The Imitation Game  (2014)    100/100

Rating :   100/100                      Treasure Chest                    114 Min        12A

This tells, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important stories of the twentieth century – that of British mathematician Alan Turing, who during World War II was focused primarily on breaking the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, and whose work would not only play a truly seismic part in the war effort but would propagate and be taken on by himself into numerous scientific disciplines, helping create the foundation of the modern computer, for example. As if that weren’t enough what happened to him in his personal life is already truly dramatic, irrespective of his decidedly epic achievements. Why is this story not better known?

Turing absolutely has claim to be one of the top ten most influential and important personages of the last century, but the state kept much of his story classified and top secret for many decades (as well as a number of his scientific papers), and then when the movie industry eventually got hold of it they messed it up by creating misfires ‘Enigma’ (01), with Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott which neglected to even mention Turing (although, interestingly it was co-financed by Mick Jagger who actually owns one of the machines), and even more controversially ‘U-571’ (2000), with Matthew McConaughey and Harvey Keitel which didn’t involve itself with the code breaking but instead focused on Americans capturing an Enigma machine despite the fact it was the British that had done so (writer David Ayer has since apologised for this), thankfully someone has given the source material the treatment it really deserved.

Helmed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (‘Headhunters’ 11), Graham Moore adapts the 1983 novel ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges (himself a mathematician) and Benedict Cumberbatch gives a potentially Oscar winning, and immensely enjoyable, performance as Turing, portraying him as an irascible genius (as Matthew Goode’s character says in the film) but one that’s easy to like and sympathise with, and who provides the audience with cause to laugh on more than one occasion. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, who solves a marketing crossword puzzle and gains access to the code breaking team and would come to play a central role in everyone’s lives, but Turing’s most of all. Additional support comes from Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong and Charles Dance and absolutely everyone is good here (including Alex Lawther as Turing when he is younger) but the focus is very much on telling Turing’s story.

Actually filmed on location at Bletchley Park, I was already certain of giving this a very high mark as it’s a really intriguing, satisfying and genuinely very moving historical drama – but I was wavering on the issue of historical accuracy. However, the more I read up on the subject, the more convinced I became that the film does remarkably well – I suspect Turing himself would laugh at much of it, you can probably take all the interactions between the characters and consider them legitimate inventions, but I also believe he would be very pleased, and consider it truthful in all the ways that ultimately matter. Complaints have been made from the Polish media that the necessary work of their own soldiers and code breakers isn’t highlighted, but I don’t think that’s fair really – it’s very clearly alluded to in the film and certainly The Red Dragon came away with the distinct impression they had played a vital role, one is simply encouraged to do a little research afterward to learn more.

Accounts from his co-workers all seem to vouch for his central and pivotal role in events and if you have Winston Churchill himself claiming that Turing made the single biggest contribution to winning the war, well, it’s pretty difficult to argue with that really. Many of the events in the film which one may reasonably assume to be fictitious are actually true – and they have also omitted a lot of Turing’s other achievements: he’s shown running around the Park to keep fit (and no doubt de-stress), for example, but they don’t mention he actually used to sometimes run all the way to London from Bletchley, a distance of more than sixty kilometres (a marathon is a mere forty two). My personal favourite anecdote is that he used to chain his coffee mug to the radiator so that no one else could use it. I approve of this. Where I am right now I keep careful track of the mug I use AS IT’S THE BIGGEST – Dragons require copious amounts of tea otherwise they go on killing rampages. This may save your life one day.

Similarly (there are slight spoilers in this paragraph so you might want to skip it), with regard to the breaking of the code what we see onscreen is kind of what was used – it’s spread out over time in the film and it makes sense for the screenplay but in reality it would probably have taken them all of two seconds to realise its importance, though it is ironic that Hitler’s own ego was to have such an affect on matters. I don’t think it’s mentioned in the film, but I am reliably told that the Enigma machine could map a letter to any other except itself, and had it been able to do that it would have been perhaps outwith the team’s powers to break (or at least added significantly to the time frame involved). Also not delved into is that the spy mentioned in the film was actually able to provide the Soviets with vital information used in the battle of Kursk, which changed the entire tide of the war on the Eastern Front in favour of Russia. It really is no hyperbole to say that many of us are alive today thanks to the determined efforts of Alan Turing.

