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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
A European art-house film shoehorned into a British spy adaptation of a best-selling novel
Well...where to begin? I eagerly anticipated watching this film, having read the book and being old enough to remember the Alec Guinness portrayal of George Smiley on the BBC in the late 70s and having listened to John Le Carre (not his real name) being interviewed.
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. The plot is not really that complex, so no excuses for dragging it out unless you can hold the audience's attention: mine lapsed a number of times and I felt that all I was doing was making coffee and watching the DVD timecode. It felt like it was directed by the same man who made the third of the Swedish-made Dragon Tattoo films, which is a truly Scandinavian experience on the same proportions as watching a washing machine spin its cycle for 2 hours.
So - back to the story - there's a mole at the top and he needs to be rooted out. Only Smiley (a wonderful name for a non-smiler) can do the rooting, helped and hindered by HMG. Each of the 'middle-aged' characters (Firth, Oldman etc) codenamed Tinker, Tailor etc is as well- developed character-wise as the little paper headshots taped to their chess-pieces. Gary Oldman was just too enigmatic for me. I quite liked the way he moved so slowly, but then he seemed to be playing someone much older than himself, so it sort of worked.
John Hurt, as 'Control', plays himself very well. Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch seem like they're both itching for a bit more action, as if the director's holding them both back. I like Kathy Burke's fleeting role (basically one scene) but she, like Colin Firth, was grossly under-used.
Too much of this was filmed in isolation:two people talking. Then one staring. Then two talking. I feel that a more unified approach to the story and the film-makers would have been beneficial. I did, regrettably, feel that the real story was going on somewhere else.
So: it's probably worth a watch, but only if you prepare yourself. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Panic Button (2011)
High concept attempt which just about makes it to the finish line
As other reviewers have said this is low budget British horror with not a big name in sight. It's Social Network meets Saw on a private jet and most of the action (maybe 85 out of 92 minutes) happens in what is a claustrophobic and slightly greenish (?) space. But I take my hat off to the film-makers for going for a high concept piece. I enjoyed the final twist and found the characters right at the end immensely creepy. It did set my mind racing...I don't think the production values were that bad. Yes, the camera is clearly Hal 9000, but then I wonder if that doesn't say more about who put it there than anything else. I was waiting for one of the characters to make a reference to the Hal 9000 likeness, and to snigger more and make a joke of 'Dave'...but then...
I think there's been a lot of over-positive reviews which is perhaps a tad suspicious from people who've only ever reviewed one film ie this one, and then a few really quite nasty ones. I think the truth lies somewhere in between. For something low budget this is fine: I think it'll gain traction when it hits the £3 DVD barrier.
I like Brit horror and this is OK. 6 or 7 out of 10.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
The grass is always greener
One of Woody Allen's best.
An ostensibly simple tale of an engaged American couple (Owen Wilson and Rachel McMadams) holidaying in Paris with her parents. Of course, they are unsuited. Of course, Wilson's character is a writer. He would like nothing better than to retreat into another world, another time, and maybe to live in Paris. Cinderella-like, at the stroke of twelve each night he finds what he is looking for in an imaginative, Spielberg-esque way.
This is a clever allegory into the essence of dissatisfaction, and Allen does not hesitate to name-drop (and character-drop) in the most delightful way throughout the film.
Michael Sheen is good as the professor you love to hate, the know-it-all to whom Owen's fiancée appears very much in thrall.
One of Owen Wilson's best performances in any film, this shows his softer more human side. And watch out for a superb cameo appearance by Adrien Brody...the word 'rhinoceros' will never sound the same ever again.
Simply outstanding. I didn't actually want the film to end.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Nice concept, lovely cast, slight problem with the screenplay and execution
I really wanted to like this because Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are two of my favorite actors and get a dream of a story based on a short essay by Philip K Dick (he of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' fame i.e. what turned into Blade Runner). Matt plays David Norris, a young congressman vying for the senate who keeps bumping into a girl (Elise = Emily) who he then manages to lose. Is it coincidence? Is it all meant to be? Are there darker forces at work? Is there a God? Is fate preordained? The film and script ask us all of these questions and then more.
I found that the world which David and Emily inhabit is full of seemingly arbitrary rules, that the story was driven by forced coincidences which could not be explained away as semi-ironic, and which sometimes felt more like script conveniences than story, more plot-devices than plot.
I found the denouement predictable and was waiting for the last half-hour of the film for Messrs Damon and Blunt to hurry up and get on with it as it was so clunky and PREDICTABLE(ironic given the story-line). Yes I've used the word 'predictable' twice. With good reason.
