Holiday movies: “Sniper,” “Woods,””Gambler,” “Big Eyes” —tip-ins, no slam dunks. “Unbroken” busted

tomMetacritic and Rotten Tomatoes both suggest that this year’s crop of holiday movies are worth checking out, but there’s no serious “must see” in the mix.

“American Sniper” and “Big Eyes” have the best reviews, a return to form for Clint Eastwood and a beautifully executed mainstream bio-pic from the quirky Tim Burton.  But even those films linger in the 70% range on the rottentomatoes tomatometer. Not EVERY critic was dazzled or impressed by them.

wahl“The Gambler” and “Into the Woods” both earned more endorsements than pans. The Mark Wahlberg remake of a 1974 picture differs from the original in some interesting ways, and a few irrational ones. They could have done more with the transgressive gambler-professor sleeping with a student relationship. It’s more  of a symptom of his mental state, and would get him fired, than a simple emotional rescue.

“Woods” lost some musical numbers — one good one — and is overly reliant on new TV chat show host James Corden’s talents than  it should be. But Streep and Blunt and Pine and Kendrick are all great fun, the heart and soul of the piece, and its comic backbone. It still works, but not as well as it did on the stage.

unbrokeAngelina Jolie’s take on “Unbroken” didn’t find a dazzling lead and blows any suspense or big moments of heart that were there in the Louis Zamperini survival tale. What this Olympic runner went through, surviving a crash at sea in his bomber, drifting for weeks and weeks, followed by a long imprisonment by the Japanese, he endured a lot. But survival at sea narratives and POW stories have much in common, and Jolie failed to do much with what made this one special. An Olympic flashback is all that distinguishes the “We’re out of water, we’re going to die” raft sequences and the sadistic, torturing prison commandant story. Been there, seen that, with real airplanes, prisons and prisoners that didn’t look so backlot neat and clean. Weak reviews rolled in, across the board, for “Unforgettable.”

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