I’d love to see the film, Cumberbatch, Tyldum and Moore get Oscar nominations for this but, as you will no doubt have guessed, no one more so than Keira for best supporting actress – she has certainly had a great year and garnered a lot of good faith in the States with the likes of ‘Jack Ryan : Shadow Recruit‘, ‘Begin Again‘ and ‘Laggies‘, not to mention a lot of positive attention with her fairly low-key and intimate marriage in 2013, the revelation she only gives herself a respectable sum of circa thirty grand to live off each year, and then posing topless to take a stance against the media’s abuse of the female image. Together with the right film, i.e. this one, and a strong character with a great performance which she delivers here, it could very well propel her back into Oscar’s sights – plus she was robbed of the one she deserved for ‘Pride and Prejudice’ back in 2005, so say I ..

Incidentally, this is also the second film with her and Steven Waddington (best known for playing the villainous English major in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ 92), the other being ‘The Hole’ (01), and in each case he plays a police sergeant and they never actually meet onscreen. Probably, no one else on the planet has noticed this (except for Waddington who must be pissed, and he failed to woo Madeleine Stowe in The Last of the Mohicans as well). Keira is also a fan of crosswords in real life, so is The Red Dragon which can only mean one thing – babies. That’s right, little baby dragons with Keira’s face on them, Keirons if you will, running around the place riddling humans to their everlasting peril. Actually, due to the success of the film GCHQ released an app, ‘Cryptoy’, which tests your code breaking powers and if you are good enough they may contact you. However, do you really want to install an app created by the intelligence services? It’s not like this film is a ringing endorsement of working for them – and I can only imagine what the permissions on it are like.

Alternatives for logic challenges are the ‘Myst’ series of games for the PC – you can get most of them for twenty quid from here (there’s even a sale on at the moment), or there’s a free online version, although I’m not completely sold on this as yet … Also, you might want to have a look at this little oddity which someone created and is quite fun, and, for your viewing and intellectual pleasure, The Red Dragon has a created a crossword for you to try. If you solve it within five minutes you get … well, nothing, but that’s not the point. (pen and paper required and the answers are at the bottom so don’t scroll down too fast …)

Blank crossword grid

1. “A friend in need …” (2,1,6,6)     8. Uncovered heat shed, covered (8)
9. Strictly oblique minister? (6) 10. Artisan looking south acts aimlessly (7)  11. Sounds like the highest voices, but is really Fred’s daughter (7)
13. Red ire again upset French ass (8)  15. Felt strongly passionate as dead remains placed in bed (6)  16. Even garb ajee scat in pieces (6) 18. Ralph hitting singular stake loses head spelling all (8)  21. The state of ecstasy – itself beset by a poorly maiden (7)  22. Initially, early studies showed even nocturnal creatures exude scent (7)  25. Placid icicle sour inside  26. Yielding to revelry Dona bans reckless whims, and leaves (8)  27. “You can’t teach an …” (3,3,3,6)

1. Inch forward, taste the source of instinctive impulses is bland (7)  2. One encouraging taking risks? (7)  3. Connect again as royal engineers bind together (5)
4. Dune unearthed without a stitch (4)  5. Strike the target, with a stroke, and you can use it to purify the claws (9)  6. Troop formation command level (7)  7. Modelled after removal indicator to have gotten rid of (7)  12. Bared, made to prohibit entrance (5)  14. Secret cooing tin rattled (9)  16. The music from the orchestra suffers from restlessness (7)  17. Awful, headless, fell jedi going weak at the knees (7)
19. Mountainous peak protects animal life, producing acid’s name (7)
20. Oppressed by nature Nazis display their long curls of hair (7)  23. The lunatics are better, at first, shrieking amidst new enemies return (5)  24. Special rear (4)






Across  –  1) is a friend indeed  8) sheathed  9) bishop  10) potters  11) Pebbles  13) derrière  15) burned  16) abject  18) alphabet  21) illegal  22) essence  25) acidic  26) abandons  27) old dog new tricks

Down  –   1) insipid  2) abetter/abettor  3) retie  4) nude  5) nailbrush  6) echelon  7) deposed  12) debar  14) incognito  16) agitato  17) jellied  19) benzoic  20) tresses  23) saner  24) rare

Interstellar  (2014)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     169 Min        12A

You would be hard pressed to find a more contrived film than this, given that it deals with the concepts of space and time as variables and yet everything seems to happen dramatically at the same moment. Sadly, this is just the beginning of the screenplay problems which burden the whole movie and, notwithstanding the often intriguing and satisfying visual space opera we are treated to, all but destroy it. This is Christopher Nolan’s latest film since releasing ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ and he is joined by his brother Jonathan on writing credits, together delivering not only clichés of science fiction but of their own work as well.

