TV Review: The Little Drummer Girl (2018) mini series starring Florence Pugh

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One of my TV viewing highlights in May I mentioned in my monthly recap was The Little Drummer Girl. I happened to watch quite a bit of TV that month (seven different series to be exact) and this spy thriller was definitely a standout. The fact that it’s based on John le Carré‘s novel appealed to me, but one of the main reasons to see this was definitely Florence Pugh. It was also partly in anticipation for Black Widow, in which Pugh was the absolute scene stealer.

Here’s the premise:

As a Palestinian assassin is targeting prominent Israelis, a young English actress is recruited by Mossad to infiltrate the assassin’s terrorist cell, requiring all of her acting talents but also putting her at considerable risk.

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The novel has been adapted as a feature film previously with the same name in 1984, starring Diane Keaton and directed by George Roy Hill. Per Wiki, the title suggests a word play on the Christmas carol The Little Drummer Boy. I haven’t seen that version, but I often think a miniseries is a great format for complex novel as it’s able to delve deeper into the story and characters more than a 2-hour film would. Another reason to see this is for the director, Park Chan-Wook, who apparently is a big fan of Le Carré’s work. Though he’s mostly known as a feature director, it’s interesting that he hasn’t done a feature since this miniseries as he’s been busy producing the Snowpiercer series for TNT.

It’s quite rare to see a Le Carré’s novel with a female protagonist, in fact, I think this is the only one. Well, nice to see such a formidable actress to play the leading lady. Pugh plays Charlie Ross, a young British theatre actress with a bohemian spirit with a pretty radical political view, born more out of naïveté than anything else. In her spare time, she and her fellow leftist-leaning friends attend recruitment meetings by anti-Zionist terrorist cell. It’s implied that it’s the same group responsible for the bomb attack on a high-ranking Israeli official in Germany seen in its opening scene. Charlie is soon caught the attention of Mossad aka Israeli intelligence service, who’s planning a meticulous clandestine operation to infiltrate the terrorist cell group led by Palestinian bomb maker named Khalil (Charif Ghattas).

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You could say that Le Carrés spy thriller is the anti-Bond movies as the spy in question doesn’t effortlessly go about their business, participating in high-octane, hyperbolic action while leading a glamorous, globe-trotting existence. Le Carré brings more realism to the espionage genre, and in this particular story, I love the the meticulous planning of a dangerous mission that’d really put the spy’s life at risk where things can easily go wrong at any moment. In a Bond movie, we know he’d never be killed (despite the movie titles having the word ‘die’ in it), but there’s a higher degree of unpredictability in Le Carré ‘s work. The fact that at times we don’t know which side Charlie is on at any given moment adds to the level of anxiety.

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Episode one is basically Charlie recruitment process and it’s an intriguing set up. A mysterious stranger (Alexander Skarsgård) turns up at her London play, then she spots him at the same beach in Greece where she is vacationing with her theater group. Turns out his name is Gadi and he manages to convince the group he’s also a fellow actor. There’s quite a scorching chemistry between Pugh and Skarsgård whose tall and slender built offers a captivating contrast to the petite actress. The scene at the Acropolis is absolutely stunning, a perfect location to get someone under a spell! Before she knows what’s happening, Gadi brings her to the mission leader, Martin (Marty) Kurtz, played by bespectacled Michael Shannon sporting an Israeli accent. The no-nonsense Mossad officer introduces himself as ‘the writer, producer, and director of this little show’ and welcomes her to the ‘theater of the real.’ At the core of spycraft is making people believe who you want people to believe, so I suppose actors make for a good spy given their ability to inhabit a persona and ‘lie’ undetected. 

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A spy thriller is most effective when the stakes are genuinely high, especially involving someone who isn’t even a trained spy! The Mossad puts Charlie’s life at risk, and they made it seemingly impossible for her to say no. But of course, that element of danger can be appealing, even sexy, for certain personalities, and Kurtz somehow knows Charlie has a predilection for risky business. Gadi has a challenging task of not just training Charlie, but to permeate her mind that he is not Gadi but Michel (Amir Khoury), Khalil’s brother, and that she is his lover. Writers Michael Lesslie and Claire Wilson crafted an intriguing narrative device using Gadi’s recorded dialogue as if he were speaking as Michel. It can get a bit confusing at times, it’s as if as a viewer you’re also given a puzzle to solve. I appreciate that the filmmaker respects the viewers’ intelligence enough not to spoon feed everything.

