Intro post / MY FILMS OF 2014

So, going forward into 2017 this WordPress site will be where I will post my movie reviews.  My understanding is that these posts are searchable, making it easier to find the film titles, directors and stars you want.  Please feel free to comment!

My first two posts will be a list of reviews from 2014 and 2015.  I am going to try and post the 2016 reviews as separate posts, let’s see how far I get.

 

Chris

 

 

MY FILMS OF 2014 with ratings and reviews

 

5 stars

Boyhood

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait

 

4 ½ stars

Finding Vivian Maier

Enemy

The Drop

Birdman

 

4 stars

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

Captain Phillips

Tim’s Vermeer

American Hustle

The Great Beauty

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nymphomania, Vol. 1

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

Snowpiercer

To Be Takei

Iraqi Odyssey

Xenia

Appropriate Behavior

Tamara Drew (2010)

Citizenfour

The Secret Trial Five

Edge of Tomorrow

Pride

 

3 ½ stars

Rush

Don Jon

Cutie and the Boxer

Enough Said

Oscar Nominated Short Films – Live Action

The Husband

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chef

Do I Sound Gay?

The Sound and The Fury

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

 

 

3 stars

Parkland

Her

August: Osage County

Guardians of the Galaxy

Cut Snake

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

X-men: Days of Future Past

 

 

2 ½ stars

Clear History

Welcome To Me

 

0 stars

Before We Go

 

Full Reviews:

Rush

A tight, tense movie about a topic I thought I would have zero interest in: Formula 1 car racing. It is anchored by two excellent performances by Chris Hemsworth, solidifying his movie star bona fides playing challenger James Hunt, and German actor Daniel Brühl (The Fifth Estate), who disappears into his role as champion Nikki Lauda. Director Ron Howard creates an eminently watchable film out of their rivalry by crafting a compelling narrative of risk and redemption.

 

Parkland

An odd retelling of the JFK assassination that is interesting in premise (how did the various peripheral characters cope that day) but ends up lacking something in the execution. It probably could have been improved with a single character perspective. Having so many points of view, from the Operating Room physicians and nurses at Parkland Hospital, to the reporter who captured the kill on Super 8 film, to the brother and mother of the assassin, leaves the narrative as a whole lacking in momentum.

 

Don Jon

A fun first directorial effort from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This movie looks outwardly like a conventional rom-com but is in fact a subversive take on the genre, examining the influence of media on young people’s expectations from relationships. It’s a little too clever for it’s own good, but nonetheless a sign of good things to come from a genuine talent.

 

Philomena

An entertaining take on a heartbreaking piece of Irish Catholic history, this tale of a elderly woman’s search for the child she was compelled to give up for adoption in her teen years is kept fresh and free of melodrama by the weaving in some fine character acting by Judi Dench and her co-star Steve Coogan.

 

Cutie and the Boxer

An eminently watchable art documentary about elderly New York artist couple Noriko and Ushiro Shinohara. The latter has a chaotic style most exemplified by his violent boxing paintings in which he literally punches the canvas with paint smeared boxing gloves. However Noriko emerges as the true maverick of the narrative as she finally steps out from under her husband’s shadow to voice long suppressed feelings about their impoverished life and about her own art and ideas.

 

Clear History

Funny if you enjoy Larry David’s shtick from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Here he plays a schmoe who misses out on investment jackpots by backing out of his stake in an electric car company (clearly the company is meant to be Tesla and the boss Elon Musk), and in embarrassment flees Silicon Valley for a quiet life on Martha’s Vineyard. Predictably enjoyable hi jinks arise when the same boss 10 years later moves in.

 

12 Years a Slave

A remarkable, brutal film that draws you in with story and performances while leaving you flinching, if not retching from the intense, gory violence and sexual depravity. While Tina Fey’s joke from the Golden Globes (“It totally changed my mind about slavery”) does come to mind at times — who exactly is McQueen trying to convince? — there is no doubt that this story of a free black man kidnapped and sold to a Southern plantation owner needed to be told, and well told it is.

