Alright! Time to get down to writing about some of these stragglers from last year. I’ve been meaning to write a little something about these two for awhile now, but gees has it been hard to find the time! Now that the holidays are over, it’s high time for me to get to this Duet. Here’s a little teaser: one of these movies is not my thing at all, and one of them is. If you’ve perused my blog for longer than 30 seconds, I bet you can figure out which is which. But in case you’re stumped or, even better, in case you’d actually like to read my opinions, then continue, dear friends!
Synopsis: “After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The young cast. There are a lot of fresh faces here—folks who have done a few notable things, but haven’t really made names for themselves yet. I’m thinking of leading man Jack O’Connell in particular, who gives a solid performance as determined survivor Louis Zamperini. It’s also nice to see Domhnall Gleeson’s star rising (even though I will always think of him as Bill Weasley). And Finn Wittrock! I had no idea he had such a big role in this. Not gonna lie, it’s a little weird seeing American Horror Story: Freak Show’s Dandy as a normal person.
- It’s nice to see Angelina Jolie breaking into directing. Frankly, I think she could be really good at it. I know she’s directed a couple of things before, but Unbroken seems to be her most successful effort so far. It seems like kind of a random choice for her, yet her passion for this story is evident. Speaking of the story…
- It’s an interesting tale, proving that reality truly is stranger than fiction. Zamperini’s story of survival is incredible—I’d even venture to say impossible for most of us. I can name a dozen times I would’ve died throughout the course of the film. When the real-life Louis Zamperini makes an appearance at the end of Unbroken, it hits home just how amazing his story is.
The Low Notes:
- I really, really hated the one-note portrayal of the villainous Japanese POW guard, Watanabe a.k.a. “The Bird” (Takamasa Ishihara). He’s portrayed well enough by Ishihara, but the guy is just constant crazy. I don’t know how accurate this portrayal is, but it seems over-the-top. A little less of that would’ve been nice. Or at least some explanation for the crazy.
- We barely get to see any of Zamperini’s Olympic career, and I found that pretty disappointing. It’s a fascinating period of his life, yet the film makes us spend more time floating on the damn ocean than watching Zamperini compete. Seems like a better balance could be found there.
- It’s just…too much. Too grim and depressing. Too heavy-handed. Too long. Maybe I’m a shallow viewer, but the fact is that I go to a movie to be entertained. Now that doesn’t mean I expect all lighthearted popcorn flicks or full-throttle adventures—I can and do appreciate films beyond that. But when it feels like a chore to watch something, that’s a problem. This film was a two-hour chore.
The Staccato Version: Maybe I’m being harsh on this one, but the simple fact is that Unbroken is so not my kind of movie. It has its merits, and I appreciate those. And I certainly appreciate Zamperini’s incredible story. But should that story have been made into a movie? Eh. In my opinion, it just doesn’t translate very well.
My Grade: C-
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Synopsis: “Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The epic battles/cool effects. The Hobbit has consistently pulled out the stops when it comes to this, and this last installment is no exception. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t nerd out a little when Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) breathes fire across Lake Town or the golden-armored elves leap into battle.
- The treatment of the characters. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) gets much more screen time here than he does in The Desolation of Smaug, and given that the trilogy is called “The Hobbit,” that only seems right. But Bard (Luke Evans), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and Thranduil (Lee Pace) also get a fair amount of time, too, and I was happy with that. Plus, there’s a really awesome moment involving Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and a couple other familiar faces—quite possibly my favorite moment of the film. Basically, character time seems much more fairly distributed.
- It’s a satisfying conclusion that feels more true to the book than its predecessor. Seems like an odd thing to say, I guess, when so much of the movie is stuff that doesn’t actually happen in the book, but that’s just how I felt. It captures more of the spirit of the book, I guess you could say—not as much as An Unexpected Journey does, but I’m still happy with it.
The Low Notes:
- Is it just me or is Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly), like, super duper CGI? I recognized Connolly’s voice, but that’s just about all I recognized of him. It’s a minor thing, I guess, and Dain is, in fact, a very minor character, but it still weirded me out a little…
- ANYTHING WITH ALFRID (Ryan Gage). Oh my God. No offense to Gage, but I loathe this character. He’s an incredibly forced attempt at humor, and we spend way, way too much time with him. He makes me not want to see the people of Lake Town at all because I know he’ll be there doing something selfish or cowardly or straight up dumb. He is a caricature instead of a real character, and that is obvious and annoying as hell. Writers, WHY?!
- The big moments just don’t feel as earned as they do in The Lord of the Ring. Maybe it’s because LOTR came first. Maybe it’s because I know how many of those big moments aren’t even moments at all in Tolkien’s original Hobbit story. Whatever the case, the triumphs just seem a little hollow. They’re not Eowyn killing the Witch King, they’re not Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, and they’re certainly not an entire kingdom bowing to four tiny hobbits.
The Staccato Version: Like the Hobbit trilogy as a whole, this film has its good moments and its lackluster ones. I’d probably rank it on the same level as its predecessors, although I think I favor An Unexpected Journey a bit. The important thing is that The Battle of the Five Armies ends on a solid note that will probably satisfy most fans. Should this trilogy have been a trilogy? Probably not. Does it measure up to The Lord of the Rings? No way. But just to dip our toes back into Tolkien’s vividly imagined world, I’d say it was worth it.
My Grade: B+
P.S. There may or may not be a top 10 list involving The Hobbit later this week/next week. Just doesn’t seem right to let it go with one mini review, you know? Stay tuned! 😉