Tag Archives: James McAvoy

Glass

Glass tries to be a different type of superhero movie, it really does. M. Night Shyamalan’s concept of real-world heroes is a solid one. Unbreakable proves that. As far as I’m concerned, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best, one of only two very good (i.e., not quite great) movies he’s made. By making Glass an explicit sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan invites me to compare the two, and Glass doesn’t measure up. Call it a Glass that’s about a quarter empty. Of course, that’s still three-quarters full.

32ef47e0-1afb-11e9-b6e9-9c4bb39de67fMuch of Glass is an extended superhero therapy session for Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) along with Split’s Horde (James McAvoy), after the three are apprehended and institutionalized at the start of the film. These therapy scenes, led Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), are very slow. We know something is going to eventually happen, but the pace seemed wasteful because every minute in therapy is a minute less for the showdown between Dunn and the Horde that I’ve been waiting for since the last minute of Split. Even with their slow pace, the therapy scenes are still enjoyable, though, in large part because of McAvoy’s amazing performance as he gives us 24 distinct personalities without falling into ridiculousness.

When the showdown between Dunn and the Horde finally comes, it feels like an afterthought. I wish that Shamalan’s previous movies had been better, not only so less of my time had been wasted watching that trash, but also because it seemed a lot of the missing flash in the showdown was due to Glass’s limited budget. Since realism is an essential part of the film, I didn’t expect fireballs or eye lasers, but I did expect to see something special, even before Price expressed a desire to have the fight televised to show the world that superheroes were real. The YouTube footage of Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War made me feel like I was watching something amazing. Glass’s footage just wasn’t up to that level and it needed to be for this movie to have a satisfying payoff.

The lack of a satisfying payoff is particularly disappointing once we see how the story plays out. Without getting too spoiler-y, I think it’s safe to say that Shyamalan’s ending pisses away any goodwill left over from Unbreakable. Which is a shame because Shyamalan clearly intended to leave room for more sequels, but in getting there he shattered my desire to see any of them.

 

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Submergence

Danielle is a privileged professor, studying the deep, deep depths of the ocean. She spends Christmas at a swank hotel in France, where she meets James on the very cold beach, and they go for a swim. James is a hydraulic engineer who drills wells in third world countries. He dreams of Nigeria, but I’m not sure they’re always sweet dreams. They fall in love, of course. Danielle (Alicia Vikander) and James (James McAvoy) have a whirlwind hotel romance, but eventually they’ve both got to go back to work.

Danielle ends up on a deep-submergence vehicle where the tiniest mistake may mean death. But she’s seeing parts of the ocean that inspire her research and scratch her science itches. It’s too bad that she’s constantly distracted – James, you see, has been out of touch for weeks, then months. She doesn’t know whether he’s dead or just ghosting her. Unbeknownst to her, he’s been taken hostage in Somalia by jihadist terrorists, who suspect he is a British spy. He suffers months of torture all the while dreaming of their idyllic Christmas refuge.

Submergence is, therefore, two very separate movies, and its only strength is the chemistry between the two leads, which is very brief indeed. Once they’re isolated, they’re very isolated – he in a windowless cell, she in submarine miles underwater. It’s lonely and cold.

Here we have a salt water spa experience called Källa . In its 12% salinity, you float, weightless. The tomb is quiet, and pure. With little other sensory input, you are alone with your thoughts, which seem to float along the surface just like you. This movie is a little like that. It’s got no real weight, just snatches of remembrances and memories that paint a lovely flashback but that’s about it.

I suppose there’s a metaphor here – how love is a refuge in a violent world – but it’s just so darn inaccessible, and frankly, it tries one’s patience. And that’s really too bad because McAvoy and Vikander are doing gorgeous work that’s just gone wasted. Sad face.

Sherlock Gnomes

It was 2011 when we first met garden gnomes who come to life when no humans are watching. Back then, two rival yards, that of the Montagues, and the Capulets, were at war, except Gnomeo fell in love with the forbidden Juliet, and they all got a happier ending than the one Shakespeare wrote for them, set to a soundtrack of Elton John songs.

Cut to: the May long weekend, 2018. Jay and Sean are in the mood to kick off the summer in style, so they drive to the nearest open drive-in, which is playing a TRIPLE feature which we only realize in retrospect was a night of sequels: Sherlock Gnomes, Deadpool 2, and Super Troopers 2 (in order of how they played, and how much I enjoyed them).

As you may have gleaned from the title, instead of revisiting Shakespeare, this time the gnomes tackle Arthur Conan Doyle. London is being terrorized by a garden gnome thief, MV5BM2RhOTI1YjktOGYwMS00MDdkLTg0MWYtNGIxNmRkMWM4NDI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEyMzI2OTE@._V1_which may sound petty to you, but if all your friends and family are gnomes, you’d understand why Gnomeo and Juliet are so concerned. Luckily London is also home to the kind of taste-makers likely to have literary garden gnomes in their flower beds, so a ceramic version of Sherlock himself (and his ceramic sidekick Watson) show up to solve the crime and save the day.

