24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Let Me In

Is 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' the 'film to beat' at Venice?

September 6, 2011 |  6:42 am

Colin Firth Gary Oldman Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Unlike many of the movies that debuted at the Venice Film Festival in recent days, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" isn't making a quick leap across the Atlantic to another cinematic gathering in, say, Toronto or New York.

The film is set to soon begin a slow rollout in Europe, but U.S. fans of the John Le Carre espionage novel (or 1970s miniseries) will have to wait until December to see Swedish director's Tomas Alfredson's take on the tale of George Smiley and his hunt for a mole within British spy agency MI6. But early reviews out of Venice indicate that their patience will be rewarded.

Leslie Felperin, writing for Variety, says the film –- starring Gary Oldman as Smiley -- is an "inventive, meaty distillation" of the book and offers "an incisive examination of Cold War ethics, rich in both contempo resonance and elegiac melancholy." Felperin adds that just as Le Carre's novel captured the mid-1970s zeitgeist of disillusionment with politicians and those in power, coming as it did after Watergate, the Vietnam War and the fall of the Shah in Iran, this remake "catches the newest wave of disillusionment and anxiety. It may be a period piece, right down to the slacks flared just so and the vintage wallpaper, but it feels painfully apt now to revisit the early-to-mid-1970s, when things were just about to fall apart.”

Alfredson may be best known to Americans for his Nordic vampire tale "Let the Right One In," which was remade last year into the English-language "Let Me In."  Besides Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor" offers the chance to see Colin Firth off his Oscar-winning role in "The King's Speech." The cast also includes John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Deborah Young says in the Hollywood Reporter that the film "shows a faithfulness that should fully meet the expectations of the writer's fans" and says it's "visually absorbing" and "a solid piece of thinking-man's entertainment for upmarket thriller audiences."

Xan Brooks of the Guardian called the movie "the film to beat" at Venice. We'll see shortly: The Golden Lion will be handed out Saturday.


Hot films up for grabs at the Toronto Film Festival

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in "Shame"

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in "A Dangerous Method"

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt arrive for the premiere of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" at the Venice Film Festival on Monday. Credit: Joel Ryan  / Associated Press

What's the most under-appreciated movie of 2010? (Part 2)

December 22, 2010 |  8:15 am

Last week, we wondered which film was the most under-appreciated of 2010. Through tweets, e-mails and comments, many of you weighed in with your choices.

Some of the more popular picks didn't surprise -- they were big-release movies with a distinct sensibility that got dissed despite (or because) they felt unique -- "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" most notably among them, or even the Sept. 11 romantic tearjerker "Remember Me."

Others were indie favorites that simply never caught fire with enough people: David Michod's dark Australian gangster movie "Animal Kingdom," or Nicole Holofcener's intimate look at (mostly female) relationships, "Please Give." (For our critics' take on overlooked movies, you can check out Kennth Turan here and Betsy Sharkey here.)

And then there were the titles so different from pretty much anything else out there that they were bound to have their supporters (if not that many of them) -- Rob Reiner's throwback coming-of-ager "Flipped," or the documentary about Norwegian black metal (always Norwegian black metal), "Until the Light Takes Us."

But two films emerged at the top of the list: Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" and Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go." They were movies that wouldn't, on their face, seem to have much in common. 

One is a vampire tale and the other is a dystopian mood piece. One derives from a Swedish cult hit and the other from a British bestseller. One came from a fanboy director known for a monster movie; the other from a filmmaker who hadn't made a movie in eight years (and was best known for a movie about a Robin Williams weirdo when he did).

But the two films have more in common than it would first seem. Both directors use well-established genres, as a Trojan horse of sorts, for a movie of ideas. Both films are unlikely love stories. And both share a particular (and particularly bleak) worldview, one in which social forces align against helpless young people who are forced to resort to desperate measures to survive (and even then it's hardly a certainty).

That sentiment was not, apparently, widely appreciated in 2010. But there were plenty who thought it was under-appreciated.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Scene from "Never Let Me Go." Credit: Fox Searchlight


What's the most under-appreciated movie of 2010? (Part 1)

Film critic Kenneth Turan's Top 10 overlooked films of 2010

Film critic Betsy Sharkey's top 10 overlooked films of 2010

Critical Mass: 'Let Me In'

September 30, 2010 |  3:51 pm


Writer-director Matt Reeves has taken the clout he gained from directing the hit "Cloverfield" to adapt the popular Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In" for American audiences and given it a more Hollywood title: "Let Me In." It opens the same day as David Fincher's "The Social Network," which is notable in that Fincher is currently engaged in remaking another popular Swedish film, based on Stieg Larsson's novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

As the first wave of American-Swedish re-dos hits movie screens, how are critics reacting? If "Let Me In" can be considered a typical case, then Fincher and those who follow won't have much to worry about.

