Toy Story 4 review

For inSing

TOY STORY 4

Director: Josh Cooley
Cast : Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack, Madeleine McGraw, Keanu Reeves, June Squibb
Genre : Comedy/Animation/Family
Run Time : 1 h 40 mins
Opens : 20 June 2019
Rating : PG

            The denizens of Andy’s toy box are back, reuniting audiences with friends old and new in the fourth instalment of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story film series.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and the other toys were given by Andy to a young girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). A few years later, Bonnie is starting kindergarten, and at orientation, she makes a new toy from arts and crafts: Forky (Tony Hale), who is comprised of a disposable spork, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, a popsicle stick and plasticine.

Forky becomes Bonnie’s favourite toy, but Woody and the other toys have a hard time dealing with Forky because formerly being a spork, this new existence has been unexpectedly thrust upon him. When Bonnie takes Woody, Buzz, Forky and other toys along with her on a road trip with her parents, Forky attempts to escape. While chasing after him, Woody discovers an antique store where the long-lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) now lives. The antique store is also home to the doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her unsettling army of ventriloquist dummy henchmen. Woody must escape Gabby Gabby’s clutches and bring Forky back to Bonnie, as his unexpected reunion with Bo Peep upends his existence.

The Toy Story trilogy comes extremely close to perfection, and the announcement of a fourth film was met with understandable scepticism. We should’ve known that Pixar would deliver – while it may not have the richness and complexity that Toy Story 3 did, Toy Story 4 is an excellent addition to the series. Josh Cooley, who started out at Pixar as a storyboard artist on The Incredibles, helms a film that is funny, thrilling and moving. It’s a road trip movie that hits all the right notes.

Thematically, Toy Story 4 is about purpose, and what happens when purpose goes unfulfilled. The purpose of a children’s toy is to be played with, and multiple characters in the film long to be loved by their owners but have instead been neglected. This has been a running theme in the series, but Toy Story 4 emphasises it by re-introducing Bo Peep. Through the Forky character, the film explores what exactly it means to be a toy.

The animation is, as expected, technically polished. The film places familiar characters in unfamiliar environments, with the main new locations being the bright, inviting travelling fairground and the shadowy, dusty antique store. Key to making the fantastical premises of toys that come alive work is in establishing the world as believable and tactile, which is accomplished here. Great attention is paid to the geometry of the set-pieces, in which potential dangers and obstacles are highlighted before the characters attempt to navigate them.

Many of the voice actors from the previous films return. Once again, it’s Woody who drives the story, with Tom Hanks’ performances helping to further flesh the character out. Woody’s insecurities were the catalyst of the conflict in the first Toy Story film, as he felt threatened by Buzz’s entrance onto the scene. In this film, Woody’s insecurities manifest in his fear of becoming a ‘lost toy’, and he projects some of these feelings onto Forky. It’s a satisfying arc that makes sense for the character.

Bo Peep has been turned into a resourceful action heroine, not entirely unlike Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy – they even both wield a staff. Bo Peep was absent from the third film, with Annie Potts returning to voice her. Her relationship with Woody and his reaction to how she has changed play a big part in the plot of this film, and the film attempts to give both parties closure.

Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is ostensibly the film’s antagonist, even if she’s not exactly a villain. There are superficial similarities between her and Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, the villain of Toy Story 3, but Gabby is a less interesting character. She still manages to be equally threatening and empathetic – the film’s horror movie-inspired sequences are entertaining but stop short of being legitimately traumatising.

Tony Hale charmingly captures the neuroses of Forky, who is caught in the throes of existential panic. The idea behind the character is a witty one, and the film manages to get more out of Forky than just the one joke that he’s a toy who’s freaking out because he was not meant to be a toy.

The duo of Key and Peele voice plush toys Ducky and Bunny and provide some of the biggest laughs in the film, with a standout sequence being their plan to acquire a set of keys from the elderly owner of the antique store. The movie uses them just enough, such that their presence doesn’t feel overly gimmicky.

Another standout character is Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). Reeves is enjoying a surge in popularity following the release of John Wick: Chapter 3, Always Be My Maybe and the announcement that he will be in the videogame Cyberpunk 2077. An Evel Knievel-type daredevil stuntman Duke seems to have come straight out of Robot Chicken. Reeves bring enthusiasm, gruffness and a hint of a Canadian accent to the part.

