Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Spielberg has given us another wonderful film in Bridge of Spies. Based on actual events it is taut and thought-provoking.  If you think that means boring, think again.  It is a riveting story which involves the audience from beginning to end.

This is the story of James Donovan, a NYC attorney, whose high-powered firm represents big insurance companies. One day he goes into the office and is told the senior partner wants to see him immediately. He is told the government has requested him to represent a Soviet spy they've apprehended. Donovan was on the prosecution team at the German (Nazi) war crime trials in Nuremberg. The CIA thinks he would be a great lawyer for Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel.  Trouble is, Donovan IS a great lawyer, and takes the case to heart, giving zealous representation of his client, whom he comes to like.

When sentencing time comes, he visits the judge and pleads the case against the death penalty for his client. I won't spoil the story for you by telling you his reason for this, but it proves sound as well as eerily prophetic.

Naturally, Donovan makes himself and his family a target of the public outcry by his position.  But he continues on his crusade to follow our Constitution and give his client a fair trial and later an appeal.

There is also a subplot about the U2 spy plane debacle which centered on pilot Francis Gary Powers.  He crashed on his mission over the Soviet Union and was captured and held as an American spy.

The two governments discuss exchanging Powers for Abel.  Naturally, they get Donovan to do the negotiating.  When he gets to Berlin, where the wall has just gone up separating the eastern part of the city from the west, he finds the East Germans hold an American student who was caught behind the wall.

He becomes determined to get both men home, which all of the intelligence people, ours and theirs, say is not possible...

I won't reveal anything else about the plot.  Don't want to spoil it for you.

Tom Hanks does a wonderful job as Donovan.  He has aged (haven't we all???) But he retains his extraordinary talent to create an everyman character with many layers under the surface. This is not a showy performance.  It's not that kind of character.  But he is magnificent.  I wouldn't be surprised if there's another Oscar nomination in it for him. Let me tell you something as an actor, anybody can emote loud and broad, but it takes a real master to use subtle facial, body, and vocal clues to reach the film audience, eliciting emotion from them.  Hanks is such a master.

Also notable is Mark Rylance as Soviet Rudolf Abel, a talented artist as well as an enigma.  I grew to really like him during the course of the film, as does Donovan.

Amy Ryan plays Donovan's wife, Mary, who worries for her family but trusts her husband. Ms. Ryan holds her own in the talented cast.

Austin Powell plays the hapless young pilot Francis Gary Powers, for whom nothing goes right on his doomed mission.  He turns in a layered performance as the ace who is caught by circumstances he never anticipated.

Sebastian Koch plays Wolfgang Vogel, an east German attorney who meets with Donovan before seeming to set him up to fail.  The character must be unreadable in order to work in the course of the plot.  Koch plays the difficult man with ease.

A film is a collaboration of many artists working together.  The Coen brothers were co-writers on the script. But the film has the Spielberg stamp, we've come to know.  It is a well-made film with incredible attention to detail.

I read a review in the paper before seeing the film today.  It said something about the audience should pay attention to the early banter in the film, as it will come to have significance at the end.  Now that I've seen Bridge of Spies, I know what the reviewer meant.  I give you the same advice.

There is a lovely bit at the climax of the film.

Steven Spielberg is arguably our best American director today in his meticulous methods of film-making. His attention to detail is incredible whether it is in Jaws, ET the Extraterrestrial, Schindler's List, The Color Purple, War of the Worlds, or in Bridge of Spies. His films shine in their humanity.

For us older folks who remember these events, the film will spark memories of our reactions to what is now history.  For the rest of you it will show you what life was like in those gut-wrenching days when we anticipated Soviet hydrogen bombs coming to incinerate us with little to no warning.

Don't miss this film. You won't be sorry.

Until next time...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

San Andreas

San Andreas, the granddaddy of all disaster movies finally came out on video.  I had hoped to see it when it was still in theaters, but hey, the usual happened and I waited to see it on pay-per-view.

