Spy (2015): The Other Bond

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?”