Movie review: The Imitation Game

I don’t share our 16 year old daughter’s obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch (it would be difficult to aspire to those heights), but I do think he’s an excellent actor, so I was looking forward to seeing this movie, which stars the actor as Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician, who invented the predecessor to the modern computer (the Turing machine) and was instrumental in helping to decipher the German Enigma machine code and shorten World War II.

The movie did not disappoint. It covers roughly the time between when Turing starts work at Bletchley Park (with the rest of the codebreakers) and ends when he is undergoing chemical castration for his “deviant” behavior (being homosexual). Benedict Cumberbatch portrays him as someone who is clearly on the autism disorder spectrum–brilliant but unable to read social cues or relate to people. Keira Knightley co-stars as his female counterpart, although with much better social skills. She utters my favorite line of the movie when talking about the need for a team effort to break the Enigma code. (“If they don’t like you, they won’t help you.”)

Alan Turing’s end is tragic, as he ends up killing himself, unable to endure the side effects of his treatment. He was not issued a posthumous pardon until 2013. You see him suffering from the side effects of the chemical castration at the end of the movie but no more than that.

I do have some quibbles about the movie. For instance, it’s clear that the Keira Knightley character has been placed there for politically correct purposes. More importantly, the movie portrays the team of codebreakers as being entirely British, completely ignoring the instrumental role the Polish mathematicians played in breaking the code (not to mention the fact that it was the Polish resistance fighters who were able to smuggle an Enigma machine to Britain to begin with). But these quibbles in no way detract from the excellence of the movie. In fact, the movie was so compelling that I was “forced” to buy two books—one on Alan Turing himself and one on the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Stay tuned (eventually) for the reviews of those.

I highly recommend this movie. Because there are no action scenes or massive explosions, it is a perfect movie to watch in the comfort of your home and the fine acting and interesting story line make it well worth the effort.

Movie review: The Desolation of Smaug (Hobbit II)

While I’m a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, “The Hobbit” has always been my least favorite of his Lord of the Ring series of books.  And I simply could not fathom how anyone could make three movies out of such a short book.  I liked but didn’t love the first Hobbit movie (you can read that review here), but I thought the second movie was surprisingly excellent.

A caveat:  if you’re a Tolkien purist, I don’t think you will enjoy this movie as much as the first one.  This movie is less true to the story line than the first and is much less Tolkien-ish, for the lack of a better word (much as “The Two Towers” – often regarded as the best movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – is the movie least true to the books).  There is virtually no narrative arc to the story.  Or, perhaps more accurately, what there is in narrative arc is completely trumped by the heart-pounding, non-stop action sequences.

And those sequences are marvelously done.  We saw the IMAX 3D fast frame rate version of the movie, and it’s amazing how the orcs and arrows leap from the screen.  The escape from the wood elves’ dungeons, with the barrel scene over the water, is about as amazing an action sequence as I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen a lot.)  The choreography and cinematography of that specific sequence and of all the action sequences in the movie are simply mind-boggling.

For those who are seeing the movie because of Benedict Cumberbatch (o daughter mine, for example), all you really get is an enhanced and barely recognizable version of his voice.  (Smaug, however, does bear a curious resemblance to the actor who voices it, at least, for a dragon.)

Martin Freeman does his now-typical excellent acting job as Bilbo Baggins.  There is the surprise return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas and the always wonderful Ian McKellen as Gandalf.  All of the main actors are well cast and convincing in their roles.

For the diehard Tolkien and Middle-earth fan, I don’t believe this movie will be as satisfying as the first.  But for the rest of us, this is an excellent action/adventure/fantasy film.  The pacing is fast (unlike the first movie), and the acting is solid.  Oh, and just to reassure everyone, no harm is done to the audience’s ears by dwarves singing in this movie.  J

The family gives this movie a thumbs up.

Movie Review: The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate” has done poorly in movie theaters, but it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, so I indulged our 14 year old daughter in her obsession of all things Benedict and took her to see it last night.  (Jim and our 12 year old went to see “”Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”.)  I was pleasantly surprised by “The Fifth Estate.”

