Interesting and (obviously) expertly made and acted drama following U.S. lawyer Donovan hired to defend captured Russian spy Abel in American courts. He gets behind the job more than his bosses expected and is later talked into helping negotiate a trade: his client for an American spy the Russians captured, and possibly also for a student who found himself on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.

I got mostly a Spielberg/Hanks flavor from it, but Sam Adams caught some good Coen Bros. screenplay moments:

Donovan’s first scene in Bridge of Spies shows him haggling with another lawyer over an insurance settlement – a strangely protracted exchange that bears the mark of the Coens’ habit of falling in love with their own dialogue. But the skirmish between them is linguistic as well as legal: Donovan’s opponent keeps referring to the driver of the car that crashed and injured five men as “your guy”, and Donovan keeps demurring: “We are talking about a guy who’s insured by my client. He’s not my guy.” The issue of whether Abel is or is not “his guy” is later raised in court, and it hangs over the rest of the movie. Is Donovan simply a lawyer doing his appointed duty, or has he actually begun to understand how the world looks from Abel’s point of view?

Now Playing: a Billy Wilder comedy set in West Berlin, the blacklist-busting Spartacus,
British horror with German director, and 1962 West German murder mystery based on British novel:

Appearances by Alan Alda and Amy Ryan. Mark Rylance won an oscar for playing the passive and unflappable captured spy, whose signature line whenever asked why he’s not worrying is “would it help?” Adam Nayman’s Cinema Scope writeup, which I’m too tired to type up here, gets to the bottom of some of my ambivalent feelings about the story and the cold war atmosphere.

I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.

Clown Atlas:

Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.

Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.

San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).

London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.

Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.

Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.

Seems like an extremely low-effort movie, managing to coast by on charisma. So I’m not putting in much effort either – stealing the AV Club’s plot description:

Hanks plays the title character, a divorced Navy veteran and longtime employee of a Walmart-like chain who’s fired because he never went to college, thus can’t advance any further in the company. Rather than filing what seemingly should be an extremely lucrative wrongful-dismissal suit, Hanks follows the advice of the quirky next-door neighbors (Cedric The Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson) and enrolls in a community college. There, he strikes up a friendship with even-quirkier fellow student Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who takes on the duties of a strictly platonic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, giving Hanks a makeover, enlisting him into her “gang” of moped enthusiasts, and encouraging his interest in one of his teachers, a bitter, perpetually hungover English instructor played by Julia Roberts.

This is Hanks the lovable everyman, not Hanks the serious oscar nominee. In fact, if this was the first thing you’d seen with him or Julia Roberts, you’d assume they’re on the same bland caliber as Aston Kutcher and Anne Hathaway. Not much of a comedy, just a lightly entertaining drama – watching the trailer to get screen shots, it contains most of the movie’s jokes. Certainly not offensively bad, but I’m slightly offended at its total lack of rough edges.

Pam Grier is looking good. Grace Gummer looks distractingly like her mother Meryl Streep (it’s weird to see a 24-year-old Streep sitting next to 55-year-old Hanks, like one of those commercials featuring dead movie stars looking young again and trying to sell you a car). Economics professor George Takei was the highlight of the film by a long shot. I already forget who Holmes Osbourne (of The Box) played. And Bryan Cranston (Little Miss Sunshine) was convincing as Roberts’s loser husband.

When I look back on Larry Crowne, I want to think of Wilmer Valderrama on a scooter:

Katy liked it. Glad you liked it, Katy! Sorry if I was grouchy about your movie, and also for what I said about Anne Hathaway.

Between “My Year of Flops” and “I Watched This On Purpose,” the AV Club watches a bunch of known-to-be-bad movies and reports back on the experience. I also have an unhealthy urge to watch stupid movies, but I don’t have the kind of free time they’ve got. I just want to know if I’m missing out on anything, and if the movie’s got a built-up mystery, what’s the big twist at the end. And now, thanks to netflix streaming, I can watch any part of any bad movie instantly. So here’s a rundown on the last ten minutes of…

Delgo (2008, Adler & Maurer)
Our hero Freddie Prinze Jr. is inspired by princess Jennifer Love Hewitt to go fight the evil queen. Animation really is as bad as they said, does not look like something that should be in a theater in 2008. I looked for Avatar parallels – got the enchanted forest, peace-loving fairy inhabitants (not cat-people at all) who ride dragons, and the cliche-and-catchprase-littered dialogue. Chris Kattan (ugh) rallies all the planet’s species to attack evil there at the end, also an Avatar plot point. Oooh, Delgo uses the Force. Isn’t the Force trademarked? J.L. Hewitt kills evil stepmother Anne Bancroft (I’m sorry this was your final film, Anne Bancroft) and peace is brought unto the land. Full of corny-ass jokes and hot, forbidden interspecies love.

Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart)
A bearded Dennis Quaid seems possessed by some supernatural sci-fi evil. This is way more talky than Event Horizon. Ben Foster (X-Men 3, Northfork), I assume, is experiencing some kinda psychological special effects. Oh they are not in space, but underwater – that’s the big revelation, allowed a couple seconds of floaty luminescent peace before it’s back to punching Dennis Quaid. He fights some girl who is not Carrie-Anne Moss. Now is Ben possessed by the ancient evil? Wait, nevermind, a crack in the hull. Oh, the evil is some kind of cat beast. Catmen from Pandorum – more Avatar references? Ben and the girl surface. Happy ending? I can’t tell. Director Alvart is a German making it big in Hollywood with writer Travis Milloy, who once wrote a Jason Schwartzman movie that nobody saw.

The Alphabet Killer (2008, Rob Schmidt)
Tim Hutton (Ghost Writer, The Dark Half) must be the killer here. He’s trying to sedate Eliza Dushku, but she uses her Buffy moves to bust his face and escape. She tries to trap him in a way that would totally not work, but totally does, and dude escapes, gunshot in the foot, into the river. Is she raving incomprehensibly, or is the string music just up too loud? Later, in the hospital, Cary Elwes (I’ve not seen him since Saw) proclaims that this is all his fault (I’m willing to accept that). She never recovers and Hutton gets away, ouch. Schmidt made one of the more enjoyable Masters of Horror eps, and writer Tom Malloy did something called The Attic which looks even worse than this.

Righteous Kill (2008, Jon Avnet)
Pacino is gonna get shot by DeNiro! Or is DeNiro gonna get shot by Pacino? The editing is confusing and every shot is a close-up. Now there’s a showdown in an 80’s-movie factory, both of them with guns. I don’t know what they’re saying because Katy made me turn off the sound, but Pacino is pissed, and his hair isn’t as bad as it usually is, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Sin City) is hanging around. Nevermind all that, Pacino got totally shot to death by DeNiro! He gave a long speech I didn’t hear, then some shit happens, I wasn’t looking anymore. From the director of 88 Minutes (and Fried Green Tomatoes) and the writer of Inside Man.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009, Patrick Tatopoulos)
Sooo dark! I see werewolves, and some Lord of the Rings business, but it’s all so dark. The action is very actiony. HooRAY, Bill Nighy of Shaun of the Dead is the self-serious lead bad guy in a ridiculous costume. He shall face off against a pissed, bearded Michael Sheen, who screams “I loved her,” which means that Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) might be dead. Wait, Nighy is a vampire! He got sunlit then stabbed through the head by a righteous Sheen, which Katy did not appreciate seeing. Oh and Nighy is still alive in the twist ending here, as is Rhona Mitra. The director was a creature designer on the first two movies, never a good sign. Jesus, nine writers?

Lies and Illusions (2009, Tibor Takacs)
Christian Slater does his hammy always-talking thing in the backseat of a made-for-1991-TV-looking full-frame car chase. Sarah Ann Schultz is trapped after a huge crash, while Christa Campbell shoots at some baddies who are not Cuba Gooding Jr. The sound mix is awful, very Slater-heavy with crap music, but wait, CGJr showed up and shot Slater, which STILL didn’t shut him up. Sarah Ann Schultz sneaks onto Cuba’s airplane, and parachutes out leaving the plane to crash, in the most hilarious special effects attempt of 2009. Tibor, of course, made the excellent The Gate and less-excellent The Gate II back in the 80’s – doesn’t look like he’s doing so well now. From the writer of nothing, and cinematographer of Trapped Ashes (but given a Magnum P.I.-era TV videocamera).

Angels & Demons (2009, Ron Howard)
Tom Hanks discovers secret cameras taping the board room! He sees a very sinister Stellan Skarsgard (ha ha, he is always sinister) saying quizzical shit to an incredulous Ewan McGregor. Apparently Ewan spread illuminati rumors to stop SS from trying to find scientific proof of God? Or something, anyway Ewan frames SS and gets him shot in flashback, to the despair of all the cardinals reviewing security tapes with Hanks and some girl who is not Audrey Tautou. Later, a guy who might be Armin Mueller-Stahl presides as scary Germans tail a bruised Ewan until he sets himself on fire. The evidence is destroyed, and the crowd goes wild. Where does Jesus’s granddaughter fit into all this? From the writers of Zathura, Secret Window, Constantine and Deep Blue Sea, ouch.

