One of World War Two's greatest battles took place far from the battlefields -- and its greatest hero wound up unpraised, and worse, after it was done.  The Imitation Game is a very unusual, dramatic, and gripping war story revolving around mathematics and a disturbed genius.

The Imitation Game takes place during three different times.  In 1940s England, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) believes mathematics professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is hiding something and decides to investigate him.  In the 1920s, we see a young Turing (played by Alex Lawther) at boarding school, where his run-ins with bullies and friendship with a classmate go a long way in showing what he'll become as an adult.  And during WW2 (when the bulk of the film is set), Turing is brought in for a top-secret mission: breaking a seemingly unbreakable German code called Enigma, which resets every morning.

Saying that Turing is not well liked during his mission is an understatement.  He is socially awkward, lacks understanding of basic human interactions, and is indifferent to the feelings of others.  (Fans of The Big Bang Theory will see a lot of Sheldon Cooper in Cumberbatch's performance.)  Turing ignores and goes over the head of his boss Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), getting himself put in charge of the project -- and firing half the people there.  While others want to try and crack the codes manually, Turing focuses on building a computer (which he names "Christopher") that will crack the code -- even though progress is slow-going, and Christopher costs a hundred thousand pounds.  Turing also works covertly with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) since, at the time, women weren't supposed to work alongside men, even though she's a mathematical genius.  And Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) is a MI-6 secret agent who tolerates Turing more than the rest.

While The Imitation Game mainly revolves around the mathematicians out to break the code, the movie really belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch.  His Alan Turing is the key and center to the whole film -- and Cumberbatch delivers an amazing performance.  He makes it quite easy to see why people both hate Turing and think he's the key to solving a seemingly impossible task.  While the movie contrasts the death and struggles of most Englishmen with the more peaceful, yet pressured life of the geniuses, things get quite morally ambiguous as the film continues.  And the ending will have you mourning Turing decades after he passed away.  The Imitation Game is an excellent drama that takes on a secret, intellectual struggle during the darkest days of war -- and the personal struggled that went along with it.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Turning real-life events into a motion picture can be a daunting and perilous task; that is even more risky when the events in question are both famous and important.  Selma tackles such a time and event -- the circumstances and choices that led to the 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery -- and succeeds by exploring the history and humanity of that time.

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) is both successful and challenged.  Laws have been passed and a fight is on to end segregation.  But state and local government still keeps black people from registering to vote, which in turn leads to an institutional oppression of black Americans; there's also daily violence and intimidation against black people in the South.  King wants every American to be able to vote, but he faces opposition from numerous fronts.  President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) wants to focus on ending segregation and thinks voting rights will stir up more trouble.  Alabama Governor George Wallace (a nicely evil Tim Roth) is happy to send troops to intimidate, beat, and even kill black protesters.  Even other black groups have issues with King's methods, from disliking his non-violence to believing they should raise up the black community instead of confronting the white power structure.  But King is adamant, and he decides that Selma, Alabama is the perfect place to get headlines and raise awareness of the cause.

Director Ava DuVernay makes Selma work by both explaining the importance of what happened in Selma, and looking at the humans behind what happened.  Selma is partly a history lesson, as we learn the full importance of what happened there, as well as how being able to vote was for empowering those who were kept from voting.  At the same time, we see King's public and private selves.  In public he was a firebrand, equally skilled at preaching in church and to reporters.  But in private, he struggled with the cost of his protests, as people were hurt and killed following his lead.  He also had problems with his marriage, as his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) tries to raise their family (and deal with King's weaknesses as a man) in the middle of the threats against her husband and their family.

My only complaint with Selma is that the movie turns to slow motion almost every time there's any sort of violence; it works in the initial attack on a black church, but soon it becomes an unnecessary distraction.  But that's a small issue for a movie with a phenomenal lead, a very good and extensive supporting cast, and a dramatic, intelligent look at a seminal time in American history.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Live-action superhero television shows haven't always had a successful time on television, whether it's budgetary limits of providing special effects (The Hulk, The Tick) or having plots and stories that are just plain dumb (Wonder Woman, Smallville).  Fortunately, The Flash manages to follow the comic storylines fairly closely, show terrific action, and have enthusiasm as well as heavy subjects.
As a boy, young Barry Allen saw something impossible -- a man dressed in yellow (who comic books fans will recognize as Reverse Flash), blurred and surrounded by lightning -- who killed his mother; his father Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) was convicted of the killing, and Barry went to live with Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and his daughter Iris.

Years later, Barry (Grant Gustin) is a forensic scientist still out to clear his father's name, when something else impossible happens to him: He's struck by lightning.  Actually, he's struck by the energy from an accident caused by an experiment from scientists Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes),  Their experiment send a wave of energy that put Barry in a coma for nine years (along with killing several people in Central City, paralyzing Wells from the waist down, and the disappearance of Snow's fiancee).

When Barry comes out of the coma, he's now the fastest man on Earth.  With the help of the scientists, Barry becomes the Flash, determined to use his powers to help others, find Reverse Flash, and clear his father's name.  But the accident also created other metahumans (who Cisco liked to give nicknames to -- matching their comic book names), not to mention normal criminals with advanced weapons, like Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller).  Since The Flash airs on the CW, there's also got to be romantic angst: In this case, Barry has a crush on Iris (Candice Patton), but when he comes out of his coma, she's dating Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Joe West's partner.  Oh, and Dr. Wells can walk, has a newspaper from the year 2024 that says the Flash disappeared, is willing to kill anyone he thinks may interfere with Barry's future as the Flash -- and may be Reverse Flash.

As a comic book fan, I really enjoy The Flash.  Unlike far too many superhero shows and movies, this isn't bogged down by darkness and angst.  Instead, much like Dash in The Incredibles, the Flash seems to have a joy in the fun of pure speed (along with helping others).  The actors all do very well (especially Grant Gustin, who mixes concern and responsibility with the fun of being a superhero), the special effects work great for all the metahumans, and the mystery of what will happen next is intriguing.  I hope The Flash lasts on the CW/

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Alien creatures mixed with immigration and third world-first world conflicts?  Why not?  Set in an alternate near-future, Monsters is a road trip turned social commentary.

Six years ago, a probe carrying samples of alien life crashed in Central America.  Soon after, horrific alien creatures (somewhat like giant insects with tentacles) began to appear, and roughly the upper half of Mexico was quarantined as the "Infected Zone," with the U.S. and Mexican armies fighting the creatures.

Andrew Kaulder (Scott McNairy) is a photographer, taking pictures of the creatures and their victims in South America, when he gets an unwanted assignment: Escort Sam Wynden (Whitney Able), his boss' daughter, back to America.  At first all they have to do is get to the coast, where she'll get on a ferry that goes straight to America.  But when their passports are stolen, they have to take a more expensive and dangerous trek, by car, boat, and foot, through the Infected Zone.

Monsters has its strengths and weaknesses.  The main characters are a nice balance: Andrew has been down there a long times and knows the culture, but he never learned any Spanish; Sam is the rich tourist, but she knows the language and does most of their talking.  The immigration parallels are obvious, sometimes painfully: There's a giant wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and people with passports have a much easier, safer, and cheaper route to the U.S. than those who are undocumented.  And the movie wisely gives hints of the creatures rather than throwing them on-screen all the time, giving up glimpses of them moving, or their remains.  And there's a surprising moment beauty at the film's end.

That said, Andrew and Sam aren't terribly compelling characters.  Using the darkness to hide the monsters works fine at first, but after a while the movie feels like it's spending half the time in the gloom and obscurity of night.  And there are times when the movie meanders, bringing boredom into the mix.

Monsters is an interesting movie: Not a great movie, but different and more thoughtful than other movies with aliens and, well, monsters.  (And the newer dvd edition has a massive amount of behind-the-scenes extras; the second disc is devoted solely to them.)

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch