You can hear KCBS Entertainment Editor Jan Wahl’s movie reviews on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM Fridays at 8:53am & 4:53pm.
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Christmas week is traditionally a time for big, new movies. While some great ones like “Selma” and “American Sniper” are still coming and “The Imitation Game” is out there waiting to be seen now, here’s are few interesting films that have just been released.
UNBROKEN (PG-13) 137 min
Hats off to director Angelina Jolie for taking on the rough and tough story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympian and survivor of a treacherous POW camp during WWII. “Unbroken,” based on a terrific book by Laura Hillenbrand, starts out well and then becomes repetitive. Good acting, brutal, full of action and some heart but editing and a story that widened out would have helped. Still, it’s worth seeing on the big screen.
INTO THE WOODS (PG) 124 min
From “Sweeney Todd” to “A funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” to his Oscar-winning song “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy”(1990)—remember Madonna singing that it for Oscars”?—Stephen Sondheim has been a favorite. Just his lyrics to “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” would’ve sealed that deal. But “Into the Woods” is a different Sondheim—songs that just don’t seem memorable along a strange mixture of classic fairy tales. This is not a cheerful musical and most school performances only present the first act. Director Rob Marshall, who helmed the marvelous “Chicago” (2002), this time he keeps it dark and creepy. Good actors are everywhere in the film, including James Corden and Chris Pine who provide moments of needed humor. Now make the entire Sondheim songbook, Hollywood—that would be a holiday gift!
BIG EYES (PG-13) 105 min
“Big Eyes” is a story that begged to be told and San Francisco in the late ‘50s early ‘60s is just the right setting for it. Based on a true events, this is the strange story of Margaret and Walter Keane—she drew those waifs with the big eyes and he took credit for them. Excellent acting from Amy Adams as the woman who lets herself be manipulated. Christoph Waltz plays it over the top as an obnoxious, aggressive but brilliant marketer. Director Tim Burton keeps the narrative real. It’s an engrossing film and well worth seeing.
MR. TURNER (R) 150 min
Speaking of painters, J.M.W. Turner has long been one of my favorites. Movies about painters, from John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” (1952) to Kirk Douglas pitch-perfect performance in “Lust for Life” (1956) to Emma Thompson in “Carrington” (1995) can be really effective. “Mr. Turner” is a bit strange since his character is difficult and a bit cruel. There’s a lot of grunting instead of speaking—apparently the real Turner was this way aand quite randy into his later years. What about the painting, you say? Timothy Spall may be up for an Oscar for bringing the strange Turner to life. This is Spall’s seventh time working with director Mike Leigh. I’ll take their “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) over this one but “Mr. Turner” is a chance to gain insight into a great artist—just not enough.
Fullscreen: see now: The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, St. Vincent, Birdman, National Gallery
Showbiz Book: Charles Walters: the man Who Taught Hollywood to Dance by Brent Phillip
Jan Wahl’s Top Ten Movies of 2014:
10) THE GALAPAGAS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN
9) STILL ALICE
7) MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
6) ST. VINCENT
3) THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
1) THE IMITATION GAME