Wednesday, January 14, 2015

If I Can Take It, I Can Make It

The trailor for Unbroken shows an action-packed film that is guaranteed to keep the viewer riveted to the screen and on the edge of their seats. If I judged the film on the trailer, I'd give it an A -- but then I sat through the rest of the story as it trickled across the screen.

Louis Zamperini is played by Jack O'Connell, an actor who does a fine job portraying what has to be the world's unluckiest SOB. First, Zamperini's plane is shot all to hell by the Japanese enemy during WWII, then he has to ditch in the ocean, from which he is plucked by Japanese military, who take him to a prison camp, where his fame as a former US Olympic track star pins a bull's eye on him for maltreatment by a cruel Japanese jailor. Woven throughout these several ordeals are bits 'n pieces of his childhood, where he had to learn the hard lesson that in order to make it through life, you have to be able to take a lot of shit from a lot of sources.

Now, that's a fairly good story, but ... . First, his childhood was on par with that of all the other children in families that suffered during The Great Depression. Zamperini was lucky that he had caring parents and siblings, one of whom taught him how to take whatever came at him. When Louis qualified for the Olympics, he gave his best on the course, but I can't tell you if he won his race or not because my mind was already wandering as the film began to spend far too much time getting to the point.

Then, when the plane was shot up and ditched in the ocean and Louis had to single-handedly save his crew, the story enlongated again. While the castaways' hair didn't grow, nor did their facial hair change, the alternating scenes of sun and darkness and veiled references to another crew that was on the ocean for 40-some-odd days. At one point in the getting to the point (the rescue by the Japanese ship), it felt as if we'd been on the ocean ourselves for 40+ days, but the actors finally had some sunburn and scrabbly beard stubble.

Next, he went to prison of war camp, where there probably was a highly-skilled barber who kept the hair and beard growing under control. Also, there had to be a prison laundry because the clothes should have been rags a whole lot sooner than later. Louis suffered, but it seems that he was singled out to suffer while the rest of the prisoners went about their daily routine. I'm not sure how long Louis suffered, but my suffering was about 20 minutes of childhood, 25 minutes of ocean wreck, 30 minutes of prison suffering, an hour+ that moved by at an unbelievably slow pace.

Unbroken is a story written by Laura Hillenbrand about the real-life protagonist, Louis Zamperini. I think I would enjoy reading the book more than I enjoyed watching the film as I would get to create my own mental movie as I read, rather than sitting captive in a theatre seat while someone else's vision of the story dragged across the screen. It's not a bad film, but it is not any better than average.

The Trouble with being Into The Woods

Imagine a group of older people sitting around, perhaps sipping cocktails and drinking far too much wine, and all talking about the myths from their childhoods, the folk stories that parents used to read to their children before they turned over the reading function first to the TV and more recently to the hand-held electronic device. One person recalls a bit of one story; another person adds a piece from a second story; a third person recalls with glee a favorite moment from yet another story, and so it goes until the subject of fairy tales has everyone laughing and enjoying the nonsense.

As the evening wears on, the wine runs out and the reminiscences begin to falter. Suddenly, someone says, "Wouldn't it be a hoot to take a whole bunch of mishmashes from all these stores and put them together into a movie?"

The one who had consumed the most wine adds, "And make it into a musical!" That comment was followed by loud guffaws from the more sober of the revelers because they knew it wouldn't make good sense, much less a good movie.

Spend your $7.50 for the matinee of Into the Woods and see for yourself. You'll be wanting your own glass of wine just to make it through the opening scenes 'n songs!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mile Marker 70

The letter arrived today from Social Security: time to sign up for benefits.

I read it with a sinking heart as it constantly referred to my milestone birthday coming up soon. There's an offset for teachers in California, so we don't get our benefit on top of our retirement, both of which we've earned through years of hard work. I'm not sure how the offset works, but I know I'm penalized for having both Social Security and a teacher's retirement pension.

The clock is ticking harder and faster, with time whizzing by. Hope I'm ready for the late autumn of my life and make the most of it because winter just ain't far behind!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Big Eyes = Big Bore

She paints portraits with overly-exaggerated “big eyes,” the windows to the painting’s soul. Her flim-flam second husband tells the world that he paints the pictures and he is furious when she challenges him on so doing. Lots of time passes; his is filled with notoriety and money, while hers is filled with anguish about which she does nothing.

Finally, a decade down the road, she confronts her husband, runs away to Hawaii, sues him for divorce, and then comes out in court with the truth about her artistic endeavors. She wins, he loses, the movie mercifully ends.

When it takes 100+ minutes to tell a 10-minute story, it isn’t a good movie-going experience.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


With the title Wild and the premise an 1100-mile hike for which a hiker is woefully unprepared, one would think that the movie would be dramatic and dangerous and even a bit engaging. The Reese Witherspoon film, however, is almost boring as it’s the story of a young woman taking a Sunday walk that is extended to fit into a 2-hour time frame.

One distraction is that Witherspoon never “weathers.” Another character mentions her body odor, but the character’s clothes aren’t filthy and her hair isn’t that dirty. She takes a long shower that features dirt washing off her body, but she never appears to be that dirty in the film. Her face remains untouched even by the extreme desert sun. Anyone else hiking through the desert would show signs of sunburn, but Witherspoon's face remains untouched by the elements.

She comes across a rattlesnake in the desert early on in the film, but doesn’t freak out: she calmly steps widely around it and goes on with her walk. In a potential rape scene, she stands, stares, and doesn’t say a word: she relies on divine intervention to save her, which, of course, it does. When she encounters the fields of snow, she trudges on, seemingly without a care in the world. Even losing her boots is a magic moment as she duck tapes some sandals to her feet and goes on her merry way.

There is no dramatic tension, no inciting incident that makes the hike terrifying. Her past flies in and out of the film, with Laura Dern, the actress playing Witherspoon’s dead mother, stealing the movie. The hike becomes second fiddle to the death of her beloved mother, so the hike loses its focus as the coming of age journey of a woman who cannot accept her mother’s death. Even her past drug use and engaging in promiscuous sex aren't shocking. And the appearance of her spirit guide, a red fox, takes away from the story, rather than adding a dramatic element.

I would not recommend this movie, even as a rental to view at home, because the movie just doesn' work on so many levels. I found the movie lacking from the beginning to the sudden stop. Yes, there is no ending, no denouement; it just shows her standing on a bridge and seeing for the last time, we presume, the red fox. A voice-over informs the audience that she later marries and has children, then we’re done. And, as far as a nomination for Witherspoon for an Oscar, believe me when I tell you that her acting is not worthy of that pestigious award!