The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Western literature and movies of the 20th century are obsessed with the Second World War and its fallout The Cold War. An unjustly large proportion of the works deal with these subjects and I intentionally avoid them. But even I could not avoid finally picking up a John le Carre novel. I had liked what I saw in the movie adaptation of his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and I picked up The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

This slim novel is part of a George Smiley series and is centered around a burnt out British spy named Alec Leamas. All the spies under the command of Leamas in East Germany are methodically killed by a ruthless new Communist spy head named Mundt. Leamas is pulled back to England, loses his job in disgrace and ends up working at a library. Turns out that this is all a front by MI6 to make him an enticing defector for the East German side, a great chess game to take down Mundt.

I had not read a le Carre novel before and I can see that his high praise is well deserved. Since he was an actual spy during the Cold War, his writing is supposedly very real, and it seemed so to me. The plot in this one is quite an intriguing puzzle and kept me up on the edge. To his credit le Carre never lets go of the moral implications of the loss of life in this secret war. When Leamas defects, he is pulled deep inside East Germany, with not a single British or American spy to help him. Finding out if and how he succeeds is a thrill not to be missed.

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 0143121421

Books I enjoyed in 2016

2016 was such a busy year that by the time I could clear some space in my personal schedule to read books, half the year was already up! I had set an overly optimistic target of 24 books for the year. I finished just 10 books. Listed below are the books that I enjoyed the most. As you might deduce, the books are mostly all light reads. The book titles are linked to my book reviews, in case you are thinking of picking them up.

For 2017, I want to get back to reading a book or two on history or non-fiction. Reading a classic fictional work or two would be nice too. As for targets, I think I can aim for 24 books again this year, that is, 2 books per month. Let me see how that goes! 🙂

Movies and TV series I enjoyed in 2016

2016 was a crazy busy year and I could not really relax with a movie or two every weekend. I mostly watched popular movies, and a good number of them were quite entertaining. TV series took a far bigger hit, and I could only manage a few this year. Popular series like Game of Thrones and House of Cards (US series) are great fun in the first few seasons, but to be frank they get quite boring pretty soon. Here is a list of what left an impression on me this year.

Charulata (চারুলতা)

I am slowly making my way through Satyajit Ray’s brilliant movies. This movie revolves around Madhubati Mukerjee (whom I last saw in Mahanagar) and the evolution of her relationships with her husband and her cousin. As usual with Ray, the movie is flawless: the plot displays the nuances and complexities of everyday relationships, every frame is oh-so perfectly shot, Madhubati is staggering in her acting and beauty and the movie actually ends on a happy note. A visual masterpiece made way back in 1964!

Black Coal, Thin Ice (白日焰火)

From China comes this dreamy snowy neo-noir movie. Everything is perfect: the disturbed hero, the angelic heroine and a mysterious murder to solve. The stark winter setting is gorgeous like a dream and the movie abounds in black humour. Pitch perfect!

House of Cards (UK Series)

This is the original series from 1990 which has been remade in the US now starring Kevin Spacey. The US series does not even come close to this original cause this is one of the best TV series I have ever watched! I would place it next to The Wire, at the supreme pedestal for TV series. Ian Richardson turns in a God-like performance of a scheming politician who rises to become Prime Minister. Pardon my abuse of adjectives, but the acting is quite simply fantastic and the plot superlative. In 3 seasons, you will learn everything you will ever need to understand politics in every damn nation of this world.

Fargo (Season 1)

Fargo is one of my favorite movies and I must admit I was a bit afraid they would ruin it with this TV series. Thankfully, the small town essence of the movie is perfectly captured in this series. The body count just keeps racking up in this peaceful-looking town. I kept rooting for Martin Freeman, wishing he got a happy life, but sadly it is not meant to be. The last 2 episodes are especially nerve-wracking. Seeing the loving family at the heart of the series cozy up in their nest amidst all the cold at the end is bliss.

Gone Girl

This is a fantastic nail-biting mystery by David Fincher. Who knew Ben Affleck could act?! He and Rosamund Pike give epic performances here creating a couple of unforgettable characters. The plot and its settings have a huge Fargo feel to it. The movie has the feel of reading a thrilling novel. Loved it!

Badlapur

What a beginning this movie has! Undoubtedly one of the best to come from Bollywood in 2015! This is a dark noir revenge drama where the villain turns out to be not so bad in the end and the hero turns into pure evil. This is the best I have seen of Varun Dhawan, but with Nawazuddin, Radhika Apte and Huma Qureshi at their peak here, he has too much competition. Minor quibbles in a visceral work.

Heaven’s Gate

Director Cimino’s vision to make the perfect Western shines through in this masterpiece. Camerawork is jaw droppingly awesome, the sets are grand and the acting is brilliant. It may have sunk the studio that produced it, but thanks to Cimino’s maniacal precision we get a gem. The movie is slow and takes its time, the war at the end is a bit heavy handed, but the rest is beautiful.

NH10

This movie is scary as hell and very visceral. The premise descends brilliantly from modern luxuries of New Delhi to the rural badlands of Haryana. The couple are chased like dogs for witnessing an honour killing. The surprises, like that of the police officer, are just brilliant! When justice is finally served, it feels so wrong, but also right. Anushka Sharma is all over this one and this is the best I have seen of her.

Dirty Harry

This is one Clint Eastwood essential. It is a classic cowboy Western transplanted nicely into a modern police setting. The city of San Francisco plays a major role in the movie and the city is great to watch here.

Nishabd

This is the best RGV movie I have seen yet. He makes the taboo love all seem so natural. The Munnar settings are gorgeous and Big B and Jiah Khan are both a treat to watch. If I have one complaint, then that is the abuse of the ridiculous crane shots used in the movie.

U Turn

This second Kannada movie from Pawan Kumar is a quaint urban thriller where a flyover comes to life and starts killing traffic rule breakers. Shraddha Srinath, her love interest and the cop have acted really well. The movie is as much about Bangalore city as it is about the characters. The movie is a tad long, but well scripted and beautifully shot.

Kapoor & Sons

A perfectly crafted Bollywood movie created to tear you up and leave you with some great memories. The dysfunctional parents Rathna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor are perfect depicting the kind of marital decay after living together for 35 years. The parents, the sons all discover secrets about each other on a trip home and it all goes to hell just when it could have been fixed together well. In between all this, Siddharth and Alia’s romance seemed a tad unnecessary and out of place.

Main Aur Charles

This movie is very engaging, thought it captures the enigmatic faker Charles Shobraj at the fag end of his career. Randeep Hooda pulls in his best performance and even the secondary characters remain etched in memory cause they are fleshed well. The story gets a bit lame towards the end, but that is a minor quibble in this beautiful noir.

Back to the Future

Finally got around to watching Marty McFly and Doc in this perfectly crafted pop movie. It is quite fun to watch the trouble that ensues when Marty travels back in time to his parents’ teenage years. But why oh why are there a zillion blatant product placements in this movie?!

That pretty much rounds up my list. Here’s hoping for more great watches in 2017! 🙂