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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+

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Atomic Blonde – Review

2 Aug

In 2012, a graphic novel was released called The Coldest City, which tells the story of a spy operating in Germany during the events that lead up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have to be honest, up until recently, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s now been brought to my attention with its new big screen adaptation titled Atomic Blonde. I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite a while, but I knew that it could really go either way, so I’d like to say I had my expectations in check. After seeing it, I have to say that I’m pretty surprised at a few things. First off, it’s a better movie than I thought it was going to be, which is pretty cool. Secondly, the marketing for this movie is completely off and it’s really not at all what the trailers make it out to be.

The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is close to falling which will bring together people on either side for the first time in years. Meanwhile, amidst the government turmoil, MI6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB agent and the microfilm containing the names and actions of every agent in operation is stolen from him. This concerns a lot of people and only the best of the best can be trusted to go in and retrieve this information before it is sold to the highest bidder. Enter Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top level MI6 agent with a very special connection to the deceased. Her mission is to not only retrieve the microfilm, but also hunt down and assassinate a traitor known only as Satchel, who’s been selling information to different sources including a KGB associate and arms dealer named Bremovych (Roland Møller). Upon arriving in Berlin, Broughton meets with another agent, David Percival (James McAvoy) who’s been operating in Berlin for a long time, but as she spends more time with Percival and his associates, it becomes clear that no one can be trusted and people can be bought and sold no matter their previous allegiances.

The trailers for this movie made it seem like Atomic Blonde was going to be a non stop, kinetic thrill ride of a movie that relentlessly jumps off the screen and attacks the senses of the viewer. That’s not really what the movie was and after I adjusted to this realization I started to really enjoy the movie for what it was. Sure, there’s action in it, but this is more of a spy movie than anything else, that just so happens to be infused with the style and sensibilities of a graphic novel. It does feel over the top in terms of its characters and certain plot elements but it also feels down to earth at other moments. This is a really layered story, and covering anything in a paragraph long summary is just impossible. What really is done right with this movie is a sense of blurred motivations and it’s appropriate that this line of work is constantly referred to as “the game” because the film makers have turned this area of Berlin into something resembling a game board. The characters move about in certain areas as clandestine as possible while trying to weed out the actions of the other characters. It’s a web of deceit and lies that holds up until the very last frame of the movie and this tale of suspense and turncoats works just as well as the action sequences.

Over the past few years, Charlize Theron has proven that she can perform just as well as the other modern day action movie titans. She was great in Mad Max: Fury Road, but her performance in Atomic Blonde takes her skills to the next level. When the movie does shift gears into pure action mode, it gets nuts. There’s a few major action sequences throughout the film, and the wait building up to each of them is worth it with the payoff. Theron owns the screen in these sequences and the choreography of each of these scenes are unique and memorable. It’s also all shot very well so the action can be seen in full. A while into the movie, one of these sequences starts and appears to not break action for at least 10 or 15 minutes. This is one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen, and despite the fact that it is edited together, the illusion is strong and I didn’t have a hard time believing it was one continuous shot. Major kudos goes to director David Leitch. This being his first full feature film, I am really surprised by his skill behind the camera and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us.

While Atomic Blonde does very well in most areas, I do have to touch on some problems that I had with the movie. The pacing of this movie does have a hard time at some points. There will be a hard hitting action sequence, but then it will feel like the plot hits a brick wall. This kind of stop and go narrative is jarring and there’s a whole plot line with a certain character that could have been left out all together. The movie is a good length but it would have worked better if the screen time with this particular character was spent building on something else. There’s also a bit of a weird clash of style and story. This is a very stylistic movie, but it also tells a very down to earth and real story. It often felt like the style and the substance were contradicting each other, which shows that Leitch does have some growing to do in how he presents his stories.

Atomic Blonde is not a perfect movie but it is a more than competent action/spy thriller that has a whole lot of style and some really great film making. As a debut feature film, it’s really impressive and I want to see David Leitch grow as a film maker. While he shoots action very well, he needs to work on elements of his story telling and his style before he can create a movie as hard hitting as I think he wanted Atomic Blonde to be. Still, this is a very entertaining movie with a great sense of location and plenty of suspense and action to keep audiences on the edges of their seats.

Final Grade: B

Split – Review

1 Feb

Recent years have not been very kind to M. Night Shyamalan, a film maker that was once a titan in the world of suspense thrillers. Since his 2008 bomb, The Happening, things just seemed to be getting worse as time went on. Last year, Shyamalan made a film called The Visit, which I have yet to see but I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard some positive things about it. Now, I can really say without a doubt that Shyamalan is back on course with his newest film, Split. I was hesitant when I first saw the trailer. It looked cool, but trailers can be deceiving. When I left the theater, I was overjoyed that Split was everything I wanted it to be, but it also exceeded those expectations.

