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So you know how Tom Hanks is considered a (the?) top actor of his generation — winner of two Oscars, seven Primetime Emmys and eight Golden Globes; the star of beloved films like Sleepless in Seattle, Big, Forrest Gump. Well, guess what? He’s also a darn good novelist.
His first novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece (May 9), is an entertaining, often humorous story that jumps from 1947 to 1970 and on to the present-day creation of a splashy superhero action movie based on an old comic book series — written for the novel by Hanks and drawn by R. Sikoryak.
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Essentially, it’s a heartfelt homage to filmmaking, which the seasoned, famously good-natured actor portrays as a wildly unpredictable, utterly exhausting, periodically dull but ultimately exhilarating mix of the magical and mundane.
Movie lovers will eat it up.
The story begins in 1947, when a boy named Robby Anderson, growing up in the sleepy town of Lone Butte, California, first meets his troubled Uncle Bob after he returns from the war. Robby is dutifully impressed by his mom’s hard-drinking, motorcycle-riding brother. Cut to the Bay Area in the early 1970s: Robby is a young artist working for Kool Katz Komix and writing a comic book about a heroic World War II soldier based on Uncle Bob.
Then the tale jumps to 1990, when the moviemaking begins. The film, a Marvel-style blockbuster called Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, is based on Robby’s old comic book characters. And where do the producers decide to shoot it, after scouting possible locations? Lone Butte, due to its decline through the decades into “a marvel of All-American Anytown-ness, a time capsule, inside a snow globe without the snow,” empty of life, and therefore “a cinch to shoot in.”
But the shooting is not a cinch. In fact, each day (there’s meant to be only 53 of them) brings new crises and quandaries, including the frustrations of dealing with a wildly self-absorbed leading man, a weirdo stalking the leading lady and last-minute casting changes. Most of the kinks end up being smoothed out by a few uber-capable and efficient crew members with quietly powerful roles — the real heroes of filmmaking, Hanks seems to suggest, even if they remain invisible to movie fans (and maybe many movie stars).
They include two of the most interesting characters in the book: the preternaturally competent Al Mac-Teer, the director’s right-hand woman; and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver from Sacramento whom Al takes under her wing and ushers into the movie biz.
The reader views the filming through the eyes of Ynez as she’s introduced to this magical new world — and falls in love.
“I feel kind of sad,” she says to Al toward the end of filming. “After we started shooting? Everywhere my eyes landed, every word I heard taught me something I didn’t know. It’s hard work, but it’s fun, too.”
Al says, with a smile, “That’s making motion pictures.”
A bit corny, but, hey, that’s Hollywood for you.
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