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The Naked Runner (1967)
The point is...
I don't mind slow spy films, even confusing ones. But the problem with this one is that there's no twist at the end. We know what they were trying to get Laker to do... and he did it. Gosh.
I can't make up my ind whether that's a spoiler or not!
The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
Classic modern Le Carre
Has anyone mentioned the stunning visual aspect of this picture? Every scene carefully and beautifully put together. Look at the colors, how the clothes and decor meld in with each other. It could well win an award for that and I hope it does.
Let's get the negative stuff out the way first. Michael Shannon's make-up and Charles Dance's cynical security man are a bit overdone. Also too much lingering on the nudity and sex scenes. Some is fine but I felt it lingered too long and was in danger of becoming gratuitous.
But apart from that -
The others have said it. Classic Le Carre, very faithful to the book, slow burn (spying is waiting), and ultimately a love story. More likely to attract an older audience, it has to be said.
Didn't like it.
Personally I found it loud, superficial, silly, and ultimately irritating. The frenetic energy had a lot to do, apparently, not with enthusiasm, but the director hurrying it along to keep within budget.
What was it all about? An exaggerated demonstration of how people are exploited by the media? They are, but not as blatantly as this. It was supposed to be overdone, of course, but for me that didn't save it.
You can call it satire, or what you will, but it became a fantasy, not a drama. The trouble is that, if you want to make a film about exploitation, make it real. To spend two hours being hideously over the top at the top of your voice to make a simple point like that is unnecessary. It wasn't comedic either. It wasn't funny, it was just loud.
Of course the acting was fine but the script dwelt too much on money, ratings, materialistic nonsense that personally was about as interesting as watching an accountant doing balance sheets, and myopically so.
So, sorry, bored to death and wishing it was over. Which, thankfully, it was eventually. Peace at last.
Shadow Dancer (2012)
Terribly sad film but beautifully acted... and the ending explained
Saw this again last night. It's one of those films that stays with you after it's finished.
The story's clear enough although there some fairly serious plot holes, though not enough to derail the film as a whole. And it means introducing spoilers...
It's really the ending which is confusing. Mac phones the mother and says 'They're coming for Colette'. Next scene a car draws up and the mother simply walks out and gets in. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the car had come for Colette. But the mother offers no explanation as to why she's come out and not Colette... which means it was her they were expecting.
Listening to the commentary over it later all becomes clear. The director makes it clear that what Mac really meant was 'They're closing in on Colette'. Then he tells the mother that her daughter was recruited to protect her, the first and main informant. That puts her in the awful position of having to sacrifice herself in order to save her daughter. Off-screen she must have made a call and given herself up, which is why the car came for her, not Colette.
Apparently they wrote 50+ versions of the end and one supposes it all became a bit confused. But that's how creative endeavors often play out.
And we have to assume the bomb in Mac's car was put there by Colette, he having rejected her physically, though not as an agent. While he was walking about (the woman with the dog wasn't her) she must have sneaked it in unseen somehow. That was her thing, after all, a bomber.
There's also the question of how they got the mother to agree to betray her whole family. Did they let her 3 children carry on bombing and killing? Or did they promise, in return for information, not to harm them? That really is quite a hole, I think.
But, apart from that, it is a hell of a film. Some found it slow but that's the nature of undercover films. They aren't action films, they rely on tension, betrayal, never knowing if or when the axe will fall.
Above all, the staging is so true to life as to be painful. Apparently real-life IRA informants have said that too. Really, that whole war, if one wants to call it that, was a very sad, nasty, unpleasant business. And, of course, the IRA rang rings round the organised and trained British army. Just like the Vietcong and the Afghans did to the American forces in their home territories.
Beautifully acted and beautifully shot, it's an anguishing but truthful film.
Boiling Point (1993)
Not That Bad At All
Thing is, I suspect fans of Wesley Snipes are going to see this R rated movie and want a ton of action... but it's not that kind of film. So, you know, for them it's boring. I see their point.
However, it's true that it's not that quick. But it's romantic, human nature is well observed, the sets are great and the period feel solid. The performances are perfect. Hopper is completely over the top as a low-life con man, Mortensen is cool and Ryan Gosling-like, and Lolita is lovely as the hooker with a soft spot for Wesley. Snipes as a cop is, well, Snipes as a cop and Dan Hedaya, bless him, still hasn't burst his blood vessel.
But it's how a movie gets you and I liked it, and I'm no romantic. The plot was good enough but it's the people that matter. Which is as it always should be. And I'll be leaving it for a goodly time and re-watching it just to revisit the Palace; it's the stuff dreams are made of.
Not for some...
Well, it's only a film, let's face it. And does it really matter? I suppose at the end of the day it doesn't.
If anyone is actually interested in this from a sci-fi point of view what I'm going to say will be a spoiler. Actually, that's the interesting rub. It doesn't matter because this film is so opaque that knowing what it's about before you start is the only way you're going to understand it. So I'm doing you a favour.
If as I did, you just start watching it (I knew vaguely it was about aliens arriving, language, etc etc, but not much more than that) then you're going to be thoroughly confused, disappointed, and in the end cynical.
I jest not. I'm not completely foolish and I want a film to succeed and be good - obviously, if even for my own sake - but I couldn't help starting to laugh and make comments to myself. It had that effect. Which is a very bad sign.
I don't know if all the people who've raved about this film knew the premise of it before they started or not. If you know that the first scene isn't present day but technically the future you might feel better. But you don't. Or I didn 't.
If the idea of the film is to severely challenge our ideas of linear time then it succeeds, no question. That is its forte, and very well it does it. However, if as a human being, you want to feel human and enjoy the film then you need to connect with the characters. All great films and stories have done this. They draw you into their characters' lives, you begin to know them, and to know them is to love them.
But here, there's no backstory. I have no idea who the woman was. I have/had no idea who the man was. I do know that the chemistry between them was non-existent. You will realise the absurdity of this when you see it. On the other hand it might have been the whole point, but that doesn't make for a good film.
There's also the usual predictable Hollywood idea of visiting aliens to be confronted by the stupid military who only want to shoot things because they're frightened and ignorant. Like those isolated tribes in the jungle who won't let you near them and fire bows and arrows at helicopters and strangers. For some reason we're always portrayed as ignorant, frightened savages and aliens as the enemy, a threat, to be approached with both hands on a hair trigger.
Of course, the hero of the day is always the one with a tad more guts and initiative who actually behaves normally and goes to see what's happening instead of cowering behind a tank. Well, obviously. But I digress.
So, if you're prepared for the usual stupid 'Let's just shoot them' attitude from the military, a very, very vague meeting and contact with strange creatures from somewhere else, your sense of reality to be jiggered about to the point of invoking sarcastic comments, and no human feeling whatsoever from or between the characters (except maybe mother and daughter but it doesn't last), then you'll love it.
Personally I wanted very much to enjoy it. I like my sci-fi films; I like that kind of thing and I'm good at scientific/philosophical ideas (Interstellar was no problem) but I couldn't. In fact I was driven to sarcasm, and that's a very bad sign.
But the film's had awards, a 94% rating on one movie board, critics eulogising over it, so maybe they knew something I didn't. I know I spent the whole film in a warp trying to connect with the characters and not succeeding because there was nothing to connect with.
As for language and/or linguistics, forget it. The author's a Chinese American. I have a feeling that the real underlying motive is about a Chinese person feeling like an discombobulated alien in America whose people don't understand language character-symbols and we're all having communication troubles. Build on that the old, worn cliche about humanity having to be saved from itself then you've got it. But only badly and vaguely because even that is not an act of mercy, it's a trade-off, an investment in an unseen future. (When the future is convenient to the story it really is the future, otherwise it's all mixed up).
What's wrong with this whole thing is there's no love in it, therefore there's no real film experience. At least ET and Close Encounters made you cry a bit. At least you were rooting for the guys in Interstellar. The same thing with Gravity, awful though it was. Here, the only star interest is some extremely cerebral, and therefore disconnected, idea of time distortion - and, frankly, who cares. But at least it's got me talking about it. But probably only because it's mysterious. Which might be a polite word for confusing.
