(Netflix Streaming, October 2015) The gift of romantic comedies is to make us believe in suspense even when there can’t be. That, unfortunately, can lead to strange decisions such as stretching out a forgone conclusion several minutes after it should be done. But that’s only one of Leap Year’s mistakes, as it sets up typical romantic-comedy contrivances to make sure that Amy Adams’s character finds true love rather than the bland sterile life promised by her materialistic fiancé. In order to do so, we spend most of the film in a version of Ireland heavy in clichés and familiar story beats, at the mercy of a cranky young man (Matthew Goode, dependably competent) who will never-ever-ever fall for the protagonist. The Irish fetishism gets to be a bit too much at times. Much of Leap Year feels on autopilot, especially as the initial frictions between the characters predictably give way to romantic attraction. Both Adams and Goode are sympathetic in their roles, but they are not good enough to forgive the rest of this bland romantic comedy. Leap Year actually builds such a reservoir of resentment at some point that as it busies itself through an unnecessary conclusion, bored audiences become amenable to the idea that Adams characters should return to America and settle down with her boyfriend, if only it could make the film end sooner. Leap Year isn’t terrible, but it’s not very good either in a genre where seeing one film means seeing almost all of them.
(Video on Demand, April 2015) As a Computer Science major, I’ve been waiting at least twenty years for this biography of Alan Turing. Consider: one of the father of computing, inventor of the Turing test, key figure in World War 2 war efforts, tragic victim of institutionalized homophobia… what’s not to like in Hollywood terms? Of course, The Imitation Game takes rather large liberties with the historical facts, making Turing an arrogant and socially inept wunderkind and torturing the historical events to make it look as if Turing was the sole key figure in WW2 cryptography, maybe even war-making strategy. As much as these deviation from fact rankle (and never more so than when a team of analysts gets to decide how to use their decrypted information in specific tactical engagements), they do try to streamline Turing’s often-complicated life into something that can be presented in a movie theater. Benedict Cumberbatch is (delightfully) practically playing Sherlock-as-Turing, which is a treat for those who like him in that mode and less of a treat for those who don’t find his persona interesting. Matthew Goode steals a bit of the spotlight as Turing’s almost-entirely-fictional opponent, while actors such as Charles Dance and Mark Strong plays what they’re best known for. The historical re-creation is fine (it’s a bit of a treat to see Bletchley Park on-screen), and the war sequences are used without dwelling on the combats. It doesn’t amount to anything but a prestige bio-fiction in the classical mold, but it does present at least the basics of Turing’s life, and makes a good case arguing for the tragic waste of his last few years. It’s also an interesting companion to other recent British-scientist biographies such as Creation and The Theory of Everything.
(On Cable TV, May 2014) Oh, what a fiendishly troubled family relationship is set up in Stoker‘s unapologetic gothic madness. Big foreboding house, dead father, crazy mother, troubled daughter and deranged uncle: it’s all there, along with generous helpings of tentative incest and confirmed murder. It takes a special kind of audience to play along, but director Park Chan-wook’s stylish direction means that everything look good even as the script makes no effort to be anything but a deep genre homage. The film surely takes its own time setting up all of its elements: Stoker is moody and contemplative at the best of time. It doesn’t help that the entire film exists in its own reality out of time, the characters living in personal orbits that have more to do with Hitchcockian homage than anything else. Mia Wasikowska is remarkable as the introspective teenage heroine, easily stealing the spotlight away from Nicole Kidman’s by-the-number deranged mother, but it’s Matthew Goode who gets the acclaim with his Anthony-Perkinsesque role as the visiting Uncle Charles, as his handsome features barely disguise a completely demented mind. The best moments of the film are in the heroine’s reactions to his psychopathy, as they take us farther from classical gothic thrillers and into something quite a bit more twisted. And then there’s the sumptuous direction, which imbues a great deal of class to a script that could have been handled as schlock in less-experienced hands. Where Stoker isn’t as successful is in doing anything with the elements at its disposition. Much of the third-act revelations are obvious, whereas what actually happens during the conclusion feels a bit flat despite the increasing amount of blood being spilled. Stoker makes more sense on a shot-per-shot basis than a sustained film, but the direction is so striking at times that it’s hard to be all that disappointed in the result.