I went into Amy knowing next to nothing about Amy Winehouse and figured that if director Asif Kapadia could make me interested in a racing car driver, as he did with his excellent 2010 documentary Senna, then he could also do so with Winehouse. I was not wrong. I found this a revelatory film and was stunned at how talented Winehouse was as a singer, but also as a lyricist, which is something the film is keen to ensure we don’t forget. That then makes the tragedy of her descent into self-destructiveness and eventual death all the more heartbreaking, especially knowing that it was something she predicted would happen early in her career. Kapadia’s technique of only using archival footage creates a powerful and complex portrait of Winehouse, which expresses her vibrant personality and astonishing talent. It is ultimately a sad and even angry film, but it also pays tribute to her brilliance. I feel the better for finally being aware of who she was and what she achieved.
The other excellent documentary released in July is Gillian Armstrong’s Women He’s Undressed, about the Australian Academy Award-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, who worked in Hollywood throughout the classical period designing costumes on films such as Casablanca, An American in Paris and Some Like It Hot. Largely unknown in Australia, this is an overdue testament to his life and his work, as well as a commentary on the difficulties homosexual men faced in Hollywood during the era. The very stylised sequences where actors playing Kelly and key people in his life appear in theatrical settings and address the camera directly, work very effectively to express his larger-than-life personality and career creating beautiful illusions. The end result is a surprisingly moving film about a very talented and influential Australian who is a key part of film history.
One of the biggest surprises for me this year is Magic Mike XXL, a film I had no idea I would enjoy so much. While the original Magic Mike was something of a social commentary film that was more melancholic than raunchy, the sequel is far closer to being the type of film the original was marketed as – and that works out just fine. Structured as a road movie and bursting with the spirit of classical Hollywood backstage musicals, this is a film about the joys of camaraderie, performing for the pleasure of others and being on the receiving end of those performances. It’s unashamedly a film that caters to the female gaze – and distinct from the far more common male gaze – not just in terms of what is being looked at, but how it is being looked at. The pleasures of looking and being looked at are mutual and the power balance is equal, resulting in a joyous film.
I’ve been a fan of most of the films in the Mission: Impossible series, with the last film from 2011 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol being my favourite. So I was thrilled that the latest instalment Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation continues the same exciting blend of spy film intrigue, heist film suspense and action film stunt work and spectacle. The whole cast are great, but Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust is especially good as the mysterious double agent who holds her own with Ethan physically and intellectually. The main action set pieces are exciting and inventive, and the film balances its real-world seriousness with the sense of fun that comes with the gadgetry and over-the-top situations that distinguish the series. After Mad Max: Fury Road, this is easily my favourite of the current blockbusters. And if nothing else, Tom Cruise still looks great running in a suit.