Review: Spiderman: Far From Home

[Warning: spoilers in abundance ahead!]

My friends and I went to see Spiderman: Far From Home yesterday.  The trailers showed me Peter Parker ignoring Nick Fury’s calls so he could go on a class trip and try to Make A Move on MJ; the trip involves a monstrous creature attacking various sites in Europe, while a mysterious caped fellow fights it with magical green smoke.

Thus far the trailer – but the real story and intrigue of Far From Home is a movie-within-a-movie about objective reality and how it can be framed or obscured.

Post-Endgame, post “Blip” (when half the population disappeared for 5 years, then returned as if no time had passed), Peter Parker’s hoping to take the summer off from Avenger duties so he can process his grief over Tony Stark’s death, as well as act on his crush in Venice and Paris.  Fury summons him to help fight the new threat of Elementals (“cyclones with faces,” which manifest in earth, water, air, or fire in their attacks), giving him Tony’s bequest of EDITH: a pair of glasses that grant access to an AI controlling Stark Enterprises databases and drones.  Uncertain of his place in a post-Tony world, Peter gives them to Quentin Beck, seeming fighter of Elementals from another dimension.EDITH glasses.jpg

Unfortunately, Beck is not what he seems.  As Aldrich Killian resented Tony in Iron Man III, as Adrian Toomes resented both Tony and the Department of Damage Control in Spiderman: Homecoming, so Quentin Beck and his crew of former Stark Industries

B.A.R.F

Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing: a disrespectful acronym from a disrespectful employer, I guess

employees resent Tony’s lack of appreciation for their intelligence and their labors.  Beck had developed the holographic projection technology Tony used solely for therapy, while maligning it and failing to understand or present its power and possibilities to the world.

It turns out that holographic projections can create the illusion of an “Avengers level” monster, as well as project a magical caped crusader to conquer it with green swirls of smoke.  Beck’s crew find it ridiculous that a mysterious fellow in a cape has more attention and clout than a number of scientists and engineers, but figure that they can use the power of visual illusion to craft their narrative, getting their revenge on Tony by proxy in the process: they’ll claim EDITH for their own, and kill Peter, along with any other inconvenient witnesses.

EDITH’s weaponized droids do a whole lot of damage to London before Peter is able to break them, reclaim control of EDITH, and witness Beck getting killed by a stray drone shot.  The dust settles, Peter and MJ kiss, things return to normal.

Except.

Beck died, but his crew haven’t.  They choreographed the cyclone monsters, and use footage from Beck’s final minutes to set Peter up – framed for Beck’s death and the drone attacks on London, and named on the news.  Good-bye, secret identity, and hello, trying to disseminate the truth when people believe the fake news they heard first.classmates

This is a fitting cap to all the moments throughout the film of characters trying to discern the truth: Ned telling Betty about what he saw on the news or the internet; Brad jumping to conclusions about what Peter’s up to, snapping a picture for evidence; Peter trying to communicate with Fury in a secure environment, only to be slammed into a bunch of holographic nightmares that taunt him with vertigo, MJ in danger, and Tony Stark’s desiccated corpse.

Watching these illusions and framed tales unfold as though they’re real, on a screen that can only ever show pictures, not reality: there’s something delicious about it.  Of course it is happening inside your head, dear viewer, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

One wonders how it felt to be a moviemaker working on a film wherein illusionists are crafting, choreographing, and displaying their fight scene to the world.  The filmmakers get their paycheck and whatever satisfaction comes from their creative work; what does Beck’s crew get, other than revenge and some slight satisfaction in filling a fraction of the gap Tony Stark left?  How long before the group would dissolve in in-fighting, or before they’d all pack up their scientific progress for Hollywood?

Perhaps we’ll find out in whatever Spiderman film comes next, as this group remains at large.  In the meantime, Far From Home was an interesting and amusing follow-up to Spiderman: Homecoming, and a necessary step back in scope from Endgame.  Watching it again should prove rewarding, if only to anticipate Beck’s moves (or to analyze how Fury behaves when he isn’t actually himself).  That said, the movie will probably provoke further thought than that, considering the extent to which visual and aural manipulation goes on in the external world.  The shadow of Orwellian oversight, the specter of Big Brother, and the threat of history being rewritten are familiar menaces, but no less foreboding for it.

