Been meaning to say something about IMAX since I went to see Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak a few weeks ago. It was playing on the IMAX screens in the new Odeon in Bletchley/Milton Keynes. Given that there were no other screen options, and given that I’d never experienced IMAX, I booked tickets.
First of all, the film: not all that impressed. Seemed like a mashup of his other films, but I’ll wait till I see it again in a non-IMAX format, because my whole experience was affected by the screening.
I hated the IMAX screen. Its curve meant that people got weirdly distorted when they moved across to the side. I don’t see how a curved screen is any use for anyone other than the very few who can sit bang centre and far enough back (which in the Odeon, of course, are the “premium” seats). Movement seemed jittery, too, like on your 1080p TV screen, lacking the smooth blur that traditional 24-frame-per-second film stock gives.
I’ve seen those curved screen TVs in shops, and I think they look shit. Again, no good for anyone who is not sitting dead centre. Which I guess is fine in our lonely, single-person household society. But not for me.
Apart from the annoying curve and the jitter (both of which are deal breakers for me), which are distorting the screen image and distracting me, leaving me unable to suspend disbelief, I hated the height of the IMAX screen. IMAX talk on their web site of the “cropped” image of 1953-era Cinemascope anamorphic screens:
When a film is presented in CinemaScope it is cropped and uses only part of the image the movie camera captures. This is the reason most ordinary screens are very wide but not particularly high – like looking at the world through a narrow slit.
Which demonstrates the visual equivalent of a musical tin ear. They’re saying it as if it’s a bad thing. It’s like saying, ‘When you hear “Strawberry Fields Forever,” you’re only hearing the result of editing together the best parts of several different takes. The IMAX version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” gives you all the shit that The Beatles cut out because it was rubbish.’
The genius of film and photography is that it puts the world in a frame. The frame of cinemascope is the highest expression of that genius. A cinemascope landscape or close-up has an incredible visual impact: so much so that watching cinemascope films on an un-letterboxed 16:9 screen is disappointing. Great directors use the framing/cropping of Cinemascope as part of the art of filmmaking. Given the ‘uncropped’ option, where’s the art? You see more, so what? Fucking less is fucking more, you morons.
Watching IMAX felt like watching a giant 4:3 ratio (but curved) TV. The image didn’t even look like it was a high enough resolution to warrant the size of the screen. People looked odd, like you could detect the artifice behind the make-up. There was nothing happening in my peripheral vision other than distortion of the image. As to the sound: too fucking loud, man. Like an amplifier that goes up to 11: better, because louder? Fuck off.
IMAX is the Spinal Tap of movie projection. Never again.
I went to see Jupiter Ascending, having as usual avoided all pre-release reading and spoilers. All I knew about it was that a couple of people I follow on Twitter had felt moved to defend it, like this, for example:
I wasn’t sure what to expect and I ended up pleasantly surprised. I can see why it’s going to struggle at the box office, however. There was so much world-building and so much exposition that for a non-fan of the genre it would soon reach information overload. But, for a long-term SF reader, there was nothing here that wasn’t familiar from any number of short stories and novels. In terms of plot, there wasn’t a lot to go on. The thing with science fiction is that it is so often the world building that matters – the implied narrative of how things came to be as they are is the plot, so in terms of this film, it’s the background of the interstellar empire and the cultivation of human life on various planets in order to harvest it.
There is something of a kitchen sink approach to this film. Interstellar empire? Check. Faster-than-light travel? Check. Immortality achieved through some hideous and unethical process? Check. A labyrinthine central bureaucracy? Check. An anchor character to whom all this is new? Check.
So I’ve read stories in which humans are genetically spliced and get wings and stuff (“New Light on the Drake Equation” by Ian R Macleod, for example). I’ve read stories in which the ultra rich can achieve immortality while regular people continue to endure desperate (and relatively short) lifetimes (“Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress, for example). You could point to all kind of antecedents, but the Wachowskis have taken the credit for an original screenplay. I believe the idea was to create a fiction world that could be turned into a franchise. If it flops at the box office, then maybe not, and so much the better. The Matrix wasn’t terribly successful in its sequels.
Apart from all the good, solid, science fiction ideas, the film’s visuals were also spot on. There were moments (approaching the centre of the interstellar civilisation) that looked like the cover art for any number of classic science fiction novels. From the ships to the cityscapes, the crowd scenes and the shots from orbit, the art direction was excellent. The costumes, too, played with lots of ideas from myriad sources.
