Trumbo (2015) Film Review

Remember the days when you couldn’t have a differing political stance to those in power or you were considered a danger? When speaking out could risk your job, your livelihood, your life? (Yeah, it does sound like something that could indeed be happening again, all this fear and anger… but I step back).

So, Dalton Tumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a Hollywood screenwriter and a communist. By this, he subscribed to the American communist party and believed in the idea of people supporting each other and a different system to that which America was (and still is) functioning under. He organised protest for increased pay for those working in the film industry until, under the House of Un-American Activities, he and eleven other screenwriters were imprisoned. Things got tough, and Trumbo and his mates had to start working using pseudonyms until the winds changed.

It’s a fascinating film. Showing Trumbo not only as a leader amongst his peers and a family man, but also as a self-centred prick who could not see the contradictions in his own life and existence. And who loved working in the bath – what a man!

Bryan Cranston was nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading role.

Why Him? (2016) Film Review

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You know this story. It’s been done a million times. Girl meets boy, father doesn’t like boy, boy tries to impress father, even they win each other over and everyone is happy (Spoiler alert? Is it? It’s just so formulaic, I don’t think it can count as a spoiler). In this case, the girl is Stephanie (Zoey) a beautiful college student who is extremely close to her father. The boy is Laird (James Franco), the rough-as-guts-but-very-hot founder of a tech company – complete with heaps of swearing, tattoos and wearing very few clothes. The father is Ned (Bryan Cranston) who comes from his conservative home with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and teenager son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to meet this new man in his daughter’s life. Of course, Ted can’t accept Laird for his little girl and hilarity ensues.

The big question – is it funny. Yes. Yes, I really liked this film. It didn’t matter that the story is as old as the hills, somehow, this really worked. One part that worked well was the fact that the key aspect is not played up too much – yes, if Laird was a poor guy living in squalor, he wouldn’t stand a chance. But he didn’t need to be that wealthy – that was kind of just a bonus. I felt that I could easily see a fairly conservative father meeting a tattooed, swearing man and reacting in similar ways. Then, there is the quality of the cast – Bryan Cranston is great at physical comedy (go watch Malcolm in the Middle if you don’t get it), but he is also great at being understated. James Franco was great as this innocent dumbarse who is actually not dumb, but actually quite naïve and sweet, but it’s hard to see that past all the swearing and inappropriate sexy-talk. Megan Mullally is wonderful at whatever she does, I really have never been let down by that woman. And add to that the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key for bonus comic effect.

Bryan Cranston was the one thing that I thought could be the saving grace of this film, and I was pleased to be surprised overall by a fun and silly film.

Breaking Bad – TV Review

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This is one of those shows, like The Wire, that has very passionate and obsessive fans. It’s intelligent and dark with a twist of humour that is almost painful.

The show follows Walter White (the magnificent Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has advanced lung cancer. He is fearful of leaving his pregnant wife and teenage son with nothing, and takes the extreme case of starting to cook crystal meth with a drop-out ex-student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). How on earth can this scenario be funny? I don’t know. But it is – in a very, very black way.

Like most things, I’m a few seasons behind, but in this case, it’s because I’m a bit scared of getting back in to watching it. The show is so violent, and very graphic in its violence. I want to watch more, but I am scared to.

Argo (2012) Film Review

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It’s 1979 and Iran hates the US. So much so that the embassy is raided and all of the staff are held hostage. Six diplomats escape and are hidden in the home of the  Canadian Ambassador. Back in the US, plans are being put together to extract them, including the absurd idea of getting them onto bikes and cycling 300 miles in the middle of winter to the Turkish border. Tony Mendez comes up with audacious plan of creating a false movie, Argo, and convincing Iranian authorities that these six US citizens are, in fact, Canadians, and are part of a location scouting group for the film. This is all true. And amazing.

Of course, the film is dramatized. There is no way that it could have happened exactly as in the film, but isn’t that why audiences need to suspend their disbelief? For me, I went to Wikipedia and had a look at the historical inaccuracies. It doesn’t stop this from being an awesome film; it just makes the story a bit less Hollywood.

