The Imitation Game

2014

Dir: Morten Tyldum

 

Starring:

Benedict Cumberbatch

Keira Knightley

Charles Dance

Mark Strong

Matthew Goode

 

The Imitation Game is a nice, well put together, period drama, about the cracking of the enigma code. Throw in a dash of sexual and gender politics and you have what could have been the most intriguing film of the year, sparking mass debate about one of Britain’s modern day heroes. Instead it’s an unremarkable, 40’s set version of The Social Network, but lacking the verve of David Fincher’s direction. The only parts saving this film from being outright dull are the performances, especially from Benedict Cumberbatch.

 

The film follows the life of Alan Turing. A Cambridge fellow, and genius Mathematician. He is employed in secret by the British Army in order to crack the Enigma code. Enigma is the coding machine which the Germans use to send communications. Crack the code, and the war is won. Whilst the rest of the team, headed up by Matthew Goode, attempt to crack the code each and every day, as the settings of the machine change every night, Turing sets out to build a machine which will crack every code, every day, at a pace much faster than a computer. The framing device of the film is a police investigation, with Alan Turing telling his story whilst being interrogated by a Policeman in the 50’s. His crime, being a homosexual.

 

I felt like the film had some major problems. One of them was that it had no real sense of identity. It simply didn’t know what film it wanted to be. It was very much like The Social Network in places, the framing device much like The Social Network’s court room, and Alan Turing being a lot like a 40’s Zuckerberg, with his inability to understand the social norms of the people around him. In other places it was like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, with the arrival of Mark Strong’s MI6 operative the film delves into an espionage thriller. It tries on being a war movie, but that doesn’t fit, nor does it deliver on any real political commentary.

 

The biggest problem with The Imitation Game is that it is too politer. Too nice. Much like Keira Knightley’s character, who wants to make her way as a woman in a man’s world, but doesn’t want to offend her parents. The film lacks the courage of its own convictions. Using Turing’s conviction on the charges of being a homosexual as a framing device, meant that the film should have addressed how down right barbaric the laws in England used to be. Instead the film pulls it’s punches. It doesn’t judge anyone. The most dramatic moment in Turing’s life is left for the subtitles in the credits. Benedict Cumberbatch actually has to tell someone he is a homosexual halfway through the film for the audience to realise, as he appears so asexual throughout the film. It’s as if the film makers are trying their best not to offend anyone, even homophobes. I guess this may work during the awards season when it comes to the conservatives voting for it, but it dulls what could have been a much better film.

 

The Imitation Game is a thumbnail character sketch, which would interest anyone who doesn’t know about Alan Turing. It’s a well performed sketch, but it is still only a sketch.

 

5/10

Ouija

2014

Dir: Stiles White

 

Starring:

Olivia Cooke

Ana Coto

Daren Kagasoff

Bianca A. Santos

Douglass Smith

 

I am not a huge fan of horror films. Why? They don’t really scare me. The last time a horror film got to me was years ago, when I watched Signs at an age I really shouldn’t have. The recent trend in Hollywood horror films has bored me senseless, and I am afraid that Ouija is no different. Following on from recent films like Annabelle, this is a film in which not much really happens, relying on a few jumps to keep the audience entertained.

 

The film follows Laine Morris, played by Olivia Cooke, who feels that there is something not quite right after the death of her friend Debbie. She soon finds out that before Debbie’s apparent suicide, Debbie had been playing with a Ouija board. A spirit board which supposedly allows communication with the dead. Laine convinces her friends, including her sister Sarah to use the Ouija board in order to contact Debbie. It works, but the group then find themselves haunted by a spirit.

 

Ouija should come with a checklist of horror movie tropes. Doors opening by themselves, check. Scary attic, check. Scary basement, check. Creepy doll, check. Mental institution, check. Creepy photos from the past, check. It is so by the numbers, that 90% of the scares are predictable. I think I jumped once in the whole film. The script is very poor, the dialogue barely registering above exposition. This doesn’t help the acting, which is incredibly bad as well. You will never believe that this bunch of people have ever met each other, let alone are lifelong friends. In fact most of it is so preposterous, it is almost comical. At one point, Laine is told what to do to stop the haunting by her Grandma, without any previous explanation of how her Grandma knows this stuff, except that she’s old and foreign. The film is not great to look at either. The cinematography is messy, and adds no sense of tension to proceedings. In fact this film lacks any kind of tension or build up at all. Jumping from badly acted exposition to a quick scare. The pattern is easy to pick up, and soon the scares become signposted.

