REVIEW: “Unbroken”

Unbroken poster

The true story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini is a remarkable one. Zamperini was an Italian immigrant who navigated a troubled childhood to become a record-breaking Olympic track star. Later he fought in World War II where he ended up captured by the Japanese and placed in prisoner of war camps. In “Unbroken” director Angelina Jolie seeks to bring this unbelievable story of life, strength, and perseverance to the big screen.

Tackling movies like this always comes with risks. Many big emotionally-fueled biopics put too much emphasis on melodrama and sentimentality. Some are so systematically polished that they feel like productions instead of intimate stories. “Unbroken” struggles in both regards. Jolie heightens the melodrama through a number of common conventions. We see this mostly in the first half of the film. She also doesn’t shy away from giving us one emotional cue after another whether it be through music or her camera. Also there is no denying that this is a highly polished, by-the-books, prestige film.


The first scene is the film’s best. We meet Louie (Jack O’Connell) as a B-24 bombardier on a bombing run over the Pacific. It’s a tense and well-shot sequence featuring anti-aircraft explosions and Japanese fighter planes. During this time we get our first flashback which patches together a bit of his childhood. He’s constantly in trouble although we never know why. But don’t worry, we get yet another flashback that shows him finding his way by running for his high school track team. This leads to an incredible experience running in the Olympic games.

From there the film spends a lot of time on Louie being stranded at sea and his time spent at various Japanese internment camps. These segments give us several exciting and inspirational moments. But they also bog the film down because Jolie stays at each place too long. Louie’s experience on a raft with two fellow soldiers is harrowing stuff. There are all sorts of dangers and threats they face, but too much time is spent showing them afloat drained by the glaring sun and starvation.


And then there are the prison camps. Again, some tremendous scenes that are genuinely moving and sometimes difficult to watch. Seeing a sadistic Japanese corporal’s obsession with torturing Louie is an uncomfortable but effective experience. But as before we spend to much time there. Jolie pounds us with scene after scene of torture and cruelty and she doesn’t know when to move on or to wrap things up. It’s not that we become numb to what we are seeing, but it does lose its effect as it grows more repetitive. Eventually I found myself checking out.

“Unbroken” is a competent and well-intentioned movie centered around an inspiring true story. Louie Zamperini’s life was something to behold and we get a feel for that in this film. At the same time the movie is undermined by Angelina Jolie’s direction. She has a good visual technique, but her deliberate lingering zaps much of the life out of the film. It runs a good 30 minutes too long and I checked my watch more than once. But I don’t want to write the movie off. If you can wade through these bloated patches there are several things to like. Louie Zamperini died a few months before the film premiered. It’s wonderful to know that his life, first captured in a novel by Laura Hillenbrand, has now been brought to an even broader audience. The movie may not live up to its potential, but it does tell a story that deserves to be told.



Well Nostra over at My Filmviews is at it again. The master blogathoner has put together a little thing called “Movie Confessions”. It’s a chance for movie fans to come clean and answer a series of questions that expose some of their cinema shortcomings as well as their past cinema vices. So I thought I should get in on the action. Nostra has asked and here are my answers:

1. Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

There are several that could easily be mentioned here – “Easy Rider”, “Toy Story 3”, “Fight Club”. But the main movie that instantly came to mind was Stanly Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. This is a movie that’s considered monumental for the science fiction genre but I thoroughly detest it, and I’m a huge sci-fi guy! I’ve tried on three different occasions to watch it all the way through and to see what all of the hype was about but I just can’t. Kubrick’s blabbering self-indulgence didn’t work for me at all and I don’t see myself trying to watch it again. I know most consider it a great film and it’s certainly garnered it’s share of accolades, but I promise you, it’ll never make my list of favorite movies.

2. Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

Sigh. To my shame, I’ve yet to catch “Lawrence”

Gulp! This was the question that I feared the most (Nostra, how could you ask such a question?). Anyway, here it goes:

  1. Singin’ in the Rain” (Sorry, I HATE musicals)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia” (I’ve seen bits but not enough to say I’ve seen it)
  3. My Fair Lady” (Yes, another musical. I’m sorry, ok!)
  4. All the President’s Men” (This just never appealed to me. I know, no excuse.)
  5. West Side Story” (Sense a trend here?)
  6. East of Eden” (Dean’s first major role. Again, I have no excuse.)
  7. The Lion King” (I’m always slow to animated features. It’s to my shame.)
  8. Dr. Zhivago” (Incredibly popular yet I’ve never seen it.)
  9. A Streetcar Named Desire” (Another that I haven’t seen enough of to say I have.)
  10. Any of the “Harry Potter” films (It’s true…yes, it’s true.)

3. Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

No. At least not to sit in and watch a full movie. Now I have walked into another room just to see what was happening on the screen. But I’ve never sneaked into a theater or another movie without paying. My hands are clean!

4. Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

There are several actresses and actors that come to mind. Julia Roberts is certainly one. While she hasn’t been as big lately, she’s still considered a wonderful actress and honestly, I can’t see it. She’s a one-trick pony and so often her roles are just variations of the same performance. Jennifer Aniston is even more overrated. Sure she has the looks but at some point you have to be able to act. I think the roles she’s taking points to her serious lack of acting chops. But ahead of them both would be Angelina Jolie. Talk about someone getting roles for her looks alone (and now even her looks are long gone). She has flirted with decent performances but I’ve yet to see her do anything to warrant the attention she gets.

As far as actors go, Will Ferrell is popular and he seems to be a “love him or hate him” kinda guy. I’ve yet to see anything that earns him the praise he often gets. Worse than Ferrell is Seth Rogan. I know that since I don’t like raunchy comedies he naturally isn’t going to appeal to me, but does he really ever do anything else. Not only is he one-dimensional but I find him extremely annoying. But above all is Ashton Kutcher. Sure, I know he’s mainly reserved for TV these days but he still is a big attention-getter and people really like him. WHY? How does this guy have an acting career. I’ll never understand his popularity.

