Unbroken (2014) - Review by Justin Kueber
Every December, major Hollywood studios release “Oscar Pictures” in hopes of having their film fresh on the minds of the voters come Award season; I like to call these films “Oscar Bait” – essentially films that are made with one goal and one goal only: winning an Oscar. Angelina Jolie’s, Unbroken is certainly a well-meant film that was made with the shiny Oscar in its sights but, sadly the film falls short of the mark. Unbroken is a glossy, over-the-top, cliché story of survival and perseverance that falls flat on its back due to its repetitive nature, single-noted, undecorated dialogue and rudimentary, one-dimensional story.
Unbroken tells the true story of Olympian runner, Louis Zamperini (played excellently by, Jack O’Connell) as his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean and he is forced to survive while afloat a tiny raft with two of his fellow companions. After spending 47 tormenting days on the ocean, Zamperini is captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp where he is faced with extreme hardships including: the demanding work and harsh conditions of the camp and more so, the brutalizing torture and bamboo stick beatings he receives from the unforgiving Japanese corporal of the camp, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (played by, Takamasa Ishihara).
I think the real life story of Louis Zamperini is something to be admired; he went from being an athlete in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin to surviving a plane crash, to surviving being stranded in an ocean, to surviving a Japanese POW camp. It’s a great tale of triumph, willpower, and survival. However, the film neglects to explore these themes outside of their simplistic nature. The screenplay penned out by Joel and Ethan Coen is lazy and uninteresting. They somehow turned a story about a great American hero into an undeveloped milieu of heroic clichés, badly written dialogue and painfully forced sex jokes – as if they were trying to impress every 14-year-old boy in the audience. Seriously, in one instance a character says to Zamperini “wow, you ran so fast, I hope you’re not that quick in bed.” This is from the same guys who wrote Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men. My guess: The Angelina Fund forked up loads of money to get some big names attached to the screenplay and the Coens just didn’t give a shit. Welcome to Hollywood, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The biggest issue I had with this film is that everything seemed forced. Jolie wants us to feel for Zamperini – and we do- but we don’t need the same thing rammed down our throats 100,000 times. Unbroken, running in at 137 minutes is an exercise in repetitiveness. After Zamperini gets punished with the bamboo stick for the 128th time you could sense the audience growing tired of this tedious act of cruelty. We get it, Angelina, he was brutally tortured. We don’t need to see it every scene because we understand that this man was subject to insurmountable amounts of pain. What I would have rather seen is the after-effects of his torture: What happened psychologically to Zamperini? How was he able to stay so strong-minded during all of this? What does this say about the human condition? Your guess is as good as mine, folks.
Unbroken is by no means a terrible film - Jack O’Connell is very good as Zamperini and does what he can with the lethargic dialogue and as aforementioned, the story (not the screenplay) is praiseworthy– however, it isn’t a good film either. The cinematography is uninspired and more basic than a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon. What a shame considering Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Prisoners) was behind it (again, big name uninspired). Jolie’s direction is lackluster - that’s me trying to be positive - and the film is too lengthy for its own good, especially when everything is so monotonous. If you want to know the inspirational story of Louis Zamperini – and believe me you should – read the book because it’s the story that the movie “tried” to tell.
Whiplash (2014) - Review by Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette
Whiplash, a hard hitting, fresh, exhilarating indie film featuring a young man that continuously amazes me, the incredible Miles Teller, Andrew, along with a familiar face from my childhood known as J. Jonah Jameson, Mr. J.K. Simmons, Fletcher, takes hold and gives us a no hold back character that pushes and pushes and keeps on pushing as he unfolds into this oddly infuriating yet relatable character. Whiplash is the culmination of ingenuity and artistic values that make up, what I believe to be, an award winning film.
Whiplash is the story of a young man, Teller, who is pursuing his dream of becoming one of the great jazz drummers of all time. Attending one of the greatest music schools in the country, Andrew finds himself in the eyes of our one Mister Fletcher, Simmons, the great jazz orchestra conductor. Andrew quickly becomes the core drummer of the studio orchestra yet with his speedy climb up the ladder can’t seem to please Mr. Fletcher. As we go along, Fletcher doesn’t see Andrew as the next great, and slowly tries to push him out of the orchestra, this does nothing but push Andrew more and more, the more Andrew trains, the more he gets better, nothing can stop him from playing for the group, nothing will stop him. This is his part, he is the drummer of this group. As we all do though, one day, something is going to stop us, something is going to halt our progression, and as I’ve come to the realization this would be Andrew’s need to prove, need to please, need to be the great. After a few months of not playing the drums and giving up on his dreams, he runs into Fletcher and to his surprise Fletcher wants him to play at the JVC jazz festival. Fletcher throws a curveball at Andrew and ultimately humiliating him and throwing his career out the window. After it seems Andrew has given up and Fletcher is getting his way, the young man returns and plays his heart out proving not only that he has the potential to be great, but that he is indeed the next great.
