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Bridge of Spies

It’s James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is an unassuming insurance lawyer with a settled life, great family and nice home. One day he’s going about his normal business negotiating insurance claims when his boss Thomas Watters Jr (by Alan Alda) calls him into his office and offers him an opportunity that’s impossible to refuse. He was once successful in negotiating a great outcome that involved high level political stakeholders – now the US Government wants him to do it again. He’s recruited by the CIA as a defence lawyer to represent Rudolf Abel (by Mark Rylance) – a suspected Soviet Agent charged with spying and sharing US secrets with his own government. Abel is the most pleasant and calm of men, who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly – far less work as a Soviet spy. Donovan provides his defence and in the face of political influence he gives him a fair representation, true to his own morals and ethics. During the hearings, he realises there may be more at stake here than first appears so he appeals to the CIA. Then when US pilot Francis Gary Powers is arrested alive in the Soviet Union after his plane is shot down during a mission, things get far more intense with much higher stakes. This is the story of James B. Donovan’s involvement in the negotiation in an attempt to secure the safe release of Powers.

This movie promises much and the performances are good – as James B. Donovan, Tom Hanks is as strong as ever and Mark Rylance puts in a remarkable performance as Rudolf Abel.  He really deserves the awards he received for this effort from the various film critics’ societies of Boston, Indiewire, London, US National, New York, Phoenix, Toronto and Vancouver. It’s good to see Alan Alda here too, he does well. But, for me it somehow fails to deliver in full. I know it’s a true story – and it’s a good story – but the suspense is not there for me. Having said that though, I did find it a good movie to watch all the same. I may be on my own in that regard as not only has Mark Rylance been universally praised, but the movie itself has been nominated for several Academy Awards (Oscars) and has already received “Movie of the Year” awards from the AFI and the National Board of Review. The Boston Online Film Critics Association gave it 7th place in of the “Ten Best Films of the Year” and director Steven Spielberg won the Heartland Film Truly Moving Picture Award. Cinematography, Sound and Images have also been awarded by the Hollywood Film Awards and the Women Film Critics Circle Awards. So it might be just me …

Made in 2015.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

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Posted by on January 28, 2016 in Movies

 

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Saving Mr Banks

Ginty Goff (played by Annie Rose Buckley) is a happy little girl with golden curls and an infectious giggle. She lives a carefree life in Australia with her banker father Travers Goff (by Colin Farrell) and her mother Margaret (by Ruth Wilson). Hers is an idyllic childhood, full of stories, fantasy, games and love. She idolises her father and he, in turn, thinks the world of his daughter. As years pass, Travers’ working life becomes more difficult and he turns to alcohol for comfort. Ginty watches as her father’s world slowly turns in on itself and he first loses his job then his health. When her father is too ill to work, her mother arranges for a Nurse/Governess (by Rachel Griffiths) – she arrives, surrounded by an aura of mystery and magic. Ginty is enchanted by her and as she grows, her childhood memories crystallise into a story which gets published and becomes one of the most loved children’s tales of all time … “Mary Poppins” – under Ginty’s pen name, P. L. Travers. Over several years, “Mrs Travers” (by Emma Thompson) is sought out by Walt Disney. He wants to keep to a promise he made to his own daughters – to have their cherished book created into a movie. But Mrs Travers is reluctant to release her much loved childhood memories into the hands of the Hollywood Movie-makers … to do “heaven knows what …” with her dear Mary Poppins. Try as she might, she puts every barrier she can think of in the way of the movie … but by 1961, her books aren’t quite as popular any more and she is starting to reconsider …. will the real joy in the telling of the story win out after all?

When I watched this movie, I saw something totally different to what I was expecting. I thought I’d see a jolly, happy, colourful, family romp through the songs of “Mary Poppins” set against the backdrop of a lovely family and a “happy ever after” …. but no, I had to look again. This is a drama – Mrs Travers harbours some very deep memories that haunt her, but she doesn’t want to let go of them either – her only connection with her dear father is in the pages of the book she has written.  As Mrs Travers, Emma Thompson is impeccable – that wonderful “British-ness” she brings to the performance is great.  As Walt Disney, Tom Hanks is believable – he usually is authentic in his roles though. Here, his Disney is a positive, family oriented man, but he brings his own life experiences to the story.  It’s great to hear the classic music from the movie once again and the work by the “Sherman Brothers” as they play through some of the memorable songs is really enjoyable. The performance of Paul Giamatti as Ralph, Mrs Travers’ driver in Hollywood, is equally good and I enjoyed Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi also. The long suffering assistant of Walt Disney, Dolly, played by Melanie Paxson is a delight. Overall, it’s a surprisingly good movie – perhaps a little too long, but I can live with that.

