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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Cryptically fascinating Imitation an intimate examination of self
by Sara Michele Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE IMITATION GAME
SIFF EGYPTIAN THEATRE
Opening Christmas Day


The Imitation Game chronicles a pivotal period in the life and times of famed mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). During the early days of WWII, the brilliant and self-possessed scientist goes to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England to solve the puzzle of all puzzles, eagerly getting himself on the team of analysts tasked with cracking the German's main coding device given the nickname 'Enigma.' He instantly sets himself apart from the rest of unit by looking at the problem from angles none of the others understand, naval Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) tiring of his antics to the point he's considering firing the man.

We know the Enigma was cracked by the Bletchley Park team. We know Turing was not dismissed by Commander Denniston. We also know that his accomplishments during WWII broke unparalleled ground and as such the mathematician is widely considered the father of the modern computer. It is then equally safe to assume it will be his plan to crack the supposedly uncrackable German coding machine that will be the one the small group of scientists and codebreakers will follow.

But what of the rest of his life? Why was Turing the way he was? What was he hiding? Was he hiding? And, ultimately, was a lifetime devoted to solving unsolvable puzzles so all-encompassing it kept him from putting the pieces of his own life together, which maybe would have kept him from ending things prematurely?

None of what I have written is a spoiler. The movie tells you the answers to the majority of these questions right at the top, and, let's be frank; it isn't like Turing's accomplishments or his tragic, borderline surreal and bizarre demise aren't a matter of historical record. Using Andrew Hodges best-selling book Alan Turing: The Enigma as inspiration, screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) have put together an engrossing, thought-provoking procedural that never quite goes the way you expect it to, allowing the mathematician's choices and actions to come to life with a rigid, almost anachronistically obtuse matter-of-factness that's at times remarkable.

In other words, this isn't your typical Hollywood biopic. In lesser hands, Turing's sexuality would be front and center; it would be all that the movie was about. It would present the horrific circumstances of his outing, subsequent incarceration and eventual suicide as the be-all and end-all to the tale. It would attempt to tell you that being homosexual and attempting to hide that from everyone was the central facet around which everything else in his life revolved.

But Tyldum and Moore are far more interested in digging deeper. A human being is more than a single thing, and while parts of a person's life do exert a heavy toll upon the rest of it, at the same time it isn't like the majority of us can't still pull our focus in multiple directions depending on desire or mood. If anything, the pair gloriously showcase Turing as the genius he is justifiably lauded to have been. Prickly. Self-centered. Obsessed with his own ideas. This was a man who was driven to do the unthinkable and, once doing so, immediately understood the tragic ramifications of the accomplishment. He treated his duties during WWII with deathly seriousness, comprehending full well what he and his team's decisions meant to the Allied soldiers on the ground, weighing their life and death as they pertained to the outcome of the war every hour of every day once the Enigma was decoded.

Not that this approach makes watching The Imitation Game easy. Turing is frustratingly hard to warm to, his relationship with the Bletchley Park team, including female member and lone friend Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), as frigid and as obtuse as it is awkward and underdeveloped. All of these sequences chronicling Turing's inventing of a machine to crack the Enigma bristle with suspense and electricity, but they are not emotional, not prone to connecting in anything close to a melodramatic way, and as such it is easy to feel as if one is at arm's length to the inherent drama bountiful in all of the situations he and his team find themselves facing.

It does not help that the framing device utilized to tell the Bletchley Park central story is a bit hackneyed, too awkward, the filmmakers flashing both forward (to a detective inadvertently uncovering Turing's sexual secrets) and backwards (looking at the future mathematician's bullied schoolboy days) rather haphazardly. More than that, these sequences contain just the type of melodrama the rest of the picture is devoid of, spelling things out in such an obvious fashion it is almost as if neither Tyldum nor Moore felt the viewer would be able to put all the dots connecting all of Turing's sides together for themselves otherwise.

This frustration with these portions of the film aside, by and large The Imitation Game is an engrossing look at genius unlike few we have seen before. It allows star Cumberbatch the freedom to make Turing what he will, letting him remain prickly and uncomfortable in his own skin even as he zeroes in on a success that would turn the tide of WWII decisively in the direction of the Allies. The actor shades things with constantly evolving eloquence, never doing what is expected, continually keeping me wondering what he was going to do next. He allows Turing's secrets to come out devoid of artifice, refusing to pander in any way whatsoever, and as such crafts a character of such massive dimensionality the overall effect is astonishing.

Could the movie be better? Do I think it works near as well as Tyldum and Moore want it to? No, not really, the supporting players remaining relatively one-note throughout, never really going through any sort of true metamorphosis save for one key moment when the Bletchley Park team realizes what successfully cracking the Enigma code means for them all. Additionally, I just don't think those framing sequences are as strong as the core of the motion picture they inelegantly surround, and by and large I was not nearly as satisfied with them as I was with the majority of everything else.

