Trumbo

When the House of Representatives and its Un-American Activities Committee went to Hollywood in 1947, a proud, card-carrying member of the Communist Party like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) had no chance at all. He was especially uncooperative. Question: “Mr. Trumbo, I will ask various questions, all of which can be answered yes or no.” Trumbo: “I shall answer yes or no if I please to. Many questions can only be answered yes or no by a moron or a slave.” Dalton Trumbo also had to fend off some famous Republicans like actor John wayne (David James Elliott who certainly got the voice and the accent) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Trumbo was among the “Hollywood ten” who refused to answer questions, were cited for contempt and spent time in jail. For years they were all blacklisted and could not find work since no studios would hire them. After jail, Trumbo wrote screenplays under pseudonyms, most of them for producer of B films Frank King (John Goodman). He had to feed his family and he wrote so much that he needed the help and support from his wife, Cleo (Diane Lane) and his three children to answer the phones and the door or type and deliver the scripts. During those years, Trumbo won two Oscars, but could not claim them because they were credited under a pseudonym or a front. One of the film is Roman holiday. Trumbo‘s screenplay by John McNamara is far from perfect. Early exposition scenes are contrived, and later ones involving Trumbo’s relationship with his family are corny. I am sorry to say that I found Trumbo works best when it is about Hollywood history than the main character’s personal life. In between, there is enough fun and laughter to wash all that corniness away. This is funny man Louis C.K.’s first try at playing a dramatic part. He is, unfortunately, not very good. But there are still some amazing performances: Dean O’Gorman plays Kirk Douglas, who was not afraid to openly asks Trumbo to write Spartacus, thus ending the decade long blacklist. Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger has a commanding presence and delivers the funniest line in the film. John Goodman has a memorable outburst (Nothing new about that!). But the film belongs to Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston. Mirren is having so much fun playing bitchy Hedda Hopper. She savours every lines with obvious pleasure as if the words were diamonds. But Mirren’s Hopper is at her most vicious when she is speaking with Trumbo. And what can I say about Bryan Cranston. Watch him as he easily becomes a giant, an icon, a legend before our very eyes. Cranston is brilliant, perfect.

And the nominees are… Cranston was great, but Leonardo DiCaprio got the Oscar for The revenant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Trumbo

Directed by:
Jay Roach

Screenplay by:
John McNamara
Based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook

Starring:
Bryan Cranston
Elle Fanning
Diane Lane
John Goodman
Louis C.K.
Christian Berkel
Dean O’Gorman
David James Elliott
Michael Stuhlbarg
Helen Mirren

124 min.

Rated 14A

 

Heart of a dog

Heart of a dog is a film essay by avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson. Mostly known as a singer, violinist and composer, Anderson is also known for directing the concert film Home of the brave. It’s all about Lolabelle, her dog who died in 2011. Using home movies and old photographs but changing, transforming them; I actually felt I was watching a museum piece. narrating the film, Lolabelle, Anderson tells us, used to play the piano and finger-paint. She uncovers memories of her life long forgotten and talks at length about death and the Buddhist rebirth concept of Bardo. Heart of a dog is closer to a poem, a literary work than a film. Some people may love it, but it’s certainly not for every one.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Heart of a dog

Directed by:
Laurie Anderson

Screenplay by:
Laurie Anderson

75 min.

 

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has been banned from making film in Iran. Panahi was arrested in 2010 along with his wife, daughter, and 15 friends, charged with propaganda against the Iranian government and sentenced to a six-year jail term and a 20-year ban on directing any movies. But he does it anyway, and then smuggles them to film festivals. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, for instance, was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Golden Bear. Taxi is a documentary-like, absurdist comedy. It was shot entirely in a taxi. A security camera has been put on the dashboard. The camera can be turned around 360 degrees and can be pointed in any direction. And Panahi is playing himself, a film director who has become a taxi driver. A diverse collection of topics are approached when several passengers come to take a seat into his cab. A man selling illegal DVDs of American films or TV shows (like The walking dead) recognizes Panahi and can’t stop saying how much he admires Panahi’s film. An injured man is put into the backseat with is wife screaming to bring him to the hospital. His last will are filmed on a cell phone. When two women get in the taxi with a fishbowl, with the water and the fishes still in the bowl, accidents are bound to happen. Then Panahi’s niece, Hana Saeidi, a young school pupil, come to seek help from her uncle. She has to nake a film as a school project, and has brought her digital camera. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is about the love of movies, no matter if they’re made on a cell phone or a small digital camera, or in a taxi cab. The last image of the film proves that Panahi can bring a touch of magic into any film in the simplest way. When the DVD smuggler asks him what he considers is a good film, Panahi answers that all films are good. Indeed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

82 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Persian with English subtitles

 

