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.
If you’re anything like me, the only reason you ever watched something like American Idol is the fact that it practically begs you to form irrational opinions of complete strangers for a few hours a week, and to brew the ridiculous opinions for months until they boil over and you flip back over to complete and total apathy by the time the finale comes around. If, however, you’re unfortunate enough to be like me and you’ve managed to watch entire seasons of Idol, then I’m sorry, because it hasn’t been that fun, until now. This season, one man’s ridiculous antics brought a tired show out of the doldrums of its old age and unleashed an element of pure fun that was missing in the first place.
As you can probably guess, I’m not a ridiculously dedicated Idol fan. I like the contestants and I’ve enjoyed the journey, but I certainly view it as an entertainment experience, rather than a serious vehicle to fuel my veracious need to form opinions about people I will probably never actually meet. And now, I’m inching closer to becoming an actual fan. How did this happen? I think I have an idea. And now, to mark the fact that the season is coming to a close, here is the breakdown of how I learned to enjoy American Idol and why Steven Tyler is completely responsible for that almost incomprehensible fact.
1. Animalistic screaming may erupt at any given moment
Tyler is a bit of a wake-up call on a show that I don’t think held up much without at least a little personality to carry it because he’s constantly having fun and we know it. When he hears something he loves, it’s obvious because he starts screeching or yodeling like Xena: Warrior Princess, and often times it’s his reaction that’s more entertaining than the singers themselves.
2. Out with the mean, in with the crazy
Another thing I love about Idol’s favorite rock star is that he’s completely nuts. When Idol made the announcement that Simon Cowell would not be returning this season, I too thought the show was going to nose-dive into obscurity. I thought we needed Simon to help reinforce our harsh opinions of the singers we didn’t like and that we needed his presence to heckle when criticisms were hurled at our favorites, but now that we’ve entered the age of Tyler, I can see the error of my ways. We were confusing being harsh with providing entertainment. Tyler’s brand of insanity is simply entertainment and for me, when I'm watching a show like Idol, the less gravity, the better.
3. He gets us with those insane one-liners
The only reason I made it through the audition process, which usually gets old for me right around midway through, is because Tyler added something hilarious to every set of contestants and most of the time, it doesn’t make any sense. Rather than describe the sorts of things he said, I’ll just give you a few of my favorites:
“Well, hellfire, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.”“That’s the goop great stuff is made from.”“I’ve never heard anybody squeeze that song, but you squeezed it so slow it sound liked vanilla fudge singing ‘Eleanor Rigby.’”“You don’t look a day over fabulous.”“One hand clapping!”“Coach, did you ever paddle his ass?”“Dawg’s gonna turn into a pussy cat here.”“What’s with those joo-joo-bies on your oo-oo-bies.”“You oughta be arrested for that voice…you have handcuffs?”
4. He’s basically the full embodiment of the little voice in my head at any given moment
I honestly think Steven Tyler has no inner monologue. He just says exactly what he’s thinking. As I’m sitting on the couch, watching auditions or performances and thinking something awful or snarky, he comes out with something like, “Your outfit was slamming and I really liked your voice….JOKING,” and I die laughing because someone actually said it. Sure, it’s not nice, but when has American Idol ever been nice?
5. He makes uninformed technical comments and probably has no business judging this competition, but most of us don’t care anyway
He latches on to musical-sounding words like “musicality” or “melodic sensibilities” or the completely Tylerian “isms and wasms” and uses them in all the most nonsensical ways, yet we still get where he’s coming from. That’s because for the most part, the average viewer doesn’t know about these technical issues. Most viewers know what they like. They don’t pick up a Rihanna album because they’ve analyzed her pitch and tone and they’ve decided that she’s worth listening to. They pick her because they like her. That’s why when Steven says someone’s “isms” are amazing and it essentially means nothing, a lot of us are on board, because when it comes down to it, we just need to know that something about that was awesome and we want to hear more.
6. His scandalous and uncomfortable commentary keeps it interesting
Okay, so I know some parents are probably not stoked about this bit. I get that. Idol is a family show and when Steven lets loose telling 16 year old girls they’re showing the right amount of skin and letting one contestant know how attractive her lips are or spewing double entendre or flat-out cursing on television, people get upset. I, however, found this little game of waiting to see when Steven would say something he shouldn’t wildly entertaining and it is supposed to be an entertaining television show, isn’t it?
7. Steven makes it okay for the judges to be useless
Tyler either loves everything, hates it vehemently, or does this little dance around the piece that doesn’t work for him. Essentially, he doesn’t really have a point of view; he’s just all over the place. So how is his commentary helpful? Well, in truth it isn’t actually helpful in developing an opinion, but that is exactly how it aids the show. The mundane commentary from Jennifer and Randy combined with Tyler’s infinitely entertaining insanity allows us to ignore the judges completely. It helps us find a place where the judges are little more than fun little lampposts in between performances. They’re like that jar of coffee beans they hand you in perfume shops to cleanse your palate before you sniff the next fragrance. Randy and Jennifer lull you sleep, then Tyler is like a swift kick that preps you for the next voice, but they have no real bearing on our opinions and I think that makes the competition a lot more interesting, considering that our opinions are the ones that matter and most of us were never listening to the judges anyway.
8. It's hard not to love him
It really is. On that note, let's end on one of my favorite Steven moments featuring one of our finalists, Lauren Alaina.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.