The Imitation Game (2014)

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Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Graham Moore, Andrew Hodges
Production Companies: Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech
Genre: Biography/ Historical Drama

What It’s About: Mathematician Alan Turing works with a team to crack the Enigma code during WWII.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Prodigy mathematician Alan Turing faces off against naysayers and sets out to create what will eventually be realized as a primitive computer in hopes of breaking Enigma–the German encryption device.

My main interest in watching this film was that it starred Benedict Cumberbatch–I won’t lie. I’m a big fan of his work. Right off the bat, we get to experience him  in his interpretation of famed mathematician Alan Turing. The scenes at the beginning between him and Denniston (Dance) are so well done. The back and forth is not only humorous, but it gives us great insight as to who Turing is and what he’s like.  There are several other scenes where Turing’s personality quirks make for some funny scenes–although maybe not intentionally. Cumberbatch sells the idiosyncrasies and makes them quite charming.

Eventually we meet Joan Clarke (Knightley). I loved this character immediately. When we’re introduced to Joan, she’s basically being told off by a misogynist asshole. She stands up for herself, and Turing steps in and assists her–you can see that they instantly bond in that moment. When she cracks the puzzle set before her in less time than Turing himself could do it, the look of astonishment on his face is priceless. The relationship that she forms with Alan is unconventional, yet absorbing. Knightley and Cumberbatch had great chemistry.

As a whole, this was really a great ensemble cast. I can’t think of any weak links off the top of my head.

This story lends itself to becoming a fantastic film–there really wasn’t any surprise there. How they played it, however, is what made me fall in love the movie. This movie–at its core–is a celebration of being different. Turing is strange and brilliant and we see the strife that he’s experienced throughout his life in the film. Alan was also a homosexual, and the trials that he faced in a society that was not only intolerant of that–but one that considered it illegal–they’re just unthinkable. Abhorrent. It’s so sad that after all he had done, and all the millions of lives that he saved, that he fell victim to an ignorant and intolerant government. He spent his life trying to program a machine that could think and act like a human–and in the end, it was almost as though they were trying to “re-program” him with hormone therapies that eventually made him take his own life.

There’s a line that is repeated several times in the film. I’m not sure if it was a creation by the screenwriter, or if it was a direct quote from those in Turing’s life:

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

What a fantastic quote. That stuck with me throughout the film, and I found myself nearly in tears every time it was uttered. Just to imagine how unappreciated he lived his life because he didn’t have a choice–everything was confidential. No one could know what he did–all the millions of lives he saved. Unfathomable.

The set design, the costumes, the cinematography, the score–everything really helped to build the story. The only criticism I could even think of was that sometimes the jumps in time between Bletchley during the war and Manchester after the war got a little confusing in the beginning. That’s it. I can’t think of anything else.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
I laughed. I cried. I gasped. I sat on the edge of my seat. A truly beautiful film.

Where Can I Watch It?: Amazon, iTunes, or rent it at your local video store or library.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson   
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien
Production Companies: New Line Cinema, MGM, WingNut Films, 3Foot7
Stars: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans
Genre: Adventure / Fantasy

What It’s About: The final installment in The Hobbit trilogy. We pick up after The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

How I Watched It: Alone in the theater. Evening.

Thoughts: Okay. So…be forewarned that I’m slightly biased since I’ve read the book. That being said, there will be a few SPOILERS about the initial setup. Alright, so we leave the last film with Smaug (Cumberbatch) leaving the mountain and heading for Lake-town. He goes on a major rampage in the town as people scatter for their lives. Lucky for the townspeople, Bard (Evans) is determined to do his best to save the town.  Bard the bowman takes his place atop the highest tower and starts shooting arrows at the dragon. SPOILER: he defeats Smaug with the black arrow right in the weak spot in his armor.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this scene was badass. I’m still so amazed by the CGI awesomeness they accomplished with Smaug. My only problem: IT’S OVER SO QUICKLY! The Lake-town battle seriously takes up about 20 minutes of the entire 244 minute run-time. Sad Teri is sad.

After this, the people of Lake-town head to the mountain to claim their stake of the gold in the mountain. What they don’t know, is that several other armies have the same idea.

Annnnnnnd then we proceed to watch over two hours worth of battle scenes. This is what I have the hardest time with. In the book, the battle at the mountain really isn’t that extensive. Also, the armies that come to fight total maybe in the single-digit thousands. I understand having the capability to multiple masses of elves or dwarves or orcs with the click of a mouse–I get it.  It looks cool, and it makes the battles much more epic. But….but….this just gets plain ridiculous. **Super-biased. Sorry**

Aside from the *cough* ridiculous *cough* battles in this film, the other glaring issue to me….is that the film doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Maybe this is because there really isn’t much plot in this movie. I guess that’s something that you risk when you split a 300-some page book into three epic films. Not that I’m complaining about getting to see more of Peter Jackson’s epic on-screen battles (definitely not complaining about that), I just wish the plot had a little more meat on it’s bones.

Visually, this movie’s stunning. Great effects all around. Some of the CGI effects may have taken me out of it every once in a while, but overall they seemed to blend well. One of my favorite additions to this movie was Billy Connolly as Dain, the cousin Dwarf of Thorin. He’s hardly recognizable, but that voice is unmistakable.

As far as the acting goes in this film, I think Lee Pace’s portrayal of Thranduil is my favorite. He comes off as such an ass in this trilogy, which must have been an acting/directing choice, because I don’t think he was that outspoken in the book. He cracks me up.

I can’t believe I’m gonna give this rating to a film in the LOTR universe, but…..
My Rating: Meh.

I saw someone call this film the Phantom Menace of the LOTR movies….and I kind of have to agree with them.  I still love it because it’s a new epic by Peter Jackson, but it really failed to compare to the others for me.

Where Can I Watch It?: Well, unless you catch a really late screening of it on the theater circuit, there’s not anywhere legally that you can find it.  It looks like the ETA of the video release is sometime in April 2015.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien
Production Companies: MGM, New Line Cinema, WingNut Films
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry
Genre: Adventure/ Fantasy

What It’s About: Bilbo, Gandalf, and the band of dwarves continue their journey to Erebor to reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs.  Sequel to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012).

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment.  Evening.

Thoughts: There are so many adventures in this movie, and I don’t really wanna COMPLETELY spoil them for those who haven’t seen the movie yet. I’ll just pinpoint my favorite/least favorite parts.

**THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Okay.  Now, I’m probably a little biased when it comes to these movies, because I’ve read The Hobbit. And let me tell ya, there are so many differences….I could go on a rant, but I’ll try to avoid it.

If I look at this film in an objective way, I can tell you that it was one fun ride.  Yes, it’s different from the book, but it still retains enough of the core story to make for one hell of an adventure.  I really enjoyed the battle with the spiders in the forest.  That part was one that I remembered most clearly from the book, and it was excellently portrayed on screen.

The elves come into play at the end of that battle.  I will point out that Legolas (Bloom) was never in the book.  Nor was the lady elf, Tauriel (Lilly), so a lot of the Elven storyline was altered to accommodate the weird love triangle with them and Kili.  But, it did make for an interesting watch.  I definitely found portions of it pretty awkward, but still somehow touching.

Another scene that I loved was the barrel scene in the river.  In the book, the dwarves are merely sealed into the barrels and smuggled down river.  Peter Jackson took the entire scene to the next level….and then some.  Not only are they not sealed in–heads sticking out, bobbing about–but they’re being chased by the orcs from before….and the orcs are being chased by the elves.  What a fun scene, though!  This scene is so action-packed, but it doesn’t lack humor.  I found myself giggling several times throughout it.

Then we make it to Lake Town, where the dwarves are smuggled away by Bard (Evans). The dynamics in this scene are quite a bit different from the book, but still enjoyable. Eventually the dwarves make themself known to the town leaders, and they’re shipped off to continue their journey to the mountain.

