Movie Reviews 

The Imitation Game

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Imitation Game
  • IMDb: link

The Imitation GameCode breaking is an art as much as a science and never was it needed, or more artfully accomplished, than by the British during World War II. Set during the middle of Second World War, The Imitation Game follows an unlikely group of scholars, mathematicians, linguists, chess champions, and intelligence officers who were thrown together with the singular goal of breaking Germany’s unbreakable code known as Enigma. Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who might have been the biggest hero of the war if every advancement he made in cryptology (including the creation of the first computer) hadn’t been state secrets until well after his death.

Based on the novel by Andrew Hodges and adapted by Graham Moore, the film is anchored by Benedict Cumberbatch who lends a vulnerability to the abrasiveness of Turing whose own co-workers often struggled to get along with. In one of her most understated roles Keira Knightley stars as Joan Clarke, the lone female member of the team to break Engima, even if she had to officially work as a secretary in order to do so.

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Unbroken

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Unbroken
  • IMDb: link

UnbrokenMash-up The Bridge on the River Kwai and Rescue Dawn, while oversimplifying it for mainstream audiences, and you’ve got something that looks quite a bit like Angelina Jolie‘s directorial debut. Unbroken isn’t a bad film, but unwilling to color outside the lines Jolie takes a remarkable story and offers us a paint-by-number hero tale that only marginally entertains while struggling to celebrate a man’s inspirational journey as a prisoner of war during World War II.

After clips showing us what a punk kid he was before falling in love with track and field, the film centers around the war experience of former Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) whose Olympic moments and life following WWII are glossed over and ignored. Instead the screenplay by the Coen Brothers (in the most un-Coen Bros. script you’ve ever seen), Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson is a somewhat unfocused look at Louis’ life in war spending an inordinate amount of time focused on the weeks he was lost at sea before skipping ahead to offer highlights of his P.O.W. experience which by on-screen time you may mistakenly feel were of near equal length (rather than weeks on the raft versus the years spent in the camps).

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Into the Woods

by Alan Rapp on December 24, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Into the Woods
  • IMDb: link

Into the WoodsBased on the stage musical of the same name by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods offers a fairy tale adventure featuring a host of well-known characters whose stories all begin to intertwine over three days in the mysterious woods filling the space between their various homes. The story begins when the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) learn their inability to have children was caused by a curse put on his family by an evil Witch (Meryl Streep). The Witch, however, offers the couple a way to break the curse if they can gather an odd assortment of items before the blue moon in three days time. And that, as you might expect, is where the other characters come in.

To gather the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold the Baker and his wife will come into contact with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracey Ullman), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and a pair of princes seeking true love (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen).

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  • Title: Wild
  • IMDb: link

WildBased on Cheryl Strayed‘s real-life experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as the troubled new divorcee with no real hiking experience who latches onto the unlikely project of a 1,100-mile solo-hike as a means to deal with the mistakes of her past.

Adapted for film by Nick Hornby, Cheryl’s self-driven journey is inter-cut with scenes from her childhood and young adulthood involving her mother (Laura Dern), her promiscuity and drug use, and her relationship with her former husband (The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski).

Director Jean-Marc Vallée offers an interesting character study of a flawed woman’s attempt to achieve a moment of greatness. Dreadfully slow in parts, and often lingering too long on some of its flashback sequences, Wild succeeds as a character-driven drama even if it all feels a bit by-the-book (so to speak). Similar in themes to Into the Wild, Strayed’s story speaks to a rebirth of sorts through nature although without a look forward as to whether or not the transformative journey actually led to lasting change.

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The Hobbit: Thank God It’s Finally Over

by Alan Rapp on December 17, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • IMDB: link

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesPeter Jackson returns to give us the third (and thankfully final) installment of his bloated adaptation of a 300-page children’s book. As with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the best things about the final entry to the franchise are Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Benedict Cumberbatch providing the voice of Smaug. However, Smaug’s story ends fairly quickly (despite what the movie posters would have you believe he’s on-screen for all of 20 minutes) and the series by this point is so packed with characters (five separate armies worth) Lilly gets far-less screentime than you’d want from the movie’s most interesting character.

Since the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers Jackson’s adaptations of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien have been a series of diminishing returns with a few bright spots (such as Smaug) that are increasingly obscured by the same CGI ogre action scenes and small character moments all of which have been done better in the previous films. And the stories aren’t easily wrapped up as Jackson continues his plodding pacing to fill yet another two-and-a-half-hour film. I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I’ve liked moments from the three separate Hobbit films, but oh my God am I thankful it’s finally over.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

by Alan Rapp on December 12, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • IMDb: link

Exodus: Gods and KingsThe tale of Moses is hardly new ground for Hollywood. Director Ridley Scott‘s version of the story is a mishmash of disaster porn and drama casting a mostly pale-white cast in the role of Egyptians and their Jewish slaves which, when not not off-putting, is occasionally unintentionally hilarious such as Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton (reminding me of crazy Marlon Brando from The Island of Dr. Moreau) as Egyptian royalty.

Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t a bad film per se. It’s competently handled and I actually think it’s more successful than last year’s similar biblical big-screen epic Noah, but it fails to add anything new to the story to justify it’s $140,000,00 cost. The effects are effective but not memorable. And the addition of 3D adds a dimension but is far from enveloping.

The film’s most bizarre choice, which may create a backlash within its desired audience, is the decision to cast God in the role of a petulant and impatient child (Isaac Andrews) who forces Moses onto a path and then throws a tantrum when his prophet fails to move quickly enough.

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St. Vincent

by Alan Rapp on December 6, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: St. Vincent
  • IMDb: link

St. VincentSt. Vincent is a perfectly fine (if all-too-familiar) by-the-numbers dramedy about a grumpy old man’s relationship with a nice kid who, to absolutely no one’s surprise, will show his new friend isn’t as bad as everyone believes him to be. Comparable to last year’s Bad Words, it lacks the dark wit of Bad Santa or the soundtrack and amusing race sequences of Six Pack, and is far less moving than Up, but writer/director Theodore Melfi‘s film does allow space for Murray’s talent to flourish and finds a way to use Melissa McCarthy in a way which reminds us she is capable of acting when not stuck in crappy films such as Tammy, Identity Thief, or The Heat.

The premise is relatively simple, Murray stars as a grumpy bastard with a pregnant hooker girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and general disdain for nearly every other living person. Desperately needing money, Vincent (Murray) agrees to babysit his new neighbor’s (McCarthy) son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school. From there Vincent shares with the kid useful, but mostly inappropriate, knowledge that eventually raises the ire of Oliver’s mother and threatens her custody case with her ex-husband.

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The Homesman

by Alan Rapp on December 5, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Homesman
  • IMDb: link

The HomesmanProduced, directed, and adapted from Glendon Swarthout‘s novel by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is an odd little pet project with good intentions which eventually gets away from its creator.

Set in the mid 19th Century, Hilary Swank stars as tough-as-nails 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy who would gladly trade a portion of her thriving Nebraska farm for the love of a man. Despite the danger, Cuddy agrees to take three local women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) all driven insane by harsh western life back east and deliver them to a preacher who will reunite each with their families. Her time with the woman brings to the surface Cuddy’s own internal struggle to achieve the kind of life expected of her complete with husband and children.

As a companion she selects a surly claim jumper named George Briggs (Jones) who she saves from the noose and agrees to pay $300 dollars at the completion of their journey. Despite being the best thing about the film, Swank’s character is eventually overshadowed by Briggs whose madness and antics eventually take over the film.

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The Theory of Everything

by Alan Rapp on December 4, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Theory of Everything
  • IMDb: link

The Theory of EverythingTheoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is undeniably one of the brightest minds of our time, a fact that The Theory of Everything struggles to prove while being far more interested in the man’s personal life than his professional breakthroughs. The result is a strong romantic drama between Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) that is far less insightful of the man’s work.

Dumbing down Hawking’s theories for the audience, the script by Anthony McCarten based on Jane Hawking‘s book spoon-feeds us extremely basic doses of Hawkings theories without ever examining the work that went into studying or proving them. Instead the ideas seem to come from nowhere, take little effort to prove, and are instantly lauded. Does that sound like the cut-throat world of academia to you?

More concerned with showcasing the effects and unique challenges presented to Stephen and Jane after his diagnosis of motor neuron disease, The Theory of Everything succeeds far better here getting the most of its stars (even if the film, intentionally or not, turns Jane into a martyr).

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  • Title: Birdman
  • IMDb: link

BirdmanWriter/director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s tale of a washed-up celebrity’s last chance to reclaim his career is a bizarre look at the life of a man who may, or may not, have super-human abilities who has bet his entire career on a Broadway production that is in continual struggle as opening night looms.

Making good use of Michael Keaton‘s role of Batman back in the early 1990s, Iñárritu casts the actor as Riggan Thomson best known for his role as a super-hero film series star who no one inside the industry takes seriously. Riggan is haunted by his former alter-ego Birdman who continues whispering to him in a gruff Batman tone voicing displeasure about the current state of the star’s life. In a script that ebbs and flows (and often gives us too many first-person walking shots down halls where nothing happens), Keaton keeps Birdman on track delivering his best performance since donning his own tights.

The rest of the cast and crew of the production fall into unremarkable (workmen, staff, etc.) or hopelessly neurotic (Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough) and egomaniacs (Edward Norton).

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