Review: Late Night

Between Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, and the promise of late-night-TV laughter, Late Night seemed like a must-see movie for me.  Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, long-time host of a late-night show which has been on the decline for years.  Kaling plays Molly Patel, who is hired onto Katherine’s writing staff because she’s female rather than on account of her skill or experience in writing comedy.

Molly’s presence happens to bolster Katherine’s reputation at a crucial moment; however, Katherine is not able to shift gears on the show in quite the way she needs to, at least at first.  Having made a niche for herself as an intelligent woman who demands excellence in herself, her monologues, and her show’s guests, she struggles to be more accessible without scorning her guests or audience: she spurns the concept of solely interviewing attractive celebrities, or capitalizing on the virality of cute animals on social media.

talk show
(N.B. that this sort of thing is my sole experience with late night television.  I am one of those who only bothers with Colbert, Corden, Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers, et al. once they’ve already been shared on my news feeds multiple times, generally alongside an MCU actor, Justin Timberlake, or clouded leopard cubs.)

As part of her efforts on the writing team, Molly re-watches Katherine’s old shows – partly from real appreciation, partly to gauge her rhythm, her strengths, and what worked on the old shows that stopped working since.  She notes one sketch she’d connected with at a much younger age: Katherine’s take on life with depression, which made it seem okay that she, Molly, was experiencing similar feelings.

This Brene Brown approach of authenticity-via-vulnerability becomes one of Katherine’s methods for re-engaging her audience: to discuss her real self, even when that means addressing a scandal from years past, when Katherine’s husband was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  That authenticity (recognized and bolstered by Molly) wins both Katherine and Molly their continued employment.

Like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think Late Night missed its chance to be tighter, snappier, and funnier.  Surely a room with so many comedic writers should be buzzing and zinging with jokes and one-liners, even if they ultimately get cut from Katherine’s monologues.  One of the funniest moments, for my money, was Molly quoting Yeats as she looks at the door to her new workplace (Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams), before the sad-trombone moment of getting hit by someone’s bag of fast food trash.

you are 6

It’s still an amusing film overall, poking lots of little fingers at while male privilege and those who are out-of-touch with current events. Katherine makes a point to a reporter partway through that comedy is a rare meritocracy – that funny people can succeed as comedians, no matter where they come from.  Given this claim, I don’t think we ever get any real unpacking of why she spent so long working solely with white men, buuut she stops doing that: the movie ends with Molly having ushered in a slew of new hires, many of them people of color and several of them female (but without having displaced the white male faces we recognize from before).  Presumably this more-diverse writing staff has more avenues to appeal to and entertain a wider variety of people; certainly it’s based on Mindy Kaling’s own experience with The Office.

Though it could have had more concentrated hilarity, Late Night was a worthwhile watch for me due to Emma Thompson (cold-hearted boss to bemused Boomer to lonesome Emmy winner to playful entertainer to penitent wife) and Mindy Kaling (earnestly insistent as ever on clinging to one’s seat at the table, speaking one’s mind, and learning from past mistakes).  Let me know if it earns the honor of your time.

Reactions: Thor: Ragnarok

This (again) is not a review so much as a collection of reactions – in bullet point form, because there’s nothing like shooting my thoughts out into the wild.  Assume spoilers are ahead, if you’re the sort of person who fears that sort of thing.

