Richard’s “Canada AM” reviews for the “Rocky” reboot “Creed,” Pixar’s latest child-in-peril movie “The Good Dinosaur,” Daniel Radcliffe as Igor minus-the-hump in “Victor Frankenstein” and Bryan Cranston as black-listed writer Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo.”
At the 2012 Canadian premier of The Woman in Black a young woman yelled, “I love you!” as Daniel Radcliffe and I took the stage to introduce the film.
“I love you too,” he replied with a smirk. “But I think we should see other people.”
The audience laughed but probably missed the double meaning of his comment. For ten years Radcliffe was the face of Harry Potter, one of the biggest grossing movie franchises ever. Potter ended in 2011 (for Radcliffe, anyway) and the actor has moved on, and hopes his audience will follow along.
This week he’s taking on another classic character, one played in the past by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Marty Feldman. In Victor Frankenstein he transcends Igor’s traditional, “Yes master,” function to become the movie’s moral compass and emotional core. A reimagining of the Frankenstein story that focuses on the men rather than the monster, it’s a change of pace from an actor who likes to shake it up, career-wise.
“I want to try my hand at as many things as possible,” he told me in 2014. “Having played one character for a very long time, that builds up in you a desire to play a number of different characters and do as much different work as you can. I like that you can’t predict what my next thing is going to be.”
Since Potter wrapped he has kept audiences guessing. From the Gothic horror of Woman in Black and The F Word’s light romance to a biographical look at the Beat Generation in Kill Your Darlings and the twisted morality of Horns, the only predictable thing about his career is its unpredictability.
“It’s about finding out what I’m good at, finding out which things I prefer doing because I’ve only done Potter up until a few years ago, so now this period is really me going, ‘If I had my choice.’
“Being that I do have a semblance of control over my career, — which most actors my age don’t — I feel I might not always have this opportunity to try loads of different things.”
Radcliffe credits working with the likes of Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman and David Tennant on the Potter films with giving him some perspective on how to manage his career.
“The defining feature of Alan, Gary, David and many more that I’ve worked with, is that they never want to stop learning,” Radcliffe told me during an interview for The Women in Black.
“They never feel they are finished. Alan Rickman is constantly trying to get better and refined. When you see that in someone who is A) Brilliant and B) 30 years older than you, it’s very inspiring to see they have gone through their whole careers and never been satisfied.”
Radcliffe has perspective on where he’d like his career to go, but what about the fame that came along with playing Harry Potter? The next day after The Woman in Black premier I asked him about the screaming fans that greeted him and what that does to his ego.
“The thing you have to remind yourself is that it’s not about me. It’s about the fact that I played this character who became beloved. Anyone who took on this character would be getting this reaction. When I’m home, smoking a cigarette and it’s cold and I’m eating half a pizza — you have to take a picture of yourself then and play it to yourself when you’re on the red carpets and go, ‘Yeah, you’re not all that.’”
For a brief time Dalton Trumbo was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, which also meant he was the highest paid writer in the world.
He was a family man, a wealthy and proud American communist whose career was sidelined by The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.
A new film called Trumbo, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, tells the story of how the Academy Award winning screenwriter was reduced to penning scripts for b-movies like The Alien and the Farm Girl.
“Under the first amendment you have the right to free speech and Trumbo felt very strongly about that,” says Cranston.
“He thought it was un-American and unconstitutional for the House Un-American Activities Committee to hold these hearings and demand under threat of contempt of Congress that people answer these questions.
The questions were things like: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? And, if so, to save yourself, renounce it now and tell us who else was a member.
The committee wanted these people to give names so they could go after more people.
“It’s fundamentally wrong and he felt that was wrong and unconstitutional to ask that question,” says Cranston of Trumbo’s reaction.
Trumbo didn’t name names and paid a heavy price, losing his lofty Hollywood perch and almost his family.
“In a way I relate to Trumbo,” says Cranston, but admits he’s not sure what he would do if his career was ever placed in a similar kind of jeopardy.
“What would you do if they subpoenaed you and said, ‘We want to know who else likes baseball? Who is it?’ Would you point the finger at other people who found enjoyment out of playing baseball?
“Of course I would love to think I would be honourable and not do it, but I have to be honest and say, that’s a hypothetical. I think I would be resistant to that pressure and perhaps even pay the price, but do I know for sure? No.
“I don’t know for a certainty because I’m not faced with it.”
After wrapping his five-season career-making run as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Cranston has kept busy, winning a Tony Award for playing Lyndon B. Johnson on Broadway in All the Way and has eight films in various stages of completion. He made time for Trumbo because “the story itself is brilliant and that is the first thing I look for,” but admits he’s gotten picky about the parts he plays.
“I don’t want to now take a job for money. I take jobs because I’m attracted to them by the creative element or because it challenges me in some way and my agents are incentivized to work out the best deal they can.
“I don’t want to portray this idea that I’m just about the art. I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich and rich is better.”
