Saturday, March 14, 2015

Imitation Game (Benedict Cumberpatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance)


Code War

Honestly, I may not be intelligent enough to even talk about this film.  For the nerds here, I suggest reading up on everything you really should know about the man who inspired this film before or after viewing.  I would also suggest "Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges and/or Turing's Princeton paper available in pdf somewhere titled "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem"................. see what I mean?!  Here goes...

Alan Turing
In late 1930's, Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberpatch, invents the Turing machine, joins British intelligence, and builds the mother of all computers, which helps crack the code that turns the tide of WORLD WAR II.  Then, Turing ends his life in disgrace and despair.  The movie was also a two-hour logic game with phenomenal actors and editing sequences that made my head spin and my heart ache.  Costars include Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance (Alien 3, Underworld: Awakening, and Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Zero Dark Thirty, and Kingsman: The Secret Service), with a surprising turn by Allen Leach (Tom Branson in Downton Abbey).

Cumberpatch's portrayal of a tortured genius recalls a similarly beautiful performance by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash Jr. - also a code-breaker.  Cumberpatch is all brilliance and hubris and no charm.  His delivery of mile long speeches in ten seconds explaining Turing's intolerance for mildly intelligent people was hilarious.

Alan Turing was no doubt a beautiful mind, but sometimes I think it must be difficult to make code-breaking look thrilling.  We watch him build a super computer - not particularly thrilling.  Then, we watch it working -  again not particularly thrilling.  Obviously, this machine represents the "ticking clock" of the piece, less obviously, it represents love (watch the film and you will get my meaning).  The drama surrounding the weird little boy becoming the man building the machine is what kept me interested.  He struggles with small talk, or simply walking down the street (seriously, he even walked impatiently).  Yet, I could feel Turing's vulnerability and his capacity for compassion even while ruled by cold logic.  It is clear that he wears his algorithmically encoded heart on his sleeve, and watching genuine, sinister and jealous people interact with this man made the film a powerful viewing.

Knightley played Joan Clarke, a brilliant code-breaker with a heart of gold.  Her part in this loose portrayal of world history was not remarkable but solid as the best friend a guy like Turing needs.  I really appreciated seeing Allen Leach in this.  He added a wonderful dynamic to this cast.  Matthew Goode played the handsome, witty and charming buddy cop of the bunch.  Charles Dance as the Commander was the main antagonist, though I would not be quick to name antagonists in this film given there are so many: the Commander, the detective, Enigma, tradition, the war....

What I took away from this film, other than a brilliant depiction of a subsection of this hero's life, was its equally brilliant depiction of war as being waged and won with intelligence.  Bravo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Foxcatcher (Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum)



Multiple Academy Award nominee Foxcatcher is dark and haunting and worth every drawn out moment of the two-hour docudrama.   Foxcatcher is based on the true story of the tragic relationship between Olympic wrestling gold medalists Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and chemical-company heir John Du Pont (Steve Carell).  Full 1996 TIME Article "Blood on the Mat" Here.  Du Pont wants to sponsor and coach the Olympic wrestling team for USA and he wants the best wrestlers in the world to help him do that, but a toxic mix of obsession, jealousy and pride turns this venture into hell.

Reminiscent of Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black) in its dark simplicity, the story largely follows Mark Schultz and Du Pont as they develop an unlikely friendship as two lonely misfits - one of them mentally disturbed, the other emotionally.  Tatum is fantastic in his role as Mark Schultz.  He was vulnerable and light years from what I have ever seen him accomplish on screen.  What I took away from his portrayal of this Olympian was his profound loneliness. Although Mark Schultz looked strong, I could think only about protecting him.  As does his brother, David Schultz, who is played by Ruffalo with a light touch and a big heart.

I did not fully appreciate Steve Carell's talent until seeing this film.  Carell was amazing! If you are a fan of his, watch this.  You'll know his dedication to his craft is legit whether in comedy or drama. (that's all that needs be said)

The story moves slowly and gets progressively darker.  I truly do not remember any moments of levity, because even the "fun times" portrayed were indicative of the emotional harm being inflicted on these men who came to train and coach at Foxcatcher Farm.  Watching this was like watching a giant pin slowly move toward a giant balloon......... POP!

 Foxcatcher is creepy, but one of the best movies I have seen in recent years. Some may categorize this movie as a sports film.  I see it more as a sports-related docudrama with haunting images and impeccable sound (even the silence).  Wrestling is not the focus here.  These brothers could have been boxers, a singing duo or dancers.  What they did mattered little compared to what they represented for Du Pont in this film, which was winning.  Sadly, in the end, everyone lost.