Review: Bridge of Spies

spies1

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Matt Charman Pro: Christoph Fisser, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt• DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan

When a film is directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks and is written in part by the Coen Brothers, you’d expect it at least to be solid. Maybe you go into the cinema with the expectation that none will hit the heights they hit during their peaks but you know you won’t be disappointed.

But the new drama, Bridge of Spies, is better than just decent. It enthrals and it moves you. It is one of the best films of the year so far, if not the best, and can stand beside anything these great filmmakers have done.

The drama is based around real-life events and Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a lawyer given the unenviable task of defending a Soviet spy caught plying his trade in America in the 1950s. Donovan’s colleagues in the US justice system pat him on the back and make a merry dance of showing how everyone in the USA gets a fair trial. But it is merely a formality to them and they are as bloodthirsty as anyone else in the country. However, it is no pretence to Donovan and he takes the job of defending his client very seriously. A bit too seriously for many people’s liking.

When you see the posters and the trailer for the film you’re promised nail-biting drama. It is packed full of gripping scenes but it is also a touching, moving, sweet and funny film in ways. And that’s a hard thing to get away with when you’re making a Cold War drama.

But they pull it off. It is both sad and uplifting but never melodramatic or sentimental. These guys are master storytellers and they’ve created another wonderful film. Hanks is sharp, convincing and funny. The writing is superb. And Spielberg is at his best. The first scene is a walking chase through New York and is directorial brilliance. It’s a joy to watch and will suck anyone into the film, even those reluctantly dragged to the cinema.

The first half is occupied with the Donovan’s defence of the spy, Rudolf Abel, played fantastically by Mark Rylance. It shows their relationship and its effects on the lawyer and his family. In the second half he goes to Berlin to negotiate a prisoner swap between the US and USSR.

Donovan is not content with just getting what his government wants. He also doesn’t stop until he’s gotten what he feels he can from the situation. In real life, Donovan was no different, after the swap in Berlin he was asked by John F. Kennedy to go to Cuba to negotiate the release of 1,000 prisoners. Donovan got 9,000.

Sometimes great acting lives in showing intense emotion on screen but Mark Rylance puts in a great performance without ever getting angry or emotional. His expression barely changes throughout the film, even as he faces the possibility of a death sentence. The actor has made his career on the stage rather than the screen but his quite performance makes his character endearing.

The film is really two stories ­– the defence and the prisoner swap. That could’ve made for a severed storyline but the two are blended so well together it doesn’t matter. The writing plays a huge part in this as it weaves recurring and connecting pieces of dialogue and images throughout the film.

It’s still not clear who’ll win Oscars early next year. The bookmaker Paddy Power so far has Bridge of Spies as an outsider but if Spielberg and Hanks pick up more awards for their collections, nobody will be able to rightly begrudge them.

Colm Quinn

12A
141 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bridge of Spies is released 27th November 2015

Bridge of Spies – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Lincoln

 

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Tony Kushner • PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: J. Rick Carter • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

 

A film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg about an American president. If ever a film had Oscars written all over it, Lincoln is that film. And yet, for its epic scale and grand storytelling, Lincoln is just that – a story about Abraham Lincoln himself. Set during his final months of life, it focuses on Lincoln’s attempts to get the Thirteenth Amendment – the abolition of slavery – and to find a peaceful end to the American Civil War. Considering this is the first large-scale film about the life of Abraham Lincoln, a near-messianic figure in American politics, it’s clear that Spielberg and Day-Lewis are taking this very, very seriously.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis has never given anything less than 100% in any of the characters he’s played. Indeed, he’s a by-word for method acting and complete immersion in a role. Going in, you’d expect Day-Lewis to be all Oscar-reel footage – thundering and bellowing high-language maxims about the American way and so forth. Not so. Here, Day-Lewis has imbued Lincoln with a sense of decency, honesty and complete sincerity. Forwarding his argument with parables and anecdotes – often humorous – Day-Lewis’ Lincoln draws your attention with quiet charm and dignity. There is never a moment when you are not acutely aware of why Lincoln was so beloved. Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is one of reservedness and small intricacies which make the character seem ever more real. Although the film is a biopic, the supporting cast are never lost in Day-Lewis’ shadow. The trio of political advisors hired to procure the votes for the Amendment – James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson – give the film a much-needed comedic pressure release without seeming forced. Spader comes to the fore as a swaggering Southern lobbyist who finds him brow-beating, cajoling and bribing his way through the political process. David Strathairn, Jared Harris and Jackie Earle Haley fill out smaller roles, but each give their performance the full weight. Jared Harris, in particular, as Ulysses S. Grant has a very small role in the film with minimal dialogue – but his physical presence on-screen very nearly takes the focus from Day-Lewis.