5. From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

This one was really tough because I have seen films from most of the great directors. But one classic director that I have yet to see a film by is the Italian great Federico Fellini. He’s a highly accomplished and stylish film director and a winner of five Academy Awards. The sad part is that I have no good reason for not seeing any of his films, especially “8 1/2”, a movie that has been in my Netflix queue for months and months. I should have already watched some films made by this influential director.

6. Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

Yes, I love “The Time Machine”. What of it?

One movie that comes to mind is “The Time Machine”. Now I’m not talking George Pal’s movie from 1960. I’m speaking of the 2002 film directed by Simon Wells and starring Guy Pearce. This adaptation from the H.G. Wells classic was generally panned by critics (its Rotten Tomatoes standing is an abysmal 29%) and by moviegoers alike, but I truly love the film. I whole-heartedly concede that the special effects in the second half of the film aren’t the best. But I still think Pearce was wonderful, the storytelling is strong, and it features a great score. And I still get a warm and almost misty feeling during the wonderful final scene. Yes, I know I’m one of the few, but I loved this version of “The Time Machine”.

7. Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

I can honestly say no. My mom and dad began taking me to the theater at a very young age. They pretty much taught me early to be quiet, watch the movie, and not ruin it for others. That even stuck with me through my doofus teen years. And still to this day, I can’t stand people talking or being disruptive during a movie. It drives me crazy.

8. Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

Oh yes! I am a HUGE Humphrey Bogart fan. I have the majority of his films in my collection and there were a lot of them. I have even some of his older low-budget pictures and movies where he played only a small part. Some were, to be honest, real stinkers but I not only watched them but added them to my Bogart collection. Yes, I’ve actually watched films such as “Isle of Fury” and “The Return of Doctor X” solely due to Bogart’s participation.

9. Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

 I’m not going to say I never have, but as a big fan of foreign cinema, subtitles don’t bother me at all. In fact, I would rather there be subtitles that English voice-overs which do more to take away from the film than help it. So for me, subtitles are no problem at all.

10. Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

Hmmm, yes I have DVDs that I own and haven’t watched but they aren’t movies that I haven’t watched. These are DVDs of movies I have seen before but have never watched my copy. I’ve seen them but may have found them on DVD really cheap or they were given to me. But I don’t think I have a single movie that I haven’t at least seen.

11. Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

Yep, that’s “Van Helsing”!

I mentioned some of the earlier Bogart movies that are pretty terrible but I have them because they are Bogart films. But after briefly looking at my collection there were a handful of others that stood out. Movies like “The 13th Warrior” . I’ve watched it but never again. Then there is the Kevin Sorbo “Kull” movie. I’m not sure why I even bought it. Oh, and how about “Van Helsing” . Kate Beckinsale is in it so there’s the only reason for owning it….maybe.

12. Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

I wouldn’t say there is anything I want to confess about it, but it works good for me. I have a 55-inch HD TV, a Playstation 3 for my Blu-Ray and DVD player, and Direct-TV’s HD package. That’s really it. It’s not the greatest setup but it certainly works for me.

13. Any other confessions you want to make?

Well, I’m definitely not the emotional type but good movies have a way of getting to me. If a film packs an emotional punch that’s well done, I’m certainly vulnerable to watery eyes. It may not be the most macho thing to announce, but it’s the truth.

And there it is. My movie confessions. If you’re interested in more information about Nostra’s blogathon, head over to his blog site My Filmviews . There you can find out how to participate and read the confessions of other movie-oholics like me.


You would think a movie starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, two of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, would give us fun and charismatic performances even if the material wasn’t the best. Perhaps one of “The Tourist’s” biggest letdown is that it features two of the flattest performances of these two actors careers. Combine that with a rather inconsistent and preposterous story and you have a film that isn’t nearly as good as it should have been.

The movie begins with the French police following a woman named Elise (Jolie) who, after receiving a letter from a mysterious man known as Alexander Pearce, hops a train and heads to Venice where the two will rendezvous.  Once onboard she targets and manipulates an American math teacher and tourist named Frank (Depp) who she uses as a decoy to knock her pursuers off track. After arriving in Venice, Frank soon finds himself being pursued by Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), a gangster who has mistaken him for Pearce. Also in the mix is John Acheson (Paul Bettany), an Inspector from Scotland Yard who is after Pearce as well. From there the movie becomes a rather absurd picture that lacks any real pizzaz.

 The story tries to be both a comedy and a thriller but it never fully succeeds at either. It’s attempts at comedy are so underplayed that they are virtually nonexistent. It’s two big twists/revelations do nothing to make it a quality thriller. It’s lack of identity is made worst by the complete lack of chemistry between Jolie and Depp. Both feel like cardboard cutouts and it’s impossible to buy into any real attraction between the two. It’s hard to believe I’m calling a Johnny Depp performance lifeless but here he’s utterly emotionless. Jolie spends most of her time making seductive faces for the camera and seems just as cold as Depp. I don’t want to assume this was just a cash grab especially since these two actors are pretty sought after but it certainly feels like it.

One thing you have to give “The Tourist” is that it’s beautifully filmed by cinematographer John Seale. Whether it be the streets of Paris, the French countryside, or waterways of Venice, Seale captures the sheer beauty of these European locales and I have to admit, it really drew me in. And while the story is full of holes, it’s really quite harmless and there are moments that I found entertaining. But even with its good-looking cast and locations, “The Tourist”  is too shallow, too flat, and ultimately forgettable.