Thursday, January 5, 2023

Hanks and cast score with 'Otto'; possessive 'M3GAN' scares hard, too

No one will ever guess why Tom Hanks is buying rope in the funny, pre-title sequence of "A Man Called Otto" but, then again, the world's greatest "Everyman" actor has shown capable stretches of surprise in his long, distinguished and twice-Oscar-winning career.

Why, in 2022 alone, few might have expected him to visit the bizarre world of Colonel Tom Parker in the electric and year-end-contending "Elvis," or even that he would portray the truly elderly Geppetto in Robert Zemeckis' ill-fated "Pinocchio."

Here, Hanks becomes a seriously grumpy senior citizen in another '22 entry that actually opens wide Friday (despite what the poster at left claims), after playing a moment or two in a few theaters last month in order to qualify for its own awards run. 

Regardless, the early mentioned rope and the smartly sour disposition of Hanks' Otto Anderson have urgent reasons for existing in a screenplay by David Magee ("Life of Pi"), as based on a novel and 2015 Swedish film ("A Man Called Ove").

While the ever-professional Hanks gets to show both comic and grave reaches of range, director Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner" and many others) also leans on a nicely assembled supporting cast of pertinent players to help explain it all most agreeably, if a bit both relentless and formulaic. 

Note to Northeast Ohio readers: Among many in the rich ensemble, longtime politico-turned actor Peter Lawson Jones impresses with some worthy screen time as Otto's estranged old best friend.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: mature thematic material, and language; 2:06; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also debuting Friday in theaters everywhere, "M3GAN" easily might have turned into the kind of junky film Hollywood usually serves up in the first week of a new year. Surprise! It has some special moments!

That means it is one hoot of a scarefest at times. Hey, even before a preview screening actually began just last evening, the audience started popping when a still, promo photo of the robotic doll started moving its head and lips -- initially with a few words, then adding some serious commands, mostly about not texting or talking during "my movie."

"You need to learn some manners! I demand your full attention," M3GAN's otherwise motionless visage spit out from the screen just before the feature started. "I promise it's going to be a killer time."

Though the movie then unreeled with a comical, rather juvenile, and less-than-compelling advertisement for a kids-companion toy called, "PurrPetual Petz," it serves a purpose in setting the stage for a plot that rarely takes itself too seriously. Allison Williams ("Get Out" and HBO's "Girls") and comic Ronnie Chieng ("The Daily Show with Trevor Noah") attempt to co-star with their creepily entertaining lead.  

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: violent content and terror, some strong language, and a suggestive reference; 1:42; $ $ $ out of $5

Other films opening Jan. 6 and already reviewed: "Corsage" (exclusively at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights) and "The Pale Blue Eye" (on Netflix). Also currently playing: "The Old Way" (at some Atlas Cinemas before going "On Demand" Jan 13).

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