Kong: Skull Island


Kong goes ape!

(2017) Adventure (Warner Brothers/Legendary) Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell, Tian Jing, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Will Brittain, Miyavi, Richard Jenkins, Allyn Rachel, Robert Taylor, Thomas Middleditch (voice), Beth Kennedy. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

 

Some monsters capture the imagination like no other. So it has been with Kong, the giant ape who since his first appearance in 1933 has been a mainstay in cinematic lore. There have been three American remakes of the original; in 1976, 2005 and now.

It is 1973 and the United States is withdrawing its troops from Vietnam. That doesn’t sit so well with Major Preston Packard (Jackson). However, before he and his boys can return home he is given a new assignment to accompany a scientific team to a remote island near Southeast Asia.

The scientists are led by Dr. Bill Randa (Goodman) whose Hollow Earth theories have been largely discredited and who is ostensibly researching seismic activity on the island but unknown to the soldiers that are accompanying him, as well as former SAS tracker James Conrad (Hiddleston) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Larson), an anti-war activist who smells a big story. Is she ever right!

Their helicopter fleet is smashed to pieces by a gigantic ape 100 feet tall. The survivors are separated and try to make their way to a rendezvous point with their ship on the north shore of the island. The military men are trying to hunt down other survivors while Major Packard seethes; he wants to take out the ape that decimated his men. The civilians find their way to a human settlement where they find a surprising discovery; an aviator named Hank Marlow (Reilly) who has been stranded on the island since World War II.

Their job is to find a way off the island but it is far more perilous than just a single giant ape. There are other gigantic creatures (water buffalo, for example, and Daddy Long Leg spiders with legs as long as tree trunks. Worse, there are reptilian creatures that have ascended from the depths of the Earth and are only held back from mass destruction by Kong, who kills the bad boys on sight. And just between you and me I’d rather have Kong on my side than against.

I will give Vogt-Roberts credit; he knows how to keep the action going. This is definitely a roller coaster ride of a movie. But as roller coasters go, this one is a bit tamer than I expected. Peter Jackson’s 2005 magnum opus has nightmarish critters that range from dinosaurs to gigantic insects to things that have never existed and thank God for that. There are some creatures here (a giant octopus for example) but none really have the creepy factor that Jackson’s movie had and even the Big Bads – the Skullcrawlers as Marlow dubs them – are not as nightmare-inducing as they could be.

Hiddleston has paid his dues in a number of supporting roles and is more than ready to take on a heroic lead, but for some reason his performance here feels muted. I know he has tons of screen presence – I’ve seen it and not just in the Marvel appearances as Loki – but he doesn’t have much here. It’s sad too because I think this was a good role for him. Faring better is Reilly who damn near steals the movie as Marlow, who isn’t always sure if he’s thinking or speaking with often hilarious results. He’s one of the best reasons to see this movie.

Like all the Kong movies before it this is a boy’s club with a token woman to tame the beast, although that really doesn’t happen here. This is also set entirely on Skull Island; Kong doesn’t go to New York or anywhere else. Larsen is an actress whose stock is on the rise, but her role seems like nobody really knew what to do with her. Mason Weaver is no damsel in distress and that’s a good thing for women everywhere, but part of the Kong mythos requires one and the movie feels lacking without one.

A movie with a budget of $190 million dollars should not leave the viewers feeling meh but that’s what this one did for me. Maybe I expected more out of a Kong movie than just a slambang action film; it needed to have an epic feel to it and to my mind that’s just what it lacked. All three of the preceding Kong movies had it but I suppose sooner or later that streak would have to come to an end. Given that this is part of a new Monsterverse that started with the Godzilla reboot of a couple of years ago and will include some of the most well-known giant monsters from Japan and the United States, you would think that more care would be taken to keep this franchise viable. I hope they can bring back that larger than life feeling again; what good are giant monsters without it?