  • For a film called Ragnarok, whose trailer had huge dramatic shots of Hela crushing Mjolnir, fire over Asgard, and lots of fighting in general, this was a colorful, light-hearted movie.  
  • Pretty 80s.  Sakaar made me think of Ready Player One for some reason, as did theGrandmaster Grandmaster, despite the fact that no egg-hunting of any sort was involved.
  • A+ use of “The Immigrant Song.”
  • Thor and Loki were both goofier than I expected.  I keep getting surprised by how effective tasers are against the god of thunder (and the god of mischief, to boot)
  • Likewise, it’s odd to me that Dr. Strange’s reflexes are fast enough to surprise them. 
  • Loki playing Odin and watching plays about himself makes perfect sense, while simultaneously confusing the part of me that expects more gravitas of him.  Maybe that is my fault for expecting the consummate Slytherin where I should be braced for the Weasley Twins.
  • On the other hand: surely the Weasley twins would never be ashamed of “Get help” if it continued to work.
  • Karl Urban and BTCC’s accents always make me laugh so hard, because what are you?  
  • Hela’s pretty one-note, but she’s more interesting than the Destroyer, Laufey, Malekith, Algrim, or Surtur.  Not as interesting as Loki, I guess.
  • I looooved Korg, who was apparently played by the director.  Something about motion capture + straightforward delivery + his voice = instant hilarity.
  • Valkryrie’s arc was very satisfying to me.  The old battles and painful defeats, the escape to a life of drudgery, the heavy drinking, the decision to face death on her feet: all this was conveyed so neatly.  
  • I cackled at the idea of Odin being left in an old folks home.  
  • I don’t like the concept of leaving actresses out just because you don’t feel like paying them…but…I was relieved Jane was gone.  Farewell, Utter Lack Of Chemistry Foster.
  • The Grandmaster is a good time.  
  • Fenris is just a big puppy?!  I couldn’t suspend my disbelief and see him as a huge wolf.  He just looked like a puppy on a tiny-scaled set.
  • Mjolnir being a mere focus of power reminded me of silent, wandless magic.  Thor going all lightning-punchy was amazing, but it reminded me of nothing so much as Pikachu.

    Thor lightning.png

    I choose you!

  • Thor swearing with Midgardian curse words struck me as…impoverished, really.  Why would you say “I want to get the hell out of here!” when you used to say things like “Know this, son of Coul” and “This mortal form has grown weak!  I need sustenance!” and “Do I look to be in a gaming mood?”  Presumably this was part of the “less grim, more fun!” action plan, but…semi-archaic verbiage IS fun.   
  • I was amused to see Tessa Thompson’s Scrapper 142/Valkyrie described as ‘Thor’s love interest’ in articles thereafter, because I didn’t get any such vibe.  But he knows her enough and respects her enough that any further development would be more believable than anything with Jane Foster, so I’m all for that.


In short: good times!  Now, if only it didn’t take 37 hours to watch all 17 of the movies involved in this universe.  

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Y’all, I just went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them yesternight, and it delighted me so much that I have to tell you all about it.

This is far and away my favorite Potterverse movie.  I admit that’s chiefly due to the fact that the other 8 have the book-depiction-versus-movie-depiction conflict; the Tale of the Three Brothers might be the only part that I love without any qualms whatsoever because it’s done with such incredible artistry, and in such a fantastic storybook style.  So your mileage may vary.  Since I’d avoided the trailers and pre-film hype, it’s fair to say that I went in with no expectations whatsoever.

…okay, that is not quite true.  Anyone who has talked to me about Harry Potter at length knows that I find the similarities of Dementors and Lethifolds – thin black shroud creatures, one a soul-eater and one a body-swallower, both repelled by the Patronus charm – to be fascinating.  I also find the concept of the Nundu (breather of plague, destroyer of villages) to be utterly terrifying.  You could make feature-length movies about all three.

This movie had neither Lethifolds nor Nundu, which would be more disappointing if it hadn’t amused me so much.  I was probably That Obnoxious Person Who Laughs Too Loud to everyone else in the theater, which leaves me wondering if headcolds or Sudafed render the world more hilarious.  

It’s tricky to say why I laughed so much without spoiling it.  The hijinx of the animals themselves?  The differences between wizard and no-maj (ie, Muggle)?  The dance between the sexes?  All that, and more.

fantastic-beasts-niffler

The niffler deserves every bit of screentime he’s got.

First off, there are the characters.  Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is criminally adorable: so winsome and earnest about caring for magical creatures, so cool-headed in the face of dangerous Erumpents or wizards or Things That Should Not Be, so talented at cleanup in the aftermath.  Cedric Diggory has nothing on this Hufflepuff.   

