Tag: angelina jolie

By the Sea


By the Sea (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Despite the setting of the picture being right by a body of water, its content—until just about the final act of its interminable, miserable two hours—is desert-dry in intrigue, genuine emotions, and sense of urgency. Writer-director Angelina Jolie has failed to demand and earn the viewers’ attention; there are numerous stretches here where it is essentially a waste of film, so monotonous that it becomes maddening. If one were to point to an example of how to make a marriage drama dull, “By the Sea” should instantaneously come to mind.

Part of the problem is the material’s reliance on showing beautiful people looking sad. We feel every inch of forced emotions, from the languid body language to carefully framed close-ups designed to capture a performer’s best angle. It is the antithesis of romance—not in a romantic sense but in the effortlessness of showing a relationship as is, whether it is currently strong, floundering, or somewhere in between. While it does make us wonder why the couple, Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie), is experiencing a great turmoil, the answer is revealed too late—when the picture has already exhausted the viewers into not caring.

The supporting characters are more interesting than the main players. Particularly curious is the cafe owner (Niels Arestrup) whose wife has passed away. Arestrup plays Michael in such a natural way that we believe immediately we may come across an old gentleman like him while on a tropical vacation. The way he portrays the character eclipses Pitt’s go-to of preserving masculinity in the face of great inner struggle. Other standouts include Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud, a happy couple on their honeymoon who just so happen to be staying in the room right next to the depressed wife and husband whom we are supposed to care about.

It neglects to make the most out of its environment, a small coastal town in France where the beach is within ten feet of the road that houses boutiques, hotels, and convenience stores. When the writer-director is willing to showcase the beauty and elegance of the town, the images come roaring to life; it makes us wish to jump into the screen and lay out under the sun. An argument can be made that keeping us inside the hotel like prisoners is the point: it is a way of suffocating us, making us feel sick of seeing the usual furnitures and hearing the same conversations, urging us to want to scream. We adopt the headspace of the central couple. It does not change the fact that the rewards are few and far between.

“By the Sea” is not meant to be enjoyable—and that is perfectly fine. But the material must tap into the nuances of a crumbling marriage and it is required that emotions behind the performances be throughly convincing, not just another high fashion spread in a magazine. Although supposedly a drama in its core, I found the experience it offers is cheap decoration.

Unbroken


Unbroken (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

While out on a rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean, the engines of the plane that Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete, and his fellow crewmen are on start to fail which meant a certain plunge toward an endless stretch of water. Louis manages to survive, along with Mac (Finn Wittrock) and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson), but it is a long way till the forty-seventh day until they are to be rescued by the Japanese—with only a box of chocolate and a small container of fresh water.

Based on a true story, “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie, is a straight-forward dramatic film about a survivor of World War II. It can be critiqued from the angle of not surprising the audiences enough, whether it be in terms of tone, pacing, or how the story unfolds, but it can be given credit for giving us exactly what we expect. I belong in the latter camp; it is not the most exciting movie from a technical point of view, but I was interested enough in the trials that Zamperini had been through.

O’Connell plays the protagonist with stoicism and dignity. And because he portrays the character in this manner, the moments in which Zamperini breaks down command all the more power. O’Connell has always been ace at playing young men who are a little rough around the edges. What he does differently here is that the performance is a bit more controlled instead of a manic hyperbole. He plays the character tough on the outside but with something to prove on the inside.

The picture is beautifully photographed, whether it be the scenes taking place in the middle of the ocean—hungry sharks and all—or the Japanese detention camps, bathed either in yellow or blue. The flashbacks showing Zamperini’s childhood has a sense of timelessness about them. Each event is important enough to be etched into the boy’s memory and to be remembered during early adulthood.

Less involving are the supporting characters Zamperini meets along the way. None of the American soldiers are especially memorable, from physicality to performance. In fact, a lot of them look so much alike that at times I found myself unable to discern whether a captured soldier in a particular scene is the same one who had a conversation with the protagonist about half an hour ago. Supporting characters need personality especially if the subject is not exactly very expressive. The villain, a cruel Japanese sergeant named Watanabe (played quite nicely by Takamasa Ishihara), stands out but the script does not provide depth in terms of his intentions and actions.

