Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy

I had an unexpected night off while in Australia and decided to go see Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy (TTSS), a film I had been anticipating ever since seeing the trailer months before. The movie, which is a Cold War era spy film, boasted one of the most impressive casts ever assembled, at least in my opinion, including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy.

Now, I must admit that I had heard some mixed reviews on the film. Some called it a “masterpiece” while others said it was unbearably slow. I went in with a lot of patience, and when I emerged after the viewing, I was conflicted as to what I had just seen. Yes, TTSS is extremely slow and lacks the action one might expect in a spy film, but in its own way, it was engaging and a mental challenge.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like watching TTSS, but I liken it to observing a chess match. While not particularly action packed, there is a hidden war going on between the players, each with their own agenda. If you have a sharp mind and know a bit about the game, you might find a match particularly thrilling and nerve-wracking, while a layman might find it rather monotonous and boring. TTSS isn’t a movie for everyone; in fact, two people walked out of the theater during the showing, and I couldn’t help but think many of my friends would do the same. On the other hand, someone who likes a good mental game may actually find the film enjoyable. I consider myself one of the latter.

The best part of the film, as I expected, was the cast of characters. Gary Oldman plays the role of Smiley, a recent fired member of England’s top spy agency. He is recruited to investigate the possibility of a mole in his former place of employment, and Oldman does a tremendous job in the film, which is par for the course. While I think Oldman was great, all he basically did was portray a tiresome, well-composed, and emotionless old man. He did it well, but I never forged an emotional attachement to Smiley. I’ve heard Oldman's name mentioned in connection with a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, but I’m not sure his character warrants the nod.

Other actors who did their jobs superbly were Colin Firth as "Bill Haydon/Tailor," John Hurt as “Control,” and Tom Hardy as “Ricki Tar." Hurt is a veteran of the big screen (I loved him in V for Vendetta), while Hardy is one of Hollywood’s best up-and-comers, and of course there is Firth, who excels in every role that he takes.

If I had to say one negative thing about the film, it would be the lack of Ciran Hinds, who played "Roy Bland" in the film. I consider Hinds one of the most underrated actors in both film and television, and it’s a shame to see him in this role, namely that he barely has any screen time and offers just a few lines of dialogue. If you’ve ever seen HBO’s Rome, where Hinds plays Julius Caesar, you know what I’m talking about as far as his talent is concerned and why I feel this was a missed opportunity on director Tomas Alfredson’s part.

TTSS is a sophisticated movie driven by dialogue and the performances of its cast. If you’re looking for a mind numbing spy movie, this isn’t for you (try Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), but if you like a mystery/thriller that is mentally challenging and stimulating, then I think you will find it satisfying.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 72%

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Descendants

After The Descendants won Best Motion Picture—Drama at the Golden Globes a couple days ago, not to mention George Clooney’s win for Best Performance by an Action in a Motion Picture—Drama, I decided I had better get to a theater and see what all the fuss was about. I’m currently in Melbourne, Australia, but lucky for me, there is a theater right here in my hotel complex.

On a side note, this was the first time I've ever seen a movie in a foreign country. It was essentially the same as going to the theater in the United States with one major difference. In Australia, or at least at the theater I went to, seating was assigned. I didn't care for this at all. Sitting in between two strangers was not ideal, especially when there were several empty seats. Nonetheless, I like to adhere to cultural norms so I stayed out and made do.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let me address the lure of this film, George Clooney. I am hit or miss when it comes to this film super star. I love a lot of the movies Clooney puts out such as Ocean’s 11, Burn After Reading, Up in the Air, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the Ides of March, but every once in awhile there will be one that disappoints like Leatherheads and The Men Who Stare at Goats. I wasn't sure what to expect, but let me tell you, when it comes to The Descendants, add it to his list of hits; as a matter of fact, I’d say this was one of his best performances ever, right up there with Up in the Air and O Brother.

In this film, Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian workaholic whose wife is in a coma and on life support. Left with two daughters and a monumental business decision to make, King must juggle the hardships of an impending death and a series of life-changing discoveries. Clooney shines in the role, and if you see the film, you’ll understand why he was awarded the Golden Globe.

Speaking of tremendous performances, the entire film was brilliantly cast. The roles of King’s daughters were played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, with the former capturing the audience’s attention in a performance equal to that of Clooney, while the latter showed remarkable range for someone so young. I am confident that both of these ladies will have a bright future in Hollywood.

Others in the film who delivered stirring performances included Judy Greer, Rob Huebel, Nick Krause, and Robert Forster. There was one scene where the latter two actors interacted that was particularly funny (“I’m going to hit you.”); in fact, that’s one of The Descendants’ strengths, the well-timed infusion of subtle comic relief in otherwise serious situations.

Speaking of the film’s earnestness, I must admit that there are few motion pictures out there that have packed an emotional charge like this one. The intimacy displayed in this film toward life, love, heartache, and death will resonate with anyone who has been in a similar situation. There are times in life when you desperately need answers and go to ridiculous lengths to get them, even if they’re not attainable. Then there are times when you must deal with missed opportunities, never saying what needed to be said, and having to cope with life after the fact. The Descendants not only explores these life experiences, it encompasses it.

There was nothing fake or over the top about The Descendants and that is what makes it do great. Here is a movie that is real, unadulterated, and as close to real life as a movie can get. The film neither goes too far nor does it fall short, instead it toes the line perfectly. With a great story, superb performances, and a well-written script, The Descendants is one of the best films in recent months and will be a contender come Oscar season. If you have the chance, see this movie.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 95%

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