Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Cranston’

American Take on a French Tale

The Upside

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Tate Donovan, Julianna Margulies, Golshifteh Farahani, Aja Naomi King

Limitless director Neil Burger gives an American spin on the remake of the superb 2011 French film The Intouchables starring Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet about a billionaire quadriplegic striking up an unlikely bond and friendship with his down and out carer.

This time the parts are played by Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) and comedic actor Kevin Hart as Dell Scott the paroled carer who gets the unlikely position of becoming a full time male nurse to art collector and writer Philip Lacasse wonderfully played by Cranston in The Upside.

The Upside aims to make audiences feel all warm and fuzzy, about the underlying compassion which should be instinctive in human nature. In this respect, The Upside is a perfectly well-directed American Take on a French Tale.

Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) plays the Harvard educated Yvonne who is Lacasse’s personal sectary who is initially aghast at her employer’s decision to hire the rough around the edges Dell Scott who is desperate to earn some cash to redeem himself in the eyes of his ex-wife Latrice played by Aja Naomi King.

While The Upside doesn’t quite capture the quirky relationship between Billionaire and poverty stricken carer as it did in the original French film The Intouchables, there are some funny moments particularly played by Kevin Hart who does not usually play serious roles.

The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies (Snakes on a Plane) makes a cinematic appearance as Lily an epistolary flame that Philip has been dutifully corresponding with.

Tate Donovan appears as the snobbish Manhattan neighbour Carter and Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani plays the practical physiotherapist Maggie who expertly advises Dell on how to insert a catheter and generally care for the wheelchair bound angst ridden Lacasse.

Cranston holds the film together, acting mostly with his expressive eyes.

Viewers that have not seen the original French film will enjoy this light hearted comedic drama, but those that saw The Intouchables will feel that The Upside doesn’t possess that emotional gravitas which was central to the French version. In any events, The Upside is a light hearted look at the complexity of unique human relationships and will be sure to find a suitable audience.

Recommended viewing, The Upside gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10.

Demonizing Dalton

Trumbo

trumbo_ver2

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C. K. Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Roger Bart, Dean O’ Gorman, Alan Tudyk, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Director Jay Roach really gives audiences an opportunity to witness Bryan Cranston’s acting talents first hand as Cranston plays the Oscar nominated role of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in California in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950’s.

With the rise of McCarthyism in the early 1950’s and the vindictive Committee on Un-American Activities whose sole aim was to root out the perceived communist threat within Hollywood and many other facets of American society, the anti-communist witch hunt become notorious for ruining reputations and lives of artists, actors, directors and screenwriters. Even the famous playwright Arthur Miller was perceived as a threat and his persecution was illustrated in his classic play The Crucible.

trumbo

Dalton Trumbo, wonderfully played by Cranston, is an unconventional yet brilliant screenwriter who becomes one of the Hollywood Ten perceived by the Committee as harbouring Communist sympathies. Trumbo was, as his friend Arlen Hird played by Louis C. K. said, a Socialist with Champagne tastes. His flamboyant cigarette smoking, his unusual method of writing screenplays in the bath, his reliance on Benzedrine were all traits of a fierce creative genius who was ripe for prosecution.

Michael Stuhlbarg also gives an impressive performance as Edward G. Robinson who will do anything to maintain his lavish lifestyle.

In one of the great artistic injustices, Trumbo is found in contempt of the Supreme Court and sentenced to a Kentucky penitentiary for close to 18 months. Upon Trumbo’s release he is faced with the prospect of supporting his wife Cleo played by Diane Lane (Unfaithful) and three growing children, one of which is his feisty daughter Nicola superbly played by Elle Fanning (Maleficent).

Trumbo approaches a B-Grade studio, King pictures and soon does rewrites under a pseudonym under the guidance of the studio boss, Frank King boisterously played by John Goodman (The Gambler, Barton Fink). Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, The Queen) pops up looking suitably glamorous as the Hollywood actress turned gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who ambivalently supports the Communist witch hunt and soon suspects that Trumbo is indeed writing Oscar winning screenplays under another screen writer’s name.

roman_holiday

The Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck romance Roman Holiday was credited to Ian McLellan Hunter, played by Alan Tudyk in Trumbo, but was actually written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Roman Holiday won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and went to McLellan Hunter acting as Trumbo’s front.

In steps Kirk Douglas played by Dean O’ Gorman who secretly approaches Trumbo to write a screenplay about a man taking on the world. That film was to become the blockbuster Spartacus.

spartacus_ver2

Besides the cinematic historical value of Trumbo, the injustices he suffered both personally and artistically, what carries Jay Roach’s film, is Bryan Cranston (Argo) who never falters in his brilliant portrayal of the legendary Dalton Trumbo.

