Filth (2013)

Filth (2013)

I don’t often get self-conscious when going to see a film. One of the joys and burdens of being a self-appointed critic is seeing as many films as you can.. although the major cost of this is that sometimes you have to head out to see a film by yourself. That’s a taboo over here in the UK – just what kind of weirdo are you going by yourself? However, the only time I’ve truly felt such a weirdo has been when going to see films that are primarily aimed at a younger demographic (for obvious reasons), or when I was sitting and watching the ample bosoms of several topless girls at the beginning of Spring Breakers. Well, this has now been added to by heading out to catch the latest Scottish opus derived from the mind of novelist Irvine Welsh… “Can I have a ticket for Filth please?”… Quite…

Filth (2013)

Yes, Filth is an evocative word. To some it makes them think of dirt and grime, whilst to others it’s all about the carnal pleasures of the flesh. The Phage won’t divulge which side we come down on! But Filth aims to capitalise on its name sake by running through sex, drugs, violence… and a bit more sex; just for good measure. All of this is wrapped up in the somewhat odd and off-the-wall stylings you’d come to expect from a film that’s closest cousin is Trainspotting, owing to the fact that both of the novels behind the films were written by Irvine Welsh.

Filth (2013)

So, like Trainspotting, FIlth is based in Scotland; replete with Scottish actors. At the head of the film we have Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) a detective that’s intent on landing that promotion. All he has to do is get ahead of his competition within his department. This leads to him systematically trying to destroy each one of them and turn them against one another so that he can secure his spot. But Bruce has many more problems than just his colleagues… he’s also got some internal demons that are determined to destroy him too.

Filth, as the name would imply, is not a merry little ride through Scotland. The film is dark, twisted and more than occasionally funny. What truly gripped me here was James McAvoy‘s performance. For me, it came closest to when I saw him onstage in London as Macbeth – he was ferocious and damn near unhinged in his acting. I like this. Some have said this is a reinvigoration for McAvoy, but I think he’s been doing rather well for himself as of late. He’s not been type-cast and hasn’t hit a rut, so I fail to see what other critics are levying this comment against if I’m honest! That being said, this is definitely one of his most compelling performances in recent years.

What I quite enjoyed about Filth was the style in which the film was put together. Like Trainspotting, this film isn’t afraid to cut away into illusions and delusions, or travel inside the twisted minds of its protagonists. This style won’t be for everyone, as it certainly breaks the flow of the film and removes some of that “slickness” we’re all used to with glossy films nowadays… but this is Scotland. This works. It works well.

Filth (2013)

To top it off, Filth has a great story, albeit with an admittedly bonkers concluding act. I’ve not read the book of the same name, so I can’t comment on how well it adheres to Welsh‘s vision. However, I have read several other of his books and it definitely adheres to the “Welsh-ness” of it all (that’s Welsh the author, not the country… I am well aware of the difference between Wales and Scotland). What remains to be seen though is how well this translates to the wider world. It’s telling that Filth‘s premiere was in Scotland (yes, it was a week earlier in Scotland than the rest of the UK), as it IS very Scottish. If you “got” Trainspotting and its glum look at Glasgow, you’ll “get” Filth too. But if not? Well, you’ll be missing out on much of the dark charm that is Filth. Like McAvoy‘s role in Trance, FIlth won’t be for everyone anyway. But you’ll probably be hindering yourself somewhat if ya dinne get tha Scottish tongue…

Filth is a deliciously dark film that’s as twisted as the name would imply. I wouldn’t go as far as calling the film “shocking” or “depraved”, because it could have done far more to earn those adjectives. What it is is another fantastic tale from the deepest recesses of Scotland. Although I’ve solely paid attention to McAvoy here, the whole primary cast is without fault and truly hold the film together to keep you entertained from beginning to end. Sure, the ending will leave you slightly puzzled… but just try not to think about it too hard.

I don’t know if Filth ranks up as the most embarassing trip to the cinema though. I tend to bumble into people, sit on their laps (by accident) and trip up a lot. But asking for “a ticket for Filth” did feel a bit weird. I’m not in Amsterdam, and I’m not staring through a peephole at some lady girating away; her dead eyes staring out into the middle distance. But then again, maybe they’ll finally adapt Irvine Welsh‘s Porno, which’d definitely give me more cause for an awkward moment with the cashier girl…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Trance (2013)

Trance (2013)

Some directors can become very genre-centric, or known for only one recurring idea that they implement in film after film. For some people this is great; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But for others it can become a bit of a drag, as every new film delivers the same basic premise. Look at Michael Bay – he’s maligned for his use of CGI and explosions in near-enough every film he’s put out in the past decade. Then you have directors who switch it up film after film to tackle different genres. Perhaps the most famous example of this right now is Quentin Tarantino – I make no secret of my fanboyism of his catalogue of films. Each of his films has been stunningly different. But having said that… I think there’s another director out there more worthy of the accolade of “most diverse director”. And that would be Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle is the guy behind Transpotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but a handful. In there you have tales of drug addicts, a zombie apocalypse and the story of a guy who gets stuck under a boulder and gradually goes bonkers. Boyle isn’t afraid to tackle different genres. He’s also not afraid to tackle theatrics either, as he was the guy behind the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which many hailed as fantastic (me included). So this brings us to Trance – his latest full length film. A film that I put down as one of the 13 to watch in 2013. So does it live up to my lofty expectations?

