Bridge of Spies

This week, we take a look at Stephen Spielberg’s latest piece, Bridge of Spies. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, and Amy Ryan, the film is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

In the cold war, A lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers that was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission- with a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel who was arrested for espionage in the US (from IMDB).

7 out of 10

If you can remember, I put this film on my ‘Top 5 Most Excited For’ list way back at the beginning of this year. With Steven Spielberg directing, Tom Hanks acting, and the Coen-Brothers writing, this film is guaranteed to be a success. Might as well give it Best Picture already. This were my thoughts a few months ago when first coming across Bridge of Spies. Maybe it’s because my expectations were too high, but I can’t lie; I was rather underwhelmed. Not to say it was a bad film, because it wasn’t, it just was, well, underwhelming.

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Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors of all time, and again he delivers as James B. Donovan. As the protagonist, Hanks drives the film, and thank god he does, because without him I can’t imagine how charmless this film would be. He has charisma, humor, but also a sternness that grounds his character in the film and makes him realistic. The turmoil that his character goes through and the way he deals with it is ultimately what makes this another outstanding Hanks performance. There are some other strong showings, including Mark Rylance as a persecuted Soviet spy that Donovan grows fond of, and Amy Ryan as Donovan’s fearful, but supportive wife.

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Per usual, Spielberg does an incredible job of creating the historic setting, the camera work serving to prolong the drama and keep the atmosphere of the Cold War tense, dark, and moody. This solemn tone was maintained throughout, largely due to the fantastic production design and cinematography that kept the film in the midst of the Cold War.

Yet the tension stops at the production design. For a spy thriller, I did not get much of a thrill at all. I felt the mistake was that the film was split into two parts, one being the trial of the Soviet spy, the other being Hanks’ attempt to trade the Soviet spy for the United States’ own spy. The first part felt like an interesting commentary on nationalism versus morality, whereas the second part felt like a cute middle school dance between the Americans and the Soviets, when you knew that the two would get together in the end to make a deal, but they spend the longest time skirting around it. That was my biggest problem: it was too predictable. Argo was predictable, but still thrilling. For a solid five minutes, I was convinced that Ben Affleck and co. would not get out of Iran alive. I just didn’t get that same feeling from Bridge of Spies.

‘Bridge of Spies’ by DreamWorks Studios.

Perhaps the reasoning for that is a lot of the tension built up circulates two characters that no one really cares about. Frederic Pryor and Francis Gary Powers were characters that I did not empathize with, and I doubt many others did either. There was not much development for their characters, so when they were captured, I could have cared less if they were killed or not. In fact, I liked the Soviet spy more. I’m not sure whether this can be attributed to poor acting or poor writing, but those two characters lacked appeal that removed any tension the film could have had during its final act.

Overall though, it is impossible to discredit Spielberg and Hanks from what is overall a well made film that should get nominated for plenty of Oscars. Perhaps you can attribute my disdain for the second half of the film to it being nearly 11:00 PM by that point, while being on the tail end of a double-header in which I witnessed Michael Fassbender absolutely dominate as Steve Jobs (but that is a review for another day. Soon. I promise). Bridge of Spies lacked the tension and thrill that would have made it an all time great, instead forcing it to settle with being another solid film that will be forgotten in a few years.
~Vig

7.5 out of 10

Bridge of Spies brings together the powerhouse duo of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks once again, who have made successful films such as Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can, with a trun to the cold war, one of the few American history time periods Spielberg has not touched on in his filmography. Add this stellar pair with the Coen brothers (of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men fame) writing the screenplay, and you have talent that almost guarantees a slam-dunk. And Bridge of Spies does succeed, for the most part.

The film tells the true story of James B. Donovan, played by Hanks, who was put in charge to defend a Soviet spy caught in the U.S., then ultimately has to negotiate a trade between the spy and a captured American U-2 pilot in the Soviet Union.

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Above all, the craftsmanship is what makes this film shine. Spielberg and his customary cinematographer Janusz Kaminski create a world that feels so much like the time period without spoofing it. This is seen especially in the opening eight minutes, which is purely visual imagery with no dialogue, that hooks you into the story. Spielberg also uses an old style of filmmaking where he prolongs every shot for as long as possible; so when one a cut is made, it gives the audience a subconscious feeling that a beat has changed within a scene, even if it is just between two people talking. This style makes the film come alive and proves once again that Spielberg is a master of the screen.

As the case in pretty much every Spielberg film, the acting is top notch. Hanks succeeds once again in his usual charismatic role, also with some humor, making us root for him as he has to deal with both stubborn sides (with a cold as well!). But because we always see him in this every man role, it is a little safe for him, and does not necessarily stand out in his impressive filmography. But who does stand out is Mark Rylance, who plays the soviet spy. Rylance has a tranquility to him despite the character’s desperate conditions, and forces the audience to feel for him despite him being an accomplice on the other side. Other notable performances are Amy Ryan as Hanks’ wife and Austin Stowell as the captured U-2 pilot.

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But for a thriller, the film has very little suspense in it. The film runs right by the numbers, with no twist and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat as most Spielberg films do. The narrative is split into two parts with the trial then the negotiations for the swap and while I found the former to really say something strong about Americans and the complication of patriotism in yesterday and today’s society, the latter feels like the story is going through the motions, despite the really great shots of the split up Berlin, where the negotiations take place.

Also I was a bit disappointed in the Coen Brothers script; it did not contain their usual idiosyncrasies or dark humor, but rather is more paint by the numbers than you would expect from them.

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And if there is ever a complaint to be made about Spielberg’s films, it is his cheesy, feel-good endings, and that is no different in this one, with a very gooey conclusion from a film that was much more mature than that.

But the way the film presents its historical material is so well done that I have to recommend it on that basis alone. Even though it feels like there is something missing in it, possibly from the absence of Spielberg’s usual composer John Williams, not many films today are made with this amount of care, and so gets my support nonetheless.
~Seth

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Thoughts on… 2015!

Hey readers!

2014 was a great year for movies, both in action blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and indie dramas like Nightcrawler, and in less than two months the Oscars will crown Hollywood’s best. Some of Screenwars favorite movies of the year include Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Captain America 2, Gone Girl, and Birdman. But as we ring in the new year, it’s time to look ahead and check Vig and Will’s seven most anticipated films of 2015. (because five wasn’t enough for Will)

Number 7

St. James Place
First, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the films that didn’t make it. Joy, Spectre, Mockingjay Part 2. All are movies I will definitely see, but just didn’t make the list. St. James Place, on the other hand, did make the list. With Tom Hanks leading, Stephen Spielberg directing, The Coen Brothers writing, and an incredibly interesting premise about a Cold War spy, what isn’t there to like about the film? It should definitely be in the running for the top awards in 2015.
Joy
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a struggling housewife turned entrepreneur, in this upcoming film from golden director David O. Russell. In recent years Russell has helmed such films as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, all character driven dramas with fantastic casts. And with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro joining Lawrence here, Joy should prove to be one of 2015’s rousing successes.

Number 6

Ant-Man
Honestly, anticipation for Ant-Man may be a bit of a strong word. Nervous may be the better word. If Marvel is going to slip up anytime soon, it will probably be with Ant-Man. With creative differences endangering the film early on, it looked as though the film would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it recovered, and Paul Rudd, Michael Douglass, and Evangeline Lilly headline the hopefully successful final sequence of Marvel’s phase two.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Though Mockingjay Part 1 was a critical disappointment due largely to its dearth of action and tension, the second part of the Hunger Games’ final installment will hopefully be the action-packed finale we are all hoping for. Harry Potter arguably reached its greatest heights with the concluding Deathly Hallows Part 2 and given the unbelievable cast assembled for this new Hunger Games film, here’s to hoping we will see the same thing mirrored in Mockingjay. At the very least, teens will come out in droves for this one.

Number 5

Jurassic World
We have been witness to three Jurassic Park films, with only one of them being remotely good. Luckily for the series, the first one is a classic and its legacy is, for the most part, still in tact, still making 2015’s Jurassic World so heavily anticipated. Chris Pratt stars, hot off his breakout year with starring roles in The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be sure to give this film the star power and comedic touch it needs. He will be supported by Bryce Dallas Howard and Jake Johnson in a movie that looks to bring relevance back to the Jurassic universe after two straight duds in the series. 
Inside Out
There were some fantastic animated films this year – most notably The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and How to Train Your Dragon 2—but we were robbed of the yearly Pixar feature. In Inside Out, we get a look at the inner working of the mind of a teenage girl and the emotions that battle for control of her head. Featuring the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black, all comedy stars, Inside Out will surely be a massive hit for all ages and a film that will contend for Academy Awards next year. We should expect nothing less from the creator of Monsters Inc. and Up.

Number 4

The Hateful Eight
This is tentatively put on here because after Tarantino’s outburst about the script leaking, who knows if this will actually come out this year. Regardless, this film looks to be great. Samuel Jackson and Quentin Tarantino always produce gold, from Pulp Fiction to Django Unchained. Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, and Tim Roth join Jackson to give this film a superb cast, one that will give Tarantino plenty of talent to work with. The Hateful Eight, at least in concept, will continue Tarantino’s string of great films and perhaps be a contender for Best Picture. 
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time, and I fully expect Age of Ultron to gross even higher, given the seemingly ever-increasing desire for superhero tent poles. Marvel studios has had a string of massive financial and critical successes, including Captain American: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy and with Joss Whedon directing Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth, look for Age of Ultron to be a critical success and the highest grossing film of the year, the decade, and maybe of all time.

Number 3

The Revenant
Could Leo finally get that Oscar? It looks possibly with The Revenant. The film is about fur trapper Hugh Glass, who is robbed and abandoned by his companions after being mauled by a bear. Surviving and out for vengeance, the film follows Glass, played by Dicaprio, on his quest for vengeance against his companions who left him to die. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu, coming off a hit in Birdman and starring DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domnhall Gleeson, this film certainly has the star power to be great. Supported by an extremely interesting premise, watch for The Revenant in best picture discussions next year.
Spectre 
Spectre will be the 24th Bond movie and will ostensibly begin the exploration of the criminal organization that dominated the first – and the consensus best – Bond movies that starred Sean Connery. My major complaint with Skyfall was that it felt too much like a typical action film rather than the suave Bond films that we’ve been accustomed to, but with the throwback to the original films that we saw at the end of Skyfall, Spectre has the potential to be one of the best Bonds yet. Oh, and joining Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes will be Blue is the Warmest Color lead Lea Seydoux and Quentin Tarantino-favorite 2-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz.

Number 2

Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Of course this is on here, it was just a matter of whether it was first or not. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanatic in the world, but the original trilogy is arguably the best series of all time. I wholeheartedly trust JJ Abrams with this film, who has directed two great Star Trek films and definitely has a great grasp on the sci-fi genre (he also built a replica of Millennium Falcon, so yay practical effects!). By the looks of the first trailer, Episode VII will not follow the path of prequels and disappoint us all.
The Hateful Eight 
Quentin Tarantino will make his return to the big screen with 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s story will feature two bounty hunters, betrayal, deception, and, knowing Tarantino, a massive amount of violence. Featuring Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, the legendary Bruce Dern, and global superstar Channing Tatum, who just found his first fantastic dramatic role in Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight will undoubtedly be one of the finest movies of the year and an almost definite Best Picture contender.

Number 1

Avengers: Age of Ulton
Drumroll please! The new Avengers is a hands down number 1 on this list. You all know my affection for superhero films, and with the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling at full force, Age of Ultron looks to be one of the best Marvel films yet. Following perhaps Marvel’s best year yet, one that featured Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2 heralds a star-studded cast that adds Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to the mix. Joss Whedon is also back at the helm directing what looks to be Marvel’s biggest film yet. The first trailer was sick, and the leaked details about storylines (CIVIL WAR!!!) regarding Marvel’s phase three only make this movie all the better, making it my most anticipated film of 2015.
Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Words can’t describe just how excited I am for this movie. Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite films of all time, featuring fantastic characters, a compelling story, and groundbreaking visual effects. Despite the trilogy of prequels that did all they could to ruin the Star Wars legacy, with JJ. Abrams at the helm and Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, and Andy Serkis joining the original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, I’m confident The Force Awakens will be more reminiscent of the original trilogy rather than the prequels. In a year full of sequels to blockbuster franchises, three of which are on this list, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is by far the most anticipated movie of 2015.

 

What movies are you most excited for in 2015? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy New Year!