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Blu-Ray Pick(s) of the Week: The Imitation Game & Interstellar

by Andrew Hudak

The Imitation Game is an absolute must-see, and Interstellar should be seen on as large a screen as possible

Alan Turing: Big on intellect, short on personality. That’s the major take away of “The Imitation Game,” which showcases Turing’s (Oscar nominated Benedict Cumberbatch) efforts during World War II to build a machine to crack the German code, while at the same time alienating as many people as possible with his ego and abrasive way of interacting with others.

This type of socially awkward genius is not new to cinema, most likely because it fairly accurately reflects real life. While not every genius has social shortcomings, the ones who do become the ones who stand out. They’re impatient and anxious. The reason why is clear: They are so much smarter than you, and so many steps ahead of you in the thinking process that they have neither the time, desire, nor patience to bring you up to speed on what is happening. You probably wouldn’t understand anyway, and even if you did, you’d quickly fall behind again. The only other people that these awkward geniuses can tolerate are the ones who can follow along with their thinking.



Thank goodness then for Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley, also Oscar nominated). Early on in “The Imitation Game,” after Turing is accepted into Britain's top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, he creates a crossword puzzle that prints in the a newspaper called the Daily Telegraph. Those who complete it are invited to be further tested. Joan is invited and passes the test in much less time than expected.

Joan’s role is critical, not only in cracking the Nazi code, but also in giving Turing someone with whom he can confide. In another movie, with other characters, these two would surely have had a love affair. While Joan and Turing never get physical, they certainly get intimate. The two share an intellectual and emotional bond, which is arguably more powerful than a physical one.

World War II hangs over the heads of Turing, Joan, and the rest of the code breakers like a daily storm cloud. The Germans reset the code every day, meaning that every day that they don’t break it, they have to start over again from scratch. Every time that they have to start over means more time that Britain and her allies are in danger from Nazi attacks that they don’t see coming. The long hours, grueling days, and near tireless efforts by Turing and his team are commendable. They know that their work is so secret that they won’t be recognized for it, and that’s fine. They do their work not for glory, but for king and country, and most importantly, to save lives.

That last bit about saving lives leads me to bring up an interesting and difficult decision that Turing and his team have to make at one point. I won’t give away the details, but suffice it to say that you’ll know the scene when you get to it. It’s the dramatic high point in an already tension-filled story, and it is both a heart breaker and a gut punch. After hearing Turing’s explanation as to why he made the decision that he made, I understood and agreed. But damn, it’s not an easy conclusion to come to, particularly when emotions are running so high. The fact that he was able to calmly and coolly use his intellect to see the bigger picture is commendable. There’s a reason a movie was made about this man, and it’s one that is very worth seeing. Buy It.

The Imitation Game DVD

Also New This Week:

Interstellar
Warner Bros.

Interstellar

Epic movies with big ideas don’t come much grander than “Interstellar,” from acclaimed visionary director Christopher Nolan, who leaves the mean streets of Gotham City and the “Dark Knight” trilogy behind for a movie about space travel. In the near future, the Earth becomes an uninhabitable dust bowl. In order for human civilization to survive, other planets must be explored. If any are suitable for colonization, mankind must move there or perish.

Luckily, a nearby wormhole provides the path to several planets. Explorers are sent to these planets and instructed to send out a beacon if they believe the planet is inhabitable. Three beacons are received, giving hope to humanity. But which one is best? It is the decision of the head of the research project, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), that the best pilot he knows, a man named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), travel with Brand’s scientist daughter (Anne Hathaway) and a small crew to investigate the beacons.

In doing this, Cooper leaves behind his family, including his dad Donald (John Lithgow), son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and daughter Murphy (MacKenzie Foy). Murphy takes his departure the hardest. Her resentment toward him resonates throughout her life as she grows up and becomes a scientist on Professor Brand’s team.



Jessica Chastain plays the grown up Murphy. It’s interesting that she became a scientist and joined with Professor Brand. Undoubtedly, in spite of her resentment for his leaving, she loved her father very much. Following this path in life was her only way to be close to him. In video diaries that Cooper watches during his voyage, Chastain does a wonderful job of conveying the conflict within her between the resentful little girl left behind by her dad and the grown woman who would do anything to see him again. It’s a wonderfully layered performance.

For his part, McConaughey keeps the streak alive of showing off his tremendous acting chops. His performance is equally well layered. Cooper is a man who must make incredibly difficult decisions that not only affect him and his family, but also that impact humanity on the whole. He is torn between wanting to get back home and wanting to complete his mission and save mankind. What makes “Interestellar” so absolutely amazing is that within with this epic story about space travel that spans great stretches of distance and time, some of the most captivatingly human drama unfolds. Buy It.

Interstellar [Blu-Ray+ DVD+ HD]

Wild

Have you ever seen actress Reese Witherspoon walk? Then congrats, you’ve seen “Wild,” because that’s pretty much what the movie is about. In “Wild,” Witherspoon plays Cheryl, a recent divorcee who decides that in order to have the life altering epiphany she so desperately needs, she has to hike the thousand mile long Pacific Coast trail by herself. “By herself” is a bit of a stretch though, because even though she walks from outpost to outpost alone, she is constantly meeting people, getting new supplies, and essentially taking periodic breaks from roughing it to make sure she can correct mistakes like not bringing the right equipment to cook food, and getting better footwear to make the journey. She is never in any real danger of being lost and alone (the trail is clearly designated and has log books along the way, in addition to the outposts), or dying of disease, dehydration, or starvation. All she has to do is make it a bit further and a bath and a bed await.



I’m sure the journey was difficult, though. Witherspoon’s performance is the only real worthwhile aspect of “Wild.” She portrays a woman who has the grit and determination to use setbacks and obstacles not as reasons to quit, but as motivations to strengthen her resolve to finish her journey. I appreciate this aspect of the character, and Witherspoon comes through with a very well-rounded, lived in performance. We feel her pain and experience her joy. The character of Cheryl and the acting are great. It’s just too bad the movie itself lacks drama and isn’t about much more than a long walk in the wilderness. Rent It, and for a look at what I mean by being in the wild with high stakes drama and truly roughing it, also check out Sean Penn’s film “Into the Wild” from 2007, starring Emile Hirsch. Now that is a great movie about truly surviving in the wild.

Wild DVD

Into the Wild (Rental)

More New Releases: “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock as a scientist in space who must make her way across the Earth’s outer atmosphere to reach safety after her research vessel is destroyed by debris; “Hoop Dreams,” one of the best documentaries ever made, about two inner-city Chicago high school boys who dream of going to a good college and turning pro; “Cries and Whispers,” Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s story of a woman dying of cancer (Harriet Andersson) who is visited by her sisters (Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann), and the long-repressed feelings between the three that are revealed; “Wild Card,” starring Jason Statham as a recovering gambling addict who finds work providing protection for his friends; “Without a Clue,” a unique take on Sherlock Holmes, starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley; and “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold,” a 1986 movie starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone (a follow up to 1985’s “King Solomon’s Mines”) that is so bad that it makes the first film look like a masterpiece, which trust me, it is not.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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