One of the great puzzles, when it comes to the art of storytelling, is when to start your story. Do you start at the end and work backwards? Do you start in the middle and dodge around? Or do you start at conception and go from there, pushing through the middle until you reach the end?
I watched two movies a couple of weekends back, both on Saturday night, and one of them, Goosebumps, featuring Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Dylan Minnette and Ryan Lee, had this figured out, except that the Jack Black character (he played Goosebumps author R.L. Stine), added that a story also needed a “twist,” which he says, since this is Goosebumps, with exaggerated vehemence.
The other, Bridge of Spies, although a collaboration between two of the best in the business, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, missed its cue entirely. Let’s look at how this happened.
Goosebumps starts with a mother and son, not long after the family father has died, moving to a new town, Madison, Delaware, for a fresh start. They find that next door to their new home is a disconcertingly abrasive father, R.L. Stine, and his attractive daughter Hannah. With this set up, Zachary Cooper, the new neighbor played by Dylan Minnette, hearing screams next door, decides to investigate along with his overly nervous friend Champ, played by Ryan Lee.
From there, of course, all hellfire breaks loose, as the teens realize they have stumbled across the long-lost children’s horror book author who has all of his manuscripts under lock and key, because to open one allows the ghoulish monsters in each book to jump from the pages into real life.
The rest of the movie is made-to-order mayhem. Its production is hackneyed, the acting is worse and the gags have all been done before. But at least there’s a reason for sitting through this, which is to say the story compels you to remain in your seat. After all, the town has to be put to rights and Zachary has to have a chance with Hannah, who turns out to be a ghost in need of resurrection. It turns out, R.L. Stine is right: Every story does need a beginning a middle and a “twist” in order to keep you sitting there.
You could rewrite that narrative in reverse to describe Bridge of Spies. This is a story that takes place in 1957-1960 and the production is flawless. The acting, especially from a host of supporting characters, is magnificent – especially so with Mark Rylance as Russian spy Rudolf Abel. The Ethan and Joel Coen script ,written also by Matt Charman, is terrific. Tom Hanks, the man of beautifully fidgeting hands, is great, of course. So what’s not to like?
What’s not to like is precisely this: The beginning, the middle and no twist.
The movie starts with the arrest of a Russian spy in New York City. To show how deceptively ordinary most spies are, Abel is a quiet, unassuming painter living in a very modest apartment. He takes a subway to a park bench overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, paints a little, picks up an encrypted message hidden in a coin and returns to his apartment, where he is promptly arrested by a platoon of FBI agents.
What has happened here from a storytelling point of view is that the danger — the at large Russian spy — is immediately removed from the plot. There is no danger in this movie, because he is immediately arrested and what’s encrypted doesn’t even matter much, because it is never revealed. The details of his spying are also not mentioned. He was dangerous, but ho-hum and now he is behind bars, anyway.
The middle is about how a rather uninteresting lawyer, James B. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, defends Abel, mostly by standing up for Abel’s rights to due process in U.S. courts. But the script writers don’t bother to explaining this very much, either. In fact, the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but by the time the decision is made, the script-writers have lost all interest and the decision is only mentioned in passing. Nobody sits, wringing their hands, waiting for a verdict. Nobody opens any champagne or cries about the injustice of it all. It’s the plots biggest selling point, but the writers have moved on by the time the verdict is rendered.
This is because the most romantic gesture of the Cold War took place on a bridge in Berlin, where Donovan, some months later, had negotiated a prisoner exchange with U.S. spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, who is also played as a somewhat ordinary man. He is recruited to fly a spy plane; he isn’t particularly interested in his job. He just does so, because he is in uniform.
Also, according to the film, Powers is shot down on his very first reconnaissance mission. So, there isn’t much time for suspense there, either.
The twist to this story is that Donovan unilaterally decides the prisoner exchange should also include an American student caught behind the Berlin Wall and that he dares the East German government to inform the Russians that they fouled up the prisoner exchange for Abel by withholding the student, named Frederic Pryor.
