The Imitation Game review

There are a glut of movies about how the allies won World War 2, told largely from an American perspective, through the fighting of the brave troops on days like D-Day and various other infamous battles in that deadliest of almighty conflicts between the age old enemies of good and evil, however there never has been much concentrated around the man who cracked the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code, this film sets about putting that right, while also showing the harrowing story about how he was shambolically treated by the country he saved in the post war years, just because he was gay.

When looking back, the subject of homosexuality has reared itself a few times with films like Brokeback Mountain and the first movie I ever reviewed on here, Philadelphia among others, both of which were major award winners, however they have never covered a subject quite like this.

The Story:

Alan Turing is something of an odd, some might say troubled man, but one with a brain like no other, which is excellently portrayed by the superb Benedict Cumberbatch. In the year of its release, he was, I personally believe, robbed of the Academy Award he clearly deserved, by the excellent performance of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, possibly just because of the odd glaring error in this film.

One Keira Knightley also chips in with an equally impressive supporting role, that of Joan Clark, while Matthew Goode also makes for a very good Hugh Alexander, with the ever threatening Commander Deniston always played very effectively by the legend that is Charles Dance.

The glaring mistake comes in the form of one of the codebreakers who is seemingly placed at Bletchley Park as a Russian double agent, by MI6 at the start of the war, when of course we were actually fighting against the Russians, before Hitler invaded it on 22nd June 1941, this is also a mistake that costs this film some intrigue, because I would have liked to see the character in question drafted in some time later, to just give it a bit more of an edge, drip feeding the audience, rather than simply spoon feeding us, before making an almighty cock up later.

However, that mistake, as glaringly obvious as it is, is also somewhat made up for with the best sequence in the whole film, with the unbridled joy of actually breaking the Enigma code one minute, to the unbelievable low, which not only shows the enormous difficulty the team faced after breaking it, while also dragging the family of one of the codebreakers into the oncoming disastrous event very soon after, from which the film is unwilling to turn away.

There is also a nod to the difficulties that a single woman would undoubtedly have faced at that time, under the pressure of her parents, as well as the sheer impossibilities that all in question would have faced for the following 50 years while the breaking of the code was a government held secret.

This biographical film also jumps forwards and backwards at various stages, to see a young Turing in his days at school, where he met the true love of his life, the tragedy that befell him and the bullying that our hero had to endure in this desperately unhappy time for him, before then jumping forward, showing the development of the suspicions against him, when he refuses to have the police investigate a crime that has been committed against him.

Another masterful idea in this movie, is the desire to show Turing building his bombe machine, which is how he ultimately broke the Enigma code. Watching him construct it single handed, despite horrendous interference from his fellow codebreakers and his boss, simply drags you in and makes you want to understand more about it, making it an excellently educational tool as well.

The tour de force of acting by the leading man also takes in Turing’s struggle against hormonal therapy, one particular scene when he drops a glass on the floor is so convincing, you find yourself truly weeping for him, while he struggles to come to terms with what is happening to him and the final scene, with Turing on his own, is also yet another piece of outstanding acting.

This film is worth watching, if only for the performances of Cumberbatch and Knightley, who make one of the great screen love pairings to go along with the best.

Yes it has its mistakes, but let’s be honest, there are not many that don’t, I would just ask that you don’t write it off because to do so, would be a truly horrendous mistake.

The Post review

Watergate, MP’s Expenses Scandal, Catholic Church Abuse scandal, Olympic Games state sponsored doping, the News of the World phone hacking scandal… All are very well known cases of investigative journalism, which had a dramatic effect and showed the importance of such events in any democracy.

The Post sets about another infamous case of investigative journalism, which led to the riotous happenings in America, as the movement to bring their troops home from the controversial war in Vietnam gathered pace and strength.

The Story.

There is a brief look at what was happening in one section of Vietnam in 1966, remember that because it’s important, which then leads to a conversation with US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, before an all too brief glimpse of him telling the gathered press at the airport he returns to, what he thinks they need to hear, which of course, is far from the truth.

Because of the lying, correspondent Daniel Ellsberg decides to steal the documents he has been working on, so the truth can be told, whatever the consequences may be to him personally.

