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The story of Alan Turing is not one that's often discussed. Which is odd considering the sheer number of movies made about the second World War. The fact that so few of them actually touch on the topic of Alan Turing and the incredible work he did could be put down to a number of things but really, the most obvious one is maths. It's a film about maths. And somehow it's fantastic.
World War II is anyone's to win, and the situation is looking more dire every day. The Allies believe that the answer lies in cracking the German enigma machine; a device which codes every message that they send in order to keep their movements secret. In order to break it, a secret task force of the sharpest minds is commissioned to crack the code day in day out, before Alan Turing decides to create something to do the job for them: the world's first computer.
Graham Moore lays out the stakes quickly with his screenplay, and it's a good thing too, as the majority of the plot is based around people cracking a mathematic code. That doesn't make for a great deal of dynamism as a movie moves forward, but by spelling out exactly how dangerous this job is and how heavy the consequences of failing are, as an audience we're never less than invested in the plight of the braniacs. It's a good move, better than the choice of framing the story in flashback through an investigation into a robbery at Alan's apartment. That's a choice that feels more like complication for complication's sake rather than a device that's naturally occurring, and it adds unnecessary complexity to the storytelling. The story it tells is essential of course, but it misses the deft touch that the rest of the film exhibits with its storytelling. The other major threads of the film are much better dealt with. The story involving Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke as somewhat of a romantic interest is simple and not entirely new, but the depth of the performances make it incredibly powerful, and Keira Knightley is absolutely at her best in this film. She exudes the kind of aura that would make you understand the instant attraction that people must feel being around her, but with a resolutely headstrong nature that makes exponentially more appealing than your average love interest. The stories dealing with Turing's past occasionally feel shoehorned in during the other threads going on, but the content makes up for the occasional awkward introduction. But it's the Enigma Machine and Turing's combatant that is the story that absolutely takes hold. Scenes where the various genii clash over how to solve the problem, choosing when to reveal information and when to withhold it, those are the scenes where the full weight of the story can be felt, and the reason that the film resonates so deeply with audiences everywhere.
It doesn't hurt that it has a fantastic cast, however, and as mentioned before, Keira Knightley is at her absolute best, performing across from Benedict Cumberbatch who is simply operating on a level I've never expected from him before. It's not so much a question of his talent, but a lot of his roles are far more movie star than they are serious contenders. Sherlock, arguably his biggest role, is more about his presence and a clutch of very pointed looks rather than a real inhabiting of a specific role. This, however, proves that theory absolutely wrong. Cumberbatch is able to capture every twitch and quirk of Turing's overwhelming personality and difficulties, as well as bringing raw, frustrated, terrified emotion to bear during some of the film's more painful moments. The rest of the cast do strong work in their supporting roles, especially Charles Dance who manages to straddle both sides of affable and terrifying within a sentence, and Mark Strong who continuously puts in great work in everything he does. Matthew Goode is also very strong as Turing's main foil and occasional ideal.
The film's weakest point is its direction, oddly, as there is a stark lack of risk or anything truly unique brought to bear throughout the film. It's not that there's anything done badly here or a display of incompetence, it's just that it's all shot in a very airless, obvious way. It's the lack of innovation that sticks rather than any specific downfall, which is unfortunate considering the incredible work on display throughout the rest of the film.
It's a credit to the film that it has been able to overcome a huge amount of issues in the way that it has, and manages to be a great film by the end. By approaching the story and the subject matter in a serious and compassionate way, this crew have made something powerful and strong, and occasionally moving, and it's no wonder that it managed to capture awards attention, even for a moment.
Turing cracks the code during drinks at the bar. Pure exhilaration.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller's one-two punch of 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie pretty much solidifies the two of them as the guys you call when you have a concept that no one else can make work. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, and then these two are prime examples, but I think it might be fair to say that The Lego Movie could be their best yet.
When Emmett finds the Piece of Resistance, he is discovered to be the special, and it sets him on a journey to find his ability and to defeat the evil Lord Business.
