Review: Trumbo

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DIR: Jay Roach • WRI: John McNamara • PRO: Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Michael London, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Janice Williams • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Alan Baumgarten • DES: Mark Ricker • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Diane Lane, Bryan Cranston, Elle Fanning

Trumbo is the latest film from director Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers trilogy and theh first two Meet the Parents movies, and tells the true story of Dalton Trumbo, a writer who was a member of the Hollywood 10, all of whom were expelled from Hollywood for being members of the Communist party, publicly humiliated, rendered unable to work, imprisoned, and how, led by Trumbo himself, they were able to fight back and beat the system.

Fittingly for a film about writers, the script is top notch, with some excellent dialogue and back-and-forth banter between the characters. The ensemble cast are all excellent, Cranston proving once again that he’s the man, while Louis CK plays a genuinely serious character and pulls it off formidably, David-James Elliott has John Wayne’s way of speaking and mannerisms down to a tee, while Dean O’Gorman play Kirk Douglas so well that when the real-life Kirk Douglas was shown an early print of the film, he commended its accuracy, while Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper brilliantly, and John Goodman dominates every scene he’s in.

What is noteworthy about this biopic, is its relevance in today’s world, a world where the media is still used to misleading the general public and stir up hatred against the innocent, (cough, Fox news, unconvincing cough), as well as the hypocrisy of many of the leaders. For example, John Wayne talking about the war they just fought, despite the fact that he never actually fought in it, similar to how so many Republicans consistently encourage young men to join the army, while they and even their own sons refuse to serve.

The score from Theodore Shapiro is top-notch, imbuing the first act with the sense of manic energy it needs to instantly engage the audience, while  during the hearings, adding an audible sense of danger to the proceedings.

The film has a lot to say about this time period, such as how there are no real heroes or villains, just victims of the system, and how what the government was doing was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the film beats that second one into the ground, with Trumbo himself making speech after speech about how they have to stand up for their right to speak, although Cranston does manage to consistently make that speech engaging.

The film uses original radio broadcasts and also re-creates many news reports from this time, which adds to the immersion, and it shows how cunning and savvy Trumbo was, doing dirty backhand deals in order to stay in the game. The set and costume design is spot on, allowing for further immersion in the era.

While the film is over two hours long, it remains engaging throughout squeezing in a lot of information without ever feeling like a docudrama.

However, there are problems with Trumbo, as he always comes across as in the right. Granted, a few characters question whether he’s fighting the blacklist for freedom of speech or just as a point of pride, but this never really goes anywhere, and his moral ambiguity is left mostly unexplored.

Also there are one or two problems with the film itself. While Trumbo spends around one year in prison, for some reason his daughter has been replaced by Elle Fanning, who is not only much older than the 11-year-old he said goodbye to when he went inside, she’s also much taller and looks nothing like her.

On top of this, good acting doesn’t make up for poor character development, and there was a missed opportunity to show these events from the perspective of John Wayne and his ilk, to let us get into their mind-set and allow us to understand why they thought the way they did, acted the way they did, etc., instead leaving them all reminiscent of the uncomplicated, two-dimensional villains of the films of this era.

Still though, highly recommend.

Darren Beattie

15A
124 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Trumbo is released 5th February 2016

Trumbo – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Godzilla

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DIR: Gareth Edwards • WRIMax Borenstein PRO: Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Bob Ducsay • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Richard Bullock • CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston

Godzilla, the most famous monster of them all, is unleashed on a modern-day San Francisco. Unfortunately, Godzilla is not the only monster to be awoken… Can the might of the US Navy, led by Admiral Stenz (Strathairn) and scientist Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe), stop the King of the Monsters before it’s too late?

Godzilla – originally created by Japanese film director Ishiro Honda and the Toho Co. Ltd. production company in the 1950s – is the most iconic movie monster in film history, whose filmic infamy remains unsurpassed (not even by King Kong) to this day.

Honda’s 1954 original spawned over a dozen sequels and has its fingerprints all over nearly every creature feature since. It still continues to inspire today’s contemporary directors such as J.J. Abrams (Cloverfield) and Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim).

