The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
(Paramount, 1965) D: Martin Ritt w/ Richard Burton, Claire Bloom. Rating: NNN
the spy who came in from the Cold, the first film adaptation of a John LeCarré novel, was hailed in its day as the anti-James Bond, an icy shower of Cold War realism in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Overrated in its day (it copped a bunch of Oscar nominations), it stars Richard Burton as Leamas, a British agent who seems to defect to launch a way-too-elaborate plot against a figure on the other side.
No one does self-hatred like Burton. Indeed, having him turn his finely honed diction to this sort of role is like having Anna Magnani play the life force. It's a bit overwhelming. What struck me watching The Spy again was that its principal virtue is Oswald Morris's superbly controlled black-and-white cinematography. That's an art we're gradually losing.
John Lee Hooker - Come And See About Me
(Eagle Rock, 2004) D: Bob Sarles, w/ John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt. Rating: NNNNN
an official release from john lee Hooker's estate, the archival performances collected here are mostly from his renaissance in the 1980s, when, having survived all his contemporaries, he came to be seen as the last of the great Delta blues men and went around being honoured and feted. On the one hand, it's ironic. Hooker was certainly a blues man and certainly from the Delta (Clarksdale, Mississippi), but he wasn't exactly a Delta blues man. He didn't play slide, and his songs didn't have a 12-bar structure. He was something more primitive - a drone blues man. He'd find a groove (pretty much the same groove) and play in it. I once saw him at a blues festival play Boogie Chillen for about 24 minutes, and he never got to the chord change.
On the other, while he was being feted he never stopped being a great player and performer. The performances on this excellent DVD are those of a man in his 70s: a scorching Baby Please Don't Go with Van Morrison, a sultry In The Mood For Love with Bonnie Raitt, a live Boogie Chillen where his backing band is the Rolling Stones (minus Mick) plus Eric Clapton.
All the performances are complete songs, and there are well chosen comments from Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Hammond, Ry Cooder and others. The footage is, not surprisingly, variable in quality, but this is a must for blues fans.
EXTRAS Additional interview footage with Hooker, his daughter Zakiyah Hooker, and some brief added performance footage.
The Counterfeit Traitor
(Paramount, 1962) D: George Seaton, w/ William Holden, Lilli Palmer. Rating: NNNN
the flood of historical issues in the last few years has reminded us that William Holden was one of the biggest stars of the 50s. But he's a more interesting actor in the 60s, when some of the gloss has worn off and middle-aged anxiety has begun to creep in. In The Counterfeit Traitor, he plays an American-born Swedish businessman during the second world war who's blackmailed into working for American intelligence because he does business with Germany - oil business, which gives him access to all sorts of interesting information.
Though this is a bare-bones issue, Paramount has given us a superb transfer, and the film is a moral thriller whose hero is willing to betray his friends. Holden is superb in a role that isn't so much anti-heroic as on that questions the idea of heroism itself.
EXTRAS French, Spanish subtitles.
(Microfilms, 1998) D: Craig Monahan, w/ Hugo Weaving, Tony Martin. Rating: NNN
people who've discovered austra- lian actor Hugo Weaving in recent years will want to see The Interview, in which he gives a performance entirely different in look and sound from Agent Smith in The Matrixes and Elrond in The Lord Of The Rings. In this Australian film, Weaving plays an ordinary bloke who's arrested and taken in for questioning on suspicion of car theft.
Of course, it's for a lot more than car theft, and Weaving's not so ordinary as he seems, but this is a superb actors' duel, even if one suspects the director has seen The Usual Suspects one time too many.
EXTRAS Director commentary, short making-of featurette.
Coming Tuesday, August 10
Kill Bill: Vol. 2
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis) Doubtless the first of several editions of the conclusion of Quentin Tarantino's revenge epic.
(Acorn) The magisterial climax of John LeCarré's chronicles of the British secret service, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley.
(Warner) A lot of disturbed people have been insistently asking, "When's Freaks coming to DVD?" Well, here it is. "One of us! One of us!"
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb