Trial by Fire


The despair of a father or the guilt of a murderer?

(2018) True Crime Drama (Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment) Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern, Emily Meade, Jeff Perry, Jade Pettyjohn, Chris Coy, Joshua Mikel, Jason Douglas, Carlos Gómez, William Tokarsky, Wayne Pėre, Darren Pettie, Blair Bomar, Rhoda Griffis, Katie McClellan, Noah Lomax, Catherine Carlen, Michael H. Cole, Carlos Aviles, Elle Graham, McKinley Belcher III, Bryan Adrian, Mary Rachel Quinn. Directed by Edward Zwick

 

The death penalty remains a controversial subject, igniting passionate responses on both sides. Some consider it cruel and inhumane; others see it as righteous justice. Some say it is a deterrent to criminals, others point out that there’s no evidence that suggests that’s true. Some say that it at least keeps those who have committed heinous crime out of commission for good; others point to the possibilities that those who are innocent might be put to death wrongfully.

A young girl in the small Texas town of Corsicana was playing in her yard when she saw smoke billowing out of the house across the street. A shirtless man came out of the house, coughing and screaming that his kids were still in the house. The little girl’s mommy called 911 but it was all for naught – the three little girls inside the house were gone. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham (O’Connell) would eventually be charged with their murder.

On paper, it seems like a slam dunk. Willingham was a notorious local troublemaker with a violent streak who had on several occasions physically abused his wife Stacy (Meade) who was away from the house when the fire occurred. Arson investigators for the county pronounced that it was absolutely a case of arson. Willingham was given a public defender who didn’t see much point in putting up any kind of defense. He never challenged the testimony of witnesses who changed their stories on the stand, nor checked on the veracity of a convicted criminal who testified that Willingham had confessed the crime to him in jail. Willingham was quickly convicted and sentenced to death, despite his protestations of innocence and his wife’s insistence that he would never hurt his own kids.

Willingham was put on Death Row where he was taunted as a baby killer and abused by guards and fellow inmates alike. His mandatory appeals are going nowhere and he can’t afford decent representation. Then, along comes playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Dern), a kindhearted do-gooder who reluctantly contacts him through a prison outreach program. Far from the thuggish brute she expected, he seems charming, gentlemanly and kind but absolutely unwavering in his cries that he’s an innocent man about to be executed for something he didn’t do.

Gilbert becomes drawn in to his story and starts to do research into his case and what she finds is shocking. The investigation was conducted in a shoddy and haphazard fashion with no other option other than Willingham ever considered for the crime. When she engages world famous arson investigator Dr. Hurst (Perry) who states unequivocally that that the initial investigation was botched and the culprit was likely a faulty space heater, Gilbert tries to find someone in authority to listen.

This case actually happened and despite overwhelming evidence that he didn’t do what he was accused of doing, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004, more than twelve years after his daughters died in that terrible blaze. Zwick, an Oscar nominated director for Glory, puts together a searing indictment of our current justice system in which the law has become a commodity; only the very wealthy can afford good representation and that means often those who are poor are without any sort of recourse to get an adequate defense. It is the reason programs like The Innocence Project exist.

O’Connell, a fine actor who has been sort of just on the cusp of something brilliant, delivers it here with an absolutely stellar turn as Willingham. While I don’t think Zwick did O’Connell any favors by inserting imaginary one-sided conversations with his deceased oldest daughter, we get a sense of his despair, his outrage and yes his anger. The role likely won’t win him very many awards but might be the stepping stone to roles that will.

Zwick enlisted Alex Belcher to compose the music and he delivers with a haunting mood-inducing score that is absolutely unforgettable. Unfortunately, Zwick doesn’t give this film the kind of passion that he managed in Glory; I’ve read other critics describe his direction as workman-like and that is unfortunately right on the money. This is the kind of movie that should leave you with your blood boiling but oddly, it doesn’t and considering how tailor made it is to eliciting that kind of reaction, it’s almost criminal in and of itself.

Still, this is an important movie on the subject of our legal system, especially implying that then-Texas governor Rick Perry refused to even read Hurst’s report that should have exonerated Willingham, preferring that the execution go on as scheduled to preserve the reputation of the State as kick-ass against crime. This is one that got by them and quite frankly, some of those whose shameful behavior sent an innocent man to jail and execution should have had criminal charges filed against them.

