Movie reviews: Trumbo, Goosebumps, Strangerland, Point Break
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Trumbo, Goosebumps, Strangerland, and Point Break.
For film buffs, the name Dalton Trumbo instantly evolves the crazy excesses of McCarthyism and the communist witch-hunts. The flamboyant screenwriter was one of the high-profile victims of the Hollywood blacklist, got hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and sent to prison for a year. The witch-hunts broke the careers and spirits of many actors, directors and writers, but not Trumbo's: he regrouped, wrote his way out of trouble, and ultimately helped destroy the blacklist from the inside.
Jay Roach's Trumbo (3*, 15A, 124mins) tells the writer's story competently rather than well, and has the glossy staginess of a TV mini-series. It is entertaining, though, and Brian Cranston is very good in the title role. Trumbo, whose socialist beliefs never seemed to interfere with his Californian swimming pool lifestyle, is living it large on a 300-acre ranch in Ventura County when the HUAC starts nosing around.
After being blacklisted, Trumbo's forced to sell his ranch, rent in the suburbs and pump out B-movie scripts by the dozen to pay the bills. But he would also write some classic work, like Roman Holiday and The Brave One, under assumed names. Trumbo plods along showily and unimaginatively, and supporting players like Diane Lane and Helen Mirren are given too little to do. But the story's good enough to make it very watchable.
Goosebumps, (3*, PG, 103mins), which is inspired by the children's books of R.L. Stine, enjoyably evokes classic 80s movies like Goonies and Gremlins and stars Dylan Minnette as Zach Cooper, a shy teenage boy who moves to a new town with his recently widowed mother. He soon falls in love with his next-door neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush), the lively daughter of a reclusive writer (Jack Black).
When Hannah disappears, Zach breaks into her house to investigate, and causes a world of trouble when he opens a series of magic books and unleashes a small army of monsters. Though effects-laden, Goosebumps has a winning sense of humour, a decent supporting cast and a commendably restrained performance from Mr. Black. It's fun.
In Strangerland (3*, 15A, 111mins), an Australian drama that positively oozes a sense of dread from the start, Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes play Catherine and Matthew Parker, an unhappy couple who've recently relocated from Canberra to a remote desert town. The reason for this sudden move seems to be their daughter Lily (Maddison Brown), an over-sexed teenager who causes trouble wherever she goes. Their younger son, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) is prone to night-walking, and when both of them disappear the cracks in the Parkers' marriage begin to show.
Kidman is very good as the distraught and unstable mother, but Hugo Weaving is even better playing a pessimistic police detective. Director Kim Farrant keeps things nicely non-literal, and uses mournful shots of the arid outback landscape as a haunting refrain, but the story is ultimately too thin to sustain a two-hour film.
Point Break (2*, 12A, 114mins) is a remake of an early Kathryn Bigelow movie, and is set in the dizzy and narcissistic world of extreme sports. When one of his hare-brained motorcycle stunts results in the death of a friend, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) decides to get his act together, and joins the FBI. He's still struggling to prove himself when he's given the task of infiltrating a highly skilled gang who've been staging heists and giving the proceeds to the poor.
When Utah tracks them to western France he enters the orbit of their charismatic leader, Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), and joins their quest to complete eight daunting physical challenges. It's dreadful, trashy, pointless stuff, and while some of the stunts are pretty good, the dialogue is super-stinky.
Coming soon... Concussion (Will Smith); Zoolander No. 2 (Ben Stiller); Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds); A Bigger Splash (Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton); The Survivalist (Martin McCann).