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Film — past, present and future
'The Imitation Game' is a smartly told tale of genius, reviews say

Alan Turing, the pioneering British mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code and helped win World War II, gets the deciphering treatment himself in the new biopic "The Imitation Game" (opening today in limited release). Norwegian director Morten Tyldum's film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, examines Turing's personal and professional struggles as a brilliant but aloof man and a closeted homosexual at a time when being gay was a crime in England.

According to movie critics, it's an engrossing and entertaining film with a standout performance by Cumberbatch, although it's not quite as groundbreaking as its protagonist.

The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "The disturbing, involving, always-complex story of British mathematician Alan Turing is a tale crafted to resonate for our time, and the smartly entertaining 'The Imitation Game' gives it the kind of crackerjack cinematic presentation that's pure pleasure to experience."

Turing is "exceptionally well-played" by Cumberbatch,...

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A Janis Joplin film finally shakes the kozmic blues

Hollywood has been trying, fruitlessly, to make a movie about Janis Joplin almost since she let loose that rendition of “Ball and Chain” at Monterey nearly a half-century ago. But Ron Terry, a music-producer-turned-screenwriter who knew and worked with the renegade musician, may have finally cracked the code.

Terry has been developing a Joplin film for 15 years with a carousel of big-name actors and directors. Last week, news broke that he and Jean-Marc Vallée, the director of “Dallas Buyers Club” and the upcoming “Wild,” would team up. Amy Adams has long been attached to star in the title role, and separate financier and distributor deals are expected to be completed shortly. The duo of “Dallas Buyer” writers -- Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack -- could also come aboard to work on Terry’s draft with Vallée.

All of which means the movie could be in production as soon as next fall -- 45 years after Joplin died of an overdose at age 27, and seemingly as many years since showbiz duffers...

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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer teases new faces and nostalgia

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?" So asks the first teaser trailer, appropriately enough, for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," director J.J. Abrams' highly anticipated update of the classic space-opera franchise.

Although the minute-and-a-half clip, viewable above, offers little in the way of plot details, it should give "Star Wars" fans, ahem, a new hope with eye-catching imagery, nods to George Lucas' original film trilogy, a peak at some new faces and John Williams' iconic theme song.

The teaser opens with John Boyega ("Attack the Block") popping into frame in a Stormtrooper uniform, sans helmet, on what looks to be the desert planet Tatooine. In rapid succession, we're introduced to some more new faces: A droid with a rolling ball for a body, Daisy Ridley riding a speeder, Oscar Isaac piloting an X-wing fighter and a shadowy figure trudging through snow while brandishing a cross-shaped red light saber.

The trailer doesn't feature any appearances by "Star Wars"...

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Natalie Portman may link up with Steve Jobs biopic

Another day, another development for the Steve Jobs biopic. The much-discussed film about the late Apple co-founder may have found its female lead in Natalie Portman, according to trade reports.

Deadline Hollywood first reported that Portman is in talks for a major role in the movie, and Variety pegs the part as the female lead. Universal, which acquired the Jobs project earlier this week after Sony put it into turnaround, declined to comment on the reports, as did a spokesperson for Portman.

No details have been revealed about the character Portman might play in the film, although one candidate would seem to be Joanna Hoffman, the head of marketing for the original Macintosh team. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin name-dropped Hoffman as "a fantastic character."

Sorkin has said the movie, which is based on Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography "Steve Jobs," will unfold over three real-time scenes, each in the run-up to a major product launch.

Danny...

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'Pan' trailer teases Peter Pan's origin story

Peter Pan is having a moment. With a little more than a week to go till NBC's staging of "Peter Pan Live," Warner Bros. has released a teaser trailer for "Pan," the Joe Wright-directed origin tale about the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.

Judging by the 2½-minute video, above, "Pan" will look to differentiate itself from other Peter Pan screen incarnations — including the NBC special and Disney's classic 1953 animated movie — with a darker tone and a story that plucks its hero (played by Levi Miller) from a grubby Edwardian orphanage and drops him into Neverland for the first time.

It's a band of pirates who actually do the plucking, kidnapping Peter and some of his fellow orphans and transporting them home on a floating frigate. Leading the pirates is a familiar face, but probably not the one you're expecting: It's Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), not Peter's classic nemesis Captain Hook.

Hook does show up in the trailer, played by Garrett Hedlund, but he's not a captain yet — just James Hook —...

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With Paterno-Sandusky doc 'Happy Valley,' unsettling cultural questions

Around their Brooklyn home, the documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev and his wife have developed a kind of code phrase -- a "thumbnail," they call it -- for how people talk about the Jerry Sandusky affair. "Rhythmic slapping” is the term, and, picking up on a descriptor used by the key witness and former assistant coach Mike McQueary, it sums up people’s reflexive need to seek out the prurient aspects of the controversy.

And yet there is also, Bar-Lev has found, a desire for distance, an interest in lamenting or condemning aspects of the case so that people feel better about it, feel as if it’s something that happens far away from their own lives and consciousness.

“I think one of the things that really stands out about Sandusky is how everyone thinks that someone else was culpable,” Bar-Lev said in an interview here last week, returning home after weeks on the road with the film. “And really we’re all responsible in some way.”

Bar-Lev has become an expert in the notorious case and its...

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