Michael Phillips writing for Tribune Newspapers is mostly positive about the movie, even though he prefers the Swedish original (what movie critic doesn't?). As Phillips says, "The original was a damn good thriller. The new one is simply a good one."

But what exactly does Reeves do right? For one thing, Phillips says, the director doesn't mess too much with the original story, inserting his improvements around the edges: "In one instance he has improved on a visual shock effect from the original, involving a bedridden vampire victim whose hospital stay ends badly. In other instances Reeves approximates shots, or a series of shots, or entire sequences, to fairly good effect and with just enough variation to call the results his own."

Continue reading »

Child actors, young and all grown up

August 21, 2010 | 12:59 pm

ThomasOn the large billboards plastered all over town promoting this weekend's release of "The Switch," A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are touted as the film's main attraction.

But according to many critics, the real star of the romantic comedy is Thomas Robinson, an 8-year-old Valley Village resident who plays Jennifer Aniston's precocious and endearingly neurotic son.

In her review of the film this week, Times critic Betsy Sharkey praised the actor's "excellent job" in the movie, calling him "talented and adorably soulful."

After spending a night observing Thomas during his first big Hollywood movie premiere earlier this week, we can vouch for that. Thomas -- who was only 6 when he filmed "The Switch" -- is about as un-Hollywood as it gets. Too shy to speak to reporters on the red carpet, he timidly posed for pictures and attended the premiere's swanky after-party, where he sat with his family for about an hour before asking his mom if they could go home. (Check out this photo diary of his big night.) What struck us most about him is how much he truly seemed to embody the character he plays in the movie: honest and even a little sad.

Bateman echoed that sentiment: "I don't want to take anything away from his acting talent, but he was similar to that part in his sweetness and kindness and his accessibility," the actor told us in an interview earlier this year.

Of course, Thomas is only one of the young actors who has popped up on the big screen this summer, when it seems there have been a wave of strikingly naturalistic and evocative performances from kids in films like "Ramona and Beezus" and "Flipped."

But just how do casting directors track down the perfect child actor, who is not only cute and talented, but capable of handling the pressure? That's one of the questions we explore in our Sunday Calendar story, in which casting directors, filmmakers and former child stars weigh in on the challenges of working in Hollywood as a youngster. Douglas Aibel, the casting director who found Thomas for "The Switch," said he could sense early on that the young boy was overwhelmed by the audition process.

Continue reading »

A stalker-y sailor as movie promotion?

August 6, 2010 |  2:57 pm


We can imagine reporters all over town receiving the above creepy-clever postcard written entirely in Morse code and feeling a little weirded out (and, because reporters aren't known for their absence of ego, a little special). That it came from and featured a landscape photo of Los Alamos, with all of the place's nuclear-bomb overtones, didn't help.

After some sleuthing with our colleague Geoff Boucher, who received the same note (also with an affiliation that was slightly off), we learned that the message translated to "I must be gone and live, or stay and die." (The Times has a telegraph operator on staff.) That quote, which comes from "Romeo and Juliet" (we, er, also have Google) made us feel even more weird (and special) until we noticed that the postcard was bought at the Otowi Station Science Museum in Los Alamos ... where Overture filmed the Chloe Moretz-Kodi Smith-McPhee movie "Let Me In," the remake of vampire movie "Let the Right One In."

It turns out that the line wasn't an absent musing but the message Eli wrote to Oskar in a note from a critical scene in the original, and which is also included in the remake. So, yep, Overture was sending out postcards to reporters as part of a viral campaign, promoting the movie in the most abstract way imaginable. Certainly it's the only piece of movie marketing ever to encompass Morse code, Shakespeare and a piece of Swedish dialogue. (Hey, it worked at least a little, because we've spent the better part of an hour deciphering it.)

A compare-and-contrast of the two notes showed different handwriting, making us wonder how many kids exactly Overture had brought in to scrawl these Morse code messages (not Moretz and Smith-McPhee, we hope).

But here's the kicker: When we handed the postcard to the photo department to snap a shot for this post, the back of the card turned out fine, but the front turned out blank. "There's nothing here," the photographer said as he looked through the computer files. "It's like there was no photo taken." Now we're really getting the chills.

-- Steven Zeitchik


'Let Me In' vamps until ready

Slowly but surely, 'Let Me In' builds some goodwill

Vampire movies miss their John Wayne moment


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