BRIDGE OF SPIES
Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks goes from a virtually unknown figure as successful Brooklyn insurance defense attorney James Donovan to a man branded with hate for zealously serving his country. Drafted to defend a Russian spy for him going through the constitutional motions will not satisfy his ethics and sense of a fair trial. He's not too popular with judge, jury, friends and family when he argues due process violations all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As school children simultaneously learn about nuclear holocaust risks watching "Duck and Cover," the CIA readies a small group of U-2 pilots to soar at 70,000 feet above Russian territory on sensitive surveillance missions. Simultaneously, Donovan has prevailed in arguing that the Russian spy should not get a death sentence, but be held for a future prisoner release.
Director Steven Spielberg solidifies the thermonuclear obsession in one pertinent scene: Donovan's son demonstrating when the sirens go off , we won't have time to fill the tub to conserve water. Nor should dad consider a spy who's gathering intelligence to drop bombs on the U.S. to be worthy of anything beyond a perfunctory trial. Moments later a brick flies through the attorney's window during an episode of 50s private detective thriller, "77 Sunset Strip."
Sandwiching an acting coup, Mark Rylance plays Rudolf Abel, the less than intimidating nerdish Soviet operative. He's always flatlining circumstances such as by stating, "I'm not afraid to die, though, it wouldn't be my first choice."
Delivering his best performance since "Saving Private Ryan," Hanks stays solemn, logical, and a man of seemingly no emotion that is until he's fighting a "cold" after having his overcoat stolen.
Drab, murky, shivering on foot tension resonates throughout. You can't help but feel like you're watching one of the best untold stories of the Cold War and in turn a likely 2015 Best Picture nominee.
ROCK THE KASBAH
Bill Murray created a big buzz last year as the grumpy "St. Vincent," an elderly man with a heart of gold beneath his verbal barbs. He's back as former 60s era rock 'n' roll manager Richie Lanz still stumping for thaa big break while name dropping his alleged discoveries, such as Madonna and Bon Jovi.
His talent agent character appears to be a scam. He snoozes through a would-be client's terrible audition, then, amazes her by awarding her a contract for which she writes him a check for $1,200. Shortly thereafter, he accepts a USO tour of Afghanistan touting his quasi receptionist/possible would-be significant other, lounge singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel).
For "Rock the Kasbah" Ms. Deschanel has only a brief front ended appearance in which she barfs and barfs on a shaky plane to Kabul. Once she's escorted to safer quarters by Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis) taking Murray's bucks and passport with her, the aging Van Nuys resident soon finds himself running bullets and dodging them at a camouflaged nightspot that resembles a Miami disco. It's also the country's Rick's Cafe, where hustlers make deals to get out of Kabul, like foreigners did at the iconic Rick's in "Casablanca."
Directed by Barry Levinson ("Good Morning Vietnam," "Rain Man"), "Rock the Kasbah" struggles to maintain a central focus. It's an uneven rotation from worn out Hollywood hipster scrambling in a guns blazing Dodge City, to feel great America's Got Talent (here known as Afghan Star) dreams, and intertwining death threats, especially for the Pashtun teen, Salima (Leem Lubany), who wears traditional veil and goes to an isolated cave to enjoy the pleasure of singing a Cat Stevens melody.
Murray rolls well with the punches as the immersed and enmeshed fish out of water Hollywood gabbing loser and Kate Hudson (Merci, an exotic hooker) props up confidence in his dream of Salima becoming the first female to win the country's televised talent competition. Hudson's unconventional too by displaying her hours on the trailer as guards ensure lined up patrons conduct themselves orderly.
Rolling Stone commands, "don't get bogged down with the details. Just roll with Murray, an actor so damn good you will follow him anywhere."