Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Trumbo

“Black Mass” and “Steve Jobs” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Trumbo” comes at just the right time in America. Over the past several years, politically-correct, neo-leftist authoritarians have penetrated our culture, causing otherwise rational people to look at everything around them through the lens of identity politics. Once they do that the results, to use their parlance, are “problematic.” Their solution, however, is what is really problematic. They are not interested in debate, discussion, or differing opinions. They are looking to have their way be the only way, and will do what they can to shut others out—everything from “safe spaces” on college campuses to proposing laws that would limit people’s free speech on the Internet. It’s a time when self-righteous bullies impose their will on others for no other reason other than the fact that they disagree with the others.

This is not unlike the world of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) in 1947. We first meet Trumbo while he’s writing a screenplay in his tub. Hemingway wrote standing up, Trumbo did it in a tub. Whatever gets the job done, I say. I can’t help but find it amusing that one of Hollywood’s best screenwriters probably wrote some of his best work while sitting naked in bubbly water.

Trumbo’s problems begin when gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) uses him as an example of a Hollywood communist. The storm that she kicks up affects others in Hollywood who are friends with Trumbo, like actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and fellow writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.). Their luck gets worse when Congress gets wind of the story and the House Un-American Activities Committee, formed to root out Communist spies and subversives, subpoenas Trumbo and nine others. Together the Hollywood Ten, as they become known, form a defense fund and refuse to answer questions on the basis that the government has no right to interfere with their private business and therefore has no right to ask such questions.

While I don’t agree with Trumbo’s socialist/communist leanings, I admire the man for his integrity and his backbone. I think he is completely correct that having a set of beliefs is not a crime. Neither is disagreeing and having a different opinion. I had one while watching the movie. There is a scene in “Trumbo” where his daughter Niki (Madison Wolfe) asks him if he is a communist. Trumbo keeps it simple and asks her if she would give a sandwich to a fellow schoolmate who didn’t have a lunch or tell him to get a job. Of course the kind-hearted girl would give her schoolmate a sandwich. What Trumbo fails to go on to tell her is that the next day the student would ask for the sandwich and the apple. Then the sandwich, the apple, and the dessert. And so on, not just with her lunch but with everybody’s. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s sandwiches.

Cranston, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, does a great job of playing Trumbo as an intellectual who has to think his way out of a very tough situation. The years of his blacklisting are difficult for him and his family. Trumbo still writes, but can’t take the credit due to the blacklist. “Trumbo” turns into a nice comeback story for the last half an hour or so, and it’s a happy relief to see this genius writer finally get the credit and recognition he deserves. While the end of the movie may not be as cathartic as the great last line delivered by Woody Allen in director (and blacklistee) Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy “The Front,” which also tackled this topic, it still feels pretty good. Buy it on Amazon: Trumbo Blu-ray.

Also New This Week:

Black Mass

Johnny Depp plays his scariest, most sadistic character to date in “Black Mass,” as Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bolger. Bolger is ruthless and cunning, and will stop at nothing to achieve power and fortune. Part of his strategy is to form an alliance with FBI agent and old neighborhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). It’s win-win, as Bolger gets to inform on his enemies and have the FBI take them out, and Connolly gets to look good to his superiors by having an informant with such good intel.

Depp is one of the most chameleonic actors working today. He knows how to slip into a character inside and out, and he’s not afraid to obscure his good looks in all manner of makeup and prosthetics. What he does as Bolger is right up there with his best character work. Between the slicked back hair and the ice-cold, light blue-eyed stare, the visage of Depp’s Bolger is barely human. Perhaps that’s the idea. How could someone with any humanity do the cruel, heartless, inhumane things that Bolger does in “Black Mass”? He’s like an animal primed and ready to strike at any given moment, and at times it’s hard to tell who he is going to strike out at or why. When Connolly forms his alliance with Bolger, he truly makes a deal with the devil. Or at least, he makes one with a soulless demon of some kind. Rent it.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is a “big picture” kind of man. He is the one with the vision who knows what he wants. How to get it is another story, and he relies on others to get him there. One aspect of Jobs’ personality that comes through in “Steve Jobs” is how hard he is on the people he relies on to take his ideas and make them work in the real world. His friendship with former business partner—and the brains behind the tech--Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is tumultuous at best, and at one point early on he threatens to publicly humiliate programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) if he doesn’t get the MacIntosh to say “Hello” before its 1984 unveiling.

But Jobs isn’t all down talk and bullying. He looks up to John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple’s CEO. Even after Sculley pushes Jobs out of Apple, it’s clear that Jobs still respects Sculley. The anger and disappointment come in the same way it would for a son who feels betrayed by his father. Sculley doesn’t feel good with the way things happened either. From 1984 at the MacIntosh unveiling, to 1988 at the NeXT unveiling, and finally to 1998 at the iMac unveiling, we see the ups and downs of their relationship.

Oddly—or sadly—enough, Jobs’ relationship with Sculley is one of his healthiest ones. The Wozniak and Hertzfeld relationships deteriorate over the same period of years, as does his relationship with former lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and his daughter Lisa, played by Makenzie Moss at age 5, Ripley Sobo at age 9, and Perla Haney-Jardine at age 19. Chrisann’s portrayal in “Steve Jobs,” isn’t flattering either, as she comes across as little more than an angry, greedy, shrill, self-entitled bitch. Sympathies do go to Lisa, however, as she is an innocent girl caught in the middle of an absent father and an utterly worthless mother.

Jobs’ only rock to hold on to in his storm of a life is his assistant Joana Hoffman (Kate Winslet). She is one of the few people around him with the courage to stick up to him, and the added bonus is that she does so in a positive, constructive way. She provides a good check and balance to his more self-indulgent behaviors, and stays with him because she cares for him and wants him to succeed and be the great visionary she knows that he can be. Without Joanna to help steer him right, it’s very possible that Steve Jobs might have gone right over the edge and never come back. She’s the best character in the movie, and manages to stay mentally sharp and grounded when everything around her is spinning out of control. Thank goodness for loyal friends with cool, calm, and collected heads. Rent it.

More New Releases: “No Way Out,” taut political thriller starring Kevin Costner, Sean Young, and Gene Hackman; “The Kid,” loveable Charlie Chaplin silent movie about the Tramp and a scamp; and “Speechless,” politics-infused romantic comedy about two campaign speechwriters (Michael Keaton and Geena Davis) who fall in love—and happen to work for opposing candidates.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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