[REVIEW] ‘Greyhound’: Hanks Captains Successfully Once Again

It is more than a little poetic and ironic that actor Tom Hanks ended up as the first celebrity to get diagnosed with COVID19 back in March. It’s almost like nature saw his likable demeanor and commanding presence in films and knew he could lead all of us in real life as well as in the movies. With this recent turn of events, it’s almost surreal to see Hanks’ new film Greyhound where he once again plays a man who must lead his ship out of rough waters. My only regret is I couldn’t see it on the big screen, as it was obviously intended to be viewed.

Premiering July 10th on Apple TV+ Greyhound is based on the C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd and it’s a simple film. Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause who is a God-fearing man who loves his girlfriend, prays over his food and is eager to complete his first crossing as a commander in the US Navy during WWII. The problem is those darn Germans! They sure get in the way with their wolfpack of U-boat submarines, which did indeed destroy many US ships during the course of the war. Not this ship. No sir. Not today!

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In many ways Greyhound is similar to last year’s Midway with the same jingoistic spirit about it. Neither are films for nuance or intricate discussions about the complexities of war. However, the big difference between them is Greyhound is a lean 91 minutes compared to Midway’s 138 minutes. With its minimalist storytelling Greyhound sticks to a plot of good ship, bad U-boat, Hanks needs to win, and that’s what happens and while it is happening we are engaged and rooting for them all to succeed. It’s a war movie and we do see loss but never in a way that makes us fear for our heroes. Some may find the approach too simplistic but there is a place for enthusiastic war stories when they are done well and this is.

It is also easy to compare Greyhound with 2017’s Dunkirk which also strives for a battle experience rather than a character study and some might have similar problems with both films. It’s more about getting caught up in a heroic moment than it is the complexities of the humans experiencing said moment. It’s reminding the world that we have defeated hard things like Nazis before and we can do it again. With Dunkirk we are cheering at the everyday men and women who saved the soldiers lives and in Greyhound we are cheering for Hanks- our every man who fights Nazis on the screen and COVID19 in real life. Like I said, there’s a poetry to it all.

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I realize some will want more character development and I can understand that. There are choices in Greyhound that pushed the simplistic approach even for me. For example, the radio dispatches from the wolfpack ships are as sniveling and sleazy as we’ve ever seen from an evil German in a movie. He sounds like he is practically a villain from an Indiana Jones movie for a second. We also have some cringy scenes when the Black chef keeps trying to get our beleaguered commander to eat throughout the battle. But in the end I forgave such problems because the pacing keeps moving and Hanks remains so easy to root for as our leader.

It still pains me I had to watch Greyhound on my laptop and even sadder to think that some will likely watch it on their phone. Such a patriotic rallying cry should be seen on the big screen! Hopefully some day it can happen but until then if you want to cheer on Tom Hanks and other every day heroes facing impossible odds this is your film. I enjoyed it and I bet you will too.

6.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Vast of Night’

One of the things that has kept me sane during this quarantine experience has been attending a drive-in movie theater. There are 2 drive-ins within a 30 minute drive to my house, one of them a temporary make-shift location and one a permanent fixture, that have been operating for some to nearly all of this pandemic. I have been able to see new films like Valley Girl and Trolls World Tour to classics like Jurassic Park and E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial and it has consistently been a great experience.

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Last Friday I even got to attend a critics screening at the drive-in! It was for a small film that will be available on Amazon Prime May 29th called The Vast of Night. This throwback to old-school 1950’s radio dramas and sci-fi films was a perfect piece of cinema to watch at the drive-in and while it has some pacing issues I really enjoyed it.

The Vast of Night tells the story of 2 teenagers in Cayuga, New Mexico who work at a radio station in the 1950s. One night they start to hear a strange frequency from the radio and they start to investigate what is happening. The film has a small cast with only 4 actors and spends large sections with just Everett (Jake Horowitz) talking into the radio processing what he is hearing.

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One of my friends on letterboxd called the film ‘Podcast: the Movie’ and he’s not wrong. It does have the feel of a podcast like Serial especially because so much of the drama is Everett just talking into the microphone at the station. I’m hard-pressed to think of another recent movie that has such long stretches of uninterrupted monologuing. This mostly worked for me but there were moments where they pressed their luck and I got a little sleepy (it was also a late night screening so take that with a grain of salt!)

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The Vast of Night is a rare film you could listen to and get most everything out of it; however, the production design is very impressive. On a micro-budget the period details and the skill cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz brought to the project is very impressive. It’s definitely a film that spikes my curiosity for all involved including director Adam Patterson and writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. I will be very anxious to see what they do next as this showed great potential.

I’ve waited 5 days to write this review of The Vast of Night because it’s a movie that requires some thought. So much of the film lies in long stretches of conversation at the radio station that I almost wish a copy of the script was included with admission price. All good scifi should be trying to say something and I think The Vast of Night is trying to tell us to listen to people and to not give in to modern cynicism. Indeed, the world is vast and spectacular and it may just be trying to teach us something if we are open to listening.

I would have enjoyed a little bit more romance between the 2 leads and sometimes the monologing at the station pushed it but nevertheless, I recommend The Vast of Night as a thoughtful, unique, indie scifi film that will leave you thinking for days. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will as well.

8 out of 10

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