REASONS TO GO: Some of the monsters are spectacular. Reilly just about steals the film.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie plods a bit in the middle. It’s not as exciting as other giant monster films.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and some pretty scary monsters; there’s also some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The appearance of Kong (the shape of his face and so on) was based on the look of the original 1933 Kong.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Journey to the Center of the Earth
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Exodus

New Releases for the Week of March 10, 2017


KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(Warner Brothers/Legendary) Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell, Tian Jing, Shea Whigham. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

An expedition made up of a team of scientists, soldiers and explorers go to a previously uncharted and unmapped island in the Pacific and find a world of nightmares. Hostile locals aren’t even the half of it; the island is infested with ferocious creatures that are so much further up the food chain than human beings that we might as well be lambs for the slaughter. The island is rules by Kong, a gigantic ape whose existence has ever only been legend. Now, the team – stranded on the island – has no choice but to rely on all their skills to make it home with the proof that the legend exists, or die trying.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, promos, B-Roll video and Premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language)

Badrinath Ki Dulhania

(Fox Star) Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Gauhar Khan, Shweta Prasad. Two young people growing up in neighboring small towns seem to be polar opposites. Everything he believes in, she believes in the opposite. Even though they both recognize the good hearts in the other, their ideologies might just get in the way of a perfectly good romance.

See the trailer and music videos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

I Am Not Your Negro

(Magnolia) Samuel L. Jackson (narrator), James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. When James Baldwin passed away in 1987 left unfinished was a manuscript for a book that examined the murders of three of his closest friends – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Director Raoul Peck has created a documentary using Baldwin’s still-timely prose and archival footage to remind us that the progress we have made in racial relations is not really as much as we thought.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity)

The Ottoman Lieutenant

(Paladin) Michael Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley. A plucky American nurse is charmed by a doctor working at a charitable hospital in one of Armenia’s most desolate areas. As it is 1919 and war is brewing not only in Europe but in the Ottoman Empire as well (as Turkey and Armenia were then called) her resolve to bring medical supplies and a much-needed truck into a dangerous place leads her into contact with a dashing young lieutenant in the Ottoman army – and a romantic triangle that threatens to explode even as war does.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some war violence)

Patriots Day


These cops have no idea what's coming.

These cops have no idea what’s coming.

(2016) True Life Drama (CBS) Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michele Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Christopher O’Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Lana Condor, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Martine Asaf, Michael Beach, Khandi Alexander, Cliff Moylan, Claudia Castriotta, James Colby, Billy Smith, Paige MacLean. Directed by Peter Berg

 

In many ways, our worth is determined by how our resolve is tested. It is at our worst moments when the best in us is drawn out. When the city of Boston was faced with an attack on their very identity, they showed the world more than extraordinary strength; they were Boston strong.

Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is not having a good day. He’s a gifted police officer who also has a gift for opening his mouth at the wrong moment. He has one more punishment duty to deal with – working as a uniformed officer at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. That also means putting on the yellow reflective vest which he thinks makes him look silly. His wife Carol (Monaghan) thinks it looks cute. To top it all off, Tommy’s knee is aching after kicking in a drug dealer’s door the night before and he forgets his brace at home; he asks Carol to bring it down to the finish line for him.

But Tommy’s day is about to get worse. Two Chechnyan brothers, Douchebag #1 (Melikidze) and Douchebag #2 (Wolff) have plans of their own. They plant two homemade bombs among the throngs watching the race at the finish line. After they stroll away, lost in the crowd, the bombs detonate, killing three people (including a child) and wounding scores. All is mayhem at the finish line.

Tommy takes charge, getting ambulances routed in and telling race officials to keep runners away. Medical personnel – some of them ex-military who knew what to do with wounds of this nature – respond immediately. Tommy’s boss, Commissioner Ed Davis (Goodman) takes charge as the FBI, in the person of Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Bacon) who takes immediate charge once he recognizes this was an act of terrorism.

But finding the bombers is like finding a needle in a haystack. Even with all the cameras trained on the event, not many were pointed at the crowd. With Tommy’s help knowing the area as well as he does, the authorities begin to close in on the perpetrators of this vile act but it will take the largest manhunt in U.S. history to catch these guys.

I was really glad I saw the documentary on the Marathon bombing (see below) the night before I saw this movie, mainly because I was able to see how close to the actual events the movie came. While the documentary focused on the victims and their recovery, this movie has more focus on the manhunt and those participating in it.

