15th Mar2015

The Imitation Game – DVD

by timbaros

THE IMITATION GAMEThe life of famous WWII codebreaker Alan Turing is told in the new film The Imitation Game. The movie flips back and forth between Turing’s life as a young boy in boarding school, to his days as part of the team hired by MI6 to crack the German Enigma Codes, to the time of his arrest for Gross Indecency (basically for being gay). Sliced in between this is footage of WWII; bombings, sea battles, air raid shelters and bombed out London which gives the film a true feeling of being there at that time in those places.

Turing is the man credited with inventing the Enigma machine. It translated German codes into English which helped the Allies defeat the Nazi’s in several crucial battles by finding out the German army’s positions and plans. Turing’s contribution is said to have saved many lives and shaved at least two year off WW2. And Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing is a revelation.

Alan Turing was a prodigy, but according to the movie he was also an outcast. He was taunted and teased while he was in boarding school, including at one point having food thrown all over him. His classmates regularly beat him up, and one time they shoved him under the floor boards in school, trapping him under a piece of furniture. We are also told that Turing had a close friendship with a fellow classmate whose name was Christopher. They were inseparable, and the film leads us to believe that love was blossoming between the two. Whether this is factual or not is the question.

The film begins in 1951 when Turing’s Manchester flat has been burgled, burgled by a friend of a young man who Turing was having a relationship with. During the investigation Turing admits to having a sexual relationship with the young man, and they both are charged with gross indecency.

In his 20’s, Turing is portrayed as a loner. He enjoys running in the countryside, and when he’s hired by MI6 at the age of 27 to work at ‘The Betchley Radio Manufacturing Company,’ it’s a time when he excels and blossoms, but when he’s assigned to work with a group of men, he is uncomfortable and doesn’t quite fit in. These men include ladies man Hugh (Matthew Goode) and Scottish John (Allen Leech). One woman does join their ranks, Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightley), and we are led to believe that Turing emotionally fell in love with her and even asked her to marry him. At first Turing’s male co-workers don’t like him – they find him different, so Joan suggests Turing to do something nice for them, so he brings them apples, and then they all bond. Was life so simple back then?

Turing creates his machine, at great expense, much to the dismay of his commanding officer Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong). Disarmingly, Turing names his Enigma machine Christopher, in honor of his school boy crush, who Turing is told has simply disappeared from school. So history shows that Turing and his team were instrumental in helping to end WW2. But unfortunately later in Turing’s life it would all come to naught after he was convicted for having committed acts of homosexuality.

The title of The Imitation Game comes from a paper that Turing wrote in 1950 which jump-started the new realm of artificial intelligence (though Turing called it mechanical intelligence). And we are told that this film is based on a true story. But how much of the film is true and how much was made up turns the movie not into a true life account of a genius and a true account of Turing’s life but a film that is entertaining, well made – an excellent achievement, which, however, leaves the viewer to be skeptical of the story.

Cumberbatch is superb. He perfectly plays Turing in all stages of his adult life. We see through him the pain of being an outsider as well as the joy of cracking the code. It’s a performance worthy of an Oscar. Knightley is surprisingly good as Turings ‘love interest.’ Knightley is tasked with bringing emotion and femininity into the film. She succeeds. The standout in Turing’s team is Goode. But is he who he says he is?

Director Morten Tydlum (Headhunters) has beautifully crafted a movie that plays as a history lesson. And all technical aspects of the film are outstanding; from the costumes to the luscious cinematography, to the sets. But it’s the script that most people will have a problem with. Screenwriter Graham Moore, in writing his first film script and who is credited as an Executive Producer, took many liberties in writing this film. Whether this was done to make it more commercial and exciting, it has succeeded. But it’s not a 100% portrayal of the life of Alan Turing, it plays out just like any other film. Perhaps someone in the future will make a definitive documentary on the life of Alan Turing. Two attempts to tell his story – the 1996 television movie ‘Breaking the Code’, and 2011’s ‘Codebreaker’ – were just that, attempts, and it was hoped that The Imitation Game would be the definitive story of Turing’s life, but alas it is not. But Turings life, and legacy, live on.

