Bryan Cranston

Isle of Dogs

25/03/18

The arrival of a new Wes Anderson movie is generally a cause for excitement and Isle of Dogs has the added frisson of seeing him return to work with the London-based 3 Mills animation team, whom he employed to such great effect on Fantastic Mr Fox. It must be said, however, that this is an altogether more ambitious project than his previous stop-motion foray.

The story is set twenty years into the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. After a recent dog-flu epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (Komichi Nomura) orders all the city’s dogs to be rounded up and exiled to an offshore island, essentially a rat-infested repository for much of Japan’s unwanted garbage.

On the island, a group of dogs are struggling for survival, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a battle-scarred stray who sees himself very much as the alpha male of the pack. His followers  are voiced by a whole menagerie of A-List talent (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, to name but three). The sudden arrival of Kobayashi’s twelve year old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), changes everything. Atari is in search of his beloved lost pet, Spot, who the mayor has insisted must follow the example of all the other four-legged offenders and be sent into quarantine off-shore. This sets Chief and his pack off on a quest to help Atari by locating the missing canine and, of course, they uncover some startling truths in the process. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group led by the intrepid Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are leading an insurrection against Kobayashi, who, it seems, has not been as honest as he might have been…

Some critics of the film have accused it of cultural appropriation, but I can’t help hoping they are barking up the wrong tree. The love and respect for Japan and its traditions are evident in just about every frame of this delightful movie, from the Taisho drumming sequences to the visual references to veteran directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Mizazaki. What’s more, the animation is so detailed and so brilliantly realised, it’s hard to suppress my gasps of admiration as the story scampers along at high speed from revelation to revelation. All the usual Anderson qualities are in evidence – witty one-liners, a steadfast refusal to get too sentimental about the characters and a delicious vein of dark humour that ties the whole package neatly together.

On the same day we viewed this, The Cameo Cinema hosted a dog-friendly screening, but, as we chose to attend the humans-only show, I cannot really comment on how it went down with its four-legged viewers.

But in my humble opinion, at least, this film is a howling success.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Disaster Artist

08/12/17

Let me begin with a question: is it ever possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In this analogy, the sow’s ear is Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/12/04/the-room/), a film of such toe-curling ineptitude that it actually hurts to watch it – and a film, moreover, that – since its initial release in 2003 – has somehow recruited a sizable coterie of avid fans, who gather at regular midnight screenings around the world to celebrate its general naffness. The potential silk purse is The Disaster Artist, the film about the making of The Room, in which James Franco plays Wiseau and, in a hubristic gesture that Wiseau would undoubtedly approve of, also directs.

Franco’s film opens in San Francisco in the 90s, where we meet young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who is struggling to make some kind of impact on the local theatre scene. At a workshop, he encounters Wiseau, a mysterious long-haired individual who, when invited to improvise in front of the other students, unleashes a ‘performance’ of such unabashed fury, that the more inhibited Sestero immediately wants to know more about him. The two men become buddies and, when Wiseau casually suggests that they should go to Los Angeles and ‘get into the movies,’ Sestero happily goes along – Wiseau already has an apartment there and he’s perfectly happy to share it. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Mr Wiseau. Where does his seemingly bottomless pit of money come from? Why does a man who claims to be a native of New Orleans have what sounds like a middle European accent? And why is he so willing to go to any lengths to impress Sestero? Will there be a price to pay?

When, after months of fruitless auditions have resulted in exactly zero film or TV roles, Wiseau announces that there is only one option left: he will write a movie script for the two of them to star in – and then he will direct it. Which is pretty much what happens. Wiseau’s complete ignorance of the film-making process means that he ends up spending over six million dollars on his little vanity project and, since he seems reluctant to heed any advice from professionals, the result of all his labours is an incoherent mess but, undeterred, he sets about arranging a premiere…

It would be very easy to make a cruel comedy out of this but, though the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, Franco’s evident affection for Wiseau shines through in every frame. As the director has said in interviews, it takes as much commitment and ingenuity to make a bad film as it does to make a good one and it will be a hard-hearted individual indeed who won’t feel for Wiseau when his beloved project is greeted by hoots of derision from all who see it. Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is uncannily accurate, as are most of the other performances here. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot some big names in cameo roles: Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams. Oh yes, and there’s Bryan Cranston actually playing himself. Most telling of all is the extended sequence at the end of the film, where scenes from The Room are played alongside their equivalent from The Disaster Artist. They are virtually identical.

So, the million dollar question. Do you need to have seen the original movie in order to enjoy this homage? Well, it may not be an essential requirement, but it certainly helps me to fully appreciate the care and attention that has gone into this project. Mind you, with the new interest in The Room that the film seems certain to generate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a general re-release is waiting in the wings, which I’ve no doubt will be a bonus for Mr Wiseau.

So, returning to my original question, in this case yes. The sow’s ear has become a silk purse – and this is definitely one of the most intriguing films of the year.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Why Him?

09/01/17

Given that this film is a sort of Christmas movie, we came to it late. In fact we only went to see it because A: It was one of the only three films in the cinema we hadn’t yet seen, and B: It wasn’t Ballerina or Assassin’s Creed. We had fairly low expectations for it and were pleasantly surprised to find that we actually rather enjoyed it.

The ‘him’ in question is Laird Mayhew (James Franco), a potty-mouthed but fabulously rich man-child, the impresario behind a line of incredibly successful computer games featuring apes with bazookas. The person asking the titular question is Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), who along with his wife, Barb (Megan Mulally) runs a struggling print-on-paper publishing company, the kind of set up that people like Laird are putting out of business on a daily basis. The reason the question is being asked is that Ned’s beloved daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is now going out with Laird, and Ned’s parents have just been introduced to him in the worst way possible – midway through a Skype call during Ned’s fifty-fifth birthday party, they are forced to watch online as he prepares to get down and dirty with their daughter. Awkward!

When the Fleming family is invited out to sunny California to spend the Christmas holidays with the young couple, Ned is far from enthusiastic; and when he sees the palatial designer house in which Laird (and his sizeable entourage) dwell, his hackles rise and it’s clear that this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Now, I’ve never subscribed to the theory that the fathers of daughters have to automatically hate their choice of partner, though this inappropriate jealousy is a familiar if overused trope. But it has to be said that Cranston and Franco certainly milk the idea for some big laughs here – and Stephanie makes clear that she wants no part in their macho posturing. Most of the hilarity comes from Ned’s long-suffering expressions as he is subjected to one indignity after another. His humiliating tussle with a ‘paperless toilet’ is particularly funny and there’s a nicely set up gag about the rock band, Kiss that also pays dividends. I also enjoyed Keegan Michael-Key’s turn as Laird’s ‘mentor’ Gustav and the running joke where he and Laird attack each other on a daily basis, an evident tribute to Clouseau and Cato from the Pink Panther films.

Okay, so this isn’t going to challenge It’s A Beautiful Life as everybody’s favourite Christmas flick, but it’s a decently made bit of fluff that (unless you’re very hard to please) will  make you laugh out loud at regular intervals. And maybe, in these troubled times, that’s as much as you can reasonably ask.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Trumbo

STILL-01STILL-02

16/02/16

Despite a couple of well-deserved Oscar nominations, Trumbo didn’t trouble the multiplexes for very long at all – perhaps it was a tad too political to draw in the crowds, even with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in the lead role, but you can still catch it on the big screen at independent cinemas (it’s showing at Home, Manchester until the 23rd Feb.) It’s essentially a biopic of screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo and if the name doesn’t mean an awful lot to you, certainly some of the movies he wrote will – Roman Holiday, anyone? Spartacus? Exodus? 

The film begins in the late 1940s, when Trumbo is one of the most respected and successful screenwriters in the Hollywood cannon. He is also, like many of his friends,  a member of the Communist Party. As the ‘House of Un-American Activities Committee comes into being, such people are increasingly regarded with hostility and suspicion. They are seen by many as the ‘communist threat,’ secretly planning to overthrow the USA. Such suspicions are further fuelled by the scurrilous (and openly racist) rants of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hoppa (played here with venomous relish by Helen Mirren.) Trumbo is the man with the guts to stand up to the committee and for his pains is imprisoned for several years, even though he hasn’t actually broken any laws. On his release, his career in tatters, he’s  obliged to ghostwrite cheap movies for the unscrupulous producer Frank King (John Goodman) for a fraction of his former salary. He goes on to create similar opportunities for his other friends who have been similarly shafted, in each case ascribing authorship to a non-existent screenwriter. But when one of his films, The Brave One, is nominated for an Oscar, it’s clear that something has to change…

Biopics are tricky creatures, but Director Hal Roach does a good job with this one, aided no end by a scorching performance by Cranston  – his chain-smoking, wisecracking personification of the great man never fails to entertain, even as it informs. Roach has also made a decent fist of casting actors to play movie icons – Michael Stuhlbarg is terrific as Edward G. Robinson and Dean O Gorman’s turn as the young Kirk Douglas is extraordinary – just check out the sequences from Spartacus where he interacts on screen with Woody Strode – you literally cannot see the joins.

More importantly, perhaps, Trumbo takes a cold hard look at one of the most shameful eras in American history – and with the irresistible rise of Donald Trump to provide contemporary resonance, its message has never been more timely. Do take the opportunity to see this film, it’s really is worth the effort.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney