Posts Tagged ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’

The Imitation Game: Film-making at its Best—Movie

December 19, 2014

The Imitation Game” is a brilliant film about how the man who broke secrets harbored a secret which eventually broke him. Directed by Morten Tyldum with screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, “The Imitation Game” is the true story of Alan Turing, who, by breaking the Nazi code, helped bring an end to World War II. Beginning in 1939, Turing and his team worked at England’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Because their work was done in secret, the world did not learn of what Turing and his colleagues did to change the course of the war in favor of the Allies until many years later.

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“The Imitation Game” begins in 1951 with the arrest of Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). During the course of his interrogation, he decides to break his silence, telling his story to the arresting detective, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear),   and warns him that what he’s being told can never be repeated. We then go back and forth in time, beginning with his Turing’s recruitment into the Enigma Program—learning about the work the group accomplished and the relationships that developed within the group and end with Turing’s arrest and the years that followed.

Turing doesn’t suffer fools easily and has an abrasive personality, to put it mildly. He’s not one for diplomacy, speaking the truth as he sees it. Although his superiors, Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) and Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) don’t love his attitude, they do appreciate his smarts.

Through the magnificent acting of Alex Lawther as the young Alan, we see the bullying Turing received as a young student. His boyhood friendship with student Christopher (Jack Bannon) affected him deeply and the manner in which Turing honors him later is a stroke of genius.  As an adult, Turing earns the respect of his colleagues, but not necessarily their friendship. Turing helps recruit the lone woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), into Enigma and the two develop a warm relationship, which, for a time, proves beneficial to both.

“The Imitation Game” is full of wonderful performances, but as Alan Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely fantastic. He has the most expressive face which he uses to full advantage in this role. He simply nails all the inner conflicts his character goes through. When the final credits roll, you feel as if you have met the real Turing and walked in his shoes. It’s because of Cumberbatch’s performance that the movie has such a dark, sad feel to it.  The film’s supporting cast never lets the main character or the film down. It’s hard to think of someone better in the Joan Clarke role than Keira Knightley. She has a look that fits easily into the style of the times and there is something about her that makes you believe she could be that smart…matching Turing step for step…quip for quip. As his “colleagues,” Matthew Goode and Allen Leech turn in great performances. Each has a moment to shine and each takes that moment and runs with it. Charles Dance and Mark Strong are also very good as Turing’s bosses.

Special kudos must be given to Alexandre Desplat’s magnificent score which suits “The Imitation Game” perfectly. The real black and footage used within the film also lends a great deal of authenticity to the story.

Beginning with television’s WGN America series, “Manhattan,” about the making of the atomic bomb (which has many similarities to “The Imitation Game”) and “The Theory of Everything,” the smartly performed “Imitation Game” joins the growing list of 2014 stories about geniuses and their effect on world events. What makes all of these endeavors work so well is that there are genuine, compelling stories being told and that each one has real heart. Since Turing was eventually convicted of gross indecency, a criminal offence resulting from his admission of maintaining a homosexual relationship, “The Imitation Game” will not necessarily leave you in an uplifted mood…in fact, it could have the opposite effect. Turing, for all of his contributions to the world’s well-being, including being thought of as the father of computer science, was treated abominably. That one can feel so depressed from watching the story unfold from afar…a story that took place many years ago…speaks volumes for everyone associated with “The Imitation Game.”

If you are in the need for a spirit booster upon leaving the theatre, this reviewer suggests seeing “Pride” immediately to see how far we’ve hopefully progressed as human beings.

4 nuggets out of 4

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August: Osage County: Too Hot for Comfort—Movie

January 19, 2014

Is it possible for a movie to fail when it is based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning play and features terrific performances from an all-star cast? The answer is “yes” as “August: Osage County” sadly demonstrates.

