Filmmaker Spotlight: John Irvin’s Triple Play

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Welcome, friends, fans and aficionados of film and television.

As does happen occasionally. An excavation and exploration of one topic can take a hop and a turn in another completely unexpected layer of depth and direction. As I found myself recently breaking the topsoil and troweling around the body of work accumulated by the long standing, versatile character actor, Tom Berenger. And my first introductions to his talents as executive officer to mercenary, Christopher Walken in The Dogs of War. Which will receive due diligence later in this critique.

When I came across a name. One that I had come across more than thirty years ago. Didn’t connect with until very recently. As the director of one of the flagship mini series of the late 1970s. Courtesy of PBS in 1983. Creating the grist for this.

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John Irvin Triple Play

#1: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

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After making a small, though reputable name for himself in short films, documentaries and projects for television. Mr. Irvin was given the daunting task of translating John Le Carre‘s worldwide bestselling novel. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from paper to film.

A task that entailed seven full hour long episodes. With a sterling cast of talent populating the titled characters, From Sir Alec Guinness‘ Cold War, MI-6 operative, George Smiley. To Sir Ian Richardson‘s Golden Boy, Bill Hayden. Bernard Hepton‘s foppish, going nowhere, Toby Esterhase. Terence Rigby‘s perpetually broke Roy Bland. Anthony Bate‘s half way out the door, Sir Oliver Lacon and Michael Aldridge‘s prissy, arrogant and without a clue, Percy Alleline. All falling under suspicion for a years old failed and embarrassing mission into Czechoslovakia called ‘Testify’. Which would hopefully, flush the “mole” from MI-6’s Piccadilly headquarters (“Circus”). Redeem the tattered career of Alexander Knox’s “Control”. But instead would cost close to the life and career of always stalwart, Ian Bannen’s operative, Jim Prideaux.

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As mentioned earlier. No small task. In a tale that didn’t allow me to get past page 100. Until a third attempt. And then allowed me to then immerse myself. Once all the characters and plot were set in the oblique, sometimes frustrating mystique that is John Le Carre’s well renown stock in trade.

Thankfully, the thought of paring down the sweeping tale never crossed the writers’ or Mr. Irvin’s mind. Delivering in my opinion, the finest and detailed adaptation of a John leCarre novel on film. And yes, that includes Martin Ritt’s 1960s B&W The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

The characters, words and action seem to step from the pages. As a slight change in location from Hong Kong to Spain is hinted at in Hywell Bennett’s slimy take on discredited stringer, Rikki Tarr. And his persistent claim that there is indeed a mole in the circus. As mentioned by the wife of the Resident “Hood” Tarr had seduced. And who had died under lurid circumstances only days later. Creating the impetus to get first, Lacon. And Sir Alec’s George Smiley back in the saddle.

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Creating a fine example of what the British do best! Unraveling a mystery whose meat is the slowly revealed back stories, rivalries, adulteries and intrigues petty and large. Adding pieces large and small to the puzzle. That moves at its own sedate pace. Requiring sharp ears as well eyes for their revelation and proper place in the time line of spider webbed past events. Delivered by the likes of Beryl Reid’s Oxford Doyenne and “Russia Watcher”, Connie Sachs. John Standing’s razor sharp Sam Collins, who was babysitting the Circus’s Operations desk the night “Testify” blew up with the wounding and capturing of Jim Prideaux. And Joss Ackland’s retired spy and reporter, Jerry Westerby. Who had been in Czechoslovakia and found that sections of Russian infantry were prepared and waiting to spring that ambush.

And with that said. Is Mr. Irvin’s work better than the Thomas Alfredson directed re-make from 2011?…. Certainly! No doubt. Taken in perspective and with the availability of 1979 ‘A-List” talents available. Mr. Irvin does have the upper hand. And the luxury of time to spot locations and acquiring the novel’s author and Arthur Hopcraft to produce a remarkably faithful screenplay’ Which both adaptations adhere to. Though less so in the 2011 version. Which seems stripped down to key moments from the original seven episodes. And expounded upon and stretched to the next key scene. Creating an experience likened to a drive thru burger or fast food joint. When the earlier sumptuous original can just as easily be had.

