Tag Archives: scotland

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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T2 Trainspotting – Review

7 Apr

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1996 Danny Boyle film Trainspotting, which is based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Scottish author Irvine Welsh. This film seems to have always been with me since it seems like a week can’t go by without me referencing it or just having it cross my mind when a certain song comes on. I just love this movie to death, and to me it’s a perfect film. For years, a sequel has been talked about and going through different phases of production, but here we are in 2017 and we finally have T2 Trainspotting. This is a time of sequels and reboots and remakes, so a lot of people may be turned off by this idea, but Welsh did write a sequel in 2002 called Porno. With Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and Irvine Welsh all back on board for this sequel, I was also on board and this film did not disappoint.

20 years after deceiving his friends and running off with a whole bag of money, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) finally returns to Scotland with the hopes of reuniting with friends and family. His friends all seem to be in different states of decay with Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) managing a run down bar and addicted to cocaine, Spud (Ewen Bremner) still a heroine addict who’s lost nearly everything, a Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in prison with a strong personal vendetta against Mark fueling his every action. Pretty soon, Mark and Simon get over their troubles with one another and turn, once again, to a life of crime with the plans of converting Simon’s bar into a brothel. They enlist the help of Spud and Simon’s girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) to help wth the transformation. Things start to get out of hand, however, when Begbie escapes from prison and starts gunning for Mark, while Simon and Spud do their best to cover for him. Amongst all of the crime and the business plans, this gang’s past is quickly catching up to them and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t nearly jump out of my seat when I saw each character return in their respective introductions. These are some of my favorite characters ever put to the screen, because no matter how troubled and deceptive they are, you can’t help but love them. It’s been 20 years since the original film came out, but the way these actors seamlessly return to their roles, it feels like the first film could have come out yesterday. The shenanigans they get into are very reminiscent of the first film without it ever feeling like Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and Irvine Welsh are just capitalizing on its success. This isn’t a film about nostalgia for the audience, but more so about the dangers of becoming to enraptured in your past that you’re unable to look forward, which is the case for most of the characters in this movie.

If  were asked to describe this movie in one word, I could easily give you the answer: seamless. This is a seamless transition into a sequel that feels so natural, it’s almost as if this were always meant to be. The end of the first film isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it does leave the audience wondering if the certain betrayal that happens is enough to make them change their lives. This film answers that question with a resounding “no.” This is an excellent postscript to the questions that can arise at the end of the first film while offering a deeper understanding of these complicated characters as they enter middle aged life. While there is a sense of nostalgia and love of Trainspotting with small references to scenes from that movie, it comes with the danger that too much nostalgia will ruin your foresight, a theme that I just can’t get enough of.

While T2 Trainspotting is just the sequel I needed, it does come with a storytelling flaw that stops it from reaching the esteemed heights of its predecessor. I this movie, Mark and Simon are turning back to a life of crime in order to turn Simon’s bar into a brothel. Cool. I’m into that story. Meanwhile, Spud is dealing with his own problems, which get explored more when he’s brought into Mark and Simon’s plan. Also cool. What’s upsetting is that certain interesting plot points go nowhere after awhile in favor of something completely different to happen in the final act of the movie. Luckily, the plot points that are abandoned are not the most interesting parts of the movie, but it feels like a lot of time was wasted for such a big part of the story to just be completely abandoned like it never existed. It leaves the second act of the movie feeling disjointed and certain scenes feeling unnecessary. It’s kind of a weird decision and I’m not sure I fully understand why they took the movie in that direction.

T2 Trainspotting is exactly the sequel that the first film needed even if it doesn’t reach the level that its predecessor did. The bottom line is that I loved this movie. I really, really did. It’s like these actors never stopped playing these characters since they return with what seems like such ease. Danny Boyle and his crew also seem to not miss a beat with the kinetic editing and often outlandish style of the film. If certain plot points were cleaned up, I would have been very pleased, but the most interesting parts of the movie remain intact as the characters face elements of life that they just aren’t prepared for. I can’t wait to see this one again.