I was extremely impressed with this film. It is one of the best films I have seen in a long time. There was tension, action and the fact that I knew that the plan succeeded did not stop me from feeling the tension of every moment the whole way through.

Argo won the Golden Globe for Best Feature Film – Drama and Best Director, and I say thank goodness. I really like it when I feel that the awards get it right. On ya, Ben Affleck.

William Goldenberg has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing and a BAFTA for Editing

Alexandre Desplat has been nominated for an Oscar for Music (Original Score), a Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture and a BAFTA for Original Music.

Argo has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, a BAFTA for Best Film

Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn have been nominated for an Oscar for Sound Editing

John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia have been nominated for an Oscar for Sound Mixing

Chris Terrio has been nominated for an Oscar for Writing (Adapted Screenplay), aGolden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture and a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Argo Won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Drama)

Alan Arkin was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture and a BAFTA for Supporting Actor

Ben Alfeck won the Golden Globe for Best Director of a Motion Picture and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Director. He was nominated for a BAFTA for Leading Actor.

Drive (2011) Film Review

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A Hollywood stunt-driver and mechanic (played by Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. However, in attempting to help his neighbour who is in trouble, he winds up in an extremely violent and awful situation.

Gosling is the current king of the intense stare that speaks volumes. He doesn’t need to speak; just the slightest change in facial expression tells the audience exactly what they need to know. This film is intense – eventually. I’m late coming to this party, having been told for such a long time what an amazing film this was. I’m always wary of this – so often when I have built-up expectations, I get let down. Not this time.  However, the first half of the film is very slow (apart from the driving scenes which are totally awesome), and I was starting to get worried. Then it all happens. When you have been warned that the film gets quite horrifically violent, you’ve been warned. For me, there were several points when I thought that I’d hit the horrific point. And then it kept going. And kept going. I’m not ashamed to say that there were a few parts of the film that I watched through my fingers.

Drive was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) Film Review

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Matthew McConaughey  plays Mick Hailer, a lawyer in Hollywood who plays hard and defends nasty, nasty criminals. He’s a smooth talker and has a reputation for getting the guilty off. Then he gets the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a very rich young man who has been accused of beating a prostitute. But, as he investigates, he comes to believe that his client is guilty and capable of a lot worse.

This film has an awesome cast – William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, and so many more. But a good cast wasn’t going to save it. I just didn’t believe the emotions that McConaughey’s character was supposedly feeling. Ryan Phillippe was surprisingly good – I say surprisingly, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything he’s done before, so I didn’t have any reason to think that he wouldn’t be good. But the way he switches from playing the innocent victim to the evil control freak was pretty impressive. Still not enough to save the film.

John Carter (2012) – Film Review

John Carter is a former American Civil War Confederate Soldier who, on retirement, has become a gold prospector. When he is leant on to join the fight against the Apache, he flees and finds himself in a cave with some amazing gold seams. At this point, a being appears from nowhere. John Carter kills him and is accidently transported to Mars. On Mars, there is a war between two cities, but John Carter ends up staying with a peaceful group, the Tharks. As the atmosphere and the make-up of his body varies greatly to that of the creatures of Mars, he is able to leap across the land, making him an asset to any army.

The film lost me at the start. It started during the war on Mars, and then skipped back to John Carter’s nephew receiving the will after John Carter’s death, and then went into the story, and by this stage, there were so many threads for me to follow. Once you add in the crazy science fiction names for everything, and I was lost. But I’m so glad I persevered, because it gets great. John Carter has an awesomely dry and wry sense of humour, and the story isn’t as complicated as you thin once you get into it.

Plus, there are huge spaceships that explode a lot, and I love explosions. The CGI creation of Tharks were hard for me to get used to at first, but as the personalities came through, I was won over. And then there is that gorgeous dog creature – he’s the best!

Total Recall vs Total Recall vs We Can Remember it for you Wholesale (1990) (2012)

I recently wanted to see a film that would not stretch my brain. I wanted to shut off and simply enjoy some explosions and fights and the like. So, I went to the recent remake of Total Recall – and kind of liked it. I know that the popular view is to hate it, and to hate the fact that Hollywood seems to be only remaking old ideas and not coming up with something new, so I guess I just ain’t so popular.

