Friday, May 11, 2007

Big & That Thing You Do! & Andy Griffith

A younger Tom Hanks and a guy who somewhat resembles the young Tom Hanks star in two DVDs released this week. Both are funny and worth watching.

Hanks was just four years past his twin (significant) feature-film debuts* in Bachelor Party and Splash when he connected with television-bred director Penny Marshall for Big

Marshall's commercial instincts are surefire, and the 1988 sleeper hit is certainly glossy and slick, but it's impossible not to admire Hanks' work, alternately goofy and tender, in the comedy. He's dead-on as the grown-up version of Josh, a 12-year-old kid, aching to exit childhood, who has a life-changing encounter with a carnival wish machine: Overnight, his mind and soul are transported into the body of a man three times his age.

Big seems to cross several genres: It's a buddy movie with a romantic comedy set in an office environment straight from the '80s -- you gotta love the comeuppance experienced by the mean, arrogant corporate honcho played by John Heard, and the way that Josh's childlike innocence wins the favor of the crusty but lovable big boss (Robert Loggia). Yes, it's fun again seeing Hanks and Loggia play chopsticks on the giant keyboard mat in FAO Schwarz, the famous upscale toy store facing Central Park.

Watching the movie with my two kids, though, I was surprised that the PG rating allowed for several risque conversations between Josh and his young best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) and a scene that has Hanks reaching out and touching the (fully occupied) bra of Elizabeth Perkins, who stars as Susan, the girlfriend of the "adult" Josh.

It's a tad creepy, too, seeing the 30-year-old version of Josh trying to explain to his frantic mom that he hasn't done anything to her son, and hanging out with Billy and their friends at the playground. And it's a bit odd watching Susan as she watches her age-appropriate beau shrink into a fifth grader. At that point, it seems as if Susan really ought to put the pedal to the metal, screech tires and flee the vicinity of his parents' home as quickly as possible. Instead, she watches, all sad-eyed, as the suddenly small Josh trudges down the street to his home, wearing an oversized suit. Can you say "Debra Lafave"?

I've yet to plow through the extras on the two-disc extended edition, but here's what viewers get, in addition to the original theatrical cut and the extended edition: audio documentary with screenwriters Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg; deleted scenes with optional introductions by Marshall; three "featurettes" on the making of the movie; "AMC Backstory" special; and theatrical trailers and TV spots.

Here's how those extra minutes, 25 or so, tacked on to the 104-minute original feature, play out, according to DVD Talk reviewer Brian Orndorf:

(4 minutes) - Josh's infant sister is moved into the young boy's room, to his great protest. We also see Billy's argumentative home life.

(19 minutes) - Josh's mother is shown telling her side of the "kidnapping" to the cops.

(32 minutes) - Susan is exposed as a much more icy lady than the theatrical cut touches on.

(43 minutes) - Josh calls home a second time trying to wrangle advice from his mother on how to best deal with a stomachache. Honestly, this is the finest scene of the bunch. I have no idea why this failed to make it into the theatrical cut.

(58 minutes) - Josh and Billy go tuxedo shopping.

(79 minutes) - Josh and toy company honcho MacMillan (Robert Loggia) discuss toys and the ways of women.

(92 minutes) - Susan is also revealed to be a changed person after her night of carnal bliss with a 13, I mean our pal Josh.

(100 minutes) - Josh and Susan mess around with a musical toy prototype.

(110 minutes) - Susan goes through Josh's wallet, finding more evidence that he's telling the truth about his prepubescent origins. Also, Billy learns the whereabouts of a Zoltar machine over the phone.

The star of Big wrote and directed 1996's That Thing You Do! (Fox, $14.99), a musical dramedy featuring a title song that has to count as the best pop song never recorded in 1964, the year during which fictitious Pennsyvlania band The Wonders ride the tune up the pop charts.

Hank's sort-of doppelganger, Tom Everett Scott, plays Guy, the effervescent drummer who serves as the band's conscience. Liv Tyler is girl-next-door, all-American perfect as the loving girlfriend of the Wonders' egotistical singer (Johnathon Schaech), and the well-chosen cast also includes Steve Zahn, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Isaak and Rita Wilson (Tom's wife). Hanks plays the part of a recording exec.

The two-disc "director's cut," with the theatrical version and the extended cut, includes the usual puffy making-of-the-movie features as well as a sequence on a cast/crew reunion and Josh Clayton's "Feel Alright" video.

The same year that That Thing You Do! was released, Big made its debut as a broadway musical. It won five Tonys, but was considered a commercial flop. The national tour, though, became a hit. Here's the story.

*Hanks' actual feature-film debut was in 1980, with a small role in the horror flick He Knows You're Alone.

Veteran TV and film actor Andy Griffith is gaining raves for his work as Old Joe, the octogenarian owner of a diner in Waitress, the last film directed by late young filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, also a co-star of the movie. Younger viewers curious to see Old Andy in his 1960s prime might want to check out "The Andy Griffith Show - The Complete Final Season," a five-disc set featuring 30 episodes plus extras. Don Knotts, Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, Teri Garr, Ken Berry and Howard Hesseman all make guest appearances during the series' eighth season.

True story: There are two degrees of separation between me and Andy Griffith. Ask me how.


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