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Kudos to the long list of producers, though. For acquiring Britain’s present assembly of top talent. Each works well within the confines of their characters. Some memorably. John Hurt’s “Control”. Toby Jones’ prissy Percy Alleline, David Dencik’s spineless, beholding to everyone Toby Easterhase. Tom Hardy’s equal to Hywell Bennett’s Rikki Tarr. Though Gary Oldman’s George Smiley and Mark Strong’s Jim Prideaux just seem to fall short. Physically and dramatically.

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!


#2: The Dogs of War (1980)

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I have early 1970s political journalist, novelist and storyteller, Frederick Forsythe to thank for my next chance meeting with Mr. Irvin’s surprising talent. In Mr. Forsythe’s second political intrigue primer and thriller, The Dogs of War, a world wide Best Seller from 1974. Which goes into great and grand detail the United Kingdom’s proclivities for employing deniable mercenaries to stage coups and overthrow small backwater African countries. Which have nothing to offer but Empire expansion, precious metals and perhaps, natural resources. Exotic or otherwise.

With its minor political damage done. The novel sat on shelves and was allowed a few years of cooling off. Before having its right purchased by producer, Norman Jewison. Then lateraled to director, John Irvin. Acquiring Gary DeVore, George Malko and Mr. Forsythe to render a remarkably faithful screenplay. Prior to setting up a superlative multi national cast and preparatory locations in London, Manhattan and Belize. Subbing for Paris and the fictional African country of Zangaro.

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The film’s principal character, mercenary Jamie “Cat” Shannon. Played to coiled spring, issue laden, believably paranoid, handgun in every room perfection by a young Christopher Walken. Is approached obliquely at first. And less so later. By impeccably suited and manicured representatives of unnamed British conglomerates. Led by smooth talking Endean (Hugh Millais). With a proposal. One that will require a lot more time, subtlety, finesse, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance than Cat’s benefactors had even contemplated!

Cat starts putting the band back together with late night telegrams and calls. The first is it his Second In Command, Drew. Who is married, with two daughters. Always looking for any reason to get out of the house. And is played with equal parts charm, humor and frightening intimidation by Mr. Berenger.

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Confident, energetic and meticulous. Drew shares the same kind of elan and fresh faced, rugged good looks that dooms him to be killed towards the end of the final reel. The same ironic fate shared by Mr. Walken in his earlier role as “The Kid” in The Anderson Tapes nine years earlier.

But for his time on screen, Mr. Berenger holds his own with and without Cat. Who prepares for an overt infiltration and recon of Zangaro. Arriving as any American would. With a surfeit of Duty Free cigarettes and alcohol. Which are immediately and ceremoniously confiscated. Shannon is allowed to go about his business. Meeting a British documentary director, Alan North (Colin Blakeley). A walking font of knowledge of Zangaro’s corrupt, tortuous history. With emphasis on the installation of puppet dictator, General Kimba four years earlier. And later photographing key buildings (Armory, Garrisons, Motor Pool, stone walled jails) in the company of Evelyn (Isabel Grandin), an attractive local woman.

Cover is where you find or create it. And Shannon’s lasts about as long as can be expected. Before he’s pulled from Evelyn’s bed. Arrested. Tortured and tossed in a cell with Zangaro’s version of Nelson Mandela, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona). Who tends to Shannon’s wounds between beatings and long oblique discussions.

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Shannon is released and deported after two days. With the help of North. Who smells a story, but the wrong one. As Shannon returns to London and brief Endean that Kimba’s grip is too tight on his equally corrupt, but too scared subordinates. An internal coup is impossible. And that there had better be a “Plan B”.

There is. Endean offers Shannon $100,000 to invade Zangaro. Destroy as much military as possible. Kill Kimba and await the arrival of Kimba’s ousted rival, Colonel Bobi (George Harris). Who still owns Zangaro’s mineral rights. As the country’s new puppet dictator. Shannon says no, but Endean forwards a million dollars in expenses a few days later, anyway. And Shannon goes to work. Bouncing between New York, South America and Paris to arrange transportation for smuggled firepower. WWII German MP-40 sub machine guns, magazines and ammo packed in Cosmoline in the novel. Uzis and tricked out MAC-10s in the film (Courtesy IMFDb). Good for pistol range, close up work. But some Fire Support would be needed. Claymor Mines. Several M-60 machine guns. Two Manville 25mm. Projectile Launcher. Known as the “XM-18”. Loaded with smoke, fragmentation, Anti-Personnel and White Phosphorus shells.

