Mini-Review: Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

PG-13, 141 Minutes, 2015


About: Lawyer must negotiate for trade of spies with USSR because once upon a time we let civilians do that. There is also a bridge.

Starring: Tom Hanks as Our Generation’s Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart

Directed: Steven Spielberg. I am a Spielberg-completist having seen all of his films. It’s been over 10 years since Spielberg made a “fun” film (Terminal to some extent, Catch Me If You Can for sure, The Adventures of Tintin wasn’t fun enough). He’s gotten so serious and self-important.

Bridgeof-Spies-777x437Best Thing About It: Mark Rylance as the Soviet Spy Col. Abel. His dry wit and non-conformist role makes him the most memorable and worthwhile thing in the film. I anticipate an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Worst Thing About It: The word I have heard most about this film is “Old-Fashioned.” That’s not a bad thing as the movie is very well made. But it lacks much in terms of surprise, energy, or freshness. It feels very lived in – An old sweater you like, but don’t love.

Notable Thing About It: If anyone other than Tom Hanks was in this part, I think the movie would have failed. He brings such charisma and gravitas to a role that before he’s said a word, you are rooting for his character and trust him.

Overall: Everything about the film is professional. There isn’t anything weak in it. It is certainly the right kind of film for people who prefer more predictable, historical movies. You certainly don’t have to go to the theaters to see it. It is a good film, but forgettable.

Rating: 2 1/2 RaMaKs (out of 4)


Mini-Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

R, 122 Minutes, 2015


About: There was this computer guy who was a jerk, but a genius. You might have heard of him.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, who looks nothing like Jobs (see below), but is brilliant.

Michael Fassbender and Steve Jobs

Directed: Danny Boyle, who has now made a bunch of very different, really solid movies – Transporting, 127 Hours, Millions, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire

Written: Aaron Sorkin in totally Sorkinesque dialogue. Lots of walk and talks. I once interviewed with a rabbi who couldn’t walk and talk. He had to stop whenever he had to talk. I knew I couldn’t work with him.

Best Thing About It: The cast. Kate Winslet would be unrecognizable if I hadn’t just told you Kate Winslet was in it. Seth Rogen is totally recognizable, but is very compelling as Steve Wozniak. Jeff Daniels has found a new role as an older, friendly, but somewhat insufferable boss (see him similarly as the head of NASA in The Martian). Michael Stuhlbarg is once again amazing. In most films it takes a minute to place him (ex. Pawn Sacrifice), but in every film he displays the incredible talent that was on display as the lead in A Serious Man.

Worst Thing About It: I often complain when the lead character is distasteful. I have to spend two hours with someone I really don’t like. Steve Jobs is like The Social Network – socially incompetent asshole who offends everyone around him, but is an absolute genius. Steve Jobs is more distasteful, but more of a genius than Mark Zuckerberg. While I appreciate what Jobs was capable of doing, it was troubling to watch him throughout the film when all I wanted was someone to punch him in the face. Spoiler: No one does.

Notable Thing About It: In a very original structure, the film takes place in 3 separate real time segments in the 30 minutes of so before three major product launches – the Macintosh (1984), NeXT (1988), and the iMac (1998) [Filmed in 16mm, 35mm, and digital respectively**]. Also, truth be told, I owned 3 of these computers and have exclusively used Apple/Macintosh home computers my entire computer life since my family got an Apple II Plus when I was 10.

Overall: This is an extremely well made film. The creative structure gives the film urgency and keeps it moving. The actors are excellent top to bottom. The ending tries to hard to make things work out. Also, if you somehow have never heard of the success of Apple computers, the iPod, iPhone, etc. you would be baffled that anyone thinks Jobs is a genius by what is shown in the film (2 failures, 1 predicted success). It’s a good film, but not great. But if you loved The Social Network, run right out as I wasn’t as high on that film as the rest of the world (I was rooting for The King’s Speech for the Oscar).

**Info added after initial posting of blog fro Christ Nashawaty’s review of the film in Entertainment Weekly.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs (out of 4)



Mini-Review: The Martian

The Martian

PG-13, 141 Minutes, 2015

The Martian

About: Astronaut must survive on Mars after being left for dead by accident. NASA must figure out how to bring him back.

Starring: Matt Damon as Mark Watney. Do you know how rare it is to find a protagonist named Mark in the movies? Okay, this site does, but who remembers any of these supporting roles? The Martian also stars like 8 other actors you’ll recognize and like a lot.

Directed: Ridley Scott making up for Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Monsters.

Best Thing About It: Matt Damon. He is the perfect lead – charisma, humor, everyman. You want him to survive. He is the next generation Tom Hanks, but a little sexier. You want him to be your husband/boyfriend/best friend.

Worst Thing About It: So the book is better. Andy Weir’s novel has so much more depth. More things happen to Watney and to NASA. The science is explained instead of just shown loosely in a montage. And Weir is a first time novelist! Go read the book.

Notable Thing About It: The movie is better. Because it does what movies can do and books can’t – the visuals of Mars are incredible. Seeing Watney’s struggles and successes is very different than reading about them. Go see the movie.

Overall: This is a crowd pleaser. If you can live with a few curse words and one stunt-double’s butt, this is a movie you can take your kids, your parents, your friends. Like Apollo 13, it casts NASA in a heroic light even as it faces a failure. This is a beautifully made, well acted, often funny, exciting, Hollywood movie. It doesn’t break much new cinematic ground, but sometimes it is nice just to be entertained.

3D note: While the swirling dust at the beginning looked cool and the Mars landscapes were richer, like most live-action films, seeing it in 3D isn’t vital.

Rating: 3 ½ RAMAKs (out of 4)


Mini-Review: The Walk

The Walk

PG, 123 Minutes, 2015


About: Exactly as in the excellent documentary Man on Wire, a Frenchman decides to walk a wire between the Twin Towers

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as not quite Pepe LePew, Ben Kingsley as Ben Kingsley in every movie of the past 2 decades, Charlotte Le Bon as really pretty but bland, and people you’ve never heard of

Directed: Robert Zemeckis who has a pretty impressive career and also The Polar Express

Best Thing About It: Passes the Apollo 13 test – I know how it ends, but I am still tense and interested

Worst Thing About It: Some of the American supporting characters are really stereotyped 1970s – although in real life they may have been that way too

Oddest Thing About It: The constant CGI of the World Trade Center reminded more more of how I thought of them during my childhood (boxy, powerful, iconic) than as just 9/11 images. This is a good thing.

Overall: The walk on the wire itself itself is worth it especially in IMAX 3D. Breathtaking. JGL somehow let me believe he was a Frenchman (which he actually speaks) despite that outrageous accent. Twin Towers CGI was fantastic. 1st half a little whimsical. 2nd half is spellbinding.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs (3 ½ perhaps if you see it in IMAX 3D)

Mini-Review: Everest


PG-13, 121 Minutes, 2015everest-poster-trailer

 A whole bunch of people risk their lives to touch the tallest point on earth. It doesn’t go well.

Starring: Jason Clarke as Nice, Josh Brolin as Texas!!!, Jake Gyllenhaal as Drunk Reckless Cool, Keira Knightley as One Who Makes You Cry, Robin Wright as Her Character from House of Cards.

Directed: Baltasar Kormákur – He’s from Iceland; don’t pretend you’ve heard of him.

Best Thing About It: Visuals of Everest – but the IMAX film from 1998 is so much better.

Worst Thing About It: Huge cast must be impossible to keep track of – but it doesn’t matter as everyone either a one note part (Texas!) or completely bland.

Oddest Thing About It: Having once-upon-a-time binged on the Everest 1996 disaster (multiple books, terrible TV movie, met Peach Weathers, wrote a High Holy Day sermon on it), I already knew who was going to die, so it took most of the tension out of the film.

Overall: Visual appealing film about terrible disaster mostly caused by human lust for somewhat meaningless accomplishment. Beck Weathers and Jon Krakauer at least find significance out of the events in their books. The film just ends with where-are-they-now postscripts.

Rating: 2 RaMaKs

Mini-Review: Mistress America

Mistress America

R, 84 Minutes, 2015

 Ready to explore adulthood, a smart, but naive college freshman becomes dazzled by her worldy, ambitious, but self-absored soon-to-be step-sister.

Starring: Greta Gerwig as poster child of today’s 30-year-old, Lola Kirke at poster child of who we want to imagine 18-year-olds are today

Directed: Noah Baumbach (of talky, angst ridden, hyper contemporary movies like Frances Ha and While We’re Young)

Best Thing About It: Very witty dialogue with good laughs

Worst Thing About It: Dialogue all feels manufactured by excellent writers (Baumbach and Gerwig). None of it feels like things people would actually say, but what they wish they had said.

Oddest Thing About It: Great New York City piece, but as I am neither 18 or 30, I have no idea how real it is. But it sure looks cool.

Overall: Of-the-moment film with winning and complicated parts by leads. More interesting than the plot summary leads you to believe.

Rating: 2 ½ RaMaKs