People’s Choice. Movies Reviewed: The Imitation Game, Honeymoon

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Biopic, Computers, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

_MG_1251TIFF – the Toronto Interntional Film Festival – is over for the year. The klieg lights are dimmed, the red carpets rolled up.  It’s like a carnival sideshow leaving town, with celebrities and their droves of fans replacing the bearded ladies and tattooed men of yore. And the hundreds of members of the media, myself included, are forced to look elsewhere for the Next Big Movie.

On the last day of the festival, this past Sunday, they announced the winning films in Cumberbatch signs autographs at TIFF Jeff Harriscompetition. Unlike most major film festivals which use panels of critics and filmmakers as judges, TIFF relies on moviegoers to vote for the most important prize, the People’s Choice award. They say Torontonians are a good barometer of what kind of movies appeal to the public these days. The proof is in the pudding; People’s Choice winners, more often than not, become next year’s Oscar winners: the wonderful Slumdog Millionaire, the moving Twelve Years a Slave, the pandering King’s Speech, and the so-so Silver Linings Playbook.

So this week, I’m going to tell you about the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice award winner, and a low-budget horror movie opening in Toronto.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game
Dir: Morten Tyldum

It’s the dawn of WWII. The British have captured Enigma, one of Nazi Germany’s secret devices. All their military messages use that encryption machine. Cracking it could mean an early end to the war and countless millions saved. Alan Turing — a shy, super-intelligent mathematician and Cambridge – is asked to visit the Bletchley Radio works – actually a branch of MI6. They need him to join the team and solve the puzzle.

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) probably got an “F” as a child  in the “plays well with others” category. Instead of working with the other recruits, notably his supervisor Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) he decides that cracking codes, one by one, is a waste of time. Instead he sets about creating one of the world’s first computers. He names the giant wall of wires and THE IMITATION GAMEspinning discs “Christopher”, after his first gay crush.

He quickly alienates Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), his boss, who decides to get rid of him. Will he succeed? In a compromise, Turing decides to recruit ordinary people with extraordinary minds to work on his project, using a hard-to-solve cryptic newspaper crossword puzzle to locate his geniuses. Smartest of all is a woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Together they try to crack the code and win the war. But will they succeed? Will Joan and Alan fall in love? And what will happen after the war?

_MG_0467The story jumps back and forth from his time as a wistful schoolboy, to the thrill and excitement of wartime, to the dark period afterwards, where he is persecuted by the police as a gay man. The Imitation Game tells a fantastic, true story of unrequited love, action and adventure, and the dark politics of postwar Britain. While it’s skimpy on the sex – as in, none at all – it is still a wonderful story, miles above most biopics. Benedict Cumberbatch plays another irritating and emotionally-stunted Sherlock, but he does it so well, conveying his thoughts through a twitch of an eye. Many critics deride Keira Knightley as a one-dimensional movie star, but I found her great in this one. In fact all the cast, including supporting characters, are wonderful. Though patently Oscar-bait (wartime, British costume drama, no yuck factor) it’s wonderful Oscar-bait. I strongly recommend this movie.

Honeymoon
Dir: Leigh Janiak

Leslie Rose as Bea in the HoneymoonPaul and Bea are up in cottage country to celebrate their marriage. Bea (Rose Leslie: Game of Thones) is big-boned and robust with a winning smile. Paul (Harry Treadaway: Fishtank, Cockneys vs Zombies) is naïve, boyish and fragile. Rose’s childhood summer home is filled with wooden ducks and a giant bearskin covering one wall. They intend to skinny dip in the lake, make pancakes at noon, and spend the rest of the day in bed, screwing like rabbits.

All goes well, until they encounter Will – Bea’s  ex – and his disturbed wife Annie. Something is wrong with those two. And they seem to have affected Bea. Is she cheating on him? Paul finds her sleepwalking in the woods at night. Light beams shine through the window. Strange Harry Treadaway as Paul in Honeymoonmarks appear on her thighs – just mosquito bites, she tells him. And strangest of all, he catches her memorizing basic phrases like “My name is Bea… my husband is Paul… we’re married”. Is she really Bea? Or an eerie imposter? Or has she gone completely mad?

Honeymoon – a horror movie with a female director: quite rare! – has great acting and an interesting premise. It starts out like a dull love story, but starts to pick up after the first 20 minutes. It has me going for a while, but eventually falls prey to some awful, endlessly repeated lines that take the zing away. Honeymoon is a good try, but doesn’t quite do it for me.

The Imitation Game is coming this fall, and Honeymoon starts today in Toronto: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

October Film Fests. Movies Reviewed: Fresh Meat, Los Wild Ones, The Fifth Estate

Posted in Biopic, Cannibalism, Cultural Mining, documentary, Horror by CulturalMining.com on October 18, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Fall film festivals are as common as falling leaves, but there are some that shouldn’t be missed. Toronto After Dark is a neat place to catch up on all the latest horror, science fiction and some just plain strange movies. ImagineNative is a celebration of aboriginal art, music and film, both from first nations artist and filmmakers, as well as many more from abroad. And there’s a brand new festival, Reel Indie, showing new movies about indie music.

So today I’m looking at an unusual movie from New Zealand which says “you are what you eat”;  a music doc that says rock ‘n’ roll is a Mexican thang; and a biopic that opened TIFF this year that says leaks make the world go round.

Fresh Meat posterFresh Meat

Dir: Danny Mulheron

Rina (Hanna Tevita) is heading home from the Maori School for Girls. She likes it there, but misses her family and friends.