 

If the film has a saving grace, it’s that at 89 minutes long, it moves at a pace which keeps you interested enough to watch it to the end. Also once the spirit doing the haunting is revealed, the design is actually quite creepy. In fact if more time was spent with the spirit on screen it would have been a much scarier film.

 

Ouija, is a deeply unoriginal film. Offering a few scares to those uninitiated in horror films. It does have an entertaining third act, but most of the ideas can be seen on any horror or sci-fi based tv show, and probably better executed.

 

3/10

Interstellar

2014

Dir: Christopher Nolan

 

Starring:

Matthew McConaughey

Anne Hathaway

Michael Caine

Jessica Chastain

 

Interstellar is the best film I’ve ever seen. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan, I’ve seen everything he has made, except from Following. I loved his Batman trilogy, I was in awe of Inception, and I marvelled at The Prestige and Memento. Interstellar is his most ambitious project to date, not only in terms of scale, but also in the emotional depths that this film attempts to plum. It succeeds in almost every single way. If you plan on seeing this film, do yourself a favour and get down to nearest Imax screen. You will not regret it.

 

The films plot is complex. In a near future where the world is becoming inhabitable for humans, Mathew McConaughey plays Cooper, an ex-NASA pilot, who in this dying world has become a farmer. Living with his father-in-law, son, and daughter, Murphy. He is asked by Michael Caine’s Professor Brand to pilot a space mission into a wormhole in order to find a new world for humans to colonise. The wormhole makes interstellar travel possible, providing a short cut through space to far away solar systems. Amongst the crew of the space shuttle is Professor Brands daughter Amelia, played by Anne Hathaway. Cooper agrees to the mission, even though it may mean never seeing his family again, something that Murphy can never forgive him for.

 

I loved this film for so many different reasons. The science, whilst complicated is explained well throughout the course of the film, meaning that you always understand what’s going on. Although a third act wtf? Moment, does require a leap in believability. The film was made with consultation from physicist Kip Thorne, who also inspired the script. According to him, all the black holes and wormholes are realistically portrayed. It is visually stunning. This is the first film since Following where Christopher Nolan hasn’t used his regular Director Of Photography Wally Pfister, who was busy directing Transcendence. This time it’s Hoyte Van Hoytema     behind the camera, the DOP behind Let The Right One In and Her. He does a spectacular job. The film is a visual spectacle, with over an hour of footage shot in 15/70mm Imax. The most Imax footage ever for a feature film. With visual nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the space set scenes are awe inspiring, deserving to be watched on the biggest screen you can find.

 

Another highlight of the film is the score. Hans Zimmer, who redefined the modern blockbuster score with Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, has created his masterpiece with Interstellar. This is one of those scores which will be referred to as a classic. Memorable in all the right ways.

The film works though because of one man, the man of the moment, Matthew McConaughey. He is just spellbinding to watch on screen. In perhaps his most complex role to date, he delivers a performance which keeps the whole film grounded. The film really centres on him and the relationship he has with his daughter Murphy. The love they have for each other giving them both the will to survive, and attempt to save the whole of the human race.

 

The film can often seem like a science lesson, or even a philosophy lesson, with some of the loftiest, and most ambitious themes being tackled. But where I think this film transcends 2001: A Space Odyssey is the human emotions on show. The film will make you think, it will grip you, it will entertain you, but it will also make you cry. The film may have the visual sleekness of one of the space programmes robots, but underneath it has a huge heart. I can see the third act baffling some audiences, but I’ve never had a cinema experience quite like this one. It is the best film I have ever seen.

 

10/10

Nightcrawler

2014

Dir: Dan Gilroy

 

Starring:

Jake Gyllenhaal

Bill Paxton

Riz Ahmed

Rene Russo

 

I had high expectations  going into Nightcrawler. Coming out of the summer, and the end of blockbuster season, it felt like a cool, stylish, adult thriller in the same vein of Drive. A film to welcome in awards season. Apart from the trailer, I didn’t know much about the film, I didn’t know what to expect. The bus advertisements told me it would be a “modern masterpiece” and the poster again recalled Drive. It isn’t a masterpiece, although it is great, and although it shares similarities with Drive, the overall satirical tone made it more humorous.