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After a small birthday celebration, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her two friends are kidnapped by a seemingly random man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They wake up in a room in an undisclosed location and soon learn that Dennis is not what he first appeared to be. Dennis is also a woman named Patricia who is also a kid named Hedwig who is also over 20 other people. Having suffered with such an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder for so long, he’s gotten quite close with his doctor, Karen (Betty Buckley), who also has theories that these many personalities can give people with this disorder an evolutionary leg up over other people. Back at the girl’s make shift prison, Casey starts to work at better understanding all of this guy’s personalities, but when Hedwig mentions that the Beast is coming for all of them, she begins to formulate new ideas to escape before this terror makes itself known.

I really had such high hopes for this movie. I wanted Shyamalan to show that he still has it in him to make a really kick ass thriller movie, and that’s exactly what I got with Split. I knew I was in for a treat when the credit sequence started. The black background and twisted lettering were great, but what really hooked me was the ominous music that sent a chill down my spine the same way the Signs theme did the first time I saw that movie. The music by West Dylan Thordson is in no way overbearing and it seems to relish in its subtlety. It creeps in whenever the occasion really calls for it which is the mark of a great score. This combined with the cinematography by Mike Gioulakis makes for a great combination. Gioulakis previously worked as cinematographer on It Follows, which was a fantastic looking film, and that same kind of wispy camera movement and confident head on framing makes the same kind of impact in Split.

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The real star of the show here, though, is James McAvoy. McAvoy gives the best performance of his entire career and possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen in a very long time. You know you’re watching a great performance when you no longer see the actor playing the role, but become so convinced that the actor is no longer there and just the character. McAvoy succeeds in doing that in this movie, but what makes it even more impressive is that he makes me believe that a whole lot of characters are real and not being played for a camera. He completely transforms himself into these roles, and each personality has a different stance or walk or way of speaking that makes them feel completely separate from the others. One scene in particular has McAvoy switching between people, and that to me is one of the most impressive parts of the movie. I also have to give credit to Anya Taylor-Joy, who showed that her performance in The Witch wasn’t a fluke and that she is able to maintain a sincere performance despite insanity happening all around her.

While this is truly an incredible movie, there is something I have to get out of the way in terms of negativity. Shyamalan is no stranger to drawn out scenes of exposition, and Split is a major offender. Betty Buckley does a good job playing Dr. Karen, but a lot of her scenes do just exist to explain to the audience what’s going on with one of the personalities or her strange theory that links the whole movie together. To be fair, this is a strange story and exposition is necessary, but there’s so much of it in this movie that it can get kind of distracting. I can definitely forgive this however, because most of the movie is spot on. On the opposite side of the long exposition scenes, there are scenes of visual dread and fear that will be seared into my mind for a long time. There’s one particular moment during a chase towards the end of the movie that is one of the freakiest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Split is a really strong outing by M. Night Shyamalan, and I’m hoping this marks a grand return for someone who has always succeeded in freaking me out and guessing all the way to the end of his movies. This is a really strange film filled with ideas and clues to dig away at to find meaning. It’s also a film that showcases the talents of its actors and behind the camera artists, with James McAvoy really stealing the show with his one of a kind performance. This is a truly suspenseful thrill ride with an ending that will knock your socks off. I highly recommend it.

Final Grade: A

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

13 Jun

Ever since X-Men was first released back in 2000, there’s been a slew of movies added to this series to make it one of the biggest superhero franchises of all time. Some of these entries have been outstanding, like X2: X-Men United and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Others have become something of a bad joke, like X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It really seems like the makers had absolutely no idea what to actually do with the material, and what we have left is a storyline filled with time travel, alternate universes, and people dying and coming back to life. It’s all very hard to keep track of. Now we have X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that tries to tie up a lot of loose ends while also introducing some of the most badass characters to the universe to date. This movie may be a bit of a mess, but it’s still a strong installment in the series.

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Thousands of years ago, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), also known as Apocalypse, is betrayed and buried hundreds of feet below ground. Jump to 1983 in what is now Cairo. Apocalypse finally awakens and moves to the surface to start a plan that will rid Earth of the humans who have “destroyed” the planet so that the “strong” can keep living. This presence is soon felt by Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) who is still running the ever growing school for mutants to learn how to harness their abilities. As Xavier tries to pinpoint and identify what’s cause this disturbance he’s feeling, Apocalypse begins recruiting his soldiers including Psylocke (Olivia Munn), a young Ororo Monroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and a completely broken down and hopeless Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As the might of Apocalypse is being wrought all throughout the world, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and a group of young mutants find their way to the Professor in order to stop En Sabah Nur from fulfilling his ultimate plan.