Jump forward to 1971 and enter Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, admirably portrayed by the excellent Meryl Streep and Editor Ben Bradlee, played by the somewhat miscast Tom Hanks. The scenes with these two, and there are plenty of them, are well acted and very cutting edge tense, as the protagonist and the catalyst struggle with the decisions they are faced with, due to the intense pressure from the Richard Nixon White House.

While Hanks is clearly miscast, he does try his best to be the hard, grizzled executive editor who has seen it all before and is standing up for the right of the media to assert the right to publish, as framed in the first amendment in the US Constitution. However the genuine star is undoubtedly Ms Streep who, with all due attention to detail and obvious style and class, embodies the role of the inexperienced publisher, who was never a journalist, but showing what would be the inescapable consequences of her actions, when taking on the most powerful man in the world and either not winning or, indeed losing in the worst way possible.

What this film inescapably captures very well, is the reality of the importance of a free press in a democracy, as the post and the New York Times fight bitterly to hold Nixon and several predecessors in the White House to account for lying to the country about the Vietnam war, therefore showing the difficulties that arise for any journalist who wants to tell the truth about anything that could cause ructions in the corridors of power anywhere in the world.

Producer/Director Steven Spielberg again weaves his magic as the story keeps posing questions, moving at exactly the right pace and showing just about every angle that any journalist(s) will take, to get to the truth and hold those deemed responsible to account, there is also a nod to the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation, at the very end of the film.

Based on true events, it is perhaps a film that anybody who is unsure of the power of a truly free press should watch, if only to get some idea of the daily graft that goes into serving the governed, rather than the governors. It is, with the odd bit of wishywashy forgiven, a truly dynamic, obsessive film which portrays what could arguably be termed, the birth of the free press and how complicated it can get.

Philadelphia review

Welcome to my first review for Major Film Reviews, first I must thank my great friend Nathan for allowing me to carry on his excellent work, as well making me very nervous by trying to live up to his exceptionally high standard of work.

Now let’s get on with what we’re all here for, the movie reviewing business, for which I have chosen what was described as an emotional powerhouse at the time of its release in 1993.

It is a very well trodden path to point out that this was the first part of Tom Hanks making history, by becoming the first man to win the Best Actor Academy Award in back-to-back years (Forrest Gump followed in 1994) but I thought recently, how does this film stand up, almost three decades on from its original release?

Philadelphia tells the story of gay man Andrew Beckett, who is suffering with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, some years after an anonymous sexual encounter with another man, in a gay porn theatre, all set in the city of Brotherly Love.

Obviously, before this movie came out, Philadelphia was mainly famous in film land, as the home of World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa, this film definitely set about opening our eyes to a different subject matter, but one of crucial importance as people still struggled to come to terms with the reality of this incurable, infectious disease.

The Story:

This movie won a host of awards and it’s very easy to see why it was as popular as it clearly was ‘Back in the day’ and that is because it is still so prevalent and up to date now, nearly 30 years later.

Director Jonathan Demme definitely made some masterstrokes to create a genuine masterpiece, as the controversial subjects of homosexuality and Aids are tackled absolutely head on, with no quarter asked or given.

Meanwhile, the acting by Hanks and his tenth choice of attorney Denzel Washington, as the flamboyant, outgoing, egotistical counsellor Joe Miller, is nothing less than absolutely top drawer.

You are absolutely dragged in at the start of the film, with various visions from around Philadelphia itself, before the main subject is brought unflinchingly to your attention. It is beautiful in every way, with the future acquaintances battling it out professionally in front of a judge about the potential harm of an inner city construction, while there is even a masterful piece of scene-setting as they both get in a lift and the door closes with a particular message scraped on the door.

After this, you start to really get to the guts of this story, as Beckett is next seen at his regular Aids clinic, which gives you just enough of a snapshot of what he is facing, simply by looking around at the various people, in various stages of this debilitating illness, all around him.

The story moves along at a beautiful pace and some of the camerawork truly is a sight to behold, which is slightly surprising in what is a real-life, edgy sort of courtroom drama. What the film also does really well, is take on this potentially explosive, depressing story-line and turn it into something much more engaging, as well as hugely topical, while also including all of Beckett’s families trials and tribulations, during what is obviously an extremely difficult time for them.

