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?

Five for the Fifth: FEBRUARY 2016 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

TheChoice1. Well, it’s February and V-day is next weekend. It seems that there are always a slew of romance-themed films coming out in February — and it’s the month that’s undoubtedly cornered by Nicholas Sparks. He’s got yet another one of his romance drivel drama out called The Choice, and it made me realize that I’ve only seen ONE film based on his books, The Notebook and since then I have no desire to see another project of his again.

Heck I’d rather watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ten times over before I rent, oh I dunno, Dear John? [Interestingly enough, the actor who’s in the choice was in Seth Grahame-Smith’s crazy mashup Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, ahah] But hey, obviously Sparks must’ve strike a chord with people otherwise his movies won’t continually get made.

So out of curiosity, do you like Nicholas Sparks’ movies? 
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2. Speaking of February, glad there are definitely alternatives to romantic films. Yes I know many of you are excited for Deadpool [which I had just watched last night], but another movie out later this month that’s somehow escaped me is Triple 9. My goodness, how in the world have I not blogged about this movie before? This is a movie I’d watch just for the cast! Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins Jr. and Aaron Paul. Check out the character posters below:

A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.

Check out the trailer:


Now granted I haven’t seen any of director John Hillcoat‘s films yet (The Proposition, Lawless, The Road) which all sound so dark and bleak, but I’m looking forward to seeing this one. I always love a good heist movie!

Will you be watching Triple 9? 

3. Apparently February 4 is PIXAR’s 30th Birthday!


Since 1986, Pixar has made so many great animated classics, most have stand the test of time. There are 16 total Pixar films so far, three of them are sequels (per Wiki). With the exception of Cars, Cars 2 and the latest one, The Good Dinosaur, I have seen ALL of Pixar movies and pretty much love them all in varying degrees. Though I’ve been watching Pixar films for a couple of decades, it’s cool that some people have just discovered them. Jordan just posted his review of Inside Out which he loved, and he’s never seen a Pixar movie since he was a kid.

Now, would you name three of your absolute favorite Pixar movies? 
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4. I’m so bummed that I missed Hail, Caesar! press screening last Tuesday thanks to the darn snow storm. Now, I’m not one of those people who anticipate the Coens’ movie every time it comes out, but I couldn’t wait to see this one so we’ll definitely go see it on Friday night.

I was reading an interview with the Coens on Variety and one of the questions was the frequent collaborations with the same people. Ethan said they’ve done four films with George Clooney and three with Josh Brolin, and probably a dozen with Joel’s wife Frances McDormand.

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The Coens on set w/ Josh Brolin & George Clooney

Here’s Ethan’s answer as to why they tend to work with the same actors:

It’s a combination of things. Personally liking them figures into it. You got to not only work with them, but also have lunch; you’re spending time with them. When they are good at what they do, you want to spend more time with them. It’s self-perpetuating. But frankly, it’s also a bit of a crutch. If you know them well, you think: “What would be interesting for them to play?”

I personally don’t mind the frequent collaborations of the Coens and some of his actors. Some other fruitful director/actor collaborations I like are Christopher Nolan + Michael Caine/Christian Bale, Wes Anderson + Bill Murray and Ridley Scott + Russell Crowe, just to name a few. But even after three films, I’m already sick of seeing David O. Russell movies with Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence combo [shrug]

What director/actor collaborations you think you’d never grow tired of?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Tiffany from Presents from the Past blog! It’s a site dedicated to modern reimaginings of the fashion and beauty of period dramas, so naturally her question revolves around costume design.

Some of her favorite costumes are from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the TV movies Lady Chatterly’s Lover and The Go Between. Click each thumbnail to see a larger image:


For me personally, since I’m also a big fan of period dramas, I LOVE Carey Mulligan’s clothes in Far from the Madding Crowd, especially this one:

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So which 2015 film(s) you think have the best costumes?


Well, that’s it for February 2016 edition of Five for the Fifth. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

Trailers Spotlight: Hail, Caesar! + Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Hey, so maybe February isn’t a dead movie month after all. Here are two movies coming out on February 5 that I’m actually looking forward to seeing!

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Sometimes a trailer came along and you’ve instantly become obsessed with it though you haven’t even heard of it before. Hail, Caesar! is such a movie and I’ve seen it three times since this morning. Glad to see the Coens working on their own movie after a couple of years absence (though they wrote Unbroken last year and also on the TV show FARGO, so they’re still keeping busy).

I have to say that I LOVE the Coens’ dark comedies and this definitely has their quirky and wacky brand of humor all over it.

A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.



The star-studded cast is appropriately-filled with today’s movie stars, perfect for a satire about Hollywood golden age: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and the Coens’ perennial favorite Frances McDormand. This marks McDormand’s eighth collaboration with her husband Joel Coen and brother-in-law Ethan. It’s got a lot of actors reunions too: Fiennes & Swinton were in Grand Budapest Hotel & A Bigger Splash and of course Tatum & Hill in the Jump Street movies.

Clooney seems to be channeling/spoofing Richard Burton? That part when he can’t remember his lines is just hilarious, love Clooney in comedies and even Josh Brolin looks like a hoot here. I always love seeing serious actors in comedic roles, so I’m thrilled to see Fiennes doing more of that lately.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Now, this one I’ve been anticipating in a while and though it may not be a great flick, it sure looks like fun. You already know I’m a big fan of period dramas, and so the bizarre twist of combining Jane Austen’s classic with zombies is just impossible to resist!

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Lily James seems ready for some knife action bad-assery here. “Have courage and be kind” is her motto as Cinderella, well she seems to abide by the first part, but I don’t think even her gentle mother would advise her to be kind to flesh-eating zombies!!


I’m one of the few people who enjoyed the preposterous silliness of previous Seth Grahame-Smith’s adaptation Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter so I think I’d enjoy this one, too. Lena Headey is listed in the cast, but no character name is mentioned on IMDb but I have a feeling she’ll play Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s super bitchy aunt and that’d be perfect casting. I’m also looking forward to seeing Jack Huston as the dastardly Wickham.

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Thoughts? Are you excited for either one of these movies?