Movie Review ~ Unbroken

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp

Stars: Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Miyavi

Director: Angelina Jolie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I’m still kicking myself for not finishing Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel about the life of Louis Zamperini but time just got away from me.  Unlike most films based on books that I’ve seen before reading the source material, the film treatment of Unbroken actually makes me want to go back and read the book.

The story of Zamperini’s fight for survival first on his 47 days on a raft in the ocean and then as a POW in WWII is the stuff that should have made for a movie with more impact than the one presented here on screen.  With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) in the director’s chair I really expected this to be more of a winner than it winds up being.

It’s a strange occurrence, really, because Jolie has herself a strong leading man (Jack O’Connell) handling the life-changing moments of Zamperini with a believable air of resilience and an unbelievable true-life story with a seemingly endless supply of emotional twists.

All through the film I kept waiting for a time when I was moved to feel something beyond what was being presented in the current scene.  Several weeks after screening the film I’m still struggling to find where the film missed the mark or, perhaps, where I missed that moment.

Maybe it’s because aside from (and in addition to) O’Connell the rest of Jolie’s cast is filled with GQ-ready soldiers that look as if they were picked from an MTV casting session.  With their chiseled jaw-bones, washboard abs, and hair that stays perfectly coiffed even after two months exposed to the elements, Jolie’s soldiers felt like play-actors rather than true face of WWII soldiers.

The central villain of the piece also fares poorly on screen with Miyavi (a rock star in Japan) playing his devious Japanese guard more like a Bond villain than the unyielding tyrant Zamperini encountered.  Actually, Miyavi’s performance reminded me more of Jolie herself in Maleficent with his lines delivered in a soft purr that I’m guessing were intended to convey more of a sense of terror than they do.

On the production side, Unbroken’s atmosphere hits a bulls-eye.  From the striking costumes of Louise Frogley (Flight) to the production design of the various camps Zamperini encounters to Roger Deakins (Skyfall) sumptuous cinematography to Alexandre Desplat’s (Godzilla) unobtrusive score the effect really makes you feel like you’re watching a film of that time and era.  Even some muddled special effects somehow are forgivable.

Though I feel the film is missing a chunk of time to connect a few dots, it’s when we see the real Zamperini near the end when I felt that lump in my throat I’d been missing the last 120 minutes.  Perhaps Unbroken would have been better served going the documentary treatment rather than a dramatized one.  While it lacks overall impact and doesn’t exactly signal Jolie’s arrival as a significant director, it’s a story worth taking in. Reading the book may be a better option, though.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Last 5 Years

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Synopsis: Based on the musical, a struggling actress and her novelist lover each illustrate the struggle and deconstruction of their love affair.

Release Date: February 13, 2015

Thoughts: I have to admit that since its debut in 2001 I’ve struggled with warming to the small two-person off-Broadway musical being brought to the screen by director Richard LaGravenese (Beautiful Creatures). Not that the material isn’t good or the talent wasn’t there, I just found myself too removed from the proceedings to latch on to anything that truly moved me.

The first trailer for The Last 5 Years finally stirred something inside of me and I’m more interested than ever to re-discover this piece that quickly became a cult favorite for theaters big and small around the world. Borrowing ever so slightly from Pinter and telling it’s tale from the start and end of a relationship, all eyes will be on leads Anna Kendrick (about to score with Into the Woods, another popular musical adaptation come Christmastime) and Jeremy Jordan (Joyful Noise) to see just how sweet their three hanky musical romance will play out. Though it’s not based on a musical seen by millions, I think there’s a strong possibility this could be a sleeper success…

The Silver Bullet ~ Unbroken

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Unbroken

Synopsis: A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

Release Date: December 25, 2014

Thoughts: A film with such pedigree comes along once in a blue moon so even if this trailer for Unbroken had been two minutes of orange juice being poured I still would have this on the tippy top of my most anticipated films of 2014.  Directed by Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s blockbuster bestseller, Unbroken could appear to some as the most tasty of Oscar bait treats.  However, seeing that it’s based on the incredible true story of a P.O.W. during World War II and his journey toward forgiveness, I just can’t deny the classic feeling the movie invokes within me.  Fingers, toes, and eyes are crossed that this impressively moving trailer is backed up by an equally worthy film.

Movie Review ~ Beautiful Creatures

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  The worldwide success of the Twilight franchise inspired quite a lot of similarly themed young adult novels to emerge and it was only a matter of time before a studio snapped up the movie rights in hopes of creating their own money-making cash cow.  Warner Brothers had a very profitable run with the Harry Potter series but hasn’t found a true successor to the boy wizard.  With Beautiful Creatures, they may have a shot if audiences respond well to the film with its campy moments, solid acting, and decent narrative.

Instead of vampires (or zombies like Warm Bodies), Beautiful Creatures centers around an eccentric family of Casters (don’t call them witches) that make quite the impression on high school senior Ethan Wate (Ehrenreich who could be a cousin of Leonardo DiCaprio) as he befriends and then falls for burgeoning caster Lena Duchannes (Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion) .  Yearning to get out of his backwater bayou town, Wate is infatuated with the mysterious Lena and it isn’t long before the two are quite smitten with each other…though Lena is at first resistant.  You see, she’s right on the edge of coming of age in the world of Casters…and she just might end up on the dark side of things like her cousin Ridley (Rossum).  Only Lena’s uncle (Irons) and Ethan’s housekeeper (Davis) know what true dangers lay in store for Ethan and Lena should their love be allowed to develop naturally. 

There’s quite a bit of information that the movie has to cram in and though I haven’t read the books I’ve heard that director and screenwriter LaGravenese did good work in streamlining by combining characters and leaving some out entirely.  That’s always a risky move for the first film in a series (there are four books) because if you alienate the base fans you may lose them for the sequels.  Admittedly,  Beautiful Creatures does feel like an introductory film rather than one ready to tell its own story.  There are a few characters introduced that I can tell will come back in later books with more of a purpose but are only on screen as a placeholder face for future installments. 

Where the film really succeeds is in the casting.  Ehrenreich and Englert are both interesting actors that don’t push things too far.  Ehrenreich, in particular, is a winningly normal kid with charm to spare.  That the two don’t have fiery chemistry is a bit of a disappointment — because the end result feels like you’re watching the awkwardness of two life-long friends that only recently started dating.  Irons, Davis, and Rossum invest themselves just enough to add some spark to their scenes.  The film is really worth seeing for Thompson’s performance alone.  It’s pretty clear Thompson is having a grand old time and she lays the Southern drawl and mannerisms on thick.  She’s a refreshing hoot and owns every scene she’s a part of.

Whether you think of it as Twilight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Twilight on the Bayou, this is one you may wind up liking more than you thought you would.  Even with some head-scratching plot holes and a curious lack of serious chemistry between the two leads, the film provided a modest dose of southern comfort that goes down easy.