How do you breathe new life into a forty-year-old film series? If you’re Albert R. Broccoli you hire Daniel Craig, but if you’re Sylvester Stallone gracefully you pass the torch. “Creed” is the “Rocky 1.0,” the evolution of a story that began in 1976.
Stallone (who is now the same age as Burgess Meredith was in the first “Rocky”) plays Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion for the seventh time. He’s now retired from the ring and running a restaurant called Adrian’s. One day after closing a young man Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) shows up looking for a trainer. Rocky turns him down but the young man, a recent transplant to Philadelphia from Los Angeles, won’t take no for an answer. The young man is the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s old friend who died in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago. Born after his father’s death, Adonis, or Donnie as he is known, never knew his dad but seems to have inherited the old man’s love of boxing and much of his skill as well but can Rocky whip him into shape for a title match?
“Creed” satisfies on two levels. One as a new, inspiring overcoming-the-odds story while simultaneously providing a nostalgic blast. It’s not a remake—although in a way it almost feels like a remake of the entire “Rocky” series—but attempts to bring the same kind fist-in-the-air triumphant feel as Stallone’s other boxing flicks.
Is it a knock-out?
With a story ripe with underdog theatrics, the signature “Rocky” swelling trumpet score and familiar characters and situations, “Creed” clicks in the part of your brain that grew up watching the “Rocky” movies on VHS. Like Otis Redding’s’s cover of “Satisfaction”, the movie feels vaguely familiar but it also has good beat and you can dance to it, so it gets a pass.
Jordan is a welcome addition to the family. He brings not only a physical presence to the role of the troubled but vulnerability too, even when he’s beating the snot out of someone in the ring. He punches above his weight in a performance that is the engine of the film.
“Creed” maybe named after Jordan’s character and ostensibly center on the young boxer, but let’s get real, this is a “Rocky” movie and Stallone is the star. He plays Balboa as a lion in winter, an old man who has trouble climbing (let alone sprinting) the 72 stone steps leading up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made iconic in the first movie. It’s a poignant, engaging and moving performance that ranks as one of Stallone’s best.
For decades on “Creed” proves the blend of boxing and underdogs is still a potent mix, made better by rich performances and Stallone’s quietly affecting work.
What would happen if, 65 million years ago, the meteor that killed the dinosaurs missed the earth, leaving the behemoths alive to thrive? The new Pixar-child-in-peril movie “The Good Dinosaur” suggests the apatosauruses would have created a modern stone age world for themselves where they speak, work and live in huts but most of all try to make a mark on the world.
At the beginning of the movie Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of the litter. His older brother and sister (Marcus Scribner and Maleah Padilla) are bigger, more accomplished and unlike his siblings the knobby-kneed Arlo is a bit of a fraidy-cat. When his father (Jeffrey Wright) (SPOILER ALERT!) is killed Arlo is left stranded far from home and must learn to survive. He’s alone except for a feral boy (Jack Bright) who starts off as a thorn in Arlo’s side but quickly becomes a trusted friend who helps the young dino overcome his fears and make his mark.
“The Good Dinosaur” takes place before the invention of the wheel, which perhaps explains why Pixar did not reinvent the wheel here story wise. It’s all about learning valuable lie lessons, dealing with loss and the power of friendship, all well-worn Disney themes.
What is different, and exciting, is the execution. Pixar paints a beautiful portrait of the prehistoric world, complete with interesting character design—imagine a cobra with legs—and stunning landscapes. It’s easily the most eye-catching of Pixar’s films, creating a whole world for Arlo and his family to exist in.
As predictable as the story may be, “The Good Dinosaur” does shake it up with several surreal sidebars. Much of the film takes the form of a road trip as the duo make their way back to Arlo’s home. Along the way they meet an anxious rhino who gathers a menagerie of animals to shield him from danger, the elements and even his “unrealistic goals,” and later eat rotting fruit that triggers what must be the most hallucinogenic episode ever in a kid’s film. These idylls are a nice distraction from the tried-and-true story but also allow the filmmakers to exercise another of the movie’s strengths. For much of the film Arlo and the boy are on screen alone, interacting in near silence and with a minimum of dialogue manage to portray complex emotions and thoughts.
“The Good Dinosaur” contains a few intense circle-of-life scenes that may be too much for youngsters but also milks as much emotion from its simple story as possible. In Pixar’s world dinosaurs can cry… and just might make you shed a tear as well.
Dalton Trumbo was an Academy Award nominated screenwriter when his political beliefs saw him drummed out of Hollywood’s inner circles, reducing him to penning scripts for b-movies like “The Alien and the Farm Girl.”
For a brief time he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, which also meant he was the highest paid writer in the world. He was a family man, a wealthy man and a proud American communist whose career was sidelined by Hollywood conservatives like Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. “I love our country,” he says, “and our government is good but couldn’t anything good to be better?”
