Filth (2013) – Movie Review

In almost every respect, Filth is a film that shouldn’t work at all. An adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s complicated, difficult novel laced with shades of psychosis and depravity? In the hands of a director who has only one other film under his belt? Featuring a central character who’s more monster than man, not so much demanding sympathy as being almost completely undeserving of it? Starring James McAvoy, a charming, nice- guy bloke of an actor who made his big-screen debut as a faun? No, it really shouldn’t work – and yet, it does, remarkably well.

Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) is a wretched beast of a man who lies, cheats, manipulates and fornicates his way through life. To snag a promotion to Detective Inspector in the Edinburgh police department, Bruce ruthlessly plays his colleagues off one another. But it soon becomes clear that his latest case – the gang murder of a Japanese student – is not the only thing unravelling around him. Bruce’s wife and child have left him, and it seems likely that his wits will soon follow suit.

By rights, there’s nothing particularly funny about Bruce’s predicament. Filth could easily have been presented as a bleak, cautionary drama about mental illness and sociopathy, asking questions about when a personality defect tips over into madness. It would be far more difficult to give full play to the blackest of black humour that suffuses Welsh’s novel.

And yet, writer-director Jon S. Baird’s decision to do just that is precisely why Filth works as well as it does. It’s not an easy or comfortable watch, and could prove utterly repulsive to some. But there’s something magnetically enchanting about the film as it zips by. In effect, it’s a live-action cartoon on steroids, chasing after Bruce as he bounces from reality into his drug-addled imagination and back again. Miraculously, Baird ensures that Filth never veers into the realm of camp. Instead, the entire experience is a perverse mix of charm and horror: you’ll find yourself almost ashamed to take delight in a film and character so unapologetically depraved.

The sheer electric power of McAvoy’s performance cannot be over-stated. Everything in the film sets Bruce up as that rare villain who becomes a leading man: he preys mercilessly on those more innocent than himself (including Jamie Bell’s awkward young detective and Eddie Marsan as Bruce’s hapless, self-termed best friend), and disdains those more competent or trying to help him (his main rival as played by Imogen Poots). McAvoy commits utterly fearlessly to Bruce’s villainy. It’s a revelation to see an actor known for his genial, everyman demeanour descend into such dark and sordid places.

But the true magic of McAvoy’s performance comes in the quieter moments, the handful of shuddering silences that pepper Bruce’s outbursts of action and manipulation. Therein, McAvoy unearths a fast-fading glimmer of humanity – not in any way enough to redeem Bruce, but essential to forming a more complete, tragic picture of the man who has lost himself beneath layers of monster and menace.

As a film, Filth asks a lot of its audience: trust in the crazy twists in its story, forbearance for its more morally repugnant characters and moments, faith in its ability to tie all the loose ends up in a way that doesn’t cheapen itself. Not everyone will think Baird has succeeded. Those who haven’t walked out by the end might be upset by the cheeky audacity of its final scene. But those who give themselves over to the streak of insanity – both literal and metaphorical – laced throughout Filth will be rewarded with one of the smartest, darkest and most intellectually beguiling films of the year.

 

9 out of 10 stars

……………………………………..

Advertisements

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – Movie Review

Matthew McConaughey is barely recognizable as Ron Woodroof, an electrician/womanizer who ends up finding out he’s contracted HIV/AIDS and has 30 days left to live. After searching deeper for information on a relatively unknown disease (at the time), he finds out that there is existing medication that is not yet approved in the U.S.A. that could help him survive longer.

However, after running into red tape when trying to obtain medication, he decides to smuggle massive amounts of pharmaceutical products and starts selling them to other HIV/AIDS infected patients, creating the “Dallas Buyers Club”.

First of all, what a film. Jean-Marc Vallée’s “C.R.A.Z.Y.” was quite something to watch, but “Dallas Buyers Club” is a tremendous achievement. Vallée’s directing is stellar, the script is top notch, and features a palette of characters that makes this story truly engaging and human.