Turing eventually committed suicide one year after his arrest (1952). In 2013, Queen Elizabeth pardoned him. What took so long.

12th Jan2014

12 Years a Slave – Film

by timbaros

images-57In 1853, Solomon Northup wrote an autobiography called 12 Years a Slave, 160 years later it has been turned into a film with the same title, and is one of the best films of the year.

Directed by British Director Steve McQueen (Shame), 12 Years a Slave tells Northrup’s true story of his kidnapping in Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery, a time when blacks in the United States were commonly and legally treated as slaves. Chiwitel Ejiofor plays Northrup, a skilled carpenter and a free black family man with two children living in upstate New York. One evening he meets two men, they start drinking, one of them drugs his drink, and then he wakes up and realizes that he is going to be sold into slavery. He protests, telling all around him that he is a free man, unfortunately his papers are at his home, so of course no one believes him. So this begins his time as a slave for 12 years, which would see him being shipped to Louisiana, going from one owner to another, and from one who is kind to one who is brutal. What he has to endure in these 12 years is enough to break any man down, but Northrup doesn’t give up.
Northrup is initially ‘bought’ by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a well-meaning but clueless plantation owner. But things get worse for Northrup. He is sold to the brutalistic and cruel Edwin Epps (an excellent Michael Fassbender, who is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor) and his passive wife (Sarah Paulson). Epps is aggressive with his slaves, literally treats them like dirt, and punishes them when he is in a bad mood.┬áIn one brutal scene, Northrup is hung from a tree as punishment for fighting an overseer, with his feet barely touching the ground, enough to allow him not to hang himself, and he hangs there from morning to dusk, while the other slaves around him go about their work, and children play in the background. The look on Ejiofor’s Northrup conveys an image of a man who has given up hope to escape and who is now focused merely on survival. In another brutal scene that is possibly one of the most harrowing film scenes in recent memory (and one that will make you turn away), Epps punishes slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o – sure to receive the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in this movie), who had only briefly disappeared from the plantation to get a bar of soap. Egged on by his wife who knows that Ebbs has been sleeping (raping her) with her, Ebbs orders Northrup to lash Patsey as hard as he can, Northrup can only manage a few strokes when Ebbs takes over and savagely lashes her. It is a scene that was shot in real time, lasts only a few minutes, but feels much longer. Ebbs is in love with her but doesn’t know why he is in love with a slave, so he tries to destroy her.
Brad Pitt shows up near the end of the film (he is also a producer of the film) who has cast himself as a sort of Northrup’s savior, a Canadian labourer who listens to his story and then promises him that he will attempt to help him. It is Brad Pitt, while in a small role, is Brad Pitt – it is a bit distracting when he all of a sudden shows up.
Ejiofor, a British film, television and theatre actor, has either won or is nominated for Best Actor for his work in this film by over 40 critics organizations, including being nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and winning Best Actor by organizations such as the Boston Society of Film Critics to the Women Film Critics Circle Award. Ejiofor, previously seen in American Gangster, 2012 and Salt, outacts his fellow black actors from this season’s films: Forest Whitaker of The Butler and Idris Elba of Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom. Fassbender, and especially Nyong’o, deserve every award they will receive. 12 Years a Slave has just been nominated for 11 BAFTA’s, including nominations for Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o.
The stories of these slaves being beaten, raped, and tortured are told by McQueen’s detailed and controlled direction. How did McQueen find this story to tell? His wife is a historian and she recommended that he look into true accounts of slavery, she then found this book, and he said that he had to do it. It is a film where each performance is excellent, every scene has impact, and is emotional from the beginning to the very end. And each and every performance in this film is astounding.
Ejiofor recently told Vanity Fair Magazine that “I remember it (the book) and and being amazed by the story, and also realizing that it was quite daunting to step into something like that.” Yes, the film is quite daunting, but it is all the more daunting when you remember that this is the true life story of a man who lost 12 years of his life, and being away for 12 years from his family and home.