Tag Archives: James McAvoy

IT: Chapter Two (2019)

14 Sep

The second part of a cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s famed horror novel, IT: Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the events from IT (2017), helmed again by director  Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman who collaborated on the first film. Set in the fictional town of Derry, we see the return of our characters from part one – this time as adults in their late 30’s – who formed a bond of friendship after discovering they each had shared traumatic experiences involving an evil clown capable of manifesting their inner fears and vulnerabilities. As it turns out, the evil known as Pennywise has returned again to Derry, and has begun preying on a new round of child victims.

After marking a massive box office success two years ago, it’s safe to say part 2 of the franchise was one of the most anticipated horror films of the year. Muschietti and Dauberman have doubled down on the same formula that apparently made the first film such a theatrical hit: horrific CGI scenes of various characters’ visions of pennywise fleshed out with brief moments of levity and a small romantic subplot. While the terror factor of 2017’s IT was surprisingly effective, children swearing and making sex jokes are no replacement for emotional beats that are essential to any given story, and I found part one to be mostly a disjointed mess. Unfortunately, part two copies the same incohesive story structure which no doubt will leave audiences who haven’t seen part one or who are unfamiliar with the source novel to speculate on many details left out of Stephen King’s mythical world of IT.

Though Pennywise certainly is just as frightening here as he was in the first film (thanks in part to a particularly gruesome set of CGI eyes and teeth), the real villain of It Chapter Two is the film’s editor.  Scenes come and go in the movie without much thought of why they should be there in the first place, and the tone jumps around so often from claustrophobic moments of body horror to comedy to nostalgia without giving time for the audience to embrace any single particular mood. This is made worse by the fact that every character who encounters Pennywise is given not only their own little hallucinogenic scenes of terror, but we also see those of their child counterparts, given to us in abrupt nonsensical flashbacks at pivotal moments in the movie.

The one string of consistency providing any sense of direction in this movie comes from the character Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) who is the only one to have stayed in Derry and has spent the last 27 year reading up on Pennywise’s mythology (he has been haunting Derry for over a millennia!) and obsessing over newspaper clippings from his latest victims. Unfortunately Mike is also the only prominent person of color in the movie, and the fact that his only sense of purpose is to share expository insight on the supernatural mysteries of Derry so that the rest of the white cast can defeat Pennywise harkens back to the magical negro archetype that has existed with genre films since their inception.

The silver lining here that makes It Chapter Two better than the first lies with its great ensemble cast. Not only do they look and feel the part of their child characters from part 1, but they embody a better sense of realism which helps ground the story and creates some emotional semblance to hang on to. The scenes between Beverly, Bill, and Ben (played by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Jay Ryan respectively) are mostly solid, and the dialogue here avoids the clunky bits from the first movie where these characters got involved. Bill Hader and James Ransone not only provide a good dose of comic relief but also both give genuinely good performances – especially in the movie’s later half.

Still, a stellar cast isn’t enough to make It Chapter Two very memorable, and the movie is just too messy and scatterbrained to emulate the singular vision found in Stephen King’s book.

Bottom Line: Scares run amok, but much like its 2017 predecessor, It Chapter Two suffers too much from its own shoddy editing and patchy story elements to deliver much of anything substantial. 

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Recipe: Stranger Things + The Ring + Stand By Me 

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Atomic Blonde (2017)

29 Jul

1989 Berlin. The wall is just a few days short of tumbling down and tensions between the East and the West halves of the city have never been higher. This is the setting we are placed in while being introduced to a British M16 spy Lorraine (Charlize Theron) who has been assigned to meet with David Percival (James McAvoy), a German operative who has sensitive information pertaining to both American, British, and Russian interests which could unravel an international conspiracy. The events of Atomic Blonde are mostly presented to us in flashback, as Lorraine is presenting her side of the story under interrogation by British and American authorities (Toby Jones, and John Goodman, respectively).  

What starts out as a simple spy thriller premise quickly unfolds into a stylish and sleek action film, filled to the brim with neon lights, martial arts, and shootouts. Unfortunately, much of the action comes at the expense of the characters, who come across as simple, two-dimensional cutouts from spy movie cliches.  The nonsensical story goes to great lengths to distract us from simple plot holes; what should have been fleshed out in the writer’s room gets covered up with the attention-grabbing, one-take fight scene or the frequent german rock song blasting out the speakers. Oh, and in case you forgot this was a German presentation, don’t worry – the film goes so far out of the way to remind us at every opportunity; most characters don’t go more than two minutes without saying the word “Berlin”. The film does have a few bright spots. Charlize Theron, our kick-ass heroine, absolutely devours every minute she is on screen. Her character delivers just enough deadpan humor to help carry us though the limp story. James McAvoy is also pretty good, doing his best Tyler Durden impersonation with a German twist.

Atomic Blonde aims to be a star-studded rock show, and in many aspects (especially on a visual level) it succeeds. But, without any substance behind what’s on screen you can’t help but think the director turned to an old trick stage producers will use when the band starts to suck: when in doubt – just turn up the volume and add some strobe lights.

Bottom Line: In a textbook example of style over substance, Atomic Blonde delivers a violent 120-minute music video at the expense of character, tension, or a sensible narrative.

