TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

June 20, 2012

2011

DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson

May Contain Spoilers!

I don’t really know what the initial appeal of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy was, besides what was clearly going to be another one of Gary Oldman’s great performances. But this was clearly a film which was outside my comfort zone. A dark, dingy look at the world of Cold War intelligence agencies in the early 1970’s. I’ve wanted to see a film represent spies in a more grounded way without flashy technology, gadgets and action set pieces, and this certainly met that criteria, with seemingly real people doing a very real and down to earth job.

No James Bond, no glamour just a dark underworld of mistrust, lies, loyalty and disloyalty. It felt real and the tone was ever more so, but whilst the aesthetic was wonderful and possibly the most perfectly pitched tone that I’ve ever seen in this genre, even down to the community centre hall look of the Christmas party, which was as much an authentic works do as I”ve ever seen on film.

But this wasn’t just down to the expert production design, this was a cast lead project, lead by an immense ensemble lead by Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, to just name a few. The story is simple in the sense that it is structured around George Smiley’s (Oldman) mole hunt so in the end, it’s a who dunnit, and even though I felt I knew who it probably was all the way through, the reveal was left as something of an anti-climax, as if it didn’t really matter.

The main reason for that is that it’s not really about a mole hunt, nor the Cold War. This is about the sub-strata of which these men live a work, a world moving on from real wars, such as World War 2 and has ended up engulfed in an almost nondescript Cold War, a war of games and distrust, and one perfect for espionage and spies, rather than soldiers. Does this war spill over and corrupt the very institutions which are placed to fight it?

My only real issues with this film were the fact that this isn’t the sort of film that would thrill me, and that the aesthetic threatened to overwhelm the plot which to me, was bore out by my lack of interest in who the mole actually was, yet I was much more drawn into the details and machination of the plot. It looks fantastic, due to the cinematography, direction and in no small part to acting talents of Gary Oldman and absolutely EVERY member of the cast, with not a single week link. This is possibly the best ensemble piece that I’ve seen to date.

This was a throw back to the spy thrillers of the 70’s yet being so with these heavyweight elements and a true sense of the time without feeling forced or cliché’s in the same way as L.A. Confidential’s 1950’s setting did back in 1997.

Recommended but don’t expect thrills, or even that much intrigue. This is a human drama if ever there was one.


SWORDFISH

June 18, 2012

2001

DIRECTOR: Dominic Sena

May Contain Spoilers!

This is a film whose major accolades include the fact that Halle Berry got her boobs out for the first time. Does this sum up this film? To an extent, yes it does.

But it’s better than that. It’s defiantly the first major film to use The Matrix style camera work as so excellently demonstrated in its opening sequence, but that’s about the best of it. Hell, even the poster has a Matrix esthetic about it! The plotting is ridiculous but sharply executed, along with hammy but fun performances from a cast that can do a lot better. But if it’s just entertainment you want, then look no further.

The pacing is fast, the plotting is ludicrous and John Travolta is defiantly on form as the terrorist/patriot. But when you’ve got a scene where Hugh Jackman, a top-notch programmer, is forced to crack the Defence mainframe in 60 seconds whilst receiving a blow job, you kind of find yourself thinking back or forward, since it was made later, to 2004’s Team America: World Police!

And then there’s the scene with Halle Berry standing around gratuitously in her underwear pointing her gun at Hugh, who seems to be thinking that this all quite normal! Oh, and his ex-wife is a porn star who is married to a porn director… need I go on?

The films heart is clear. Crass, cynical and vulgar, from the in your face acting, to the odd music by Christopher Young and Mike Oakenfield?, the obvious and fanatical belief that sex sells. Well, it does, but you need to decide whether you’re making a soft porn film or a mainstream thriller. At least Team America knew that it was comedy.

But having said all that, I like this film. It’s a truly enjoyable romp, dated and reminiscent of a late 1980’s actioner, but made at time when cinema was  moving in a slightly different direction. Recommended for Saturday night viewing ONLY!