Trumbo is a brilliant film, perhaps slightly uneven at times, but a fascinating portrayal of one man’s quest to get his name cleared and eventually receive the recognition from Hollywood that he deserves, especially for his talented contribution to film.

Trumbo is highly recommended viewing especially for cineastes and film historians, a brilliant portrayal of Hollywood in the 1950’s and the persecution of intellectuals by the American government of the time, whose paranoia concerning the cold war with Russia reached unreasonable proportions.

 

Gigantic Nuclear Proportions

Godzilla

godzilla_ver4

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn

At the heart of any disaster film, is the struggle of a nuclear family to survive the impending devastation. The brilliant film The Impossible directed by J. A. Bayona about the 2005 Boxing Day Tsunami which wrecked Thailand and beyond proves that.

The Original 1956 Godzilla film

The Original 1956 Godzilla film

In the 2014 remake of the Japanese director Ishiro Honda’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishir%C5%8D_Honda original 1956 classic Godzilla, King of Monsters, director Gareth Edwards retains the Japanese mythology of Godzilla setting the 21st century Godzilla in a range of Asian Pacific rim cities from San Francisco to Honolulu to Tokyo. Assembling an all star and eclectic cast similar to Guillero del Toro’s Pacific Rim, director Edwards adds a global flavour to this ultimate retro Asian inspired disaster movie.

With an international mix of supporting stars like Bryan Cranston (Argo), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Great Expectations), little seen Oscar winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck), Godzilla boasts an impressive cast to support the rising stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina, Savages) who star as Elle and Ford Brody who have a young son Sam, played by Carson Bolde.

As the looming threat of nuclear transformed monsters emerging from the depths of the Pacific Ocean looms, it is this nuclear family that Godzilla focuses its narrative on, not that there is much deep characterization necessary or acting to make Godzilla credible. Serving as a historic metaphor for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending World War II and permanently etched in the Japanese psyche, Godzilla become a symbol of all that was wrong with nuclear energy and its transformative effects on the natural world, creating gigantic monsters as a horrific by product of nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Director Gareth Edwards as a former visual effects artist for a range of scientific TV series (Perfect Disasters, Space Race), naturally in this version of Godzilla, the monsters and special effects take precedence over the acting, leaving the talented cast literally dwarfed by the sheer scale of Godzilla and its two malignant monsters the Moto. Visually this is where Godzilla excels especially in 3D maybe not to the imaginative scale of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, but definitely in the set design and the sheer scope of this disaster film, as the action moves swiftly from the Philippines to Japan to the Californian Coastline and beyond. Even sin city, Vegas is not spared by the wrath of these  destructive creatures.

godzilla_ver3

Godzilla will surely impress audiences with all the mayhem, dazzling visual effects and sheer destruction on screen, however the second half of the film is literally overshadowed by utter devastation to such an extent that it does not make the action seem plausible. Whole cities from Honolulu to San Francisco and parts of Tokyo are destroyed inconsequentially as these monsters play havoc with nature and humanity.

Unfortunately the action erases any attempts at credible acting but then again this is a fantasy disaster movie of nuclear proportions. Cranston and Binoche are underutilized and Taylor-Johnson and Olsen are left struggling to survive this horrific assault on themselves and their city, whilst protecting their only son. The action sequences are incredible especially the Hawaii and Honoulu devastation which is like a combination of Jurassic Park and The Impossible on acid.

For viewers that enjoy big budget disaster movies like Pacific Rim, then Godzilla is not to be missed. What is noteworthy is the allusion in Godzilla to the many natural disasters that Japan has suffered recently from the Fukushima nuclear leak in 2011 following the devastating earthquake which destroyed Sendai.

Director Gareth Edwards does his best to maintain a balance between the characters survival narrative, and a visually impressive disaster film which pays homage to its unique Japanese heritage. Its Godzilla which ultimately triumphs leaving the cast a little underutilized and at times superfluous to the incredible spectacle of the King of Monsters battling its alien nuclear usurpers against an obliterated urban landscape.

 

Scorpion and the Frog

Drive

 drive

Nicholas Winding Refn’s noir cinematic version of the James Sallis novel Drive is an intoxicatingly brutal thrill ride, with superb stunts, minimal dialogue and hectic violence. Machismo has always been linked with knifes, guns and naturally cars symbolizing the American culture of survival, greed and the right to bear arms.