It's a big call to say that a certain work is the best that a filmmaker has done, but just look at the sheer volume of things going on in The Lego Movie. CG animation, stop-motion animation, at least 50 different figures of pop-culture, a ton of completely unique visual motifs, a huge roster of high-calibre voice actors and an insane number of jokes per minute. As much as I love 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie is a tougher challenge, just by existing. Picking the right story, the right way to approach it, the right characters within it, it's a mammoth task that Lord and Miller almost make look easy. Everywhere you look there's a visual gag, some little intricacy that's been thrown in simply because they can. The script is sincerely clever; hilarious on a joke only level and just as funny in terms of its subtext which the adult audience will catch. The script must have been the toughest part to crack, and it's no wonder that the concept was treated with a lot of scepticism by the critical world in the lead up to the film. We've seen the dross that can happen as a result of making boards games into movies with things like Battleship, and plastic figurines seem an even harder sell. But within a few quick minutes Lord and Miller establish the kind of confidence and smarts that the rest of the movie pushes just as relentlessly throughout the runtime. It's inspired work that manages to weave in some brilliant character development and themes which ring true to audiences of any age.
The animation style alone is enough to set this apart from the offerings from animation titans and newcomers alike, playing with their styles and blending technique in ways that must make their jobs at least a hundred times more difficult but work together so brilliantly on a visual and thematic level. Lord and Miller have a well-documented ability with comedy now and it's incredible to see the amount of laughs they can wring out of a moment, never seeming to run out of ideas. There are brilliant visual motifs here which seem insane in conception but work fantastically on the screen and audio gags which so few other filmmakers, teams of them or otherwise, would make time for cramming in there. Lord and Miller play with genre the whole way through, switching from action to absurdist comedy to drama multiple times, sometimes within single scenes. And the amazing thing about it is that it all serves one specific theme, one specific idea. It never feels like a misstep or failure to execute, it just feels like the right thing to do. It's a delicate balance and one that requires a specific mastery of tone, which Lord and Miller have proven themselves to have time and time again.
And in setting that tone, the cast is perfectly put together. You want a guy who can play the baddest of bad cops? You get Liam Neeson! You want a maniacal but hilarious bad guy? Will Ferrell! You want a mysterious wise man to spout prophecies? Who else are you going to go with but Morgan Freeman? Insanely capable, kick ass ninja woman? Elizabeth Banks! They seem like obvious choices in hindsight but conceptualising the lot of them and all the characters to pair them with must have been a nightmare. And of course, when you want the most enthusiastic goofball in the entire world, you get Chris Pratt. What a year for Andy Dwyer, giving us Emmett and then Star Lord within six months of each other and tallying up two of the highest grossing films of the year. His work here cannot be overstated. He manages to add such heart to his little yellow figurine, adding in hilarious grace notes to the script as well as nailing the bumbling hero aspect. It's difficult to pin too much on a voice performance, but Pratt elevates his character to such instantly iconic heights that it's hard to imagine the film with any other person voicing that main role. It's also a kick to hear the rest of the cast, featuring a hilarious turn from Will Arnett as Batman, Charlie Day's insane spaceman Benny and Nick Offerman's Captain Metalbeard, as well as a cameo from another two of Lord and Miller's collaborators in Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Green Lantern and Superman. There are some great lines in there but the voice cast are so good and so funny that it elevates the material even further.
It was a hell of a snub to see Emmett and his pals miss out on a nomination for Best Animated Feature, but when you have a smart, hilarious, moving film like this one, everything is still pretty awesome.
For pure hilarity, that would be Benny finally building a SPACESHIP!
Laika studios have been pumping out quality for years now, with one of my personal favourites Coraline in 2009 and the bold and strange ParaNorman in 2012. In 2015 they gave us The Boxtrolls, and the same that Pixar has since become a reliable standard for quality animation, Laika's trajectory is becoming much the same in the field of stop-motion.
When the Trubshaw Baby is allegedly stolen by the Boxtrolls, a task force is set up to exterminate the lot of them.
