Unbroken

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by: Angelina Jolie (“In the Land of Blood and Honey”)
Written by: Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Ethan Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”) and William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”)

As inspirational as any real-life war biography can get, the survival story of Olympic athlete and WWII POW Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who sadly passed away this year at the age of 97, is the kind of hero-worshipping film that would be difficult for any American to resist. Think of something like last year’s “Lone Survivor” or this year’s “American Sniper.” A real patriot has to love these movies, right?

Spanning from Zamperini’s childhood to the end of WWII, “Unbroken” features Jack O’Connell as Zamperini during his time as an Olympic track star to his service in the U.S. military where he survived a plane crash, 47 days in a life raft and two years as a prisoner of war in Japan. While much of the first half of the film is beautiful to look at (credit cinematographer Roger Deakins for his work in the air and ocean) and the life raft scenes are incredibly harrowing and intense, the same can’t be said of the narrative that focuses on Zamperini’s life once he is taken prisoner on enemy soil.

These scenes, which feature Zamperini pitted against his cruel torturer known as “The Bird” (Miyavi), are lacking in sentiment from the get go. Miyavi, while menacing enough to make his character believable, isn’t written with much depth. Instead, screenwriters seem comfortable enough in the rest of the story to keep Bird as a cliché antagonist who wields a bamboo stick with authority. In one scene, Zamperini and Bird, after some time apart, are reunited in a way that should have felt devastating, but comes off as diagrammed and impassive.

Directed with complete respect by Angelina Jolie from a Coen Brothers’ script adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, there is surprisingly little emotional impact from such an incredible story. Jolie has made a film to admire because of its heroic subject, but not one that honestly captures a character like Zamperini more than skin deep.

Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”)

When the “Twilight” films were unleashed upon the world, with their tales of romance between brooding vampires and the mere mortals who fell madly in love with them, the table was set for more supernatural monster/normal teenager love stories to come pouring out of Hollywood. While this particular genre tree has taken a little while to bear fruit, 2013 appears to be the year for new takes on the format, what with “The Twilight Saga’s” 800-pound gorilla finally ending its run. This year has already brought audiences a zombie-centric romantic comedy in the delightfully sweet “Warm Bodies,” while Valentine’s Day heralds the arrival of  “Beautiful Creatures” and it’s mixture of ancient witchcraft and swoony teenage love.

“Beautiful Creatures” begins with high schooler Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) dreaming of a mysterious girl whose face he’s never able to catch a glimpse of. Ethan longs to get out of his boring southern town, applying to colleges as far away as possible. His attention is quickly diverted, however, upon the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a mysterious girl (hmm…) sent to live with her uncle, local recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan falls immediately for Lena, and as their romance builds, Ethan learns Lena is a “caster” (read: witch) and that uncertainty clouds her future. For you see, upon her 16th birthday, she will undergo “the Claiming” which will forever paint her as either a dark or a light caster. All the while the town’s churchgoing elders, led by Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) work to get Lena expelled from school and sent packing back to wherever it is she came from.

Unfortunately “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t stop there. Director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese commits the most commonly-occurring crime when it comes to adapting a young adult novel into a feature film: failing to actually “adapt” and instead merely “translating.” The film chugs along at decent pace until about halfway through when it dumps a washtub’s worth of mythological backstory all over everything. Emmy Rossum’s evil cousin Ridley storms in to do battle with Lena using shoddy special effects and spinning tables. Fine veteran actresses Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale show up randomly to stand around in stupid witchy wigs to tell tales of prophecy and then promptly disappear again. And an otherwise well-done church showdown between old pros Irons and Thompson further complicates the plot by throwing in a villain of sorts who must be defeated.

It all reeks of table-setting for sequels that are hardly a guarantee and turns the film from a juicier, southern-fried “Twilight” into an overstuffed meal that, while not terrible, only leaves you with indigestion.

Water for Elephants

April 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Constatine”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“The Bridges of Madison County”)

While it deserves some recognition for creating a visually-pleasing spectacle (credit Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto), the Depression-era melodrama “Water for Elephants” isn’t the charming phenomenon one might’ve imagined based on the popularity of the 2006 historical novel by Sara Gruen from which it’s adapted.

Instead, the film lacks the romantic luster needed between its leads to match the enchanting, saga-like feel of the time.
Brooding as boyishly as ever, Robert Pattinson (“Eclipse”) plays Jacob, a veterinary student who spontaneously hops the rails and joins a traveling circus after tragedy strikes at home. Working his way up the ranks quickly, Jacob is entrusted with the training of the titular pachyderm. His animal instincts invite conflict when he becomes smitten with the circus’ star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who’s also the wife of the heartless ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz). Waltz isn’t as cold-blooded as his Nazi character in “Inglourious Basterds,” but he still runs his circus like part of the Third Reich.

In a small but touching Gloria Stuart/”Titanic”-type cameo, veteran actor Hal Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) gives the film its most tender moments as an elderly Jacob reminiscing about his year under the Big Top.