Trumbo: A Review

Trumbo, a recreation of the most shameful period of American history to date and the force that was Dalton Trumbo who defied the blacklist could and should win best picture this year. Starring Bryan Cranston, who should already be making space for an Oscar, Diane Lane and John Goodman, directed by Jay Roach, this docudrama/biopic is a film that is nigh on impossible to not love.

Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper and Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo, a recreation of the most shameful period of American history to date and a depiction of the force that was Dalton Trumbo who defied the blacklist could and should win Best Picture for 2015.  Starring Bryan Cranston, who should already be making space for an Oscar, Diane Lane and John Goodman and directed by Jay Roach, this docudrama/biopic is a film that is impossible not to love.

Entertaining, funny, heartbreaking and thought provoking, Trumbo gets so  much right and this compensates for the few items that could be seen as wrong. The film looks sumptuous, rich and full of detail, from Dalton’s library to the tools of his trade, everything  looks spot on and beautiful. The things that do not work as well irk  but some things cannot be faithfully recreated.

A perfect example  of this is in the area of casting.  As the main  “protagonist”  Cranston’s casting of Dalton Trumbo is serendipity in its purest form, the man is Trumbo.  All of the actors chosen to play the “main roles”  fit their characters like tailored kid-gloves.  Diane Lane, for example,  who can play any part with a skill that many hope for and spend a lifetime trying to achieve but fall that bit short, becomes Cleo Trumbo almost effortlessly.

Elle Fanning, little sis to Dakota, as Trumbo’s teen daughter is perfect. Fanning is well on the path to outshining  her wunderkind older sister and her performance in this film proves that the Fanning girls definitely got more than their fair share of the talent gene.

Helen Mirren, drops the accent to portray Hedda Harper as a vicious and malicious shrew.  Best actress should be hers automatically.  Sadly, Lane and Fanning are also up for the gong and this three way race will definitely end in tears for someone.

John Goodman, along side Stephen Root who plays Hymie, portrays the outspoken ‘B’ filmmaker Frank King. Goodman’s King may just have the best comic line in the entire film. When chasing out a representative of the “opposition” Frank states that he makes films “for the p*ssy and the money, both of which are falling out of the trees,” One of those moments that if this was not what Frank really said, it should have been.

The true star of this film, however, is Cranston. He brings the legend that was Dalton Trumbo to life. Whether sitting in his bathtub telling Nikki off for disturbing him or attempting to survive in prison, the actor lends a realism to the Oscar winning writer who was blacklisted by a combination of well meaning patriots and vicious politicians with hidden agendas.  Although Hedda Hopper cannot be said to be either.  This vitriolic and strident gossip columnist could well be the template that some modern  writers strive to follow. (Ann Coulter for instance?)

The music, sets, cinematography and costumes in this film all combine to bring a breath of truth to the proceedings. Just as the mix of news reel footage of the time takes the viewer back to a most shameful time in the land  of the free so too do all these other elements bring the audience back to a different world.

There are things that have been “altered” or that annoy.  These few moments take nothing away from the film.  Part of the problem has to do with that ever present curse of biopic features that  deal with stars of yesteryear. Granted, finding a modern actor who could convincingly portray “Duke” Wayne, who had a life long love affair with America, would be difficult and it was.

The unenviable task fell to David James ElliottMichael Stuhlbarg was left to bring Edward G. Robinson to life, Dean O’Gorman was Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger was played by Christian Berkel. All the actors carried off their roles with varying degrees of success if one forgave that only O’Gorman came close to looking like the real performers the were meant to portray.

Cranston, as Trumbo, carries off the look and the sound of the legend and more importantly, the spirit of the man.  This film is a testament to the drive and tenacity of Trumbo as well as his overwhelming talent.

Director Jay Roach takes the John McNamara screenplay, adapted from Bruce Cook’s novel and breaths life into a time that many in the audience have only read about, if even that.  The communist witch hunts, lead later by McCarthy, got their start here in the land of dreams.

The stage was set by world events, as stated in the film’s introductory titles, making this, perhaps, an inevitability.  Roach captures the time and the feelings of a bygone era to great effect and come award time, Trumbo should sweep the gongs on offer.

This is easily the best film to come out this year, in the area of biopic/docudrama and features actors who all are well known for delivering first class performances. John Goodman, Alan Tudyk and Louis C.K. all give first rate portrayals. While Goodman is up for Best Supporting actor, he may be pipped at the post by Schulman’s vulnerable and touching performance as Edward G. Robinson, whom the committee forced to crawl and beg his way back to work. 