THE FOUR FEATHERS (2002)

June 18, 2012

2002

DIRECTOR: Shekhar Kapur

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection?  NO

I first saw this sweeping epic adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel of the same name back in 2004, and was expecting something modern and yet classical. What I saw and didn’t like much was an old school film done in an old school manner. But on reflection and second viewing, there is more to look at here but not necessarily much  more to enjoy.

The tone is dingey, whether it be the rain-sodden Britain or the dirty and horrendous looking Sudan, which is only saved by the obligatory wide shots of the rolling desert dunes. The idea seems to be to add some level of realism to proceedings, in a similar manner as when he made El1zabeth in 1998, but we just end up with a dour looking epic, swamped by depressing imagery and feeling.

The story, or at least this version of it, it simple and under cooked I think, with little but a contrived and skeletal plot, offering no significant insight into the times or the characters and the tone leaves the actors with no real room to act outside the depressing boundaries that have already being laid before them.

The casting was also at fault here, not least that of Kate Hudson, who besides being able to put on an overbearing British accent, is nothing more than a caricature of an English lady of the times. The ending is also a little confusing but seems to be wrapped up neatly whilst leaving several questions unanswered, but quiet frankly, nobody really cares by that point.

It is sweeping at time and some of the cinematography is stunning, though slow-motion is ridiculously overused, whilst the rest of the film feels derivative, predictable and laboured, but there are worse films out there and this will pass the time quite adequately.


THE KRAYS

June 18, 2012

1990

DIRECTOR: Peter Medak

May Contain Spoilers!

This brutal portrayal of the infamous Kray twins who operated their gang of organised criminals in the east-end of London during the 50’s and 60’s, does leave something to be desired. Focusing not on the biographical rise and fall of these two gangsters, but instead looking in to the psyche of them and those around them.

The portrayal of gritty post war London, along with a refreshingly female-centric tone, in which The Krays and even their fellow gangsters, have an at times unhealthy respect for the women in their neighbourhoods, whilst others suffer at the hands of their men.

Scenes of Mrs Kray bringing her sons tea and biscuits as they hold top-level meetings up stairs sums up the relationships, as do anecdotes of what women had to suffer during the war years. My only real grip would be a lack of insight into the rise and fall of the brothers, with little in the way explanation as to how these two became gangsters.

The other issues are that there was little exploration of their other brother but it’s the casting of Martin and Gary Kemp as The Krays. I didn’t think that it worked too well. It was okay, with Gary standing out as the more unstable brother, but overall, and even though their was a lot of time given to the fact that these twins had a fascinating way of thinking as a one, and the dark, evil eyes, they seemed to be providing somewhat wooden performances.

Overall though, the tone was good, gritty and insightful which for a gangster film, sets it apart from many others, but I would liked to have seem more of their rise and how they operated, but was left asking too many questions. This is a biopic for those who already know something about the subject and I don’t know much about The Krays at all, besides their names…


AIRPORT 1975

June 14, 2012

1974

DIRECTOR: Jack Smight

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

Airport ’75 was the second in a franchise of four disaster movies which began back in 1969 with the film, Airport. But that original was more soap opera than disaster flick and this film, whilst sticking to a similar theme, was more intent of getting down to the action.

This is the film which sets the tone for the 1980 spoof, Airplane probably more than any of the others, but even though it’s hard to take some scenes lifted by Airplane anywhere near as seriously as you should, the entire sequence with Linda Blair flying for her kidney transplant for example, it’s still solid enough.

The accident of the film in which a small plane collides with a Boeing 747, leaving “the stewardess to fly the plane” , does take it’s time coming,  by todays standards this offers little in the way of action and is easily resolved but as a thriller, it is certainly good enough. But what we miss in action is more than made up for in some stunning aerial photography and it’s fair to note that today, this would all be done by CGI, so hats of to them for actually flying a Boeing 747 and not resorting to ropey models or back projection.

But obviously, this was far from perfect and some of the effects are laughable as is the acting in parts, but as 70’s disaster films go, this is one of the good ones, not the best but entertaining and enthralling enough none the less.


THE INCREDIBLE HULK

June 13, 2012

2008

DIRECTOR: Louis Leterrier

May Contain Spoilers!

Louis Leterrier should be stopped from making films! After this, he would go on to make the medeocre Clash Of The Titans and is probably more famous for his Transporter films, 1 and 2 anyway. But this was one of the first wave of Marvel films which were in the vein to set up The Avengers (Avengers Assemble) mash up, which finally greeted its adoring public earlier this year.

The other film from that year was Iron Man which was defiantly the better of the two. Maybe if I haddn’t have seen Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, and being one of the few voices of support for his Art House take, then maybe, just maybe, I would have liked this verson more. Edward Norton and Liv Tyler were fine in their respective roles of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross but William Hurt as General Ross was just too over the top for me.

There was just no sublty in the film at all, though there were moments with imotated it. The plot was simple and was deliberatly as far away from the charcater driven story of Hulk and much more about the super hero that we all know. But a the Hulk looked rubbish, also a critism leveyed against the first film’s effects but at least with Lee’s interpretation of the Hulk as pure rage, the effects worked well, but here, he’s just a green giant and seemingly had no character at all.

This is just a simpley directed and safe version of a franchise which was undoubtedly damaged by Ang Lee, who tried to blend style and Art House melodrama to the Hulk, in a way that Chrostopher Nolan would achive better two years later with Batman Begins. But The Incredible Hulk is just that, the straight to celoloid transfer of the comic book character to the big screen, with no ambition to adapt him to the medium of film.

But since this was one of a string of films which only exist to promote The Avengers, it was probably a good move to sell out on individual quality in favour of the gross profit of creating hype for the culmintion of The Avengers project. For more on synical Marvel films, see Iron Man 2, and Thor. (Not seen Captain America: The First Avenger yet so no comment)


TITANIC (aka NAZI TITANIC) 350th REVIEW!

June 10, 2012

1943

DIRECTORS: Herbert Selpin & Werner Klingler

350th REVIEW!

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

Had anybody ever heard of this 1943 version of Titanic? Well, I certainly hadn’t until it featured on a recent documentary but here it is, the lost, banned German propaganda film in which history has again been bent around this historic maritime disaster. Normally, the focus is against the British class system of the day, where first class passengers had a massive and unfair advantage of over the second and the third or steerage classes on board the vessel but trust the Nazi’s to pull this out of the bag in the midst of the Second World War.

In short, the Titanic is used as a vulgar example of all that it is to be British and Jews are obviously portrayed as the villains, money grabbers using the ship’s success’ and failures to their own advantages. In this version, Bruce Ismay, is a Jew very much in the vision of Nazi propaganda of the day, whether he was Jewish I admit I don’t know, is the star of the show. His greed effectively sinks the ship and the introduction of a German first officer, who is of course heroic to last, gives the German public what they want, as this man must rail against Jewish greed and British bigotry against the working man etc… And for its faults, we must not forget that Joe German of the day was of course a Socialist.

Obviously, this is laughable but then I got thinking that every version of the Titanic story is a propaganda piece in one way or another. Even A Night To Remember which I count as the best version to date, is very much in favour of the British, even though it does a great job of addressing the inequality on board and Cameron’s 1998 Titanic which is a close second, plays the violins for the free-spirited in the a of constraints and divisive social rules.

Is this Nazi propaganda much different? Well, yes it is and even though it’s funny to see a 48 piece orchestra playing the part of the 5 piece band that played on in an attempt to show the vulgarity of Germany’s enemy (Britain), this film is nasty in its tone and is not art for art’s sake; it’s not even a cynical money-maker. This film’s true heart was to help turn the German people against Jews and Allied Forces with the result of prolonging the war and costing thousands of lives. This is true propaganda at its worst and though it’s and interesting piece of history and I would recommend it be seen as a curio, as it is NOT a film in the purest sense.

Like all propaganda films made by ALL countries, they are marketing tools and should be dismissed as such. So, is this any good? Well, as a film about the Titanic, its pretty naff as it’s so inaccurate it’s literally unreal, but as a propaganda film using the Titanic as it’s foundations, it pretty good. It’s cleverly written and executed and right or wrong, I found it to be enjoyable, especially for a subtitled German film…

For more reviews visit my film blog, nEoFILM


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