Tag Archives: Toby Jones

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The first time I saw Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (when it first came out) it was lost on me, I felt detached from it, unable to connect and, dare I say, bored. That’s what revisits are for though and the second time I found rich psychological detail, achingly beautiful character relationships, beautifully burnished cinematography and one tantalizing Rubik’s cube of a narrative that, yes, is still tough for me to comprehensively understand but is rich in treasures of emotional depth, poetic tragedy and minuscule splashes of darkest humour amongst the sardonic helpings of dry espionage. Gary Oldman is sly and terrific in a study of low key tenacity as George Smiley, a veteran MI6 bigwig tasked by twitchy Mission Control (John Hurt, brilliant as ever) to find a decades long Soviet mole amidst their ranks. It could be one of a few higher ups, played by the prolific likes of Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, David Dencik and others. It proves to be quite the hurdle as this traitor has burrowed himself so deeply within their ranks that he himself is perhaps confused what side he belongs to anymore. Smiley uses a rookie field operative (Benedict Cumberbatch, excellent) to sniff around and is carefully watched by a regional honcho played by Simon McBurney, a very unsettling little fellow who can turn the simple act of buttering dry toast into a devilish interrogation tactic and is the last dude you want to be ‘carefully watched’ by. The great Mark Strong has a wonderful extended bit as a long burned out former operative with deep ties to MI6 and a haunted past, his arc is very special here. My favourite aspect of the film has to be Tom Hardy as a double agent who falls hard for a mysterious Russian girl (Svetlana Khodvhenkova) he’s surveilling. He’s the perfectly tragic example of a hopeless romantic who discovers he’s gravely in the wrong line of work and wants out before it’s too late. All of these characters move about greyest London and other parts of Europe like chess pieces, and indeed the metaphor becomes literal when Hurt’s Control uses an actual chessboard to illustrate to Smiley just who he’s dealing with and how formidable each potential opponent might just be. The film is grey, drab, washed out, lived in and wearily opaque to evoke a paranoid, sad postwar setting but despite the inherent gloom drenching everything I found the aesthetic to be quite strikingly beautiful. Same goes for the themes and emotional content: these opaque characters hold their emotions close to the chest and as such appear icy, ambiguous and heartless yet it’s beneath that the we see their humanity, not in dialogue or direct action but in glances, quiet moments, slow revelations and half noticed interactions between words. Oldman, Strong, Firth and Hardy are the four standouts in an impossibly well tailored cast of deep cut talents, they’re the four legs of the table to watch for in order to ascertain the strange elixir of this film’s essence and get the most of it. Just don’t expect to absorb everything the first time round, this is a deeply layered, multifaceted, strange beast of a film that likely takes many viewings (this was only my second) to fully settle in. See if you can catch references to everything from John Carpenter’s The Thing to 007 to the Coen Brothers to even the bible while also soaking up the pure class and originality it possesses all its own. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman

There’s no nice way to put this: Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is a fucking embarrassing mess of a film. It frequently looks very beautiful but stunning snowy visuals can only get you so far in a film whose story is so jagged it’s borderline nonexistent. Based on an airport thriller novel, this tries to be a grisly murder mystery in the vein of Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or something and ends up stumbling over its own lopsided narrative, getting lost in a sea of serial killer cliches and providing a host of excellent actors with basically jack shit to do.

Michael Fassbender is Detective Harry Hole (snicker), hard bitten Oslo lawman who comes across a serial murderer who leaves victim’s bloody scarves wrapped around an eerie looking snowman. So begins an impenetrable investigation dating decades back and relating (somehow) to a bunch of characters whose involvement just seems out of nowhere really. There’s a set of twins played by Chloe Sevigny, who always picks edgy, boundary pushing roles but seems listless and lost here. J.K. Simmons shows up briefly with a horrendous Norwegian accent as the police captain overseeing the case. Others meander in and out including Rebecca Ferguson, James D’arcy, Toby Jones, Adrian Dunbar and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Oh yeah and Val Kilmer too, playing a cop in flashbacks who lost his mind trying to find this killer, with godawful dubbing over his voice. At one point he actually steps out his office window and paces out onto a ledge like he wants nothing more than to escape this train wreck of a film. What a cast, just thrown to the winds.

