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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Imitation Game

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Another genius film

Oscar season is prime time for movies about tortured geniuses. Earlier, this season, we had The Theory of Everything featuring the life story of Stephen Hawking; both are likely to move on to award nominations.

In The Imitation Game, we have Benedict Cumberbatch as World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who is tasked with breaking the Germans' code while hiding his sexuality from 1950s British law.

It’s an amazing story. And it plays out nicely as a thriller.

Sherlock’s Cumberbatch is a natural in this savant role and Kiera Knightley is in fine form as his intellectual (and maybe too modern for this film) sidekick. Their chemistry is strong and it propels the film.

Simply put: This season’s best WWII film, and a highly-watchable thriller.

Award potential: Expect about seven nominations for this deserving film ranging from Best Picture, Actor and Actress to Best Score.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Monday, December 29, 2014


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An unbelievable life, underutilized.

Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best seller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, tells the amazing story of Olympian Louis Zamperini who survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII-only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. It’s one of the most amazing stories of the past Century.

The film was directed by Angeline Jolie, written by screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen, edited by William Goldenberg and scored by the great Alexandre Desplat. Sounds like the best movie of the year, right?

It’s a good film. But amazingly it’s not great. Fans of the book won’t be disappointed by the film’s scale or the dazzling air fight sequences; nor will they be upset by the faithful-to-the-book storytelling. But the endurance story seems to plod away at milestones without much feeling.

Some of the blame goes to the likeable but blank-faced Jack O’Connell who plays “Louie.” In his quiet moments (lots of them), I never knew what he was thinking about despite having read the biography.

More of the blame goes to an anticlimactic ending that skipped the redemptive moments, the biggest heart of Zamperini’s biography. Unbroken simply tosses them out with text at the end.

The rest of the blame goes to the choice to tell a broad story about a big life by leaving out the small details that connect to why that life mattered to future generations. Darn.

Simply put: Unbroken is good but not great. You will enjoy it, but it should have been excellent. Bridge Over River Kwai remains our best POW picture.

Award potential: I think the Oscars will like Unbroken more than The Golden Globes and myself. Best Picture is possible. Jolie for Best Director would be a nod to women directors everywhere. Miyavi (the Bird) is a distance but deserving choice for Best Supporting Actor. Best Screenplay is likely but the Coens share that category with the original writers. There was an editor before Goldenberg as well. Best Costume, Production, Sound and Sound Mixing seem likely. Best Score is the solid bet.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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There’s precious little time for our characters in this action packed finale

The original title of this third installment in the Hobbit series was The Hobbit: There and Back Again. I assumed that Warner Brothers altered the original title because it’s a dangerous one for a movie that is bordering on been-there-done-that familiarity. Turns out, The Battle of the Five Armies  is the more fitting title for a movie that is just about five armies fighting. Seriously, there’s very little time for anything else.

The battle is worth your time; the action scenes are the best in the whole series. But a lot of magic was lost.

It still tops in scope, fantasy storytelling and big-canvas beauty. Yet somehow you can’t quite forget that The Hobbit films never matched up to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Perhaps no series could.

What separated them at the beginning, and had such potential for this series, was the miniature-sized sweetness and heart of the main characters. Martin Freeman brings more to his hobbit than Elijah Wood did and I developed more fondness for this series' merry band of characters. There wasn’t much of that stuff in the third installment (and there is way too little screen time for Bilbo Baggins), but when tragedy threatens these characters we loved, it is all the more compelling for it.

Amazingly from fantasy master Peter Jackson, the final moments fall very flat and threaten to make to make the whole Tolkien series feel quite pointless. I’ll ignore that disappointing end because I sure did enjoy the ride.

Simply put: A middling Middle Earth installment; go for the action. This one is only a two hours and 24 minutes investment.

Award potential: Even a few technical award nominations would be a surprise. It’s not even on the short list for makeup. The Oscars have moved on.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks. This battle-centric film is worth the 3D hassle.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Golden Globes - who gets a nomination (or two) tomorrow?

The Golden Globes are voted on The Hollywood Foreign press, which is 90 foreign journalists who choose to live in Southern California — so who knows what they think. Since Boyhood told me that “life doesn’t give you bumpers,” I’m gonna try to predict their (often wild) picks anyway. Last year I was 87.5% correct.

Picture (Drama)
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Spoiler: Whiplash

Picture (Musical or Comedy)
Begin Again
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
St. Vincent
Spoiler: Top Five

Actor (Drama)
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Spoiler: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

Actor (Comedy or Musical)
Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent

Spoiler: Chris Rock, Top Five or Mark Ruffalo, Begin Again

Actress (Drama)
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Spoiler: Jennifer Anniston, Cake, Hillary Swank, The Homesman or Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Actress (Comedy or Musical)
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into The Woods
Angeline Jolie, Maleficent
Helen Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Spoiler: Keira Knightley, Begin Again

Supporting Actor
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Miyavi, Unbroken
Ed Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Spoiler: Robert Duvall, The Judge

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, Interstellar or A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Spoiler: Laura Dern, Wild

Ava DuVErnay, Selma
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Angeline Jolie, Unbroken
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Spoiler: Clint Eastwood, American Sniper

The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Spoiler: Unbroken

Animated Feature
The Lego Movie
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
Song of the Sea
Spoiler: The Book of Life


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The clash of brute and blue blood is an interesting one, but this is not a Carell comedy.

Foxcatcher is a new film from Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller, who directed one of the best sports films of all time (Moneyball). Foxcatcher tells the story of brothers and Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestlers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their encounter with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell).

The clash of brute and blue blood is an interesting one, but this is not a Carell comedy. In fact, this is a very dark film. The pacing is slow and downright creepy.

The performances by all three leads are a knockout. The story is intriguing but fails with some of the motivations, so I’d give that part a win by default.

Simply put: Dark sports bio with arresting performances 

Award potential: Carell and Ruffalo will be nominated. Carell’s character is not lovable enough to win over Redmayne or Keaton. Potential for Best Film and Original Screenplay nominations too, but this is a “performance film,” not a director/producer one.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Theory of everything

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It’s more about relationships than relativity.

Surprise! The biopic of one of the most brilliant people in the history of the planet is less about Stephen Hawking's discoveries and the theory of relativity and more about the relationships with the people in his life.

Fellow physicists proclaim, “It’s brilliant,” or clap to explain to the audience that what he did just mattered. It’s an odd cop-out for a film about a man who had skills at explaining amazing concepts to average folks. This month’s Interstellar pulled that off a little better.

But I loved the non-formulatic relationship story. After seeing the film, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the film was based on wife Jane Hawking’s memoir. The tone and mood is clearly the ex-spouses’ story.

This film is full of Hollywood magic and it is one of the best films of 2014.

Simply put: A brainy bio about a refreshingly plausible but complicated relationship.

Award potential: Oscar bait. Eddie Redmayne is likely to go all the way to a win for Best Actor; I forgot he was pulling off an effortless transformation without playing up those contortions. I have no idea how he did that. Felicity Jones is a likely nominee as well. Expect 4-6 nominations between Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Johann Johansson’s Score and maybe Cinematography.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.