Bridge of Spies (2015)

Steven Spielberg and

Tom Hanks are back to tell a true story from the 1950′s era when the cold war was at its height in America’s paranoia around the nuclear arms race and communism.

A Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested by the FBI in New York and is interrogated but refuses to give up anything.  He is a soldier caught in by the other side in a war and he is being patriotic to his country. A point that is labored by James Donovan (Tom Hanks) the lawyer, that is forced to represent him in an American court.   This makes Donovan hugely unpopular by the American press and public as the man that is defending the enemy.

However, the whole point of putting him on trial is to show to the world just how American justice works and how fair it is, demonstrating the higher standards compared to Russia.  Though it is clear that a conviction is a foregone conclusion by all parties that believe they are just doing a show for the media.  Donovan though has other ideas.  He believes every man has the right to a fair trial.  He learns to respect Abel and hopes any captured American soldier would do the same if faced with the same situation.

Abel is found guilty and a death sentence is expected by everyone.  Donovan believes this is wrong, and even appeals to the supreme court (the actual speech Hanks delivers is the speech the real life Donovan used).  The Supreme court upholds the original verdict, 5 to 4, but Donovan makes a plea to the judge to commute the death sentence to life in prison.  Noting that if they execute a Russian spy then Russia will do the same if one of theirs is captured which could spark the start of a world war.  Instead he believes he could be more useful as a bargaining chip at a later date to exchange a prisoner.

Reluctantly the judge agrees much to the disbelief of the media and the public who are baying for blood.  The movie deals with this issue very well and illustrates that there is many layers to the decisions that are made on a world political stage that the average man on the street doesn’t appreciate.  To them (partly due to the media) everything should be black’n’white, good’n’bad.  No one breaks ranks to try and explain to the media, they are just left to print their rhetoric.  Subtle.

Well needless to say, a U2 pilot is shot down and taken prisoner by the Russians who parade him infront of the worlds press as an enemy to the Russian people and he is treated relatively harshly compared to how Abel was treated by the Americans.

Donovan is then asked, to officially unofficially negotiate a prisoner exchange to get the fallen pilot back home.  Throw in an American Yale student who is caught on the wrong side of the Berlin wall and we have a great thriller that goes along at a wonderful pace.

Rylance plays Abel perfectly, very unassuming man, who never appears phased or worried (would it help?).  We never actually learn what secrets he was passing back or what access to information he had to even channel back. He is seen as an artist with no background here.  Did he have a government job?  Did he have friends in government?  This was a huge hole I feel that was never filled in.

Tom Hanks once again excels and morphs himself into a role that you are left believing that he is Donovan.  He put on a lot of weight for this movie to give you that sense that this was a lawyer at the top of his game, who made a huge career change when his country asked him to step up to what was going to be a thankless task.

The movie is shot beautifully with a nice colour hue that dulls down the brightness giving a real sense of the era.  Spielberg does a good job of highlighting the differences between Berlin and New York and that both sides were as bad as the other with their use of propaganda to feed the fears of their respective nations.  The confusion and simple lack of information all fed into the hysteria of the time.

Bridge of Spies is a good old fashioned cold war thriller that is devoid of action scenes, shootings, and car chases.  It is about the story which is thrilling enough to carry you along without noticing you have sat for over 2 hours.  There is enough drama in the facts without resorting to cheap tricks.

Another great outing for Hanks/Spielberg and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this movie listed in the Oscar line up next year in a number of categories.  


Viewing Date
Friday, 23rd October 2015 (Richmond, Movieland Cinema)


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Ghostbusters (1984)

31 years ago one of the best logos in the world burst into our lives.  Originally designed by

Dan Aykroyd it has become as iconic as the movie to which it is attached to.  If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters, then one has to ask to which rock you have been living under and at what point are you planning to join the rest of the human race?

Following 3 university professors who are studying the much mocked paranormal world discover their work is more relevant when a ghosts start popping up all over New York.   They then form a company to start capturing the ghosts and contain them within their converted fire-station ghost head quarters.

The cast here is perfect, with

Bill Murray,

Dan Aykroyd and the late

Harold Ramis heading up the ghostbusting trio, later expanding to include

Ernie Hudson.  Supporting is 

Sigourney Weaver and

Harold Ramis who have a wonderful interplay with not only each other but the ghostbusters.

Dr. Peter Venkman: She’s not my girlfriend. I find her interesting because she’s a client and because she sleeps above her covers… *four feet* above her covers. She barks, she drools, she claws!

Written by Aykroyd and Ramis, the dialogue has not aged in the slightest and still comes over as fresh and witty as it was first delivered over 30 years ago.  The special effects haven’t aged as well though, but that actually adds to the charm of the movie, in much the same manner as the stop-motion animation of the early Godzilla movies.

This movie spawned a franchise, with a follow up coming soon afterwards, and a kids cartoon series (which I watched at the time and it was good).  You will have heard that they are adding to the series, with an all female cast in the same named movie Ghostbusters.  Personally, I feel they should stay well alone and tell other stories and leave the stories that were communicated perfectly as the master pieces that they are.