Drive is set in urban Los Angeles and follows the bizarre story of Driver played with a cool lethal charm by Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March, Blue Valentine) who befriends a next door neighbour sultry diner waitress Irina played by Carey Mulligan (An Education). Driver becomes the protector of Irina and her young son Benicio while the father is away in prison. Upon the father’s return, Standard played by Oscar Isaac (W/E) persuades Driver to help him out with one last heist of a pawn shop in the San Fernando Valley in a bid to pay off some protection money. The heist goes horribly wrong and much blood is shed and in a series of horrifically violent scenes, Driver goes to any lengths to protect the girl from the vicious mob boss Mr Rose played with an elegant urbanity by Albert Brooks.

Nicholas Winding Refn scooped the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and upon a second viewing of Drive it is easy to see why. Each shot is gorgeously framed, from the car chases to the aerials shots of Los Angeles at night. As the first half of the film moves from a romance and some character building the second half of Drive is thrilling to watch with some unbelievable sequences especially the nefarious nightclub sequence whereby man’s capacity for violence is framed against beautiful shots of voluptuous strippers and Nino’s restaurant sequence whereby Driver donning the mask from his former stunt car driving days eerily takes a glimpse inside the pizzeria before preparing for the kill.

In the final sequence of the film, Driver in his blood spattered scorpion jacket, framed by a city skyline tells Mr Rose of the parable of the Scorpion and the Frog. Drive is pure 21st century film noir with just the skilful balance of violence, suspense and drama, making it one of the most engaging films about man’s obsession with cars and his primal need for violence and survival. Riveting and memorable, Drive also stars Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston as Driver’s boss Shannon.

Theatre of the Absurd

ARGO

This is a fake film about a real escape

This is a fake film about a real escape

Ben Affleck suitably impressed the Hollywood Foreign Press with the brilliant socio-political thriller Argo which he deservedly  won the 2013 Golden Globe for best director but it was a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar for the 85th Academy Awards in the best director category for this tightly woven docu-drama about the Iranian hostage crisis spanning from 1979 to 1980.

Argo starts off with an almost picture book history of Iran up to the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini which turned Iran from a Kingdom into an Islamic Republic. Amidst this cultural and fundamental Islamic revolution is a diplomatic crisis which stems from the Iranian revolutionaries storming the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 in reaction to the Shah seeking political asylum in the USA. Whilst the majority of the US citizens remain hostage, six escape and seek refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s house in suburban Tehran at the height of the Iranian Revolution

Back at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, Brian Cranston as Jack O’Donnell pulls in Tony Mendez played with a subtle strength by Affleck as an extraction specialist who comes up with a hair-brained scheme to rescue the six hostages in Tehran using the cover of a Canadian crew shooting a fake science fiction film in Iran. Enter Hollywood, where Mendez soon flies to L.A. and in a surprisingly limited time enlists the help of prosthetics expert John Chambers played by John Goodman and disgruntled and cynical veteran film director Lester Siegel superbly played by Alan Arkin to set up and promote the non-existent film Argo, taken from a trashy Sci-Fi script with a faintly Middle Eastern setting, almost like the planet Tattoine in Star Wars.

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Where Affleck as director excels so powerfully is his skilful cinematic combination of the ludicrous wealth and theatricality of Hollywood, especially presented in the wonderful Comicon press launch scene at the Beverley Hills Hilton  intercut with the real brutality and turmoil of the Islamic revolution where Tehran and Iran as a country in 1979 were experiencing a major political and socioeconomic coup aided by a vengeful revolutionary guard.

Escape from Tehran

It’s really the second half of Argo which is terrific entertainment and is a tense escape tale whereby Affleck’s character Mendez not willing to show the real strain he is under flies first to Istanbul and then into Tehran and with the assistance of the Canadian Ambassador skilfully extricates the six American hostages out of Tehran through a terrifying airport passport control sequence which for any international traveler is sure to bring back vivid memories. Along with a classified CIA mission, a bizarre ploy about shooting a sci-fi film in and around Tehran, Argo is a thought-provoking portrait of two vastly different societies connected only through a shared mesmerizing interest in a fake narrative in which they don’t fully grasp the realities yet, but recognize the antagonism associated with conflicting cultural ideologies. Much like earthlings sent to a distant planet!

Affleck’s triumph as director is that he never vilifies the Iranians and also does not succumb to much American glossy patriotism but accurately presents a bizarre tale of courage, tenacity and duplicity of international proportions and of the extraordinary lengths governments will go to protecting their own citizens in foreign diplomatic missions. Argo is helped by an excellent script by Chris Terrio and a suitably nerve-wracking original score by Alexandre Desplat who makes sure the pace of the film is maintained somewhere between terror and absurdity.

