An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who defied McCarthy's communist witch-hunt hearings in the late-1940s and was blacklisted by Hollywood for more than a decade. As written by John McNamara and directed by Jay Roach, the film is bright, funny and emotionally resonant, clearly simplified to make it more involving. And with such a terrific cast on board, it's both revealing and a lot of fun.
In 1947, Dalton (Bryan Cranston) is the film industry's top-paid screenwriter, so of course Senator McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Commission goes after him about his rumoured links to the communist party during the war. But he and nine fellow writers refuse to testify, so they're imprisoned for contempt, denied work by the Hollywood studios and targeted personally by the powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). To survive, Dalton begins writing under a series of pseudonyms for the B-movie producer Frank King (John Goodman), creating a script factory in his home with the help of his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and daughter Niki (Elle Fanning). Two of these screenplays win Oscars, and it isn't until Dalton begins writing Spartacus in 1960 that actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O'Gorman) breaks the studio blacklist.
Roach directs this story in a sunny, snappy way that includes lots of smart wordplay and a clear sense of the us-or-them mentality that has defined America since the Cold War. People need a villain to hiss at, so anyone with even a passing connection to communism will do. And Mirren hisses better than most. Her performance is riotously funny and relentlessly nasty at the same time. More textured characters include Louis C.K. as a fellow writer and Michael Stuhlbarg as conflicted actor Edward G. Robinson. All of the actors are excellent, anchored by Cranston's wonderfully prickly Oscar-nominated turn as a bullheaded man who hilariously seizes every opportunity to make an inspiring speech.
Continue reading: Trumbo Review
This may look like it's going to be a zany Christmas romp, but it's really a warm exploration of family connections, essentially an American take on Love Actually's multi-strand comedy-drama. At least it has an unusually strong cast and moments of hilarity scattered throughout the story. And while it's never very deep, the themes are strongly resonant.
The Cooper family is gathering for what Charlotte (Diane Keaton) hopes will be one last perfect Christmas together. She knows that her 40-year marriage to Sam (John Goodman) is on the brink, but is ignoring that to plan a massive dinner. Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is stinging from divorce and unemployment, while daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) has picked up a hunky soldier (Jake Lacy) in the airport and asks him to pose as her boyfriend so her family will stop asking about her love life. Meanwhile, Charlotte's father Bucky (Alan Arkin) is trying to cheer up his favourite waitress (Amanda Seyfried), and Charlotte's sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is delayed when a cop (Anthony Mackie) arrests her for shoplifting.
Narrated with wry joviality by Steve Martin, the interwoven stories are fairly simplistic, but each touches a raw nerve. And the above-average cast brings out the underlying themes without overplaying their scenes. Keaton and Goodman add subtle shades to the slightly undemanding central roles, while Arkin finds a couple of new textures to his usual twinkly grandad persona. Helms and Wilde strike the right balance in their intriguingly unlikeable roles, while Tomei gets the most complex character as a woman who feels like she's merely watched her life drift along. By contrast, the outsiders played by Seyfried, Lacy and Mackie are much less defined, but each actor brings just enough magnetic energy. The most wasted performer is June Squibb, as a ditzy old aunt who's little more than the requisite gross-out relative.
Continue reading: Love The Coopers (aka Christmas With The Coopers) Review
Milk finds experimental auteur Gus Van Sant taking cautious steps back toward the mainstream to celebrate Harvey's accomplishments. Van Sant's tender human-interest story, which showcases Sean Penn's considerable talents, is a closer relative to earlier efforts such as Finding Forrester or Good Will Hunting than to recent, abstruse features like Elephant, the spare Gerry, or the haunting Last Days.
Continue reading: Milk Review
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