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All used to great explosive effect once Cat, Drew and their crew and about 75 Zangaran expatriates land by Zodic rubber boats and blitzkrieg Kimba’s military compound. Which ends with Mr. Walken’s Cat delivering an ending no one sees coming!

Overall Consensus:

In what could be considered a “How To” film on the details and intricacies of Military-Industrial wheeling and dealing. From Endean’s betters’ initially flawed concept. To recruitment, acquisition of firepower. Its covert and illegal transport. And slow, methodical reconnaissance under the noses of the Zangaran police. Few films are better at revealing “the nuts and bolts” of intended coups and political overthrows.

Mr. Forsythe cast his nets wide for his novel. And Mr. Irvin kept the flavor and feel of rummaging through the journals of Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare and his “3 Commando” in Africa, Or Paul Renard’s failed attempt at a coup to unseat Haiti’s “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the early 1970s.

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Extreme Kudos to veteran Cinematographer, Jack Cardiff for brief, though telling locations. Especially the Customs stop at the Calais piers. Where smuggled in oil drums are inspected by uniformed officials amid banter ef Francais. Without subtitles. Letting the dark damp mood and close quarters claustrophobia speak volumes while the armed driver sweats bullets under a calm facade, While Geoffrey string chamber music maintains suspense and tension throughout.

Film editing by Antony Gibbs is masterful. In trimming away all that is not needed. While keeping plenty of slack for verbal and silent nuance. And with Endean, Saville Row suited British arms dealers (Terrence Rigby, David Schofield) there is plenty of nuance!


I’m going to side step two of Mr. Irvin’s films. Raw Deal (1986) and Hamburger Hill (1987). Which I had thumb-nailed for Michael, over at It Rains… You Get Wet as part of my premier guest post years ago. And focus some criminally over due attention to a small gem from HBO cranked out during Hollywood’s return to “The Greatest Generation” and World War II with Saving Private Ryan. And before HBO’s flag ship, Band of Brothers.

Encompassing around 95 minutes. And shot on location along the tank trapping “Dragon’s Teeth” of the Siegfried Line and the Hungarian Border. And Germany. Lake Balaton and strategic dams beyond. A 50 square mile area of forest, hills and mountains occupied by polyglot units of US and German Infantry and armor escaping the Fallaise Gap and creating a time and life consuming bottleneck. Though the Germans have the high ground and upper hand in artillery. And every inch of forest marked off and dialed in for high altitude “Tree Bursts” of 75, 88mm and larger caliber tanks, self propelled and dug in gun positions.

Basically. A meat grinder. And a campaign I’d never heard about until finding it featured in a “Sgt. Rock” graphic novel from Vertigo comics. Which sent me on the path of Mr. Irvin’s offering. Which, to my knowledge is the only film about this six month (August 1944 to February, 1945) Pyhrric exercise in futility.

So, without further ado. Let’s take a look at…

#3: When Trumpets Fade (1998) a.k.a. The Battle For Hurtgen Forest

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Which begins with B&W stock Army footage of divisions of “Class A” parade dressed G.I.s marching through the Arche de Triumph in Paris. To George M. Cohan’s “Over There”. Signalling the months old occupation of France. The containment of German forces within their own country. And that the war may be over soon. Perhaps, by Christmas?

Cut to the sound of far off artillery and a cold, snowy, sunless and gray fogged November day. Where we are introduced to three day in country veteran, Pvt. David Manning (Ron Eldard). G Company. 28th Infantry Division. Returning back to American held lines after a disastrous patrol around the industrial town of Schmidt. Of which, Manning is its sole survivor. After leaving a too badly burned and injured to travel squad mate (Jeffrey Donovan ‘Burn Notice’) to die.

