Before the flood

It will soon be festival time and then there will be so many films, so why I squeeze others in is beyond me. Oh well.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (UK) (site)

John Le Carré's substantial novel makes ambitious subject matter for a film, and trying to fit it into a couple of hours was going to be difficult, even with Le Carré himself on board. Not only that, but it's dense, term-laden script would, if handled wrong either alienate fans of the work, or make the storyline impenetrable for those unfamiliar with George Smiley.

The film walks the line between both, and seems to err towards the latter. The viewer is given no concessions, and is piled straight into the thick, soupy spy scenario. A secret agent working for the British Intelligence Agency is shot and supposedly killed as he attempts to retrieve intelligence on a mission in Budapest. This is shown as flashback, and 'Control' - the head of the SIS and overseer to the handful of divisions including Smiley's, has to find a scapegoat. Smiley gets the chop.

At some time afterwards, a reshuffling has occurred since Control topped himself, but it seems that the balance of power has shifted and iffy goings on are afoot in the upper floors of the agency, and Smiley is asked back to investigate rumblings of supposed Russian dealings, that might go right to the top of the organisation. Things get hotter when Tarr, a supposed loose canon who went missing in Istanbul after reporting the mole winds up in his apartment, with tales of odd reactions and assassination attempts.

Whether you view a meaty plotline that won't be obvious until you've either read the book (I haven't) or watched the film a few times, will dictate your enjoyment of this film. I confess I was a little lost at times, although the film does take it's time to flesh out some key scenes in powerful silence. These are, after all, a bunch of middle-aged men in 1960's Britain - there was never going to be a hard rock soundtrack. What it lacked in action movie mayhem, it more than made up for in style and atmosphere. Gary Oldman was unrecognisable but perfect for Smiley, John Hurt played a brief but pleasingly grumpy Control, and the casting choices for the rest of the rather large array of characters were spot on. The tempered colour schemes and drab weather put us right in the middle of Le Carré's universe, feeling both cosy and dangerous at the same time.

I would very much like to catch this film at least once more to get a hold of the bits I missed the first time around, and it has also encouraged me to spend some time looking up the rest of the Smiley stories.

The Adventures of Tintin (US) (wiki/site)

There were good signs with this film. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson at the helm, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the Thompson twins, and a pretty decent looking trailer that showed the film wasn't aimed so much at kids, as adults who grew up with the books and cartoons.

So was it any good? Yes, I think it was. Once you get over the slight creepiness of the lifelike-yet-still-cartoon style of animation similar to that in the Polar Express (which is very impressive by the way) you begin to get an appreciation of how much work has gone into the picture; from the more traditionally animated opening segment to the little references here and there to the originals. Adults over a certain age will find themselves with a big grin on their faces.

As said, the action stays faithful to the 'feel' (seriousness/time period/locations) of the original. No Thunderbirds-style modern Americanisation here. It is set quite early on in the Tintin universe, as it is mostly concerned with him meeting with Captain Haddock, who happens to hold the secret to a massive treasure hidden by his pirate ancestor. Like a European Indiana Jones, it has a fine mix of secret agents and bad guys and international travel pitched at a level just complicated enough to entertain the adults but not confuse the children; and though the director has been tempted make use of computing power to insert a few action scenes that look out of place when compared to the original source material, this doesn't distract enough to spoil the film. It ends with the promise of a sequel, and by this point I was fully happy to go see one.

There was really only one problem with the film, and that was the slimmed-down list of characters from the books, which aside from Tintin and Snowy, consisted only Haddock and the satisfyingly bumbling Thompson twins. Hopefully though, if a sequel happens we'll get some of the others too. 8/10

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