Okay.  Enough of the jibber-jabber.  Let’s talk about the real star of this film:

Mother. Fuckin’. Cumberbatch.

Now, I can’t even imagine how the audition for this role went.

“Hello, Mr. Cumberbatch.  Today, you will be auditioning for the role of Smaug. He’s a mother fucking dragon.  You set?”

I mean, come on!  This guy was A FUCKING DRAGON.  He embodied it, and his voice is so, so good.

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The scenes with Smaug, really stole the film for me.  CGI?  Yes. Brilliantly done?  YES. I’m a sucker for dragons, though.  :3

My Rating:  Huzzah!

Like I said, quite a few differences from the book, but still an awesomely fun ride.  Peter Jackson is a master storyteller.  Always a fan.

Where Can I Watch It?: This movie is available on Amazon Instant.

August: Osage County (2013)

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Director: John Wells
Writers: Tracy Letts (Screenplay and Stage Play)
Production Companies: Weinstein Company, Jean Doumanian Productions, Smokehouse Pictures, Battle Mountain Films, Yucaipa Films
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A family tragedy brings the Weston family back together at their old Oklahoma homestead.  Based on the play made for the stage by Tracy Letts.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: The Weston family is getting together again, and boy oh boy, is it entertaining to watch.  The patriarch of the family, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing.  His wife Violet (Streep) calls her sister and all three of her daughters and tells them to congregate at the old homestead in Oklahoma. One thing leads to another and before too long we find out that good ol’ Papa is dead.  These grieving family members have to try and get along long enough to not kill each other–more difficult than you might imagine for some.

HOLY DRAMA, BATMAN!  The character dynamics in this movie are just…ridiculous.  But the characters are written so well, that it all just melds together and makes sense.  A few of the motifs that get touched on (not to spoil any specific details): pill addiction, suicide, incest, infidelity, divorce, drug usage, pedophilia, terminal illness, alcoholism, child abuse, mental illness, racism….I know there are more, but I’ll just stop there.  That list just looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking, “You can’t lump all of that crap up into one script and have it work!”  Well, you’re wrong!  It works so seamlessly, that you don’t even take notice. I give that credit to great writing and wonderful acting.

Acting. I was a little concerned going into this movie because it had such a star-studded cast.  Sometimes a list of A-list actors can lend a hand to a film, but sometimes it can be detrimental.  The casting for this movie just nailed it on the head.

First of all: Meryl.  Her character is an old-fashioned hag of a lady who’s dealing with mouth cancer by popping as many prescription pills as she can get her hands on.  She. Is. Nasty.  There are so many moments where I find myself wondering if she’s being rude and awful to her children because she’s on too many drugs, or if she’s just cranky.  But they also touch on the fact that somewhere along the line, something went not-so-right in her upstairs department. She’s tormented…and sad…and lonely.  She’s just…incredibly complicated, but played so well by Mrs. Streep.  Always so many kudos to her.

Julia Roberts has never been my favorite actress.  It’s been a good while since I’ve seen something that I really enjoyed her in.  Well, this is probably the best role I’ve seen her in for some time….maybe ever. She plays Barbara, the eldest of the three sisters.  She’s having marital problems and dealing with a teenage daughter at home, and to top it all off, her precious father just died–and she isn’t her mother’s biggest fan.  She becomes the pseudo-matriarch while her mother is having a breakdown (so…forever). It’s so nice to see her grungier side–she’s not all dolled up and being her usual romantic-comedy self. There are so many fantastic scenes between her and Meryl.  They just play off of each other so well in this.  And believe you me, there are scenes when shit. hits. the. fan.

I could talk about how I loved each and every actor/character in this movie, but I won’t. Such a great ensemble cast.  Also, I’d like to point out that the three sisters are played by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis.  The casting director must have a thing for names that start with Juli-. Just a weird coincidence, I’m sure.

My Rating: Huzzah!!

If you think your family is screwed up, just watch this.  You’ll feel 10 times better about yours. Be prepared for a dramatic ride with this one.