Film Review: Bridge of Spies (dir by Steven Spielberg)


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I saw Bridge of Spies last weekend and I’m a little bit surprised that I haven’t gotten around to writing a review until now.  After all, this is not only the latest film from Steven Spielberg but it also stars the universally beloved Tom Hanks and it’s currently being touted as a possible best picture nominee.  (Mark Rylance, who plays an imprisoned spy in this film, is also emerging as a front runner for best supporting actor.)  The screenplay was written by the Coen Brothers.  (Oddly enough, films scripted by the Coens — like Unbroken, for instance — tend to be far more conventional and far less snarky than films actually directed by the Coens.)  Even beyond its impressive pedigree, Bridge of Spies is a historical drama and by now, everyone should know how much I love historical dramas.

And the thing is, I enjoyed Bridge of Spies.  I thought it was a well-made film.  I thought that Tom Hanks was well-cast as an idealistic lawyer who stands up for truth, justice, and the Constitution.  I agreed with the pundits who thought Mark Rylance was award-worthy.  It’s become a bit of a cliché for Amy Ryan to show up as an understanding wife but it’s a role she plays well and she made the most of her scenes with Tom Hanks.  Steven Spielberg knows how to put a good film together.  This really should have been a film about which I rushed home to rave.

And yet, at the same time, I just could not work up that much enthusiasm for Bridge of Spies.  It’s a good film but there’s nothing unexpected about it.  There’s nothing surprising about the film.  Steven Spielberg is one of the most commercially successful directors in history and the American film establishment pretty much orbits around him.  He’s good at what he does and he deserves his success.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a subversive bone in his body.  Bridge of Spies is a lot like his previous Oscar contender, Lincoln.  It’s very well-made.  It’s the epitome of competence.  But there’s not a truly surprising or unexpected moment to be found in the film.

And I have to admit that, even as I enjoyed Bridge of Spies, I still found myself frustrated by just how risk-adverse a film it truly was.  After all, we’re living in the age of Ex Machina, Upstream Color, and Sicario.  Bridge of Spies is a good movie and, in many ways, it provides a very valuable history lesson.  (The film’s best moments were the one that contrasted the U.S. with the cold desolation of communist-controlled East Germany.)  But, overall, it just didn’t make a huge impression on me.  It was just a a little bit too safe in its approach.

The Cold War Relived Through Bridge of Spies


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Lisa Marie is not the only history nerd in this here place. I don’t think it was a coincidence that TSL’s co-founders ended up being both history nerds. We both love films the depict historical events. Some of them turn out to be great while some end up on the trash heap.

One filmmaker who has made a career late in his life of making historical films is Steven Spielberg. The same one who gave us great blockbusters in the scifi, thriller and fantasy genres has also given us some excellent historical films such as Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Munich and Lincoln.

We have the first trailer for Spielberg’s latest film which is based on the real-life events surrounding the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident where American pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while on a mission over the Soviet Union and was subsequently swapped back into US custody for a Soviet spy that the Americans were holding.

Bridge of Spies showcases the events which led to that swap and how contentious the negotiations had been before it finally came about. Everyone knows the Cuban Missile Crisis put the world very close to nuclear annihilation, but what many don’t know is how the Gary Powers Incident also pushed the two nuclear powers very close to the brink.

Bridge of Spies is set for an OCt. 16, 2015 release date…just in time for the start of Lisa Marie’s favorite film season: Awards Season.

Shattered Politics #74: The Aviator (dir by Martin Scorsese)


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“The way of the future.” — Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Aviator (2004)

As I recently rewatched the 2004 best picture nominee, The Aviator, I realized that, in the film’s scheme of things, Ava Gardner was far more important than Katharine Hepburn.  (Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner was far more important than Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn.)