Based on Tracy Letts’ award-winning play, with screenplay by Letts and direction by John Wells, “August: Osage County” is about the Weston family who have gathered in Oklahoma following the disappearance and subsequent death of Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), the family patriarch. To say the Weston family is dysfunctional is an understatement. From the movie’s opening scenes, we know this is a given. To cope with this dysfunction, each family member…either by birth or marriage…has developed a sharp, dark and biting way of communicating with one another. If you can’t meet that tone head-on, you either keep what you’re feeling inside, like middle daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who has stayed in Oklahoma to look after her parents, until she can no longer control her seething rage at the slights and jabs taken over the years. Or, you leave the home as soon as you can, like oldest daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts), and youngest daughter, Karen (Juliette Lewis), only to discover, in Barbara’s case, that she is in danger of turning into a miniature version of  her mother, Violet (Meryl Streep).August Osage County1

Also entering the reunion fray is Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale), and Mattie Fae’s husband, Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). You can tell that Charlie loves his wife and that he’s learned to deal with her sharp tongue by either ignoring her or occasionally snapping right back. And Little Charles? Let’s just say there’s more to him than meets the eye. Barbara comes to the family gathering with her estranged husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor) and surly teenage daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). It’s hard not to imagine Jean turning into a carbon copy of her mother unless something shakes Barbara out of her bitterness.  Two newcomers to the reunion are Karen’s fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), and Johnna (Misty Upham), the Native American Beverly hired right before his disappearance to serve as a live-in caregiver  and cook.

Although “August: Osage County” is female-driven, director Wells and writer Letts don’t let the male co-stars roll over and play dead. Each actor has his moment in the sun and each makes the most of the time he has on screen. Especially good are Cumberbatch and Cooper. Cumberbatch has some wonderful scenes with Martindale, Cooper and Nicholson…most especially Nicholson. Of all the characters, his is the most fragile and Cumberbatch heartbreakingly conveys that fragility. Cooper has some great scenes with Martindale and Streep, which let us in on how he’s managed to survive in this family.

But ultimately this play is about the women and their relationships with one another. Meryl Streep’s Violet is at the top of the heap…she is really the one who made the women the way they are. There are some women who shouldn’t have children and Violet is one of them. Suffering from mouth cancer, she now has an excuse for some of her pill-taking. Cancer aside, the truth is, she’s been addicted to pills for most of her life with devastating  consequences. But although Violet’s life may be difficult, it’s impossible to empathize with her because the more we learn about her, the more we dislike her. She doesn’t appear to possess a single redeeming quality. Streep seems to be at a loss at how to play Violet. Her portrayal feels very over the top. I rarely think about how someone else would play a part that Meryl Streep has undertaken, but I found myself wondering about Bette Davis and what she might have done with such a role.

Julia Roberts, however, is terrific. Her Barbara is the best piece of work she’s done in a long time. She more than holds her own with Streep, and when she’s on the screen, she owns it. Roberts is very convincing as the older sister. Although her character is terribly flawed, Barbara seems to be the glue holding the family together over the course of their days together in Oklahoma. Julianne Nicholson’s Ivy is less showy, but is critical to the family underpinnings. As the movie progresses, she starts to come into her own and Nicholson is perfect in illustrating that growth.

Abigail Breslin is becoming a terrific actress. Her work with Roberts and McGregor is very good and she makes you care about the future of her character. Margo Martindale is one of those actresses who never seems to get it wrong, and her Mattie Fae is no exception. Her character can be unbelievably cruel; however, Martindale is great at making us understand what lies beneath the cruelty. Juliette Lewis’ Karen has less screen time, but Lewis gives an outstanding turn as someone desperate for love, no matter how despicable the source of that love may be.

So given all this wonderful acting, what makes “August: Osage County” not the success one would expect? The fact that it’s two hours of mostly unrelenting, in-your-face unpleasantness doesn’t help its cause. What works on stage, when the audience is at a distance, doesn’t necessarily work on-screen, where there’s no break from the screaming and shouting diatribes. The movie becomes difficult to sit through; not because of the subject matter, but in how the subject matter is presented.

“August: Osage County” is at its best in those rare instances of quiet conversation. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough quiet.

