Drama, Reviews

The Imitation Game

Imitation Game

Copyright © 2014 by The Weinstein Company

At the start of World War II, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is hired by Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) as a cryptanalyst to manually decode the Enigma machine used by the Nazis for their encrypted messages. However, the process is too time consuming and the setting of the device changes everyday. To hasten the collaborative efforts from his team mates comprising of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) and Jack Good (James Northcote), Turing designs a bombe and builds it via funding from the British Prime Minister. If the equipment succeeds, the Allied forces will have the upper hand over the Axis powers.

Last I checked, being ‘unique’ is not a crime. In fact, it is celebrated for the excitement diversity has contributed to a modern society emerging more pallid and droning by the day. While still taboo as far as homosexuality is concerned, homosexuals now are at least treated with the respect they deserve, judged not for their preferences but capabilities and have made progressive strides in well-rounded depictions on either television or film.

Not so if you are Turing or any of the 49,000 British men who are unjustly sentenced for gross indecency living between 1885 and 1967. A historic achievement in breaking the Enigma code with the help of the bombe he developed during his employment at Bletchley Park not only truncated the Second World War by two years, it also managed to save more than 14 million lives. Though a collective participation, there is nothing short of greatness.

A tightly guarded secret for more than half a century, he is forbidden to reveal any of the details and chemically castrating him for his proclivity towards other men is the sole ‘reward’ the government has bequeathed to this mathematical whiz until a royal pardon is accorded by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. Capturing Turing’s oddities and infusing with affecting sincerity is played out by a self-assured Cumberbatch and his younger self being supremely emulated by Alex Lawther.

The troubled and misunderstood logician can be loathsome but Cumberbatch’s prowess in deciphering his protagonist’s lack of people skills is speedily compensated with just enough sweetness in a room full of disbelievers. His thorny relationships with his colleagues and superior (albeit exaggerated for dramatic effect) are funny yet requisite to his firm principles that his machine will work. In comes Knightley who relieves some of the tension away from the battle of the brains.

Recruited for correctly solving a crossword puzzle and surpassing Turing’s test, Knightley is willful, intelligent and unabashedly forward, a woman you do not want to be embroiled with in a game of wits. She rises above the hierarchy which has been placed on women in that period and her budding friendship with Turing serves as an antithesis to a decrepit world. Knightley may be too glamourous but the criteria should not hinder the selection if she has the range to pull it off.

Despite garnering Graham Moore an Oscar for his screenplay, prior to the win, he has been barraged with criticisms for the inaccurate portrayal of the characters (Turing, Clarke and Denniston) and proceedings (breaking Enigma and a double agent in the midst). The fact is still unchanged that one man’s (and team) ambition to stop a global threat cemented the way in the advancement of artificial intelligence we now know as the computer. My friend, there is hardly anything imitation about it.

Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking

Musical, Reviews

Begin Again

Begin Again

Copyright © 2014 by The Weinstein Company

A record label executive, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is released from his company for not signing any new talent. Gretta (Keira Knightley) has just left her unfaithful boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) and is living temporarily with her best friend, Steve (James Corden). Steve drags her out to a bar where he performs for her to forget her sorrow. Coerced into performing a number for the audience, Gretta sings one of her penned songs which is coldly received by all except Dan who has been drinking after a confrontation with his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener) about their daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Seeing the potential, he convinces Gretta to sign a record deal with him but she declines, fearing fame will compromise her beliefs as a real musician. However, she changes her mind and allows Dan to help her produce a live album centred in the open areas of New York City during the months of summer.

Much has been lauded about John Carney’s previous directorial effort, ‘Once’, a musical about the music industry made on a shoestring budget and gained deservedly recognition from a win in the Academy Awards for ‘Best Original Song’, upstaging veterans Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s three-time nomination for the equally acclaimed ‘Enchanted’. Since then, ‘Falling Slowly’ has seen many renditions including Il Divo, Josh Groban and Shayne Ward tailoring to their own styles but it is ‘American Idol’ winner Kris Allen’s intimate live cover that is regarded a moving favourite by many.

Where does he go from here? Why of course to ride on the original’s victorious coattails and follow it up with ‘Once Again’, I mean ‘Begin Again’, a souped-up retelling of opportune moments in the most unexpected circumstances. While ‘Once’ depended only on its affable charm and infectious music to hoist the movie from its simplistic nature, Carney’s latest boasts plenty of star power. An intelligent move for a bigger turnout on opening day but it does surprisingly little on a creative level.

Other than the naturally shared chemistry among the main cast, the lead roles could have easily been undertaken by anyone with less acting experience (which is why I thought recruiting two coaches from reality-based singing competition, ‘The Voice’ and accomplished musicians on their own right who are expanding their gamut did not bother me one bit). In fact, Levine of ‘Maroon 5’ and CeeLo Green turn out to be much better actors than I could have possibly hoped.

True, Levine can be a lot more comfortable on screen but his personality comes through enough to even consider forgiving his infidelity towards his partner of several years. Certainly a good start as compared to Mariah Carey’s disastrous and Britney Spears’ by the numbers debuts. It is the foursome of Knightley, Ruffalo, Steinfeld and Keener who do not break new ground on what would typically be Oscar bait; all have the distinction of being nominees before.

It could be inadequate writing to character development as the strongest in the bunch, Knightley is still a far cry from her best. Carney’s focus on the wheeling and dealing of the entertainment industry and the trials of preserving an unaltered identity provide a fairly thorough insight to a struggling artiste who has to choose if selling out is the only way of obtaining artistic integrity. Praises also go to the songwriting team for delivering one helluva of a soundtrack – it will keep you grooving (and tearing) to Gretta and Dan’s journey for a second chance. And sometimes, that may just be enough to get by on a lazy afternoon.

Entirety: B+
Acting: B+
Plot: B

Rated R for language