12 Years A Slave

The Oscar nominations were recently announced and, as usual, I’ve seen precious few of the films that were mentioned. As in, of the nine Best Picture nominees, at the time of nomination I had only seen two (American Hustle and Gravity, neither of whom I’m particularly fussed about winning). Well, now I’ve seen four, as I saw Wolf of Wall Street recently too (potential review pending). And, not to put too big a spoiler on my opinions of this film, but as far as I’m concerned those other five pictures I’ve still yet to see will need to be pretty damn phenomenal if they’ve got a chance of beating 12 Years A Slave.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Continue reading

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Star Trek Into Darkness

Previously on Star Trek… James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) was born during an attack upon the spaceship his father, Thor, was briefly captaining. His Dad gave his life so James and his mother (House‘s Jennifer Morrison) could survive. James grew up to be a reckless, rebellious dropout with a way for the ladies but not much else going for him, until a bar fight saw him catch the eye of Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), a Starfleet captain, who recommended Kirk sign up. Kirk does so, and eventually ends up captaining Pike’s ship, the Starship Enterprise, along the way compiling a trusty crew including emotionless half Vulcan Spock (Zachary Qunito), frenetic engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), ship’s doctor Bones (Karl Urban), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), helmsman Sulu (John Cho) and navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin).

movies_startrekintodarkness1Now, Kirk is still captaining the Enterprise and investigating other planet’s life forms. On a routine reconnaissance mission to observe the primitive planet of Nibiru, things do not necessarily go to plan when an active volcano threatens to wipe out the indigenous species. Kirk’s solution to the predicament is frowned upon back at Starfleet, and his ship is taken away from him and returned to its former captain, Pike. Meanwhile, a former member of Starfleet, the necessarily tediously named John Harrison (played by the incredibly un-tediously named Benedict Cumberbatch), begins to wage a one-man war against Starfleet, beginning by blowing up a data archive. Kirk takes it upon himself to, along with the rest of his crew, track Harrison down and bring him to justice. Continue reading

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Seeing as the cover of the next edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has been announced (the book is due to be released next month), I thought it’d be a good time to review the film on said cover, as it’s a certainty to become a member of the hallowed list in the imminent future. So, without further ado, I present Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film that I was very surprised to see on the cover, as personally I don’t think I’d have included it in the book at all, giving the cover space instead to probably The Artist, even if the Tinker Tailor poster is better.


It’s only fitting that such a muddled up film should have a relatively incoherent review, so I’m going to jump in randomly and start with the cast. It’s pretty goddamn incredible that such a stellar cast, comprising of some of the best British actors from varying generations working today, could be assembled for one film. You’ve got the likes of John Hurt amongst the more senior players, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciarin Hinds and Kathy Burke as the seasoned actors as well as up-and-comers like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, not to mention bit roles for Stephen Graham, Roger Lloyd-Pack and Christian McKay. And, of course, Gary Oldman. It just goes to show the strength of the source material that such a great cast, and director Tomas Alfredson, straight from his similarly bravura Let The Right One In, would flock to it. Even Colin Firth was willing to take what is essentially a tangential role after just having won a Best Acting Oscar for The King’s Speech.

It takes a brilliant actor to not only attempt to replace the likes of Alec Guinness, James Mason and Dunholm Elliot – all of whom have played the character of George Smiley before – but to in fact outshine them as arguably the definitive screen version of Smiley. Oldman is magnificent in a pared down, stripped back performance almost entirely devoid of movement, yet the cogs behind his eyes are just about audibly whirring away as he sits and watched, drinking everything in and analysing the situation. Smiley rarely utters a word or makes an extraneous movement – his first utterance is a good 16 minutes in, after having appeared in several scenes already. He shines even beneath the massive glasses and dour overcoat that would envelop a lesser actor.

Remarkably, Tinker Tailor marks Oldman’s first ever Oscar nomination, for Best Actor, naturally, which he justifiably lost to Jean Dujardin for the aforementioned The Artist, but I believe Oldman came a close second. I myself was shocked to find he’s never even be nominated, but when you look back through his body of work there aren’t many roles that you could argue he should have been awarded for. Perhaps Sid and Nancy, but that wasn’t terribly well received I think, and doesn’t really fit in with the kinds of films that the Oscar board tend to take notice of, and in everything else he’s either been the bad guy – rarely awarded by the academy (at least until The Dark Knight) – or performs well in a small role, lost amongst an ensemble cast of similar abilities to himself – see True Romance, Harry Potter and Batman. You’ve also got to take into account some of the more questionable roles in his career – playing a dwarf in Tiptoes anyone? So it’s nice to think that, with so many outlandish, extravagant roles under his belt – The Fifth Element, Leon – it is Oldman’s most quiet, restrained and subdued performance that earned him the Oscar nod.

