Unbroken  (2014)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     137 Min        15

Just about everything in this film is broken, from insane casting choices to a host of continuity errors and lacklustre infrastructure. This is Angelina Jolie’s third time directing and so far she’s been met with a lot of opposition – I haven’t seen her other films, but you kind of think to yourself maybe she’s getting stick because of who she is. Well, she is bad. I mean, bad in the sense that she reeks of raw eggs fermenting inside of dead rabid cats behind the camera – she has no idea where to put a camera, how to pace a film, or even assemble and tell a story. It’s all over the place, slow, and is a stark and painful trope of three cinema staples: the bullied kid who trains hard and becomes a successful hero, the survival in the face of physical extremes and certain death flick, and the prisoner of war drama. Sadly, it’s actually based on a real story and you have to feel for Louis Zamperini, whose life story this is, and who alas passed away the year of the film’s release.

The film follows Zamperini’s life, from being a troubled kid through to becoming an Olympic runner and then war hero who was singled out to endure extreme brutality whilst interred in a Japanese P.O.W. Camp during World War II, and it opens with a perilous mission in a bomber over the Pacific with scenes even less convincing than the ones in ‘Memphis Belle’ (90). We see, for example, Zamperini show us he is a hero by caring for one of the wounded gunners – instead of grabbing the bleeding vacant gun and trying to help shoot down the plane threatening to kill the rest of them. The lame attempt at believability is continued with such fare as showing some of the men adrift at sea after a few days and they have all allowed the skin on their faces to burn badly, despite having ample materials to cover up with, then we see them many days later and they all look healthier. The Japs give Zamperini a good hiding and force him to eat gruel on the ground, but then apparently give him a shave before sticking him in a camp to be tortured again, wherein Zamperini is punched in the face by every single other prisoner, and then looks none the worse for ware next we see him (we at least don’t know the time frame in this case, but still, it can’t have been that long), and so on.

There are better moments toward the end of the film, and some of the concentration camp scenes convince, but it takes more than half of the film for them to get there and the rest is terrible. It’s also a casting catastrophe – who would be one’s first choice to play an Italian American war hero who deserves recognition in film? Would it be an actor who thus far has only been convincing at playing violent and sadistic English thugs? No. And yet yes it seems – Jack O’Connell is the man in question and the only time he really convinces here is when he punches a fish right in its beady eye to, I’m not kidding, knock it out. Often seeming to do the acting equivalent of twiddling his thumbs he is exceptionally poor in this – and who is he given to be his all American buddy? Domhnall Gleeson, another actor from this side of the pond who’s character portrayal here is weepy to the point of sycophancy. Then who should show up in the camp, who could possibly make the casting any worse than it is already, but Garrett Hedlund who has still not learned that staring off into space whilst growling neither makes for convincing masculinity nor acting.

The writing is as bad as everything else in the film (from the Cohen brothers, amongst others) – I feel sorry for cinematographer Roger Deakins who has made an effort and received an Oscar nod for it, but it must have been by way of compensation really, I mean in the Olympic Games scenes it’s painfully obvious there is no real crowd thanks to the rubbish digital work. In fact, I didn’t even believe O’Connell was running most of the time, there’s barely a bead of sweat on him and his competitors are clearly allowing him to pass. A tragic film, one which also has two further Oscar nods for sound editing and sound mixing – and alas it could well be these are simply to placate various parties after the movie’s failure to make it into any of the major categories.

If I Stay  (2014)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     107 Min        12A

Another teen WEEPY, hot on the heels of its sister film this summer ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘, and it is equally without any worth, featuring as it does universally poor acting and trashy writing. Based on the 2009 novel by Gayle Forman, we watch as Chloë Grace Moretz’s young naïve and virginal Mia falls in love with the older about to graduate from high school front man in local band Adam (Jamie Blackley), all before a brutal car accident sees her spend the rest of the film on a bed in hospital as we watch her ghost debate whether or not to completely kick the bucket or to re-enter her material form, using flashbacks to fill in the interim romantic details and help her decide. Unfortunately, the medical staff at the hospital seem to be particularly inept as the other members of her family appear to be in a better state when they first arrive compared to several hours later in their care and she is continually given less incentive to return to the mortal coil, not to mention the fact they threaten her boyfriend with imprisonment for no good reason when he tries to visit her.

