Category: Biography


A Classy Broad

April 21st, 2016 — 4:48am

***

Marcia Nasatir

   Marcia Nasatir

A Classy Broad

It is ironic that this documentary film about one of the pioneer film producers who often was the key person in getting a film green-lighted has just been completed and is now looking for distribution. Marcia Nasatir, who is about to turn 90 years of age is the subject of this movie. She was the first female vice president of production of a major movie studio (United Artists). The director producer of “A Classy Broad” is Anne Goursaud, an accomplished film editor who is hoping that this movie will be her breakthrough film. It is is all about inside Hollywood.

Ms. Nasatir, the centerpiece of this documentary, is well-known, well-liked, and well respected by many legendary movie insiders some of whom appear in this film. Prominent among this group was Mike Medavoy, former Chairman of Tristar and United Artists, and co-founder of Orion Pictures. Others include screenwriters and directors such as Lawrence Kasdan, Tony Bill, Lucy Fisher, Rob Cohen, Robert Towne and the late Lorenzo Semple, Jr. We also hear numerous stories about Ms. Nasatir’s role in many successful movies, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sting, Hamburger Hill, Coming Home, Rocky The Big Chill and many others. Also appearing in the documentary is actress Glenn Close, who is one of the stars of The Big Chill. Ms. Nasatir’s career was “rocky” itself as she was sometimes passed over for promotion, no doubt because women were not just moved into these leadership positions in the film industry during the 1970s and ‘80s.

If there is anything lacking in this movie, it would be not having more of the personal life of Ms. Nasatir. We know very little about her childhood, education, marriage, divorce and her two children. While these details all might make the type of a story that Ms. Nasatir might look for in an interesting feature film, they are certainly not necessary or essential to appreciate this documentary film about this “Classy Broad” and her very successful career in the movie business. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Miles Ahead

March 31st, 2016 — 8:40pm

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Miles Ahead

To best appreciate this review click here and listen to Miles Davis as you read the review

This is not your typical biopic that simply traces the life story of an important person. It is rather a cinematic representation of the powerful, free flowing, unpredictable, abstract and arresting sound of the music of Miles Davis. It tumbles on to the screen as his music emerges from his trumpet. We absorb a sense of this man and his music rather than understand a chronological progression that has growth and coherency.

Don Cheadle, actor, director and screen writer of this movie has chosen to use as his point of departure the approximate five-year period in the mid 1970s where this productive jazz artist ceased to produce any music. We meet Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) when a reporter who says he is from Rolling Stone Magazine (Ewan McGregor) visits him with the hope of interviewing him and finding out why he is no longer on the music scene. This leads to flashbacks and flashforwards, cocaine binges, car chases, the search for a tape of a recent personal recorded session by Davis as well as a glimpse of the personality of Davis and his relationship with Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) a beautiful woman and dancer who was his wife for ten years. We see that Davis at least in his early life was a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who loved his woman and also abused her. Of course he was a musical genius who came of age in the mid-1950s and ‘60s and we also were shown examples of the impact of the ugly sector of racism as he was arrested for standing on the street in front of the night club where he was the headline performer and put in jail for the night.

We are introduced to a young musician called Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) who is intertwined in the plot as Davis tries to find himself during his five-year unproductive period. This young musician could be symbolic of the many young musicians that Davis has helped on the way up, including Wynston Marsalis. He also could represent the very young Davis himself who pushes the now middle aged Davis to pick up the mantle where he put it down half a decade ago.

As mentioned earlier you will not take away a coherent story from this one hour and forty-minute movie experience. You will hear much of Davis’ great music in the background frequently played quite softly. You will see Don Cheadle skillfully appear to inhabit Davis with convincing mannerisms as well as the way he handled his musical instrument. The photography is magnificent (director of photography was Roberto Schaefer). There are many evening scenes and snatches of semi-dark rooms with white smoke trailing upward surrounding the cast of characters. Miles Davis’ music is always there. This will probably not be a blockbuster movie but may very well get the attention of film critics and demonstrate the genius of Miles Davis who won nine Grammy awards and perhaps the potential Oscar worthiness for the second Oscar nomination for Don Cheadle. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical

What Happened, Miss Simone?