Though no mention of Ghostbusters would be complete without a nod to the excellent theme song by Ray Parker Jr. Who ya gonna call? Watching that will inspire you to go after the movie if you haven’t seen it in the last year or two.


Viewing Date
Sunday, 18th October 2015


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San Andreas (2015)

This movie I walked into with my eyes wide open and with full expectation this was going to be a cheesy Sharknado type of disaster flick. The full on B style movie with awful laughable special effects and a lame story line.  Boy was I surprised.

Relatively lame story line aside for the moment, from the opening scene of the girl driving over the cliff and the Rock coming in to rescue her as part of the LA Fire Air Rescue chopper squad, this edge of the seat stuff.   Not since the opener of Cliffhanger has a movie had such a breathtaking start.

In terms of story line, this is basically a mix of the 2012 and The Day after Tomorrow movie.  Father with estranged mother, who attempts to rescue daughter stuck in San Francisco, with genius professor (Paul Giamatti) who seen this all coming finally getting a voice to warn of further quakes.

The premise is that the San Andreas fault is breaking away, starting down in the Hoover Damn.  The quality of the special effects is fantastic.  The attention to detail is amazing, and even if you look behind the foreground, there is no obvious blurring or short cuts.  San Francisco toppling buildings was very well done, and the tsunami coming over the Golden Gate Bridge was extremely well rendered.

There is wonderful opportunities for The Rock, to have cheesy lines every so often and do some kick ass moves.  But you know what, it is actually okay, and by the time you are invested in this movie, you need this, you demand this.  It works.

Alexandra Daddario plays his daughter, who in reality is only 14 years the younger to The Rock, but on screen she looks 17.   

Carla Gugino plays the mother who at first wants to divorce and go and live with her super rich boyfriend, who doesn’t have the morals that we would expect when the chips fall.  The family unit works.

There are some oh well that was lucky wasn’t it moments for sure.  There are also major questions to ask, like for example, how come The Rock is allowed to skip town in a helicopter while LA is falling down around everyone.  But let’s not let facts get in the way here.

Thoroughly enjoyable classic disaster movie that will keep you glued to the seat.


Viewing Date
Thursday, 8th October 2015


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Magic Mike XXL (2015)

I recall watching the first Magic Mike movie and remember enjoying it at the time.  However, I am somewhat at a loss as to what it was.  I need to go back to it at some point in this yearly movie marathon I have embarked on.   Because, after watching XXL, I can’t remember it being this tongue’n’cheek and frankly, brilliant.

XXL was a complete riot from start to finish.  

Channing Tatum is back as Mike, who decides that life outside of the stripping world isn’t quite going to plan, and would like to have one more taste before he truly settles down.  Tatum can sure dance, and we get a taste of his ‘Flashdance’ routine, when alone in his workshop he lets himself go to the music, doing some really artistic moves involving a workbench and a power drill!

He joins up with the crew, who are heading from Tampa to Myrtle Beach in a food truck.  This is basically a road movie, with interesting pit stops along the way that gives the boys excuses to perform some fascinating dance routines.

One thing that is worth to note, for a movie about male strippers, I was impressed that no actual nudity (female included) was on-screen, even though there was plenty of excuses to include it.

The story line for XXL is so shallow it isn’t even a puddle.  But don’t let that distract you from what turns out to be a real comic and impressive dance movie.   Watch out for the challenge, when the lads make Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) dance for a complete stranger in a convenience store attempting to make her smile.   The tears were running down my cheeks as he went through his routine with a bag of cheese crisps/chips and a bottle of water.

They find their way to Will Smith’s squeezes hangout, 

Jada Pinkett Smith is Rome, who runs a house for women to come and live out their desires.  Again, there is an attempt at a story here, but who cares, let the boys do their dancing to a pack of hungry females.   I was seriously impressed, and at the same time laughing my ass off, at some of the moves involving multiple women as they were incorporated into the routines.

Keep an ear out for some of the dialogue, Tatum has some of the funniest lines, and manages to remind us at every turn that we shouldn’t be taking him too seriously, for a man of that age should at least know that he should wear his baseball cap straight!   You can tell he is having a blast performing, particularly when you spot him giggling to himself as he spins around, as if to say, he completely acknowledges how absurd this all is but still he doesn’t care.

And this is why this movie is so much fun.  Do not take it seriously.  Embrace the over acting, the silly dialogue, the lack of a story line and just throw yourself at what is a fun set of impressive dance routines.


Viewing Date
Monday, 28th September 2015


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The Train Robbers (1973)

There are times when you have to separate the real man from the man on the silver screen.  A number of actors who have such a persona and strong pedigree that you simply have to forgive them (or forget) that there is even a real person behind it.  Tom Cruise and John Wayne are two legends that fall into this category.   Both of these guys get right under my skin when I see TV interviews or read their views on various issues.   But I can divorce myself from this and not let this bleed into what they do best, which is to entertain and draw us into a world of make believe.