Bringing an up-to-date version of the story to an American audience was always going to happen sooner or later, but the less said about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrous flop the better.

This time around the reins were handed to a relative newcomer, Gareth Edwards.

Edwards filmed his debut feature (Monsters, 2010) – about two people travelling across America six years after aliens invaded Earth – on a shoestring budget of just $800,000 with a minuscule crew of just seven people.

He had to be imaginative in the way he showed the dangers at hand by merely alluding to them, rather than explicitly revealing them. It was a technique Edwards used effectively in Monsters and it’s also one he’s migrated to the much bigger budget (an estimated $160 million) of Godzilla.

Instead of splurging the cash on extended action scenes early in the running time, Edwards instead gives us mere peripheral glimpses of the action through TV news coverage or unexpected cut-aways at the last moment. Thus Edwards deftly keeps the big reveal of Godzilla doing his thing relatively obscured until the third act.

As with all big-budget monster movies, the fortunes of the film live or die by the quality of the CGI. The effects on show here are near faultless. Edwards and his visual effects team (as well as the Irish director of photography, Seamus McGarvey) deserve high praise for the stunning visuals – not just for the computer-generated monsters, but also the battle-ravaged cities and landscapes. A scene showing a military parachute jump into the middle of Godzilla battling through San Francisco is a particularly impressive highlight (although its impact was somewhat diminished by its inclusion in the trailer).

Sound is also noticeably well used. Rather than a constant ear-bashing similar to a Transformers films, you get moments of desolate quiet, allowing Godzilla’s signature roar to pack an even mightier punch.

Clocking in at just over two hours, Godzilla is not a compact film and the plot takes some time to get into its stride. Getting the most from your (excellent) cast early on to flesh out the relevant back story and character development rather than jumping straight into the action was a smart move by Edwards but after half an hour you do find yourself ready for something big and loud to break something expensive.

It’s a bit of a surprise to find such a wealth of acting talent in a big-budget blockbuster such as this, but it’s an extremely welcome one. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as the army bomb disposal expert whom we follow through the story, proves an able body in the action stakes. Ken Watanabe has very little to do other than wear a look of perpetual shellshock throughout and Sally Hawkins is equally underused – providing nothing more than plot exposition. Bryan Cranston, meanwhile, is a joy to watch and steals every scene he’s in.

Honda’s original Godzilla was borne out of a nation still recovering from the nuclear devastation of World War II and came to be a representation of such. In Edwards’ update, similar contemporary parallels are noticeable by their absence. Threat of nuclear war is not as prevalent today as the 1950s, thereby making Edwards’ Godzilla a more diversionary spectacle rather than a contemporary social metaphor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. With Godzilla, Edwards has produced an entertaining, engaging, superior blockbuster and a worthy addition to the King of the Monster’s canon of films.

Chris Lavery

12A (See IFCO for details)
122 mins

Godzilla is released on 16th May 2014

Godzilla – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Cold Comes the Night

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DIR: Tze Chun  WRI: Tze Chun, Osgood Perkins, Nick Simon  PRO: Mynette Louie, Trevor Sagan  DOP: Noah Rosenthal. • ED: Paul Frank  • DES: Laurie Hicks CAST: Alice Eve, Bryan Cranston, Logan Marshall-Green

 

Chloe (Eve) is the owner of a sleazy motel whose inhabitants are predominantly prostitutes and junkies. The reason for the griminess of the motel’s customers is largely down to an agreement Chloe has with local, crooked cop Billy (Marshall-Green), in which he gets a cut of her profits in exchange for him turning a blind eye to the lurid activities that take place in the motel. Chloe is under pressure from social services to find a more suitable environment for her to raise her young daughter Sophia in. The trouble is that Chloe struggles to make ends meet with the motel as it is and does not have the capital she needs to start a new life. However, when an incompetent sociopath is killed in her motel, Chloe is forced to help his blind partner in crime, Russian mobster Topo (Cranston) relocate a stash of money that was in the dead man’s car, and which has been taken by Billy. Initially scared of Topo, Chloe gradually begins to wonder if this might be an opportunity for her to get the extra cash she needs for her and her daughter to start a new life.

