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

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The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

2013 has seen a number of films promoted solely on the strength of their lead actors. This statement probably doesn’t seem that outrageous, as most films are pumped into your subconscious thanks to their leads. What’s more atypical about 2013 is the number of films that have missold you on these leads. The films that spring to mind most prominently? Side Effects and GI Joe: Retaliation. Funnily enough, both films pimped out Channing Tatum as a drawcard. Too bad his performances were… cut short, shall we say? Yes, cut short in both films. He shouldn’t have been sold as a ‘star’ of the movie, as he rivalled Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables for sheer brevity. So, we now come to The Place Beyond The Pines – another film that’s sold heavily on ‘featuring Ryan Gosling‘… I think you know where I’m going with this review, right?

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Briefly, The Place Beyond The Pines is set in Schenectady, New York – a place of no hope for many. Our ‘protagonist’ Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt bike rider with the travelling carnival. His stopover in the town reveals that on his last ’round’ he got a girl (Eva Mendez) pregnant and now actually has a kid… Wow, quite a revelation! So Ryan jacks in his job and decides to hang around. But how will he make his money? Bank robbery of course! This leads his life to crash into that of Avery – a local beat cop (Bradley Cooper)… And the story unfolds.

That description would be fair to summarise the first third of the film, as the film truly is chopped into three different stories focusing heavily on Gosling, Cooper and their respective sons Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. The trouble with this is that screen time is cut down a hell of a lot for all of them. Want your Gosling fix? 45 minutes. Cooper? 45 minutes? Others? Oh come on – you didn’t come here for the others did you? And this is the crux of the problem – you’ve come to the cinema for the two leads. You expect to see your two leads a lot!

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Gosling came onto my radar solidly with the 1-2 combo of Drive and Crazy Stupid Love. I thought he was fantastic in both and I couldn’t wait to see what he did next. But since then? A lacklustre showing in Gangster Squad. I’ll pass. Having said that, I thought that his screen time was used well here and he was almost back to his Drive form. Gos-worshippers will be glad to hear he once again gets his top off and he does, once again, look ripped. So add a star onto my score if that figures highly in your enjoyment of a movie!

Now let’s move to one of my favourite actors – Bradley Cooper. Many regular Film Phage readers will know I bloody love this guy. He’s been going from strength to strength with recent performances, and he was rightly nominated for an Oscar this year for the brilliant Silver Linings Playbook. The Place Beyond The Pines is another shining example of ‘new’ Cooper. The guy that’s not playing the jock, the bully or the cocky one. In fact, his character here is thrust into the limelight and he plays humble and worried with great vigour. Although I’m a fan, don’t think that I won’t criticise the guy… But he doesn’t merit it here. It just fuels my excitement for his next on-screen appearance, which I guess will be The Hangover: Part Three. Sure, it’ll be a return to his ‘roots’ (not Hot Wet American Summer roots – his first film… that was awful) but his cocky roots. Bring it, Brad.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

So after my gushing, let’s return on track. The real reason this film came unstuck for me was the erratic plot weaving. The writers have tried to be clever and weave a ‘sins of the father’ circle for the film, but it comes across bloated and messy to follow the three different, but interlinked, stories. I’d rather have just seen stories 1 and 2 expanded and skip over the third act altogether. That third act just kept on going, with a dissatisfying conclusion too. Nothing can spoil a movie more than a seemingly half-baked ‘open’ ending. The Place Beyond The Pines typifies this beautifully.

If you add this onto the fact that our stars only feature for a modicum of the overall running time and the film becomes incredibly frustrating. A frustration that is once again compounded by the previews and trailers for the movie that make it out to be an exciting film about bank heists… It is about bank heists. For about 30 minutes. Why do you do this to me Hollywood? Why do you get me so excited only to let me down at the last minute? It’s like promising me the most delicious, authentic pizza from northern Italy and only delivering me a slice of Bob’s Kebab World’s pizza that’s clearly fallen on the floor several times… You can’t tell I’m in Italy now can you?!

The Place Beyond The Pines promised a hell of a lot, but delivered remarkably little. It’s lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are strong but are ultimately undermined by the bloated plot and restricted screen time for them both. Once again, hype has got in the way of a movie for me, thanks to artistically edited trailers. Let’s try and be a bit more honest from now on ok?