 

The same can be said for Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the “radical” Republicans whom Lincoln finds himself at odds with. Jones gives his most animated performance in years as he spars in debate with Lee Pace’s out-and-out villain, Fernando Wood. Sally Field, playing Lincoln’s wife, balances against Lincoln’s stoic nature. In one particular scene, Lincoln comes close to tears as the two of them argue over their son’s enlistment in the Army. Field, in one single scene, reminds us why she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, is the only stumbling block of the film’s impressive cast and performances. Playing the role of Lincoln’s son, Robert, Gordon-Levitt manfully tries to equal Day-Lewis in their scenes together, however their on-screen relationship comes off as flat and doesn’t materialise as well as others. It’s a small complaint as Gordon-Levitt has minimal screen time and the rest of the performances of the film are nothing short of exemplary.

 

Spielberg skilfully directs Lincoln and gives each segment its due and proper attention, without lingering too long on any one plot point. The film has the brisk pace of a West Wing episode and manages to capture the political process in a somewhat idealised light. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, as always, is incredible. Each scene could easily be mistaken for an oil painting, both in terms of lighting design, set design and the colour tones used. Tony Kushner’s script is careful not to slip into drawn-out set pieces. As mentioned, the film never sags or loses a sense of pace, despite its impressive running length. John Williams’ score, naturally, adds to the grandeur of the whole film without being overbearing – as is often an issue with his work. Here, it’s understated and nuanced, much like Day-Lewis’ fantastic performance. In all, Lincoln is a smart, well-paced historical drama that is deserving of its accolades. Day-Lewis delivers a career highlight and Spielberg continues to demonstrate why he is one of the best directors in American cinema.

Brian Lloyd

 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

151 mins

Lincoln is released on 25th January 2013

Lincoln – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Jaws

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb   , Peter Benchley • PRO: David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck • DOP: Bill Butler • ED: Verna Fields • DES: Joe Alves • Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Universal’s 100-year anniversary occasions the re-release of the original blockbuster, in which a giant shark terrorises an American seaside resort over the July 4th holiday.

A shark attack at Amity causes concern. Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but the mayor (Murray Hamilton) needs them open for revelers to spend summer dollars in the town’s hotels and other businesses. A further attack, the death of a young boy and the offer of a reward for killing the shark moves us into the second act. Ichthyologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) arrives and confirms that a great white shark is responsible. Finally, shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) takes Brody and Hooper out to kill the monster.

The film features superb and celebrated action sequences. The terrific opening, in which the shark unseen attacks a young woman, matches Psycho’s shower scene. Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) keeps lookout over sunbathers and swimmers when a dog disappears and the shark attacks a boy on a lilo. This features the classic track/reverse shot à la Vertigo. The final act, in which Quint, Brody and Hooper tackle the great white, provides the sequences best enjoyed on a big screen.

John Williams’ classic score enhances the action. How is it so effective? The recurring theme introduces the shark, its pulsing beat perhaps matching our own heart rates as the tension mounts. It established Williams as a leading film composer, started his relationship with Spielberg, and won him his second Oscar.

Jaws also earned Oscars for editing and sound. Spielberg’s approach to dialogue is Altman-esque. Overlapping dialogue makes it difficult to hear, but this naturalism makes the shark attacks more shocking. Difficulties with models made it necessary for a subtler approach to creating tension and establishing the shark’s presence. Despite his inexperience, Spielberg demonstrates masterly understanding of cinematic techniques.

Jaws omits the mawkishness that mars some of Spielberg’s work. Brody’s son imitates his father at the kitchen table while Brody decides whether to close the beaches in a scene that hints at the sentimentality that characterises his later work. The play on fear also distinguishes Jaws among Spielberg’s works; it’s the closest he comes to horror.

