Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Cranston’

The writer and the Red Scare: ‘Trumbo’ looks at the man who defied Congress and won two Academy Awards in the process

December 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 28, 2015

Director Jay Roach’s lively new biopic, Trumbo, tells the story of a leftist Hollywood screenwriter and his tangle with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Veteran actor Bryan Cranston (the star of the acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad, who had minor roles in Argo and Godzilla) headlines the movie as title character Dalton Trumbo. A labor activist and American Communist Party member, he also happened to be one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters.

Trumbo’s story tracks what I know about the actual historic events, which a few web searches seem to confirm. America’s pivot from World War II to the Cold War meant that the Soviet Union, our allies in the crusade against Nazi Germany, quickly became our enemies in the sublimated struggle for world domination. Although fairly sudden, this change in relations between American and other Western Allies and the Soviet Union was very real — recall if you will Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech from March 1946. And it prompted some Americans to focus their animus on the sociopolitical philosophy of Communism, a dynamic that went on to cause a tremendous amount of needless harm.

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In the excellent thriller ‘Argo,’ ordinary people face extraordinary pressures in revolutionary Iran

November 30, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 30, 2014

Argo, the 2012 movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is an excellent thriller based on the real-life rescue of six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in 1980.

The movie quickly sets the stage for its story by having a narrator describe key political events in the history of 20th-century Iran. Essentially: In 1953, soon after Iran’s secular, democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized Western-owned oil interests, the United States helped stage a coup and installed a friendly dictator. The new shah was Reza Pahlavi, whose modernization initiatives were undermined by his hoarding national wealth and his ordering or allowing the secret police to brutally oppress political enemies. In 1979, militant Islamic revolutionaries took control of Iran; the grievously ill shah traveled to America so he could simultaneously save himself from hanging and get treatment for his cancer.

This narration — delivered by Sheila Vand, who has a small but crucial role as a housekeeper named Sahar — brings us to Nov. 4, 1979. A crowd of angry Iranians have massed outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, and Americans trapped on the grounds slowly realize that local officials have no intention of dispersing the mob. Protesters breach first the compound walls and then the actual buildings, detaining more than 60 diplomats and other employees.

But six employees in what appears to be the visa branch evade captivity by slipping out a side exit. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, the sextet find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. Because of the revolutionaries’ hostility toward the secular West, and especially all things American, they’re essentially trapped inside the residence.

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‘Godzilla’ brings the monsters and action but leaves characters (plus a potentially important environmental subtext) behind

May 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 26, 2014

The opening credits of the new film Godzilla follow a conceit. We are viewing classified photographs and footage from the 1940s and 1950s, accompanied by snippets of text from formerly secret documents. As is typical when governments release such papers publicly, many of the words are censored — thick lines appear before our eyes, obscuring material that is still deemed secret. The words that remain are names and titles. (For example, we’ll see “music,” censor lines and then “Alexandre Desplat,” the name of the film’s composer.)

I found this to be an amusing approach to the material at hand, which incorporates real-life nuclear weapons tests into its fictional story. We’re told, for instance, that the bombs detonated in the Pacific were actually strikes against Godzilla, an enormous prehistoric predacious lizard that was somehow discovered in the 20th century. Would that the film had been able to be so consistently clever throughout. Alas…

The film opens in 1999 when scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) walk into the remains of a long-dead Godzilla-type creature that has just been discovered at a remote mining operation. Inside the immense corpse, they find two pods. One is intact and evidently dormant; the other, apparently catalyzed by exposure to air, has just hatched, releasing…something. The scientists, who work for a secret project known as Monarch, gape in amazement at the trail of flattened trees left in the something’s wake.

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