Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

McKellen’s Holmes Is One We Haven’t Met Before

Mr. Holmes
Three stars (out of four)
PG (thematic elements, some disturbing images, incidental smoking)
104 minutes
For Antelope Valley moviegoers, the film will continue playing through next week at the BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster.

Few literary figures have existed in as many incarnations as the world’s most famous detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the shrewd solver of mysteries to readers in 1887. One hundred and twenty eight years later, Holmes retains a tenacious grip on our imaginations.

Benedict Cumberbatch is celebrated for his antisocial portrayal of the detective for the BBC, while Jonny Lee Miller plays a contemporary, post-rehab version of the character, opposite Lucy Liu as Watson, on the American series “Elementary.”

Meanwhile, there is apparently a third movie in the works to cap off director Guy Ritchie’s franchise featuring a manic Robert Downey Jr. as a Holmes engaged in comedic bromance with Jude Law’s Watson.

On television and in film, Holmes has appeared in countless variations, from iconic portrayals by Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett to Steven Spielberg’s “Young Sherlock Holmes.” He’s been played by the likes of John Cleese, Jeremy Irons, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Rupert Everett, Buster Keaton, Christopher Plummer, Peter Cushing and John Barrymore.

So this brings us to the question: Is it possible to bring anything new to the great Holmesian universe created by Conan Doyle more than a century ago?

Hasn’t it all been done? Is it finally time for Holmes to hang up the old deerstalker?

The answer is “no,” judging by the detective’s most recent exploits in director Bill Condon’s thoughtful, surprising, exquisitely acted drama, “Mr. Holmes.”

Of course, it is an immense advantage that the famous investigator is played by Ian McKellen, who has made it his specialty to capture the volatile, enigmatic essence of men with keen minds and hidden demons.

At 76, the actor is at the height of his powers, and his seemingly contradictory gift of communicating playful, twinkly eyed wit alongside brooding cantankerousness is perfectly suited to a role this intimidating and irresistible.

McKellen, Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (“The Duchess,” “Stage Beauty”) present to us a very different Holmes than the one we are familiar with. Gone are the instantly recognizable hat and coat, the pipe, the violin, the Baker Street address.

There is no sign of Dr. Watson or Mrs. Hughes, and there will be no disguises or uttering of such signature catchphrases as, “It’s elementary!” or “The game is afoot.”

Instead, we meet Holmes in retirement, sequestered in a picturesque but solitary cottage on the Sussex Coast, where he tends bees instead of solving riddles. The sunniness of the setting boldly belies the stereotypical image of a fretful figure peering from an upstairs window on a fog-bound London street.

It’s just after World War II and the former detective has returned from a secretive errand in Japan to the company of his begrudging housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her curious son, Roger (Milo Parker). (Both McKellen’s co-stars are excellent.)

Holmes likes to keep to himself, but Roger is fascinated by the cloistered celebrity who bears little resemblance to the sensational portrait depicted in a series of popular novels by his longtime companion, Dr. Watson.

When the detective catches the boy snooping in his upstairs study, an awkward friendship is sparked as Roger tries to coax the details of an unfinished manuscript from the reluctant Holmes, whose memory is showing signs of the disorienting illness then known only as “senility.”

Condon previously directed McKellen in the intriguing 1998 drama “Gods and Monsters,” earning the actor an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of horror movie director James Whale.

Watching “Mr. Holmes,” you’d never know he was also the director of the musical “Dreamgirls” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” Parts 1 and 2. This latest film certainly marks a return to a more subtle form of cinema.

With the patience and discipline of a painter, Condon slowly and delicately — too slowly for some tastes, perhaps — applies layer upon layer of mystery, gradually revealing an emotional landscape as lovely as it is bittersweet.

One layer tantalizes us with the reason for Holmes’ self-imposed exile to Sussex, while another teases us with the explanation to his surreptitious quest to find a rare Japanese plant. Still yet another tempts us with the true story behind the detective’s final case, involving a haunting, grief-stricken young mother (Hattie Morahan) who dresses all in gray.

