Otto

Tom Hanks plays an unhappy fellow whose best friend may be a cat in “A Man Called Otto.”

There’s no question that horror, fantasy, and science fiction movies are currently box office gold. These genres may be filling a need for people to escape the lingering aura of the pandemic and the drumbeat of bad weather regardless of where they live.

Even if folks aren’t buried in snow or wading through flood waters, the nightly news broadcasts make it seem as if they are or will be.

Through it all, where theaters are open, most moviegoers are flocking to escapism, especially “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and fright films. The children’s choice, “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish,” is also a hit.

And, although I think it’s underwhelming when compared to the 2009 “Avatar,” the new edition “Avatar: The Way Of Water,” is selling a lot of tickets in the United States, but not as many as studio chiefs hoped it would. It’s truly too long at 192 minutes and not as original as it should be. You could cut an hour from it and have a better experience. It felt repetitive to me. One excessive chunk of it — that exceedingly waterlogged beneath the sea hour — felt like staring at an aquarium.

At the moment, big and small dramas (some with dashes of humor) are folding like chairs after a fireworks display on the 4th of July. “Amsterdam,” “Babylon,” “She Said,” “The Banshees Of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” “Till,” and others are withering on the vine.

As I wrote in my review, “White Noise” is ultimately inconsequential, but it’s playing on Netflix, so who knows how many are people are watching. Netflix also has “Glass Onion,” which it booked for a week in theaters. It grossed a very good $13,280,000, and then it entered the streaming service’s delicious carnival of choices. Hollywood insiders insist it could have made more money if Netflix had kept it in theaters.

“The Menu” (a dark comedy) and “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (a musical biopic) are doing moderately well at the box office. “The Whale” may do better if Brendan Fraser wins an Academy Award for best actor, although Austin Butler’s characterization of Elvis Presley is strongly in the running.

Disappointing many, the fiercely dramatic “Tar,” with Cate Blanchett’s brilliant performance as a psychologically complex philharmonic orchestra conductor, is a box office failure. Blanchett is assured a nomination for an actress Oscar. The other day, she received the Critics Choice Award for best actress. As a member of the CCA, I selected her as one of my three actress nominees, and I voted for her to win. I recommended the movie highly in my review.

“A Man Called Otto” is a happy financial surprise. Now playing in theaters and blessed with a marketing campaign aimed at adult moviegoers, the film is a rare bird these days: a classic-style drama that’s a winner. Hollywood’s bean counters are shocked because of the $21.5 million already scored at the box office; the releasing studio has reported that 46% of ticket buyers were over the age of 55 and 60% of them were female.

Tom Rothman, the chairman of the Sony Motion Picture Group, insists there’s an audience for small dramas if the target audience is made aware of the picture and can relate to the story being told. As a bonus, other moviegoers could follow, including that coveted age 18-to-49 group of film fans.

“A Man Called Otto” stars Tom Hanks as a miserable widower slowly lashing out at things that irritate him. It’s based on the best-selling 2009 novel by Fredrik Backman titled “A Man Called Ove” and the 2012 Swedish movie of the same name, which was nominated for a foreign language film Oscar.

The heartfelt story is about Otto Anderson, a 63-year old man (an ornery curmudgeon played perfectly by Hanks), who has attempted suicide more than once after the death of his schoolteacher wife, Sonya. At his suburban Pittsburgh apartment complex, Otto, who is retired from a steel company, becomes upset at many things, including the wrong way some people park their cars and the misuse of trash bins. However, what was once mildly nettlesome becomes increasingly more aggravating.

As his miseries grow and blame is flung in all directions, except where it belongs — his own deep-seated sorrow — Otto is essentially forced into an odd friendship with a new neighbor named Marisol (acted by a wonderful Mariana Trevino). He’s trying to control things that are often beyond his control. She tries to help him make sense of why things are in disarray. Most of the other neighbors look past Otto’s surly, sometimes nasty disposition, because he has a way of solving problems. Marisol and her husband reach out to him in an effort to melt his obstreperous armor.

The film’s occasional humor is believable and the flashbacks to when Otto was younger provide foundation and clarity and show us the way things still could be if only his grumpy behavior abated. Truman Hanks, Tom’s real-life son, is very good as the young Otto.

Directed by Marc Forster, who also made the sweetly endearing “Finding Neverland,” as well as the unfortunate “Quantum Of Silence” (I won’t hold that James Bond fiasco against him), and written by David Magee, “A Man Called Otto” lays down a familiar pattern for its storytelling and action. The movie clicks because the elder Hanks delivers a performance that is always in the moment. You sense there’s a more pleasant past Otto could recapture, if he’s willing.

The characters are realistic. The choices they make are believable. There’s a reason adults are seeing the film. Otto’s life feels lived-in. As presented, it’s remarkably relatable.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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