Movie News & Reviews

A look at the movies that were released on Thursday.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in “The Imitation Game.”
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in “The Imitation Game.”

Here’s a brief look at the movies that were released on Thursday.

‘Into the Woods’

Grade: A-

This movie, based on the Stephen Sondheim musical, deals with the way fairy tales inspire us yet twist our understanding of the world, and it has more warmth than people who considered Sondheim a chilly ironist would have expected.

All four of the main story lines concern children, stepchildren or people who will do anything to have children. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) heads into the woods to feed granny. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) goes to market reluctantly with his ailing cow. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) dreams of attending the ball held by a prince (Chris Pine).

Meanwhile, a childless baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) get good/bad news from a wizened witch (Meryl Streep). She cursed their family line with barrenness years ago, after the baker’s father stole magic beans from her garden, and took away the little girl who would have been the baker’s sister.

The violence gets toned down slightly, though Cinderella’s stepsisters still get mutilated while trying to fit into the shoe, and the sexual innuendos are gone. Because Red’s now a middle schooler, Marshall has toned down double entendres in songs by and about the Wolf (Johnny Depp, acting enough in five minutes for a whole film).

The film version loses some of the edge of the Broadway show, but magnifies the emotional components. Lawrence Toppman,

Charlotte Observer

‘The Imitation Game’

Grade: A

Mathematical genius and social misfit Alan Turing tries to crack a Nazi code during World War II in a suspenseful and touching film, with a tremendous performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The drama reveals pieces of its puzzle steadily and slowly, until the final heartrending picture can be seen at last. Remarkably, it comes from a screenwriter who had never had a feature film produced and a director who had never made one in English.

Cinematographer Óscar Faura and composer Alexandre Desplat provide visual and aural images that seem light and cheerful at first but have enough dark elements to hint that something unsettling will eventually happen. Like everyone connected with this film, they’re not going to give away all their secrets until the very end. Lawrence Toppman,

Charlotte Observer


Grade: C

This Angelina Jolie-directed film pays tribute to a man who had an amazing story – but only tells a percentage of that story.

According to the film “Unbroken,” Louis Zamperini had 30 percent of a remarkable life. By the time he was 28, he had competed as an Olympic distance runner, enlisted in the Army Air Force, crashed on a bombing run, survived six weeks on a raft at sea and endured terrible torture in a Japanese prison camp before coming back to the United States.

Four Oscar-nominated screenwriters – Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson – took a shot at the screenplay, which remains stubbornly bland. The acting passes muster, though I couldn’t decide whether Miyavi’s epicene behavior represented his natural demeanor or was meant to imply a suppressed homosexual attraction. Jack O’Connell stays solid and steady, though Garrett Hedlund draws your eye away from him as an American prisoner at the camp. Lawrence Toppman,

Charlotte Observer

‘The Gambler’

Grade: C+

Mark Wahlberg takes on his most ambitious acting job ever in “The Gambler,” a gritty remake of a 1974 film that starred James Caan. And the new gambler doesn’t embarrass himself.

Playing a college professor addicted to losing, digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself with loan sharks, underworld gambling entrepreneurs and his family, Wahlberg never gives away the game – that long, erudite speeches about Shakespeare and Camus are not his forte.

But as meaty as this script sounds – every line another morsel – it never allows Wahlberg the chance to make us care what happens to Jim. Do we want him to get what’s coming to him, or are we rooting for him? Either way, the cast succeed only in frustrating our will, cashing out with a cop-out finale, making our two hour gamble on “The Gambler” something less than a sure thing. Roger Moore,

Tribune News Service

‘Big Eyes’

Grade: D

Tim Burton directs this film biography of Walter and Margaret Keane, who both claimed credit for the paintings of big-eyed kids that became mega-popular in the 1960s.

Burton has always paid tribute to artistic misfits in his movies, from self-deluded film auteur Ed Wood to blade-fingered sculptor Edward Scissorhands. But I don’t think he’s made a film with such contempt for everyone in it, except the main character.

Amy Adams gives a twitchy performance as Margaret, sometimes forgetting her character’s Tennessee accent. But to call this “overacting” in the presence of Christoph Waltz’ Walter is to compare a piccolo to a trombone.

Waltz gives one of the most astonishingly wrong performances of the year: He mistakes frantic behavior for intensity, a deranged smirk for charisma and eye-rolling wickedness for a sense of menace. His Walter remains as charming as a pneumatic drill and only slighter quieter. Lawrence Toppman,

Charlotte Observer