The meetings between Beckett and Miller are very emotionally charged and it unstintingly looks at the problems Beckett faces, from the moment he tells his attorney that he has Aids, including even seeing some of the old fashioned prejudices in his own family and right through to the end.

The scene before Beckett’s final passing is very sensitively done, as each of his family get to say a final goodbye in their own personal ways, but the scene that really steals the show for me (whether you agree, is entirely up to you) is when Miller wants to go through a Q&A with Beckett, but his client is swept away by the legendary voice of Maria Callas which, without him answering a single question, convinces the attorney, that he is ready to take the stand in the packed courtroom.

All in all, it has to be said, that this piece of film-making is, undoubtedly a work of absolute genius, with power, poise, guts and an absolutely unflinching desire to confront a subject, where most would fear to tread.

Introducing Ian

Hello all, Nathan here.

Regular readers will know that I’ve recently had to step back from writing film criticism for health reasons. I hope I can periodically pop my head around the door, so to speak, but because I don’t want to simply let the site sit here on the Internet like a plank of wood in a pond, not really doing anything, I’ve brought in some help.

New reviews will soon be posted on this website again, provided by my good friend and collaborator Ian Judson. I can think of very few people in my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances more qualified to take the reins than Ian, and I trust he’ll do an excellent job of maintaining the high standard (don’t laugh) of critique you’ve come to expect from Major Film Reviews.

I hope you will all support Ian as much as I plan to as he kindly carries on the Major Film Reviews name in my absence.

Hopefully I’ll find ways of being able to contribute as well, but for the time being, I’m handing over the keys, I hope you all enjoy what Ian has to bring to the table.

Thanks as always


Major Film Reviews Indefinite Hiatus

This is going to be difficult to write (for a number of reasons). I’m aware not all of you will follow my Facebook page, so I’m going to briefly summarise what I have said on there for those who only read my site.

Here is the big news to start us off, I am now legally blind. While I can still go to the cinema, and if I sit closely enough am able to still enjoy movies, I do not wish to risk what remaining eyesight I have left on reviewing films, which can be a tremendously straining activity for my eyes. I wish from now on to be able to enjoy films while I still can.

Of course this puts my website in a strange position. I’ve put a lot of work into it over the last four years, and I am disappointed that I have been forced to stop. I was in fact working on a new book compiling my best reviews so far, that project is on ice along with a lot of things related to writing while I figure out the best way forward with the eyesight I have left.

I do not want to call this the end, but rather hope against hope that I might one day right film reviews again. I can’t see that day being any time soon, and I have a lot of adapting to do, but the site will remain open for whomever should wish to revisit my work.

As I said, I had addressed this in a video post to my Facebook page a few weeks ago, but I am aware that the lack of activity on my website to those who do not follow the page might have been worrying. You now have your explanation for why I have been so quiet and why I will continue to be.

If you have read and enjoyed my work to this point, I thank you for your support and readership, and I hope that I have provided at least a small amount of entertainment value while I have been able to.

This will be my last post for the time being, I may one day end up posting things on here once again but it won’t be any time soon. In the meantime, get back to the cinema and enjoy yourselves.

It’s been a pleasure, and I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say see you later.

Reflections on a Return to the Cinema

I went to a cinema this afternoon. It was the first time in many months, I think since October, to be exact. The film I went to see was Taxi Driver, the seminal 1970s Scorsese masterpiece, but I have opted not to review it on this occasion. I don’t think the world needs another affirmation that Taxi Driver is great, but I did want to document my experience somehow. Maybe I’ll offer some thoughts on the film as I go, but mostly, I want to tell you about my experiences returning to a place I love dearly and how I have had to change.

This will also be a far more personal entry as far as this website goes. I know there will be some of you that come here for reviews, and that’s all, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t want you all to read something thinking it was going to be a review. If this is you, feel free to give this one a miss. I promise I won’t mind. However, those of you who read every post on here will remember me posting about my struggles recently, and that’s important to bear in mind, as this… I’m not even sure what to call it – ramble, I suppose. Anyway, this ramble will touch on the subject of that ‘Health Statement’. Here’s a brief recap: my eyesight is bad. Visually-impaired levels of bad, in fact. I’m not sure why. I’m awaiting results, but that’s the bottom line. I don’t know whether it’s temporary or permanent, but I am partially sighted.

