Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

IG-poster

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. “

Few injustices in the world have equalled that meted out to Alan Turing. Where would the world be today without him? He can justly be considered to be the father of modern computing, and yet as a homosexual he was prosecuted for gross indecency, chemically castrated and his genius thrown away by a seemingly uncaring and ungrateful nation that drove him to early suicide. (God bless Her Majesty, for giving Turing an official posthumous pardon last Christmas).

Such is the distressing true(ish) story told in “The Imitation Game” starring the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch. The film largely centres on his contribution to the war effort at Bletchley Park in decrypting encoded German communications through the Enigma machine – a fearsomely complex device for randomising messages. I say “true(ish)” since having done a bit more digging into the background on this, the Imitation Game is not quite the story it purports to be. There is a muttered line by Cumberbatch about the “contribution of the Poles”, but in reality it seems that the early Enigma machines were actually first cracked by some of the leading Polish mathematicians (notably Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski).  The Bletchley Park team only came in to assist when the German’s added a new layer of complexity to the machines. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story though: this simplification of the story probably helps a lot.

IG-cumberbatch 

Turing is portrayed – no doubt fairly accurately – as a spiky, anti-social and generally unlikable individual, despised by his co-workers until such time as his genius starts to earn him respect. His comrade in the Bletchley Park branch of ‘Asperger’s Anonymous’ is the equally spiky mathematician Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who he recognises an intellectual kin-ship with. Their rather unorthodox relationship, given his sexual orientation, forms another key element of the film.

IG-Knightley 

Flashing backwards and forwards (without warning) between three time periods: Turing’s unhappy school-days; the Bletchley Park war years; and his dogged pursuit by a 50’s cop (Rory Kinnear), a story that you might expect to be a fairly dry biopic zips along with enormous vim. Whilst this is a film that many critics will turn their noses up at as a ‘crowd-pleaser’, you can guarantee that it is one that will make the BBC Bank Holiday film schedules regularly for the next 50 years!

THE IMITATION GAME

On the acting side, the cast is excellent. Cumberbatch must be a strong candidate for at least a BAFTA if not an Oscar for his portrayal of Turing. There must always have been a danger with this casting of him flipping into “Sherlock” mode, given the similarity of the characters, and yet you rarely equate the two performances which is quite a trick to pull off. Knightley is also excellent in a ‘terribly British’ role. Charles Dance, Mark Strong (a ‘goody’ for once!) and Downton’s Allen Leech all deliver excellent supporting performances.   But particularly effective is Matthew Goode (“A Single Man”, “Stoker” but perhaps best known to TV viewers as Finn Polmar in “The Good Wife”) who is a magnetic big-screen performer and who should be getting more leading actor roles.

IG-Goode

Also outstanding is young Alex Lawther as Turing the schoolboy who delivers a memorable performance in a challenging role bringing to mind the screen presence of Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”: a young man to watch for the future.

The decidedly non-English director is Norwegian-born Morten Tyldum, who directed the outstandingly black but entertaining “Headhunters” back in 2011.

Also likely for BAFTA recognition is the Art Direction in this film (Production Design by Maria Djurkovic), which paints a nicely nostalgic vision of war-time Britain, and the costume design by Sammy Sheldon. The effective music score is once again by Alexandre Desplat – – does that man ever sleep?

 IG-london

By the way, the title – “The Imitation Game” – comes from a famous paper that Turing wrote in 1950 and refers to what is now known as the “Turing Test” – the test to see if a user can distinguish whether the ‘person’ they are communicating with is human or machine.  (This has a nice double meaning in the film given that Turing is imitating being a heterosexual for legal reasons).   In many ways in chronicling the history of gay rights in the UK, this film makes a nice ‘prequel’ to another of this year’s great films “Pride” – whilst Turing’s prosecution for gross indecency was in 1952, the last public prosecution of this type was in 1967 with Pride being set only 18 years later. We live in more civilised times, thank God.

You can tell that we are rapidly approaching the awards season again by the quality of the films on offer. This is a great watch, particularly for a slightly more mature audience that values acting, story and emotion over bangs and special effects. Highly recommended.   

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

Advertisements
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

IS1

Wowser!  This Christopher Nolan film was presaged with such marketing hype that I went in with pretty low and cynical expectations. But I was frankly blown away with it.  

Just about everyone raves about Christopher Nolan’s work, and you look back at his Filmography and it makes for a pretty impressive resume:  from Memento via the (rather over-hyped imho) Dark Knight Batman series-reboot through to Inception, one of my favourite films of all time. For me, Interstellar is right up there with Inception for thought-provoking, visually spectacular and truly epic cinema.   

We start in familiar ‘Day after Tomorrow” territory, with mankind having in some way – not entirely explained – messed up the planet.  As I understood it (and the film probably does require multiple watches with – see comments below – subtitles=on) the rather clever premise is that the world’s food supplies are being progressively destroyed by a vindictive ‘blight’. This delivers the double whammy of destroying mankind’s provisions but also, by massive reproduction of the organism, progressively depleting the Earth’s oxygen. For some reason – again, which I didn’t get on first viewing – this is accompanied by massive dust storms. It is a morbid bet as to what is going to get the mid-West population first:  starvation, lung disease or suffocation. Matthew McConnaughey plays the widowed Cooper, an ex-NASA drop out turned farmer given the opportunity by mission-leader Professor Brand (an excellent Michael Caine) to pilot a NASA mission. The goal is to punch through a mysterious wormhole in space where they suspect, through previous work, that a new home for mankind could be found.  

IS4

The first part of the film is set on and around Cooper’s farm, setting in place one of the emotional wrenches at the heart of the film: that Cooper, in volunteering for the mission and having to leave behind his elderly father (John Lithgow, again superb) and young children Murph (aged 10) and Tom (aged 15), recognises that danger for him comes not just from the inherent risks involved but from the theory of relativity that could change everything, time-wise, for when he returns.  

Cooper is supported on the mission by a team of scientists including Brand’s daughter played by a love-struck Anne Hathaway, who again shows she can act.  

IS2

To say any more would spoil what is a voyage of visual and mental discovery.  (However, I would add that it is good to see that the character that plays my namesake Dr Mann (in a surprise cameo) is equally good looking! LOL).

In terms of plus points, where do I start? The visuals are utterly stunning.  Whilst reminiscent in places of Kubrick’s “stargate” from 2001, the similarity is only passing. The film adds a majesty and scale to space that surpasses wonder. Elsewhere there are some interesting visual effects: this might have just been me of course, but after the dramatic launch there was something about the camera moves during the first scenes of weightlessness that made me feel genuinely nauseous.

IS3

Equally stunning is Hans Zimmer’s score which is epic and (in places) very VERY loud. The film certainly doesn’t “go quietly into the night”! When matching the noise of the score/choir to the sound effects in the launch sequence the combination is ear-bleedingly effective. This must be a strong contender for the soundtrack Oscar for 2014. One quibble, again 2001 related, is that Zimmer uses the last chord of Also Sprach Zarathustra in the score sufficiently often that one hopes Richard Strauss’s estate receives some royalties!

The acting is top notch: I’ve already mentioned Caine and Lithgow, but McConnaughey, Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are all great. A particular shout-out should go to Mackenzie Foy as the young Murph, who is magnetically charismatic and just brilliant in the role.  

IS7

Above all, Nolan’s direction is exquisite. The film has a slow build on earth (which adds to the lengthy running time) but defines the characters and primes the plot perfectly. And some of the editing cuts – again, Cooper’s farm departure/launch sequence overlay is a great example – are superb in building the mood and the tension.   

IS6

I’ve decided that I am an extremely tough reviewer and a 5 Fad film is a rarity indeed. Where I could have knocked off half-Fad was in some of the dialogue on the soundtrack, which was pretty inaudible in places: McConnaughey’s in particular with his general mumbling and strong southern accent can be indecipherable. And one of the character’s dying words – delivering a key plot point in the film – was completely lost to me (but thankfully later restated).  I look forward to the DVD subtitles. Whilst the expansive plot is highly ambitious, the end of the film, playing fast and loose with physics I fear, requires a gravity-defying suspension of belief (although I guess the same could equally be said of 2001: A Space Odyssey).

However, the film has stayed so firmly lodged in my mind for 24 hours I will make a rare exception to my rating ‘rule’. Overall, this is top-notch Sci-Fi film. And a final word:  PEOPLE… THIS IS A MUST SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN! 

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.