 

Her

While there is much to admire about this movie by a favorite director, Spike Jonze, I have to say I found the premise completely unconvincing. This left me detached and prone to gaze on the interesting sets and ponder the fashion virtues of high waisted pants. But engaged in the story? Not so much.

 

Captain Philips

I highly enjoyed this well-made film that subverts thriller cliches by giving us two protagonists rather than a protagonist and an antagonist. Somali actor Barkhad Abdi, who scored a highly deserved Oscar nomination for the role of a “fisherman” tempted by the riches of piracy, holds his own against a very good Tom Hanks in the title role.

 

August: Osage County

Proof positive that Meryl Streep can get an Oscar nomination for almost anything, even the third-rate Edward Albee caricature she inflicts on us here. Julia Roberts, on the other hand, finds a more naturalistic and credible take as the aggrieved eldest daughter of Streep’s southern matriarch in this pointless movie that clearly should have remained on stage.

 

Enough Said

James Gandolfini’s last film is an enjoyable treat from the queen of the amiable relationship movie, Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, etc.) Julia Louis Dreyfus plays a lonely massage therapist caught in an unusual dilemma when she realizes her new client’s diatribes about her ex-husband actually refer to the man she has recently begun dating. And we know few people do awkward as well as JLD.

 

American Hustle

This kooky movie could have gone off the rails with just one weak link, but thankfully there are none. The performances are juicy without being over the top, which is good because there is no other way to describe the costumes. Jennifer Lawrence is a standout, but Christian Bale and Amy Adams are great too.

 

 

 

Tim’s Vermeer

Fascinating art documentary structured like a whodunnit, or rather, a howdunnit. Independently wealthy inventor Tim Jenison tries to solve the mystery of how 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer made the leap from the flat, playing card-like portraits of the time to painting luminous photorealistic masterpieces like Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Music Lesson. Jenison, who invented video technology that practically all TV studios use today, simply could not believe that Vermeer could paint such portraits without the aid of technology, and devises an experiment to see if he, will no training as an artist, could paint an equivalent painting using only technology available in Vermeer’s time.

 

 

Oscar Nominated Short Films Live Action

This collection of live action Oscar nominated short films is alternately dark and bitingly funny. Having watched them all, I think my choice to win is Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) a gripping, tense tale of a wife trying to escape an abusive marriage. The actual winner, Helium, about a child dying of an unspecified terminal illness who connects with a storytelling janitor, is unacceptably maudlin to my eyes, though it ticks all the boxes as Oscar bait.

 

The other three films include one requiring fair warning about brutal violence and rape scenes: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) a story about child soldiers in an African conflict. My second favourite is the shortest and funniest: Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) showing the hilarious antics of a family that sleeps in on the day of an important wedding. Lastly, The Voorman Problem, starring Martin Freeman as a forensic psychiatrist assessing a delusional patient who thinks he’s God, is good for a couple of choice lines (“Belgium. Really, even the Belgians wouldn’t miss it.”)

 

The Great Beauty

This year’s Oscar winner for best foreign language film is a love-hate letter to the city of Rome. We follow (often literally) journalist and socialite Jep Gambardella as he turns 65 and ponders the meaning of his life, whilst attending fabulous party after party. Striking imagery keep your attention in this rather weird yet strangely poignant film.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

So Wes Anderson may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found this movie utterly delightful and his best since the animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (Look for a few fun stop-motion elements here, too). I think what works best here is the presence of our staid young hero, Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy (played by the awesome Tony Revolori) who remains unflappable amidst all the zany antics.