The film “Trumbo,” starring Bryan Cranston begins as the writer is enjoying the success of his scripts for “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” and “Kitty Foyle.” He’s a committed communist, who, along with a group of Tinsel Town activists like Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) work tirelessly to create unions within the studio system to ensure that everyone, from the grips to the set decorators on up, earn a living wage.
Their socialist leanings didn’t go unnoticed by Congress and by a cadre of concerned actors who think the group’s socialist ways are un-American. When Hopper, using extortion and bigotry, coerces studio head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow) to fire Trumbo, an industry wide blacklist bans the writer and nine others from working in Hollywood.
With all legal avenues exhausted Trumbo sees his professional and personal worlds crumble as former friends like Robinson stand before Congress and call him “a sinister force.” Punished for his political beliefs, Trumbo makes ends meets by writing screenplays under aliases and creating a script factory staffed by blacklisted writers. After a decade of working in the shadows and winning two Oscars under fake names, he finds two powerful people willing to break the blacklist and put his name where it belongs, on screen.
“Trumbo” is not the story of Senator Joe McCarthy communist witch hunt or a rehash of the Congressional hearings. Instead it is the tale of the times and the personal story of one man who would not allow his civil liberties to be stripped away.
Perhaps its appropriate that a film about the Golden Age of Hollywood—even one that tarnishes the glamour of the period—should feel a little old fashioned. It’s a redemption story, simply told and populated by archetypal characters—Elliott’s John Wayne isn’t a person, for instance, he’s a blustery caricature of The Duke taken directly from the actor’s movie roles—who revolve around Cranston’s flamboyant performance.
The “Breaking Bad” star plays Trumbo as a raging ball of ideology, quick with a quip—in a showdown with John Wayne Trumbo sneers the patriotic actor spent World War II “on a film set shooting blanks and wearing make up.”—and willing to pay the price for his actions. It’s a large cigarette chomping performance of a larger-than-life person.
It takes some time before the rest of the movie catches up with Cranston’s theatrics, but by the time John Goodman, in a hilarious portrayal of a b-movie producer, says, “We bought a gorilla suit and we gotta use it,” the film finds its level.
“Trumbo” is a film with a social conscience with important messages about civil liberties and the importance of freedom of belief, wrapped up in an old-fashioned biopic.
Just as Dr. Frankenstein stitched his creation together from the bodies of several people “Victor Frankenstein,” a new film starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, stitches a story together using bits and pieces of other monster movies.
In a flip flop from most Frankenstein movies, the story begins with the nameless, hunchbacked circus freak that would become Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), studying the “science of life” when he isn’t pining after beautiful trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). His detailed anatomical drawings earn the ridicule of his fellow carnies but when Lorelei is injured after a fall his quick thinking saves her life.
Victor Frankenstein, seeing his potential, smuggles the hunchback out of the circus with an eye toward making him his protégé. The good (or is he?) doctor gives his new friend the name of an old, deceased pal. Turns out the newly minted Igor’s back bump is just an abscess which, once drained, will allow him to stand upright and fit in with upper class Victorian society.
Frankenstein wants to use Igor’s knowledge of anatomy to help construct the “larger whole” the doctor has in mind. It will be, he says, “a scientific enterprise that will change the world.” In other words, he’s looking to reanimate the dead. “I’m of the opinion that death is a temporary condition,” he says.
As the pair work toward their scientific breakthrough Lorelei re-enters the story and a religious policeman (Andrew Scott) sniffs out sin, making it is his moral duty to stop Frankenstein’s experiments. “He reeks of an evil, sinful mischief.”
In the end Igor must look into his soul to decide whether his mentor’s motives are scientific or psychological.
As the title would suggest “Victor Frankenstein” is about the man not the monster. Just as Frankenstein’s work “challenges natural order,” the movie challenges our knowledge of the story, mixing-and-matching details from Mary Shelley’s source novel (which did not feature Igor) with the accumulated mythology from the dozens of films that followed.
Igor takes on a much larger role in the story, transcending the traditional, “Yes master,” assistant to become the movie’s moral compass and emotional core. The movie isn’t really about the monster or creating life. Victor Frankenstein figures out how to create life in a laboratory but, more importantly, he gives Igor a life—changing him from abused circus freak to English gentleman.
Victor is still not one to allow morality stand in the way of science, but here the psychological drama trumps any talk of ethics. Questions as to the implications of bringing the dead back to life are raised and dismissed with clever hypotheticals like, “Imagine that a murdered man can stand in court to face his murderer,” or simply lost in the frenetic action that keeps the movie moving at warp speed.
Also gone are any Gothic overtones. The setting and dusty old laboratories will look familiar to fans of the genre but get lost in the film’s rapid pacing. Director Paul McGuigan seems more intent on keeping the movie moving than fleshing out the story or allowing the atmosphere to take hold. Screenwriter Max Landis can be credited with devising a new take on an old story and doing so with some humour—“We’ll give him a flat head!” says Victor. Why? “Because I like flat heads!”—but both the direction and script feel too modern to snugly fit into the Frankenstein canon.