The Imitation Game

Today we take a look at Alan Turing’s biopic and the recipient of 8 Academy Award nominees, The Imitation Game. Directed by Morten Tyldum, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

The Imitation Game follows the real life story of brilliant mathematician Alan Turing and his fight against time and the Nazis as they try to break the unsolveable Enigma Code at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

8.0 out of 10

For 110 minutes, The Imitation Game was a fantastic movie. 9.0 or 9.5 out of 10. It was gripping, incredibly well-acted, and unflinching in its portrayal of Alan Turing’s experiences and struggles. For the final four minutes of its 114 running time, it was still gripping and incredibly well-acted, but it lost that truth and faithfulness to Turing’s story, a fact that left me with a really sour taste and the movie with a significantly reduced score.

THE IMITATION GAME

For those first 110 minutes, I was enthralled. The movie never lost its tension, each segment of Turing’s struggle to break Enigma flanked by menacing real-life clips of fighting and bombing in 1940’s Europe. But The Imitation Game was not solely monotonous tension and idealistic nationalism; it also featured a central narrative of emotional agony. In the past, we see Turing’s ostracism and persecution by his peers and his inherent lack of ability to connect with other people. In the recent past, we see the contempt his peers have for him as they try to break Enigma. And in the present, we see Turing downtrodden and arrested, again facing the persecution of the people that surround him. This fantastic mix of tension and emotion jived together and moved the plot of the film along swiftly. I have a hard time imagining any viewer to be bored by The Imitation Game.

The acting was superb. Benedict Cumberbatch was absolutely phenomenal as the tortured genius Alan Turing, a role he has had some practice for as the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. His voice inflections, stammering, and hunched-over walk were all incredibly convincing, and Cumberbatch has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe for Best Actor, Drama, and I would be incredibly surprised if he is not nominated for the Best Actor Oscar when Oscar nominations come out later this month. Will he win? It’s possible, but there is some stiff competition this year with Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

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Cumberbatch was really the driving the force in The Imitation Game. Keira Knightly added some comedy and insight into the sexism of the forties while also serving as the only character able to connect with Turing, but besides the interplay between these two and Turing’s inner struggles, The Imitation Game doesn’t have much to offer. But what it does it does exceptionally well and it is sure to be an awards show contender, especially with Harvey Weinstein’s campaigning powers at work.

That is where my review would end if the movie had ended after 110 minutes. The Imitation Game would have gotten a 9.0 out of 10, and it would be one of my favorite movies of the year, if not my favorite movie of the year (As it is, I still really enjoyed the film). But then the ending happened, and they got it so incredibly wrong. Spoilers will follow, but the movie is based on the life of a historical and historic figure, so I suppose they aren’t true spoilers.

After breaking Enigma, Turing returns home and continues to work on developing the first computer, Christopher. He is later arrested for “public indecency”, for attempting to have sex with another man. He is, in essence, arrested for being gay. He is then forced to endure hormone therapy to “chemically castrate” him and “reverse his homosexual predilections”.

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In real life, Turing endures this therapy for a year before committing a suicide via a cyanide-laced apple, a rhetorical omen of sorts. He is so persecuted by the very society that he saved through shortening the war and saving 14 million lives and creating the foundations for the modern computer that he ends his life. There is no Disney happy ending, but in reel life (in the movie), the screenwriters attempt to create one. In the film, Turing is visited by Knightley’s character and she supports him and he seems to find some semblance of inner peace. In a sense, he accepts his character, his situation, and what he’s done. His suicide and decent into widespread physical issues brought on by the hormones are reduced to after-credit epilogue fodder.

Had The Imitation Game stayed true to Turing’s story and showed the society’s persecution of the very man who saved them, I could very well be sitting here writing my first 10 out of 10 reviews and forecasting an Oscar sweep. But they messed it up and they messed it up badly. Rumor has it Weinstein thought it would be more appealing to the masses and more likely to win awards, but in my opinion it has had the opposite effect.

The Imitation Game was great, but damn, it could have been a cinematic landmark.
~Will

9.5 out of 10

World War II often dominates any historical/historical-fiction entries for the Academy Awards and it’s not hard to see why: it’s a blend of violent yet cerebral battles, there’s a closely shaved right and wrong with no room for dispute. Most of all, its sheer scale automatically ties it with billions of heard and unheard biographies that our writers will be excavating for the next few decades.
THE IMITATION GAME Alan Turing’s story is one of those brilliant yet buried biographies. Imitation Game knows this and tunes its writing, set pieces and pacing accordingly. It’s a memoir that packs a punch and slams its audience with a firecracker anecdote about one of the most exciting things ever, of course: the creation of one of the first basic computers that occupies a good quarter of an entire office.