Bridge of Spies is full of misses. If Spielberg wanted a courtroom drama, he could have had one, but he skips passed that. If he wanted a dogfight over the skies of Pakistan, he could have had that, too, as two Russian jets were in pursuit of Powers — although the film doesn’t include this. The tension between Russia and East Germany is assumed, but not explained or dramatized. Pryor, the student, is a throwaway character and so is Gary Powers. This leaves Abel, who is purposefully dull and Donovan, who is purposefully academic, but not played up as very interesting, either.
I wouldn’t for a minute recommend Goosebumps over Bridge of Spies, unless you are between the ages of seven and 10. But Bridge of Spies is just not compelling theater. It’s a terrific film — three stars, maybe four. But, here’s the rub: Who wants to see a terrific movie that doesn’t much compel you to stay in your seat?
Movie Magic: The De-Aging Technique of The Irishman
Have you read Izzy yet? If so, you know that Izzy makes the apples that give the Gods their youth and immortality. It also seems Robert De Niro discovered one of Izzy’s apples too… In Martin Scorsese’s upcoming biographical film, he stars as Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a labor union leader and alleged hitman for the Bufalino crime family. The trailer for the movie, which will premieres NEXT WEEK (!), also features a “de-aged” De Niro. “We’re so used to watching them as the older faces,” Scorsese said in an interview on the A24 podcast. “Does it change the eyes at all? …If that’s the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?…How do we get that? I don’t know.” Some might consider this magic and I for one can’t wait to see the impact of Izzy’s apples on screen for myself. ????
“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office
It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.
As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.
Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.
View the full top ten weekend box office results below:
Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)
Wonder Park ($16,000,000)
Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)
No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)
Captive State ($3,163,000)
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)
Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)
Green Book ($1,277,000)
Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.
“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back
With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.
Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.
The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.
Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)
Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)
Green Book ($4,711,000)
Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)
Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)
What Men Want ($2,700,000)
Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)
Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.
Get to Know the Story: Izzy
Get to Know the Story: Key to the City
Get to Know the Story: Gabby Goes to College
Key to the City x Bond
—Agent: The following is for your eyes only— Talk about a character who won’t live and let die! Just like...
16 Sultry Movie Vampires That Will Make You BEG for Immortality from Izzy
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen it comes to immortality, we’ve got you covered with the Gods and Goddesses in Izzy. But when it comes...
The 16 Greatest Villains That Will Make You Join the Dark Side
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s much as everyone likes to cheer on the hero, there are certain movies where you can’t help but feel...
Movie Magic: The De-Aging Technique of The Irishman
Have you read Izzy yet? If so, you know that Izzy makes the apples that give the Gods their youth...
Key to the City – We need you to tell one of Andy’s stories
Imagine you woke up everyday in a different body. The twist is, no matter who you are today, it's up...
The 10 Most Quintessential New York Filming Locations
We know LA gets all the glory when it comes to the movies, but New York has seen its own...
The 10 Most Badass Female Film Characters of All Time
You know Gabby (or if you don’t, get caught up on Gabby Goes to College now for a sinister good...
Movie Lists5 years ago
Remembering Gene Wilder: 8 Greatest Movie Quotes from ‘Blazing Saddles’ to ‘Willy Wonka’
Movie Lists5 years ago
The 29 Steamiest Bikini Movie Moments of All Time – #23 is a Shocker!
Marvel5 years ago
Mads Mikkelsen on ‘Doctor Strange’ Humor & CGI: ‘There’s a Certain Darkness in the Doc’
Marvel5 years ago
All Marvel Movies Ranked From Worst to Best – Including Doctor Strange!
Marvel6 years ago
All 46 Marvel Movies Ranked Worst to Best – Including Doctor Strange!
Marvel5 years ago
45 Marvel Movies Ranked Worst to Best: #39 Should NEVER Have Been Made
Movie News7 years ago
Watch: Matthew McConaughey ‘Interstellar’ Teaser Trailer
Movie Lists7 years ago
The 20 Most Beautiful Women In Hollywood