2 nuggets out of 4

The Fifth Estate: Not Transparent Enough—Movie

November 5, 2013

“The tyrants of the world should beware…but what about the others?” Guardian journalist Nick Davies and WikiLeaks co-founder Daniel Berg ponder this question at the end of “The Fifth Estate.” This question really goes to the heart of the film. Directed by Bill Condon, based on books by  Daniel Domscheit-Berg and David Leigh and Luke Harding  and adapted by Josh Singer, “The Fifth Estate” is not so much a biography of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, but is more about the growth of WikiLeaks and the power it had for good and evil.The_Fifth_Estate_poster

“The Fifth Estate” begins with the early days of WikiLeaks and the meeting of Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl). During that get-together they discover that they have similar ideals and goals. The two form a partnership, which in  Berg’s eyes is a partnership of equals. Working with Berg opens Assange up to a network of like-minded cohorts, bent on bringing transparency to the inner workings of corporations and governments. Through Berg’s computer pals, WikiLeaks is able to download information much faster and provide more immediacy to their work. It’s that immediacy and sense of urgency at all cost which eventually causes Berg to rethink what WikiLeaks is doing. Has its original intent gotten out of control?

Both Cumberbatch and Brühl are very good as Assange and Berg respectively. Cumberbatch obviously has the showier role and he does a terrific job in displaying the sheer ego and dedication to what Assange believes is his calling. Brühl’s performance is more understated and nuanced as it needs to be.

According to the film, much of the planning and recruiting for WikiLeaks takes place in underground venues all over the world. If true, I find this part of the of the WikiLeaks story fascinating. Where once grand ideas and uber planning took place in smoke-filled, staid rooms and clubs, the new world order for plotting is now done against the backdrop of a backbeat. The setting does give a somewhat hipster feel to the idea of document leaking…deserved or not. Leaking has become cool.

Every now and then “The Fifth Estate” has the spirit of “The Social Network”—two young men expanding the role of new media. But as the film goes on to show the resulting collateral damage of leaks, “The Fifth Estate” shifts in tone. Sometimes it feels like “Argo;” sometimes it’s “All the President’s Men.” And therein lays the problem. Despite strong acting, “The Fifth Estate”  doesn’t succeed ultimately because it isn’t quite sure of what kind of film it wants to be.  What it should be is the Julian Assange story. For someone who is so dynamic and driven and manages to outwit major companies and countries, we are told very little of his back story.  We are teased with information, but never learn why becomes such a crusader. We actually find out more about Berg (maybe that’s because the movie uses his book), but frankly, he’s not the interesting character. I left the film wanting to know a lot more about Assange.  That’s the film I want to see.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

12 Years a Slave: Painfully Memorable—Movie

October 27, 2013

Imagine that you are living a life of complete freedom. You come and go as you please, partake in the arts, read books, do whatever your heart desires. Then imagine that in an instant, without warning, all that is taken from you. Control over your life is over. No family, no books…no freedom. You might not be in a physical cage or jail cell, but the result is still the same. Your life as you knew it no longer exists. Such is the story of Solomon Northrup. If it wasn’t true, “12 Years a Slave” would be too horrific to be believed. Directed by Steve McQueen, with screenplay by John Ridley based on Solomon Northup’s book, “Twelve Years a Slave” is the shocking, authentic tale of Solomon Northrup.12 Years a Slave

An educated, free black man in 1841 Saratoga, NY, Solomon lives an upper middle-class life as a musician with a wife and two children. In his wildest dreams he never envisions that when he says good-bye to his family who are leaving on a trip, 12 years would pass before he would see them again. While his family is away, Solomon accepts an opportunity to go on the road with two performers and earn some extra money. If you have a bad feeling about this endeavor, you won’t be wrong. What follows are Solomon’s 12 harrowing years in slavery that defy adequate description.

