Friday, January 9, 2015

"The Imitation Game" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Imitation Game," the DVDs "Good
 People" and "Snowpiercer," and the new HBO documentary "Regarding Susan Sontag," as well as the book "Mermaids in Paradise."  I also get you caught up on how I am doing with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project: "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Akira."] 



 
 
 
 


Mostly true story of mathematician Alan Turing who worked with the British government during WWII to break the Nazi's Enigma Code.

Alan, played wonderfully by BenedictCumberbatch, who has one of the greatest actor names ever (don't you think?), is a tortured genius.  He is socially inept, was bullied in school, is a homosexual (a criminal offense in Britain at the time), but he is brilliant.  When he begins working on the top secret mission to crack the Enigma Code, he so infuriates his commanding office (Charles Dance), that he is ignored and almost fired until he writes a letter to Winston Churchill himself and is given full reign over the project, much to his superiors' and colleagues' dismay. 

The Enigma Code is impossible for the human mind to comprehend because as soon as the code might be cracked one day, the Nazis change it another.  Each day poses a new code to crack.  So Turing comes up with the idea of a machine that can do the work for them.  His work is maddening, however, to everyone around him as he single-handedly builds "Christopher," his machine (named after his sad boyhood crush), in effect, one of the first computers as we know them today.

The story begins after the War, in 1951, with a mysterious break-in at Turing's house where nothing is taken. The investigating officer (Rory Kinnear) is intrigued by Turing and feels something is amiss and sets out to find out just who he is.  Flashbacks tell Turing's story, jumping all around from his childhood to WWII to the present creating a sort of choppy narrative. Much dramatic license was used to tell Turing's story and more could have been said about the meaning of "the imitation game," but as a film, it is sad and riveting.  Turing was as much an enigma as a man as the code he was trying to break.

Cumberbatch does as amazing piece of work here as he plays a person who takes everything everyone says literally, says what he thinks without caring for how it will be received, and basically doesn't give a damn about anything except cracking the code. Let's just say he is socially inept. That's putting it kindly. He is tortured by his homosexuality and loneliness. It's an exceptional performance that will no doubt we rewarded with an Academy Award nomination.  Keira Knightly plays Joan Clarke, one of the code breakers and Turing's intellectual equal, a single woman trying to make something of herself in a 1940's man's world.  She is good, but I don't see this performance as Academy Award material.  Other recognizable British actors abound.

Rosy the Reviewer says...The British really know how to make movies!  One of the best of the year!
 
 
 
 

***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)




Snowpiercer (2013)
 
 

It's the future where an experiment to solve global warming has frozen the world and now the lucky few survivors (if you can call them lucky) are aboard a train that travels continuously, hoping the world will eventually thaw.

In 2014, global warming was a threat, so a chemical was sent into the sky to cool down the planet.  Oops.  It didn't work and everything froze.  Now it's 2031 and the only survivors are on a train, divided into those in the front (First Class), middle (Economy or your Middle Class) and those in the back, the "Freeloaders."  Sort of like our present economy.

 Like "The Hunger Games," the people in power are vibrantly dressed, crazy with power and with over-the-top personalities. The claustrophobic setting of an endlessly running train creates a dark tension.

Chris Evans ("CaptainAmerica") stars as Curtis, the leader of the Freeloaders, those in the back of the train, the poorest of the poor.  They are planning an uprising. They plot to take over the "sacred engine" that rules all, piloted by the mysterious "Wilfred."  They free a prisoner, Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) who designed the security system for the train and his daughter, Yona (Ah-sung Ko), who is clairvoyant.  Both are addicted to drugs so Curtis offers them drugs to help get them up front where they can take over the engine run by the enigmatic "Wilfred."  Who is he?  Will he turn out be just a man behind a curtain, like "The Wizard of Oz?"

Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton (in garish make-up, looking terrible as usual and playing yet another weird character), John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer also star. The film is directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho in his English language debut. 

It's an interesting premise and that is what drives the viewer until the last half hour when the film falls into melodrama and we get beaten up by the message: that for things to run properly, we must all know our place.
 
Curtis says, "You know what I hate about myself?  I know what people taste like and babies taste best."  Ew.  Where are we?  "SoylentGreen?" 

