Tag Archives: James McAvoy

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.

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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.

Arthur Christmas

Merry Christmas.

You may have learned by now that Matt and I are therapists who specialize in crisis counselling. People can get depressed or suicidal at any time, around the clock, around the calendar, so our office never closes. IT NEVER CLOSES. Which means I’m at work today, and was at work yesterday too, and have worked through the holidays for 7 years running. And that’s okay. It’s not fantastic. I’d rather be at home, or with family, or in bed, or in Jamaica, or pretty much anywhere else, but this kind of work doesn’t come without sacrifice, and I knew that going in. I’ve made peace with it, although I always regret leaving Sean (a measly lawyer) home alone (we don’t live in the same city as our extended families) – albeit with a nice bottle of scotch, The Good Dinosaur on Disney Infinity, and a little droid called BB-8 (who is probably terrorizing our dogs).

The good news is, we do find workarounds. Since I’m working until 11pm on Christmas day, we had our Christmas dinner last night, when I got home from work (did I feel like cooking a big meal after a long day at work? you bet!). Then we settled into the hot tub with a bottle of wine. It was a full moon last night, and unseasonably warm here in Canada (a record high of 16 degrees, I believe – what was it like for you?), and it so we relaxed under a starry night to watch a movie recommended by Carrie called Arthur Christmas.

49251-arthur-christmas-best-both-worlds_0Arthur is the son of Santa, and the grandson of Santa too. It’s a job that gets proudly passed down in their family, and someday soon Arthur’s brother Steve will wear the suit. He already nearly runs the whole operation, having streamlined the process with his high-tech gadgets. Grandsanta is enjoying his retirement but Santa’s still loving his Christmas Eve missions and is reluctant to pass the torch. Arthur, meanwhile, too clumsy and keen to ever seriously be considered for the role, works in the letter department, answering all the kids who write to Santa. This Christmas Eve, Steve runs an impeccable shift and 2 billion presents are delivered, almost without a hitch. Almost. End of day, an elf comes across one ARTHUR_CHRISTMAS_15undelivered present. Steve is comfortable with their error margin and Santa’s ready for bed, so it’s up to Arthur, Grandsanta, and an androgynous elf named Bryony to somehow get a bike to Gwen before she wakes up and thinks Santa forgot her.

The movie’s a lot of fun, with just the right amount of saltiness in the sweet to make me happy (not many holiday movies have a Santa threatening to euthanize himself with a rock). Plus the voice cast is top-notch: James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, Bill Nighy as Grandsanta…actually, the list goes on like crazy. Have fun trying to recognize them yourself.

This morning Sean and I had a Christmas brunch and gave the dogs each a Christmas steak. No one will ever make a Christmas movie about our non-traditional celebrations (although they tried – it’s called Mixed Nuts), but we did manage to put a little merry in our hearts. And hey – working on Christmas isn’t all bad: I came armed with cheeseball.

Happy holidays.