Director Cooley was 15 when the first Toy Story movie came out, and it’s remarkable that the series has maintained such consistently high quality across four instalments released over 24 years. Toy Story 4 offers up a beautifully realised adventure and engaging character dynamics, bringing more to the table than mere nostalgia. Yes, a fourth Toy Story film is not strictly necessary, but the film radiates such warmth and good heartedness that it’s useless to resist its embrace.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Post movie review

For inSing

THE POST

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Allison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods
Genre : Biography/Drama/Historical
Run Time : 1h 56 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : PG13

         Every awards season, there are bound to be at least a few ‘big important movies’ – films based on true events that have a timely relevance, boasting pedigree in front of and behind the camera. The Post ticks all those boxes.

It is 1971. The New York Times runs a story about how the U.S. government has been lying about the Vietnam War to the public, based on leaked clandestine reports which document the ongoing war, going back over 20 years. These reports were compiled on the instructions of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the former Secretary of Defence, for academic study.

Katherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female owner of The Washington Post, is about to publicly list the paper. While the Initial Public Offering will broaden the Post’s reach, Graham also fears losing the control entrusted to her by her late husband, who succeeded Graham’s father as the owner of the paper.

President Nixon and the Attorney General file an injunction against The New York Times, taking the paper to court over the story. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) sees the opportunity to dig further into the story. Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikan (Bob Odenkirk) tracks down the source, former analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), and procures more than 4000 pages of the Pentagon Papers. Graham must choose whether to publish, at the risk of her and Bradlee being imprisoned, and with the paper at stake.

The sitting President of the United States has made no secret of his disdain for the press, branding any outlet which runs stories unfavourable to him as “fake news”. This climate prompted Steven Spielberg to rush The Post into production, and he made this film while his next movie Ready Player One was in post-production. The Post makes a statement about the importance of the freedom of the press, but perhaps it makes that statement a little too obviously. “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable — my god, who will?” Bradlee exclaims, in one of several lines that spell out what the film is about.

Because The Post is made by people who more than know what they’re doing, it gets a lot right. Spielberg’s regular cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn (with additional editing by Sarah Broshar) do their usual fine work. The movie looks and sounds like how one would expect a 70s-set political thriller to look, and the setting feels authentic – complete with a multitude of unfortunate hairdos. While the first half of the film can be somewhat dry, things get genuinely thrilling as the movie heads towards an exciting conclusion. The stakes are clearly established, and it’s clear that the decisions the characters must make are consequential ones.

Behind the scenes, there’s the success story of Liz Hannah, for whom every aspiring screenwriter’s dream came true: her first screenplay was made into a film by Steven Spielberg. Josh Singer, who won an Oscar for co-writing Spotlight, rewrote Hannah’s script. Hannah had long been fascinated with Graham, and the writer’s boyfriend encouraged her to pen a screenplay about the newspaper heiress.

The Post wants to be a personal story in addition to being a historical account, but struggles with the balance. A scene between Graham and her daughter Lally (Allison Brie) comes off as a slightly awkward attempt to generate emotion while also supplying some backstory.

The Post is at its best when its talented actors are turned loose. Putting Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a scene together, regardless of context, is bound to produce electrifying results. The role of Kay Graham is comfortably in Streep’s wheelhouse: a powerful woman grappling with a monumental dilemma. Graham must make her way in a man’s world, facing doubt at every turn. She remains warm and personable even in the face of adversity, and is at once a magnetic and comforting presence.

Hanks has fun, biting into the role with relish. Bradlee is a dogged, persistent editor, who is described at one point as a “pirate”. Bradlee is a little more abrasive than your standard charming, affable Hanks part, and he spars with Graham and other characters throughout the film. Hanks and Streep visibly enjoy playing off each other, and Spielberg brings out the best in his stars.

The supporting cast is first-rate too: Paulson is especially likeable as Bradlee’s wife Antoinette, and gets an excellent scene in which she lays out why she admires Graham as Bradlee seems to dismiss his boss’ predicament. Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk is funny and down-to-earth as assistant editor Ben Bagdikan, who flies back to Washington with the Papers safely buckled into the airplane seat next to him.