REASONS TO SEE: O’Connell does a sterling job. The score is absolutely haunting. An important film on the issue of capital punishment.
REASONS TO AVOID: Should leave you with your blood boiling but it doesn’t.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some disturbing images, brief nudity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a New Yorker article written by David Grann which opined that Texas had knowingly and willfully executed an innocent man.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/19/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews: Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Man Walking
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
A Violent Separation

New Releases for the Week of May 17, 2019


JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

(Summit/Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Marc Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Asia Kate Dillon. Directed by Chad Stahelski

Wick, the world’s most ruthless hitman, has been excommunicated from the society of assassins and has a $14 million bounty on his head. There is no safe place for him anywhere as he tries to fend off a veritable legion of killers out to collect the reward.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for pervasive strong violence and some language)

A Dog’s Journey

(Universal) Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad (voice), Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott. Bailey, the loyal dog who had watched over Ethan from boyhood, makes a promise to keep an eye on Ethan’s granddaughter CJ who is being taken out of his life by his estranged daughter.

]See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic content, some peril and rude humor)

The Biggest Little Farm

(Neon) John Chester, Molly Chester, Beauden Chester, Alan York. Apricot Lane Farms is the hard work of John and Molly Chester, two farming neophytes. John – a documentary director – and Molly – a chef, food blogger and cookbook author – decide to take on the country life when their landlord asks them to get rid of their dog. This starts them on a journey in which they make a farm in the philosophy of biodiversity where all the flora and fauna work together in harmony. You can read my review of this Florida Film Festival hit by clicking on the link below under “Scheduled for Review.”

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)

De De Pyaar De

(Yash Raj) Ajay Devgan, Alok Nath Dixit, Jimmy Shergill, Rakul Preet Singh. A middle age divorced man meets a woman 26 years his junior and the two fall in love. However, they will have to contend with his ex, their children (who are his new lady love’s age) and Indian conventions about age difference.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

The Sun is Also a Star

(Warner Brothers) Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo, Jake Choi. A Jamaican-born young woman is fighting for the right to stay in the United States with the clock ticking down on her family’s deportation. On what might be their last day in New York, she meets a young Asian man who falls in love with her, despite her reluctance to commit to anything permanent. Based on the Young Person bestseller.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and language)

Trial by Fire

(Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment) Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern, Emily Meade, Jeff Perry. An uneducated heavy metal devotee with a criminal record in Texas is tried and convicted of murdering his own daughters by setting their house on fire. Despite his protestations, he’s sentenced to death. A Houston-based writer believes his story even when nobody else does and makes a heroic effort to prove his innocence in a system that doesn’t care. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, disturbing images, sexual material and brief nudity)

The White Crow

(Sony Classics) Oleg Ivenko, Adėle Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Sergei Polunin. The story of Rudolf Nureyev, the legendary Soviet ballet dancer who defected to the West in 1961 despite the best efforts of the KGB to stop him. This is directed by Fiennes.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

General Magic
Mr. Local
Red Joan
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

ABCD
Journey to a Mother’s Room
Mr. Local
Slaughterhouse Rulez

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

99
ABCD
Ayoga
Monster
Mr. Local
Slaughterhouse Rulez
This is Personal
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

ABCD
Mr. Local

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Dog’s Journey
The Biggest Little Farm
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Journey to a Mother’s Room
Red Joan
Trial by Fire

New Releases for the Week of September 1, 2017


TULIP FEVER

(Weinstein) Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Matthew Morrison, Judi Dench, Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Justin Chadwick

In 17th century Amsterdam during the height of Tulip mania when prices for bulbs were skyrocketing beyond all sense, a young artist is commissioned by a wealthy merchant to paint a portrait of his beautiful wife, whose marriage to him had been arranged. Desperate and lonely, she falls in love with the artist. Together they plot to buy their freedom – by entering the volatile tulip market and hoping the right bulb will win them the wherewithal to buy their way out of their situation.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Period Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for sexual content and nudity)

