Tag Archives: Ewan McGregor

Shallow Grave


Originally published at X-Media Online

Danny Boyle’s evolution as a director has accelerated in the last few years so that, much to the dismay of those who cherish the label “alternative”, his vibrant filmmaking fingerprint has been assimilated by the establishment. After the mainstream, Oscar winning success that was Slumdog  Millionaire had eclipsed the mad and edgy Trainspotting, Boyle’s new position in society was confirmed when he was handed control of the opening ceremony for London 2012.

Firing the starting gun for the much anticipated Olympic Games is a huge responsibility, especially in the shadow of the dazzling show put on by the Chinese in Beijing. Many are saying that we simply can’t compete with that spectacle. But Boyle, who has proved himself as an unorthodox winner, will no doubt think otherwise.

The director’s films have often been shocking and are sometimes difficult to watch. Think James Franco cutting his arm off in 127 Hours or Ewan McGregor running amok in Scotland fuelled by Class A drugs. Beneath the hard hitting exterior however he tells stories with an irresistible sense of fun, fuelled by addictive dark humour and inventive visual trickery.

Boyle’s mischievousness and frank brutality are both on show in his 1994 debut, Shallow Grave, which his father apparently still considers his best film. Three yuppies living in an impressive Glaswegian flat laugh the evenings away, taking sadistic pleasure in humiliating those who apply to become their lodger. Eventually they approve of one, who moves in.

Keith Allen’s Hugo is easily the most charismatic character in the film. His lines ooze mysterious hidden depths so that the stuck up doctor of the group, played by Kerry Fox, stops her mocking and starts looking. Unfortunately the plot necessitates Hugo’s swift and sordid death. The gang find the “writer’s” stash of cash next to his naked corpse. After minimal deliberation they resolve to keep it and dump his body in bits in a wood. No one knew about him, no one will miss him.

Of course Hugo’s shady past begins to catch up with our opportunists. Once the body is grimly dealt with cracks appear amongst the friends and Christopher Eccleston’s paranoid accountant retreats to live in the loft with the money. Ewan McGregor’s journalist, who suggested the scheme in the first place, ignores the simmering suspicions in the flat till it’s too late.

In many ways Shallow Grave is the perfect CV for a director. The plotting is tight until it unravels disappointingly at the end, the characters lifelike and the editorial flair evident. Empathy is the one vital missing ingredient letting it down as a narrative. Characters do not all need what Simon Cowell would call “likeability” but we do need to feel at least a little attached to them. The three protagonists are painfully irritating. Because we don’t care about them they become boring, whatever excesses they embrace or however mad they go on greed. Long before the end you’re left wondering, besides the initial fun, what’s the point.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Beginners


Originally published at X-Media Online

My attendance of Campus Cinema began on Tuesday with Beginners, a film that begins with Ewan McGregor’s Oliver beginning to get over the death of his father. He really is still in the early stages of progressing through his grief though, as he spends much of the film in a melancholic mess. The hardships of ordinary bereavement are complicated by the fact that his beloved Dad finally came out of the closet in his final years, all guns blazing, following the death of Oliver’s mother from cancer. This is a story rich in uncertain identities and confusion, as well as poignant bonding and mutual understanding.

The most surprising thing about Beginners is how funny it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock, given that it’s essentially an unconventional rom com, but the laughs really do flow consistently at points. You’re never quite sure where the gags will jump out at you from. It could be McGregor’s dodgy impression of Sigmund Freud at a party; it could be particularly black humour in a deeply serious situation or simply the chemistry between accomplished actors delivering witty dialogue. The likes of Christopher Plummer, McGregor and Melanie Laurent from Inglorious Basterds make for a far from shabby cast.

There’s also some excellent visual humour that regularly appears in scenes out of the blue. Oliver’s father had a dog, Arthur, who is incredibly attached to members of the family, so that he wails and whines unbearably when parted from someone he trusts. Suitably cute and quirky subtitles to match his cuddly appearance flash up on screen occasionally to express his thoughts. There are also quite a few montages from Oliver’s childhood to set the scene and provide background information to characters and relationships.

I am not a fan of voiceover in film because it is usually executed woefully. However in Beginners McGregor’s reflective and self aware musings mostly come across as meaningful, adding depth to the story, especially when coupled with very distinctive still images. Oliver feels like the at once familiar and mysterious first person narrator to a novel we are watching, rather than the main character in a romantic film.

The downsides of this are that Beginners will be far too quirky for some to stomach. It wears its sentiments without shame, jumping willingly into boxes marked “indie” and “offbeat. It toys with ideas of minimalist storytelling, not just with slideshows of random pictures but with a wordless meeting between Oliver and his love interest. The recurring montage and voiceover sections give the time hopping narrative structure and symmetry but also a couple of false endings better than the one director Mark Mills eventually delivers.

Despite fizzling out somewhat Beginners features a touching, believable love story and avoids being overshadowed by the issue of an old man’s homosexuality at its heart. It asks smart questions in a unique and yes, quirky, way. Bravo Campus Cinema, even if the ads did promote Plymouth University!

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5