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Monday Movies Has Something To Trade. Something Big.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. My first summer in sleepaway camp, I was ten years old, and after a good run with a counselor’s Ken Follett novels, I attempted John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I remember not a damn thing from it, and so was not surprised that many of the reviews, from friends and professionals, included warnings about laboring to follow the plot. So I warned Mrs. K-sky to “pay close attention — it’s a lot of white guys who look alike and aren’t what they seem.” My warning was overstated. The plot is reasonably straightforward. The twists, such as they are, are psychological and sexual rather than glittering plot origami. The movie, about the search to expunge a mole from the highest levels of “the Circus” as British intelligence hub MI-6 is known here, is stylish without being showy, and violent without having action.

Director Tomas Alfredson has brought along cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who also shot Let The Right One In. As in the previous film, Tinker Tailor saturates a typically loud genre with mood, although where the horror movie felt unique, the spy movie is a savory throwback. There are exquisitely framed images throughout that elevate without distracting: both wide compositions, like a railyard filmed from directly overhead, and narrow ones, like a freight elevator with horizontally opening doors that yawn open behind a rider, revealing presence or absence (and by suggestion, suspicion or its absence). The visual nature of The Circus maximizes its panoptical character. A floor of open-format desks yields to another below through a circular balcony cut in the floor. The leadership meet in a room built separately into the main floor, a small box with a conference table, walled with Hare Krishna orange acoustic tile.

If you were to tell me that the Gary Oldmans from True Romance, the Nolan Batmans, and this were all different people, I would believe you. Oldman’s Smiley is anything but; forced out from The Circus, the only glimpse of emotion he shows is in a flashback, when he learns the identity of his wife’s lover and his face contorts, a revelation that will ripple through to the end of the film. Otherwise, the Oxbridge boys of military intelligence are a very emotional stratum. Just about everyone else cries, from rough-and-tumble Tom Hardy to gnomish Toby Jones. There is a lot of love that dare not speak its name.

  • Magic Moment: Smiley’s face, spying what he doesn’t wish to know; also the payoff of that moment. Not revenge but even deeper understanding.
  • Screenwriting Tips: This is a high-wire act. There are few of the reversals and none of the all-is-lost business so valued in storytelling. Just inexorable progress towards a high-stakes goal.
  • Pot Pourri: Benedict Cumberbatch! What is he made of? As it turns out, the white guys don’t look anything alike.
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January 30, 2012 - Posted by | Monday Movies |

10 Comments

  1. Also, I do hope you step right up and take your chances in my friend Jon’s Oscar pool. $10 to play, no familiarity with the nominees required. Winners have often had more exposure to the oddsmakers than the actual films. Read Me, Ballot, Complete Rules (pdf and xls links).

    Comment by Josh K-sky | January 30, 2012

  2. Having read Josh’s review of TTSS, I feel sheepish for falling asleep during it. Not sheepish enough to try seeing it again, though.

    After a job interview Friday, I didn’t feel much like doing things I probably should have been doing so I took to looking through what Netflix Instant had to offer. I stumbled across Limitless because I was supposed to be picking something my wife wasn’t all that interested in. Should we be concerned at how often people who receive hyper awareness or superpowers in movies turn to wondering how they can use their newfound skills to get rich?

    The film’s protagonist uses a drug to gain what he describes as a “four digit IQ” and proceeds to use this to get laid, finish a book he’s been working on and then start making money on the market. When blackouts associated with the drug lead him to wonder if he murdered a woman, his sole concern is beating the rap so he can assist in a huge merger that will allow him to make $40M. He never seems all that concerned with whether he actually killed her, despite having some pretty amazing cognitive powers that would probably be useful in finding out. I could go on about his ill-conceived use of being super intelligent, but it seems like wasted effort on a movie that was short on imagination.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | January 30, 2012

  3. I saw Pina, which was gorgeous but should not have been in 3-D. There’s nobody better than Wim Wenders at composing a shot, but the 3-D cuts all the light levels at least in half, which kind of ruins the perfect balance that you can see would be there in the 2-D version. It was like looking at ancient Roman mosaics or something: you can tell it’s stunning, but you’re seeing it through this patina of cracks so it all looks faded and not right. Still great dancing and beautiful moviemaking, but you leave with that 3-D headache. And there was no reason at all for it to be in 3-D.

