Following 2017’s It, the characters are 27 years older, the events of the first film mere memories, and the effects are more thrilling than ever. But it leaves us feeling much the same as its predecessor – despite fantastic production values, wonderful monster design, and attempts to delve into interesting themes of trauma and the scars with which it leaves us, it’s, well, kind of stupid really.
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Concluding a trilogy two decades in the making, Glass brings together the characters of 2000’s Unbreakable and 2016’s Split in an unconventional superhero showdown. We both enjoyed it, though it’s a bit of a trifle, but it’s enjoyably oddball and features a particularly brilliant performance from James McAvoy. And we appreciate M. Night Shyamalan’s direction, staging and camerawork, which, while occasionally a little stilted and ‘filmmakery’, for want of a better word, is thoughtful and always strives to create interesting and meaningful imagery.
The film feels significantly affected by the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s influence on comic book movies and their public acceptance; there are things that Glass does, ways it behaves, that are difficult to imagine having made as much sense prior to that series. Indeed, this trilogy is a universe of sorts, with characters from different films being brought together in a shared world.
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Atomic Blonde lost me in parts and the story is not very well told. But I loved seeing Charleze Theron embodying that 70s comic-book via Helmut Newton clichéd lesbian dominatrix character. I loved the look, the styling, and the fight scenes. And it’s got a marvellous cast: James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and, quickly becoming my new favourite, Sofia Boutella. Lots of great 80s tunes, plus it’s set in Berlin just as the wall is coming down. Lots to love. I think it will have a long afterlife across various platforms.
A look at panels from The Coldest City, the graphic novel by Anthony Johnson on which Atomic Blonde is based on is illuminating. The look and styling is completely different: she’s not a blonde for one thing. The French agent is a man, so the whole lesbian Sofia Boutella element is an interesting twist. Also, the James McAvoy character seems about twenty years older in the book. The film nonetheless follows the narrative of the graphic novel extremely closely. Fascinating in terms of how they’ve re-visualised and styled for the film
I really liked Filth though I’m not sure it works. James McAvoy is at each instance both believable and extraordinary as a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But the arc of the performance doesn’t cohere: he keeps the audience onside whilst he does the most heinous things but he doesn’t make us feel for nor empathise with his character. Filth does have a very interesting structure, however, alternating between the external manipulations of Detective Sargeant Robertson (McAvoy) to lie, cheat, fuck and blackmail his way into a promotion and the internal state of mind of someone who’s drinking too much and taking too many drugs as a way of mourning a relationship. The film is structured so that the first part seems more about the scheming to get a promotion, with all the attendant shenanigans, whilst the latter part unfolds seamlessly into an investigation into Robertson’s state of mind; but with the process of solving the problem leading to surprise twist, where the ‘solution’ to the conundrum is revealed as interiority externalised. It’s all very cleverly done and rather thrilling.
The film does make a nasty character doing nasty things seem very funny. However, It is not very appealing to look at nor is it very expressive with its look; the image has too much white which makes what I’m sure is a deliberate graininess unappealing in spite of the film’s full use of colour (someone’s been experimenting a tad too much during the colour-correction stage of the process). There’s clearly been an attempt to make interesting images, although in a very theatrical way that can tend towards the artificial: all the imagined pigs and beasts etc. might have been designed for a student production. Yet Filth is also very witty and unafraid . It dares to wink at us directly through McAvoy and indirectly through all kinds of quotations. The viewer will immediately compare Filth to Trainspotting; the film asks us to do the same in relation to A Clockwork Orange: neither comparison flatters Filth.
McAvoy recently seems to be specializing in interesting projects that don’t quite come off: Filth is his third such this year after Welcome to the Punch and Trance. But it is also the best and most enjoyable of the bunch. The acting throughout is superb with Eddie Marson and Shirley Henderson almost stealing the show as a shy henpecked accountant and his baby-voiced bully of a wife. Jamie Bell also stands out in his first portrayal as a man rather than a boy. He’s always interesting in what on the surface might, at least initially, seem a bland role; and he gets even more interesting as he’s given more to play with later in the film. It’s also a brave choice of a role for Bell if he’s still hoping for a star’s career as it’s a one that might be dredged up for a poke and a smear in the future.
I’m not sure Filth will satisfy fans of Irvine Welsh or even fans of Trainspotting. But it’s a very clever film with brilliant and daring performances. It moves quickly and thrillingly and succeeds in getting laughs with very dark material. Filth is also clearly a must for anyone interested in Scotland or Scottish culture; but then I think Filth should be of interest to practically everyone.
It’s James McAvoy’s film. Angelina Jolie has only a small, supporting role, though she looks every inch the movie star throughout and you can’t help looking at anyone else when she’s on screen. What distinguishes this film is the visuals: mind-bending, space-bending curving distortions of geographical space and direction that I think are new in action; a kind of space-warping, slow-mo, high-speed demonstration that is just thrilling to watch. This technique is also evident in Timur Bekmamvetob’s other films such as Night Watch (Russia, 2004) and Day Watch (Russia, 2006) and might be what brought him to the attention of American producers. The rest of the story-telling in Wanted is crude, tending towards the grotesque and the emphatic, no subtlety whatsoever, a kind of filmmaking meant to be consumed in a distracted environment amongst lots of other, competing, media. Wanted doesn’t support too much attention but neither does it require it: the story is almost instantly forgettable. However, the action sequences are truly remarkable. Watching these dazzling sequences is what led me to the technically rougher but more textured, complex and better ‘Watch’ films. Good fun.