Few films share the movie’s cultural impact. Opening in over 450 screens in North America, Universal supported it with an intensive marketing campaign and established the model for today’s summer blockbuster. Even its promotional artwork pervades contemporary culture. The Irish Socialist Party modeled one of its posters on Jaws during the recent referendum campaign, and in August 2011 The Economist’s cover page used it in discussing fears of a double-dip recession in the USA.

These fears make Jaws relevant today. Commentators read the film as a conservative engagement with America’s involvement in Vietnam or as a patriarchal myth, but the scenes of officials confronted with expert evidence deciding in favour of business interests will strike a chord with today’s audiences. It’s a pity our problems can’t be solved by going out in a boat and killing a great white shark.

 

John Moran 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Jaws is released 15th June 2012

 

 

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Cinema Review: War Horse

I want to shower you with sugar lumps, and ride you over fences

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Lee Hall, Richard Curtis • PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: Rick Carter • Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

His first live-action movie since the much-derided Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Spielberg returns with what feels like yet another Best Of Spielberg Compilation, resting on his ability to film schmaltz against an epic background like no other. After dipping his toes in the new waters of 3D, mo-cap and animation with Tintin just a few months ago, it’s disappointing that Spielberg hasn’t brought any of that hunger for experimentation to this project. But still, Spielberg on his worst day is better than what 99% of directors could ever hope to achieve on their best.

Based on the 1982 children’s book, and then the 2007 stage hit, War Horse tells the story of Joey, the horse owned by Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and their friendship through the trials of potential poverty and then the tribulations of Joey getting sold to the army and having to survive World War I. The film follows Joey through his list of different owners (an English Staff Sergeant, a French girl, a German foot-soldier, etc.), and cuts back occasionally to Albert on his farm to remind us that Albert still misses Joey. Like, a lot.

The first 20 minutes or so features some of the most mawkish, cheesiest moments in modern cinema, and is quite difficult to endure. But once Joey heads off to war, the film finds it’s firm footing, and the memorable moments come quick and fast, but still interspersed with the odd scene of schmaltz (at one point it seems the entire of World War I comes to a halt just so everyone can help Joey out of a fence he’s stuck in).

A who’s who of great British actors (Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Eddie Marsan) all do well with what they’re given, which more often than not isn’t very much, and lead actor Irvine is fine, if a bit too Abercrombie & Fitch looking for the part. But this movie is owned by Joey The Horse. That magnificent animal will steal, and then break, your heart. You have been warned.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
War Horse is released on 13th January 2012

War Horse – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of The Unicorn

some unknown director does a film about some unknown French lad

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish • PRO: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Jason D. McGatlin, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: Andrew L. Jones • CAST: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig

A 3D animated action extravaganza, The Adventures of Tintin is a fast-paced family film with all the fun and feistiness of a young Indiana Jones. You can’t help but be enamored by the brave, button-nosed protagonist and his trusty madra on this pirate-based escapade. Spielberg’s latest endeavor, this flick has all the innocent appeal of ET. But in 3D. And on Speed.

Set in England in the early 20th century, The Adventures of Tintin is the first in a series of adventures featuring the well-known Belgian exports: Tintin, a plucky young reporter with a ginger quiff and his shrewd, fluffy madra, Snowy. One day while the pair visit a busy market, Tintin excitedly purchases a model of a 17th century navy vessel, The Unicorn. This mysterious antique receives quite a bit of interest from some dubious shoppers, however Tintin refuses to resell and instead takes the ship home.

After his flat is ransacked and an American agent is shot dead on his doorstep, Tintin questions the history of The Unicorn. However his investigation is cut short when he’s kidnapped and taken aboard a hijacked ship heading to Morocco. While attempting to escape his captors, Tintin befriends drunken Sea Captain Haddock – and together the pair go in search of the secret of The Unicorn.

Shot using state-of-the-art motion capture technology; the aesthetics are breathtaking and feature beautiful landscapes, photorealistic cityscapes and some of the fluffiest hair ever on Snowy and Tintin. The performances from the top-notch cast are thoroughly enjoyable; Captain Haddock is played by Andy Serkis who’s no stranger to CGI after his role as Gollum in LOTR, also bringing home the funny-bacon are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson. Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell stars as the main man himself and the devilishly handsome Daniel Craig explores his more devilish side as nasty villain, Red Rackham.