    Fuck off, 3-D.

    Comment by Josh Malbin | January 30, 2012

  4. Oh, and on Benedict Cumberbatch: I assume you are watching Sherlock, yes?

    Comment by Josh Malbin | January 30, 2012

  5. 2 – sleepy is sleepy. And yeah, once you wake up, there’s no finding your way back. (sorry. I totally forgot about your comment. That was dickish of me.)
    3 – That’s too bad. I went into Hugo prepared to hate the 3-d and thought it was used to artful effect, and I was hoping for the same from Pina.
    4 – oh, yes.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | January 30, 2012

  6. Many things came in the way of The Family and either Blue Velvet or Scarface (although we did see a piece and – to my surprise – both of The qualified-for-viewing Kids actually wanted to see the rest of it!).

    The WIfe and I did see Shame though. It was one of those movies where the only reason we didn’t walk out after half an hour was because we didn’t realize the other wanted to walk out as well. This lack of mutual understanding worked out well because the last hour was, mostly, fantastic. It is not easy to be fantastic and slow.

    Comment by Guido Nius | January 31, 2012

  7. Josh – No problem. Not dickish. I was just happy when there were points in the movie you described that seemed familiar.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | January 31, 2012

  8. If anyone has time to slot in Persona or Tiny Furniture, we could discuss them in comments next week. Just a thought. Both are streaming on Netflix FWIW.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | January 31, 2012

  9. aw hell

    1/22, 1/23 – La Commune
    1/24/12 – (Justified)
    1/25/12 – The Universal Clock – Bowie 2000
    documentary about Watkins
    1/26/12 – Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below – Shinkai 2011 7/10
    sub-Miyazaki anime; but warmer and more beautiful and detailed in backgrounds
    1/27/12 – Traveling Actors – Naruse 1940 7/10
    hilarious, the actors are the two halves of a stage horse; but see this with “Hideko, the Bus Conductor” for Naruse’s extrememly subtle wartime subversion
    1/28/12 – The Beekeeper – Angelopoulos 1986 7/10
    somebody said this was perfect arthouse banality
    1/29/12 – Tora San 3 His Tender Love – some hack not Yamada 1970 5/10
    And Soon the Darkness – 2011 3/10
    1/30/12 – Funeral Parade of Roses – Matsumoto 1969 10/10
    drag queens in Tokyo do a gay Oedipus Rex in the style of Godard + Lester; see this before you die
    1/31/12 – (Justified)
    2/01/01 – Semishigure – Kurotsuchi 2005 7/10
    more sentimental + Romantic + swashbuckling than the other Shuhei Fujisawa movies; but unusually tragic very beautiful and I was a fucking puddle for two hours.

    There is an amazement in Semisihigure. Spoilers. Plot – a 15-yr-old boy in Edo era boonies has a puppy love with an eleven-yr-old girl, just start holding hands stuff, and other profound stuff, but very deep. She is pudgy, awkward, hopelessly shy, they are both poor and share troubles.

    She is taken to Tokyo to be a houseservant for the Daimyo. We don’t see her for an hour, but hear that she caught the Daimyo’s eye, and became his concubine, miscarried, horrible court politics, heartbreak for young samurai – plot

    plot stuff – ten years have passed, and young samurai is summoned to help her protect her child, the heir. They meet in a big room, we hear her voice off screen then jump cut to the woman.

    Hard to describe, hard to explain. She is of course a vision, a goddess of grace, beauty, kindness, poise…and this is felt as an unbearable tragedy. Unbearable. All the pain and horror and suffering has been turned into beauty as a means of survival but so much more has been destroyed. This is not a shell, not armor, she has not hardened. She had to be fucking completely real to get allies in that viper’s den, allies that would die for her. Performance does not describe it, she had to kill everything that was not performance. There is absolutely no way back to life. I don’t know, something there wanted to make me scream.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | February 2, 2012

  10. The bottomless smile of a saint, deep enough to contain the sufferings of the world.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | February 2, 2012


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