A handful of old movie reviews from 2010/11

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

On Friday afternoon I went to the cinema by myself for the first ever time, and I sat in front of the screen with roughly twenty other moviegoers to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the day it opened. I didn’t need company, for I was totally engrossed for a full 127 minutes by this wonderful film.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, all I will say is that it’s set during the cold war, and after Control’s death, George Smiley – former Secret Intelligence Service spymaster is brought out of forced retirement to run a clandestine mission to seek out a Soviet mole in the heart of the upper echelons of the ‘Circus’. The look of the film is pitch perfect. Being set during the early 1970s, the backgrounds are full of that particularly nasty brown that hides the cigarette fug, and outside everything is grey in the shadowy twilight world of the spooks. This film is a thinking person’s spy movie. Although there are moments of action, most of it is conversation, observation and contemplation.  Indeed George Smiley, although often in shot, doesn’t speak for around the first fifteen minutes. Instead he quietly watches and absorbs.

Gary Oldman has, for me, made George Smiley his own.  I hadn’t thought anyone could surpass Alec Guinness in the classic BBC adaptation, but his Smiley is a masterclass in stillness, making every little glance and every word count.  You sense that he is seething underneath though he’s that intense, yet he hides his emotions so well – Guinness appears an empty shell in comparison.

Oldman has a wonderful supporting cast with John Hurt as Control, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley’s wingman Peter Guillam, Mark Strong (who can do no wrong) as the wronged agent Jim Prideaux, and a cameo from Kathy Burke as dear old Connie, plus the quartet of other suspects … Told partly in flashback, there are some wonderful scenes – particularly of the office Christmas party at the Circus where all they all sing the Russian national anthem! However, this is given a sad edge by Smiley seeing his wife in a fumble with another man.  In the TV series, we got to see both Smiley’s wife Anne, and his Russian opponent Karla, although Karla never spoke.  In the film, we never fully see Anne, and Smiley recounts the tale of how he met Karla to Guillam in one memorable scene where he almost lets himself go.

Directed by Swede Tomas Alfredson  of the wonderful vampire film Let the Right One in, (see further down this page) the film has a similar feel of light and dark; the dark being claustrophobic yet having time to let things play out fully.  The screenplay successfully distils the essence of the novel brilliantly, without leaving any big plot holes or losing key characters.I would have been happy to immediately watch this film again it was that good, and Oldman is a revelation as Smiley where less is more.  I can’t wait for the Blu-ray and must re-read the book! (10/10)

Shrek Forever After

I went to see the ‘final’ Shrek movie – Shrek Forever After.

In the scheme of things, I would order the films 2, 1, 4, 3 in decreasing quality, so this one wasn’t the worst, but the series has slightly run out of steam, and Donkey is still the most annoying sidekick since Jar Jar Binks.

However, we still enjoyed it hugely, and were overjoyed that Puss got all the best lines.  This chapter was still full of references and in-jokes to other movies. My favourite on first viewing was a wonderful moment where Fiona in ogre mode, as an outlaw warrior princess stands in her tartan kilt, with hair blowing, posed just like Chris Lambert in Highlander (remember that – where is he now? I wonder).

Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang

When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.

Nanny McPhee (“small c, big P”) again comes to the aid of a family who can’t cope.  This time the action is updated to during World War II. The setting is a small farm where Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is struggling to make ends meet while her husband is away fighting. Her three children are boisterous but look after the farm while she helps out in the village shop run by Mrs Docherty (Maggie Smith).  Then everything is turned on its head when the rich city cousins are due to come and stay. They arrive a day early to discover a farm yard covered in poo, of all varieties, and all hell breaks loose between town and country. Enter Nanny McPhee to start sorting it out with her five lessons, telling Mrs Green that the Army sent her. Meanwhile, Isabel’s shifty brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) is in big trouble and is trying to persuade her to sell her half of the farm…

I won’t tell you any more of the story, but if you’ve seen the first film you’ll expect some animal antics – this time involving gorgeous little piglets, a baby elephant, and a crow. There is less out and out slapstick in this film, but there are plenty of brilliant funny moments, some great cameos from Bill Bailey, Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor, plus Sam Kelly as a sort of combination of ARP Warden Hodges and Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army.

Emma Thompson wrote the script and co-produced alongside her acting duties, and she obviously loves the character. She is also not afraid to tug at your heartstrings – there were several times where I was tempted to bawl like a babe (in both sorrow and happiness). The shadow of war hangs over the film and gives it both gravitas and an excuse for some silliness; the big bang of the title referring to bombs.

My daughter and I both enjoyed it hugely; she particularly liked the animals, I liked the spivvy Ifans and put-upon Maggie G. Highly recommended for all ages – if you need a excuse to go and see it at the cinema, borrow a niece or nephew, but don’t forget a hanky!

…and on DVD

Up In The Air

Starring my favourite, George Clooney. This is a comedy drama based in the corporate world, in which Ryan Bingham is the Personnel man-for-hire that will let people go for you – why should bosses have to do their own dirty work! Bingham essentially lives out of a suitcase, flying from city to city, hotel to hotel, company to company, with his brochures and speeches letting people down gently – it’s an opportunity to do what you really want to do after all; he’s an motivational expert. During his travelling he crosses paths with Alex, a businesswoman, and they get together whenever they can.

When his boss hires a sparky young business graduate who wows him with the idea of doing the firings remotely – George’s job is under threat, and he takes Natalie out on the road to prove to her that the personal touch makes a difference. Meanwhile, Mr No longterm-relationships is also beginning to fall for Alex, and when family life intrudes, he takes her to his little sister’s wedding as his date…

The first half of the film is light and fun, with plenty of good laughs. Anyone who has ever travelled on business will envy Ryan his frequent-flyer perks, but be thankful that they (hopefully) have more to come home to than the souless studio apartment that’s Ryan’s base. When Ryan is forced to realise that there is more to life than the job, the film takes a much darker tone, and we end up rather pitying him.  I won’t give away any more of the plot!

This is a thoughtful film, which doubtless some in the business world will wince through.  The acting from Clooney, Vera Famiga and Anna Kendricks as Alex and Natalie was excellent and I thoroughly recommend it.

Let The Right One In (subtitled)

I reviewed the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist here  last year during my season of vampire reading finding it a serious contemporary addition to the vampire oevre, (does that sound pompous? – apologies if it does!). I finally got around to watching the Swedish film, adapted by the author, and was equally impressed – it will become an arthouse classic.

The two young leads were utterly convincing as the bullied schoolboy and forever twelve-year old vampire, and it was almost exactly as I’d imagined it – totally atmospheric. Being visually-driven, the sub-titles were nearly superfluous, and it was very true to the book, although pared-down. For a (15) film, it can still shock, but you mostly see the after effects rather than having to read through the violence! Totally gripping.


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