Unbroken

 

Unbroken tells an amazing true life story of a real man, Louis Zamperini. Director Angelina Jolie’s film has flaws but still manages to bring Zamperini to life impressively.

He is played by Jack O’Connell, an Irishman, who does a credible job portraying this 2nd generation Italian-American. Like the young Zamperini, O’Connell is classically handsome.

Zamperini is a track star who makes it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. During World War II his plane is shot down in the Pacific. He survives 47 days at sea. He is rescued by the Japanese who imprison him.

During his imprisonment, he is teased, tortured and abused by a Japanese officer he nicknames Bird. Zamperini’s physical and mental toughness inspires the other prisoners and gains him a small amount of respect from his captors. Then, the war ends.

Among the film’s flaws is the strange beard growth (or lack of it) by men stranded at sea for 7 weeks and by men in prison camps. Much of the time in life rafts was less realistic than one would expect from a modern film—it appears many scenes were shot in a tank or pool, not so perilous as being adrift in the ocean.

Jolie and scriptwriters Ethan and Joel Coen have a lot of story to cram into a 2-hour movie. They do an admirable job of presenting Zamperini’s life highlights and lowlights and imparting an appreciation of the man’s character.

The film is based on Lauren Hillenbrand’s best-selling book which, according to synopses I’ve read, contained more light-hearted moments that helped Zamperini survive prison camp.

Unbroken was an early frontrunner for awards nominations. Now that the film has been widely previewed, the buzz has diminished. Still, Zamperini’s story has enough moments to make you admire this man who you may have never heard of. Unbroken is also constructed to provoke a bit of old-fashioned American pride. And it does!

 

 

 

Maleficent

Like many of the fairy tales we heard as youngsters, Disney’s Maleficent contains some plot elements that are head-scratchers.

We meet the young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when she’s an innocent girl fairy, living an idyllic life of flapping her wings and flying around an apparent paradise. She shares this happy universe with a number of creatures that look like refugees from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies.

She forms a friendship with a human from the neighboring land of kings and queens, young Stefan (Michael Higgins). As they grow into teenagers, they continue as chums. But when they become adults, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie with cheeks sharp enough to slice bread) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley, who we met in District 9) see their relationship take a strange turn.

The dictionary definition of maleficent (“doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious”) gives a clue that things may not always continue to be goodness and light for her.

The king of Stefan’s home kingdom leads an ill-fated invasion of the fairyland and his guys are turned back thanks to Maleficent’s power. The king declares that whoever gets Maleficent’s wings will be king when he dies. Stefan, her old friend, sneaks in and manages to do the dirty deed and gains power while Maleficent loses some, but not all, of hers.

She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (the remarkably cute Elle Fanning) that dooms her to go to sleep at age 16 and not be awakened until she gets a kiss that comes from true love. Aurora is raised in the woods by 3 fairies, characters that should be charming and memorable, but somehow lack those qualities.

Maleficent is always hovering nearby, monitoring the child’s growth. She has her sidekick Diavil (Sam Riley) alongside, turning him into whatever creature she fancies. He could pass for Orlando Bloom’s less good-looking younger brother.

Eventually, most of the characters live happily and others get by as they can. As mentioned, some of the things that happen are head-scratchers. For instance, just when we think we have Maleficent figured out, she changes her mind—like with that curse thing.

Maleficent is a good-not-great movie, with many wonderful and amazing images. Director Robert Stromberg’s lengthy movie resume is mainly as an effects guy. He does an excellent job of mixing live action by human actors with computer-generated effects.

But the big question remains: Is this movie too scary for little kids? I say yes. As an overprotective dad, I might’ve rated Maleficent PG-13. But it has been deemed PG. This ensures that a good number of little kids will have nightmares. Thank the MPAA, mom and dad.