Posts Tagged ‘bryan cranston’

isle of dogs

In the Japanese archipelago, 20 years from now, a vicious strain of the Dog Flu has broken out, in order to protect the humans from the flu, the Mayor  of the Prefecture, Mayor Kobayashi , (Kunichi Nomura) has deported all the dogs to Trash Island.  Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) a 12 year old distant relative of the mayor, flies a plane to Trash Island, in search of his dog, Spots. (Liev Schreiber)  The plane crash lands on the island.  The leader of the dogs on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t trust humans, but decides to rescue Atari.  Atari then sets out to find Spots.

At the prefecture, Professor Watanabe  (Akira Ito) thinks he has come up with a cure to the Dog Flu, but something happens to Watanabe after he eats some sushi.  At the same time, the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive on Trash Island, and he sends his men to find him.  Mayor Takashi easily wins re-election, but exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects a rigged election.  Does Atari find Spots?  Do the Mayor’s men find Atari?  What’s happened to Professor Watanabe?  Is the election on the up and up?

It’s impossible to watch this movie and not draw parallels to the political situation in America over the past two years.  A power hungry politician deports dogs to a distant place in the name of national security.  The election of the politician is called into question, as the politician faces dissension from the populace.  At the heart of it, Isle of Dogs is a story about a boy and his dog,   it’s also story of possible redemption for a jaded dog, who doesn’t like humans very much, and has become something of a recluse.  It’s interesting to see how all the different elements of the story come together in the end of the film.

The acting is very good and it has to be because all the emotions have to be conveyed through the voice.  Kunichi Namora is very good as the corrupt politician, he wants to stay in power at all costs.  Bryan Cranston is excellent as the lead dog, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, yearning for someone to love him.  Koyu Rankin is also good as Atari, vulnerable but determined.  Greta Gerwig was funny as the angry exchange student.

Wes Anderson did a great job directing and co-writing this movie.  The stop motion animation was terrific, the ha;; where Mayor Kobayashi gave the speech reminded me of the scene from Citizen Kane,  where Kane gave a speech, Trash Island was suitably grungy, and the use of symbolism, Atari wearing white, his dog being a white dog, Chief becoming a white dog after Atari gives him a bath, it was all very well done.  The pacing was fast, the performances were good, I don’t know how much of a role Anderson played in that, these are all skilled veteran actors, except for the boy who played Atari. This film and Moonrise Kingdom are his best work to date.

Isle of Dogs:  Biting satire.

 

All the Way

Lyndon Baines Johnson (Bryan Cranston) was sworn in aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963, shortly after JFK was assassinated.  He considered himself the “accidental president” but almost immediately took on the daunting task of passing JFK’s civil rights agenda.  This promise immediately fractured the Democratic Party.  The Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats, led by Senator Richard Russell, (Frank Langella) are incensed that that Johnson would consider passing a Civil Rights Bill.  For their part, Martin Luther King, (Anthony Mackie) and Hubert Humphrey are unhappy that the voting rights portion of the bill is taken out of the bill, before it’s even voted on.  To complicate matters, F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover (Steven Root) is wiretatapping King.  Johnson gets the bill passed through the House of Representatives, but the bill is filibustered in the Senate by Russell and other Southern Democrats.  Johnson finally does pass the Civil Rights Bill, through a mixture of cajoling and arm-twisting, but problems still dog LBJ, the Democrats are still split, Civil Rights Activists Goodman (Nike Kolder) Schwerner (AJ Helfet) and Chaney (Carlton Waddy) are killed in Mississippi, African Americans like Fannie Lou Hamer (Aisha Hinds) want representation to the Democratic National Committee ,the Dixiecrats threaten to bolt again and Johnson worries that Barry Goldwater is going to beat him in the 1964 election. Can LBJ heal the fissures in the party, and won the 1964 Presidential election?

This is a great  movie, with great writing. The old adage about bills passing through Congress goes something like this:  It’s like sausage being made, everyone loves sausage, but no one wants to see how it’s made.  That holds true for the Civil Rights Act.  The same holds true for Johnson, he achieved some great things, just don’t ask how.  This movie shows how. This movie hardly lionizes Johnson, but it doesn’t make him a villain either, like Selma does.  To Johnson, the ends justify the means, and he sees the greater good of the Civil Rights Act and beating Goldwater, so he will do almost anything to get there.  The movie shows both the idealistic side of Johnson as well as the Machiavellian side, and does so effectively. And Johnson is taken to task in the movie, by King, by Humphrey, by Russell, by Hoover for all the contradictory positions he’s taken, so this is not a whitewash of Johnson by any means.

This is a fierce performance by Bran Cranston, complete with salty language.  He plays Johnson as someone with a warring duality within his own personality.  He would rage with moral indignation to friends and foes alike yet, he would weep with insecurity to his wife, and Cranston made both sides of this complex personality equally convincing. Unlike his performance in Trumbo, Cranston committed totally to the role, and made it his. He’s already won a Tony for this performance. Frank Langella also does an excellent job as Richard Russell, he is from NJ, but does a convincing Southern accent.  He plays Russell, as a calm, calculating Senator, who thinks he can maintain the status quo in Jim Crow laws.  It’s a nice contrast to the often bombastic performance by Cranston.  Melissa Leo plays Lady Bird Johnson nicely, she gets the inflections and mannerisms right, and sounds a lot like Mrs. Johnson. I wish the producers had gotten someone with a little more acting heft then Anthony Mackie to play King.  Mackie’s the right age, but doesn’t have the deep, resonant voice or the cadence of King’s speech patterns.  Perhaps Idris Elba, or Wendell Pierce would have been a better choice.

The direction by comedic director Jay Roach is good, the pacing is quick, but the use of news clips is unnecessary, the movie doesn’t need news clips to make it seem more authentic, but Roach gets mostly good performances from his actors, and ends on a relatively high note in Johnson’s career.

All The Way:  Watch Lyndon be the bane of his political friends and enemies alike.

 

Trumbo

In the mid-1940’s Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was the most highly paid screenwriter in America, and a card carrying member of the Communist Party.  In 1947 Trumbo and 9 of his friends were summoned to testify to the House Un-American Committee, but refused to testify to Congressman J. Parnell Thomas. (James Dumont) Trumbo and his friends were charged with contempt of congress, and jailed.  When he came out of jail, Trumbo and his associates were blacklisted by Hollywood heavyweights John Wayne (David James Elliot) who was aided by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. (Helen Mirren) Despite the blacklist, Trumbo was determined to work, re-writing low budget movies for B-movie maven Frank King. (John Goodman) Sometimes, Trumbo wrote uncredited scripts sometimes he wrote with a front name.  Trumbo stopped writing B-movie scripts long enough to write The Brave One under a pseudonym, Robert Rich, for which he won his second Oscar.  Would Trumbo ever be allowed to come out of the shadows, and use his own name to write a Hollywood screenplay?

I first learned of Dalton Trumbo in a film class I took in college, and I thought it was an interesting subject.  Somehow Hollywood took this interesting intersection of film and politics, and turned it into a dull melodrama with too much focus on Trumbo’s home life.  Also, the writer couldn’t decide whether this was a comedy or a drama, the comedic scenes work, the dramatic scenes come off as preachy or treacly.  The ending is predictable.

This is a case where the acting exceeds the material written on the page.  Bryan Cranston does a superb job as Dalton Trumbo, and handles the comedic and dramatic scenes with equal aplomb. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and deserved one. Helen Mirren is also incredible as Hedda Hopper, Trumbo’s chief nemesis.  Mirren clearly enjoys playing someone who makes the Hollywood studio execs and Trumbo himself squirm.  John Goodman is fantastic as smarmy B-movie king, Frank King.  Goodman uses his gifts of physical intimidation, deadpan delivery, and perfect comedic timing to deliver a great performance.  Louis CK also turns in a surprisingly good performance as fellow blacklisted writer Arlen Hird.  Michael Stuhlberg also deserves mention here for a great performance as Edward G Robinson, he doesn’t do an impression, but tries to delve deeper to explain why Robinson did what he did. On the other end of the spectrum was Elle Fanning as the older version of Trumbo’s elder daughter, she was robotic and unemotional.

The direction, by Jay Roach is inconsistent, he clearly knows how handle the lighter scenes, but the pacing of the drama is slow and boring He did get many good performances, but that’s not hard with a cast like this. Roach is mostly known for light comedies like the Austin Powers movies, and Meet The Fockers, which could explain the trouble with the more serious scenes.  Roach ties to imitate Robert Zemekis’ groundbreaking work in Forrest Gump, by having actors in the foreground asking questions while the actual HUAC hearings are going on in the background.  Somehow it’s less effective, because it’s been done before.

Trumbo:  A lot of mumbo-jumbo.

Godzilla

A Philippine mining company has inadvertently awoken a long dormant ancient giant arthropod, long considered extinct.  In Jinjiro Japan, an earthquake causes the nuclear reactors there to collapse.  A nuclear engineer named Joe Brady (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) in the collapse.  Fifteen years later, Joe Brady is sure that an earthquake did not kill his wife.  Joe has been studying echolocation, and is convinced that creatures are talking to each other, and he enlists his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) now an ordinance disposal specialist to find out what happened to his mother?

There are three problems with the 2014 Godzilla. First, there’s nothing new in it.  Godzillla’s nemesis the MUTA looks like a cross between Rodan, Mothra and the creature in Cloverfield.   Godzilla looks the same and basically has the same powers.  The writers want the human characters to nuke these creatures, who came into being as a result of nuclear radiation, gee that’s smart.  Don’t the writers know we have bunker busting conventional warheads that could have killed these insect creatures before they ever hatched?  Obviously not.  The only smart thing the writers did was not reveal Godzilla too soon, just like the shark in Jaws.  The second problem with the latest Godzilla is it takes itself way too seriously, the only current movie I can compare it to is Pacific Rim, and Pacific Rim is a movie that succeeded because it didn’t take itself too seriously.  It had all the familiar archetypes, the washed up fighter pilot, the eager trainee, the monsters, the love interest, but it was funny.  Charlie Day was hilarious as a kaiju fanboy and scientist, Burn Gorman was hilarious as another scientist who battled with Day, Ron Perlman was also hilarious as a black market kaiju body parts dealer complete with golden shoes.  Godzilla lacked that sense of fun, if someone thinks about what made Godzilla a movie that was fun to watch in the old days it  was the fact that the special effects were so cheesy, update the special effects, give it a super-serious storyline, and the result is…boredom.

The third problem is that the writers expect Aaron Taylor Johnson to carry a large part of the film, and he couldn’t even carry Kick Ass.  Chloe Grace Moretz carried the Kick Ass movies, Johnson was little more than a spectator in movies where he played the title role.  So despite a stellar cast including Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and the best efforts of Bryan Cranston, this movie fails.

The pacing is slow and ponderous, the director gets nothing from Aaron Taylor Johnson or any of the lesser known actors, and the movie is far too long at nearly two hours long.  And there’s going to be a sequel, because Hollywood has run out of new ideas.

Godzilla:  Dino-snore.