Tag Archives: black comedy

Filth – Review

8 Aug

One of my favorite movies of all time is Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, which was based on a novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. Welsh is an author who expertly weaves pitch dark comedy with serious drama that has made a major impact on my movie watching life. In 2013, another of his novels was adapted into a film, this time starring James McAvoy and the title being Filth. I recently had the joy of watching this movie and I have to say that it’s definitely an Irvine Welsh story and it’s also a really excellent character study. It is hard not to compare it to the two Trainspotting movies, which are superior, but even though it doesn’t reach the heights of those two movies, it’s a film that’s grown on me more and more since I saw it.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is truly one of a kind. As a highly respected detective for the Edinburgh police force (in his own mind anyway), Robertson feels sure that he’s a shoe in for the big promotion to Detective Inspector. What he fails to realize however is that his massive addiction to cocaine and alcohol, combined with his highly abusive sexual behavior and bipolar disorder may really put him at odds with other people in his task force. This shouldn’t pose much of a threat however, since Robertson is a master manipulator and likes to take part in what he calls “the games,” which is really just another form of psychological abuse where he uses other people’s insecurities and weaknesses to his advantage. After a foreign exchange student is brutally murdered, Robertson is put on the case and while investigating the death is faced with some insecurities and problems of his own which sends him deeper and deeper into a psychological and drug fueled meltdown that puts himself and everyone else around him at risk.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There are plenty of great actors in this movie that perform very well, but the movie belongs to James McAvoy and this is clear proof that he’s one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today. Bruce Robertson is not an easy character to tackle for so many reasons. Like Mark Renton in Trainspotting, Robertson is troubled but unlike Renton there’s no reason to put any faith in Robertson’s character. Bruce is a drug addict, thief, Machiavellian manipulator, and endorses violence on a sociopathic level. He is a villain of villains, but he’s also the star of our movie and he’s also suffering from a severe case of bipolar disorder. This is quite a handful for McAvoy. He has to portray and evil man while at the same time portraying the same man that longs for the quiet life he once had where he was surrounded by people he loved. Along with his more recent role in Split, his performance in Filth ranks as one of his best.

While Welsh has stated that Filth serves best as a commentary on the corruption of Scottish institutions, I feel like it’s best experienced as a character study. Sure, there are plenty of strong opinions about Scotland that come through in the screenplay which I’m sure are in the novel, but I have to admit that I’m pretty unfamiliar with it all. I just found a lot of joy watching Bruce Robertson completely lose his grasp on reality. This didn’t just stem from him being a monster of a character, but just because of McAvoy’s performance and also from a strong storytelling standpoint. The story of Filth is very intriguing and it’s hard to look away from it even at its most depraved, and depraved it gets. I’ll get more to the positives of that notion in a moment, but I do want to touch on the negatives. Irvine Welsh isn’t one to shy away from crude humor, and that shows in Trainspotting to spectacularly memorable results. In Filth, it’s much more hit or miss. A lot of jokes fall completely flat or just don’t feel executed properly. This is a major hit since this movie is a dark comedy over everything else. At times it just felt a little too juvenile for what the story deserves. With source material like this, easy laughs are the least important ones, and this movie does go for plenty of easy laughs along the way.

While the film does lose its footing a little bit with some of the humor, I really have to commend Jon S. Baird for taking this shockingly ugly subject material and not backing down. Adapting this story into something marketable couldn’t have been easy, but he managed to do it. Not only is Filth not afraid to live up to its title and show some truly reprehensible behavior, it manages to do so using and abundance of style and flash that helps it fit right in with the two Trainspotting films. The different lenses used for different scenes mixed with some chaotic and rhythmic editing makes Filth an achievement in film making as a craft. When the story starts to slow down or wear a little thin at some parts, Baird keeps your attention with his film making techniques. This is the kind of movie that succeeds in making you feel a certain way using its style, and it’s also the kind of movie that may make you want to take a shower after viewing.

I had pretty high expectations going into Filth, and while some areas were clearly weaker than others, it was a memorable film that left me feeling gleefully disgusted. This is a double-barrel shot to the senses and it will leave you with lingering thoughts and feelings. McAvoy is excellent as Bruce Robertson and I’m very proud of writer/director Jon S. Baird for making the film that he envisioned. This isn’t always an easy film to stomach, but I definitely recommend Filth for anyone willing to run the gauntlet.

Final Grade: B+

Man Bites Dog – Review

2 Jun

A triumph of film, no matter how big or how small, is still a triumph nonetheless. Seeing enormous spectacles of grandiosity that lays their budget out for all to see is great, but it’s equally great watching a much smaller effort that turned out to be something truly special, and in this case infamous. Man Bites Dog (or C’est arrivé près de chez vous, which translates to It Happened in your Neighborhood) is a controversial film made on a shoe string budget that is recognized now as a cult classic (depending on how you look at it) and also registered in the Criterion Collection, which is all the more note worthy. On its own, it’s also just a phenomenal, brilliantly evil movie.



