Sunday, February 15, 2015


My mock exams are upon me, so I may not be blogging at all over the next three weeks! Please accept the two blossom photos offered above in apology ^

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game is a beautifully shot, sequenced and acted film about Alan Turing, the unsung British hero who saved 14 million lives by breaking the German Enigma machine during the Second World War.

The word "game" fittingly belongs in the title; at once, it suggests both the eagerness with which the geniuses approach their task as they say, "let's play," and the complexity of a puzzle that master linguists have deemed impossible to crack. War itself is also a game, but no one wins. Turing, who finally succeeds in building his incredible machine - what does he win in the end?

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch at his best) is a character who is "out of the ordinary." At a professional level, he thinks differently from his colleagues by insisting on designing a machine to decrypt German codes: by using "a machine" to "defeat another machine."

Although it is his success in building "Christopher" that turns him into a hero, Turing has, in many ways, been a hero all his life. Knowing that one sometimes "can’t do what feels good" but instead "what’s logical," Turing lets the first British ship that they discover is in danger sink, tells Joan he doesn't care about her in an attempt to protect her, and even as a child refused to cry in front of his principal in a fierce attempt to hide his feelings for Christopher, his childhood love.

Yet such heroism is not immediately perceptible by those around him, for in taking on the endeavour of building "Christopher," Turing isolates himself, is perceived as narcissistic by his colleagues and also considered a great mystery. Thus, it makes sense that Graham Moore has not structured the film in a linear way, but instead reveals the puzzle pieces of Turing's life through moments from his childhood as the film progresses: the threads of his life are being sewn together because the man, like the codes he cracks, is an enigma. He even seems to understand "electrical brains" better than the subtleties human speech. "I can't judge you," Detective Nock says with a air of stupefaction after he interrogates Turing. "You’re holding on to more secrets than the best of [spies]," Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, tells him.

Indeed, Turing is considered "different" for another reason in the film: his homosexuality, which is well-foreshadowed through the scenes we see of him as a child with Christopher. The film indeed takes a dark turn at the end by addressing this secret, showing how Turing - a man who had helped end the war early and swore to keep that a secret - cannot even properly use his hands to write out the answers to a crossword puzzle. It is heartbreaking to see how he is being forced to reject what made him capable of such success in the first place: his differences.

The highest commendations must be paid to the actors in the film. Notably, Cumberbatch is extraordinary. He is well-suited for playing sophisticated and calculating British geniuses (Holmes and Turing), and all of his emotional scenes are heartrending. Alex Lawther, the young man who plays young Alan Turing, is also astounding.  Keira Knightley delivers a sharp performance as Joan Clarke, although I sometimes did not buy into her role, just as Turning's running scenes seemed oddly out of character. Yet I think this film takes a bold (and just) stance on women's rights: who says a lady cannot outwit a room of men?

The screenplay maintains a sublime balance of suspense and humor; there is never a dull moment. Both elements are even mixed when Turing has his epiphany about cracking the code, for in doing so, he inadvertently spoils Hugh's date.  "Love just lost the Germans the whole bloody war!"

Similarly, the cinematography of the film is stunning. A particular striking scene is when the rotating wheels of the Enigma machine translate into the wheels of British tanks on the warfront as both rotate in time to a crescendoing ticking clock. Through interspersing clips from the warfront into the film, Tyldum ensures that the audience knows - just as Peter, the youngest codebreaker, does - that "there are actual soldiers  out  there  trying  to win an actual war."

But The Imitation Game is more than just a "war movie" or a "British biopic." It is an important film about remembering, as we are so often reminded in the movie, that it is sometimes "the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." Such a line is true for Turing, true for Joan Clarke and the results that follow when one heeds it are extraordinary.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

There's a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day

As the opening lines from Raymond Carver's Late Fragment suggest, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman is about characters who want to feel "beloved on the earth" and will go to extreme lengths achieve a sense of self-worth.