While this movie features many of the same actors we’ve seen in First Class and Days of Future Past, there are also a good amount of new faces. I’ve already said that I love James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto, and while I don’t like what’s happening to her character, Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique very well. I’d much rather look at some of the new faces. Sophia Turner is note perfect as a young Jean Grey, as is Tye Sheridan as a young Scott Summers/Cyclops. Alexandra Shipp is also perfectly cast as a young Storm, complete with an accent and back story. Let’s be real though. The stand out of this movie is Apocalypse, himself. Apocalypse is one of the coolest villains Marvel has ever created, and Oscar Isaac is absolutely menacing. He doesn’t even need to be speaking to be terrifying. The looks he gives his enemies is so full of powerful confidence and violence, mixed with the excellent make up that was applied. He steals the show and is one of the stand out characters, for me, in the entire franchise.

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X-Men: Apocalypse has some of the coolest moments in the entire series, which I will most certainly get to later. I also would like to point out that it also has some of the most tedious and pointless moments in the entire series. The movie starts out well enough and there’s more set up that happens than you might expect, but that’s ok. I was going with it for a while. However, there’s a part in the middle that is completely unnecessary to the plot concerning Apocalypse. Anyone who’s seen this movie knows what scene I mean, and it definitely is a cool scene, but I couldn’t help but feel like I got off at the wrong exit and had to turn back around to get back to where I wanted to be. It would’ve been fine, but once that whole section was over it was never discussed again and had no effect on the main story. Plus, I have to say that the X-Men timeline and continuity has gotten so out of control it’s best to just watch these movies and not think too hard about how they all lead into each other.

Now that we got all that garbage out of the way, I’d like to get back to all the awesome stuff. I’ve already mentioned how epic I think Apocalypse is, so let’s move on to more. Evan Peters returns as Quicksilver, and if you thought he was cool in Days of Future Past, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Not only does he get a cooler slow motion scene, but he also gets to do more with the X-Men and has a dramatic arc that brings a lot to his character. I also have to give a huge shout out to the people who worked on the sound and visual effects. Apocalypse’s awakening made the ground rumble and got me so pumped for the rest of the movie. Meanwhile the CGI in the final battle was epic. Things were flying all over the place, buildings were collapsing, and all hell was just breaking loose. This is a really well made movie and acts as further proof that Bryan Singer is the X-Men guy.

X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the best entry in the series, but it’s also far from being the worst. In fact, it’s a perfectly competent and often times exhilarating exercise in the super hero genre. This series seems to have gone on since the beginning of time, and after seeing this one I’ve realized that I’m nowhere near ready to see these movies cease to exist. They’re just too much fun to forget about.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Review

11 Jun

The X-Men franchise, which has been around for over a decade (their movies at least), is a franchise that has had some strong up and some really strong downs. Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2: X-Men United were both triumphant examples of how a superhero movie should be made. That’s when tragedy struck. X3: X-Men United was a complete disaster that ruined everything Singer had done, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a mediocre entry, and The Wolverine was downright boring. Only with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class did the series seem to get its footing once again with one of the best entries of the franchise. Now, Singer’s back in the director’s chair and has created the most exciting, dramatic, and action packed entries yet, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

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The future is a bleak place for both humans and mutants. Giant robots called Sentinels have ravaged the planet killing both mutants and normal people who have the mutant gene, leaving the world completely devastated. It is revealed that the cause of this is because the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated the designer of the Sentinels, Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), and prompted the government to capture her and use her genes to create the murderous robots and making Trask appear as some sort of martyr for humankind. Now, the only chance of survival lies with a small group of remaining X-Men, particularly Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose consciousness is sent back in time by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to bring together the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and find Mystique to stop her before she can carry out her assassination. Meanwhile, in the future, the Sentinels are closing in on the X-Men’s hide out, forcing the survivors to fight for their lives so Wolverine can complete his near impossible mission.

Of course, I’m leaving a lot out of that quick little plot summary because there really is so much going on in this movie, to the point that it’s almost mind boggling. Time travel movies are rarely simple, but I found that this one was not too difficult to understand, and that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. I could tell, right from the opening scene (which might be one of the most violent scenes in this entire series) that this movie was not only going to be entertaining, but it was also going to impress me. There’s so much to love in this movie from the action and drama to its strong sense of style and humor. Finally, but the end, it becomes obvious that Bryan Singer fixed everything that was ruined, at least for the most part.

