Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg.
THE PLOT: In 1940s Hollywood, the Communist Party had fallen out of favour, with suspicions about members beginning to spring up. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of the Hollywood professionals forced to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee when his support of Communism was revealed and, although he continued to write Oscar winning screenplays, he had to do it in secret for much of hi career since he was black listed due to his political affiliations.
THE VERDICT: There is no doubt that ‘Trumbo’ is an incredible story of people being forced out of their careers, bullied and tormented due to their political beliefs, but in trying to cram a story spanning decades into 124 minutes leaves the film feeling cluttered, slight and rather messy.
The cast of ‘Trumbo’ reads like a who’s who of the best working today, and it is they who carry the film. Bryan Cranston is on fantastic form as the obsessive, stubborn but kind hearted Trumbo, and he is joined by Helen Mirren as powerful columnist Hedda Hopper, who doesn’t think twice about naming names suspected of Communism and Dian Lane plays Trubo’s wife Cleo. The rest of the cast features Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Elle Fanning, Dean O’Gorman and Roger Bart.
John McNamara’s screenplay is based on Bruce Cook’s book “Dalton Trumbo” but, as mentioned before, the screenplay simply tries to cram too much time and information into the film for it to feel smooth and coherent. The dialogue is top notch, but feels as though it is written to be quoted; that said, the screenplay is self aware of it’s flowery nature enough to have Arlen Hird (Louis CK) berate ‘Trumbo’ for the way he speaks. It is in trying to span the decades that the film struggles, not giving enough time to anything to make it feel concrete.
Director Jay Roach is another comedic director making his dramatic debut – after Adam McKay’s The Big Short – and from the careful timing of the characters speech, it is evident that this is an area where Roach’s strengths lie. The pacing of the film, however, struggles as so much information is covered, and although the performances are fantastic, these do not make up for a film that slows to a crawl and seems to lack a strong dramatic arc.
In all, ‘Trumbo’ has a fascinating story at its heart, and the cast are wonderful – particularly Cranston, CK and Goodman – but this is not enough to make up for a badly paced film that tries to cram decades of living into two hours. ‘Trumbo’ would have worked wonderfully as a six part Netflix special, and this would have allowed the story to have space to breathe.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DAD’S ARMY (UK/PG/100mins)
Directed by Oliver Parker. Starring Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Toby Jones, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Annette Crosbie, Felicity Montagu.
THE PLOT: In 1944, at the height of World War II, the British coast is secured by the Home Guard; a group of volunteers ineligible for active duty due to age or health reasons. In the town of Walmington-on-Sea, Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) runs a motley crew of a Home Guard who, when a journalist comes to town to write an article on the squad, all become enamoured with her. Meanwhile, news of a German spy in the town causes panic.
THE VERDICT: For those not in the know, ‘Dad’s Army’ is the second big screen version of a British TV sitcom of the same name. The show ran on the BBC from 1968 to 1977 and focused on the fact that the Home Guard, while willing, were completely under equipped and under prepared to fight off a German invasion. ‘Dad’s Army’ first came to the big screen in 1971 and focused on the Walmington-on-Sea branch of the Home Guard being formed, whereas this new version picks of toward the end of World War II, with a new threat invading the town.
The cast of the film is stellar, and this is a testament to the high regard in which the film is held. ‘Dad’s Army’ as gathered together some of the best British and irish actors working today, including Toby Jones, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Courtenay, Mark Gatiss, Anette Crosbie and Felicity Montagu, whose turn as the overbearing Mrs Mainwaring makes a nice change of pace for the actress from her most famous role as Alan Partridge’s long suffering assistant Lynn. The cast do their best with what they are given, but none of them seem to be given a chance to really throw themselves into their roles, with the exception of Michael Gambon, who makes Private Godfrey bewildered and endearing.
Hamish McColl’s screenplay is one of the main reasons that ‘Dad’s Army’ doesn’t quite work. In trying to stretch out the show’s 30 minute running time to a feature length film, there is much time spent on making the men of the Home Guard even more like bumbling idiots – this time as they fawn over Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character Rose – and the women into screeching harpies. Surely we were past this!? There is never even an attempt to hide the fact that Rose is the German spy, which leads to many sequences in the film becoming incredibly frustrating.
Director Oliver Parker – whose past work includes the St Trinian’s films and Johnny English Reborn – never quite manages to get the tone or the pacing of the film right, which scenes switching from farce to tense drama halfway through, and there never seeming to be sense of urgency in the film as a while. As well as this, the film is filled with awkward attempts at humour, double entendres and slapstick comedy that quickly becomes tiresome.
In all, ‘Dad’s Army’ tries to pay homage to a classic British sitcom and fails. The cast struggle to make the film come alive, but they are fighting against an uninspired script and a feeling of jaded familiarity.
