Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

A Man Called Otto

05/01/23

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Based on the popular novel, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – and presumably renamed to avoid problems with pronunciation – A Man Called Otto stars Tom Hanks as the titular Otto Anderson, the kind of character most forgivingly known as a total curmudgeon. When we first encounter him, he’s trudging grumpily around his neighbourhood, firing off hostile remarks to his neighbours at point blank range. They’ve come to tolerate him over the years and it’s clear from early on that some kind of tragedy haunts his past, though the details will only be revealed in flashbacks. In these scenes, the young Otto is portrayed by Truman Hanks (who, it must be said, looks nothing like his father).

But a seismic change is coming with the arrival of a new set of neighbours. Marisol (enchantingly portrayed by Mariana Treviño) is Mexican, the mother of two young girls, with a third child already on the way. Together with her easy-going but hapless husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), she immediately launches a charm-offensive, determined to win her gruff old neighbour over – and, bit by bit, she begins to make progress.

The story arc here puts me in mind of A Christmas Carol with all the Christmassy bits cut out. Like Scrooge, Otto has to be reminded of the good things he encountered before a set of unfortunate circumstances transformed him into the miserable, hard-bitten specimen he’s become. He also has to come to terms with a crippling loss that occurred back down the years and to address a long-standing feud he’s had with his other neighbours, Reuben (Peter Lawson) and Anita (Juanita Jennings). Most importantly of all, he has to learn to change his ways before it’s too late.

Meanwhile, he makes regular attempts to end his own life, with decidedly comic results. It’s also interesting to note Otto’s developing friendship with transgender teen, Malcolm (Mack Bayda), kicked out of their house by their father.

If A Man Called Otto occasionally strays a little too close to the lake of sentimentality, screenwriter David Magee and director Marc Forster know exactly when to snatch proceedings back from the edge and the result is a charming tale, by turns funny and poignant. Most of the laughs are generated by Treviño, who displays a wonderful gift for comic timing and of whom I expect to see a lot more in the future. The film’s conclusion will inevitably coax tears from all but the most hardbitten viewers.

Ultimately, this is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. I haven’t read the source novel, so I can’t tell you if it’s a decent adaptation – but I enjoy the film. It marks the point where Tom Hanks officially becomes ‘old.’ And watching it, I’m eerily transported back to the first time I met him, interviewing him for the movie Splash in 1984, when we were both a good deal younger.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Magnificent Seven

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26/09/16

This was always going to be an important film for me. In 1960, when I was nine year’s old, my father took me to see John Sturges’ original version of The Magnificent Seven. It’s one of the first movies I can remember seeing on the big screen. I recall being thrilled by it and it was certainly instrumental in kindling the flames of what would become a lifelong obsession with all things celluloid. But of course, its storyline (itself inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) wouldn’t really fly in this day and age. It tells the story of seven heroic cowboys who come to the aid of a village full of ‘lowly’ Mexican peasants who are being terrorised year after year by a gang of marauding bandits. If somebody was going to remake this particular classic, they would have to find a new approach – and to director Antoine Fuqua’s credit, he’s managed to do that.

If this version of the tale resembles another classic Western, it’s actually High Noon, where a bunch of townsfolk fail to come together to challenge a force of evil. Here, the denizens of Rose Creek are threatened not by bandits but by greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, doing the latest in a long line of creepy, evil stinkers). Bogue wants the land on which the town is built so he can mine it for gold and has offered each family a pittance in exchange for what they own. Anyone who  defies him is summarily executed and this includes the husband of Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett), who, looking for revenge, sets out to recruit some help and chances upon law officer, Chisolm (Denzel Washington) as he goes about his deadly duty. He listens to her tale of woe and finally gets interested when she mentions Bogue. It’s clear from the start that there is some unfinished business between the two men. Chisolm promptly recruits a band of misfit heroes to help him rescue the town… they comprise an ex-confederate sniper (Ethan Hawke), a roguish gambler (Chris Pratt) a Mexican gunslinger (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) a Chinese knife fighter (Byung Hun-Lee), a native American bowman (Martin Sensmeier) and a shambling mountain man (a barely recognisable Vincent Donofrio).

From there on, it’s pretty much a series of spectacular shootouts, set amidst stunning widescreen locations. (There’s an irony here in that the seven set out to protect Rose Creek and by the film’s conclusion, there’s not much of it left standing, but we’ll let that one go). Critics have complained that the film isn’t realistic (no, really?) but I think they’re missing the point somewhat. As a rip-roaring entertainment, The Magnificent Seven mostly succeeds in its aims and if it doesn’t quite match up to its famous progenitor, well, that was a shootout it was frankly never going to win, because what passed for valour in 1960 is going to look pretty reprehensible in 2016.

My favourite bit of dialogue in this version? Emma Cullen proudly telling the other townspeople that she’s quite clearly the only one with enough balls to take on the bad guys. Give this movie a fighting chance – it’s at least earned the right to that.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney