Tag Archives: James McAvoy

Steve Jobs (2015)

97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.

And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.

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Netflix Picks #3

JohnIn Bruges is the debut effort of far-too-unknown writer and director Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, this is the kind of film that makes you feel guilty about bursting out into gut-wrenching laughter. Farrell plays the young, impatient thrill-seeker and Gleeson portrays the classic oldie who only wants to take in the beautiful architecture of Bruges, Belgium, where the whole film takes place. This might seem like a familiar dynamic, but there’s a twist: they’re a pair of assassins-in-hiding after a job gone wrong.

The brilliance to the film really starts with its basic premise. Bruges, one of the most aesthetically beautiful and quaint little towns in the entire world, has become the hideout and eventual battleground of the hitmen and, ultimately, the mob boss they work for. There’s a vague element of mystique, as well, an almost dream-like quality to the film that fits so well because of how easily Bruges might compare to one’s idea of heaven. I suppose it’s possible that is what allows the layer of absurdity the film also possesses to work as well as it does. At no point does it feel like some of the more ridiculous occurrences are too much, or that they do anything but add to the awesomeness of the film. It is a true shame that Mr. McDonagh has, as of yet, only made two films (the second being 2012’s Seven Psychopaths). The Oscar-nominated writing, fun performances and harsh themes all make the film immensely enjoyable for anyone with even a slight taste for the darker comedy. If that’s you, then In Bruges is fun as hell.

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Filth (2013)

James McAvoy is a good actor. He’s usually playing the good guy, from the excellent biopic The Last King of Scotland to the only-slightly-less-realistic (ahem) X-Men prequels, but in Filth he gets his chance to ditch the morals (who needs ’em?) and become the straight-up despicable Scotland detective Bruce Robertson. Bruce, drug-addled and sex-addicted liar extraordinaire, will do pretty much anything to get a promotion at his job. And McAvoy relishes in the ceilingless grandeur of such a character – but without him Filth isn’t much for originality.

There are two kinds of twist endings in film: those that are truly original and those that are a rehash of Fight Club. In all seriousness, the protagonist-repressing-important-plot-points “twist” is officially tired as hell, and in Filth the rote deployment in Act Three is borderline maddening. The relative believability of the effectiveness of Bruce’s manipulations throughout Filth is what makes them so revolting. Bruce starts hallucinating more and more, and this also lends an interesting angle to his uncivilized crusade – is he as smart as he thinks? Is he as smart as we think? Or has everyone been on to him the entire time? But, oh, wait, nope – the hallucinations actually mean something more, something deep, man. Bruce is deep because he has a Tyler Durden-esque trauma trigger. Get it?

So: ditch the stupid ending and the would-be aha! moments, and Filth is pretty great in a disgusting sort of way. It’s essentially Wolf of Wall Street for McAvoy, a time to go absolutely bonkers and meanwhile find some sort of way to make Bruce somewhat likable, even if it’s just a few percent out of the larger character pie. He does just that, and perhaps it’s the fact that Bruce has some sort of a mission (to get the promotion) that it’s not hard to go along with him on the disgusting rollercoaster of drinking and smoking and sexing and snorting and sexing some more. He has a goal and a lack of morality means he can achieve the goal in any possible way, and it’s fun to watch the dominoes fall uselessly before him.

But the mission seemingly dries up as the all-hallowed twist approaches, and eventually the promotion is given away and Bruce is just doing insane shit because he can. The hope may have been that the twist would carry the momentum through to the end after the aforementioned mission is moot. It doesn’t. McAvoy is likable as Bruce because he goes all the way for the character and he’s good at what he does; the insistence on writing something deeper into his character that manifests itself as a freakin’ hallucination very nearly undoes all of his hard work, and very nearly forces him to stand in line with every other protagonist with the exact same affliction rather than standing out from the crowd.

Filth is worth it for the lead performance alone, and really the final letdown is only so disappointing because McAvoy is so spectacular. Guys like Jamie Bell are in there, too, but are pushed aside. It’s The McAvoy Show. More films would probably benefit from being The McAvoy Show.