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8 stars

The Imitation Game

Imitation Game

Once you get the eyebrows right, the rest of the acting just
falls into place

dir: Morten Tyldum

2014

What kind of name is Morten Tyldum anyway? Sounds completely made up, to me. It sounds like someone started with the name ‘Tyler Durden’ and randomly started changing the consonants around. What is it, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, random name generated by some program in Mongolia?

Whoever the delightful Morten Tyldum is, he she or it has directed a truly delightfully depressing flick about true genius Alan Turing and his great achievements during World War II. Chief of these achievements would be the creation of a machine that could crack the German’s Enigma code, used for all of its naval wartime communications, and considered unbreakable at the time by both sides.

I have known of Turing since I was a teenager solely due to the use of his name in science fiction novels whenever the issue of Artificial Intelligence came up, but I didn’t know that much about him at the time. Later on, when his status as one of the progenitors of modern computing received greater prominence, I came to understand not only that he was a great man, but a martyr to the cause of gay rights as well.

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Boyhood

Boyhood

Boy in the hood, but who or what will he grow up to be?

dir: Richard Linklater

2014

Twelve years a slave to Richard Linklater’s ambitions. What a terrible fate for any set of actors.

Boyhood is a fairly unique film in how it was put together, but not in its subject matter. Its subject could not be any more mundane if it tried.

The reason is, the subject is Life. And Life, itself, at least other people’s lives, can be pretty mundane. That’s not a criticism. Most films except biopics aren’t really about people’s (or character’s) lives, broad swathes of their lives. They’re usually only about a certain period of time in which really exciting stuff happens to them, and then when they return to normality, crushing mundane normality, the credits are usually rolling.

Boyhood transpires over twelve years in the lives of a bunch of characters and the actors who play them. That doesn’t mean it only covers a twelve year time period in terms of its scope. They were filmed for a few days at a time over the course of twelve actual years. Now that’s commitment to an idea. We literally watch the actors, especially the kids, grow right in front of our eyes. The film is nearly three hours long, so there’s a lot of growing up to do.

Since it’s called Boyhood, you can pretty much guess that it’s the story of a particular boy growing up in Texas. Richard Linklater is from Texas, and he was a boy at some point. Are there autobiographical aspects to the story?

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The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls

Sure, it's all about the bloody Boxtrolls. But where's
Archibald P. Snatcher's medal, where's his parade, hm?

dir: Graham Annabele and Anthony Stacchi

2014

The Boxtrolls is another of those somewhat anachronistic animated movies that uses a lot of actual, physical, stop-motion animation to tell a story. As such it possesses a physicality missing from most of the purely computer generated animation we see these days, and that’s its curse and part of its charm.

In and of itself, that doesn’t guarantee a blissful experience. This mob, calling themselves Laika, have put together a decent animated film before (Coraline) and an okay one (ParaNorman) as well, so it’s reasonable to believe that they know what they’re doing.

The Boxtrolls is better than ParaNorman , and perhaps almost on a par with Coraline, though not as thematically rich or inventive. Despite what some might call a grotesque and macabre aesthetic, this one, from a kids’ perspective, is not as personal and frightening as Coraline, or as horrific as ParaNorman (which had, as its Big Bad, the vengeful spirit of a murdered child, if you can believe that, and sadly you probably can).

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The Rover

The Rover

Come the Apocalypse, there will be no
razors no more for ever!

dir: David Michod

2014

Wow. I’ve seen some grim movies in my time, and even this week, but this out-grims them all.

Well, maybe not all of them. It’d have to go a long way to out-grim The Road, Stalingrad, or Tinkerbell and The Pirate Fairy, but it’s certainly up there.

The funniest thing for me, if there is indeed anything I can say is funny in a flick so grim, is that the setting is kind of a post-apocalyptic one. And while the behaviour of the people in this scenario is certainly post-apocalyptic behaviour, visually it is indistinguishable from what the more sparse parts of Australia look like all the time.

In other words, my fellow Australians, we’re living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and we didn’t even notice.

The opening title card informs us that what we are about to see / experience / endure is set in a time ten years after “The Collapse”. We never really find out what that was, but what it means is that people are very dirty, Australian currency is ill-favoured compared to American dollars, there are Chinese people everywhere, and civilisation has broken down.

How can we tell? Well, everyone has guns and everyone’s shooting everyone else with pretty much nil repercussions.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

What some guys will do for some ginger pussycat

dir: Coens

2013

I love Coen Brother films. They’ve made about 16 of them, and I can honestly say I love perhaps most of them. That fandom doesn’t always predispose me towards loving anything they do (the films of theirs that I don’t like I downright hate), but it does make me cautious.

That caution was probably at play when I avoided watching Inside Llewyn Davis for as long as I could manage. In the end my curiosity won out, and I’m the better for it, surely.

Even critics who like the flick referred to it back in the day as a ‘lesser Coen Brothers’ flick, as more of a curio than anything else. I’d like to dispute that retarded judgement right here, right now, right here, right now. It’s certainly not a crowdpleaser on the level of an O Brother Where Art Thou? or a viscerally brutal thriller like No Country for Old Men, but it’s certainly coming from the same place that they come from when they make their quieter, more philosophical efforts like A Serious Man and Barton Fink.

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The Two Faces of January

Two Faces of January

Her name is not January, and she only has one face.
Confusion ensues

dir: Hossein Amini

2014

Something being based on a Patricia Highsmith novel isn’t always a guarantee of quality, but it is often enough to pique my interest. And if you cast Viggo Mortensen in something, well, I’m halfway through the door.