Rating: 5.2/10

Film recipe: John Wick + Wanted + Salt 

Split (2017)

8 Feb

Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, M. Night Shyamalan was the go-to director for plot-heavy genre fare.  Well received by critics and audiences alike,  his breakout film The Sixth Sense was nominated for a whopping 6 Oscars (when was the last time a horror film was nominated for Best Picture?) and became part of the pop-culture zeitgeist. A few hits and misfires afterward (mostly misfires) and the career of the man who was once revered by many as “The Next Hitchcock ” is in question. Enter Split, the film that seems destined to pivot Shyamalan back into the genre spotlight with a little help from the indie horror collective Blumhouse Productions.

Split is one of those premise-driven horror stories that borrows a few tropes from different aspects of the genre. A few teen girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) are abducted out of the blue by a mentally ill creeper (James McAvoy)  and are held hostage in some secluded underground bunker. We learn though some expository dialogue from a therapist named Dr. Fletcher (Becky Buckley) that our abductor Kevin is a man with multiple personalities (23 in fact) that can come and go as they please and seemingly take over Kevin’s personality at will. One is a child named Hedwig. One is a fashion designer named Barry. One is a diabetic named Jade. The most ruthless personality (we are told anyway) and the one who assumedly did the kidnapping is called Dennis, a clean freak with OCD who “enjoys watching little girls get undressed” So there’s that.

Split doesn’t waste any time getting to the action – we see the violence take place even before the opening title makes it way to the screen. Shyamalan does take his time however getting to any sort of suspense, with the first half of the film mostly being filled with two scenarios: 1) the teens awkwardly trying to figure out the particulars of their abduction/abductor and 2) Dr. Fletcher explaining these outright to the audience. It doesn’t quite fit together, and much of the film’s first half feels like Shyamalan isn’t confident enough to run with the premise he set up before his name even appeared in the opening credits. The dialogue for most of these scenes feels so forced and expository, and – at times – thinly veiled with camp aesthetics. I’m almost positive the first appearance of Hedwig was supposed to be more creepy than comical but the theatre I was in started laughing at (not with) McAvoy’s attempt at a 9-year-old boy who wants to brag about the color of his socks.

The film’s third act is when things get really interesting. After a prominent plot twist (a signature of the director’s) things go on overdrive and the Shyamalan with genuine talent shines like a bright beacon of cinematic dread. The last 30 minutes are surprisingly engaging and though not all the pieces of the narrative puzzle fall into place, you get the sense that Shyamalan is trying to flesh out some bigger ideas here. The momentum and suspense builds up at a tidy pace until a last minute cameo that feels nothing more than a shoehorned attempt to remind us that, yes – Shyamalan has directed some great horror movies in his filmography. Split doesn’t quite make the cut his other films have, but it’s still an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Bottom line: You might feel like Shyamalan himself has multiple directorial personalities, but a solid and satisfying third act effectively brings the director back into the horror spotlight. 

Rating: 6.6/10 

Film recipe: 10 Cloverfield Lane + Identity  

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

2 Jun

When X-Men first appeared on the big screen back in 2000, it ushered in a new type of super-hero film. Nearly a decade before Christopher Nolan would give birth to his neo-noir inspired Batman, X-Men proved you could successfully adapt beloved comic book characters and place them in a serious, modern-day context (and make money while doing it). This was a drastic shift from the campy, playful superhero films from the decade before (Looking at you, Batman Forever).

14 years and seven installments later, and this group of mutants is still kickin’. Days of Future Past regroups many of the characters from the first film with the newer income of mutants from X-Men: First Class (2011), directed by the original director, Bryan Singer.  By including such a large cast of characters within a cinematic universe over a decade old, continuity errors are bound to happen. Fortunately, Singer is able to create an interesting and well-developed story that both establishes universality with existing X-Men films, and lays the necessary groundwork for the next installment (X-Men: Apocalypse, due in 2016).

Days of Future Past revolves around Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) traveling back in time in order to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from triggering a set of events which eventually lead to the downfall and imprisonment of mutants and non-mutants worldwide. In order to do this, he must recruit Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  The inherint motivations and dynamic of these characters is what provides the lifeblood for most of the film. There is also opposition from Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a human obsessed with implementing his mutant-hunting sentinel program in order to establish peace for mankind.  While all this is going on in the past, mutants of the future are battling these sentinels, trying to buy time for Wolverine to accomplish his mission.

All this action in both the past and future scenarios is cleverly displaced over the course of the film, and Singer makes great use of timing to keep the audience interested. With the exception of a lengthy middle segment where early Professor-X meets up with his future self (Patrick Stewart), the film moves along at a pleasantly brisk pace. Singer also makes an extra effort to include many references to the story’s origins, and die-hard comic book geeks will have plenty to talk about when the film ends.

Days of Future Past’s biggest accomplishment is in its characters. These aren’t your stock, one dimensional personalities you typically expect in a blockbuster; all the major players feel fresh and give great insight into their unique outlook and motivations. Specifically the ongoing conflict in the trio between Magneto, Professor X and Mystique is great stuff to watch.  While it does it have its shortcomings, X-Men: Days of Future Past is, so far, the year’s best summer blockbuster and should leave the fanboys and casual filmgoers satisfied.

 

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: X-Men, X-2, X-Men: First Class

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Trance (2013)

8 May

Danny Boyle‘s hypnotic follow-up to 107 Hours tells the story of a hypnotherapist-turned-criminal and a lost million dollar painting. Though I didn’t buy some of the film’s characters, Trance has a great story with surprises at every turn. It’s a trippy, thought-provoking and shocking movie that plays around with some pretty cool ideas. I loved it, and it was fun to see Boyle tackle this more adult-themed material from a different angle.

 

7/10 stars

Similar to: Side Effects, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Inception