Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

Here we are again (spoiler notice)

There’s something to be said for Bond as an auteur series. Back for seconds is director Sam Mendes, who did a superb job infusing Skyfall with an unusually personal story for Bond and an even more unusual, quaintly apocalyptic final act. And it worked. Having him return for Spectre means there’s continuity beyond the usual nods and customs. The blasted-out MI6 headquarters features prominently, Bond receives his personal effects from what remains of Skyfall manor. The film knows an auspicious start with a Day of the Dead action scene that has everything you’d want from the series. And it needs it, because this is of course the big one, the denouement of three movies’ worth of setup.

F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1974)

Do not trust this man (spoiler notice)

Let's work our way back, shall we? Say that you're Orson Welles and you want to make your final film. But wait, he enters only later in this review, though he's front and center to the movie. So let's forget him for a moment. Say that you want to tell a story about Picasso. A truly wild and wonderful tale about forgeries, deceitful ladies and lust. And you're worried that people might not believe you, since it's just too outlandish. How would you proceed?

The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)

No sex for the nerd (spoiler notice)

Are you a jock, a geek, a doll, a weirdo or an outcast? The Breakfast Club is a film about children growing up. About class – not just classrooms, but class warfare on the school ground and beyond. It opens with the lyrics to Bowie's 'Changes' and it stands as an 80s anthem for teenage kids around the world. But, surprisingly, underneath the veneer of accepting each other's differences, this John Hughes classic hides a warped message that all but negates its theme.

Harlock: Space Pirate (Shinji Aramaki, 2013)

In the year 2977, a new space combat mechanic is discovered

There is, in the field of science fiction, a surprisingly small amount of stories that involve giant, skull-headed space ships employing in battle the main tactic of ramming other ships because, well, they’re just sturdier. Perhaps because of this reason I quite looked forward to Harlock: Space Pirate. Its status as a legacy manga by Leiji Matsumoto doesn’t need explaining – this is one of those titles fit for a canon, alongside the works of Tezuka, alongside Dragon Ball and Gundam.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay, 2013)

By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!

How'd I miss out on this a second time? Years ago, when I saw Anchorman: The Legend of Run Burgundy on DVD, my first thought was quite honestly outrage: why had no one told me this was one of the funniest movies ever made when it came out? Anchorman was a genuine gold mine of quotable lines and had a devil-may-care attitude to zaniness. Its stand-out sequences with jazz flutes and violent gang fights are to this day, strangely perhaps, rarely seen. So it speaks of a deep character flaw of mine that when Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues appeared, I skipped it.

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

I’m still on speaker phone, aren’t I? (spoiler notice)

For a film that’s all about a pretty novel twist on a familiar genre, The Cabin in the Woods sure wears its heart on its sleeve.

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

Hope isn’t a mistake – when you’re female (spoiler notice)

It was fun to see Dutch cinemas scramble to program more viewings of Mad Max: Fury Road. Apparently, they hadn’t expected audiences to respond as they did to what seemed a typical boy’s film about high octane (and high testosterone) car chases in an apocalyptic landscape. Ho-hum. Let’s put it somewhere in the evening for a few weeks. Then things exploded on social media and the film became kind of a must-see for geeks worldwide. Why the enthusiasm for a franchise that had its last outing thirty years ago with Tina Turner in punk-rock clothes and singing, admittedly, a highly addictive song?

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it?