Over the course of the film, both Hepburn and Gardner are involved with billionaire-turned aviator-turned film director Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Throughout the film, Katherine is portrayed as being flighty, pretentious, and overdramatic.  There’s a lot of dark humor to the scene where Katherine breaks up with Howard, largely because Katharine is incapable of not acting as if she’s making a film.  Her every word is so carefully rehearsed that you have to agree when Howard says that she’s incapable of not giving a performance.  Ava, on the other hand, is always direct.  She has a sense of humor.  She has no trouble telling Howard off.  Whereas Katharine put on airs of being an incurable romantic, Ava tells Howard flat out that she doesn’t love him and is only using him to forward her career.

But, while Katharine Hepburn gets more screen time, it’s Ava Gardner who actually saves Howard’s business.  Towards the end of the film, after Howard has had a nervous breakdown and has locked himself in a hotel room, it’s Ava who suddenly shows up, cleans him, and dresses him.  She’s the one who gives Howard the strength to leave his room and to face down the corrupt senator (Alan Alda) who is investigating his business.

Of course, Howard Hughes is best known for once being the world’s richest recluse.  In the 1960s, Howard locked himself away in a hotel room in Las Vegas and spent the next decade laying naked in bed and watching television.  The Aviator doesn’t deal with this period of Howard’s life but it’s full of scenes where we catch glimpses of Howard’s future.  Throughout the film, we watch as Howard obsessively washes his hands.  We watch as he gives precise instructions on how even the simplest of tasks are to be accomplished.  We watch as he grows increasingly paranoid about the germ-filled outside world.  The film suggests that Howard’s obsessive compulsive disorder both served to make him a great engineer and a great filmmaker while, at the same time, ultimately destroying him.

The Aviator was the second film that DiCaprio made with Scorsese.  And, as bad as DiCaprio may have been in Gangs of New York, he’s absolutely brilliant in The Aviator.  As a character, Howard Hughes has so many quirks and tics that it would have been easy for DiCaprio to go overboard.  Instead, he gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  And, even more importantly as far as I’m concerned, he actually sounds authentically Texan when he speaks.

In many ways, much of The Aviator reminds me of Gangs of New York.  Both films are gorgeously produced period epics that try to cover a lot of material.  Both films are absolute cat nip for history nerds like me.  But, whereas Gangs of New York leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied, The Aviator actually improves with subsequent viewings.  Whereas the action in Gangs had no center, The Aviator revolves around Howard and the actor playing him.

While the Aviator starts off with Howard making movies and romancing Katharine Hepburn, it’s at its best when Howard appears before a committee chaired by Sen. Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) and passionately defends both himself as an engineer and a businessman and the right of innovators everywhere to freely pursue their passion.  The film suggests that Brewster was bribed by Howard’s main business rival, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin, in unapologetic villain mode), and it’s hard not to applaud when Howard stands up for himself.

Speaking of which, it’s odd, so soon after reviewing Alan Alda in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, to see Alda playing a far less ethical politician in The Aviator.  That said, Alda’s corrupt performance in The Aviator is a hundred times better than his cutesy work in Joe Tynan.  If anything, Alda gives a performance here that will remind everyone of why they don’t care much for their congressman.

The Aviator was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more low-key Million Dollar Baby.  Scorsese would have to wait until the release of The Departed for one of his films to finally win best picture.

Shattered Politics #61: Murder at 1600 (dir by Dwight H. Little)


Murder_at_sixteen_hundred_ver2Wow.

I have to admit that, seeing as how I was only 11 going on 12 back in 1997, I really wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on in the world at the time.  But, whatever it was, it must have been something big and scary and it must have left people feeling deeply suspicious of the government.  How else do you explain the fact that 1997 not only saw the release of Absolute Power, a film in which the President is a murderer, but Murder at 1600 as well.

Murder at 1600 opens with a White House maid finding the dead body of Carla Town (Mary Moore), an intern whose sole goal in life was apparently to have sex in every single room in the Executive Mansion.  (And, before you judge, that happens to be my goal in life as well.  So there.)  Streetwise homicide detective Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes) is on the case!

And he’s certainly got a lot of suspects.  Could it be the Vice President (Chris Gillett)?  Or maybe Alvin Jordan (Alan Alda), the National Security Advisor?  Or how about Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali), the bald-bef0re-bald-was-cool head of the Secret Service?  Or maybe it the President’s son (Tate Donavon)?  Or maybe even the President (Ronny Cox) himself!?

