Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Tonight I saw Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.

In 1957, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) was charged with being a Soviet spy in the United States. His reluctant defense lawyer, James B. Donovan (Hanks), grew fond of him as he worked on the case and fought to give him a fair trial.

Unfortunately, Donovan was unsuccessful and Abel went to prison. Three years after Abel was arrested, a U.S. pilot named Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) was captured in the Soviet Union after his U2 spy plane was shot down (yes, I squeed when they mentioned "U2"). Donovan suggested perhaps the two could be exchanged. The story we see in the film here is that of how Abel was used as a pawn ... and Donovan became the U.S.'s default chess player.

It's admirable how close the film stays to the real events (there are only a few instances of fiction or exaggeration), and goes without saying that the cast is phenomenal. Hanks is sincere, Rylance is endearing, and supporting cast members like Amy Ryan and Eve Hewson add a dose of authenticity to the family unit to prevent this from being "just another spy movie."

Though the true events are easy to snuff out online (and spoil the ending), the last third of the movie is no less heart-pounding as a result. The movie has suspense, heart, drama and a bit of humor.

Very warm for a Cold War subject.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Crimson Peak

This morning I saw Crimson Peak, starring Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain.

Edith (Wasikowska) is a girl of privilege, close to her wealthy father, hoping to be a published author someday. She's a feminist before her time (this being the year 1900), who ironically chooses to follow her heart instead of her head when a handsome suitor comes calling, despite the fact she resents having to include a love story in her manuscript because she's female.

That suitor is Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a baronet from England who's struggling to find investors for his steam drill. He hopes Edith's father will come on board, but instead gets met with more rejection. In fact, Edith's father dislikes him so much, he pays him off—on the condition that he leave Edith alone.

Thomas complies, breaks Edith's heart, and sets back to England with his wicked sister Lucille (Chastain). But tragedy soon strikes and Edith no longer answers to the good judgment of her father. She's free to follow Thomas to England, and that she does, soon marrying him and moving into the creepy castle he and his sister have all to themselves.

Things are not as they seem, though, as Edith soon finds out. Her sister-in-law won't part with the keys to the home, and weird visions occur when she's alone. She also doesn't feel so well in her new surroundings, her body growing weaker each day.

This is where the movie starts revealing its secrets and feels like classic Guillermo del Toro.

The horrific images come wrapped in sadness; their visual components so stunning you can't look away. The characters aren't merely one-note horror devices, they're complex, tragic figures who demand you at least care about how they came to be the way they are. And care we do.

We want to believe in the love Thomas has for Edith. We want to believe all of the bad in the home stems from Lucille. We want to believe the doctor back home hasn't forgotten her.

The thrilling ending has a twist this reviewer didn't see coming, and though parts of it were very gory (especially the sound effects), it has a satisfying close.

Perfect subject matter for the Halloween season, delivered with beautiful art direction and a clever screenplay.

Grab a cup of British tea and have fun with it.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Visit

Tonight I saw The Visit, starring Olivia DeJonge and Deanna Dunagan.

Becca (DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents. Their mother left their house long ago when she fell in love with their father and never went back. Now, years after their father abandoned them, they want to meet their grandkids.

Reluctantly, Mom (Kathryn Hahn) agrees to let them go for a visit while she and her new boyfriend take off on a luxury cruise.

A train ride later, the kids are romping around the house where their mother grew up, asking Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) about their mother when she was young. It's an understandably sore subject, but is that the only reason they're being cagey?

I can't say more without spoiling (yes, there's a classic Shyamalan twist at the end that I figured out early on), but I will say that this movie was legitimately scary/disturbing. The kids do a great job (though Oxenbould's lisp gets annoying) of not being too exaggerated in their fears, and some clever dialogue helps make it more believable (when you hear "Katy Perry" you'll know what I mean).

Though I'm over the whole, "I'll set up a camera and we'll see what scary footage we get" trick, the elderly grandparents are a pair I'd never want to stay with under any circumstances.

What makes the film more effective is the genuine sentimentality that this broken family displays. Adults were hurt, and in the process kids got hurt, and that's never okay. Their care for one another helps us care about their well-being.

If you need a this-could-really-happen sort of terror this Halloween season, you could do worse than this film.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

He Named Me Malala

Today I saw the documentary, He Named Me Malala, directed by Davis Guggenheim.

Malala Yousafzai is a normal teenager. Though she occasionally has to remind reporters of this fact, she doesn't seem too annoyed that they tend to forget. Of course aside from being a teenager she's also a global activist, the survivor of a personal Taliban attack and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

She hangs out with Bono and Hilary Clinton and Queen Elizabeth from time to time, but she also does hours of homework each night by choice, hard as it is for her youngest (incredibly adorable) brother to process. Her mother is having a tough time adjusting to life in England, and her other "laziest" brother likes to poke fun at her. She's a daddy's girl at heart. Yeah, that's Malala's life.

A crusader for women's rights (as she was just becoming a woman herself), Malala fought for the right for girls to attend school in her native Pakistan. She lived an idyllic life with her family, a mountain pass separating them from the main city, before the Taliban came along. Once the arrived, she didn't feel she should have to sacrifice her education to honor their beliefs, so she kept going to school. One day when she was riding home from school on the bus with her friends, the Taliban shot her (and a few of her pals). Since the main bullet went into her head, it was thought she wouldn't survive, but she fought, and the world's faithful prayed, and she emerged with an even stronger resolve.

Though the left side of her face doesn't quite work as well as it used to (including hearing out of that ear), and she spent days in a coma as a result of the shooting, she has no anger for her attacker. Her father says it wasn't one person who shot her, it was "ideology."

To say that Malala is an inspiration would be an understatement. Many who endure such trauma simply retreat to quiet lives, never to be seen again. She did the opposite—she got better, and she kept fighting.

Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim captures her spirit beautifully in one-to-one interviews and visits with her entire family. There are also gorgeous, animated versions of some of the stories from her past as well as actual footage of the days following her attack.

Whether she's meeting with Syrian refugees or giving inspirational speeches to heads of state, the compassion and strength of this miracle girl shines through.

I only hope there's a sequel so we can see what she does next.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Black Mass

On Saturday I saw Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton.

Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger (Depp) loved his mother deeply. He was kind to old ladies. He was a doting father. He even took care of an abandoned cat in the neighborhood.

All of those things are true, as is the fact he was a malicious killer who terrorized the streets of Boston in the '70s and '80s as an Irish mob boss. This film tells of his decades evading justice as he used a childhood friend in the FBI to cover for him.

Spoiler alert: They're both now ending their days in prison.

Before they were caught, they each had a good run, though. Jimmy, defending his beloved Southie territory using whatever means necessary, and John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) climbing the ranks of the FBI by claiming Jimmy was a big-time informant.

Depp is icy cold as the brooding Bulger, always calm and collected even in the most gruesome times of violence. Edgerton is obnoxious and twitchy—apparently incredibly accurate—in his portrayal of Connolly, who in a weird, warped way always idolized Bulger. The attacks are frequent and the blood flows freely, but if you can anticipate when to look away, the other aspects of the movie will keep you glued to the screen.

In addition to the two leads, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Julianne Nicholson and Dakota Johnson all do a fine job in their supporting roles, but the real stand-out for me was Peter Sarsgaard as cocaine addict Brian Halloran. His brief time on screen was so memorable, he was who we were talking about as we left the theater.

The movie (and its real-life horrors) will stay with you for hours, maybe days after you see it. If you're tough enough to see this, be sure to stay to the very end where they show footage of the real criminals.

It's comforting to know that many of the people involved were in fact brought to justice, but the magnitude of the crimes still haunt.