Film review: Point Break | Trumbo | Goosebumps

Earnest when it should be fun, dull when it should be exciting and rambling when it should be coherent, Point Break fails on every level, writes Alistair Harkness

Earnest when it should be fun, dull when it should be exciting and rambling when it should be coherent, Point Break fails on every level, writes Alistair Harkness

Point Break (12A) | Rating: * | Directed by: Ericson Core | Starring: Édgar Ramírez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo

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First released in 1991, Kathryn Bigelow’s surf-themed action movie Point Break has become something of a cult classic. Gloriously silly, slyly self-aware and fully attuned to the “100 percent pure adrenaline” action ethos espoused by Patrick Swayze’s cosmic beach bum rebel, Bodhi, the film also made an action star of Keanu Reeves, at the time coming off the Bill & Ted movies, but oddly and perfectly suited to playing a “young, dumb and full of cum” rookie FBI agent who learns to surf in order to go undercover and take down a crew of big-wave-riding bank robbers who’ve been using the proceeds of their crimes to fund their endless summers. The basic plot and extreme-sports action mantra was pretty much ripped off wholesale a decade later for The Fast and the Furious, the success of which inevitably spawned discussion of a remake. Well, after a tortuous development process, that remake is now here and, sadly, predictably, it’s utterly terrible.

Re-imagining Reeves’s FBI trainee Johnny Utah (now played by Luke Bracey) as something called a “poly-athlete”, the film promptly drains any fun from proceedings by giving him a honking backstory. This time out he’s joined the FBI to atone for an idiotic tragedy from his past, one that has apparently made him a YouTube legend, but somehow hasn’t adversely affected his chances of joining a government agency involved in covertly fighting terrorism.

Determined to impress his superiors, Utah is soon sucked back into his old life after somehow convincing them that a series of high-stakes heists perpetrated against American multinationals are connected to a crew of enlightenment-seeking base-jumpers embarking on something known as the Eight Ordeals. “What’s the connection between the crime and the Ordeal?” asks Utah’s FBI instructor (Delroy Lindo).

What indeed? The film isn’t overly concerned with supplying a coherent answer, but the question’s larger implication lingers for the remainder of the running time. If the crime is remaking something this poorly, the ordeal is surely sitting through it.

A film like this needs to hit the ground running, of course, but this lands with a splat thanks to Bracey – a big plank of wood who makes the surfboards look charismatic. A relative newcomer who has graduated from a role in Aussie soap Home & Away to rubbish action movies via the forgettable likes of GI Joe: Retaliation, his every line is delivered with a dreary earnestness that lacks even the enigmatic blankness that has made the much-maligned Keanu such a joy to watch in the right role – the original Point Break being a prime example.

Not that acting talent is any guarantee of transcending Kurt Wimmer’s flat-lining script (there’s not a single quotable line here) or Ericson Core’s erratic direction. As a British-based FBI agent reluctantly forced to take Utah under his wing, Ray Winstone can’t seem to remember if his character is supposed to be from London or LA, so he opts for an inconsistent transatlantic growl whenever Core remembers to cut back to him. Just as bad is Édgar Ramírez. The talented Venezuelan star of Carlos and David O Russell’s recent Joy should be perfectly cast as the charismatic guru whose masterminding of elaborate heists is inextricably linked to his quest for spiritual enlightenment. Sadly, unlike Bigalow’s film, there’s nothing here to allow Ramírez to have any fun as Bodhi.

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The makers have also missed a trick by not making this an explicitly gay action movie. Bigalow’s film embraced the homoerotic undertones of the bond between Utah and Bodhi, but this Point Break runs a mile from it, even as it’s filling the frame with multiple scenes of its shirtless leads getting close to each other while simultaneously diminishing the importance of its sole female character (a hippy-dippy eco warrior called Samsara, played by Teresa Palmer).

But the biggest fail of all is the action. It’s rubbish. Core actually cut his teeth as cinematographer on The Fast and the Furious, so he knows his way around an aerial shot and a stunt team. But as a director he’s got no sense of how to construct a scene to draw out the beauty of hi-octane stunt work. To paraphrase Patrick Swayze in the first film, he only lives to get radical, so the set-pieces have none of the majesty of Bigelow’s surf scenes, her skydiving sequences or that steadicam foot-chase through the backyards of downtown LA. An aerial heist in which money is deposited, Robin Hood-style, over a dirt poor village is oddly boring; a big snowboarding sequence is nonsensical, and important plot reveals are casually thrown away in drama-free confrontations. There’s also an over-reliance on CGI – especially for the surfing scenes. In the end it’s just dull and proof that when it comes to certain remakes Hollywood really should back off. Seriously.

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Trumbo (15) | Rating: **** | Directed by Jay Roach | Starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis CK, John Goodman

Starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this nuts-and-bolts biopic of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo zeroes in on the most prominent and successful of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ – the group of screenwriters, directors and producers jailed for refusing to denounce their political beliefs during the Communist witch-hunts that plagued American life from the late 1940s onwards.

