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Friday, October 11, 2013

Tom Hanks movies bookend London Film Festival

This year's London Film Festival is a Tom Hanks double bill with 232 other features in between.

The 12-day movie showcase opens Wednesday with "Captain Phillips," a drawn-from-life thriller starring Hanks as a cargo ship captain held captive by Somali pirates.

In the festival's closer, "Saving Mr. Banks," Hanks plays a very different real-life figure — Walt Disney, sparring with British writer P.L. Travers over the movie adaptation of her children's classic "Mary Poppins." The film has its world premiere in London on Oct. 20.

Artistic director Clare Stewart said the double dose of Hanks was "a happy accident."

The 57th London Film Festival offers 234 features and 134 shorts, as well as a lineup of stars including Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Daniel Radcliffe.

Founded in 1957 to show the best of world cinema to a British audience, the festival has recently tried to carve out a place on the international movie calendar with bigger pictures and more glittering stars.

"Captain Phillips" is one of several films in the lineup already generating awards-season buzz; others include Alfonso Cuaron's space odyssey "Gravity," Joel and Ethan Coen's folk saga "Inside Llewyn Davis" and Steve McQueen's powerful historical drama "12 Years A Slave."

Stewart, in her second year as festival chief, hopes to make London a more important stop for movies during Hollywood's ever-expanding awards season.

"A good song can last for three minutes and you're just expressing one emotion. You can't have that in the theater. The narrative needs to be advanced as the song is being sung," Sting admits.

Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning lyricist Brian Yorkey ("Next to Normal") and Tony-winner John Logan ("Red") are writing the book, and Tony-winner Joe Mantello ("Wicked," ''Angels in America") will direct. Sting says his collaborators have been brutal — and he appreciates it: "If they said everything is great, Sting, I wouldn't feel good."

Tony-winning producer Jeffrey Seller is on board, and describes his duties as "part nurturer and part critic."

"One of my jobs is to express where in the show we need those, and what songs that he's written that may not be necessary to tell this story," Seller said.

Seller, who produced "In the Heights," ''Avenue Q" and "Rent," said when they first met, Sting had not recorded any music for the project but had an idea about an abandoned shipyard where workers were building their own ship.

"When he told me about that story, I immediately fell in love with this odyssey," he said. "I loved it as much as when Jonathon Larson told me I want to do 'La Boheme' in the East Village where instead of suffering from tuberculosis, Mimi suffers from AIDS."

As an album, "The Last Ship" has a theatrical quality, with multiple recurring characters inspired by Sting's childhood experiences. While performing the album at a benefit earlier this month, he sang these parts in voices different than we're used to hearing from the 16-time Grammy-winning artist.

"I used the dialect that I was raised in," Sting said of the accent that has shades of Scottish and Norwegian. "I only ever use it now when I threaten people or when I get really angry. ... My kids would always know I was serious when I start speaking in the weird voice. They're like, 'Uh-oh, he's speaking in that weird voice, he must mean it.'"

The musician claims he's never tried to force any of his six children into the family business, yet each of them has found the arts in some way.

"My oldest is 36, he's a dad, which makes me a grandfather. They're all out in the world. We have one left, Giacomo is a senior in high school, and he'd be gone next year. We're kind of in a — we got dogs, me and Trude (wife, Trudie Styler), we've got a few dogs," he said of the emptying nest.

"My kids are very creative. I haven't encouraged them to get into show business at all. I haven't discouraged it, but I certainly haven't helped them or said that is what you should do. My job was to keep them in college and for them to get degrees, which they all did," he says like a proud father.

He added: "They're good people. They're not spoiled. They're polite, They're intelligent. They're the best thing I ever did."
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