Tag Archives: James McAvoy

Trance (2013) 3/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel

A suave and tricksy thriller detailing a heist mob’s unconventional attempt to hypnotically uncover the location of a stolen painting amidst emotional turbulence and full-blown crises of identity. Trance offers the best and worst of mercurial director Danny Boyle at about a 30/70 split. Stunningly shot and soundtracked to Rick Smith’s pulsing melodies, it sets out to explicitly defy narrative convention and treat us to a razzle-dazzle experience over old fashioned storytelling. Though we’ve seen attempts like this before, what Trance lacks in originality it makes up for in burning focus and unflinching persistence. And with James McAvoy and the always splendid Rosario Dawson mischievously wrapped up in the deep dark psychological hijinks, the experiment is only enriched. But trippy entertainment only goes so far and with the plot hoisted so brazenly atop of Boyle’s sacrificial alter, not even actors of their class and magnetism can keep us invested in the manner we’d expect and desire from a clever heist thriller.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 3.9/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Director Bryan Singer brings an assured and classy touch back to the franchise he helped forge in this surprisingly gripping fantasy sci-fi in which two versions of the same X-Men are united across time in an epic showdown to save the Earth against a future army of robot “Sentinels”. Superbly balancing the multiple threads to the story so that the main plot pulses steadily and clearly from start to finish, X-Men: Days of Future Past counts as a rather impressive feat of story-telling. With Patrick Stewart’s “Prof. X” and Ian McKellen’s “Magneto” on one side of the temporal divide, their successors (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) on the other, and Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” straddling the two, we move between a nicely realised 1970’s and a desolate future as the older X-Men attempt to alter their own history and preclude the invincible Sentinels from ever coming into being. On the technical front, this movie is pillared by some genuinely striking action set pieces opening with an elegantly edited showdown between mutant and robot and peaking with an acutely impressive prison-break in the bowls of The Pentagon. This latter sequence, wryly soundtracked to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, involves Evan Peters’ delightfully impish “Quicksilver” making a high speed mockery of the famous building’s security in a whirlwind of smile-inducing not to mention brilliantly conceived mischief-making. Alongside this brief cameo of what very well might prove to be the franchise’s most lovable character, what really sets Days of Future Past apart from the myriad of modern superhero movies is the sophistication of its construction. Though most of the future mutants offer mere cameos, Singer makes the most of their personalities and powers, deftly interweaving their trials and tribulations with those of their past counterparts and culminating in a suitably rousing finale. Given how uninspired and formulaic the genre has become, it’s genuinely refreshing to come across a simply well made movie.

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Wanted (2008) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman

It might seem redundant to state that a movie about a secret cult of weavers turned assassins is at best a guilty pleasure but so derivative is this one that it really does need saying. With its comic book premise that itself was cobbled together from dozens of better sources and with a sprinkle of madcap mayhem, James McAvoy stars as a painfully ordinary nobody who, after Angelina Jolie shows up to repeatedly beat the crap out of him, discovers his birthright is to be a super-assassin and avenge his similarly employed father. Absurdly obscure superpowers considered and colourless bad guy aside, this one kind of skirts along of the far boundaries of tolerance thanks to the rollercoaster of fun it serves up. So detached is it from making sense that you’ll gladly just give in and absorb the bullet-bending, car-flipping carnage and chuckle at the few decent jokes they manage to cram in between. McAvoy’s boyish charm helps a lot and when Jolie isn’t doing her smug “I-know-something-that-you-don’t” face, she cuts another fine action heroine. Together, they are fine but don’t expect the chemistry of Ford and Fisher. Noteworthy in his presence is Morgan Freeman who pops up in a (not atypically) curious cameo too but to little effect because Wanted is McAvoy and Jolie’s bag.

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The Last King of Scotland (2006)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.5
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 123 mins
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Stars: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Gillian Anderson

African dictatorships have long provided an interesting context for earnest Hollywood storytelling but Kevin MacDonald’s effort is probably one of the more curious and not always for the right reasons. James McAvoy plays a young Scotsman and recently qualified doctor who heads to Uganda on an indulgent whim. Initially volunteering his services to a rural clinic, he accidentally catches the eye of the Scotland obsessed dictator, Idi Amin, who promptly makes him his personal doctor and partial confidant. As he becomes part of the president’s social scene, the glamour of 1970’s Kampala eventually begins to fade as the young doctor begins to see Amin for the paranoid butcher he really is.

