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Film — past, present and future
'Selma,' 'Unbroken,' 'Woods,' 'Sniper': Oscar hopefuls line up on Christmas

In keeping with holiday tradition, Hollywood studios finally unwrapped the last of their adult-oriented prestige pictures on Christmas Day, giving the moviegoing public a chance to check in with the rest of 2014's high-profile Oscar hopefuls.

Among the notable releases Thursday were Universal's "Unbroken," Paramount's "Selma," Disney's "Into the Woods" and Warner Bros.' "American Sniper." Here's a look at where they stand after their first day in theaters.

"Unbroken"

Box office: Director Angelina Jolie's biopic about the Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini grossed a strong $15.6 million in North America, making it the third-highest Christmas Day opening ever (not adjusted for inflation), behind 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" ($24.6 million) and 2012's "Les Miserables" ($18.1 million).

Critics: In contrast to its robust opening numbers, Jolie's second film as a director has met with mixed reviews, notching a 51% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Many critics have said the...

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'The Interview': Farce doesn't live up to fuss, reviews say

Perhaps you've heard of a little movie called "The Interview." In the weeks leading up to its on-again, off-again release, Seth Rogen and James Franco's North Korea-themed comedy precipitated a crippling cyber-attack on Sony Pictures and sparked heated debate on everything from free speech to how to respond to terrorist threats to the future of moviegoing.

Nearly lost amid the controversy is the matter of whether "The Interview" — in which Rogen and Franco play celebrity journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un — works as a movie, rather than a cause célèbre. According to film critics, the answer is a resounding "not really."

The Times' own Betsy Sharkey writes, "From first frame to last, 'The Interview' is a sloppy farce with the look of a low-budget affair, perhaps to match its lowbrow idea."

She adds, "The deeper you get into the film, the more ludicrous it becomes. By the end, the plot, the performances, everything is spiraling out of control. This is, to put it...

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Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg make surprise appearance at 'Interview' showing

Capping weeks of headline-grabbing tumult over the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy "The Interview," the film finally began to roll out into 331 independent theaters nationwide just after midnight on Christmas Eve. One of the first showings in Los Angeles, a sold-out 12:30 a.m. screening at the Cinefamily Theater on Fairfax Boulevard, drew camera crews, carolers, fans dressed as Uncle Sam -- and, in a surprise appearance, co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg themselves.

"You are the best," Rogen told the crowd. "We thought this might not happen at all."

Rogen and Goldberg had been largely out of the public eye for over a week since Sony Pictures first canceled the release of the movie -- which centers on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- in the wake of a crippling cyberattack tied by U.S. officials to North Korea. At the eleventh hour, Sony brokered deals to distribute the film via independent theaters and a handful of video-on-demand platforms, including YouTube...

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Why Sony's digital release of 'The Interview' changes the game

Just a week ago, Sony was more troubled than poor giftless Bunky at Christmas. In addition to all the hacking woes, it looked pretty much done for when it came to “The Interview.” Major theater chains had dropped the Seth Rogen North Korea comedy, fearing hacking and terrorist attacks, and the group known as Guardians of Peace was on the offensive, threatening any entity that got close to the film.

But on Wednesday morning Sony pulled off one of the more improbable turnarounds in the history of movie marketing. After bringing aboard several hundred independent theaters the day before, it announced that, literally within the hour, it would make the movie available on a host of digital platforms — Microsoft Xbox, Google Play, YouTube, even a proprietary site — where consumers could rent the movie for $5.99 or buy an HD copy for $14.99.

What had been a case of a vanishing film was now, suddenly, a bold experiment. This is the first time a major studio film has embarked on what the industry...

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'Selma' a vivid historical drama and a timely reminder, reviews say

Ava DuVernay's historical drama "Selma" marches into theaters this Christmas as the first major Hollywood film to focus on Martin Luther King Jr. and his accomplishments. But although it's been nearly 50 years since King and his colleagues paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, movie critics agree that it's better late than never -- much better.

Starring David Oyelowo as King, "Selma" is garnering excellent reviews, with most critics praising it as not only a vivid historical drama but also a timely reminder of how far we've come as a nation, and how far we still have to go.

The Times' Kenneth Turan gave one of the more measured reviews, writing, "Selma" is a necessary film, even an essential one, with more than its share of memorable performances and vivid, compelling sequences." But as "welcome as it is" for highlighting King's work, "it is also inconsistent and not always as strong as its strongest moments. This may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but it...

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A holiday musical ode to Sony and 'The Interview'

On Wednesday, Sony announced it would release the embattled comedy "The Interview" on a host of digital platforms--including Google Play, Microsoft Xbox and YouTube--and make it available for rental or purchase from Christmas Eve through the holiday weekend. The timing had us feeling musical.

My Favorite Pings

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Light Rogen movies and Worldwide Web hittin’s
Digital downloads tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite pings
 
Bold-colored Sonys and big-theater toodles
Day and date releases and openings that are futile
Flag-wavers that make silly movies right wing
These are a few of my favorite pings
 
Execs in slight messes with blue tinted hashtags
Sorkin emails that leak and quickly form rashes
Rudin insults that soon make Angie go zing
These are a few of my favorite pings
 
When the Kim bites, when the GOP stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite pings
Like Kim Jong Un’s face that melts into rings
And then I don't feel so bad

...

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