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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game film posterSynopsis

About the Bletchley Park code breakers of the German Enigma machine.  Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the master code breaker.  He is gay and had a relationship with a school mate Christopher after whom he calls his machine.  It’s about his fraught relationship with his superiors Denniston (Charles Dance) and Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) of MI6, and with his colleagues Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) and Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode).  At one point Turing’s suspected of being a Soviet spy.  We jump in time from schooldays (1928) to Manchester (1951) when the police inspector (Rory Kinnear) visits Turing’s home after suspected gay relationships (then a criminal offence).  The inspector also hints at the Soviet spy angle. Turing has to accept medication in order to avoid prison, with tragic consequences.

Review

We’ve had a few films about this subject.  I haven’t seen the others but this film tells us that Turing and his team, if they didn’t win the war against Nazism, they certainly shortened it and saved 14 million lives (how do we know this?).  The efforts of the code breaker Tommy Flowers go unacknowledged, as does the contribution of the Russian army and American resources in bring Nazism down.  Naturally we get fancy accents and everyone being very British and easily embarrassed, except for the licensed tantrums of Alan Turing. This film has its toenail curling Attenborough moments: the understated epiphanies where characters say “Gosh, we’ve defeated Hitler”, the set piece emotional outbursts before the big breakthrough, the awestruck reverence before genius at work.  This ties in with the ‘curse of Richard Curtis’, twee Britishness juxtaposed with momentous events, the loving attention given to an Arthur Mee conservative Britain, the clues of future greatness, the suppressed emotions in khaki and tweeds, and the ‘Ovaltine’ and ‘Hovis’ uniforms all the extras wear.  Like all these sorts of bio-pics about clever people, we have to work out the impact of their genius on their psychology (usually simplified to frustration and cathartic workouts). Ranges of emotion are compressed to lovable foibles. Like with Amadeus, genius opposed by resentful authority in the person of Denniston (Charles Dance) who tries to undermine the brainy upstart all the way.  Mark Strong is superb as Stewart Menzies of MI6 who is all suave sophistication against Turing’s unworldly autism.  Strong can hold a scene on his own, exuding authority with minimal effort.  Keira Knightly plays Joan Clarke battling the sexism that preceded our own supposedly sexist free era.  It’s no challenge for Cumberbatch to play the stroppy genius, but he is moving as a hunted and tortured Turing at the end. 

The code breaking machine itself looks like an oversized Gothic coffee machine  designed by H.G. Welles.  I thought of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in a spoof scene, as he wondered why the yellow lights didn’t flash in time with the green lights and why can’t Scottie use his spanner?  We have the usual substitutes for showing us brain work: portentousness mixed with hokey sentiment as the camera moves in on the breakthrough moment.  The tragedy of Turing’s chemical castration is skirted round with a ‘Cluedo’ detective story in 1950’s Manchester.  Imitation Game does not break any moulds.

 

 

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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Skyfall

Skyfall posterSynopsis

Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem).  He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey.  He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees.  Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…

Criticism

I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel.  Then in 1962  Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond.  Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film.  From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance.  From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense.  What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years.  From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co.  The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways.  One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond.  She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante.   M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities.  She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia.  How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place?  War makes war on the result of war?  This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre:  M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).

Q is now played by Ben Whishaw.  The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use.  There are rueful comments on youth and age.  Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office.  Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters.  The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness.  The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay.  The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics).  Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.

The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator.  One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house.  I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption.  We  get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it).  Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.

There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey.  It is after all directed by Sam Mendes.  Reliable action man nonsense.

Bérénice Marlohe
 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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