Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

“Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy” (2012) – 5-Obstructions Review

Click on image to be taken to "Myfilmviews"-the originator of the Blogathon

Click on image to be taken to “Myfilmviews”-the originator of the Blogathon

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Director: Tomas Alfredson

Writers: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberpatch, John Hurt

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film based on a John le Carre novel of the same name. Instead of starting my review with my own synopsis I will present the description from Amazon. I do this not out of laziness, but out of the belief that you would need at least a Master’s in English Composition to successfully summarize the plot in one or two paragraphs. That being said, here you go: “The man he knew as ‘Control’ (John Hurt) is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley (Gary Oldman) isn’t quite ready for retirement-especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla-his Moscow Centre nemesis-and sets a trap to catch the traitor.” The story is set in the 70s during the Cold War and involves the British and Soviet Intelligence Agencies.

The film is impossibly slow and obtuse. A cold-war thriller has never been this dull. The story would lead you to believe the only spycraft that occurred during the 70s was the spies watching themselves within their own agency. These “spymasters” are more worried about their own pecking order within the organization then actually spying on the enemy. And when an enemy is finally revealed, their motivation, “the West has become so ugly,” is so ridiculous it is almost comical. The admittedly impressive cast of British thespians is brought low by the story.

Gary Oldman, normally a dynamic actor, walks like a zombie through the film. His one singular moment to shine, the scene in which he tells of his meeting with the present head of the KGB, allows a brief glimpse of the fine actor we know him to be. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, and Colin Firth are fine given the material they had to work with. As for John Hurt and Mark Strong, John Hurt plays John Hurt and Mark Strong continues to prove he is the Ted McGinley of film.

The only positives for the film are its music and set direction. The choice of songs and score works for the setting, and the same can be said for the art design. But alas, when the best thing that can be said for a film are its choice in music, then you have a poor film

Grade = D

P.S. My real grade for the film is an “A”. You can read the review here VMR’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer

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“Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) – Movie Review

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Writers: Roberto Ochi, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, and Benedict Cumberbatch

We start above a red-leafed forest on an alien planet as two robed figures run away from a temple chased by the primitive indigenous population. We quickly learn Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) are the robbed figures, and they have stolen a sacred scroll. This is all a distraction to allow Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) time to place a cold fusion device in the unstable volcano that is not only on the verge of an eruption, but is also a trigger for a planet wide cataclysmic event. After a series of unfortunate events the shuttle craft carrying Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is scuttled, Spock is rescued from the erupting volcano, the Enterprise rises from the ocean depths in full view of the native population and becomes part of the local mythology, and the Prime Directive is violated on multiple fronts. In other words, just another Kirk & Company adventure from the Original Series.

Next we are in London. And through a slow-burn montage we are introduced to the terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his attack on a Starfleet “archive” in London. The attack is only a first strike before his assault on Starfleet Command. After Kirk barely fends off Harrison, he is sent on a mission to capture him in Klingon territory.

The story moves forward at a quick pace and never lets up. Its one major flaw is that it is too reverential to previous films and the original series. Though this was acceptable in the first JJ Abrams film in order to establish this as an alternate reality timeline, in this case it feels tacked on–almost as a clique making inside jokes. It results in an unnecessary cameo at one point, and an unfortunate use of a classic Trek line by an inappropriate character on another end. But what did work was the chemistry between characters and the morality issues the script sets up.

In classic Trek fashion, the story did ask difficult moral questions that do not have black & white answers. Is the enemy of your enemy really your friend? Do the means justify the ends?

Pine, Quinto, and company are falling comfortably into their roles and making them their own. Simon Pegg as Commander Scott in particular is a joy to watch; though more comical than the original portrayal from the orignal series, it fits this new Scotty for a new audience without reducing the importance of the character. Pine & Quinto play-off each other well and have a natural chemistry–which is the key to the continued success of the franchise. The unknown quantity is Urban as McCoy. Though humourous, Urban’s performance is also borderline parody. It’s an approach that would work on a television series where the character can be molded over time, but in a movie it is more difficult to pull-off. Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison is superb. Too bad he was not allowed to remain Harrison.