 

Finding Vivian Maier

Not only is the story of Vivian Maier remarkable, but this documentary relating it is wonderfully entertaining. Unfolding like a detective story, directors Maloof and Siskel lead you through the mysterious life of Maier who has become something of a phenomenon in the world of photography. As a tremendous stash of negatives, prints and undeveloped film is purchased by Maloof at an auction out of simple curiosity, he becomes obsessed with finding out the identity of the photographer. He speaks with various people who had contact with Maier through her life as an eccentric nanny (fair warning, she was no Mary Poppins), tracking back to her roots in a village in France, then forward again to her elder years as a paranoid, hoarding recluse. The mystery of why such a talent did not ever publish or show her work is what keeps us fascinated though the directors also have that consummate documentarian skill of finding character in their interviewees too.

 

The Husband

So you may think you had a bad year, but Henry probably has you beat. His wife cheated on him, with a 14 year old, no less, and he’s left to raise their infant son while she’s in jail. The film begins just as he begins to crumble, and boy does he ever. Well acted and confidently directed, and with an excellent score. Not uplifting exactly, unless you’re into schadenfreude, but I suppose there’s comfort in knowing that when you think your life can’t possibly get any worse, you can always door a bike cop.

 

Enemy

A brilliant movie from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Not just filmed but explicitly set in a drab looking Toronto (at least insofar as anything in this movie is “explicit”). The kind of movie that makes you think for days afterward about its meaning. My take is that it is fundamentally about identity and existence, and hence the references to such notable existentialists as Kafka and Kubrick. And if you fell asleep reading that last sentence, don’t worry, there’s still Jake times two!

 

Nymphomania, Vol. 1

So the last time I went to a Lars von Trier movie (Melancholia) I nearly had a panic attack, so for a bit of cinematic exposure therapy I thought I’d take in his latest, also named for an archaic psychiatric diagnosis. (This time I had a glass of wine instead of 3 cups of coffee beforehand — better choice). The film starts off with a disclaimer that this is the “censored, abridged” version, which, given that the movie comes in two full length parts and is likely the most sexually explicit film you have ever seen in reputable company, I can only assume is some kind of Danish joke. All that being said, it is quite a good film, the sexual craziness made less overwhelming by the anchoring, gentle conversation between Charlotte Gainsbourg as the older version of our insatiable protagonist, Joe, and Stellan Skarsgård as her rescuer Seligman. The casting is perfect, with Shia Leboeuf as the younger Joe’s slimy beau and Christian Slater as her father, whose idealized handsomeness even as he dies in hospital is perhaps a clue to Joe’s motivations. But I wouldn’t bet on finding answers in Vol. II, von Trier is not that tidy a storyteller.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Was never much of a fan of this character, though I had heard that the stories in the comics got very interesting post 9/11. The politics of blind jingoism and restricting freedom in the name of freedom are a theme here and though it’s not a subtle theme by any stretch it does work. A fun movie with a little politics to go with your popcorn. Avoid the 3-d if you can.

 

X-men: Days of Future Past

I dare say this may be one for the X-men fanboys and fangirls rather than the general public. The thrill of seeing one of the classic X-men storylines from the comics replicated with visual panache on the screen may for them (okay, for us, guilty as charged) make up for some of the ponderous, too self-serious dialogue and complicated plot lines. Featuring a cameo (at least) from practically every character from the previous movies, and a few new ones, including the excellent Evan Peters as bratty speedster Quicksilver, it’s a lot to keep track of, but ultimately not unsatisfying.

 

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

 

Bollywood movies have intrigued me for some time, but with Netflix, access to them is easy as can be. This fantastic movie is the kind of flick Hollywood just doesn’t make anymore. Three life-long friends go on a bachelor’s road trip to Spain just before one of them ties the knot, and adventures and romance, as well as a neat plot twist, ensue. And not a poop or penis joke in sight! How refreshing! Starring some of the most famous people in the world that you’ve never heard of, including the incandescently hot Hrithik Roshan (he of the abs and suspiciously hairless torso in the pic below). Feel good movies don’t get much better than this.

 

Chef

 

A road movie of sorts about a chef who starts a food truck after he gets fired from his restaurant, Chef charms and seduces you with a great ensemble cast and luscious foodporn such that you can forgive some of its gaping plot holes.