One of those participating in it is Saunders and while Wahlberg does a great job of developing his character, one of the big problems is that Saunders is wholly fictional. We soon realize that because he appears at nearly every major plot point in the film which after awhile takes me as a viewer out of the realism of the movie because other than that the movie is extremely realistic which is an impressive accomplishment for a Hollywood film.

The recreation of the bombing itself is impressive; Berg masterfully works in actual camera footage of the blast along with staged re-creations of it. Berg repeats this at various portions of the film. The Patriots Day bombing was one of the most documented incidents in history and there is a lot of footage available, some of it wildly seen, some of it not so much. Still, we get a good glimpse of the various stages of the manhunt, from the bombing itself to the capture of Douchebag #1 and Douchebag #2.

If you’re wondering why I don’t use the names of the two bombers, it’s because I don’t want history to remember them. If I could, I’d expunge their names from every document, from every post – from everywhere. People like this should be erased from history. They don’t deserve to be remembered.

On the other hand, the good people of Boston – the survivors of the bombing, the law enforcement personnel who chased and caught those miserable scumbags, the medics and surgeons who worked tirelessly on healing the wounded, even those who came out in support of Boston. There has been some grousing that this was made too soon after the bombing – only three years had passed when this was released. I probably am not someone who can judge this properly; I would leave that to the citizens of Boston, particularly those affected by the tragedy. However, this is certainly a movie that honors and respects the victims and those who fought to bring the douchebags to justice so all in all, I don’t think anyone can complain overly much about that.

REASONS TO GO: The film is surprisingly accurate. Strong performances throughout the cast buoy the film.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a loss of credibility by having Wahlberg play a fictional character.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and graphic images of injuries, some drug use and profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third collaboration between Berg and Wahlberg that was based on a true story; the other two are Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Decanted: A Winemaker’s Journey

New Releases for the Week of January 13, 2017


Patriot's DayPATRIOT’S DAY

(CBS) Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michele Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Paige MacLean, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea. Directed by Peter Berg

A watershed mark for our nation over the past few years is the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Not only did it galvanize a city but an entire nation learned the meaning of the term “Boston strong.” This movie takes a look at the event from the viewpoint of first responders, survivors and those who investigated the crime and relentlessly pursued the bombers, this is a look at an unspeakable act that led to unmistakable courage.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use)

The Bye Bye Man

(STX) Carrie-Ann Moss, Faye Dunaway, Douglas Smith, Doug Jones. Don’t imagine him. Don’t even think about him. Whatever you do, don’t you dare mention his name. Otherwise, the Bye Bye Man will get inside you and force you to commit terrible acts of pure evil. Three college friends are about to find out that there is never any escape from the Bye Bye Man.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, language and some sexuality)

The Crash

(Vertigo) Frank Grillo, Minnie Driver, AnnaSophia Robb, Dianna Agron. In the near future, the United States is under attack by cyber-terrorists who want to bring our economy to its knees. In desperation, the federal government enlists the aid of white collar criminals to stop the hack and take down the terrorists – before our nation comes to a grinding halt.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some language)

Elle

(Sony Classics) Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling. The ruthless head of a French video game company is sexually assaulted in her home. Not willing to take this  lying down, she relentlessly chases after her rapist and in so doing gets involved in a game of cat and mouse which threatens to spiral out of control.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language)

Live by Night

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller. A veteran of World War I becomes a self-proclaimed outlaw although one who really isn’t cut out for the bootlegger’s life – he’s far too good-hearted, a trait that can lead to serious difficulties with some of the more amoral elements of that element. Driven to get revenge for the wrongs against him, he travels from the cold winters of Boston to the warm tropics of Tampa with a plan to make right those wrongs.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity)

Monster Trucks

(Paramount) Lucas Till, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan. A young man is desperate to escape the small town and boring life he’s been born into and it seems likely doomed to remain in. His plan is to build himself a monster truck, become a champion driver, and leave his dust speck of a town in his rearview. What he doesn’t count on is the alien presence that invades his truck and gives it a life of his own. Now he is certain to get out of town; but if someone finds out his secret, it’s likely he’s going to spend the rest of his life in a secret government base! Which might be just a little bit of an improvement…