While this may all sound terribly generic, Cold Comes the Night eschews such accusations, through virtue of its pervasive oddness and unintentional hilarity. What was going through the mind of whoever thought it would be a good idea to cast Bryan Cranston as a Russian mobster is anyone’s guess? It is not just the thickness of the accent that raises chuckles but also the insistence that his character drops ”the” from every sentence. What makes matters even more curious is the fact that there is no real thematic reason for his character to be Russian. It’s as if the director, Tze Chun, simply thought it would be fun to experiment with how far he can take a well-respected character actor out of his comfort zone.

Marshall-Green does his best not be outshone by Cranston in the laughing stakes by giving one of the largest performances seen on screen in some time. It’s up to Eve to attempt to ground the film in some sort of believable reality. Having, earlier on in the year, been the subject of the Hollywood male gaze at its most cretinous, in a notorious, tastelessly gratuitous semi-nude scene in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Eve is here allowed to create the closest thing to a real character in the film. While her portrayal of a good mother and hard-working, if morally dubious, woman is quietly impressive it is hardly likely to be mistaken for something out of a film by The Dardenne Brothers in terms of its realism.

There are some unqualified successes- Noah Rosenthal’s cinematography is appropriately cool and distanced, while Jeff Grace’s excellent score keeps things enlivened. But if this film is likely to be remembered for anything, which in itself is highly unlikely, it is for how disastrously the film utilises its genuinely talented actors, particularly Cranston, and the question as to how, indeed, these actors came to be involved in it in the first place?

One wonders if the film isn’t in fact some grand postmodern joke. Just what universe is this film supposed to be taking place in? It is so utterly misconceived and so relentlessly ridiculous that it is certainly never boring. While that may not count as a recommendation for this ludicrous slice of pulp, it’s hard not to have some affection, or perhaps some sympathy, for something as harmlessly daft as this.

David Prendeville 

15A (See IFCO for details)

90 mins
Cold Comes the Night is released on 20th September 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Argo

DIR: Ben Affleck • WRI: Chris Terrio • PRO: Ben Affleck, George Clooney,Grant Heslov  DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST:  Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Michael Cassidy

With tensions increasing in the Middle East as Iran comes ever closer to developing the bomb, this quite brilliant, witty political thriller seems very timely, despite being set over 30 years ago.

Argo, the latest from one-time Hollywood poster boy/laughing stock Ben Affleck, now a respected director of punchy, entertaining, if until now slight films, tells the so-improbable-it-must-be-true tale of a CIA operation to evacuate six American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis of ’79-’81 by pretending they are members of a science fiction film crew. In its unlikely fusion of genres, the film manages to lampoon the audacity of Hollywood while also racking up the tension as the crisis escalates.

Affleck himself plays CIA consultant Tony Mendez, a so-called ‘Moses’, whose expertise is in extracting American civilians from international hotspots. During the crisis which follows the Iranian Revolution, six of the staff members at the American Embassy in Tehran escape the embassy, the centre of the crisis, and hole up in the residence of the Canadian ambassador to Iran.

With no hope of smuggling them across the border into Turkey, Mendez comes up with the plan of sneaking them out in broad daylight through Tehran’s airport, by coaching them to pose as a Canadian film crew doing a reccy in ‘exotic locations’ for a sci-fi B-movie, called ‘Argo’. To sell the deception, Mendez teams up with (fictional) one-time Hollywood big leaguer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and real-life Oscar-winning make-up effects artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who worked on Planet of the Apes and the original Star Trek series. Hosting gala events in service of their Star Wars knock-off (which most closely resembles 1980’s Flash Gordon movie), the trio land an ad for Argo in Variety and generate buzz for the fraudulent film. All that has to be done then is for the terrified embassy staff to keep their nerve.

Full of punchy one-liners, especially from Goodman, Arkin and Bryan Cranston as CIA boss Jack O’Donnell, Argo’s script jets along at a very enjoyable pace before its nerve-wracking finale. Editing tricks cut between the film and documentary footage to emphasise the remarkable reality that lies behind the story. The almost excessive period detail, shot in bright ’70s colours, sells the movie to its audience even better than Mendez sells his film to the Iranians.

