INDIE FLICKS: TRUMBO
Hollywood's blacklist era in the mid-20th century produced more than its share of creative martyrs, none more famous than screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whose ties to Communist Party members and principles made him unhired by studios caving to Red Scare tactics.
The era also inspired its share of movies, so Trumbo (PG-13) has little new to offer except Bryan Cranston's sophisticated portrayal of the title role.
Disappearing behind a broom mustache, syrupy baritone and ever-present Scotch and cigarette, Cranston's sly righteousness is one of the season's more amusing performances.
But only when director Jay Roach (the Fockers and Austin Powers series) follows the comedic instincts that made his career. Roach is over his head with constitutional drama, and courtroom settings can drain creativity from better filmmakers than him. Trumbo has a cast primed for venomous comedy — Helen Mirren as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg — that John McNamara's screenplay could turn loose more often.
At its best, Trumbo is an elaborate Hollywood wax museum, dropping casting names and casting impressionists. Stuhlbarg does young Edward G. Robinson well, and you really should see David James Elliott as John Wayne and Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas. Christian Berkel's Otto Preminger is as over the top as its subject. Cranston's Trumbo strolls through the exhibits with a twinkle in his eye, spinning clever whiskey words.
The basics of Trumbo's career are covered; winning two Academy Awards under pseudonyms, Douglas' resurrection of his career by hiring him to write Spartacus, heckling Congress. A few insider gems spring from Bruce Cook's biography of the screenwriter: Hopper's preying mantis influence on Hollywood's witch hunt, a ideological confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne, the black market for blacklisted writers' screenplays explained with caper flair.
There's also plenty of what Robinson calls "sermons for citizenship," capped by Cranston's final scene, framed and delivered to convince Oscar voters to put him on the ballot. It's a limp ending that might have Trumbo himself demanding a rewrite. B-
NOW IN THEATERS: Creed, Brooklyn, The Good Dinosaur
Thanksgiving came early to multiplexes, when this week's major new releases each opened Wednesday, getting a jump on the long holiday weekend.
The next-generation Rocky drama Creed (PG-13) is primed to be crowned box office champion, with tight competition from The Good Dinosaur (PG) since it's from Disney/Pixar. The coming-of-age Oscar contender Brooklyn (PG-13) joins Trumbo as indie picks of the week.
Full reviews of Creed, The Good Dinosaur and Brooklyn are at tampabay.com/movies. For now, here are my general impressions in 25 words or less:
Creed: Raises the rarely heard question: Can Sylvester Stallone really win an Academy Award for acting? Grade: B+
The Good Dinosaur: Not one of Disney-Pixar's finest animated efforts but a decent distraction for children during the holidays. Grade: B
Brooklyn: Hope I learn how to spell and pronounce Saoirse Ronan's name before Oscar night. Grade: B+
SIDE MOVIE DISHES: Thanksgiving edition
It wouldn't be a holiday without a list of movies tied to it; Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Home for the Holidays, Pieces of April, the usual Thanksgiving suspects. • We don't work that way around here. Here are five offbeat Thanksgiving movie choices, guaranteed to take your mind off visiting relatives:
Basic Turkey Day family dysfunction but it's Paul Newman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bruce Willis on each others' nerves.
The Ice Storm
Set amid the fabled Thanksgiving tradition of wife swapping parties, Ang Lee's 1997 drama stars Kevin Kline and Christina Ricci.
The House of Yes
A caustic relic from the mid-90's when Parker Posey was queen of the indie film movement.
She's Gotta Have It
Spike Lee's 1986 debut features sexually liberated Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) inviting three lovers to Thanksgiving dinner.
Norman Lear's Big Tobacco satire has nothing in common with Thanksgiving except the title but it's hilarious, and I love leftovers.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Spotlight: The finest movie about newspaper reporters doing their jobs since All the President's Men.
2 Creed: Worthy successor to Rocky Balboa's underdog boxing title, and maybe an Oscar nod for Sylvester Stallone.
3 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2: Concludes the fantasy franchise that made Jennifer Lawrence a star.
4 The Peanuts Movie: Charles M. Schulz's beloved gang makes an overdue return to the screen.
5 Bridge of Spies: Cold War drama starring Tom Hanks.
Read reviews at tampabay.com/movies.
(dates subject to change)
Dec. 4: Krampus; Christmas Eve
Dec. 11: In the Heart of the Sea; Macbeth
Dec. 18: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens; Sisters; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Dec. 23: The Big Short
Dec. 25: Joy; The Hateful Eight; The Danish Girl; Concussion; Daddy's Home; Point Break
Jan. 8: The Revenant