If the writers had allowed the story to stand on its own feet as opposed to being a re-engineered story, then they could have fashioned a tale that would have worked with the character of Harrison remaining the antagonist. The idea of the idealistic Federation & Starfleet creating its own homegrown terrorists is a good one and works. Cumberbatch’s performance from that point-of-view works. It’s only when the writers try to bring the original series references back to life that the character does not work.

As for the remaining cast, they fair well. The supporting characters in Trek films always suffer from lack of screen time, and this film is no exception. At least each character is given their moment to shine.

The other thing that shines is the witty banter between the characters. This is definitely the funniest of the Trek films. From Kirk ordering McCoy to stop speaking in metaphors to the exchange between Admiral Pike and Spock, the dialogue is quick and smart.

The overall feeling from Star Trek Into Darkness is one of what could have been. This could have been a great film if only the creative team cut the umbilical cord to the past. We the audience have accepted the doorway to the alternate reality, now the writers have to walk fully through it and create their own path.

Grade = B+

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – Movie Review

Click on image to view original trailer

Director:  Tomas Alfredson

Writers:  Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

Stars:  Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberpatch, John Hurt

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film based on a John le Carre novel of the same name.  I am going to take the advice of JoTheBW, a vlogger I found while looking for the trailer.  Instead of starting her review with her own synopsis, she just read the book jacket; so I will read the description from Amazon.  I do this not out of laziness, but out of the belief that you would need at least a Master’s in English Composition to successfully summarize the plot in one or two paragraphs.  That being said, here you go:  “The man he knew as “Control” (John Hurt) is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley (Gary Oldman) isn’t quite ready for retirement-especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla-his Moscow Centre nemesis-and sets a trap to catch the traitor.”  The story is set in the 70s during the Cold War and involves the British and Soviet Intelligence Agencies.

First, I loved this film.  Second, it is not for everyone.  The pacing is deliberately slow, and the story demands all of your attention.  I knew from reading Connie Ogle’s review in The Miami Herald, and Rene Rodriguez’s (the regular film critic for The Herald) Facebook comment about being lost within the first ten minutes of the film that I had to stay focused.  That being said, you should also know the term “Circus” refers to the British Intelligence Agency and not an actual circus like one used in the much underappreciated James Bond movie Octopussy.

The direction by Tomas Alfredson is superb, and the look of the film is appropriately bleak & downtrodden.  The score fits the Cold War setting and adds tension.  Scenes are well shot and blocked.  Little details are allowed to be shown:  the small piece of paper or wood that Smiley puts on the hinge side of his door to see if someone has opened it or not, and Smiley removing his shoes so he can walk across a wood floor in sox and not make any noise are two that come to mind.  The opening credit scene with a disgraced Control and a forced out Smiley leaving the Circus’ office is a masterwork of showing and not telling:  the young Turks glee to see them off; the security of the top-floor brass; the mundane bureaucracy of the lower floors; the sadness of the support personnel as Control & Smiley walk by them, supposedly never to return.  The film comes full-circle at the end when this scene is reversed to the French Song “Le Mer”, and Smiley takes his seat at the head of the Circus.

In a cast that includes almost every great male British character actor, three stand-out.  Gary Oldman has never been more subdued or looked older.  His portrayal of George Smiley shows the character’s weariness and moral ambiguity.  His monologue regarding the time he tried to convince a Soviet agent to defect is made powerful by the quiet way it is delivered and the emotional exhaustion Oldman conveys in giving it.  Oldman’s Smiley is no tired bureaucrat, but a quiet man capable of evil things.  The second actor is the recipient of the monologue, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Smiley’s loyal confidant.  That loyalty puts the Guillam character into conflict with the same agency he works for, and this causes him conflict that Cumberbatch effectively shows.  And like Smiley he is no simple bureaucrat, but a dangerous company man.  He looks like what I imagine a British agent to look like:  thin, elegant, and slightly menacing.  But he is still a human being with emotions and weaknesses.  The scene in which Guillam has to leave his male lover because he may also be being watched is truly emotional.  The last is Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr.  Hardy is an actor that always seems to look different in every role, but remains recognizable.  As Ricki he convinces you that this is a man on the edge and wants to get away.  I felt for him at the end of the film as he was waiting for someone that was not coming back.