There’s no denying that The Post is timely and well-made, but perhaps it’s a little too aware of its status as a big important movie. It takes audiences from Point A to B with enough clarity, but perhaps not enough nuance, and it will be hard for some viewers to see past how obviously The Post is calibrated for awards season appeal.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Inferno

For F*** Magazine

INFERNO

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu
Genre : Mystery/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 1min
Opens : 13 October 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language And Violence)

inferno-posterHell hath no fury like a bioengineer scorned. In the third instalment of the Robert Langdon film series, Langdon (Hanks) is up against Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), a genius billionaire geneticist who has formulated a virus with which he will solve the world’s over-population crisis. The Harvard professor awakes in a hospital in Florence, Italy, stricken with amnesia and pursued by the assassin Vayentha (Ularu). Sienna Brooks (Jones), the doctor tending to Langdon, helps him escape. Langdon discovers that Zobrist has left him a trail of clues, giving him a chance to prevent the virus’ release. Said clues point to Dante’s epic poem Inferno. Visions of hell as described by Dante haunt Langdon, as Elizabeth Sinskey (Knudsen), the director-general of the World Health Organisation, assigns agent Christoph Bouchard (Sy) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Surveillance and Response Support Unit to track Langdon and Brooks down. Behind the scenes, Harry Sims (Khan) a.k.a. ‘The Provost’, who runs a shadowy organisation called The Consortium, is manipulating events for his client Zobrist.

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Inferno is based on the fourth book in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. We more or less know what to expect: Tom Hanks shoves tourists aside as he sprints through European cities, following a trail of breadcrumbs involving art history in order to foil a sinister plot. Both director Ron Howard and Hanks have said they’re not contractually obligated to make the Robert Langdon movies, but it does feel like most involved are going through the motions. For all its high stakes and ticking clocks, Inferno can get a little tedious, with obscure bits of art history trivia awkwardly bolted onto the dialogue of David Koepp’s screenplay. The bulk of the film is mildly interesting rather than breathlessly arresting. Inferno doesn’t have The Da Vinci Code’s long exposition lectures, but it also doesn’t quite reach the gleefully bonkers over-the-top heights of Angels & Demons.

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Where the film succeeds is as a travelogue. Brown may not be a particularly gifted novelist, but he does pick locations with a beguiling air of long-standing history and splendour to them. Director of Photography Salvatore Totino showcases Florence, Venice and Istanbul in all their glory. A chase sequence in which Langdon and Brooks are pursued by a police drone through the Boboli Gardens isn’t the nail-biter it could’ve been, but the climactic set-piece makes marvellous use of the cavernous Basilica Cistern. Don’t expect to gain any particular insight into the overpopulation crisis or an alternative solution that doesn’t involve genocide. It’s a topic that’s worthy of in-depth discussion, but here, it’s little more than the motivation for a Bond villain. Some of the visuals depicting the various circles of hell as witnessed by Langdon in his hallucinations come off as slightly goofy rather than unnerving.

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Hanks is the definition of a dependable performer, but this reviewer still isn’t quite convinced that he’s the best fit for the character of Robert Langdon. Perhaps Hanks is more affable everyman than tweedy professor. For nearly the entire duration of the film, Langdon is disoriented and out-of-sorts, struggling to recall events that occurred before he wound up in the hospital. A bedraggled, confused Hanks isn’t particularly fun to watch, but it helps that we’re dropped into the thick of the mystery, giving the audience the illusion that we’re piecing things together alongside our hero.

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The supporting characters in the Robert Langdon stories mostly exist as plot devices as opposed to actual characters, with each tale featuring a gallery of red herrings. Jones follows in the ‘Langdon ladies’ footsteps of Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer. While she is convincing as an intelligent woman, Brooks’ staggering achievements (child prodigy, marathoner, humanitarian, literary scholar) seem very Hollywood-ish and border on self-parody. Foster mostly appears via video messages and TED talk-esque presentations, but it is a neat structural twist that the primary antagonist is absent for the majority of the film.

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Sy runs around clenching his teeth, his character fitting the dogged Inspector Javert stock type to a tee. Khan steals the show, essaying Sims’ analytical nature and amorality while still imbuing the character with considerable charisma. The film doesn’t delve into the inner workings of the Consortium as much as this reviewer would’ve liked, but its depiction of a powerful, shadowy organisation hired to pull any number of strings is somewhat plausible. Knudsen doesn’t get too much screen time, but does strike a balance between sternness and warmth in her portrayal of Sinskey.

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Inferno may not be as searing as its name suggests, but there’s still entertainment to be derived from the Amazing Race-style obstacles Langdon has to navigate. The big reveal is as silly as one expects, but it does lead to a frenzied, competently-orchestrated finale. And as far as cinematic tour guides go, one could definitely do worse than Tom Hanks.

