Director: Jay Roach (2016)

Romping through the career of a Hollywood screenwriter, this entertaining biopic suffers from a self-gratifying script filled with too much lightweight sentiment.

Enjoying a privileged lifestyle as one of Hollywood’s elite in 1947, Dalton Trumbo was one of many writers and actors illegally blacklisted for refusing to testify against communists to the US government.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston stars as the irascible scribe who types in the bathtub with a cigarette holder and glass of whiskey in hand.

Trumbo’s a less than loveable eccentric who patronises the masses who watch his movies and fund his comfortable lifestyle.

A honey throated spinner of yarns who invokes the constitution to serve his own ends, Trumbo reminds us of another historic US public figure given a recent cinematic makeover.

There’s a clear parallel between Cranston’s performance and Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar winning turn as the ill-fated US President in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2013).

The script even includes a similar moment wherein a colleague refuses to listen to any more of Trumbo’s stories, lest he be converted to his cause.

We fail to sympathise for the champagne communist when he suffers the indignity of downsizing from his country manor to a large house with a pool.

Being aggressively covered in fizzy pop isn’t nice and holidays are interrupted. But a brief and uneventful stint in prison aside, nothing too worrying happens to him.

As an illustration of the rarefied social circles Trumbo moves in, a friend can afford to sell the drawing room Van Gogh to pay for their lawyer’s fees.

Meanwhile Trumbo’s career goes from strength to Oscar-winning strength. Under various pseudonyms he works with Hollywood directors and stars of huge stature.

The timeline covers some forty years giving the handsome film a breathless feel despite it’s stately pace.

Part of the problem is a desire to cram in many era-famous faces. As the story lacks drama, this is possibly to compensate for a suspected deficiency of audience interest.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson is one of several examples of casting capable peformers as famous cinema actors. They’re not as charismatic or talented and physically aren’t great matches.

David James Elliot essays John Wayne as an unconvincingly magnanimous presence.

At least Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas is given a gift of a line which is guaranteed to bring the house down with laughter.

Helen Mirren is terrific as the waspish society columnist Hedda Hopper. But by making her the villain of the piece, the male dominated hierarchies of cinema and politics are let off the hook for their behaviour.

Hopper suffers a poorly articulated rationale for for the intensity of her attacks on communism and there’s no hint her anti-union publisher is any way pulling her editorial strings for their own ends.

Diane Lane plays Trumbo’s wife Cleo with nothing to do except add glamorous scolding and sympathy.

Elle Fanning as their daughter Nikola fairs little better, being ushered down a civil rights movement cul-de-sac.

John Goodman plays to his strengths as a down market producer offering a broad comic performance which recalls his turn in ben Affleck’s Argo (2012).

Never convicted of any criminal charge, Trumbo presents himself as a fearless defender of the first amendment and the script bequeaths him a suspiciously retro-fitted sermon on the importance of the constitution.

There are great lines in the film but one suspects they’re lifted from the scripts or diaries belonging to one of the many scriptwriters portrayed on screen.

Woman In Gold

Director: Simon Curtis (2015)

A young lawyer and elderly woman team up to haggle over the ownership of a valuable piece of art in this dull plod of a true story.

Half courtroom drama, half Second World War thriller and all unremarkable, an uninformative script fails to inspire two mismatched leads.

Widowed US citizen Maria (Helen Mirren) is Austrian by birth and bossy, rude and talkative by nature. She spends a lot of screen-time staring into space and listening to music. She has come into documents suggesting a valuable painting of her aunt Adele may in fact belong to her.

Painted by famous artist Gustav Klimt and known as the ‘Woman In Gold’, it’s of such great importance it’s colloquially referred to Austria’s Mona Lisa, though it’s real name is ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I‘. As her aunt’s will specified it’s hanging on public display in the famous Viennese Belvedere Gallery.

Maria hires the inexperienced lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The grandson of a famous Viennese composer, Randol takes the case to further his career but after visiting the Holocaust Memorial it becomes a personal mission to secure for Maria the painting.