Fortunately, Regis is assigned a partner, Secret Service agent Nina Chance (Diane Lane).  When Regis first meets her, he’s all, “Oh my God, you’re a woman!”  And then Nina’s all, “I also won an Olympic medal for sharp shooting!”  And then Regis is like, “I bet that will be a relevant plot point before the film ends!”

Of course, Regis already has a regular partner, as well.  His name is Detective Stengel and he’s played by Dennis Miller, which just seems strange.  Stengel basically looks like Dennis Miller, sounds like Dennis Miller, and acts exactly like Dennis Miller, except for the fact that he’s a cop.  His jarringly out-of-place presence in this film just adds to Murder at 1600‘s general air of weirdness.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the North Koreans are up to no good and the President is being pressured to take military action.  However, he’s being distracted by this whole criminal investigation thing.  Will the country survive or did its future die at 1600?

(And why doesn’t the President just send in Team America to take care of the situation?  Or maybe James Franco and Seth Rogen.  There are way to deal with the North Koreans….)

(By the way, have you noticed how brave everyone online is when it comes to being snarky about the one country in the world that doesn’t have internet access?  If Kim Jong Whatevuh ever gets a twitter account, I bet everyone will start following him and asking him for retweets.)

Murder at 1600 is an enjoyably ludicrous thriller.  It’s one of those films that you’ll enjoy as long as you don’t take it seriously.  Take it seriously and you’ll end up asking question like why the FBI isn’t involved in the investigation and whether or not the solution to the film’s mystery is a bit too convoluted to make any logical sense.  However, if you simply decide to enjoy Murder at 1600 for what it is, an extremely pulpy thriller that’s full of nonstop melodrama, overwritten dialogue, and a healthy distrust of the government*, then you’ll find this to be an entertaining thriller.

At the very least, a White House full of potential murderers is probably a lot more realistic than anything that you might see in The American President.  

—–

* Oh, everyone knows the government sucks…

 

 

Shattered Politics #57: Canadian Bacon (dir by Michael Moore)


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I have mixed feelings about the 1995 films Canadian Bacon.

On the one hand, Canadian Bacon is the only non-documentary to have been directed by Michael Moore.  And I’m just going to admit right now that I don’t care much for Michael Moore.  I think he’s fake.  I think he’s the epitome of the type of limousine liberal who exclusively preaches to the converted and who, when all is said and done, does more harm to his causes than good.  Just because he doesn’t shave, dresses like a slob, and apparently has never been to a gym, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s worth $50 million dollars.  Just because he may claim to be for the workers, that doesn’t keep him from notoriously overworking and underpaying his own employees.  Just because he may make films critical of capitalism, that certainly hasn’t stopped him from investing millions in the very same companies that he claims to oppose. And, quite frankly, it’s hard for me to take seriously a man who rails against income inequality when that man happens to own 9 mansions, none of which are exactly housing the homeless right now.

On the other hand, I love Canada!  Canada has produced some of my favorite actors.  It’s the country that created Degrassi.  It’s the home of Lindsay Dianne and the Becoming A Bolder Being blog!  Seriously, how can you not love Canada?

In fact, if a war ever broke out between American and Canada, I’m not sure who I’d support.  Then again, hopefully Texas will have seceded from the U.S.A. before that happens.  I’m keeping fingers crossed about that.  Hopefully, once we have seceded, our first action will be to declare war on Vermont.  (Not the rest of America, though.  Just Vermont.)

The plot of Canadian Bacon is that the President of the United States (Alan Alda) is suffering from low approval ratings so he decides that America needs to find a new country to be enemies with.  Mind you, the President doesn’t necessarily want to go to war.  Instead, he just wants to have an enemy that he can always be on the verge of going to war with.  After a riot breaks out at a hockey game, the President’s advisors realize that Canada would be the perfect enemy!

(And, while this is played for laughs, there actually is a historical precedent here.  The War of 1812 was basically a result of America’s desire to conquer Canada.)

