The Imitation Game

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightely, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”)
Written by: Graham Moore (debut)

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was hired to decrypt German messages thought to be unbreakable called Enigma. As his team of analysts fights him along the way, Turing carries out the construction of a machine that can theoretically crack any code. “The Imitation Game” tells the story of Turing and his team and their tireless work to help the allied forces win WWII.

“The Imitation Game” serves, first and foremost, as a showcase for Cumberbatch who is absolutely fantastic as Turing. Anyone who watches his role as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show “Sherlock” will find the more “Asperger’s” type personality quirks familiar, yet Cumberbatch also plays Turing with an outstandingly unique speech pattern and sense of wanting to be the smartest person in the room. Consider him a lock for a Best Actor nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards. The performance slightly overshadows that of his female counterpart Joan Clarke played by Keira Knightley, who is good in her own right, but never quite measures up to the powerhouse performance of Cumberbatch.

One thing that “The Imitation Game” has going for it is the element of having a lesser known, yet extremely intriguing story set in the World War II landscape. As the details unfurl, it is often mesmerizing to see Turing and his team uncover new ideas to try and break the unbreakable, all amplified by a fantastic and fitting score from Alexandre Desplat. Turing’s social interactions provide the film with most of its comic relief, mostly at the expense of Turing being off-putting, often times unknowingly. It is also extremely satisfying to watch Turing go up against foes and equal minds, both amongst his team and with his higher ups (particularly with a very Tywin Lannistery Charles Dance and a super slick Mark Strong).

If “The Imitation Game” has any weak points, it is in Graham Moore’s script. The first half of the film, especially with the introduction to many of the characters, often come off as clunky and the films framing device and flashbacks don’t add much to the end result. Perhaps most troublesome is the way that Turing’s homosexuality is dealt with. Though it is likely that Moore and director Morten Tyldum wanted Turing’s sexual orientation to be just a part of who he was – rather than the entire story itself – the final moments of the film as well as some post-credits text hint towards some darker moments and turmoil in Turing’s life that is absent from the rest of the film. Moore and Tyldum obviously wanted this area of Turing’s life and his abominable treatment in the wake of his homosexuality to be important to the viewer. It’s a shame that it isn’t explored further and is instead mostly treated like an afterthought.

Despite some speed bumps along the way, “The Imitation Game” is an often-fascinating study into a slice of history that remained a secret for three decades. Cumberbatch is superb and carries this film with ease and a surprising amount of charm for what can be a curt character. We can only hope that the film industry can continue to unearth gems of untold stories to share with eager moviegoers.

Stoker

March 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”)
Written by: Wentworth Miller (debut) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Chloe”)

Whether you can handle the bloodletting of filmmaker Chan-wook Park’s past work like “Thirst,” “Oldboy,” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” one thing is undeniable certain after seeing the South Korean director’s first American-made film “Stoker”: the man can sure set a chilling scene even better than most who consider the horror genre their forte.

Before we confuse viewers out there, “Stoker” is not a horror film. Despite Park’s last project centering on a vampire priest and the fact that Stoker is the surname of the novelist who wrote “Dracula,” the film “Stoker” has not one mythological fang working in its favor. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have a piercing bite. With Park at the helm, “Stoker,” despite its narrative drawbacks in the first half, is a master class in tone, setting, and overall ambiance that everyone should experience with the lights off.

After the mysterious death of her husband Richard (Dermot Mulroney), Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) opens her home to her estranged brother-in-law Charles (Matthew Goode), a handsome and creepily charming man who is easy to recognize in the cinematic world as someone with skeletons in his closet. While the unstable Evelyn is more than receptive to Charles moving into her home, her introverted teenage daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) is none too happy that no one ever told her she had an uncle.

The family secret might’ve been for her own good as we watch Charles snake around the property making everyone he comes into contact with uncomfortable. The sexual tension between he and both Evelyn and India is extremely palpable with each glint in his eye and perfect smile. In one scene, Charles sits down at a piano to play a duet with India, who almost practically orgasms as her uncle moves his arms around her back to hit the higher register on the keys. It’s not so much the idea Charles desires both women that is unnerving. It’s the vagueness of Charles’ backstory that will keep you wondering which way he will slither.

With the exception of the 2009 drama “A Single Man,” Goode has never been better. His subtle handling of his character feels genuine and never exaggerated. Both Wasikowska and Kidman’s performances are anchored by the self-confidence he brings to his own role.

Still, it is Park’s attention to detail that keeps “Stoker” truly fascinating. His use of light and sound, which are creatively edited into scenes throughout the film, are only some of the small gems that will stand out to those who notice finer points in the filmmaking process. It may be his first foray into the American film industry, but with “Stoker” he’s made an impression.

A Single Man

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Tom Ford (debut)
Written by: Tom Ford (debut)

While “A Single Man” is the most self-involved film in recent memory, debut filmmaker and fashion designer Tom Ford has created a work of art that is both flawless and haunting. Not only is it admirable for its pristine production value and attention to detail, actor Colin Firth gives the most gripping performance of his career. I would have loved this movie more if it could have stopped loving itself.