Trumbo had an incredible life story with a good Hollywood hook – he won two Oscars (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) using fronts and pseudonyms while the industry shunned him. As such there’s a pleasing air of right triumphing over might in the film, which mixes glossy nostalgia for old-Hollywood with scathing lines about the cowardice of the industry (“A meaningless statuette covered in the blood of my colleagues,” is how Trumbo describes the Oscars at one point).

And yet this is not some hagiographic celebration of Trumbo’s fight against the life-wrecking Cold War paranoia sweeping the nation (well, not entirely). Instead it’s a populist portrait of the damage this shameful period in Hollywood history wrought upon all those touched by it. Directed by Jay Roach (hitherto best known for the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies), the film has a lightness of touch that’s very much in keeping with Trumbo’s own remarkable ability to craft solid entertainment from dense material. As former actress turned toxic gossip queen Hedda Hopper, for instance, Helen Mirren is deliciously unpleasant, stoking fear with her snide comments, columns and veiled threats to studio bosses. John Goodman is fun too, riffing on past performances in Matinee and Argo to play B-movie maverick Frank King, whose low-grade pictures benefitted from Trumbo’s willingness to write movies for him at a time when no one else would touch him.

Nevertheless there are plenty of clunky touches too. Whenever some of the more famous players in the story – John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Otto Preminger – are wheeled on, the be-wigged actors playing them (or not in the case of Preminger) boldly announce their presence, in case we don’t quite recognize who they’re supposed to be. And the moment Louis CK coughs – he’s playing a fictionalised member of the Hollywood Ten – you just know he’s a goner. More dispiritingly, Diane Lane is somewhat underserved as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo; her expected role in the narrative replaced by a subplot involving their eldest daughter’s political awakening amid the chaos of the civil rights movement (she’s sweetly played by Elle Fanning).

But Cranston – a current Oscar-nominee – makes up for some of the shortfalls. His Trumbo is witty, wise, arrogant and entertainingly self-righteous. His ability to convey the passions and contradictions that drove Trumbo to risk everything also works beautifully within the context of the standard biopic format, providing depth, complexity and humanity despite the genre’s formulaic strictures. How very Trumbo.

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Goosebumps (PG) | Rating: ** | Directed by: Rob Letterman | Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee

Prolific children’s horror author RL Stine’s signature Goosebumps series gets the big screen treatment courtesy of this unsatisfying Jack Black vehicle. He plays the author himself and, rather than picking one story to adapt, the film throws in monsters from multiple books with a plot built around the idea that Stine’s literary imagination is so powerful his characters will literally leap off the page and into the real world given half a chance.

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That chance comes when his pesky new teenage neighbour Zach (Dylan Minnette) breaks into his house and unthinkingly unlocks one of Stine’s manuscripts. Chaos duly ensues as various CGI creatures escape, requiring Stine to reluctantly team up with Zach and his own teenage daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), to try and wrangle his creations back between the pages of his books.

That could have made for a fun, Cabin in the Woods-style horror comedy for tweens, but it’s too generic to be engaging. There’s also a very odd Pygmalion-esque revelation about Stine’s daughter in the final third that’s a tad creepy – and not in a good way.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (15) | Rating: **** | Directed by: Amy Berg

Amy Berg’s intimate documentary portrait of the great Janis Joplin provides a more rounded picture of the social misfit with the scorching blues howl than the tragic one commonly associated with her early demise from heroin at the age of 27.

Self-conscious about her unconventional looks, Joplin eventually found her place among the San Francisco freaks of the Free Love era, her huge, primal, rasping voice bridging the gap between rock and blues for the emerging psychedelic scene. Berg tracks Joplin’s story via new and archive interviews with friends, family and former band mates, and she has access to a wealth of brilliant documentary footage (much of it shot by DA Pennebaker), ensuring the film looks great too. But it’s her use of the hitherto unseen letters Joplin wrote to her family that prove most revelatory.

Raised by caring parents with whom she couldn’t properly connect, Joplin’s efforts to keep them abreast of her career suggests a craving for a deeper kind of intimacy and connection, something she perhaps found on stage with audiences. Though her drug use is explored, the film doesn’t dwell on it. Instead it leaves you feeling her loss by celebrating her complicated life in a way that’s human and cliché free.

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Rams (15) | Rating: *** | Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson | Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving

Sheep farming and sibling rivalry combine in this Icelandic drama about a 40-year fraternal feud that comes to a head when one brother beats the other in a best-in-show contest for prize rams. If that sounds like the set up for some kind of quirky Nordic comedy, any humour is of the blackest kind as the prize – and the jealousy that ensues – results in the discovery of a flock-threatening disease that has a potentially devastating impact for the community as a whole.

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Save for a mid-point twist that flips our perceptions of the troublesome Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) and the more level-headed Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), director Grímur Hákonarson’s Cannes-winner doesn’t deliver much in the way of plot, but

it’s good at depicting the absurd lengths to which family members will go to stay out of each other’s way — and the speed with which they’ll come together again when disaster looms.