As Solomon, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an astounding performance. His face is so expressive and his portrayal so grounded in reality, that Ejiofor commands the screen whenever he is on it. Watching him come to grips with his changed circumstance is painful to watch, he’s that good. His scenes with his final master, Epps (Michael Fassbender), are extremely tough as are the scenes with Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o),  the slave who has the misfortune to catch the eye of Epps.

Nyong’o has some of the film’s roughest moments. Patsey is despised by Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson) and suffers mightily because she is “favored.”  With Master Epps she is either slapped, whipped or raped on a daily basis. You almost hate seeing her on the screen, because you know something terrible is about to happen to her.

Although Epps’ character seems stereotypical, Michael Fassbender gives it everything he has.  He provides a memorable performance in what can only be described as a mentally unstable, vicious slave owner.

“12 Years a Slave” has an outstanding cast in some very ugly roles. Paul Giamatti as the slave trader and Paul Dano as Solomon’s first overseer are both brutally terrific. As Mr. Ford, Benedict Cumberbatch is very credible as Solomon’s benevolent first owner, but  without the backbone or money to do anything to change Solomon’s situation except to make it ultimately worse. Sarah Paulson is appropriately ice-cold as Epps’ betrayed wife. Alfre Woodard as the slave turned mistress and Brad Pitt as the Canadien laborer who befriends Solomon are also excellent in lesser, albeit important roles.

The one downside to the film is the music. It’s not that Hans Zimmer’s score is bad–far from it–but it is used so heavily that it becomes extremely intrusive and distracting. It’s almost as if McQueen is afraid we won’t understand the horror without it being telegraphed. He needn’t worry.

“12 Years a Slave” may be the first film to address slavery in all its ugliness head-on. It’s hard to say that you will be entertained, but you will feel that your time has been well spent and might make you wonder how a country founded upon freedom could so easily deny it for so long to others.

4 nuggets out of 4

Star Trek into Darkness: You Won’t Be—Movie

June 13, 2013

Non-trekkies, jump in…the water is fine.

I review this movie as an “average Joan,” with not too much “Star Trek” knowledge. In fact, I’m almost as non-Trekkie as they come. I’ve seen a few episodes of the original series and saw the movies, including the first re-boot, but that’s it. However, I’m living proof that you don’t need to know a lot in order to appreciate the high energy entertainment that is “Star Trek into Darkness.”Star Trek

The opening scenes with the crew are a tad confusing—volcanoes, other planets and beings—frankly, I didn’t know what was happening. But, luckily, none of that matters. Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof are very smartly are showing us the dynamics of the Enterprise crew. If you are just nominally familiar with  “Star Trek” (or even lesser so), it’s an opportunity to learn more about each character. For those with an encyclopedic mind for all things “Star Trek,” it’s fun to learn more about each character’s back story.

To talk much about the plot would spoil the story.  “Star Trek” fanatics will puzzle over some choices and might ask themselves if cryogenics causes one’s accent to change. Up until that point, the story makes a lot of sense and raises some interesting questions…as did the original series. What makes one become malevolent? Is there a point where a person can still resist the pull to the dark side? Is someone completely evil? How far will you go to help a friend…a colleague?

“Star Trek’s” cast is more than solid. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock have terrific chemistry with one another and they are still believable as the young adult duo. Simon Pegg provides just the right touch of levity to Scotty as does Anton Yelchin as Chekov. Veteran actors Bruce Greenwood (Pike) and Peter Weller (Marcus) lend an extra source of gravitas to the film. Zoe Saldana gives Uhura a shot of sass as Spock’s girlfriend.  Finally, behold Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s chief villain. He lives up to every bit of hype he has received.

It’s fun to imagine what some of our most favorite characters might have been like in their earlier years. That’s what makes prequels so entertaining. However, prequels come with self-imposed obstacles. We, the audience, know how certain plot points should/will end. That’s not to say the storytelling can’t be done well.  It’s just that from an overall perspective, the story on the screen can’t be perfect. Such is the case with “Star Trek into Darkness.” It’s enjoyable, but not perfect.

3 nuggets out of 4


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