The film’s cunning structure actually allows McKellen to dazzle us with two versions of Holmes, the regretful, deteriorating old man and the younger, more debonair detective, glimpsed in flashback on the case of the “woman with the dove-grey glove.”

“Mr. Holmes” is at its best when Condon cleverly plays with ideas of legend and the divide between fact and fiction. The film’s most priceless moment occurs when Holmes sneaks off to the cinema to watch a fictional, black-and-white version of himself on screen. That actor just happens to be played by “Young Sherlock Holmes” star Nicholas Rowe.

Condon and McKellen have weightier things on the brain as well, heavy ruminations on mortality, loss, missed opportunity and memory, but the movie ends on an uplifting note with an idea especially pleasing to lovers of stories.

Facts and logic have their place but sometimes what life calls for is fiction.

Photo: spinoff.comicbookresources.com

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The Top Five Films of 2014 (And the Not-So-Top Ones)

After the mad dash of the holidays, we stumble into January determined to take stock of the year that was and sweep aside the old in preparation for the new.

2015 brings with it an exciting new batch of movies, but before we welcome such heady stuff as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” it’s time to look back on the best of 2014.

My Top 10 list falls a little short this year. I could only come up with five really exceptional films. But there are many other cinematic highlights to discuss, along with a bonus list — the 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014.

Happy New Year.

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The Top Five Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. “Birdman”: Like a wild, unpredictable improvisational jazz piece (an idea referenced in the film’s inventive musical score), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s show-biz satire exhilarates and astonishes. Seemingly shot in one seamless, kinetic take, the movie is unlike anything we’ve seen before. An excellent cast lays bare a humiliating array of ego trips and insecurities, most notably Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in performances that are self-deprecating and spell-binding. Fame has never been so fickle, so funny or so heartbreaking.

2. “Boyhood”: Watching 2014’s most languid and lovely drama is like thumbing through a decade’s worth of scrapbooks of one lad’s ordinary, extraordinary life. Writer-director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over a period of 12 years, resulting in a fictional time capsule of youth that never feels fabricated. As the boy in Linklater’s ‘hood, Ellar Coltrane is at once average and remarkable, bolstered by the poignant presence of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his flawed but well meaning parents. Whether you’re 15 or 50, this movie sparks reflections of formative moments in your own life.

3. “Guardians of the Galaxy”: The year’s most undeniably entertaining movie was shockingly absent from many critics’ Top 10 lists. Come on, guys! Don’t pretend you didn’t love this wacky space romp, which expertly culled its irresistibly fun ideas from such timeless classics as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” In introducing us to its strangest band of misfit superheroes yet, Marvel shamelessly pandered to ’80s nostalgia and got us all hooked on a feeling. Chris Pratt’s roguishly charming Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s butt-kicking Gamora, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax and the lovable duo of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are part of cinema history now, and rightly so.

4. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: I thought I was over Wes Anderson. The director’s rococo affectations were beginning to feel increasingly empty to me. But then came “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” detailing the quirkiest of adventures shared by concierge extraordinaire Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) and his trusty lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori). Anderson’s fantastical fairy tale of international intrigue contains one surprising and delightful cameo after another, but it’s really a showcase for the improbable comedic talents of Fiennes, whose portrayal of the unflappable  Gustave is unexpectedly bittersweet. Anderson has always been a filmmaker to be reckoned with. This is undoubtedly his masterpiece.

5. “Only Lovers Left Alive”: There are movies you like, and then there are movies you fall for, truly, madly, deeply. In 2014, that film for me was writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s effortlessly cool, exquisitely romantic vampire drama. As sleek and sexy as midnight velvet and dripping with playful pop cultural, literary and musical references, “Lovers” depicts the reunion of insomniac soulmates who aren’t your average bloodsuckers. Tom Hiddleston plays angsty Adam as a brooding old-school rock ‘n’ roller from Detroit. Tilda Swinton’s Eve is his exotic, more adventurous paramour, who hangs out in Tangier with none other than Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). This film really has to be seen to be believed. I want to sink my teeth into it again and again.

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Honorable Mentions

“Gone Girl”: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous page turner is demented, disturbing and oh-so-much wicked fun in director David Fincher’s darkly funny big-screen treatment. You’ll never look at Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and the rest of the film’s fine cast quite the same way again.

“Nightcrawler”: Jake Gyllenhaal’s greasy, greedy, hypnotic turn as a ravenous coyote prowling L.A.’s seedy nightscapes in search of anything that bleeds is the highlight of writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pointed media satire.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”: Building on the firm foundation laid by 2011’s “X-Men: First Class,” this sequel unites multiple generations of our favorite mutants — including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and a double dose of Magneto and Professor X — in a twisty brain-teaser that effectively erases the franchise’s loathed third installment and paves the way for exciting installments to come.

“Edge of Tomorrow”: “Groundhog Day” meets “Alien” in a surprisingly clever post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, which nobody saw because they were tired of watching Tom Cruise in post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks. Cruise is billed as the star but Emily Blunt steals the movie out from under him as a tough-as-nails warrior, nickname the Full Metal Bitch.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”: Marvel’s ever popular comic book movie franchise finally grew up with a thriller that boasts slick action and a satisfyingly adult script.

“Snowpiercer”: The year’s most original, intriguing and just plain weird sci-fi thriller depicts a violent, stylish, totally bizarro class war aboard a train designed to traverse an ice-bound post-apocalyptic globe. You probably loved it and hated it simultaneously.

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Memorable Performances

The ever charming Shailene Woodley wormed her way a little deeper into our hearts in “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Divergent.”

Angelina Jolie was deliciously nasty as the misunderstood anti-heroine of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” reboot, “Maleficent.”

Tom Hardy did nothing but sit behind the wheel of a car and talk on the phone but was somehow spellbinding in “Locke.”

No one portrays eccentric geniuses quite like Benedict Cumberbatch, who dazzled as a socially awkward code breaker in “The Imitation Game.”

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The 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. and 2. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” weren’t terrible but they were both seriously out of balance, proving the point that splitting book adaptations into too many parts may be financially savvy but cheats the audience out of a tightly crafted story.

3. “Magic in the Moonlight”: Woody Allen’s latest whimsical comedy features gorgeous French locales and yummy 1920s costumes but it’s an epic bore that teases us with the promise of supernatural intrigue, then delivers a lot of tedious talk instead.

4. “Begin Again”: Writer-director John Carney’s follow-up to the captivating “Once” is disappointing simply because there’s nothing genuine about it, from the forgettable music to the precious, pretentious performances of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley.

5. “Chef”: Many moviegoers were charmed by this sleeper comedy, but I failed to fall under its spell, mainly because I can only watch Jon Favreau drive around in a food truck for so long.

6. “Godzilla”: After last year’s underrated but totally awesome “Pacific Rim,” this monster mash-up promised super-sized thrills. The film’s scaly star was largely absent, however, making this Kaiju smash-fest a giant disappointment.

7. “Under the Skin”: Critics inexplicably went ga-ga for director Jonathan Glazer’s interminably dull indie drama, which consists of a morose, otherworldly Scarlett Johansson trolling the streets of Glasgow for unsuspecting perverts.

8. “The Lego Movie”: I’m not going to deny this animated flick featuring everyone’s favorite building blocks is fun, playful and clever to a point. Seriously, though, how old are we, America’s collective moviegoing audience? 12?

9. “Interstellar”: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus is stunning in many ways and I was one of the critics who highly recommended it. Two months later, though, I have to admit this technically impressive but flawed film was easier to forget than I expected.

10. “The Interview”: Sony Pictures and the nation’s major movie chains never should have caved to the cyberterrorist threats that kept this North Korea-bashing comedy out of theaters. I just wish Seth Rogen and James Franco’s goofy riff on totalitarianism actually had something to say. Then it might be worth all the fuss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defending George as ‘The Force Awakens’

Instead of spending Black Friday fighting over flat-screen TVs at Walmart, I replayed “The Force Awakens” teaser trailer over and over on my phone, along with the rest of the world’s Star Wars nerds.

