Movie of the Week: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Today I saw an early show of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which may be the crowning achievement of this year’s Hollywood theme – a bunch of movies that receive critical praise and do next to nothing.  The previews for this film said it was “based on the novel that re-imagined the spy thriller genre.”  Probably because if the book was anything like the movie, no one ever envisioned a spy thriller being so old, dreary and boring.

Great for putting babies to sleep.

I can appreciate an understated film, but over the last few years my favorite movies have been Munich, District 9, The Dark Knight, Eastern Promises, Inception, the Social Network, etc.  I like movies that are well made, but can actually entertain as well.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has an all star cast and has received rave reviews so I sat with extra diligence so as to not be caught off guard by any subtle cinematic brilliance.  My diligence was rewarded with two (or was it four) hours of water boiling.  The movie is so boring they might as well double feature it with Hugo and call it “Now you can euthanize the whole family with this coma-inducing, boring double feature.”

The plot of the movie is about how a recently, forced into-retirement spy played by Gary Oldman has to find a Russian mole in the upper ranks of British intelligence.  A couple of dead bodies show up, but nothing, not camera work, not score, not acting can save this from being what it is: an incredibly boring movie.  They took spy work and espionage and gave it the pace of an early 90s Merchant Ivory film.  I kept expecting to see Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins sneaking furtive glances at each other.

Hollywood seems to have made a clear divide this year – either you can be entertaining and pretty mediocre or it can be extremely well made and completely useless.  Like going to a bar that only serves $1,000 bottles of wine and Four Loco.

By the end of the movie, which I assume since it was a spy thriller was supposed to have some mystery element to it, you learn who the spy was and I was amazed at how little I actually cared.  I was not surprised, but I had not predicted it either. It just was.  Perhaps in our current era of massive self-absorption and trite sensibilities we crave to have things that are serious.  And TTSS delivers that. It just doesn’t deliver anything else.

Final Grades – For Film-Making – B+, For Entertainment Value – D+



Movie Review – The Descendants

For a while I was thinking that the Oscar race had begun and ended with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Crazy Stupid Love this summer and The Ides of March this fall.  J Edgar, though not bad, was disappointing and I just have not seen too many movies that I would call “great.”  However, The Descendants is the first movie I have seen since the usual start of Oscar rush that I think has a rightful place to be an awards contender.

The movie focuses on Matt King (George Clooney), a successful attorney, and trustee of a $500 million track of Hawaiian real estate who is dealing with a tragic boating accident involving his wife.  Her prospects of a recovery seem slim and King’s problems are compounded by a bitchy 17 year old daughter and the revelation that his wife was having an affair.

This movie combines great everyday humor with end-of-life, gut-wrenching, soul searching.  It never lets you forget the tragedy through excessive comedy, but it never gets you too sad without inserting some levity, which for the most part feels fairly realistic.  Clooney is terrific, but so are the actresses that play his daughters and the actor that plays his older daughter’s friend and travelling companion (think of a dumber, surfing over football, less brooding version of Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights).

I was wary of the movie simply because too often these types of films tend to fall in love with their own quirkiness and “realness,” while in the process forsaking plot and dialogue.  This is not one of those movies.  It is well done and thoroughly entertaining.

Final Grade – A-