This became more obvious after I sat down to watch the film today, as it dawned on me that I couldn’t see the movie properly from my usual seat. You see, I am a tall man. As a consequence of this, I make a better door than a window, and so, I usually sit on the back row. That way, I’m not blocking anyone’s view. It became painfully clear during the adverts preceding the film that my days of sitting in the back row are over. Luckily, the screen wasn’t very busy, so I moved right to the front, where I could see the film much better. The screen was also at a comfortable height, so I didn’t have to do much looking up, which was good, and it meant I could still enjoy the film, even if the more minor details were still somewhat blurred.

Film is, of course, a visual medium. I know there are ways and means for visually-impaired people to still enjoy movies to a certain extent, like audio description, but the thought of not being able to see a film at all terrifies me. I’ve had to give up my driving licence in the last month because of my eyes, and I loved driving, but without a doubt, the scariest thing for me when it comes to potentially losing my eyesight is losing the ability to enjoy films. Maybe as I adjust to my vision being reduced, I can adapt, as long as I don’t lose my sight completely. I suppose I will have to, along with adapting to a lot of other changes.

When it comes to this website, however, it’s a different kettle of fish entirely. The act of critiquing a movie is very different to the act of enjoying a movie. You can enjoy a film with half a bottle of vodka floating in your stomach, and some people can even unironically enjoy Mamma Mia! But to watch a movie to critique is a much more involved experience. Being able to see a film is essential to critique it, at least in my opinion, as a lot of a film’s identity revolves around how it looks.

To use Taxi Driver as an example of this, the film benefits from having this filthy aesthetic, portraying a grime-covered New York landscape, crawling with the dregs of society, portraying the city in a way that only Scorsese seems to. I can still appreciate this now because I sat closer to the screen and had a clearer view. If my eyesight were to go anymore, I doubt I’d connect as much with that feeling. In losing this connection, you also lose a layer of the films’ context, and thus, as a critic, you are compromised. Could I, theoretically, enjoy Taxi Driver or Blade Runner (another film intrinsically linked to its visuals) without the benefit of its visuals? Probably. Could I critique them? No.

Today was somewhat of a ‘dry run’ for returning to watching films in the cinema after months of home viewing, and truth be told, there were positives and negatives. Speaking positively, it was wonderful to be back in a cinema in general, and my eyes weren’t too severely irritated by the screen (as they have been at home). However, on the negative side, it drove home just how much of my eyesight I have lost and the difficulties this brings with writing about them. Sure, I can see what’s going on, but the more minor details are blurry, and writing about it on my laptop gives me a headache after looking at it for too long. In other words, it reinforced just how difficult doing something I love might become.

I really, REALLY don’t want you all to get the wrong impression that I’m hosting a pity party for myself here. After all, some kids have never had the chance to see a movie, whereas I still can for the most part. Today reinforced just how difficult it might be in the near future to carry on these reviews, but I’ll find a way. I’ll do video reviews if that ends up being easier on my eyes. I’ve even had a kind offer from a friend to transcribe these videos so I can still post written reviews.

It is hard to face up to a problem like losing your sight. It’s kept me awake for weeks now, thinking of all of the things I might not be able to enjoy. I’ve cried a lot too. Out of frustration and out of fear. I fear becoming a burden on those around me. I fear not being able to enjoy doing what I love, and I fear losing the ability to express that through writing, which is the best way I display my feelings, as the past thousand words will attest.

I will continue to review for as long as I can. Even if it’s in a different format to what I am used to. I’m certainly not relishing the thought of filming myself as I’m much more eloquent in the written word than the spoken one. If it becomes too difficult, though, I’ll have to walk away. I can’t settle for writing anything I don’t feel is up to my standard. Not that I think I’m the best critic or the best writer. I know I have standards, and I won’t write and release anything I deem to be of lesser worth.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about the cinema. It was an emotional experience being back, made even more emotional by the circumstances. I would have liked to have seen it busier, I must admit. There was only our party of four and one other person in our screen, and the lobby was deserted too. That might have something to do with it being midday on a weekday, though. I can only hope the crowds return (safely) soon, so the industry can get back on its feet. I think many people have missed the experience, and I know the people who work there would have worked hard to get back.

