Double Reviews: Trumbo (2015) & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I generally love movies about making movies. Yes it’s like Hollywood taking a giant selfie and we all know there are no shortage of narcissists in the business. Nevertheless I enjoy watching movies about the tales of how a picture got made, especially set in the Golden Age of Hollywood where the behind-the-scenes drama is likely more intriguing than what’s on screen.

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These two films take place in a similar era and boast quite an ensemble cast. One is based on a true story and the other is a work of fiction that feels true, so I thought these two would make a perfect double review.

TRUMBO

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I was familiar with Dalton Trumbo’s story for some time but I never knew the details. As a huge fan of Roman Holiday, I knew he’s a great screen writer, but it turns out he was the best in the biz. At one point he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood and well-respected by studios and peers alike. The film started out in the late 40s with Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) at the height of his career, but then his life took a downward spiral when he’s subpoenaed for being a Communist, accused of using the movies to corrupt democracy and overthrow the nation. He’s later sentenced to a year in federal prison and the scenes of him being humiliated in prison is really quite heartbreaking.

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But what’s even worse than the jail sentence is that Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 writers were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, and not only that, they were kicked out of the Screen Writers Guild as well, which they themselves helped built. Now, I don’t think the film is all that political, it’s more focused on the character of this extraordinary talented man and his journey in Hollywood. But he’s also not perfect, obviously he’s an eccentric man who spent most of his writing in the bath tub and he practically ignored his family unless he needs help with delivering a script discreetly to the studios. The film is quite fascinating and kept my interest throughout, all the quirks of Trumbo and his friends & foes are played wonderfully by a great ensemble of actors.

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My faves are Louis C.K. as screenwriter & Trumbo’s BFF Arlen Hird, John Goodman as a B-movie studio honcho, both had some of the funniest scenes. Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas and German actor Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger are also pretty memorable here and O’Gorman whom I knew from playing the Fili in the Hobbit movies, had a surprisingly canny resemblance to Mr. Douglas.

I love Helen Mirren in general but here I didn’t think her performance was all that great, to be honest she made a better impression in the Hitchcock film which is of similar genre. Diane Lane is quite good as Trumbo’s wife though she’s not on screen that much, as was in that era, it’s the male cast that really got to shine in this film. In any case, the real star here is Cranston and I’m not surprised he’s nominated for an Oscar. I think his performance carried the film and made it worthwhile. It’s incredible how he captured the voice and mannerism of the real life Trumbo, but more than than, I think he captured his genius as well as his eccentric personality.

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Despite the serious subject matter, the film’s tone is pretty light and fun. There were dark moments to be sure, but director Jay Roach made sure it never lasted for too long. I don’t think it undermines the story however, especially the speech at the end that made you really reflect on the whole ordeal Trumbo and his friends went through. For a film about the greatest screenwriters, the script by John McNamara (based on a book by Bruce Cook) was thankfully quite sharp. The costumes, set pieces, cinematography, and especially the performances, really brought the story to life and made me appreciate Trumbo, and screenwriters in general, even more than I already do.

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Hail, Caesar!

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Now, when the trailer first dropped, I must’ve watched it half a dozen times in one day. It’s a satire of Hollywood big studios and their big stars, told in a day-in-the-life format of a Hollywood fixer called Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is a fixer who works for Capitol Pictures in the 50s, he’s the man tasked with cleaning up after the biggest names in the industry. Ruthless though he may be, Mannix is a tormented person, so ravaged by guilt that he goes to confession more often that the priest himself care to hear. The movie pretty much picked up when the studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set of one of a huge epic movie modeled after Ben-Hur (it even had the same tagline, A Tale of the Christ). Now, the set up promises a lot of intrigue and hilarity but in the end it only partly delivered.
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There are some genuinely hysterical moments, especially the exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (as an Laurence Olivier-type director) in a film set which had me in stitches. Despite being the least known actor in the cast, Ehrenreich actually had a pretty big part in the movie and he acquitted himself well here. Heck, I think he’s better than Clooney as I actually believed him as the character, instead of just an movie star basically just playing a variation of himself. Whitlock seems like a caricature instead of a real person. I’m not sure whether or not it’s because of Clooney’s own stature and star-wattage or the way the script played out. The plot about Whitlock’s kidnapping would likely amuse (or irate) the real Dalton Trumbo, though the twist played out like something out of an SNL skit.

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Brolin’s Mannix is the most-developed character in this movie and the only one with a real arc. Thankfully Brolin was good in the role and made me care for his plight, but the rest of the ensemble cast filled with the ‘who’s who of current Hollywood establishment’ wasn’t given much to do. I feel like the fun moments peppered throughout just didn’t quite gel as a cohesive film. Many characters came and went without leaving any mark, and SO many actors were underutilized, even Tilda Swinton who played a dual role. Jonah Hill is basically in a blink-and-you-missed-him role, he’s only on screen as much as he was in the trailer. Those who love Channing Tatum‘s dancing will be pleased with him here, but the musical numbers here don’t make much of an impression to me. Now, the Coens’ regular Frances McDormand‘s part is basically a cameo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable scenes.

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In the end the film seems too random and frivolous, and despite those hilarious moments, ultimately it’s a rather forgettable affair . Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a big disappointment as I’m actually not a huge Coens fan if I’m honest. I actually think this could be one of their most accessible films, and the light tone made it pretty enjoyable, it just lacks the gravitas one expect from the talents involved. The ending also felt anticlimactic to me, and the emotional connection is lacking overall. On a technical level, the film is gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ masterful craft, and the retro costumes are nice to look at. If you’re a big Coens fan, this one is still well worth a rent, just don’t expect this to be another one of their classic hits.

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So, have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

Valentine Special – 59 Reasons I LOVE Roman Holiday!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

May love – romantic or otherwise – fills your heart and puts a smile on your face. Well, a movie that always makes me smile as well as tear up with heartache and joy at the same time is none other than William Wyler’s 1953 masterpiece rom-com Roman Holiday. And since I promised you here that I’d give a special tribute to this fine movie, well what could be a more fitting time than Valentine’s Day?

The number 59 isn’t exactly a random number, it was fifty nine years ago that this movie was released on September 2, 1953. Of course there are easily hundreds more reasons why I love this movie, but then I’d never be done with this post 😀 So without further ado, here we go:

1. Well you’ve got to start with the best part obviously… the cast…
23-year-old Audrey Hepburn in her first feature film role is exquisite. I have no words for her delicate beauty, she’s the epitome of graceful loveliness and magnetic charm. She has a perfect blend of innocence and regal aura that is just perfect for the role of the bored Princess Ann. I really can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.

2. Gregory Peck in his most delightfully playful role as the American journalist Joe Bradley. Despite not being the go-to-guy for rom-coms, I really think Gregory’s comic timing is far better than people gave him credit for. It’s a shame he wasn’t at least nominated for his role as I really think the film works so well because of the genius pairing of these two. Plus, despite all the dashing leading men Audrey’s been paired with in her time, I do believe the tall, dark and ridiculously handsome Gregory was perhaps the only one who could match her beauty.

3. The simple but immensely charming original story by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, too bad he was blacklisted by the studios as part of the Hollywood 10 that he couldn’t receive credit for it.

4. William Wyler’s direction… It’s amazing how different three of my favorite films of his are, Ben-Hur, The Big Country and this one couldn’t be more different from each other yet they are all masterpieces of their respective genres. Under a less-capable director, this simple story would not have been the masterpiece of timeless classic the way Roman Holiday is now.

5. Rome… By all means, Rome. This city is as much a character in this movie than the human cast. Even in black and white, it’s impossible not to be enchanted by the Eternal City. No wonder Rome’s tourism business still benefits from this movie with all kinds of Roman-Holiday city tours such as this one to various locations depicted here.

6. The witty script. No matter how charismatic and gorgeous the cast is, the movie just won’t have such an enduring quality without the sharp and memorable dialog.

Princess Ann: Do you have a silk nightgown with rosebuds?
Joe Bradley: I’m afraid you’re gonna have to rough it out tonight… in these [handing her his striped pajamas]. Sorry honey, I haven’t worn a nightgown in years!

7. Audrey’s regal look when she’s first introduced at the royal ball… hard to imagine she’s not an actual princess!

8. The whole scene of Princess Ann escaping her palace. If there is such a thing as comic suspense, then Wyler captures it beautifully. The cinematography captures all the wonderful detail of her palace’s interior, the Renaissance-style decor and that majestic bed, etc.

9. The opening scene at the Princess’ embassy when she is receiving guests. There’s so much humor even in this short scene, from the way the princess glance over at the announcer when he struggles to spit out an especially long and difficult foreign name, and when she lost one of her shoes under that giant dress!

10. Audrey’s adorable smile as she rides in the back of a delivery truck, waving giddily at a couple riding a Vespa.

11. Ann’s adorable state of wooziness. Audrey’s absolutely beguiling as she mumbles a poem and statements from her royal speeches…

What the world needs… is a return to sweetness and decency in the souls of its young men and… [dozes off again].

12. Joe’s chivalry as he offers to take a sleepy stranger back home and hearing Gregory utter some Italian words to the cab driver.