I analyzed and reanalyzed every detail: Is that Benedict Cumberbatch or Andy Serkis intoning ominously in voiceover? Who is that black-clad figure wielding the coolest lightsaber ever? Is that a droid or a soccer ball?

Then I took to Twitter to find out if I had missed anything. I texted friends and relatives to compare notes. I tried not to get too excited. “Remember the prequels,” I told myself, but it was no use.

In one of those spine-tingling moments that will go down in geek history, I and seemingly every other person on the planet was besotted.

In the days since the big reveal, relief and delight over the fact that “Star Wars: Episode VII” may not be the fiasco we feared has given way to gleeful mockery directed at “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, the man behind the best-loved sci-fi franchise of all time. (You may now start sending me hate mail, Trekkies.)

Dozens of comments on Facebook and Twitter express satisfaction that George can’t touch this new trilogy, J.J. Abrams be praised.

This hilarious version of “The Force Awakens” trailer, parodying the director’s much-loathed “improvements” to his original trio of films, has been circulating.

Also making the rounds, to great amusement, is this befuddling preview for an animated movie hailing “from the mind of George Lucas.” Turns out it’s based on a story he wrote and, yes, it looks pretty terrible.

I understand where all the George bashing comes from and I enjoy poking fun at his missteps as much as anyone. As far as my family is concerned, the filmmaker’s infamous prequels don’t exist and mention of a certain sequel with the words “Crystal” and “Skull” in the title causes physical pain.

Yet I can’t help but feel that Lucas doesn’t deserve such bitter backlash from the very fans who profess to adore his original creation.

This isn’t the first time I’ve defended Lucas. In 2008, I wrote a column arguing the director’s case. Ironically, it was just before the release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Even so, I stand by what I wrote then:

(Lucas) has gotten a bad rap over the past decade for his megalomaniacal tendencies, a certain computer-generated abomination called Jar Jar Binks, his mysterious ability to transform capable actors, like Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson, into unfeeling blocks of wood and his inability to stop tampering with the “Star Wars” master prints.

These trespasses are not easily forgiven, but I can’t help but feeling that we have been a little too harsh on the master of the “Star Wars” universe, styling him in our imaginations as a scheming villain holed up at Skywalker Ranch, cackling as he dreams of new and better ways to annoy his adoring fan base.

… Perhaps it would be helpful, not to mention therapeutic, if we remembered all the things we used to like about George, his legendary contributions to the film industry and what his legacy means to us.

Lucas may be a control freak who doesn’t give a fig about what his colleagues or devotees desire, but it’s doubtful he would have accomplished all that he has if he wasn’t so uncompromising.

This is the man who almost single-handedly revolutionized independent filmmaking, championing artistic control with a savvy business deal that allowed him to preserve the “Star Wars” franchise exactly as he envisioned it and make a fortune off the licensing rights.

His technical contributions to the entertainment industry are innumerable. Since the debut of “Star Wars” in 1977, he and his creative team have aggressively advanced the fields of visual effects, sound, editing, digital filmmaking and video games. Industrial Light & Magic, THX, Skywalker Sound, Pixar –they all sprang from the mind of Lucas.

And it’s not as if his extreme wealth and power have driven him to the Dark Side, either. Lucas is a philanthropist, establishing an educational foundation and donating millions to his alma mater, the University of Southern California.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, however, is that Lucas is the creator of “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi” and the Indiana Jones trilogy, six films that have inspired and continue to inspire generations of lifelong movie lovers.

“Star Wars” was the movie that first introduced this critic to the wondrous possibilities of the cinema. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was the film that showed her how much fun you could have in a movie theater.

… I must confess that I have nothing but gratitude for him.

Perhaps it’s time we showed more respect for the mind that spawned the little space opera that has become not just a series of movies, but a pop cultural touchstone, a lifestyle, a shared language, practically a religion.