This isn’t the type of spy thrillers that just rely on frenetic action and fight scenes to drive the story forward. In fact, there are times the pacing is pretty slow with not much happening, but I always find it suspenseful. There’s an immersive quality in the way Chan-wook directs this series and lots to appreciate visually. Despite being set in the 70s, the director didn’t automatically go with a more desaturated look associated with a ‘retro’ film set in that era. Instead he incorporates a rich colorful palette throughout. Charlie’s dresses have such bold, vivid colors: canary yellow, cobalt blue, lime green, etc. and even the Mercedes sedan is in striking red. I read this article about the color symbolism, Chan-wook said it was exciting to be able to portray that period with bold colors given he grew up in South Korea in a time he described as “quite dark and very repressed.”

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The star of the show is Pugh, whose charismatic presence is always mesmerizing to watch. She’s a naturally confident actor but her vulnerability is just as alluring as her self-assured performance. There’s a scene where her facade is exposed earlier in the show that’s pretty emotionally-charged, and she only gets better from there. Charlie is a layered, complex character and she definitely sells the role wonderfully. She’s surrounded by a terrific cast who brought their A-game to this. I’m equally impressed with Shannon who’s the mastermind of the whole mission and despite his ruthless approach, you can’t help but sympathize with him. As for Skarsgård, I don’t usually find him as irresistible like many women, but I quite like his brooding performance here and I think that’s a testament to how his character is written. I was quite captivated by Ghattas as Khalil who’s definitely not your typical one-dimensional baddie. Simona Brown (who’s excellent in Behind Her Eyes), Michael Moshonov, Clare Holman all have some memorable moments that make up Kurtz’s spy team.

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As far as spy series go, The Little Drummer Girl ranks as one of the best I’ve ever seen and Pugh is definitely one of my absolute favorite actors working today. I actually think this is a much better adaptation than The Night Manager (2016), another one from Le Carré’s oeuvre I saw last year. It’s an atmospheric concoction that mixes mystery, suspense and drama remarkably well. Given the continuing escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, it also makes this series all the more timely. I can’t recommend this enough and it made me crave even more spy mini series!

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen The Little Drummer Girl mini series? I’d love to hear what you think!

007 Chatter: Seven directors wishlist for the next Bond movie

In anticipation for Bond 23, a.k.a. Skyfall coming on November 9th, 2012, Ted and I are starting a new monthly series called 007 CHATTER… look for it sometime in the first week of each month.

I’ve also added a new category for this, so click on 007 Chatter on the category drop-down menu for all Bond-related posts.

Ok, so last month we’ve singled out seven actors we think might be a good pick to play Bond. Now, we set our sights to the directors who’d do the franchise some good.

Skyfall‘s director Sam Mendes is quite an unlikely choice to direct a Bond film given his theater background and his films often deal with troubled ordinary people, a far cry from the ultimate action hero. But that fact is what makes Skyfall so promising to me. Some have said that this next Bond flick will be lighter on action but with heavier character development and I welcome that. Now I think we can still expect some high-stunts action sequences, car chases, what have you, but there’s nothing wrong with giving this 50-year-old franchise more depth and profundity.

Well, without further ado, these are seven directors Ted and I think could do the franchise some good:

TED’s and RUTH’s PICKS:

Kenneth Branagh

Ted: Ah now we are finally talking about a director whom the producers might already be considering to direct the next one. He’s a Brit and he’s just made a big budgeted action film, Thor.  Also, he’s already signed on the reboot another espionage franchise, the untitled Jack Ryan film. So not only is he a Brit but he’ll also have the experience of working on a spy flick, so it’s a win-win for the producers. I think Branagh can bring back those classic styles of the Bond flicks from the 60s.

Ruth: The multi-talented Irish thespian maybe known for his Shakespearean work, but he’s far more versatile than than, as proven with the success of the comic-book adaptation of Thor, among others. I’m certainly optimistic about him directing the fifth Jack Ryan spy thriller with Chris Pine. As an accomplished triple threat, actor/writer/director, he’s also got a knack for casting [case in point: then-unknown Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor] so perhaps we’d have another star in the making with a yet unknown Bond actor.

