Tinker, Tailor, Soldier … Subtle. And so very superb.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an astounding movie. From the sets, to the camerawork, to the dialogue, to the acting and wardrobe — simply astounding.

This superb adaptation — the scriptwriters deserve a gong — of the John le Carre Cold War spy classic is directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In — the beautifully filmed Swedish original) and the Swede has excelled again. The movie has a period feel — there’s film grain on the screen and a certain gloomy tint that gives the hint of age — and framing and depth of field emphasise the paranoia and claustrophobia of the era.

It’s a male tale, as the super spies of British intelligence are caught up in a hunt for a mole, real or imagined, amongst their number. Tasked with flushing out the bad apple is the outcast George Smiley, played brilliantly by Gary Oldman, heading a cast (including Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Rome‘s screen-chewing Ciaran Hinds) who rise to the challenge. Such restrained performances. How refreshing to see a script that uses such minimal dialogue and telling subtext, to see a film that allows the actors to convey so much through body language and expression, that trusts the audience and its own ability to reach them. For instance: a scene in the rain, one man with an umbrella, one without. Nothing needs to be said: their expressions and interaction within that frame tell us all we need to know.

I loved the Carre spy books when I was a teenager, and enjoyed the BBC TV mini-series they spawned in the 1970s with the perfectly cast Alec Guinness in the Smiley role. This movie has reminded me why: the gloom, the amorality and the understanding of it, the feeling of this being a believable glimpse of the spy game amid the fun and thunder of Adam Hall and Ian Fleming, the use of intelligence and observation rather than muscle and firepower, the damaged characters who know that not all is well that ends well.

There’s a clever piece of graffiti in the movie, too; while the Circus largely runs on the secretarial power of women officers, and one analyst gets some screen time and there’s one female agent who has a role to play, this is very much a boys club film, as the context dictates. But there, more than once on that wall, is a painted slogan, The future is female.

Nice, and about as overt as this film gets.

Smiley’s wife, the sexual relationships of the men, the volume of the silence and stillness, the absence of car chases and biffo: so much cleverness without it being obvious, without it breaking the narrative or the mood.

The pace is, as with the books, not so much slow as inexorable, and the two hours were over before I knew it. No surprise it has garnered 11 BAFTA nominations. It might only be January, but I can’t help but feel this has to be one of the best movies of 2012.

It’s a shame Amazon.UK has ended its free shipping deal to Australia (boo!) or I’d be sorely tempted to snaffle the pre-order for the DVD — it’s due for release at the end of the month!


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The Loved Ones – skin-deep Aussie torture porn

First, the good news: Australian horror movie The Loved Ones looks very good. Nice effects, effective acting — I really enjoyed Lauren McLeavey’s psycho killer Lola — and some wicked camera work (there’s a gorgeous shot, coming out of a cellar, with mirror ball highlights moving across the ceiling). Special effects were on the money.

It’s a high school horror drama, set in regional Victoria, in which, as you will gather from the trailer, a side-lined girlfriend gets even with the help of her good ol’ dad (best line: this one’s for the Kingswood!), while the victim’s girlfriend is left to pine and his best buddy gets it on with the self-destructive goth girl (sigh).

Note that the core plot ie boy being tortured, and the secondary plot ie sex with goth girl, have little to do with each other.

And therein lies the rub. The connection between the characters and even the scenes in this flick just don’t add up. Just what kind of movie are we watching here — high school drama, family grief drama, edgy comedy, sicko horror? I’m sure I was laughing at the wrong times for all the wrong reasons, here.

There is so little development of character — here is the guilt-ridden hero, feel sorry for him; here is the patient girlfriend, cheer for her; here is light relief in good-hearted side-kick and here is the total outsider who, in some strange act of self-humiliation, deigns to date the class loser for the night of the formal (I think the reason that she’s goth, or maybe emo, I can’t tell after a certain age these days without hearing the music, is because she HAS SUFFERED LOSS: hence the fashionable black, the drugs, the booze, the screwing). (Nice girl Holly gives blow jobs, but they’re for the good of others.)

Lola the psycho could’ve been fascinating, but sadly she’s psycho from the moment the light goes green and has nowhere else to go. I really wanted to know her, her and her dad, and how it had come to this, but nup, it was all power drills and emotional power plays. Oh, and there’s a quasi-zombie moment.

The movie could’ve been fascinating: a history of disappearances, guilt-addled and grief-stricken dysfunctional families, and some really cool defensive driving lessons were all on the cards here, but alas, style held all the aces.

Anyway, it’s a solid little slice and dice if you’re up for seeing some people suffer, even if it is short on logic and lacking in give-a-damn, and the actors do a great job with what they’ve got. And it really does look very good.

Best screen vampires

Another day, another list … this one of the Ten Best Screen Vampires at the Guardian was winning me hands down until the very end, where once again the confusion about popular equating to good kicked in. Honestly, if you want a vampire struggling with their nature and trying to practise restraint, wouldn’t you go for one that actually makes you feel the true weight of that struggle rather than just mooching about – at best a cad, at worst a dirty old man? Like, say, Louis in Interview, or eponymous Angel, or even Nick Knight (probably more the TV show than the movie)? Still, nine out of 10 ain’t bad (even if I’d probably have plumbed for Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia in Interview as my child representative).

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow, the director who gave us splendid vampire movie Near Dark (one of my favourites) and equally enjoyable SF flick Strange Days, really hits the mark with The Hurt Locker.

I finally caught the Oscar-winning movie last night, and wow.

The title is certainly apt, with the film following the events that befall a team of bomb-disposal experts in Baghdad with the arrival of a new leader, Will James (Jeremy Renner).

James is an adrendalin junkie, much to the concern of his new team-mates: after all, when you’re defusing bombs, you’d like a steady hand on the wire-cutters.

This is no Good Morning Vietnam or Blackhawk Down or, thank God, The Green Berets. There is no singular enemy for the team to overcome, no overarching narrative of right vs wrong, no great moralising: it’s a very personal story about men reacting under the most dire of pressure, and the relationship that forms between them.

Bigelow has shot this brilliantly in a semi-documentary style that gives it emphasis without playing too many emotional violin strings (and in fact, music is used scarcely and brilliantly).

The acting is superb (with notable roles for Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce, the tension palpable at times, the story unpredictable in its events if not its conclusion. And, like most good war movies, it leaves you asking, why.

I expect The Hurt Locker (official site and YouTube preview) will rank in the best movies of my year.

Here’s a sample of the superb music in the film, Khyber Pass by Ministry, played over the closing credits.

Alice in Underland, er, Wonderland

johnny depp as mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland

First impressions of Tim Burton’s addition to the Alice in Wonderland canon: it’s pretty darn cool.

A few of us saw it in 3D and agreed the extra dimension was pretty much overkill and at times a little distracting, except for the absolutely stunning end credits.

I have studiously ignored reviews and comments about the movie — I usually do when I know I want to see something, and I’ve managed to stay blissfully ignorant, except for a few comments about the film not being particularly well received (critically), and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter being panned.

This isn’t Alice in Wonderland as I remember it, but I’m not a purist; I don’t have much affection for the original story or film versions since. It’s just a fine yarn to me, and so Burton’s monkeying around with it hasn’t raised my hackles. But I can see why it might rub some up the wrong way.

I enjoyed Depp’s very edgy Hatter, and the “almost 20” Alice played with suitable innocuousness by Mia Wasikowska, and Helena Bonham Carter (the bobble-headed Red Queen) is always a delight. The critters were fine, Alan Rickman adding a lovely dourness to the grub, and the Cheshire cat’s coming and going was a lot of fun.

Burton seems to have had a foot in two camps, unable to completely let go his love of the Gothic (eg the whimsical White Queen’s necromantic tendencies (played sweetly by Anne Hathaway)), but still conforming to the fact that this was a Disney film; I’m not sure it straddles both audiences well.

But there are some absolutely gorgeous “sets”: twisted bare trees, soft light through dust and fog, a ruined chess-set battlefield and final battle sequence between a dragon-like Jabberwocky and Alice that was just lovely (the scene reminded me a lot of a striking piece of fantasy art by the wonderful Clyde Caldwell).

I don’t think I needed to see Alice in 3D and I don’t think it’s something I need on my shelf — it skated a little thin for my liking — but I enjoyed it for its darkly tinted escapism, which sometimes is just the ticket.

Here’s a trailer.

Also, in the theatre there was a poster for a new Tron movie: not a remake, but a sequel, I’m told. Here’s a trailer for that: it looks flash and the sound, even through my wee PC speakers, sounded pretty hot.

Up in the Air

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a professional traveller. He’s got negotiating airports down to a fine art as he closes in on his key goal in life: to be one of the elite travellers to clock 10 million frequent flyer miles. In this goal, he is aided by his job, flying around the globe but chiefly the USA as a hired gun, firing employees for gutless bosses. He also sidelines in presenting talks about his way of living life, known as the empty backpack: Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham doesn’t believe in weighing himself down with possessions nor responsibilities, applying that philosophy to relationships, even family. And yet he can show remarkable understanding, if not compassion, for the victims of corporate downsizing he faces every day.

It is a well-rendered story, the casting spot-on: Vera Farmiga as his love interest gobbled up the screen, and Anna Kendrick fitted her suit as ingenue and foil perfectly.

The movie has a lot to say about family and humanity, and hits emotional buttons without using a sledgehammer. The ending is sublime, and I’m still not sure to what extent Bingham’s journey has been altered. Has he learnt something or is it simply too late for him to make the most of his lesson?

Maybe it’s simply a case of what goes up, must come down…

As someone who loves travel, and has recently battled the burden of an accumulation of possessions, I found much to appreciate in this tale. Life is a balancing act, somewhere between being happy on the ground and being light enough to fly. And happiness, this film tells us in no uncertain terms, is best enjoyed when shared.

Daybreakers, an Australian vampire movie with bite

I’ve been excited about the forthcoming vampire flick Daybreakers for quite some time, for a couple of reasons, but primarily because it’s made in Australia, including my old hometown of Brisbane, by the Brissie boys who made Undead (an extremely effective small-budget zombie movie, with SF elements). The plot about a world overtaken by vampires sounds engaging, and it stars, alongside Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, some great local talent in Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill and Undead‘s Mungo McKay.

About.com’s Mark Harris has given Daybreakers four stars. His review is here, in which he says, “Daybreakers is a fresh and original take on vampire lore, using its genre trappings to convey an uncommonly conscious, allegorical reflection on society that touches upon class and racial conflict, the ethics of big business, politics, poverty, homelessness and the ravaging of natural resources.”

Got those bases covered, then. He also assures us there’s chompin’ and stakin’ aplenty.

According to IMDB, the movie’s due for release in Australia on January 21. Huzzah!