The Imitation Game


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


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


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



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

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Swanner: For years people were hoping that Peter Jackson would come back to complete the Tolkien films by making it’s prequel The Hobbit. We did get Jackson back and with it another trilogy. We knew the LOTR would have to be three films because there was so much to say…but The Hobbit didn’t need to be that long and we all knew this was just another way for the studios to milk out more box office for the studio. This wasn’t made “three” for the fans no matter what the say.

The reason i bring this up is that this finale always felt overly long to me. The film picks up where the second one ended with Samug, the dragon, flying over Lake-town ready to attack. For the next 2 hours and 24 minutes we get overly long battle scenes that resemble LOTR, that never feels original and since this is a prequel we know which characters live to fight another day which really brings down the tension. The one great thing these films have is continuity. Same cast and crew since the films are made at the same time. That’s the one saving grace here. The cast is dedicated which helps us find a reason to root for the good guys and hissing the bad. Technically the films are brilliant.

I’m not saying the film isn’t done well…it is, but the excitement that had me standing in line the first night of every LOTR’s wasn’t here for The Hobbit. We never got it because the first film was boring with it’s extended scenes and nothingness that here in the third installment we question on did they stretch this series to wide. We know they did it but at what cost? It’s the energy the fans give off that fuels these films. The Hobbit feels more like the Star Wars series 1-3 where the LOTR was like the 4-6 of the Star Wars series. Ultimately we’ll look back years from now or maybe even tomorrow wondering if they really need to be made.

Swanner: 2 1/2 stars



Judd: John Du Pont was an eccentric millionaire, with an emphasis on eccentric. Heir to the Du Pont family fortune, he was an author, ornithologist and given to fantastical fits of obsession. In the late 80s, John was obsessed with free-style wrestling. His dream was to turn the family compound, Foxcatcher Farms, into a training facility that would churn out USA gold champions, and this plan was to start with gold-winning brothers, Mark and David Schultz. Steve Carrell, unrecognizable behind his makeup, plays John Du Pont; Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play the respective Schultz brothers in Foxcatcher; directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) and written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.

Swanner: It certainly has the makings of being something Oscar worthy. The problem I had was that I felt like there was something missing from the film. A confession that was never filmed. Du Pont’s relationship Mark always seemed inappropriate. Was Mark one of Du Pont’s obsessions? We know he was from a wrestling point of view but the cinematographer as well? The homoerotic warm ups to Du Pont creepy gaze, there seemed to be something going on. Otherwise it was two hours of warm up and ten minutes, at the end, where something actually happened.

Judd: I did about 30 minutes of research after we screened the movie, and there was much that was left out of the film. Du Pont was seriously mentally ill; he drove two cars into the farm’s pond on separate occasions; claimed he was Jesus Christ, the Dali Lama and a Russian Czar; he also had a raging drug habit. He was charged with making sexual advances on one of his wrestlers and dismissed several of his African American wrestlers because he thought black was the color of death. So your feeling that “there was something missing” is a bit of an understatement. Given all this material that could have been put into the script, Foxcatcher can only be described as unforgivably dull. The script and the direction ruin this movie. With talents like Carrell and Ruffalo, and the sordid source material, Foxcatcher should have been this year’s must see.

Swanner: That does explain a lot of what I was feeling was happening. They gave Carrell so little to do. The scene where the horses were released I’m sure was really a blood bath. The scene just ended and, like the rest of the film, I felt left out. Good performances can’t hold this film. The early hype on the film was all about the acting and I can see why. The film is rated R and I’m assuming it was all about exposing Du Pont’s being a resident of Nutville. Shock us… we’re all grownups. This thing was gutless. So much to work with and so little to deliver.

Judd: Adding in more of the real life drama certainly would have given Carrell more to do, but even the areas that the script did address seemed glossed over. David Schultz adamantly refused to join Team Foxcatcher for the first half of the movie then, for no reason at all, was a loyal employee that refused to leave even though his brother was in deep, emotional and physical turmoil because of Du Pont. It was a huge character leap for David that was never explained. Even the scenes with Du Pont manipulating the younger Schultz were few and far between, with very little exposition. This was not a movie about the characters; it was a movie about Carrell and Tatum impersonating these characters.

Swanner: Everything you’re mentioning is correct. This was one of the films I was really looking forward to the film because of its scary “anything can happen” preview. I realize now there is a film editor out there that can make a billion dollar preview out of this mediocre bore.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars
Judd: 2 stars



Swanner: When I saw Annie on Broadway during it’s original run i could tell this would make a great movie one day. Fantastic music and a wonderful story for the whole family. 1982 brought us our first Annie movie starring Carol Burnett and Albert Finney. It was okay. In 1999 Kathy Bates and Victor Garber starred and although it was made for TV it was a good solid film and i was very happy with it. This Christmas they are dragging Annie out with again with Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz in what is obviously the equivalent to coal in your stocking. After seeing this pile of shit you’ll think you’re being punished. 
Judd: Notice, dear readers, that this is Tom opening this review and comparing the movie to a lump of coal. And while what he is saying may be harsh, it isn’t far from the truth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the 1982 Annie and I know I didn’t see the TV version, so I went into 2014 Annie with only the most basic assumptions. Assumption number one, there was going to be a lot of singing. There was, but unfortunately with the exception of Jamie Foxx, no one was a singer. Assumption number two, there was going to be a lot of big dance numbers. This is where Annie fails miserably; there very few dance numbers, and the ones we get are mediocre at best, sloppy and poorly done at worst.
Swanner: You are so right. The big numbers from the Broadway show have become throwaway numbers with NYC becoming a jingle in a commercial…for shame. You want to see good choreography then see the Kathy Bates version because that was directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall who did the same for Into The Woods and Chicago. Will Gluck directs this this nightmare with no previous musical direction. I let Brian tell you about Cameron Diaz because i’ll just be mean where Brian will be mean and funny.
Judd: Oh, Cameron Diaz… She has the voice of an angel. Angel of Death, maybe. This woman gets unfunnier with every movie she does. Not only is the autotune audibly cranked up to 11 for her songs, she’s supposed to be a mean drunk, and yet still sexy? It must be in her contract that no matter what the character, she’s still to be seen as a fox — not that anyone would believe it at this advanced state. Not only is this inappropriate for the role of Miss Hannigan, but Cameron Diaz is the most sexless sexpot to grace the screen since Mae West in Myra Breckinridge. From her disastrous performance in The Counselor to the castrated Sex Tape, it’s time for Miss Diaz to stop subjecting us to her delusions. She’s the Norma Desmond of pin-ups.
Swanner: All the adult actors feel like they phoned it in, Cameron Diaz just was the worst in the crowd. By up dating the musical they taken away the heart of the show. Annie was the sweet voice that promised a nation that things will get better for a depression struck nation, that’s what songs like Tomorrow and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile were about…This Annie says nothing and sends you home depressed. My one wish for this christmas is that Annie gets the same lump of coal in its box-office stocking that she has given us. This is a bad movie, but worse it tainted a classic musical’s reputation and that is not to be forgiven. 
Judd: The movie is a failure and it’s not for lack of talent – with the exception of Ms. Diaz, of course. While proven talents Rose Byrne and Quenzhane Wallis were questionably cast, Jamie Foxx, and especially Broadway veteran Bobby Cannavale, should have carried this movie. The script and the direction, are completely lacking anything remotely theatrical about this movie musical. I’m betting my bottom dollar, that Annie tanks.
Swanner: No stars
Judd: No Stars