(…Can I say that?  I know, I know, nil nisi bonum mortuis, but really.)eddie redmayne newt.jpg

Katherine Waterston as (Porpen)Tina Goldstein is the Hermione of this story, sort of; she also does the Harryish “oh hullo, Person in Position of Authority; I came to tell you something which really was important but you seem to be doing something at least….three times bigger…” thing and getting into trouble.  She has her own share of earnest care, especially for [spoiler redacted].

FTB933_FBST_DTR4 1651.tif
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein is a show-stealer, and at first I thought I’d hate her (a pretty, curly-haired Legilimens who flirts by putting clothes on?  Mary Sue alert, y’allll), but then she went and made cocoa, helped drive the metaphorical getaway car, and cunningly disguised said getaway car with “Oh, this?  It’s…ladies’ things, d’you want to see?” which made me guffaw.  My favorite sort of pretty girl is the one who keeps her composure and disguises her competence when necessary.

Dan Fogler, who plays no-maj Jacob Kowalski, is a brilliant foil to Newt Scamander’s understated “ah yes, recapturing magical creatures, how quotidian” bit.  He has all of the childlike wonder, the Muggle’s confusion, the fellow needing just a bit more exposition to grasp the unbelievable things he’s seeing, who then takes everything in stride with panache.

I’d say this movie is essentially lighthearted, though there’s the shadow of both wizard extremists (Grindelwald), Muggle fanatics (the New Salem Philanthropic Society and its witch-hunting goals), child abuse, and secrecy-obsessed Magical Congressmen all about it.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is kind of a misnomer.  Kind of, because the textbook is about where these creatures originate, rather than the hunt you have to go on if they escape from your magical suitcase.  But then, Fantastic Beasts and Where Not To Set Them Loose (Namely, New York, Because Of Course It Is) (btw, Magic Repression is the Literal Worst; Behold the Reasons Why) is just a tad unwieldy, so I can’t really blame them.

Further thoughts on magic repression, Undetectable Extension Charms, and magical America to come later, when they’re less likely to need a spoiler alert.  In the meantime: go see the movie!  It’s fantastic.

thunderbird.jpg

Review: Sully

This past weekend, family members that I don’t normally get to see were in town.  Aunt Judy suggested that some of us see a movie and then get lunch together.  “Do you want to go see Sully?” she asked me.

“What’s it about?”  All I could think of was Monsters Inc., which didn’t sound like something Aunt Cindy would join Judy in watching.

“Oh, you know.  It’s about that pilot who had birds fly into his engines so that he had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson.”

This did not sound promising.  How could a feature-length film be made out of an event that presumably took fewer than five minutes?  No wonder it was shorter than Florence Foster Jenkins and The Light Between Oceans.  I decided to join my aunts, if only so they wouldn’t have to wait 20-40 minutes for me to finish watching a longer movie.sully-poster

…so to begin with, you can tell that I either didn’t hear, or forgot, that the events of this movie actually happened my last year of undergrad.  My roommate pointed out – after asking what rock I’d been under so as to miss this when it went down in 2009 – that deplaning takes several hours when the Coast Guard and police dive teams get involved.

More than that, when you’re the captain responsible, the moments feel like hours.  Sully captures both the worst-case scenario – both engines out, a plane dead in the air, everyone having to utilize the exit doors, inflatable raft, and life preservers after ignoring the attendants’ safety lecture – and the best-case scenario: every single person getting off the plane intact, being taken to shore, and receiving medical attention if needed.

Also depicted:

– the people on the flight.  A wheelchair-bound grandma, picking a snow globe from the gift shop for her granddaughter.  An older man, his son, and the son’s friend, all of whom are desperate to get on the flight for a long-awaited golfing trip.  A woman and her baby girl, sitting beside a solicitous gentleman.  People who are sleeping, people who look sick, people who are excited.

– what might have been.  Captain Suhlenberger, Sully for short, has episodes of imagining how it could have gone if he’d turned this way or that.  He envisions distressing New York anew by crashing into another skyscraper – especially poignant to watch this past weekend.

