Below is The Spin on three end of the year awards hopefuls…all British biopics about tortured geniuses that when viewed together represent the best and worst of classic Oscar-bait.
First up is the finely pedigreed Mr. Turner from Academy darling writer/director Mike Leigh detailing the waning years of famed eccentric proto-Impressionist maritime artist J. M. W. Turner. The film contains a lot of what one comes to expect from a Leigh project: Timothy Spall superb in the lead role, gritty yet refined attention to realism, fantastic supporting turns from a sometimes improvising cast, and excellent dialogue (the dark, dry, British humor runs delightfully amuck here). The film also contains some surprises, most notably the perfectly lit cinematography from Dick Pope who photographs the film like a moving painting, masterfully capturing the scenes and environments (the approach of a retired warship he would later paint coming into harbor while Turner and his friends row out to meet it is fantastically rendered) that inspired Turner’s art. Continue reading →
Ahhh…shit…(SPOILER ALERT!) I gave away a major spoiler of Star Trek Into Darkness in the title of the post! Though, honestly, people, is it any surprise that Khan makes an appearance in part two of Abrams’ reboot series? Following the trend of comic book films, it seems as if Abrams’ Treks will only be as good as their villains…which means this sequel is a slight notch above its overrated predecessor but is still a mish-mash rehash with nary an original idea to be found and completely void of the political allegory and societal mirror-holding that made the original series so…original. I was a bit more invested in and entertained by this rehash as if you are going to rehash plots and villains, you might as well rehash the best. I mean I can’t even remember the villain in the first film.
Though the DUN DUN DUN previews made it clear things were going to get more serious this time around, the film is inexplicably sub-titled Into Darkness…as there’s nary a moment of literal or thematic darkness to be found in the shiny happy continuation of Abrams’ shiny happy series. Okay, okay, they do speak the words war and genocide, and alotta people die James Cameron-style when the ships get all blown up and stuff. But you gotta hand it to a guy who just doesn’t give a damn. If J.J. wants to do an opening nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a sci-fi film, well, by golly, he’s gonna jam that in there! And if he wants to have his set designers craft an entire starship to be made of interior reflective surfaces so that his signature lens flares can go whole hog and burn your retinas…then damn it, Jim, he’s gonna do it! And if he wants to stretch out certain emo-scenes Felicity style to the point of banality…then frick, he don’t need Keri Russell present to do that. You see, J.J. is like that smart dorky crafty kid who grew up to be geek chic. He’s completely hung up on the nostalgia Hollywood peddles, which has made him a golden boy in a town that loves to recycle all that is golden. This means that many will find what he does pretty cool, but if you want anything deeper than re-imagined childhood reveries, then you better look elsewhere.
And although all the lens flares and explosions render certain action scenes incomprehensible, there are still some wondrous set pieces and stupendous special effects to be found here. Continue reading →
Is this the conference room at the heart of British Intelligence or a middle rung in Dante's hell?
During the height of the Cold War, a botched extraction in Budapest forces the head of British Intelligence (John Hurt as Code Name: Control) to resign, and “The Circus” goes through a house cleaning. Not content with a forced retirement, veteran spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman, in a devilishly subtle performance) becomes determined to weed out the alleged mole at the top of The Circus. It slowly becomes clear that Smiley is involved in a master chess game against a Soviet counterpart named Karla (who remains mysteriously just off-screen) – a man he failed to turn years earlier and who knows Smiley’s one weakness. The biggest mystery isn’t the identity of the mole but which of these master craftsmen in the world of espionage is going to pull a check mate on the other.
Ah, John le Carre – no one does wearisome white-knuckle ennui quite like the anti-Ian Fleming and successor of Graham Greene in the foggy world of thinking men’s spy novels. Think of this new film adaptation of his 1970’s classic, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (representing the code names given to those under watch) as The Usual Suspects for senior citizens. Continue reading →