A film student’s look at winter break theatrical releases

by Chris Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

The holiday season serves as a time for merriment, celebration, spending time with family and, of course, tons of theatrical movie releases. This reviewer had the opportunity to venture out in the cold during Winter Break and into the theatre to share in the magic of a few of the newest films.

“Unbroken”

The true story of Olympic runner/WWII veteran Louis Zamperini (solid newcomer Jack O’Connell) is the inspiration for Angelina Jolie’s sophomore directorial effort. It is plain to see why Jolie took on this ambitious project: Zamperini was an individual with triumphs and tragedy, and in spite of those obstacles, he was able to fight with resilient spirit. There are two main issues with “Unbroken” though.

First of all, the audience never gets to know Zamperini on a personal level. We know that he was the troubled child of Italian immigrants and he became an Olympic track star and then fought in WWII, but we hardly ever get into his head.

The second issue is history has shown Zamperini was an American hero, but there is not a trace of heroism here. Instead, the film focuses on the torture and suffering of the protagonist, as we feel every crushing blow that’s inflicted on him. Jolie does prove to be a competent director, especially in the well-orchestrated WWII fight scenes that open the movie. If only she had done more with this material, and given Zamperini more depth.

“Into the Woods”

Rob Marshall (Oscar winning director of “Chicago”) has again adapted a beloved musical onto the big screen. This time it’s a Sondheim piece, so for Broadway theatre buffs, the expectations are through the roof. As someone who has never seen the stage show, this is a finely tuned musical that should have enough filling for hard core fans to eat up.

The idea of combining our favorite tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and more makes for a solid, twisty, two-hour adventure.

We all know how these fairy tales go. Cinderella, forced to be a chamber maid for her wicked step-mother and step-sisters is forbidden to go to the ball. A baker and his wife (Jordan Corden and Emily Blunt) try to have a baby and to  abolish a curse left on them by the Witch (wickedly grand Meryl Streep.) On top of that you have Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who foolishly exchanged his cow for magic beans that eventually grow into. . . well, you can connect the dots. Then audiences see Red Riding Hood encounter the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp, who is barely in the film), and all of these stories intertwine for a thrilling ride.

The film sometimes meanders, and it does take a bleaker route than your usual PG rated fare, but the performances are uniformly strong and the music is playful, yet sinister and emotional.

“Big Eyes”

Theatrical audiences saw a change in pace for Tim Burton in his new biopic about Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). A recent divorcee and mother who settles in Northern California, Margaret is a talented painter who tries to sell her work to make a better life for herself and her daughter. It isn’t until successful painter Walter (Christoph Waltz) encounters her that she sees a way out of her struggles.

The two get married, and in an effort to get his new wife’s work out for the world to see, Walter attempts to get some of the best art galleries to display it. However, the only way he believes her work will be taken seriously is if he passes it as his own.

This film is a refreshingly different path for Burton, who is known for his whimsical and wacky yarns, and instead shows a fascinating tale of a marriage that is crumbling. However, Burton gives the film his usual lush, colorful palate.

Adams and Waltz have great moments, even though Waltz is often over the top. It is nice, however, that Burton is not relying on special effects or Johnny Depp acting through layers of makeup. Even in it’s sillier moments, “Big Eyes” is one of the better films Burton has done in the last several years.

“The Imitation Game”

Upon seeing trailers for “The Imitation Game,” it looks like the typical highbrow British biopic, and it ultimately is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. It’s a compelling story about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant mathematician who is trying to crack the Enigma code and stop the Nazis during WWII. While going to Cambridge, Turing was assembling a complex machine that would help decipher the German’s encryption. Seemingly, no one has faith in his accomplishment.

Though at times the film seemed like a TV movie, it is well-crafted, and the performances are terrific, especially for the always riveting Cumberbatch and the lovely Keira Knightley. Unfortunately, the film does gloss over Turing’s personal life and the tragic repercussions that came later for him. Still, for those interested in an incredible true story, “The Imitation Game” is one to check out.

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