Four Special Editions That Really Are Special: The Hustler, The Verdict, Big, That Thing You Do!

The Hustler - Box ArtPaul Newman and Tom Hanks are two of our most revered and beloved actors. These four special editions showcase memorable – even classic – films. Newman’s The Hustler looked at the world of pool and some its shadier inhabitants; in The Verdict, he played a loser seeking redemption by helping right a terrible wrong. For Hanks, Big was an opportunity to portray a character who actually had his wish to be grown up come true; That Thing You Do followed the members of a one-hit wonder in the swingin’ sixties and showed Hanks’ skill at producing, writing, directing, acting and writing music [next thing you know, he’ll be dubbed the next Clint Eastwood…]…

The Hustler – 2-Disc Set

Not many movies can spawn a sequel of equal quality twenty-five years later, but The Hustler did just that! The adaptation of Walter S. Tevis’ acclaimed novel brought us the story of pool shark Fast Eddie Felson [Paul Newman] – a guy who made a living by touring the pool halls of America and conning would-be hotshots to expensive games of pool by losing outrageously then raising the stakes of the games. It was a film about the struggles of losers to become winners – and not recognizing when they made – before blowing it all to hell.

Felson’s hope is to be acknowledged the best there is, and his dream is play Minnesota Fats [Jackie Gleason] to make that point. Along the way, he betrays his partner, Charlie [Myron McCormick], takes on a sharp new manager, Bert Gordon [George C. Scott] and falls in love with a slightly offbeat woman named Sarah [Piper Laurie].

Before the film is over, he’s become a winner – but not by beating The Fatman. A suicide gives him character and plays a part in his achieving his dream, but ultimately, costing him his soul and any kind of future. The film won technical two Oscars® out of nine nominations – Newman, Laurie, and Scott were all nominated along with Robert Rossen [who was nominated for both producer and director and shared a writing nom].

The Hustler - Box Art

Felson was one of Newman’s showiest roles and those who think Tom Cruise might have been a latter-day Newman aren’t far wrong. The difference is that Newman was a character actor in a matinee idol’s body. Even surrounded by deeply talented character actors like Michael Constantine, Myron McCormick, Vincent Gardenia and Stefan Gierash, Newman was a standout. Director Rossen places him situations where he goes head to head with some of the most talented people in Hollywood, and he steals every scene he’s in – except with one or two scenes with Gleason.

Because its examination of the difference between winners and Losers, The Hustler is a classic. Its look at how ego and greed can ruin a life is made far more potent for it being a tale told in a pool hall. Fast Eddie Felson was Newman’s entry onto the A-list and it’s a performance he has equaled but never bettered.

Features include: Disc One: Commentary by Newman, Gierash, Dede Allen [editor], Richard Schickel [film critic and historian], Carol Rossen [the director’s daughter], Ulu Grossbard [second unit director] and Jeff Young; Trick Shot Analysis; Disc Two: Life In The Fast Lane: Fast Eddie and the Search For Greatness; Milestones In cinema History: The Hustler; Swimming With The Sharks: The Art of the Hustle; The Hustler: The Inside Story; Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand; How To Make The Shot; The Films of Paul Newman; Theatrical Trailers, and a Stills Gallery

Grade: The Hustler – A+

Grade: Features – A+

Final Grade: A+

The Verdict: Collector’s Edition – 2-Disc Set

Sidney Lumet, David Mamet and Paul Newman teamed up on The Verdict – a film about Frank Galvin, an alcoholic lawyer who had fallen to a level below that of ambulance chaser. When he’s approached to handle a medical malpractice suit that’s been all set up and handed to him on a silver platter, Galvin stumbles through his due diligence to discover that the case should go to court.

In making the decision to go to court – and dealing with the stacked deck against him [even the judge does everything he can to make Galvin give up] – Galvin takes the first step to reclaiming his dignity. Even though his opposition [led by James Mason] is crafty and cheats from the word go, and Galvin lets the case get so personal that it almost steamrolls over what’s best for client, Newman finds shadings in this character that he can play without even speaking.

The Verdict - Box Art

Backed by a superb cast, including Jack Warden [as his ex-partner, Mickey], Charlotte Rampling [Laura Fisher] as a femme fatale who may or may not be there to help, and the abovementioned James Mason as the silkily nasty Ed Concannon, Newman earns another Oscar® nomination for taking us through the depths of this forlorn, middle-aged man.

Features include: The Making of The Verdict; Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting; Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing; Milestones In Cinema History: The Verdict; Hollywood Backstory: The Verdict; The Films of Paul Newman; Theatrical Trailer, and a Stills Gallery.

Grade: The Verdict: A+

Grade: Features – A+

Final Grade: A+

Big: Extended Edition – 2-Disc Set

Mention Big and the chances are the person with whom you’re chatting will immediately flash on the piano scene. You know, the one where Tom Hanks’ Josh and Robert Loggia’s Macmillan play a couple of tunes on a giant keyboard mat on a department store floor. While that may be the most iconic moment from the film, Penny Marshall’s Big is both a study in wish fulfillment and be careful what you wish for.