On the negative side, there were too many lengthy peril-free CGI-driven action sequences. They say they used stunts for much of the action, but it was still a bit of a yawn that could have lost 20 minutes from its length without adversely affecting the plot exposition.
In the end, it wasn’t so much a genre film as a film about the genre. The kitchen sink approach meant that it didn’t quite hang together as a movie regular punters would want to see, while at the same time paying homage to the genius of science fiction, its ability to build worlds and ask questions about humanity like no other genre. As a commercial property, it may fail, but as one of the very rare examples of proper science fiction in the movies, it succeeds.
So I was listening to Kermode’s review of Frank yesterday, and I’ve read a couple of others which praise it in equal measure.
I’m trying to remember exactly what year it might have been, but I once had the misfortune to witness the phenomenon that was Frank Sidebottom at close quarters.
Jonathan Richman is one of three musicians I have seen in concert at least six times; the other two are Bob Dylan and Tift Merritt.
Now, you know a Dylan concert is a crap shoot. I rate my Dylan live experience as 1.5/6, or around 25%. In other words, go to see Dylan and you’ve got a 25% chance of seeing something good. In his case, the 25% mostly consisted of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
As for Tift Merritt, leaving aside the time when we couldn’t go in because the venue had an age restriction and we had, as usual, bought the kids along, she’s a 100% kind of artist. In other words, there’s no possible way I wouldn’t take the opportunity to buy more tickets, even with the bitter memory of being turned away at the door in Oxford.
Jonathan Richman lies somewhere between the two. As with Dylan, you would never know what you were getting with him. Is he on his own, with a couple of sidemen, with an unplugged acoustic, or a plugged-in electric, or (at least once) a saxophone? The variety of the experience is what kept you going back for more. At one venue (Riverside Studios?), the support act was a magician. The magician wanted an assistant from the audience. It was I who was pulled up onto the stage. Jonathan Richman was watching wide-eyed from the wings. I locked my keys in the car. Someone helped me break into it with a coat hanger. That was a memorable night.
Once, at the Mean Fiddler, the support act was Tanita Tikaram, just before she had some chart success. Another time, at the Town and Country club, a man in the audience rubbed himself against me with too much enthusiasm. When Roy and I went to see him at Camden (Jazz Café), Richman attempted to perform not only with a nylon stringed acoustic guitar, unplugged, but without a microphone. This would have been great, if the fucking audience hadn’t continued their loud conversations and trips to and from the bar throughout.
Which brings us to the Mean Fiddler again, and the night Frank Sidebottom was the support act. Kermode said something in his review about the fine line between tragic and comic, and the damaged person behind the mask. Here’s what I saw: the damaged person behind the mask. I didn’t see anything remotely funny. It was like watching someone with deep psychological problems act them out in front of an audience. It was awkward. It was awful. It was like watching that terrible fly-on-the-wall documentary, Titicut Follies. Sidebottom was Titicut Follies in living colour. I found the experience so miserable that I didn’t enjoy the Jonathan Richman gig that followed.
I was a teenager, it was late at night, and I was alone watching The Magic Christian on television.
There was no internet.
I was at the height of my teen Beatles obsession at the time, and the first thing that struck me was the theme song: “Come and Get It,” by Badfinger. I didn’t know Badfinger from a hole in the ground, but what I heard sounded like The Beatles. Not long after, I obtained the Apple 45 single, by Badfinger, written by Macca, and I was still convinced it was more Beatles than not. Given McCartney’s abilities, he could easily knock off the whole thing on his own.
And Ringo was in it. And, towards the end, it looked as if John and Yoko walked past the camera.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. Thirty-five years later, and I happen to be teaching Swinging Britain as a Film Studies topic. The Magic Christian was my immediate choice. What film could better sum up the madcap hazy days of the late 60s? Plotless, meandering, bonkers, peppered with familiar faces, poppy soundtrack, with Ringo, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, John Cleese… Graham Chapman… Christopher Lee… Raquel Welch… Roman Polanski… Yul Bryner… fuck.
So we watched it. This is not a film to watch for cinematography, that’s for sure. In terms of editing, it has its moments. Its production design, given the budget, is also interesting. There are scenes taking place in train carriages, on a modernist “luxury liner”, and on what appear to be the flooded streets of London-before-the-Thames-Barrier.
In many ways, the film is nasty. Peter Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, a multi-millionaire who decides to put his money to use in subverting the class system, humiliating the elite classes and demonstrating how materialistic values bring us all low. Ringo plays a homeless man adopted by Grand, who participates, knowingly and unknowingly, in a series of pranks.
A shooting party discussing their various shotguns is subverted when Grand pulls out a machine gun and uses it to destroy wildlife. (We were watching this film in the week that Chris Packham attempted to get the British media interested in the massacre of songbirds in Malta.)
A boxing match, with a crowd of monkey-suited men and their dates baying for blood and violence, is subverted when the two boxers kiss instead of fighting. The crowd is outraged. It struck me that this controversial 1969 gay kiss would still upset a lot of people, who would indeed prefer to see blood and violence than two men loving each other.
In perhaps the most hilarious sequence, the Crufts dog show descends into chaos when a (literal) black panther (disguised as a dog) attacks and kills the other contestants. Its owner, an African man, gives the Black Power salute from the back of a police van. The scene is intercut with shots of police brutality at anti-war and other protests. (In 1968, two American athletes gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the Mexico Olympics.)
At a gourmet restaurant, Sir Guy orders an astonishingly expensive bottle of wine, then rubs caviar all over his face while his companions dine on Rice Crispies.
At Sotheby’s Sir Guy buys a “Rembrandt” portrait for three times its value and then uses a pair of scissors to cut out the nose. As a parting shot, Ringo calls out, “Keep an eye out for ears.” At the auction, he drives up the price of a painting of two dogs with a series of bizarre (and loud) signals to the auctioneer.
The boat race descends into chaos when the Oxford crew are bribed to ram the Cambridge crew. They then circle back to attack the floundering oarsmen in the water.
A traffic warden (Milligan) is bribed to eat the ticket he’s just issued. He voluntarily eats its plastic wrapper.
The maiden voyage of a luxury liner, with a passenger list of the wealthy elite, descends into, yes, chaos, as homoerotic, black and white male dancers perform provocatively in front of a man already established as a racist. Then the ship appears to be hijacked. Then a vampire starts attacking passengers. A transvestite singer serenades Roman Polanski and turns out to be Yul Bryner. When the ship appears to be sinking, passengers are encouraged to escape through the “engine room”, which turns out to be full of naked, female galley slaves being whipped by Raquel Welch. And it turns out, all along, that the ship wasn’t even at sea at all. It was just a warehouse mocked up to look like a ship. (The QE2, the last great Cunard luxury liner, was launched in 1969.)
In the climactic scene, pinstripe suited businessmen and others dive into a vat of urine, faeces and blood in order to retrieve the money Grand has put in it. They literally immerse themselves in piss and shit in order to retrieve sinking ten pound notes. (The scene is shot on the area of waste ground on the South Bank of the Thames which is now the National Theatre.)
What does it all mean? What strikes me, 45 years on, is how many of the targets of the film are still around. There was a brief historical moment, in the 60s and 70s, when inequalities of wealth were reduced. Britain flowered in the 60s because – for the first time ever – a large number of people educated outside of the elite institutions of private schools and top universities were able to succeed because they had talent. Coupled with this flowering, we had the highest wealth taxes of the modern era. Coincidence? I think not. If you want a brilliant, exciting, culture and an optimistic country, tax the rich until the pips squeak. FACT.
It was the era when the “natural order of things” was questioned, and the powerful holders of wealth were revealed to be no “better” than the rest of us. The decade of change starts with the Profumo Scandal (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) the Chatterly trial (would you wish for your wife or servants to read this?) and ends with Lord Lucan bludgeoning his children’s nanny to death in 1974.
The Magic Christian, falling into the middle of this period, skewers the pretentions of the upper classes, and questions the values of a society which prefers violence and money to love, which has an unfortunate habit of mixing sex with violence (Raquel Welch with a whip), and which conceals racial hatred, class war, and homophobia behind a facade of enforced, supercilious, politeness.
It’s a blunt instrument, The Magic Christian, but it smashes its targets quite effectively.
And worth it for the whole conceit of the black power salute at Crufts!
The lead character in Inside Llewyn Davis is purportedly based on the Greenwich Village folk legend of Dave Van Ronk. While some of the details resemble the legend, the character himself does not, and that’s really the problem with the film.