So, if you're going to see it, be aware that it doesn't start in the nice sensible present like a proper story, you're watching the future, except they don't tell you that. Just bear in mind that events as they unfold may not be linear and you might, just might, get through it without laughing. Maybe.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a serious element to it too because time may not be very linear depending on your mindset... but we better not get into that.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
TTSS received an extraordinary mixture of reviews from those who positively eulogised over it to those who hated it with a vengeance. I read through most of them, trying to sort out categories.
The whole thing's a bit of an enigma really. Different kinds of people liked or hated it for different reasons but it's certainly a film which produced extreme reactions. It's a love-it or hate-it film. And there are also those who hated it initially and then came over to its side.
I saw it twice at the cinema and the second time around I found it more interesting. I think this is because, having already seen it before, I was ready for the reworking of the story, the location shifts, the 70's decor, and the different characterisation.
I've been around le Carre's novels for many years and know them intimately. The BBC TV version with Alec Guinness was very true to the book and were several other versions including the recent Radio 4 one in its Smiley series.
If one likes this sort of genre those versions imprint themselves on the mind if not the heart. One felt as though one knew Smiley, Guillam, Connie Sachs, and all the rest of the people.
All those previous versions tended to echo one another in their portrayal of the characters so to come to this one, which is in many ways so different, took some adjustment. Much of the original Le Carre dialogue is intact which made the adjustment even trickier. Because I came prepared to the second showing the mind was more free to concentrate, not on the differences, but on the story, the acting, and the essence of the film itself.
On that level it was, as Le Carre himself has said, fairly masterful. The plot is not lost by the time reduction; on the contrary, it's very clear, if one knows it, and the acting was good, as one might expect from that cast.
Oldman dominated the action with surprising presence and power. Not once was he upstaged by any of the others nor by the direction, as sometimes happens. However, I have to say I wasn't convinced. He's not Oxford (he admitted having trouble with the voice) nor an academic, probably the very essence of Smiley who was based on Vivien Green.
For die-hards and connoisseurs like myself one had to accept it was a new version and not a rehash. It is unquestionably different. At times it has an art-house feel which some might think would conflict with the subject of the Cold War. Personally I don't think it did because the mood and tension is largely underlying and psychological, the very stuff of some art-house movies.
Anyhow, as I said, it definitely took some rethinking because I was so steeped in previous versions and the lore of the Smiley novels. The new writers haven't betrayed that lore, they've reformatted it, if that's the right word. It might not sit well with Le Carre purists but it sort of works on its own level. And, as quite a few reviewers have pointed out, they should probably follow it with Smiley's People.
But, to be honest, I can't say I liked it. Le Carre supported and praised it liberally but I happen to know he thinks the Guinness version was the quintessential one. It's possible he was supporting it because there was nothing else to be done.
The Counselor (2013)
This is one of my best movies. It has an all-star cast and Ridley Scott directing. It looks great, it's novel, creative and entertaining. And beautifully written.
I don't really understand the lukewarm reception unless viewers found the plot confusing. I have to say I've seen it more than once so it all seems clear now. Once you know whodunit it all falls into place.
The scene where the counselor is talking to the cartel man is worth it alone.
There's the sex, of course, but strangely I didn't find it off-putting. Normally I don't like sex in movies, they detract from the plot, but in this film it seems quite par for the course and appropriate to that world.
It's also not as dumb as it looks. Once you know, all the clues are there. That's the sign of a well-written plot, where, despite the clues being given to you, still you're never quite sure till the end.
So I like this film although it may ultimately be for the more discerning viewer. And that may well account for the mixed reception and low score.
A Line in the Sand (2004)
Ok but flawed
It's not a bad film but it's spoiled by logical blips. A hit man in the woods in Suffolk in camouflage gear? He gets right up to the house despite 24/7 armed security? I can't even remember them all now but when you start laughing then something's gone very wrong.
Apart from that, the story's good, the acting and filming are good, and it's a decent Brit thriller.