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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Review

29 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Studio Canal

★ ★ ★

With the script based on a famous John le Carre novel, the director of Let the Right One In and a cast of some of the most phenomenal British actors working today, I was really looking forward to this film.  Unfortunately, though the overall feel of the film and the performances are spot on, the movie suffers from an intensely complicated and ultimately boring script.

Even after seeing this film, I’m not sure I could give a proper full synopsis.  There are flashbacks that don’t do anything to denote they are flashbacks, characters that are mentioned early on that you don’t find out who they are until way later, other characters that only appear briefly and for no real reason and long soliloquies that help show a strong performance but have no real bearing on the story.  So, for this paragraph, which I usually reserve for a synopsis of the film, I will give a very brief overview of the part of the story that I can soundly report.  George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired agent for the MI5.  The head of the division during his time, Control (John Hurt), before his departure (or death, not quite sure, maybe both) let it be known that there was a mole in the division.  In hopes of preserving the legacy of his era, Smiley is reinstated to investigate this lead with the help of agent Peter Guilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and others.  In his investigation, he unravels secrets and further information to finding the culprit within the division.  Other noted actors in the film include Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Toby Jones.

First off, Oldman does give a tremendous performance as Smiley, but when hasn’t Oldman given a tremendous performance?  A chameleon-like actor who has played roles ranging from Sid Vicious to Lee Harvey Oswald to Sirius Black, Oldman is truly one of the best working actors in the industry today, and for me, it is always a pleasure to see him on screen.  Criminally, this was only the first Oscar nomination he has received in all his years as a film actor.  Though he didn’t win, it was long overdue for him to receive a nomination.  The supporting cast mentioned above also do great jobs in their roles, and I really think Tomas Alfredson did a good job with the shot selection and overall direction.  The mood, tone and look of the film in 1960s England was spot on.  Honestly, you ask yourself, how can a movie get this much right and still not be better than just a decent film?  Well, the script and story is the most important part of any film.  In the words of the late great Akira Kurosawa, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this”.

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Very British and Very, Very Good: My Opinion of Downton Abbey

27 09 2011

Copyright 2011 Carnival Films, ITV and PBS

So, extremely British historically infused period pieces about Bourgeois prim and proper English folk is generally not my cup a tea (aren’t I being clever for throwing in this wonderfully British saying here); however, I have thoroughly enjoyed the first series of Downton Abbey.  My girlfriend and I finished the seventh and final episode last night before bed and I couldn’t be more excited about its continuation on television in the second series, which plans to land on US soil in January 2012 on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic.

I caught wind of this wonderful piece of television making after it swept the Primetime Emmys with four wins, including Best Miniseries.  Having never heard of the show before, I researched further online and found out that it centers around the wealthy, fictional Grantham family from the period of 1912-1914.  Still not being completely sold, I did give the pilot episode a chance.  I was hooked from the introductory steadicam stroll through the family’s country estate, in real life portrayed by the majestic Highclere Castle.  The interplay between the brilliant ensemble cast, sharp writing from Oscar winner Julian Fellowes and meticulously well-directed and well-shot film looks almost out of place for PBS.  Can PBS produce material this amazing?  Well, with the joint efforts of ITV and Carnival Films it apparently can.

The analysis of English social and class mores in the ever changing terrain of this period in the 20th century provides not only an entertaining, but also historically interesting, premise.  Each episode blends seamlessly in with the next and continues a deeply complex narrative that focuses on a wide array of colorful characters.  In short, Downton Abbey is classic storytelling and classical filmmaking at its best.  No matter your walk of life, I would recommend this show, and rest assured you could find something entertaining or enlightening.  I can’t wait to see where it goes from here and look forward to the hope of following the Grantham family and their butlers, valets and maids for many seasons to come.





My Favorite Doctor Who Episodes from Series 1-6 (2005 – Present)

14 07 2011

Above: Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston Middle: Tenth Doctor, David Tennat Below: Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Copyright BBC Worldwide

As of two months ago I knew essentially nothing of Doctor Who.  I knew that it was a British science fiction show, that the main character traveled through time and space in a police box and that the show had been on the air forever.  After finishing a run of Twin Peaks for the second time in my life, I was looking for another television program to become involved in.  Because I generally really enjoy most science fiction and fantasy, I asked several people I know that watch Doctor Who if they thought I would like it and they all said, “Yes!”.  The second problem was where to begin.  There is a classic series that aired on the BBC from 1963 to 1989 which was produced in a serial format with each chapter being an amalgam of several 25 minute episodes.  The first seven incarnations of the primary role of The Doctor are contained within these 26 seasons of the show.  The Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, was part of a British-American co-produced television special in 1996, and, finally, the reboot of the television series arrived with Christopher Eccleston playing the ninth regeneration of the Doctor in 2005.  The reboot of the series is currently in their sixth season and Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.

After much deliberation, I started the series with the 2005 reboot (though I have since watched some of the classic series as well).  Just yesterday, I finally caught up with the current production schedule with the series six mid-season finale that aired last month.  The series won’t continue series six until sometime in September.  I am so glad I started watching this series and can’t recommend it enough, it’s well-written, well-directed and well-acted.  If you have any geekiness in you whatsoever or an affinity towards science fiction or fantasy, you will love this show.  Of the 81 episodes I’ve watched of the reboot (including Christmas Specials), I’ve decided to elucidate on my favorite episodes of the series thus far:

As to not spoil the episodes for future viewers or people who’ve yet to get to these episodes, I will not include much of a synopsis in the descriptions.

