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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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”

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?”

Two Days, One Night (2014): Liberté, Égalité … Fraternité??

The Dardenne brothers – Jean-Pierre and Luc, the Belgian masters of mythical realism – have always placed survival and class struggle at the forefront of their cinema. With The Kid with a Bike (2012), the writer-director duo pushed their themes deeper into the forest of fairy tale, and there they’ve stayed. Continue reading “Two Days, One Night (2014): Liberté, Égalité … Fraternité??”

F for Fake (1973): You Can’t Kid a Kidder – Or Can You?

Having got bored of making (or rather, not making) narrative films, Orson Welles made F for Fake with the intention of creating an entirely new kind of film-making that would be picked up and carried on by other directors. Instead, the film failed financially and critically, only relatively recently receiving the attention it demands. F for Fake is a film obsessed with itself, it tells the story of its own creation, narrated and presented by the master manipulator himself, Orson Welles. The man who once convinced the East coast of America that Martians were invading Earth here deconstructs the idea of fakery; as he tells us: “I didn’t go to prison, I went to Hollywood.” Opening on a train station platform we see the bearded and caped Welles performing a sleight of hand trick for a small boy, dazzling and delighting him, ultimately lying to him. For the next 85 minutes or so we will be that child – he tells us we’re going to hear the truth, pulls a few tricks, captivating us anew with every frame, lying to us until we don’t really care what’s true or false, and leaving us all the happier for it. Continue reading “F for Fake (1973): You Can’t Kid a Kidder – Or Can You?”

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975): Some Kind of a Last Supper

Salò exists as a departure for Pier Paolo Pasolini. But only in how he treats his themes, the themes themselves are the same as they always were: art, sex, politics and religion. The crossover between them – and this was not always the case with Pasolini – is seamless, with the film standing as one of the most unified and coherent he ever made. This may sound contradictory when you consider the reputation of Salò; a film at constant war with the censors; a film that many respected critics refused to even give a chance to; and a film that may even have contributed to its director’s murder. Ignore all that nonsense though; Salò is Pasolini’s crowning glory. Continue reading “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975): Some Kind of a Last Supper”

Roma (1972): When’s Roma Not Roma?


Fellini’s Roma is the city and its people through the director’s eyes. He tracks the evolution of Rome between the 1940s and the (at the time) present, 1972 – while keeping its ancient, eternal and ever present characteristics and institutions firmly in shot. The film is semi-autobiographical, the 40s segments feature a young Federico Fellini (played by Peter Gonzales) who is leaving his hometown of Rimini and heading for Rome; the present day segments follow the making of a movie which is taking place in Italy’s capital. The focus is never on any one character for very long though, it would be misleading to call Roma a biopic or a self-portrait because the man himself is reduced to a bit part. The only real character here – and the only one to experience any character development – is Rome, or rather Fellini’s Rome. Continue reading “Roma (1972): When’s Roma Not Roma?”