Set in a troubled future where crop blights have made survival on planet Earth very difficult, the story focuses on Coop (Matthew McConaughey), a former astronaut who now runs a farm with his father (John Lithgow) and two young kids, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet). Mysterious anomalies in the area lead the inquisitive Coop and Murph to a secret governmental institution which will eventually be responsible for the former adventurer once again taking to the skies – this time in an attempt to find a new habitable planet for the future of the human race to colonise (it’s also the second major science fiction epic for McConaughey after ‘Contact’ in 97). The core of the film focuses on family, humanity and adventure whilst making several attempts to treat us to a healthy dosage of real physics – in fact, the filmmakers combined forces with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, whose work initially inspired the film, and used real maths and data (many hundreds of terabytes worth of it) to produce the visualisation of a supermassive rotating black hole that they are fairly certain is what the thing will actually look like out there in space (it’s pictured above), and scientific papers based on their efforts have gone into publication, unusually uniting film with rigorous academia.

True to Nolan’s style, however, he takes a really interesting premise that he’s gone to great efforts to ground in reality and feasibility, and then he just rips everything up and writes a load of absolute gibberish, abruptly halting the journey he’d been taking us on. Think back to ‘The Dark Knight’ (08) when you had this wonderfully atmospheric and tense delivery, full of real stunts and real machines that actually operated as shown – and then right in the middle of the film he has his main character, Batman, jump off a skyscraper and land on a car below, damsel in distress in tow, completely unharmed despite having absolutely nothing to break or slow their fall (other than the aforementioned car). It’s completely ridiculous – why go to all that effort to make it realistic if you’re then going to blow it for no reason, and I love the Batman films so I still enjoyed them but I really wish he’d stop destroying the worlds and universes that he is so adept at creating.

Interstellar suffers from three major problems – one, the trailer completely spoils the central part of the film, and this is where the tension is really supposed to bite. Two, the writing of Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) is diabolically poor, in fact she is easily the worst character they have ever created (they probably would have been well served enlisting the help of a female touch with the screenplay here) and unfortunately this combines perfectly with fault number one. Thirdly, alas in no small measure also combining with fault two, the plot asks us to make enormous galactic leaps with our suspension of disbelief which are comically too big. There is an attempt to bring a spiritual, emotional, human element into play which is often done in science fiction (1968’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ for example, achieved it sensorially via artful direction and classical music) but it has to be done in such a way that the audience are going to be willing to take the leap because, well, why not? By simply going to the cinema there is an inherent willingness to invest in the movie and good art should expand our horizons anyway – it is not supposed to, as in this example, have the audience guffawing and sighing in irritation.

The visuals are a very curious mix of impressive (the black hole is terrific, especially when we realise it’s the most realistic depiction science is currently capable of), mainly average (background stars in our Solar System are conspicuously lacking, and generally the views of space aren’t as inspiring as they should be) and downright terrible (for some unknown reason there is a docking sequence where the models used look like they came straight out of the cupboards for ‘Space: 1999’, best case scenario is they were deliberately going for 70’s nostalgia), the score from Hans Zimmer is simple, atmospheric and very memorable although it does drag on throughout most of the film without changing all that much (I’ve seen the film twice now – the effects of this stack), a number of famous faces appear which continues to dilute the believability, and all in all I did still enjoy a lot of what is on display, but there is just no getting around the level of ridiculousness involved and the directly proportional disappointment, and I am often all for getting behind science fiction that wants to take artistic vaults into the unknown. The heart of this is uplifting, but the delivery is catastrophic.

Through the Eyes of The Red Dragon

Mr. Turner  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     150 Min        12A

Lavish, but oh so drawn out. Mike Leigh writes and directs this biography of English watercolour master Joseph Mallord William Turner, all focused on his late middle age, and I suspect even if you weren’t aware he was behind the camera you’d have a good chance of guessing since it follows his favourite themes of misery, death, and intermittent sex to briefly alleviate the gloom – all in sequential rotation. Timothy Spall plays the man himself, and whilst Spall is a fantastic actor and this is a well researched and very interesting interpretation, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a good one. Turner is displayed as conspicuously porcine, grunting and partially snarling when he’s not throwing overly large words at the unsuspecting people around him, or indulging in verbosity if you prefer, and all of this appears to fit eye witness accounts of the man – and perhaps that is the problem, we have an outward representation of someone that’s been combined with Leigh’s somewhat definitively depressing outlook on life and that’s about it, we never really feel like we’re getting to the heart of the real person.

