Spy (2015; USA; Colour; 120m) ∗∗∗½ d. Paul Feig; w. Paul Feig; ph. Robert D. Yeoman; m. Theodore Shapiro. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Morena Baccarin, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Nia Long, 50 Cent, Peter Serafinowicz, Will Yun Lee, Zach Woods, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Jessica Chaffin, Miranda Hart, Carlos Ponce. A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster. Frequently funny spy spoof with McCarthy excellent as the reluctant heroine who excels in the field. Some genuine laugh-out-loud moments despite frequent coarse nature of the humour. Law and Statham both send up their screen images with aplomb. 
Spectre (2015; UK; Colour; 148m) ∗∗∗½ d. Sam Mendes; w. John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth; ph. Hoyte van Hoytema; m. Thomas Newman. Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Jesper Christensen, Stephanie Sigman. A cryptic message from James Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. Satisfying globe-trotting 007 action vehicle with all the expected ingredients and several nods to the series’ history. The most traditional and outlandish of Craig’s outings offers little that is new but will undoubtedly satisfy fans. Action scenes are well-staged if a little mechanical. Bellucci is wasted in small role as grieving widow. Sam Smith’s theme song is unmemorable. Based on characters created by Ian Fleming. 
Shepherd of the Hills, The (1941; USA; Technicolor; 98m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. Henry Hathaway; w. Stuart Anthony, Grover Jones; ph. W. Howard Greene, Charles Lang; m. Gerard Carbonara. Cast: John Wayne, Betty Field, Harry Carey, Beulah Bondi, James Barton, Samuel S. Hinds, Marjorie Main, Ward Bond, Marc Lawrence, John Qualen, Fuzzy Knight, Tom Fadden. A mysterious stranger arrives in the Missouri hills and befriends a young backwoods girl. Much to the dislike of her moonshiner fiancé who has vowed to find and kill his own father. Excellent adaptation with superb production values and strong performances from the cast and superb direction from Hathaway. Gorgeous cinematography beautifully captures the San Bernardino National Forest in California. Based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright. Previously filmed in 1919 and 1928 and remade again in 1964. [PG]
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011; USA/United Arab Emirates/Czech Republic; DeLuxe; 133m) ∗∗½ d. Brad Bird; w. Christopher McQuarrie, Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec; ph. Robert Elswit; m. Michael Giacchino. Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Vladimir Mashkov, Tom Wilkinson, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Miraj Grbic, Ving Rhames. Fourth instalment in the action-adventure franchise follows Ethan Hunt as he works to defuse a potentially-cataclysmic conflict between the United States and Russia. Implausible action thriller propelled by admittedly impressive action sequences, but lacking intelligent plotting and any respect for its audience. Followed by MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015) 
Shane (1953; USA; Technicolor; 118m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. George Stevens; w. A.B. Guthrie Jr., Jack Sher; ph. Loyal Griggs; m. Victor Young. Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Jack Palance, Van Heflin, Brandon DeWilde, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Elisha Cook Jr., Ellen Corby, Emile Meyer, Douglas Spencer, John Dierkes, Paul McVey, Edith Evanson. A weary gunfighter attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smouldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act. Classic Western memorable for many aspects, not least the beautiful scenery, photography and authentic production design. Ladd, Heflin and Palance all deliver career best performances and De Wilde is superb as the hero-worshipping young boy. Won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Final film of Jean Arthur. Based on the novel by Jack Schaefer. Followed by a TV series (1966) with David Carradine in the title role. [PG]
Eiger Sanction, The (1975; USA; Technicolor; 123m) ∗∗∗ d. Clint Eastwood; w. Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy, Rod Whitaker; ph. Frank Stanley; m. John Williams. Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Vonetta McGee, Heidi Bruhl, Reiner Schone, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott, Candice Rialson, Elaine Shore, Dan Howard, Jack Kosslyn. A classical art professor and collector, who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend. Lame spy story is not one of Eastwood’s best efforts but is rescued by spectacular and thrilling mountain-climbing scenes. Eastwood did all of his own stunts. Based on the novel by Rod Whitaker (as Trevanian). 
Fog, The (1980; USA; Metrocolor; 90m) ∗∗∗∗ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter. Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Tom Atkins, Nancy Kyes, Charles Cyphers, George “Buck” Flower, Jim Haynie, James Canning, Ty Mitchell, John F. Goff, Regina Waldon, Darrow Igus. A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Creepy, atmospheric and with more than its fair share of shocks. Carpenter nicely ratchets up the tension and a game cast keep the viewer engaged. Eerie score by Carpenter heightens the fear factor. Remade in 2005. 
Last Man Standing (1996; USA; DeLuxe; 101m) ∗∗½ d. Walter Hill; w. Walter Hill; ph. Lloyd Ahern II; m. Ry Cooder. Cast: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Imperioli, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Ken Jenkins, R.D. Call, Ted Markland, Patrick Kilpatrick, Luis Contreras, Leslie Mann. A drifting gunslinger-for-hire finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between the Irish and Italian mafia in a Prohibition era ghost town. Cartoon violence abounds in this tale of cross and double-cross. Willis is effective, but it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. Re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961) (story by Ryûzô Kikushima and Kurosawa), which in turn was remade as FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). 
My second Christmas film choice was a James Bond classic…
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969, United Artists, USA, 142 mins, Technicolor, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Spy Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: George Lazenby (James Bond), Diana Rigg (Tracy), Telly Savalas (Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Bernard Horsfall (Campbell), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), Yuri Borienko (Grunther), Virginia North (Olympe), Geoffrey Cheshire (Toussaint), Irvin Allen (Che Che), Terence Mountain (Raphael).
