Unbroken by Krista Boivie

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

Born to Italian immigrant parents, Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) spent his youth as a troublemaker until his older brother Pete (Alex Russell) found him a way to channel that fire that was always smoldering inside of him; running track. Louis poured himself into his training because if he was willing to work harder than anyone else, he could be a champion. After setting the high school record for the mile he was the youngest ever qualifier for the Olympics in the 5000 meters. After competing in the Berlin Olympics, Louis thought he was a real threat to win a medal in the next Summer Games, but America joined World War Two and he enlisted in the Air Force.

He and his crew were out on a rescue mission when their plane’s engines gave out and they crash landed into the ocean. Louis and his crewmates Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) were the only survivors, with little to live on besides a few rations of food and water. Mac succumbed to the harsh condition after 33 days, but Louis and Phil continued to cling to life until on day 47 they found themselves looking up at the bow of a Japanese Naval vessel. From the open sea to the rigors of a Japanese POW camp, Louis was determined to make it to the end of the war alive and not even the abuse he suffered at the hands of the sadistic Corporal known as “The Bird” (Takamasa Ishihara) while a prisoner could break his spirit.

Scott’s Review:

Billed as a story of tragedy and triumph, I found Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort Unbroken to be heavy on the tragedy and light on triumph. Zamperini is an inspiring figure not just because of his will to endure physical pain, but his ability to forgive and let go of his anger. Zamperini himself, credits his faith (he is a born-again Christian) with giving him the peace of mind to finally get over the horrors he endured. Much of that seemed to be whitewashed from the film apart from one scene where O’Connell mumbles a prayer during a storm at sea and a postscript scrawled on screen just before the credits. Jolie seems to be someone who ascribes more to open spirituality than dogmatic religion and since I don’t know, I can only wonder if that lead her to de-emphasize the more overtly religious parts of Zamperini’s story.

I also understand that it is easy for a filmmaker to seduced by the ease of telling a story like this by making the audience watch the hero suffer again and again, but Unbroken could have done itself a favor by spending less time on that and more time on the camaraderie of Louis and his fellow prisoners and how they managed to hold each other up and remind each other of the humanity that still existed. I haven’t seen Garrett Hedlund’s name mentioned in once in any story or review of this movie and that is a crime because he is stoically brilliant and he lends Louis a share of his strength more than once.  The cast is uniformly stellar and the credit for that may belong to Jolie as well, as she is an expert at generating emotionally taxing performances herself, it is easy to believe she would know how to help other actors find those places.O’Connell, Gleeson and Wittrock are devastatingly desperate as they waste away in their life rafts clinging to each other and a tiny sliver of hope and Ishihara’s smirking sociopath inspires even more dread because his actions seem so unpredictable and sudden. As a director Jolie both succeeds in getting incredible performances from her actors and fails by taking an A+ story and making a movie that is a B-.

Into the Woods by Krista Boivie

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

Rating: PG

Synopsis:

A childless Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) live in a village on the edge of the woods and dream about having a child. One day a witch (Meryl Streep) storms into their shop and tells them that she can undo the curse keeping them from conceiving if they can bring her four special items before midnight three days hence. The Baker and his wife are to enter the woods and find a cow as white as milk, a hood as red as blood, hair the color of corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Their quest causes them to cross paths with Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and pulls them into a greater adventure than they could ever imagine.

Scott's Review:

I had a blast watching Into the Woods. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name and filled withStephen Sondheim music that is clever, funny and catchy, it is a very enjoyable time at the movies. The cast is a nice mix of Hollywood stars and musical theatre pros which blend together to make sure we get theatre-level vocals without the cartoonishly broad performances that can sometimes accompany them. Streep is, of course, amazing as she explodes through every scene with abandon, but the movie is really a showcase forCorden and Blunt. There is a spark between them and they (Blunt especially) have a twinkle in their eyes as they throw themselves into the adventure. Corden gets a chance to display impressive range both vocally and emotionally which may prove to be invaluable as an introduction to American audiences as he is about to take over the reigns of The Late Late Show. Chris Pine is also startlingly good during his musical number with Billy Magnussen as princes arguing over whose unrequited love is more painful.

