This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of July to September 2018


“Beirut” - After playing Don Draper in “Mad Men” for several years, one would have thought Jon Hamm would have broken out as a star in the movies. Instead, he seems to pop up in supporting roles which haven’t brought him a great deal of attention. In “Beirut,” Hamm gets to star as Mason Skiles, a diplomat in 1972 Beirut who suffers a terrible loss and returns to the U.S. to work as a labor arbitrator. But then, 10 years later in 1982, he’s asked to return immediately to Beirut, and decides to go despite not knowing why. When he gets there, he finds himself in the middle of a negotiation with a terrorist, who had, as a child 10 years earlier, been a member of his own household, and is now holding captive a significant CIA operative who was Skiles’ friend. “Beirut” is unfortunately fairly run-of-the-mill, with a pedestrian script and a less than stirring supporting cast, including Rosamund Pike (dramatic in “Gone Girl” but bland here) as a CIA operative helping Skiles, the ubiquitous Shea Whigham as another government official, and Dean Norris who was great in “Breaking Bad,” but who here has the misfortune to be made to wear a wig and glasses that make him look more like a clown than someone seriously involved in foreign intrigue. B- (7/12/18)


“The Catcher Was a Spy” - Based on the book by Nicholas Dawidoff, “The Catcher Was a Spy,” is a true-life story of Morris (Moe) Berg, a catcher who played in the major leagues off and on from 1923 to 1939 with a variety of teams including Brooklyn and, finally, the Boston Red Sox under Joe Cronin (Shea Whigham) as manager. Casey Stengel was once quoted as saying that Berg, born in New York City, a Princeton graduate, and a man who spoke seven languages, was the “strangest man ever to play baseball.” A teammate was quoted as saying that Berg could speak seven languages but couldn’t hit in any of them (he had a lifetime batting average of .243). However, he was highly intelligent and after his baseball career ended, he joined the OSS and was sent to Europe as a spy during WW II. Berg is played effectively by a restrained Paul Rudd who is suspected by a young teammate of being homosexual but who had a girlfriend, Estella Huni (Sienna Miller), and is shown in the film as being distinctly interested in heterosexual sex. “The Catcher Was a Spy” is a thriller of sorts but except for a scene in which Berg and Dr. Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giamatti), a scientist, are under German fire while they try to reach an Italian colleague (Giancarlo Giannini) of German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) (yes, the very man whose name is adopted by Walter White in “Breaking Bad”), the film is rather low-key and effectively non-violent. Jeff Daniels appears as Wild Bill Donovan of the OSS who hires Berg as a spy. Also appearing are Hiroyuki Sanada (seen recently in HBO’s “Westworld) as Kawabata, a man Berg meets in the late 1930s on a visit to Japan with other major league players; and, briefly, Guy Pearce and Tom Wilkinson. B+ (7/6/18)

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