10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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A surprise film of this year, for when the trailer was unexpectedly dropped, I and I could imagine, many other people were taken aback by this secret project. Gladly the trails spoil nothing and therefore make this thriller even more special. It’s a fantastically dark exploration of confinement for a 12A rating and monster movie fans of the first film still get their kicks.

Clothes designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) ends up in an accident and then finds herself in a fully equipped fallout bunker. She’s looked after and/or terrorised by Howard (John Goodman) who has also brought in Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) in hope that the three of them can avoid his fears of the contaminated world outside.

I really don’t want to go any further than that for what happens as knowing little makes the movie a much more engaging mysterious experience. Clearly there’s some predictions to be placed at it comes in the same universe as ‘Cloverfield’ from 2008, so you will be seeing monsters but the fantastic quality about this spiritual tangent to the original handy-cam film is that it’s so different in tone and look.

Dan Trachtenberg directs with a knowing craft of the thriller genre and truly gives this movie an unnerving build-up. The constant close-ups add weight to the claustrophobic location, the little flourishes of Howard’s décor in the bunker add character and unease to what may happen. Things that go wrong never become tiresome but do their part in racking up the sweats as you hope Michelle can find her way out of the problem. As a director he shows how a monster movie can be more subdued and with a mostly 3 cast line up, this gives hope to a new future in dramatic storytelling.

From producer J.J Abrams we get that gnawing sense of trouble because of what we know from the ’08 movie. Though the monster moments in this are thrilling and work for the growing female power of Michelle, I must say I preferred all the elements of everything that came before. The music, the set, the conversations and comic moments from guessing games that tingle with sinister connotations to strained bondings, everything feels deeper and full of fear.

This is no ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ bunk up, the film is effortlessly tense and darker than you may think it could be. Of course I won’t say what happens but lots of wonderfully scripted sequences flash out of the gates, rattling you back into your seats and making you stumble to catch your breath. You, if you like the film that is, do root for Michelle as the lead and in a way, you buy into the other characters as well, whether they’re bad or good, you can believe their goals.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a brilliant final girl in films we’ve seen before and she comes along with aspects of that stereotype but is a much stronger and smarter heroine which is great to watch. Her designer background plays a part and her wiles keep her going all the way through, impeccably delivered by a capable actress. John Goodman is monstrously magnificent from start to finish, he plays both sides of the field so well that you don’t ever know for sure until near the end what kind of guy he is. John Gallagher, Jr. plays the guy in the middle really well, more than just a spare part, his presence gets put in the spotlight and he gives a needed comic lightness to one of the characters embroiled in the bunker. The trio bounce off each other superbly.

For any ‘Cloverfield’ fans or lovers of neatly packaged thrillers then I recommend you to get straight out and witness this slick and suspenseful feature. You’re always guessing, always worrying and always always enjoying the well directed and acted moments that come flying round the corner.

8/10

Trumbo (2016)

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By the books but still fascinating, this biographical drama tells us about a man that some may know but plenty won’t have. I like films…a lot but I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Dalton Trumbo and the prejudices he was put through. This is a good looking film with a proper good lead but it’s not always engaging.

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a well voiced member of the Communist Party of the USA along with 9 other writers. Though it being 1949 and Russia no longer an ally thanks to threats of Cold War, Trumbo is soon blacklisted and imprisoned for his stance though that won’t stop him writing some of the most loved movies of the classic Hollywood era.

John McNamara has a lot of history with television writing and producing and perhaps that’s why this feature feels or rather, sounds like a TV movie. It has all those elements as we follow Trumbo in the beginning, see his political views, watch him interact in jail and then flourish even when he should be waning thanks to his blacklisted status. It’s an interesting film to a point, mostly in learning about this incredible man but it’s never grand or romantic or captivating like ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Roman Holiday’ are. This work about Dalton Trumbo doesn’t ring like a cinematic gem, more a small screen network filler.

Jay Roach directs this drama well, the centre focus is of course on Trumbo and how he behaves which is at a point great because it connects us to him but even when they attempt to show his flaws, they’re never fully formed making him too pushed onto us. It’s not like they’re showing one side of the story as we all know about Communism but we don’t all know about that when located in the Hollywood industry. Sadly we never really see the truth of Trumbo’s defending of brutal ideals as everyone on his side is painted as innocent. Of course I never knew what he said or what other figures never said, e.g. the case of Edward G. Robinson, but I looked into the people of this movie because of how easily likable they made the Communist side which is a little too simple.

Roach does give this film a good twist of lightness even amongst the darkness of Trumbo’s forced secretive writings. There is a spectacle involved as we see him journey to typing Oscar winning movies and how that effects people on either side of the party he belongs to. But for me the strongest element of the movie isn’t the factual elements needed to be told but the charisma and heart located in the acting department.

Bryan Cranston embodies the hunched writer with moustached aptitude, he is the true decorative trophy on this film’s mantelpiece. Cranston does great things in making you look past the uneven tone of the film and the televisual atmosphere it presents because he has energy, a spark of wit and talent just like the real life Trumbo. Michael Stuhlbarg shines as Edward G. Robinson, looking the part and giving dramatical urgency in his call up to reveal damning (if inaccurate) truths about who he knows. Diane Lane is the sturdy rock of this film, always being there even when she fears the man she loves is turning. Lane deserves more credit because though she’s not always on screen she keeps the family image believable. Louis C.K is smart and funny as the light balance to Trumbo’s persona though weirdly he’s a fictional character which doesn’t help in making this film feel less terrestrial. Elle Fanning steps in as the grown up daughter in a moment that really stuns as to how someone so short and different to Fanning grew to become Fanning but that moment aside she is a bright face to this starry cast and she notably displays the same motivation and active behaviour of Trumbo. Helen Mirren wavers in her accent, sounding British from time to time but she never drops in being the bitchy headline writing queen and almost steals the show with her ever-changing hats.

So, where the poster quote from Deadline reads that this is “one of the year’s must-see pictures”, I’d say that it’s only recommendable for people that admire the cinema and behind the scenes talent that produced the sparkle of Hollywood of old, otherwise it’s a film with great acting but a pedestrian TV vibe.

6/10

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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A far out and surreal movie with cult classic status. A story filled with comedic ideas that ultimately pay off to nothing, as we realise this never ending criss cross of characters chasing money and a missing trophy wife is a complex plot with no importance. A fun idea that gives the film breathing time to play on mistaken identity, meddling friends and idiotic behaviour.

The Coen Brothers manage to create another comedy film whose source stems from the characters. Jeff Lebowski or as he likes to be called ‘The Dude’, is a slacker and a bowling guy, nothing is more important to him than his game, a White Russian and his rug but when some cronies attack him mistaking him for another Lebowski his life gets wrapped up in a kidnapping plot and many parties join the madness to turn his lazy world upside down.

The dialogue is pretty standard and becomes increasingly funny or annoying, there’s no inbetween. Dude is said a whole bunch of times probably more than any other word in the movie and this makes the script feel more bone idle which fits with the laid back trait of ‘The Dude’. More than anything the one constant piece of writing that made me smile was Walter forever shutting Donny down, he hardly speaks or joins a conversation late and after comedy timing Walter (John Goodman) swears at him leaving Donny (Steve Buscemi) to pretty much accept it. It’s a fun friendship in recognising the outsider role where he literally misses everything, gets left to sit in the car like a dog and then is the one to face tragedy for doing nothing at all. A sad yet darkly funny character arc.

Jeff Bridges as ‘The Dude’ is brilliant, he fits into the robe of his slovenly character with ease but he’s likeable in the fact he has kindness, he wants to do the right thing and he gets unwillingly caught up in a whole plethora of crap thanks to Germans, pornstars and his Vietnam buddy Walter. I don’t believe anyone else could play the role and that’s huge kudos to Bridges who is ‘The Dude’. John Goodman plays it greatly forever spouting knowledge he’s picked up along the way whether it’s rubbish or not. He tries to help but makes things worse, for instance bringing his dirty undies along as hostage ransom. Buscemi pulls fabulous faces as he grimaces his way through the small role given. John Turturro plays camp and mean with a Latino infused role as a rival bowling player called Jesus. Julianne Moore is barking mad as an off the wall artist who gets on side with ‘The Dude’ as a feminist and hater of her ex-husband’s new and missing wife. The entrance she has is fantastic and one of the most out there screen entrances I’ve seen. A character with numerous layers to what she wants to gain mirroring the structure of the film that peels back layers to differing ideas and characters all wanting something. Philip Seymour Hoffman squirms and displays uncomfort in his bit-part role as aide to the wealthy Lebowski. I also must give credit too to David Thewlis who shines in a tiny role as a insanely camp friend of Maude’s (Moore) and has a giggle that will echo in your mind for days. I realise I’ve wrote a lot about the cast but I feel like in this film they made a huge difference as the script seemed to lack something but the diverse offering of characters kept me engaged enough.

The film is sort of simple in it’s identity mix up narrative bookended by gravel toned voice over from ‘The Stranger’ who we meet in person in the bowling alley and find out who it is at the end. There’s golden moments such as the uzi going off as Walter bails from the car, the ash blowing back into ‘The Dude’s face, the German cutting a toe off for sod all and the private detective following who he thought was another PD. The hilarity of both cases taken to the meeting point being dummies is genius too and shows off the story as being a whole plot of possible danger with tricks around every corner and a simple outcome that both Lebowski’s don’t have anything to do with. The reveal is deliberately easy in where Bunny (Tara Reid) was, making everything that came before even more ludicrous.

The surreal dream sequences are probably the best parts of the film in my opinion, they’re clever and funny and….well surreal. You get flying Jeff Bridges, a bowling ball that plummets him to earth, Saddam Hussein handing out bowling shoes and a camera shot from within a bowling ball, a neat and cool little point of view angle. They more than anything speak for the odd nature of this slacker comedy and it’s cult classic tag. The way the bowling alley is shot too gives the film life, it somehow makes the bowling lanes feel like a spiritual place, the slow motion and soundtrack add to this emotion, it feels like you’re watching the men perform some ritual when they step up to the line. Those parts and the simple drive that all ‘The Dude’ wants is his rug to not be soiled and that he’d rather be bowling are the down to earth laid back things that make this film the mad farce it is, in him being embroiled in it all.

I was sadly a tad underwhelmed by the film as a whole expecting something different. I liked the idea of the conclusion, it being pointless and all but in it’s pointlessness I found it an aspect I didn’t enjoy. I also didn’t find the film as funny as I had believed it would be, there are some terrific moments and I chuckled a few times but apart from that it didn’t live up to the comedy stature I’d heard it being told as. I can see how it became a cult film and that it didn’t do great at the box office on release, as it’s not something striking (excuse the pun) from first viewing and is definitely not one of the Coen Brothers better pieces of work. Apart from these minor issues I did like the film and liked the stupidity of it all.

A fine and surreal if not overly laugh out loud case of mistaken identity, a missing woman and bowling that succeeds in its fun cast.

7.5/10