There are a few drawbacks to this juggernaut of a film: the cast is a sausage-fest and the majority of the humour is derived from the messy antics of a drunken Celt. Now I’m not a slapstick snob but something more cerebral that ‘Ach, look how locked I am wee laddee’ would have added to the film. Loosely based on three Tintin comics – The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, the plot is solid but brings nothing new to the adventure-hero-seeking-treasure genre.

That’s all just nitpicking. This film is absolutely great and cinema-goers will definitely get a bang for their buck where the 3D elements are concerned. It’s a truly gratifying cinematic experience that Hergé himself would be proud of. Here’s hoping writers Steven Moffat (Dr. Who), Edgar Wright(Shaun of the dead) and Joe Cornish (Adam and Joe Show) have something whopper planned for the nicely-set-up sequel.

 

Gemma Creagh

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of The Unicorn is released on 26th October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of The Unicorn – Official Website

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2YUkFi97VE

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Cinema Review: Super 8

Please Mr Spielberg... we'll do better this time

DIR/WRI: J.J. Abrams • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey • DES: Martin Whist • CAST: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler

Back in the late 1970s, there was a script in pre-production called ‘Night Skies’. It involved a mysterious monster attacking people in Smalltown, USA. The story originated in the mind of one Steven Spielberg, who eventually realised he didn’t like the sci-fi/horror elements, and stripped them out, and what he was left with was E.T. And now we have Super 8, the story of a mysterious monster attacking people in late 1970s Smalltown, USA, produced by one Steven Spielberg, and directed by JJ Abrams, a man who knows a thing or two about mysterious monsters (Lost, Cloverfield).

Joe (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in an accident and can’t connect with his Deputy Sherriff father (Kyle Chandler), so he loses himself in helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) on his zombie movie. Charles has just bagged Alice (Elle Fanning) for the lead actress, and she also happens to be the daughter of the guy who may or may not be responsible for the death of Joe’s mother. Also, Joe has a big ol’ crush on her. Things get even more complicated for this group of tweens when, while filming a scene at an abandoned train station, an army train gets spectacularly derailed and its mysterious cargo is freed. Pretty soon all the dogs in town have run away, people’s microwaves and car engines are missing, rolling blackouts are a regular occurrence, and members of town are suddenly going AWOL.

Abrams has become a master of mystery and tension, and even from the early teaser trailers, right up until its reveal, this movie was going always going to live or die by the monster. And while nothing could live up to what our minds have imagined, it doesn’t disappoint. But the film intelligently keeps in the background for most of its running time, only bringing it front and centre for the kinetic finale. For the most part, Joe’s coming-of-age story is front-and-centre, and it helps that he and all his pre-teen co-stars are fantastic young actors.

The recreation of 1970s Americana is spot on, but will most likely fly right over the heads of anyone under 20 who won’t know what a Walkman is. In fact, ‘recreation’ is either this films biggest strength or most fatal flaw. If you’re going to follow in the footsteps of anyone, you could do no better than Spielberg. But Abrams treats Super 8 almost like his own personal Best Of Spielberg compilation, with scenes reminiscent (or straight up stolen, depending on how you feel about it) from E.T., Close Encounters… Jurassic Park and War Of The Worlds. In certain respects, this is no bad thing. But perhaps just a tad more of his own originality that he brought to likes of Lost would’ve pushed Super 8 from the very good into the great.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Super 8 is released on 5th August 2011

Super 8 – Official Website

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: David Koepp • PRO: Frank Marshall, Denis L. Stewart • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn• DES: Guy Dyasa • CAST: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt

In 1981, within 18 months of receiving a critical mauling for 1941, Steven Spielberg presented Raiders of the Lost Ark for the viewing world’s consideration. In paying ode to the 1940s serials so beloved by him and co-creator George Lucas, he unearthed for a new audience a world of tongue-in-cheek adventure and established an icon of cinema. The making of the movie as much as what was finally delivered to the screen has entered the Hollywood mythos. All the necessary elements fell into place; the casting, the improvised set pieces and Spielberg’s fastidious and efficient shooting style gelled seamlessly. Sequels followed, and as much might be gained by a franchise this successful being relaunched, surely there could be little served by continuing the story after the pitch-perfect sunset ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Nevertheless, over nineteen years trade papers and websites were filled with news of discussions, pre-production, and an endless treadmill of scriptwriters committing stories for Lucasfilm to consider. Finally, 2007 saw confirmation of a shooting date, with Lucas, Spielberg and Ford returning to the fold. Little detail of the film’s plot was revealed, though it was confirmed the events of the film would take place in the 1950s, with Communists playing the villain of the piece. The primary question of concern for legions of fans was ‘what else would change?’

In the same way Hitler’s seeming interest in relics and iconoclasm provided the springboard for the stories of Raiders… and The Last Crusade, the pioneering of physic manipulation by Communist Russia provides a loose frame for our story. This story, and its explanation, introduces a first in an Indiana Jones movie – an unwelcome and extended break in the action. The events following the opening sequence and Jones’ first encounter with sidekick Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is overburdened with exposition, as Jones deciphers the myth and fact behind an ancient artefact and its origins, which prove both muddled and bizarre.

When the action does kick in, it is largely uninspiring. There are flashes of humour and ingenuity, such as an exchange of a smile and grimace borrowed from The Last Crusade, and little can match the excitement of the Indy theme kicking in to embolden you for an upcoming thrill. The thrills, though, become repetitive, amounting to little more than multiple car chases. Only an extended chase through Amazonian rain forest goes someway towards matching the standard set by the rollercoaster rides of the previous movies. Yet the rhythm of even this sequence is misjudged, using a mix of ants and monkeys for comedic and gore effect, none succeeding to any great effect.

Spielberg spoke recently of preserving the shooting style of the original movies, allowing the kinetic energy of each set-piece speak for itself, with no need for quick-cut editing more akin to the Bourne movies. More crucial a priority should have been preserving the technicolour, pulp fiction novel look of the movies. The rich colours and aesthetics created a world comfortably inhabited by glaring-eyed villains more akin to the silent movie era and fantastical paranormal plots where you accepted the pitiful aim of a squadron of soldiers. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is white-washed by a computer-generated haze, making the settings and set-pieces seem staged and artificial. This is the antithesis of what we expect from the combination of slap-dash escapes and entombed relics so integral to the series. It’s almost saddening to say that the exaggerated CGI, particularly during the finale, deny the movie of any iconic images to nestle amongst those from the original trilogy.

Cate Blanchett, as one of the collection of acting talent on screen, is one of the movie’s too few high points. Suitably austere, she is a one-woman adversary, her henchmen serving only to fill out the background and fall from moving vehicles. Shia LaBeouf interacts well with Ford and, coming from a production house not noted for creating well-loved sidekicks, plays his role well. Ray Winstone and John Hurt are always welcome on any cinema screen, even though their minor roles are lost to the mindless plot. Character arcs and relationship development were never the aims of these movies, and duly Karen Allen’s return as Marion Ravenwood is a tacked-on plot point.

Without doubt, Harrison Ford is the movie’s salvation. Ford represents (or at least represented) the pinnacle of what a movie star is, his name opening movies with audiences comfortably accepting him as the everyman in extraordinary circumstances. His role as Indiana Jones is the perfect embodiment of this, the character a teacher and a globe-trotting archaeologist. While on screen, Ford still ably serves as the movie’s hook. Just as Indy would improvise and respond as best as possible to a situation, Ford can’t but be good in the role he has defined, moulding the often mistimed and clunky dialogue apparent from the opening scene. The greatest flaw of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is cheating us of his wry smile and scowl and the moments used to catch his breath. The opening sequence sees a shadowed face bound across rafters, the fedora used to shelter a stunt man’s face, instead of us seeing our hero wince at a misstep or growl in pain at falling through a glass ceiling. This betrays the film’s roots, denying it authenticity. When Lucas and Spielberg released the original trilogy of movies they gave up ownership, handing them over to a movie-loving public. In this respect we are entitled to demand more. The justification for returning to the character should be there. The film should be brave enough to have the character struggle. We should be able to expect a smarter film, one that finds humour and new ways of telling the story. Instead we are left with a failed rehash of a trusted formula and the mistreatment of a great character.

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