PODCAST: SJ41: Into the Woods; Big Eyes; Imitation Game; Unbroken

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about Into the Woods; Big Eyes; Imitation Game; Unbroken

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The Imitation Game

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Swanner: Brian and I got a very late invite for the film The Imitation Game, which was probably not going to be screened in Sacramento, but we were lucky that it was because i would have hated missing this one. It tells the story of Alan Turing, a name most people won’t know but should. Turing was responsible for creating the machine that broke the Nazi’s code in the 40’s and saved the world from being run over by Hitler’s armies.

Judd: I had read about the Enigma cypher some time ago, but I didn’t read up on Alan Turing. So while I knew that that breaking the code was essential to winning the war, learning about the man who created the machine that broke it, and the way his country thanked him in the end, was a fascinating story played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Matthew Goode and Keira Knightly also star.

Swanner: This film was such a surprise. I walked in thinking it was another breaking the code movie but quickly you realize the film is about the man and not his deed. I had heard about Turing’s history but that was about all i knew. The rest of his story is brought brilliantly to the screen by director Morten Tyldum and writer Graham Moore from the novel Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

Judd: From a geeky standpoint I would like liked to learn why the Enigma code was so impossible to break; had I not already known, I would have been frustrated by the film’s ommission. Outside of that I really liked everything about this movie. It was well-paced and exciting from beginning to end with not only the looming problem of WWII, but also Turing’s destructive lack of social skills, and the fact that his huge, expensive machine only worked in theory. The Imitation Game is the movie that all bio-pics should strive to be.

Swanner: Agreed. Here is a perfect example of knowing the outcome and still being carried along by the story. All the performances are top notch and something i forgot to mention about the writer and director is this was very much their first work in the theatrical film market. Giving the new guy a chance certainly has paid off here.

Judd: The Imitation Game is the move that Unbroken should have been. Unbroken was about the deed and not the character, Imitation Game is about the deed and the character. It balanced both perfectly. I learned about Turing and the stakes of his accomplishments. It’s a fulfilling movie that covers all the bases. It’s educational, tense and touching.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars

The Gambler

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Swanner: Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett in the new film The Gambler; Bennett is a college professor by day and high stakes gambler at night. He’s one of the guys that can’t walk away from the table. As the movie starts we see Bennett take ten thousand dollars to eighty thousand and then lose it all. He’s owes over a quarter of a million dollars to gangsters and they want their money. 

Judd: Directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and written by William Monohan, The Gambler is loosely based on a 1974 movie starring James Caan, which is loosely based on The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in 1867. The story has some legs and the script by Monohan is, simply put, amazing. But… Mark Wahlberg taints the movie from the moment he opens his mouth in the classroom, to the very last scene. He ruins what could have been an absolutely stellar must-see.

Swanner: I’m not a fan of gambling so when Bennett drops everything he has on black and red comes up I’m pissed. This character has no love for anyone especially himself. Any financial help he gets he blows on one more bet. I couldn’t warm up to the character and with Wahlberg being so miscast the film didn’t work for me at all. Jessica Lange plays his mother and I so wanted her to pay the gangsters to kill him and put him out of everyone’s misery. 

Judd: You don’t like these kinds of movies and I do. So, while Wahlberg’s poor performance only compounded the problem for you, I am devastated that he ruined this movie. In a perfect world, Edward Norton would have played the hell out of this role and the movie would have made it to my favorites list. I loved that it was a character piece about a spoiled narcissist with a death wish. I loved the soundtrack by Jon Brion. Though, another major problem I had with the movie is the ending. Much like the inappropriate, gimmick casting of Wahlberg, the ending was obviously tacked on to please Joe Public.

Swanner: What I did like about the movie were the supporting actors. Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alvin Ing and John Goodman. They all bring something to the table, and where Wahlberg is miscast they were all perfectly cast. I would have loved to see them supporting someone else…anyone else. Goodman is especially good with a monologue that will become an actor’s audition piece for years to come. Enter at your own risk on this one. 

Judd: The more I think about it, and the more infuriated I become that someone thought it was a good idea to make Wahlberg the lead. Granted, Wahlberg was a producer and probably cast himself. That only means don’t let him produce anything with even a modicum of artistic merit, otherwise he’ll be there to defecate all over the thing.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 2 stars

Big Eyes

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Swanner: Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) a woman in the late 50’s running away from a bad marriage with her young daughter. She heads to San Francisco because it’s close and it has an large art community. Margaret is a painter. While painting in the park she meets up with Walter (Christoph Waltz) another artist in the city. They hit it off and decide to marry…after all it’s the 50’s and no single woman is safe alone. As Margaret’s strange paintings start to take off Walter convinces Margaret to let him take credit for her work, no one takes women artists serious in the 50’s. She agrees and Walter becomes a sensation.

If you’re over 40 years old you’ll remember Margaret’s paintings. That is one of the reasons i enjoyed the film, because i hated these paintings. Growing up in California they were every where. Walter was really a genesis with his marketing. He not only sold Margaret’s painting but he sold them as posters, post cards, key chains…anything he could place an image on he did and made a fortune doing it. So my hatred for the art feed in to my enjoyment of the film.

Writers Scott Alexander (Ed Wood) and Larry Kraszewski (The People vs Larry Flynt) do a great job telling this story of stolen fame but because Tim Burton serves as director i found myself waiting for some Burton moment where everything a bit crazy and it never did. I think knowing that going in will help. After all, we’ve grown to expect strange things from Burton. That apart the film is well made and acted, even though there are no dogs brought back to life or razor handed fellows, Burton has brought a interesting story to life.

Swanner: 3 stars

Unbroken

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Swanner: Unbroken follows the like of Louis Zamperini from a school boy to an Olympian to soldier/prisoner of war. Angelina Jolie directs this epicly long picture with beautiful views of Zamperini’s life but the script never allows us to know the people his life touches along the way. Actually, we never really know the man the movie is about, either.

Judd: There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. There are four writers credited, not including the author of the book, and those authors are the Coen Bros, Richard LaGravenese (Fisher King, Bridges of Madison County), and William Nicholson (Gladiator, Nell). All of these heavy hitters, especially the Coens, are known for writing deep and interesting characters. I have a strong suspicion that Jolie had everything to do with this dud script, and called in a few favors to add some clout to her weak writing.

Swanner: I don’t know if it could have been Jolie, but whomever is responsible needs to be caned. On that subject, my biggest problem with the film was the relentlessness of every situation. When his plane is shot down in the Pacific it takes almost an hour to be rescued. In the time period nothing is said of interest, just sun beating down on them and sharks circling the raft. Once in the camps it’s another hour of caning. No one talks, no characters are developed. Just more relentless torture.

Judd: And it’s not as if there weren’t characters to learn about. Zamperini was in the raft with two other men, adrift at sea for 47 days. I’m sure that something had to be said, a conversation had, where the men talked about their lives and bared even a fragment soul — not in Jolie’s rendition. Even the warden of the POW camp where Zamperini was held was a non-entity. We were given a glimpse of his upbringing as the son of a high-ranking military official, and failing to meet the expectations he had for himself. All that was delivered in one line, and we were given nothing else. The whole movie is an exercise is wasted potential.

Swanner: Since i knew nothing about these men, and had no investment in their story, live or die wouldn’t matter to me and didn’t. I also wanted to reiterate that the torture seen went on too long. You know your movie has no heart when you don’t care that the lead character is being caned over and over again. This was a big fail on Jolie and the writers, but worse for Zamperini and his amazing story.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 1 ½ stars

Into The Woods

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Swanner: In 1987 Into the Woods opened on Broadway to great reviews and multiple wards. It’s had two other revivals on Broadway but never a go at the big screen. Is it Sondheim that frightens people from making his shows in to movies? I think it’s finding the right person to helm the project and Rob Marshall is that person. After directing the Best Picture Chicago, Marshall tried his hand at Geishas and Pirates but musicals are what he does best.

Judd: I don’t think its Sondheim, because the same can be said about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and how the majority of his shows have, thankfully, avoided film adaptation. Musicals aren’t guaranteed successes like they were back in your day, when talkies started delighting audiences’ eyes and ears. With that said, Into the Woods takes the stage spectacle to new heights with special effects, but keeps the story close to the heart and is one of the best adaptations we’ve seen in years.

Swanner: It really is something special. Director Marshall just knows what to do with a musical. Getting a great cast always helps but bringing in James Lapine to adapt his original script is even better. Lapine also directed the Broadway show so he knows his way around the story. With Marshall and Lapine at the helm made me feel very optimistic going in.

Judd: I took my best friend to the screening with me; she is a Broadway fanatic and I use her to judge the faithfulness of an adaptation. She loved Into the Woods, as did I. Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, and James Coren. Billy Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp and Frances de la Tour star in this production, and it can easily be said that all of them, including a surprising performance by Pine, can carry a tune.

Swanner: It’s always a fear that the wrong people will get their hands on great shows and end up screwing them up (see Annie…actually, don’t see it). Rob Marshall and James Lapine are the true heroes here. Finding the right cast is good but knowing what to do with it once you have it is the hard part.

Judd: That’s a sad state when you have to give credit to a director and screenwriter for not screwing up a musical, but it’s true; we’ve seen so many beloved modern musicals take a dive on the Silverscreen. The reason I really like the show, and happy for its successful adaptation, is that it tackles the topic of just how happy is Happily Ever After? Jack is a thief; Little Red Riding Hood is a liar who likes dangerous strangers; Cinderella thinks money is the key to happiness… How happy can ever after be?

Swanner: Those are the themes that might have been lost in the wrong hands. Happy ever after comes at what cost? I’m sure this film will be lost on those who dislike musicals but fortunately most of our readers do and they’ll love this film. Remember when you saw frozen for the first time and one of the great songs would finish and you felt like applauding? I felt the same way here. Treat yourself to the best present in the Cineplex…Into The Woods.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars