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Recent Movies: Inherent Vice; The Imitation Game; A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

February 7, 2015

Recent Movies

Inherent Vice

1970 – Los Angeles:  Joaquin Phoenix plays a private detective who is also a hippy.  He gets involved in various situations that are subplots which are apparently related to each other.

Many of the characters in this film are stoned on drugs.  I wondered if the viewer had to be in the same situation in order to understand this movie.  Even after reading the Wikipedia synopsis, I was still confused.

A few scenes are interesting and the performances are all fine.  But even if this two-and-a-half hour movie were reduced by at least a full hour (which it should have been), it might have had the possibility of throwing out the unnecessary and indulgent “filler” and given the (not stoned) viewer a tiny chance of putting the pieces together or maybe to understand why the hell the main character keeps getting himself into really stupid and dangerous situations.  For that matter, it was hard to understand why the hell any of the other characters were doing whatever the hell they were doing as well.

Maybe, one has to live in Los Angeles to “get it”.  Well, to each their own but this was a terrible disappointment especially considering it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who has made such fine films before especially “There Will Be Blood” (2007).

RATING (out of four stars):   *

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The Imitation Game

This film is based on the life of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an Englishman who headed a team that decrypted the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War II.  Through flashback and flash-forward, three time periods are exposed: Turing’s childhood in a boarding school in the 1920s, the war period, and his post-war life beginning in 1951 after he had been convicted for being sexually involved with another man.

“The Imitation Game” is successful in recreating time periods long gone.  The middle war-time section is the one that is given the most time and it is rightfully filled with excitement.  After reading Wikipedia’s comments on the film, however, it seems that many liberties were taken to embellish the historical truth for dramatic purposes.  While this works most of the time in film, it is questionable in this case – not only for the large number of changes but also because at least one posthumous reputation has been harmed.

I believe the film would have been more effective with a different time structure.  The rare early flashbacks were perfect and complete.  Young actor Alex Lawther (young Turing) is very powerful in a scene in which he is given bad news while his face shows how well trained he already is in upholding a stiff upper lip.

I believe that the other two sections should have been linear and included the time period between them.  It would have been intriguing to see the transition from post-war glory to adjusting to regular life as well as the terrible times during and after Turing’s conviction.  This last section included a very moving scene that was well acted between Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley who played Joan Clarke, the lone female on the team of cryptanalysts (whose story might also make a fine film).

Sadly, this last period of the film had such a limited time, it felt more like an extended footnote.  It deserved more emphasis.  There might have been more genuine drama if the middle section had less embellishments and the later section exposed more of the real drama – the heartbreaking irony that a national (and international) hero was  prosecuted by a cruel law unfairly relating to private conduct.

Cumberbatch’s best acting is in this last section.  In the middle portion, he does a fine job as someone who is work-obsessed and emotionally withdrawn but this later section clearly shows a man who is broken and heavily medicated.  There is also little evidence in the movie that show’s Turing’s homosexuality aside from various comments.  In exposing more of the post-war period, Cumberbatch’s performance would have been elevated from one that is very good to one that would have been outstanding.

RATING:   * * *

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

In a dreary fictional town in Iran , the title character (Sheila Vand) is a vampire who lurks about as she chooses her victims and her friends.  Another plot involves a young man (Arash Marandi) who tries to do well in life but is caught between his drug-addicted father and his father’s drug dealer.  This film is from the U.S. and is in the Persian language.

Using tools such as sharp black-and-white cinematography and a moving score with the addition of enjoyable rock music, director Ana Lily Amirpour succeeds in creating an atmosphere that is eerie and mysterious while always being engaging.  The ghost town is lonely, quiet, and desolate and the few people in it are rarely friendly.

Vand is convincing with an innocent demeanour that hides the internal predator lurking beneath (the attack scenes are powerful).  Marandi could easily be compared to James Dean.

The intriguing mood lasts for most of the film but it hits a plateau around the last twenty minutes.  Despite this loss of energy, it still leaves a lingering effect and is quite unique.

RATING:   * * *

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Dennis Bowman

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One Comment
  1. Mary-Ann permalink

    one star for “Inherent vice”? i thought it was clever. I really like Paul Thomas Anderson films… I thought Joaquin was great and the film was very funny – although I can see its aimed at people around the director’s age … and my age…

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