Review: The Mummy

I bet there was a time or two in your life when you and your family made an excursion to your local museum, paid the price of admission to get in, passed through the Ancient Egypt exhibit and saw an actual mummy in a sarcophagus encased in an airtight encasing. I’m also willing to wager, that while you were gawking at the decomposing dead person and his/her fancy-schmancy coffin, you were probably thinking “wow. A dead person. What fun!” in the most sarcastic manner while you were on looking.

This reboot of The Mummy is as exciting as looking at a mummy, in its coffin, gathering dust, in a glass case at a museum. Director Alex Kurtzman takes audiences on an expedition across three countries in the span of thousands of years centering on two individuals from different eras bound together by a sinister plot to bring the ultimate evil on Earth.

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, the unsuspected and unfortunate fool who unearthed Princess Ahmenet, played by Sofia Boutella, a disgraced Egyptian princess who was eager to get into bed with the god of death in order to assume the mantle of Pharaoh in her time but she was stopped before her designs were set into motion. When Ahmenet is freed, she binds Morton to her with a curse in order for him to do her bidding and complete her plans.

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Image by Universal Pictures

If this movie were made maybe 30 years ago, it may have had a higher impact on audiences but this new mummy is so old-fashioned its practically dead on arrival, emphasis on dead!

Writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman did their hardest to incorporate some old-fashioned monster movie nostalgia in a modern-day setting to jumpstart what Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll calls “A new world of gods and monsters” but with the clich├ęs, flimsy characters, ridiculous plot holes and straining story, this “new world” in this “Dark Universe” looks very bleak.

I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Cruise as it is, but he certainly didn’t do any favors himself in this movie. He’s a reputable action star but he just doesn’t excite me as a leading man and his character is just so poorly constituted as well.

Some players never really had a chance to flex their chops in this movie themselves such as Courtney B. Vance, while others were left at the mercy of bad writing and execution like Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Marwan Kenzari. The only actor who actually held interest for me while watching this flop was Boutella.

Ben Seresin’s cinematography was mediocre, the editing of Paul and Gina Hirsch and Andrew Mondshein was all over the place, Bryan Tyler’s score was unspectacular, the visual effects were so cheesy, it hindered whatever appeal this film had going for it, I didn’t mind the production design courtesy of Jon Hutman and Dominic Waktins, and I especially liked the make-up applied to Boutella’s character.

To say that I was unimpressed by this film is an understatement. The Mummy was better off in its sarcophagus and left beneath the sands.

Review: Unbroken

Director Angelina Jolie brings the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini to the big screen in Unbroken

They simply don’t make men like Louis Zamperini anymore. He survived being the youngest child in an immigrant Italian family, he survived to become a remarkable Olympic athlete, he survived WWII, being adrift at sea for nearly a month and two Japanese POW camps under the supervision of a sadistic commanding officer.

His story has been adapted into a major motion picture directed by Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie, in her feature length directorial debut, and written by the Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book. Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini the soldier, the survivor, enduring the hardships and against-all-odds circumstances that led him from being the Olympic track star who made history in Germany to the plane-crash survivor adrift with his brothers-in-battle Phil, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and Mac, played by Finn Wittrock, for more than a month, to internment in a Tokyo POW camp under the cruel watch of a man called The Bird, played by Takamasa Ishihara.

They simply don’t make men like Louis Zamperini, however Unbroken takes certain cues from films about survival recently released and though it is a rather familiar film, it has its certain strengths to warrant itself as commendable.

For Jolie’s first try at directing a major picture, she did a decent job at conveying how strong Zamperini was in mind, spirit, body and conviction and she did this well in collaborating with cinematographer Roger Deakins, the editing team of William Goldenberg and Tim Squyres, Jon Hutman’s production design, the art direction of Charlie Revai, Bill Booth and Jacinta Leong, the make-up design team and costume department; this film carried itself on the ambition to be as authentic as possible in service to Zamperini’s legacy and memory.

The cast of the film are certainly not superstars but they are convincing. O’Connell is the star, the leading man and character who spurs the film along and he has a good leading man opposite in Ishihara, the supporting cast including Gleeson, Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, John D’Leo, Alex Russell, C.J. Valleroy are all given relatively limited time on camera but they are marginally convincing to say the least.

Where Unbroken falls short is its familiarity to other recent films about survival against-all-odds and tremendous adversity in trying to get back home and never giving up. It is quite generic in terms of tone and theme.

For instance, take the lost at sea portion of the film. While Zamperini, Phil and Mac are adrift in the Pacific in the two lifeboats after surviving the plane crash and are at the mercy of sharks and tidal waves and resorting to eating birds, fish and sharks, there wasn’t a moment where my mind went to Life of Pi and how that character tried to make ends meet with the boatmate that was the Bengal tiger. I thought that one could easily detect the stylistic and narrative similarities between this film and the Oscar winning feature from two years ago.

Then we get to the POW portion of the film, there is a serious 12 Years a Slave vibe going on. Zamperini is a Solomon Northrup substitute and the Bird is the new Edwin Epps and there is a scene in the film that plays eerily similar to a scene in the Oscar winning feature where both pairs of characters have this tense and creepy moment that reads as a ceasefire, meaning there is no brutality on display on the surface but the incarcerated character has to skate on eggshells to avoid setting off a powder-keg of cruelty. I’m not really familiar with the concept of torture-porn, but that is a term that was used to describe 12 Years a Slave and I believe that term is appropriate for Jolie’s film; I’m not sure if Jolie is into that personally but I found it appropriate to surmise this film. O’Connell’s character takes a beating…constantly.

Jack O’Connell would make Louis Zamperini proud in his portrayal in Unbroken

The movie culminates in this grand moment, where he has to lift a beam over his head after enduring back-breaking physical labor in order to avoid being shot. Zamperini stares at the Bird, finds the motivation to lift the beam even if he is out of steam, screams his head off, gives his fellow POWs hope, if anyone is reading this review, they should know the scene in question that I’m talking about. It projects itself as this scene of, I guess I would call it revenge where he lives this motto given to him by his brother, “If I can take it, I can make it,” telling the Bird, I can take your crap any day of the week; somehow, I went back to 127 Hours, where Aaron Rolston had to sever his arm in order to escape his situation. A classic “don’t give up” moment, that is satisfying enough to say the least and it works to bring the film together.

It is unclear whether or not Jolie wanted to draw inspiration from other notable and recent survival stories on film or sheer happenstance in attempting to be as faithful to Zamperini’s story as possible. I doubt that she wants this film to be like other films of this quality and caliber, but perhaps she is striving for the same recognition these movies have received.

For those who survive a screening of Unbroken, they will witness a story about how a man went through hell and back and made it home whole. They will witness an imperfectly crafted and familiar motion picture that is worth appreciating and has a nice message for the holidays.

I believe this movie is the right movie to end this blog on 2014. Like most of the film released this year, it isn’t perfect, it tries to live up to the standards of movies past, it doesn’t but it’s enjoyable. I didn’t love it, but I liked it enough.