The Great Buck Howard [Blu-ray]
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2009
This fine film recalls to mind O'Toole's "My Favorite Year." It follows the travels of an aging mentalist (Malkovich) as he enthusiastically performs before shrinking crowds of aged fans---observed with growing admiration by his road manager, a sceptical young writer (Colin Hanks). Malkovich creates an ode to live performance. The film gives us the same joy as we see the once-famous performer demonstrate that his fame was well deserved.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
If you ever had to wonder why you loved John Malkovitch, this is the reason why. This is the kind of movie you watch with your mouth open. The acting is strong. There's not a lot happening, this isn't a thriller, but even in the most ordinary scenes you can see that everyone believes in their characters. I thought I had this film figured out, but I was happily wrong. This story defies convention! John is simply fantastic in this role. Colin Hanks turns in a competent performance. He's a young actor so he still has to cut his teeth a little, but he did a fair enough job. His father even shows up for a scene and that's always nice.

But the real heart of the story I think is "do you still believe in magic?" not the real kind with witches and spells - but "magic" in a sense of wonder and amazement. I don't want to give anything away but in every scene when you think the story is about to fall apart, John Malkovitch pulls it off! He holds this film together with his bare hands. He's like a rock surrounded by superglue. He just makes this story happen. The way he talks about the human spirit -- without talking about it.
The only way I can give an analogy is...remember in "Braveheart" at the end when he dies for his people and screams "Freedom!" well, that scene only works if you completely believe in his character. If you believe that William Wallace really was THAT much of a believer. Mel Gibson took that character to the wall and you had to believe it.

THAT's what John does with Buck Howard. The character is so outrageous and over the top that at first you laugh at him. But then later on you come to realize that this man is a believer. This man is for real, this isn't an act. He's not acting. Buck Howard does believe in the magic of the human soul.

There is a scene at the end when Buck Howard looks at Colin Hanks. Looks at him and you will believe, too. When I left the theater I said to my friends "I have just seen the best movie of the year. And it's March."
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2009
Among the many films that are released each year we are treated to some huge blockbusters. One this week out on DVD will no doubt be WATCHMEN. But while that movie may be the most sought after film, it will also leave many behind who won't get to the store in time for their copy. So instead, why not take a risk and watch something a bit more human, a bit more funny and a bit more sad. Why not watch THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD?

If you've never heard nor seen this film don't be surprised. As I said, blockbusters tend to take up space in the multiplexes around the country where an 18 screen complex offers only 4 films at a time. If you have HDNet, you may have caught it on the premier night it ran. If not, do so now.

Colin Hanks stars as Troy Gable, a young student in college studying to be a lawyer not because he loves it or sees himself having a future here but because his father has sent him here. Realizing he has no desire to live this life, he takes off and heads to LA and begins searching for a job. This results in his meeting the Great Buck Howard, now in search of a new road manager.

Buck Howard (John Malkovich) is a low level celebrity on the down side of life. At one time a notable performer who was featured on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times, he now finds himself playing regional theaters to half packed audiences. But at least these people are fans, those who recall his glory days and now have that moment to bask in the glow of this celebrity who has come to their lives.

Buck is a strange character. A mentalist with a touch now and then of magic, Buck is hard on his staff of one but loving of his crowd when on stage. Until a few take things into their own hand in one instance throwing off his game a bit. But Buck genuinely loves performing for these people and he does so stupendously, always ending with his signature trick where he has someone hide his fee for the night and then returns to the stage to locate it in the audience.

But even though he is the character centered in the title, the story is more about Troy than it is Buck. Troy is at that time in his life where he's trying to decide what he wants to do. He wants to be a writer but with little life experience, he finds himself gaining more and more as he travels with Buck from town to town. He sees Buck's ups and downs, his dealing with overindulgent fans, uninterested media types and many who have forgotten him.

Into Troy and Buck's life comes Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt), a press agent sent out to handle Buck and a special event he has planned in an attempt to once again get into the spotlight. Valerie and Troy become romantically involved but catastrophe looms around the corner as Buck begins to place over 300 people into a trance at once. Unfortunately he's doing so in Cincinnati and at the same time Jerry Springer is involved in an accident. When the moment comes, no one is there to see it.

But word slowly gets out after Buck collapses and he suddenly becomes big once more. One recalls that Huey Lewis lyric "It's hip to be square". Buck suddenly finds himself on TV shows, being lured by Vegas and finally having the chance to go on The Tonight Show once again. But his rise leads to a decline as well and we are left to wonder what will happen to the Great Buck Howard? And what will become of Troy and Valerie as well?

Tons of celebrities make cameos in this coming of age tale including Regis and Kelly, Martha Stewart, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Tom Arnold, Conan O'Brien, George Takei and Tom Hanks (Colin's real life father) as Troy's father, the man who wants him in law school at any costs. And each scene with these celebs comes off as real and genuine, a testament to all actors involved, especially Malkovich.

