Wednesday, October 21, 2015

MOVIE: Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies: a Steven Spielberg movie.  Tom Hanks plays the lead character, James Donovan.  When we first meet Donovan, he is a lawyer representing insurance companies.  Now how many films have you seen where the good guy is an insurance defense lawyer?  Ethan and Joel Coen are the co-writers who revised Matt Charman’s original script.  The film is based on real events which started in 1957.   Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy living in New York City, is arrested.  Rylance gives an excellent performance.  The Justice Department wants the public and the international community to believe that Abel is receiving a fair trial.  During a meeting that includes the law firm’s senior partner, played by Alan Alda, Donovan is asked to represent Abel.  The CIA, an active player throughout the film, is not portrayed kindly.  Once Donovan accepts the offer to represent Abel, he takes his job seriously.  The case ends up going all the way to the Supreme Court where Abel ultimately loses in 5-4 decision.  But Bridge of Spies is not a film about lawyering.  It is a tale about the Cold War, and its focus is on Donovan negotiating a trade in 1962 whereby Abel will be returned to the Soviet Union in exchange for the release of U-2 pilot, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), and Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), a 25 year old American student who was arrested in East Berlin shortly after the Berlin Wall was built.  The film includes a short clip showing the building of the Wall.  The scenes in East Berlin leave no doubt in one’s mind why the East Germans built the Wall.  The tense atmosphere of the Cold War is accurately conveyed.   By agreeing to represent Abel, a Soviet spy, Donovan put his entire family at risk, and by earnestly defending his client, seriously jeopardized his career.  However, Donovan’s outstanding success as a negotiator subdues the negative fallout.  This is a story based on real events so you know the ending.  Nevertheless, this movie holds your interest for its entire 141 minutes.   The underlying themes and the points of emphasis are constitutional rights and the attorney/client privilege.  As only Spielberg can do, these lofty concepts are entertainingly integrated into the storyline.  The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is excellent throughout the film.  I think this movie will be nominated for a number of Oscars, with Spielberg at the front of the pack.  He consistently strikes the correct mood in this film that serves to remind us about an important piece of U.S. history while keeping us thoroughly entertained.   

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Movie: The Martian

The Martian: a survivalist film.  Matt Damon shows us how to survive on the planet Mars while awaiting rescue.  In the opening scenes, we are introduced to the Mars Mission crew.  Following the short introduction, a Martian sandstorm forces the crew to abandon its mission and leave the planet.  Mark Watney, the Damon character, is hit by debris as he’s running for the ship.  The Mission crew presumes Mark is dead and departs the planet.  When Mark awakes, the storm is over and his crewmates are heading back to Earth.  As the only person at the Mars NASA facility, Mark has enough food to last sixty days.  However, the flight time from Earth to Mars is nine months and Mark has no immediate way to let NASA know he is alive.  As the film unfolds, we learn how Mark survives by tackling one problem at a time:  creating a scheme by which he can provide himself with sufficient water; growing potatoes; and figuring out how to communicate with NASA.  The film is directed by Ridley Scott who again shows his ability to present intelligent and entertaining science fiction.  The Mars scenes were shot in the Wadi Rum in Jordon.  Some of the scenes were reminiscent of Monument Valley.  The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is superb.  The supporting cast, including Jeff Daniels as head of NASA and Chiwetel Ejiofor as head of the Mars Mission, are also first rate.  The film could have been more tightly edited as it runs a little long at 141 minutes.  The running joke throughout the film involves the Mission commander’s love of disco music.  Since I’m not now and have never been a fan of this 1970’s genre, the musical score did not thrill me.  The humor, however, works.  The film is based upon Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same title.  The science appears to be reasonably accurate.  I’ve read that in planning its Mars Mission, NASA intends to use the same basic process Mark used to produce water.  An interesting segment of the storyline is that it is China’s National Space Administration that provides NASA with the booster rocket needed to get to Mars within the timeline required for Mark to survive.  Ridley Scott may have earned himself an Oscar nomination and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a few other nominations.  The Martian is an excellent film.