Anyway, American airwaves are soon full of anti-Canada propaganda and, since Michael Moore thinks everyone in America is an idiot except for him, gun-toting rednecks are soon preparing to do whatever it takes to defend America.  A patriotic sheriff named Boomer (John Candy) decides to invade Canada on his own.  Needless to say, things get even more complicated from there and soon a crazy weapons manufacturer (G.D. Spradlin) is plotting to launch a missile attack on Russia and … oh, who cares?

When Canadian Bacon tries to satirize politics and blind patriotism, it falls flat.  Michael Moore has somehow earned a reputation for being a satirist but, if you actually look at his work, it quickly becomes apparent that he really doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.  The humor in his documentaries is pretty much based on Moore saying, “Look how stupid everyone is except for me!”  Since the people who watch Michael Moore documentaries are usually people who already agree with Michael Moore, they naturally find that to be hilarious because they already think anyone who disagrees with them is a joke.  However, that doesn’t mean that Moore himself is a comic genius.  He’s just a guy telling a joke to an audience that already knows the punchline.

Canadian Bacon is long on righteous indignation but it’s short on anything that would make you want to spend 90 minutes listening to the same point being made over and over again.  Moore did make one good decision, in that he selected Rip Torn to play a crazed general.  Rip Torn can deliver militaristic insults with the best of them.

The few times that Canadian Bacon actually works is when it gently (as opposed to indignantly) satirizes Canada’s reputation for being the most polite (and most hockey-obsessed) place on Earth.  Dan Aykroyd has a great cameo as a Canadian police officer who pulls over Boomer’s truck and politely reprimands him for not including French translations for all of the anti-Canadian graffiti on the side of the vehicle.

Canadian Bacon could have used more scenes like that.

Love you, Canada!

Shattered Politics #44: The Seduction of Joe Tynan (dir by Jerry Schatzberg)


The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

You know how sometimes you see a film and you can just tell that it was probably a big deal when it was first released but now, in the present day, it’s just not that interesting?  That’s the way that I felt when I saw 1979’s The Seduction of Joe Tynan on Netflix.  This is one of those film’s that you just know was probably praised for being adult and mature when it was first released but seen today, it’s just kinda bleh.

Joe Tynan (Alan Alda) is a Democratic senator from New York, a committed liberal who is also an ambitious pragmatist.  As quickly becomes apparent, Joe is happiest when he’s at work.  He struggles to talk to his rebellious teenage daughter (Blanche Baker).  While he may love his wife (Barbara Harris), she’s also one of the few people in his life who isn’t always telling him how great he is and, to an extent, she resents having to live in his shadow.  At times, it seems like the only thing holding Joe’s family together is the possibility that Joe could soon be nominated for the presidency.

When a Southern judge is nominated for the Supreme Court, Joe is asked by his mentor, Sen. Birney (a great Melvyn Douglas), to not oppose the nomination.  While Joe originally agrees to keep quiet, he soon changes his mind when he’s approached by lobbyists who make it clear that, if he goes back on his word to Birney, they’ll be willing to support Joe for President.

Leaving behind his family, Joe heads down south where he meets a researcher named Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep).  With Karen’s help, Joe discovers that the judge actually is a racist.  He also discovers that, politically, he has a lot more in common with Karen than he does with his own wife and soon, they’re having an affair.

The Seduction of Joe Tynan is an odd film.  As written, Tynan is a decent but flawed man.  He may do the right thing but he does so largely because of his own ambition.  That’s not a problem, of course.  If anything, that would seem to be the making of a great political film.  Some of the greatest film characters of all time have been morally ambiguous.  But then, Alan Alda (who also wrote the script) gives a performance that would seem to indicate that he was scared of being disliked by the audience.  Alda is believable when he’s being a self-righteous crusader but, whenever he has to play up the pragmatic and ruthless side of Joe Tynan, he almost seems to have zoned out.  It’s interesting to compare Alda’s lukewarm performance here with the far more nuanced performance that he would give, as a less idealistic Senator, decades later in The Aviator.  As far as the film’s senators are concerned, Melvyn Douglas and Rip Torn (playing a libertine colleague) are far more believable than Alda.