This is easily this critic’s favorite film, despite the bits that “do not fit exactly.”  Any biopic, especially one so long after the fact, will fictionalize, or alter certain time periods and facts, in order to make the story more entertaining and palatable.  Film, by the very nature of the medium, fictionalizes any “true story” or event. Trumbo is not exception, but it does not do so frivolously or senselessly, it alters for the over all good of the story.

Trumbo should be seen by all who have heard of Dalton Trumbo, the blacklist, Spartacus. Roman Holiday, Hedda Hopper or the Un-American Committee.  The film should also be seen by anyone who loves a hero, an intelligent and talented writer of creative works and Bryan Cranston.

This is a 5 star film and one that, thus far, falls into the category of favorite film of 2015. If you watch nothing else, watch this one and then when it garners praise at the award’s ceremonies later, you will not be surprised.

The Gambler: Mark Wahlberg Leaves Audience Dumbfounded and Depressed

The Gambler: Mark Wahlberg Leaves Audience Dumbfounded and Depressed

Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennett in this remake of the 1974 James Caan film The Gambler and as directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) this version leaves the audience dumbfounded, depressed and not a little confused. Like the original film, Wahlberg’s gambler is a academic figure, a professor who teaches literature at an unidentified Los Angeles college. Jim Bennett is a published author who has given up writing to teach it, or rather to discourage others from participating as writers.

The Artist (2011): Nouvea Old

I will freely admit that I am not completely up on recent ‘silent films‘ or even silent films that are also in “Black and White.” The last modern silent film that I watched was Mel Brooks‘ 1976 Silent Movie. Now Mel didn’t opt to film his silent comedy in back and white (he’d done that already in his 1974 Young Frankenstein).

Interestingly Young Frankenstein was actually shot entirely on black and white film stock, which was still available in 1974. By the time that The Artist hit our screens in 2011, it had to be shot in colour first and then presented in ‘black and white’ although purists will argue that the film was actually presented in Sepia as Black and White is actually crisper.

Written and directed by Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist stars  Jean DujardinBérénice BejoJohn GoodmanJames CromwellPenelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle.

Despite this being a star heavy vehicle, be rest assured that the film belongs solidly to Dujardin and Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius). Shot for 15 million dollars the film has grossed ,to date, over 133 million at the box office.

Français : Jean Dujardin au festival de Cannes

The story of The Artist is an old one. George Valentin ( Jean Dujardin) is a huge star. In the silent cinema world depicted in the film he is a cross between Douglas Fairbanks, Charley Chaplin and William Powell (as Nick Charles in the Thin Man series).

That actor  Dujardin is a more than capable actor can be evidenced by his winning the Best Actor Award in Hollywood for his work in the film.  A film that, incidentally, he only ever ‘says’ two words in and that’s at the end of the movie.

It is during a premier of his latest film that Valentin ‘bumps’ into young aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the publicity that arises from that chance occurrence helps Peppy get her career started.

As her star rises, Valentin’s is on a downward spiral after studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) tells George that ‘sound will be the next big thing’ and that the studios are going to pursue it. Valentin lets Zimmer know that there is no way that he will be working in ‘talkie’s.’ He leaves the studio and prepares his next film which will be a silent.

Français : Berenice Bejo au festival de Cannes

Just as his film is to premier, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 causes George to go bankrupt. In the meantime, Peppy’s career is going from strength to strength. I adored the look of the film and it’s faux black and white cinematography is crisp and luscious. The film ‘felt’ like the old silent films and it helped to sell the story.

But in the film just before George starts production on his first silent movie, he is sitting in front of his dressing table. He takes a sip from his glass and when he sets it down it makes a noise. He is stunned.

In George’s world there is no sound. As the sounds begin to creep in on his world, George tries to speak but nothing comes out. George panics and begins silently screaming for help. He runs outside where silence controls the world. A large feather floats down through the air and as it hits the ground a huge banging is heard. George’s eyes immediately open. he has been dreaming.

This for me was when the film surpassed being clever, well written and well acted. This moment in the film elevated it into sheer genius. It is no wonder that it received so many nominations and won so many awards.

I am not sure how it would have faired at the cinema. Audiences today are not used to actually having to ‘watch’ a film. It could be argued that they don’t even really ‘listen’ to them. With the wide spread use of soundtracks that are so loud that they drown out the actors, I can only assume that it is the explosions, gunfire and screams of the dying that tell the average movie goer where they are at in the film.

Despite the obvious success of the film upon release (just look at the box office returns) it worked better for me on the DVD player at. I could set in the privacy of my own home and listen to the ‘dramatic’ mood music provided and get really carried away in the story.

Excellently written, acted and filmed, this is one film that, if you missed it at the cinema, you’ll shoot yourself if you miss the maiden DVD run.

This film is entertainment with a capital E. Please don’t miss it.