Review: Trumbo

thumbnail_22861

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

Share

Maleficent

Maleficent-Dream-Trailer-2014

DIR: Robert Stromberg • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Joe Roth, Scott Murray • ED: Dylan Cole, Gary Freeman • DOP. Dean Semler • DES: Chris Lebenzon, Richard Pearson • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Reilly, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

‘Star power’ is a curious thing these days, selling more gossip magazines than movie tickets. In an era when franchises, reboots, prequels, sequels and spin-offs dominate the box office, established characters are more important than established actors in producing a hit. While Maleficent seems consistent with this trend at first, retelling the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty with the antagonistic dark fairy as protagonist, the film’s marketing tells another story. ‘Angelina Jolie is Maleficent’ scream the teaser trailers, with posters, banner pop-ups and bus panels solely focused on her name and darkly-horned, chiselled white head. Jolie, whose biggest role in recent years has been a voice in the Kung Fu Panda movies, could not make a more visible return to the big screen than as Maleficent, a larger-than-life presence with an iconic costume and an unmatched capacity for throwing shade.

Taking obvious cues from Wicked, with a nod to Snow White and the Huntsman and marching to the same beat as the phenomenal Frozen, Disney’s Maleficent capitalises on a desire for alternate perspectives on well-known stories, as well as a concurrent trend for difficult, anti-heroic protagonists whose chaotic evil ultimately restores the balance of a difficult world. The film opens with a young, spirited Maleficent ruling over an enchanted moor, the idyllic home of many a magical creature. When invading forces from a nearby kingdom threaten the harmony of her land, Maleficent’s forceful retaliation ultimately results in a devastating betrayal, triggering the chain of events familiar to audiences from Sleeping Beauty. The film recasts the evil spell cast on Princess Aurora (Fanning) as an act of revenge by Maleficent against the king (Copley), and follows the aftermath of this curse on Maleficent herself, the princess and her three fairy guardians (Staunton, Manville, Temple), and the princess’ father, King Stefan.

Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg, better known for his Oscar-winning work in visual effects and production design – his talents neither wasted nor unnoticed in how beautifully-rendered, shot and designed Maleficent is throughout. The world of the film, from the colourful, lively moor of Maleficent’s childhood to the grey, thorny forest after Stefan’s betrayal, is well-realised, and simpler moments like the ‘True Love’s Kiss’ are as quiet and visually simple as the battles or Maleficent’s spell-casting are over-the-top. Maleficent’s reveal at the christening, as well as her later appearance to Aurora in the forest, are glitteringly gothic and breathtakingly lovely, emphasised by Jolie’s cool performance and dangerous, velvety tones.

Jolie is pitch-perfect, in every wicked smile, agonised scream, and expression of concern, ranging from dispassionate to urgently needful. Her glowering at the adorable baby Aurora and later curt dismissal of her affection are highlights, with the growing affection she feels towards the child subtly progressed and played, even if it is loosely-motivated by the script. The film plays with her image too, with Jolie’s ground-sweeping gown inexplicably transformed into a catsuit by the time the action scenes roll around; and a curious line about how the man who loves her is willing to cast off the ring he wears just to hold her hand is interesting in the light of how she met her current beau.

Elsewhere, Elle Fanning is cheerful, bubbly and pretty, perfect for a princess, if rather vacant – the fairies wished for her to be beautiful and happy, but couldn’t they have wished for a personality, too? Speaking of the fairies, even if all three were combined into one fairy character, she’d still have little to do, but Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple  regardless do their best to be funny and charming. Sam Reilly as Maleficent’s shape-shifting minion, Dioval, is quietly impressive, while Sharlto Copley as Stefan (with, for some reason, a Scottish accent replacing his native South African tones) makes for an enjoyable villain. Not quite as deranged as his last bad-guy role in Elysium, Copley’s paranoia and blinkered bloodlust is convincing, if never very well-developed.

Credited to Linda Woolverton, with ten ‘based on’ credits from other sources, the greatest issue is the rather weak script. An inconsistency within the tone, structure, even the language used suggests either a great deal of revision or poor attention to detail.  Many threads feel unfinished or disorganised – the third fairy never grants Aurora a wish (no excuse for that lack of personality I joked about above); The fairies are sometimes interchangeably referred to as ‘pixies;’ and the motivation behind several key moments appears to serve the visuals rather than the plot. Most bafflingly, the final battle between Maleficent, Dioval and the King’s men takes place at an utterly needless time, when what they are fighting for is no longer really an issue, except the film needs an impressive climactic set-piece, and nobody pays to see peace in 3D.

Rather like Frozen, the ending of Maleficent contains a welcome, well-intentioned appeal to female solidarity and sorority, which is just grounded enough in the world of the film to succeed where other plot points fail to take hold. Even if the structure and focus of this film and its characters are easily confused or sacrificed to the visual splendour of its production, its premise and performances are strong, the lead performance particularly transcendental: Jolie really is magnificent as the malevolent Maleficent.