For all the praise this movie got on its release, The Last King of Scotland is a preposterous piece of fiction. Not only is McAvoy’s character entirely made up but by making him so central to many of the real life incidents involving Amin, their significance becomes obscured and somewhat less real. The attempt to use McAvoy as a lens through which we see “Amin the man” does work to some extent but, as the doctor’s own fictitious story is the primary focus, the device falters as one continuously wonders where the fiction ends and the truth begins. Against this confusion, the doctor’s character becomes an overt reference point for everything that’s fictitious in the story and so it becomes difficult to really care about him – even while he’s hanging from ropes hooked into his chest. Surely there were plenty of real life people who lived in and around Amin, who could’ve provided an unobfuscating means of examining the man while also telling an interesting and real story. One suspects there were but they probably weren’t white.

A second issue to arise from this storytelling device is that the dictator’s most significant act, the slaughter of 300,000 Ugandans, is really rather glossed over and again presented in a manner that, from the doctor’s perspective (and therefore the audience’s), can be readily dismissed. For any story set against the rise and fall of the Amin’s regime, one wonders what the benefit of this could be.

If one can overlook these substantial flaws, the movie can actually be quite entertaining (and therein lies one explanation for those flaws). There’s a fun momentum to the earlier scenes which is effectively quickened once the horror begins. Furthermore, in addition to MacDonald’s rugged documentary like direction, a cool retro ethnic soundtrack, and some lovely photography, The Last King of Scotland also offers two rock solid performances.

McAvoy is patently comfortable in the lead role and infuses his natural charm with just enough selfishness to make his character work. Of course, Forest Whitaker’s Amin overshadows him whenever his large bulk enters the frame. This is largely down to his magnetism but there’s no denying that this is a role which naturally facilitates big performances. He’s loud, brash, enigmatic, boorishly charming and, with an accent thrown in to boot, this is the type of obvious turn the Academy were always going to salivate over. Whitaker did everything he could with the role (and then some) but there should come a time when we will all realise that such performances quite simply lack the subtlety of the truly great ones. It’s enjoyable and it’s the movie’s base but not the powerhouse turn we’ve been led to believe it is. That said the acting remains this film’s great strength and a word should be saved for an underused Gillian Anderson who again shows her quality as a character actor who is capable of lifting any film with only minor screen time.

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X-Men: First Class (2011) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 64.9
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence

As tedious as origin stories are at the moment, this one had potential primarily because of an interesting and talented cast but also because its director Matthew Vaughan has shown some promise that he’s going to be more than just another journey man or studio lap-dog like the host of directors who are normally hired to shoot these popcorn movies. Set in the 1960’s, First Class stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the two heavyweight mutants of the future, Professor X and Magneto, with the story centring on their battle with an even nastier mutant (Kevin Bacon) as he attempts to manipulate both the US and the Soviet Union into World War III. However, the moral differences between both Professor X and Magneto regarding where relations with the human race fit into the new emerging mutant order constantly threaten to break their uneasy alliance.

The two leads are superb together and their charisma alone makes this movie enjoyable to watch. The visual effects are excellent too and the action sequences are handled competently by Vaughan even if they are a little uninspired in places. The biggest let down however is the script which at times reaches the level of mindlessness. Lines such as “A ‘war’ suggests both sides have an equal chance of winning” are uttered without a hint of irony (or even an awareness of how stupid they are) while the more dramatic moments are rife with flat cliche. The plot at times isn’t much better and who knows what they were thinking of when it came to choosing the mutants who would take part in this movie (Angel Salvadore and Banshee were just ridiculously lacking in the intimidation factor). Ultimately, First Class counts as an opportunity missed but the quality of the actors playing the three main mutants plus a decent and well shot climax does make it worth a look.

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