Tag Archives: Angelina Jolie

All-American Hero

Angelina Jolie tells Louis Zamperini’s story of survival and inspiration

Unbroken 4

Unbroken

Starring Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara & Domnhall Gleeson

Directed by Angelina Jolie

PG-13

 

As far as real-life, all-American heroes go, they don’t get any red, white and bluer than Louis Zamperini, the U.S. Olympic runner, World War II bombardier and prisoner-of-war survivor whose amazing story was told in author Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling 2010 book, Unbroken.

Now Angelina Jolie, making her second theatrical outing behind the camera as a director, brings Hillenbrand’s book to the screen in a grandiose dramatization of Zamperini’s epic ordeal during the war, with flashbacks to his rascally boyhood in Torrence, Calif., his surprising success as a high-school track star, and his wide-eyed trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Unbroken 5The movie begins with a bang—quite literally—as we’re taken inside the belly of a B24 bomber, alongside Zamperini (Irish actor Jack O’Connell) and his crew mates as they crack jokes, then crack down and delivering their goods, fend off a fierce attack by Japanese Zeros and finally bring their badly damaged plane in for a very rough landing. A later mission sets up the dire circumstances that put Zamperini and two of his fellow crewmen (Domnhall Gleeson and Finn Whitrock) adrift in life rafts and finally into the hands of Japanese captors.

Zamperini (who died earlier in 2014, at age 97) would spend more than two years in Pacific prison and work camps, and the heart of the movie is the torment he received from a young, terrifying prison warden called “the Bird” (Japanese singer-songwriter Takamasa Ishihara, making his acting debut), whose soft, “feminine” appearance masked a grotesque sadism.

O’Connell gives a tremendous, star-making performance, transforming his entire physicality to depict the ravages of his ever-worsening conditions. Ishihara is galvanizing in an unforgettable “bad guy” role that hints of much more complexity and ambiguity than the script gives him rein to fully explore.

The movie looks fantastic, thanks to the camera work of award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who brings a prestigious, pedigreed master’s touch to every scene: the danger—and the excitement—in the air; the desolation, desperation and drama of floating for weeks the ocean;Unbroken 3 the soul-sucking abominations of the prisons, where days and months seep into years.

The script—whose unlikely collaborators include Joel and Ethan Cohen, not typically known for such un-cynical, snark-free, drama—focuses a lot (perhaps too much) on suffering, agony and endurance, and not enough on just how, exactly, Zamperini came to circle back on the words of a sermon we watch him squirming through, as a boy: “Love thy enemy.”

One sequence depicts a weakened, starved and beaten “Louie” forced by the Bird to pick up a heavy wooden beam and hold it above his head for what the movie ticks off to feel like hours. Jolie presents it like a scene from The Passion of the Christ. That incident may very well have happened, but making Zamperini look like a saint—or more—seems like unnecessary sermonizing.

He wasn’t a saint, but he certainly was a great, inspiring man. And now his legacy includes a handsome movie monument to remind even more people of his service, his sacrifice and the incredible reserves of strength and resolve he used to keep his will, his faith, his courage and his call of duty to his country “unbroken.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Evil (?) Woman

Disney puts girrrl-power backspin on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale

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Maleficent

Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Sharlito Copley

Directed by Robert Stromberg

PG, 97 min.

Disney turns one of its own stories inside out in this inverted fairy tale back-story about the “mistress of all evil” who put the deep sleep on Sleeping Beauty.

Long before slumbering princess comes along, we meet the tiny winged creature who’ll grow up to become Maleficent, “the strongest fairy of them all,” protecting her idyllic land of fluttering pixies, gnarled tree warriors and mischievous, mud-slinging gnomes from the greedy, marauding humans in the neighboring kingdom.

maleficentwingsAngelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a baroque sight—with bright red lips, gleaming white teeth, jutting prosthetic cheekbones, a gigantic set of wings, and a pair of imposing dark antlers—as the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the cartoon character many grownups will recall from the classic 1959 Disney version of the age-old Brothers Grimm folk tale.

A cruel betrayal hardens Maleficent’s heart and sets her on a path of vengeance toward the vile new king (Sharlito Copley), which leads to the famous curse she puts on his infant daughter: When the princess turns 16, she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning loom and fall into a deep, death-like slumber from which she’ll never awaken. The only way to break the curse is with a kiss of “true love.”

MALEFICENTBut here’s the movie’s big twist: As princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) ages and becomes more adorable every year, Maleficent finds her own maternal instincts. Instead of waiting in wicked anticipation for the princess’ fateful 16th birthday, she begins to regret the horrible hex of doom she’s placed on the innocent girl.

A trio of fluttering fairy nannies provides comic relief, a fire-breathing dragon is as fearsome as you might expect, and there’s a shape-shifting young man (Sam Riley) who, depending on when you see him, may be a bird. And as the title character, Jolie is a campy composite of theatrics, costuming, makeup and special effects that create the movie’s swirling center of dramatic gravity.

Disney has shaken things up before, most successfully in last year’s Frozen, which stepped out from the company’s decades-old template to feature princesses that didn’t need princes to save them, complete them, or even make them interesting. Maleficent has a similar girrrl-power spin, but plays even looser with its own mythology and the possibilities for what “true love” can really mean.

First-time director Robert Stromberg is an award-winning set decorator and visual effects artist for major movies including Avatar, The Life of Pi and The Hunger Games, but his directorial inexperience shows. The movie practically spills over with lavish, flashy things to see, but overall it’sDisney's "Maleficent"..Ph: Film Still..?Disney 2014 a bit of a muddle, a Game of Thrones-meets-Lord of the Rings bedtime story with a confusing tone that will likely puzzle many younger viewers accustomed to clearer, cleaner motives for characters, and needing more distinct lines separating heroes and villains. And too often, the special effects seem like cartoons, or computer-game graphics, at odds with its live action.

“There is an evil in this world, and I cannot keep you from it,” Maleficent tells Aurora at one point. Alas, neither can Angelina Jolie’s star power stir up enough magic Disney pixie dust to keep this big fractured fairy tale from falling into its own cracks.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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