‘The Imitation Game,’ ‘Wild’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman

 

It’s an excellent week for home video, as three Academy Award-nominated dramas are making their way to the small screen.

 

 

The Imitation Game

4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking
Anchor Bay
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

“The Imitation Game” won only a single Academy Award (best adapted screenplay for Graham Moore) in February, but the movie’s nomination tally is a better representation of its quality. The tightly paced suspense film, which depicts key moments in the life of British computer pioneer Alan Turing, received eight nominations, including nods for best picture, best director, best actor and best supporting actress.

 

The nominations surely came because “The Imitation Game” is the type of intimate character drama that reminds us that great movies always start with great storytelling. The film isn’t the flashiest of the 2014 theatrical releases, nor does it boast the biggest names or largest production budget. Instead, it is satisfied to do simple work, telling an important historical tale while wagging its finger at the prejudices mankind continues to nurture.

 

Turing, as “The Imitation Game” demonstrates, was a troubled genius, and his life story is both thrilling and heartrending. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the man as brash and arrogant, a figure so confident in his mental prowess that he doesn’t waste time on intellectual inferiors. But Cumberbatch also depicts Turing as a good man who devotes himself wholeheartedly to World War II efforts to break the German Enigma code, an effort that saved countless Allied lives.     

 

Much of “The Imitation Game” is focused on Turing’s struggle with the code, which makes sense because it’s the sexiest – and most exciting – part of the story. Still, director Morten Tyldum devotes reasonable screen time to Turing’s personal life, including his close friendship with co-worker Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) and his struggle to fit into a world that treated homosexuals with disdain. During the World War II era, homosexuality was a crime in England, and Turing was eventually prosecuted.

 

Cumberbatch received a best actor nomination for his work, and Knightley was nominated for best supporting actress. Both performers are excellent, but Cumberbatch is especially impressive. He depicts Turing as a sort of mad genius who pushes for scientific advancement while others are happier playing it safe. 

 

Most suspense films center on murders and devious criminal activity, but Tyldum focuses on the thrill of the chase, and that works to the movie’s advantage. The director immediately establishes the importance of Turing’s code-breaking work, allowing viewers an emotional reaction to his successes and failures. “The Imitation Game” also promotes a strong message of acceptance. Despite Turing’s accomplishments, his homosexuality prevented him from living a complete and happy life. Tyldum shines a light on this travesty and forces viewers to square themselves with the devastating realities of prejudice.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature, deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Tyldum and Moore.

 

 

Interstellar

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Paramount
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Writer-director Christopher Nolan’s talent was obvious in his earliest works, and he has further established his greatness with each successive film. What makes Nolan special is his ability to seamlessly mix high-minded intellectual concepts with breathtaking action and special effects, an ability displayed impressively in “Interstellar.”

 

The movie is set in a future Earth where our natural resources have been largely depleted. The few living humans exist on a mostly barren landscape plagued by crop blight and powerful dust storms. It is here that a single father named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) must raise his two young children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet).

 

Despite training as a NASA pilot, Cooper has settled into life as a farmer. Space exploration is seen as a luxury that humans can no longer afford, so Cooper diligently tends crops until an odd series of events lead him to a hidden outpost of human scientists. The group informs him that a wormhole has opened near Saturn, leaving hope that humanity can one day relocate. But the scientists lack a pilot with Cooper’s skill, so they recruit him for a lengthy space journey. 

 

Cooper must decide whether to carry the hopes of humanity on his shoulders or stay behind with his children. Anyone who has watched the trailers knows that Cooper ends up in space, but that doesn’t make the decision less poignant. In fact, Nolan spends most of the movie reflecting on the fallout from Cooper’s choice. The attention to such a localized emotional conflict amidst an interplanetary setting is one of several features that make “Interstellar” special.  

 

The movie is smart, and it’s told in a manner that will leave thoughtful viewers comparing notes long after the credits roll. It is also visually stunning, and the film earned the Oscar for best visual effects in February.

 

Despite all the positives, the movie has flaws, most of them tied to a bizarre, time-bending finale that poses fascinating questions but becomes overly reliant on esoteric, dreamlike visuals. This ending is so unusual, that it leaves “Interstellar” with a “love-it-or-hate-it” vibe capable of sharply dividing audiences. Those who warm to the climactic sequence may see the film as a masterpiece. But those who don’t “get it” are left in the cold.

 

Nolan nonetheless deserves credit for the film’s ambitious themes and the overall craftsmanship of the project. “Interstellar” is always beautiful to look at, and the acting is superb.

 

McConaughey is no longer just a movie star. He has proven himself a full-fledged actor with a fine emotional range, and he receives apt backup from a supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway as a fellow astronaut, Michael Caine as an aging scientist, Casey Affleck as an older version of Tom, and Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn as older incarnations of Murph.

 

The DVD release has no extras, but the Blu-ray comes with more than three-hours of making-of material.  

 

 

Wild

3½ stars
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

 

Reese Witherspoon received her second Oscar nomination for her excellent work in “Wild,” the story of a grieving woman who reconnects with life by immersing herself in nature. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a real-life woman who mourned the loss of her mother and a series of increasingly bad life choices by hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, then turning the experience into a best-selling memoir. 

 

A film about hiking may sound dull, but Cheryl’s physical journey is secondary to her mental turnaround, and Witherspoon and director Jean-Marc Valée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) do a remarkable job placing viewers inside the character’s head. They achieve this by mixing Cheryl’s trail experiences with flashbacks to earlier points in her life. Each cut adds a layer of depth to Witherspoon’s characterization, allowing viewers to form a deep bond with Cheryl and invest in each step she takes.

 

While the most important moments in the film take place within Cheryl’s head, there are intense experiences on the journey, most of them stemming from the obvious concerns of a beautiful, young woman traveling remote trails alone. These are all well depicted.

 

Although “Wild” is the story of one woman’s trek, the film has universal appeal because everyone has felt lost at one point or another, and both men and women can imagine themselves in Cheryl’s place. The idea of centering one’s self by stepping away from manmade constructs and focusing on the simplicity of nature is appealing, and Valée captures the essence of this concept with remarkable grace.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, a filmmakers’ audio commentary and a message from Strayed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

“Island of the Lemurs – Madagascar”: Short IMAX film focused on the fascinating and lively creatures that inhabit Madagascar. Narrated by Morgan Freeman. Directed by David Douglas.

 

“Cries and Whispers”: Freshly restored version of director Ingmar Bergman’s 1972 drama about two sisters who gather by the side of a third sister who is dying of cancer. Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin and Harriet Andersson star. Presented in Swedish with English subtitles.

 

“Hoop Dreams”: Criterion Collection restoration of director Steve James’1994 documentary about two Chicago youths hoping to achieve a career in professional basketball.

 

Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com.

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