Homophobia, illness, lust, being incapable of receiving proper treatment, smuggling, death, friendship, the limitations of the legal system, these are all themes that would lead one to think that this film is a depressing drama. It is not. And that’s where the success of “Dallas Buyers Club” lies. All these themes would make the perfect recipe for a melodrama, wrap it up in a small package with a big star (McConaughey), and put the “Based on a true Story” stamp. But it’s so much, much more.

“Dallas Buyers Club” avoids all the traps of melodrama by being whole-heartedly hilarious at times, with just the proper dose of raw emotion, and performances that will be remembered for ages. Half-way through the film, my friends and I looked at each other, in a bit of disbelief, unanimously agreeing that McConaughey deserves an Oscar for this. Jared Leto is also wonderful as Rayon, an AIDS-infected transvestite patient that will become a great friend and business partner, and that will trigger Woodroof’s change of vision towards homosexuality. And it is not drastic. It comes in all kinds of subtleties and heart-warming moments. Hats off to Jennifer Garner as well, she is flawless.

Without ever offering a heavy-hearted tone, this is a story of perseverance and positivity with an interesting setting that sheds some light on an often forgotten page of history. Engaging social drama, well-written comedy, and wonderful cinematic experience altogether.

 

8 out of 10 stars

………………………………….

Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Movie Review

There’s nothing more disappointing than a sequel that does not live up to the original film it came from, therefore, my cinematic experiences over the years dealing with such efforts have certainly been tragic.

Yes, there have been second films that have equaled or surpassed the original (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Superman 2,” “The Godfather: Part 2,” just to name a very few), but these are as rare as Academy Award nominations from “Weird Al” Yankovic.

So, die-hard Marvel Studios fans may want to exit this website now and forgo any bitterness they may feel when they realize this review — while not a whole dismissal of the newest superhero epic, “Thor: The Dark World” — may not exactly be what they want to read at this moment.

True to my nature as an optimist, however, I will highlight the positive points of the new production. First, Chris Hemsworth is the perfect choice to play the stoic, unemotional, dispassionate, apathetic, unmoved Nordic leading deity to a tee (actually, I’m not sure these are good points).

It does not require a whole lot of animation to jump from the sky, punch someone out or throw a hammer. Hemsworth does a very good job in his portrayal of such a character and, as long as he does not try to break the acting ceiling like he did in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” I think we’ll be all right.

The other good thing about this movie (and it’s probably the best) is Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “Midnight in Paris”), the deeply troubled younger (and let’s not forget ADOPTED) brother of the first prince of Asgard. It’s his third appearance in the role and he has grown quite comfortable as the smirking, conniving schemer.

Here, he makes every scene he’s in delectable. It’s too bad he is not in more. Plus, the sequences where he appears with Hemsworth are not only the best in the picture, but they elevate the latter’s status and acting credentials even higher than they should be.

Okay, we have discussed the positive, now let’s look at the concerns. Replacing first installment director Kenneth Branagh (who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director — and lead actor — for 1989′s “Henry V”) eliminated the whole Shakespearian angle with the fallen brother, the troubled prince and world-weary king, which punctuated the action scenes and made for much more intelligent viewing than your average superhero narrative.

Alan Taylor, while adept at television drama (several installments of “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones” and a host of others), has not helmed a feature film since “Kill the Poor” in 2003. His contribution to this feature — at least as far as the Bard connection goes — is negligible and thus much of the drama of “Thor” is replaced with the mediocre of standard fights, screaming and explosions.

Yes, “Thor: The Dark World” looks good, but there is a troubling blandness and sameness to the enterprise.

Sadly underused (or misused in some cases) are Anthony Hopkins (“Red 2”) as King Odin, Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Stellan Skarsgård (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as Dr. Erik Selvig and Christopher Eccleston (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) as the main villain — that’s right, Loki isn’t even the top bad guy here — Malekith.

Hopkins is given even less screen time than in the first film, while Portman bitches and moans and nags so much about Thor being away one understands his reasoning completely. She is both bland and annoying, a difficult tightrope to walk (see “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” for a perfect example).

Meanwhile, Skarsgård has been reduced to a comic relief buffoon and Eccleston, who began his career in 1991 in a great little British film, “Let Him Have It,” is easily one of the worst Marvel villains of all-time, sort of a lightweight Bane, but without the menacing demeanor. Heavily made-up and CGIed to the point of complete obscurity, he comes back (after failing numerous time in the past) to use the all-powerful Aether to blow all of the realms to pieces, for whatever that’s worth.

