At The Movies: Bridge Of Spies; Crimson Peak

Another week, another decent pair of films to talk about. It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks at the movies, and not a single superhero in sight. Hard to believe, I know.

Oh, wait. How could I forget “Pan?” If only I could forget “Pan.”

Bridge of Spies

Gee, Tom Hanks starring in a historical thriller directed by Steven Spielberg with a script by the Coen brothers. I wonder if this will be any good.

What do you know — it is! Sure, the above mentioned talent has had their share of disappointments, but put them together and I wouldn’t bet against them.

imagesHanks stars as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is given the unenviable task of representing accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) of espionage during the height of the Cold War. Given this is Tom Hanks, Donovan is a good lawyer — and by good I don’t just mean competent, but also upstanding and likable with family values a strong moral code.

Donovan meets with Abel, a quiet, unassuming man who appears to want to do nothing but paint and draw. Able won’t work with the government so they are seeking the death penalty. He appears pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.

Donovan tries his best but everyone, including the judge, is against him. He does manage to keep Abel out of the electric chair by arguing that someday the Russians may wind up with one of our spies so we should set a good example.

Amazing coincidence: Some time after Abel’s sentencing, American pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) flies his first mission in a U2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. The plane is subsequently shot down and Powers winds up in a Soviet prison for the same crime as Abel.

Elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain, a young American economics student studying abroad winds up on the wrong side of the under-construction Berlin Wall.  Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is accused of being a spy and is sent to an East German prison.

The U.S. government responds by asking Donovan to go and negotiate an exchange — without any official status from the government. The U.S. is only interested in a straight Powers-for-Abel trade, but Donovan won’t leave without Pryor.

“Bridge of Spies” is a masterwork of suspense and sentimentality. Working from a script by  Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Spielberg skillfully takes us back to a dark time in recent world history. The look and feel of the film expertly capture the early ’60s.

While the whole cast is first-rate, the spotlight once again falls on Hanks and once again he delivers. But applause should also go to Rylance for his understated, oddly serene portrayal of a Soviet spy facing certain death.

Crimson Peak

And now for something completely different.

“Crimson Peak” is the latest darkly mesmerizing fable by writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Part horror story and part gothic romance, the film relies on setting, mood, costumes, set design and a talented cast to make up for a fairly predictable story.

Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, a young wannabe author living in late 19th Century America with her wealthy father Carter (Jim Beaver).  She’s been a believer in ghosts ever since she was a child when her dead mother showed up at her bedside bearing the ominous warning, “Beware the Crimson Peak.”

Edith is about to learn the meaning of that message when siblings Lucille and Thomas Sharpe (Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston) arrive in town. Sir Thomas is looking for investors so he can turn the red clay on his estate into an economic powerhouse. Carter is not impressed with his presentation and advises him to go back to England.

MV5BNTY2OTI5MjAyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkzMjQ0NDE@._V1_UY1200_CR64,0,630,1200_AL_Edith, on the other hand, is very impressed by the handsome and charming Sir Thomas, much moreso than her long-suffering physician pal Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnan).

Thomas and Edith quickly fall in love and when father conveniently dies, the couple quickly marry. Edith is whisked away to England, her family’s fortune soon to follow. It’s a good thing, because the Sharpe estate is in shambles. There’s a giant hole in the roof, allowing snow to gently fall down into the massive entryway. There’s no heat and no staff to keep up the huge mansion.

Plus, red clay seeps up through the ground and over the broken floorboards. The clay is so omnipresent the locals have taken to calling the place “Crimson Peak.”

And now you can guess the rest of the story.

“Crimson Peak” isn’t the classic that del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” was but it is compelling in its own way. As I mentioned earlier, the costumes are exquisite, the acting is strong, the sets and setting are finely detailed, the ghosts are suitably creepy.

It’s the story that’s lacking in magic. You should be able to figure out what’s going on long before Edith does. Nothing unexpected happens in the course of the story, other than an occasional scare from a blood-soaked ghost or two.

Still, given the state of horror movies these days, it’s nice to see one that at least has a lot of style to it.

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