Hazlo Como Hombre

(Pantelion) Mauricio Ochmann, Alfonso Dosal, Aislinn Derbez, Humberto Busto. Three childhood friends grow into young men, chasing after women and doing all the things that young Hispanic men do…until one of them confesses that he is actually gay. The alpha male of the group and the most homophobic tries to convince his newly outed friend that it’s just a passing phase of sexual confusion but soon the situation becomes untenable and the other two must convince the alpha to put aside his prejudices and accept them at face value.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: R (for sexual content throughout)

The Layover

(Vertical) Kate Upton, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Barr, Kal Penn. In this sex farce directed by esteemed actor William H. Macy, a pair of beautiful roommates – one a high school English teacher, the other a make-up salesperson – decide to swallow their professional disappointments and party the weekend away in Florida. On the flight there they meet a hunky young guy who both girls become smitten with. A layover in St. Louis due to bad weather in Fort Lauderdale gives them each a chance to win the object of their affections into their respective beds with each escalating the competition. All’s fair, after all, in love and sex…and maybe war.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content and some drug materials)

Patti Cake$

(Fox Searchlight) Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty. An aspiring rapper in the mean streets of suburban New Jersey struggles to find her path to glory and her own particular voice in an atmosphere of haters and doubters who are always betting against her. This was one of the more acclaimed movies to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and also played the Florida Film Festival this year as well.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image)

Temple

(Screen Media) Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida, Natalia Warner, Logan Huffman. Three American tourists follow an ancient map into the uncharted forests of Japan searching for a near-mythical temple. Once they find it, they find themselves entrapped by the spirits dwelling within and they are soon in a fight for their lives against a supernatural opponent they barely comprehend.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Valley of Bones

(Smith Media) Autumn Reeser, Rhys Coiro, Steven Molony, Bill Smitrovich. A disgraced paleontologist gets a shot at redemption when a meth-addicted oil worker discovers what could be the find of the century in the North Dakota badlands. Both of them become partners on the dig but when their pasts threaten to catch up with them, find themselves as adversaries.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website (mobile version).

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for violence, language, drug use and some nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Arjun Reddy
Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
Paisa Vaasool
Shubh Mangal Savdhan
Unlocked

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
The Queen of Spain
Shubh Mangal Savdhan
Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
The Neighborhood
Unlocked
The Vault

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Baadshaho
The Neighborhood
Paisa Vaasool
Whose Streets?

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Tulip Fever
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

Money Monster


Clooney busts a move.

Clooney busts a move.

(2016) Thriller (Tri-Star) George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo, Carsey Walker Jr., Grant Rosenmeyer, Jim Warden, Joseph D. Reitman, Olivia Luccardi. Directed by Jodie Foster

The American Experience

There are a lot of ways to get a person under your thumb. Economically is usually the best method and involves the least bloodshed. However, it must be said that people can only be pushed so far before bloodshed becomes inevitable.

Lee Gates (Clooney) is a financial expert who has a popular financial advice program on a cable network. It is somewhat wild and crazy like Lee himself; Lee has a tendency, much to the exasperation of his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts), to go off the reservation. So when a flustered young delivery man, carrying a couple of packages wanders onto the set, Lee is sure it’s his crew playing a practical joke on him while Patty thinks that it’s one of Lee’s improvisations.

It’s neither. It’s Kyle Budwell (O’Connell), a working class schmoe who was crazy enough to follow Lee’s investment advice – except that advice turned out to be tragically wrong. IBIS, the software company that Kyle invested in, had seen $800 million of its assets vanish overnight and its charismatic CEO Walt Camby (West) is nowhere to be seen. He was supposed to be a guest on Lee’s program but instead they were sending Diane Lester (Balfe), a publicity flack (whom Camby is  apparently sleeping with).

Kyle has loaded guns which he demonstrates by firing into the ceiling, getting everyone’s attention. He slaps on a bomb vest that he hid in one of the packages onto Lee and proceeds to demand to talk to the absent CEO. Patty manages to clear the studio, but it seems only a matter of time before Kyle loses complete control of the situation. What neither Patty nor Lee count on is that they too would be swept up in Kyle’s saga and want to find out the answers for their own peace of mind as well.

