Archives for posts with tag: mystery

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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

This came out in between A Few Good Men and Interview with the Vampire, and that feels about right. And apparently there was a time when you could cast David Strathairn as Tom Cruise’s black sheep of a brother. The early nineties were weird.

Mitch McDeere (Cruise) works his way through Harvard Law by waiting tables. He is married to Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who is from a well-off family and gave up everything to be with him. This comes up a lot but never pays off. Every law firm wants to hire him, but despite Abby’s Stepford heebiejeebies, he takes a job at a small family outfit in Memphis. They assign him Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) as his mentor.

MV5BMTgxMjM5NDYwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkzMzk5MDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Abby’s reservations do not go away, and then people start dying in the Caymans, which, in the nineties, was probably the most suspicious place for inconvenient people to die. To stir the pot unnecessarily arrives an FBI agent in the person of a bald Ed Harris. He wants Mitch to help the FBI take down the eponymous Firm, which launders money for the Chicago mob. But this interferes with Mitch’s honest lawyering! Disclosing those documents would violate lawyer-client confidentiality, which sounds less bad than laundering money for a crime family, but I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong.

Meanwhile Mitch’s mom lives in a trailer park and his brother is in prison and he hires Eddie Lomax (Gary Busey) to investigate things. Tammy (Holly Hunter) works for Lomax, because of course she does. And everyone is being hunted by a near-albino man.

Obviously this will proceed in the manner which will allow Tom Cruise to set his jaw the most righteously. And apparently everyone just had Mickey Finns lying around all the time back then, and few qualms about using them. Basically, most of the people in this movie play painfully close to type, which works because most of the plot in this movie is a series of painful clichés. I’d cut it slack for being the Casablanca of overwrought legal dramas, thereby exonerating it from the charge of banality, but it’s not that good even if you correct for that.

Director: Sydney Pollack
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes
Score: 3/5

This resembles the John Buchan short story in very few particulars and is, I’m sure, worse than the Alfred Hitchcock movie I haven’t seen. Moreover, it is chock full of battle-of-the-sexes clichés and heavy on modern-audiences-don’t-know-what-an-oubliette-is exposition. It is, nonetheless, completely charming.

Summer, 1914. Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) is a mining engineer back in London from South Africa, and he is full of ennui. Just when he’s about to chuck it in and head back, a man (Eddie Marsan) is killed in his flat, having left Hannay with a notebook in code and a lot of stuff about a German spy ring. Naturally, Hannay is suspected of the murder. He goes on the run, concluding that his best bet at not being hanged is to expose the spy ring. Trains, planes, automobiles, suffragettes…

MV5BMTYyMjcxNDExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MTIwMw@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) falls in his way and is somehow not irritating. She tells him off, withholds information, climbs walls, and generally does everything that such a character usually does, and yet is charmingly spunky rather than hamfistedly shrill. Also they have very good chemistry, even when she calls him a “prehistoric boor” and he calls her an “unhinged hysteric.” We’ve seen it all a thousand times, but here it manages to be amusing instead of hackneyed and lame.

Oh, obviously there are spies, and Patrick Malahide is quietly sinister while David Haig flutters about the place. It’s not, you know, good, but it is deeply enjoyable.

Stray observations:

  • At the beginning Hannay is wearing a white necktie with a godawful white waistcoat and a ventless black jacket. No one has ever worn this combination on purpose, and certainly didn’t in 1914.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Victoria’s brother is so much less unbearable than he is as Carstone in Bleak House or McKechnie in Parade’s End.

Director: James Hawes
Rating: PG or so
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 3/5

In our continuing obsession with robots and how they’ll probably take over the world and murder us comes the entry Ex Machina. I seem to recall a lot of hype about how ground-breaking and intelligent it was. I disagree on at least one of those points.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a tech billionaire who is developing humanoid AIs in his remote mansion, because obviously he is. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a peon in his company who wins a contest to go meet the AI. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the AI. Amid very stylish surroundings, Nathan is a giant creep, Caleb is creeped out, Ava is a really convincing robot.

MV5BMTUxNzc0OTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3NzU2NDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgTo its credit, this movie addresses a few issues that often come up in this scenario, like “why does the AI have to be a sexy lady?” The answer to that is that Nathan is a creepy weirdo, which is at least stereotypically probable. “Why does Oscar Isaac have that terrible beard?” goes unanswered. “How did we get to the point where AIs are really plausible sexy ladies without a lot of hiccups?” is, however, terrifyingly answered by a gallery of uncanny valley failed AIs. “Can robots dance?” is a glorious yes.

This movie did, at least, kind of consider how robots might think and how this may or may not make them want to kill us all.

On the other hand, I don’t know about you, but I watched Battlestar Galactica, so….

Director: Alex Garland
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes
Score: 4/5

Jack Reacher is not very good. It’s competent, and sometimes even pleasing. But it half-asses everything. There’s weird family drama, there’s strange unexplained personal mystery, there’s Werner Herzog. Not one of those things goes anywhere.

Because he is a shadowy ex-military type who decides to go in for his own personal brand of morality or justice, Reacher (Cruise, obviously), has no possessions. So he must wash his shirt while speaking to Helen (Rosamund Pike), and doesn’t have another one to wear. So he’s shirtless. She is the DA. That is a thing that happens.

And then Reacher has to be incognito, briefly, so he wears a Pittsburgh Pirates cap. The audience has just enough time to be put off that Tom Cruise is wearing anything other than a Red Sox or Yankees cap before, with a self-aware smile, he hands it to the man next to him. It’s a very strange meta moment.

That’s what I remember about this movie. So, as always, if you like watching Tom Cruise do Tom Cruise things, this is a reasonable installment.

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Score: 3/5