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Expecting to be called before the platoon’s “Highers”, Lieutenant Lukas (Timothy Olyphant, ‘Deadwood,’ ‘Justified’) and Commander of “C” Company. Captain Pritchett (Martin Donovan ‘Insomnia,’ ‘Ant-Man’) to be debriefed. Or chewed out. Instead, Manning is informed that of the fifty plus men who went out on that morning’s patrol. He is its sole survivor. Promoted to Sergeant. And given five fresh new replacement Privates. Overweight and spectacled Warren “Sandy” Sanderson (Zak Orth). Andrew Lonnie (Devon Gummerssall). Doug Despin (Dan Futterman) and Sam Baxter (Steven Petrarca) to fill out the ranks of Manning’s rifle squad. And Sgt. Manning’s first order to execute. Get to know his men. And take them out on a patrol to get them acclimated!

An elongated and suspenseful scene that magically blends the eerie quiet of the forest. The odd addition of falling snowflakes mixed with swirling embers from recently exploded and smoldering trees, And the dismal, thick ground fog. Courtesy of Cinematographer, Thomas Burstyn. Which slowly swallows Pvt. Sanderson whole within minutes of his being assigned “Point”.

Sanderson gets out too far ahead and becomes lost. Mostly due to the fog and lack of any recognizable landmarks. Hears a sound. Hides in the branches of a fallen Soft Pine tree. Hears and later, glimpses a similarly armed and lost German patrol. Waits. Holds his breath. Waits for the Germans to move. Falls back. Retraces his steps. Finds Manning and the squad. As a strategic retreat is decided upon.

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Once back at base there’s hot food and mail. Which Manning and others read as another “Push” in the offing. Though, with poor visibility. No close by landmarks. Outdated maps.No air cover. No aerial reconnaissance or recent photographs.The plan is far from perfect. Tanks will be used on the road leading to the bridge head on the outskirts of Schmidt. Infantry will be off the road. Flanking from the woods.With German artillery, tanks and infantry defending their turf every inch of the way. Tanks are shelled on and off the road and are quickly bogged down and destroyed. Artillery is good only for breaking contact and buying time for the Americans to retreat into mne fields. Chaos and confusion reign as individuals and units regroup. Barely containing panic as German tanks and self propelled guns follow the retreat back to camp and open fire in a spoiling raid.

The Germans leave. The American wounded are tended to in open air Aid Stations. While the dead are stripped of ammo and gear. Covered. And stacked like cord wood for Graves Registration. While Captain Pritchett calls Manning aside and negotiates the Sergeant into “volunteering” for a suicide mission. Take a squad armed with flame throwers to attack the German artillery emplacements, powder charges and shells from behind prior to the next morning’s “Push”.

Manning balks. Pritchett counters with a “Section 8” upon successful completion of the mission. The attack goes off well enough. Panicking the enemy more than actually destroying large numbers of artillery pieces. But it does cause enough delay for the Americans to break the bottle neck at the Schmidt bridge head. At the cost of Bazter being executed by Manning for running away. His flame thrower alight and more of a danger to the squad than the Germans. Steeling the rest to hold their ground and give covering fire to Sanderson as he burns two 88mm. howitzers and their crews.

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The bottom seems to be falling out on both sides as fresh replacements are brought forward. LT. Lukas cracks under pressure. Captain Pritchett killed holding the bridge. The Lt. Colonel (Dwight Yoakum) shows up and is none too pleased. Captain Zenek (Bobby Cannavale, ‘Blue Bloods’) takes command of “C” Company and takes Manning aside. For a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. His own platoon. And marching orders for tomorrow’s final “Push”.

But Manning has other ideas. Another pre dawn raid. With more men and bazookas. To create as much havoc and destroy as many tanks as possible before what’s left of “C” Company steps off. Creating another near trademark ironic ending for Mr. Irvin once the smoke starts to clear. With a seriously wounded and bleeding out Manning riding on Pvt. Sanderson’s back. As he tries to find friendly lines less than a mile away.

Overall Consensus:

Since there is so little known and put to paper about this campaign. Due to it being dwarfed by the far more intriguing and dramatic “Battle of The Bulge”. There are not alot of historic landmarks or date to attach to this six month meat grinder that accounted for 33.00 US casualties from a rotation of ten US Infantry and one Army Air Corps Wing. And 28,000 German casualties among Infantry. armor, one parachute and five Home Guard (Volksstrum) divisions.

In an Order of Battle that began much like Gettysburg. In a series of skirmishes between US troops and Germans fleeing France. And quickly became a salient and center of battle once the Germans began massing and organizing units. Doing what Germans have always done best. Counter attacking. Taking ground and buying time during one of the worst winters in Germany’s history. In hopes of possibly negotiating something other than unconditional surrender.