Summary: It has the veneer of learnedness rather than actually being smart, but Inferno does have its entertaining moments and shows off some quality globe-trotting.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sully

For F*** Magazine

SULLY

Cast : Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jerry Ferrara, Sam Huntington
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

sully-posterClint Eastwood takes us behind the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in this biopic. On the morning of January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 is making a routine trip from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina. When bird strikes cripple both engines, the plane comes in for an emergency water landing on the Hudson River, with all 155 souls on board miraculously surviving. At the controls are pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart). Sully is vaunted in the press as a hero and becomes an overnight sensation, but the attention and scrutiny prove overwhelming for him and his wife Lorraine (Linney). The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concludes that according to simulations, Sully could have safely landed the plane back at LaGuardia Airport, calling his judgement into question and putting his career and reputation on the line.

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It’s easy to see why the public gravitated to the story of the Miracle on the Hudson: it was harrowing but ended well, it was a glimmer of good news amidst the usual barrage of negativity, and an endearing everyday hero was at its centre. But is there enough to the story to sustain a feature film? As it turns out, barely. At 96 minutes, Sully is shorter than your average ‘based-on-a-true-story’ drama, but even then, it feels padded out. The film quickly becomes repetitive, and the portrayal of Sully’s self-doubt lacks nuance. Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay trades in caricatures, and while we see what he’s going for with a scene in which a bartender excitedly pours Sully a cocktail he’s concocted in the pilot’s honour, it makes the true story come off as cartoony. A few passengers are highlighted in a folksy ‘aw shucks’ manner; these moments feel like they belong in a TV movie than an awards season film.

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The main selling point of the film apart from its director and star is the re-enactment of the dramatic water landing. The sequence, shot with the new Alexa IMAX cameras, has an appropriate graveness and tension to it, even if the moment of impact itself looks a little like it’s a cut-scene in a video game. Eastwood does an effective job of putting the audience in the cockpit as the situation unspools, but perhaps there’s something questionable about taking an almost-tragedy and turning it into big-screen spectacle. There’s merit to the argument that because it all ended well for everyone on board, nobody will take offense with this depiction, but it can also be argued that Sully is trading on disaster in a similar way to Titanic. Beyond that, there are distasteful, oblique visual references to 9/11 that seem manipulative in trying to elicit emotion through association with the terrorist attack.

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It’s hard to go too wrong when Tom Hanks is the de-facto heart of your movie. The actor brings his trademark affability to bear as an unassuming pilot whose world is shaken by a close call on the job, followed by equal amounts of hero worship and second-guessing. The world fell in love with the earnestness, graciousness, work ethic and humility displayed by Sully in the aftermath of the Hudson landing, and moviegoers in general have already fallen in love with Hanks. He suits the role despite bearing only the slightest passing resemblance to the real-life Sully, even with the white hair and moustache. It’s something of an obvious casting choice and while it might have been more interesting to see an actor who isn’t as established a ‘likeable everyman’ as Hanks take on the role, Hanks does an expectedly fine job with it.

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The conventionally-handsome Eckhart is a different brand of all-American than Hanks is, and they end up complementing each other nicely. Skiles received what some might say is a disproportionately small amount of the credit, but the working relationship and friendship between the two does brim with positivity. Because Eckhart looks more like the hero who would be landing the plane in a Hollywood action movie, it further accentuates the ‘unlikely hero’ quotient Hanks’ Sully has going for him.

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Linney’s abilities as an actress aren’t stretched very far, with Lorraine portrayed as little more than the stock worried wife back home. By design, the NTSB panellists are faceless suits, bureaucracy incarnate, their impersonality serving as a contrast to Sully’s humanness.

Sully is respectable in its own right, but the emotional heft present in the best biopics is lacking here. As the story was extensively covered by the media, we’re familiar with the broad strokes. While there’s some insight to be gleaned from the film and the procedural aspect is easy to follow, it’s nothing that’s remarkably revelatory. Sully is more like a single-engine Cessna than a commercial jetliner: airworthy but slight.