Final Grade: A-

Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

19 Jul

Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen, was England and Ireland’s monarch from the year 1558 to her death in 1603. Since then, she’s become one of England’s most iconic leaders, which certainly doesn’t mean she was loved by all. In fact, she was a very divisive and often controversial queen. That being said, there’s a lot of material to work with if anyone were to create a big budget movie about her reign. Well, lucky for us we have two. Elizabeth was first released in 1998 and it’s sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was released in 2007. Now, I’ve been wanting to watch these movies for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. The question remains, still, on wether or not they’ve lived up to the hype that I’ve built for myself.

Let’s start out in 1998 with Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth.

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When Queen Mary I dies in 1558, the next in line of succession is her half sister, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), a young woman who is now in way over her head. At her time of coronation, England is in a terrible state. Her army is all but useless, debts plague the entire country, and there’s heated violence between Catholics and Protestants. With Elizabeth being a Protestant, there are many Catholics in her court that want her off the throne. One of these people is the influential Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), a scheming duke with his ultimate goal of wearing the crown. With everything collapsing, Elizabeth surrounds herself with trusted advisors and defenders like William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) and the cunning Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). Even with these powerful minds surrounding her, her dedicated and unlawful affair with a member of her court, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), might prove to be her ultimate downfall.

I have a weird past with this movie because I remember being young when this movie first came out and thinking it looked pretty cool. I don’t know where I saw advertisements for it, but I was always stricken by the colors, the architecture, and the costumes. Now, all these years later I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. Elizabeth is a damn fine movie that tells an interesting, albeit fictitious, look at the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign before the Golden Age really began, and how the naïve girl who is crowned at the beginning of the movie turns into the rock solid monarch she is known for being. It’s a great story that’s full of political intrigue, war, corruption, and romance. That’s really all you can ask for in a movie like this, and it’s done very well. Never did I feel like I was getting cheated out of something watching this movie. It hits all of the marks splendidly.

There are few elements of the movie I have to especially give more notice to. First of all, Cate Blanchett’s performance is fantastic. This was the movie that really started her career in the way that we know it today. She was acting before Elizabeth, but this is the role that got her noticed. Her arc throughout the story is an expressive one and it’s great to watch all of the changes happening to her and her reactions to them. It’s a very expressive performance that’s worthy of all the attention it receives. The costume design and make up rank up with the best of the best in film history. They are absolutely out of this world, along with the set design which honestly must have been a nightmare. Finally the collaboration of Kapur and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin makes this film truly look as beautiful as it does.

After years of wondering about this movie, it’s a relief to finally see it. Elizabeth is a really good movie about an interesting and violent time in England’s past, and also about the monarch that would come to unite the country. It’s a beautiful film to look at, but also has a great story performed by great actors to back it up. It often feels Shakespearean in it’s scale, and you really can’t go wrong with that.

The sequel didn’t come until nearly 10 years later, with Shekhar Kapur returning as director. This is, of course, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

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While the first film began with the early days of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, this film starts much later on in 1585. By this point, Elizabeth has established herself as a very firm and respectable leader who isn’t easy to persuade or frighten. She is surrounded by loyal subjects like the ever present Lord Walsingham and her favorite lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). When not being attended to by the people of the court, she s regaled with stories by the explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who has plans of starting a colony in the New World. While this loyalty makes her stand tall, enemies are still lurking on all sides, with the Spanish led by King Philip II (Jordi Molla) and his Inquisition being the most relevant threat. His plan violence and schemes soon find their way into Britain with his support going to the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) and an assassination attempt that may be enough to spark a war.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is definitely an impressive sequel, which is a good thing to say since it had the challenge of following up its beloved predecessor while also recreating history using a fair amount of both fact and fiction. There’s a lot of things going for this movie including the return of director Shekhar Kapur and the lead actors Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. There’s also some excellent additions like Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The inclusion of foreign powers like the Spanish and the English spies that supported them also makes for really good intrigue and action to push the movie along, while there’s also the romance that you would come to expect with this kind of movie. The ingredients are all there, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original Elizabeth.