There’s Margaret, her mom (Nicola Kawana), who’s a chef on TV and author of a popular cooking guide for university students. Dad (Temuera Morrison) is a prof who likes instilling Maori pride in her ancestral language, religion and culture. (Rina thinks it’s all silly.) There’s her pesky little brother and even the neighbourhood paper boy who crushing heavily on her. And, as he says, her “newly grown bosoms”.

But it’s not just her figure that has changed since her last visit. It seems her parents have taken up a strange religious practice from the Solomon Islands. Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a ruthless gang is on the prowl. They are looking for a place to hide from the cops after their latest prison break. There’s Tan, a cokehead in a tracksuit who thinks he’s Bruce Lee, and Gigi (Kate Elliot), a cruel Bettie Page lookalike. So where do they seek asylum? Yup — in Rina’s suburban home.

They have guns and they know how to use them. What will happen to this poor, innocent family at the hands of FreshMeat1these sinister hoods? Well, not what you first think. Mom and dad are on their own mission: to Solomonize the world, reviving ancient practices that they believe can lead to immortality. And that involves eating the raw hearts and livers of their enemies. To them, everyone is either an ally that must be “solomonized” – convinced to become a cannibal —  or someone who can supply them with fresh meat.

Who will survive – the good guys, the bad guys, or the cannibals? Is there a spark of love between Gigi and Rina? And are they Maori cannibals… or cannibals who just happen to be Maori?

This is a horror/comedy, full of excessive killing, gore, brutality and loads of gratuitous sexual innuendo. It’s also got a lot of Maori lore, humour and language (real or fake, I have no idea, but it looks pretty authentic) and a largely indigenous cast. If you’re in the mood for some low-brow dark humour and lots of red blood and body parts, check this one out.

Marlene Perez Rhythm Shakers Los Wild Ones RIFFLos Wild Ones

Dir: Elise Salomon

Did you know there’s a burgeoning rockabilly scene in L.A.? Well there is. This documentary follows Reb, a Dublin-born rocker and his label Wild records, as they tap into the world of Mexican-American rockabilly. There’s sharp concert shots and lots of music. The guys all have bryll cream quiffs, bowling shirts and tattoos of the ace of spades. The girls use red lipstick and wear skirts. And they all look like they were drawn by  Jaime Hernandez in Love and Rockets.

Their lives are all filled with auditions, nightclub performances, rehearsals and radio shows, salted with swigs of raw gin and some first rate bass-slapping. This documentary is mainly just a slice of that music scene and an homage to the label – not too exciting or eventful, but pleasant to look at and a pleasure to listen to.

THE FIFTH ESTATEThe Fifth Estate

Dir: Richard Condon

I bet you’ve heard of Wikileaks. Wikileaks is a website that reveals documents and communications leaked by whistle blowers from the powerful halls of business, finance and government. It was founded by Julian Assange, an Australian currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. How did he get there and why are foreign governments out to get him? Well, it was wikileaks, along with three news outlets (the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Speigel) that revealed the quarter of a million cables and documents that fed the headlines for the past few years (pre-Snowden). They were leaked by US Pvt. Manning directly to Assange.

This movie, The Fifth Estate, tells one version of this story. Julian (Benedict Cumberbatch) is portrayed as an Australian guy trying to change the world but who carries with him the baggage of a troubled childhood. His membership, as a child, in a religious cult left him psychologically scarred and suspicious.  As an adult he is a deranged, possibly psychotic, egotist determined to open everything he receives on his website to all the world… whether or not blood is spilled on the way. He enlists the bland, but techno-savvy, computer geek Danile Berg (Daniel Bruhl) to join his legions of supporters and volunteers. But he eventually reveals that there is no one else – just the two of them. Together they reveal death squads in Kenya, scandal in a Swiss bank, and eventually warcrimes like the US massacre of civilians in Iraq using an Apache helicopter. There work is done with reporters from the Guardian and elsewhere scrambling to keep up with them. And Assange’s sinister and bombastic attitude sours their friendship, leading to a falling out of the two fast friends, and a collapse of the site itself.

Oh yeah — in the background, is a hands-off US government (personified by Laura Linney as a foreign affairs official) who just wants to rescue their agents in the middle east  put in danger by Wikileaks’ exposure.

I find the story fascinating, with the twisted Assange character fun to watch (less so the bland Daniel Berg character.) And there are loads of real-life reporter-characters portrayed with various degrees of accuracy. And there’s a slew of great European actors – people like Carice van Houten, Moritz Bleibtreu, and David Thewlis — who are a joy to watch. But politically, this movie seems out to lunch. Are we supposed to believe – especially since the NSA revelations — that the US government was just a side-player in this whole affair? (The movie glosses over Manning’s treatment in solitary confinement and his excessive sentence.) It’s also ambiguous on the steps Wikileaks took to protect the names of translators and agents at risk. It completely skips the fact that sites like Paypal and the major credit cards — under government pressure — blocked donations; as well as any mention of Anonymous and similar groups who came to Wikileaks’ aid. Finally, the movie seems to be a full-scale character-assassination of Julian Assange (as his character states in the movie), based mainly on Berg’s book; painting him as a self-centred lunatic, while minimizing the significance of the leaks he and the website have provided to the world. The multiple plots, countless characters and frequent shifts in international locations make the movie hard to follow.

Still, I think this movie is worth seeing, because it’s such an interesting topic. But take it with a grain of salt; think of it as “inspired by a true story”.

The Fifth Estate opens today, and Los Wild Ones and Fresh Meat are playing, respectively, as part of the Reel Indie Film Fest and ImagineNative which run through this weekend. And T.A.D. continues for a week.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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