But Cumberbatch is incredible, deserving of every award nomination and accolade certain to come his way. On top of that, when the movie spends time analyzing Turing during these WWII days, what it shows during this pivotal time in history, it speaks to a broad swath of subjects that are intimately realized. The Imitation Game is a character study masquerading as a thriller, ultimately asking the viewer to look inside themselves and analyze pieces of their own physical and mental makeup all of which border on the profound.


It's a hard-knock life for this reimagined Annie
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ANNIE
Now playing


The only thing keeping director Will Gluck's (Easy A) and co-screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna's (The Devil Wears Prada) newfangled adaptation of Broadway perennial and comic strip icon Annie from being a full-blown abomination is its principal cast. 12 Years a Slave starlet Quvenzhané Wallis is a wonderful choice to play the titular orphan who always seems to know a sunnier tomorrow is right around the corner. Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx appears to be having a grand time taking on the visage of a Daddy Warbucks for the 21st century, transformed here into billionaire cell phone magnate and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks. Rounding things out, Rose Byrne shines as his charming assistant Grace, proving her scene-stealing work in Neighbors was hardly a fluke.

As good as they are, however, it's not mincing words for me to admit that, after the first 30 minutes or so, I couldn't help but realize this version of Annie was in serious trouble. By the time the climactic plot mechanics started to kick in I was close to being downright angry, and if the film had stopped right there and I'd never seen how it ended I seriously doubt I would have minded. Gluck and McKenna have taken the heart out of this story, drained it of all its clear-eyed, slightly whimsical emotional honesty, transforming the stalwart production into a mechanical, by-the-numbers disaster that's close to impossible to endure, let alone enjoy.

There's little of Thomas Meehan's original book left, the filmmakers making significant changes to both the narrative as well as to the classic songs themselves (from composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin). There's even less of the late Harold Gray's 'Little Orphan Annie,' this update throwing in a few random bits of homage to the iconic comic strip, but mostly acting as if it never existed in the first place. All of the familiar stuff is either thrown out entirely or devalued to the point of insignificance, even the show's signature tune 'Tomorrow' given bizarre short shrift, making it feel borderline inconsequential.

For those needing a refresher, the story follows Annie, an adorable, intelligent and spunky foster kid currently living with a number of other orphaned youths under the roof of the miserable and unhappy Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). By chance Annie runs smack-dab into the arms of Will Stacks, his conniving and unscrupulous campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) seeing her as a political opportunity his candidate should immediately exploit. Soon she's living with the billionaire in his massive downtown apartment as his ward, the young girl quickly melting the ice around the cell titan's heart, making him realize there's more to life than the next business deal.

It all follows the predictable path, up to and including Annie starting Stacks down the path of making good on his long suppressed feeling for Grace, everything building to a horrific, duplicitous move by Guy aided by Miss Hannigan that could destroy this family-in-the-making before it ever has the chance to form. Songs are sung, dances are danced, and dog Sandy is saved from certain doom thanks to an impromptu visit to an animal shelter, all of it happening with a perfunctory certainty that's close to noxious.

There is no rhyme to this film. There is no reason. Visually it is as bland and as it is obvious, Gluck staging things with all the panache of a music video from MTV still trying to figure things out in the early days. On top of that, his team's reconstitutions of the musical numbers (a crew that included Australian pop superstar Sia) is oftentimes insufferable, the songs not so much updated as they've been structurally demolished to the point of being unrecognizable. As for the new numbers, the less said about them the better, not a single one standing out in a way that could be remotely construed as positive.

All of which makes me sad as there's so much that's praiseworthy about this adaptation and update, the fact the movie is next to unwatchable might make it the most frustrating and infuriating disappointment 2014 has had to offer. I love the color-blind casting, Wallis a delight even when everything surrounding her is anything but. I also feel that a modern day update of the story and of the music isn't remotely a bad idea, and when the project was initially announced I was moderately intrigued by the inherent possibilities such an endeavor presented.

Yet Annie, even with a few pluses, is bad in ways that defy belief. Diaz overacts (save for one song, which is lovely, I must admit), delivering a performance that's close to insufferable. Cannavale, whom I usually love, is just plain awful, his big duet with Diaz an out-and-out abomination. The final third is a calamitous mess that gets worse and worse as it builds to conclusion. Most of all, though, the film is nothing less than mechanical and charmless, the hard knocks so calamitous the sun never gets a chance to shine and not even the thought of a brighter tomorrow is enough to make me ever want to sit through this particular little orphan's fairy tale adventure ever again.


Been there, can't go back again
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HOBBIT:
THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Now playing


The dwarves have reclaimed their home and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is now truly King Under the Mountain. But the Arkenstone has not been recovered, its absence infecting the whole company with doubt and worry. Additionally, Thorin finds himself under the spell of what can only be labeled 'Dragon Sickness,' hobbit and supposed professional burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the only one who seemingly can see just how insane he is becoming.