Leap Year

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott
Directed by: Anand Tucker (“Shopgirl”)
Written by: Deborah Kaplan (“Made of Honor”) and Harry Elfont (“Made of Honor”)

It might have been forgivable for a movie called “Leap Year” to be released during a non-Leap Year, but when screenwriters Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont put their heads together things usually get far too ugly and aggravating to let anything slip by.

Whether we’re talking about a musical comedy like “Josie and the Pussycats,” a family comedy like “Surviving Christmas,” or a romantic comedy like “Made of Honor,” there’s little Kaplan and Elfont have done in the last decade to prove they actually know how to write something with even a hint of humor. Instead, the writing duo falls back into the safety of their grab bag of clichés and scoops out a few to get them through the day.

While “Leap Year” isn’t as dreadful as the aforementioned films, it doesn’t mean Kaplan and Elfont are getting any better. They manage to take someone as adorable and talented as two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (“Doubt”) and wedge her into some middlebrow comedy that really is not befitting for her.

In the film she plays Anna, an upbeat apartment stager who decides that if her cardiologist boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) is not going to propose to her after four years, she’s going to take it upon herself to pop the question. Anna has just learned that it’s supposedly a romantic Irish tradition for the woman to propose to the man on Leap Day, Feb. 29. As luck would have it, Jeremy is in Ireland on business. How very serendipitous!

After one diverted plane ride to Wales, Anna is stranded in the English countryside where her only chance to make it to Dublin to see her boyfriend is to hitch a ride with Declan (Matthew Goode), a cheeky local pub owner who could use the fare. Oh, he’s also charming and attractive and has the ability to sweep American women off their feet, go figure.

Of course, the drive to Ireland isn’t that simple. Kaplan and Elfont give us a few sitcom-worthy obstacles the predictable couple has to overcome if they want to get to their final destination on time. From flooded cars to missed trains to – gasp – renting a room with only one bed, romantic comedies can’t get any more formulaic and stereotypical than this.

The conventional story includes the idea that tossing a city girl into the great outdoors and waiting for something hilarious to occur is just about the greatest thing anyone has ever come up with since, well, last year when Renée Zellweger traveled to Minnesota in “New in Town;” Sandra Bullock trekked through the snows of Alaska in “The Proposal;” and Sarah Jessica Parker ran through the wilderness of Wyoming in “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Why screenwriters find these terrible fish-out-of-water tales so appealing is beyond comprehension.

While Anna and Declan frolic through the pretty scenery, director Anand Tucker (“Shopgirl”) doesn’t do much to build on the thin material. How do they become so infatuated with each other in the span of two days when half of their time together is spent fighting? Why is Jeremy made out to be a horrible boyfriend when he’s really done nothing to justify Anna forgetting the last four year of their relationship and reinventing her life on a whim?

It all makes little sense in “Leap Year,” an unrealistic and over-calculated mishap that won’t have legs past January.

Watchmen

March 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Zach Snyder (“300”)
Written by: David Hayter (“X-Men”) and Alex Tse (debut)

There’s no denying the visual artistry and intensity of Zach Snyder’s film adaptation of the graphic novel “Watchmen.” While Snyder, who was recently named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top 25 directors working today (surprisingly he landed at No. 16 ahead of auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar and Paul Thomas Anderson), has delivered one of the better horror remakes with 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly-stylized war epic “300,” it hasn’t been until now that he’s had a such a storied narrative to work from.

Based on the graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, “Watchmen,” a piece some considered un-adaptable for the big screen, takes the idea of comic-book mythology to another level by transporting our team of heroes into an alternate universe.

The story begins with the murder of a retired superhero. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets a visit from a stranger one late evening and is tossed out of his apartment window. The crime causes other superheroes, who were once linked to him, to worry that there might be someone out there “picking off costumed heroes” one by one.

Through vivid flashbacks of these superheroes during their early years, we get a sense of where all these characters are coming from, what they have lived through, and how life as a vigilante has affected them emotionally. While many of these flashbacks work well, there are instances when too much reminiscing may have you wondering where Snyder and his screenwriters are actually on the timeline.

The superheroes themselves are the most memorable of the film’s nearly three-hour runtime, which doesn’t feel too long until the final 20 or so minutes when the story unfortunately transforms into an everyday end-of-the-world comic book yarn set on the backdrop of nuclear war. Overall, however, it’s not your typical genre-film.

Academy Award-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children”) is spot-on as the masked Rorschach, and while actor Billy Crudup’s role as Dr. Manhattan is done mostly via special effects, his apathetic and sometimes poetic personality is evident through his glowing blue skin. Other Watchmen include Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) whose mother (Carla Gugino) was part of the Watchmen herself and had a regrettable history with the Comedian, and the world’s smartest man, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).

Rich in all its technical aspects, “Watchmen” is at its best when it breaks all the derivative superhero-movie rules and stands on its own. Through its sometimes shocking graphic nature and attention to detail, it’s a well-polished example of what fun mainstream comic-book films should be about.