The last film that I can think of that made coding riveting is The Social Network which is, in a small way, a twin to this movie. They both grab from a similar bag of tricks, using streamlined visuals and relying on a small circle of skilled actors. Moreover, they’re both handed the problem of making an antisocial, misanthropic genius the audience’s hero for a solid two hours and both are not afraid to show that hero’s ugly side.

imitation 1 This is where Cumberbatch hits his target with frightening precision (Insert American Sniper joke here). He keeps up that soft air of entitlement and condescension that vectors us all in pretty quickly. And his coldness makes it all the more special for those seconds where he lashes out, trust me. He drives the film by modeling his actions after the robots his character actively worships and injects just enough humanity at all the right moments to keep us all invested. That humanity is very much weaved around the structure of the entire movie which bounces between Turing’s construction of his code-cracking computer (Affectionately referred to as “Christopher” by our boy for some pretty intriguing reasons that are uncovered throughout) and his past at boarding school.

But we all know Mr. Cumberbatch has a knack for playing near-mechanical men with a concentrated dose of background, what about our supporting cast? Well, they do very well for themselves too especially since they have to hold their own against their dynamic lead. There aren’t a lot of large roles besides Turing but Keira Knightley pulls off an intelligent yet somewhat vulnerable portrait of Turing’s fiance and colleague, Joan Clarke. She is able to work with Cumberbatch and genuinely portrays the problems of working with an irritable intellect. The supporting cast of Turing’s workers do the same as they’re gradually forced to adhere to his intellect. Every actor here is pretty much brimming with the era as well.
Which brings us to our next point: the sets, clothing and atmosphere are all far up to snuff. In this era where audiences love to pick and chew at small inaccuracies, Imitation is up to the task and keeps its environment small yet accurate. Set pieces and wardrobe can sometimes go unnoticed with historical movies especially with actors like this but they provide a solid backdrop here.

THE IMITATION GAME This is a smaller matter but I’m also enamored with how smart this movie is and how much trust it does in fact put in its audience. As mentioned before, early computer models aren’t exactly the most exciting things on the planet and, yes, the viewer has to fight their way through technobabble every once and a while and maybe pretend that they understand how Enigma works but this adaptation does through a good amount of puzzles at the viewer. It’s always extremely important to me that a film like this doesn’t get corrupted by downplaying its complexity to the audience.

imitation 6 Cumberbatch has gotten the role he deserves and all of the nominations that go with it. Since he is a little new to this tier of film, I suspect that he won’t get all of the awards he’s earned but then again there’s no very little rhyme or reason to the Academy (Usually the one you forgot to see yet keep vaguely hearing about wins, almost inevitably). No matter what though, his role as Turing was an exceptional exercise in dramatic strength that’ll land him (even more) weighty roles in the future. Bravo, Mr. Cumberbatch. Oh, and bravo Mr. Turing as well. Amateurs like me wouldn’t be able to spout their opinions without the descendants of your invention.
~Zach

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

This week, we’ll be looking at the newest sequence in The Hobbit series, the Desolation of Smaug. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is perhaps the greatest trilogy of all time, so the hype for The Hobbit, both the first one and this new one, has been pretty substantial. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug continues the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), Gandalf (McKellan) and the gang of dwarves after successfully crossing through the Misty Mountains on their way to reclaim the dwarves’ treasure from the Lonely Mountain, guarded by the dangerous fire breathing dragon, Smaug (Cumberbatch). However, the quest becomes a lot more challenging for Bilbo and the gang once Gandalf leaves to fight a greater evil that threatens the safety of humanity as they know it. Without their powerful friend, Bilbo must help Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) lead the dwarves through the forest of Mirkwood, past the dangerous elves, and into the Lonely Mountain to recover the treasure that rightfully belongs to the Dwarf Kingdom. Obviously, Bilbo faces many challenges along the way, in the form of his own will and other creatures in the world of Middle Earth.

8.5 out of 10

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I’m a fan of the Lord of the Rings. Not a LOTR maniac, but a fan. They are tremendously entertaining to watch, due to various things, including the huge world that has been created around itself. Duplicating this, visually and emotionally, was crucial to The Hobbit’s success as a film. Thankfully, Peter Jackson and Co. were able to pull it off.