I’m sorry if this got a little heavy for you all. I thank you for sticking with me if you’ve reached the end. I’ll be back at the cinema again tomorrow in my new favourite spot down the front. I hope you can all join me there soon.

Battle of the Bulge Review

I would like to dedicate this review to Mr Peter Judson. This review was requested by his son on the occasion of his 85th Birthday. Best wishes go out to Peter!

I can’t speak for everyone (at least not yet, give it a few years), but I imagine that not everyone is an expert on the events of WWII. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that some people may think that D-Day was more or less the end of the war. Of course, I could be wrong, but we hear so little about the period between D-Day and VE Day that this assumption doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility. After all, these two events were some of the most triumphant of the entire conflict, so of course, they’re the ones that will be romanticised.

In actuality, though, D-Day occurred roughly a whole year before VE Day and fifteen months before the final end of the war. Although the events of the 6th June (D-Day) represented a devastating blow against the German forces, they still fought on for nearly another year, so the question remains? What happened during that time? Well, this film hopes to fill in some gaps.

Battle of the Bulge portrays the titular struggle (also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive), which took place in December of 1944, and January of ’45. The German army used some of their newly created artillery as a warmongering German colonel seeks an improbable victory. In contrast, American forces holding the area are put on the back foot by the surprise attack.

While on the surface, this film might seem similar to the last movie I reviewed, The Guns of Navarone, I was struck by how different the films are tonally. They share a few issues (and we’ll get to them). Still, for the most part, despite both being about WWII and being produced in the 1960s, there aren’t a lot of similarities between the films.

Firstly, GoN was a film that was firmly (& surprisingly) anti-war. While this film certainly doesn’t think war is a roll in the tulips, it has a far more romanticised view. It’s a much fonder look back at the war than Navarone is, falling back on some of the broad stereotypes I applauded the other film for lacking. As such, it’s much worse off for it, in my opinion.

It feels like a film I’ve seen play on repeat for years on terrestrial TV channels. A bland, paint-by-numbers war film reminiscing about the last war where we were unequivocally on the good side. It exists to make us feel good about ourselves, but the problem is that it’s something we’ve already seen a hundred times.

To me, the best kind of war film is one that reflects a new perspective on events we may already know about. We know the Nazis were terrible, and we know that giving them a good old kicking was a good idea, so we don’t need reminding of it every five minutes. I felt so utterly disconnected from this film because it conveyed the same message as so many other films, and it just ended up boring me.

Don’t get me wrong; as a production of its time, it’s very well made. I get the feeling that it was a film the studio was particularly invested in, as it clearly shows on screen. A few pretty interesting battle scenes still look great in upscaled HD, so it was clearly a production that many people cared about. It just didn’t have enough identity of its own to set it apart. All of the exciting parts of the film take place towards the end. The first hour or so of the film is entirely inconsequential.

Like Navarone before it, it’s much too long in the tooth. I think this is a wider-scale issue in many films of its era. It was of the time where films had intermissions, and by then, I needed it. It’s funny because I complained about these films’ lengths, and yet I sat down to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League in one sitting, and that’s four hours long. Somehow that film felt better paced than this, which is ninety minutes shorter.

Although it’s a perfectly fine film which I’m sure is looked upon fondly by those who remember it, it is most certainly a product of its time. Some older movies tend to age worse than others, and I’d say this is one of them. Not only is it too long, but its characterisations are also bland too. There was nothing to differentiate each character from one another. The Nazis are made to look bad by being cartoon Nazis. Fair enough, they were unimaginably evil, but there’s no nuance here. They took the easy route, and it showed.

In summary, then, it’s a perfectly serviceable film technically, which I don’t think has aged as well as some of its contemporaries. The kind of war film that was made en-masse in the 50s and 60s. Well-acted, but lacking in character, and well-shot but lacking in vision. I can appreciate it being enjoyed by a particular audience, but it didn’t do much for me.

The Guns of Navarone Review

I would like to dedicate this review to Mr Peter Walsh Judson. This review was requested by his son on the occasion of his 85th Birthday. Best wishes go out to Peter!

At this point, I’ve seen so many films about World War II that I feel like I could enter Mastermind using the war as my specialist subject. The last film about the war I looked at was Downfall, and look at the German side during the dying days (pun not intended) of the conflict. Now, I am looking at a classic big-screen representation of the famous Second World War, 1961’s Guns of Navarone.

I knew of this film by reputation before being sent in the post by my friend and supporter Ian, and truth be told, my interest in wartime narratives has waned somewhat over the years. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if there aren’t several incredible stories surrounding those six years. However, I feel somewhat overfamiliar with the timeframe especially given just how many films and TV shows still seem enamoured with this particular era.

I was also put off by the age of the film. Let me explain; I am not usually one to write off a film simply because of when it was made; however, there is a pattern for movies of a certain vintage to overstay their welcome. The best example of this is perhaps Gone With the Wind, maybe this speaks more to the declining attention span of the cinema-going public, but there have been many examples of ‘classic’ films where I have thought they could have done with being at least ten minutes shorter, if not more. Well, this film isn’t as egregious as others. It is still a reasonably long watch that feels a bit bloated around the middle.

Guns of Navarone tells the story of a mission to destroy the titular guns on the (fictional) Greek island of Navarone for the British Army to launch a rescue mission on a neighbouring island. The elite team assembled for this task is lead by the dynamic Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck), who recruits a mishmash of men for this dangerous task.

If there’s one thing going for this film from the off, it’s star power. Not only does it star Hollywood icon Gregory Peck, but it also features David Niven, Richard Harris, and popular former television actor Stanley Baker. It’s a star-studded cast if ever there was one, and you can’t accuse anyone of phoning in their performances either. David Niven and Gregory Peck are the show-stealers for me, with a special mention to Anthony Quinn.

The film is also surprisingly anti-war for its time. An issue I find with many classic war films is their jingoistic nature—the easy stereotypes of the rugged British heroes against the goose-stepping blabbering Germans. There was seemingly little room for nuance in such films, which is why it’s so refreshing to see said nuance on display here. The British soldiers aren’t portrayed as entirely noble heroes, but rather, they are flawed humans thrust into an impossible situation, and they’re all the more interesting for it.

A prime example of this is during the film’s final act, David Niven’s character (Cpl John Anthony Miller) gives a pair of rousing speeches questioning their mission and the war itself. They’re a daring pair of monologues that stand out by a mile when compared to their contemporaries. There’s little sign of blind heroism in their sentiment, just resigned necessity.

Like many films of its age, however, it does seem to go on for longer than necessary. Clocking in at just over two-and-a-half hours, it isn’t the longest film of all time. Still, there is a noticeable lag in excitement and intrigue in the middle of the film, which is a shame, as everything leading up to that – and indeed following it – was suspenseful and intense. The problem is it lingering too long in a specific place or on a certain point, breaking the films flow intermittently to show us what’s going on in the area our heroes left twenty minutes ago. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but it does obstruct the natural flow of the film.

As I say, though, there are some moments of great suspense and excitement to be found scattered throughout its runtime, even managing to find a way to make ships passing at sea feel intense. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it later finds time to wring suspense out of a descending lift. These moments are incredibly well-crafted and conceived, and they make the most of the simplest things. The film has time for explosions and gun battles later, but it’s these small moments of tension that stick with me the most.

After it gets over the slight hump in the middle of the narrative, it descends quickly into an exhilarating final stretch filled with twists, turns, and the requisite explosions that come together to make this film the classic that it is. While these things still hold up well today, it is the character-driven acting and intense yet straightforward scenes that make this film stand out for me.

In conclusion, then, this is a film that manages to avoid most of the pitfalls I have come to associate with older movies, especially older war movies. While it does drag a little in the middle, its bold anti-war subtexts, astonishingly good direction and stellar acting make it stand out amongst the rest of its ilk. Many may come away remembering the triumph of its finale. Still, I came away pleasantly surprised at how balanced the film is. How well-written and acted its characters are, and above all, taken in by its attention to detail in moments that would have passed by many other filmmakers—an excellent example of classic moviemaking.