Bridge of Spies (wide release)
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks collaborated again to produce “Bridge of Spies,” which, though not the best film of either artist, is a tidy, fact-based Cold War tale.
Hanks plays James Donovan, a Wall Street lawyer tapped to represent Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy arrested by the FBI in 1957. Though pressured to do no more than the bare minimum to defend Abel, the principled Donovan presents the strongest case he can, receiving opprobrium for saving Abel from the death penalty.
Later, Donovan, serving as the go-between in the proposed prisoner exchange of Abel for downed American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, goes to East Berlin and extricates not only Powers but a U.S. student languishing in an East German jail.
The result is an uplifting story of a lawyer determined to do the right thing even in the face of preordained defeat who proves himself more than a match for his Soviet-controlled counterparts.
Predictably well-made, it is a satisfying, reasonably exciting film.
Steve Jobs (wide release)
The founder of Apple is profiled by director Danny Boyle; in this three-act film, rather than attempting a typical biography, the makers focus on backstage debates preceding Jobs’ introductions of new products.
The film is more an impressionist portrait than a conventional overview, in which Jobs — brilliantly played by Michael Fassbender — verbally jousts with his colleagues and the woman with whom he had a daughter, who he long refused to acknowledge as his own. The dialogue is pungent and crisp, and Boyle gets superb performances while investing a talky script with enormous energy.
Jobs emerges as a deeply flawed, incredibly arrogant man but also as a genius at orchestrating the efforts of others in achieving the technological revolution of the modern world. His many admirers might not appreciate Boyle’s film, but as a master of imagination Jobs himself might well have.
Crimson Peak (wide release)
Guillermo del Toro attempts a Gothic romance in the style of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” in this opulent, feverish tale of a 19th-century American heiress who marries a British aristocrat and returns with him to his crumbling English estate. There she must deal with his cold, imperious sister — and a passel of family secrets.
Del Toro is a master visual stylist, and many of the images in “Crimson Peak” are striking.
Unfortunately, the script quickly descends into a degree of silliness for which the lush sets and costumes cannot compensate. While the three lead actors — Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston — are talented, their performances are so arch and stilted that they seem to be parodying the material. Even the most fervent fans of the director will find “Crimson Peak” a noble failure at best.
The Last Witch Hunter (wide release)
Stone-faced, stentorian Vin Diesel, stars in the big-budget tale of a medieval witch hunter who has been given the gift — or curse — of immortality. He must foil the schemes of the Queen Witch, who he had defeated back in the 14th century, now aided in his quest by a priest (first Michael Caine, and then Elijah Wood) and a good witch (Rose Leslie).
What results is an absolute mishmash of illogical plot turns, risible dialogue, murky special effects and poor acting. Despite the clerical characters in the narrative, this hapless disaster does not have a prayer of making it to a sequel.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (wide release)
The ultra-cheap, ersatz found-footage horror franchise that began in 2009 reaches its sixth — and purportedly final — installment, which tries to tie up the many loose ends in the series’ and offer a few scares along the way.
It succeeds at neither goal.
The narrative is mostly a retread in which a family moves into a new home and is soon disturbed by poltergeist-like phenomena.
Most of the scary moments consist of abrupt jolts and loud noises, now so commonplace they barely cause a flinch. A priest called in at one point explains that what is needed is not an exorcism but an extermination. He is right: the “Paranormal Activity” series needs to be wiped out for good.