So, the idea of a Private being bumped to Sergeant and later, 2nd Lieutenant solely due to personal survival skills versus attrition may not seem so strange in filling out the TO &E of a nearly decimated Company. Manning adapts. Even though he doesn’t want to.Thinking on the fly and leading. Which is what NCOs and junior grade officers are supposed to do.

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Does the film work?… Oh, yes! As stated before. Cinematography by Thomas Burstyn performs minor miracles of foreboding and dread with varying shades of gray, black and white among the forests. While making the most of cramped, lamp lit interiors. Throwing shadows across men’s faces as they are told to perform the impossible. And perhaps, die in the event?

Music by Geoffrey Burgon is occasionally of its time. But shifts to orchestral to heighten dram and move action along. While Art and Decorating departments to numerous to mention press the illusion that you are in an Eastern European version of Hell. And that there is no way out!


Author’s Note:

All the films noted here are available on You Tube. And are fine examples that like his fellow director, Martin Ritt. Mr. Irvin can get the most from casts of character actors from both sides of the pond. While creating long enduring, sometimes elegant. Often down and dirty “Guy Flicks”.

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Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Wish to offer personal choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion!

Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon – A Most Wanted Man (2014) review

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This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A Most Wanted Man

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A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.

It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.

The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.

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Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.

It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.

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McAdams with Dobrygin

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.

This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.

I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps? 

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As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.

This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.

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Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman – reminiscing on the many great performances of the talented actor

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I was planning on finishing up my Monthly Roundup post the afternoon I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s passing at a young age of 46.

It’s one of those times where I’ll always remember where I was when I heard about something. I was in line at a Target check out when I fired up my Twitter app and saw the news. I didn’t get a chance to find out how he died, so I presume it was a heart attack or something, it never occurred to me that it was substance abuse related, though I knew he struggled with prescription drugs addiction and went to rehab last year. Of course later in the day I found out the cause of death… that he has died from an apparent drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment. Undoubtedly, my shock turned to grief. Yes I know he’s just an actor whom I don’t know personally, but I still can’t help feeling saddened by this. He also died the exact same age as my late mother (who also have three children), though the circumstances were entirely different, they both were gone way too soon 😦

SeymourHoffman_CapoteI have to admit I don’t know much about his life as an actor or otherwise. Apparently Hoffman is a pretty busy guy, completing 40 films in the span of a relatively short 17-year-long career as well as working as a creative co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company. On top of winning a Best Actor Oscar for Capote, he was also nominated for two Tony awards for his stage work in True West and Long Day’s Journey into Night.

This quote from the NY Times gives us a glimpse to how he approaches his craft as an actor:

“In my mid-20s, an actor told me, ‘Acting ain’t no puzzle,’ ” Hoffman said, after returning to his seat. “I thought: ‘Ain’t no puzzle?!?’ You must be bad!” He laughed. “You must be really bad, because it is a puzzle. Creating anything is hard. It’s a cliché thing to say, but every time you start a job, you just don’t know anything. I mean, I can break something down, but ultimately I don’t know anything when I start work on a new movie. You start stabbing out, and you make a mistake, and it’s not right, and then you try again and again. The key is you have to commit. And that’s hard because you have to find what it is you are committing to.”

Seems that he often ‘lost himself’ in a role…

“…I’d finish a scene, walk right off the set, go in the bathroom, close the door and just take some breaths to regain my composure. In the end, I’m grateful to feel something so deeply, and I’m also grateful that it’s over … And that’s my life.”

There are many essential PSH films I still need to see. In fact, I’ve only seen a paltry 9 films from his stellar resume, but I feel compelled to write this tribute to him as he’s always been very impressive in everything I’ve seen him in. Starting with Scent of A Woman where he played an unethical classmate of Chris O’Donnell, out-acting the protagonist effortlessly. Through a series of supporting roles, he’s always memorable no matter how small his role is. I equate him to someone like Stanley Tucci, Paul Giamatti or Chris Cooper in that he always makes the best of whatever role given to him AND his performance is usually one of the best (if not the best) part about the film. In the Ides of March for example, his portrayal of a grizzled campaign manager is one of my favorite parts of an otherwise so-so political drama. Even in popcorn action films like Mission Impossible III, he still gives a compelling performance as the ominous villain. He’s threatening without turning his character into a caricature. He seems to be drawn to antihero/flawed type of characters, whilst somehow make them sympathetic and intriguing, i.e. A Late Quartet as an adulterous married man.

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The latest performance I saw him in was in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and I said in my review that his Plutarch is my favorite character. I couldn’t wait to see more of him in the final film of the franchise as his character arc is easily the most interesting. Alas they might have to re-cast his role unless they’re done filming his scenes.

I hope to catch up on more of his films such as Magnolia, Capote, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Jack Goes Boating, etc. For sure I’ll watch the yet-to-be-released John le Carré spy thriller A Most Wanted Man where Hoffman played a German civil-rights lawyer, complete with a German accent. I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a clip:

My heart goes out to his longtime partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell and their three children. Rest in peace Mr. Hoffman. You will be sorely missed.


What are some of your favorite performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Five for the Fifth October 2012: Spy Edition

Hello folks, since October 5 2012 edition of Five of the Fifth happens to fall on Bond’s 50th Anniversary, all the questions have a SPY theme in honor of our super spy 007.

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here. So let’s get started, shall we?
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1. Well, now that Adele’s Skyfall theme song has been officially released, I’m quite pleased to see the classic ballad is back again. I’ve listened to it half a dozen times now and the melody easily gets stuck in my head. I like that there’s a trace of the Bond theme in it, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m a big fan of Adele’s voice. She’s channeling Dame Shirley Bassey, though I don’t think anyone could match the Welsh singer’s powerful pipes. So take a listen below…

Now on to the two-part question: Thoughts on Adele’s song AND which singer/band do you wish would sing the Bond theme song next?

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2. James Bond might be the world’s most famous spy character, but Ian Fleming isn’t the only popular British spy author. This article on Word and Film site lists all the films based on English author John le Carre’s classic British spy and espionage novels. I have only seen three of them on the list: Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, The Constant Gardener and The Tailor of Panama, and they’re all very good.

I’m curious to check out the rest from that list, especially The Spy Who Came in from the Cold starring Richard Burton. That sounds really intriguing.

Are you a fan of Le Carre’s work? Which of his books is your favorite?

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3. A few days ago I came across this Best Bond Movies poll that the MI6-HQ site conducted late last year. Below are the results of the ‘most favored’ James Bond films by the fans:

Rank Film Actor Score
1 Casino Royale Daniel Craig 75%
2 Goldfinger Sean Connery 54%
3 From Russia With Love Sean Connery 53%
4 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service George Lazenby 46%
5 GoldenEye Pierce Brosnan 37%

The Living Daylights made the top 10 at #8 (which makes me happy), but what I find most interesting is that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made the top 5!

So even though people didn’t like George Lazenby, apparently they still love the film. That’s one of the Bond films I really want to revisit again, I might do it yet this month as I don’t remember much about it aside from that heartbreaking finale. I’m even more curious as Christopher Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film, so who knows, perhaps a remake is in order with a more capable Bond actor?

What’s your thoughts on the poll and/or OHMSS film specifically?
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4. Now switching gears from MI-6 to CIA… Americans’ got our own super spy too, y’know 😀 The name is Ryan, Jack Ryan. Ok it doesn’t have the same catchy ring to it and the franchise is not nearly as lucrative, but the Tom Clancy’s character has quite a fan base.

And the reboot coming up next year seems to be going back to basics, titling it simply Jack Ryan, and casting the young and hip Capt Kirk Chris Pine in the role. Interestingly enough, he’s surrounded by Brits: Kenneth Branagh is directing and starring as the villain and Keira Knightley as his wife. But hey, he’s got Kevin Costner as his CIA mentor.

For me, my favorite Jack Ryan actor is Harrison Ford, but it could be because Patriot Games was the first movie I saw of the franchise. I know most of you probably love Alec Baldwin most as he’s the first in The Hunt For The Red October, and I might revisit that movie at one point, but I quite like Ford’s intensity. He might appear curmudgeon, which somehow I find endearing, but to me he captures that hard life and being constantly on edge as what I imagined his job would entail.

