Archive for September, 2011

In a nutshell: Perplexing for le Carré virgins, a gem for fans

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should come with a viewers’ warning. The film is beautifully shot, perfectly recreates the tension and paranoia of the bleak days of the Cold War and features a British cast on top form. But for people who are new to the John le Carré story, it is almost impossible to fully comprehend what is happening. Perhaps that’s why the high-brow critics love it.

Admittedly for viewers who have read the book or absorbed the 1979 TV series, starring Alec Guinness, this will be a completely different experience. It is also likely that repeated views will be rewarding to find plot points and clues you didn’t spot the first time to pick apart the perplexing plot.

But films should leave you spellbound the first time you walk into a cinema to see them – and it doesn’t deliver. It’s a real shame as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy features a cast on career defining form. Industry veteran Gary Oldman is unrecognisable as George Smiley, the man forced from retirement to uncover a Soviet agent ‘right at the top of the circus’ in MI6. Tom Hardy, who will play the villain Bane in the new Batman film, also deserves a mention for his excellent portrayal of Ricki Tarr, the British agent under suspicion. But sadly Peter Straughan, who wrote the screenplay, seems to have taken it for granted that he is introducing the story to a knowing audience.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

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In a nutshell: Not so plain Jane falls in love with foxy Fassbender

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

With the new Wuthering Heights adaptation just around the corner (complete with – gasp – a black Heathcliff) it’s timely for a revamp of the fairest Brontë of them all – Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Cary Fukunaga, who impressed with Sundance winning Mexican gang feature debut Sin Nombre, may seem a strange choice as director for what at first glance (and especially when Judi Dench turns up) looks a super-expensive BBC costume piece – indeed the Beeb also co-produce – but the result is something quite special, to rival even the quintessential Orson Welles/ Jane Fontaine pairing in Robert Stevenson’s 1943 film.

No one does Gothic romance quite like the Brontës and Fukunaga and scriptwriter Moira Buffini (who penned Tamara Drewe) wisely stay true to the source material. Why bother attempting to create brilliant dialogue when Charlotte Brontë got there before you over 160 years ago? The most notable shift however is our introduction, transporting us to the latter quarter of the novel with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) fleeing from Thornfield across the bleak moors, before efficiently returning to childhood and the destiny-shaping position as governess for Mr Rochester’s (Michael Fassbender) ward in flashback.

Famously, Brontë described Rochester as ugly and the narrator herself as plain, but our two leads could never achieve this. Wasikowska is brilliant as a severe Jane, but Michael Fassbender – all Byronic sex appeal, piercing glances and filling out those breeches in a very healthy manner – is absolutely mesmerising. Okay, perving over, but if you caught his turn as Bobby Sands in Hunger, or even his magnetic Magneto in the new X-Men, you’ll know how the German-Irish actor can ignite a screen and the exchanges between Rochester and Jane are sizzling with tension.

Fukunaga also plays up the Gothic elements of the novel for some great suspense – for the four people left in the world who don’t know the reasons behind the strange events at Thornfield, Popcorn won’t spoil the surprise – but the atmosphere and mystery is brilliantly played and Adriano Goldman’s excellent cinematography captures the harsh landscape as an almost alien landscape, far from the rolling English fields of similar adaptations.

While much of the male section of the audience may roll their eyes at the aching romance, this is far from a Brontë-snorus, Jane Eyre is a brilliant adaptation, which is faithful but also brings something new. If you’re a fan of the novel – or my future husband Michael Fassbender – this is a must-see.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

In a nutshell: “Just put ‘approx’ nine more killings…”

Popcorn rating: 4/5

When someone ‘vulnerable’ – a child, or an adult who might not fully understand the procedure – is arrested or charged with a crime, an ‘appropriate adult’ is appointed to sit in on interviews, offer them advice, and generally make sure the nasty old policemen aren’t taking advantage of them. Presumably, when Janet Leach volunteered for this back in the mid-90s, she was expecting to be keeping an eye on 15-year-old shoplifters. What actually happened was that her first client was a ‘53-year-old man with learning difficulties.’

Who’d raped, murdered and dismembered his daughter.

Appropriate Adult is the true story of the investigation into Fred and Rose West’s squalid, sadistic murder spree, told from the perspective of Leach, West’s uneasy confidante. Much praise has been given to Emily Watson as Leach, but while she is indeed convincing in what must have been a harrowing part to play, from the audience’s point of view all she really has to do is look haggard and harassed. The really strong performance is from Dominic ‘No Relation’ West.

Is there no end to Dominic’s talents? How can one man play a Baltimore cop, a 1950s BBC newsreader and a psychotic bumpkin and be utterly convincing as all of them? I suspect witchcraft, but whatever: West is brilliant as, well, West. He’s sinister, occasionally roguish, even charming in a manipulative sort of way, one moment ‘a bit simple’, as my mother would say, and the next wily and cunning.

Somewhat overlooked in the previews, Monica Dolan as crass, aggressive, foul-mouthed Rose is excellent too – malevolent, vicious and terrifying in an entirely different way from her disturbingly affable husband.

The subject matter of Appropriate Adult is, of course, distressing, despite the wise decision not to attempt to recreate any of the actual murders or show the exhumation of the victims’ remains. But incredibly, there are lines, lifted straight from the real police interviews with Fred, that are shockingly close to being funny: this drama isn’t scared to shy away from the occasionally comic banality of small-town evil.

The cast and makers had a tough job on their hands with Appropriate Adult, but they’ve managed to pull it off without it once descending into sensationalism or exploitation. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had cause to say this in the past twenty years – but ITV really have done a fine job.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Bizarre yet absorbing…yep, typical Almodovar

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Skin suits and abuse. A man dressed as a carnival tiger. These are just some of the striking moments in the opening scenes of The Skin I Live In. It is bizarre, frightening and claustrophobic yet completely absorbing and slightly reminiscent of the style of Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange.

World famous Spanish director Pedro Almodovar ventures into very familiar territory yet there is more urgency and tension here than his usual work. The film tells the story of pioneering plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who creates a completely lifelike yet almost indestructible synthetic skin.

Ledgard has been twisted by the tragic death of his wife and daughter and a mysterious woman Vera (Elena Anaya) is held captive as his experiments continue. It might sound like the stuff of a horror film but it is more haunting and thought-provoking than anything else.

The tricky element of reviewing The Skin I Live In is that to say much more would be to give the plot away. There is a major twist which is revealed about half way through but you’ll probably still be stunned as a the credits roll.

Praise goes to Almodovar for making the film he set out to without compromise and making an outlandish scenario seem feasible. You get the real sense this wouldn’t have worked with any other director.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan