfully likable in his first film role) who was kicked out of his father’s house, find so much positivity out of life.  I’m not sure real life lays it on this thick!  Sometimes, the side characters appear like walking Hallmark cards.

I also felt uneasy about the suicide theme that is most prevalent throughout the picture.  I think I counted four different ways that Otto attempts to end his life (hanging, shotgun to the mouth, jumping in front of a train, carbon monoxide poisoning).  Each attempt is interrupted somehow and how it’s done is nothing so inappropriate or spoofed, but it is done with an intent of irony and humor. It started to feel comparable to another foiled attempt by the Coyote trying to capture the Road Runner.  Looney Tunes serve a purpose escapist slapstick.  Suicide, even when cheerfully disrupted, often doesn’t put a smile on my face. 

Otto does go through a character arc that I appreciate though where demonstrations of heroism and soul saving are captured.  The ending, while sad, is also quite rewarding.  With Marc Forster’s film, I’ve gotten to know a beautiful collection of well-intentioned and thoughtful people who do not give up on trying to rescue one of their own from a life currently mired in misery. 

A Man Called Otto is a good film worth watching.  The cast is absolutely wonderful and through the performances, everyone seems positively proud of what they accomplished with the final product.  I’d be up for seeing this exact same cast perform this script live on stage.  Still, I offer a warning of caution.  While it is trying to deliver sugary optimism at every turn, it is also coming off a little bit like artificial sweetener. 


By Marc S. Sanders

A writer’s strike never bodes well for a film. So the 22nd installment in the James Bond franchise, Quantum Of Solace, suffered because of it. Daniel Craig returns in his second film as Bond which begins as a direct sequel to my favorite film in the series, Casino Royale. Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) directs, but not very well.

Much of the action scenes are very shaky and choppy. Forster seems to have adopted Paul Greengrass’ technique that works so effectively in the Jason Bourne films and United 93. However, Forster does not make clear what is occurring. You can’t recreate Picasso with crayons.

The opening is a rush job of a car chase as Bond races away from enemies in his Aston Martin. Machine guns and heavy traffic and construction sites make way for his car to gradually fall apart but it’s hard to really see how the car becomes damaged in the first place. Just when exactly did the driver’s side door come off? There’s lots of spinning out of control and dirt flying with bombastic gun fire and engine revving. It’s all sensory overload to hide the preciseness in the high speed chase.

Later, Bond is attempting to rescue the girl Camille (boring name, boring girl) played by Olga Kurylenko when she’s held captive on a boat. He jumps into a motor boat and the chase is on. Bond fends off the bad guy by tossing a rope with a hook on it. Just tossing it up. Suddenly the bad guy’s boat flips over. What exactly happened here? How did the rope take out that boat? I didn’t see the connection. Film is visual. So show me the fundamentals from A to Z, please.

The story involves Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) who appears to be an environmentalist with interest in a pipeline in Bolivia. (Bolivia????) At first Bond is under the impression this pipeline must be for oil. Later, it’s realized that Greene intends to charge the country enormous prices as he takes over the water supply. (Roman Polanski’s Chinatown did this all much, much better.). In exchange, Greene will assist a tyrannical Bolivian General in becoming President. This General raped and murdered Camille’s family. Naturally, she wants revenge. As Bond pursues Greene, he comes to learn that Greene is a member of a secret organization called Quantum. Hence the strange title.

Bond follows through with this assignment while trying to determine why his past love (Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale) was murdered, and after MI6 is infiltrated.

The story is kind of all over the place. It has a lot of interesting threads like Bond’s need for revenge, Camille’s need for revenge and a secret organization that MI6, nor the CIA, were ever aware of. Threads remain hanging as threads though if a writer’s strike interferes.

The story for Quantum Of Solace hardly gets fleshed out. We learn nothing of the organization, Quantum. When Bond finishes his mission with Camille, she just gets out of the car and walks away into the middle of nowhere. Where is she going exactly? The climactic battle takes place in a luxury hotel located in the middle of the desert. Unless this is Las Vegas, who goes to a hotel in the middle of the desert? I mean like ever?????

The film is a tremendous disappointment after the creatively artistic success of Casino Royale. Often sequels do not live up to their predecessors, but Quantum really goes off the rails. This film was a make-up as you go.

Craig is fine in the role of Bond; consistent with his first film. Almaric is okay as the villain, but never given much to do. A second woman comes into play, named Fields played by Gemma Arterton, assigned by M to bring Bond out of service. She seems to have a personality that the Camille character lacks, but she’s hardly given much screen time, save for a nightcap with Bond and later an image that harkens back to Goldfinger.

Jeffrey Wright (a great Felix Leighter, that I have not talked about yet) is belabored to share scenes with an obnoxious CIA partner played David Harbour. These two guys seem to be acting in a different movie.

Marc Forster was given a toolbox but didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold with Quantum Of Solace. There are too many things wrong with this film to justify any merits it may have.

Maybe the most interesting moment happens in the epilogue scene as we learn more about Vesper’s past. The scene has next to no relevance with much of the main story beforehand. Still, why couldn’t this film simply stay on this trajectory from the beginning? This is a thread worth pulling on and then tying off.

In other words, Vesper Lynd is far more interesting than the water supply in…ahem…Bolivia. 


By Marc S. Sanders

Disney’s Christopher Robin is a live action interpretation of a classic story that I approve of. Like Maleficent, it’s a film that is based on new, original material with familiar and beloved classic characters of the Disney machine-unlike recent reinventions of Beauty & The Beast and Aladdin. Those films are just the same with minor tweaks that don’t generate enough hype or interest for me. (No—I will not be seeing The Lion King. I already saw it back in 1992.)

Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace and Finding Neverland) directs while never losing sight of the fact that Winnie The Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, etc all stem from classic children’s literature by A.A. Milne. The film opens with a backstory on the title character starting with his playful adolescent connection to Pooh & Friends, followed by his departure from them into a strict boarding school and then into adulthood (played sweetly by Ewan MacGregor). Christopher falls in love with Evelyn (Hayley Atwood) and before their child is born he is sent off to war only to return as a no nonsense efficiency manager for a luggage company. He has forgotten his friends who live and do nothing (which always leads to something) in 100 Acre Woods. Worse, Christopher never laughs nor hardly acknowledges his daughter Madeline. He is not a child anymore.

This is the film that Steven Spielberg probably wanted when he directed Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman in 1991’s Hook. It just came off too clunky and messy at the time.

As the story continues, Forster is not so covert in his symbolism of Christopher Robin shedding his crotchety adult persona and returning to his childhood whimsy. Christopher crawls through the hole in the tree, muddies his suit, loses his briefcase and disregards his paperwork.

I found myself rooting for Christopher’s new found happiness and his revived love for his wife and daughter. I loved the stuffed animal interpretations of the Pooh characters (with voice work from Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett and Toby Jones). Yet, the tears at the sweetness of it all never arrived. As quick as the film began, it was never a challenge to realize how it would all turn out.

So no surprises to be had in Christopher Robin, but an original story to appreciate nonetheless. That’s good enough for me.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judy Dench, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour
My Rating: 5/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 65%

PLOT: Super-spy James Bond investigates a mysterious organization that seems intent on cornering Bolivia’s water supply.  Yes, you read that right.

The trivia on IMDb for Quantum of Solace (Bond #22, for those keeping track) contains this revealing nugget:  “Editing this movie was so stressful that co-editor Richard Pearson was brought in to assist Matt Chesse, to speed up editing. Director Marc Forster only had five weeks to edit the entire movie. In his previous movies, Forster would take an average of fourteen weeks to edit.”

Right there.  That’s the biggest problem with Quantum of Solace, the reason it’s ranked among my least favorite Bond films.  The stunts are there, the wordplay is there, the Bond girls are there…I was going to add “good villain” to the list, but more on him later.

Anyway, most of the important elements are there, but the movie never really makes us CARE about what’s going on.  We do get the barest bones of a connection to Casino Royale from two years earlier, but that’s still not enough to bring this up to the level I’ve grown accustomed to with Bond films.  This film feels more like one of Vin Diesel’s old XxX movies.

One of the biggest problems is the aforementioned editing issue.  In Casino Royale, the fight scenes were clearly defined and visually exciting.  (Remember that fight in the stairwell?  BRILLIANT.)  In Quantum of Solace, the fight scenes are cut so rapidly I’d swear they were from a Michael Bay movie.  Rather than make the scenes more exciting, this had the effect of making the scenes feel like the trailer for the movie, rather than the movie itself.  It was distracting, and lessened the tension for me.

Another problem that kept me from caring what happened is the plot.  Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is the villain this time around, and I’m sorry, but he does not exactly come across as a dangerous fellow.  He’s a little on the shorter side, he doesn’t dress impeccably (except when attending the opera), and his hair looks…greasy.  This is not a villain; this is a sidekick looking for a villain.

And his evil plot?  Using an environmental advocate organization as a front to…corner the Bolivian water supply.

The water.  In Bolivia.  After decades of James Bond stopping villains who wanted to do everything from steal nuclear submarines to kill literally every human on Earth, it seems to me this particular mission could have been left to the varsity squad.

There are other elements that were distracting.  David Harbour makes an appearance as a CIA agent whose character serves no real purpose other than to be the stereotypically obnoxious American.  One scene takes place during a beautifully staged outdoor production of Tosca that looked so amazing, I almost wished I could have left the movie just to finish watching the opera.  Gemma Arterton plays Agent Fields (first name Strawberry…get it?), another in a very long line of female characters in Bond films whose sole purpose is to sleep with Bond and/or get killed…or both.  Usually both.  (In an interesting first for the franchise, Bond actually does NOT sleep with the main Bond girl…go figure.)

The movie’s showdown takes place in a location that looked very real, but was ALSO distracting.  What is a four-star hotel doing in the very middle of the Bolivian desert?  We get a clumsy exposition line about the hotel running on “fuel cells” that are apparently poorly protected indeed, given the building’s incendiary tendencies during the climax.

I’m making the movie sound like a BAD movie.  It’s not truly BAD, but it just feels so slipshod in comparison to its predecessor, Casino Royale.

So what happened here?  Well, another tidbit on IMDb quotes Daniel Craig as saying this is the last time he’d work on a Bond movie without a finished script.  I guess THAT’S what happened here.  Shooting a movie without a finished script can sometimes end well, but not usually.  It’s like building a 30-story skyscraper using plans that only go up to the 15th floor, with couriers bringing new blueprints for the floors already under construction as well as the unbuilt floors.

But…BUT.  There is one overwhelmingly bright spot in the film: the THEME SONG.  Performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, it marked the first (and, so far, only) Bond song to be performed by a duet.  It’s called “Another Way to Die”, and it is a SCORCHER.  Words fail me.  It’s down, dirty, mean, and growling, complete with the occasional staccato brass flourishes so evocative of John Barry’s score from earlier Bond films.

Too bad the rest of the movie is unable to live up to the promise of its title song.  Alas.