Stacy Grouden

PG (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Maleficent is released on 28th May 2014

Maleficent – Official Website

 

Share

Cinema Review: Ginger & Rosa

DIR: Sally Potter • PRO: Andrew Litvin, Christopher Sheppard • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Anders Refn • DES: Carlos Conti • CAST:  Christina Hendricks, Elle Fanning, Annette Bening, Alessandro Nivola

In perhaps the most excessive metaphor in cinema this year, the threat of nuclear holocaust has been used to represent the disintegration of a lifelong friendship between two teenage girls. While losing a close friend can seem like the end of the world at such a difficult age, it may be deemed over the top to stress it quite so much as Ginger & Rosa does.

Around the same time as the bombing of Hiroshima, the mothers of the titular teens bond as they go into simultaneous labours in a London hospital. Their girls naturally grow up the best of friends. Ginger (Elle Fanning, red-haired and just about English) is intelligent but angsty; Rosa (newcomer Alice Englert) is self-serving and over-confident. Together they blow off school to meet boys, attend anti-bomb protests and discuss religion and their place in the world. As Rosa develops faster as a young woman, Ginger develops more intellectually, encouraged by her lefty academic dad – the girls soon find themselves drifting far apart.

Sally Potter, the visually talented director of Orlando, has written a simple drama that struggles to fill its 90-minute running time. The first half of the film is pleasantly padded with Ginger and Rosa’s expeditions; kissing boys at bus stops, hitching lifts with dangerous strangers, trying out new fashions of the ’60s. But once the girls, particularly Ginger, become involved in the anti-nuclear movement the film slows down dramatically, and becomes a repetitive slog on its journey towards the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ginger’s panic and terror at the potential apocalypse, and fear of facing it without her increasingly distant friend, are not enough to hang half a film on. The subplot of the end of her parents’ marriage also resolves itself more-or-less halfway through – there’s a terrific short film in here somewhere, but it’s hardly feature material.

So while it’s finely made, Ginger & Rosa is anything but a satisfying film. A little into the second half a betrayal occurs so enormous that it is simply preposterous that these two ‘friends’  would ever speak to one another again. No amount of brave faces put on by the characters can change how awkward and implausible the story becomes. Ginger’s increasing despondency at all aspects of her life and the world she lives in become almost too much to take; you don’t know if you want to hold her or give her a good shaking!

Fanning gives an affecting performance, and is interestingly playing a character two or three years her senior, and believably so. Her natural sweetness makes the pain she suffers hard to bear, and she evokes the idealism of the era with wide-eyed wonder and tear-stained cheeks. Englert meanwhile captures the contradiction of a teenager who is simultaneously woman and child, wielding a newfound sexuality that is as confusing to everyone around her as it is to herself. As Ginger’s father, Alessandro Nivola (another American actor) does his best to humanise a decidedly despicable role, but it’s too much for him – he remains a self-righteous womaniser who only takes pride in his daughter when she says things he believes in. As distracting as her physics-defying cleavage is, is Christina Hendricks’s godawful attempt at an English accent. The Mad Men star is more than able to hold her own as Ginger’s beleaguered mother, but her strained attempts at capturing English vowel sounds take away from an otherwise fine performance. Elsewhere, Tim Spall and Oliver Platt are adorable as Ginger’s gay godfathers. Annette Bening also shows up.

Potter and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan (who shot last year’s Wuthering Heights) have captured a natural-looking recreation of early-’60s London, and a penchant for close-ups helps sell the performances of the actors even as the drama dwindles. The production design team deserve special praise for selling the era so well.

But despite all the craft that has gone into this film, there is no escaping the fact that there is not enough story to keep it buoyant, and what story there is is little new. Very little is resolved at the end, and a poem read by Fanning in voiceover is not enough to bring you out of the movie feeling you experienced anything more than a pretty, meandering dream of a fascinating time, slightly dumbed down.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
89 mins

Ginger & Rosa is released on 19th October 2012

Ginger & Rosa –  Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GekB_GI8Sis

Share

Cinema Review: We Bought A Zoo

Actors in A Zoo

DIR: Cameron Crowe  WRI: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna  PRO:
Cameron Crowe, Marc Gordon, Julie Yorn  DOP: Rodrigo Prieto  ED: Mark
Livolsi  DES: Clay A. Griffith Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson,
Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning

More than six years on from his previous feature length effort, the
thoroughly underwhelming Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe returns to the
silver screen with We Bought A Zoo, based on a book of the same name
by Benjamin Mee, played in the film by the ubiquitous Matt Damon (who,
like Crowe, has an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay to his name).

Having first come to people’s attention with his screenplay for Amy
Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Crowe went on to become the
critically acclaimed auteur of films like Say Anything (which helped
to launch the A-list credentials of John Cusack), Jerry Maguire and
Almost Famous, which displayed not only his great abilities as a
storyteller, but also his great taste in music, which he developed
during his time as a writer with the iconic Rolling Stone magazine.

This has been the consistent through line in all his films, as even
Elizabethtown (a critical and commerical failure) featured the likes
of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Simple Minds and James Brown on its
soundtrack.

The same is true of We Bought A Zoo, as the spirits of Petty and Bob
Dylan are evoked to tell the story of a widower (Damon’s Benjamin
Mee), who buys a house in Southern California in the hope of escaping
the painful memories of his late wife, only to discover that it is on
the sight of a delapidated zoo.

This is met with by the approval of his daughter, Rosie (Maggie
Elizabeth Jones), but the outright disapproval of his 14-year-old son,
Dylan (Colin Ford), who does not meet the prospect of living in a zoo
with much enthusiasm.

With the helping hands of Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church and
Patrick Fugit (the protagonist from Almost Famous), Damon has to
renovate the zoo within a tight timeframe, whilst trying to keep his
still grieving family on side.

Given the premise of the film, We Bought A Zoo does have the potential
to return Crowe to the heady days of Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous,
but also has the potential to recall the yuck factor of the
aforementioned Elizabethtown.

Certainly there are elements of the film that are somewhat grating,
the characterisation of the young son does come across as overly
stereotypical for instance, and at 124 minutes the film is much longer
that it needs to be. It also suffers from the fact that there isn’t
any real stand-out moment in the film, and there isn’t anything held
within to match the mini-bus sing-a-long in Almost Famous, or John
Cusack’s Boom Box moment from Say Anything.

However, the film does possess a certain charm, thanks largely to Matt
Damon, who has quietly turned into one of the most consistent and
reliable actors currently working in Hollywood. He gives a winning
performance as Mee, a real-life writer who went through many of the
trials and tribulations seen on screen, and he is given solid support
by the ever-excellent Haden Church and Johansson, who makes for a more
believable zookeeper than one would intially imagine.

Credit must also go to rising star Elle Fanning, who makes the very
most of a rather thankless role. Ultimately, We Bought A Zoo won’t be
too everyone’s taste, and will probably still come as something of a
disappointment to Crowe fans, but it certainly does have its merits,
and in the shape of Matt Damon, it has an actor who has invested his
character with real emotion and real heart.

Daire Walsh

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
We Bought A Zoo is released on 16th March 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STXvAhrVP0U

Share

Strange trailer for Coppola's latest film Twixt

Starring Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning, possibly the best word to describe Coppola’s latest offering is ‘odd’. The trailer seems to switch between Twilight-esque visuals and a straight-to-DVD digital look. Disconcerting and yet at the same time, intriguing…

Twixt Trailer

Equally disconcerting is recalling Top Gun‘s Iceman versus the current Val Kilmer. 1986 suddenly feels like a long time ago…

 

Share

Somewhere

Somewhere

DIR/WRI: Sofia Coppola • PRO: G. Mac Brown, Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Jordan Stone • DOP: Harris Savides • ED: Sarah Flack • DES: Anne Ross • CAST: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius

In Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a fading Hollywood stud who resides at the Chateau Marmont – a plush hotel room that provides for his every whim, which mostly consists of pole-swinging amoebic automatons and depressing gatherings of over-oxygenated, partygoing Vogue zombies. Naturally Marco needs to learn that there’s more to life than the mundane excess of the beautiful, privileged people.

His anxious and depressed celebrity must come to terms with the illusion of self that his life in the Hollywood fast lane has bequeathed him. His illness of body, mind and soul comes to a head when he spends the weekend with his daughter.

Marco’s mawkish stab at redemption through his daughter is a narrative blow-out due to the fact that at no point is there an emotional investment to be had in Dorff’s character, if indeed he’s a character at all. Coppola never plays it straight. She eschews character and plot and avoids any predictable loose canon-father-learns-lesson-from-young-child Hollywood fare. There’s no clash of generations here, no tears or learning curve leading to understanding. But it’s all a bit too austere and the film’s distant insularity will produce feelings of apathy in many spectators.

The low-key nature of the film proves itself to be excruciating and its focus on the meandering existence of the privileged is a form of water torture. Imagine Coppola tapping you continuously on the forehead with her silver spoon while showing you photos of her childhood.

It’s obvious that the monotony of the film is that of Marco’s life. Coppola’s idiosyncrasies are focused on tedium, repetition, motionless shots and inconclusive vacillations and her style matches the film’s substance. Coppola’s ode to privileged angst is all a bit too banal and self-referential. There’s no denying Coppola’s sensual appreciation of image and she knows when the camera is doing a good job. But with Somewhere it all comes across a bit too hollow.

In the end Somewhere is a tedious construction of unremarkable, self-indulgent indifference and struggles to rise above the ennui its central character wrestles with. I for one don’t particularly revel in the company of an emotionally crippled, spoilt celebrity in the midst of an existential crisis.

Now where’s my popcorn. Oh! There it is – in my naval.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (seeIFCO websitefor details)

Somewhere is released 13th Dec 2010

Somewhere – Official Website

Share