TED’s PICKS:

David Fincher

Fincher was actually going to direct another spy franchise back in early 2000s (Mission: Impossible 3). But because of the dispute between him and the studio over the film’s tone, he left the project. With Fincher’s style and flare, his Bond flick could be one of the best ever made, heck he already directed James Bond aka Daniel Craig in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo so maybe Craig will help convince the producer to hire Fincher for the next Bond flick. We know Fincher can handle big-budgeted films so that won’t be a problem. He’s never done an action film before but some of his films has some great action sequences, for example the foot chase scene in Se7en and the shootout sequence in The Game, so he can definitely stage great action set pieces. Also, his schedule is wide open since Disney put an axe on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he was set to direct the remake of the 1954 film but Disney new chief wanted save some cash. But because he’s American, I don’t think he’ll ever be consider for the gig.

Park Chan-Wook

Another candidate I don’t believe Bond producers will ever consider, but it would be awesome if Park Chan-Wook gets to make a Bond flick. Actually I think the South Korean director should’ve directed Quantum of Solace. Most of his films dealt with vengeance and I think Quantum would’ve been a great film had he directed it. Like Fincher, this man knows how to shoot great looking films, his Vengeance Trilogy are some of the best looking films I’ve ever seen and they’re pretty low budget. So imagine if he has $200mil to shoot a film, it would look spectacular. And with a character like Bond, he could explore the darker side of the character.

Quentin Tarantino

Some may remember right before the producers of the Bond films decided to reboot the franchise, Tarantino was on The Tonight Show and started talking about much he wanted to make Casino Royale (per MI-6 HQ.com). He told Jay Leno, “Just give me $50mil and I can make an awesome Bond flick based on Casino Royale novel.” Well a couple of years after QT made his comments, that movie came out but unfortunately QT didn’t get to direct it. For the next Bond flick, I think the producers should consider QT as their next director and I know it’s very unlikely since they have strict rules against hiring non-European directors. QT is a Bond fanatic so I know he can make a great Bond film but again I don’t think it will ever happen.

Honorable mention:

Kathryn Bigelow – Now here’s a director that I don’t believe the producers will ever consider, she’s an American and well she’s a woman. But look at her resume, she can definitely direct a big action film. Point Break is one of my favorite guilty pleasure action films; she also made another great and very underrated action film, Strange Days. Oh yeah she’s an Oscar winner too. So come on now the Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, let’s put her on the list of the next Bond director.

RUTH’s PICKS:

Christopher Nolan

I know Nolan has expressed interest in directing a Bond movie. In fact, he even admitted on several occasions of that the intense action sequence in the snowy mountain area in Inception was inspired by growing up watching Bond films. Well, considering how astounding his Batman films and Inception were, I think the 42-year-old Londoner could potentially do something very intriguing with this franchise. On his IMDb profile, it’s said that Nolan’s films often have ‘obsessive protagonists with a troubled past,’ well then Bond would be a perfect character for him to tackle. Plus, given his huge fan-base, it’d certainly be a good move financially for the studios as well.

Surely rising star Tom Hardy would be very keen on this idea. He’s even said that he’d do the role if Nolan is directing. He told Metro UK, “I’d love to play Bond with Chris Nolan (as a) director or something, it would be awesome.” Yes indeed!

Matthew Vaughn

Here’s another young, talented Londoner who’s expressed interest in directing a Bond movie. He’s said in many interviews that his X-Men: First Class was partly inspired by the 60s Bond films, describing it as “… part Bond flick and part John Frankenheimer political thriller.” Vaughn quite forthright about his desire to do a Bond movie in this Bleeding Cool article:

I sort of want the Brocollis to regret never hiring me. I was very keen to direct Bond. I don?t know if I am any more, to be blunt, now that I?ve done this. I really love Daniel [Craig], though you know, it might be interesting if they one day decide to cast Fassbender as Bond, then maybe I? ll go ?Hey!?

Fassbender’s Magneto was practically Bondian in his quest for personal vendetta, he even had the strut down pat. It’d be great to see these two team up in a Bond film. Maybe his wife Claudia Schiffer could even have a cameo as a Bond girl 😀

Brad Bird

This is the off-the-beaten path pick as Bird is American, but it’d be great if the Broccolis make an exception once in a while. Somehow they don’t seem to mind about the Bond actor not being from the UK, so why not the director?