This guy invented the Millennium Falcon, the lightsaber, R2-D2, Darth Vader, Yoda and Boba Fett. He breathed life into a galaxy far, far away with rudimentary but revolutionary special effects that still hold up. He inspired John Williams’ epic, instantly recognized musical score. His depiction of the battle between good and evil — a battle that rages inside all of us — is timeless.

So I’ll say it again.

Thanks, George.

 

 

 

Looking Forward to Films of Fall

Fall may be the best season of all.

And not just because it begins with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Along with sweaters, scarves, Halloween, turning leaves and a welcome chill in the air, fall is a time of renewal for Hollywood as a late-summer slump at the movies gives way to a fresh supply of films we’re actually looking forward to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been AWOL from the movie theater. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Idris Elba — who deserves better — terrorize Taraji P. Henson — who also deserves better — in “No Good Deed.” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looked as dreary and depressing as its title. “This Is Where I Leave You” has a wonderful cast, but then I read the reviews. I meant to see “The Maze Runner,” but was less than impressed with the book and haven’t gotten around to it.

Starting this weekend, however, there will be reasons galore for moviegoers to get off the couch and get their butts into the cineplex once again. Film buffs, rejoice — the fun won’t stop until after Christmas.

Here are the fall (and winter) movies I’m most looking forward to.

“The Boxtrolls,” Sept. 26: Stop-motion animation studio Laika brought us the exquisitely dark “Coraline” and hilariously macabre zombie comedy “ParaNorman.” The painstakingly rendered “Boxtrolls” — which features more than 200 detailed puppets — looks to be just as enchanting.

“Gone Girl,” Oct. 3: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous he-said, she-said thriller was impossible to put down. Watching director David Fincher pull off the book’s epic twists should be interesting. So should watching Ben Affleck inhabit the role of douche-baggy murder suspect Nick Dunne.

“Kill the Messenger,” Oct. 10: The underrated Jeremy Renner takes a break from playing the loneliest Avenger to tackle the meatier role of real-life journalist Gary Webb, who investigated the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. Sure, I’ll miss the spandex and the crossbow, but it will be nice to hear Renner say more than three lines in this drama.

“Whiplash,” Oct. 10: Young up-and-comer Miles Teller (“Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Divergent”) stars as a drummer under the sway of a maniacal music instructor (J.K. Simmons) in a drama that caused a sensation at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. It sounds just strange enough to be awesome.

“Birdman,” Oct. 17: This dark satire appears to be a significant departure for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”), who isn’t exactly known for his comedies. Michael Keaton steps into the role of a washed-up actor once celebrated for playing a superhero. Could he be riffing on his stint as a certain caped crusader? If this movie has anything intelligent to say about our comic book obsessed culture, it could be fascinating.

“Fury,” Oct. 17: There are so many movies about World War II, coming up with a new angle on the conflict isn’t an easy task. “End of Watch” director David Ayer seems to have done it though, telling the story of a Sherman tank crew on a mission behind enemy lines. Brad Pitt plays a philosophical sergeant — am I the only one who’s tired of the actor’s incessant speech-making in recent films? — but I’m more excited about the underrated Michael Pena as the Fury’s driver.

“St. Vincent,” Oct. 24: Anytime Bill Murray decides to come out of his eccentric, hermit-like shell and make another movie, it’s cause for celebration. It’s a bonus that the comedy, about a cantankerous Brooklyn veteran who becomes a boy’s unlikely babysitter, looks so darn hilarious. It also stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, which can’t be bad.

“Horns,” Oct. 31: The boy who played Harry Potter is all grown up and has been busy carving out an eclectic career on the stage and screen. Daniel Radcliffe’s latest choice, a bizarre thriller by horror director Alexandre Aja, may be his strangest and most intriguing endeavor yet. The former wizard plays a man on a quest to find his girlfriend’s killer. He’s aided by supernatural horns that spontaneously sprout from his head.

maxresdefaultMatthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” (photo YouTube)

 “Interstellar,” Nov. 7: After the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” I would travel many miles and shell out a lot of cash to see anything director Christopher Nolan dreams up. His latest is an enigmatic sci-fi odyssey we know little about, thanks to a typically obscure Nolanesque advertising campaign. We do know “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors. This is a must-see if there ever was one.

“Rosewater,” Nov. 7: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with a drama, starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured following his country’s 2009 presidential election. This is the movie that managed to temporarily lure Stewart away from his beloved “Daily Show,” so it better be good.

“Foxcatcher,” Nov. 14: Steve Carell in a non-comedic role that requires him to wear a creepy prosthetic nose? Sounds like a recipe for disaster … or wild success, considering the raves coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont, who became embroiled in a murder while sponsoring an Olympic wrestling duo in 1996.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” Nov. 21: I’m not the biggest fan of the final chapter in author Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. That last book was a letdown and it’s too slight to be divided into two parts, as studio Lionsgate has deemed necessary in an obvious grab for more box-office cash. Still, the trailers for “Mockingjay — Part 1” suggest the film could actually be thrilling as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss becomes the unwitting leader of a revolution.

“The Imitation Game,” Nov. 21: Benedict Cumberbatch is the only reason needed to anticipate this period drama about genius politician Alan Turing, who cracked a notorious Nazi code during World War II and was later persecuted for his sexual orientation. When it comes to playing brilliant minds, “Sherlock” star Cumberbatch is the best. This “Game” could be even more thrilling than “Mockingjay.”

“Wild,” Dec. 5: Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about her harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a crisis turned her personal life into a shambles, “Wild” seems poised to strike a chord with moviegoers. I hope so, if only to see Reese Witherspoon reclaim her spot at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. She’s gunning for another Oscar. Godspeed, Reese!

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Dec. 12: Biblical epics are all the rage again. After the cheesy misfire that was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” I know I shouldn’t be looking forward to director Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic, starring Christian Bale. But I just can’t help myself. The film looks so fabulous and corny, from Joel Edgerton as an eyeliner-wearing Rhamses to “Breaking Bad” bad-ass Aaron Paul as Joshua. And who doesn’t want to witness the Red Sea part in spectacular CGI?

“Inherent Vice,” Dec. 12: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix for a psychedelic 1970s-set noir film about a private detective investigating a string of juicy conspiracies. “The Master” was sometimes difficult to sit through. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I found it just hypnotic enough that I’ll be back for more of Anderson and Phoenix’s bizarre collaboration.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” Dec. 17: The first installment of director Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy was a slog, overlong and sluggishly paced. Last year’s “Desolation of Smaug” was a marked improvement, zippier and more engaging. Now I can actually look forward to the finale, which will test all of visual effects house Weta’s computer wizardry as they bring to life the show-stopping skirmish of the film’s title.

“Big Eyes,” Dec. 25: Tim Burton re-creates the dysfunctional marriage of painters Walter and Margaret Keane, who in the 1960s produced a series of memorable paintings of children with creepy peepers. The couple is played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, a match made in cinema heaven, considering these two are amazing in everything they do.

“The Interview,” Dec. 25: There is no homoerotic comedy union more hilarious than that of Seth Rogen and James Franco, from “Pineapple Express,” to “This is the End,” to the duo’s brazen parody of the Kanye and Kim video “Bound 2.” In their latest wacky endeavor, the pair play tabloid TV journalists who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The dictator reportedly denounced the movie, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.

“Into the Woods,” Dec. 25: Fairy tales are in again, as evidenced by the insane popularity of “Frozen,” “Maleficent” and “Once Upon a Time.” Stephen Sondheim’s bedtime story mash-up could be a dark and cynical anecdote to the sugary sweetness of Disneyfied fables. The only catch is that it’s a Disney movie with director Rob Marshall catering to a family audience. At least it boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Into-the-Woods-Movie-Meryl-Streep-as-the-WitchMeryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (photo teaser-trailer.com)