Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “James McAvoy”

X-Men: Apocalypse

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016

There are many reasons why this X-Men movie should have been better than it is. For starters, there’s the cast of genuinely fine actors (myriad Academy Awards and nominations between them) who are deserving, just by dint of turning up on set I’d have said, of a much better script. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) returns as Magneto, James McAvoy dons 1980s pastel sweaters and shoulder pads as the now wheelchair-bound Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence gets to retain her more fetching human shape than Mystique’s peculiar azure physique. Most importantly, Oscar Isaac makes his Marvel debut as the eponymous villain (wait, what?? That’s right – “Apocalypse” refers not to the state of the world ending, but the guy who attempts to make it happen.) Isaac has been the Next Big Thing for a couple of years now.

Secondly, Bryan Singer is still in the director’s chair of the movies he propelled to comic book superstardom back in the early 2000s. The guy gave us The Usual Suspects, for goodness sake! He handled Tom Cruise in Valkyrie! This man’s no slouch in the smart-blockbuster department.

But while it has some snazzy set-pieces – top honours going, as in X-Men: Days of Future Past, to Quicksilver’s clever, Eurythmics-accompanied scene – X-Men: Apocalypse is mainly notable for the worst dialogue you’ve heard since, well, the 1980s. In setting the film in that seminal era, presumably to capture and thrill its target audience of long-time comic fans, the movie’s writers do things very on-the-nose: visual gags are pointed out by close-up camera work; hairstyles and clothing feel self-consciously worn; and the Egyptian-set scenes feel like a nod to Indiana Jones and other teen movies of the 80s with all the mystical chanting and ritualistic shenanigans. Rather than pleasing, it’s simply dated. (Despite this, it’s apparently a decade where the CIA could get photos developed in less than 24 hours.)

As the clunky narrative battles to include too many concurrent threads, X-Men: Apocalypse often feels like two movies – the well-acted, serious one with Fassbender speaking convincing Polish, and a throwback to the 80s gate-crashed by a Sith Lord. Entertaining in parts, unfortunately it makes for a less than satisfying whole.

 

Advertisements

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 25th May 2014

Unless you’re a loyal fan of the comic adaptation genre, you may be feeling a little fatigued or even disillusioned by the thought of another X-Men movie. Admittedly, it’s probably because Marvel seems to put out a new superhero story every couple of months, and we’re only just recovering from being slammed by Captain America’s shield and strung up by Spider-Man’s webbing.

To be fair, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the first in a few years, since Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn took audiences on a trip back in time to the true origin story of the mutants as they first found one another in X-Men: First Class (2011).

And he did a great job, casting young British heavyweights James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively, and laying out a convincing tale of How Things Came To Be. It was incredibly satisifying to watch the youngsters get to grips with their accursed talents and transform into their young adult selves. With a witty script, exhilarating set-pieces and a terrific set-up, First Class transported Vaughn from his status as Guy Ritchie’s right-hand man (back when Ritchie was still an exciting filmmaker to watch) into a worthy director in his own right.

I’ve not kept up with the political wranglings that determine which Hollywood maestro gets to direct which tentpole movie, but for some reason Vaughn wasn’t picked for the Future Past team, losing out to the franchise’s first director, Bryan Singer. This is still great news – Singer made his mark with The Usual Suspects, one of the greatest crime movies of modern times, before helming the first two X-Men films. He wisely gave up his director’s chair for the following movies (including the Wolverine spin-offs), perhaps one reason those seemed to lose panache as the 2000s rolled by. So it’s nice to see Singer’s still got it, capitalising on Vaughn’s fresh take to deliver a tale which (appropriately) ties the series’ early history into where we find it now.

The conceit of Days of Future Past is an oldie but a goodie: a team member (here Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) is sent back to 1973 to warn the juvenile versions of Xavier and Magneto that unless they get over their feud and join forces, an historical event to be perpetrated by one of their own will have an irreparable effect on their future, resulting in the internment and extinction of the beleaguered mutant population.

With McAvoy and Fassbender back on screen, still calling each other Charles and Erik, (a sweet touch which at times serves to ground their predicament and their fine acting in something altogether more human and serious than your typical comic book scenario), we’re treated to more “origin” moments, including the thrilling introduction of Quicksilver whose ability to move like lightning is demonstrated in an exhilarating scene which actually sets the bar too high to be reached thereafter. Jennifer Lawrence, whose Oscar nominations stack up during each X-Men hiatus, plays a key role once again as Raven/Mystique, effortlessly wonderful whether sporting a pout and a blonde hairdo or bringing down several US marines with one high kick.

As in First Class, the 1970s make for an aesthetically enjoyable era to be transported back to, with waterbeds and lava lamps and a great soundtrack to boot. One particularly nice touch is the use of 16mm cameras to render civilian footage of the mutants fighting in the streets of Paris, evoking the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination (which is also cleverly referenced in the script). Well-paced and well-acted, although the story meanders slightly in the middle it is by all accounts still gripping, aided no doubt by Raven’s incessant shape-shifting which keeps us on our toes. And to top off the excellent casting, we get Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage as the baddie entrepreneur, Bolivar Trask, resplendent in oversized glasses (and not a cloak in sight), his voice as deep and menacing as any Bond villain.

With the Inception-like layers of past and present (evoked all the more thanks to Ellen Page’s presence), some of the plot threads may not have the strength of Spidey’s web, but Days of Future Past is a great-looking, thought-provoking continuation of the mutants’ tribulations.

Filth

As the title implies, Filth is a malevolent film about a nasty piece of work, Detective Sergeant (wannabe Inspector) Bruce Robertson, a corrupt copper in an Edinburgh police force whose immoral, vice-filled life simultaneously disgusts and captivates those he comes into contact with, as well it does the audience. As played with bright-eyed talent by James McAvoy, Robertson makes for a terrific antihero, but whether you will want to witness his Machiavellian shenanigans will depend on your tolerance for the depravity.

Comedy doesn’t come much blacker. Adapted a surprising 15 years after publication from Irvine Welsh’s (Trainspotting) novel of the same name, it does feel like there is something a little old-school about both the plot and its characters. Robertson is as vile as they come, routinely abusing his authority and boyish charm by rendering colleagues, prospective criminals and his friends’ wives helpless and sickened by his behaviour, as he stops at nothing to gain a promotion. Yet because of Welsh’s intoxicating way with words – as in Trainspotting, the protagonist’s bitter voiceover is a key feature rather than a narrative cop-out – we too are frequently left laughing helplessly at the outrageousness of it all, then discomfited by sinister moments as Robertson’s mental state declines with the accomplishment of each new moral crime.

Under the dependable direction of relative newcomer Jon S. Baird (he’s no Danny Boyle, but in fact his cinematic restraint is to be commended given the hyperbolic subject matter), McAvoy delivers an excoriating performances as he oscillates between contempt and tears amidst the plethora of ghastliness. Unnervingly, it is almost enjoyable to watch him making life miserable for an excellent Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot and a lot of good stuff since) and everybody’s go-to schmo Eddie Marsan alongside a band of familiar Brit and Scots faces, all of whose acting and zippy line delivery ensures a non-stop energy.

Just so we’re clear – saying the film is well-made and engaging in no way condones its deeds, and the squeamish need not apply. Welsh’s narrative choices are unashamedly questionable, no matter how much they might purport to showcase the unpleasant truths of real-life.

But if you can distance yourself from the racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny and overall prejudice (no minority group is left unscathed), Filth can be admired for its accomplished, entertaining handling of something you’d actually rather not touch at all.

Trance

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st March 2013

Fresh from bringing the world the greatest Olympic Games opening ceremony ever seen, Danny Boyle throws more of that magic at the silver screen with his latest movie, Trance – true to its name, a slightly spaced-out, somewhat confusing but unquestionably exhilarating adventure into the workings of an art theft.

You may remember Boyle from such films as Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, in which case you’ll feel right at home. However, if you’re expecting an update on Slumdog Millionaire or the feelgood family flop, Millions, you will need to gird your loins.

As in the opening moments of Trainspotting, we first hear the dulcet Scottish tones of our protaganist, introducing us to his world. Back then it was the unknown Ewan McGregor leading us into the murky underworld of drug addiction; here it’s the already famous James McAvoy who plays Simon, an art auctioneer in London who gets caught up in a heist. Waking with amnesia but presumed to have knowledge of the missing painting, he must have his unconscious mind unclouded by a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson, lately in Unstoppable) before a band of criminals led by French every-villain, Vincent Cassel, rips out all of his fingernails. (It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Boyle, having had a man cut off his own arm in 127 Hours, gets quite adventurous with the body horror in this film.)

Trance‘s hugely exciting introduction promises an involved rollercoaster ride, complete with pumping bass soundtrack and a photographic style that is heavily stylised, bombastic and thrilling – think the late Tony Scott, but without his trademark jump-cuts that made viewing uncomfortable. Boyle goes over the top in making London look futuristic and shiny, but pulls back just enough to let you concentrate on what is actually a very complicated tale.