The Kermode/Mayo reviewers expressed a disappointment with the film, which – on paper – should be pushing all the buttons for music aficionados. If you’ve read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, you feel you know Greenwich Village, 1961, quite well. If you’ve read further and more widely, you think a film like this is going to be your cup of meat.
It’s photographed to look like the cover of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, or perhaps, Inside / Dave Van Ronk, and it looks fairly great – most of the time. The vintage cars, the old road west to Chicago, the gas stations, diners, the Gaslight Café… but Oscar Isaac himself, as Llewyn Davis, doesn’t look like he belongs in 1961. Kermode and Mayo were discussing yesterday the notion of “a 70s face” in connection with a different film. Isaac does’t have a 60s face. Carey Mulligan doesn’t, either. In fact, whenever she’s on screen, there’s a wrongness to the shot that I couldn’t stop noticing. Especially in close-up, there was too much of something: too much pancake? Too much soft focus? It just didn’t seem to work.
As for the music (curated by T Bone, natch), there’s a wrongness to that, too. It may be something to do with Autotune. It may be something to do with the way music production has changed over the past 50 years. But I never found the performances very convincing. It’s almost as if the film wants to make a point that you can’t really make: that folk music changed when Dylan came along, and that before he came along it was sweet-sung and polite. But as we all know, Dylan was “doing” Woodie Guthrie when he made his first recordings. And if you listen to Van Ronk’s 1959 record Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual, you hear a gruff-voiced approximation of a traditional blues voice, as hard-edged as anything Dylan did a few years later. The change Dylan wrought was in writing his own words to both new and old melodies. People like Van Ronk had been curators, Dylan was an innovator. But the music didn’t sound much different.
The soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis is just a little bit too polite and sweet-sounding and Autotuned-sounding. The character’s singing voice is just too Peter, Paul and Mary to fit the character. As to that character, whereas Van Ronk was popular and widely loved, this Llewyn Davis has almost no redeeming qualities – this was the source of Kermode/Mayo’s disappointment. My wife said afterwards that he lost her when he abandoned the cat, and there’s the problem. You’ve got nobody to root for. Sure, one of the themes here is about being a “nearly” man in history. So he’s always nearly doing something. But the problem here is that you don’t like him nearly enough. Mulligan’s character is as bad: nasty, vicious, angry, while not even acknowledging her responsibility for her own actions.
As to the film’s narrative and theme, well, it seems designed to provoke speculation and eventual cult status. Is he in hell? Who was “Mike”, really? Is “Mike” something to do with “Microphone”. Is Davis the cat? Is John Goodman the Devil? Who knows. Maybe it will become a cult. Maybe, like Donnie Darko, all the questions will turn a fairly unlikeable film into something a few people love to distraction. I’ve never been a Coen Brothers cultist, so I doubt it will happen to me.
Older readers will know that I generally disdain what passes for moving image science fiction. It all tends towards fantasy, really, which is the world’s favourite genre. There are some good sciency fiction things out there, but that wouldn’t generally be filed under SF. For example, I love Pleasantville, in which a brother and sister end up living inside a 50s TV show; by the same token, something like The Truman Show tends to have more in common with some of the SF I’ve read than, say, Star Wars.
But my daughter got me thinking about great science fiction that has never yet become a film – maybe because the narrative arc would’t work for Hollywood, or because the state-of-the-art in visual effects isn’t there yet. But it’s getting there, I think. And there are plentiful rumours concerning the first two on my list.
Ringworld. Larry Niven‘s 1970 science fiction novel has seen prequels and sequels a-plenty, enough to keep a Hollywood franchise going for a decade. It has been rumoured but never made. Narrative arc: it’s a road movie, so deal with it. Visual effects: biggest problem would be not the Ringworld itself, but Niven’s imaginative alien species: the cat-like Kzin (who are aggressive but always attack before they’re ready) and the three-headed Puppeteers (who are cowardly and very manipulative). They would tend to look too much like Farscape-style muppets. Probably.
Rendezvous with Rama. Arthur C Clarke’s superior version of 2001 from 1973. The technological sublime, the mysteries of alien technology; and, with its sequels, enough for a franchise (the Ramans did everything in threes…). Narrative: yeah, apart from awe and mystery, what is there? Only a ticking time-bomb deadline of getting too close to the sun and a touch-and-go escape to safety. Visual FX: I can’t think of a problem here. Spoiler: no goofy aliens required.