 I’m not even going to try and explain the plot of this film as, after having watched it and read John Le Carre’s book upon which it is rigidly based I could still only pin point the major issues. Basically, Smiley has been brought back into The Circus – the nickname for the British Intelligence – to try and find a mole from within a small group of higher ups – a group that used to contain him. His boss is/was John Hurt’s Control, and the suspects are the shifty Toby Estergase (David Dencik, a Swedish actor I’ve not come across before, but who played different roles in the two versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and is suitably engaging here), the suave, womanising Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), “poison dwarf” head honcho Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) and his right-hand man Roy Bland (Ciarin Hinds). We are also shown, in parallel, the story of field agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong, in a rare and disorientating non-bad-guy role), whose shooting on assignment may have caused the suspicion back at headquarters. Assisting Smiley is Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), a trustworthy up-and-comer with a way with the ladies, and Tom Hardy plays Ricki Tarr, the unreliable young firebrand whom Smiley introduced to the industry, and who may hold the key to the mystery.

Everyone is perfectly cast, and there isn’t a weak link amongst them. Similarly, the mood of the film is spot-on, and there is never so much as a red or a green on screen at any point, everything is in varying shades of grey, brown and taupe, from the sky to the clothes, the walls to the cars. The entire thing may as well have been shot in sepia, as it’s apparently been set in a time before colour was invented. The many conversations throughout mostly take places in dusty, dingy rooms yellowing with tobacco. It’s unusual for a film that some of the flashback sequences are actually more vibrant and brightly lit than those set in the film’s present, which could be read as an indication that perhaps those sunnier days were better for everyone involved, with less conspiracies and deception. Or at least, less in the current direction.

So, why did I have such a problem with this film? Well, mainly it’s because it’s so damn confusing. I understand that that’s entirely the point, and that some elements of the plot – when which bits are set in relation to others – are only roughly clarified towards the end to aide this sense of confuddlement, but even having read the book I still couldn’t tell what everyone was doing and why. This could also be because I didn’t really care. None of the characters are particularly likable, with the possible exception of Guillam and Prideaux at times, and even knowing who the final reveals didn’t help me very much. That’s something to praise, I suppose, that knowing the ending doesn’t lessen my appreciation for the film, but that’s a little bit of damning with faint praise if you ask me.

The most fun thing I found about this film is playing ‘Spot the Harry Potter Actor’ during it (Can anyone beat my six?). Though the performances are all impeccable and the atmosphere is both what was aimed for and what it should be, I cannot recommend this film on the basis that I didn’t enjoy it, and I’m still not sure what it was about – yet I don’t really mind.

Choose life 8/10

Atonement

Based on the book of the same name that swept the country a few years ago, Atonement tells the story of Briony in three stages of her life, as a young writer in her parents stately manor in the early 30s (Saoirse Ronan), training to become a nurse during World War 2 (Romola Garai) and much later, releasing a book on the subject as an old woman (Vanessa Redgrave), cut the story she tells is not only her own, but that of Cecilia and Robbie (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy), her older sister and their gardener.

A childhood misunderstanding of several events lad Briony to make a rash decision she would live to deeply regret, for its consequences had the very real possibility of being incredibly dire. Whilst beautifully shot in every scene, most notably the standout 5 minute continuous steadicam sequence as three soldiers (including Ashes to Ashes’ Daniel Mays) discover a war ravaged beach complete with hundreds of extras, horses and a funfair making the film worthwhile on its own, the film does not quite have the right mix of war and romance to attract both genders, focussing more on the females than males, yet there is still plenty to keep all engaged, and at times agog.
Choose film 7/10

War Horse

Went to see War Horse last night, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting that much, a kind of Au Hasard Balthazar combined with a WWI Band of Brothers, following the exploits of a boy and his horse as they navigate the major events of the first world war trying to find one another. But what I found was an uplifting, beautifully shot old fashioned film that was far more entertaining than I could have hoped.
Though at times the plot gave way for nosebags of sentimentality (this is a Spielberg film, after all), and few of the characters are onscreen enough to leave a resounding impression, though their parts of the story are some of the most touching (hello, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell and Eddie Marsan) every second of footage used is shot so perfectly, by Spielberg’s regular director of photography Janusz Kamisnki, who will surely receive an Oscar nod, if not a statue. The most beautiful moments are those in a far from beautiful setting, with Joey, the horse, jumping over and through trenches on No Man’s Land, only to be ensnared in barbed wire, or a sunset-backlit ride up a distant hill, and the sheer scale of some scenes, with hundreds of extras running from trenches or preparing for war. John Williams’ sweeping score is good but forgettable, and this is hardly one of Spielberg’s best (it isn’t quite the Saving Private Equine I was hoping for), with perhaps not quite enough time focussed on those fighting the war (it’s a good 45 minutes or so before the horse and boy, played by OK newcomer Jeremy Irvine, are separated), this is still a very entertaining watch. I think it’s better if you don’t really care about horses, as I enjoyed it immensely, but my horse-obsessed girlfriend spent at least a quarter of the two and a half hour run time watching through her fingers, so desperate was she not to see anything bad happen to a horse. It’s also remarkable that they made a film whose central character is a horse, yet at no point did I think it would be better if the horse could talk, or had an internal dialogue, even when he makes friends with another horse.
Choose film 7/10