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance...

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance…

First things first… I need to deal with the trailer for this film. It’s a trailer I’ve seen jammed in front of many other features recently. Honestly? The trailer is appalling. It actually reduced my hype levels for this film. A lot. It was disorientating, quite boring, and showed way too much narrative for my liking. It almost completely turned me off Trance. And I know some of you feel the same way about it too. Let me put this out there now – discard your thoughts from the trailer. The film is far better than those short teasers would have you believe.

Trance (2013)Trance is a heist story. A heist story by way of hypnotherapy and mind-bending reality augmentation. At its core, Trance follows Simon (James McAvoy), who works at an arts’ auction house. Simon’s not playing by the rules. So when a £20 million+ painting rolls through the auction room and the building is raided by thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel)… well, Simon’s in on the act. It’s an inside job. The only trouble? James misplaces the painting following a blow to the head. Naturally, Franck and his group are not best pleased by this turn of events and try to force the answer out of Simon. When that doesn’t work, they resort to hypnosis by recruiting Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) – a therapist. The film then focuses on Elizabeth trying to extract these concealed memories from James’ head…

But that’s only scratching the surface of what this film offers. Whilst my little synopsis accurately covers the first third of the film, it all goes extremely far into left field and gets pretty damn trippy and mind-bending. Immediate thoughts would point towards Inception and Vanilla Sky as inspirations for this film, but even then you’re not really coming close. What Danny Boyle has managed to do is create a vivid world, filled with believable characters and added this bizarre hypnosis twist in a way that really works.

Trance (2013)

Having said that, the mind-bending sections of this film did actually lose me at one point. I wasn’t sure what I was watching. Was I in reality, or was I in a regression? Maybe this was the point of a certain 10 minute stretch in the latter half of the film, but either way I felt lost. This shouldn’t be the aim of a film – to lose the audience. At all other points in the film I knew exactly what was going on and what was unfolding, but there were definitely sections of “what the hell is happening?”

Now, we need to focus on the acting of the three core players in the film: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. As I mentioned in our Welcome To The Punch review, March is McAvoy season. Indeed, I actually saw him performing on-stage in London this past weekend as Macbeth. He was brilliant, if a little beardy and drooly. And Trance is another big outing for McAvoy. Arguably, Boyle has a good record of launching talent into the stratosphere. Just look at Cilian Murphy – a relative unknown when 28 Days Later was released. The same could actually be said of Ewan McGregor when he was selected for the role as lead in Trainspotting.

Trance (2013)

So, I actually hope that this gives McAvoy‘s career a massive boost. Not that he needs it, but I hope it does. Why? Because this is perhaps the best example I’ve seen of McAvoy‘s acting abilities. Trance really calls upon so many emotions from his character, James. I was sold on every facial tick, mannerism and emotion. A sublime performance. Similarly, Cassel ably plays out his role as the “bad guy” – a solid turn. Much praise has also been lauded on Rosario Dawson here, and it’s entirely merited. She’s an actress that’s already had some fine performances under her belt, but Boyle really brings out another side to her acting abilities, which is great to see.

The successful display of talent on show here is definitely down to Boyle‘s direction and Joe Ahearne and John Hodge‘s script. The film is anything but linear, but the characterisation is rich. One could argue that the film is not as well realised as some of Boyle‘s earlier works and indeed, that middle section got a bit too overwhelming, even for The Phage. There’s also an unexpected amount of gore and nudity (a heavy emphasis on pubic hair, or lack thereof). But then again, this is from the guy that had someone cut his arm off with a penknife and zombies that spewed blood at every turn, so perhaps it’s not that unexpected…

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle - the key to the film's success.

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle – the key to the film’s success.

Trance is another resounding success for Danny Boyle. It has its flaws, it’s not perfect, but as a whole it works in a cohesive manner. It works not only because of Boyle‘s direction and an interesting script, but because of McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson. McAvoy in particular appears to be at the top of his game right now. The trailers for Trance may have dampened my enthusiasm for the film, but this was eradicated within the first 15 minutes. What prevails is an intriguing, thought-provoking film with more twists and turns than a helter-skelter. It’s definitely a film that demands to be seen more than once, that’s for sure.