I remember when the trailer for this came out, I couldn’t have been more excited for it. Snowy setting, eerie serial killer mystery, hard boiled cop with his own demons, I mean it’s so much up my alley it was practically knocking on my door. I answered by seeing the thing finally and wish I just stayed inside. The resulting film seems like it was thrown into a snowblower for editing and just launched across a field for release with little thought for character, incident, motivation, suspense or anything remotely engaging. It’s a shame because up until this, Alfredson’s track record was pretty impeccable. A straight up dud.

-Nate Hill

Atomic Blonde 


Atomic Blonde is the annual adrenaline shot the action genre gets every year, if we’re lucky. Amidst carbon copy superhero extravaganzas, increasingly ridiculous Fast/Furious hemorrhages and head scratching animation ventures, the multiplex is a frustrating realm these days, but sometimes we are blessed with a good old fashioned hard-R action blitzkrieg that turns out to be a pure banger, lighting up the summer movie roster like neon fireworks. Blonde rides the wake that John Wick left behind, a refreshing, stylistic, no-holds-barred form of action storytelling that cheerfully pisses in the face of all things glossy and PG-13. Set in a frenzied Berlin days before the wall comes down and the Cold War freezes over, Charlize Theron is a breathtakingly sexy super spy with a very particular set of skills and a borderline nihilistic approach to espionage, as well as a massive bone to pick with certain factions of the enemy, who stay fairly hidden until the wicked chess game of a plot rounds it’s final curves. Tasked by a sneaky British intelligence honcho (Toby Jones) and a mysterious CIA Agent (John Goodman, excellent as always) she’s caught between all kinds of warring assets including the KGB, roaming German euro trash punks and a British rogue agent (James Macavoy) playing all sides at once. The plot serves action, to be sure, but it still takes itself seriously amidst all the punches, flying kicks, icepicks to the jugular and careening vehicular destruction. Theron is a primal piston of wanton violence and slinky sexual virility, throwing herself headlong into every action sequence with the kind of reckless abandon that makes you believe those bruises for real (apparently she busted a few ribs for real filming this, the absolute champ). The highlight is a bone shattering one take wonder of a staircase fight, a hapless Eddie Marsan bandaging a bullet wound with swaths of duck tape while Theron furiously dispatches several enemies using any means within arms reach, a spectacle that leads to glorious cringes once the hits get hard and critical and sharp objects start getting close to eyeballs and major organs. The soundtrack must be noted too, the filmmakers employing nostalgic melodies straight out of the 80’s to evoke time and place nicely, with everything from Nina’s 99 Luftballoons to The Clash’s London Calling and Queen’s Under Pressure coming into play. There’s also pretty much the hottest movie sex scene I’ve seen in years, as Theron and a bombshell of a French agent (Sofia Boutella) get slippery under the sheets in a neon soaked Berlin hotel room. This is an action film made by folks who are head over heels in love with the genre, and the passion shows. We never feel cheated, chaperoned or short changed, every ounce of this piece charged up to please the crowd and keep pulses thundering. 