Review by Brogen Hayes
GOOSEBUMPS (USA | Australia/PG/103mins)
Directed by Rob Letterman. Starring Jack Black, Dylan Minette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Ken Marino, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell.
THE PLOT: When Zach (Dylan Minette) and his mother move in next door to Mr Shivers and his teenage daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), it is not long before Zach discovers the secret that Mr Shivers is trying to keep; he is actually the author R.L. Stine and, when the original manuscripts for his famous books are opened, the monsters inside are set free into the world. It is up to Zach, Hannah and Stine to save the day, and put the fictional monsters back between the pages of the books again.
THE VERDICT: There has been talk of a ‘Goosebumps’ movie for many years now, and with over 180 books in the series and a successful TV show in the past, this is not surprising. Although there is a feel of Jumanji 2 about the entire ‘Goosebumps’ affair, the film is surprisingly fun, filled with nostalgia and plenty of scares for the younger ones in the audience.
Jack Black leads the cast as Mr Shivers, later revealed to be the author of ‘Goosebumps’, R.L. Stine, hiding out under an assumed name. For those who fear that Black is in full over the top, high kicking mode, you are in for a surprise; although the actor does get quite a lot of strong one liners, he is unusually subdued, and brings a sense of weight to the film that it benefits hugely from. Amy Ryan doesn’t have a lot to do except play a mother, Jullian Bell has a couple of good scenes as Zach’s aunt Lorraine and Ken Marino turns up for a handful of scenes as the high school coach. As far as the kids go, Dylan Minette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee as Champ are all fine in their roles, making each character distinct and charming enough for the film to work.
The screenplay, written by Darren Lemke does not focus on just one of Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ stories, and instead makes the clever move of making the film about Stine himself and the monsters he creates through his imagination. As mentioned, there is a feel of Jumanji about the film – although this is not a bad thing – and even though the film is never going to be truly scary for anyone over the age of 14, there is fun to be had with this adventure movie about the misfits saving the day.
Director Rob Letterman has created a fun and over the top adventure in ‘Goosebumps’; one that has a nostalgic feel and is not afraid to be a little dark and a little scary – bucking the seeming recent trend that kids films have to be light and fluffy. The film struggles with pacing during the establishing scenes, but once the first book is opened, the film gets a much needed kick into gear. The characters are underdeveloped however, and although there is a lot of fun to be had with the film, there is a feeling of familiarity mixed in with the nostalgia that works against the film as a whole.
In all, ‘Goosebumps’ is familiar but fun, and camp and over the top as you could hope. Black carries the film in a toned down role, but none of the characters are particularly well developed. The Monster Mash is the main attraction here, and it works well as an adventure movie, just don’t expect the characters to be anything more than stereotypes.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Grimur Hakonarson. Starring Siguour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson, Charlotte Boving, Jon Benonysson, Gunnar Jonsson, Sveinn Olarfu Gunnarsson.
THE PLOT: The long-running rivalry between brothers Gummi (Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Juliusson) is ramped up just a little more when the former’s ram wins silver at the local farming association’s annual awards in their small Icelandic village and the latter wins gold. The two haven’t spoken for 40 years, and when Gummi discovers signs of the contagious disease scrapie in Kiddi’s prize-winning ram, it isn’t long before the agricultural ministry has descended, demanding that all sheep in the area be slaughtered. Kiddi is keen to take out his frustration on his brother, but then he discovers that Gummi has secretly kept a small flock…
THE VERDICT: A deceptively beautiful and sprightly little black comedy, Grimur Hakonarson’s Un Certain Regard winner tackles some harsh realities for certain remote parts of Iceland whilst also retaining a wry, crisp and mildly screwball rival comedy sensibility. The setting is stunning, ‘Rams’ utilises the beautiful, blinding snow as a blank canvas upon which to paint this fiesty fable. The universiality of this seemingly straight story runs deep, whilst Hakonarson uses just the right amount of sugar to make this medicine go down smoothly.
Review by Paul Byrne
JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Amy Berg. Starring Janis Joplin, Cat Power, Peter Albin, Laura Joplin, Michael Joplin.
THE PLOT: Charting the life and rise to stardom of 1960s rock icon Janis Joplin, we start with the young Texan girl’s difficult childhood. The spark for many an artist, being unpopular at school propelled Joplin ever further towards the arts, and the stage, her desperate need for acceptance and approval – her schoolmates famously, cruelly, voting Joplin Ugliest Man On Campus – fuelling a soulful cry for love that would make her a star. As success and fame descends, we see hitherto unseen clips (from an abandoned D.A. Pennebaker project) of Joplin with her first band, Big Brother And The Holding Company, rehearsing with both joy and aggression; Joplin taking the 1967 Monterey Pop festival by storm; and the eventual, inevitable launch of a solo career. All the while, letters back home to her family are read as narration by Cat Power…
THE VERDICT: The vulnerability of a Billie Holiday or an Amy Winehouse mixed with the wild abandon, gravel-kick voice of Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin may not be quite in the A-list when it comes to pop culture, but her story is a classic one. Ugly kid takes revenge on a cruel world by bleeding all over their art. It can make for highly impassioned work, and it can make for an incredible story.