I liked Gnomeo and Juliet in a “just fine” kind of way, and was surprised to find that a sequel, 7 years after the first, was to be released. I wasn’t even sure if it was a sequel. The first had big names as voice actors – Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, and Emily Blunt and James McAvoy in the titular roles. I assumed they couldn’t possibly be back for a sequel with little to no promotion, and yet they were, in addition to Johnny Depp as the master detective and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the beleaguered Doctor Watson.

The thing is, this movie is once again strictly fine. But it doesn’t have much raison d’etre. It doesn’t aim for much more than kid appeal, which makes its sporadic attempts at literary humour feel out of place. It’s hard to believe that a movie, and in fact two movies, were green-lit specially for the crowd (which I need to believe is pretty small) who find garden gnomes wearing thongs to be hilarious, and movies based on that one running joke to be oddly satisfying.

I didn’t really love this movie, but then I saw Super Troopers 2 and realized that I could probably find just a little bit of leniency for any movie that wasn’t it.

SXSW: Atomic Blonde

I was sitting on the floor of the Austin Convention Center, waiting to get into the SXSW conversation between Nick Offerman and Nick Kroll when I got the news: Stella was gone. Out for a walk in the mountains near her Zurich home with her husband and her beloved Boxer, Odin, she slipped in some snow and fell 40m to her death. Just like that, one of the most vibrant women I’ve ever known, gone forever. Unfortunately I’ve had some experience with losing people unexpectedly, but that doesn’t make it easier. It’s unreal, incomprehensible. Sean held me tight as I fell apart in the middle of hundreds or thousands of happy festival-goers. I think Sean’s first thought was to get my soppy self back to the hotel room where I could grieve less publicly, but instead I found myself being filtered into the Nick Offerman thing, and then following my rigorous SXSW schedule, one thing after another: Bob Odenkirk and Fred Armisen, followed by Lemon, followed by Atomic Blonde. But it just so happens that the screening for Atomic Blonde ran late, and as I sat in an increasingly crowded theatre listening to a DJ spin some danceable 80s music, I had too much time to think, and my thoughts were filled with Stella, my own Atomic Blonde. This review is inadequately dedicated to her memory.

Atomic Blonde is a cross between James Bond and John Wick, except its protagonist, Lorraine (Charlize Theron), could kick both their asses without smudging her lipstick. Charlize made a splash as a kick-ass hero in Mad Max: Fury Road but this movie is pure Id, all sex and violence, with some 80s fashion and music thrown in for your hedonistic pleasure. Lorraine is an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a important list containing the names of double agents.

James McAvoy plays David, a fellow agent who’s been in Berlin a little too long. Berlin is, of course, in a state of chaos. Everything is changing, everything is moving fast. Lorraine has basically been sent into an impossible situation, and she’s going to have to fight like hell just to survive, let alone fulfill her mission.

The fight choreography on this film is amazing. Full stop incredible. Director David Leitch co-directed the first John Wick (uncredited) and will direct the second Deadpool, but he got his start in stunt work in films like Blade, Fight Club, Daredevil, and The Matrix films. His action sequences, which are perhaps 80% of Atomic Blonde, are faultless but relentless. The actors are BRUTALIZED.  Charlize Theron had 8 trainers to prepare her for the role, and she trained alongside Keanu Reeves as he got ready for John Wick 2. Theron is fearless and dauntless. The violence is graphic and unending. The story, however, isn’t quite equal to it.

The story is retold during an investigation conducted by an MI6 officer (Toby Jones) and a CIA executive (John Goodman). They’re an odd couple good for a couple well-needed laughs, but it drags you out of the action and out of Lorraine’s flashy world where her slick 80s ensembles (big props to Cindy Evans for creating so many memorable looks) are an interesting juxtaposition to Berlin’s crumbling dumpster fire of a city. And the thing is, with a premise that’s almost silly in its duplicity, the action is really the justification for this movie’s existence. With long cuts and mind-numbing body counts, the fight design won’t disappoint action purists. But anyone requiring a satisfying story should maybe look elsewhere.

Split

Ironically, I think it’s the film itself that suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder, or “multiple personalities”). M. Night Shyamalan can’t decide if this is a strict horror film or if it’s more thriller, or character-driven. He jumps right into the plot with minimal fuss: three teenaged girls are abducted by a very methodical man who turned out to be only one personality among many. Captive, the girls try to figure out which of the personalities might be induced to help them, and which ones mean them harm.

