Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Just in time for me to be appropriately irked by the inevitable Oscar snub on Sunday, I finally watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last night.  Reactions I’d encountered about the John Le Carré spy adaptation ranged from “film of the year!” to “the dullest two hours of my entire existence”, and thus I prepared myself for a singularly boring masterpiece – a little like those gruelling Andrei Tarkovsky films you’re supposed to like.

Ultimately, I found it somewhere in between – almost a masterpiece, but certainly not boring, and surprisingly thrilling.  As a depiction of the oft-misrepresented world of espionage, as a delicate snapshot of London in the seventies, and as an exercise in magisterial pace, I thought it was superb.

It seems some detractors have made the fatal error of confusing ‘boring’ with ‘slow’.  Many critics, most notably the Daily Mail’s Peter Hitchens (who spends an impressive 2,300 words fanboyishly whinging about how the film deviates from the book, having apparently never previously seen a film-to-book transfer that changed any minor details), lambasted the filmmakers for their unwillingness to make a more nakedly action-packed film.  “I cannot for the life of me work out why the director has removed all the drama,” the eminent film academic Hitchens moaned.  But surely: unhurried ≠ undramatic.

And that such a deep study of Englishness should come from Johnny Foreigner! Despite working on his first umlaut-free script, Swedish-born Tomas Alfredson has somehow crafted a film more British than any native has managed in years. Every inch of every frame oozes Britishness, presenting an England familiar even to those not around in the seventies.  It’s not the UK of floppy haired West London cads, Union Flags or Big Bens (although the famous clock tower does appear once, gingerly in the background); rather the country of drab, utilitarian colours, of round-faced, balding Oxbridge graduates, of a country facing an imminent winter of discontent.  The pessimistic palette of fabulously named cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema piles on the foreboding, summoning tension with the slightest of touches.

In Tinker Tailor…, less is undeniably more. Alfredson invites us to read between the lines, and like Nicolas Winding Refn in last year’s excellent Drive, expects the audience to derive their own interpretation from silences, pauses, and lulls.  The approach is even more apt here, the endless quietness befitting our notoriously inhibitive British reserve. When George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and Control (John Hurt) leave their offices at the opening of the film, forced into early retirement, they look at each other wearily, staring at one another with silent acknowledgement. Nothing and everything is said in moments like these.

And as everyone has correctly noted, Oldman is top notch.  I can’t think of a greater performance in a career already greedily stuffed with great ones.  He is beautifully pitched, his character a knot of morality and torment behind a mask of reticence (and a pair of moon-round plate-glass NHS-issue glasses).  Oldman is model of restraint – and this from the actor who, in the nineties, was typecast as Hollywood’s shouty bad guy? Thank God BAFTA saw sense to honour him. Plus, as fine an ensemble cast as you’ll ever see. Any half-decent British actor not in Tinker Tailor… ought to fire their agent.

John le Carré wrote George Smiley as the ‘anti-Bond’, aiming away from the alpha male fantasy and for a more realistic, bureaucratic spy, a muted hero, and Gary Oldman’s cinematic Smiley is certainly everything Roger Moore’s Bond isn’t. Here’s hoping new Bond director Sam Mendes has seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and will be taking a leaf out of its book – it’s proof, as stone-carved proof as ever there was, that gripping drama needn’t necessarily be formed of bloated, uninterrupted explosions but careful, deliberate nuance. More please.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: critic wordplay round-up

Great work guys! Extremely Clever and Incredibly Original! LOL! Take the rest of the day off!

(Previously in poorly-considered critical puns: The Hangover.)

Chris Brown, and other moral quandaries

When I was at Uni, one of my lecturers screened Triumph of the Will, a fantastic, rousing, thrilling nonfiction political film from 1934.  It was chockablock with artistic innovations, pioneered the use of long lenses and was, in several respects, a landmark in cinema – let down only by the minor snag that it was a propaganda film for the Nazi party.

Director Leni Riefenstahl puts you in a tricky ethical position as a viewer: on the one hand, you’re looking at some stirring, ambitious, visually delicious images, and on the other hand, NAZI NAZI DEFINITELY UNDENIABLY EVIL NAZI.  It is, to quote Moss from The I.T. Crowd, an ethical pickle.

Here’s another pickle: director Roman Polanski, acclaimed as much for cinematic masterpieces like Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as he is for raping a 13-year-old girl. You’d think that being arrested, charged and convicted for sexual abuse on a minor, not to mention a free admission of guilt from Polanski himself, would be career-ending – but Polanski continues to work to this day, the great and good of Hollywood lining up to work with him, albeit in countries where he can’t get extradited.

Hmmm.  So, the message seems to be: abhorrent, immoral criminality is fine, as long as you’re blessed by a higher power with the divine gift of talent. It certainly seemed that way last weekend, when pop nonsense maestro Chris Brown performed at the Grammys almost two years to the day after he gave then-girlfriend Rihanna a fairly senseless beating; a couple of years on, everyone seems fine with this now, and Brown merrily walked home with two Grammys.

Should we ostracise people like this from society?   Or should we exercise a bit of grace and forgiveness?  I can’t claim to know the answer to this. But seeing Mr Brown enjoying such a speedy return to the welcoming bosom of his industry does come across as an implicit tolerance of his crime, rather than forgiveness for it. If nothing else, it’s facilitating idiots like this who take to the internet defending their hero in the most tasteless manner possible. Because morons like his music, they’re happy to tweet stuff like the truly awful example below. A pretty pisspoor state of affairs, frankly, and enough to make you despair for our species.

Happily, unlike Polanski or Riefenstahl, Brown is no genius, so the moral dilemma is simplified.  I have no qualms in reporting that the man is diabolically untalented: his wretched brand of trance-pop-bollocks an ugly, facile shell of non-creativity. Shamelessly derivative, he’s everything that’s wrong with contemporary music, and by that token, the world. He is not even guilty of a “cool” crime, like drugs or vandalism! There is nothing good about this person. Even if you think he should exonerated for his transgressions, there can be no argument: the guy’s a douche. Sorry, Team Breezy, but like Gary Glitter’s “Gang” or the Nazi Party of Germany, your loosely-affiliated organisation is doomed to fail.

Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus

I don’t know about you, but when I see a DVD with the title Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus on sale for three quid at Fopp, I’d be letting everyone down if I didn’t buy it.  Witnessing this DVD for the first time was something of a religious epiphany.  It was like that scene from West Side Story when Tony and Maria meet for the first time and the world around them fades into the background, as the meaning and significance of life is suddenly revealed in its full, divine glory.

You know what you’re getting with a title like that. You’re going to get a fucking massive shark do battle with a fucking massive octopus.

Everything is laughable nonsense, obviously, and the first half hour provides gobsmackingly goodbad scenes, like this bonkers snippet. The Youtube uploader titled it ‘the greatest movie scene ever’, and I’m inclined to agree.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I16_8l0yS-g]


Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up the extraordinary superlative-laden premise.  A foible dogging many a B-movie before it, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus starts to take itself far too seriously towards the closing act, as improbably-named director Ace Hannah mistakenly believes he ought to shoehorn some half-baked plot points about the environment into his joke of a script, when really all we want to see is some rubbish CGI and bad acting.  It’s like the director of Mutant Laser Hedgehog vs Ill-Tempered Robot Giraffe claiming that the mutant laser hedgehog is a metaphor for the struggle of the Sudanese people, or something.

As a result, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus goes from being so-bad-it’s-good to so-bad-it’s-bad. A real shame.  Still, I remain hopeful for the actual sequel, Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus

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