Made in 2013. Directed by John Lee Hancock

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Movies

 

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Captain Phillips

Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) is a Sea Captain – he commands commercial cargo vessels all around the world – it’s what he knows and what he loves – almost as much as he loves his wife Andrea (by Catherine Keener) and his family. He’s getting a bit on in years now and the long weeks away at sea are getting harder to leave home for. Andrea drives him to the airport for his latest contract and he reluctantly but stoically leaves her behind to head across the globe to his work. He joins the US cargo ship, Maersk, in port on the African coast ready to sail through the Indian Ocean. This is “pirate” territory, but Phillips is aware of the dangers and with the ship’s First Mate, Murphy, (by Michael Chernus) he drills his crew regularly to make sure they’re as ready as they can be, even though they carry no weapons – and the risks are covered, should they encounter any difficulties. One morning, a vessel appears on the radar and Phillips gets an uneasy feeling. So he puts the crew on standby and watches as the blip on screen gets closer – it’s four heavily armed Somalis, led by their captain, Muse (by Barkhad Abdi) intent on capturing the ship and getting all the money and anything else they can. The crew of the Maersk take action to outrun or evade the pirates, but this is fruitless and they manage to get aboard. As a life-long Captain, Phillips will do everything he can to ensure the safety of his crew, including putting himself in severe danger – and that’s more likely than he wants to think about. But he’s been assured that there’s regular US military surveillance and the US Navy are in the area too, so surely it’s only a matter of time before they come to the aid of this unarmed freighter – stuck like a sitting duck in these pirate-infested seas?

When I think that this is a true story of an incident in 2009, I am impressed by the bravery of Captain Richard Phillips and his tenacity in trying to stop these pirates getting what they want – to the point of risking his own life. The production is good – much of the story focuses on the pirates and Phillips in close quarters and as a viewer it really feels like I’m there too – I can almost taste the salt on my face and smell the perspiration and anxiety in the vessel. As Phillips, Tom Hanks is very good – his performance is strong, authentic and highly emotional, you can feel some of what he feels – but not really imagine some of it, when you see what he must go through. The Somali pirates are frightening – they’re hysterical, unco-ordinated, disagree about their objectives – and this is a volatile mix in such a high pressure situation. The tension builds very well, particularly in the early scenes of the movie. However, to me, the whole thing is too long and drawn out – I’m not sure it needed to be. But it’s a good story. In 2014, it was nominated for several awards, including Academy Awards (Oscars) for Motion Picture of the Year; Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Paul Greengrass.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Movies

 

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Oskar Schell (played by Thomas Horn) has a very happy life in New York City. His best friend is his dad Thomas (by Tom Hanks) and they spend lots of time together on adventures and unravelling intriguing “play” mysteries, which Oskar loves to do. Thomas gives boundless time and attention to his special son, to build his confidence so he develops into smart and well-rounded person. Oskar’s mum, Linda (by Sandra Bullock) watches on with pride and adoration as her two favourite men share strong and deep love – her family is happy and complete. One day, Oskar’s class ends very early after a huge catastrophe in New York City. It is September 11th 2001, a terrorist attack stops the city and Oskar’s dad never comes home … Oskar’s world disintegrates. He and Linda face life without Thomas and do their best to keep going without him. By chance, Oskar finds a key amongst his father’s things and he is convinced it holds the one thing he needs most – a link to his father. He starts a quest to unravel this most important mystery of all ….

This is a good movie. Thomas Horn is marvellous as the traumatised Oskar and Tom Hanks is lovely in his portrayal of Thomas, the loving husband and father. I feel so deeply for Oskar – the scenes in the movie bring home the utter devastation and trauma suffered by people on that day and since. Max von Sydow’s character is great, as most of the supporting roles are. I liked Viola Davis’ character as Abby Black and John Goodman as Stan, the doorman, who is lovely. Some of the content is confronting and very difficult, but the story’s actually worthwhile. Oskar is an irritating and selfish child, but you do forgive him for this, given his personality traits and his circumstances. An adaptation from a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, in 2012 the movie was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Max von Sydow’s work was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. It’s a good movie with a nice positive ending

Made in 2011. Directed by Stephen Daldry

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Movies

 

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Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne (played by Tom Hanks) is an unassuming fellow around 50 and a great customer service sales rep at his local superstore. He excels in this role and has been “Employee of the Month” nine times. One day, Larry is called to the employee ‘break out’ area where he anticipates being awarded his tenth “EotM”, but instead he is fired – due to the global financial crisis and his lack of a college-level education. Totally shocked, Larry takes action to improve his dire situation – behind in his mortgage with no income at all. He unsuccessfully searches for another job, so he enrols in a Communications and Economics course at the local College. He buys himself a scooter to keep transport costs down, much to the delight of his neighbour Lamar (by Cedric the Entertainer), who swapped the bike for Larry’s four-wheel drive. In a totally new environment, Larry tentatively attends his classes – Communications is taught by the talented but disinterested Mercedes Tainot (by Julia Roberts) who is unhappy but dutifully provides the course to her small class; the huge Economics class is led by Dr Ed Matsutani (by George Takei), a well known and bizarrely intense academic who delivers his classes in a focussed, no-nonsense but unorthodox way. The mild-mannered Larry observes the activity around him without fuss – even when others at College are intrusive and annoying. Larry gets to know a fellow student Talia (by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her eclectic group of friends. As the semester progresses, Larry begins to excel in his classes – but in an even better surprise outcome, Larry’s life takes a huge turn for the better.

This is a straightforward movie and there’s not much to it, but the messages are really nice. Larry just accepts his lot and the life going on around him then gets on with things. We are reminded that people come in all forms and that everyone has their own place, their own life and their own contribution to make – age, culture, gender and socio-economics is irrelevant. That positive message is a nice one. The acting here is just so-so, it seems that Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks didn’t really need to do too much. The most entertaining character is Dr Matsutani – George Takei plays him as so strange, he’s hilarious. In general, this movie is quite sweet.

Made 2011. Directed by Tom Hanks.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Movies

 

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