The film works as well as it does because James McAvoy was the perfect casting choice (although he was 2nd choice, and only took the role when Joaquin Phoenix had some conflicts). In the hands of anyone else, the disorder might have seemed funny or splitshadow.jpgcartoonish, but McAvoy gives each personality a distinctive flavour without ever resorting to stereotypes. And that’s hard work period, never mind the fact that he’s fighting Shyamalan’s confused script, that seems to want to have something meaningful to say about this controversial disorder, but also really just wants to be an exploitative horror film. You can’t have it both ways.

Split is further testament that M. Night Shymalan has lost his way. He doesn’t know who he is as a film maker anymore, and his lack of confidence is evident in the script and on the screen. Having jumped head first into action, he then seems to regret his choice of not split-anya-taylor-joy-betty-buckley-jessica-sula.jpghaving introduced any of his characters. He bestows back stories on two of them through flashbacks, hoping it’s not too late. The rest remain paper thin. The girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are mostly there to scream on cue, and to wear progressively less clothing.

Is it a bad movie? No. No-ish. It’s not without merit. I was drawn in, and stressed out. I had all the right reactions. I just didn’t buy it 100%. You might be tempted, particularly by the film’s end, to say that it’s Shyamalan’s best work since Unbreakable. He’s certainly hoping you’ll say that, banking on it in fact. It’s not the highest compliment, of course, but I’m guessing he’ll take it.

Victor Frankenstein

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe both turn in top-notch performances, but they aren’t enough to make this film worth watching. McAvoy’s outsized talents are downright wasted with this clunky material, and that’s enough to make me mad. To hold a grudge, even. I’m an epic grudge-holder. But first, let me say this: I find myself once again calling out Daniel Radcliffe for an outstanding performance.

victor-frankenstein-gallery-01-gallery-imageI never watched Harry Potter, but out of the goodness of my heart, I don’t hold it against him. He did a very difficult thing: he grew up in front of us, and he did it in the most type-castiest of roles. And yet he’s managed to turn himself into a notable and note-worthy grown-up actor who consistently makes interesting choices. In Victor Frankenstein, he takes on the role of Igor, usually a one-note sidekick, and gives him a fresh and humane spin. Igor becomes the voice of reason, and of humanity as Frankenstein slowly loses his in the pursuit of creating life where it didn’t belong.

You all know the story of Frankenstein and his monster. It’s grosser than ever in this movie, but it’s not exactly new. It’s trying to be steampunky and superheroic with its cool quirk and over the top action sequences, plus some horror notes just to thicken the sauce. You can get a whiff of all these ingredients, which is what makes it all the more frustrating when the recipe fails to victor-frankenstein-gallery-02-gallery-imagecook up anything palatable.

With every jolt of electricity they send through the monster’s dead body parts, you kind of wish some of the sparks would light up the movie. It’s got a beating heart but not much of a brain. McAvoy’s mad scientist and Radcliffe’s sympathetic servant deserve a better medium than this, but you get the sense that the writer and director were ambitious beyond their means. It never quite pulls together. This is one story that was better off not being reanimated.

X-Men: Apocalypse

When I first saw X-Men: First Class in the theater, I was frustrated by Hugh Jackman’s cameo as Wolverine. “That’s so stupid,” I told my friends. “How can he show up in the 60s and look the same  as he does in the present?”.

Okay, so clearly I don’t know much about the X-Men universe. But I have since seen all the movies and tend to enjoy them. After Days of Future Past, which I thought was the strongest entry in the series by far, I had pretty high hopes for Apocalypse.

Nine films in a series can start to blend into one so I can’t always remember what happened in which but I am pretty sure that Apocalypse is my submission for the worst- certainly most boring- X-Men movie so far. What could have gone wrong since Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise two summers ago?

I can’t help feeling that Wolverine is the most important element of Future Past that is missing from Apocalypse. Sure, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is one of the best performances that I can think of in any comic book character ever but that’s not even what I’m missing. Future Past was told mostly from the perspective of Wolverine so we were introduced (or, in many cases, reintroduced) to most characters as they became relevant to Wolverine’s mission.

Like Days of Future Past, Apocalypse has A LOT of characters. Even by superhero movie standards. But without picking a single character’s perspective to focus on, it jumps around a lot. In fact, it probably spends a good half hour on each character’s separate introduction. Like Batman v. Superman, Apocalypse has a habit of cutting away to an unrelated scene just when it’s feeling like it’s starting to get good.

X-Men: Apocalypse is disappointing but does manage to benefit from both the past and future films in the series. Professor X and Magneto, both in their respective story arcs and in their relationship with each other, coast on their strong starts in their last two films and continue to captivate thanks to strong performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Everyone else is fine- even good- but these two are clear standouts in a crowded cast where you need to be great to even be noticed.

Having so many new characters necessitate a lot of scenes that feel more like obligatory preamble than part of the story. But just as the returning characters benefit from the smart choices made in previous installments, the new characters (Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Jean Gray) benefit from the promise of better movies in the future. They’re well-cast and likeable, giving hope that they’ll be better utilized next time.