Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Had I not read that Thomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed this film I would’ve figured it out at some point and that’s due to the film’s pace and construction. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy story to convey on the screen. It’s the type of film that has to put forth a very difficultly-attained and nearly intangible fascination that is usually the sole purview of spy capers and whodunits wherein you must be simultaneously enthralled by the intrigue of the narrative and rapt by the film; such that you can keep pace with it, on a mental level. I specify that pace because the temporal pace of the film is rather interesting. In a film such as this it’s information that’s flying at you tinged with foreboding, and the sense of a gyre closing, such that the story cannot speed along at a brisk 90 minutes but must unfurl at a more leisurely 120 yet also still have enough incidents within it to hold that bifurcated attention its worked to create. The film manages that easily and keeps the pace rather steady and the facts quick in coming. Even when in flashback sequences, which there are many, though the cuts may be quick the information does not overwhelm. That is not to say that a second viewing wouldn’t make the film more enjoyable or that nothing will be missed, I certainly can’t guarantee that as the film does play things close to the vest often but it does easily connect a lot of seemingly disparate incidents such that a vast majority of facts, and how the conclusion that occurs is reached, becomes clear. In the end, whatever vagueness the film may have is not something one can find in anyway distasteful as it recalls to me Bergman’s quote:

I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically… I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.

I have always taken that to mean that he wanted people to be moved one way or another by his work and if you’re actively trying to piece this film together and succeeding or failing it won’t bore you to the point of indifference I feel and I think it’s riveting.

9/10

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Review- Tron: Legacy

Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy (Disney)

It would be best to lead with what works with this film, which is easier to enumerate than what does not. What does work, at least a majority of the time is the visual effects, the score is kind of cool too. This film is a visual effects artists’ playground but simultaneously the enemy of narrative. You should have seen it coming as few and far between are the positive reviews that lead with “The effects were so great.” However, as impressively striking as some of the visual sequences are some are bothersome also.

Those that are bothersome are mainly the computer-generated Jeff Bridges. Granted that in the first sequence they do a good job of camouflaging the CG-ness of the younger version of Bridges but having to look at a CG Bridges under the guise of Clu is very annoying after an extended period of time.

The issues for the story, which faintly flits about behind a computer generated masquerade, begin almost from the minute that answers start being provided. The mystery of “how did Sam (Garrett Hedlund) get here, why is his father still here and why can’t he leave?” is intriguing enough until you start to get answers.

The problem with the answers is how they are written. It’s as if the screenwriters mistook being confusing for sounding smart. As a matter of fact there’s a ten minute stretch of the film wherein none of Jeff Bridges’ lines are entirely coherent.  

There’s nothing wrong with a veil of confusion being thrown over a subject matter and the film either doesn’t try to answer the questions or does it best to answer them. This film does neither. It’s neither the kind of film that relishes ambiguity of meaning like some of Bergman’s work or tells an involved narrative but explains everything painstakingly like Inception. It just sort of sits there and you stare at it because it’s there and you don’t know why you stare at it but you just do. Which is saying something, that is that it’s not boring but it is most definitely insipid.

Moving on you glean whatever you glean from half-truths and gorilla dust, to quote the late great Phil Hartman, the basic plot is that Bridges’ character created an alter-ego when he was less wise than he is now and his megalomaniacal tendencies lead Clu to rule The Grid, this video game world, with an iron fist. And then? The stakes never seem that high because Kevin (Bridges) is reticent to leave at first even though it’s quite clear how it can be done. Furthermore, there’s little incentive for us to get emotionally involved because the laser light show has to start as soon as possible and therefore the bond and the heartbreak of the separation of father and son are never really firmly entrenched except in a very superficial way.

This is the epitome of a “Hit Me Movie” in the worst kind of way. You end up bathing in slick imagery and when it’s done you don’t feel cleansed or refreshed on the contrary you feel dirty.

2/10

Review- You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

This film will be released on video tomorrow.

Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics)

I, unlike many, will attest to the fact that reports of Woody Allen’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While last year’s reviews for Whatever Works were greatly mixed it does not seem like the kind of film that you can use to illustrate that someone had “lost it.”

In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger you can see why people would say that, however, the way I see it is that you get in the film a pastiche of what’s both great and not so great about Allen. At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical fan who likes the “early, funny movies” it must be stated for the record that this film is a drama before all else.

Moreover, it examines some similar questions as both Whatever Works and Vicky Cristina Barcelona examined. It’s principally about life and love but to paraphrase Allen’s idol Ingmar Bergman “What else is there?” Where the film is somewhat lacking is that it could dig deeper.

What really holds the film back is that fears that were caused by the trailer are realized and it’s the voice over. It is perhaps the worst-delivered most poorly-acted voice over narration that I’ve been privy to listen to. Zak Orth’s delivery could not be be drier if he tried. The only thing that helps this film overcome it is the fact that there’s not a whole lot of it and he’s speaking Allen’s words. Sadly, it also unnecessarily spoon-feeds a relatively simple film and by speaking the film’s conclusion to its hypothesis this renders it more banal than it otherwise would’ve been.

The Bergman reference above is not totally misplaced as this is another examination by Allen of a subject that obsessed Bergman: death. Through these intertwining tales Allen not only examines how we deal with mortality but conversely, of course, with life and what the point to all of it is.

Barring the aforementioned narration the acting is good across the board. The characters are actually a bit less neurotic than Allen’s usual dramatis personnae and feel more like well-rounded, less erudite types. While these characters can come across as more flat it is a tribute to the actors in this film that they breathed life into them.

Another problem the film battled was the edit. The film is a bit too methodical. It never quite gets slow but it could quicken its step through the second and into the third act. True there are four interconnected storylines to resolve but they all end up more or less where we expect them to when we expect them to such that not as much time need be devoted to each to make the point that each segment is trying to make.
While the valid point that sometimes “delusion works better than medicine” is well-made and ties up the film nicely albeit heavy-handedly there is a surprise that develops towards the end that is never really resolved. Now while we can surmise what will happen and the dilemma the character in question is left with it would still have been nice to add a little more closure to that chapter than we get.

Although not a great work and not a minor work, Woody Allen’s films are still vital because he is not overly-concerned with genre or the trappings therein. He through his writing and his cinema is still one of the few American auteurs who is willing to ask real and serious questions with every film he takes on and for that reason his audience should spring eternal and not age with the great cineaste.

6/10