There are a few major things that contribute to the success of the old series. This includes the aforementioned realism of the world, the fantastic effects, and the well-executed story. Desolation of Smaug was able to touch on all of these, more so than the first film, An Unexpected Journey, but not nearly as much as the original trilogy (Basically, it’s an improvement over the previous film, but not nearly as good as the original Lord of the Rings). The entire universe is still on full display throughout the movie, from the elves to the dragon, all sorts of different creatures are seen, each one of them great in their own individual way. What’s also unique is that each of these characters also have personality, instead of being boring filler characters. This was seen specifically with the dwarves, and how each one is actually interesting. The writers clearly took their time with each character, instead of just throwing them out there.

Next on the agenda are the effects, and not only the visual effects. Those are always a point of emphasis in a Peter Jackson project. It is no different here. My personal favorite part was the dragon Smaug. Using motion capture with Benedict Cumberbatch in order to capture the dragon’s movements was done excellently, and looked great. It looked as realistic as a dragon can possible be. Additionally, the makeup and costumes were phenomenal, as always. With all these different creatures, the costumes and makeup departments are extremely crucial and are a huge part in creating the world. A friend pointed out to me how makeup artists are among the most under-appreciated people in the film industry, and he’s right. Their work is so important and amazing to see in action, especially in a film such as this one.

The last point I want to discuss is the execution of the story. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I felt that one of the main problems is that it took an EXTREMELY long time to get to the point, and was dragging. Desolation of Smaug did fix this problem, but it was assisted by the fact that it hit the ground running, starting off where the first movie left off.

I honestly don’t have too much criticism for the movie. There was a romantic relationship dealing with one of the dwarves, Kili, (Aidan Turner) and one of the elves, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). I thought this was initially unnecessary and contributed to the length of the movie, though it was executed well. All the original movies are almost three hours long because they are each based off of a book each, but The Hobbit is one book, so breaking it up into three movies is really just a cash grab. It’s pretty remarkable that they’ve been able to make these movies so long… But also kind of annoying.

Is this The Return of the King? No, no it’s not, but it was still a really entertaining movie. It’s one of those films that is great-but-not-perfect in most categories, so it’s hard to pinpoint criticism. Nonetheless, I was really entertained by Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. Sure, it was a little long, but I can never get enough Bilbo Baggins. I would highly recommend checking this out if you have the opportunity (but please, see the other four films first).
~Vig

9 out of 10

Lord of the Rings is one of the toughest adaptations you can do.

You can take a journey. Throw in some good characters, some great effects, and heck off a lot of tracking shots of New Zealand and still have not quite enough to be equipped to make an honest depiction of it.

But Peter Jackson came as close as any body ever did or will. He built a really stable franchise using the tools above and his own vast knowledge of filmmaking to his advantage. If you ever seen any of the behind the scenes materials for any of Jackson’s films (King Kong, Lovely Bones) his love for the medium he works in is palpable.

What I’m getting at is that The Lord of the Rings franchise was in great hands for a long amount of time until it reached a roadblock with the polarizing Hobbit. In honesty, its not really fair to call it a roadblock since it does have a lot of great elements to it. Ultimately, I think its faults came from a few factors:

New characters. I remember, the week that The Hobbit premiered, Conan O’Brien did a sketch about the long casting list for the movie that described it pretty perfectly. I can’t find a link but I’ll make this the choose-your-own adventure part of the review.

Pacing. This has always been a problem (Even in the source material which tends to get lost in its own world and imagery) but was exacerbated by the rippling problems of undeveloped characters.

Villains (Or lack thereof). Orcs seemed like a bit of a downgrade if we must be brutally honest. They’re entertaining, just not the usual focus that made viewers love the original antagonists of the trilogy so much.

Now let me explain how this movie pretty much took care of all of that.

You can tell that Jackson used An Unexpected Journey as his rough draft. The mark of a good filmmaker is that he or she learns from any mistakes and I will ultimately assumes that that is exactly what Jackson did.

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Maybe its because I love my middle chapters but I felt like this one was briskly paced (Especially compared to Lord of the Rings movies) and had a remote idea on which characters were interesting. We can certainly thank An Unexpected Journey for introducing us to the Dwarf Company in a way that it’s all laid out and ready for us here. The exposition just wasn’t fun while we were in it.

Mostly, however, is its real sense of adventure that harkens way back to what the first movie in the entire franchise had. Its very challenging to suck the viewer into a long ride and keep it perpetually entertaining but this one absolutely did it in a way that kind of made me feel like a kid, watching the entire series over again (And thats the best way possible).

On a final note, I don’t think I like Legolas as much as everybody else but it was good seeing the elves in this. Were they necessary? Nope. Were they a good addition? Absolutely.

Even if you thought the franchise ended at The Hobbit, I strongly suggest you give it a second chance.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 66
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%