1. Blink – Season 3, Episode 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

If you look around online, you will see that this episode constantly gets rated in the top of the series, and for good reason, because it is brilliant.  Season 3 is during David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor (my personal favorite!), but this episode is actually what the series calls a “doctor light” episode, as he hardly appears.  The real star of this episode is Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow and the amazingly creepy monsters, the Weeping Angels.  This episode was so good that writer Steven Moffat won a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and a BAFTA Craft and BAFTA Cymru.  It’s an amazing episode and probably my favorite of them all since I’ve been watching the series.

2.  The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances – Season 1, Episodes 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

This two episode entry into season 1 is by far the best story of that season.  It takes place in World War II and centers around an extremely creepy little boy with a gas mask on that continually haunts people, asking them, “Are you my mummy?”  Christopher Eccleston is portraying the Ninth Doctor in this episode and one of my favorite companions of the series so far, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), is at his side.  In addition, the hugely popular character of Captain Jack Harkness is introduced in this episode, who goes on to be one of the leads of the spin-off series Torchwood.

3. Human Nature and The Family of Blood – Season 3, Episodes 8 & 9 – Written by Paul Cornell

This is the two episode entry right before Blink, so you know you are in for a treat once you get to these episodes, because three amazing entries are to follow.  David Tennant is the Tenth Doctor in this episode, but for all intensive purposes is that of John Smith, as he has erased his memory and reverted to a human form to escape a family of monsters who are chasing him through time and space.  Unable to remember his past, his companion in this season, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), is presented with a very difficult task of watching over him and calling him back if needed.  When the blood thirsty family find Martha and the Doctor’s hiding location, things get very interesting.

4. The Doctor’s Wife – Season 6, Episode 4 – Written by Neil Gaiman

This episode by well-known science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman was to come out during season 5, but was ultimately delayed for various reasons until season 6.  This episode is extremely interesting and entertaining because it does something that the show had never done before: it allows the Doctor and his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space – his time/space traveling police box) to speak to each other when the TARDIS’s time vortex is put into a human’s form.  The witty banter between Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and his oldest friend in human form is brilliant, and seeing them have to work together to save two companions in the series is a real treat.

5. Vincent and the Doctor – Season 5, Episode 10 – Written by Richard Curtis

Series 5 was a bit difficult for me.  David Tennant had been my favorite incarnation of the Doctor so far and I was having a hard time getting used to Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor; however, I thought this episode was great, and it might be the episode that I finally warmed up to Matt Smith in the role.  The Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), go to Europe in the late 1800s because of something the Doctor saw in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery.  They meet Van Gogh and have to work with him to tame a monster that only he can see.  The ode to the work of the great master and the beauty in which Tony Curran plays Van Gogh is exquisite.

6. Dalek – Season 1, Episode 6 – Written by Robert Shearman

The Doctor’s longest running adversary from all eleven regenerations is that of the alien race known as the Daleks.  This episode in the first season is the first time that Daleks are introduced in the reboot of the series.  The Ninth Doctor and Rose turn up in an underground bunker that belongs to an eccentric American billionaire who collects “space junk”.  His prized possession is that of a Dalek, though he doesn’t know what it is and it is currently incapacitated.  When the Dalek returns to full form, everyone’s life is in danger, not just in the bunker, but in the world.

7. The Waters of Mars – Autumn Special 2009 – Written by Russell T. Davis & Phil Ford 

There was no full series in 2009, only a series of four specials that rounded out the last episodes of David Tennant’s duration as the Doctor.  This was the third of those specials before the two-part finale and regeneration into the Eleventh Doctor.  The Doctor is by himself for this episode, exploring the planet of Mars, when he is captured by members of a space station in the mid 22nd century.  Once on board, he insists he poses no threat.  He then realizes who these members are from history, as a terrible thing had happened that killed them all.  When the wheels are set in motion, he must decide whether or not to interfere with a fixed point in time.

8. Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead – Season 4, Episode 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

In this two-parter, the Tenth Doctor is with companion Donna Nobel (Catherine Tate).  They arrive in a futuristic library that is literally a planet; it is the largest library in the world.  However, there are no people in the library, as something happened to them.  A strange little girl in a side story can see into the library when she closes her eyes, and the Doctor runs into a very important figure in his life, the character of River Song for the first time in this episode.

9. A Good Man Goes to War – Season 6, Episode 7 – Written by Steven Moffat

Starting to catch on that Steven Moffat is a pretty damn good writer on this show?  He is actually the current head writer, though several of these listed episodes he was just a staff writer under former head Richard T. Davies.  This was the mid-series finale for season 6 that is the most recent episode to date.  When one of the Eleventh Doctor’s close companions, Amy Pond, is abducted by a strange army, the Doctor calls on all his favors and goes to fight to get her back.  It’s one of the few times that you see the Doctor truly angry in this incarnation of himself and the ending of the episode leaves the audience with a HUGE surprise.

10. The Shakespearean Code – Season 3, Episode 2 – Written by Gareth Roberts

The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones end up in Shakespearean England after some strange occurrences have been happening under the title of “witchcraft”.  Not only do they arrive in Shakespearean England, but they actually must get involved with Shakespeare himself and force him to rewrite certain altered parts of his unreleased play Love’s Labor’s Won to prevent a great evil from being unleashed onto the Earth.  It’s a fun, historic romp and even has a Harry Potter reference thrown in the mix!

 

 








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