Whew, this one is a huge scale disaster flick. I'm old enough to remember Earthquake.  In that one, there were special frequency sound effects that made you feel like your seat shook during the quake.  Everybody flocked to it, some more than once...see I was seeing this guy and he was....well, never mind.  I saw it so much I memorized most of the inane dialogue. ("Help son is me" woodenly delivered and accompanied by movement reminiscent of 1970s NFL cheerleaders...)

At any rate, San Andreas is way beyond Earthquake, in special effects (CGI is a wondrous thing), in the story, the characters, and variety of's like former earthquake films, collapsing buildings, large scale fires, tsunami films, and big sinking ships falling on the unwary all rolled into a two hour movie.  In other words, I am very glad I didn't see this one in the theater.  For me, it would probably have been too much.

The disaster starts about ten minutes into the story and continues sporadically building to the end.

The cast consists of beautiful people.  Of the main characters, only Dwayne Johnson's and Paul Giamatti's characters have brown eyes.  The rest of the major players have impossibly blue eyes of varying shades. And everyone has bleached white teeth.  In other words, they are impossibly pretty people, too.  The film looks like they combed the headshots of all the young actors in Hollywood to find the best looking...You know you're looking at California by the beautiful people as well as the landmarks.

Still, this is an entertaining film, not riveting, but very entertaining.  The storyline is good, but like in most disaster flicks, an afterthought to the chaos around them. Most of the good guys survive, and the weak-kneed villain gets his just desserts on the Golden Gate Bridge.  And he knows it's coming.  Probably just as well because he does a despicable thing during the early minutes of the disaster, compounded with another later on in the name of his own survival.

The one most uncomfortable moment for me was during the tsunami when a huge container-carrying freighter was capsizing on top of the main characters.  Given the recent events with a freighter out of Jacksonville which apparently sank during Hurricane Joaquin, seeing this portrayal took the action out of the only-a-movie category and reminded me of the doomed ship and crew.

There were images of falling buildings that reminded me of 9/11, as well. But I just say, it's only a movie, though it is unfortunate that we all know these images from real tragedies. We're not as innocent of such things as we were in the 1970s.

It is a very entertaining film.  As disasters go, it hit all the genres. The cast were believable in their roles, as previously noted, attractive people who were fun to watch.

I for one, love Dwayne Johnson as a hero.  He makes a superb and most believable one.  If you want a bit of exciting entertainment, check out San Andreas. They hit all the buttons in the disaster genre.

And now for something completely different...We have several zombie television shows currently on our networks.  I watch most of them, though admittedly I miss episodes.  But my favorite is SyFy's Z Nation. Why? It's exciting in places but it is also wryly hysterical in others. In last week's episode, our heroes, who escort the only human known to have survived a zombie bite to a medical lab in California in the hope of providing an antidote for all humanity, were in Wisconsin.  In a small town, they encountered the remnants of a cheese festival.  In the town square was a huge (and I mean HUGE) wheel of cheese.  It was taller than the people as it rested on its end.

One of my favorite characters is an older doctor, permanently mellowed by his hippie youth.  He's a hoot with his memories of the culture of his day.  At any rate, he constantly has the munchies, and attacks the wheel of cheese to cut out a chunk.  As he sighs eating the first real cheese he's had in a couple of years, a zombie horde comes over the road in their direction.  Much to Doc's chagrin, his group pulls out the stops holding the giant cheese wheel in place and rolls it toward the oncoming horde.

It rolls over the zombies, picking them up in a permanent zombie cheese ball as it travels onward.  One of the good guys says, "how long do you think it will do that?" And our leading lady shrugs and says, "from here it's all downhill to the Mississippi..." At the end of the episode, there's another shot of the cheese rolling down the road, picking up more of the "walking" dead. Quirky but fun...

Okay, I'm back and hope to see the new Spielberg film in the actual theater this weekend.  Popcorn, here I come!!

Until next time...

Take care and watch a movie.  They really are great escapes.