Café Society Review

Woody Allen is one of the most celebrated directors on the 20th century. With hits like Annie Hall and Manhattan, he’s loved for his quirky, almost self-loathing humour and existential crises. His last film, Irrational Man, released in 2015, was met with mixed response, so let’s see if his new film can do any better.

Café Society stars Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carrell, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively and is written and directed by Woody Allen. The film follows Bobby Dorman (Eisenberg) who engages in the high society of both Hollywood and New York during the 1930s.

As the film is set during the early 1930s, the golden age of Hollywood, Café Society is in love with its time period, similar to The Coen Brother’s Hail, Caesar! earlier this year. Many references are made to Hollywood actors, actresses and directors, so if you’re not clued up on your Busby Berkeley’s and Greta Garbo’s you might not get as much enjoyment as I did from it. It’s not like Allen’s Midnight In Paris, with actors taking the place of the Era’s stars, most of them are just name-dropped, a shallow attempt for the characters to boast how many famous people they are friends with.

The 30s setting though gives us two great things, the music and the costumes. Our main character Bobby is a huge fan of jazz, constantly playing records while he potters around his house. Through the story he becomes owner of a club, with smooth jazz being played every night. The many parties he goes to show off the latter, with classic suits and elegant dresses. Everyone is wearing double-breasted jackets with wide lapels, bow ties, suspenders, it at least deserves a nomination for the both at when Oscar season rolls around.

The film is shot mainly in long takes. It isn’t the pretentious long takes of The Revenant, it’s more controlled, used when it fits the mood. In that fact, it feels more like a play rather than a film, with focus squarely on the actors, rather than lavish sets. The sets are subdued, mainly people’s back gardens and small parties, not the sprawling excess of films of the era.

After his mincing, over-the-top portrayal of Lex Luthor in Batman Vs Superman, Jesse Eisenberg seems to be redeeming himself by turning around from comic books to indie darlings. He is good as Bobby, moving from adorably geeky at the start to a high-flying socialite by the end. Kristen Stewart is perfect as Vonnie, the 30s version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that Bobby is infatuated with. Sure, it was easy to ridicule her during her Twilight days with her wooden acting, but she’s really grown as an actress since then. The show is stolen though by Corey Stoll in a small role as Bobby’s big brother Ben. A kingpin in the NYC underworld, his technique of getting rid of competition by giving them “cranial ventilation” (in his words) before burying them in concrete drew many laughs from the audience and fits into Allen’s recurring theme about the ethics of murder. Many other Allen motifs turn up, the eternally anxious main character, love and relationships (usually forbidden), classic cinema and of course, lots of Jewish-based humour.

The points that I didn’t really like were mainly story-based. The story is pretty predictable, nothing really new or different on-screen. The mood shifts wildly from light comedy to melancholy and back again, leaving me wondering whether I was meant to be laughing or feeling sympathetic for the characters. And even being a 96 minute film, it feels rather slow. The film dallies about, with events happening but no real story to speak of. It doesn’t build too much, ending rather abruptly.

In the end, Café Society will suit those who enjoy the vibe of the 30s with small dashes of comedy and melancholy. It will be more one for the indie crowd, but you should have a good time with it.

Score: 7/10 Brief fun and glamour in Classic Hollywood.

Trumbo Review

I missed Trumbo in its first cinema run, but it luckily was on a late run back home. It was nominated in the 2016 Academy Awards, sadly not winning any though. Now that I’ve seen it, did it deserve the nominations, and should it have won instead?

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Elle Fanning and is directed by Jay Roach. Set during the 1940s, the film follows the real life story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was blacklisted from writing scripts for Hollywood films. He starts to write under pseudonyms to continue working.

The films performances are alright. Bryan Cranston obviously owns every scene he is in as Dalton Trumbo. I’m not sure if it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (Cranston was nominated in the Best Actor category) but nevertheless it’s a solid performance. Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola is also good, and the interactions between her and her on-screen father are great. Helen Mirren and John Goodman are chewing the scenery every time they are on screen, while Diane Lane is the complete opposite, as the quieter side of the Trumbo household.

The film mixes characters made up for the film and the people who were there at the time. Last year’s Suffragette also did this, but here it works a lot better. Suffragette‘s real life encounters sometimes felt quite forced, while here a lot of it blends together well. The casting department did a good job, as a lot of the people they chose look almost identical to the actors they are portraying, such as Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas or Michael Stuhlberg as Edward G. Robinson.

The script has some funny moments but I wish it had a bit more bite. I did laugh through several moments and Dalton Trumbo as a character has a way with words, confusing the authorities and making them look like fools when questioning him, but it leaves the rest of the film quite flat. Things are happening but not a lot of it is engaging. There is lots in the background, the civil rights movement, the Rosenberg’s, McCarthyism, but none of it explored at a much deeper level. I know that the film is focussing on Trumbo and the rest of the writers, but after a while it becomes repetitive just watching the same types of scenes play out over and over again. Trumbo just needed some variety.

The film also is incredibly long for the story it tells. Trumbo is over two hours, but it could easily be cut down to a ninety minute film. As I said before, too many scenes are repeated and some scenes just feel like padding for the sake of it. The film is set over several years as to hit all of Trumbo’s successes and failures, as well as his acceptance speech in 1970 at the WGA’s Laurel Award ceremony, but in between these moments, it falls below par.

Even though I do have problems with the story, it feels like something I should be interested in. As a Film Studies/Creative Writing student the film speaks to two things that I’m passionate about. Sadly, it’s not much more than an average film. If you watched Hail, Caesar! and were put off by the genre silliness of the Coen brothers, or you have a passionate interest in the story of the Hollywood Ten and America during that time, then Trumbo might be a film for you. To everyone else though, especially people who don’t know much about the Blacklist, this is one to miss.

Score: 6/10 Has some good moments and characters, but it’s length smothers it.

Hail, Caesar! Review

The Coen Brothers are probably the most multi-talented duo in Hollywood at the moment. Both Joel and Ethan have produced, written and directed films for over thirty years, recently working on the script of Bridge Of Spies. Now, their new film, Hail, Caesar! is in cinemas.

Hail, Caesar! stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannson and Alden Ehrenreich and is directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen. The films follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a “fixer” for a major Hollywood studio during the 1950s.

The film is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood and there are several jokes and references to the films of yesteryear, the film is basically a love letter to Hollywood. We see behind the scenes of the films such as in the cutting room and the board meetings, with funny scenes at every turn. It reminds me of Singin’ In The Rain to an extent. We jump from movie lot to movie lot, seeing snippets of biblical epics, westerns and musicals. The film also moves between several genres of film, with parts being mystery, noir, romance and comedy. Unfortunately, this was one of my problems with it, as the film didn’t feel consistent with its tone. The film also changes aspect ratio whenever it goes into one of its film-within-a-film moments, which also annoyed me a little.

With the Coen Brother’s also writing the script as well as directing, the jokes come thick and fast. The Coen’s know how to construct farcical scenes well and hide little jokes in the margins for the more eagle-eyed viewers. My favourite from Hail, Caesar! is an extended back-and-forth between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (the first of several cameos in the film) over pronunciation of a line of dialogue.

The film is littered with cameos from actors and actresses, each one bringing their all to the film. Tilda Swinton (in two roles), Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Michael Gambon and Channing Tatum all fill out the side space well. Channing Tatum, who leads the best scene in the film, a highly choreographed tap dance/Broadway song is brilliant, but is in the film for less than ten minutes. It’s nice to see all these talented actors, but ether they don’t feature enough or bog down the narrative with added weight. Michael Gambon does some voice over but it comes out of nowhere at has no narrative cohesion. It doesn’t open and close the story, it just pops in whenever it feels like it.

Watching the trailer, you would think that Hail, Caesar! is a crime comedy about George Clooney being kidnapped and Josh Brolin has to go out and find him. In all honesty, that story is only around a third of the film. The Coen’s add side-story on top of side-story, smothering the main plot with additional characters and stories that are either never resolved or end too quick. When we do get back to the main plot, it potters around for a good while before being resolved far too quickly. This blurring of stories is what the Coen’s do in a lot of their films, but it makes Hail, Caesar! feel very disjointed.

Hail, Caesar! is a very quirky film. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s work then you might find enjoyment here. If you’re a real film history buff then you’ll get all the nods and jokes to the 50s production, but to the average movie-goer, those same jokes will fall flat. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, you’ll find several laughs within.

Score: 7/10 Baffling and a bit odd, but still very funny.