Spy (2015): The Other Bond


When she was a kid, Susan Cooper’s (Melissa McCarthy) mother used to leave a note in her lunchbox each day that read: “Give up on your dreams.” This formative experience, and others, have led to Susan, now a CIA agent who has never been out in the field, lacking confidence. Instead, from the safety of her office, she gives remote help and guidance to the top agent she has a terminal crush on, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). She’s downtrodden, often humiliated by her colleagues, and left devastated when Fine is shot dead in the line of duty. Fortunately for us, all this makes for an often hilarious set-up to the film.

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Brazil (1985): Bureaucrat’s Paradise


Bureaucracy on film is a subject that, for obvious reasons, has always been best approached by filmmakers working under authoritarian governments, specifically in Eastern European countries in the middle of the last century. But with 1985’sBrazil, Terry Gilliam reminded us that bureaucracy is as commonplace in the democratic West as it is anywhere else. Of course, he’s not aiming for realism. This is a nightmare vision of a kind of future fascism that rules with consent and compliance from the population. Each interaction must be accompanied by the correct paperwork. Even a woman whose husband was mistakenly killed by the state is asked to sign a receipt afterwards before being told she can request a form if she wants to file a complaint.

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A Beginner’s Guide to John Ford


When asked about who his favourite American directors were, Orson Welles replied: “I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” Ford is often painted as a contradictory fellow, hard to pin down. But his body of cinematic work – and to him, directing movies was a “job of work” – tells a different story. His films present a cohesive whole, a clear vision of the world with each new film in dialogue with the ones that came before.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015): Fukunaga’s War


Cary Joji Fukunaga, the director, writer, producer and cinematographer of Beasts of No Nation, has an eye for striking images. Which is a good thing because war films rely on them perhaps more so than any other genre. From Paths of Glory (1957) to Apocalypse Now (1979)—two films that Beasts owes a clear debt to—war films have always relied on images to do the impossible: convey the horror of war. This then prompts the question ‘what is the aim of a war movie?’ There’s a quote attributed to Francois Truffaut: “there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie”. If war is so horrific that it can never be done justice on screen, does any attempt to portray it necessarily undersell the trauma and end up romanticising, or at least prettifying, it instead?

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She’s Funny That Way (2014): Man Screwballs Woman


She’s Funny That Way might mark the return to cinema of Peter Bogdanovich, but the director knows well that to reach the screwball comedy heights to which he aspires, it’s the cast that has to shine, not the man behind the camera. And this cast might just be one of the greatest ensembles gathered in front of the same camera for any film made this decade, or even this century. Continue reading “She’s Funny That Way (2014): Man Screwballs Woman”

While We’re Young (2014): America Eats its Young


As the grim realities of diminishing life and unfulfilled promise hit home, Josh (Ben Stiller) retreats into his young adulthood, or rather his young adulthood as appropriated, reimagined and repackaged by a real life, present day young adult. As Josh’s wife Cornelia (Nicole Kidman) observes – her reaction symptomatic of the film’s dialogue’s observational wit – “It’s like their apartment is filled with things we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” The “their” refers to Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), the young documentarian and his ice-cream making wife whose enthusiastic otherness awakens something dormant in Josh and – to a slightly lesser extent – Cornelia. Continue reading “While We’re Young (2014): America Eats its Young”

Falling In & Out of Love with a Narcissist in Listen Up Philip (2014)


Listen Up Philip opens with the eponymous character (Jason Schwartzman) demonstrating his unlikability through exaggerated, unreal, separate meetings with people from his past. These two characters, an ex-girlfriend and a former college ally, play no further part in the film. They exist to facilitate Philip’s narcissistic approach to social relations. Both scenes are soulless battlefields. Philip uses attack as his form of defence; the person that’s not Philip soaks up the pressure until either retaliation or withdrawal can be avoided no longer. Continue reading “Falling In & Out of Love with a Narcissist in Listen Up Philip (2014)”

The Two Faces of January (2014): Theseus or Oedipus or Somewhere In Between?

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“Take a look at that view. Spectacular, isn’t it?” Yes, Greece is spectacularly beautiful – the 1960s period details enhance the excitable Mediterranean sheen, undoubtedly. It’s just a shame that someone involved in the making of The Two Faces of January didn’t suggest paying as much attention to the rest of the film as has unquestionably been paid to the locations and the lens flares. Continue reading “The Two Faces of January (2014): Theseus or Oedipus or Somewhere In Between?”

An Interview with Udo Kier


Once he’s finished talking to me, somewhere on a ranch in Palm Springs, California, Udo Kier will visit his horse Max (named after Max von Sydow) and plant the trees he bought the day before. “I have a lot of land in the desert and I’m much happier working in the garden planting trees and watching animals than being in some stupid commercial film.” And with the quickest glance at his CV, it’s easy to tell he’s not lying – as long as you let his role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective slide, it’s a sea of weird and wonderful arthouse films for as far as the eye can see. Nowadays though, Kier tells me he just wants to have fun when he’s making movies. Continue reading “An Interview with Udo Kier”

Bad Lieutenant (2009/1992): 2 Films, 1 Thin Blue Line


A snake swimming through post-Katrina floodwater opens Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant. Abel Ferrara, director of the original Bad Lieutenant (1992), led his cop (played by Harvey Keitel) through a spiritual crisis on the streets of New York. The Catholic Church was at the forefront of proceedings as Keitel went through the motions of sinning and absolution and sinning and absolution. Continue reading “Bad Lieutenant (2009/1992): 2 Films, 1 Thin Blue Line”