The Imitation Game

imitation-game-benedict-cumberbatch_612x380

 

DIR: Morten Tyldum WRI: Graham Moore PRO: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman DOP: Óscar Faura ED: William Goldenberg DES: Maria Djurkovic MUS: Alexandre Desplat CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Charles Dance

 

A handsomely mounted, solidly entertaining biopic, The Imitation Game, gives a partially fictionalised account of the life of English mathematician and logician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II, and later died by his own hand after being forced to undergo chemical castration to “cure” his homosexuality.

 

While Michael Apted’s Enigma (2001) attempted the awkward task of making action heroes and romantic leads of Bletchley boffins, The Imitation Game takes a more level-headed approach to the subject.  Morten Tyldum’s assured direction offers a carefully calibrated mixture of suspense and cosiness (echoed in Alexandre Desplat’s tense but oddly quaint score), sculpting the film around Benedict Cumberbatch’s central performance as Turing.  Unlike his turn as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate (2013), which never rose above meticulous impersonation, Cumberbatch makes Turing a rounded creation, balancing intellectual assurance and social discomfort, even when saddled with some rather on-the-nose dialogue.  Mark Strong makes an impression as a shady MI6 agent, but Cumberbatch’s real foil here is Keira Knightley, playing Turing’s fellow cryptanalyst, and one-time fiancée, Joan Clarke.  Knightley has a tremendously appealing presence, and she gives Clarke an effervescence that tempers the script’s tendency to reduce her to a mere emblem of the condition of being a woman in a “man’s world”.

 

The film was written by an American, Graham Moore, and it shows.  Moore has a firm grasp of scriptwriting formulae, but is on less sure footing conjuring a sense of place and time.  The characters’ eagerness to disclose their emotions to one another, usually through aphorism, feels neither particularly British nor particularly of the period, and a handful of nagging anachronisms and Americanisms (in particular, the persistent use of the word “smart” to mean intelligent, as distinct from quick-witted) would surely have snagged on the finely tuned sensitivities of Bletchley Park’s Oxbridge-schooled code-breakers.  More disconcerting than these minor quibbles is the script’s suggestion that Turing’s code-breaking machine was developed to fill the void left by a deceased childhood beloved.  It’s not only commendable, but essential, that Turing’s sexuality be part of this narrative, but that doesn’t imply that it should be made to “account” for his particular genius – a move that risks trivialising his achievement and romanticising his persecution.  Reducing the invention of the digital computer to a compensation for love lost makes for an affecting back-story, but rather undercuts the magnitude of Turing’s contribution to our age.

 

Still, while one doesn’t have to be Alan Turing to find the script’s plays on pattern and code a little obvious, The Imitation Game remains engrossing for its full two-hour running time.  Sturdy craftsmanship, strong performances, and a perennially fascinating subject make it one of the more appealing pieces of awards-bait to emerge thus far this season.

 

David Turpin

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

114 minutes

The Imitation Game is released 14th November 2014

The Imitation Game – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM

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Belle

Belle Movie Stills

DIR: Amma Asante • WRI: Misan Sagay • PRO: Damian Jones • ED: Victoria Boydell, Pia Di Ciaula  • DOP: Ben Smithard • DES: Simon Bowles • MUS: Rachel Portman • CAST: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson

The inspiration for director Amma Asante’s fascinating period costumed drama, Belle, came from quite an unusual place – in Scone Palace at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, there hangs a painting of two young women from the 18th century. One of the women is pale-skinned and blue-eyed, and tenderly rests her arm on the black woman standing next to her, who has her dark black hair wrapped in a turban and sports a mischievous grin. It was this painting’s depiction of the young black woman that ultimately galvanised writer Misan Sagay to delve into the historical records of the time and unearth the story surrounding her. The illegitimate child of a black slave and a Royal Navy captain (Matthew Goode), Dido Belle Lindsay was sent to live with her great-uncle, the Lord of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, in the safe and protected environment of Kenwood House in Hampstead, spared from an underprivileged and poverty-stricken upbringing, and raised as an aristocrat along with the other girl in the painting, her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon).

And so, in amongst the lavishly decorated corridors adorned with opulent portraits, stately dining rooms lit by candlelight, wide open living areas, and the lush, aesthetically pleasing gardens is where Dido resides as part of the family, under the watchful eye of Lord and Lady Mansfield. However, even though she is certainly treated as an equal in the estate, Dido lives in a Georgian England where the economy is still very much dependant on the slave trade, where less than a third of the black population is free, and where her mere presence at the after-dinner recitals in her own home can cause looks of shock and bewilderment from the distinguished guests.

Even though Lord and Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) treat her as if she were one of their own, they do not allow her to eat with her family when they are hosting; the world outside the estate still looks upon the black population as second-class citizens, or as the bigoted James Ashford (Tom Felton playing a Georgian Draco Malfoy), one of the potential suitors to Elizabeth puts it, “rare and exotic”. Dido duly obliges to the wishes of her guardians and maintains a stiff upper lip. Traditions must be honoured, unwritten rules must be abided, and emotions must be suppressed.