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action, peril, brief scary images and some rude humor)

Silence

(Paramount) Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds. The latest from director Martin Scorsese concerns a pair of Christian missionaries who undertake a dangerous mission to feudal Japan. They go there in search of their mentor, who disappeared after renouncing the faith, something both men believe he would never do. They enter a country and culture both mysterious and beautiful – and deadly in that their faith is outlawed and they could be killed on sight.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some disturbing violent content)

Sleepless

(Open Road) Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Gabrielle Union, Dermot Mulroney. A corrupt Vegas undercover cop finds the stakes just a little bit higher after a heist gone wrong puts a vicious gang of mobsters after him. When they kidnap his son, he realizes they have no intention of letting his boy go. He’ll have to resort to every dirty trick there is, call on every favor and be just a little bit meaner than those who have his boy if they are both to survive the night.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong language and language throughout)

10 Cloverfield Lane


Mary Elizabeth Winstead goes for a late night snack in the larder.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead goes for a late night snack in the larder.

(2016) Thriller/Horror (Paramount) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper (voice), Sumalee Montano (voice), Frank Mottek (voice), Jamie Clay, Mat Vairo, Cindy Hogan. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

 

Some things are bad, like getting into a car accident. Some things are worse, like waking up from a car accident chained to a wall in a bunker with people you don’t recognize. Other things are unfathomable, like discovering that the reason you’re in a bunker is because there’s been an invasion that killed millions.

But that’s what happens to Michelle (Winstead) who discovers herself in precisely that situation. Her apparent benefactor is Frank (Goodman), a twitchy survivalist whose ham-fisted insistence on gratitude and civilized behavior indicates that the man beneath the façade may be truly a monster; then again, he may not be. Also in the bunker is Emmett (Gallagher) who is one of those guys who has a kindly heart but above the neck, not a lot going on.

You may have noticed the address referenced in the title and yes, there is a kind of connection with the hit found footage film Cloverfield but most of it doesn’t become apparent until the final ten minutes, unless one is sharp-eyed and intimately familiar with every facet of the film. There are little Easter eggs (Frank apparently worked at one time for the satellite manufacturing company that figured in the very end of Cloverfield) scattered about as well.

First-time director Trachtenberg shows a lot of big league confidence and skill as he brings up the tension level to about a 9. One never knows what’s going to set Frank off so the other characters are walking on eggshells around him and there is the nagging feeling that Frank isn’t telling the whole truth about the situation to either Michelle or Emmett (who knows a lot more about what’s going on than Michelle does). The effect is extremely unsettling.

Goodman is absolutely fantastic here; he can be a gigantic bear or a kitty cat when he wants to be  Here he’s like storm clouds rolling over the prairie, erupting into massive discharges of lightning and thunder without a moment’s notice. Goodman dominates the film from beginning to end and delivers a performance that emphasizes why he’s one of the best pros in Hollywood today. Winstead is no slouch either, an actress who in a just world would be a big star right now. She continues to hover around the edges and deliver outstanding performances but something tells me this won’t be the breakout she needs to take that next step.

The biggest problem here and the one that really explains the low rating is the movie’s last ten minutes. In attempt to be a mash-up, the movie veers from one genre – the taut claustrophobic thriller it has been all along – into something else entirely. You can pretty much guess where it goes based on the title of the movie, and the effect is jarring like taking an abrupt left turn off Broadway in New York and finding yourself in an alley in Kabul and feels like this part of the movie was tacked on in a hurry by studio suits wanting to take advantage of a brand name that might put butts in seats.

I’ve seen critics compare this movie to Room but it’s nothing like that – whereas the Oscar-nominated film focuses on people emerging from a small, cramped, locked room, this film focuses on the situation within that small, cramped, locked room. This is a thriller, not a drama – so beware of specious comparisons. Still, this is a solid if unspectacular thriller that doesn’t quite fit in the Cloverfield mold but is kind of forced into it by producers maybe out to keep the brand name alive or simply to make a buck; I’m not sure which but I would have preferred that they would have made the transition from one genre to the other a little more smoothly – or not at all.