Together they scuttle off to Vienna to demand the paintings return from the gallery. She tries to shame the authorities into gifting her a painting worth over a hundred million dollars. Even to my inexpert legal mind it’s not a strategy likely to succeed.

Eventually Randol discovers a legal loophole and takes Maria’s claim to the US Supreme Court for permission to sue the Austrian State for the painting’s return.

In one scene a Ferris wheel is featured prominently in the Viennese background, prompting the mind to drift to this famous moment from cinema.

Randol’s argument rests on the exploitation of a technicality not sympathetic to the intention or spirit of her aunt’s original will. Although Maria has an emotional claim to the painting of her aunt, the legal ends seem to have been resolved correctly if not by the right means.

Sepia-toned flashbacks to Maria’s privileged childhood in Vienna shows us a little of a somewhat cold relationship with her aunt Adele (Antje Traue). This undermines her argument her legal case is underpinned by her love for her family.

We see far more coverage of her life as a young married woman under Nazi house arrest for being a Jew, allowing for leather-slapping SS guards to inject some menace into the film. They steal the family silver as well as the Holbein from the wall, her father’s Stradivarius cello and of course, the painting at the heart of the story.

Young Maria abandons her parents to the war and as she flees to the airport, is chased on foot and fights off armed Nazis. What a gal. I didn’t believe for a moment this is how she left Austria.

There’s too much disconnect between eras and the desperate tone of the war years clash with the gentle banter between Mirren and Reynolds.

Scenes in the Supreme Court which are played for laughs. Legal arguments are easily defeated in an uninteresting way and long lapses of time of 9, 6 and 4 months interrupt what little dramatic tension there is in court.

Whenever anyone is offered opportunity to display generosity of spirit, self-interested petulance is chosen instead.

Both leads are miscast and lack chemistry. Reynolds is static wooden pole Mirren gamely gambols about him, flirting with a mannered Austrian accent.

it’s always pleasant to see Katie Holmes on the big screen but in an inconsistently written role she’s relegated to being Randol’s stay-at-home wife. Tatiana Maslany as young Maria makes a convincing young Helen Mirren.

Poor Daniel Bruhl plays journalist Bertus Czernin. He pops up to handily explain Austrian bureaucracy and their funny ways. Peculiarly for a journalist he takes no notes, writes no stories and takes no payment, Astonishingly he’s the one buying the drinks. Mostly he serves the function of providing Reynolds someone to talk to.

We lean nothing of Klimt, his life, art or why his art is so vital to Austrian culture, relegating him to the second most famous Austrian artist in this story.

The Hundred Foot Journey

Director: Lasse Hallström (2014)

There’s a generous helping of charm and humour in this culinary culture clash.

Talented young Indian chef Hassan (Manish Dayal) is taught to cook by his mum but when she dies in a riot, his Papa (Om Puri) moves the family to Europe for safety.

The family are rescued from a car crash in rural France by local beauty Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). An aspiring chef, she cycles about in vintage frocks with the doe-eyed appeal of Audrey Hepburn.

Seduced by the quality of the local food and setting, Papa decides to open an Indian restaurant. The family then energetically set about renovating a derelict bistro into a loud and colourful eatery.

Gifted Hassan manages to mix traditional Indian recipes with French cuisine, much to the anger of Madame Mallory who owns a restaurant a hundred feet away. She’s played by a terrifically tart Helen Mirren who has great fun as the extravagantly accented workaholic widow.

Normally I would choke on the film’s symbolic use of food, adoration of cooks and idealised view of the French. But the deft direction, spicy script and engaging performances make for an indulgent blend.

As Madame Mallory and Papa lock horns, the younger ones lock lips – but simmering passions cool when she poaches Hassan and promotes him above Marguerite. Further success sees Hassan working in Paris but Michelin stars and celebrity fail to feed his soul.

The finale serves up no surprises and if living in France were as satisfying as this film suggests, we’d all be moving there.