July is “Movies I Rented & Copied But Never Watched” Month. I figure there are about 75 of those, and tragically only 31 days in the month.

Dan Hedaya + prosthetic arm:
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Rented this for our Florida trip. Made it halfway through with Katy but she didn’t seem interested in the second half. I gotta agree that for a cult comedy it’s awfully slow and talky, and the second half is slower if anything, but I still think it’s great. A crazy movie. There are big, loud, blues-song music-video segments, a slow two-minute pull-away shot of Tom leaving the doctor’s office and petting a dog, a puppet of a hammerhead shark, and Meg Ryan in three roles, two of which are impersonations. I’d at least admire the movie for all that even if I didn’t find it hilarious and wonderful.

In Ossie Davis’s follow-up to Do The Right Thing, the movie that took on Driving Miss Daisy’s view of race in America, he plays chauffeur to a white man.

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Abe Vigoda plays the village leader like the Three Stooges in tribal makeup:

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The great Robert Stack (House of Bamboo, Written on the Wind) is the doctor who gives Tom his fatal “brain cloud” diagnosis:

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The great Lloyd Bridges is the rich man who pulls the strings, including Stack’s:

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Meg Ryan is kinda awful as Hanks’ coworker at the rectal probe and artificial testicles factory with a Little Shop of Horrors New York accent, and worse as Lloyd Bridges’ daughter, doing an over-the-top Katharine Hepburn impression, but she’s kinda good as that girl’s un-accented half-sister who captains the boat to the island.

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Katy and I each saw this movie when we were little. She has always hated it because it gave her nightmares, and I have always loved it because it seemed weird and awesome and had Corey Feldman in it. Watching it again, it seems neither love nor hate is appropriate… it’s a pretty good movie. Pretty well made, pretty funny, with pretty good acting and a pretty satisfying ending. As a Joe Dante fan I was cheering for another Matinee, but it seems I got another Explorers instead.

Tom Hanks (between Big and Joe vs. the Volcano, on his way to permanent movie-stardom) is a listless suburban dad with wife Carrie Fisher and nosy neighbors Bruce Dern (manic, scuzzy, Busey-esque – he should be in every movie), fat Canadian comic Rick Ducommun, and still-cool Corey Feldman (I don’t know if he lives on the block or has just been hired to paint somebody’s porch). They get into comic situations trying to spy on new neighbors the Klopeks, suspicious that they have kidnapped or murdered toupee-wearing little-dog-toting neighbor Walter (1960’s TV star Gale Gordon). Finally they break into the house when the Klopeks are away, accidentally blowing it sky high by activating the overpowered furnace in the basement. Hanks thinks they’ve proven nothing except how smallminded they’ve been, but in an incredibly unsurprising twist ending, it turns out the Klopeks were murderous evildoers after all and Hanks’ gang is off the hook.

Dante throws in some cartoonish visuals, has Feldman talk into camera at the end, but it’s not as stylish or fun as his other movies, feels more tied to the obvious script. The story seems like a mystery, then starts developing into a satire of suburbia, making the suspicious neighbors look crazy and the weird reclusive family seem like the victims, culminating in a speech by Hanks (who barely comes alive in the movie otherwise) – but this is undercut by the ending.

A good Jerry Goldsmith score – in fact that might have been the best thing about the film. Robert Picardo (theater manager in Matinee, lead in 976-EVIL) and the wonderful Dick Miller cameo as garbagemen. Besides the ever-hungry comic-relief Rick Ducommun and our blank lead Hanks and his wife, the other characters are all exciting and worth watching, especially gun nut Bruce Dern and the Klopeks. The diminutive doctor is Henry Gibson of Nashville, inbred-looking young Hans is Courtney Gains, five years after playing a lead corn kid in Children of the Corn, and horrible mean uncle Reuben is Brother Theodore, who I hear was “one of America’s most respected humorists and monologists.” Dante, or whoever was responsible for casting, put an excellent enough group together to compensate for any script problems.

I read that the ending of the script had Tom Hanks getting killed at the end, leading to the same studio-mandated rewrite that Gremlins got. Wasn’t until the Masters of Horror episodes that Joe could finally execute all his main characters at the end of the movie, just like he’s always wanted to.