And if the 17-year-old girl and the little boy are the only survivors of the world...double ew.
 
That and some other lumps and thumps as this train goes round and round the world crop up and are nagging, such as where did all of their supplies come from if they had been on the train for 17 years?
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...but I'm a cheap date.  I actually liked this film, and you will too, if you like stylish, intelligent, though grim, scifi.
 
 


Good People (2014)
 


A young American couple, a couple of "good people," with money troubles living in London find a bag of cash in their dead tenants' apartment and decide to keep it.  But there are some bad guys out there who don't want them to have it.
 
The movie opens with the bad guys engaged in a robbery with one bad guy, Ben, killing another bad guy and running off with the money.  Next we are introduced to Tom (James Franco) and Anna (Kate Hudson), an American couple living in London who are looking for a fresh start.  They have money problems - and, hey, who wouldn't?  London is EXPENSIVE!  And right away, I go, wait a minute.  How does an American couple with money problems end up in London, the most expensive city in the world?  How did Anne get a work permit so she could work as a teacher? I couldn't stop thinking about that.
 
Anyway...
 
So when their tenant (turns out it's our bad guy, Ben, who we "met" at the beginning of the film) dies of an overdose in the apartment Tom and Anna are subletting, Tom and Anna are gobsmacked (I am really into the London thing) to find a bag containing 220,000 pounds stashed up in the ceiling, especially since Anna also wants to get fertility treatments.  It's not hard to rationalize keeping a windfall like that, even if Tom and Anna are "good people."
 
Enter John Halden (Tom Wilkinson), a police detective who suspects something's up, and those bad guys I mentioned earlier?  They also come knocking and terrorize the hell out of Tom and Anne, until they are forced to fight back. Here is the thing about English bad guys, by the way.  They are B-A-D.  Not your cultured English gents, these.  They are BADASS and scary as hell.  You watch enough British films starring "hard men," you will know what I mean.
 
Cliches abound: the father whose daughter died of a drug overdose intent on revenge on those who sold her the drugs; infighting among the bad guys; double-crossing; the terrorized becoming the terrorizers. The film reminded me of "Straw Dogs" where Dustin Hoffman and Susan George were terrorized in their home by thugs, except this one isn't as good.
 
I like James Franco here, though, in a straight role where he isn't mugging with that huge smile of his. Likewise, Kate Hudson is an appealing actress. But it's not much of a role.  I wonder when she will get her own "Private Benjamin" and really break out as an actress like her mother did.  Ironically, the screenplay was written by Kelly Masterson, the same person who wrote the screenplay for "Snowpiercer (see review above)" and one of my favorite films, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," but this one doesn't have the intensity or the depth of either of those.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...a disappointing thriller.
 
 
 



Susan Sontag was an American writer, a cultural critic, a political activist, filmmaker and feminist and this documentary reveals the woman behind the career.
 
She graduated from high school at 15, went to college and married at 17.  The marriage didn't last but it produced a son, whom she abandoned for a time to continue her studies at Harvard and Oxford.  She was a driven personality who divided her time between Paris and New York.  She was a feminist, a lesbian, a "woman of the fifties" trying to live a literary academic life.
 
Her most famous books include "On Photography," where she worried that through photography people would remember only the photograph, not the people or events, and "Illness as Metaphor," where she debunked the notion that people are somehow responsible for their own illnesses.  She put forth the idea that there is such a thing as unmerited catastrophe and you don't need to feel guilty about it. She was an intellectual, but one of the first writers to write about and defend pop culture (thank you, Susan).
 
Despite all of her acclaim and awards, she was always worried about what her younger self would think, that she hadn't accomplished enough, that she would be transient, a thing of the past.  In that, she reminded me of Sylvia Plath, but the difference between the two was Sontag's will to live.
 
Sontag fought three different bouts of cancer, each one a death sentence that she would not accept.  She said, "While I was busy zapping the world with my mind, my body fell down" and "Death is the opposite of everything."  She beat the first two, but succumbed to the third.
 
Patricia Clarkson reads from Sontag's books, and Sontag comes off as very self-centered and didactic, but perhaps that is what one needs to be to live such a life, dedicated to art and thought.
 
"My idea of a writer:  someone interested in everything."
 
Directed with sensitive skill and perception by Nancy Kates, this is an engrossing portrait of an important 20th century writer.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...If you like documentaries about interesting people, you will like this film...and you need to know who she is.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

 
288 To Go! 

Have you seen these?



 

The epic story of T.E. Lawrence and his contribution to the Arab Revolt against the Turkish Empire during W.W. I.
 
I know...you don't have to say it. I can't believe it either, that I didn't see this film when it came out in 1962 nor since, considering it won Best Picture, David Lean won Best Director, Peter O'Toole won Best Actor and Omar Shariff won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards along with a slew of other awards and that I consider myself a moodie (I made that up.  It's like a foodie except about movies.)
 
Well, folks, I was 14 and not drawn to a film that had no women in it, no cute clothes, took place in the desert, was about war and was four hours long.  I was kind of a shallow teen-ager, I guess.
 
But I can appreciate this film now, especially in light of our current relations with the Middle East and what it took to make a film like this in the early 1960's - no CGI, people!  Epic is indeed the word. Admirer Steven Spielberg estimates that if this film were made today it would cost $285 million.

Lawrence was a bit of a nutter, but his contributions to the Arab Revolt made him a media king which went to his head a bit until he was cut down to size in battle and discovered "that bloodlust has replaced honor and arrogance has replaced courage."
 
Seeing it now is interesting considering the IMDB description of Lawrence - "a flamboyant and controversial military figure," "flamboyant" being an early euphemism for "gay?"  There was speculation about Lawrence's sexuality and it appears in the film that O'Toole is playing him that way, though in 1962, heaven forbid, we would come right out and say such a thing.  But like I said, there were no women to be seen.
 
Why it's a Must See:  "One of the greatest epics of all time, Lawrence of Arabia epitomizes all that motion pictures can be.  Ambitious in every sense of the word, David Lean's Oscar-grabbing masterpiece...makes most movies pale in comparison and has served as an inspiration for countless filmmakers, most notably technical masters like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg...and fellow enthusiast Martin Scorsese."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...they don't make 'em like this anymore.  And whether or not you like the subject matter, this is one of those films you have to be able to say you have seen.
 
 
 
Akira (1988)
 
 

Hyped as the most expensive anime movie ever made, this film tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo in 2019 and Keneda, a punk biker and his friend Tetsuo, who has psychic powers.  The government finds out about Tetsuo. Worried that he will be more powerful than Akira, a now imprisoned psychic who caused Tokyo's destruction, they plot to kill him. 
 
I have never been an anime fan, but was moved by "The Grave of the Fireflies."  For me, this one doesn't even come close to that one.  This one seems to be aimed at teenaged boys.

Why it's a Must See: "Katsuhiro Otomo's animated masterpiece...is the pinnacle of Japanese apocalyptic science fiction...Otomo's genius lies in linking the apocalypse with the rage of disaffected teenagers...imagine if a teenager had telekinetic powers that increase exponentially with his emotions, and imagine that this teenager were the most angry, resentful little bastard you've ever met.  Think about that and then think about the most epic scenes of devastation you could possibly imagine and you have this film...this is adolescence causing destruction on an epic scale, drawing on memories of the atom bombs dropped on Japan...and our continuing collective fears of annihilation."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...I didn't get it, but then I'm not a disaffected teenaged boy either.
 
 
 
 
***Book of the Week***

 

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millett (2014)
 
 
 
Deb and Chip are on their honeymoon in the Caribbean and while out scuba diving discover mermaids!
 
Deb is an opinionated smart-alek and Chip likes everyone.  When they meet up with scientist Nancy, they discover mermaids. But they aren't the only ones.  The resort knows the mermaids are there too and plan on starting a theme park to capitalize on them.  And then there is a murder!
 
It's time for another novel!  I am expanding my horizons this year to include more fiction but if this one is any indication of what lies ahead for me, I am not looking forward to it.
 
Not a fan of smart ass narrators and this is a flimsy story.  I am shocked that Millet has been up for a Pulitzer.  Well not for this one anyway.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...didn't like it.  Back to some nonfiction for awhile.
 
 
 
Thanks for Reading!
 
That's it for this week!
 
See you Tuesday for
 
"Librarian Fashion"
(And, no, that's not an oxymoron)
 
 
 
 

 

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