Josh Raskin [David Moscow] wishes he was big – and makes the mistake of communicating that wish to The Great Zoltar [an unplugged circus machine]. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s big – literally [and is now Tom Hanks]! After freaking out his mom, he finds himself swept up in a series of events that plunk him down in a major toy making form headed up the aforementioned Macmillan [Loggia].

Big - Box Art

Josh’s innocence rejuvenates the company. He becomes their best toy analyst, playing for toys and deciding which ones work and which ones don’t – and, to his complete amazement, getting paid for it! His enthusiasm earns him the respect and friendship of Macmillan; the romantic interest of Susan [Elizabeth Perkins], and the enmity of Paul [John Heard], whose projects he’s submarined. Later he almost loses his best friend – over a girl!

Big is a double-edged sword: Josh’s wish gives him what he wanted most – to be big – but doing so removed him from his family and best friend’s lives. Hanks’ portrayal of the “big” Josh [no way is he a “grown up”] is so perfectly nuanced and spontaneous-seeming, that it’s hard to believe he is actually a twelve-year old who suddenly got big. His delight in his new job; his infectious childlike joy at discovery, that rekindles the inner child in Macmillan; his wonder that a grown up woman would find him interesting – and then his frustration with his best friend, Billy [Jared Rushton] and the poignancy in way he calls his mom and hangs up, just to hear her voice – these things add up to one of the finest performances of the last twenty years.

Features include: Disc One: the original Theatrical Version and an Extended Edition [with over 20 minutes of extra material] and an Audio Documentary with co-writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg; Disc Two: “Big” Beginnings; The Work of Play; Hollywood Backstory: Big; Carnival Party Newswrap Deleted Scenes [with optional intros by Penny Marshall], and Trailers and TV Spots.

Grade: Big – A;

Grade: Extended Cut – A-

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: A

That Thing You Do! – Tom Hanks’ Extended Cut

Tom Hanks may be one of the most frustrating stars in Hollywood. In 1996, between two more dramatic turns, he whiled away the time by writing, producing, directing and acting in That Thing You Do! – a note-perfect recreation of the mid-sixties, both in terms of the culture and the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder called The Wonders – and, oh, yeah, he also wrote, or co-wrote, nine songs for the film. [Makes you wonder what he’ll do on his next hiatus, doesn’t it?]

The story of The Wonders is the story of a drummer who slides into a one-night gig – until his speeding up the tempo of a song puts that band on the road to the Billboard Top Ten. Probably the most amazing thing about That Thing You Do! the movie, is that the titular hit song is a perfect synthesis of sixties rock – and it’s one of those songs that never gets old.

Guy Pearce [Tom Everett Scott] falls into that gig when the original drummer [Giovanni Ribisi] breaks his arm. While rehearsing the song with the band [Jimmy Mattingly III, played by Jonathan Schaech; Lenny Haise, played by Steve Zahn, and The Bass Player, played by Ethan Embry], Guy picks up on an off-hand comment by Jimmy’s girlfriend, Faye [Liv Tyler] and comes up with the band’s name – the Oneders [one-ders -but it keeps getting mispronounced].

That Thing You Do! - Box Art

When they perform the song at a contest, Guy ramps up the tempo and the crowd goes wild. By the end of the evening they have their first paying gig – following which, they find a way to record the song and press a record which sells well at their gig. A small-time promoter stumbles on the disc and gets them a gig that leads to a deal with a real label – Play-Tone – and they are on their way.

That Thing You Do! was a huge, completely unexpected, hit. It captured the innocence of the sixties and provided original songs that not only faithfully reproduced the sounds of the sixties, but managed to recreate the soul of that time. From soul to jazz, to good old rock & roll, the music of the film just feels right.

Adding a romance gone wrong and the clash of personalities in the band and between one band member and their manager may have given us the requisite plot arcs to give the characters depth and tone, but without that splendid music the film wouldn’t have gotten of the ground. Fortunately, all the elements that were necessary coalesced into a charming, thoroughly entertaining little film that could! Considering that the extended cut is almost forty minutes longer than the theatrical cut, it’s a wonder that the film never feels like it’s dragging. Still, it might have died in its theatrical run without those cuts.

Features: Disc One: Theatrical Version and Extended Cut [almost forty more minutes]; Disc Two: Feel Alright Music Video; The Wonders – Big In Japan; The Story of The Wonders; Making That Thing You Do!; That Thing You Do! Reunion; HBO First Look: That Thing you Do! and Trailers an a TV Spot

Grade: That Thing You Do! – B+

Grade: Extended Cut – B+

Grade: Features – B

Final Grade: B+

EM Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe

Originally Posted 07/18/07

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