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One of the most impressive parts of this movie is the cast, but I feel like that really goes without saying. When I first heard that the casts from both the original X-Men movies and First Class were going to be in the same movie that involves Sentinels and time travel, I was immediately down with the entire idea. Everyone really brings their A-game to this film as well. Hugh Jackman gives his expected performance as Wolverine, which has really been a perfect combination right from the start. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also give their expected performances as well, which says a lot because I’ve never seen them off their game in anything that they’ve been in. In my opinion though, the real scene stealers come from the people in the past. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have difficult jobs in this entry, being that both of their characters appear to be at the lowest points in their lives. McAvoy, especially, delivers his lines with such emotion and power, it’s hard not to get just a little choked up. How could I forget Evan Peters, though, and his brief role as Quicksilver? Not only was his brief role one of the most memorable parts of the movie, but it also showed Singer’s strength as a film maker.

To go off from the main story a little bit, this movie got me very curious for what’s to come with the X-Men movie franchise. The post credit scene was crazy enough, but I just mean with things that were added in the plot itself. It’s almost as if Bryan Singer was standing on the side, wiping off his hands, and proclaiming “There. I fixed it.” Not only is the story put completely back on track, but there’s finally some style that’s returned in both the writing and the directing. That being said, kudos have to be given to the screenwriter, Simon Kinberg.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is, without a doubt, the best entry in this franchise and is also a refreshingly awesome and dramatic summer blockbuster. There’s a lot to marvel at with the outstanding special effects that add a level of epicness, but the dramatic story and social critique is just as excellent. The characters aren’t stupid and neither is the story, which only makes this film all the better. If you’re looking to just be mildly entertained, watch X-Men Origins. If you want to be blown right out of your seats with pure amazement, check out Days of Future Past.

 

Trance – Review

29 Apr

Hypnotherapy is a pretty crazy concept if you really stop and think about it. If you believe in all of it, the patient is pretty much allowing the therapist to pick the lock of the subconscious in order to help the patient figure something out. Danny Boyle and his writers, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, tackle this subject using the narrative push of a complex auction house robbery. This brings about some triply scenes and an unbelievable head game that will leave the viewer desperate for answers by the end of the movie.

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Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who is the victim of a heist in which the target is an unbelievably expensive painting, Francesco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” During the heist, Simon gets hit in the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel), who is participating in the robbery. To Franck’s surprise, Simon has already hidden the painting, but the whack on the head has made him forgot where he hid it.  Through a series of revelations and twists, the crew of robbers and Simon hire Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to tap into Simon’s mind and find out where the painting is hidden. What they all find in his subconscious is a multilayered story that connects all of the players and will bring some to their ends.

This is a trippy movie that makes the viewer literally feel like they are being thrust into Simon’s troubled mind. The story at a point becomes very nonlinear and will trick you a number of times. There came a point where I really couldn’t discern what was real and what was not. This seems like a term that is thrown around a lot, but this truly applies to Trance. While McAvoy’s character acts more as just a simple protagonist than a defined narrator, it is his mind we are tapping into making him, I would consider, a very unreliable narrator. Sound and visual trickery become very important to the storytelling, and never felt overwhelming.

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If one were to just look at the surface aesthetics, I feel like this would be considered a masterpiece. There’s almost a visual thematic element to be seen in Trance. One thing that I really noticed was how symmetrical everything appeared to be. One shot showed a building in the dead center of the frame with train tracks on both sides. Another memorable shot was a blown out scene on a balcony in which Simon peeks his head out of the glass door. The sun makes his reflection on the door very defined which makes a really neat sort of mirror effect. Of course a lot of these beautiful shots were done through clever editing, they are still something to marvel at. Another scene on a highway splashes many different colors that appear to be moving on the character’s faces. This reminded me of a living, talking Impressionist painting. As for the sound, the music is what stands out the most. When something serious was about to go down, the thumping electronic score would boost the intensity and pull the viewer deeper into the surreal atmosphere.

Trance‘s narrative is definitely good, but compared to the visuals and music, it doesn’t quite stand on the same level. For one thing, it may be a little difficult for some viewer to really buy into the idea of hypnotherapy and amnesia. It is a little contrived, but the whole movie has an otherworldly feel that serves to remind the viewer that, yes, this is a movie. The acting is great all across the board, with Vincent Cassel’s performance standing out. But, then again, I’ve been pretty biased towards Cassel ever since Black Swan.

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Danny Boyle has once again shown that he is an exceptional film maker, just in case the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t enough of a clue. I didn’t find any problem with the movie, personally, although I can see how some people may be turned off by the entire plot of the movie and the highly stylized approach. Trance was a huge treat in a time of final projects, exams, and papers. It’s bursting with creativity and an artist’s love that you can’t always find in thriller films. I definitely recommend Trance.