There are lots of nice scenic shots but they are so obviously staged, with horses running in unison into the frame on cue etc., and the whole film never quite escapes that feeling of artificiality. Not to mention it’s really long and the opening hour or so is interminably dull. It does, however, have more success in creating a realistic impression of the arts scene at the time, as we see Turner mix, as best he can, with his contemporaries and he displays his guile and skill in the infamous anecdote often told where he shows off in front of rival Constable, seeming to deface his own work in the gallery only to return later and finish it off, delivering his coup de grâce to an appreciative audience. A lot of work and study has clearly gone into this and certainly some merit is here to be found, just be prepared for a rather laborious search for it. Incidentally, the Scottish National Gallery holds roughly forty of Turner’s works and they often appear on display at some point during the year for anyone interested in viewing them – at least partially fulfilling for these paintings the artist’s wish that his work be permanently bequeathed to, and put on display for, the British nation. Many of the others ended up in collections scattered around the globe.

Ouija  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Very, very simple, and yet also very classical, horror film with a group of attractive young teens playing with a Ouija board and unwittingly summoning an evil spirit that can control their minds and turn them into lemmings. Olivia Cooke plays the main character Laine (pictured above), who isn’t convinced by the ruling of ‘suicide’ when one of her best friends hangs herself hours after she failed to convince her of the merits of going out for the evening. She had better things to do contacting the darker spirits of the netherworld through the board, and eventually Laine is bored enough to end up doing the same thing – this time with more buddies around the table so there is ample supply of canon fodder to be executed throughout the film. It’s not especially gory, nor scary and neither is there anything remotely original at any point, but it at least does the fundamentals relatively well, resulting in an inoffensive and somewhat bland horror film, but one that still delivers the basic kind of cheap thrills you would expect.

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman  (2014)    9/100

Rating :   9/100                                                                       103 Min        15

The death of Charlie Countryman is indeed necessary as, frankly, he’s too stupid to stay alive for very long, given he appears to have trouble even getting properly dressed in the morning without aid never mind dealing with murderous criminals in a foreign land. Shia LaBeouf plays the eponymous central character whose mother dies at the opening of the film but her ghost stops on her way to paradise in order to suggest travelling to Bucharest, probably to ‘find himself’, where he goes and essentially gets the shit kicked out of him repeatedly – although since he uncovers some concrete incriminating evidence about someone and then goes right up to them and reveals this information, he was literally asking for it. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a hot girl involved in the guise of Evan Rachel Wood sporting an accent that may belong somewhere on the Eurasian plate but it’s certainly not Bucharest (accompaniment with her ‘yawning cat’ love making technique ensures this is also a film she’ll want to leave behind pretty fast) and of course Charlie falls instantly in love with her because chances are women back home tend to avoid him. Mads Mikkelsen plays the main baddie and watching him kick Countryman off the chair he’s sitting on and send him flying is the only satisfying moment in the film. Bizarrely with Rupert Grint and James Buckley in support as a couple of travelling plonkers, and with constant jibes that maybe he meant to go to Budapest and not Bucharest, sure to insult all Romanians.

Horns  (2013)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                   120 Mins        18

So turgid with its own premise it misses the point spectacularly, with even the actors looking bored come the finale. It’s adapted from the 2010 novel of the same name by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) and stars Daniel Radcliffe as the hopeless sod who is accused of murdering his girlfriend and is so enraged by this that he sprouts horns from his temples and with them gains the innate, and completely without off switch, ability to bring out the worst in people, inducing them to not only speak the truth but also to give in to whatever base and carnal whim happens to be floating around their subconscious at the time. This aspect sounds quite promising, unfortunately the film only plays with it about circa fifteen percent of the time – the rest is spent watching Radcliffe moan endlessly about his horns instead of using them to have fun, and us the audience being forced to endure a constant traipse through the dullest murder mystery ever when it is painfully obvious who committed the crime in the first place, and we don’t really give a monkey’s about it in the second. Culminating in wasted special effects and dull acting in what is altogether a pathetically watered down version of what could have been. Also with Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson and David Morse.