Kristen Dunst? Eh, not so much, but Oscar Isaacs I really like. The Two Faces of January is essentially a three-hander, something of a period piece, probably set in the 1960s. It’s something of a low-key thriller, but not in the sense that it’s like a spy action film or anything. It’s about a con artist (Isaacs), who gets caught up with a couple of con artists (Dunst and Mortensen), where you start to wonder who is better at it, and who is going to get what they want, and how many people are going to be left alive at the end of it.

The setting is Greece, and it’s filmed in such a way that makes it look a thousand times nicer than it actually is. Also, being set in the last century, it helpfully avoids having to acknowledge the current dire economic circumstances, and saves on costumes (most of the old people in the flick are wearing their own ‘vintage’ clothing from the 1960s without having even to be asked). In fact many of those old Greek people probably don’t even know the war is over.

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Godzilla 2014

Godzilla

Go, you great ginormous gorgeous thing, you.

dir: Gareth Edwards

Come in, close the door, have a seat. We didn’t know we missed you, Godzilla, because we thought we’d had enough of you over the last 60 years. But it turns out we really missed you.

Sure, we bumped into you in 1998, in that terrible film by the German Michael Bay known as Roland Emmerich, where Matthew Broderick was meant to save Manhattan from you, but that was an embarrassing run-in. It was the equivalent of going out and seeing an ex you still think fondly of, covered in vomit and staggering in the gutter. It’s best to forget about that time.

And honestly, the halcyon days between you and the audience was so long ago that we’ve all moved on. We’ve amused ourselves with cute kitten videos on the internets, and week after week of superhero flicks being poured out into the cinemas. The question becomes: do we ever really need to see each other again?

Gareth Edwards made a flick called Monsters back in the grim, distant days of 2010. In really obvious ways it was a test run for making a new Godzilla flick, except for a miniscule fraction of the cost. The budget for Monsters was in the tens of thousands. The budget for the hair care products alone used on performers in Godzilla would have been in the millions. It’s an easy transition for Edwards to make, apparently.

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The Fault in Our Stars

Fault in Our Stars

Get off my lawn, you crazy star-crossed cancer-riddled lovers

dir: Josh Boone

2014

I don’t go out of my way to read sappy or depressing books, but, for some reason, probably to do with the excellent reviews it received, I sought out The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, knowing that it was about kids with cancer.

Now that’s a topic that comes pre-loaded with an emotional reaction: It’s like showing a picture of a basket full of puppies and kittens chugging along a conveyor belt into the blade of an industrial saw. Even knowing how manipulative the subject matter would be, I trusted that the author would do right by his characters.

It turned out that my trust was rewarded with a sweet story about teenagers with cancer dealing with love and the fact that they know they’re going to die far sooner than most of us do. It’s one thing to accept the fact that all that live will one day die, no matter who, no matter how wonderful or how loathsome, it comes for us all. It’s another entirely, since most of us live long enough to indulge in the supreme illusion that helps our lives not be an unremittingly miserable trudge to oblivion, being the denial of death, dying when you’re a kid, a teen, or barely out of your teens.

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Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

That's the look of an American actor who just found out how
little he's going to get paid to be in a South Korean film

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2013

On its surface, Snowpiercer sounds like a pretty dumb idea for a movie: it’s about a train that never stops upon which the last remnants of humanity reside, due to a man-made global ice age.

Thank you for being so dumb. And if I tell you it’s based, despite its Korean director Bong Joon-ho, on a French graphic novel, you’re going to think it’s the dumbest thing since flared pants. Oui oui? Incroyable!

But if I then tell you that it’s one of the weirdest and most enjoyable flicks I’ve seen this year, then you’ll really think I’ve gone stark raving bonkers barking mad plus 1.

Snowpiercer has a strange premise, but it has a plot anyone can appreciate. Aboard this gleaming train, the scum of humanity are relegated to the tail section, where everyone’s dirty and it’s horribly grim. Talk of mutiny, of revolution bubbles up from their darkened bunks. Whispers here and there indicate that something’s gonna happen, and happen soon.

If something didn’t happen, well, we’d just waste two hours watching a bunch of bored, dirty, unshaved people on a train, and I see that every day for free, being one of them.

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Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Is this the expression of an inhuman, alien intelligence,
or is it the look of a person thinking "Did I remember to
turn the oven off before I left home?"

dir: Jonathan Glazer

This is a deeply unsettling film, or at least it was for me. The strongest evidence for this is the fact that the movie takes a whole bunch of Scarlett Johannson nudity and renders it unpleasant and deeply disturbing.

This is science fiction in the truest sense of the use of the term, in that it's not just an action flick with robots and aliens fighting it out over the skies of New York. It is, in some ways, more of a horror film. Right from the start the soundtrack and the sound design is structured to make us feel unsettled, and, in my case, really anxious.

You can probably find parallels between this flick and a few others, but it's fairly novel in its structure, and in the amount of information it withholds from us. There's barely any dialogue in it, and almost all of the story it has to tell is delivered visually.

As the flick starts, there are some stark and 'alien' (but really simple) looking visuals, and a screeching tone that causes goosebumps. I wasn't sure what we were watching, other than a skewed homage to 2001 in some form, but what I chose it to mean, as a muffled voice in the distance sounds like it's trying out words for the first time, is the creation of something. Something designed to look like a someone. Because the final of these introductory images is an unblinking eye.

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