Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch, the thinking person’s sex symbol, adds another great performance to a canon that includes his remarkable Sherlock Holmes, by inhabiting the life of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who helped usher in the computer age by breaking the German Enigma Code, thereby helping the Allies bring WWII to a faster conclusion. Count on another Oscar nomination for Cumberbatch for Best actor. Turing was gay, a crime in Great Britain until 1967, and director Morten Tyldum, handles that aspect of the story with a delicate touch until a heartbreaking final few scenes involving his prosecution by the country he secretly helped save. A great British cast, including Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance and especially Keira Knightley, who gives her strongest performance to date, give the drama it’s heft.
My GPA: 4.0
Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” finally hit the big screen on Christmas Day, some 27 years after it hit the Broadway Stage. I’m guessing the wait will seem worth it for fans of the musical. Rob Marshall, who had such a smash with his Oscar winning “Chicago”, directs an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt, and does his best to wrangle the terrific special effects that such a jumble of Fairy Tales requires. All the regulars are here: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, with the addition of new characters, the Baker and his Wife, but “Into the Woods” has a very un-Disney like, dark underbelly. What begins as a childhood collection of tales becomes a more complicated collection of adult themes including innuendo, infidelity and death. Nonetheless, the intricate music and words of Sondheim brings the character’s stories to life and the actors all excel as singers: special kudos should go to Anna Kendrick, Meryl, and Emily Blunt for their singing skills. Meryl Streep deserves the many Best Supporting Actress nominations she’s sure to get with her portrayal of a very nasty witch who still can generate a touch of sympathy. There are some plot developments with Emily Blunt’s barren Baker’s Wife that proved problematic for me, but I’m thinking that’s the sort of thing that created such a delay for a Cinematic Greenlight, but I’d say overall the wait was indeed worth it.
My GPA: 3.5
I’m very surprised at the lack of Buzz for Angelina Jolie’s film ” Unbroken”, based on the amazing WWII survival story of Louis Zamperini, as told in the best selling book by Laura Hillenbrand. Ethan and Joel Coen deliver a memorable screenplay and Jolie does a terrific job of capturing the trials of being lost at sea for weeks, and the horrors of life in a Japanese POW camp, with the sadistic commander who singles out, past Olympian athlete, Zamperini for especially brutal treatment. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who shot so many great films for the Coen Brothers, does a brilliant job of realistically etching each scene. Jack O’Connell is amazing as the scrappy Zamperini, going so far as to shrivel under the harsh conditions with a frightening weight loss, ala Matthew McConaughey. His performance deserves some attention in this award season. The built-in audience of Hillenbrand’s book should make this a Happy Holiday for the film and I think word of mouth will take over from there.
My GPA: 3.8
Mark Wahlberg and director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) have crafted a remake of the 1974 James Caan movie of the same title, which will thrill lovers of intense dialogue full of literary imagery, in other words, English Majors. Wahlberg plays a semi-successful novelist/college English professor. The Boston actor works hard to keep his native Bostonese (SNL meme:” Say hi to your Mutha”), from creeping in to his great college English Class lectures. His character, James Bennett, also happens to be a seemingly incurable gambler who is in such a hole with the loan sharks that he appears to be suicidal. Bennett has 7 days to repay several unsavory characters, including John Goodman, who always holds your attention with a series of gritty monologues, and “Boardwalk Empire’s” Chalkey, Michael K. Williams as the most dangerous of the street lenders. The fact that Bennett comes from a very wealthy family with an icy matriarch (Jessica Lange as the deliciously distant mother) does not appear to give Wahlberg’s Bennett any hope of escaping his fate. The talented Brie Larson (“Short Term 12”) plays his most promising student and potential savior, but it all comes down to the final 7th day before we learn his fate. The film has great acting, a very cool soundtrack, and some nice cinematography, but it won’t be for everyone: action fans may find it too talky but “The Professional Organization of English Majors”, P.O.E.M, will gobble it up.
My GPA: 3.5