March 13th, 2016 — 9:37pm

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What Happened, Miss Simone? -nf

This Oscar nominated documentary biography will grab you and hold your attention and your emotions. You will re-experience the meaning that the Civil Rights Movement may have had to you and how you understand its significance in this country. Music as it always does, creates and brings out deep-rooted feelings and the haunting music and lyrics of this gifted singer and musician will do just that. You will come to understand who Nina Simone was and where she came from and what she was trying to do. But this film will also raise questions about Miss Simone, as a wife, mother, and troubled soul that will remain unanswered although undoubtedly you will share our admiration for her.

Nina Simone grew up as the preacher’s daughter in North Carolina. She was noted to have musical talent and as a young girl she played the piano in church. She went on to get formal music lessons and she had a lifelong unfulfilled wish to be the first black classical concert pianist. She also , clearly, experienced the pain of the Jim Crow South and multiple occasions of blatant discrimination because she was black.

This film documents what she did become and that is a widely acclaimed blues singer with a very distinctive style. When the Civil Rights Movement burst upon the scene, her music and words became part of its anthem alongside of Martin Luther King and others. This was symbolized by the controversial song Mississippi Goddamn”( click to hear this great song) which was embraced by the movement but apparently ultimately marginalized Miss Simone’s ability to work in the musical industry.

The details of Miss Simone’s journey were very well documented with film clips and interviews with people who were very close to her including lifelong friends, fellow musicians, her husband, and her now grown daughter. One of the most fascinating and convincing parts of this documentary film was the showing of the handwritten pages of her own diary. These scribbled words with printed subtitles at the bottom of the screen, documented her love and dependency on her husband, a former New York City policeman who guided a good part of her successful career but also apparently viciously beat her according to her own words. We do not really understand why and how she tolerated him so long before divorcing him. Nor do we understand how she could suddenly leave her loved only young daughter with her good friend and abruptly go off to Europe to try to revive her career.

Her own diary also documents her bouts of suicidal thoughts during this period. As a psychiatrist, one of us (MB) knows we can never properly make a diagnosis or understand the clinical issues in someone we have never seen in our consulting room. However, it should be stated that in her late years, we clearly see a very depressed woman. We are told in the words of her grown daughter and others that she had a diagnosis made of manic-depression and was prescribed “Trilafon” (a second generation antipsychotic medication – not usually the medicine of choice for this condition). We are also told that the medication helped her a little bit. It is also stated that she subsequently had certain symptoms of stiffness and twitching of her lip which are common side effects of this medication that was given to her. While we certainly don’t know all the details we can’t help wondering if she had the best treatment

Miss Simone died at the age of 70 and we do not know too much about her last few years. We have come away from this well-done documentary film by director and producer Liz Garbus with an appreciation how this talented woman was able to find her destiny at the same time that she was able to touch the emotions and express the voice of so many people during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Through this film and her music, there is the opportunity for her work reach future generations. (2015)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Trumbo

November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am

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Trumbo-rm

We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people

Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.

This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.

Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror

Straight Out of Compton

August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm

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Straight Outta Compton

While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.

We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.

We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.

Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.

Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.