The film's premise isn't a hugely difficult one, but as usual it's the world around the story that really grabs the attention, and here Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi have created a rich, strange environment to place their characters. The town of Cheesebridge itself is a quirky, beautiful creation; the whole thing built on a huge skinny peak with cramped house crammed into twisting, turning streets. It's almost steampunk in the way that it looks and the inventions found around the place billow smoke and click and whirr as they trundle through the town. It's a strange and inventive creation which sets the scene for the themes that the film plays with later on. Hierarchy plays a huge role in the concepts of the movie and it's interesting to see how it's reflected in the production design of the piece. Stop-motion is one of the most difficult mediums of storytelling, so it's incredible to see the amount of detail that goes into The Boxtrolls. The Trolls themselves are fantastically individual creations, each with their own personality and look, each one named for the picture on their boxes. The way that they can sculpt a comic beat or inject some real emotion into a moment is completely beyond me and they do it time after time here, making Eggs and Fish and Shoe and Winnie seem like real, breathing creations. At the end of the day, these are plasticine figures, but they never feel like it, and that is an achievement in itself.
On top of that, however, the script deals with some truly deep thematic territory. Most of the allusions to real life examples will probably elude the younger audience, but adults will be able to see the shades of Revolution era France amongst other real life similarities. But for the kids, it's plain enough to see the unfairness at play between the White Hats and the rest of the town, all through the lens of wanting to sit in a room and eat cheese with your peers. It's a clever piece of writing by Irena Brignull and Adam Parva which manages to engage both the target audience and the adults watching it with them. All of these heavier themes never feel that way though, as they're wrapped around a hilarious and thrilling combination of hijinks and humour. There are some truly hilarious jokes and a number of properly moving scenes thrown in and it all ties together in a way that a lot of live-action films never get close to actually achieving.
The voice cast are pretty stellar, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright gives Eggs a just slightly off-centre quality to the character, while Elle Fanning easily steals the show as Winnie, relishing the hell out of her weirdly blood-thirsty character. But the real heroes of the film are the Boxtrolls, and they are a perfect combination of strange and scary and adorable; a fantastic achievement in character creation. Between these guys and Baymax, 2014 was a heck of a year for new animated creations.
Even though it's not actually a part of the movie proper, the mid-credits scene is my absolute favourite of the movie. It's so clever and hilarious and inventive, it should be played in every animation class from here to eternity.
Christopher Nolan is something of an outlier in terms of the box office landscape. His success with the Batman franchise and his resulting fame has meant that his original works in the meantime have had an incredible boost while not being exactly what you would call box office draws. Inception has a baffling core premise even without all of the rules and technical babble that goes into actually making the plot move. And Interstellar is probably an even tougher sell, with an apocalyptic vision which doesn't involve the planet exploding around John Cusack and some science that can overwhelm even some of the best minds on the planet. But In Nolan We Trust, and he delivered with a hell of a movie.
When Cooper (McConaughey) is offered the chance to save the human race from extinction, he takes it, despite knowing that the consequences may include never seeing his children again.
What I'm always impressed by with Nolan's films is how he manages to take an incredibly dense and difficult subject and make us care about it. It's a trick that the best sci-fi creators manage to pull off, and what Nolan and his story team do incredibly well is find a central character to anchor the audience to. We may not completely understand every aspect of entering someone else's dream, but we know that if Leo is upset, we definitely should be too. We may not get every theory surrounding space travel and relativity and gravity and a whole bunch of others, but Nolan and company make sure that we feel every moment of Cooper and Murph's story along the way. And if Murph and Cooper's story was all there was, Interstellar would still be a great film. Their bond, their relationship, the way their story moves is so real and powerful that it pulls us through any hurdle in the narrative around them. But Nolan has more on his mind than that, and he tackles both the end of the world and a journey through outer space before the film is over. It's a huge undertaking and it fits the Nolan kind of ethos that he's not satisfied with just doing one thing. The way that the stories come together is probably the only bump in the film's story, and it only really comes at the end. But in the meantime, Nolan and his crew create a story that is surprising, compelling, clever and hugely ambitious as well as making time for some truly iconic moments along the way. That's the kind of movie that auteurs dream of putting together and it's more of a tribute to Nolan's constant stream of quality than the actual quality of the film itself that the critical reaction has been a little less overwhelmingly positive than some of his previous efforts.
As with the majority of Nolan's films, his lead male role is one that requires depth and range and charisma all at once, and Matthew McConaughey may be his best leading man yet. That's a big call when the comparisons are Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Guy Pearce among others, but it'd be a tough debate regardless of the eventual decision. Cooper is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy living in one of the worst periods in human history. The planet is dying and he's stuck in a field that he doesn't understand and hates to be in, hemmed in by the fact that the human race has stopped trying to achieve and is fighting just to survive. So when he's given the chance to do something great, it's an offer that tears him in two, as he'd be leaving his children and home to follow the dreams that may not actually accomplish anything in the long run. McConaughey is incredible in showing that divide between father and visionary, and it's amazing that a blockbuster like this calls for the kind of range that McConaughey provides. There is a scene around the middle of the film which is emotional gut-punch and it's probably the most believable that McConaughey has been in his entire career, and it's amazing to see just how raw and powerful he can be. But he's not alone in the film, and the other central player is Jessica Chastain's Murph. Chastain takes over the role from Mackenzie Foy who plays her younger self, and Foy is a revelation unto herself in the role. But it's Chastain who makes the role so powerful. She is a tortured soul throughout the mid-section of the film and she finds fascinating nuance to show the glimpses of the pain that she's internalised so well. And when that wall gives way in the later sections, she absolutely delivers there as well, showing emotion every bit as raw as her onscreen dad. Chastain was in A Most Violent Year delivering an incredible performance there, and there aren't all that many performers that would be able to come through with two performances like those in their careers, much less in the space of a year. There are a number of other performers which contribute in huge way to the film, and Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine make another great father-daughter combination for the film, each of them leaving their mark in their own way.
Nolan has made a lot of the idea of using film over digital, and even though it's a debate that I don't think has a definite answer, it's easy to see the advantages of shooting this thing in Imax. There is a feeling of weight and scope here that is probably a combination of the actual film and the way that Nolan puts it together with Nolan newbie Hoyte van Hoytema that makes the entire proceeding feel like it's on a different level to the other film's competing with it at the box office. It's a huge film and it feels like it as well. It's a very rare find to have a director who can nail the emotion of Cooper and Murph, stage a thrilling action sequence like the one on the water planet and work with visual effects in the way the Nolan does. There is shot early on in the space travel section of the film where we find out exactly what Cooper listens to in his headphones, and it's probably the best single shot of the film, as it combines exactly the idea of the huge scope of space and the close look the film takes at the emotional journey in the film. It actually may sum up Nolan's approach to film in general, as he takes huge concepts and makes them matter to us on a level we can relate to.
Interstellar may not be perfect, and the naysayers will find plenty of similar things to jump on the way they do for every new Nolan film, but there aren't too many filmmakers operating on the same kind of scale, or even thinking on it, that Christopher Nolan is, and for that I have nothing but praise for him.
The water planet is an incredible detour, but the failed airlock followed by Cooper having to dock with the destroyed remains of their ship to get home is the topper for me.
Now this was unexpected. How many franchises do you know of that can make a great first movie, an even better second one, completely plummet with the next two movies, gain some mileage with a reboot, muddle through one more, then suddenly wind up and deliver a Mach-3 fastball like this?
It's the near-ish future and mutants are encountering a new, overwhelming enemy in Trask Industries' Sentinels. Their only solution they can see is to stop this future from ever happening; going back in time to stop the Sentinels from being created in the first place.
After going through directors and mutants like they were going out of style, Days of Future Past returned to the series' roots with Bryan Singer back in the director's chair and it shows. At the start of the series, Singer was coming off the back of his breakthrough feature in The Usual Suspects and a critically acclaimed follow up in Apt Pupil, but with X-Men, Singer showed his blockbuster flair, and hinted at what he could do with a bigger budget and more room to play. And then he did exactly that with X2, easily one of the best of the superhero genre with some fantastic action sequences and a giddy sense of playfulness with the sheer number of mutants and powers he got to throw at the screen. Where Brett Ratner's attempt at the same trick felt bloated and confused, Singer's eye on the story and eye for humour kept X2 light on its feet. After the nonsense of The Last Stand, attempting something like Days of Future past had Singer looking like a glutton for punishment. Days of Future Past is positively stuffed with mutants; alpha personalities, love interests, bad guys, shady guys, good guys, messed up people in general. It's a nightmare realm of characters, speaking from a streamlining perspective, and the story plays with time-travels, multiple timelines and multiple versions of the same characters. It's insane. And yet it never feels messy the way it did in The Last Stand. Singer's confidence with the material, his willingness to just have fun in the moment, to add little touches here and there to make you laugh, makes every plot twist feel understandable rather than overwhelming. From the first fight scene itself, it's just an instantly higher quality of movie. Mutants are thrown at the screen with abandon in such a fun and reckless way, some recognisable, some not, all of them just plain cool. And when the characters we've come to know over a number of movies clash, Singer injects it with the kind of importance that they deserve, but without ever making it feel sombre. Not to mention the 70s found footage intercut with the digital footage, and the damn fine 70s costumes. It's deft, brilliant work that just goes to prove the necessity of a strong directorial voice, especially in a series as unwieldy as this one has proven to be.