Although I was satiated, “Unbroken” leaves a lot untouched. How is his family like? Other than being encouraging, why does Louis have so much respect for his elder brother? What role does Zamperini’s newfound spirituality play during the horrors that unfold in the detention camps? These are important questions that must be answered because they provide a good amount of substance to the story. Otherwise, one gets the impression that this person’s story is worth telling only because of the things that he had been through.

Maleficent


Maleficent (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Her wings taken away while she slept, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) a faerie who protects the Moors, vows to get vengeance from the human she thought she loved and loved her back. Since the betrayal, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a human, has been rewarded the crown, gotten married, and had a child.

It is the day of the the princess’ christening and Maleficent, uninvited, comes to visit. Her present: a curse that will take effect upon the newborn’s sixteenth birthday. Once she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, she will succumb to a very deep sleep and may never waken unless she receives a true love’s kiss.

Written by Linda Woolverton and directed by Robert Stromberg, “Maleficent” boasts splendid visuals and a confidence to offer an alternative perspective with respect to the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty. For the most part, it is enjoyable to watch. Its weakness, however, lies in some of the characterization of the main players from the original story, from the handsome prince (Brenton Thwaites) to the three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple) who raise the infant away from the castle.

Jolie does a wonderful job playing an iconic character. I was suspect whether she could pull off the sweeter moments required in order for the audience to sympathize with her character because she has a natural harsh look. Despite the dark and heavy makeup, she is able to control her face in such a way that the sharp cheekbones appear a little bit softer. However, the magic, as always, is in the eyes. She is able to deliver different and subtle expressions through them depending on the turn of events. Imagine someone else in the same role with only one look. It would have been a disaster because the character would likely have become a caricature.

Although the picture is teeming with visually striking computer graphic images, they do not always work. To me, a lot of the scenes in the Moors look superficial and fake. It is one thing to create various mythic creatures but it is another to overdo how the plants look. The grass and trees look like they come straight off a fantasy world. This is most unnecessary. The only part where CGI plants work is when giant, thorny vines surround the Moors in order to protect the place and its inhabitants from the invading humans.

Perhaps more unpleasant to look at is the three pixies. Whoever thought that it is a good idea to put the actors’ faces on animated bodies ought to have been asked to leave the planning room. I was at a loss as to why having ten-inch pixies were deemed necessary when they transform themselves to the height of humans eventually. Why not simply give Staunton, Manville, and Temple wings and had been allowed to fly once in a while?

The prince might just as well not have appeared in the movie. A part of me was very amused because he is required to do only three things: ride a horse, fall asleep, and kiss the princess. The character might as well have been mute because when he does speak, the content is fluff and easily forgotten. And yet a part of me felt that he should have had a more prominent role. In what way? Perhaps it might have been a good idea for the screenwriter to give him a trait that is absent from the original work. Here, it gives the impression that he is shown for the sake of making an appearance.

I was surprised because I found myself emotionally invested in Maleficent’s redemption. It is refreshing to see that there is no hero or heroine to show the “villain” the error of her ways. There is no grand speeches, only silences and observation. Though she has magical powers, she is as powerless as the humans when it comes to doing things out of anger that cannot be undone.

