Imitation Game: A Review

imitation game7As I said in my American Sniper review I saw it and Imitation Game on the same day and they are more similar than you might at first think.  They are both about unusual men who saved lives in time of war.

The Imitation Game is about the mathematician Alan Turing who invented an early computer that helped the British to solve the enigma coding machine the Germans used.

At the end of the movie they say Christopher (Turing’s machine) saved 14 million lives and helped end the war 2 years sooner.  That is pretty amazing especially for someone I’ve never heard of before this year.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe reason why we haven’t heard of Alan Turing is his untimely death in 1954 and the fact the entire code breaking enterprise was kept secret for 50 years.

In a lot of ways The Imitation Game is a lot like The Theory of Everything.  Both about geniuses who aren’t appreciated at first but end up making great contributions.  Both have personal struggles that make it even harder for them to be accepted- Stephen Hawking his disability and Alan Turing being gay at a time where it was illegal to do so.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.Both are good movies but I would say The Imitation Game is better although it falls into some of the same standard biopic formulas we’ve seen before.

Of the 4 biopics nominated for best picture I’d rate them- Selma, American Sniper, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything. And they are all good movies just Game and Everything are a little predictable and formulaic.

Benedict Cumberbatch is very good as Alan Turing and I thought Keira Knightley was pretty good as his fiance and friend.  The rest of the cast is good with the exception of Charles Dance playing the obligatory stick in the mud boss who doesn’t recognize genius we’ve seen in a million other movies. I could have also done without the cop interviewing Turing narration throughout that felt extremely phony. I don’t think anyone had to tell a gay man in 40’s England to keep quiet about their homosexuality. This is a genius we are talking about.

imitation game4Matthew Goode and Allen Leach (from Downton Abbey) take small parts as members of the code breakers and all the sets and costuming is very well done. Alexandre Desplat’s music is also very moving and not over the top like so many biopics.

imitation game10The movie ends on a very sad note that is necessary as it is the real events but I couldn’t help but wish the movie had been a little less formulaic to help absorb that sadness- it kind of came out of left field.  But it was tragic for sure.

Cumberbatch is great as Turing.  He is basically playing the same role as he is in Sherlock so if you like him there you will like him here. He is vulnerable and awkward yet still likable in a way few actors could pull off.  The parts with the codebreaking were new and I learned something.  And like I said the rest of the performances are great.  Overall a very entertaining enlightening film.

It is also nice that it tells the story of a gay man without an agenda or vulgarity being shoved at the screen.  It’s just his story.  I love that and think it is perhaps more impactful than some films that are more blatant and heavy-handed in their messaging.  I certainly was moved by it.

As far as content it is pretty clean.  There is a little bit of PG-13 level profanity and one sexually explicit joke I’m surprised they could slip by with but other than that a film appropriate for middle school and up and a worthwhile message and story to learn about.

Overall Grade- B+, Content Grade- A

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Begin Again: A Review

begin againI finally got a chance to see Begin Again tonight, the musical dramedy written and directed by John Carney creator of indy smash Once.  With  the current dearth of romantic comedies I was looking forward to this movie and while it is not terrible I was disappointed.

Trailer:

Cast:

Keira Knightley as Gretta James, a songwriter

Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, a music producer

Adam Levine as Dave Kohl, Gretta’s ex-boyfriend and a successful musician

Catherine Keener as Miriam Hart, Dan’s estranged wife

Hailee Steinfeld as Violet Mulligan, Dan and Miriam’s daughter

James Corden as Steve, Gretta’s best friend

CeeLo Green as Troublegum, a successful rapper who was discovered by Dan

Mos Def as Saul, Dan’s long-time business partner

 

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Spoiler Alert! I will discuss some details of the movie.

Begin Again has a lot in common with Once.  Both movies are about new artists, one male, one female, that are idealistic and pure believers in music and them creating their first album.

But there are some big key differences.

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First, I’m sorry but the songs in Once are just better.  I did not believe any of the songs in Begin Again were legitimate hits where Once had several including the actual hit Falling Softly (and Oscar winner for Best Original Song) .

The songs in Once were so good they could be used to make a Tony winning broadway musical.  You couldn’t do that with the Begin Again songs, and since the whole point of the movie is that Kiera Knightly’s songs are somehow so brilliant it doesn’t feel genuine.

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Second, the singing isn’t as good.  Mark Ruffalo doesn’t actually sing like Glen Hansard does in Once and Kiera Knightly is not nearly as good a singer as Marketa Irglova.  All of the songs are written with a small range and she still doesn’t sound very good.  Certainly nothing that would make a record executive stop in a drunken stupor and drop all and work with this ‘amazing’ talent.

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In Once the performances are grounded in a type of reality, playing in music stores, homes etc

Third, in Once the ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ are so likable despite not having names.  In both movies they are in love with music and not really each other but it comes off so much more of a real and meaningful relationship in Once.

Part of the problem is that Ruffalo is such a mess that I didn’t like him or find him charming.  In fact, there was a side of me that was nervous for Knightley’s character that he might take advantage of her (borderline creepy persona).  Knightly was bland, niave and kind of preachy about people who actually want to make a career out of music (the shame!). I found her to be a little insufferable.

Begin-Again-Ruffalo

In Once ‘Girl’ has a child which gives her warmth and keeps you rooting for her.  In Begin Again Ruffalo is estranged from his daughter played quite well by Hailee Steinfeld.  When we first meet him he picks his daughter up clearly inebriated.    This makes me instantly dislike him, where in Once I love the characters who are trying so hard for the chance to record.  Ruffalo is an executive who has blown his chance and is fired.  It’s not as motivating a character arc and we don’t see as much growth.

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Fourth, in Once they are shown practicing so they are ready for the big recording session.  They practice outside, in apartments, piano stores etc.  In Begin Again the conceit is that they are going to screw the traditional recording studio and record an album in New York live.

It is an absolutely laughable idea that a releasable album could be filmed in and around the city of New York in one or two takes and with all back up willing to work for free! We officially cross the line into a fairytale with scenes of recording in the Subway and officers ‘catching’ them mid song and them running away.  You can actually get permits to play in the New York Subway but the idea that a band of that size could get all the amps and everything set up and then record a track and then the cops come? Give me a break!

Maybe it isn’t fair to compare it to its younger, fairer cousin but when you have the same director, writer and a nearly identical premise it’s tough not too.  Begin Again is just not as good.  It feels like a lame sequel where they just kind of spew out a weaker version of the original. It’s not offensively awful and people are trying but why settle for sloppy seconds when you can easily enjoy the real deal first course?

The only part that surprised me about Begin Again is Adam Levine as Knightley’s rock star boyfriend isn’t half bad.  In the world of musicians turned actors he is pretty engaging on screen. Granted he is playing a rock star which isn’t much a stretch but certainly other stars haven’t been able to pull off similar feats as well. He has the one good song at the end of the movie (big surprise there!).

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I just wanted a feel good romance and so was hoping at least the characters would be engaging but I didn’t get into it.  The premise was too silly, characters patronizing or unlikable and the songs (a big part of the movie) weren’t very good.  Overall let down…

There is a lot of swearing in the movie but not much else that is offensive.  Not quite as much swearing as in Once (although much of that was in Irish accent which was hard to understand). But I would say Begin Again is adult only because of language.

Clean Content Score- D, Overall Grade- C, not terrible but extremely average.