 

 

Snowpiercer

An ambitious sci-fi allegory for the human condition and class struggle, much more successful that the similarly themed Elysium. An attempt to combat global warming backfires plunging the world into an apocalyptic ice age in which humanity’s only survivors exist on a planet-circumnavigating bullet train. Seventeen years later, Chris Evans leads a not-so-merry band of social climbers in a fight to move up from their wretched existence in the Tail to the extravagantly appointed Front. A decidedly non-Hollywood thriller that asks the provocative question: is an unjust society worth saving, even if it’s the only one you’ve got?

 

Boyhood

I have never seen a Richard Linklater film before, and now feel like I have definitely been missing out. Filmed over a period of 12 years, the must-experience part of this film is the very odd sense one gets from watching actor Ellar Coltrane age from 6-18 years in this fictional coming of age story. It is always unsettling, but exciting, if you love film, to see someone break conventions, but I can’t remember when I last had this feeling. We’re so used to the convention in film of a second, older actor playing a progressively aging character (or, alternatively, feats of makeup magic). Instead, here, you get to see the character aging naturally, and it’s extraordinary. That it’s in the service of a rather ordinary story is, to me, no drawback, because, let’s face it, you’ve not seen this story portrayed quite like this.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy

 

A fun, if at times confusing and overwhelming, crack at the space opera genre courtesy of the consistently good Marvel Studios. It’s best to not think too much about the plot (tiny object will destroy the universe, blah blah blah), and enjoy the comedy, which is handled expertly by lead Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper doing some pretty good voice acting as a talking raccoon who’s good with his hands (at least that part is perfectly realistic if my efforts, in vain, to seal my trash bins are any indication). I think the movie benefits from low expectations, so if your friends are raving about it, take it with a grain of salt.

 

To Be Takei

 

A hilarious and heartfelt tour through the life of George Takei and his husband Brad as they manage Takei’s late-life career renaissance as a human rights advocate for equal marriage, social media darling and, yes, actor! If you only know him as Lt. Sulu of the starship Enterprise, you barely know him at all. The movie is framed with stories of Takei’s family’s imprisonment at the WWII Japanese-American internment camps (including scenes from the musical he co-produced, Allegiance, which is based on this experience). With hilarious cameos from his Star Trek co-stars, especially William Shatner, who appears mildly baffled to be in documentary about somebody who is not William Shatner.

 

DO I SOUND GAY?

First-time director David Thorpe presents us with a highly personal first person documentary about his concern about “sounding gay”. Thorpe’s own anxieties (which begin when he becomes newly single, a circumstance that is left curiously unexplored) are a jumping off point for asking some fascinating questions to linguistic and cultural experts about why we may perceive someone’s voice to be “gay” (Hint: it’s not a lisp). It features marvellous interviews with gay men who sound gay (Tim Gunn) or don’t (George Takei) as well as a single brief interview with Thorpe’s white whale, the straight man who sounds gay. Do I Sound Gay is a tremendous amount of fun, though does also touch on the serious topic of gay bashing connected to perceptions of gay speech and behaviour. In the end the best line goes to humorist David Sedaris: “I don’t think I sound like a woman, I think I sound like a very, very… small man.” (with accompanying hand gestures indicating a height of about one foot).

THE DROP

Set in an ungentrified Brooklyn (does this still exist? I feel like Brooklyn is run these days by hipsters, not mobsters, but anyway…) this most excellent crime drama is Belgian director Michaël Roskam’s first foray into English language movies. World-weary bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) starts a gentle romance with brassy waitress Nadia (Noomi Rapace) when he finds an abandoned, beaten pitbull puppy in one of her streetside trash cans. As they bond nursing Rocco back to health, Bob also has to placate his boss and cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) who is not dealing well with the fact he had to sell his bar years ago to some menacing Chechen mobsters. Nadia’s hulking, loose cannon ex Eric (Matthias Schoenarts) turns up too to stir the pot.