 

In the film Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom. He starts off as a petty thief, but is looking for employment. Although his lack of formal education and any kind of experience, means he is met with a lot of denial. After witnessing a roadside accident being filmed by Bill Paxton, who explains that he sells the videos to news channels, Lou buys a camera and sets about filming his own videos. He finds he has a natural talent for this kind of work, and begins building his own business. He sells the videos to Rene Russo’s news director. She tells him that if it bleeds it leads. As she grows more desperate for bigger news stories, Lou becomes more driven to capture bigger stories, leading him to become more intertwined with the crimes he is observing.

 

The film is a satire on American news coverage. The way in which morals are compromised in order to show an entertaining story is at heart of it, witness Louis sticking his camera into the face of a gunshot victim as paramedics try to perform CPR. It is also a satire on the American dream. Louis, who has no education, no experience, and no prospects, believes he can achieve anything he sets his mind to through hard work. He sounds like he is writing a CV when he speaks, or has been watching too much of The Apprentice. Jake Gyllenhaal is mesmerising in this role. His face is always unsettling, the way he delivers lines appear comical at first, but when you realise he is being serious, become chilling. You start off believing that he has social problems, but at the end of the film you come to see that he is a sociopath.

 

There is a voyeuristic nature to this film too, we are quite happy to watch these scenes on tv with a screen between us and the horrors, as is Louis when he has a camera between him and his subject.  It allows him to get into places that aren’t normally acceptable. We only feel sickened by the methods in which he obtains the footage, not the footage itself. There is also an element of watching Louis as he watches the scenes, Jake Gyllenhaal’s face lighting up as he gets the best shot of the scene. This may horrify us, until we realise that he is smiling because he has shot something that will sell to us, the audience.

 

It’s a beautifully shot film, which starts off as a satire, before becoming a gripping thriller. Jake Gyllenhaal is stunning in the lead role, and there are some real shocks along the way. The end of the film leaves something to be desired, and it is slow in places. I liked it a lot, but thought I would like it more.

 

8/10

Fury

2014

Dir. David Ayer

 

Starring:

Brad Pitt

Logan Lerman

Shia LaBeouf

Michael Peña

Jon Bernthal

 

There have been two high profile World War Two films out this year; Fury, headed up by Brad Pitt, and The Monuments Men, directed by and starring George Clooney. These two films couldn’t be more polar opposite to each other. The Monuments Men was light hearted in tone, ponderous, and most disappointingly, boring. Fury on the other hand is a punch to the gut that doesn’t let you go from the start. Making you look at the darkest of humanity, and asking you what you would do in the same situation.  It is a movie about survival, courage, companionship and necessary evils. The Monuments Men asked whether art is worth dying for, after watching Fury you’ll think “fuck the art”.

 

Fury tells the story of a five-man tank crew advancing into Nazi Germany. Focusing on Wardaddy, the leader of the crew, played by Brad Pitt, and Norman, the new assistant driver of the titular tank, played by Logan Lerman. Norman has never had any combat training, much to the displeasure of Wardaddy, who has promised to keep his team alive. The film shows us the lengths that Wardaddy has to go to in order to keep his crew alive, and the extent to which Norman has to compromise his ideals in order to survive. The war isn’t the only conflict within the film, as the characters all have to battle with themselves over the acts they are committing, and come to blows with each other when emotions are running high.

 

This is one of the best war movies I have ever seen. It’s up there with Saving Private Ryan. They both share a similar visual style, and although Saving Private Ryan is bigger in scale, and nothing in Fury quite matches the opening beach landing of Saving Private Ryan, I think Fury is the better film. Ayer’s direction is nigh on faultless. A lot has been made of the violence and the gore on display in this film, but it is important to state that it isn’t gratuitous. It is balanced so that you never get desensitised to the gore. A leg being blown off in the middles of the film is just as shocking as it is at the end of the film. The film is grim to look at, it’s full of mud, blood, and sweat. It is incredibly visceral, but the subject matter demands it. It takes a good hard look at what human beings are capable of, and doesn’t flinch. It is a film which never pulls its punches. The plot moves along at a great pace, but also takes time in the quieter moments, really building the characters. You will love them, hate them, pity them, and cry for them. The battle scenes are brilliantly tense, and immediate. You feel each near miss. It has to be said though, that the most nerve shredding scene in the film is set around a dinner table, with just the five men of the tank crew and two German women. It’s in this scene where the film really shows what makes it so good, the performances.

