Read this short recollection of a 1995 encounter between Bob Dylan and Joe Wright-favorited cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Pan, Fifty Shades of Grey, Ana Karenina, The Soloist, Atonement). How can anyone do what Dylan is described as having done here? Who is this lame, this retarded, this flaky?
There’s nothing wrong with being an intelligent, pruned-down, HBO-level biopic, which is pretty much what you get with Jay Roach‘s Trumbo (Bleecker Street, 11.6). A political biopic, I should say. I saw it last night from a balcony seat at the Elgin, and it just flew right by. Call it an above-average portrait of the Hollywood blacklist era, and a better-than-decent capturing of one the most gifted and industrious blacklisted screenwriters ever. A moustachioed, sandpaper-voiced Bryan Cranston portrays the stalwart titular hero; I felt completely at home with the guy. Trumbo was one of the most gifted wordsmiths in Hollywood history — a winner of two screenwriting Oscars (Roman Holiday, The Brave One) during his under-wraps period, and also the author of A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Cowboy, Spartacus, Exodus, Lonely Are The Brave…the list is quite lengthy. He was also a man of balls and honor. I just wish that Roach and screenwriter John McNamara had paid at least some attention to the legendary Gun Crazy (’50), which Trumbo co-wrote under an alias. My favorite supporting performances (in this order): Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson (particularly during a scene in which he explains to Trumbo why he became a friendly HUAC witness), Helen Mirren as the maliciously right-wing Hedda Hopper, John Goodman as schlock producer Frank King, Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, and David James Elliott as John Wayne.
Sasha Stone and I got right down to things in the latest Oscar Poker. We only had a half-hour as I had to leave for a 2 pm TIFF screening of Truth, but then Sasha and I spoke again after I saw James Vanderbilt’s film. We covered how Telluride and Toronto have clarified matters regarding the Best Pic chances of Black Mass (nope), Bridge of Spies (Sasha thinks it’s at least half-likely), Brooklyn (yes), Carol (ditto), The Danish Girl (odds are ebbing as we speak), Our Brand Is Crisis (not that kind of film), The Revenant (lock), Spotlight (lock), Steve Jobs (maybe), Beasts of No Nation (deserves Best Pic consideration), Trumbo (very good HBO-level drama) and Truth (yes!). Again, the mp3.
“Just spit it out, Jeff. Except for Alicia Vikander The Danish Girl is dreary, dreary, dreary. What a bore! I was at yesterday’s morning press showing at the Princess of Wales, and it’s first such screening this year at which there was no applause or any other audible reaction at the end. People just shuffled out. It exposes Tom Hooper as the high-art hack he is. It should immediately be taken out of the ‘discussion’, as it’s called.” — email received from a critic friend after I posed my measured, half-and-half review.
24 hours ago I was nursing a vague suspicion that James Vanderbilt‘s Truth (Sony Pictures Classic, 10.16) might be a shortfaller or not-so-hotter of some kind. The advance word had been dicey, and then Sony Pictures Classics didn’t open it at Telluride, which struck several know-it-alls as curious. Then it screened last night in Toronto and everything changed. Now Truth is regarded as a major bulls-eye journalism drama and a likely (or certainly formidable) Best Picture contender.
An exacting, well-ordered account of the Rathergate episode of ’04, Truth is easily as good as Michael Mann‘s The Insider. It has the same kind of disciplined, upscale vibe. It’s also a thematic equal of that 1999 drama as both are about real-life stories for CBS’s 60 Minutes that were challenged, watered-down or otherwise diminished by CBS corporates. Obviously not without fault in the case of Truth but still…
Cate Blanchett‘s flinty, tough-as-nails performance as former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes easily puts her into the Best Actress race (it actually nudges aside her Carol performance, incredible as that may sound). Robert Redford‘s performance as former CBS anchor-reporter Dan Rather is confined to a few scenes, but it’s one of the most pared-down and appealing things he’s done in a long time — he glows with dignity and grace. Costars Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, David Lyons and John Benjamin Hickey all deliver like champs.
It’s very unusual for a first-time director like Vanderbilt to display these kinds of chops, but that’s what he’s done here. The structure, timing, tension and pitch of this film are all spot-on. Mandy Walker‘s widescreen cinematography, the editing by Richard Francis-Bruce, Brian Tyler‘s score — all ace-level.
Pic is a dramatization of Mapes’ 2005 memoir “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.” It’s basically about how and why Mapes and Rather lost their jobs in the wake of a 2004 60 Minutes report about a young George Bush having allegedly received preferential treatment in an attempt to duck military service in Vietnam.
The notion that Eddie Redmayne might win a second Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper‘s The Danish Girl (Focus Features, 11.27) died last night in Toronto.
Okay, it didn’t die but it certainly downshifted. And the cause of that downshift was the film itself, a reasonably decent effort which screened for press & industry yesterday morning and the public last night. It seemed to play well enough, but it didn’t seem to lift anyone off the ground either. And Redmayne seems caught in a kindly web of calculation. As submissive and devotional and brave as his performance is — you have to give him credit and respect for really letting Lili into his soul — the effort is gently muffled by Lucinda Coxon‘s script (based on David Evershoff‘s same-titled book) and Hooper’s direction, which feels overly poised and burnished and finally confining.
The Danish Girl is a finely rendered, exquisitely sensitive, middle-of-the-road Oscar-bait film that will win respect and applause among the 50-plus Hollywood guild & Academy set. But it’s almost bloodless — well acted, handsomely captured and intriguing to some extent, lulling and softly emotional but never fascinating and absolutely dead fucking terrified of doing or saying anything that might be construed as brash or nervy or irreverent or out of synch with today’s p.c. drumbeat.
I felt like I was outside this movie all the way through, and while it’s extremely subtle and well-tuned, I decided at the 45-minute mark that I probably don’t want to watch it a second time. It certainly doesn’t pop any corks or build enough steam to make any tea kettles whistle. I appreciated the effort but I didn’t feel engaged, and I even felt bored from time to time.