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James Mcavoy (#110 of 5)

Toronto Film Review Wim Wenders’s Submergence

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Toronto Film Review: Wim Wenders’s Submergence

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Wim Wenders’s Submergence

Wim Wenders does not return to his former greatness with his latest, Submergence, a hollow romance that dares the audience to question just how much a meet-cute can change two people. The filmmaker’s cinema of displacement reaches new extremes of literalism in the relationship between water engineer James (James McAvoy) and biomathematician Danielle (Alicia Vikander), whose brief encounter reverberates throughout their lives.

James and Danielle make each other’s acquaintance at a hotel in France’s northern coast where each is resting before major work trips. They strike up a rapport through interminably detailed descriptions of their jobs; indeed, Danielle spends their first date listing the layers beneath the ocean surface with a curiously seductive air, using phrases like “mesopelagic zone” as if they might cause arousal. Wenders shoots James and Danielle’s cavorting along the coastline—an extended montage of laughing and twirling around on cliffs and beaches that Terrence Malick would probably find too chaste—as if marking time. Their conversations, at once circuitously poetic and tediously scientific, lack any spark, and neither of the characters displays any sense of deeper connection to one another beyond mild attraction.

Poster Lab: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Poster Lab: <em>X-Men: Days of Future Past</em>
Poster Lab: <em>X-Men: Days of Future Past</em>

If you wait until halfway through the credits of new Marvel actioner The Wolverine, you’ll get—surprise!—an Easter-egg-y teaser of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest leg of this comic-book-maker turned film studio’s incestuous universe. In the clip [spoiler alert], Logan (Hugh Jackman) catches up with Magneto (Ian McKellen) and a resurrected Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who, now evidently on the same team, warn their furry friend of an incoming menace that’s a threat to all mutants. Thanks to this early teaser poster, and, to a lesser degree, this one, fanboys know said threat is the infamous army of towering robotic “Sentinels,” which, in the end-credits scene, are further foreshadowed by a flash of the Trask Industries logo (for the non-geeks to whom this means nothing, just roll with me).

Poster Lab: Trance

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Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>

A seemingly unapologetic genre vehicle, Trance looks like Danny Boyle’s first film since Sunshine that won’t become awards bait. Instead, the sci-fi thriller shows goals of stylistic crowd-pleasing, to which Boyle is surely no stranger. An art-world tale sprinkled with hypnotherapy themes, Trance gets artfully literal with its initial UK one-sheet, which comes in three character variations.

The leading image, featuring lead star James McAvoy, warns that his art-auctioneer not “be a hero,” which of course promises plenty of derring-do. The other two, which lay the same design over the faces of Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassell, offer taglines pertaining to personal security (i.e. “Do You Feel Safe?”). The evidence, including the film’s trailer, suggests a flick that blends The Thomas Crown Affair with Inception, following a man involved with art theft as folks try to retrieve memories from his brain.

Atonement: Conscience Wilts

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<em>Atonement</em>: Conscience Wilts
<em>Atonement</em>: Conscience Wilts

Atonement, Joe Wright’s version of Ian McEwan’s novel, is visually snappy but emotionally inert, and it distorts the novel’s much talked-about, already problematic, extra-narrative twist so profoundly that it left me aghast. I don’t normally think it necessary to compare and contrast a film and its literary source; films are one thing, novels another. But when the movie leaves such a nasty aftertaste, it’s worth consulting the original to see what went wrong. Here, the problem is, quite simply, Hollywood values replacing the novel’s bitter irony, which was rather cheap and manipulative in its way, but still vastly preferable to the turd pudding that Wright and his screenwriter, Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liasons), serve up in the movie’s closing moments.

Review: Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland

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Review: Kevin Macdonald’s <em>The Last King of Scotland</em>
Review: Kevin Macdonald’s <em>The Last King of Scotland</em>

Members of some critics group (The National Board of Review? Broadcast Film Critics Association?), including Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil, have clearly been listening to the hype from Toronto, because they traipsed into a screening where Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland was playing like zombies following a trail of breadcrumbs to a hungry old witch’s house. In this case, the house was a racist one, and inside it lived a big, sweaty, angry black man named Idi Amin, Uganda’s fascist president from 1971 to 1979, played by Forest Whitaker with one eye (and half of another one) set on Oscar gold. A man at the screening passed a piece of paper (a scorecard, perhaps?) to his cohorts, but I couldn’t get close enough to anyone (I was, after all, hunched down close to the floor for much of the screening) to see what was written on them. Here’s a guess: “The Last King of Scotland makes me think of (a) The Constant Gardener, (b) Misery, (c) Amos ’N’ Andy, or (d) All of the above.” This godawful film is a vile transparency—approximating through its fictional lead character (a white doctor who spins a globe, closes his eyes, and plops his finger on Uganda—yaaaaaaaaaaay!) what it might be like for, well, members of The National Board of Review to be air dropped into the middle of Africa. It’s in Uganda that Nicholas (James McAvoy) befriends Idi Amin and becomes his personal physician, which mostly consists of helping (no joke) the dictator release a whirlwind of gas from his lower intestines. Poor Whitaker has nothing to work with here, asked only to wobble into frame intermittingly and scare the shit out of everyone. Alas, the focus of the film, as in The Constant Gardener, is the liberal quilt and romantic troubles of its white characters: In this case, Nicholas learns that his best bud is none too nice but nonetheless decides to sleep with one of the dictator’s wives. In case you don’t get the point that Nicholas is martyring himself for Uganda, there’s a horrible little scene in the film where Idi Amin’s cronies stick hooks through the young man’s chest and hang him from the ceiling! And for the NBR crowd, the film ends with cute archival footage of the real Idi Amin that serves no function other than to help Oscar hounds determine if Whitaker’s approximation of the dictator’s physical essence was spot on. The stench of the film is overwhelming, signaling the start of the Oscar season.