Tag Archives: Bryan Cranston

ISLE OF DOGS

Three and a half Star Rating

“…Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live…”  – Wayward Wolf.

Given that I live locally to it, viewing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs on London’s own Isle of Dogs, E14, seemed like something of a ‘must do’. Unsurprisingly London’s purpose-built financial district overspill has notably fewer stray mutts running about, and its city-scape, whilst to some extent being overwhelmingly vulgar in its 1980’s faux-grandiose misadvised styling, is admittedly a lot more pleasing on the eye than the island wasteland setting of Anderson’s new stop-motion animated feature film.

An aesthetically-pleasing backdrop Anderson’s film may well lack in places, but there is something of an inherent beauty about this pain-stakingly detailed animation. Indeed, visually there is a huge amount to admire here.

Built upon a back story that tells of much historic conflict between cat and dog lovers, the city of Nagasaki is, according to its pro-cat leader, Mayor Ayasabi, now completely over-run with diseased dogs to such an extent that there is no other solution than to annex them all to a neighbouring waste island.

With this in mind the Mayor embarks upon a major mutt-move, and with it, what he hopes will be the complete eradication of the lingering threat of mutated human strains of both Dog Flu and Snout Fever.

As something of a symbolic gesture, Ayasabi decrees that the first dog to be re-located will be Spots, a handsome confident canine who just so happens to be the appointed guard dog of the Mayor’s own adopted son, Atari.

This, needless to say, does not go down too well with Atari who proceeds to somehow bravely fly a small one-seater plane across from the mainland to the waste island in a bid to rescue his beloved mutt.

Here he encounters one of the ragtag packs of hounds with whom he develops a strong and trusting bond, and together they set about attempting to locate Atari’s faithful best friend.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the pro-dog movement is painfully close to formulating an effective serum to combat these perilous doggy diseases, with a view to re-introducing the annexed dogs back into society. Yet it seems that the Mayor and his allies, with sinister motivations, will stop at nothing to shut them down.

But the Mayor hadn’t banked upon a small and very vocal minority of young Social Justice Warriors relentlessly pursuing him, determined to expose his crooked ways by lifting the blindfolds from the eyes of the hoodwinked masses and snapping them out of their docile subservience.

No matter which way you dress it up, Isle of Dogs, is a heavily political piece providing many layers of additional depth to this, literally, shaggy dog story.

And given that this is mainstream cinema, Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live.

Racial integration, environmental concerns, the prevalence of corruption within regimes, the blinkered dumbed-down nature of society, the growing political power and influence of the youth – particularly through technology, the championing of both the disadvantaged and minority groups, and through the film’s tightly-bound assortment of canine and human compadres, there is also a considerable tip of the hat towards the power of the collective, as they stand strong together against waves of unjust tyranny.

It’s all here.

There can perhaps be loose comparisons made – in tone at least – with Martin Rosen’s wonderful, oft-overlooked animated adaptation of the Richard Adams novel, Plague DogsVisually and stylistically-speaking, however, there are more obvious parallels to be made with Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman‘s more recent offering, Anomalisa

Anderson’s film, enhanced substantially by Alexandre Desplat’s strategically sympathetic score, positively oozes charm. And it’s thanks in no small part to an extremely fine set of vocal castings, with the likes of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum – to name but a few – all breathing substantial life and vigour into this impressive animation. I really do lose count of the number of animated feature films that, for me at least, seem to fall so flat in this department.

A little morally and politically preachy Isle of Dogs may well be at times, but in fairness to the director, he never really labours the point, nor does he disappear in a cloud of self-generated ideological pretension.

Instead Anderson allows the film’s biggest assets – its considerable heart, comical interludes and jaw-dropping delicate beauty – to really shine through and be the star of the show.

An animated gem.

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FILM REVIEW: The Infiltrator

 

Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator, is a tense thriller based upon a true story, starring man of the moment, the omnipresent, Bryan Cranston. He plays Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs official tasked with exposing a notorious money laundering scheme that’s linked at its very highest levels to the man himself, Pablo Escobar.
In the twilight of his career, with retirement just around the corner, Mazur is presented with the option to ease himself out of the job quietly, but call it fate or sods law, his final ‘take it or leave it’ role thrusts him into the biggest job of his life, and much to his long-suffering wife’s concern and displeasure, his commitment to his colleagues and to his position renders him unable to say no.
Together with a team of fellow undercover operatives, they seek to infiltrate this money laundering ring and expose its inner circle; working their way up into its upper echelons as they go.
Mazur adopts the guise of business ‘money man,’ Bob Musella, through whom financial transactions ‘get done,’ no matter their dubious nature. John Leguizamo stays true-to-type, playing his partner, the street-wise, cocksure, Emir Abreu. Emir supplies considerable know-how to proceedings, possesses considerable cojones, and generally adds an authenticity that’s so crucial at the ‘street level’ of this particular operation.
Mazur and Abreu must mix it up with an assortment of street hoodlums, and latterly, Mazur in particular, with a selection of ultra-moneyed, crooked tycoons.
A number of false friendships are made and their confidence is duly gained. One bond of friendship ultimately proves so strong that the sense of guilt that Mazur experiences when faced with the inevitable act of betrayal, borders on deep remorse.
Within such a highly volatile predicament, the possibility of being found out – or sold out for that matter – at any moment, is never far from Mazur’s thoughts . Everything is balanced precariously on the proverbial knife edge and the resultant tension from a number of incredibly near misses will leave your heart in your mouth.
But the film’s chief success comes from the exploration of Robert Mazur’s character,  and more to the point, from Bryan Cranston’s excellent portrayal of him.
Rather than the swashbuckling all-action hero that Mazur’s character could very easily have been made out to be in the wrong directorial hands – whether true to life or not – Cranston, one senses, provides a far more realistic portrayal. A family man, and a man that’s fully aware of the folly of accepting this one final job, and the far reaching consequences that it could so easily bring about.
Robert Mazur is a man that engages in high-risk role play by day, living an enormously decadent high-flying lifestyle so as to ingratiate himself with those that he seeks to bring down, after which he must adapt back to his sedate, middle class existence by night. More to the point, he must continually square these two, disparate existences with both his own conscience, and with his wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), a task that becomes increasingly difficult the further he is drawn into the cesspit of the mafia inner circle.
For this, Mazur’s final assignment, he is even required to adopt a fiancee into his life, Bonni, (played here by the excellent Amy Ryan), a dedication to the role which whilst necessary and admirable, pushes Robert’s wife to her very limits of tolerance, particularly when sinister elements of Mazur’s work begin to encroach negatively upon his marriage and family life.
Director Brad Furman’s piece is commendable on a number of levels, most notably for not being sucked into the trap of turning the whole piece into an excuse for umpteen gangster shoot-outs and relentless car chases, but the overall impression is one of a film that falls a little short of being considered of any great importance within its genre, as watchable as it most definitely is.
Not pandering to the temptation to overly titillate or indulge in the gratuitous is all well and good, but there’s a nagging sense that Furman’s direction could have benefited from being maybe a little more ‘down and dirty,’ in order to achieve maximum impact. That said, there’s certainly enough here overall, particularly given such genuinely excellent performances right across the board, and a succession of hyper-tense set pieces, to make The Infiltrator a perfectly decent and entertaining watch.

 

FILM REVIEW: Trumbo

I encountered a review of Jay Roach’s Trumbo the other day. It was critical both for being inaccurate and for presenting an overly favourable depiction of a man who was by all accounts notoriously hard to get on with and a bit of a pain in the arse.

I couldn’t possibly comment on this being relatively ignorant of the man and his life’s work, but turning this wholly negative, ‘thumbs-down’ review on its head for a moment, I would argue that Trumbo is in fact an excellent piecefor those very same reasons.

Jay Roach’s biopic, in spite of the relatively heavy nature of the subject matter, takes a fairly light-hearted, almost whimsical approach to the remarkable life of Dalton Trumbo; but lacking in substance and weight, it is not.

Strangely comic and almost cartoonish in his portrayal, Bryan Cranston nails his depiction of the infamous Hollywood screenwriter and political activist. Perhaps it’s Trumbo’s relentless chain-smoking or the flippant nature of his retorts, but there are shades of Groucho Marx about Cranston’s Trumbo, whilst Roach’s direction borrows slightly from latter-day Woody Allen in many respects, adding considerable charm and levity to the story.

That’s not to say that Trumbo by definition is a comedy. It isn’t.

Mid 20th century America was a tough place to hold ‘radical’ political beliefs. With the Cold War hanging over the nation like a bad smell and the trepidation of ‘what may be,’ American minds were rightly or wrongly preoccupied within a climate of fear and anti-Russian, anti-Communist sentiment.

For those like Dalton Trumbo, a man who held the civil rights and welfare of all American citizens as paramount to a well balanced and fair society above anything else, there was a very real sense that the net was widening and indeed closing in on them.

Trumbo, buoyed from signing a lucrative writing contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer, a deal that would well and truly set him up for life, would soon find his life and career taking a serious downturn. Not just the American authorities was it, hell-bent on pulling the rug from beneath him, but the herd mentality of a media-fed public, lapping up the propoganda of the times, would also adopt the position of ‘defenders of the flag,’ unwittingly undermining their own freedoms by policing both the ‘commies’ and themselves in the process.

Trumbo and his circle of politically like-minded friends and confidants are predictably put through the wringer by the U.S authorities and shunned by those they had assumed were either friends or trustworthy acquaintances, with law after law passed deliberately to demonise them and their kind, ever further.

For the outed Communist Trumbo, a potential spell of incarceration is a very real possibility, but worse still, a blacklisting at the hands of the powers that be in Hollywood, spells potential career disaster.

Dalton Trumbo is however a canny customer, made of sterner stuff. Indeed, time will truly reveal the brilliance of the man and his ingenious methods of biting back at those who see fit to ruin him…

There’s a hell of a lot to like about Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston is terrific in the lead role, and his job is made that much easier being backed up most ably by a tremendous support cast:

Diane Lane is stoic, motherly and wonderfully feminine, portraying Trumbo’s long-suffering wife, Cleo. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the conflicted actor Edward G. Robinson, Louis C.K is Alen Hird, Trumbo’s close friend and fellow screenwriter of similar mind, whilst John Goodman weighs in, quite literally, with his take on the larger-than-life character, Frank King, the owner of a film company specialising in turning around God-awful films in record time, without any bullshit.

A special mention to Helen Mirren too. She portrays Hedda Hopper, a ‘Time’ journalist and critic as loathsome as she is influential, and a woman whose poisonous pen can and does make or break the best of them.

Trumbo, in spite of the at times sobering content and heavily political sub-text, positively jollies along. There’s a good pace to the film and a reassuring sense of quality about both script and direction, akin to a well-directed Spielberg yarn, and above all, the comforting realisation that everything’s in exceptionally good hands here.

There’s always a danger that biopics end up being dry, box-ticking exercises, but in Trumbo, director Jay Roach has got it spot on. He’s succeeded in revealing the life and times of one of America’s finest and most prolific screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, not just as an interesting historical account, but as a properly engaging cinematic event, and that’s no mean feat.