REASONS TO GO: Goodman is a force of nature. Excellent tension built throughout.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending veers off into a strange turn. More of a slow burn than a rapid boil.
FAMILY VALUES: Thematic elements including some frightening sequences of threat and claustrophobic conditions, some occasional violence (some of it brutal) and brief foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bradley Cooper provides the voice of Michelle’s boyfriend Ben over the phone during the opening scenes of the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blast from the Past
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Admiral

New Releases for the Week of March 11, 2016


10 Cloverfield Lane10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

(Paramount) John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

After a car accident, a woman awakens in an underground bunker with a man who claims the outside world was destroyed in a nuclear war. Tensions build however as she begins to suspect that there’s something else going on outside. Not a direct sequel or prequel to Cloverfield but more of a blood cousin, according to creator J.J. Abrams.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language)

Brothers Grimsby

(Columbia) Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson. Two English orphan boys; one becomes the most skilled assassin in MI6, the other a football hooligan. Separated as young boys, the hooligan resolves to find his brother but when he finally does, he inadvertently botches a job putting the both of them in danger. On the run and hunted by friend and foe, the assassin realizes if he is to save the world – and himself – he is going to need the help of his idiot brother.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language and some drug use)

The Perfect Match

(CODEBLACK) Terrence Jenkins, Paula Patton, Kali Hawk, Brandy Norwood. A serial playboy, jaded and disillusioned about the permanence of relationships, takes a bet that he could stay with the same woman for one month without falling in love. However, the woman he falls for turns out to be the woman of his dreams. Will he choose love over money?

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexuality, some nudity, and language throughout)

The Wave

(Magnolia) Kristoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp, Fridtjov Såheim. A picturesque Norwegian village, nestled in a beautiful fjord and bolstered by a lucrative tourist trade, sits in the barrel of a shotgun; a shifting of tectonic plates and the mountain sitting at the other end of the barrel could unleash a cataclysmic wave with only ten minutes for the villagers and the tourists to reach high ground. But the Wave is only the beginning of the disaster.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Friday night only)
Rating: R (for some language and disaster images)

The Young Messiah

(Focus) Sean Bean, Sara Lazzaro, Adam Greaves-Neal, Christian McKay. The life of the boy Jesus Christ, little known and only speculated at, is examined here as a seven-year-old boy must come to terms with his own divinity and his mission upon this earth.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, disturbing images and thematic elements)

Trumbo (2015)


Dalton Trumbo doing what he does best.

Dalton Trumbo doing what he does best.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Bleecker Street) Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Roger Bart, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Dean O’Gorman, Christian Berkel, David James Elliott, Richard Portnow, John Getz, Madison Wolfe, James DuMont, J.D. Evermore, Allyson Guay. Directed by Jay Roach

Dalton Trumbo was a screenwriter who was once the highest paid in Hollywood; he wrote classic movies and was considered one of the most intelligent writers in the business and racked up a couple of Oscars to boot. However, even with all that he is better known for one thing; being a prominent member of the Hollywood Ten.

Trumbo (Cranston) was one of the leading lefties in Tinseltown, espousing pro-Union an pro-Socialist causes. While he had joined the Communist party in 1943, he wasn’t what you’d call a hard-liner; he was always more of a Socialist than a Communist, but “socialist” was even worse at the time, as the Nazis stylized themselves as Socialists. When unions went out on strike, he would never ever cross a picket line.

But the times, they were a’changing. Soviet Russia was no longer a war ally and the Cold War was beginning in earnest. Washington was beginning to look at Communist elements in our midst and in Hollywood especially. The House of Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, took an interest in Trumbo because of his outspoken support for leftist causes and of course his membership in the Communist.Party also made him a target. The vitriol of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren) who saw Trumbo as the embodiment of the enemy was leveled on Trumbo and she campaigned vigorously with the studio heads to get him fired, particularly Louis B. Mayer (Portnow) who is Trumbo’s boss. Once he is slapped with a contempt of Congress charge however, Mayer has the ammunition to let him go.

And thus begins the blacklist as Trumbo and nine other writers and directors who refuse to testify in front of HUAC are denied employment for any of the major studios. Trumbo scrapes ekes out a living by writing movies and then having non-blacklisted “front” for them; that is, putting his scripts under their name and taking a part of the compensation for it. It is in this way that he wrote Roman Holiday for which he received an Oscar, although it was Ian McLellan Hunter (Tudyk) who received credit and picked up the Oscar (a statuette was delivered to Trumbo’s widow posthumously).

Trumbo also wrote B movies for the schlockmeister Frank King (Goodman) and his brother Hymie (Root) including The Brave One, written under a pseudonym and also an Oscar winner (this one he received while he was still alive). However, in order to keep up the sheer volume of work he needed in order to meet the demands of the King Brothers and of course keep his family fed and housed and clothed, he had to work an enormous amount of time, employing his family particularly daughter Chloe (Fanning) as a kind of personal assistant while his wife Cleo (Lane) held things together. The toll on his relationships within the family would become nearly intolerable. It also sundered friendships as his friend Arlen Hird (C.K.) disagreed strongly with Trumbo’s methods while actor Edward G. Robinson (Stuhlbarg) found that his own career had been torpedoed by allegations and was put in the horrible position of either naming friends to HUAC or risk seeing his career end in flames.

Bryan Cranston was nominated for an Oscar for the title role and I can tell you flat-out that the nomination was richly deserved – in fact I like his performance better than winner Leonardo di Caprio’s. He captures a lot of the real Dalton Trumbo’s mannerisms from the clipped speech, the hunched over posture and the witticisms along with the look; his trademark moustache and cigarette holder. He looks the part and quite frankly, he dominates the screen here.

The script captures the paranoia and despair of the time. The conversations between Trumbo and Arlen Hird are really the heart of the picture, setting up the dichotomy between capitalism and socialism (again, Trumbo wasn’t really a true communist) and questioning the motives of his crusade. A speech near the end of the film is an emotional moment that underlines the true cost of the blacklist and of other events like it.

I have to admit though that I was extremely disappointed by some of the historical inaccuracies here. While I don’t mind using Hird as a fictitious amalgam of real people, I do object to writer John McNamara characterizing a particular character here as naming names to HUAC when historically he did not; there were plenty of real people who did supply names to the witch hunters and there’s no need to drag a person’s name through the mud unnecessarily. A fictitious character could even have been created to play the same role but the way that this was done is something I really don’t approve of. I don’t mind fudging history for the sake of dramatic impact, but I do mind tarnishing the reputation of someone who didn’t earn it. While Hopper who is portrayed here as a crude, egocentric and vindictive woman – all things that contemporary accounts support – and her descendents can’t complain of the narrative here, the family of that one character has grounds to object. Sometimes dramatic license shouldn’t trump sensitivity to those close to the people in question.

The movie looks pretty damn good, with some sweet locations (New Orleans substituting for golden age Hollywood) and some wonderfully framed shots (Trumbo’s first film credit reflected in the lens of his glasses near the end of the film). The ensemble cast is terrific head to toe. There are also some powerful moments like the aforementioned speech near the end and the funeral for one of the main characters. There is emotional resonance here as we see the price that people paid for the zealotry of others.

That this sort of witch hunting goes on today isn’t lost on this reviewer. We may not necessarily be singling out communists for discrimination, but there are certainly other groups we have become hysterical about (*cough* Muslims *cough*) to the point of ridiculousness, but I’m sure they don’t find it very ridiculous. Trumbo works as a look at a dark part of our past but it also serves as a warning about our present; we are either true to our principles or we aren’t. You may say what you want about Dalton Trumbo whether you agree with his politics or not, but he stood up for what he believed in because he genuinely felt that to not do so was to betray his country. I’m not going to judge anyone on their stance because in the end they all believed that they were right and were doing right by America. Maybe that’s the excuse of some who are doing the same exact thing; that doesn’t mean however we shouldn’t stand up to those who operate out of fear, rather than displaying strength.

REASONS TO GO: Bryan Cranston nails it. Captures the paranoia of the times.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessary factual errors.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair share of profanity as well as some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first non-comedy film to be directed by Roach.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trumbo (2007)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Eden