– the real-world fallout.  Did he make the right choice?  Sully wonders throughout.  The world hails his water landing as miraculous, while the airline and its insurance agents question whether he might have made it safely back to the runway at La Guardia, plane intact.  Algorithms in plenty, as well as pilots put through a simulation, seem to indicate that he could have, and thus should have, made that turn.  What, then, becomes of his career?  Of his 40 years of flight?  This last aspect gripped me the most, as it is entirely possible for someone to put forth the most profound effort, to remarkable results, and still be fired or vilified for it.

Despite my expectation that Sully might be an hour and a half of boredom, I was profoundly moved by its depiction of reality.  Theatres are glutted with superhero movies, stuffed with explosions, full of sound and fury and signifying little.

sully

Talking of: if you watch only one Tom Hanks movie this year, please don’t let it be Inferno.

It was good to see the collateral damage kept to a minimum for once.

It was better to see the air traffic controllers, the Coast Guard, the police divers, and other emergency response teams assemble for their work of helping, rescuing, and fixing.  In a world full of accidents and mechanical failure and wicked designs, we need the reminder that such men and women are bound to serve when everything goes to hell.

It was best to see Sully taking the fate of 155 souls as seriously as a pilot ought, keeping them all as safe as possible.

Drinks in Remembrance: Alan Rickman

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the sad fact that Alan Rickman died of cancer last week. 69 years on earth, and suddenly he is gone.

Colonel BrandonWhether you loved him best as Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Professor Lazarus, Metatron, Marvin the paranoid android, Judge Turpin, Colonel Brandon, or someone else entirely – solely himself, perhaps – I’m sure you, like me, will miss him.

So here’s a tribute.  Raise a glass (or several!) with me.

Severus Snape (modified from Backyard Bartender)Snape cocktail
1.5 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum (having only Myer’s, I used that)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz falernum
dash Peychaud’s bitters (alas, I have no lavender bitters)
dash creme de violette
dash rose syrup

Nancy has a delightful explanation for her Snape concoction (which was the original reason I sought out Fernet Branca and falernum, to be honest).  Having no lavender bitters, I attempted to make up the difference with some other floral additions.  As she says: strong, dark, complex.

Half-Blood Prince cocktailHalf-Blood Prince
2 oz dill-infused gin
1.5 oz green ChartreusePotions Master cocktail
spritz of absinthe
.5 oz lime juice
dash chamomile bitters
Stir with ice and strain into an appropriate goblet.  This is my nod to the Potions Master and the head of Slytherin House: herbal, complicated, very green, full of venerable spirits.  It’s a lot like a Last Word (equal parts gin, Chartreuse, lime, and Maraschino), but sourer.

Severus Snape (alternate)
1.5 oz CynarCynar (Chee-NAR)
I wondered if perhaps there were a simpler approach to Snape.  This is one such attempt, applicable to Sorcerer’s Stone Snape: a straight shot of Cynar, which is a drinkable bitter made from artichokes (ie, instead of an intensity which requires but a few drops in a cocktail, it’s dilute enough to consume on its own).  It’s complex, vegetal, dark, and (of course) bitter.  An acquired taste, but when you love it, you really love it.  Harry Potter, of course, finds Cynar innately suspicious.  He would; he’s only 11, after all.

Random potion bonus:

7 bottles

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

Alexander Dane cocktail
Alexander Dane (as Dr. Lazarus)

1.5 oz cognac
.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
.5 oz blue curacao
.25 oz lemon juice

The thinking here was that Dane is Very Serious Business – “I played Richard III!” – not-quite-obscured by something brightly colored and mildly ridiculous.  Overall: shiny and enjoyable.

 


Colonel Brandon
Colonel Brandon cocktail
2 oz gin (I used Hendrick’s, but a London Dry would probably be better)
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz creme de cassis (blackberry liqueur)
.5 oz St-Germain
dash of plum bitters
I had the idea to make something rather British and proper, but also sweet enough to appeal to those moved chiefly by their sensibility.  It turned out to be a bit cloying, so throw in some sturdy Calvados or genever to bolster it: something befitting a man of action, one who needs an occupation lest he run mad.