So although The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t once again resign poor Channing Tatum to the cutting room floor at an early point, it does again play into a recurring theme of 2013 – false advertising. Next you’ll be telling me that Bradley Cooper‘s not actually in The Hangover: Part Three. Let me tell you this now – if that’s the case, you’re going to see one hell of an enraged Phage come the end of the month! Equally, if I don’t find some pizza in the next 30 minutes, we’re also going to have a problem here… Coops and pizza: my sedatives.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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

Broken City (2013)

Broken City (2013)

I love watching actors do press for their latest releases. Not just because it’s a chance to see them talking outside of their roles / hyping up a film that I may or may not give half a damn about, but because of how they “act”. It’s very telling when you see an actor looking unexcited about a project. Generally, that film isn’t going to be worth the film its burned onto. Yes, I’m looking at you Bruce Willis in your TV interviews for A Good Day To Die Hard. You looked disinterested, and boy was I disinterested in the final film. So when I saw Mark Wahlberg on British TV, getting all drunk and lairy when promoting Broken City… well, I knew I had to see the film.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the review, I want to dwell on Wahlberg‘s appearance on a show we have over here called The Graham Norton Show. His fellow guests? Sarah Silverman and Michael Fassbender. These aren’t two unknowns; especially Fassbender who’s now arguably bigger than Wahlberg both sides of the Atlantic. The video above is taken from YouTube and showcases the best bits. I really recommend watching it, as Wahlberg is hilarious / infuriating and gets more rowdy as the video progresses. I loved his drunken approach to selling a movie. Television gold. Seriously, watch the above video. It’s worth it! Even if you just skip to 11min in, it’s worth it.

So, what is Broken City? Well, I’m happy to report that Mark Wahlberg actually starts the movie “on the wagon”… so maybe he was playing this up? Or maybe he just loves the claret? Who doesn’t? The movie focuses on Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) an ex-New York cop who’s now living out his days as a private detective / snoop for anyone that’ll pay him. He’s suddenly offered business by the Mayor of New York: a Mr. Hostetler (Russell Crowe). The task? Spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he suspects of cheating on him. Simple enough? Now add in the backdrop of this being during the election campaign in which Hostetler seeks to retain his role in the city. But things aren’t always as clear as they first appear. There’s a hell of a lot of dirt in this Broken City.

Broken City (2013)

Yeah, I probably should write promo spiel right? In between slurring and interrupting guests, Wahlberg pitched Broken City as an old school film focused on a character driven plot. And he’s right. The film is very much driven by its protagonists and does very well from it. Especially for the first half of the movie. Now, I thought this first half was pacey, had a clear narrative and some really involving characters. The second half? Wow… things quickly became clouded and more and more plot points got thrown into the mix. So much so that I feel it detracted somewhat from the main themes of the film.

What the film did do well was characterisation, so I’ll hand it to Wahlberg there. I thought his and Crowe‘s performances were great. They were never going to set the world alight, as neither stretched themselves to any degree. In fact, you could argue that Mark Wahlberg was once again playing Mark Wahlberg… but I’m cool with that. I can relate to the guy for some reason. He’s an every-man. And Crowe? Well, as you’ll remember from my Les Misérables review, I just like the guy.

Broken City (2013)

Having said all that, the film is “light” and the plot “twist” can be guessed within the first 10 minutes of the run time. This isn’t a great asset for a thriller. You want suspense, you want shock, you want to be guessing “what if?” But with this, you can pretty much surmise how things will turn out. It’s a shame, as I think deep down there’s a great film here. I liked the character-driven focus of the film, as opposed to a number of big, dumb set pieces where cars blow up or fly off freeways. I’m bored of that (although Michael Bay isn’t, so it would seem). If only the film had a deeper narrative then there’d really be something to rave about here.

Broken City isn’t going to set the world alight, nor is it going to be elected to the role of Mayor… if films could be elected Mayor! The film is driven admirably by Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but is let down by a predictable plot. You really can’t be doing with a weak plot when you’re dealing with a thriller. The clue’s in the word “thriller”. You need to be “thrilled”. Unfortunately, Broken City was mostly filler in the latter half, and not much thriller. Clever what I did there, right?

So it looks like Mark Wahlberg‘s appearance on British TV was incredibly representative of the film as a whole. It started off promising and had a coherent narrative that made me keep watching, but as the film / interview progressed, the plot / Mark gradually became far less discernable and increasingly distracted by what was going on around it. It just goes to show that you really can judge a book by its cover film by its press coverage.

Phage Factor:

3 Star