This is a film to enjoy for the small details and nuances.  Details more easily witnessed on the big screen in a dark theatre.  If you want an old fashioned Cold War thriller that is going to force you to think and pay attention, then this is your film.

Grade = A

P.S.  I liked the film so much I included a second trailer below.

2nd Trailer


“War Horse” – Movie Review

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Director:  Steven Spielberg

Writers:  Lee Hall and Richard Curtis

Stars:  Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Neils Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch

War Horse is the store of Joey (the Horse) and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) his young owner.  From the day Joey was born Albert admired him from a distance.  A few years later, Joey comes up for auction and Albert’s father (Peter Mullen) proceeds to win him after a bidding war with his landowner (David Thewlis).  Albert begins to tame and train Joey once he his brought to the farm.  This is made more difficult by the fact that Joey is a thoroughbred; more akin to a racetrack or the Calvary then plowing fields.  But Albert & Joey persevere, and Joey becomes a good work horse.  Unfortunately Albert’s father has been unlucky in life after his service in the Boer Wars.  He misses his rent payment to the landowner, and then his crops are destroyed after a heavy storm.  With no funds, he is forced to sell Joey to a Calvary Officer (Tom Hiddleston) once England has entered World War I.

From here, we follow Joey as he servers for the British, is captured by the Germans, hidden by two German brothers, discovered by a French girl, and then recaptured by the Germans and made to work on the front lines.  At the same time Albert has come of age and has enlisted in the service to find his beloved Joey.  He is sent to the front lines of trench warfare; the German & British facing off against each other across a “No-Mans Land”.  It is behind this “No-Mans Land” that Joey is brought to the breaking point moving men, material, and heavy artillery.  Only due to the advancement of the British and the compassion of a German soldier is Joey released to fend for himself.  He does so by galloping; galloping through the front lines and through artillery file; galloping over the trenches and then through “No-Mans Land”.  And here he is finally stopped; not by gun fire or artillery shells, but by the jagged steel of barbed-wire.  Wounded, exhausted, and entangled Joey is only saved by the mercy of both fighting fronts.  Enemies coming and working together to free him.  Back on the British side, Joey and Albert are reunited at the infirmary, both battered by the War.

The story reflects its children’s book roots.  The experiences of the horse being too unbelievable, and the nobility of some of the characters being too perfect.  Kudos though for the introduction of the German brothers and Albert’s father’s back story (not in the original book).  Both threads were a necessary bit of reality that reflect the darkness which man is capable of and the damage war leaves on the soul.

As for the direction, there was something off to Steven Spielberg’s work this time.  Though overall the film was well shot, there were a few moments where it had a PBS Masterpiece Theatre quality.  Also, the lighting and setting of the final scene was so sweet I felt I had to visit my dentist after the movie.  That being said, he shined with the war scenes and the small details of character development.

The musical score was typical John Williams.

All the performances are universally good.  Jeremy Irvine was spot-on as the boy who becomes a man.  Emily Watson &  Peter Mullan are believable as his poor stoic farmer parents.  The supporting cast is equally good.  Shinning in key moments that were affecting:  Tom Hiddleston realizing his impending death; Neils Arestrup revelation of the loss of his granddaughter.

Overall this is a good film.  The quality of it made more impressive by how quickly it was developed and crafted (Spielberg only signing-up to direct in May 2010).  It is the type of film that should be watched in the theatre.

Grade = B