The conventional yet entertaining Jane Austen elements soon come into play, with both Dido and Elizabeth now old enough to court potential suitors who will hopefully be able to provide not only financial stability, but also the desired social status of being married to a man of prestige within the British aristocracy. Neither girl wants to end up like Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton providing comic relief), Lord Mansfield’s unmarried sister. In a surprising turn of events however, it’s revealed that Dido is the heiress to a large fortune and is thus elevated to unprecedented heights in the British aristocracy. Upon learning of her new found fortune, the arrogant Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson), the mother of potential suitors to the Mansfield girls, quickly puts her deep-seated racism and antipathy towards the “rare and exotic” to one side and allows her son, Oliver Ashford, to take Dido’s hand in marriage. No matter what the colour of your skin is, or your given class, money is by far the most influential factor when it comes to choosing a life partner.

It’s only when Dido meets the dashing young lawyer, John Davinier (the film’s ‘Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’ relationship), who is under the tutelage of her great-uncle, that she begins to adopt revolutionary inclinations and instils in her a sense of pride towards her heritage. Lord Mansfield is also presiding over a case that could ultimately bring the English slave trade to its knees: the Zong massacre of 1781 in which 142 African slaves were thrown from a ship bound for Jamaica so the crew could claim insurance on their supposed cargo. Dido begins to question the regressive social conventions, the strict formalities, and her place in the aristocracy as a woman of mixed race (“How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants and too low in rank to dine with my family?”).

One of the most rewarding aspects of the film is witnessing Dido’s transformation from a shy, subservient, and downtrodden young woman into a confident and determined activist, which is in part due to actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who deserves universal recognition for her portrayal of the titular heroine. Even though very little is actually known about the historical figure of Dido Belle, Mbatha-Raw successfully brings the character to life, delivering a dignified and enthralling performance of a young woman who is entangled within the politics of race, gender, and class of 18th century England.

As acting Lord Chief Justice and as a man of strict principles, Lord Mansfield (a towering performance by the great Tom Wilkinson) is obligated to uphold the law and to enforce the rules in his courtroom, yet his love for Dido forces him to re-evaluate his position on the significant case. We are treated to passionate and rousing speeches about the legitimacy of the law from Mansfield, and then speeches from Devinier (Sam Reid) and Dido about equality and the abhorrence of slavery, which ultimately builds up to the historical courtroom climax.

The film’s period setting will certainly not appeal to every viewer, and at times, the film suffers from bouts of mediocrity. As well as that, the Austenesque elements feel uninspired and formulaic, and the film unfortunately often veers into territory one would usually associate with the average Hollywood romantic comedy. Asante’s direction and shooting style remains safe: competent yet nothing special. Ultimately, it’s the film’s conventionalities that keep it from greatness. But in spite of that, however, Belle, just like Steve McQueen’s seminal 12 Years a Slave, is an extremely important film in forming our perception of the past and in giving us an insight into the absolute horrors of slavery. In spite of the film’s shortcomings, Asante and Sagay have succeeded in bringing such a fascinating and complex subject from the darker periods of England’s history to light.

Gearoid Gilmore

PG (See IFCO for details)
104 mins

Belle is released on 13th June 2014

Belle  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Stoker

 

DIR: Chan-wook Park • WRI: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson •  PRO: Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott,  Tony Scott  • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Nicolas De Toth • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

 

Like many J-Horror and Hong Kong action directors past, it was inevitable that several of the talented and successful Korean Wave directors would eventually emigrate to Hollywood. It makes sense: that is where the money is, and there’s already a cult audience in English-speaking territories. Unfortunately, as has been proven by the likes of John Woo and Hideo Nakata, increased resources do not always directly equate to artistic triumphs. No matter: two cult Koreans have decided to give it a go regardless. The subversive genre master Kim Jee-woon made the transition only a few weeks ago withThe Last Stand – generally regarded as a decent enough effort but a far cry from the bold and provocative likes of I Saw the Devil or A Tale of Two Sisters. Can Park Chan-wook – director of the beloved Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst – do any better with his English language debut Stoker?

 

Breathe a sigh of relief, Oldboy fans! While it’s questionable whether Stoker will be quite as warmly received as his previous work, Park has ensured he’s hit Hollywood soil at a sprint. It becomes quickly apparent that stylistically at least this is a film every bit as demented, eccentric and intoxicating as his native-language fare. Stoker is a film that builds its creepy, intense atmosphere around boldly cinematic language. Chan-wook has made the wise decision to bring his frequent cinematography collaborator Chung-hoon Chung along for the ride, and together they record a huge amount of rich images. Consistently offbeat framing choices and distinctive lighting perfectly suit the film’s strange goings-on. Added to this is the visceral editing that allows the already powerful images to truly resonate. This is perhaps the most stunningly presented mainstream release 2013 has yet offered. Clint Mansell offers a suitably effective score.