   

Rather than just assuming that the remake had to be worse than the original, I had to re-watch the original which I recall kind of liking a fair bit, and wanted to see how the two compared. Of course, once I got started, my interest was awakened, so I found the short story that it was based on. Here’s what I reckon about all three.

 

***MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS*** I’m not even going to try to hide the spoilers here.

Here are the plots of each:

Total Recall 2012

 

Earth in the future. It’s dark, overcrowded and filthy, and most of the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. Only two parts remain – the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (that’s us, Australia). There is massive overcrowding, and people in the Colony are forced to travel through the world on a giant (and I’m talking the size of a city block of skyscrapers) elevator called ‘The Fall’ to work in factories. The world is run by a dictator, Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (played by the wonderful Bryan Cranston) who is planning to wage war on the colony with an army of robots, kill the whole population of the Colony, replace them at their manual jobs with robots and repopulate the Colony with people from Greater Britain. There is an underground movement, led by Matthias (Bill Nighy) and his unidentified second-in-command, Carl Hauser.

 

Dennis Quaid(Colin Farrell) is dissatisfied with his life and so, despite warning from his workmate, Harry, visits a company called Rekall. Rekall manipulate the chemicals in his mind so that he will have the memories of an adventure where he is a double agent spy. Only, the process reveals that he is actually in real life a double agent who has had his memory erased and placed in a false marriage. He then spends the film trying to figure out what is real and what is false. His wife (Kate Bekinsale) is chasing and trying to kill him, and Harry turns up to try to convince him that he is having a delusion.

An old colleague calls him on a phone implant in his hand (which he needs to remove in a gory manner as it is also a tracking device) and directs him to a bank security deposit box. He then makes it to his apartment where he plays the piano that reveals a recording of himself explaining that he is Carl Hauser and was a double agent. He then goes with Jessica Biel, the girl he remembers from his dream, to defeat the evil dictator and free the Colony and nearly fails but eventually manages to destroy The Fall in a spectacular fashion.

 

Total Recall 1990
I remember this being a great film loved by many of my generation. I hate to say it, but it really didn’t hold up for me. But, before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s go the rundown.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Dennis Quaid, a construction worker who dreams of visiting Mars. His wife, Sharon Stone, tries to convince him that Earth is best, or they can go and visit Saturn, but he is adamant that he wants to go to Mars. Despite warning from his workmate, Harry, he goes to Rekall to get the memories of a trip to Mars implanted, and has the add-on of being a spy. But, when he is put under, he freaks out and rants about his cover being blown. Rekall cover this memory up and release him back into the world with a full refund, but on the way home he is attacked by and has to fight off (and kill) Harry and a gang. At home, he tells his wife, who then tries to kill him. Quaid is contacted by a mysterious man who leaves him a suitcase with a recorded message from himself in the past telling him he needs to get to Mars to meet Kuato. Mars is run by dictators Cohaagen who controls the planet by controlling the supply of air and the domes in which the population live, protected from the Mars atmosphere.

Quaid sneaks himself into Mars, with a few spectacular fights involving lots of celery sound effects and very, very red blood. A note in a safety deposit box at the hotel directs him to a bar in a sleazy neighbourhood full of mutants (who have been made mutant by poor quality domes) and to Melina who rejects him, but turns up at the hotel in time to save his life shortly after he kills his wife. She and the quirky African-American taxi driver Quaid has befriended along the way, Benny, get into the secret hiding place to meet Kuato, who is a mutant man living in the chest of another.

One thing leads to another, and Quaid discovers that he is actually a triple crosser, an agent of Cohaagen who claims to be on the side of the mutant rebels, but he is actually still working for Cohaagen.  Quaid cannot accept this, and changes sides, killing Cohaagen and Benny (who is a traitor) and starting the ancient alien machinery that produces oxygen, rendering the planet livable to humans and the domes unnecessary.