This movie may not be the big blockbuster release of the week. But it is a film that will entertain and delight that those of us who recall the great days of Carson's Tonight Show will enjoy. Of note, the film (at least the stage work) is based on the Amazing Kreskin who director/writer Sean McGinley worked for as road manager. His love shines through in the character of Buck Howard. And I dare anyone to walk away from this film not feeling the same affection for a little known celebrity on the outs trying to work his way back in.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
"The Great Buck Howard" is a quiet, slightly offbeat comedy about "The Great" Buck Howard, a mentalist and live performer in decline, effectively played by John Malkovich. The film's story is told from the viewpoint of a law school dropout Troy Gabel (Colin Hanks), now working for this mentalist past his prime as a road manager. While Buck attempts to reboot his career, Troy, who aspires to be a writer, meets a charming publicist Valerie (Emily Blunt).

It is reported that the character of "Buck Howard" is loosely based on The Amazing Kreskin. Whatever the fact may be, it is John Malkovich with his superb performances who gives depth and insight to the film's thin story. Material like this would fall flat in the hands of a lesser actor, but Malkovich gives life to the character he plays. Buck is not an easy person to be with, often difficult and always demanding, but Malkovich turns him from a one-dimensional caricature into a fascinating, even charming character you really care.

Amusing and well-acted as it is, "The Great Buck Howard" is deeply flawed. The film's problem becomes clear when John Malkovich or "The Great" Buck Howard is not on the screen. Two subplots about Troy's concerned father (cameo by Tom Hanks) and Troy's romance with Valerie are uninspired and uninteresting. Writer/director Sean McGinly overuses voice over narrations to explain what is too obvious, or what should remain unsaid.

After all this is "The Great Buck Howard" and should be so. John Malkovich, often typecast in bigger films, shows what he really can do with the right material. Unfortunately the film tried to be something else, too - Troy's coming-of-age story, which, sorry, but honestly, we are not interested. Watch the film for John Malkovich, or The Great Buck Howard. It is well worth it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2009
"The Great Buck Howard" is a near-perfect faux biopic that will have you grinning from ear to ear for ninety euphoric minutes. John Malkovich plays the title character, an ego-driven mentalist loosely based on the Amazing Kreskin. We're told that Buck had the moniker "Great" bestowed on him by none other than the late Johnny Carson himself after the magician appeared on the Tonight Show sixty-one times during the heyday of his career. The humorously named Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) is the law student (and narrator of the tale) who takes a pass on a promising career as an attorney to serve as Buck's road manager, a move that causes great consternation for the young man`s father, nicely played in a cameo appearance by Colin's real-life dad, Tom Hanks.

Part inveterate con man, part grandiose showman and part purveyor of down home wisdom and folksiness, Buck Howard turns out to be the perfect instructor for a young man eager to become wise in the ways of human nature. Howard is what P.T. Barnum would have been had he been reduced to playing smaller venues, an entertainer par excellence who really knows how to work his audience for ego-gratification and profit - in short, a figure as uniquely American as the lone frontiersman or trailblazing entrepreneur. Howard probably believes only half of what he's selling, but it is that half that keeps him going in the face of declining popularity and ever-dwindling crowds. For Howard is just shy of turning into a has-been when, as if by magic, he finds himself unexpectedly mounting a full court media comeback.

A satirical and affectionate paean to the world of show biz and the bizarre creatures that inhabit it, "The Great Buck Howard" boasts a witty, flavorful script and stylish direction by the multi-talented Sean McGinly. The movie also features a lovely performance by Emily Blunt as a publicist and Troy`s potential love interest, while a number of well known celebrities - John Stewart, Regis and Kathy Lee (or is it Kelly?), Conan O'Brien, George Takei and Tom Arnold among them - make brief appearances as themselves.

But it is Malkovich who grabs the material by the horns and runs with it. With his every gesture and facial expression, Malkovich turns the Great Buck Howard into a savvy combination of egotism, bravado, humility and pathos. One minute he's an impossible slave-driver, the next a paternalistic mentor - one minute a clear-eyed pragmatist, the next a dewy-eyed visionary and sentimentalist. It is Malkovich's ability to seamlessly meld all these contradictory traits into an instantly recognizable and utterly lovable character that ultimately makes "The Great Buck Howard" the richly entertaining experience it is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD does what I hope a movie will, for 90 minutes or more taking me places I never knew and am not likely to ever know. Colin Hanks anchors THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD in a low-key performance as Troy Gable, a law school dropout who takes work as road manager for mentalist Buck Howard(played to a tee by John Malkovich), who has gone from over sixty TONIGHT SHOW appearances to half-empty Akron, Ohio, theater performances. One could argue Troy Gable's quiet demeanor reflects a state of shock, as he realizes he does not desire the law career that could be his and finds himself trying to please a temperamental, egotistical performer whose celebrity status is to show business what the V.H.S. format is to viewing movies at home. While Troy has yet to figure out what he wants from life, Buck Howard wants to get back on top, his goal a return to THE TONIGHT SHOW after decades of no invitations.

