Bridge of Spies

With the pedigree Bridge of Spies possesses, it’s no surprise that this is solid filmmaking. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by the Coen brothers (with Matt Charman). Starring Tom Hanks.

Filled with memorable scenes depicting the times and specific events of the Cold War era, Bridge of Spies is an “inspired by true events” tale of the competition and distrust between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

James Donovan (Hanks) is an attorney in New York chosen in 1957 by his boss Thomas Watters (Alan Alda) to represent Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) who is charged by the U.S. with espionage. Watters and Donovan presume he’s guilty, but agree to provide competent counsel. When the verdict is conviction, Donovan privately lobbies the judge against a death sentence for Abel, suggesting that the spy may be of greater value to U.S. interests if he is kept alive.

A few years later, after U.S. U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austen Stowell) is shot down over the U.S.S.R. and taken prisoner, the U.S. offers to swap Abel for Powers. Donovan is chosen to make the deal.

In East Berlin, shortly after the wall has been erected, Donovan overplays his hand, leading to the story’s tense climax on the real-life Glienicke Bridge.

The events and people in the story are real. The details of the story may be subject to what David Letterman referred to as “writer’s embellishment,” which frequently happens in retellings of history.

The late 50s/early 60s time period is recalled in Bridge of Spies with vintage cars, men wearing hats, lots of smoking, women only in supportive work positions and school kids being taught to duck and cover.

Tom Hanks helps cement his reputation as a bastion of American honesty and fairness, as well as a respected hero. Hanks has been compared to Jimmy Stewart, who generally played good guys who represented American values to moviegoers. Hanks’ Bridge of Spies role is meatier than a typical Stewart role.

Bridge of Spies clocks in around 2:20 but the story never drags. Even the delays in negotiating the prisoner swap only add to the narrative. Yes, Spielberg has made flashier movies, but Bridge of Spies is excellent, entertaining storytelling.

The Longest Ride

 

Sweet, sappy romance. With challenges and complications and maybe some peril. Probably some tears. Oh, and generally happy endings. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Nicholas Sparks movies and The Longest Ride follows that well-worn path. And, as has happened in previous Sparks movies, his home state of North Carolina provides scenic settings.

Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a senior art major at Wake Forest University. A sorority sister invites her to a rodeo. Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son) is a bull rider who spots her at the event and, later, flirts with her at a bar. Their first date is a picnic at an impossibly gorgeous, dusky lakeside setting.

On their way back, they rescue an older gentleman (Alan Alda) who has driven his car off the road and hit a tree. Luke pulls the man from the burning vehicle and Sophia gathers his wicker basket from the front seat. At the hospital, Sophia checks the basket and finds it filled with love letters the man, Ira, wrote to his late wife, Ruth.

As things heat up between Luke and Sophia, she becomes chummy with Ira and through his letters and conversations she learns the story of their courtship and marriage, including a complication that challenged their pursuit of happiness together. In flashbacks, the younger Ira (Jack Huston) indulges Ruth (Oona Chaplin) and her love of art, just as Luke is making a modest effort to do the same with Sophia.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (actually in Luke’s cozy barn residence), Sophia and Luke have a hookup that’s appropriately sexy without being overly steamy. But, since these are two very attractive stars, their tryst should be enough to stir up romantic desires for moviegoers.

But here comes a complication or two: Luke, who’s already had a bad injury thanks to a bull named Rango, wants to complete his comeback with more perilous rides. And Sophia has an internship waiting at an art gallery in New York. How can things possibly work out for these two?

With a script by Craig Bolotin from Sparks’ novel, director George Tillman Jr. (whose prior work has included urban and action films) has made a film that looks good and maintains great pacing. The bull rides and the flashbacks to Ira and Ruth keep things moving beyond Sophia and Luke’s romance.

The Longest Ride is true to the Sparks brand. The film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. And delivers exactly what audiences expect from a Nicholas Sparks story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderlust—*Hippie Trip*

First things first: yes, Jennifer Aniston appears topless, but it’s heavily pixilated and not a big deal at all.

Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd play a New York couple with money problems. They hit the road, happen into a commune and decide to stay a while.

Copious amounts of pot relieve the stress of being broke. But a lack of privacy and the prospect of free love with commune members are issues they must deal with.

“Wanderlust” has its funny moments. Aniston and Rudd are attractive stars with good comedic chops. Both have appeal for women and men.

But “Wanderlust” somehow feels like a movie that could’ve been made decades ago. Maybe having 70’s sitcom stars Linda “Alice” Lavin and Alan “M*A*S*H” Alda in the cast helps make it feel dated. By the way, Lavin and Alda are the strongest actors among a supporting cast that, overall, is a bit weak.

So… you like Jennifer; you like Paul. Do you go see this one at the theater this weekend or wait to rent it from Redbox this summer? I think that depends on how much you like movie house popcorn and those ginormous boxes of Raisinets.

There is no urgent reason to see this movie now. Having said that—if you want to see a movie this weekend and you like comedies, go see “Wanderlust.” You won’t have your mind blown but you’ll be amused.

“Wanderlust” is rated R for language and “graphic nudity,” among other things. For what it’s worth, the graphic nudity will not titillate; in fact, it may have the complete opposite effect.