All said and done this film is an incredible piece of art not only showing multiple different themes, but also teaching us many a different things. Whiplash shows that music is not dead, only that the world has forgotten what true music is, the use of jazz brings on a revived look at the world of music and how it has come to people who don’t try, as Fletcher tells us in the film that “Good Job” is the worst thing you can tell someone. Good job gets you nowhere, you want to strive for more than that, you want to go above receiving “Good job”. So we realize that our world, and our music is the way it is because nobody pushes themselves anymore, and that is all Mr. Fletcher is trying to do, he is trying to find the next great, he is trying to create the next great but in all his years he has yet to find them. Until Mr. Andrew arrives and shows Fletcher, he proves to him that he is worth more than a “good job”. So the underlying topic of this film, to me, is simply to never give up no matter what anybody thinks, no matter what anybody says, go above and beyond and only prove yourself that you can do exactly what you already know.
Whiplash is a film that should be known, not because of its award nominations, not because it will be talked about months after being released because the first time anybody has heard of this film is because it got nominated for an Oscar. Because for some reason people don’t seem to understand that great films come from the heart, they come from passion, and that is what Whiplash shows. Passion. I am glad that I have been able to see this film in a nice quaint niche theater, where people were smoking in the auditorium next to us, and I believe the man sitting behind me was drinking as I heard the sound of a clunking glass bottle, or the fact that it kind of smelt awful and as I left and drove home could still smell the odd stench. That is what makes watching these kinds of films great, because you go with other movie lovers and you sit down and enjoy a work of art for what it is worth. That is why I have come to the conclusion that these films are not made for the masses, nor the award shows or the people of Hollywood, they are made for us, for those that hold film close to our hearts, and for those that have a passion for works of art. As a great man once said; “A lot of people just go to movies that feed into their preexisting and not so noble needs and desires: They just go to action pictures, and things like that.” Roger Ebert.
I can not quite think of anything I disliked about this film, it flowed smoothly, it made me laugh, it made me sad, angry, depressed. It thrilled me to the point where my heart was pumping and my palms were sweating, the desire to see this young man succeed was instilled the moment he showed up on screen. As my friend Sam said “Everytime he fucked up, i felt I did.”. There is a love story, a father son relationship, a master and student relationship where the student becomes the master. The love story wasn’t cliche they went on one date within the film and the next time we see them together he is breaking up with her, and later on in the film he calls her and asks her to attend the JVC show and she tells him she has a boyfriend, he is sad and feels like he messed up, though at the same time it seems as though he brushes it off and moves along focusing on more important things, which was very refreshing to watch. Father-Son relationship, the father did not run Andrews life or make him do anything he did not want to, he was there as a father figure which is something that lacks in film these days. It is always either the dad runs the kids life or the dad loves him to the point where he would do anything for him, and there is part of that in the film but it is the most clearly and well used application of said theme. As for the student becoming the master, that was the whole point of the film, to overcome doubt and pressure in order to rise above it all, and with that being said, the reason it was obvious.
This film is beyond beautiful. The powerful shots of the New York atmosphere, the beautiful quick cuts, the color pallet chosen was incredible not very gloomy, but also not very bright. The colors were brighter when Andrew was playing the drums, when he was focusing on his pursuit, when he was talking to the girl. The colors were gloomier when he was sad and at home, or when he was breaking up with the girl, when he was leaving the building after playing profusely until 2 in the morning, after he did his best to prove himself. The sound, the score, it was all beautiful, it was exhilarating.
With all that being said, as I stated earlier, Whiplash will win awards, and I honestly do hope it gets all the recognition it deserves. I hope to one day be able to talk about this film with people, without having them ask what I am even talking about. For me, this film deserves a very solid 4 star rating. A 9/10 if you go by that scale. This is a work of art that I will be seeing again and again for the rest of my life. Miles Teller is astounding and J.K. Simmons is undeniably deserving of all the praise. This is a movie worth making time for, and I hope for your sake that you one day will appreciate along with me.