After a mixed summer ("Fast Five" and "Bridesmaids" performed well over expectations, "Cowboys and Aliens" well under them), it's interesting to see where Universal goEs from here, considering recent changes in management and all. They've got a fairly strong commercial line-up heading into the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, and gave punters a first look at many of those films in London's O2 arena as part of the Empire Big Screen event.
First up -- somewhat oddly, seeing as the company aren't releasing the film in the U.K. but we're not complaining -- was a world first look at clips from perhaps our most eagerly awaited film of the rest of the year: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Introduced by writer Peter Straughan and producer Robyn Slovo, and by video, Gary Oldman, who called the film "a labor of love," we saw three clips, all of which looked flat-out terrific.
The first showed the top brass of The Circus (the code name for the British intelligence services) as they debate a piece of information dug up by Percy Alleline (a Scottish-accented Toby Jones), a plan known as Operation Witchcraft. It's a room full of top-flight acting talent -- Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, David Dencik and Ciaran Hinds -- and it's clear that watching their interplay and politicking will be one of the great pleasures of the film. Hurt rants and raves, clearly losing control, Firth observes, amused, and Oldman, nearly unrecognizable as George Smiley, is a picture of calm.
The second seems to be a major suspense sequence, as Smiley's protege Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) is tasked with retrieving a crucial file from within the Circus itself. The detailed eye for period that director Tomas Alfredson showed in "Let The Right One In" has clearly returned; it's a beautifully designed, firmly lived-in world, and even minor characters -- the receptionist who clearly has a crush on Guillam -- are beautifully played. Perhaps even more exciting is how old-fashioned the thrills are: Straughan described it as "old school," and it certainly is, but it's also deeply suspenseful while remaining restrained, aided by what sounds like a very promising score from regular Almodovar collaborator Alberto Iglesias.
The final clip focused on Tom Hardy's Ricky Tarr, who relates the story of what happened in Istanbul, events which start off the hunt for the mole that becomes the film's throughline. Hardy is very different here compared to recent roles for the break-out star; softly-spoken, almost vulnerable. The Istanbul scenes were beautifully shot and characterful, while the final moment, a "Rear Window"-inspired moment where Tarr watches his target, Boris, beat his wife, was particularly strong.
If it is possible for us to be more excited about the film than we already were, it's happened: it really looks like Alfredson's pulled it off, and we're counting the days until we see it in Venice. Otherwise, things were more mixed. Working Title also premiered a trailer for another thriller, the Mark Wahlberg vehicle "Contraband," and it seems like it could be a decent enough programmer, landing somewhere between "The Town" and season 2 of "The Wire." Our biggest concern is about Giovanni Ribisi's villain -- heavily tattooed and ridiculously accented, his performance looks like it could overpower the film. Hopefully it'll work better in context.
Otherwise, some second-hand Comic-Con stuff also screened; that awful "Battleship" trailer we've all seen (which was stamped with an April 2012 date: have the studio moved it up to the "Fast Five" slot that proved so lucrative for them? Or will it just hit Europe earlier?), and two offerings from Relativity. The first, period thriller "The Raven," was more promising -- it's being given the "Sherlock Holmes" marketing treatment, but seems closer to "Seven" and could be good gothic fun, with John Cusack surprisingly convincing as Edgar Allan Poe.
Tarsem's "Immortals," however, looks like kind of a train wreck. We saw an action sequence featuring Luke Evans' Zeus and his group of yellow power rangers facing off against...some...grey...things? It's cartoonishly gory in a way reminiscent of video game "God of War," immaculately framed, and deathly dull. And from the new trailer we were shown, the performances look awful; lifeless and airless.
That's it for today in terms of footage screenings, but we'll be back throughout the weekend with news, reviews and interviews. In the meantime, "Immortals" hits screens on November 11th, 'Tinker Tailor' on November 18th, "The Raven" on March 9th, 2012 and "Contraband" on March 16th.