What happens when you enter a cinematic world that is so thoroughly realized that nothing bars your absorption into its fiction? It gains the unique quality of seeming like a much shorter film than it actually is! By the time Blade Runner ends, it always feels like I’ve been watching for twenty minutes, rather than just short of two hours. Dazzled by its daring and still-unsurpassed visual representation of a rain-slick, blimp-festooned neo-noir Los Angeles.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2013)

Fly me to the moon (spoiler notice)

When thinking back to Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, my memories of it are quite agreeable. I was touched by Kaguya’s fall from free spirit to caged bird, amused by her adoptive father’s rise from honest bamboo chopper to fumbling would-be courtier. It’s strange, because the actual experience of watching the film was much different – plodding & overlong.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

or (the wholly expected tedium of escalating epicness) (spoiler notice)

This is the movie that broke Joss Whedon. It was so hard to make, with so much riding on it – not just the expectations of legions of fans, but the continued, steam-rolling success of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – that after finishing, he couldn't even look at the film without seeing the flaws and compromises he had to make. He resigned his position as top creator at the studio. Sometimes, that's the toll of art. Looking at Avengers: Age of Ultron, you can't escape the feeling it was a sign of a monolith falling apart.

Chappie (Neill Blomkamp, 2015)

Tonight in Robot News

There's a genuine sense of dread surrounding the modern day development of robots. Every new wave of Big Dogs, Petmans and intelligent drones is met, online, with the sort of careless whimsy that only barely hides a pessimistic world view: that the enslavement and/or destruction of the human race at the hands of our own creations is quite inevitable. That Terminator future is in the realm of possibilities and might not be far off – and that's pretty existentially scary.

Push (Paul McGuigan, 2009)

Cute little girl, psychic, in Hong Kong

There is that moment when you start watching Push, that you realize how much its premise seems to resemble Jumper. “Oh no,” you startle, “this can’t be.” But here are people with extraordinary powers, on the run from a government trying to weaponize them – lead by a black killer. “Not another borefest starring an unlikeable brat!” you say. But then it kind of turns out a lot better.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008)

 Life is like a box of wrinkles

There’s a genre of film that centers around an outsider for whom the normal rules don’t apply. They’re different, and perhaps a little disconnected. We follow them through many stages of their life, which features wild twists and turns. Love is found and lost, war breaks out, a family reunited. Throughout it all, the wonderful gift or curse this person has pulls them through in a special way. Let’s call this genre ‘Forrest Gump’.

Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014)

And did you get what you wanted from this life?

How could you go wrong with such a name? Clearly, the people behind Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) have a sterling sense of making awkward things hip. It's a title that promises the dumb flair of a superhero movie (Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Batman) and then instantly undercuts that by going literary. This strikes at the core of the film's conflict.

What We Do In The Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014)

Just leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet

At the intersection of the mockumentary and the vampire craze lies What We Do In The Shadows. You'd be forgiven a bored yawn. Both things are so played out, surely this can't be anything but a lame, tardy attempt to cash in on the last remnants of undead popularity?

La Grande Bellezza ('The Great Beauty', Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)

A tonic for the movie-weary (spoiler alert)

It's easy, in the wash of usual fare, to forget what it feels like when a movie actually has things to say. All too often when visiting the cinema I'm like a dehydrated man dying in the desert, desperate to find but a single interesting idea hidden somewhere to drink in. It's why I started Filmadeus – to describe these moments, the interesting things about a film. I'm often disappointed. Then, suddenly, something like La Grande Bellezza comes along, stuffed to the hilt with ideas and keen observations, to wake me from this bad desert dream.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

All hail the train!

There's nothing new or interesting about dystopian, apocalyptic futures, be they Snowball Earths or otherwise. Suppressed lower classes rioting against a perverted bourgeoisie that devours what few resources left - dime a dozen. The fascinating, if heightened-suspension-of-disbelief-demanding thing Snowpiercer does to make it fresh is monumentally decreasing the scale of the event. What happens when a civil uprising takes place on a single train holding all of humanity, brought back to perhaps a few hundred?

Murder on the Orient Express (Philip Martin, 2010)

A hardliner on justice who likes his breakfast eggs exactly the same size, merci

This is perhaps Agatha Christie’s most famous story, starring the quirky Belgian detective Poirot. He is in my opinion a more interesting character than other sleuths. Holmes, Columbo, let alone the modern teams of crime scene investigators – none can hold a candle to Poirot with his iconic wax mustachio.