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Review: Is ‘Goosebumps’ Really Better Than ‘Bridge Of Spies?’

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Goosebumps-Movie-Jack-Black-Movie Spoon

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?

Goosebumps

Jack Black in Goosebumps

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.

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies

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?

Anthony Hall

 


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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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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.


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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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)

Greta ($4,585,000)

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.


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Box Office

“Captain Marvel” Makes a Heroic Box Office Debut

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Despite online controversy, another Marvel Comics movie has debuted to another astonishing figure. While not as monumental as last year’s Black Panther, Captain Marvel wasn’t too far behind in the box office for its debut. The superhero epic starring Brie Larson had a weekend debut of $153 million, with a worldwide gross quickly approaching half a billion. This marks an astonishing premiere even by Marvel’s standards of always dominating the weekend. Don’t be surprised if the film lingers in the top 5 for all of March and perhaps through April as well.

For occupying such a hefty amount of the box office, it was slim pickings for the rest of the movies. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues to stick to the top 5 after three weekends, bringing in another $14.6 million to boost its domestic total to $119. Despite not achieving such a huge success in a short amount of time, the film is proving to have strong legs to keep the animated family going audience captivated as it stays steadfast in March. Also doing well in its second weekend is the comedy Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral, making another $12 million to push its domestic gross to $45 million, marking another successful Tyler Perry production.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

There weren’t too many surprises in terms of drops this weekend. Some films even stayed in their placement as with Green Book in its post-Oscar victory lap. One minor surprise is the expansion of Apollo 11, the NASA documentary that expanded to a few more theaters to place it at #10 for the weekend with a domestic total now sitting at $3.7 million.

Check out the full top box office results for the weekend below.

Captain Marvel ($153,000,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($14,696,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($12,050,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($3,825,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($3,200,000)

Green Book ($2,488,000)

Isn’t It Romantic ($2,410,000)

Fighting With My Family ($2,188,868)

Greta ($2,161,000)

Apollo 11 ($1,301,000)

Next weekend will most likely be another victory lap for Captain Marvel so the premieres will be limited. New movies will include the drama Five Feet Apart in 2,600 theaters, the sci-fi action picture Captive State in 2,200 theaters, and the animated family comedy Wonder Park in 3,500.


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