This is a most excellent movie that is both homage and a fresh take on film noir. Tom Hardy solidifies his reputation as a stellar actor with a note-perfect performance, and brilliant chemistry with James Gandolfini.

 

CUT SNAKE

Paula’s handsome, clean-cut and hard working fiancé Sparra has a past that catches up with him in the form of Pommie, a tattooed thuggish rogue who shows up one day, fresh out of prison, and with plans of his own for his old acquaintance. With excellent performances by all three leads, especially Sullivan Stapleton whose malevolent, wounded Pommie is a compelling portrait of masculine emotional complexity, it’s a shame this tense erotic thriller is let down by confusing editing, and poor attention to plotting detail.

 

THE SOUND AND THE FURY

James Franco takes a surprisingly thoughtful stab at bringing to the screen William Faulkner’s “unfilmable” novel about the young members of a Mississippi family of fading fortunes, the Compsons.

Franco keeps the novel’s structure of telling the story from the perspective of three of the four Compson sibs: brothers Benjy, Quentin and Jason. How their sister Caddy variously arouses their individual passions is gradually brought to light as the film moves through the impressionistic, disjointed first third where Franco plays the averbal, developmentally disabled Benjy, to the more prosaically structured remainder.

The film does have its weak spots, with Janet Jones Gretzky seemingly out of her depth as sickly Mother, and Scott Haze’s performance as bitter eldest brother Jason Compson IV is more two-bit villain than complex character, but overall a commendable adaptation of a classic American novel.

 

XENIA

Two brothers trek across Greece to track down their deadbeat father after their Albanian mother dies suddenly. Dany is fifteen, gay and emotionally volatile, while Odysseas is seventeen and more responsible, heir to their mother’s beautiful singing voice. While more or less structured like a road movie, various episodes of the characters journey bring in elements of thriller, musical and hallucinatory dreams as if it was made by a less cynical Gregg Araki. The performances are wonderful by both lead actors (though both are obviously older than their characters) as well as the actor playing their Liberace-like uncle. Particularly notable is a beautiful scene in which the brothers bond while replenishing themselves at an abandoned hotel.

 

SILVERED WATER, SYRIA SELF-PORTRAIT

While it was a bit crushing to end my film festival like this, there is no doubt this is the most important film I saw at the festival. It was also the only one that received no applause at the end, mainly because the entire audience was shell-shocked, and applause seemed somehow an inappropriate response. What is the appropriate response to witnessing from a first-person perspective the horrors of torture, bombings and massacres perpetrated by the forces of Bashar al-Assad against their own Syrian brothers and sisters?

This film is a collaboration between exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed, working from Paris, and a young Kurdish woman Wiam Simav Bedirxan trapped in the sieged Syrian city of Homs, who contacted him through social media to ask him: “What would you film if you were here?” Berdixan’s footage is mixed in with other footage from other activists that had been uploaded to YouTube, as well as impressionistic shots filmed by Mohammed in a rainy Paris. The latter scenes illustrate the pain he feels witnessing it all from a distance, but also serve as a much-needed breather between the scenes of brutality, which are indeed very difficult to take (a few in the audience couldn’t and left the theatre).

Nevertheless, the film is a shattering masterpiece. At times poetic and romantic in its voice over exchanges between Mohammed and Berdixan, it manages to evoke all the feelings one can have going to the movies, only the killings, despair and the uncanny resilience, especially of the children, are all real.

 

IRAQI ODYSSEY

An expatriate Iraqi filmmaker traces his family and his country’s history from the time of his grandparents to present day in a most compelling portrait that is as much a lesson in 20th and early 21st century geopolitics as it is genealogy. Bright, funny characters are these relatives including an aunt now living in Auckland, a cousin in London, another in Moscow and a young half-sister who clearly drew the short straw, having landed in Buffalo. They provide the heart of the film which also features dramatis personae from the Ottoman Empire, the British occupation with their figurehead boy-king Faisel, Communist and Baathist partisans and their fickle Cold War backers, the dictator Saddam Hussein, and the two George Bushes. The 3D filming doesn’t really add much and it’s a tad overlong at 2h45m but overall an excellent film.

