Monday 24 June 2019

Cinema reviews: Unbroken, Kon-Tiki, Dumb and Dumber To

Jack O’Connell, right, as US air force bomber Louie Zamperini in ‘Unbroken’
Jack O’Connell, right, as US air force bomber Louie Zamperini in ‘Unbroken’

Unbroken Cert: 12A. The Stranglers may have made a convincing case with their rocking 1970s hit that there were no more heroes any more. Going by the life-story depicted in Unbroken, Angelina Jolie's latest turn in the director's chair, they didn't look hard enough.

71's Jack O'Connell takes the central role for this portrayal of a life that doubles as a testament to the enduring indomitability of the human spirit.

A former US Olympian, Louie Zamperini was a bomber in the US Airforce when his plane crash-landed in the Pacific during World War II.

Adrift in a small life-raft in shark-infested waters, Zamperini, together with a fellow crew member, (played by Domhnall Gleeson), miraculously survived for 47 days. This experience tested the limits of human endurance but worse was soon to follow.

Captured by the Japanese navy, Zamperini was brought to a Tokyo based POW camp where he came in for especially brutal treatment from a sadistic camp commander.

He was eventually transferred to another camp that could out-Dante Dante in terms of the daily hell-realm delivered.

Somehow Zamperini survived though, understandably, he was psychologically scarred by his incarceration.

Poignant real-life footage of the steps he took to heal his trauma intensifies this remarkable film's emotional impact.

Jolie's direction is a little one-note and unexceptional but the authenticity of the story more than compensates for any slight failings.

Both memorable and harrowing, this is a true story that has the power to beggar belief.

Opens December 26th.

Kon-Tiki (No cert)

In the 1920s newlyweds Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) and Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) left their native Norway to live in Polynesia. They spent years living and studying in a largely makeshift way that was fuelled by Thor's determination and Liv's belief. They came to believe that Tiki, believed to have settled Polynesia, could not have come from Asia as had long been believed, but  from Peru, 5000 miles in the other direction. Getting anyone to accept this break from accepted belief was all but impossible and an unpublished thesis is a useless one. So, once again fuelled by belief and determination, Thor, who couldn't swim, was going to build a balsa wood raft to sail over 5000 miles in 100 days to prove his thesis correct.

His first crewman was a fridge salesman (Anders Baasmo Christianseen) his other three more experienced in the field, ethnographer Bengt (Gustav Skarsgard aka Vikings' Floki), navigator Torstein (Jakob Oftbro) and Knut (Tobias Santelmann) who would operate their only concession to their time, 1947, the radio.

Directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning deliver a gorgeous looking account of an extraordinary tale of human endeavour. The expedition was remarkably ill-prepared although arguably better prepared than the explorers they were emulating in that the Norwegians at least knew that Polynesia existed. The film focuses mostly on the dream and the determination and to an extent the toll that takes on real life, rather than the nitty gritty of water collecting and toilets. But it's a very pretty and enjoyable account of a remarkable true story.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Cert: PG)

When the first Night At the Museum film came out I had a ten year old and a five year old, target audience age who really enjoyed it, and so did we. The first sequel arrived in 2009 and this now, Secret of the Tomb, is the final film.  Larry (Ben Stiller) is still a night guard but he's in charge of the evening events too. His boss (Ricky Gervais) thinks everything coming to life is down to special effects when in fact it is all thanks to the magic of the Tablet of Akmenrah which makes everything in the museum, wax figures, skeletons and statues, come to life at night. However there's something up with the tablet, it's turning green and there are glitches that mean Larry's evening spectacular goes horribly wrong in front of an important audience.

In order to save the day Larry and his teenage son Nick (Skyler Gisondo), around whom a whose-future-is-it-anyway? sub plot revolves, head to London. They're bringing the tablet to Akmenrah's parents (Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) in the British Museum to see if they can diagnose the problem. Upon arrival they discover that the Tablet has not come alone. The stowaways include Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Akmenrah (Rami Malek), Jededihah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan) and the monkey Dexter.

It turns out the tablet needs exposure to moonlight, but, naturally, there are obstacles in the way, mostly Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) who thinks the tablet is the holy grail and runs off with it across London. Interrupting Huge Ackman on stage is one of the film's funnier to adults scenes. Although there's quite a new team behind the scenes, Shawn Levy directs for the first time, the film feels similar to its predecessors. It still has a motley crew led by Larry facing unpredictable incidents courtesy of history. The jokes aren't particularly clever but they will appeal to mid range children. It's silly and good natured and so cameo-heavy it feels like a reunion of friends. It was Mickey Rooney's last screen appearance but there is something poignant about seeing Robin Williams, especially in the context of the series finale. The film does what it sets out to do and is a worthwhile family holiday outing.

Annie (Cert: PG)

There are big names behind this remodelling of the musical Annie.  Written by Emma Thompson, Aline Brosh McKenna and Thomas Meehan, it's been produced by Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and it's directed by Will Gluck who made the rather good Friends With Benefits. The idea was to modernise the story, to make it fresh for new audiences, the first film version is thirty-two years old!

Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) was abandoned in a restaurant as a four year old and every Friday night she returns, hoping her parents will show up. Fostered with four other girls by Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), they are under no illusion that it is for anything but money, Hannigan is a bitter drunk who deeply regrets her lost musical past which includes a near miss as one of Hootie's Blowfish.

One day in the street, Annie is snatched from the jaws of death by communications magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Stacks is seeking election as mayor of NY but emotionally stunted, he cannot engage the public until his moment of heroism is put on YouTube.

Foster kid and magnate's lives are intertwined from then on, albeit for the duration of the election campaign but gutsy Annie charms everyone, first Stacks' right hand woman Grace (Rose Byrne), then all of New York. But, to a cynical campaign manager (Bobby Carnavale) Annie is just a commodity.

No amount of social media references are going to make Annie realistic. It's a fairy tale. The tunes and references are of this decade and, whilst some of the worst tweeness is excised, the story is inherently schmaltz incarnate. But just as eight year old girls loved the last film, so will they love this one. The stars are all watchable, it's occasionally sharp and funny and as long as the eight year olds love it, it's working.

Dumb and Dumber To (Cert: 15A)

You could fill skips with the amount of cinematic sacred cows Hollywood accountants have exhumed for disastrous sequels, remakes and reboots. Dumb And Dumber To is the umpteenth example of a lesson everyone refuses to learn. It stands out, however, in the thoroughness with which it flogs the jokes and mechanisms of the original, 20 years after they first worked.

Even before they open their mouths to deliver a line of the Farrelly Brothers' flabby comedy dialogue, we're already sad to see Jeff Daniels and - less so - Jim Carrey back in those silly haircuts, mugging away for cash. As Harry and Lloyd, respectively, they created millions of sore sides in the 1994 classic. Here, they come across as desperate has-beens.

Harry needs a donor kidney and soon. It turns out he had a daughter with one Fraida Felcher (hang your head in shame, Kathleen Turner) who was given up for adoption. He and Lloyd set off on a road trip across the US to track her down. Once-successful sketches are rehashed almost to the note, and fun is made of anyone not white or American. You ponder how much the world can turn in 20 years. The dross plays out for 110 chuckle-free minutes in which humour of the kind solely fit for 16-year-old stoners flounders around the place. You yearn for Daniels to run back to The Newsroom, or for Carrey to be interrupted by a phonecall from Michel Gondry, but it never comes.

Sunday Independent

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