James MacAvoy

It: Chapter Two

25/09/19

I’m late to the party on this, mainly because I feel the previous film was overrated and I’m not exactly eager to see any more. However, in the end, curiosity gets the better of me. I’ve always considered the source novel Stephen King’s best piece of writing. So here I am, watching It: Chapter Two, and moreover, viewing it on Cineworld’s ‘immersive’ concept Screen X. (Essentially, it’s a big screen with images that occasionally go around corners. Not so much immersive as meh).

The first thing to say is that director, Andy Muschietti, has been a lot more ambitious this time around, ramping up the terror content and aiming for a much more convoluted storyline. Sadly, he’s not reined himself in on the running time. Two hours and forty nine minutes, is, to my mind, about an hour longer than this material deserves. There are things here I like a lot and things that I really don’t. Too many scenes feel over-egged; starting off promisingly enough, only to be swamped by CGI-assisted ‘horrors,’ that diminish the fear quota simply by showing too much.

‘Less is more’ is a famous adage that Mr Muschietti clearly doesn’t subscribe to.

It’s twenty-seven years since the events of the first movie and in the little town of Derry, a horrible homophobic attack signals the return of killer clown, Pennywise. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of ‘The Losers’ to still live in his hometown, realises that all is not well, and summons the other members of his teenage club. All of them seem to be doing their level best to live down their old nickname. Bill (James McAvoy) is now a succesful author and scriptwriter, currently shooting a film with none other than Peter Bogdanovich. Ben (Jay Ryan) is a hyper-successful architect, Richie (Bill Vader) a well-known stand up comedian and Eddie (James Ransome), an accident risk assessor. Beverly (Jessica Chastaine) has the misfortune to be suffering through an abusive relationship, but still appears to be surrounded by the trappings of great wealth. And as for Stanley (Andy Bean)… well, those familiar with the novel will know what to expect on that score and I won’t spoil it for the others.

Anyway, the old team reunites back in Derry, to honour the promise they made twenty-seven years ago…

Incidentally, the film continually cuts back and forth between present day and the characters’ teenage years and I have to say that the matching of young actors to adult ones is superlatively done. If only the film’s internal logic had been approached with such care. There are things here that simply don’t add up, which makes for frustrating viewing. This is a curious rag bag of a film. There’s plenty to enjoy but every time I start to settle into something close to pleasure an incongruous development steps out of the woodwork to smack me in the face. Also, there are fat-shaming comments; outmoded ideas of what a psychiatric institution looks like and the exoticisation of Native Americans. Not all of King’s tropes have aged too well.

Watch out for a neat cameo from Stephen King, visual references to The Shining and a direct quote from John Carpenter’s The Thing, amongst others. And be prepared for a long sitting. Somewhere in this labyrinthine film, thare’s a cracking little horror movie screaming to get out.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Victor Frankenstein

6/12/15

I promised myself I wouldn’t compare this film to Mary Shelley’s novel, because that way lies discontent. And, if I haven’t quite succeeded in honouring that promise (how could I, really?), I have at least tried to view it on its own terms.

And, on those terms, it really works. It’s a handsome, exciting, rollicking film, where every emotion is heightened and every deed is desperate. Victor (James MacAvoy) is viewed through Igor (Daniel Radcliffe)’s eyes, and so is admirable even at his most flawed. He is, after all, Igor’s saviour, having wrought a bright apprentice  from the unpromising ‘freak’ he encountered at the circus.

It’s not as if the film is even trying to be faithful to the book; it’s not purporting to tell the same story. It’s just a riff on the central premise: a young genius driven mad by obsession, unable to comprehend the consequences of his all-consuming work. MacAvoy’s performance is a delight: exaggerated to the point of mania, his delivery is never less than compelling. And Radcliffe’s comparative understatement makes him the perfect foil: his moral compass compromised by the gratitude he feels.

It all looks suitably fantastic. The circus is a visual confection of grubbiness and glamour, and London’s Victorian streets have a shabby, bright-lit charm. Victor’s laboratory is a magical labyrinth of odd contraptions, where bookshelves stretch beyond all boundaries. It’s visceral too, not least when Victor ‘takes the pus’ out of Igor’s supposed hunch, and the creatures (especially the putative chimp-based horror) are decidedly unpleasant.

For me, though, it’s the creatures that let this down. I know, I know – there’s no point in saying this didn’t happen in the book. But the point (the main point) is surely to explore why Frankenstein’s creation becomes a monster, and this could so easily have been raised here too. Instead, both creatures are murderous from the moment they flex their muscles, and it’s hard to fathom why two such intelligent men would – after their violent encounter with the first – proceed to make another, let alone one so huge and powerful – without considering what makes him who he is.

Still, these are doubtless only quibbles for those who love the book – and this film is certainly not made with us in mind. It’s a fun movie, an enjoyable experience. With that in mind, why not give it a go?

4 stars

Susan Singfield

X Men: Days of Future Past

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07/02/15

Of the many superhero franchises out there, (and there does seem to be an awful lot of them) the X Men films are the ones that interest me the least, so perhaps it’s not really surprising that I’ve waited this long to catch up with the latest instalment. It seems to me as po-faced and inert as the rest of them and somehow the bewildering array of mutants with the power to do ‘incredible’ things – bend metal, set objects on fire, affect the weather, make balloon animals… (OK, I made the last one up, but you catch my drift?) somehow never manages to ignite my interest, let alone suspend my belief.

DFP opens in a gloomy dystopian future (aren’t all futures like that in the cinema?) where colossal killing machines are on the verge of wiping out Mutantkind and where Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart sit around looking constipated, while other, younger mutants run frantically around being killed (or are they?It’s that kind of movie.) In a last-ditch effort to save the world, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time to the year 1973, to try and prevent the introduction of the very events that have ignited this grim future. Once there, he has to reconnect with Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) and persuade him to lend a hand. There then follows a convoluted storyline that’s based around the assassination of JFK and there’s even a cameo by President Richard Nixon (Peter Camancho), who it seems might be just the man to initiate a future disaster. Meanwhile, Doctor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) has created mutant-seeking robots and is itching to turn them loose…

Amidst all the ponderous twists and turns, DFP offers one truly brilliant sequence, the scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) runs around in super-fast mode, altering the potentially fatal consequences of a police shootout. It’s extraordinary and all too brief and there remains the conviction that this was the set piece that director Bryan Singer was planning all along and that the rest of the film was just an excuse to set it up. Sadly, Quicksilver doesn’t have much else to do in the movie, which is a shame, because if there’d be more of his antics, this review might have been a tad more enthusiastic. But for me, this was overly complicated nonsense, expertly mounted, glossily filmed and featuring a host of talented actors, all of whom needed every ounce of their skills in order not to look bored.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney