THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (Movie Review)

LegendOfTarzan
** out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for
sequences of action and violence, some sensuality, and brief rude dialogue)
Released: July 1, 2016
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander
Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

Making a Tarzan movie was apparently a passion project for David Yates, the director of the last four Harry Potter films. Now having seen the final result, there’s no doubt Yates had a lot of specific images and scenes in mind. He just didn’t seem to have a story to go along with them – which is pretty maddening when you consider the depth of resources to pull from.

Based on the classic novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and countless screen incarnations over the past century, The Legend Of Tarzan isn’t likely to be the Lord of the Apes movie that diehards of the books have been longing for, and it really won’t be due to selling out to the masses. For all the digital wizardry on display (I’d argue too much, but then most modern blockbusters are guilty of that), the story is just flat lazy. It goes as follows (spoiler alert?):

Evil guy wants to exploit diamond rich African resources, he attacks Tarzan and the African natives to get it, takes Jane hostage for good measure, but Tarzan rallies the jungle forces – natives and animals alike – and the good guys win in the end.

Yawn.

The self-evident problem is that we’ve not only seen this Tarzan story before; we’ve seen this basic narrative construct in countless stories well beyond Tarzan before. Slogging along as if its goal is to make viewers compulsively check their watches to see just how much longer they have to sit there before reaching the inevitable conclusion, The Legend Of Tarzan is a movie you are constantly two, three, or more steps ahead of for its entire running time.

And there’s not even that much vine swinging.

We hear people talking about Tarzan’s legend more than we actually see it, which is a problem. Yates wisely intersperses the origin story in flashbacks throughout the main narrative (as opposed to front-loading the movie with it), but between that and the laborious machinations of an almost entirely uninspired plot (save for the unique spin that Tarzan is a worldwide folk hero, a fame that John Clayton III, Earl of Greystoke – Tarzan’s true identity – wants to run from), The Legend Of Tarzan isn’t remotely as mythic as its production is striving to be.

Of course when a rote movie like this doesn’t work, you have to start looking at the cast too. After all, by definition, the fact that this plot is so familiar means it’s actually worked before. More often than not. When it doesn’t, yes, the lack of originality screams, but it does so when the cast doesn’t give it life. Most of the actors are good choices in their own rights; they just don’t have any chemistry together – dramatic, comedic, romantic, or otherwise.

Alexander Skarsgård has the persona and beefcake physique you’d want for a Tarzan but he’s not given much to do other than pose and brood; honestly, it’s difficult to judge his performance against such weak material. Margot Robbie is obnoxiously modern as Jane, and simply isn’t credible as the smart, sophisticated, and strong-willed heroine of self-agency she’s supposed to be (a young Sigourney Weaver, she’s not).

Samuel L. Jackson’s along for comic relief, which he provides, but his sensibility sticks out as anachronistic in this particular 19th Century setting that isn’t written by Quentin Tarantino. Christopf Waltz, for his part, is merely repurposing whatever he did as the villain in Spectre, with the aggravating addition of making his Leon Rom a religious zealot. The constant insert close-ups of the rosary beads & cross wrapped around his wrist is an over-the-top bit of secularized symbolism (particularly as Jane boasts she doesn’t believe in spirits). He’s backward, she’s progressive, we get it. But in case we don’t, they have Rom wield his rosary as a lethal weapon (seriously?), while adding a pedophile priest joke (I’m not even kidding) for good measure. This isn’t character depth. It’s pettiness.

That leaves Djimon Hounsou as the only actor who actually commits to an emotionally raw transparency in the one major scene afforded him. Just based on his brief appearance alone, I’d much rather have seen the movie that’s suggested from his backstory with Tarzan. A lesser performance would’ve simply had Hounsou’s tribal leader spit vengeance toward Tarzan, but Hounsou actually layers that with a heartbreaking sense of personal betrayal.

As far as the spectacle meant to draw everyone in, it’s very well done as these things go but nothing particularly distinctive. Plus, as filmmakers continue to increasingly rely on CGI visual effects technology, the less breathtaking their action is becoming. Sure, there’s some adrenaline-fueled flights through the jungle and swoops on vines (though again, not nearly as much as you’re likely expecting), but knowing – both by general awareness and what’s specifically on screen – that none of the daring feats are pulled off by actual human beings, well, the thrill just isn’t there. The actual death-defying moves of grace and athleticism are just 1’s and 0’s in a computer. The aggressive apes evoke a similar ambivalence. Yes, they display an impressive level of technical achievement, but they never shake you up like, say, that bear attack from The Revenant.

The Legend of Tarzan is a movie that feels like it’s constantly starting or leading to something but never really gets there until the actual climactic battle, a major stumbling block for an action movie that should ebb, flow, and cycle through mini arcs and peaks along the way of a grander overarching one. But hey, when newly orphaned baby John Clayton III is discovered by the ape mother, that eerily familiar moment did cause “You’ll Be In My Heart” to pop into my head. Unfortunately, being reminded to rewatch Disney’s superior version is about the best thing you’re likely to get from enduring this one.

But now I’ve saved you the trouble. You’re welcome.

The Spielberg Canon: Ranked Best to Worst

Spielberg_SetPortrait1

One Month. 30 Days (plus). 32 Movies.

1 Incomparable Filmmaker.

I’ve written about each and every feature film (plus one short) that Steven Spielberg has ever made. And now I rank them.

To the extent that any list like this can have a logic to it, here’s mine. I factor in three criteria, in no particular order:

  • Historical impact, both on the industry (from box office to cinematic influence) and the culture.
  • My opinion of its cinematic merits, regardless of my personal feelings or affections toward it.
  • My personal feelings or affections toward it.

Each choice represents some undefinable combination of those three considerations.

Needless to say, some rankings could’ve gone either way. At times, there were tough calls on which choice should top another. In those instances, I allowed the second factor – cinematic merits alone – to trump the other two. A great example: Numbers 8 and 9.

Given where some films placed, particularly in the lower half, a reader could be left with the impression that I’m ambivalent about more of these movies than I actually am. Truth be told, I’d give all of his films from #22 on up either a 3 1/2 or 4 star rating. 23 through 27 are solid 3-star entries, 28 and 29 more mixed, with only the bottom three being unqualified duds (although I’d even say there’s a steep drop off between 30 and 31).

So as you go through this list, that important qualifier should give you a better bearing on how I feel about each of these films, as should the brief responses I add. By and large, Steven Spielberg has made good-to-great movies, with a few unqualified masterpieces.

And so, listed in ascending order from Worst to Best, here is The Spielberg Canon, ranked.

The Films of Steven Spielberg

32. Something Evil (1972) – this early TV movie is something awful.

31. The Terminal (2004) – an avalanche of schmaltz that goes from eye-rolling to insufferable.

30. The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – shockingly dull, would’ve been better as a live action thrill ride.

29. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – first forty minutes, great. The rest, not so much.

28. 1941 (1979) – fun & very well made, even if unfocused. Better than its reputation.

27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – a total blast of an old school monster movie.

26. War of the Worlds (2005) – elevates blockbuster thrills with potent 9/11 metaphor.

25. Amblin’ (1968) – the original 26-minute short film that revealed so many possibilities.

24. Empire of the Sun (1987) – gets a bit on-the-nose, but beautifully and poignantly told.

23. Amistad (1997) – the absolute best and worst of Spielberg, the filmmaker at his most bipolar.

22. The BFG (2016) – a big budget bedtime story that time will likely be kind to.

21. The Sugarland Express (1974) – Spielberg’s feature debut, filled with so many Spielbergisms still seen to this day.

20. Duel (1971) – the TV movie that made him the most coveted up-and-coming director of his generation (and got him the Jaws gig).

19. Bridge of Spies (2015) – first rate “minor” Spielberg.

18. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – spotty “major” Spielberg.

17. Catch Me If You Can (2002) – classy, sophisticated moviemaking that’s charismatically frivolous and effectively poignant.

16. Always (1989) – a soul-searching romance in the grand tradition of Old Hollywood, and light years better than any being made by Hollywood today.

15. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – would’ve made for a perfect end to the saga.

14. Minority Report (2002) – an insanely high degree of difficulty on all fronts, and Spielberg sticks the landing.

13. Hook (1991) – no Spielberg film has aged better.

12. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – the quintessential popcorn movie.

11. Lincoln (2012) – a towering portrait of a towering President at his most consequential moment.

10. War Horse (2011) – would stand equal to the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.

9. Jurassic Park (1993) – revolutionary in its time (in a number of ways), and endlessly watchable since.

8. The Color Purple (1985) – the most unlikely marriage of source material and filmmaker, yet it flirts with being a masterpiece.

7. Munich (2005) – philosophically, the definitive terrorism film of our time.

6. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) – it’s the Kubrick that resonates, but Spielberg made it a masterpiece. His most underrated film.

5. Jaws (1975) – the film that changed movies forever. As close to a B.C./A.D. historical marker as you’ll find in film history.

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – never fails to take me through the emotional wringer in the most edifying way.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – it captures the best of cinema from its entire history, all in 120 minutes. My favorite movie of all time.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – the movie that moved up the most in my own personal estimation. A profound spiritual journey draped in sci-fi wonder.

1. Schindler’s List (1993) – the best movie Spielberg will ever make, and among the best ever made.


Spielberg_JawsSet

And for a more streamlined glance from Best to Worst:

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

5. Jaws (1975)

6. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

7. Munich (2005)

8. The Color Purple (1985)

9. Jurassic Park (1993)

10. War Horse (2011)

11. Lincoln (2012)

12. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

13. Hook (1991)

14. Minority Report (2002)

15. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

16. Always (1989)

17. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

18. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

19. Bridge of Spies (2015)

20. Duel (1971)

21. The Sugarland Express (1974)

22. The BFG (2016)

23. Amistad (1997)

24. Empire of the Sun (1987)

25. Amblin’ (1968)

26. War of the Worlds (2005)

27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

28. 1941 (1979)

29. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

30. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

31. The Terminal (2004)

32. Something Evil (1972)

Spielberg_Headshot

First Trailer For Hanks/Clint True Hero Story SULLY (VIDEO)

In January of 2009, multiple birds struck and disabled the engines of an Airbus flight, causing an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Dubbed “The Miracle On The Hudson”, the real life heroes were pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and co-pilot First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.

Those events and their aftermath are dramatized in Sully, the latest film from two-time Academy Award winning director Clint Eastwood and starring fellow multi-Oscar fraternity member Tom Hanks. It’s their first collaboration.

Hanks stars as the titular Sully, with Aaron Eckhart as First Officer Skiles and Laura Linney as Mrs. Sullenberger.

Sully makes its early Oscar play on September 9, 2016.

THE BFG (Movie Review)

BFG_Cover
***1/2 out of ****
Rated PG
(for 
action/peril, some scary moments, and brief rude humor)
Released: July 1, 2016
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Adam Godley

Somewhere, Uncle Walt is smiling. With a Big Fat Grin on his face.

Steven Spielberg, in his first film under the Mouse House banner, has made a movie in the grand tradition of Walt Disney’s live action fables from generations past.

BFG_Listens

A big budget bedtime story, The BFG continues an invigorating resurgence in non-animated fare by the studio of late (although, like The Jungle Book, this is a lopsided visual effects hybrid). But that renaissance has thus far been driven by adaptations of beloved animated classics with established strengths, outlines, and expectations. With The BFG, there is no template.

In creating this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s fantasy about the bond between an orphan girl and a lonely giant, Spielberg’s addition to Disney’s renewed live action slate has the book’s goodwill to live up to, not a perennial from the studio’s archives.

BFG_Horn

What he does with it gives us a strong indication of what the Pop Culture Auteur would’ve done with the wizarding world of Harry Potter had he followed through on his initial intent to direct that saga’s first (and least dark) entry. Having John Williams‘ music again sure helps. From a screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison, this doesn’t possess the overwhelming soul or operatic crescendo of the E.T. script she wrote for Spielberg, but it does share the same heart and yearning for innocence.

The most kid-and-parent friendly movie by Spielberg to date, The BFG (an acronym for Big Friendly Giant) is the rare would-be blockbuster that in no way caters to all four “age quadrant” demos. Never once resorting to crass language, edgy innuendoes or pop culture references in some calculated, desperate attempt to appease teenagers and young adults (who may roll their eyes and check out at the first utterances of The BFG’s Seussical-styled speakery), Spielberg has made a movie not only in the spirit of the book on which it is based, but one that finds its joy in playing directly to the imaginations and hearts of the Pre-K to early grade school children that Dahl sought to captivate.

BFG_SophieReads

Along with its silly yet tender content, The BFG is a patient cinematic page turner (not an action packed thrill ride), seemingly told at the pace of a school librarian as she reads to the kiddos all circled around her, in a style that evokes wide-eyed wonder. It’s in no hurry to get where it’s going.

Regardless of how this movie performs at the box office – and in a summer meant for explosions, not heart tugs, likely not well – The BFG seems destined to be a favorite of young families for years (possibly generations) to come, with parents and their little munchkins snuggling up on cold winter weekends or holiday breaks with hot cocoa, thick blankets, and this magical place.

BFG_Dreams

Sophie is a young British girl who’s never had a family or known a home. The BFG is the elderly, sweet-hearted runt of a more barbaric (and comically Neanderthal) race of secret giants. But The BFG has a special talent. He is a catcher of dreams. He’s a wielder of them, too, sharing them with people as they sleep, a benevolent sandman with a paternal heart.

And when the ardent young Sophie spots him lurking one fateful night, the BFG sweeps her away to his forest cottage in the hidden Giant Country, lest his clandestine existence be discovered by a misunderstanding world. In short, it’s the story of two orphans from their respective orphanages who become the first best friends that either has ever had.

The actual BFG (as Sophie has dubbed him; he has no proper name) is a wonderful creation on multiple levels, starting with the gentle, unassuming purity embodied by Academy Award winner Mark Rylance (Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies) and fulfilled by a new standard for motion capture animation (a.k.a. Mo-Cap). Never before has an actor so thoroughly shone through in a Mo-Cap performance, even transcending Andy Serkis’s Gollum and his Caesar of the Planet Of The Apes reboot (the same WETA animation team has come a long long way).

BFG_HoldsSophie

Every thought, feeling, and nuance The BFG gives – every spontaneous reaction, be it a physical or emotional reflex – is so clearly and fully from the spirit, soul and body of Mark Rylance. And what a special, memorable performance it is, with moments of intimate and unexpected vulnerability. It’s a Mo-Cap breakthrough that could be dubbed Emo-Cap, because it captures emotions that I didn’t think were possible.

As Sophie, the adorably proper Ruby Barnhill is both The BFG’s opposite and his match (the fact that she’s a girl and not a boy is, in itself, refreshing). Her sharp, well-mannered, yet strong-willed (and brave) spunk – the kind that might utter a Poppins-esque “Spit spot!” – is the perfect contrast to The BFG, a playful but meek giant whose bruised yet generous heart is matched only in size by, sadly, his acute insecurities and low self-worth.

BFG_SophieBFG

Self-conscious, too, about his butchered-together English, Sophie’s affection for the BFG tempers her grammar nerdiness (a contrast I actually wish Spielberg would’ve played up in their character and relationship arcs, but oh well). It’s a friendship born of need yet forged with grace. And when it finally breaks out into the real world during the film’s second hour, they cross paths with Her Majesty the Queen herself (with a casting choice that will garner an instant affinity for any Downton Abbey ­diehard – not the Dowager’s Maggie Smith, but the more genteel and charitable Penelope Wilton).

The look and design of The BFG is a joy to behold, and often a marvel (that pops in 3D, but would be just as entrancing without it). Having a real live girl play against this animated giant actually helps sell the animation, too, as does the stylized design of the BFG’s features.

BFG_NightTree

As if directly addressing nearly every Mo-Cap criticism I had in my review of The Adventures of TintinThe BFG excels in integrating real actors and sets with animated characters, creatures and worlds at unprecedented levels of seamlessness. It’s still not wholly realistic, but that’s part of the improvement.

By embracing the odd and exaggerated features of these humanoid giants, The BFG makes its world more credible – not less – than past Mo-Cap efforts that have tried to make people photo-real. But most crucially, it’s the ability to see Rylance in every detail that seals it, especially in unguarded moments of deeply felt emotion.

BFG_SophieShoulder.png

As a craftsman, Spielberg largely (and wisely) limits his “computer camera” to moves that only a real one could make, giving us an experience of more inherent veracity. The lighting is also consistent between the real and the animated, which helps to erase the comped edges joining the two. The result is a more beautiful, classic cinematic language, the kind we expect from Spielberg.

Sure, I’d still prefer an approach that re-sizes real actors and then blends them together (ala the various characters in the Lord of the Rings’ fellowship) over this reliance on digital, or perhaps even a throwback to the fully muppetized creations of Jim Henson’s creature shop peak, but with the degree of advancement seen here that desire is surprisingly mollified. This is as spectacular and effective as motion capture has ever been.

BFG_Giants

The BFG is not made for all ages, but it is meant for them. It commits to a courageous integrity for something produced at such a financial scale, and that’s exactly what gives it its big-hearted charm. And yet while its sensibility is so unapologetically tailored to the single-digit set, its audience need not be.

Soften your cynicism. Don’t demand that this meet the typical expectations of sensory overload or propulsive spectacle. It may look like that, but it’s not actually like that at all. The BFG is the movie version of a kid. The kid we would all love to be. The kind we’d all do well to actually strive to be.

Well, let it be. And if you do, you’ll be saying along with Sophie, “I believe in The BFG.”

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(Check out my entire “30 Days of Spielberg” retrospective here – now including The BFG)

Two Sneaks Of THE BFG (VIDEO)

With hopes of stirring up a tremendous rumpledumpus, Disney has released a couple of clips from The BFG, the upcoming children’s fantasy.

These scenes, totaling less than two minutes, offer a sneak peak into the early phases of the budding relationship between the title giant and Sophie, an orphan girl who becomes his friend.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by E.T. screenwriter Melissa MathisonThe BFG – based on Roald Dahl‘s beloved children’s book – opens Friday July 1, 2016.

THE BFG: “Giantspeak”

THE BFG: “I Catch Dreams”

BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) – 30 Days Of Spielberg

BridgeOfSpies_SpiesBridge1

Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Rated PG-13

(for 
some violence and brief strong language)
Released: October 16, 2015
Runtime: 141 minutes
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Dakin Matthews, Eve Hewson

Day 30 of “30 Days of Spielberg”

BridgeOfSpies_Bridge

“Minor” Spielberg though it may be, Bridge Of Spies is far from insignificant.

While not indispensable viewing, there’s something essential about this true life Cold War yarn, even timely. This was my third time seeing it (the first led to the creation of this blog; its review was my debut post), and Bridge Of Spies has become more resonant with each viewing, continuing to reveal itself in subtle, rewarding ways.

The first time, it was the craftsmanship. The second time, its relevance. The third, its volume of sly, subtle humor. Once you get through all of the Spielberg (which is first rate), the idiosyncratic voice of screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen begins to emerge. It becomes easy to imagine the spin they’d put on James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks here) through George Clooney or James Brolin (in the film’s second hour especially) or Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mark Rylance) through John Turturro or Michael Stuhlbarg.

BridgeOfSpies_Portrait

From the opening “self portrait” shot, we see Spielberg’s clever artistry on full display, forecasting an entire film that would follow suit. It also works as an establishing metaphor, suggesting the dual nature of spies whose world we’re about to enter. It’s the true story, told in two chapters (each segmented into the film’s first and second halves), from late 1950s Soviet vs. U.S. espionage.

The first explores our Constitutional values in the face of an existential threat that strategically subverts them (like I said, relevant); visually, this is set within an aesthetic of rich detail and Americana. The second half is a fascinating covert off-the-books game of Prisoner Swap that takes us into Germany just as Berlin’s infamous border wall was being built (er, like I said, relevant), set in the dead-of-winter freeze apropos to a very Cold War.

BridgeOfSpies_BerlinWall

When a movie labels itself as “Inspired By True Events” as opposed to “Based On A True Story”, that distinction generally means that the filmmakers were “inspired” to create a portrayal so loose that it’s effectively a complete fiction. The lead character is either a re-named variation on a real-life figure, or a composite of several. Events aren’t real; they simply represent thematic ideas that the actual event also raised.

But James B. Donovan was real. He did what we see here. He was a citizen who served his country not only with honor but conviction and ingenuity – and at a crucial, precarious time. Who better than Tom Hanks to play such a Jimmy Stewart All-American, one who can be morally upstanding and morally conflicted in equal, authentic measure?

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And then there’s Rylance as Abel, in his Oscar-winning role. The antithesis of showy, it’s the kind of performance you love to see recognized during awards season; Rylance makes such a memorable impression with such a minimalist approach.

Pre-dating the events of Munich by fifteen years, Bridge Of Spies is a fairly quick return for Spielberg to the spy thriller genre he worked in ten years prior. Unlike Munich, this isn’t a psychologically tortured journey. It’s much less weighted yet still substantial, drawing modern day parallels, that makes for a classically entertaining cloak-and-dagger game of high stakes international intrigue between men in coats and fedoras on both sides of the Freedom/Communism divide.

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Again emulating the sophisticated nature of John le Carré novels (and their screen adaptations), the lengthy near-wordless opening sequence tracks Rudolf Abel, a Kremlin spy working in America, and the CIA agents on his trail. It’s a brilliant and riveting little piece of genre moviemaking. Hanks’ James B. Donovan, an insurance/liability attorney, is tasked by his country to represent the captured Abel in his trial.

This comprises the film’s first hour. It works as a meditation on Constitutional ethics, the temptation to fudge them against enemies who oppose them, and the conviction (via Donovan) that the best defense against enemies who stand by their cause isn’t to succumb to their tactics but to stay true to our founding principles and civil liberties. This all works as a proxy for America’s struggle today. Jihadists certainly aren’t abandoning their “ideals”, perverse as they are. Will we abandon ours?

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That second hour then fully shifts into spy movie mode, and from it emerges that Coen Brothers’ dry humor. It’s harder to initially recognize given that Spielberg’s inherent earnestness is so polar opposite to the Coens’ quirk, but it’s a great example of how smart wit can translate through a variety of smart sensibilities. Even so, it’s tension that drives the tone; occasional levity simply eases it.

As a thematic study it’s less rigorous than the first half, or simply a more streamlined extension of it, but then it does add the layer of the Berlin Wall. It’s the first time I can recall its construction ever being depicted on film – here, as a recurring backdrop – and one can’t help but start drawing comparisons to the border wall debate that has served as the initial rallying cry for Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

BridgeOfSpies_WallBike

Now while the film certainly evokes that appraisal (by pure luck, as it was filmed before Trump announced his candidacy), to liken the two would be a rash false equivalence. The Berlin Wall was built to keep its oppressed people in. Trump’s proposed wall means to keep illegals (and possible enemies) out. While the moral and practical merits of Trump’s wall can certainly be debated (and should), equating it to Berlin’s Wall is intellectually dishonest.

Nevertheless, what is telling to contemplate is what Donovan witnesses: how the Eastern Bloc Germans keep their citizens from escaping – by shooting and killing them. Would the same be required of United States border officers to keep illegals from entering? Securing a nation’s borders is both a worthy cause and a necessary one. But enforcement has consequences, and Bridge Of Spies helps us to consider them in very real terms.

BridgeOfSpies_Negotiate

Yet ultimately, that layer is an unexpected (though likely welcome) addition for Spielberg, who instead consciously focuses the second hour on Donovan’s own resolve as he strives to broker the release of two American captives with one Ruskie stone (Abel).

He must do so while on a moral and strategic island, acting in direct opposition to CIA directives that want him to stay focused on the U.S. pilot, the only valuable asset, not the student. The CIA sees people as chess pieces; Donovan sees them for the human beings they are.

As it all unfolds – building toward a very riveting climactic standoff –  Bridge Of Spies becomes an emotionally rewarding story, too. It’s one of two men (Donovan and Abel) who, having been marginalized by the very governments they’ve been loyal to, find within each other a unique solidarity.

Bridge Of Spies won’t hold a consequential place in Spielberg’s legacy, but it’s still a damn good movie.

BridgeOfSpies_BridgeBacks

Available to rent through Amazon Instant Video.

NOTABLE TRIVIA

  • For the arguments that James Donovan makes before the Supreme Court, the words used in the film were the same as were actually given.
  • A film version of these events was almost made in 1965. Gregory Peck tried to get it made, starring as Donovan, and had brought Alec Guinness onboard to play Rudolf Abel. MGM ended up pulling out as the studio, however, because they felt that at the time Cold War tensions were simply too high.
  • Spielberg cast Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel after seeing him perform in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on Broadway (which ended up leading to Rylance’s third Tony win).
  • Eve Hewson, who plays Donovan’s oldest daughter, is the real-life daughter of U2 frontman Bono (who’s real name is Paul Hewson). Coincidentally, the band U2 took its name from the U-2 plane that’s featured in this film.
    BridgeOfSpies_Hewson
  • In another coincidence, the characters James B Donovan and Wolfgang Vogel share the same last names with the two villains of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
  • This was only the second Spielberg film to not have the music composed by John Williams. The first was The Color Purple. Williams was unable to do it due to a temporary health issue at the time that has since been corrected. Composer Thomas Newman stepped in as the replacement.
  • The opening shot of Abel painting a self-portrait is based on Norman Rockwell’s triple self-portrait.
  • A few Spielberg Oners pop up along the way. My favorite is the first glimpse into East Germany and the Frederick Pryor American student character, and how the camera moves around, past, and reframes the building of the Berlin Wall.
  • The opening shot of Abel painting a self-portrait is a nod to Norman Rockwell’s self-portrait.
    Rockwell

Final STAR TREK BEYOND Trailer, With Spoiler – And Rihanna (Mutually Exclusive) (VIDEO)

Step aside, Beastie Boys. You’ve just been sabotaged by Rihanna.

The third and final trailer for the upcoming Star Trek Beyond features a new single by the R&B queen. Called “Sledgehammer”, what initially seems like nothing more than a crass marketing tool (well, okay, it’s still a crass marketing tool) actually becomes emotionally effective, even powerful, in the trailer’s second half.

It should be noted, however, that a certain reveal could be considered a major spoiler, even though it’s been suggested in earlier previews. Its prominence here makes me also suspect that it’ll be a plot point that’s dispensed of early on in the actual movie, perhaps even the opening scene. Nevertheless, you’ve been appropriately warned.

Also interesting: at under two minutes, this final trailer works more like an early teaser, as it focuses specifically on Kirk as a character and the arc he’ll undergo.

Star Trek Beyond warp speeds into theaters on July 22, 2016.