Argo is an engaging declassified tale of one man’s courage to protect his fellow countrymen in a hostile environment whilst maintaining an almost definitive sense of calm and fortitude. Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan and Philip Baker Hall also star rounding off this highly recommended slice of late 1970’s historical drama in a similar and less violent vein than the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex.

Baader_meinhof_komplex

Recalling Visual Clues

Total Recall

Farrell losing a sense of reality

The 21st century version of the sci-fi action thriller Total Recall is another cinematic retelling of a Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, following on from Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003), Next (2007) and  The Adjustment Bureau (2011) and this time features Colin Farrell in the lead role of Douglas Quaid aka Cole Hauser a role first made famous by Arnold Schwarzeneggar in the original Paul Verhoeven garish version of a Mars set Total Recall released in 1990 featuring the voluptuous Sharon Stone as Lori and Rachel Ticotin as Melina.

Arnie's version

In this version of Total Recall, directed by Len Wiseman, the earth is mostly uninhabitable through devastating chemical warfare leaving only the United Federation of Britain (sections of the former UK) and The Colony (known now as Australia). Workers from the Colony are transported via a rapid underground train, a revolutionized Eurostar to the UFB an overpopulated simulacrum of late 21st century London where they work on production lines producing Synthetics.

On the journey the hero Douglas Quaid is reading Ian Fleming’s novel The Spy Who Loved Me, a visual clue to how the rest of the film turns out. As is happens Douglas’s charming yet lethal wife Lori played by the sexy Kate Beckinsale is not who she appears to be and through an adventure which ignites when Douglas decides to give Rekall a try to break out of his industrial existence. Rekall is a drug induced manufactured memory enhancer whereby memories can be implanted into a person’s frontal lobe and people can cherish memories based on fabricated experiences.

Total Recall for the first 45 minutes is absolutely thrilling with lots of action and stunning production values with Wiseman clearly influenced by the iconic Blade Runner and similar sci-fi films with large awe-inspiring sets channeling a gritty version of I, Robot and of course Minority Report. The best scene is the chase sequence in the UFB with Farrell and Jessica Biel as Melina a fellow Colony freedom fighter who handles a fantastic uber-hovercraft on a high-tech multi-layered speedway which makes the M25 look like Noddy’s picnic. Bryan Cranston appears as the villain Cohaagen and Bill Nighy as the mysterious post-nuclear freedom fighter Matthias.

Where this version of Total Recall fails is the lack of character development and backstory which is made up for by the endless action sequences which detract from making Total Recall as brilliant and thought provoking as Blade Runner was 30 years ago. The film appears forced in places and action takes precedence over plot in a version of reality which could have done with more measured virtual clues and less bullets. See Total Recall if you are a hardcore Sci-Fi fan and don’t compare it to Paul Verhoeven’s garish and sensational 1990 version especially if viewers are dedicated fans of Philip K. Dick’s cinematized tales dealing with altered reality, memory and virtual personalities.

Fear as a Virus

Contagion

Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s gripping medical thriller Contagion follows a similar non-linear structure to his previous Oscar winning film Traffic about the US-Mexican drug trade and features a brilliant cast including Oscar Winners Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Oscar Nominees Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne.

With a fantastic musical score by Cliff Martinez, Contagion is a horrifying look out how a highly contagious immunodefiency-virus spreads like wild fire around the world from Macau to Atlanta, from Hong Kong to London through any form of human contact especially in the ease of frequent international travel.

The deadly effects of the virus and how the world population reacts to the onset of a disease so deadly that it threatens the survival of the human race is at the core of Contagion. While the ensemble cast are superb, it is Jennifer Ehle as Dr Ally Hextall in an unusually prolific role, previously seen in Wilde, Pride and Glory and Possession who shines as a scientist who races to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of the rapidly complex and mutating virus.

The always suave Laurence Fishburne plays Dr Ellis Cheever, Head of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and Jude Law features as a conspiracy theorist Alan Krumweide who while in San Francisco tracks the virus online and also how the pharmaceutical industry makes a fortune once a vaccine is developed.

Contagion is a scary and provocative film and raises serious questions about the survival of the fittest and the ethics of managing disease control in light of a deep preservation for continued existence of the human race. Viewers will definitely be washing their hands several times after seeing this absorbing thriller especially the pivotal and brilliant final scene. Whether it be drugs or a virus, both Traffic and Contagion deal with issues of control and the distribution of power in society and the effects of a debilitating affliction that knows no boundaries. Recommended viewing.

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