In the hands of documentary filmmaker Amy Berg – venturing into biography for the first time, after the likes of Deliver Us From Evil (2006) and West Of Memphis (2012) – Joplin’s story takes on a very familiar arc. Meaning ‘Little Girl Blue’ doesn’t exactly dance to the beat of its own drum – but, there is enough intrigue in such a troubled life, and enough new footage here, to make ‘Little Girl Blue’ a solid little belter.
Review by Paul Byrne
POINT BREAK (USA | Germany | China/12A/114mins)
Directed by Ericson Core. Starring Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo.
THE PLOT: After his friend is killed while motor biking the Spine Trail, Johnny (Luke Bracey) turns away from his life of extreme sports to become an agent for the FBI. Seven years later, as Johnny finally nears the end of his training, a gang of criminals use extreme sporting techniques to rob the rich and give to the poor. Knowing his name precedes him, and suspecting that the gang are trying to complete a series of eight challenges and ordeals, Johnny sets out to infiltrate the gang and take them down from the inside.
THE VERDICT: This remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film seems fairly unnecessary since the original is so beloved, and has been lampooned and parodied many times over. The idea of bringing the story into the present day may have seemed like a good idea on paper but, aside from some impressive stunts and pretty underwater cinematography, this new screen version of the film is clichéd, hackneyed and laughably self involved.
Luke Bracey takes on the leading role of Johnny Utah and frankly, has very little charisma on screen. Édgar Ramírez fares slightly better as Bodhi, but is never really given a chance to develop his character. Elsewhere Ray Winstone turns up to be grumpy and shouty, Teresa Palmer gets to surf once as the love interest Samsara, and Delroy Lindo plays an FBI instructor who takes a chance on the plucky Johnny.
Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay adds the layer of the thieves stealing from the rich and giving to the poor to ‘give back’ to the planet for being able to pull the stunts they pull, as well as the idea that fulfilling eight ordeals will lead those that do to spiritual nirvana. This could have enriched the original story, but instead paints the gang of criminals and their adrenaline charged lifestyle as anything but aspirational, and in fact, rather self involved and smug. The film is also filled with terrible dialogue and faux-enlightened spiritual statements, such as “If a tree falls in the forest and no-one puts it on YouTube, did it ever really happen?”. All the film lacks is a speech from a preachy vegan about the benefits of following a plant-based diet.
Director Ericson Core, whose previous film was 2005’s ‘Invincible’, manages the action scenes fairly well, shooting them in an exhilarating way and making the scenery of the planet look beautiful and vast. This is where the fun ends however, with little chemistry between any of the leads and some rather terrible CGI undermining any charm the film could have had.
In all, ‘Point Break’ tries hard to update the original, but with terrible dialogue, vague notions of ‘giving back’ as the motivation and little chemistry between the lead actors, the film fizzles rather quickly. There’s some nice cinematography in there though.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Kim Farrant. Starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Maddison Brown, Nicholas Hamilton, Meyne Wyatt, Sean Keenan, Jim Russell.
THE PLOT: It’s Tennessee Williams hot in the small Australian desert town of Nathgari, and new arrivals Catherine (Kidman) and Matthew (Fiennes) haven’t quite found the fresh new start they were hoping for. Their young son, Tom (Hamilton), likes to go walking around the town at night whilst their 15-year-old daughter Lilly (Brown) is in full Lolita mode, flirting with just about everyone and anything in trousers. The parents’ sexless-verging-on-loveless marriage is thrown into sharp focus though when their two kids wander off one night and never come back, local cop Rae (Weaving) soon on the case. But there are plainly ugly truths at play here…
THE VERDICT: Having picked up the long-gestating and faltering script initiated by Fiona Seres, Irish writer Michael Kinirons saw his chance here to add to cinema’s great Australian outback disappearance genre, ‘Strangerland’ inevitably echoing the likes of ‘Walkabout’ and ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (the latter an all-time favourite of Kinirons). They’re mighty big EMU boots to fill though, and despite the presence of the huggable Hugo Weaving and fallen box-office giant Kidman letting it all hang out in the name of arthouse, ‘Strangerland’ struggles to convince.
Part of the problem is, of course, the buckling presence of Kidman, for so long now the very opposite of a major draw at the box-office. Having her cast alongside the Andrew Ridgely of cinema doesn’t exactly help the problem either. Unknowns in these pivotal roles might not have helped the budget, but they would have certainly helped the film.
Review by Paul Byrne