Archive for World War II

Review: The Imitation Game

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

The-Imitation-Game-Poster

The Imitation Game is the biopic of Alan Turing, the man who invented the Ultra machine that eventually led to the British decrypting the Nazi codes made by their Enigma machine. He was also the Father of the of modern computers.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing who was, it’s fair to say, difficult to get on with being slightly autistic as well as self-absorbed and hiding a repressed secret. Cumberbatch just keeps getting better with every film he makes and it’ll be an outstanding performance from anyone else that prevents him walking away with the Best Actor Oscar at this year’s ceremonies.

The story of Turing’s life is full of ups and downs; he is bullied at school, manages to get a job in the secret service just out of university, is accused of being a soviet spy and finally managing to break the German code using his machine. This breakthrough means that the allies finally manage to turn the tide in the war against the Nazis. You could say that he single-handedly won the Second World War.

The saddest part of his story is the fact that he had to hide his homosexuality as, up until 1967, it was illegal to be gay in the UK. What the film does so well though, is make you forget about this part of the narrative. It focuses on Turing’s struggle with the Royal Navy and MI5 who are accusing him of being a spy and always on the verge of pulling the plug on his passion project.

Even though I knew how Alan Turing’s story ends, director, Morten Tyldum managed to pull the wool over my eyes, so when the horrible truth is revealed in the last 10-15 minutes it is a horrible gut punch. For those of you who don’t know the dilemma faced by Turing years after his bravery, I won’t spoil it for you, needless to say it is barbaric and very sad that these things went on within living memory. And to war heroes – though the secrecy of his work meant this was never acknowledged until 2013.

It’s difficult to overlook the performances of the other actors in this film as Cumberbatch is on top form. However, special mentions have to go to the young actor, Alex Lawther, who plays the young Alan Turing who nails Cumberbatche’s accent, they even mimic the way each other walk and stoop. Hopefully he is more than a one-trick pony. Charles Dance plays the Royal Navy Commander infuriated with Turing’s personality, lack of results and refusal to be a team player who gives a counter-point to Mark Strong’s MI5 agent who has a respect for Turing, even if he does seem to know too much. Also, the is a film in which Keira Knightley actually acts, emotes and has more than one facial expression! It’s like Benedict Cumberbatch’s skill has rubbed off on her.

This is a must see movie, and will – surely – win Oscars. It is still playing, so go and see it.

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Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is the final installment of introductions to the characters appearing in ‘The Avengers’ next Summer. Chris Evans, whose last superhero role was as The Human Torch in the ‘Fantastic 4’ movies (also a Marvel comic adaptation), takes to another famous spandex-clad role as the red-white-and-blue-est good guy this side of DC’s Superman.

Steve Rogers is a small, thin, asthmatic, weedy kid who wants to join the army to fight the Nazis as he dislikes bullying (’cause that’s what the Nazis were, right?!). After being turned down time and again at various recruiting stations he is spotted by a German doctor, Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who signs him up for an experimental project which might see him signed up and on the front line.

During training he stands out, much to the disapproval of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), by displaying less-than-adequate physical ability. But his ability to think outside of the box, as well as selflessness, bravery, determination and his sense of right and wrong mark him out to be selected for a revolutionary scientific procedure to produce the perfect soldier to uphold America’s ideals.

The experiment succeeds, and a German spy steals some of the serum that has affected Rogers’ genetic make-up and kills Dr Erskine in the process. Rogers chases the spy down and takes back the serum. This is the first scene where he uses his new-found strength and provides a couple of slap-stick moments as he is finding his feet, being that he is a couple of feet taller and wider, and immeasurably stronger than before. It also sees him wielding a taxi door as a makeshift shield in the iconic pose of Captain America.

Despite all this, Colonel Phillips still denies him the chance to fight on the front line; instead he becomes the face of U.S. propaganda against the Nazis at home, performing in theatres in the garish Captain America suit from the comics and the awful 1990 film. While all this is happening an SS officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), has found a religious artefact called the Tesseract which Schmidt describes as “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room”, linking it in with the Thor storyline. He and his assistant, Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decide to distance themselves from the Nazi party. Their scientific division, HYDRA, starts focusing its research into producing the ultimate weapon using the power of the Tesseract.

While on a tour of the forces, Rogers gets a fleeting chance to show exactly what he’s made of when he realises his brother has been captured by HYDRA, so he commandeers a plane with the help of love interest and  stiff-upper-lipped Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark’s dad, and parachutes behind enemy lines.

Rogers infiltrates the base, rescues the captured soldiers and brings them all back to the U.S. base after coming face-to-face with Schmidt, who reveals himself to be the Red Skull, the original experimental soldier created by Dr Erskine. Rogers is hailed a hero and is welcomed into the army by Colonel Phillips and straight into the role of Captain in his own elite division; talk about a backtrack!

Thus ensues a long montage of this group of soldiers fighting all across Europe against HYDRA’ s (not the Nazis) super-weaponary; his suit has now become a little more military-issue and less star-spangled, though the colours are still red, white and blue. This ends with what seems to be the final battle where our heroes infiltrate the mountain hideout of HYDRA in the biggest underground warehouse in cinematic history (it has a runway for the biggest bomber you’re ever imagined that has to be 5 miles long – it is ridiculous)! The sequence ends in a chase after the plane as it is taking off, a fight in a part of the plane with six HYDRA soldiers around massive bombs and then yet another fight – this time to the death with the Red Skull, who was planning to destroy America (not any of the other allied countries as we have been miraculously edited out of World War II by Hollywood).

Rogers cannot turn the plane from its course so ditches it somewhere in the freezing waters around the North Pole. He wakes up in a suspicious room somewhere in his native New York; when he realises he is being lied to he escapes and breaks out into modern-day New York where he is quickly apprehended by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and inducted into the Avenger programme whereupon the film ends. Talk about an anti-climax.

But then this is, as I said at the beginning of the article, an introduction to a character who will be expanded upon in ‘The Avengers’. But it would have been interesting to see how Steve Rogers adapts to his modern surroundings and what the impact of his situation has on his psyche. Somehow I get the feeling we will find out about this in ‘The Avengers’.

That movie aside, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is an interesting film. Its visuals are pretty good and the casting is top-notch; it far outstrips the rubbish 1990 straight-to-release outing. The supporting cast was outstanding; Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones especially seem to relish the roles they are given by really hamming it up. Hayley Atwell however, was no good at all. A bit of a charisma vacuum really.  Hugo Weaving was brooding and sinister as the Red Skull, though quite why his head turned red, his hair fell out and his nose dropped off were never truly addressed other than his inner faults manifested themselves. This still doesn’t explain why Captain America didn’t have some sort of physical defect to do with being good, like an enormous chest to support his big heart or something. Chris Evans loves these kind of over-the-top roles and dials the cheesy lines up to 11.

I found the CG a little distressing at the start of the film where Chris Evans’ head is placed on top of a skinny man’s body. But probably because I know what he looks like in real proportions. The Red Skull effects, on the other hand, are flawless. But the big gripe I have with the film as a whole is the ending; it is far too abrupt and anti-climactic, though I do realise that it is merely an introduction to a character. I think the director, Joe Johnson, handled it well given that Captain America is a bit of a cartoon and previous outings have been panned. Now we just have to wait for ‘The Avengers’ next year, though if you stay ’til the end you get a teaser trailer for said film.