SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

EX MACHINA

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It may be a little mechanical in parts but it’s certainly not one for the scrap heap.

A ha . . . Anyway. Finally a film that didn’t make me question the purpose of my cinema pass.

A brooding, atmospheric and suspenseful thriller that ponders the existence of artificial intelligence and the very essence of life.

So what’s it all about? A young programmer (Domnhall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander)

Brought to you by the guy who penned 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now to me, I instantly had high hopes. I loved both. To some, there may be doubts.

The premise is hardly original but it’s take is certainly a breath of fresh air.

It does sound a little pretentious. And in parts it can be but it’s all helped by an original script and a small (No seriously. Four actors) but talented up and coming cast.

Domnhall Gleeson has been on the radar for some time featuring in such hits as About Time and Unbroken. He proves once again why he is one to watch. He plays the geeky programmer with aplomb and delivers his lines with an impeccable accent.

What I loved about the opening was how quick cut it was. It didn’t mess around or linger unnecessarily. Just straight to business. It set the tone, the pace and got the story going. Main character. Situation. Bang, bang, bang.

The cinematography by Rob Hardy was outstanding. Especially with the breathtaking panoramic landscape shots as Gleeson’s Caleb descends upon the Jurassic Park-esque compound of the reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac).

Oscar Isaac was brilliant as the eccentric inventor. A scene stealer at every chance. A chameleon with a tough poker face. Isaac is certainly banging on the door with his performances; Inside Llewyn Davis, Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year.

As soon as “Day One” flashed across the screen, the game begins. A suspenseful, haunting voyeuristic journey into madness.

When Caleb is first introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), it makes for slow burning but engaging viewing. The pair sharing pleasantries and sussing each other out. There is great chemistry between Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

She will certainly be one whose face you will have to get used to. Appearing in several future releases and one current (Testament of Youth); Seventh Son, Son of a Gun, Man from UNCLE.

However, if her performances are anything like this then I won’t be complaining. And no! That is not because she is a naked Swedish robot who has stolen my heart (What?)

The tension begins to bubble as the days count down. Strange things happen around the enormous techno compound. Unexplained power cuts that automatically lock every room. CCTV footage on every TV channel of Ava.

An air of unease and suspicion shrouds the house (and the film). The paranoia beginning to rear its ugly head.

Loyalties soon divided, perceptions blurred. The eccentric Nathan watching the couple’s conversation under a microscope. Ava desperate to escape. Warning Caleb not to trust Nathan.

This certainly kept my attention for the majority of the film as I tried to suss out what was really going on here.

The debates between Caleb and Ava made interesting points and certainly pondered the question of what is real? Can a robot feel? Judge what is right and wrong. Their chemistry igniting more and more.

The only issue is that with all the conversations, the slow burning pace and the beautiful landscapes, it does go on a little bit.

I could feel myself kind of wanting Day 7 (it occurs over a week) to reach it’s finale a little quicker.

It’s almost Kubrickian. The long sweeping shots, the hallways. God, the endless hallways. No creepy twins in this one. Only a sultry Japanese robot servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). Alluring one moment, unsettling the next.

Garland even goes for a bizarre encounter involving a choreographed disco routine that really showed Nathan’s eccentricity (and that Isaac can dance). He also delivered the best retort I’ve heard in some time.

An angry Caleb storms in and asks why Nathan tore up something. His response? “I’m going to tear up the dance floor, dude.” Brilliant.

The finale was a little predictable but how it come about still surprised me and left me nodding my head in approval. That can’t be said for a lot of films these days.

I don’t want to divulge too much as I would like you to give this a gander.

The special effects were very good. The detail on Ava and Kyoto was remarkable. No over-indulgence on the CGI which made them look a lot less cartoony and more realistic.

I mean that could be down to the fact this had a much smaller budget but always a plus in my book in this day and age of relentless, OTT animation.

It’s certainly a dark broody affair. If you’re expecting fast action and bang for your buck with sexy robots, then watch I, Robot or Transformers but if you want a little bit of philosophical sci-fi then give it a go.

It’s not perfect. A little long at the tooth but engaging enough.

A step in the right direction.

3.5 (just)/5