One thing that is missing from The Golden Age is the beautiful set design that the first film had. I understand that Elizabeth is now a completely different monarch than she was in the first film and the set is meant to reflect the personality she puts on as she leads her people, but I really miss the colors and the vastness of some of the room in the palace. There’s also nothing really new added to this movie and it feels like something of a retread in certain ways. By that I mean that I mean all of the same themes of the first film are explored, but in some different ways. I think I just wanted more from this one in the ways that the first film succeeded.

Still and all, Blanchett returns with another powerful performance and the costume design are all on par with the original. It’s important to look at sequels as movies in and of themselves and not just follow ups, so in that way Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a very good movie, but compared to Elizabeth it’s a weaker entry. That being said, I still had a good time watching this movie and for fans of the first film, it’s still worth a look.

Watching movies like this are really great at pulling you into a time period and recreating history in the most lavish of ways. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to watch the Elizabeth movies should really get right on that. They have quite a bit to offer and something in there for everyone.

Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

Ratcatcher – Review

18 Aug

Back when I was just starting college, I took a class called “film and video analysis” where we would watch a film and dig deep into how it was made and what the entire point of the movie actually was. Amongst a few others, one that really stood out to me was Ratcatcher, a film that is really nothing like it sounds. Over the years since I took that course, I haven’t gotten a chance to revisit the movie until just recently, and I was pleased that it still had the same effect on me as it did when I first saw it. This is a somber yet poetic movie about the loss of innocence in an environment where only certain people could survive and even fewer escaped.

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After accidentally causing his good friend (Thomas McTaggart) to drown, James (William Eadie) is left to suffer with his guilt while trying to make the best of life in a poor section of Glasgow during garbage strike of 1973. Trash and pests litter the streets and backyards of James’ town, which causes him to dream about life outside of the city. James’ parents George (Tommy Flanagan) and Anne (Mandy Matthews) are doing what they can to provide for their children and be relocated to new developments outside of the city, although James’ relationship with his father is strained by alcoholism and a severe lack of any other connections. James finds solace in visiting the new housing projects and making friends with neighborhood girl Margaret (Leanne Mullen), who is tortured by the local teenage boys.

Ratcatcher is a very episodic movie without a really strong conflict holding the entire movie together. What really holds the movie together is the thematic mood that writer/director Lynne Ramsay has created. The style of this movie is very similar to British Realism, and Ramsay’s particular film making techniques reminds me of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish TankWasp) technique. While Ratcatcher takes place in Scotland, it is a British and Scottish production, so similarities in style makes sense. This works perfectly well for this movie, and I would consider it one of the most honest films I have ever seen. There is no sugar coating or inappropriate optimism here. It depicts a difficult life for a most difficult child.

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That picture right above this really summarizes the mood of the film. I have to give major props to the child actors in this movie, but especially William Eadie. His role is extremely difficult, and it’s surprising that he manages to hold it all together so well. He comes across as very intelligent but just as naïve. The weight of this role really should be more than a kid his age could handle. He’s up there with Catinca Untaru from The Fall. Another excellent performance can be seen in Leanne Mullen, who plays the role of Margaret, the tortured neighborhood girl. I read one review that compares her facial acting to Maria Falconetti and her performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. This movie, especially with its roots in British Realism, wouldn’t have worked without the performances of these young actors.

Something else that Ramsay really succeeds at is painting a portrait of the time period and the setting that Ratcatcher is trying to portray. This is a dark side of Glasgow in the 1970s during a most unbelievable conflict concerning the trash men. It’s amazing that people lived this way for a while with rats and garbage piled up and dead animals laying amongst it. Ramsay’s uncompromising portrayal of this deserves a round of applause, especially with everything she had to go through to get this result. She even went so far as to dig a new canal for filming purposes. That is dedication that payed off in the end.

Ratcatcher is a thought provoking coming of age story that I still can’t quite get a grasp on. Is it a commentary on the lifestyle of the time or is it simply about loss of innocence in the most extreme way possible? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Still and all, I was pleased to see that this movie still amazed me even after the time that I haven’t seen it. I remembered a lot from when I watched it in school, but there were parts that still surprised me. This is a disturbingly poetic film that tells a wonderful story about a damned childhood. Definitely a must see.