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LFF Review - The Imitation Game & The Mule

14/10/2014 17:52 BST | Updated 14/12/2014 10:59 GMT

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Toronto Film Festival Audience Award winner The Imitation Game arrives on these shores with a growing reputation and its status as the festival's opener only heightens expectations further. It tells the story of mathematician genius, Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), who is hired by the British government to crack the coded messages that the German army were supplied with every morning. Turing assembles a team of brilliant cryptanalysts, including the dashing, debonair Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and the brilliant Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), however, none of his team are a match for his own intellectual capability and his abrasive manner and social awkwardness soon causes friction with the other members of his team. While they spend each day attempting to decipher the codes using comparatively simple code-breaking techniques, Turing spends months alone, building a mysterious machine that he insists will finally crack the code. As the war progresses and Turing appears no closer to his goal, he comes under increasing pressure from the government to produce results.

Despite being told before in 2001's Enigma, it's a gripping, involving story that absolutely needs to be told again. Cumberbatch delivers a wonderful performance as Turing, channeling his intelligence and fragility, while making his awkwardness feel entirely real, as opposed to just a series of tics and mannerisms. It's possible to argue that the film doesn't deal enough with Turing's sexuality, especially considering he was tragically prosecuted for being a homosexual, a series of events that culminated in his suicide. However, a film based on true events as remarkable and extensive as Turing's life and the events at Bletchley Park has to make judgement calls on what to omit, otherwise there'd be enough incident for three films.

Director, Morten Tyldum proved himself expert at telling a ripping yarn with sparky humour and pace in 2012's Headhunters, so it's no surprise he was chosen to helm here. Aside from Cumberbatch, the cast is uniformly impressive and the period recreation is detailed, if a little too polished at times. However, there's no denying that this is a classy British thriller that has the pedigree and quality to be a real contender come awards time. The coveted Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival is always a good indicator of a film's awards prospects, with three of the last six winners subsequently going on to pick up the Oscar for Best Picture and it may not be the favourite yet but with such a moving and stirring story, Cumberbatch in career best form, plus the backing of the Weinsteins, it's becoming a strong contender.

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The Mule is an Australian comedy-drama that has the kind of premise that will instantly hook those up for it and more than likely repulse everyone else. Kind-hearted Ray (Angus Sampson, who also co-directs), is persuaded to attend his Aussie Rules football team's end of season Thailand trip. While there he's coerced into swallowing 20 condoms filled with heroin to transport back to Australia. It's all going fine until Ray panics at the baggage carousel and is stopped by border control, who suspect him of carrying contraband substances inside his stomach. They're allowed to detain Ray for seven days, but after that he can walk free, so all Ray has to do is prevent the course of nature for one week. Remarkably, according to the opening title card, it's based on a true story.

It's co-written by and starring Leigh Whannell, who along with James Wan is the architect behind some of the most successful horror films of recent years, including Saw and Insidious, so that should give you an insight as to whether this film confronts its less savoury aspects head on. One scene in particular is one of the most disgusting things I've seen on screen for some time and it had the audience gasping with horror as it unfolded.

However, for the most part the scatological developments are handled relatively discreetly and the way the plot unfolds is funny and surprising. Sampson is engaging as the stricken Ray and Hugo Weaving is in scenery chewing form as the aggressive inspector Croft. It makes the most of its one big selling point and although it could have done with losing 20 minutes, it's a fun journey for those up for it.