The younger actors, led by Huttlestone and Crawford are bursting with charm and wit and they never get overshadowed by the bigger stars. You may recognize Huttlestone from his role as Gavroche in Les Miserables a few years ago and while he was great then, he is even better now. Crawford makes Red Riding Hood a motor-mouthed dreamer who steals every scene she is in. The only drawback to the film versus the stage show is that it had to be trimmed down and therefore there are some plot shifts that are very jagged. When the film loses a few characters, it is jarringly abrupt with little build-up and even less payoff which kills some of the key emotional scenes. The storyline between Mauzy’s Rapunzel and her prince (Magnussen) is also truncated and by far the least explored of any in the film. Those things are unavoidable in this type of adaptation and so I don’t judge Into the Woods too harshly for it. A-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies by Krista Boivie

Image Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Image Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

The dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) has left the stronghold of Eribor to rain fire and death upon the inhabitants of Laketown, but when he is brought down by a well placed shot from Bard (Luke Evans), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the rest of dwarves find themselves in possession of Eribor and its immeasurable wealth. Taking his rightful place as king, Thorin is slowly warped by the sickness that the dragon had left on the mountains of treasure and in his greed he refuses to repay both the Elves of Rivendale and the people of Laketown the debt he owes them for their assistance in retaking Eribor, making both groups his enemy. To make matters worse, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) has raised a pair of Orc armies to assault the dwarven stronghold from both the North and South, to seize the wealth of Eribor and get retribution on Thorin Oakenshield. It is down to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to try and turn enemies to allies before the Orcs lay waste to them all. 

Scott’s Review:
By far the most purely entertaining film in this trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is loaded with action and emotion from the get go. Where the first two movies tended to meander and drag their feet, this movie is at full sprint and aside from a few scenes where you see Thorin being twisted by his greed and the citizens of Laketown leaving their burning city behind, we are treated to a spectacle of dwarven, elven and orcish combat. I can’t possibly imagine how complicated some of these scenes were to orchestrate and there is such a smooth combination of live action and CGI that you can really get lost in it. Now that said, there is next to nothing in the way of plot or story in this third installment and watching wave after wave of warriors throw themselves at each other for nearly 2 hours starts to wear you out. The actors are given little more than battle cries to shout at each other, but a few of them manage to really score when given the chance. Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly give an emotional pulse to the film as they try to reconcile what they feel for each other with realities of the world around them. Luke Evans and Ryan Gage show the two faces of men in crisis as Bard is the picture of stoic courage and Alfrid is all weasely cowardice. 

At this point it is has been well established that these movies would have benefitted greatly (artistically if not commercially), split into two instead of having been stretched to three, but that doesn’t keep The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies from being a satisfying conclusion to the series. The action is exciting, when characters die you feel their loss and it felt like the whole story was told. Those are the most important takeaways I had when I walked out of the theatre and these days, that is more than you usually get. B+

Exodus: Gods and Kings by Krista Boivie

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

Raised by Pharaoh Seti’s (John Turturro) daughters, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Moses (Christian Bale) are as close as brothers and are the future of the Egyptian monarchy. Ramses will rule as Pharaoh and Moses will lead the armies to glorious victories and usher in a new and even more prosperous age for Egypt. But their relationship is irreparably fractured when a rumor that Moses was born to Hebrew slaves and not as Ramses’ true flesh and blood, surfaces. Moses is exiled from Egypt and while wandering across the desert he comes upon an oasis where he is taken in by a family of goatherders. Enchanted by the lovely Zipporah (Maria Valverde), Moses decides to settle in the oasis, marry Zipporah and forget about Egypt. 

Years go by as Moses enjoys his peaceful and idyllic life as a goat herder, husband and father to a young son. Moses’ peace, however, is not to last. As he struggles with the knowledge that his true people are still bound in slavery back in Egypt he wonders what he should do. His answer comes when he is chasing some of his wayward goats on a mountainside and finds himself on holy ground where God gives him a message: Moses is to return to Egypt and free his people from Ramses grasp and bring them back to their homeland of Canaan. Leaving his family behind, Moses returns to the land of his birth with a dire message for Ramses: let the Hebrews go or God will punish the people of Egypt. 

Scott’s Review:

Ridley Scott is no stranger to lavish historical epics. White SquallGladiatorKingdom of Heaven and now Exodus: Gods and Kings are all beautifully made with incredibly detailed costumes, grand sets and excellents casts. Where Exodus occasionally loses it way is in some of the storytelling choices that Scottand the writers make. I suppose they were forced to by hyper-aware of any and all overt similarities to the classic The Ten Commandments and it caused them to look for ways to differentiate themselves. Most of those ways, in my opinion were to the detriment of both the story and the overall film.  Gone is the famous showdown between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians where the staves become serpents. In its place is an unwieldy and effects heavy crocodile rampage. Moses and the Hebrews become insurgent revolutionaries who burn crops and blow up storehouses full of lamp oil, in the hopes of forcing the Egyptians to demand that they be released in order to stop the chaos. Jehovah transitions from a burning bush to a sullen and bloodthirsty young boy who scolds Moses for not being extreme enough in his methods. And when the plagues come, they arrive without warning and flow from one to the next without explanation. Without exception, I think each of these changes was less effective than the original methods of telling this story and took away from the film.

What caught me off guard and helped me enjoy this film were the surprising touches of tenderness and emotion that are peppered throughout Exodus: Gods and Kings. How Bale and Valverde lose themselves in each other during the wedding ceremony and subsequent wedding night is gentle and beautiful. My heart also broke watching Edgerton dote on his baby boy because you know what is coming and when Moses is standing on the balcony and he hears the wails of despair coming from all across Egypt as parents discover their dead children, his shoulders droop with the weight of what he has brought to this place that was once his home and you can feel his sorrow. So many things are right about this movie that the things that are wrong are even more offensively obvious. Ridley Scott and his cadre of writers only have themselves to blame for the failings of this movie have no one to blame but themselves because it was their tinkering and fiddling with the source material in an effort to put their own signature that leaves Exodus: Gods and Kings grasping for a greatness it cannot reach. B-  

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 by Krista Boivie

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

After shattering the force field around the Quarter Quell and disrupting the games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the other surviving Victors have been rescued and taken to safety in the military bunkers of District 13. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) need Katniss to be the face of the fledgling revolution because as the Mockingjay, she has become a rallying point for the downtrodden people of Panem. The Capital has moved swiftly to quash the uprising by demonstrating their capacity for brutality when they completely wipe Katniss’ home, District 12, off of the map and slaughter all of its residents. They also have a figurehead of their own as they trot out the captive Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and force him call for peace and an end to the rebellion. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is willing to take any action necessary to break the will of the people, and his first order of business is to eliminate the Mockingjay.

Scott’s Review:

I am an unabashed fan of the first two films in this series, and I put The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on my list of the best films of last year. That said, I was very apprehensive going into Mockingjay because I think it is not just the worst book of the trilogy, it is a bad book, plain and simple. Suzanne Collins had a brilliant story idea when she started writing, but she didn’t have a coherent ending in place. It is very apparent as you read it that she was lost as to how to wrap it up, leaving it an ugly mess. That is not true of this movie because the cast and the director are so good that they have managed to elevate this material to a much higher level. This is not nearly as action packed or fraught with tension as the first two films and you spend a lot of time watching actors perform monologues, but they are great actors and so the speechifying is more electric than it has any right to be. Sutherland’s cold, controlled calm is terrifying because with the hint of a smile and a narrowing of his eyes we know his soul is black underneath his pristine white suits. Lawrence’semotions are bubbling so close to the surface at all times that they threaten to burst out of her when she sees a hospital full of wounded people get bombed or looks out over a sea of corpses that used to be her friends and neighbors. 

My only real problem with the movie is that they split the ending into two parts. I understand maximizing your profits by adding one more movie, but there is not enough meat on the bones of this book to make two full meals out of. You could have moved this story at a significantly faster pace and used thoughtful and decisive editing to make this one 2 and ½ hour movie instead of two 2 hour movies. There are a lot of issues with the end of this story, but making one powerhouse finale could have overridden them whereas I now get to spend the next year worrying if Part 2 is where they finally screw it all up. B

Dumb and Dumber To by Krista Boivie

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

Twenty years after their last adventure, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) find out that Harry needs a new kidney. As they search for a family member who is a match they discover that Harry has a long lost daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin). Penny’s adopted father  Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom), sends Harry and Lloyd across the country to meet her and deliver a valuable package. While on their quest, Harry and Lloyd encounter no shortage of obstacles, including a shady duo with a deadly plot to steal the package and eliminate Harry and Lloyd.

Scott’s Review:

For me, the original Dumb and Dumber is an almost perfect comedy. It rests comfortably in my all-time Top Ten, and while Dumb and Dumber To generates plenty of hearty laughs, it never quite reaches the dimwitted glee of the first film. Every element of this film is just one degree lesser than the first and that includes Jeff Daniels. Daniels is an amazing actor and I love his work on The Newsroom, but he didn’t settle back into his role as easily as Jim Carrey did and you really notice how hard he is working. 

Those are ultimately small issues when watching this movie because it is still a lot of fun. The cutaway scenes where we dive in to Harry and Lloyd’s imaginations are great, and this film references the first in many ways, but most of the gags are brand new. Harry and Lloyd’s obliviousness allows you to throw them in the most absurd situations and watch them react, which means the possibilities for comedy are endless. Even though some of the best jokes are in the trailer, there are so many more that you get your money’s worth. My only negative with the humor is that at times it has a slightly more mean spirited bent than it did before, but that is only true in a few scenes and not overall. If you loved Dumb and Dumber then I can’t imagine you wouldn’t also be very happy with Dumb and Dumber To. Next time, just don’t make us wait so long. B