Unto Leviathan/Ship of Fools. I’ve written before about Richard Paul Russo‘s superb and disturbing novel about a generation ship whose crew has forgotten its original purpose. It has everything you’d want for a gripping science fiction yarn, and, for a standard-length novel there’s an amazing amount of material – enough for two films. The first would be the discovery of the abandoned colony on a planet; the second would be about the encounter with the empty alien ship. Narrative: has everything. Space opera, mystery, scary aliens, the horror, the horror. Visual FX: I would very much look forward to the stained-glass-window-in-space sequence.
The Chronoliths. The first Robert Charles Wilson novel I read. All of them, probably, would make great films. In this story, giant monuments to a great leader start appearing all over the world – sent from the future. Narrative: at the centre of this immense vision of mind-bending self-fulfilling prophecy is a very human story of love and loss. Visual FX: the chronoliths themselves would present no problems. The biggest challenge would be the ageing of the main characters over time.
Spin. While we’re in the Robert Charles Wilson department, this one is another perfect film in the making, and has two built-in sequels. Earth is suddenly isolated from the rest of the universe. Time outside the isolation passes much more quickly than on Earth itself. Society falls apart. Then a gate opens to another world… Narrative: huge, bewildering events anchored down, Wilson-style, with a story about human beings, politics, and friendship. Visual FX: easy, plus super-evolved humans from Mars, just for fun.
The Holdfast Chronicles.Suzy McKee Charnas‘ classy series about a post-apocalyptic world in which men are mired in intergenerational conflict and keep women as slaves is a lesson in feminist SF for Margaret Atwood fans. There are four volumes, so it’s another built-in franchise. Volume 1 is Walk to the End of the World, in which one of the slaves escapes the city and discovers the free women living in the wilderness – without men. Narrative: huge adventure story with a powerful message. Visual FX: post apocalypto. With horses.
Bears Discover Fire. Terry Bisson’s short story could easily be adapted into an indie-style film, with a subtle message about climate change and humanity’s relationship with nature. Narrative: a simple story about people and generations, with a backdrop of extraordinary events. Visual FX: bears who can make fire.
The Forever War. Ridley Scott is rumoured to be working on an adaptation of Haldeman’s story about war and alienation, the mindlessness of the military and the psychological effects of time dilation. Again, a number of sequels, but let’s make it so, Ridley. Narrative: human soldiers in a conflict they cannot possibly understand. Visual FX: space, aliens, distant planets, time dilation, military hardware. (Alternatively: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.)
Spirit. Gwyneth Jones’ space-opera version of The Count of Monte Cristo is an excellent story (obviously) of revenge told against a backdrop of her fully-realised future world of interstellar travel and alien encounters. Narrative: Count of Monte Cristo, yeah? Visual FX: Buonarotti faster-than-light travel, space stations, alien prisons, aliens. Lots for the make-up department to do.
Beggars in Spain. A future world of genetic modification, and social divisions between those who have it and those who don’t. What if we could engineer ourselves not to need sleep? What might we achieve? And what if we were immortal. Nancy Kress’ original novella and its various add-ons would make a great film. Narrative: human stories and huge social impacts. Visual FX: what does the world look like in 2091?
In keeping with my just-invented policy of only giving a considered opinion and never writing an off-the-cuff review of something just because it happens to be central in today’s hype machinery, this is what I thought of the recent film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is now available to rent or buy on DVD.
I watched it twice, actually, so concerned was I to give it a fair viewing. You might watch a film twice because you enjoyed it so much the first time. I watched it twice because I found it so boring the first time I barely paid attention to it.
I kind of knew the story, having read all of Le Carré’s Smiley books and having watched the TV series if not when it was first broadcast then more recently on BBC4. As a general rule, I like the spy genre, with all its convoluted hall-of-mirrors logic and slow burning plots. Smiley is a character prized not for his charisma but for his brain, his thinking ability, and you’ve got to get behind such a hero.
But from the opening, with its muted trumpet soundtrack, I found I wasn’t really in the mood for this, and then I wondered if I would ever be. I decided it was a sort of Sunday afternoon film, so I waited until I was on my own on a day that felt like a Sunday, even if it was a Tuesday, and I watched it again. I felt much more warmly towards it the second time around, but that’s not to say that this film isn’t still a bit dull.
On my film blog, I discussed the recently-elevated Vertigo in terms of the way it bored you in its first half in order to spring its abrupt mood change in its second half. I stand by the idea that Vertigo is a bit boring (especially to an audience of teenagers raised on Transformer movies and Pixar); but that Hitchcock uses boredom as a tool with which to manipulate the audience. So the question is, does Tinker, Tailor use boredom as a tool in the same way?
Muted trumpet might as well be muted arse trumpet to me. I’ve gotten into a really bad habit in recent years of only paying half attention to the TV. There’s always something else in my hand or on my lap. I’m on Twitter, or I’m playing a game. Even on shows with subtitles, I tend not to be watching the screen for long chunks of time. This is a mistake with a film like this, because it is a proper film in that it’s taking the pages of dense exposition and the inner thoughts of Smiley and it’s putting them on the screen in the mise-en-scène or in the edit.
Elliptical edits characterise this film. Not in the form of jump cuts (though there are a couple of those), but in the form of abrupt scene shifts. As soon as a scene has done its work, the director gets out of Dodge as quickly as possible. This isn’t Tony Scott-style rapid editing, and you might even come away from the impression that this film likes to linger on details, but what the director is doing is giving you just enough information and then moving on, with a whole lot of the usual 21st century filmmaker’s over-explaining missed out. Good. Instead of “getting the picture” in a single scene, you need four, five scenes in a row before you can start to puzzle things together.
In other words, you are Smiley. And you’re not bored, you’re solving a chess puzzle.
So you have to pay attention in order to work out what’s going on. I know some critics complained that only readers of the book would be able to follow the plot, but I don’t think so. You have to pay attention, and you have to observe as closely as Smiley does, but you can indeed keep up with the story without having read the book. After all, it’s quite simple. The British SIS is harbouring a Russian agent in its upper echelons, and Smiley has to work out who it is. The answer is staring him in the face, which is the central point of the story – how he can be blind to the obvious truth, but only “to a point”.
Where not paying attention might get you lost is in the liberal use of flashbacks and in the clues as to when and where you are being left entirely to the mise-en-scène. Smiley-in-the-past is wearing different glasses. This is important. But you get less help with Jim Prideaux, who doesn’t wear spectacles.
The film is lit nostalgically, reminding me of that Channel 4 series Red Riding (like someone has stretched a pair of tights over the camera lens). Everything looks brown, which seems to be how everyone remembers the 70s (1973 in particular). I’m not sure about this really. It made for a consistent look, but I still couldn’t help noticing how the period cars all mostly looked brand-new (even the one with the scratch down the side). Suspension of disbelief was not aided by this instagram-style cinematography. That aside, I liked the portrayal of the Circus, with its labyrinthine walls within walls, and the scene in which Peter Guillam is tasked to sneak a log book out of the secure fifth floor so that Smiley can see it is brilliantly handled, as is the fact that the only clue in the purloined document is what isn’t there.
This sums up the espionage genre brilliantly. It’s not what is in a message but that existence of the message that is significant. It’s not what people know but how they come to know it. I remember in an early Smiley novel that a particular postcard was significant not because of what was written on it (no code there), but because it featured a photo of a church. These are the signs a spy is trained to look for. One observer notes that only a KGB trained operative would make a point of being so publicly drunk and incapable.
I’ve no real complaints about the casting, aside from the inevitable relegation of women to supporting roles. All of the cast perform well, but some of the faces are a little too familiar from the telly box. I’ve seen three movies in the past week or so featuring Mark Strong, which didn’t help (they were: this one; The Guard; and Kick Ass). I wish they’d spread the casting net wider, I suppose. Trigger from Only Fools and Horses is in it. Great actor, but still. In at least one case, the casting of one actor gives too much of a clue as to the likely outcome. Another member of the cast gives a good impression of a broken man near the end.
Director Tomas Alfredson does a good job of taking a very cerebral story dense with interior monologue and putting it on the screen, which I admire very much. Gary Oldman is excellent, his paired down dialogue mattering little in comparison to his command of expression. I think my favourite scene is near the beginning, when he appears to be spending hours staring at an ugly, abstract painting, as if trying to make sense of it.
So, yes, you might find this film boring, especially if you treat it like something you can half-watch and still get the gist. You can’t. I agree that 90% of what you see these days can be half watched with no loss of understanding, but this one you have to be watching in order to catch the nuance. Which is what makes it worth two hours and seven minutes of your time.