I don't want to give away too much of THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD, just as Buck does not want to give away his tricks, most significant the climax of the nightly act where he determines where the audience hides the money he is to make for his performance, a fee Buck vows to sacrifice if he fails to find it. Troy Gable's search for what he has yet to identify parallels Buck Howard's attempt to return to stardom, the young man wandering, the older man on a mission. The film ends with one of the most memorable moments of eye contact between a movie's co-stars I've seen. THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD leaves it to the viewer to decide when one's time passes and when one decides to simply take a pass.

See THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It doesn't have the CGI razzle-dazzle of a summer blockbuster or even the pyrotechnics of a Criss Angel show, but THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD is a movie that will delight anyone who:

a) is a fan of the great John Malkovich;

b) has an enduring fondness for the showmanship of "mentalists" like The Amazing Kreskin (the real-life inspiration for the character of Buck Howard);

c) wants to believe in the possibility of magic and the importance of following your dreams.

Malkovich is the heart and soul of this movie and his portrayal of The Great Buck Howard whose enthusiasm ("I love this town!") for his performing life endures no matter how small the town he's in or the stage he's on. Colin Hanks can't match the great John for his on-screen charisma, but gives a likable enough performance as Troy, the kid who disappoints his dad (Tom Hanks) to become Buck's traveling sidekick. Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne and Ricky Jay supply some additional star power and credibility to the funny, sad, and magical events that unfold.

Special features include Outtakes, a Behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview with the Amazing Kreskin himself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I'm not a huge John John Malkovich fan, but this seems like one of those rare occasions when actor and role seem perfectly matched to produce an entertaining movie. Malkovich plays Buck Howard, a failing magician loosely based on the Amazing Kreskin. Malkovich's character is both corny and charming. He undergoes a transformation from being frustrated with his fate of performing for small-town America, to finding the his big break didn't necessarily bring him what he most needed. Meanwhile, Colin Hanks (Tom Hank's son) plays a young man searching for himself after dropping out of law school. Ultimately, this movie isn't a slapstick comedy and you probably won't find yourself laughing out loud. Nonetheless, it has some funny moments and is a breath of fresh air compared to the stale comedies Hollywood has been producing (with their utterly predictable plots).I found myself unable to predict where exactly the story was going or what would happen next to Buck Howard - and I loved that. Hopefully you will too.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2011
This is one of those films that seems to have slipped through the distribution cracks because I don't ever recall seeing trailers for it. Possibly, the producers (Tom Hank's Playtone Pictures) thought they smelled a stinker and let it slip out quietly. I can understand their thinking, THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD is one of those projects that has all the right elements---great cast, very solid direction and a compelling story--but they just don't jell. The casting of John Malkovich in the title role was the one thing that, for me, derailed the film. Malkovich is a wonderful actor who could not sell this role. He's an actor whose persona as a misanthrope is so established that, as Buck Howard, he comes off as unlikable and insincere.

I was shocked to learn that the Howard character is based on the career of The Amazing Kreskin. I saw Kreskin, years ago in Odessa, Texas, in a less than stellar venue. Still, he was definitely amazing, even though he failed to locate his paycheck at the end of show, something I understand has happened very few times in his career. Kresking didn't take it well (who could blame him) and publicly castigated the guilty parties for their unsportsmanlike trickery. However, the mentalist was so entertaining that this sour note didn't diminish my respect for his talent.

All of that said, I would recommend THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD because it's quite watchable, your enjoyment may be increased knowing that it's based on Kreskin. Call it 'stunt casting' but I think the film would have worked so much better if producer Tom Hanks had switched roles and portrayed Buck Howard.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
If I could give you only a single reason to see The Great Buck Howard it would be John Malkovich. As one of the most respected actors working today, Malkovich is probably best known for roles playing a bad guy or, at least, a very angry guy...The role of Buck Howard shows a different side of Malkovich, but it's one that is completely delightful.

Colin Hanks plays Troy, who one day decides to quit law school with the intent of becoming a writer. To support himself, Troy must find a job. The opportunity comes along in the form of Buck Howard, a mentalist ("magician is a dirty word") who in his prime appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times. Now the Great Buck Howard plays small venues with even smaller crowds. Troy becomes Buck's assistant, quietly observing the man who doesn't seem to realize that his days of being great are behind him.

It's a simple, low-budget movie that doesn't have anything profound to say but, none-the-less kept me thoroughly entertained.

Emily Blunt, Ricky Jay, Steve Zahn, and Tom Hanks (as Troy's father, go figure) round out the principal cast, but despite solid performances from all; this is Malkovich's show.

Yes, he's playing against type but there is a certain amount of joy I got from watching him in this role. Buck is not a multi-faceted character; we only really get a look at the stage persona. Troy knows Buck about as well as we do, but Malkovich allows us to see the passion and frustration of the character, even with it barely there. The man is an absolute marvel, truly one of the finest living actors.

Is the film great though? No, it's not. It's not a character study or a laugh-out-loud comedy. It's not even very original and some of it's even predictable. However, it has enough charm and wit to warrant recommending it. Buck Howard is a great character and it is a delightful little movie. Tom Arnold's cameo is almost worth the price of a rental, by itself.

The Great Buck Howard is not great, but much like the fictional Buck's show; it's disarmingly funny, charming, and very amusing.

GRADE: B
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