Rémy (Rémy Belvaux) and André (André Bonzel) are two documentary film makers who are in the midst of making a movie about a psychotically pleasant serial killer named Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde). The film makers feel honored to be let into Ben’s life as he shows off his family, friends, and girlfriend. On the other hand, he also takes them on a tour of his brutal side where he finds joy and money in killing men, women, and children of all races and ages. As the documentary crew go on more and more trips to kill, they soon become fascinated with all of the work that goes into murder and soon find themselves gleefully becoming part of them. Before too long it seems that Ben is now making the movie and the film makers are his key players.

There’s many different ways that one can analyze this movie. Some say it is an examination on violence in the media, others say it’s about the way society finds beauty in horror, and others say it poses the question of “how far is too far” in terms of documentary film making and reality television. Well, to put it simply, André Bonzel wrote in an introduction for the Criterion Collection DVD that it’s simply a movie about making a movie. Belvaux, Bonzel, and Poelvoorde wrote, starred, and directed this movie together with a budget that pretty much didn’t exist and calling in favors from friends and family just so they could get the movie done. No message or theme can ever shine through this film more than the thought of the perseverance throughout the entire year it took the film makers to complete this film, and now have it honored as much as it is.


If Man Bites Dog was made with a good sized budget and beautiful lighting with actors that we all know, I’m absolutely positive it wouldn’t be as affective as it actually was. The black and white film makes it look gritty and real and keeps with the cinéma vérité style that the film makers were trying to recreate. Sure, this movie isn’t pure cinéma vérité, but it recreates it very well and makes it feel like these two documentarians went out, found a serial killer, and got mixed up in his gruesome business. There’s also a hefty use of long takes in this movie, and anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows how much I adore the use of long takes. I just can’t stop thinking about how much the style lends to the success of this movie.

All of this style would be out the window if it wasn’t for a good screenplay and good performances. In a film made like this, these two factors may not be as strong as you’d want them to be. Even in Clerks, the writing is great, but some of the acting redefines the word “iffy.” That’s not the case in Man Bites Dog. All three of the main actors give great performances, but the one that really stands out is Benoît Poelvoorde. He brings the character of Ben to life with such cartoonish realism, it’s almost scary. In fact, there are times when it is scary. The times when he is spouting his bullshit philosophies on religion, race, and architecture, I can’t help but laugh. When he’s anyway around people, it gets scary. This movie may be scary and brutal, but it’s also laugh out loud funny, and that’s saying something.

Man Bites Dog is brutal, hilarious, and surprisingly effective film that hasn’t left my mind since I finished watching it. Seeing a group of film makers go out with almost no money or resources and make a movie that has become praised by film buffs and critics is always great to watch. It’s pretty much on the same level as Clerks but on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a very dark film that may or may not want to make you analyze it. Personally, I don’t feel the need to analyze it. I take it as what André Bonzel said it was: a movie about making movies. If you think you can stomach the unflinchingly awful content, check out Man Bites Dog.

Killer Joe – Review

17 Jan

I have been waiting to see this movie for months, so you can imagine the twang of concern I felt putting it in my Xbox for the first time to watch it. What if it didn’t reach my high expectations? That would mean months of waiting were for nothing. Killer Joe has not only met all of my expectations, but surpassed them. This film is a brutal, unforgiving, and darkly comic ride into crime and suspenseful insanity that would make Hitchcock proud.



Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes gangster Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay) a lot of money. He soon learns that his mother has a $50,000 life insurance policy and that there is a man named “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a cop/killer, who will get the job done for a fee. Chris’ entire family is on board for the whole idea, but an unexpected complication soon surfaces causing the family to clash heads harder than they have before. Not only that, but Joe wants his money and he will do anything to get it.

I will never ever make fun of Matthew McConaughey ever again after seeing Killer Joe. I never thought he was a bad actor, but this is the movie that really has convinced me that with the right direction, he can be great. William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, does have a great track record after all. The rest of the cast is great, too. Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon totally sell their roles and Emile Hirsch makes it very east to dislike his character. Special kudos goes to Juno Temple, who plays Chris’ sister for sale, in a role that could not have been easy.



This film was unfortunately met with a lot of controversy before its release concerning the rating. The MPAA were really pushing Friedkin to edit the final product to bump it down from an NC-17 to an R rating. To paraphrase Friedkin, he said that if he cut anything out, he would be destroying it and not saving it. I can absolutely attest to what he is saying. While I was watching the movie, I could see what they would want to cut out so it could be shown in more accessible theaters, but if anything was cut than a lot of the intensity would be missing. The first hour or so of this movie is a very slow build up to an unbelievably grotesque climax that is well worth the wait.

That being said, this is not a movie for the feint of heart or the weak of stomach. It is very violent and relishes in it. Killer Joe isn’t just a physically disturbing movie, but a mentally disturbing movie which evens out quite nicely. To be honest, some of the mental aspects of the movie are a lot more upsetting than the physical, even though when characters get their asses kicked in the movie, it isn’t really easy to watch.

Killer Joe 1


Killer Joe is a wonderfully suspenseful film with loads of detestable characters and stretched out scenes of dialogue that slowly drag the viewer along. These scenes really accentuate the stage roots of the movie. The first time I watched it, I watched it again two hours later because it was just that good. Use caution, but definitely check out Killer Joe.