BEFORE WE GO

There is no justice in this world. James Franco, an actor who, by evidence of the post-premiere TIFF Q&A, is an egomaniac, has directed an interesting, thoughtful film (The Sound and the Fury). Meanwhile, Chris Evans, an actor who, by evidence of the post-premiere TIFF Q&A, is a genuinely nice guy, has directed possibly the most stupefyingly boring movie I have yet seen at the festival in my 16 years of attendance. How is it possible that this POS “romantic” “comedy” with no laughs, zero chemistry between the leads, and a script composed entirely of clichés was even accepted to the festival?

BIRDMAN

A zany, exhausting but exhilarating roller coaster of a movie that combines how-did-they-do-that camerawork with brilliant performers acting their faces off (in Michael Keaton’s case, literally). Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is known for talky but compelling cinema (Babel, 21 Grams) and this is perhaps his best yet. Michael Keaton plays a washed up celebrity actor trying to find meaning in his life by adapting Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love for the Broadway stage. He also appears to be able to move things with his mind, but is he going psychotic or does he actually have the superpowers of his best known movie character Birdman (a hilarious reference to Keaton’s Batman role). Meanwhile he clashes backstage with his worried producer (Zack Galifianakis) his co-stars (Edward Norton at his arrogant best, and Naomi Watts), and his daughter (Emma Stone, channeling Lindsay Lohan so well I actually thought it was her until I saw the credits). A face-off with a power-mad New York Times critic (Scottish stage actress Lindsay Duncan), is the only part of the film that doesn’t feel fresh and exciting. Go see this film if you love movies or Broadway.

 

APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

Writer, director and star Desiree Akhavan is a revelation in this absolutely hilarious first feature film. Anyone who can mine comedy gold from the deadly serious realm of intersectional feminism deserves not only an Oscar but quite possibly a Nobel Prize. That she manages to also make her film clever, sexy and just sweet enough without being cloying is a sign of a talent to watch.

 

GONE GIRL

A terribly clever and stylish thriller from director David Fincher (House of Cards, Fight Club) and with excellent performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as a married Missouri couple who’s wholesome veneer is carefully probed by the town’s sly detective when the wife goes missing. Kim Dickens, an actress I am not familiar with, is so fun to watch as the smart detective, and I was sorry to see her sidelined by the plot direction later in the film, but this is anything but a conventional police procedural. Fincher doesn’t give you the satisfaction of a neat tidy ending, and instead rattles you abruptly with a switchback turn that would have been masterful if it weren’t shot through with plot holes.

 

TAMARA DREWE (2010; on Netflix)

Take a successful British crime writer, his long suffering wife, their quirky writers-retreat guests, a couple of pranking schoolgirls, a couple of duelling hunks (Luke Evans and Dominic West) and stir in the town’s prodigal daughter, returned home after some strategic plastic surgery, and you have a recipe for a hilariously diverting comedy. Much fun.

 

CITIZENFOUR

An astonishing piece of documentary film making that positions the viewer smack in the middle of the events of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosure of pervasive surveillance of world telecommunications by his former employers the US National Security Administration. At times the tech-speak is a bit ponderous, but there is no denying the drama as you start off in the Hong Kong hotel room where the principled and rigorously ethical 29-year old Snowden first meets with director Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald. Subsequently he is charged under the World War I era Espionage Act, whose terms are so broad, a cadre of international lawyers explains Snowden basically has no defense.

 

THE SECRET TRIAL FIVE

Only five screenings of this excellent film at Bloor Hot Docs theatre. It tells the stories of 4 of the 5 men detained for more than a decade in Canada on “security certificates” post 9/11 for suspicions of links to al-Qaeda. An incisive expose of the staggering personal and societal cost of these kinds of blunt “security” instruments.

