Another exciting episode of recent reviews of magnificent movies, as we aim our truth cannons in the general direction of Room, Trumbo, Spotlight, The Secret in Their Eyes, Anomalisa and Hail, Caesar!
I heartily enjoyed the original Argentinian 2009 incarnation of this film, and as such was not looking to this Hollywood remake. While to a degree I was right to be wary, this isn’t a bad redux of the film, and in many regards is exactly what you’d want from a remake. A team of investigators in the immediate post 9/11 era looking at terrorist leads undergoes a major trauma when Jessica Cobb (Julia Robert)’s daughter is found murdered, which Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) feels is partially his fault after blowing off an arrangement to meet her to discuss her mother’s birthday party. The investigation into the murder leads to the higher echelons of power and puts strain on a what seemed to be a possible romance between Ray and D.A. Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman). As with the original it’s told in two timeframes, at the time of the murder and initial investigation and also in a contemporary setting where Ray believes he’s tracked down the killer again, and it’s still a very solid story. Indeed, the whole film is solid, and there’s certainly no shortage of talent being thrown at this in the leading and supporting roles, and also behind the camera. The localisation is intelligently done, and it’s very respectful of the source material. It’s a shame that the result of all this is a film that’s not much above okay. There’s none of the required chemistry between Ejiofor and Kidman, and while there’s not a bad performance amongst the whole cast somehow it never pulls together into anything special. It’s still a perfectly fine film, but one that in no way surpasses the original and is therefore pretty difficult to recommend.
Another Coen Brothers joint, this returns to the Golden Age of Hollywood as we follow Josh Brolin’s production studio ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix, normally tasked with sorting out production dilemmas and returning wayward stars to either the set or rehab clinics. Whatever routine this allowed for is shattered when his top star, George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, currently filming the titular historical epic, is kidnapped by what turns out to be a bunch of communist writers and ransomed. The plot is, at least nominally, about trying to get him back, but it’s not much more than a loose framing device for a bunch of vignettes about broadly stereotypical movie stars and genres of the era which are wonderfully observed and frequently very funny, but not really helpful in establishing much of a narrative. There’s a lot of individual things in here that I really like, in particular Clooney’s performance that allows him to showcase at least hints of his talent for physical comedy and another fantastic comedy turn from Ralph Fiennes, and there’s only one thing that’s particularly annoying, that being Michael Gambon’s needless and horribly written narration that surely must be a parody of something I’m not picking up on, but is nonetheless pretty poor. As with Secret in their Eyes, it just doesn’t pull together into anything particularly solid and while it’s enjoyable and unusual, and a love letter to the period, in the grand scheme of the Coen Brother’s output it’s a little too flimsy to hang with the best of them.
You just know you’re in for superhappy funtimes when you hear the phrase, “based on the Joeseph Fritzl case”. We’re introduced to Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack, confined to a single small room by Ma’s kidnapper and rapist, as she attempts to maintain her sanity and raise her child before hatching a cunning plan that leads to their rescue. However after being imprisoned for seven years, adjusting to the world is hard enough for Ma but much trickier for five-year old Jack, who’s never seen the outside world at all. In showing, by and large, this through the child’s viewpoint, there’s a very clever inversion of the confinement to the room, which should be an ordeal, viewed as familiar and comfortable to him, and what should be the exhilaration of being free being a tremendously scary and overwhelming ordeal. It’s almost too clever for its own good, as it strikes a fundamentally weird and chirpy tone for such a dark matter. That said, amazing performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay largely overwhelm any such concern, and it’s a very affecting and emotionally powerful film to watch. It absolutely deserves the recognition it’s getting. It’s tough to say that it’s an enjoyable watch, given the subject matter, but I can certainly appreciate it.
David Thewlis voices customer service guru Michael Stone in this Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman stop-motion puppet extravaganza that uses an extraordinary technique to tell what’s mostly a very ordinary story. Michael’s having something of a mid life crisis cum nervous breakdown, but is given some brief respite from his seeming loneliness and alienation when he meets and becomes infatuated with a fan, Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. It swings between hyper-real, awkward romance and mind bending Kaufmanisms, in particular having every other voice in the piece coming from Tom Noonan which may or may not be a nod to a syndrome Michael’s suffering. At any rate, on a technical level there’s an awful lot to appreciate in the film. The stop motion and the level of detail achieved is phenomenal. The question does then becomes, “Why achieve it?” I’m not entirely convinced we’d care much about this narrative if it were told live action, so it does then become one of those experiments where the technique of the film is so inherent to the worth of the narrative that it can feel a bit gimmicky at times. While that can be regarded as a valid film-making choice, that sort of thing tend to upset me, so I suppose it’s a mark of the charisma of the performances and the animation that I still rather enjoyed this film. Neat.
Have you been checking under your bed for Reds? Then you must be joining us from the immediate post-WW2 communism paranoia that gripped America, with Hollywood being no exception. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, along with nine others are imprisoned due to their socialist ways and beliefs. On release, they find they’ve been blacklisted and unable to get any work. At least, under their own names. Trumbo starts writing using a variety of cover non-de-plumes and ‘gifting’ screenplays to other non-blacklisted friends, eventually running a clearing agency of sorts for blacklisted writers fixing up low-rent producers the King Brother’s scripts, before fighting back and convincing major players of the time that he should be recognised under his own name. It’s a fantastic performance from Bryan Cranston in the lead role – for my money he should have been the one carrying home the Oscar, and it’s worth seeing for his stream of barbed witticisms alone, along with impactful emotional moments making this an immediate film of the year contender for me. Also contains a show-stealing cameo from John Goodman that’s worth the price of admission alone.
You just know you’re in for superhappy funtimes when you hear the phrase, “based on the Catholic Church Paedophilia scandal”. This focuses on the Spotlight investigative journalist team from the Boston Globe, as a new editor arrives at the paper and suggests that what on first glance seems to be a local problem with the local diocese covering up instances of abuse by priests is worthy of investigation. And indeed it was, as through diligent digging and legwork the team uncover a systemic, widespread acceptance and concealment of child abuse by priests at great scale, not just in Boston but across the world. While the abuse is an inextricable part of this story, it’s more looking at the journalist’s experience of uncovering the story than any of the many undoubtedly harrowing stories of the victims. It’s no less captivating for that, with strong turns from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, and equally solid support from the likes of Liev Schreiber. It’s certainly the best ensemble performance of the last year, and while I’m not sure I’d have pegged it as Best Film of the Year, Oscar-wise, it’s not far off it, and certainly well worth your time.
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