-Nate Hill

Morgan: A Review by Nate Hill


Morgan is one of the slickest genre flicks I’ve seen in recent years, finely tuned like a barbed wire tightrope, full of nasty surprises, throat ripping action and that ever present ethical turmoil that hangs about in any films that deal with artificial humanoid beings. It’s only weakness is exactly that stylistic strength: it’s so tight and streamlined that one occasionally feels like the scales tip in the favour of style over substance, but it’s a minor quibble when you take a step back and look at just how entertaining and fired up this piece is. The filmmakers are minimally concerned with the moral grey areas that cloning wades into, and subsequent philosophical pondering, but more than anything they just want to pull the ripcord and blast full throttle into an adrenaline soaked, R-rated sci-if tale with vague aspects of a character study. The title refers to Morgan (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a performance both terrifying and heartbreaking), a genetically engineered humanoid girl held at a secluded facility alongside researchers, one of which she has just had a violent incident with. The corporate honcho (Brian Cox in a sly, all too brief honcho) dispatches a cold, clinical asset in the form of Kate Mara, sent to assess the situation and implement any measures necessary. She is an outsider, a callous bicep who flexes at the whims of the company. The researchers and handlers, however, are not. They have grown up around Morgan, invested time and, somewhat unwisely, emotion into her and will stop at nothing to ensure her survival. Paternal Toby Jones, opinionated Jennifer Jason Leigh and compassionate Rose Leslie prove to be a formidable armada against Mara’s evaluation, and tensions arise. Morgan has her own cloudy agenda though, and whether by flawed design, ghost in the shell syndrome or pure survival instinct, proves to be the greatest danger of all. She experiences people at their best, worst and most enigmatic, and her startling behaviour is a reflection of all of it, and a sobering example of humanity’s pitiful inability to perfect the creation of artificial life, at least in this film’s universe anyway. From Mara’s threatening presence, to an intense evaluation from a particularly nasty psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti overacting so hard he almost sucks the set dec up into his orbit), it’s no wonder Morgan snaps. Now when she snaps, the film more or less whips all its chips on the table, flips said table and hulk slams it two floors down. All subtlety and thought provocation kind of get left in the dust as everything careens towards an especially visceral climax, and that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t leave you feeling underwhelmed. I kind of had the intuition it was going to take the rambunctious root overall, and took comfort in the fact that it at least somewhat focused on the delicate aspects earlier on. It’s a well oiled machine, impeccably casted, given just enough pathos to keep our sentimental sides invested, and more than enough visceral hullabaloo to get our pulses dancing, all set to a score both thundering and graceful. Great stuff. 

The Hunger Games: A Review by Nate Hill

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I have never read the Hunger Games books, and didn’t rush out to see this first installment when it was released. I have this thing where I sometimes resist a largely popular project simply because it’s buxzingwith so much hype. There’s a word for that that I resist even more, which starts with H, but good luck getting me to admit to that. Anywho, I did watch it one day on netflix, loved the hell out of it, and have seen every subsequent entry, up til last year’s final one. It’s damn great storytelling that soars on a brilliant extended performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who is the actress of her generation and a genius of the craft no matter what anyone says. People called this a slick version of Battle Royale, and while that may be true, it’s certainly not a bad thing, and not the sole extent of what the franchise achieves. There’s stinging social commentary which both condemns and makes satirical light of modern North American culture. It examines the power of propoganda for both good and bad ends. It looks at the abuse of power, and the potent rise of fascism and fear tactics, and how quickly they can become commonplace. And this is all in a young adult orientated film that stars a strong, unhindered female protagonist. Gives you hope for the world. Lawrence is powerful as Katniss Everdeen, a young woman chosen from her district to compete in the much celebrated and very violent Hunger Games, a death tournament which serves as a purge and reminder to the citizens what it cost them to rebel against their oppressors years before. This is all at the behest of mega villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland oozes quiet malice with every articulate and icy syllable), who lives in the wealthy and decadent capitol city of Panem, a dystopian version of North America. Along with Katniss there’s also Peeta  (but no hummus) a local baker’s boy played by Josh Hutcherson, who really struggles to match the skill level of almost everyone around him, especially Lawrence. They are thrust into the posh and stylized razzle dazzle of Capitol life as they train for the ruthless games, watched over by previous Victor and proud alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), as well as preening diva Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks channellig Marie Antoinette crossed with a poodle). The film takes some time to ramp up to the games, but as soon as it does the events unfold in breathless fashion set against a lush wilderness background, each and every member fighting tooth and nail to stay alive against both each other and the obstacles which gamesmasters have placed in their way. Anyone with an intense fear of wasps will want to be warned. A clever riff on the talk shows of our climate is shown, as the competitors are quizzed by Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) a manically hopped up pop personality with a hairstyle that would make a samurai jealous and teeth so white they get accused of stealing oscar nominations. Tucci is truly a well of energy and the proceedings go electric whenever he’s around. Watch for Paula Malcolmson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, a kindly fashion guru who takes a shine to Katniss and designs her a dress to end all dresses. Lawrence carries the entire thing on her mockingjay wings, making Katniss a spirit of unrest, a true symbol of hope and above all, a scared girl tossed into events she can’t possibly imagine navigating. Her performance is most of what makes these films so solid, and they couldn’t have made a better casting choice. Be sure to stay fpr the credits to hear ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, a fittingly grandiose original song by Arcade Fire.