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Trumbo - a pre-screening review - Friday 22nd July 2016
Trumbo

There are countless examples of Hollywood exploring the McCarthy witch hunts of the 50s, perhaps seeing these films as an opportunity to hit back against an attack on the industry. What most of these films share, from Woody Allen’s The Front to Jim Carrey’s The Majestic is a righteous indignation at being wrongly accused. What sets Tumbo apart, is that he really is a communist, and unashamedly so.

Dalton Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood 10” that served time for defying the HUAC, and is beautifully brought to life by Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston. The actor disappears into the role he completely embodies, a witty, stubborn, irascible but deeply principled man. He’s surrounded by a marvellous supporting cast. John Goodman provides comic relief as Frank King, the filmmaker that does business with a baseball bat, while Helen Mirren has great fun chewing on the evil words gossip columnist Hedda Hopper supplies for her.

Director Jay Roach is best known for the broad comedy of Austin Powers and the Fockers, so it’s no surprise that he brings a lightness of touch to what could have been an unremittingly grim tale. Far from taking away from the seriousness of the subject, this only serves to emphasise the pragmatism and good humour needed to get through those difficult times. To that extent, this spirited film may be the most accurate evocation of the period yet.

Room - a pre-screening review - Thursday 7th July 2016
Lenny Abrahamson is proving to be a remarkably versatile, almost contrary, director. Having made a name out of empathising with troubled souls – first with Richard, in What Richard Did and then with Jon Ronson’s Frank, it is as if he has decided, in tone and perspective, to look down the other end of the telescope.

The troubled soul in Room is a shadowy, whining brute of a captor known only as Old Nick, but we see the action from the point of view of Jack, a child born of the kidnapping and imprisonment Old Nick imposes on Jack’s mother. Emma Donoghue’s superb adaptation of her own novel looks as if its worldview will stretch only so far as the eleven foot square room in which they are trapped. But then the storyline takes a surprising, not to say thrilling, turn at the midpoint of the film (if you haven’t seen the plot spoiling trailer, consider yourself lucky). Neither a horror film nor a thriller, the movie eschews the expected trajectory of jeopardy, instead offering up a poignant and thought-provoking examination of what life after a crisis might really be like.

By focusing on the heart-breaking and tender relationship between mother and child, made painfully real by the brilliant performances of Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, the movie has a rare authenticity, and is thereby saved from descending into mawkish sentimentality. Instead, it leaves the viewer with an unsettling but mature insight into the fallout from a heinous crime.
By David Vass

Dad’s Army - a pre-screening review - Thursday 30th June 2016
This was surely one of the most anticipated films of 2016, so it is a great relief to discover that it has been made with obvious affection and respect for the original series. Dispensing with the tiresome exposition that dragged down the 1971 film, we are plunged straight into the action, introducing newcomers to Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard with some slapstick fun, while offering up nods and winks to those of us more familiar with the characters.

The casting of is impeccable. At the centre of the action is Toby Jones, who wisely shifts Mannering away from the inimitable Arthur Lowe, while retaining the same mix of buffoonery and pathos. His wistful longing for Catherine Zeta-Jones (popping up like a guest on the Muppet Show) is funny and poignant. In the 90 minutes available, it’s inevitable that some characters have to take a back seat, so given the tragic and premature death of James Beck, it’s rather sweet that Private Walker has such a prominent role. He is superbly played by Daniel Mays with a fitting to tribute to the original cast member mirrored by Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Bill Nighy and so many others.

The comedy is sometimes broad – occasionally lapsing into Carry On territory - but then so was the television series. Defy the snooty critics that have misremembered the original as a masterwork of great subtlety (it wasn’t) and there is much to enjoy in this rollicking tale of foolish, yet very brave, men.
By David Vass