The best spy, war and superhero movies have one thing in common — great and terrifying bad guys (Goldfinger, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, Loki). Malekith is certainly a name few will remember in the annals of filmdom’s evil malefactors.

Few will remember the plot of “Thor: The Dark World,” as well. Basically Asgard is under assault from Malekith and Thor is forced to release Loki from prison (where he has been since the end of “The Avengers”) to aid in the protection of the realms. The real drama is whether the kid brother can be trusted. Seems a logical concern to me. There are trips to other planets and Earth gets a few location shots.

Monsters are destroyed, good guys are pounded and, for a while, we wonder if anyone can survive the onslaught of out-of-control special effects. One funny sequence involves Thor and Malekith bouncing around the universe while the mighty hammer of the Norse god struggles vainly just to keep up with the action.

“Thor: The Dark World” is nowhere near enough to surpass the first experience, and while not a bad movie at all, it just seems like a temporary diversion until a part three (or “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”) comes out. Sadly, that’s just not enough for a studio with a much better track record than this.

5 out of 10 stars

…………………………………..

 

 

Alo – Toronto – March 24, 2018

French tasting menu served in stylish, serene surrounds atop a Victorian building.

Address: 163 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5V 2L6

Website: http://alorestaurant.com/

Google reviews: 4.7 out of 5 stars. I believe that this rating is driven from the tasting menu, which I didn’t have. I thought the food was just about okay – the veal brisket was outstanding, but the crispy potatoes were pretty ordinary. I’m still planning on experiencing the tasting menu, and may change my mind accordingly.

………………………….

 

Gratitude Journal – Post 13

I’m trying a different routine this morning, just to see if I can “win the morning to win the day”. Let me explain: I normally start off with watching some news on YouTube in order to brush away the sleepy cobwebs, but I’m finding that my morning viewing expands from that initial 10-20mins of news to watching everything which catches my eye. And then when I finally catch myself, I’ve lost a few hours and completed no writing, or done anything productive.

I’m fully aware that I’m chasing the dopamine/pleasure response I get from doing this (ha, I’m fully aware, yet I do it anyway), so rather than just completely cutting myself off, I decided to minimise that pleasure kick by doing a little bit of reading and then jumping into some light writing before working on one of my stories.

This morning that light writing consists of editing a comic review which I completed yesterday and then some journaling. I’ll post this in my Gratitude Journal just because I’m grateful for sticking to my plan this morning, and for having some free time to do this.

There is one other thing that I’d like to share which made my day yesterday infinitely better, and that’s this email from the self-described Raw Vegan Psychic:

“Welcome to a new level of psychic phenomena.  Born with a rare and extreme ability to interact with inter-dimensional beings and energies, I am able to channel amazing wisdom, manifestations, information, premonitions, visions and much more. This has given me the ability to heal both mind and body remotely, see into the future and the past, see into past lives, communicate with plants and animals, as well as spirits, the ability to manifest thoughts into reality, the ability to remote view/sense, find lost people/items and so much more.

I offer many services to the public, all of which are 100% safe. Working with inter-dimensional beings may sound scary, but I assure you it is safer than working with any beings here on Earth, and far more powerful & accurate.

Take advantage of my natural born gifts today and secure your session before all slots fill up. Stop wasting time with false hopes, I am always here for you, just a click away.

If you don’t see a gig that fits what you are looking for, send me a custom request. I always try to accommodate every client’s needs.”

It’s easy to ridicule the truly unique in the world, and I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to bask in the knowledge that this person found themselves, and not everyone can say that. God knows, I’m still looking……

 

………………………………………………..

Comic Book Review – Superman: Action Comics: The New 52 (issues 1 to 18) – 2011 to 2016

Action_Comics_Vol_2_1

Ok, I have to admit that writing these reviews is a little harder than I thought. I mean, how many ways can you say, “it has good art and a good story”, and vice versa. I guess I could just pad out the article by describing the plot, but I’ve never been a huge fan of that approach with entertainment reviews in general. It just seems a bit lazy.