Alan Rickman himself:
When my roommate and I made Tom Hiddleston cocktails, we found the most difficult one was Tom himself; not having met him, we could only work from a particular face he sometimes presented to the public.  The same difficulty attends Alan: by several Alan Rickmanaccounts I’ve read, he was everything kind, generous, funny, and generally delightful (but de mortuis, nil nisi bonum and all that).  So Thalia’s suggestion was to capture the unique quality of his striking voice by the use of something dark and deep.  The thing that came to mind was scotch.  If you’re a purist, sip it straight; if not, try a sort of modified toddy:

1 oz Laphroaig scotch
1/2 oz Drambuie
Fill teacup with hot water

It’s sweet enough not to be totally off-putting, but it is very very strong.  The smoky smell spread throughout my dining area and kitchen.

That seemed a bit overwhelming, so taking a cue from my friend Amanda, I tried to go the coffee route:

Alan Rickman (alternate)Alan Rickman tipple

1/2 oz Kahlua
1/2 oz Frangelico
1/2 barspoon (ie, 1/4 tsp or so) pimento dram (allspice liqueur)

Ideally this would have been mixed with coffee or espresso, to represent Alan’s liveliness and how engaging he was.  But it was quite late by that point, and prudence won out.  I hope to have a bit of a film festival before long, and see how a caffeinated version of this fits into it.

Alan, here’s to you.  We mourn your passing, but are glad you were there to depict Very Interesting People for a time.  You delighted us, and we will miss you.  Always.

Review: The Imitation Game

On Saturday, Cecilia dragged me out to see The Imitation Game: the story of Britain’s Enigma-code-cracking team in Hut 8, and, more broadly, of Alan Turing’s life. It was fairly good, as movies go, but days later, I’m left conflicted about it._TFJ0226.NEF

The good:

It’s effective, cinematically speaking. The storyline trips back and forth between Turing’s application to Bletchley Park, his schoolboy days at Sherborne School, and how a robbery at his house after the war led to him being arrested and tried for gross indecency, that is, for homosexual behavior. This braiding of events maintains the tension: will Alan get the job? Will he and his childhood friend Christopher carry on happily at Sherborne or will some disaster befall them? What will the interrogating policeman learn? Will the team indeed crack the Enigma…and, having done so, what will they do with it?

So that’s all very good, in its way. Benedict Cumberbatch, as always, presents us with a lonely eccentric academic who, despite being a bit of an arsehole, wins our sympathies. Turing’s represented as an extremely literal man who has difficulty parsing people and may be a touch autistic. This difficulty is neatly encapsulated in young Alan asking his friend Christopher at school: “How’s code-breaking different from people? No one says what they really mean.” Alex Alex LawtherLawther, who plays the young Turing, is very good at letting his eyes shine with quiet, earnest admiration of this friend. He also rather resembles the real Turing more than BTCC does – though Benedict can turn his body to admirable use, going from the fresh-faced Bletchley Park applicant to the older, more drawn fellow undergoing interrogation, to the oestrogen-injected man, stumbling feebly while still trying to work on his machine.

The rest of the cast was also fairly good, from those overseeing Bletchley to those on Turing’s mathematical code-cracking team to the policeman who, having dug into Turing’s past and interrogated him, regrets having done so. It is satisfying to see Turing triumph over Commander Denniston with Winston Churchill as his advocate; Awkwardgut-twisting to see the team keep German naval plans secret, though the brother of one of them will die within hours on account of it; intriguing to have a Soviet spy found out; and awkward as all get-out to see Turing propose to his friend Joan Clarke lest she leave Bletchley, then break off the engagement on account of his homosexuality (and, one presumes, to keep her safe).

Finally, the set was carefully constructed, both to give visual cues to Turing’s later work and to display a bit more of how his Bombe machine (not actually named “Christopher”) worked. Newsreel clips are spliced in to show footage of both the Blitz and the victory celebrations when the war is over. The film ends with Hut 8 burning their classified work, and on-screen text regarding the end of Turing’s life, British treatment of homosexuals, and the calculation that breaking Enigma shortened the war by more than 2 years, saving over 14 million lives.