We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical

American Sniper

January 31st, 2015 — 10:57pm

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 10.57.50 PM***

American Sniper –rm   After being shut out at the box office last week because it was sold out we finally got in to see this film. It has already grossed over 217 million dollars (so they really didn’t need our money) on a budget of 59 million dollars to make it. The film has been nominated for an Oscar as best picture and Bradley Cooper as best actor as well as receiving nominations for sound, sound editing and best adapted screenplay by Jason Hall. (It was adapted from the book by the sniper himself Chris Kyle) It is directed by Clint Eastwood. We tend to side with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who decided that this film didn’t make the grade for any Golden Globe Awards. In our opinion we just didn’t make any emotional connection with the character as depicted in the movie. Yes, we were genuinely touched at the end of the film when there were actual movie clips of the funeral tributes to this war hero who died as a civilian in 2013. (Sorry about the spoiler but you probably knew this already and it won’t take away from the movie). He had an unusual skill with a long range rifle and he cared about his buddies. Chris Kyle had more than 160 “kills” which is the most by far in the history of the United States military. He volunteered for extra tours of duty (actually having 4 tours and he had over 1000 days in a combat zone) despite the pleading of his wife (played by Sienna Miller) that she and their children needed him. He could have spent more time at home training other soldiers. Perhaps the writers and filmmakers try too hard to stick to the exact story presented to them and don’t use the poetic license that a good fictional drama can explore when they develop a character. It was interesting to us that we felt the same way about the movie Unbroken (see our review) which was another recent movie about a real life war hero which stayed close to the  facts without very much depth.. It also didn’t move us although our admiration for the man especially as shown in the book was tremendous. Compare this to what we think is one of the greatest war films to come out in a long time, The Hurt Locker (see our review). This was fictional drama perhaps based on real events, but the main character is a composite. In our opinion this allowed the writers and director to explore subtle themes and find ways of bringing about an emotional attachment with the audience. In the the American Sniper, as in most war movies today, the combat scenes were very realistic. The sound was fantastic (does deserve the potential Oscar acclaim ) and the music with a lot of drums and included one composition credited to “the man of all seasons,” the director Clint Eastwood, was quite effective. There were the requisite expensive special effects, which likely made it just like it would really be if we were there. Sometimes all the smoke made it hard to see who was shooting who and we couldn’t tell the bad guys from the good guys but maybe that is the way it is in some combat situations. But without a strong connection to the main character we can’t put this film near the top of our list. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, Thriller, War

Unbroken

January 4th, 2015 — 1:45am

**

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 11.32.49 PMUnbroken- sp This movie is about the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian –American who grew up in a poor family in Torrance, California and became a champion track star and member of the US 1936 Olympic team in Berlin. He subsequently signed up with the US Air Force and became a bombardier during World war II. He and another crewmember survived a crash at sea and drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 2000 miles in 47 days dealing with starvation, dehydration, shark attacks and strafing from Japanese planes. He was then captured and spent most of the war as POW where he was brutally treated in part because he was recognized as a US Olympic runner. Most of the movie is spent recounting this experience. It is based a book by Laura Hillenbrand, a screen play by the Coen brothers and a few others. Angelina Jolie directed this film. Jack O’Connell, a 24 year old British actor plays Zamperini and he certainly does a adequate job although a more riveting actor such as a young Sean Penn might have helped to give this film some depth and that something special that seemed to be missing in our opinion. It didn’t help that we were struck by how the main characters mustache and goatee was fairly well groomed throughout the 47 days at sea and that he was pretty well clean shaven during prison time and also how most of the prisoners had clean military caps or hats. (It may have been that they were issued razors during imprisonment instead of decent nourishment, which they were surely not given.) We got the message that his brother gave him early on in his life that he should not give up but there was not much more in depth understanding of this important heroic person- other then he could stare his captors in the eye and was able to take a beating. Having read the book by Hildenbrand, (click here to see book review) one of us was disappointed that Zamperini’s bout with PTSD and alcoholism after he was freed was not shown nor was the story of his recovery with the help of the evangelist Billy Graham depicted. Some of the drifting and beatings could have traded for some more story with better insight into his psychological make up.. Another character that had great potential for a supporting role was Zamperini’s main nemesis among his captors and that was the Prison Commander known as “the Bird.” He is played in a somewhat bland manner by Miyavi (who is actually known best as a Japanese singer, writer, guitarist). He is supposed to be quite a mean cruel prison commandant but there is no attempt to show something about his character, which was developed in more depth in the book. Nevertheless the movie certainly stands as a tribute to Louis Zamperini, American hero who died at age 98 a few weeks before the release of the film, although he apparently saw the final version before he died. We don’t recommend that you do so. (2014)

2 comments » | 2 Stars, Biography, War

Selma

December 20th, 2014 — 11:47pm

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Selma sp- It is hard to believe that this is the first docudrama about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who is played by David Oyelowo. The screenplay by Paul Webb and superb directing by Ava DuVernay chose to examine one specific event in the historic 13 year career of this civil rights icon and that is the March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, which took place in 1965. The first steps towards desegregation had occurred 10 years earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in front of a bus which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. Blacks had the right to vote but were blocked by the local registrars using tactics dramatically shown when Annie Lee Cooper, magnificently played by Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote. As is clearly explained in this film, this denial based on racial discrimination was not only illegal in and of itself but it was further compounded by allowing juries to be all white since proof of voter registration was required to serve on juries in the South. It also kept the biased white politicians in their leadership positions. This state of affairs led to a first futile attempt to peacefully march to the courthouse steps by King and his followers, which is brutally disbanded by the local police. There were very revealing depictions of the behind the scenes discussions of King and his associates who included Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis and many others. The film showed those favoring a more violent confrontation such as the leaders of SNCC as well as interactions between King and Malcolm X. There are also several scenes between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where Johnson expects King to delay his demonstration for a year or two so the President, elected by a landslide a year earlier, could pursue other agendas including programs within his “war on poverty.” As shown in this movie, it is not one of Johnson’s finest moments. King does not take no for an answer and we see the results as thousands of people including many whites, especially clergy in all denominations descend on Selma. The reliving the historic march from Selma to Montgomery sent chills up our spines as we were captivated by the visual effects including black and white clips of the actual event which took place almost 50 years ago. So often Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed by new generations as an almost mythical person. He has a national holiday named after him, streets have his name and it is is said in the same breath as other great Americans such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. In this film he is shown to be a real person who at times seems anxious and scared and even has his human foibles as we see in a dramatic confrontational interaction with his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). Other very fine actors in this movie include Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth and Martin Sheen.   King comes alive with a tremendous performance by David Oyelowo who is a Shakespearean actor by training and an experienced film actor. Producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner who we met at our screening related how Oyelowo was drawn to his part with an almost mystical destiny. He gained 30 pounds to resemble King and his oration of King’s words knocked it out of the ball park and could not have been better. This movie took us back in time and allowed us to experience one of the great moments in American history with all the fear, pain and tragedy, yet ultimate triumph of that march from Selma to Montgomery. (2014)

 

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Private Parts

December 9th, 2014 — 9:07pm

Private Parts- nf– Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 11.52.53 PM  Howard Stern who refers to himself as “ King of All Media,” in addition to this 1997 film and another one a few years later, has a best selling 1993 autobiography also called Private Parts, a ground breaking radio career which was topped off by a 2004 $500 million dollar contract with Sirius Radio on which he currently appears on several of their channels, has had various TV shows and is now a regular judge on the popular TV show America’s Got Talent. This movie is produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Mary Thomas. It features Stern playing himself (except some of the brief scenes of him as a child) and it follows his life and career through college and his early radio jobs in Westchester, Hartford, Detroit, Washington and then WNBC in New York. It shows how after a few false starts, he eventually found his voice and modus operandi which was talking about himself and his private parts, his sexual fantasies and just about anything else that entered his mind. This was cutting edge at the time to the consternation of radio executives and the FCC. One of those executives was a program director at NBC, who Stern nicknamed Pig Vomit and is magnificently depicted by Paul Giamatti in this film. Today the forbidden language and the various bits that were deemed outrageous at the time would be old hat on satellite radio. The freshness of his frank language in the film seems quite dated and at times quite juvenile (it probably always was the latter) but in the story that is being told which includes some actual video clips, it is quite clear how he captured the imagination and enthusiasm of a very large numbers of listeners who became his fans and have given him ratings off the charts. This movie is a also a tender love story about Stern and his first wife Allison, played by Mary McCormack to whom he was married for 23 years with 3 children. They were separated two years after this film was made and Stern married Beth Ostrosky in 2008. Also played by themselves in the movie are Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Jackie Martling who have been part of his radio team for many years. The now 60-year-old Stern has clearly not finished his run. This movie, which was made at a time that he was exploring how he could project his persona into still another media, now stands as a historical recounting of the beginning of a most remarkable career. It is well worth seeing as a poignant tale of a a “slightly misfit” creative and courageous man “ahead of his time.”(1997)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama

The Imitation Game

November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am

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The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)

2 comments » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

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