TIFF ’14 – Day 8: Imitation of Life

Stop the presses! Adam Sandler made a watchable movie!
Stop the presses! Adam Sandler made a watchable movie!

Other than a couple of curio media junkets (somehow I’ll participate in both), TIFF is coming to an end. It wasn’t a fantastic year. No title generated so much interest you couldn’t get a ticket. On the other hand, I haven’t run into anything downright horrible, like 2013’s La Ultima Película. Pasolini comes close, but Willem Dafoe redeems the film a bit. Let’s talk movies.

The Cobbler (USA, 2014): Director Tom McCarthy and Adam Sandler have found each other at a crossroads: McCarthy is coming from a (critically, at least) hot streak with titles like Win Win and The Visitor. Audiences seem to have grown tired of Sandler’s schtick and have abandoned him in droves. Predictably, their first venture together is the comedian’s best film in a decade and for McCarthy, a career worst.

The movie revolves around Max (Sandler), a cobbler by trade if not by vocation. He hopes to be liberated of his burden -the repair shop he inherited from his dad- but does nothing to make it happen. His prayers are answered in the form of an old sewing machine: Whenever he fixes someone’s footwear with the antique, Max can adopt the person’s identity. Mildly amusing mishaps ensue.

The entire premise comes from the old saying “you can’t really know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes”. However, the film is not as much about empathy as is about other actors trying to match Sandler’s delivery (Method Man and Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens among them). The Cobbler is fairly sweet and enjoyable, but lacks an edge to be memorable. Three prairie dogs, a bit older and a bit wiser.

The Imitation Game (UK, 2014): The story of Alan Turing is an infuriating one. The Cambridge mathematician responsible for breaking the Enigma (the machine Nazi Germany used to encrypt all of its communication) shortened the war two full years and saved millions of lives. Yet all his achievements remained a secret for fifty years and received no honors for his work. Turing ended up killing himself after being prosecuted for indecency (code word for homosexuality) and enduring chemical castration as an alternative to jail. It’s a dark page in British history.

As Turing, the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch hits every nuance. His tightly wounded, self-possessed, prickly personality made him a hard man to like. The mathematician likely had Asperger’s Syndrome based on his smarts and his major issues with social cues, but damn if he wasn’t effective.

The film does a remarkable job making a well-known story exciting again. The moment the code falls gave me the chills. The Imitation Game is a handsome film, impeccably shot and acted (Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong appear in supporting roles), perhaps a bit too calculated, but a clear frontrunner for next year Academy Awards. Four nerdy prairie dogs.

Pasolini (USA/Italy, 2015): God, no! Awful, awful film. A waste of the subject at the hands of Abel Ferrara. One pretentious prairie dog.

Tomorrow, I’ll be joining Flight of the Conchords. Also, the end.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.