I grew up on The Duke.  It was a movie genre I bonded with my father over and every time Wayne came riding on to the screen, I knew we were in for a good father-son couple of hours where I could look up to men that inspired a better world.   From the 1960s onwards, Wayne did a number of excellent movies that I am sure will feature in this movie-a-day series I am embarking on at this precise moment.   So please forgive a sentimental reviewer.

For the time being, let us focus on one of the later ones in his life, The Train Robbers.


Here we have the Duke undertaking the head of the gang of guns that are out to recover the gold of a robbery so the widow may start her life, with her morality balance back in sync.

The widow in this particularly instance is no stranger to regular readers, the delightful and forever beautiful and sensual, Ann-Margret.  In fact here her sexuality is built in, with the Duke asking her to try on clothes, then offering to boil her top so it may shrink so it can have all her curves stick out in the right places.   He wants to make sure that any one riding from afar is under no mistake that the widow is still with them and not told them where the gold is.

Regular Duke fans will no doubt recognize Ben Johnson who is once again seen riding side-by-side as his trusted right hand man.

You don’t go into a John Wayne movie expecting a huge complicated story line.  What you are buying into, is basically the same story, the patriarch (the Duke) who is all knowing and all wise who knows precisely what needs to be done when and just like Steven Segal and Jason Statham, is rarely rarely seen getting an on-screen kicking.   The Train Robbers does not disappoint on this score.

Speaking of scores, the movie has the classic big western orchestral soundtrack.  However in this instance, keep an ear out for how it changes when the bad guys are on screen versus when the good guys are on screen.  It is a wonderful audible cue as to what you should be feeling.

There is a great twist at the end of the movie that has you smiling.

If you are a fan of the simple 1960s/1970s westerns then this movie will not disappoint you.   It is the perfect Saturday/Sunday afternoon movie that you would have normally stumbled upon on the BBC, that draws you in for the full run.

Treat yourself, escape into a world of when men where men, and horses were scared!


Viewing Date
Saturday, 19th September 2015


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Maverick (1994)

The original Maverick was a TV series that ran from 1957 to 1962 and featured James Garner in the lead role as a drifter gambler in the old west going from poker game to poker game.  This remake see’s Mel Gibson reprising the lead role, Bret Maverick, who is raising the final part of his $25k (or $600k roughly in today’s funds) entry fee for a very exclusive poker game.

A long the way, he bumps into southern belle socialite con-artist Ms Bransford, played by the delightful

Jodie Foster.  She gives Bret a run for his (literal) money as they are two peas from the same pod.   To complete the trio, Marshall Zane Cooper (played by

James Garner) joins in the journey.

Of course when you have James Garner in the remake in a leading role, you have to wonder if there is more to his character.  Of course there is, and not to throw away a huge plot spoiler, turns out to be Bret’s father.  This is fairly obvious, especially if you keep an eye out for some in-your-face cues (for example every time Bret says my pappy would always say the camera cuts to Cooper).

Maverick captures the vastness of the old west with wonderful sweeping panoramic views of the dusty west with intricate old style town and steam boat details.   Scenes not seen since the old John Wayne era of westerns.

There are some wonderful set-pieces that rival the stunts from the likes of John Ford in Stagecoach.   For example, the scene with the three of them in a galloping runaway coach, with a driver that has died, is not only impressive, but extremely funny in both physical comedy and dialogue.

Speaking of speaking, the dialogue in this movie is spot-on, with a flow and a natural delivery of lines that doesn’t feel like you are being fed a list of smart one-liners.   This movie has far more to give than the trailer undersells.

Annabelle: What is it with you and Indians anyway?
Maverick: Oh, nothing. I try and shoot one a day, if possible, before noon. How ‘bout you, Coop? I figure it’s their fault for being on our land before we got here.

This movie comes post-Lethal Weapon for Gibson, and with that, keep your eyes open for some nods to that series with some very well placed cameos.  There are a number, so if you think you have seen the one, there are more.

This is a big cast, with

Graham Greene reprising a very street smart post-DancesWithWolves Indian, Alfred Molina as Bret’s main nemesis and finally

James Coburn as the host of the final poker game.

A special note to the soundtrack of this movie.   It can be hard to track down the actual score of the movie, as oppose to the mainstream version of all the vocal tracks.  The score is infinitely better and breaths life into each scene.

This outing is not without its flaws but those shouldn’t be held against it for it is trying to do.  We forget that before we had Robert Downey Jr. playing the smart-arse good-looking cocky lead, we had Mel Gibson pioneering this role.   Lethal Weapon, Air America, Bird on a wire and Maverick all proved he had this genre mastered.   Though it was a crown he was to give up later in his career.

Being a huge John Wayne fan that grew up on western re-runs, this movie marked a nice nod to that era without over doing it.  Thoroughly enjoyable romp.


Viewing Date
Saturday, 12th September 2015


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