60-year old Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), once famous for having played the "Birdman" in a Hollywood blockbuster, is now adapting and acting in Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love for Broadway. Right from the beginning of the movie, we know that life is not going well for Riggan; his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), was not able to get him the lilac flowers he wanted, he is struggling with anger management issues and the deep, taunting voice of Birdman continues to haunt him by reminding him of what he is "capable of" but not achieving. Indeed, Riggan is years beyond his prime. The contemporary allusions drawn throughout the film, such as the mentions of Fassbender, Renner, Twitter and Facebook, plant the film in a modern-day context to further emphasize the fact that the world is moving on without him. All of a sudden, there is so much fuss over "trending topics" and "action" movies that no one, as Riggan's hallucination of Birdman sneers in his face, cares about "talky, depressing, philosophical bullsh*t" anymore. In this way, the film is a powerful commentary on the modern-day film industry and its audience.

But the biggest question in the film, reiterated so often by Riggan as he plays "Eddie" in Carver's play, is this: What is love? What does it mean to feel "beloved?" It seems that all characters in Birdman share the desire to feel loved. Lesley (Naomi Watts), for instance, wonders why she does not have any "self-respect;" Riggan's compliment makes her feel better but Laura (Andrea Riseborough), overhearing it, laments that Riggan has never said anything like that to her in the two years during which they have been together. No degree of professional acting can mask the pain she feels when Riggan very obviously seems less-than-enthusiastic at the prospect of having her child. When Laura and Lesley kiss, they seem to be searching for the answer to Carver's question; finding some way to feel loved when the men around them disrespect them. Even Mike Shining (Edward Norton), who smoothly lies to the media and seems to have a self-inflated ego on the surface, struggles with his self-worth because of his inability to "get it up."

Yet the character that struggles most with love is, of course, Riggan. As his ex-wife reminds him, he even struggles with the definition itself by confusing "love for admiration;" this is why he incorrectly assumed that constantly telling his daughter that she was "special" would substitute for his lack of parental presence. Thus, as Sam yells at him in her speech, he is not producing Carver's play "for the sake of art." He is doing it to "feel relevant again" and thus represents the "entitled, selfish, spoiled children" that the critic Tabitha lambastes. When striding naked through the streets of New York City to get back on stage, Riggan only seems to confirm the media's opinion that he is nothing but an attention-seeking, ego-inflating "celebrity" trying to make a comeback as an "actor." As Sam's therapeutic drawing technique teaches her, the brief time that humans have spent on the earth serves to "remind us that that's all our ego and self-obsession are worth.”

Yet what the public eye and Tabitha don't see is that Riggan, despite his ego, is risking everything for the play - putting his self-worth on the line to once again become a "superhero". "Why do I have to end up begging people to love me?" he asks. "I spend every f*cking minute praying to be someone else." This line echoes Sam's question to Mike about how he can "go out there and pretend to be someone else in front of all those people" as an actor on a daily basis. Yet Mike - who drinks real gin on set and even wants to do "it" for real with Lesley in their motel scene - claims that he is not pretending when on stage.

The blurred lines between performance and life are quite telling in the film and are made even more realistic by the visually astonishing and extraordinarily captivating one-take (well, almost) shot. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love indeed directly reflects the characters' lives, especially when Laura recites her monologue about pregnancy and when the characters sit around the table talking about love. It is fitting, therefore, that Lesley (in character as Terri) says that Eddie "shot himself in the mouth" and "screwed that up, too." All this foreshadowing culminates as Riggan, after eerily walking down the hallway with his loaded gun and passing an extra dressed like the Grim Reaper, attempts suicide by shooting himself. Iñárritu also foreshadows this by mentioning "Icarus," the Son of Daedulus from Greek mythology, twice in the film (in one scene, Mike is even reading Labyrinth, the maze in which Icarus was trapped). Icarus, driven by his own hubris, flew too close to the sun and perished.

In the end, however, Riggan survives - with a distorted nose that makes him actually look like a birdman. In the final moments of the film, Riggan seems to have everything he originally wanted - Sam was finally able to buy his lilacs, he is front-page of the Times and Tabitha has given his adaptation a stellar review. But there is no sense of ego here and the voice of the Birdman has indeed vanished. As Tabitha remarks, Riggan has finally demonstrated the "unexpected virtue of ignorance." Like how Icarus, ignorant of his weak feathers, flew up to the sun to achieve greatness, Riggan risked everything and spent all his energy for his play, "willfully" ignoring "a place" that had already forgotten" him." In the end - he flies.