Victoria

You should see Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria as a film experiment. A failed one, but it should be seen nevertheless, mostly for its challenges. Victoria was shot in one uninterrupted take. This is not the first film to attempt it. Alfred Hitchcock tried it with Rope (in 1948), but it was not really done in one take. Alexander Sokurov’s Russian ark was like a visit to the museum and more of documentary on Russian history. Victoria’s thin plot start at 4:30 and ends at around 7 AM. Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young woman from Spain who is first seen dancing at a Berlin nightclub. As she rides her bike to work, she befriends four young men. They talk, drink beer, go on a rooftop, smoke marijuana and talk some more. Victoria seems to be getting closer to Sonne (Frederick Lau), the handsomer of the four. Sonne accompanies her to the cafe where she works. Later, Victoria’s newly acquired friends ask her to help them and she becomes the driver in a bank robbery. The remainder of the film is the aftermath of the robbery, complete with a police chase and shootout. The screenplay for Victoria was twelve page canvas. The dialogues (in English, spoken with thick German accents and German) are improvised, and lots of it are inaudible. It’s a technical challenge that requires a more controlled approach. As it is Victoria is all over the place and a bit of a mess. It gets better later on, once the film becomes about something, like a bank robbery for instance. The actors work well together. Spanish actress Laia Costa effectively conveys the careless impulsiveness of youth. A failed experiment, Victoria is still worth seeing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Victoria

Directed by:
Sebastian Schipper

Screenplay by:
Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Sebastian Schipper
Eike Frederik Schulz

Starring:
Laia Costa
Frederick Lau
Franz Rogowski
Burak Yiğit
Max Mauff
André Hennicke

138 min.

Rated 14A

In English and German with English subtitles

 

Room

Room is unlike any films I have experienced this year. Very few will be as effective or pack a bigger emotional punch. And it achieves that with restraints and without the usual technical wizardry that is common in movies these days. The main characters are a five-year-old boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), and his mom, Joy (Brie Larson), both living in a small single room. They have all they need: food, a fridge, a stove, a TV and a small window in the ceiling. That’s the only “outside world” Jack has ever seen. That’s because Joy was abducted and has been locked in “room” for seven years. Jack was born from one of the rapes. The only person beside Joy Jack ever sees is Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), his mom’s rapist who comes to have sex with Joy while Jack sleeps. But other than furtive glances, there are no connections between Jack and Old Nick. When Joy suspects that Old Nick might kill them, she plans an escape for her son. Without spoiling things, I will tell you that there were heart pounding moments that I found almost unbearable. The second part of Room is about Jack discovering a world he did not even imagined existed. He can’t even speak to strangers. When Jack asks a question to other people, he whispers it in his mother’s ear. He doesn’t know how to use stairs. At first, her mother, Nancy (Joan Allen), her father, Robert (William H. Macy), and her mother’s partner, Leo (Tom McCamus), are all happy to discover that Joy was alive after all these years. But Jack is lost in all that hysteria. And the media frenzy that follows does not help. After an interview by an intrusive reporter (Wendy Crewson), Joy has a mental breakdown. Room is perfection. I want to celebrate Emma Donaghue’s beautiful and restrained screenplay. Donoghue (adapting her own novel) uses restraints and delicate dialogue rather than bombastic drama and histrionics. I would describe Lenny Abrahamson’s direction as fine tuning. He has carefully chosen to take a different rhythm and approach for every scenes. Room is a character and story-based emotional roller coaster. The level of difficulty is quite amazing, and I must say that I don’t think anybody could have done a better job than Abrahamson. But it is Larson and Tremblay that makes it such a powerhouse. At only 26, Brie Larson shows gutsy, instinctive acting skills. Her approach to Joy is fittingly from the guts , as if her life depended on it. Like the film, she is perfect. Jacob Tremblay actually carries Room on his small shoulders. He is in every scenes. Later, for quite a while, Joy is away and Jack is alone with his grandmother. I remember seeing Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the southern wild and thinking “Move over Meryl Streep!” Like Wallis did, Tremblay’s Jack becomes a beautiful and powerful hero.  Our hero. I think there is a good chance we will see both actors come Oscar time. And, of course, the film itself. Will I see a better film this year? I highly doubt it.

You should know… Emma Donaghue’s inspiration was the Fritzl case. In Austria in 2008 police found that a 42-year-old woman, Elisabeth Fritzl, had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed corridor part of the basement area of the large family house by her father, Josef Fritzl. The abuse by her father resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage. Four of the children joined their mother in captivity, and three were raised by Josef and his wife, Rosemary, who did not know of her daughter’s captivity. The youngest child was Felix, 5 years-old.

And the Oscar went to… I was happy when Brie Larson won. Jacob Tremblay was there to give the award to Live action short subject. After her win, Larson was backstage and she hugged all the victims of sexual abuse at University there take part in The hunting ground song with Lady Gaga.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Room

Directed by:
Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay by:
Emma Donaghue
Based on her own novel

Starring:
Brie Larson
Jacob Tremblay
Joan Allen
William H. Macy
Sean Bridgers
Tom McCamus
Wendy Crewson

118 min.

Rated 14A