What Maisie Knew

This independent movie is based on a short story by Henry James, updated to a modern setting.  James’ astonishing insights on the effects of a troubled marriage on the couple’s 7-year-old daughter, though, remain intact.  Most of the movie is told from the point of view of the little girl;  When she comes home from school and sees her parents fighting, for example, she is less worried about what the argument is about than about where she is going to sleep that night (the parents, already separated, have a complicated joint custody arrangement).  If anything, this story of  self-absorbed, irresponsible parents is even more relevant today than when it was written.

Julianne Moore is excellent as the girl’s rock star mother, and Onata Aprile is remarkable as the old-before-her-years little girl.  Where do they find these kids?

Although parts of the movie are difficult to watch, there are moments of humor and grace, and a hopeful ending.  It would be a fascinating film for family viewing.


The Imitation Game

The story of how English mathematician Alan Turing cracked the German Enigma code by inventing Google search.  🙂

This interesting and absorbing film manages to explain both the nature of the Enigma problem, and the mechanism for solving it, in a manner accessible to a general audience, without doing (too much) violence to the underlying science. It’s not often that the dramatic climax of the movie can be summarized as “the machine stops.”   As the title character says in the opening sequence, though, you have to pay attention — this is not the kind of movie where you can go out for popcorn in the middle and still be able to follow what’s going on.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a wonderful performance as Alan Turing — perhaps more Asperger-y than some of Turing’s friends remember him, but still a recognizable human being. Keira Knightly does her best work in years as Joan Clarke, the program’s lone female mathematician.

Turing’s homose*xuality is treated matter-of-factly in the movie, as Turing apparently treated it himself.  If anything, the real Turing was even more open about his orientation than the movie version — somewhat astonishing given that it was a criminal offense at the time.  A few years after the war, Turing was convicted of indecency and chose chemical castration over a prison term.  In the movie’s sad little coda, we see how this notionally humane alternative had profoundly disturbing effects on Turing’s self-image ( among other things,Turing reported growing breasts). which probably led to his suicide a few years later.

As is typical in this kind of movie, some characters are composites for dramatic reasons, and the actors are better looking than their real-world counterparts.  Many of the more startling scenes, though (the nailed floorboards, the marriage proposal, the existence of a Soviet spy at Bletchley Park) are absolutely true.  Most astonishing of all, Turing wasn’t posthumously pardoned until 2013 (which likely explains why this movie, based on a biography written in the 1980s, wasn’t made until now).

Highly recommended.

There’s nothing here a kid couldn’t see (all the s*x is off-screen) but it’s a talky movie and very small children would probably be bored.

And on DVD