Given the somewhat negative view most people have regarding the shenanigans on Wall Street over the past few years, this movie plays into those feelings pretty much perfectly – almost to the point of cliché. The villain of this piece is too easily spotted and becomes almost laughable. We don’t get a real sense of depth to that person; it’s just greed, greed, greed and a sense that people deserve to get their life savings defrauded from them because they don’t have the kind of fortune that the villain has. It’s a bit of a cop-out in my opinion.

That said, this is the kind of movie that is going to give you a good idea of why people are angry at Wall Street. The Lee Gates character – who is clearly modeled on Jim Cramer and the show clearly Mad Money on steroids – is a bit buffoonish and certainly a paean to poor investment strategies which is something Cramer is sometimes accused of peddling in real life. Clooney gives the character a bit more depth than we might have otherwise. Would the film have worked better if Lee was the kind of insensitive douchebag that he appears to be at the beginning of the movie? I don’t think so, but at least one critic accused the filmmakers of “star saving” Clooney (i.e. making him appear nicer than he appears to be in order to maintain his likability) which is not something Clooney has indulged in over the years.

Roberts is seen far less frequently onscreen than I would like, but continues to be every inch the star she’s been for the past *mumble, mumble* years – has it really been that long? She has deepened into more of a solid actress over the past decade, not needing to rely quite as much on the wattage of her amazing smile and the glow of her incandescent personality that over the years has made her the ultimate girl next door. Here, she’s a working stiff trying to labor for the unappreciative and has been a little bit beaten down by her star’s lack of empathy. Still, she prides herself on her professionalism and when the rubber hits the road, responds with calm and decisive leadership. This is one of those roles that is slightly subversive without being obvious about it; perhaps Foster, certainly one of the strongest women in Hollywood, has something to do with it as well. To my mind, Patty is the real hero of this piece but not many will get that.

O’Connell is best known for his role in Unbroken but to my mind finally really shows what he’s capable of going back to small but memorable roles in films like Harry Brown. His performance as Kyle shows a man beaten down to the bone by a system that chews up and spits out people like Kyle. With nothing else to lose, he demands answers from those who aren’t willing to give them and this leads him to an act of desperation – and yes, stupidity – that becomes the crux of the film’s emotional center.

Foster has been the kind of director who makes magic even when the scripts she’s given to work with don’t necessarily have a lot of it in it. There’s a good deal that’s way too familiar here but Foster works with it well and gives us a credible film despite the predictability of the plot. There’s some sly satire here about America’s penchant for greed and making money without wanting to put in the work. It is counter to our Puritan heritage in which hard work is valued and indeed, rewarded. In this modern era, we seem to be more inclined to value cutting corners – and rewarding those who do inordinately. And maybe that’s at the center of why Main Street is so pissed off at Wall Street. Perhaps some of the captains of industry need to be reminded of those ethics that made this country great in the first place.

REASONS TO GO: Foster is a masterful director. Clooney and Roberts are always eye-catching. Dials in to the anger that a lot of people are feeling about Wall Street.
REASONS TO STAY: Pretty cliché storyline. The villain of the piece is a little too obvious.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of profanity, some sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Clooney and Roberts have appeared in a film together.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/4/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Big Short
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Conjuring 2

New Releases for the Week of March 27, 2015


HomeHOME

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Jones, Brian Stepanek, April Lawrence. Directed by Tim Johnson

The Earth has been overrun by an alien race called the Boov who are looking for a new home and have begun relocating humans because they want OURS. Only a plucky young girl, her cat and a banished member of the Boov who destroys everything he comes in contact with are all that stand between us and losing out home. Guess we’d all better start packing our bags.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action and some rude humor)

’71

(Roadside Attractions) Jack O’Connell, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Sam Reid. During the troubles in Northern Ireland in 1971, a young British soldier is inadvertently left behind in the streets of Belfast during a particularly tense riot. He must find a way to survive in hostile territory while making his way back to his unit, but the IRA want him dead and will take extraordinary measures to make it happen.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout)

Get Hard

(Warner Brothers) Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie. An arrogant hedge fund manager is caught committing fraud and convicted of the crime. Sentenced to do hard time in San Quentin, he turns to the only African-American he knows – who happens to be as law-abiding a citizen as you’re likely to find – to get him ready to survive in prison.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug material)