Marvel Studios put together Iron Man 1 and 2, a standalone Hulk movie, Thor and Captain America before they finally got up the nerve to put them all together for The Avengers. X-Men started out with more heroes in its first movie off the block. It's been a tough franchise as a result, and there's a reason that Marvel has only put its team together twice on the big screen. There are so many interests at stake, so many balls to keep in the air and so many different stories to follow that it's no wonder Fox has attempted to spin-off a bunch of times. Coming back to the core conceit of the series with First Class was a good step in that direction, and the story there set up a number of the stories within Days of Future Past. But as a result of just existing in general, the rest of the series makes the story for Days of Future Past an incredibly difficult one to sort out. Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg do an incredible job, however, pulling together two separate timelines, two massive casts, a huge new inclusion with the Sentinels and over a decade of movies. The key points are quickly set up, the main players established, and then it's just on to solving it. This simplicity makes the viewing experience much more enjoyable, especially with the possibility of it all just becoming too much with all of the elements listed above. The story itself is great, but it's the way that the writers have such a comprehensive view of this universe that the films have established. There are a number of small asides and references to tie in to the rest of the franchise, as well as the amount of attention paid to the relationships between each character. It's something that could have easily overwhelmed a writing team but this one pulls it off with words to spare.
Charles Xavier has been played by three people, two of whom appear here. Magneto has been played by three, two of them appearing here. Mystique, Beast and a slew of others have appeared in multiple forms across different decades. So not only is the cast of characters massive, the cast playing them is actually higher than the number of characters they play. That's a tough hazard of the trade to deal with, and it must have seemed daunting at the start of this process. But Days of Future Past turns it into an asset, showing the differences between the cast of now and the cast of then. And what a cast it is. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are the big names representing the new batch of the cast, and just having them in First Class was amazing. But here they're joined by the icons of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, as well as the sheer star power of Hugh Jackman and the returning talents of Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore and Daniel Cudmore. Adding in the immense talent of Peter Dinklage just seems like overkill, but there he is. It's a massive assembly of characters and it's absolutely insane that they all manage to have their moment, but it's not just a kick to see them all at once, it leads to some of the best scenes of the franchise. James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart having a meeting of the minds could be one of my favourite scenes of the film, and there's almost no other franchise that could have pulled off the kind of character moment that this one affords. The secret heart of the film is Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, and it's great to see her character taken as seriously as she is here; no longer the blue freaky wild-card, nor the confused mess she was in First Class, she's a fully formed character with a purpose which threatens to overwhelm the film. But with a cast this good given the kind of moments to play that they get, it's hard to single just one performance out from the rest.
There's a scene I've been putting off talking about, and it's because I feel like it's a scene that deserves a paragraph unto itself. Anyone who has seen the film will most likely know which one, because out of every scene in the film, Quicksilver's complete dismantling of a security team in a kitchen is easily the best, and is probably one of the best superhero moments ever committed to the genre. It is a perfect blend of action, VFX, performance, character, humour, even song choice and it's absolutely one of the best things to come out of 2014. Every single second of it is perfectly put together, and it must have been a logistical nightmare to put together. But when this is the result, thank god they went through it all.
It's easy to build up Days of Future Past by pointing out the improvements between this one and The Last Stand, not to mention a few other in the franchise, but that's missing the point. Even if without having something terrible to give it a good comparison, Days of Future Past stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the genre. Not something anyone would have expected from a franchise that seemed out for the count just a few years ago.
The Quicksilver scene, by a country mile.