The film’s best performance is delivered by Meryl Streep.  That might not sound shocking but actually, Streep’s performance here is surprising because it’s far more natural and less mannered than some of her more acclaimed performances.  Believe it or not, you actually forget that you’re watching Meryl Streep.

Ultimately, you have to respect the fact that the film attempted to tell an adult and mature story about politics but that doesn’t make The Seduction of Joe Tynan any less forgettable.

15 Upcoming Films That Are Going To Suck


In just another few days, the summer movie season will end and we’ll enter the fall.  The fall movie season is when all of the prestigious, massively hyped “quality” films are released.  These are the films that everyone is expecting to see remembered at Oscar time.  We expect more out of films released in the Fall and therefore, when a film fails to live up to the expectation of perfection, we are far more quicker to simply damn the whole enterprise by exclaiming, “That sucked!”

Below are 15 upcoming fall films which I think are going to “suck.”  Quite a few of them are “prestige” films though a few of them most definitely are not.  However, they are all films that I fully expect to be disappointed with.

Quick disclaimer: This list is based on only two things, my gut instinct and the advice of my Parker Brothers Ouija Board.  These are my opinions and solely my opinions and they should not be taken as a reflection of the opinions of anyone else involved with this web site.  Got it?  Good, let’s move on to the fun part:

  1. Anonymous (10/28) — Roland Emmerich takes on the burning issue of whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote his plays.  Who cares?  I’m sure this will spark a lot of discussion among people who found The Da Vinci Code to be mind-blowing.
  2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (12/21) — Deal with it, fanboys.
  3. The Ides of March (10/7) — It’s a political film directed by and starring George Clooney!  Watch out for the smug storm that will surely follow.
  4. Immortals (11/11) — Yes, it will suck but it will still probably be better than Clash of the Titans.
  5. The Iron Lady (12/16) — Bleh. This is one of those movies that they make solely because Meryl Streep needs another Oscar nomination.  Nobody will see the film but everyone will talk about how brilliant Meryl was in it.
  6. J. Edgar (TBA) — So, when was the last time that Clint Eastwood actually directed a movie that you didn’t have to make excuses for?
  7. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (12/21) — Honestly, has there ever been a Mission Impossible film that didn’t suck in one way or another?
  8. Real Steel (10/7) — How do I know this film is going to suck?  Go look up the trailer on YouTube and you can see that little kid go, “You know everything about this fight game!” for yourself. 
  9. Red State (9/23) — A satirical horror film with a political subtext?  Well, let’s just hope they’ve got a great director…
  10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12/16)It’s the law of diminished returns.  The better the original, the worse the sequel.  That said, I really hope I’m wrong on this one.  I loved Sherlock Holmes.
  11. Straw Dogs (9/16) — It’s a remake of the old Peckinpah classic except now, it’s a Yankee Blue Stater getting attacked by a bunch of Redneck Red Staters.  Yankee paranoia is so freaking tedious.  Add to that, Straw Dogs has been remade a few million times and never as well as the original.  At least those remakes had the decency to come up with their own name instead of just trying to coast on the credibility of a better film.  This travesty was written, directed, and produced by Rod Lurie.  Shame on you, Rod Lurie.  (Of course, the toadsuckers over at AwardsDaily.com are madly enthused about this film.)
  12. The Three Musketeers (10/21) — Is anybody expecting otherwise?
  13. Tower Heist (11/4)Brett Ratner continues to encourage us to lower our standards with this action-comedy.  The film’s villain is played by Alan Alda and is supposed to be a Bernie Madoff-type so expect a lot of tedious pontificating from rich actors playing poor people.
  14. War Horse (12/28) — This might actually be a good film but, as a result of all of the hype, it’s going to have to be perfect or else it’s going to suck.
  15. W.E. (12/9)Madonna makes her directorial debut with … well, do I really need to go on?