13. Gregory’s breathtaking good looks the moment he walks into the Roman Forum. I must say I breath a sigh every time I watch Audrey lean against Gregory’s strong shoulder 😀

14. The way Joe catches Ann just in time as she was about to fall over from the park bench.

15. The part where Joe takes her up to her apartment… the more I watch this movie, the more I find that the dialog free and subtle gestures during the quiet scenes are hilarious, such as the part at the apartment’s front entrance as Ann leans on Joe’s back and he leans back to straighten her and when Ann almost knocks on the wrong apartment door and Joe catches her just before her hand touches the door. It’s the small things like this that make this film so fun to watch over and over again.

16. Joe’s scene with his boss Henessy. I LOVE the way he lies up a storm and pretend that he’s already got the Princess interview in the can, Gregory’s comic timing here is just spot on, it comes out so natural that I wish he’d done more comedic roles. When he discovered just what the Princess look like from the newspaper, his facial expression is priceless!

I plan to enter her sick room disguised as a thermometer.
– Joe telling his boss of his plan on obtaining an exclusive interview with the Princess

17. Via Margutta 51. Even the address of Joe’s apartment has such a romantic ring to it.

18. Princess Ann asking Joe to undress her…

“I’ve never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it’s most unusual.” 😀

19. Audrey’s amusing wide-eyed expression as Ann wakes up, finding out she’s not in her room and that the man standing in front of her is NOT Dr. Bonnachoven…

20. … and her self-satisfied giggle following the wry Q&A with Joe as she realizes she’s broken every royal rule by spending the night in a male stranger’s apartment!

21. Audrey’s simple yet chic outfit, especially that long swing-y skirt that goes so well with her ankle-tie ballet flats. It’s the way she carries herself that make even the most ordinary outfit look so stylish and classy.

22. Ann’s darling haircut... only someone of Audrey’s beauty can pull off such a cut. I also love her Italian barber who’s so taken with her that he asks her out dancing afterwards.

23. Ann revealing her deepest wishes to Joe at Piazza di Spagna whilst eating Gelatto…

I’d like to do just whatever I like, the whole day long…

24. The lively music by George Auric… I love how perky and slightly mischievous-sounding it is as it’s playing during Ann’s first taste of freedom roaming around the city whilst Joe is secretly following her every trail.

25. The conversation at the sidewalk cafe as both Joe and Ann are lying profusely trying to cover up their true identity. Joe claims he’s a fertilizer salesman and Ann pretending she’s a student running away from school.

26. Eddie Albert as Irving Radovich, Joe’s carefree photographer friend… the way he secretly takes pictures of the Princess is fun to watch!

27. The not-so-courteous way Joe tries to hint at Irving about the Princess by spilling coffee on him, knocking him off his chair, etc. Gregory and Eddie has such a wonderful and effortless rapport, you totally believe they’ve been friends forever.

28. The riotous Vespa scene. It just never gets old… especially when Ann is behind the wheel with Joe riding behind her, wreaking havoc on the side streets.


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Princess Ann smoking her first cigarette… and nonchalantly quipped, ‘There’s nothing to it…” Who can’t relate to that rebellious streak we all had at one point of our lives?

30. The delightful spontaneity of the Mouth of Truth scene. As you can read on my trivia page, thanks to Gregory’s genius idea of not telling Audrey what he was about to do, that scene of Audrey screaming was done in one take!

31. Night of Dancing on the Tiber River… I love this whole setting, the lights, the orchestra music, the romantic vibe… I love the fact that it was shot on location with Italian extras instead of a closed set.

32. Gregory Peck in a pajama… ’nuff said.

33. The extremely conspicuous men in black hired to retrieve the Princess… funny how they all stick out like a sore thumb!

34. The dance scene…

Ann: Hello

Joe: Hello

And in that moment, they suddenly realize there might be something there…

35. Joe’s completely guilty manner when Ann compliments him for being so selfless. This is when subtlety is so key in Joe’s role and Gregory pulls it off time and again beautifully.

36. Irving taking pictures from behind the bar… the whole set-up of having Joe covering up the camera and movie just in the nick of time for Irving to take the picture.

37. The barber fixing Ann’s hair right in the middle of the dance.

38. The way Ann calls on Bradley to rescue her from the secret service squadron… followed by that jolly good fight scene between that got everyone at the party fighting the secret police. The part of Ann hitting an agent with a guitar is such a hoot and failing to take a shot of that priceless moment, Irving tells her to do it again…

Hit him again, Smithy!

39. Audrey and Gregory looking so darn bewitching even drenched from falling into the river, which leads to…

40.that impromptu first kiss… I’ve always wondered how long Joe’s been waiting to do that…

41. Joe’s world-weariness in contrast to Ann’s naivete… 

Life isn’t always what one likes, is it?

Perhaps it’s this very comment that made Ann seal her decision to follow her duty instead of carrying on a romance with the man she loves.

42. The transformation of Joe Bradley from the rogue-ish, self-serving reporter to the sincere, compassionate, love-stricken man that he’s no longer had it in him to sell the Princess story for his own gain.

43. The amazing view of the city from Joe Bradley’s apartment’s balcony. Apparently the apartment interior and spiral staircase were a studio set, but the courtyard is real and the view from the terrace was shot from one of those courtyard apartments. I wish I had remembered this when we went to Italy a few years ago so I could pay a visit.

44. Joe trying to steal a little girl’s camera. It’s such a silly moment set against one of the most popular Italian setting, the Trevi Fountain.

45. The not-so-chivalrous way Joe moves Ann over from the bed to the chaise… I couldn’t believe it when I saw it the first time, but given that he had no idea who she was at the time, I guess you couldn’t really blame him.

46. Despite the age difference, Joe and Ann’s courtship never feels creepy or inappropriate… there’s something so decent and sweet about the manner of their romance but yet the impact is just as heartfelt as contemporary love stories, if not more so.

47. The way Joe stops Ann and takes her into his embrace moments before he drives her home. There’s so much emotion going on in this scene… Ann stops him from telling the truth, it’s as if the truth no longer matters as she knew they couldn’t be together.

48. Close-ups of misty-eyed Gregory in the heart-rending finale… that’s really what the pause button is invented for 😉

49. Ann finally standing up for herself… refusing the milk and crackers her aide gives her in an assertive manner. The princess grows up in a matter of 24-hours and learn for the first time the joy and pain of falling in love.

50. The longing look as she gazes outside her palace’s bedroom window, and at the same time Joe is doing the same thing in his apartment just before his boss pays him a visit.

51. The no-fairy-tale ending. Though I very much want these two lovable creatures to end up together, I’m glad that the film ended the way it did. It’s a sobering reality that adds so much more meaning their short-but-sweet holiday together.

52. The Baroque bell tower that wakes Joe up the morning of the interview, and also looms in the background during the Gelatto-scene at the Spanish Steps… I love vintage clocks and this one was apparently built in the mid 1600.

53. The beautiful palace where Princess Ann holds the press junket… I love that shot of Joe and Irving amongst the crowd as Irving sarcastically quipped, “It ain’t much, but it’s home…”

54. The heart-rending finale. Joe walking alone in the empty palace corridor as everyone has left, his steps echoing as he reluctantly leaves the building. As he passes the two guards, he still takes a glimpse towards the stage once more. Empty. The music swells up, forcing us to realize they’re never going to see each other again. Joe keeps on walking towards the camera and disappears, carrying the memory of that day in Rome that he too will cherish for as long as he lives. Best. Finale. Ev-er.

55. Though filled with pathos, this scene was shot in the most stylish and artsy way. The glorious Palazzo Colonna and its wonderful paintings on its high walls inside Sala Grande Galleria did nothing to distract Joe from thinking of his lost love. Gregory looked like a fashion model in this last scene, beautiful beyond words. As someone who has seen dozens of his movies just in the last few months, I can easily say he never looked more dashing than in this movie and especially in this very scene. As I said in my tumblr post, in this movie Gregory did for suits what Cary Grant did for tuxedo.

56. Gregory’s undeniable chemistry with Hepburn. His eyes light up every time he looks at her… and a smile forms on his face almost instantaneously. It’s such a genuine rapport that clearly transcend beyond the movie as both became friends for life.

57. The way Wyler captures the every day sound and sights of the city… the market’s hustle bustle, the sound of traffic, people buzzing about, etc…. it adds so much charm to the already captivating scene of the Princess in the city.

58. The beautifully-scripted conversation of that tearful goodbye… tender and emotional without being overly schmaltzy.

Princess Ann: I have to leave you now. I’m going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you.
Joe Bradley: All right.
Princess Ann: I don’t know how to say goodbye. I can’t think of any words.
Joe Bradley: Don’t try.


59. And last but not least…. the timeless quality of Roman Holiday. This is one of those few movies with a great re-watchability factor. I’ve watched this so many times and manage to find something new to be enamored and enchanted by.


I hope you enjoy my tribute to this classic rom-com. I REALLY recommend this if you haven’t seen it already. Those who have, what’s YOUR favorite scene(s)?