Posts Tagged ‘Angelina Jolie’

Unbroken: Powerful Salute to a Real Man—Movie

January 4, 2015

Fierce, dark, heroic…”Unbroken” is all this and much more. This brilliant film pays tribute to its hero, Louis Zamperini, by presenting a luminous look into the life of an extraordinary man. Masterfully directed by Angelina Jolie with primary screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, “Unbroken” takes us from Zamperini’s boyhood to his life as a bombardier to the endless days he spent on his raft, to his imprisonment and torture and, finally, to his eventual release. It’s all mesmerizing and although there are times you want to look away, you can’t.

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Jolie begins the film with mind-boggling scenes of one of Zamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) bombardier missions during WWII. The shots inside the plane are absolutely phenomenal. We feel like we are right there beside the crew. In the midst of the action, we flash-back to a young Louis (C.J. Valleroy) living in Torrance, CA. A child of Italian immigrants, Louis is frequently bullied for his heritage and is well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. Fortunately when his older brother, Pete (first played by John D’Leo and then Alex Russell ), sees how fast Louis can run when trying to escape from some crime he’s just committed, he decides Louis has it in him to run track. It’s Pete who sets him on the straight and narrow with the words that remain with Louis for the rest of his life, “If you can take it, you can make it.” Pete’s influence is a success and Louis turns into a track phenom. He becomes part of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, coming in 8th in his event and sets a record for speed in the final lap in the 5000-meter run.

“Unbroken” then picks up where the war action left off. We now know that after the Olympics Louis enlisted (off-screen) where he became part of a bombardier squad. The squad is in the middle of a search and rescue mission in the Pacific when their plane fails them and crashes into the ocean. He and initially two members of the squad survive the crash and endure 47 days on a raft in the Pacific before being captured by the Japanese. They are taken to a Japanese prison camp where, for most of their remaining time in capture, they suffer some absolutely harrowing days under the sadistic watch of Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). Watanabe knows of Louis’ Olympic status and, thus, he is singled out for special torture.

Jolie has done a fantastic job in casting “Unbroken.” C.J. Valleroy as the young Zamperini is terrific and his transformation into the adult Zamperini (O’Connell) is spot-on. O’Connell, so fabulous in “Starred Up” is even better in “Unbroken.” He captures Louis’ spirit…his will to survive perfectly. He gives a truly amazing performance. Also very good is Ishihara as Watanabe, his primary tormentor. His portrayal is never over-the-top. It’s more of an understated malevolence, which is very unsettling.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how affecting “Unbroken” is. The battle scenes are extremely realistic. The days spent on the raft and the conversations between the men feel very real. And, finally, the time in the prison camps is just horrific as we watch the men shrink physically, but never emotionally, before our very eyes. Adding to the film’s ferocity is the powerful score by Alexandre Desplat and the realistic cinematography of Roger Deakins.

Angelina Jolie, the Coen Brothers and Jack O’ Connell…all have given us a film that is truly worthy of its subject, Louis Zamperini. Although you may have to sit in your seat for a while to regain your composure when the film is over, “Unbroken” is not to be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Maleficent: Still in Slumber Mode—Movie

June 4, 2014

Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning make for a winning team in Disney’s “Maleficent.” It’s just too bad that despite their enjoyable work,  the movie feels flat. Directed by Robert Stromberg and written by Linda Woolverton,” Maleficent” is based on three other works—“La Belle au bois dormant,” “Little Briar Rose” and the 1959 motion picture, “Sleeping Beauty.” How did Sleeping Beauty come to be? “Maleficent” has the answers.

Maleficent poster 1Much of the film is devoted to Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) back story as a young girl, then a teen and finally as an adult. The movie explains that the land was once divided into two kingdoms—one kingdom ruled by a weasily king and the other—the land of the Moors, which was ruled by no one. The Moors were instead inhabited by faeries and other creatures. Maleficent was a faerie. As a child she soared through the air like a huge eagle. In her youth she meets Stefan, a human boy about her age who’s wandered over into the Moors. He tells Maleficent that he is ambitious…he wants to make something of his life in the service of the king. The two hit it off and quickly become friends. Over the years they see less and less of one another until they eventually lose contact. As Maleficent grows older she becomes a protector of the Moors and when the king goes to battle against the Moors to assume more power, it is she who ensures his defeat. Extremely bitter, the king declares that he wants Maleficent killed. By now, an older Stefan is a member of the king’s court. No one knows of his former relationship with Maleficent and he definitely has conflicting emotions about what his next move should be. Stefan goes to visit Maleficent and their reunion is a joyous one until his ambition leads to a betrayal of the worse kind. This results in the curse an angry Maleficent issues several years later…his first born child (Aurora) will fall under a deep sleep when she is 16 and only the kiss of her one true love will awaken her. To keep the child safe, Stefan sends Aurora deep into the woods under the care of three pixies. But they are not very good at their job and Maleficent discovers Aurora. In spite of her feelings for Stefan, Maleficent worries about the girl, watches over her from a distance and when the two finally meet, comes to love her as her own. But what will happen when Aurora turns 16?

Woman rule in “Maleficent.” The two female leads—Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning ( as the teen-age Aurora)—could not be better. They do all they can with this movie and more. Jolie’s Maleficent is perfectly drawn. Because the film gives us so much of Maleficent’s early history, we understand how she came to be the way she is. Jolie is a great actress and her beauty and skills merge spectacularly. She’s capable of showing so many emotions and her own natural cheekbones, enhanced by prosthetics, just serve to give her more depth. It’s as if she was born to play this role. But once Fanning is on the scene, she matches Jolie step for step. As Aurora, Fanning gives her the real joy and joie de vie of a 16-year-old. She lights up every scene in which she is in. She’s just terrific and one can’t wait to see what she does next. Adding to the women’s side of things are the three pixies played by the fabulous British actresses Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple. Yes, their parts are silly, but the trio seem to revel in their roles and add a bit of fun to what is otherwise a pretty dark story. It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a loveable sidekick and so we have one in Sam Riley‘s Diaval. Diaval is a raven who, “thanks” to Maleficent, is able to turn into a man, bird or other animal. As Maleficent’s confidante, Riley does him full Disney justice. He’s the one male actor that actually has some pizzazz to his acting. Sharlto Copley as Stefan, Jackson Bews as teen Stefan, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip and Kenneth Cranham as King Henry are all deadly dull and are just not worthy of Jolie, Fanning or the characters they portray.

The film has some special effects, but while they add to the story-telling, they are not worth the extra money to see them or the film in 3-D. It should be noted that multi-Oscar winning Rick Baker is responsible for the special makeup effects and Roz Abery for the prosthetic makeup. What is a nice touch at the movie’s end is Lana Del Rey singing Once Upon a Dream, from the 1959 “Sleeping Beauty.”

My audience was full of 12-year-old girls and they seemed to enjoy the movie a great deal. For anyone else over the age of 15, there just isn’t enough there there. And the lack of strong male acting doesn’t help.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Salt: It Rocks—Movie

July 26, 2010

Let me preface this review by saying that I recently fell on the last step of a non-moving Metro escalator. I sprained my thumb, badly bruised my knees and elbows and still have trouble walking. Fast-forward to Salt. In the first 20 minutes of the film, our heroine, Evelyn Salt (Angelina  Jolie), jumps from moving truck to moving truck to moving truck, lands on cement several times and finally hops on a motorcycle and ends up with a mere gash on her abdomen (and has the smarts to use a sanitary napkin as a bandage–who knew?). No facial scars, black and blue marks, nothing.  Evelyn Salt ROCKS!

Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Kurt Wimmer, is a fast-paced, completely unrealistic and an extremely fun-time at the movies. The story is not all that easy to follow and there are definite holes throughout, but Jolie is so terrific that none of this really matters.  Salt is a U.S. spy working undercover for a front company for the CIA called RINK. Her possible real identity is compromised when a Russian spy turns himself in and during his debriefing by her makes a convincing argument that she is a double agent.  And thus the action begins.

The stunts are fabulous and boy, does Jolie look great doing them. This is not a thinking person’s action movie, but Jolie does manage to show a range of emotions as well as kick butt…in other words, she’s actually acting in an action movie!  Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as her CIA colleagues, turn in some surprisingly good action performances and Schreiber is especially effective.

Much has been made of how June’s suburban NY spies have made Salt’s Russian/US angle more believable. The recent Washington Post  three-part series on top-secret government organizations and the companies that do work for them also adds credence to the movie’s beginning.  But let’s not dwell on believability too much and instead just enjoy Salt for what it is…a stunt-filled, action-packed summer movie with a fabulous leading lady at the top of her physical game.

3 nuggets out of 4


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