In all fairness, I completely understand why the movie has done poorly in the movie theaters (to the point where its worldwide revenue and DVD, pay-per-view, cable, etc. sales will not even recoup the marketing costs for this movie.  Ouch.)  But, to be honest, nothing very interesting or action-packed really happens in this movie.  I mean, we are talking about classified documents being leaked, but the movie is mostly about Julian Assange and his one-man revolution to transform the world by taking advantage of 21st century communications.  In order to start the revolution, you have to do a lot of typing on a keyboard.  And that’s simply not that interesting to watch on a movie screen.  I mean, really, do I want to spend $15 to see someone typing on a laptop?  (And not even a Mac, at that.)  Heck, I could use my laptop’s webcam and watch myself doing it.  And while I’m certainly no Benedict Cumberbatch, neither is he with that weird bleached blond hair thing.

Which is the second major problem with the movie.  If you’re going to make Benedict Cumberbatch the star of the movie, he’s got to look like Benedict Cumberbatch.  And that bleached blond hair look is seriously icky.  Especially when it’s hanging in greasy strands across his face.  More importantly, Julian Assange is not a particularly sympathetic character as depicted in the movie.  Mind you, I doubt that he is a sympathetic character in real life.  (Visionaries who want to transform the world seldom are.)  And in the movie, he is portrayed as a man who can be immensely charming and charismatic when he chooses to be, but is, more often, manipulative, arrogant, sanctimonious, and highly self-centered.  (Fans of the BBC “Sherlock” series might note the resemblance between the highly functioning sociopath that is Sherlock Holmes and the self-absorbed and self-righteous Julian Assange.)

All that being said, I really enjoyed the movie.  The acting by all the major characters is impeccable.  And the movie deals with the issue of how to maintain security in a world that is heavily reliant on the Internet and its lack of national borders.  It deals with moral issues relating to national security, friendship, and greed.  The movie gives you a lot to think about and doesn’t leave you with any easy answers.  It’s well worth watching and pondering.

Obsession, Part 2

To be fair, this is not my obsession.  This is the obsession of our teenage daughter (whose two favorite phrases are “to be fair” and “awkward”).  I introduced her to the BBC show “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson.  The show is excellently written and acted and a clever take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories.  The characters have been updated, and the stories all take place in modern London.  In the first two seasons, the episodes all have their origin in the original stories.  (We are also talking a grand total of 6 episodes, 3 per season.)

Because I like the show so much, I thought our daughter would as well.  Unfortunately, I underestimated her capacity for obsession.  Not only did she love the series, she is also obsessed with all things Benedict Cumberbatch.  As a result of her obsession, I have learned the following things:

1.    With only 6 (!) episodes to obsess over, there’s a lot of in-depth obsessing by the Sherlock/Benedict crowd.  More episodes would give them more to obsess over, but, failing that, the obsessed ones watch each frame of each episode carefully, looking for any clue as to subsequent plot developments.

2.    If the obsessed ones cannot find any clue to plot developments in the existing episodes, they will spend a colossal amount of time constructing an elaborate and complicated theory to explain a plot development that they desire to occur.

3.    The vast majority of those obsessed with Benedict are girls/women.

4.    There are a surprising number of fan pages on Facebook devoted to Sherlock and Benedict.

5.    Copious amounts of fan fiction have been written about Sherlock and John and further developments.  (Have I already mentioned that 6 episodes are insufficient to hold the obsession?)

6.    Memes about Sherlock and John and the other characters on the show have sprung up like mushrooms during the rainy season.

7.    Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as John Harrison in the latest Star Trek movie is somewhat outside the obsession.  However, his role as the voice of Smaug and the Necromancer in the Hobbit movies is fully embraced by the obsessed ones.  Go figure.

I am reminded of the William Shatner skit on “Saturday Night Live” when he is speaking at a Star Trek convention and, at one point, is so fed up that he snaps and tells them, “Get a life!”

Despite saying all of this, “Sherlock” really is an excellent show, and I highly recommend it.  And I am very much looking forward to Season 3 (and the 3 additional episodes) airing, whenever that may be.  (I have no doubt that someone in our household knows, but there is no point in encouraging the obsession!)