Acting is mostly solid across the board, although Affleck is perhaps not the strongest actor who might have fronted it, and he fluffs some of his best lines. Goodman and Arkin have remarkable fun as the pair who see through the ‘bullshit business’ while also doing remarkable pro bono work for their endangered countrymen. Cranston, so hot right now it burns the eyes, has a strong go at the ‘disapproving chief who’s actually incredibly proud of his renegade underling’ role, and it’s a treat to behold. The rest of the exhaustive cast is assembled from some of the best TV and movie character actors out there; Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Zeljko Ivanek, Bob Gunton, Philip Baker Hall, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver… the list goes on and on.

What the film does that no amount of perusing declassified State Department documents can do is truly get at the heart of the movie business, and give it a deserved ribbing. From the moment the film opens with the red Warner Bros logo from the 1970s, you can tell this is a film gleefully in love with a different age of moviemaking. Much of the opening preamble, bringing clueless audiences up to speed on the history of Iran (think Persepolis, but less sweet), is explained using storyboards. When Mendez reaches Hollywood, the hokey sets, ridiculous costumes and obnoxious self-promoters seem far more alien than Iran itself.

While Iran is the villain of the piece, so to speak, Argo is not overly critical of the nation, refusing to demonise it as it underlines the need for change that resulted in the Iranian Revolution. Using Istanbul as its shooting location, it paints the country as one of massive contradiction, where US flags are burnt while Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants are found on the high street.

Despite its energy, Argo slumps a little in the middle, as it struggles to define the characters of the six refugees, who are even more over-shadowed by the titanic performances of Arkin and Goodman than Affleck is. As the nail-biting finale approaches, the film blatantly goes beyond the real history and artificially raises the tension without any need. Yes, it’s intense, but for the only brief moment in its two-hour run-time this impossible story becomes unbelievable.

Affleck’s finest film to date, Argo is an endlessly witty, powerful and thrilling drama. With skilful craft in recreating an age almost out of memory, it has a unique honesty to it that is far more interested in the individual figures involved than flag-waving patriotism. A spy movie without guns or sex, Argo is nothing less than a ridiculous adventure with fine, clever characters and a fist-chewing climax like few others.

Be sure to stick around during the closing credits where actual photos from the real-life Argo exodus are placed side-by-side with images from the film. It is a final testament to the remarkable work Affleck and his team put into telling this story.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

120 mins

Argo is released on 9th November 2012

Argo –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Total Recall

DIR: Len Wiseman • WRI: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback • PRO: Toby Jaffe, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Paul Cameron • ED: Christian Wagner • DES: Patrick Tatopoulos • CAST: Colin Farrell, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale

‘Get your arse to Mars!’ Anyone familiar with these legendary words, once beautifully mangled by Mr Schwarzeneggar, will have at least a passing interest in this remake of Total Recall. Regretfully, it isn’t a patch on the larger than life, cartoonish fun of the original. Strangely, though, it’s a disappointment that’s more like a regretful sigh than a heated diatribe.

The film starts out promisingly enough. One parkour-like sequence where Farrell and Beckinsale move through an M.C. Escher-style vision of the future is genuinely spectacular and the lead, Colin Farrell, is not in any way objectionable as Douglas Quaid/Hauser. He looks the part and turns in a perfectly creditable performance. But in the same way that double agent Hauser just doesn’t feel right living the life of Quaid, a simple factory worker, Farrell is let down by an unconvincing backstory. The whole world of the film has been designed to give an excuse for one ‘cool’ special effect.

I’ll say this for director Len Wiseman, the man knows how to make a pretty film. In the sci-fi genre, that’s a skill that rarely goes astray. But the man known for Underworld films should have given his apparent muse Kate Beckinsale a rest, as all that was missing from her one-note performance was a pair of fangs.

All in all, it’s a rather pretty but ultimately hollow effort – I’d rather recall, recall, recall, Total Recall (1990).

Niamh Creely

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
118 mins
Total Recall is released on 29th August 2012

Total Recall – Official Website

Click here for an interview with the director of Total Recall, Len Wiseman

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Cinema Review: Rock of Ages

I heard the Cruise today, oh boy

 

DIR: Adam Shankman  WRI: Allan Loeb, Justin Theroux  PRO: Adam Shankman, Tobey Maguire, Matt Weaver  DOP: Bojan Bazelli  ED: Emma Hickox  DES: Jon Hutman  Cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russel Brand, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Musicals are the epitome of cinematic marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Rock of Ages is no different. The film tells the story of Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) and their romance during the ‘hair metal’ era of 1980s Los Angeles. Sherrie and Diego work at the Bourbon Room. The owners, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand) are about to put on the final concert of Arsenal, a heavy metal band that’s fronted by a mercurial singer, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). It’s here that Drew gets his big break and begins the story of the film. Concurrent to this, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston – who play a mayoral couple looking to wipe heavy metal from the streets of Los Angeles – are plotting to shut down the Bourbon Room and run them out of business.

As mentioned earlier, musicals are either in your taste or they aren’t. It’s very difficult for someone that has a passing interest in the genre to watch this film, given that they break into song every five seconds. Rock of Ages is a cheesy romp and it makes no excuses for it. Most of the songs are based in that era, including Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar (On Me)’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Dead Or Alive’ as well as some originals, too. It’s clear from watching the film that the cast were thoroughly enjoying their time on screen. Tom Cruise’s singing voice is surprisingly good and Russell Brand is playing a role he’s lived for the past thirty-odd years.

 

The young couple at the centre of the film are schmaltzy and corny beyond belief. However, the film itself is not to be taken seriously therefore this can be easily forgiven. Adam Shankman’s direction is straight-forward and to the point. Having worked on musicals prior to this, Hairspray being one of them, it’s clear he has a talent for the genre and it’s evident throughout. The plot and screenplay are all very much rudimentary and simply serve to bridge the huge musical set-pieces together. The film is very much a faithful adaptation of the musical and fans of it will not be disappointed. Rock of Ages is enjoyable and a tongue-in-cheek ode to a musical fad that’s best left in the history books. If musicals work no charm on you, however, you’ll find Rock of Ages a grating experience.

Brian Lloyd

 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Rock of Ages is released on 15th June 2012

Rock of Ages – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USxhXb5VC5E

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Cinema Review: Drive – Film of the Week

You can't go on Thinking nothing's wrong Who's gonna drive you home tonight

DIR: Nicolas Winding Refn • WRI: Hossein Amini • PRO: Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Matthew Newman • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

Let’s get the pleasantries out of the way, Drive is one of the best movies of 2011. There, that should be all you need to know. But if you’re a particular stickler for knowing what a film is about before going to see it, here you go: Ryan Gosling is the nameless, borderline mute who is a movie stunt-driver by day and getaway driver by night. He falls for his neighbour Carey Mulligan, right before her boyfriend is released from prison, and the guy is barely out five minutes before being blackmailed to do One Last Job (copyright every crime movie ever). Gosling offers to help out, but of course Things Go Very Wrong (copyright every movie with One Last Job), and before you know it, Gosling has found himself in the middle of a gangster turf war.

Gosling is absolutely amazing in his role, doing a lot with very little. He doesn’t say a word in the movie’s insanely tense opening getaway, but everything you need to know is right there in his actions. Mulligan brings a real sense of fragility to her part, and her scenes with Gosling are brilliantly subtle and uniquely romantic. There is also some brilliant supporting work on display by Bryan Cranston as Gosling’s boss/only real friend, along with Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as the femme fatale, the bad guy and the REALLY bad guy, respectively.

The whole movie is tied together perfectly by director Nicolas Winding Refn’s razor sharp application of spot on cinematography, editing and soundtrack. The quiet, blossoming moments of burgeoning romance are sharply interjected by scenes of shockingly explicit violence, but these shifts in tone don’t jar in the slightest, instead fuelling the uniquely compelling aspects of this immensely entertaining masterpiece. A must-see for any fan of modern cinema.

Rory Cashin

Rated 18 (seeIFCO websitefor details)

Drive is released on 23rd September 2011

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAc23x2JJG0


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