Kung Fu Panda 2


Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Young Shen, a peacock, was supposed to lead Gongmen City when he grew up. But when Soothsayer (voiced by Michelle Yeoh), a goat, predicted that someone in black and white was going to thwart his thirst for power, Shen (Gary Oldman) decided to kill pandas all over China. When he returned home, his parents banished him from the city. Years later, bitter Shen reappeared, equipped with newfangled metallic weapons and ravenous but dim-witted wolves, to take back the city, eliminate kung fu, and gain control of China. “Kung Fu Panda 2,” written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, was a hasty but scrumptious sequel filled with non-stop action, cuddly rabbits, funny jokes about the anthropomorphic characters, and gorgeous animation. With a relatively simple storyline, the film wasted no time in sending Po (Jack Black), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) to release Gongmen City from the evil peacock with feathers as knives. But it was far from an easy task. Each successive action sequence became increasingly difficult for our heroes which meant more complex plans of attack and trickier camera angles. It also meant more scenes where Po had to clandestinely blend into the environment to no avail. I loved the aerial shots especially when the Dragon Warrior and his friends attempted to sneak into the city while in a dancing dragon costume. Looking down, it looked like a helpless caterpillar desperately trying to find its way out of a labyrinth while avoiding nasty predators. I also enjoyed the scene in which our protagonists had to run to the tip of a building as it slowly collapsed. There was a real sense of peril as Po and company were thrown around like rag dolls. Since Shen wielded a myriad cannons, the city was eventually thrown in a state of calamity, its residents dispersing like flies. Although potentially too violent for kids, the filmmakers found a way to hide certain realities. For example, someone who was hit by a cannonball was almost always immediately shown as only slightly wounded but ultimately safe. There was an interesting subplot involving Po’s origins. Po finally realized that Mr. Ping (James Hong), a duck, wasn’t his biological father. Mr. Ping was heartbroken from the prospect of Po treating him differently other than the father who found him in a box, raised, and fed him tons of radishes when he was a baby panda. Fragments of memories began to manifest themselves and they caused turmoil in Po’s mind. It proved to be inconvenient because the only way he could learn a special kung fu move, with the aid of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), was to find inner peace. “Kung Fu Panda 2,” directed by Jennifer Yuh, was surprisingly fresher than newly dug radishes. It is a product of synergy among comedic asides, kinetic martial arts, and the more sentimental scenes between Po and his dad. Most of all, it is a testament that sequels need not rely on typicalities to duplicate the successes of its predecessor. Its ambition and execution make it a solid companion piece.

The Tourist


The Tourist (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Elise (Angelina Jolie) worked for a mystery man who ordered her to pick a stranger on a train that resembled his height and build in order to throw the cops (led by the determined but ultimately incompetent detective played by Paul Bettany) off the real identity of the mystery man. Elise had chosen Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who inevitably fell in love with the woman who used him. Naturally, the police believed that Frank was the man who pulled all the strings, but a group of gangsters (Steven Berkoff as the mob boss) also wanted Frank for themselves because the mystery man had stolen money from them. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, expectations were high for the film because it was Depp and Jolie’s first time being together on screen and it was the director’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Das Leben der Anderen” or “The Lives of Others.” The most prolific complaint was the fact that the film lacked action sequences but that was exactly what I liked about it. It was a different kind of thriller because it was more about the ambiance between the two leads. Notice the scene when Elise and Frank met for the first time. Initially, there was no chemistry between them. Elise was breathtakingly stunning and Frank was, well, as nondescript as a math teacher who taught in the middle of nowhere. But the more they spoke to each other, the more they wanted to know each other in a deeper level and somehow that was enough. Flirtation was in the air but Elise had to remain focused on her mission. Frank wanted to have Elise but was afraid to take risks. Even his cigarette was not really a cigarette. Maybe he feared getting cancer. Depp’s acting was easy to criticize because the audiences are used to seeing him play characters who were bigger than life. Over-the-top had become the norm for him. I actually enjoyed Depp’s minimalist approach to this picture which was a big risk but it worked. As he attempted to run away from the gangsters on the rooftops, it was actually refreshing to see someone move slowly and stumble. We feared for him because he was just a regular folk thrown into an incredible situation. He was no Jason Bourne. Admittedly, I was slightly thrown off by the film’s many twists, especially toward the end when we finally discovered the true identity of the mystery man. In my opinion, they should have left the identity not known to the audiences so we could have something to talk about. The movie wasn’t really about the man’s identity. It was about an ordinary man swaying an incredible woman to take notice of him. Perhaps they could even fall in love.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith


Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two very attractive assassins (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) decided to get married, unaware that the other worked for their agency’s rival. Five or six years into their marriage, they found out the truth and they were assigned to kill each other or else they would be the ones that would end up dead. I saw this movie back in 2005 but it was not at all what I remembered it to be. While it did have over-the-top and very in-your-face destructive action sequences, I did not expect it to have more than a handful of funny running jokes. Some of which included living in suburbia and adhering to its unstated rules, keeping their extracurricular activities a secret (or is their extracurricular activity their marriage?), the rut of being in a relationship where both are sick of trying to pretend to be normal and, most common of all, the increasing frustration on both parties when sex was taken out of the equation for quite some time. I thought the picture was at its peak in its first two-thirds when the characters were not aware of the truth and the decisions they had to face when finally found out each other’s true identities. It was painfully obvious that they weren’t going to kill each other (I thought it was hilarious that Jolie hit Pitt in the face multiple times but not vice-versa) but I had a good time picking sides regarding who would outsmart the other (I was on Jolie’s team). The two leads were very different and that’s the reason why the movie worked. Mr. Smith liked to have fun on the job and wasn’t afraid to detach from the plan and let his instincts take over. Mrs. Smith, on the hand, was very dedicated to sticking with the rules and was not willing to compromise both on and off the field. The last third was more or less a typical action picture where the protagonists tried to evade grenades, raining bullets and rocket launchers. I started to get bored but at least Pitt and Jolie looked good and it was obvious that they were having fun. As for the supporting actors like Vince Vaughn and Adam Brody, they did not bring much into the film but when they were on camera, it was a nice break from the deafening explosions and pots and pans hitting the floor. However, it would have been nice if there was some sort of twist involving those two. Written by Simon Kinberg and directed by Doug Liman, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is a very commercial action movie that everybody can watch and have a good time. With movies like this, it’s easy to try too hard and difficult to be effortless. Fortunately, with Pitt and Jolie’s charm and a great script, the film was effortless when it came to balancing action, comedy and sexiness.

Salt


Salt (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A Russian defective (Daniel Olbrychski) arrived at a CIA facility accusing of Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) of being a Russian sleeper agent whose role was to assassinate key political figures in order to spark a war between the United States and Russia. CIA officers (Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor) wanted to take precautions by detaining Salt but she attempted to break out of the facility to try to get to her husband (August Diehl) and prove her innocence. I liked that this movie actually went beyond the trailer’s question about whether or not Salt really was a mole. At times even I was unsure whether we were observing a good guy or a bad guy but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen because Jolie played her character with such gravity and conviction. Although the film did not have anything particularly new to offer the action-thriller genre involving spies and mistaken identities, its willingness to entertain by delivering high adrenaline, often nail-biting, fast-paced action sequences was enough to take the material to an above average action flick. However, its technique of constantly throwing plot points and twists was ultimately its downfall. In the middle of the picture, I wanted it to take a couple of minutes and just breathe. In the end, I was not quite sure who Salt really was other than she was really good at jumping on and off trucks and essentially an effective killer. A little bit of character development and exploring her relationship with her superiors and husband would have gone a long way. Another problem I had was its weak ending. I’m not sure if its aim was to leave the door open in hopes of starting a franchise–a femme version of the “Bourne” saga considering both are about finding out about the main character’s true identity. It did not quite work because it left me wanting more in a negative way. When the screen cut to black, I felt like I was still in the middle of an action sequence and I felt a bit cheated for its lack of falling action and resolution. Even if the filmmakers were trying to make a franchise, like “The Bourne Identity,” it should have been able to stand on its own by having a completely satisfying story arc. Written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by Phillip Noyce, “Salt” was at its best when building tension and releasing it by having Jolie’s character construct her own way out of very tricky situations. Watching it was not brain surgery but I wished it had more complexity in terms of the relationships between the characters and what it felt like to have your country turn on you when you’ve dedicated your life trying to protect it.