 

Edge of Tomorrow

I adore the movie Groundhog Day so I was a bit skeptical to hear Tom Cruise was starring in an action flick that borrowed the same concept of a protagonist who lives the same day over and over again. However, to the credit of the writers and favourite director Doug Liman, this highly enjoyable movie works extremely well. It comes across, in fact, as a movie medley of sorts, seeing how it borrows extensively but skilfully from so many other movies. Aliens, Starship Troopers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Pacific Rim are just a few of the alien invasion flick references I caught and I’m sure there must be more. It’s all so good that I can charitably give Cruise’s performance a passing grade, though as usual I would have preferred a better actor in the role.

 

Pride

One of those true stories that would seem unbelievable were it entirely fictional, Pride tells the tale of how a group of queer activists in 1980’s London decided to support the people of a rural Welsh mining village during the year long miner’s strike. It’s the kind of movie the British do very well, where a town pulls together to confront a problem, but with a twist! Very cool to see the portrayal of 80’s queer activism, just at the dawn of the AIDS crisis.

 

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

 

Director Peter Jackson concludes his tripartite adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle Earth novel with special effects flair, if unspectacular writing. After quickly and satisfyingly dispensing with the second movie’s cliffhanger, the remainder of the movie is a series of remarkable set pieces alternating between dizzying large scale battles and thrilling smaller skirmishes, as the local powers descend on the dwarf treasure hall under the Lonely Mountain.

 

On the plus side, Richard Armitage continues to demonstrate fine acting gravitas as well as beard superiority as dwarven king Thorin Oakenshield. He and Luke Evans as Laketown hero Bard set a high performance bar here, but the other actors, from the interchangeable elves to poor old Ian McKellan trotting out Gandalf again for the sixth time, have a hard time keeping this series from showing its creaky bones. Cate Blanchett, though, does get a badass Galadriel moment you’ve been waiting six films to see.

 

The film is ultimately let down by the deus ex machina resolution. I know it is true to the book but really, has Jackson forgotten that he gave us almost the exact same ending to the first Hobbit movie? (and sort of… in Return of the King?) Of all the things he changed from the book through all this, he had to keep that?

 

THE IMITATION GAME

 

Alan Turing’s triumphant and tragic story is so compelling, I feel the urge to recommend that everybody go see this movie for the story alone (or, perhaps, read the book it was based on, Andrew Hodge’s Alan Turing: The Enigma). Turing was a mathematician and cryptologist who led the team that cracked the secrets to the Nazi’s encryption machine Enigma during World War II; this discovery is widely credited with ending the war at least two years early and saving millions of lives. Turing is also considered to be the founder of computer science, especially artificial intelligence. The tragic elements to the story are also a matter of historical fact. Turing was prosecuted after the war for gross indecency because of his homosexuality, plead guilty and was given the choice of prison time or “chemical castration” with hormone therapy. He chose the latter, and committed suicide two years later by cyanide poisoning. In 2009, he received a posthumous apology from the British Prime Minister and in 2013 a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II.

 

Overall the film has excellent entertainment value, but the artistic choices made by the filmmakers in telling this compelling story are curious. Casting the excellent actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing is both wise and problematic. Wise for obvious reasons: his performance carries the movie from beginning to end, but problematic because he is so well known for other similar “socially awkward genius” roles (Holmes in the TV series “Sherlock”, Julian Assange in the film “The Fifth Estate”) that it somehow deprives Turing of the kind of pure characterization he deserves.

 

How the filmmakers handled the movie’s ending is a disappointment, in retrospect. Why did they decide not to depict Turing committing suicide, and instead inform us of this tragic fact in a “what happened next” text overlay? It feels like this decision was made to keep the tone of the movie in inspiring territory. But Alan Turing’s story is as much infuriating as it is inspiring! Ultimately the film doesn’t allow a place for this anger. In today’s world where the label “hero” gets attached to anyone with even the most tenuous connection to a military or para-military role, what are we to make of how society treated a true World War II hero?

 

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