So, who’s your favorite actor portraying Jack Ryan?
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5. Now, back to Bond again as today is Global Bond Day after all. As the franchise keeps going on and on, let me turn to the one who started it all: Ian Fleming. I’d love to see the creator of Commander Bond gets a proper biopic treatment on the big screen. Well, last May there were reports circulating that Duncan Jones (director of Moon, Source Code, etc.) is going to be at the helm. As The Guardian article says, Fleming’s fascinating life story seems to be worth telling and no doubt inspired his creation, inspired by his years in the British naval intelligence during WWII. He reportedly lived a hard life too, smoking and drinking (60 cigarettes a day??!), and was also quite the playboy.

I haven’t heard of who’d be cast as Fleming. I think I heard James McAvoy was rumored at some point, which would be a good choice I think, aside from the fact that Fleming has Scottish roots. Now if they decide to do a biopic on his later years though, I’d love to see Geoffrey Rush play him. I mean, I even found this photo when I was searching on Google, so obviously I’m not the only one who think of their uncanny resemblance!

Thoughts on this biopic, now who would you like to see portray Ian Fleming?


Well, that’s it for the Special SPY edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I haven’t done a new flick spotlight in a while, and the last time I did it was on Cloud Atlas, which had quite an ensemble cast. Well, the fantastic British cast is what initially grabbed my attention about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know I love all things Brits and most of my favorite actors are from across the pond. Well, this one is chock full of them! Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and John Hurt.

I put this movie on the list of most-anticipated movies of 2011 back in March, but now it’s been generating some serious buzz all over, thanks to the impressive set of enigmatic character posters

… and trailer, like this new International version that’s just been released yesterday.


It shows just a bit more clips than the first trailer, but retains that same creepy, sinister vibe. It’s particularly interesting that it uses the same score as in the X-Men: First Class, and the fact that both are set in the 60s. I love the retro look and the music is certainly effective.

Based on John le Carré’s 1973 novel of the same name, this movie is a remake to the 1979 British miniseries starring Sir Alec Guinness as espionage veteran George Smiley. Set in the bleak days of the Cold War, the plot centers on a middle-aged spy who’s forced out of retirement to uncover a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The minute we hear the words ‘British spy’ most of us automatically think of 007, but the gritty and realistic portrayal of the espionage world in this one is a far cry from the glamorous lifestyle depicted in the Bond movies.

Author John le Carré

According to FilmStage, Le Carré actually has a cameo in the film. The British spy novelist has also seen the film and has high praise for it… “Through my very personal prism… it is a triumph. And if people write to me and say, ‘How could you let this happen to poor Alec Guinness,’ I shall reply that, if ‘poor Alec’ had witnessed Oldman’s performance, he would have been the first to give it a standing ovation. I’m very proud to have provided [director Tomas] Alfredson with the material, but what he made of it is wonderfully his own.” Wow, that’s quite a compliment coming from the author himself!

Speaking of Alfredson, he’s said to have brought a horror sensibility to the film, even comparing it to his last feature, the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In. In the Independent article, he’s quoted as saying ” … horror is 90 per cent inside people. The gap between reality and what’s happening in their mind — that’s what creates the horror. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a horror precisely because you do not know how far the conspiracies and lies stretch — it could be much worse than you think.”

I’m so glad to see Gary Oldman in a leading role in a pretty high profile project. He’s done other leading roles of course, but this is perhaps one of the most prominent with high visibility. I’m pulling for him to finally nab at least an Oscar nomination for the role. Can you believe it he has NEVER been nominated?? It’s ludicrous really considering his resume. I’ve listed five of my favorite Gary Oldman roles, but I have a strong feeling I’d have to make room for his role as Smiley once I’ve seen this film. He even sounds different somehow, but then again great actors are often able to alter their speaking voice.

And of course there’s the eye candy factor, ehm. Tom Hardy is not the primary reason I want to see this movie, but his presence certainly can’t hurt. He looks so darn appealing sporting blond locks. Even amongst THIS cast, I have no doubt he’ll be stealing scenes with his seductive glances and well, looking like Tom Hardy 😀

I know it’s perhaps premature to say this, but I can’t imagine this one NOT living up to the hype. I sure hope this will be released nationwide come November 18!


What do you think folks? Is this high on your must-see list?