 

Brad Pitt is simply outstanding in Fury. I have liked Brad Pitt as an actor for ages, and I honestly think he is one of the most underrated actors around. He commands this film with his performance. Powerful when he needs to be, subtle in the smaller moments. Like a grenade that could go off any second. When awards season comes round I wouldn’t be surprised to see him nominated in the best actor category. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Logan Lerman nominated in a best supporting category. Excellent in Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Lerman is incredible here. His character is a boy at the start of the film, thrown into a world of hyper-masculinity, who will need to become a man in order to survive. His transformation is entirely believable and right at the heart of the film. Honourable mentions must also go to Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal, especially Bernthal who carries a real presence whenever he is on the screen. Shia LaBeouf also delivers his best work to date, and if he takes on more roles like this, performing at this level, he could become one of the best character actors around.

 

Fury, is exciting, visceral, and thoughtful. It’s a film about men. What men can do to each other, and how far we can compromise our minds, bodies, souls when we are fighting for something we believe in, or just fighting to survive. It is not for the faint of hearted, and that’s a good thing.

 

10/10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2014

Dir. Jonathan Liebesman

Starring:

Megan Fox

Will Arnett

William Fichtner

Johnny Knoxville

 

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles holds a place in my heart. What that place is? I’m not so sure. I never read the comic books. I never paid any interest in the recent animation movie TMNT (2007), and I didn’t even know there was a recent television series. But the original movie series, made between 1990-1993, are strangely nostalgic to me. I remember having those movies on almost constant rental. Even the third one, where the turtles travel back to ancient Japan, I enjoyed. I was five and it was my first introduction to time travel. So I approached this re-make with a sense of apprehension. I’ve never seen a film by Liebesman before, but with Michael Bay producing, I knew that it would have great production values, and great effects. What I didn’t know was whether that was all this film would have.

 

The plot revolves around a reporter April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, displaying more acting chops then she ever did on a transformers movie, investigating the recent crime wave by a gang called The Foot Clan. Fox stumbles upon the Turtles stopping the Foot Clan gang and tries to take the story to her boss, played by an underused Whoopi Goldberg. When no one believes her she takes it upon herself to investigate further. It isn’t until thirty minutes into the film that we are introduced to the Turtles, and their rat mentor, Splinter, who in an interesting twist have history with O’Neil. What unravels is a superhero movie plot about toxic gas being released in New York by the Foot Clan and their leader Shredder. Not dis-similar to the Lizards plot in The Amazing Spider-Man. The Turtles, assisted by April O’Neil and her camera man, an always funny Will Arnett, are called upon to save the day.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a great movie. It isn’t even a good movie. The plot is generic, character moments are few and far between, and it takes a bit of time to figure out which Turtle is which. Even at the end I still wasn’t quite sure. Even with all of these problems, the film is strangely enjoyable. These aren’t the Turtles that I remember. They are huge, steroid boosted, monsters. The motion capture work is great, completely removing the memory of Jim Henson’s Turtles. They are each identifiable by the colour of their headbands. Red for Raphael, Orange for Michelangelo, Blue is for Leonardo, and Purple is for Donatello. Although with the shaky camera work, it is quite difficult sometimes to tell who is who. This isn’t helped by them talking over each other a lot. Although, where this film is concerned, it doesn’t really seem important who is who, as long as you know who’s a good guy and who is a bad guy.

 

What surprised me most about this film was how brutal the fight scenes are. You feel the hits. Before the film was shown there was an advert for merchandise for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suggesting that the film was aimed at 8-10 year olds, but the violence on display here is a little harsh. Especially when Shredder is involved in the fights. The fight scenes are inventive, well edited, and make an impact. Although I would have preferred if the camera had stayed still for a second or two. The action scenes are brilliant, a high speed, mountain slope chase being the highlight. It’s just the connecting tissue which causes problems. Not all the jokes work, jokes about Lost and Batman’s voice seem dated, and the back story can seem tedious at times. When the film cuts loose, it’s great, but these moments don’t happen often enough. The film never really embraces its own bizarreness. Trying to be too much like Spider-Man, when Guardians of the Galaxy has shown that audiences are prepared to embrace something for being unique.

 

Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is enjoyable, delivering on some great action sequences. It’s just not as fun as it could have been or needs to be.

 

6/10