Conceptually, it is very, very typical of the dire literature aimed at young teenage girls and it suffers from one of its biggest pitfalls – setting up this ‘idyllic’ boyfriend without any realistic consideration as to his character, leading scores of young girls down the garden path when the man in question is never in a million years going to be faithful to her. In fact it’s painfully obvious he doesn’t care that much about Mia here, as she continually waits around twiddling her thumbs whilst he completes his latest gig, and then he drops her off at home before going out on the lash with his mates – this person has multiple, equally naïve girls dotted around the place that he rotates, meanwhile showing off to his band members with regard to the latest hottie he has duped, and yet he will be just as incapable of scoring with a girl his own age who is a little wiser. In the second half it is more convincing that he actually cares about her, but then she is after all literally at death’s door (the hospital exit it seems).

The music is the completely banal T-Mobile-advert-esque twonk for the first half, and then the expected repetitive couple of piano notes for the second, with a few songs sung by Adam although they all sound pretty much the same and are a far cry from doing the film any favours. Mia is trying to get into an exclusive music school to specialise in playing the Cello, a school which is on the other side of the county wouldn’t you know it, and some of the Cello playing is actually the only decent thing in the film. A soft glossy sheen has been applied to most of the images throughout the movie which, together with the constant toing and froing that the timeframe is held hostage to, continues to grate, and it’s chock full of silly moments – like the two splitting up because Mia says she can’t guarantee she’ll be able to spend the following New Year with Adam, despite the fact she doesn’t even know if she’s even going to get into this school (the letter is opened whilst she’s comatose and they read it out to her – will she have made it, or will it be another reason to kiss her teenage life goodbye?) and it is pretty normal for all students everywhere to be going home for the festive season, and indeed there is nothing really stopping Adam from visiting her at uni either. The predictability level of this will probably make you feel sick, and if you have ever lost anyone under tragic circumstances, twaddle like this will probably just leave you feeling slightly angry too.

Blended  (2014)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

Adam Sandler’s latest offering reunites him with one of his best co-stars from his long list of comedy hits and misses – Drew Barrymore, marking her third appearance in one of his films after the pretty great ‘The Wedding singer’ (98) and ’50 First Dates’ (04, which I haven’t seen). There is no denying their onscreen chemistry at times, but in this, those sparse incidents are obliterated by many, many cringe worthy moments and extremely lacklustre attempts at comedy. As usual, the human elements of Sandler’s films again work well here, it’s just a huge shame that he regularly doesn’t find writers that can utilise him and his fellow actors to full advantage, or indeed any advantage at all.

The story sees both leads as single parents trying to raise numerous children and the film opens with the pair of them on their first date since they each became single, but it doesn’t go well. Luckily, fate conspires to send them on the same romantic trip to South Africa though, where couples go to ‘blend’. If it was some sort of barbaric Hunger Games scenario whereby the least entertaining or romantically indulgent couple were actually blended together at the end then it might be worth watching. Alas, no such luck. The exploration of the coming of age agendas of the kids, and Sandler and Barrymore’s blossoming romance, do have some merit, just not enough to suffer through the rest of the film for. The discovery that the somewhat berserk character signing and dancing in an almost derogatory way about Africa at every opportunity after they arrive on the continent was played by action and ‘Expendables 2‘ star Terry Crews, was a shock to say the least.

I do love this photo of the main actors, you can see why they wanted to do another film together.

Seraphim Falls  (2006)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     115 Min        15

‘Seraphim Falls’ is a western that pits Liam Neeson against Pierce Brosnan. This is a winning premise, but it is misleading. The film opens with Neeson and his posse wounding and then hunting a desperate Brosnan through the Ruby mountains in Nevada, a few years after the Civil War. We have no idea why, and the chase continues leading to what we soon realise will be the inevitable confrontation in order for us to learn about the back story. It’s fairly dull, and nothing we haven’t seen many times before. Pierce Brosnan comes off least worst from this, and there are a few nice touches and shots of the both beautiful and oppressive landscapes (by director of photography John Toll, Oscar winner for ‘Legends of the Fall’ 94 and ‘Braveheart’ 95) but the acting isn’t at fault here, it’s the screenwriting and direction that are fully to blame for allowing what could have been a decent modern western descend into nothing more than a humdrum TV movie. At one point Brosnan gives a particularly convincing performance of removing a bullet from his arm with a knife he’s heated in a fire, but then drops it and noticeably rolls the flesh of his arm onto it with no effect, which pretty much sums up the attention given to detail throughout the whole film. Angelica Huston and Wes Studi make random appearances toward the end too.