If you're inclined to see RED 2, it means you probably enjoyed RED. Already, you're a leg up on this reviewer, who didn't find the original all too stimulating. But my experience catching the sequel, situated in a theater surrounded by vehement fans of Bruce Willis' first turn as a former CIA man branded with the "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" label, was a wholly refreshing one. As with any sequel — especially those in the action- or adventure-comedy genre — half the fun is revisiting old favorite characters. That's the gambit of the opening act of a film like RED 2: to entertain questions of "Where are they now?" with the most delightful answers possible.
And even in the subdued reunion of Frank Moses (Willis) and his old partner and pal, certified loon Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), there's a sort of hearty warmth present. Laughter erupts when the latter emerges, incognito, from the aisles on a department store, on the prowl for his buddy in hopes of reattaching him to the mad glory of their younger days. There's nothing outstandingly funny going on, but you laugh and smile, already connected to these men and their relationship by the good graces of the first film.
While not accomplishing anything altogether new, this is the phenomenon that makes sequels such a spirited treasure: that feeling of "the gang's back together," in which the audience includes itself in that denomination. It's not only the people onscreen who are reteaming with old friends, but the fans who so engaged with RED in the first place — the sequel succeeds in making lovers of the original feel "involved" with the reunion, rewarding fandom with character-driven gags about Willis' stealth, Malkovich's madness, Helen Mirren's awesome frigidity, and Mary-Louise Parker's crazy-eyed bloodlust.
In fact, it's only when RED 2 gets away from its central gang that the film really crumbles. Setting its attention on a behemoth-concept plot, riddled with inexplicable twists and turns, the film comes off more mentally maligned than its characters at some point. When we are forced to spend time with newbie characters — charmless big bad Neal McDonough, disgruntled rookie Byung-hun Lee, and even the great Anthony Hopkins as a senile former agent — we await the return of the charismatic stars. Really just Malkovich, in fact.
Yes, the laughs aren't exactly overflowing in RED 2, but there is no short supply of joy in watching John Malkovich contort his face and worm through difficult conversations as the manipulative, maniacal Marvin. With such a command over nuanced comedy, Malkovich can turn the lackluster script into something of delightful flavor. Whether he's pleading with Willis to join him in the barracks, faking his own death, struggling to disarm a bomb, or draped inexplicably in Carmen Miranda garb, Malkovich is, indubitably, funny. In every other corner of this discombobulated picture, what with its stock characters and alarmingly nonsensical plot, you'll question what the hell these filmmakers are up to... and why, in fact, you're sticking around for the long haul. But as long as Malkovich is on screen, playing zany or basking in the fun familiarity of the RED team as constructed by the first movie, there is fun to be had.
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
Adapted from John Boyne’s award winning novel Pajamas presents a different view of the Holocaust told as a fable primarily through the eyes of an 8-year-old German boy Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) is transferred from Berlin to a desolate outpost. Bruno finds nothing much to do and no new friends to play with. His older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) pretty much ignores him preferring to spend time playing with dolls or talking to Lieutenant Kolter (Rupert Friend) an eerie young man working for her father. What the father knows and doesn’t tell his family is that his new assignment is running a concentration camp. Despite the warnings from his mother (Vera Farmiga) to stay away from the huge backyard Bruno heads to a “farm” he sees in the clearing where he meets and befriends a Jewish boy Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. As the frequency of his visits with this boy in the striped pajamas increases Bruno learns more about intolerance in the world and the fences that divide them. As his “education” continues the story takes a surprising turn. Although the film has typically fine performances from an impressive roster of actors -- including Thewlis Farmiga and Friend as well as veteran Richard Johnson as Grandpa -- it’s the remarkable young stars who make the most vivid impression. Butterfield is especially impressive showing the emerging curiosity of a young child caught up in a new environment and circumstances he can’t quite grasp. His outgoing friendly nature and his discovery of a human connection despite the barrier of a barbed wire fence is well-played and carries the entire film. This is perhaps the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust has been portrayed in such a manner and it’s all on Butterfield’s able shoulders. Equally fine is Scanlon playing the title role with haunting sunken eyes but who like Bruno shows us a better way through an uncorrupted innocent perspective. Their scenes together are touching and quietly intense and both are easily up to the task. Smartly adapted for the screen by director Mark Herman this delicate fable about the effects of hatred senseless violence and unimaginable prejudice as filtered through the eyes of children has become far more dramatic and complex in its trip to the big screen. The novel is essentially FOR children an attempt to show the Holocaust in terms they could more easily understand. The film uses the children at the center of the story to express a more universal and tragic view of war and the Holocaust. Herman has still captured the surreal fable at the heart of Boyne’s book but it’s pointedly real and effective in its devastating impact when seen on film. Shot on location in Budapest Herman expertly captures the lone note of youthful hope and power of friendship embodied in his two remarkable young leads who seem immune to the reality of death and hate surrounds them. This is a daringly different and gut-wrenching movie that stays with you long after the theatre lights have gone up.