 

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Phillip K. Dick

 

Sometime in the future, Douglas Quail (not sure why this was changed to Quaid in both films. Bit confusing) dreams of going to Mars, but his wife tries to convince him to take a deep sea holiday instead. Against her wishes, he goes to Rekall to have the memory of a trip to Mars implanted, along with the spy add-on. But when they put him under, he recalls an actual trip to Mars. Rekall attempt to cover it up and shove him in a cab, and return half his fee. Coming to, Quaid’s memories are confused, and he thinks that Rekall have ripped him off and implanted the Mars memory, but with none of the physical souvenirs promised. He directs the cab back to Rekall, and they refund the remaining amount of the fee. Back at his house, he discovers some relics from Mars that make him realise that his memory is real, not false. He tells his wife who leaves him.

It transpires that he was an agent for a mysterious agency, who then chase him to kill him, and he gets away but is being traced by a device in his brain. Through the device, the agency can read his  mind and respond to him telepathically. Quail

Requests them to erase his memory again and place a new, grander memory in his head so he doesn’t become restless again. Reluctantly, they agree to try this, and if it doesn’t work, they will kill him. The agency remove his memory and discover a fantasy from when he was a child – a tiny alien race arrived on Earth to take over the planet, and because Quaid showed such humanity to them and didn’t kill them, they agreed to stay away as long as Quaid is alive. Laughing at how arrogant the fantasy of saving the entire human race is, the scientists are surprised to discover that this too is a truth from Quaid’s past, and that they cannot kill him or the world will end.

 

Heaps different, eh? What’s more, I was really disappointed with it. I found it really poorly written with lots of redundant sentences yet not enough detail. I have heard for so long that Phillip K. Dick is an amazing sci fi author, and I was just so, so disappointed with the quality. However, reading the other stories in the collection Minority Report, I can see why he is so popular. I may not appreciate his style so much, but I got totally and utterly caught up in the action that it didn’t mater. Not that it mattered much for We Can Remember it for you Wholesale – even re-reading it, it didn’t grab me. But to provide the seed for two pretty cool action films, well, it obviously had something.

 

 

That’s an awful lot of viewing and reading, isn’t it?

 

Yup. I had to let my thoughts simmer for a while to let everything sink in and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Here goes!

 

What I really liked about the 1990 version is the ambiguity of the end- there was a real sense that perhaps the entire thing was just the memory from Rekall and that Quaid was stuck in a psychotic coma of some kind. There was the slightest hint of this in the remake, but really not very well done at all. And throughout the remake, I kept thinking ‘ah, it’s all part of the package from Rekall’ but it just wasn’t balanced out.

 

The fight sequences in both films were cool in their own way. In the original there was the cheesy 80s schmaltziness, the litres of red paint and the crazy sound effects-  never has breaking bones sounded so much like celery crunching. In the remake, the fighting was fast, hard and involved lots of battle barriers which were heaps of fun.

 

The acting in the remake was a lot better than in the original – seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It took a long time for him to get to the level of True Lies (which I loved), and especially when he smiles and enjoys himself – well, he is seriously scary looking. It wasn’t just Arnie, though. I get the feeling that the director was a lot more concerned with the special effects and fights than with the performances. Or perhaps it was the era. Or maybe people just couldn’t act with that much hair product? Even the swearing in the original sounded forced, as though people didn’t really swear. It can’t have been just the era – Demolition Man is from around the same time and the acting was a lot better in that. And that’s saying a lot given it was Stallone.

 

 

A major flaw in both films is that Quaid is so unhappy in his life that he wants a fake life, yet neither film sets that up well. There really seemed to be little reason for Quaid to go to Rekall, yet he does. There are a lot of really major differences between the two films, and that was when I decided to read the short story that it was based on, to see which was closer to the original. Neither, as it happens.

 

My verdict?

I preferred the new. I think it may essentially come down to expectations. When I went to see the new version, I wanted a good, face paced action film and that’s exactly what I got. When I watched the old film, I wanted to relive what I remembered as, and had been repeatedly told, was a classic. What I got was a good story wrapped up with poor acting and direction, and nowhere near the excitement or action that I wanted. I’m going to watch it again with other people around and see if that changes my opinion at all, but I suspect that I’m just not a fan.

Oh, but yes, the three-breasted prostitute is in both! Phew!