A quick scan of the internet and review of other sites critiquing comic books has produced insipid results, unfortunately. I mean, I shouldn’t really be surprised. As much as I love the medium, we’re not exactly critiquing War and Peace. Each issue has 22 pages, and story arcs tend to run five or six issues so that it can be collected into a trade paperback for sale in bookstores at a later date. That’s 110 to 132 pages, which let’s be frank, is not quite as dense as 110 pages in a novel.

Comic book writers and artists need to convey a lot of information in a very limited space, so they have to be efficient, maybe even ruthless, with what they show and what they don’t show. Which means that building comfort and creating emotional moments through connection to the characters is extremely hard for comic creators. Novelists on the other hand have the luxury of spending more time with characters and narratives, which allows the reader more time to connect with the characters and the material.

All that said, I think it’s better to review story arcs versus single issues. Especially in the case of Grant Morrison who tends to use non-linear story telling and also inculcates quite a bit of foreshadowing. His run on Action Comics is no different and for me it was best binge-consumed instead of reading each issue individually as it was released.

I don’t know if this is a symptom of his story telling style, but at times the story seems to staccato step. Almost like I skipped a page. For me, I feel like that happens quite a lot with his stories and unfortunately it makes it hard to follow the central narrative. You always feel like you’re missing something.

That said it is a really good re-introduction to Superman and he does evolve quite a bit over the story arc into a more recognisable version of the character. I also really liked the re-introduction of Brainiac and how he used this villain to introduce well know story elements from the Superman mythology, like the Fortress of Solitude.

There’s also a sub-plot/thread devoted to Mr Mxyzptlk which starts in issue one and runs for the entire series culminating in Grant’s last issue which is number 18. It is easily the most inventive interpretation of the character and fits this rebooted version of Superman quite well. I’ve never been a big fan of this villain because Superman is primarily a science fiction hero, and the magical aspect of the character has never felt congruent with Superman’s universe.

Rags Morales art is on point as usual. He is easily one of my favourite artists, dating back to his time on Forgotten Realms and some of the other D&D books of the ‘90s. His characters are kinetic, which adds motion to the story. He’s very good at displaying emotion, which adds depth to the story and he doesn’t seem to cut corners at all. Some artists will get a bit lazy and skimp on the detail, but Rags doesn’t do that. His panels/pages are always very detailed and give you allot to look at.

All in all I’d rate Grant and Rags 18 issue run on Action Comics as a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

…………………………….

 

 

The Monuments Men (2014) – Movie Review

There’s something almost refreshingly old-fashioned about “The Monuments Men,” one of those Very Important Pictures that Hollywood used to produce with such abundance in its heyday. It’s one of those World War II pictures in which a motley group of strangers is recruited by the United States Army to carry out a mission behind enemy lines. Dubbed the Monuments Men, this group of art experts was assigned the task of rescuing some of the world’s greatest art masterpieces from the grasping hands of the Nazis who were busily absconding with the works, presumably with the intention of displaying them in a museum of their own after the war.

Lt. Frank Stokes, who spearheaded the mission, is portrayed by George Clooney, while the men he recruits are played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bib Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas and Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”). Cate Blanchett co-stars as a curator who is also a Resistance fighter working for the French Underground, and who is initially suspicious of the Monuments Men’s motives for rounding up the treasures.

The movie is interesting enough as an unusual slice of history, I suppose, but the screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel, never finds a way to make this true life tale come alive as drama. The characters are dull and under-developed, and, as a consequence, we find ourselves strangely uninterested in their back stories and unmoved by their fates. There is also way too much emphasis placed on the comical and the sentimental, and the movie comes replete with a gratingly frivolous score that seems woefully inappropriate to the subject at hand.

Despite the all-star cast, the movie is weighed down by over-earnest acting, with Murray and Balaban seemingly on hand mainly for the comic relief they provide.

Clooney has directed the film with hollow competence, and there’s some discussion about whether or not lives should be risked for the sake of inanimate objects, no matter how valuable, but it’s hard to make anything particularly memorable out of a story where the artwork has more personality than the players.

 

4 out of 10 stars

………………………………………..