The critical and box office success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol proves that Bird could tackle live-action flicks as well as he does animated features. He’s obviously able to take a formidable but stale franchise to new heights with innovative and thrilling action sequences. He’s sort of made an homage to Bond movies with The Incredibles, and given his screenwriting track-record, he’d be able to balance the thrills and gadgets with engaging characters and narrative. Oh, perhaps Michael Giacchino could work on the Bond score? Now, that’d be a winning combo!


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Well, those are our choices, folks. Please vote below and if you pick ‘other’ please let us know who it is and why in the comments.


Guest Post: Musings on Darren Aronofsky’s departure from The Wolverine… and who should replace him

So late last week, Fox announced that Darren Aronofsky won’t be directing the new Wolverine film. As a fan of Wolverine and the X-Men franchise, this was a huge blow to me. Even though I’ve never read any of the comic books, I was a huge fan of the cartoon show that aired in the 90s. I also enjoyed the first two films quite a bit, not too much with X-Men 3 and the first Wolverine film though. So when Aronofsky said that he’s coming on board to retool the Wolverine movie, I was ecstatic because I think he’s one of the best young filmmakers in Hollywood today and Wolverine is one of my favorite comic book characters right behind Batman.

I thought the first Wolverine film has potentials but the final product was pretty lame. Some of you might even remember that the first film has so much drama behind the scenes too, so maybe Aronofsky didn’t want to deal with Fox executives and decided to just walk away now before he’s knee deep in production and couldn’t get out.

The official statements by Fox and Aronofsky said the shoot was going to be out side of the States and that Aronofsky didn’t want to be away from his family for that long period of time. When I heard that, I didn’t believe it for a second. I will bet anything that Aronofsky left the project because Fox executives won’t let him make the film the way he wants and also they probably gave him a very tight schedule to shoot the picture. I truly believe that Aronofsky wanted to make a very gritty and dark film about Wolverine and Fox executives probably said no, very similar to the first movie.

Fox didn’t like where the movie was going so they ordered the director (Gavin Hood) to make changes so they could market it to younger audiences. Rumor has it that Hood actually walked off the set and veteran director Richard Donner actually was the one who finished directing the movie, Donner’s one of the movie’s producers. I think Aronofsky didn’t want to deal with the stress and just walked away. Now some people will suspect the tragic that’s happening in Japan might have something to do with his decision to leave the movie (the new Wolverine film will take place in Japan), that could be true but I highly doubt it. If they’re so concern about the danger of shooting in Japan, they could go to some other country and shoot it. There are lots of country that can be substitute for Japan, The Last Samurai was in New Zealand.

A few years ago when Singer left X-Men to shoot the new Superman film (Superman Returns), Fox announced that Mathew Vaughn was taking over the franchise. Then a few weeks before shooting begin, both the studio and Vaughn came out saying that he’s leaving the project because he didn’t want to be a way from his family for too long. Sounds similar to last week’s announcement about Aronofsky isn’t it? Here’s the original article where Fox announced Vaughn was leaving X-Men 3. The real reason why Vaughn left the project was because Fox gave him an impossible shooting schedule and they demanded he shoot the film based on the new script, Vaughn wanted to stick with Singer’s original script. Had he or Singer made the film, the main story would’ve been about the Phoenix saga and we’ll finally get to see those giant robots known as The Sentinels, it was seen briefly in beginning of X-Men: Last Stand. Of course we all know what happened, even though Last Stand made a lot of money, I thought the film was quite awful compare to the first two X-Men films.

As of now Fox hasn’t announce who will take over the project yet, I just hope they don’t go and get some of the hacks to finish the job. If they do, you can bet they’ll go after someone like Brett Ratner, Rob Cohen, Stephen Sommers (he was fired from the G.I. Joe sequel so he’s looking for work) and Paul W. Anderson. Since most of my favorite and talented directors are busy with their own projects, I’m afraid Fox might just hired one of those hacks.

But just for fun, these are my ideal candidates to replace Aronofsky: Duncan Jones (Moon), Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), The Coen Bros. (why not, they haven’t done an action/comic book film yet and this could be very interesting project for them) and Quentin Tarantino.


I know those guys will probably never be on Fox’s list but even if they are, I highly doubt they’ll accept the job. One possible candidate that Fox might actually hire is Bryan Singer, he was in the running to direct the first Wolverine film so maybe he’ll come on board if Fox asks him.


Well, what do you think of Aronofsky’s departure from The Wolverine? Are you as upset as I am and who do you think should fill in the director’s chair for this film?