It Follows

(Radius) Keir Gilchrist, Maika Monroe, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary. When a young high school girl engages in a seemingly normal sexual encounter, her life is changed. She begins having disturbing visions and feels that she is being watched and stalked. As she realizes that something horrible is after her and her friends, she must find a way to get the entity that is approaching her out of her life for good.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language)

Wild Tales

(Sony Classics) Ricardo Darin, Rita Cortese, Nancy Duplaa, Oscar Martinez. Seven tales of ordinary life spiraling out of control and the revenge that is taken by those involved. This was Spain’s official entry into the 2015 Oscar Foreign Language Film category and it ended up on the short list.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for violence, language and brief sexuality)

Unbroken


I've got some good news and some bad news...

I’ve got some good news and some bad news…

(2014) True Life Drama (Universal) Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Takamasa Ishihara, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Maddalena Ischiale, Vincenzo Amato, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Louis McIntosh, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valleroy, John D’Leo, Alex Russell, Jordan Patrick Smith, Spencer Lofranco, Stephen J. Douglas, Morgan Griffin. Directed by Angelina Jolie

Live doesn’t treat us all the same way. Some people it throws greater challenges to than others. While we often think of the things life hurls at ourselves personally as things that are enormous obstacles at least to us, there are people who, when we see what life has thrown at them we can all agree they had a really rough time of it.

Louis Zamperini (O’Connell) was a bombardier in the Pacific theater during World War II. Before that, he had been something of a hooligan as a child (Valleroy), picked on for his Italian heritage but convinced by his brother Pete (D’Leo) to try out for the track team. Louis is a strong runner and eventually makes the U.S. Olympic team and has the highest finish of any American in the 5,000 meter at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He’s expected to medal in 1940, but by then the world was otherwise occupied.

While out on a search and rescue mission, the plane he’s on basically falls apart, three of the four engines fail and the pilot is forced to ditch the plane into the Pacific. Three crewmen survive the crash – Pete (Gleeson), Mac (Wittrock) and Louis. The men are adrift for 47 days and are eventually picked up. Unfortunately, they are picked up by the Japanese navy.

Taken as prisoners of war, the men are separated and Louis is sent to a camp where the vicious Corporal Watanabe (Ishihari) is in charge. A petulant man used to wealth and privilege, he is seething that he couldn’t get an officer’s position and is instead relegated to duty he considers beneath him. He takes it out on Louis, an Olympic athlete who is already far more successful in his life than Watanabe, whom the prisoners have nicknamed the Bird, has been. Louis is often singled out for savage beatings and cruel punishments. What he endures is far more than most of us would be physically able to and survive, but Louis isn’t like most of us.

Jolie had been taken by the bestselling book based on Louis’ experiences and had been amazed to find out that Zamperini’s home was in sight of her own Southern California abode. The two became friends and Jolie was determined to make this movie about his life. Unfortunately, the real Zamperini passed away in 2014 well before the film was released, although he did live long enough to see a rough cut of the film in the hospital shortly before he passed away.

Jolie has a good eye as a director and her first film in that capacity, In the Land of Milk and Honey was an encouraging debut. There were some decisions here that she made that I don’t think worked in the film. For example, the first sequence in the movie is Louis and his crew on a bombing run. The scene highlights Jolie’s strengths as a director, keeping the camera inside the plane for the most part, giving us an idea of what it’s like to be in a tin tube being shot at while trying to complete a precision bombing run. The scene is very compelling and tense and yet Jolie chooses that moment to break away and do a flashback of Louis’ boyhood shenanigans. That’s all well and good but what she wound up doing was undercutting the audience’s connection to the scene. She would have been better served in this case to tell the story in a more linear fashion and skip the flashbacks but in her defense, flashbacks have become a much more common element in films over the past few years. Some films shouldn’t have them.

O’Connell has to carry the film and he does a credible job. He shows a great deal of potential (and has already gotten a couple of high-profile roles in upcoming movies largely due to his performance here) and while he didn’t knock it out of the park completely, he did get a solid base hit and I don’t doubt there are some good things to come from this young English actor.

The mostly-male supporting cast has some good young talent, including Gleeson, Wittrock and Garrett Hedlund as a sympathetic American officer in the P.O.W. camp. A lot of focus will be on Ishihara as Watanabe; the baby-faced young actor brings out the monster in Watanabe, giving him three dimensions when the tendency would be to make him less human. Making him more human really makes him more of a monster, in my opinion.

