Trumbo (eOne) is the colourful true story of Dalton Trumbo – at one time Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) stars as the title character, one of a number of important film industry players who were blacklisted from Hollywood and jailed in the 1940s due to their Communist sympathies. Marginalised by figures as diverse as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott, JAG), Trumbo is cast aside by all of the major Hollywood studios for 13 long years. However, after serving his prison sentence, Trumbo hatches a plan to insinuate himself back into the movie business by teaming up with B-movie producer Frank King (an excitable John Goodman) to write under a pseudonym, alongside his blacklisted buddies.
Trumbo’s story is undeniably compelling, even if the fall-and-rise narrative curve gives the film a shameless Oscar-bait type dynamic. Cranston – who was indeed nominated for an Academy Award for his role – hams it up to within an inch of his life, but his committed performance is still gripping regardless, and he keeps the film on track, even when the whiff of narrative phoniness threatens to engulf the story. Buoyed by an eclectic supporting cast – including the likes of Louis CK, Diane Lane and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – the film is extremely watchable throughout. If you can overlook the occasional episodes of narrative clunkiness, Trumbo is great fun.
Boulevard (Kaleidoscope) tells the story of Nolan (the late Robin Williams in his final onscreen role), a married, middle-aged banker, whose life has congealed into a grim, unfulfilling dirge. One night, driving home from work, Nolan does something impulsive, and picks up a young male hustler Leo (Roberto Aguire, Pretty Little Liars) – just to talk to. A relationship quickly develops, not based on sex, but on Nolan’s loneliness. However, as he becomes more attached to Leo, he puts his marriage, and his career, in jeopardy.
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Williams gives a tremendously restrained performance as a meek man finally trying to be true to himself after a lifetime of living a lie, but the film lapses into understated dreariness and ultimately underwhelms. Dito Montiel’s directorial career has been characterised by his penchant for macho crime movies (Fighting, The Son of No One, Empire State), and I was surprised to see his name on the credits here. Interestingly, it is only really in the sporadic flickers of aggression – courtesy of Leo’s pimp Eddie (Giles Matthey, True Blood) – when the film actually comes alive.
The fact that it is Williams’ final role definitely gives the movie added poignancy, but Boulevard never really rises above its fairly simple premise, and flatters to deceive. It may be an unpredictable end to a sometimes unpredictable career, but Boulevard is destined to rank as a footnote in Williams’ career, rather than a genuine swansong.
Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith (and another book by, erm, Jane Austen) Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (Lionsgate) unfolds in 19th century England, where a mysterious plague has emerged, and the land is overrun with the undead. Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) is a master of martial arts and weaponry. Casting aside personal and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Control) must come together on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie hordes and, inevitably, discover their true love for one another…
Despite its funny – for a while at least – premise, and its excellent ensemble cast (also including Charles Dance, Lena Headey and Matt Smith), Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a seriously awkward movie, and loses its way as it trudges towards the end of its 107-minute run-time. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is comfortably better than the previous Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and although this assessment doesn’t count for much, it feels like it is worth pointing out regardless!
This is an aimless zombie of a movie – more dead than alive – stumbling blindly down narrative dead-ends in search of laughs that never really materialise.
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The Seventh Fire (Metrodome) is an intriguing documentary about the Native American gang problem. When Rob Brown, a charismatic gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he is forced to confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into the heart of his beloved Ojibwe community. Running in parallel, Rob’s 17-year-old protégé, Kevin, dreams of becoming the most powerful dealer on the reservation, and seems destined to follow in his older friend’s drug-ravaged footsteps. It may be uneven – and some of the attempts at imbuing the desolate landscape with a lyrical quality fall strangely flat – but The Seventh Fire feels grim and authentic throughout. A fascinating, troubling glimpse into an environment rarely chronicled on film.