Nightcrawler  (2014)    74/100

Rating :   74/100                                                                     117 Min        15

This is a great film driven home relentlessly by a powerful and quite thought provoking central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (‘The Bourne Legacy‘, ‘Real Steel’ 11), who interestingly enough is the brother of screenwriter Tony Gilroy – most famous for penning the original Bourne films and who also created a very well received thriller with ‘Michael Clayton’ (07) in his own first attempt behind the camera. Gyllenhaal evokes perfectly his utterly determined to be successful ‘nightcrawler’ who starts his own business enterprise filming late night news events worthy of the big networks’ interest, the bloodier the better, and selling the footage to the ever eager outlets. All the while it’s obvious the wheels of his mind are turning as fast as they can, but in their frenetic activity he is completely unaware there is a large central cog entirely missing. A psychopath certainly, and yet a lot of what he does and says has a cold logic to it – there are many morally reprehensible moments but there exists not only an inevitability to them, given the scenarios he creates and which others force him into, but their combination with the sinister and corporate bottom-line world of mass media is completely perfect, opening our eyes just a little more to what we already witness, and are aware of, every day. Arguably good enough to see nominations coming Gyllenhaal’s way and perhaps for Gilroy too. The other main support comes from Rene Russo who is more than up to the challenge, although some of the smaller roles aren’t quite so well executed. For more along a similar vein watch ‘Network’ (76) and ‘Wag the Dog’ (97).

The Judge  (2014)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     141 Min        15

Acting giants Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. play an estranged father and son, the former a highly respected judge in their fictional home town of Carlinville, Indiana, and the latter a defence attorney living in the Windy City, Chicago, and about to go through divorce procedures with his wife, something he’d prefer not to admit to when he returns home for his mother’s funeral. Filial responsibilities are about to be severely put to the test when Duvall is accused of a hit and run murder, but he’d rather someone local defend him than his own son, and to make matters worse he claims he has no recollection of events and therefore no idea if he is actually guilty or not. A long and quite involving legal case pans out and the narrative intertwines it with the main characters’ own relationship, past and present – both leads are great, although Downey’s particular acting style can muffle some of the dialogue at times, and the film is as convincing at exploring a real and difficult father/son relationship as it is at giving us a suspenseful courtroom drama. With support from Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester and Vera Farmiga – who interestingly makes another choice comment about playing with herself (she did the same in ‘Up in the Air’ 09) – is this her stealthy trademark, much like eating onscreen is Brad Pitt’s? I think we ought to really see it next time if it is ….

This is Where I Leave You  (2014)    43/100

Rating :   43/100                                                                     103 Min        15

The most notable disaster per capita of famous actor since ‘The Big Wedding‘, this close up look at a large family, brought together by the passing of the father, each of whom all have their problems and secrets suffers primarily from the fact it is enormously difficult to like any of them, this, coupled with their individual and co-operative inability to generate any comedy at all, renders the film all but pointless. Jonathan Tropper wrote the screenplay based on his own novel of the same name and Shawn Levy directs – who has a very varied back catalogue, including the likes of ‘The Internship‘, ‘Real Steel’ (11), ‘Night at the Museum’ (06) and ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ (03), but this most certainly falls into his duds category, bruising by way of collateral damage Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant. The title comes from the reasonably central event that sees Bateman’s character at the beginning of the film walk in on his wife cheating on him with his boss, and he then tries to process this fairly major setback to happily ever after – but the problem is he reacts in such a non-emotional way, with a sort of cold inevitability, and his character is the same one he always plays now, the ‘calm and sensible one’ surrounded by more headstrong or carefree family members/friends, and of course the young local hottie (Byrne) will naturally take sympathy on him, groan. It’s all as unrealistic and stoic as his character is.

The Best of Me  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     118 Min        12A

Directed by Michael Hoffman (‘Gambit‘, ‘The Last Station’ 09) and adapted from yet another self consciously trite novel by king of the gushy teen melodrama, novelist Nicholas Sparks. I am slightly alarmed to say I enjoyed parts of this – and it is entirely due to the strength of some of the as yet unfamiliar faces in the movie. Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) are two star-crossed lovers who are brought back into each other’s life when a mutual friend passes away, and we see them stare at each other not quite sure how to act (in every sense of the word) as the film continually flits back in time to show us how they fell in love and also how they came to be strangers.

Their younger selves are played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, and in these parts the story is still formulaic piss but it does nevertheless work well with convincing performances and direction. Afterward, though, that predictability careers downhill with moments of ‘oh no, please tell me this isn’t going to happen. Sigh. It was inevitable for more than one reason I suppose.’ Sparks really is taking the mick here and he needs to hire someone that can extricate the enormous lumps of his own cheese from the plot as some of the rest has enough emotional empathy and resonance to be worthwhile. Fans of his probably won’t be too disappointed by this, unless by some miracle the novel is a serious piece of literature.