The bad:

Translating a person’s life to not-quite-two-hours of screen time means a lot of oversimplification. This is understandable, and perhaps I’m simply picky, but I found it disappointing that Turing’s work was so cinemafied. All his mathematical discoveries, the philosophical implications of the question “Can machines think?,” his research in biology, is glazed over. Maybe those involved decided such things would require time they couldn’t spare, but it seems a shame to present Turing’s life without digging into what he did and what he accomplished outside the context of war.

That, and I can’t roll my eyes hard enough at the repeated line “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Ugh.  Sometimes it’s the people who are really good at math who do the things no one can imagine, Hollywood, though I know that’s a less encouraging thesis to so many of us.
The ugly:

I’m leery about history because my own grasp of it is comparatively weak, and I’m leery about movies depicting historical events because of the cinematic tendency (necessity?) to manipulate characters and happenings in certain ways. In addition, I’m leery of unmitigated condemnation of people’s (or government’s) decisions in the past, using today’s mores.

The onscreen text over the bonfire at the end states outright that Alan killed himself in 1954, after a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy. This is actually a matter of considerable debate: he was given injections, and fourteen months later died of cyanide poisoning, but it is unclear whether he accidentally inhaled fumes from an experiment or purposely ingested it. Either way it is a tragic event and a great loss, but there is a difference between death by misadventure and death by one’s own hand.  The ever-burgeoning machine for LGBT interests may, I suppose, claim him as martyr where the estrogen injections were concerned (quite appalling enough for some); it therefore strikes me as suspicious that they couldn’t leave it at “Alan died of cyanide poisoning in suspicious circumstances which may have been suicide.”

From what I’ve read, Turing was not left broken by the treatments; even his experience of gynaecomastia spurred his biological research.  So presenting him as an enfeebled creature who couldn’t solve his crosswords anymore leaves me with a bit of a bad taste, as it seems more fit to say “Look at what he accomplished in spite of it all!”
All in all, I recommend The Imitation Game, though more for its virtues as a movie than for its historical accuracy.  Expect to leave the theater thinking a little bit about Turing’s accomplishments, but mostly pondering the role of government, the nature of homosexuality, and the law.

Review: Pontypool

On Sunday, I saw an atypical vampire movie. The weekend prior, I saw an atypical zombie movie.*  Next up: atypical werewolf movie! I’ve no idea which one, though, so please comment with your suggestions, and in the meantime, let me tell you about Pontypool.

Were you to say “Hmm, you don’t strike me as a zombie movie watcher,” you would be quite correct. But Pontypool is a zombie movie the way Signs is an alien movie, which is to say that the plague-monsters themselves don’t get a lot of screen time. In an hour and a half of film, there are perhaps twelve minutes of shuffling revenants, and fewer of gore. There is neither a shotgun nor a cricket bat to be seen, and only a few splashes of red against a subdued background of bluish grays.

That said, there’s a lot to hear. The film is set in a radio broadcast studio built in the basement of an abandoned church, and most of the suspense and horror comes from what information can be gleaned from people calling in to the station, sometimes mid-attack, reporting a mob of people converging on the doctor’s office or a car being buried under a “herd” of people. Since none of it is shown, the mind is free to imagine just how awful those attacks might be. The responses and actions of announcer Grant Mazzy, his manager Sydney Briar, and assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond underscore the terror of ignorance and the slowly-dawning horror of understanding.

Even the former shock-jock is creeped out.

Even the former shock-jock is weirded out.

That creeping comprehension makes the movie. From the first two minutes, shown below, each little word is significant. The missing cat and its name; the people speaking French; the BBC broadcaster; the Valentine’s Day cards: all of it matters, and it takes watching and re-watching to understand why.

The pacing, the music (curse you, creepy violins!), the language, and silence all put the viewer in thrall. I had to talk to bring myself out of it a bit, had to eat my popcorn with determination, had to hug the friend sitting next to me whilst watching it. I’m no nail-biter, but it’s full of nail-biting tension anyway. There are those moments when one is left hollering at the screen, Don’t call him! No, hang up your phone! Such is the way of suspenseful movies: they mess with you as they draw you further in.

More thoughts and some spoilers under the cut.

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