Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Year of Release:  1965
Director:  Martin Ritt
Screenplay:  Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper, based on the novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre
Starring:  Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner
Running Time:  112 minutes
Genre:   Spy thriller

Shortly after the death of one of his operatives, Alec Leamas (Burton), a British spy working in West Berlin, is recalled to London and drummed out of the Service (in spy parlance "coming in from the cold").  Short of money and spiraling into alcoholism, Leamas accepts a job in a library, where he catches the eye of fellow librarian, Nan (Bloom).  However there is more going on than it appears.  Far from coming in from the cold, Leamas is embarking on the most dangerous mission of his career, and soon it is not only his own life that is in danger, but Nan's too.

John le Carre's 1963 novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became famous for it's gritty and realistic depiction of the world of international espionage and was a best-seller worldwide.  The novel and the film can be seen as a riposte to Ian Fleming's hugely successful "James Bond" series.  Shot in crisp black-and-white, the film evokes a seedy, miserable, dangerous world, and the spies are, to quote Leamas in a famous speech, "...a bunch of seedy squalid bastards like me..."  Burton portrays Leamas as a cauldron of hatred and anger, mostly directed at himself, mercurial and dangerous.  Claire Bloom provides the film's moral centre as the idealistic young Communist librarian who Leamas loves.  Full of superb performances and still timely after all these years, this stuill may not be too all tastes (the unrelenting bleakness - although alleviated by a touch of mordant humour, the at times complex storyline and slow pace may put some people off).   It certainly is not an action-packed thriller, but it demands to be seen.  The closing images will stay with you for a long time.

              Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Doom Generation

Year of Release:  1995
Director:  Gregg Araki
Screenplay:  Gregg Araki
Starring:  Rose McGowan, James Duval, Johnathon Schaech
Running Time:  83 minutes
Genre:   dark comedy, drama, crime

Amy Blue (McGowan) is nihilistic, angry and bored with herself, with her friends, with her world.  Her main interests are drugs, music and sex (not necessarily in that order), and she maintains an affectionate relationship, withe her sweet, good-natured boyfriend Jordan (Duval).  One night handsome, violent drifter Xavier, nicknamed "X", (Schaech), literally falls onto their car and, after a convenience store clerk is accidentally killed during an impromptu robbery, the three find themselves on the run in a surreal, violent, hallucinatory USA.

A principal figure in the "New Queer Cinema" movement of the late 1980s to early '90s, this was billed as "a heterosexual movie"  by Araki.  In reality it is and it isn't, while the more obvious object of desire is the seductive Amy, it's plain to see that the real love story is between guys Jordan and Xavier.  It feeds quite neatly into the "lovers-on-the-run" road movie genre that was popular in the 1990s (such as Wild at Heart (1990), True Romance (1993) and Natural Born Killers (1994)), but this is funnier than most and stylish.  Full of inventive production design and a superb central performance from McGowan, this is a dark, violent and bleak film.  The film, is full of scenes of characters eating, but rarely has food been filmed as unappetizing as what is proved to be the source, with all the artifificial elements accentuated and fearful.  Everything about the film screams late 1990s and yet it is still relevant today.

     James Duval, Jonathon Schaech and Rose McGowan are the Doom Generation.