Bridge Of Spies
October 15, 2015
Bridge of Spies (***) PG-13
Bridge of Spies is only director Steven Spielberg’s fifth film since 2005, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s certainly the best thing he’s done since the period piece Munich. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have flaws, particularly a second act where the film seems to be on auto-pilot, but it’s entertaining enough. It’s guaranteed to play best with those who have little to no knowledge of the real life events that the film depicts but that’s to be expected. It’s an occasionally rousing film that, at the very least, comes alive from time to time, unlike the director’s last film, the overhyped Lincoln, which suffered from stagnant pacing that bogged the proceedings down.
For Bridge of Spies, Spielberg has chosen to reteam with Tom Hanks. Hanks, as usual, brings his earnestness and everyman (i.e. Jimmy Stewart) demeanor to the proceedings and it’s just what the pic calls for. Here Hanks is cast as James Donovan. Donovan is a NY insurance lawyer who believes that every man deserves a fair shot at being defended. Against the advice of practically everyone in his orbit, Donovan takes on the case of Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), a supposed Russian spy. This being the 1950s and with the cold war looming large in the nation’s cultural zeitgeist, it doesn’t come as a surprise to Donovan that taking on Abel’s case isn’t going to be a walk in the park.
Just when things are looking pretty dire for Donovan, a fortuitous incident transpires in the capture in Russia of US spy, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).
Three greats: Alan Alda, Tom Hanks & Amy Ryan in Bridge of Spies
Donovan realizes that perhaps his best chance of keeping Abel from frying in the electric chair is to literally swap spies. Things become even more complicated when an American college student is also captured and government officials become obsessed with trading Abel for not one but both men.
The film’s final section is the most effective as the audience is privy to the machinations that led to Donovan’s successfully carrying out his assigned task. Spielberg manages to keep the suspense flowing, not an easy task when one takes into consideration that any student of history knows the eventual outcome of events.
Spielberg employs his usual band of collaborators (cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn, etc.) in the technical departments and their contributions, as usual, are top notch. Notable is the new addition of Thomas Newman, who takes over scoring chores from Spielberg’s usual choice of John Williams and does an ample job. I’m assuming Williams was busy scoring the new Star Wars film and wasn’t available for that reason, but I digress.
Band of Spies isn’t likely to set the world on fire in terms of revolutionary cinematic storytelling but it’s just interesting and diverting enough that most viewers will cozy up to it. It’s not vintage Spielberg but it gets the job done.
Goosebumps (***) PG
While taking in the long awaited big screen version of author R.L. Stein’s series of childrens books Goosebumps, my mind kept recalling a film from my teen years called The Monster Squad. In that 1987 film, a group of kids attempt to save the world when the classic trio of Universal studios movie monsters—Mummy, Wolfman and Dracula—come to life and wreck a small town looking for a lost amulet of some sort. It’s a film held in high regard by many who happened to come of age in those fondly remembered days of the late 1980s. I couldn’t help but wonder if the filmmaking team behind Goosebumps weren’t inspired by it in some way or another as the film’s plot bears an awful lot of similarities.
Goosebumps the film is based on the series of books of the same name but I would be doing viewers a great disservice if I didn’t mention that the film is not an adaptation of stories found in those books. Anyone expecting ghost stories of the Goosebumps sort will have to look elsewhere.
The film does something different in that it takes the author of those books, R.L. Stine, and makes him one of the central characters. Stine (Jack Black, certainly a plum choice for this kind of role) is the neighbor of new kid in town, Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette).
Jack Black, Odeya Rush & Dylan Minnette in Goosebumps
Zach and his mom (Amy Ryan) have moved to their new surroundings due to his mom’s new job as an assistant principal. Zach’s dad has recently died and he and his mom are attempting to put their lives back together in the wake of the tragedy. Zach chances to meet his neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose father is the famed author R.L. Stine. Zach starts to notice some strange goings on at Hannah’s house and accidentally unleashes a torrent of monsters from the pages of Stine’s writings which have, until Zach’s meddling, been kept locked away, quite literally, in the author’s books. With the town being overrun by werewolves, zombies, and just about any other creature you can think of, it’s up to Zach, Stine, Hannah and one of Zach’s newfound school chums to save the town or maybe the world, depending on how you look at things.
Goosebumps really scores with its sense of humor and mostly engaging visual effects. Movies like this are dependent on the special effects to work convincingly to aid the storytelling. The technology is mostly well done here and, thankfully, lacking the cartoonish look that plagues so many films like this. Though I felt at times that I had seen it before, i.e. The Monster Squad, that didn’t stop me from enjoying it from time to time. It shouldn’t stop you either.
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