Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unbroken







Angelina Jolie has advanced her directing career with a real winner in the powerful war drama Unbroken. 

Backed by an all-star writing team of Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, Jolie has created an impactful film on the true-life story of Olympic runner and World War II Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell).


When his defective plane crashes into the sea while on a rescue mission near Japan, Zamperini and 2 other crew members spend 45 days stranded at sea, surviving storms and sharks.   


After one of them succumbs, Zamperini and his pilot (Domhnall Gleeson) are “rescued” by a Japanese warship and, subsequently, thrown into prisoner-of-war camps where Zamperini is subjected to the sadistic torture of the camp commander (Takamasa Ishihara).


Jolie deftly prevents the story from becoming documentary and is especially adept at keeping the intensity to the action tense while the characters are at sea.
But, even with the great writing team and the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins it is difficult to keep the same intensity within a war camp.  As I mentioned in my review of Rosewater, being a prisoner is boring and, even with the punishment to which Zamperini is subjected, the second half of the film sometimes lags. 

Still, this is an inspirational drama worthy of anyone who sometimes feels their life might be too much to handle.  That’s just about everyone.

Unbroken gets a 4+ out of 5 and I look forward to Jolie’s next effort.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Selma






Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a powerful biographical drama surrounding the events that led up to Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the 1965 civil rights march that resulted in the change in voting restrictions for African Americans.

The film points up the fact that, 50 years later, the Country is still facing the same issues, albeit without the same physical violence exhibited then.  Though, not that it’s any less insidious.
David Oyelowo gives a brilliant performance as Dr. King; one that will put him in the running for the major rewards. 


However, while Aisha Coley casts many of the roles…Oyelowo as King, Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X and AndrĂ© Holland as Andrew Young…to perfection, there are some really odd choices with Tim Roth as Governor George Wallace and Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover.




While the script by Writer Paul Webb is sometimes ponderous and often hovers at crossing the line from drama to documentary, Spencer Averick’s editing always manages to pull the action back to where it should be.  Plus, his handling of the victimization of the marchers is exceptional.





And, while Cinematographer Bradford Young tends to keep the tone a bit too dark, I’m still giving Selma a 4+ out of 5 for its overall intensity.

Big Eyes



Director Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is an excellent recreation of the true-life scam perpetrated by Walter Keane, who passed off his wife’s paintings as his own.


Amy Adams is wonderful as Margaret Keane, the painter of big-eyed waifs in the 1950s, and Christoph Waltz is exceptional as her domineering husband, who made them millions by convincing her the public would not buy paintings done by a woman.





With a crisp script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, plus the colorful cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel and spot-on period designs of Rick Heinrichs, Burton has turned in one of his best films to date.  

I give Big Eyes a 5 out of 5.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

American Sniper



Director Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a riveting war drama about a real-life American hero, Chris Kyle, who was credited with over 160 “kills.” 


Now, that may sound horrible to some, but, in doing so, he saved countless lives.  And, Kyle’s driving force was that he was protecting his fellow soldiers and Country and only felt bad that he couldn’t save more soldiers.  And, that drive almost destroyed him.





Kyle served four tours of 250 days each, risking not only his life, but his marriage, as well.  It was only after he removed what he felt was the biggest threat to his fellow soldiers, that he was able to realize he had had enough.

Then, the real battle of re-finding himself began.

Working from the book by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice and Screen Writer Jason Hall’s screenplay, Eastwood keeps a tension building even for those who might know Kyle’s story.  I didn’t and was glad for that.  It made the tension even greater.



Bradley Cooper is fabulous as Kyle and Sienna Miller keeps getting better and better as she follows up her excellent performance in Foxcatcher with her work, here.

If you like war stories and, even if you’ve recently seen Fury, don’t miss this one. 

I give American Sniper a 4+ out of 5.


Into The Woods



 

With an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep (the Witch), Emily Blunt (the Baker’s Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Johnny Depp (the Big Bad Wolf) and James Corden (the Baker), plus working with Stephen Sondheim’s superb lyrics and music, you’d think that Director Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods would be one of the best films of the year.

Well, it is for about 85% of the running time.  Then, Writer Ken Lapine veers from the stage Book and the story seems to get lost in the woods, making it somewhat unintelligible for those, like me, who didn’t see the stage production.  And, though I was, subsequently, told things were left out which would have made the conclusion more understandable, that didn’t make the popcorn go down any better.
When all the remaining characters in this fairytale gone dark were blaming each other, I was wondering what Cinderella ever did that was wrong and didn’t get why the Witch deserved to die, when she was no worse than some of the others.  (And, why did her magic beans, suddenly, make muck when they had been growing beanstalks throughout?)


Then, they sing “Children Will Listen” and I’m wondering what they’re supposed to be listening to, having missed (if it was there) that you have to be careful of what you say…because children will listen.  But, most of the people singing are children, so that didn’t make sense.




If this isn’t making sense, here’s the bottom line…  If you are taking a child under 6 or 7, I suggest you leave after the initial “happy ending.”  That’s right before the supposed earthquake. 

For those of you, like me, who don’t mind the dark turn, you’re on your own if you want to stay after the Baker’s Wife is seduced and the Prince gives the best line in the movie.  Better to go out on a high, than in confusion.


Still, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are brilliant and the performances are top rate.  So, I give Into the Woods a 4 out of 5.