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Richard Maibaum (Based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Director of Photography: Michael Reed; Music: John Barry; Film Editor: John Glen; Production Designer: Syd Cain; Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Set Decorator: Peter Lamont; Costume Designer: Marjory Cornelius
The first Bond film not to feature Sean Connery proved to be a return to basics, eschewing the smirking humour and excessive scope and gadgetry that had sneaked into the last entry in the series, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Here, James Bond (Lazenby) woos a mob boss’s daughter (Rigg) and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.
This Bond film has an emotional centre and it stands out as the most authentic adaptation of Ian Fleming’s source material in the whole series. Much has been made of Lazenby’s debut by critics, but they overlook the fact that it is by using Lazenby the makers have managed to capture the true essence of Fleming’s story. The film simply would not have been as successful had Connery remained in the role. That is not to say Lazenby is a better actor or a better Bond, merely that Connery had become so closely identified with the part, he would not have been able to add the vulnerability and sensitivity required without audiences becoming suspicious.
Diana Rigg is excellent as Tracy, the girl who Bond wants to spend the rest of his life with. Savalas’ Blofeld has more charisma than Donald Pleasance displayed in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. The photography in the Swiss Alps is stunning and John Barry provides his best score of the series. The ski scenes are well shot and dramatically played. The heart-breaking finale is unforgettable.
The result is possibly the best Bond film of all and one that deserves re-appraisal. It is a shame Lazenby did not continue in the role as the producers shied away from authenticity and went for self-parody in Connery’s comeback, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – an approach that would dog the Bond films for more than a decade.
FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966, Lowndes Productions, UK, 105 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Spy Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Michael Caine (Harry Palmer), Paul Hubschmid (Johnny Vulkan), Oskar Homolka (Col. Stok), Eva Renzi (Samantha Steel), Guy Doleman (Ross), Hugh Burden (Hallam), Heinz Schubert (Aaron Levine), Wolfgang Völz (Werner), Thomas Holtzmann (Reinhardt), Günter Meisner (Kreutzman), Herbert Fux (Artur), Rainer Brandt (Benjamin), Rachel Gurney (Mrs. Ross), John Abineri (Rukel), David Glover (Chico).
Producer: Charles Kasher; Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Evan Jones (based on the novel by Len Deighton); Director of Photography: Brian Elvin (Technicolor); Music: Konrad Elfers; Film Editor: John Bloom; Production Designer: Ken Adam; Art Director: Peter Murton; Set Decorator: Michael White, Vernon Dixon.
In this solid follow-up to 1965’s THE IPCRESS FILE, British agent Harry Palmer (Caine) is sent to Berlin to receive a Communist defector (Homolka), but the true situation turns out to be rather more complicated.
The plot twists and turns and Caine is again highly watchable and droll as Palmer. But whilst the first film indicated a desire for exec producer Harry Saltzman to move away from the James Bond formula, in this second outing there are increasing nods toward his prime asset. This would be taken even closer with the third film in the series – BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN. In the meantime, Jones’ competent adaptation of Deighton’s complex novel keeps the viewer engaged. The production credentials are strong with great use of the Berlin locations, tight, if safe direction from Hamilton and a good supporting cast adds some energy to the proceedings.
The familiarity of the ingredients had been well and truly set by this point and the genre would become increasingly inhabited by far-fetched spoofs and parodies.
SHADOW DANCER (2012, BBC Films/Irish Film Board/ Element Pictures, UK/Ireland, 101 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Clive Owen (Mac), Andrea Riseborough (Colette McVeigh), Gillian Anderson (Kate Fletcher), Aidan Gillen (Gerry), Domhnall Gleeson (Connor), Brid Brennan (Ma), David Wilmot (Kevin Mulville), Stuart Graham (Ian Gilmour), Martin McCann (Brendan).
Producer: Chris Coen, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe; Director: James Marsh; Writer: Tom Bradby (based on his own novel); Director of Photography: Rob Hardy (DeLuxe); Music: Dickon Hinchliffe; Film Editor: Jinx Godfrey; Production Designer: Jon Henson, Art Director: Aeveen Fleming; Costume Designer: Lorna Marie Mugan.
The opening set-up of this adaptation of Tom Bradby’s novel in 1973 Belfast produces the most haunting scenes of the film and establishes Riseborough’s burden of guilt over the death of her little brother, who was shot after she sent him to the shops on an errand. When twenty years later she is finally convinced it was the IRA who were responsible, she uses that guilt to spy on her own brothers – Gillen and Gleeson – with Owen as her MI5 guardian.
There are a few twists and turns in the plot as the tale unfolds to its logical conclusion. Performances are good – notably Brennan as the family matriarch and Wilmot as the IRA’s fixer. Riseborough’s relationship with her own son is meant to symbolise her redemption for the loss for her brother, yet Marsh directs this with a cold realism. The film’s focus on Riseborough and her family also leads to a sense of detachment from the community and the ongoing tensions – excepting for one scene with a flag-waving funeral. As such there is a lost opportunity to further explore the family’s continued fight being at odds with the changing political climate.
Marsh keeps the tension and drama bubbling under the surface whilst building deliberately to the climax. His use of Owen and Anderson as MI5 agents is interesting after early set-ups they stay on the periphery of the story, although their characters’ differing methods do provoke the final twist that ignites Riseborough’s anger and action.
Although this is a credible adaptation I am still left with the feeling it could have been even better had it been adapted for TV as a mini-series and the characters and scenarios had even more room to breathe.