The citizens of Laketown are in trouble. Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is now looked at as their leader whether he likes it or not. With few options, he makes the decision to take everyone to the base of the Lonely Mountain and urge Thorin to make good on his promises. His main worry is his family and their well-being, but the dragon slayer knows all the survivors from Laketown will likely perish without assistance from the dwarves, and if need be he's going to get what was pledged even if he has to do so by the use of force.

Thranduil (Lee Pace) has also journeyed to the Lonely Mountain coming with an army of his best warriors. He has heard of Thorin's reclaiming of his title over the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and wants to make sure jewels long lost to his people are returned no matter what the cost. This Elf leader, too, will go to war to regain what he feels is his, and he doesn't care how many lives it will cost to do so.

That's the tip of the iceberg as far as Bilbo, Thorin and the rest of their dwarf companions are concerned, orc and goblins on the march from the depths of damnation heading towards the Lonely Mountain to begin an assault on all of Middle-Earth. Gandalf (Ian McKellan) reappears to add insight and assistance, as do Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), while a certain fiery figure searching for a singular golden ring of power begins his resurrection much to the horror of Elf Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Rivendell ruler Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the all-powerful White Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).

Yet, what is most amazing about Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the director's final flirtation with the writings of celebrated author J.R.R. Tolkien, is just how inconsequential all of this nonsense feels. Armies of Men, Orcs, Dwarves, Goblins and Elves descend one upon the other, yet all of it is oddly devoid of heart, absent emotion, and while every moment is beautifully composed and staged, I can't for the life of me come up with a good reason why it is I should care. It all just sort of is, just kind of happens, and while the parties in play and the pieces they fit inside this massive puzzle do lead to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, at this point I'm just too exhausted and bored with it all to feel anything close to excitement in regards to any of that.

I can't say it helps that the opening prologue, brisk, full of vim, vinegar, fire and ferocity, is over almost before it begins. More, this sequence should have ended the last movie, not started this one, especially considering how quickly Jackson ends it, Bard's battle with Smaug in some ways more of an afterthought than it is an integral part of this final chapter of the trilogy. In all actuality, all it did was remind me just how annoyed I was by the cliffhanger dopiness of the last seconds of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, putting a bad taste in my mouth right at the start I was never fully able to wash out no matter how much Diet Coke I continually sipped.

But the biggest problem is that, as grand as everything looks, as spectacular as the effects might be and as nicely staged as the majority of the action sequences are, there's just no heart to Bilbo's final adventure, the characters inhabiting it too nondescript and one dimensional to resonate in ways that matter. Save a couple nice moments between the diminutive hero and Thorin, aside from a wonderful scene between Tauriel, Legolas and Thranduil near the end, there was little that moved me, less I felt was compelling, so much of what transpires just eye-popping spectacle for the sake of spectacle and sadly nothing more than that.

A shame, really, because it isn't like Jackson can't make a massive battlefield epic that still connects on a deeply personal level, both The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King proving that in spades. But whereas the appearance of the Riders of Rohan on the ridge during the latter puts a lump in one's throat and produces a sudden urge to stand up and cheer, a similar sequence here concerning a troop of dwarves (led by a suitably cartoonish Billy Connolly) is nothing short of laughable, an inexcusably silly sequence of events that's so unintentionally ridiculous it almost feels like a parody of one of the director's Tolkien adventures and not in fact an actual part of one.

I like the way The Battle of the Five Armies ends, responded to Bilbo's return to the Shire much more completely than I figured I would considering how little of anything else taking place in this trilogy capper charmed me. The way Jackson ties things into the start of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is rather beautiful, hinting at a more endearing, far more intimate endeavor that potentially might have been had the director edited himself down and focused on the core elements residing in Tolkien's book.

Sadly, in this day of bigger just has to be better, bloated and gargantuan ultimately carries the day, and a story that barely filled up just over 300 pages in print suddenly ends up being nearly nine hours in length when crafted for the screen. I was more than happy to journey with Jackson back to the world of Tolkien, was overjoyed to go there with him in 2012 when this endeavor began. But now that it's over, it's obvious to me now that The Hobbit maybe would have been better off left alone (or made by someone else), getting back again as unhappy a culmination to an undertaking as any I've possibly ever had the displeasure to experience.






BEST OF MUSIC 2014: ALBUMS AND SINGLES
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: HOTTEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR
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Best of Music 2014: Featured Artist Interview - An SGN exclusive interview with Jason Mraz
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: LIVE PERFORMANCES
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WORST MUSIC OF 2014
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Christmastown: A Holiday Noir is lots of fun!
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You make me feel so young, SSO
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The Heavy and The Light are excellent
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The GREATness continues with The Great Society
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2014 HOLIDAY CALENDAR
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Cryptically fascinating Imitation an intimate examination of self
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It's a hard-knock life for this reimagined Annie
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Been there, can't go back again
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