 

Lucky the film’s style is so enchanting, as the director is working with a script (written, somewhat bizarrely, by the Prison Break lead actor Wentworth Miller) that necessitates such an imaginative presentation. The title refers to the Stoker family, particularly teenage India (an excellent Mia Wasikowska). After her father dies, she’s not left alone with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) for too long before long lost uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) comes to stay – in fact, he doesn’t even leave after the funeral. Evelyn is welcoming of such a charming male presence, but India is immediately less fond of her mysterious uncle. Suspicions are further raised following a brief visit by aunt Gwendolyn (JackiWeaver) who is visibly not too happy about Charles’ sudden reappearance. It is clear all is not as it seems.

 

For the first hour, this is all perfectly serviceable stuff: it’s weird, disturbing, darkly comic and – as is to be expected from Park Chan-wook – cheekily perverse. The performances are strong, particularly from the talented Wasikowska, who has finally been granted a lead role that makes great use out of obvious talents under-utilised in the likes of Alice in Wonderland. It’s the last half-hour that struggles to sustain the cleverness, with a few unconvincing and predictable developments proving to be notable script weak points.

 

Luckily, even as the script falters, Chan-wook gives it his all, and the film is consistently imaginatively directed. At ninety minutes it also doesn’t overstay its welcome, and makes up for a few prior shortcomings with a killer ending. The greatest compliment that we can pay to the Korean auteur – for the first time working with someone else’s screenplay – is that this script in the hands of any other director would likely fail to ignite. Under his guiding hand, Stoker is instead damn close to a triumph.

Stephen McNeice

18 (see IFCO website for details)
98mins
Stoker is released on 1st March 2013

Stoker  – Official Website

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Leap Year

Leap Year

DIR: Anand Tucker • WRI: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont • PRO: Gary Barber, Chris Bender, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Jake Weiner • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Nick Moore • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode

In 1930, a screening of Smiling Irish Eyes in The Savoy cinema was interrupted when a group of students voiced their protest against this romantic comedy populated by stereotypes that was no more than ‘a travesty of the Irish life and an insult to Irish people’. The film received its fair share of criticism and together with the demonstration saw the swift cancellation of its run. In 2010, we get Leap Year. If only history were to repeat itself.

Now, we all know how common it is and in keeping with Irish tradition that a woman can take the opportunity once every four years and propose to a man on the 29th of February. Leap Year presents the tale of one of the millions of lucky women who have this once-every-four-year opportunity. Amy Adams is Anna Brady, whose snobbish, Blackberry-addicted, materialistic life is meaningless without a ring on her finger. When her lizard-looking boyfriend fails to pop the question and heads off to Dublin, ‘Ayerland’, for a convention, Anna decides to take matters into her own hands and follow him to the Emerald Isle so that she can demand his hand in marriage on that magical day that is the 29th of February. Sadly, on this moronic premise a film was made – a romantic comedy that is neither.

Leap Year ineptly contrives hubby-hungry, Dublin-bound Amy to leave the US and land in Wales (what?!), take a boat to Dingle (what?!) and secure the escort services of local barman with alien accent Declan (Matthew Goode) to get her to Dublin in 3 days (what?!). The gruff loutish rogue and the stuck-up prissy damsel take an instant dislike to each other – what could possibly happen? From here on in, we’re presented with ludicrous stereotypes of a retrograde Ireland as the pair set off from Dingle to Dublin and get into cockamamie scrapes that see our Declan win the heart of Amy and show her what real life and true love is (if only the poptabulous music combo Foreigner had had Declan when they sang that poignant song of longing in the ’80s).

The entire film seems to be the product of a random generator of Irish stereotypes thrown on top of a trite romcom story cobbled together by witless dullards. Step forward writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (begetters of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas). On top of the crude representation of Ireland, there is also the feebleminded portrayal of  the foolish posturings of the lead female. Is there really a need in 2010 for a film that tells the story of an uptight, stuck-up narcissist who is shown the error of her ways by a brutish rogue by undergoing a series of ritual humiliations that are more offensive than funny?

There are some mind-numbing scenes of bewildering incredulity; not least the squirmingly contrived first kiss scene, and a script that beggars belief. At the stage when Anna drunkenly tells Declan that he’s a big lion with a thorn in his paw, you know it’s time to hunt down every copy of this film and destroy it – future generations will thank us.

The sloppy script and narrative set-ups assimilate any talent Amy Adams attempts to bring to proceedings. What can Adams do? A likeable actress at the best of times, she has screen presence but cannot breathe life into this corpse of a movie. She tries. Imagine the Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch. Amy Adams is Michael Palin, the shopkeeper, trying his best to convince that there’s some sort of life in the parrot. And the audience is John Cleese, the customer, protesting the shopkeeper’s claims that there are signs of life. Now, imagine that Leap Year is the parrot: ‘This film is dead. This film is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late film. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. Its metabolical processes are of interest only to historians. It’s kicked the bucket. It’s shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-film.’

I feel better now.

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (see IFCO for details)

Leap Year is released 26th Feb 2010

Leap Year – Official Website

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