So although Tarantino is probably at the forefront of your mind for taking on wildly different films nowadays, you’ve probably got to look to Danny Boyle for the truest example of this. His back catalogue includes rom-coms, drama, action and horror. Many of them being seminal examples of the genre. Where does Trance fit into this list? Well, it sits highly in his back catalogue. It may not be the shining example of a thriller in decades to come, but it’s one you definitely can’t predict. And who doesn’t love the unpredictable?

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

It seems that James McAvoy season has definitely begun here in the UK. Every so often it appears as though one actor is in every new film you’re seeing at the cinema. Sometimes it’s great, because they’re fantastic on-screen… other times it’s just jarring as you feel you’re oversaturated by their presence. Back in 2011-12 we had a whole spell where Michael Fassbender seemed to be in absolutely every movie going. We saw a lot of Michael Fassbender. A LOT! The whole package you might say… Anyway, moving away from Fassbender‘s manhood, I’ve never understood why studios decide to schedule all of a certain actor’s movies together. It never works so well for me. Having said all that, how does James McAvoy‘s first movie of 2013 shape up? Well, welcome to Welcome To The Punch

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

The oddly titled Welcome To The Punch is a British cop-thriller. The whole thriller vibe seems to be a pretty popular choice for March, with both Broken City and Side Effects dropping in the two weeks previously. The plot here? Essentially, we have our embittered police officer Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) – a guy that has had a vendetta to catch a notorious criminal by the name of Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong); owing in no small part to the fact that when they last met some three years ago, Sternwood decided to shoot Lewinsky in the leg. This injury would plague Lewinsky for the rest of his life and really build up the need for vengeance. But Sternwood goes off the map – he’s a ghost. All of this changes when a series of murders occur in London, where one of the victims is Sternwood’s only son. This brings the big guy back out of hiding and onto Lewinsky’s radar once more.

So it sounds rather simplistic doesn’t it? Good cop wants to hunt down bad villain… but the writing and plot is a lot more clever than you may think. Welcome To The Punch goes to great efforts to humanise its protagonists. McAvoy‘s character isn’t your typical loud mouthed police officer that’s full of confidence. In fact, he’s quite reclusive and harbouring many wounds – both physical and mental. Similarly, Strong‘s Sternwood isn’t your cookie-cutter bad guy. He’s incredibly relatable and is made much more human than your typical movie nasty. It’s a really refreshing take on the genre that I enjoyed immensely.

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

The film also doesn’t skimp on action. It starts as it means to go on, and bounds along at a frenetic speed. The plot is incredibly well paced and really draws you in to the proceedings. Admittedly, there are some details that are never fully disclosed, such as why Sternwood is seen as the biggest, baddest villain in all of London and how Lewinsky was assigned to his case in the first place, but this can be ignored as it contributes little to the overarching story.

And the calibre of acting? Well, McAvoy‘s off to a good start in “McAvoy Season” here. When he first really appeared on my radar in Wanted, I wasn’t impressed with the guy. Time has changed all this, as I now see him as one of our finest actors. Welcome To The Punch does little to overturn my opinion; he’s on sterling form here and totally sells you his angst, determination and frustrations. This is complimented wonderfully by Mark Strong, a man who’s no stranger to having his “Season” at the box office (appearing in Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and Robin Hood seemingly at the same time). Strong plays to his strengths here – he’s always an imposing “villain” figure and this is no different. Once again, another engaging performance from one of the leads. As I mentioned earlier, it’s great that these characters have been fully fleshed out and realised so that one can empathise with them at specific moments. I’m a huge fan of this, as it really sets the film apart from the other “police thriller” of the moment, Broken City. In that film, everyone is very one dimensional. Here? Well, that’s definitely not the case.

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

All of the supporting cast, especially Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan and Andrea Riseborough deserve a mention here too. One scene that’s really stuck with me from later on in the film (above), featuring Harris, Mullan, McAvoy and Strong is simply superb. It’s got tension, humour and a huge “what will happen here” hanging over it. THIS is what thrillers are for. More please!

Welcome To The Punch is that rare beast: a stylistically slick-looking British police thriller. It’s shot, directed and written in such a wonderful way that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the film. Couple this with some extremely strong leads and a genuinely thrilling plot and you’ve got one hell of a film on your hands here. It’s certainly head and shoulders above what the US is churning out as of late. It’s simply a film that you cannot afford to miss if you’re a fan of thrillers that are rich in characterisation.

So where does McAvoy season take us? Well, for The Phage, it’ll be seeing him on stage next week as Macbeth before he then warps back into movie land for his star turn in Danny Boyle‘s Trance the week after. I’m on tenderhooks to see how that particular effort turns out. Can his residency on our screens propel McAvoy into the stratosphere, just as Michael Fassbender‘s stay did? Well, I guess it all depends on whether McAvoy feels like whipping his tackle out for all and sundry to see. It certainly didn’t harm Fassbender. I guess that’s what happens when you’re “endowed” with great acting abilities though.

Phage Factor:

4 Star