There are many, and I mean many, things, props, tricks, flips etc that you will have seen before and that do appear, again, in this film. I do not want to give any spoilers, so you'll just have to watch the film and spot them all for yourself. This is billed as 'Bourne meets Inception' and I think it's MUCH more like Inception than a Bourne film.
I did find the David Norris congressman/senator thing reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate but without the strength of purpose that that latter film has and in fact, in Adjustment, it was a bit half-hearted and almost all of the subsidiary characters were very poorly fleshed-out with no characterization or arcs at all.
Finally, the end message that this film delivers is extremely naive and slightly disappointing. I can see exactly what the filmmakers were trying to do but the problem is they've taken a solid PKD short, conceived a film but then effectively spoiled it a little by not spending enough time on developing the story into a fully-fledged all-singing all-dancing screenplay.
Perhaps not enough controls were placed on the writer/director: however, I suspect that this script has been rewritten by a number of people, as certain things appear to be inserted as if part of a scientific exercise than as a fluid story, a sort of 'well, the way we managed to do that is...', continually playing the get out of jail free card.
And this, I think, is the problem with the film. Despite the likability of the leads, you just don't feel for them. When they cry, you don't know or even care if it's real or not. They're cardboard cut-outs, doing their best, manipulated by PKD and the writer/director. You never feel like they're in danger. The film's only a 12 too which I think, for this 'darkness' of story, is simply not right.
This should have been beefed up, the ante been raised and the MPAA/BBFC certificates upped to R and 15 respectively with some hard-hitting, juicy content which unfortunately this film shies away from at every opportunity.
That said, it's still worth a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 because it IS fun: the problem is I also think it was, with that cast and that budget (USD51m), a wasted opportunity.
I can't believe they didn't see that coming ;-)
The Social Network (2010)
The 452nd review of a film about someone who now has a piece of all of us
Difficult to add to everything that's been written so I'll attack this obliquely: Aaron Sorkin's script drives the actors and the story and it's a very well-written script. I've read it and it does have a sense or urgency and discovery straight off the page which translates very well into a fascinating and hyper-realistic version of the truth.
If you didn't already know, the film charts the rise of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and his journey from dorm geek to billionaire and the subject of countless law suits.
If you are one of the few people who do not use Facebook then this film will have less of an impact on you, that's for sure, but I think that the inter-relationship between Zuckerberg, his initial partner Edouardo Saverin and their nemeses 'The Winklevi' is fascinating.
My favorite parts of the movie are where people wrongly under-estimate Zuckerberg and he surprises them, closely followed by the Winklevi trip to Larry Summers' office which doesn't end quite as they expected.
9 out of 10.
Cemetery Junction (2010)
Great British comedy, great British cast
I love British films and this one is a gem of a study in small-town 1970s industrial Britain, replete with machine-tool workers, young men whose idea of a good Saturday night is fighting and a bigoted older generation who fought in the War and are hard-sold life insurance by sleazy hypocrites led by an outstanding Ralph Fiennes who puts in an understated and chillingly realistic performance as the life assurance boss who 'has it all' - the Roller, the Mansion, the obedient wife and the pretty daughter.
Ricky Gervaise and Stephen Merchant write/direct but wisely stay out of the main elements of the story, Merchant relegating himself to one small scene, Gervaise to a bit part as the typical 1970s factory worker living with his warped racist mum. The main plot focuses on four young people, 3 men, one woman, who are all dissatisfied with their lot, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. They all want to leave, and the story is about which of them, if any, will manage to do so.
The film manages to avoid the Oz-like dictum that 'there's no place like home' by convincing us that convention is there to be broken, dreams to be fulfilled and life to be lived.
A clever, extremely-well-written piece that should have done far better than it did. I don't believe this had a theatrical release in the US, but it certainly deserves one. Obviously, with its British sensibilities, this did pretty well in the UK. Very much worth watching in any country though.
9 out of 10
Hit City boys: hug Irish Travellers
Living in the City with money at your fingertips doesn't necessarily make you a nice person: take the example of Andy Baxtor (played by Tom Geoffrey), who decides, when on a weekend romp with 3 buddies, to deface someone's home, in this case a grimy caravan owned by Irish travellers. The joke's on Andy and his friends when four grim-looking figures slowly appear over the horizon, ready to wreak vengeance. The bleakest of them is a lantern-jawed bruiser with a limp, a bare-knuckle champion (Martin - played very well by Dean S Jagger) who decides that retribution needs to be wreaked in the ring.
The film's main highlights are the set-piece scenes, particularly the bare-knuckle-sequences that also serve the added function of giving us nice music to listen to. The music, for this (low) budget level of film is pretty good.
The message of the film is mixed, but it certainly pushes its point home in the last act where the violence lives up to the film's 18 certificate.
Definitely not one to watch with your mum.