Summary: Tom Hanks’ dignified and likeable performance lifts Sully above the waters of mediocrity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars    

Jedd Jong

Bridge of Spies

For F*** Magazine

BRIDGE OF SPIES

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
We’ve had our late-summer fun with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but with fall awards movie season upon us, it’s time to revisit the Cold War in a far more serious manner. It is 1957 and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is captured by the FBI in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bar Association elects for insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks) to serve as Abel’s counsel. Three years later, after U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Soviets, Donovan is tasked with negotiating his release. The deal is an exchange of Abel for Powers. Naturally, things aren’t that clear-cut, and the East Germans have American student Frederic Pryor (Rogers) in custody. With the odds stacked high against him, Donovan flies to East Berlin to bargain for the safe return of both Americans as the threat of nuclear war between the two superpowers looms ever greater. 
Bridge of Spies is based on the 1960 U-2 incident, an actual event, with a screenplay by Matt Charman and rewritten by Joel and Ethan Coen. The title refers to Glienicke Bridge, which was the site for several prisoner exchanges between the Americans and Soviets. The film has been described as a “Cold War thriller”, but it’s more of a courtroom drama and not an action-driven spies vs. spies affair. Director Spielberg’s follow-up to 2012’s Lincoln is another sombre awards contender, but this is more accessible to the average filmgoer, less dense and scholarly. Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned drama, with the bleakness of a rubble-strewn East Germany evoking the gloomy vision of Vienna as seen in the classic spy film The Third Man. There is a stillness about the film, which is very much a slow burn. Spielberg’s films are seen by many as varying degrees of schmaltzy. While Bridge of Spies certainly has its emotionally impactful moments, it is largely restrained and the feeling of frigid detachedness effectively captures the atmosphere of the Cold War.
If the film that surrounds him is cold, Hanks is Bridge of Spies’ warm, beating heart. In this, his fourth collaboration with Spielberg, Hanks is called upon to embody the archetype of a decent man in an indecent time. If there’s anything Hanks can play, it’s “decent” – he does that and so much more here. James Donovan is a consummate professional who is flung into unfamiliar territory but who always stands his ground, his attentiveness and upstanding nature recalling To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. It turns out that Gregory Peck almost played Donovan in 1965, with Alec Guinness set to play Abel opposite him, but the film was ultimately called off as the era was too fraught with political tension for it to be made. When Donovan arrives in East Germany, construction has just begun on the Berlin Wall, and the angle of a relatively ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances is the audience’s way in. As Donovan is accosted by gang members, catches a cold and has to deal with Soviet and East German officials, he remains admirably steadfast, clinging to his principles, the ideal unassuming hero. 
Rylance, a veteran of the London stage, is coolly compelling as Rudolf Abel. Abel is a Russian spy, ostensibly the bad guy, but the film doesn’t demonise him, taking the stance that the Soviets had their spies and the Americans had theirs. Rylance’s Abel is unflappable and inscrutable, and the unlikely bond that Abel forms with Donovan makes for a fascinating and subtly moving dynamic. While audiences are very familiar with Hanks, Rylance isn’t as recognisable a name, and perhaps that unfamiliarity adds to Abel’s mystique. Spielberg apparently enjoyed working with the actor and Rylance will play the title character in Spielberg’s next film, The B.F.G. Defending Abel makes Donovan a very unpopular man indeed, and this takes its toll on his family, especially his wife Mary (Ryan). The scenes involving Donovan’s family and Pryor’s arrest at the border are the closest Spielberg comes to indulging his more sentimental sensibilities, but these moments are necessary to establish the personal stakes involved. 
Spielberg’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn bring the technical polish that we’ve come to expect from his films, but one key collaborator is missing: composer John Williams. Owing to a minor health issue which has now been resolved, Williams was replaced by Thomas Newman. Newman’s score is appropriately dignified, containing his own trademark instrumentation while not sounding a million miles away from what Williams might have written. 
Spielberg has always been an idealist, and along with lead actor Hanks, he brings a reassuring, old-fashioned moral certainty to this tale set in one of the murkiest eras in modern history. Even so, Bridge of Spies avoids being naïve and manipulative in its account of the U-2 incident negotiation process. Perhaps this reviewer just isn’t that much of an intellectual, but the one action sequence in which Powers’ U-2 spy plane is shot out of the sky did make him hanker for another Spielberg-directed straight-up action adventure. Of course, that’s not the kind of film Bridge of Spies is, and it lives up to the pedigree before and behind the camera, succeeding at being a sturdy, well-made historical drama. 
Summary: As prestigious as prestige pictures get, Bridge of Spies is a restrained, quiet drama anchored by Tom Hanks’ reassuring presence, with thespian Mark Rylance stealing the show from him at times. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong