Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Imitation Game - best movie in theaters this Christmas season?

There are a few new movies to see in the theater over the Holidays. One choice is The Interview, whose expected dismal performance in the box office might have inspired a publicity stunt involving North Korean threats. Another is the final entry in the Hobbit trilogy, a movie project that added filler to the material like Tim Allen gaining weight in the Santa Clause.

But there's another movie in the theaters that's *really* excellent and worth seeing: Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. The Imitation Game is the story of how Alan Turing led a team of brilliant people to break Nazi Germany's Enigma encryption device during World War II.

There are a LOT of things which could be said about what an excellent film this is. The plot was laid out brilliantly, being framed by the story of Turing's home being burgled in the 1950s, leading to his  prosecution/persecution for homosexuality. A series of flashbacks look back at the horrid years of the Blitz, when Germany tried to bomb England into submission and succeeded only in making them ever more resolute. The war was going badly and a weapon against the Nazis was desperately needed. That weapon ended up being insights obtained by decoding their messages in secret (aided by shortcuts or "Cillies" when troops failed to use the Enigma in a cryptographically sounds way). And of course, Hitler drastically miscalculated his power by invading the Soviet Union and declaring war on the US after Pearl Harbor.

The story as presented is a great dramatization of historic events, of a time when the future of freedom hung in the balance and victory ended up coming in part from the contributions of a character who seemed to be on the Autistim-Aspergers spectrum (this is really emphasized by the writing of Turing's role). But seeing his pain at various points, from the childhood friend who may have been the love of his life, to being misunderstood by his coworkers and superiors, to his later persecution was really quite wrenching. Keira Knightley's performance  as Joan Clarke, a codebreaker I hadn't heard of was a real revelation. But this movie wasn't just a Cumberbatch/Knightley vehicle, it was packed solid with excellent performers who played their roles to the nines. Rory Kinnear who played Bollingbroke in The Hollow Crown's Richard II played a similar morally ambiguous character as the police detective investigating Turing after his burglary. Charles Dance, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong also turn in excellent performances.

Overall, this movie does tie together really nicely, albeit taking some shortcuts or simplifying things for the sake of drama. The Enigma was actually first broken by Poland before the war - they passed on what information they had to England and France when the war became imminent and the Germans added an additional rotor. The secret of Bletchley Park wasn't hidden for 50 years, as the end credits say: their accomplishments were mentioned as early as David Kahn's groundbreaking book The Codebreakers in 1967. And there is some doubt about whether Alan Turing's unfortunate death was actually a suicide or an accident experienced by someone who did keep toxic chemicals like cyanide
around the house.

I heartily recommend this movie, for its gripping historical context, top writing and excellent performances by a stellar cast. WELL DONE!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Getting You Home Safe

An idea that the family and I have been bouncing around...for showing solidarity with *everyone* and taking a positive step towards improving public safety (since the police clearly have another mission):

Start a group where members are identified with a t-shirt that says something like "Getting You Home Safe". If you're out in public and feel at risk...maybe a person of color, an LGBTQ person or a woman in a bar being stalked by a creep. You see this person wearing this shirt in public and they will either walk you home or otherwise get you home safe. With an ID you can check by calling (or a smart phone app) to make sure they've had a background check and are legit.

The ads for the group could be provocative, e.g., young black men being escorted past a Seattle PD station...