The film is even better on second viewing, which is a bit of a double-edged compliment as it really ought to stand up on just one, but with narrative trickery to rival Inception and such fast action, you may leave the cinema needing more than a cursory watercooler chat afterwards. Granted, Boyle and regular screenwriter from his early films, John Hodge, get ever so slightly silly as the film progresses, by which time the incessantly loud music and twists and turns may have worn you out. Hang in there, however, as there are countless brilliant set-pieces and a denouement that actually does answer (almost) all of your questions.

With terrific acting, plenty of humour, some dubious full-frontal nudity and non-stop high energy (oh, and even a brief intro to Art History), Trance is evidence that the King of the Olympics really can turn his hand to anything.

The Conspirator

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th June 2011

Robert Redford’s latest attempt at serious art takes up the true story of Mary Surratt, the boarding house owner who, along with seven men, finds herself charged and put on trial for conspiracy in the 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  We are in the thick of post-Civil War America, and Surratt’s young Unionist lawyer is not initially convinced of his client’s innocence (James McAvoy, boasting yet again his prowess at slipping from various regional British accents into a convincing American twang of the South).  Clearly anyone who’s anyone comes out to play if Redford invites them, as McAvoy is but one bright star in a galaxy lit up by the likes of Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Tom Wilkinson and Kevin Kline.

Each of the men gets the chance to bang his fist on a table and make a strong proclamation about the disgrace of it all (the assassination – not the film).  As Surratt, Robin Wright wears a noble but pained expression throughout her imprisonment, hunger strike and courtroom battle, lifting her veil occasionally to utter a purse-lipped plea of innocence.  As her daughter, Evan Rachel Wood seems similarly constrained, perhaps by corsetry rather than decorum, and overall the narrative feels ponderous, not aided by unexceptional revelations at trial.

Redford may be an esteemed actor, and certainly his film-making ambitions are nothing short of worthy, but he hasn’t directed a good film since Quiz Show in 1994 (unless fans of The Horse Whisperer beg to differ).  Even the recent Lions for Lambs, which rolled out a top-notch cast against the potentially fascinating backdrop of the US government’s involvement in the Middle East, still managed to bore audiences to tears.

The photography is beautiful, and the production design of the early scenes which set up Lincoln’s demise in a theatre evoke superior films of the period such as Ride with the Devil and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Unfortunately though, once the deed has been executed we drift into a courtroom drama that largely fails to enthral.

 

X-Men: First Class

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 5th June 2011

Hollywood is often criticised lately, not least by reviewers, for rolling out remakes and sequels in lieu of original stories.  Occasionally, however, it throws us a prequel that is actually worth its squillion dollar budget and the inevitable marketing hype.  Christopher Nolan took the Batman franchise to new heights with Batman Begins, and J.J. Abrams honoured the Star Trek legacy – giving us the crucial backstory to explain a character’s subsequent emotional make-up, and the early, often hilarious, attempts at costuming and weaponry.

The first X-Men movie leapt from the pages of a comic book onto cinema screens in 2000, special effects blazing as it dramatised the story of genetic mutants fighting to be accepted by humankind.  It laid out the core dilemmas (to fight or acquiesce; to use powers for good or evil) and set up the enmity between Professor Xavier and Magneto.  Following a few sequels and a trip down memory lane for key cast member Wolverine, the film-making powers that be finally fill in the gaps leading up to the earlier story, allowing Layer Cake’s Matthew Vaughn to take the helm .

Taking snippets from the original opening scene set in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944, X-Men: First Class wisely carries on from that moment, following young Erik Lensherr (the Ian McKellen role here played principally by an intense Michael Fassbender) on his trajectory to embittered, avenging action hero.  Fast forward to 1960s Oxford, and a beer-sculling Charles Xavier (James McAvoy a boyishly arrogant Patrick Stewart prototype) is using nerdy chat-up lines on young women at university.  The CIA gets involved, other mutants are conscripted, and off we go.

But wait – we need a baddie for our X-Kids to fight.  Suffice it to say, Kevin Bacon’s deceitful little face (so charming, but with such underlying evil) is rather suited to his role as the German/Russian/American-speaking Sebastian Shaw.  Like a wannabe Bourne movie, the film tries to be as clever as its protagonists by having actors speak several (non-native) languages and relying on subtitles for a significant portion.  The locations are plentiful and the jet-setting James Bond-like in its execution, helped no doubt by the 1960s outfits and appropriately lo-fi technology (the prototype for Cerebro is amusingly unsophisticated).

For the most part this prequel is fun, and it satisfies our curiosity about how things came to be, eking out the revelations right until the end.  The story perhaps strives a little too hard to be clever by using the Cuban missile crisis as a backdrop for dastardly actions, and it lags towards the end of an overlong running time.  Rumour has it this is to be the first of a new trilogy, so after a promising start we must simply hope it doesn’t going the way of the later Star Wars

Post Navigation