This has to be one of the bigger disappointments of 2014. I was really looking forward to this film and thought it might well be an Oscar contender, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. A lot of people hated on this movie which was why we got to this movie so late in the season, but it was a lot better than I’d heard it was, but still not as good as I’d hoped it would be. Zamperini was an extraordinary man and definitely deserved to have his story told. I just wish that the movie based on his life could have been a bit better.

REASONS TO GO: O’Connell does a fine job. Zamperini was an amazing gentleman deserving of a cinematic biography.
REASONS TO STAY: The flashbacks aren’t as organic as they should have been. Too many platitudes.
FAMILY VALUES: War violence including scenes of intense brutality in the POW camp along with some brief rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ishihari is actually the Japanese pop star Miyavi but his iMDB credits list him under his given name. He actually had a very difficult time with some of the cruelties he had to perform and actually vomited on-set during one scene. The real Watanabe was unrepentant about his actions in a 1998 interview on the occasion of the Olympic torch run depicted in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Railway Man
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Blackthorn

New Releases for the Week of December 26, 2014


Into the WoodsINTO THE WOODS

(Disney) Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard. Directed by Rob Marshall

In a kingdom of myth and legend, there lies a village on the edge of the woods where a baker and his wife live. They want nothing more than to have a child, but they have been unsuccessful so far. In rolls a witch who tells them that they’ve been cursed, but tells them in order to reverse the curse they need to gather a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, slippers that glitter like gold and a cape as red as blood. Into the woods they go to find these things and there they’ll find Cinderella, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, Jack (and his beanstalk), Red Riding Hood and assorted giants, wicked stepmothers and princes. But in the woods, nothing ever goes the way it’s supposed to and the woods are indeed a dangerous place. From the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and the director of Chicago.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material)

Big Eyes

(Weinstein) Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston. Walter Keane was one of the most successful painters of the 1950s and early 60s. His figures, with oversized eyes and waif-like expressions became a cottage industry to themselves. The trouble is, that he didn’t pain any of them. Not a one. His wife Margaret did.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief strong language)

Force Majeure

(Magnolia) Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren. While on a family ski vacation in the Alps, a family enjoying lunch on the terrace dining room of the resort they are staying at witness an avalanche bearing down on them. As people scatter and his wife and children panic, a family patriarch will make a decision that will shake his marriage to the core and leave him struggling to regain his role in the family as well as a man.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some language and brief nudity)

Foxcatcher

(Sony Classics) Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller. The eccentric heir to an enormous fortune decides to spend some of his wealth on creating an Olympic training camp for wrestlers. Inviting a gold medal winner and his brother to the family estate where he has created that state-of-the-art camp, the increasing paranoia of the would-be coach and the unhealthy lifestyle that he has led his charges into leads to an incident that nobody expected. Carell is said to be a front runner for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance here.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some drug use and a scene of violence)

The Gambler

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson. An English professor who loves to take risks and has become a high-stakes gambler on the side. Owing money to Asian and African-American gangsters and a violent loan shark who warns him of the hole he’s digging in, his budding relationship with a student may end up being more collateral than he’s willing to pay. A remake of the 1974 James Caan drama.

See the trailer and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: R (for language throughout and for some sexuality/nudity)

The Imitation Game

(Weinstein) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance. Alan Turing was one of the great mathematicians of his day. His work helped break the Enigma code which was thought to be unbreakable; it helped win World War II for the allies. However, the road to breaking that code was perilous and torturous and Turing was hiding a secret that if it came out might have derailed his work altogether.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking)

Unbroken

(Universal) Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock. Louis Zamperini started out as a kid who constantly was getting into trouble with other kids and the law. However, the big brother he looked up to steered him towards track and field, enabling him to become an Olympic champion. After enlisting to fight in the Second World War, his plane was shot down in the ocean and he and a fellow airman endured 47 days adrift in the Pacific before being picked up by a Japanese warship and being sent to a brutal prisoner of war camp where he underwent intense physical and mental torture. His courage and will to survive remain as inspiring now as they were back them.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, featurettes, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language)