POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Graphic Nudity, Language throughout, Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Written by: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, Martin Sheen, Snoop Dogg & Will Forte

The Lonely Island is a trio of comedians/writers who made it big on Saturday Night Live and have already visited the big screen with 2007’s so-stupid-it’s-funny HOT ROD. Though they’ve found success separately (on film) and together (in three albums), it’s been nearly a decade since The Lonely Island made their big screen debut…and now they’re back with this spot-on mockumentary! Placing its fingers firmly on the jugular of modern pop culture and the pop music industry, POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is sure to please Lonely Island fans and people with a strange sense of humor (both usually fall under the same demographic).

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Meet Conner4real. Formerly a member of the musical trio known as the Style Boyz, Conner broke off into a worldwide solo sensation and gained an enormous fanbase with his first record. When his hotly anticipated second album ConnQuest receives negative reviews and dwindling sales, Conner resorts to desperate stage gimmicks and press antics to keep himself relevant. We watch as Conner’s career flies off the deep end and his pompous attitude begins to get the better of him. As you might imagine, it’s highly entertaining, surprisingly thirst-quenching, and very funny to behold.

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It should come as no surprise that POPSTAR is essentially spoofing Justin Bieber and I won’t deny that it’s well deserved. The title itself a is direct riff on the musical doc JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER and there are plenty of nods to stupid actions that the real-life spoiled star has committed throughout his career. However, Bieber isn’t the only target here, because POPSTAR takes on the pop music industry and petty celebrity culture as a whole. There’s a side character who’s essentially Kanye West, gags about three different reality shows clashing, and a gossip show called CMZ (wonder what that could possibly be making fun of). POPSTAR isn’t exactly subtle in its targets or jokes, because this spoof is devouring easy prey to begin with.

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These gags and characters are all executed by a massive cast of big faces, some of which were complete surprises (I won’t spoil those appearances). Besides The Lonely Island (as Conner4Real, his DJ, and his former bandmate), this film has a ton of colorful side characters played by the likes of Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, and Will Forte. Celebrity cameos/interview segments feature Simon Cowell, RZA, 50 Cent, Pink, Ringo Starr and many more. There are simply too many to list and they’re all crammed into 86 minutes of fun. Seeing as this ensemble cast of comedic and musical talent is so large, certain roles outshine others. As funny as Bill Hader’s flatlining roadie and Joan Cusack’s cocaine-snorting mother are, their presence is limited to scenes that have already been given away in the marketing. Will Arnett is a huge highlight as the obnoxious CMZ host, so be sure to stay through the credits for an extra scene of him.

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The Lonely Island are a musical group and comedic troupe, so they’ve put together a mighty hilarious soundtrack for POPSTAR. With songs about the Mona Lisa being overrated, an obnoxious number about being humble, and songs that tackle social issues in terribly misguided ways, POPSTAR’s songs are horribly offensive, absolutely hilarious and genuinely well put together. One particular music video had me close to crying from laughing so hard. It’s safe to say that The Lonely Island knew precisely what they were doing when they got behind the camera and in front of it for this feature.

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The documentary-style storytelling greatly benefits POPSTAR as a whole. The film cuts together interviews, Snapchat/Youtube videos, news reports, footage from Conner’s concerts, and his day-to-day life. This results in a structure that’s legitimately interesting to watch, even when the material veers into predictable and sentimental territory towards the ending. In a decade or so, POPSTAR might be looked back on as a painfully funny reminder to how ludicrous both the pop culture and pop music scene were in the 2010’s.

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POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is a silly, highly entertaining ride that had me giggling like an idiot from beginning to end. The film can be a tad too predictable at times and nearly overstays it’s under 90-minute running time, but I had a blast watching this film and imagine that fans of silly comedy will likely have a similar experience. The soundtrack is great. The laughs range from small visual gags to over-the-top set pieces. The mockumentary style lends itself perfectly to the material. POPSTAR is to music documentaries what 2007’s WALK HARD was to dramatic music biopics!

Grade: B+

GREEN ROOM (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Graphic Violence, Gory Images, Language and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair & Mark Webber

Despite having only three features under his belt, director/writer Jeremy Saulnier has slowly, but surely been making a name for himself in the independent film scene. Saulnier started his short filmography with cheesy horror-comedy MURDER PARTY and followed that up with acclaimed thriller BLUE RUIN. He’s now back with the heavily hyped GREEN ROOM. This simple, to-the-point survival-horror flick is vicious, intense, and shocking. It also heavily relies on dumb horror movie victim logic, which slightly detracts from the smarter, more effective pieces of this otherwise entertaining thriller.

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Punk band “The Ain’t Rights” (played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) live off-the-grid and do the best they can to make ends meet. After their latest gig falls through, the four friends/bandmates take a quick job at an isolated club in the middle of the woods. It’s obvious that the venue is a skinhead joint (complete with swastika graffiti and white power stickers), but the band needs the money so they complete their set anyway. On the way out, they accidentally stumble into something they weren’t supposed to see: a woman with a knife sticking out of her head. Soon enough, “The Ain’t Rights” and the deceased’s friend (Imogen Poots) find themselves fighting for their lives against enraged, heavily armed neo-Nazis.

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GREEN ROOM is a tense ride that frequently had me on the edge of my seat. Jeremy Saulnier’s screenplay is smart enough to thwart expectations in certain areas and avoids lots of exposition as a result. Smaller details are set up early on and it’s up to the viewer to connect the dots revolving around certain aspects of the skinhead secret society. There are a couple of moments that deliberately seem to be heading into overly familiar clichéd territory and then totally shoot those notions down with shocking violence that received audible gasps from myself and the rest of the audience. The screenplay is far from flawless though as the bandmates aren’t well-developed or entirely believable. As a result, a character will meet a horrible end and their absence doesn’t feel like a big loss. However, the shocking effect of how they met their demise manages to linger in the air.

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It’s frustrating to see a script, with some very clever writing, resort to idiotic character decisions in order to further things along. Besides these characters not being relatable or necessarily likable, they are not too bright either. Common sense doesn’t fully kick in during certain intense scenes and characters are constantly making really dumb (borderline unbelievable) choices as a result. These distracting bits didn’t dissuade me from enjoying the film as a whole though, because there are a lot of remaining factors to like.

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The cinematography is slick and well-shot. There’s none of the shaky-cam that we see all too often in modern action and horror flicks. I absolutely love the detailed club setting. Tension builds naturally through simply watching the carefully constructed on-screen (occasionally, off-screen) chaos. Speaking of which, this movie’s set pieces are friggin’ insane. The trapped “Ain’t Rights” aren’t exactly left with a lot of bullets or options. As a result, we get to see box-cutters, rusty bits of metal, a microphone, and other nasty objects creatively employed as improvised weapons. Bones are broken. Flesh is cut. Blood is spilled. This is one friggin’ violent movie, but it never goes unbelievably over-the-top in its gory mayhem.

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As I mentioned before, the protagonists aren’t exactly fleshed-out. You could shuffle Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner around and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference in the proceedings. The skinheads are far more interesting to watch and that probably shouldn’t be the case. These colorful neo-Nazi baddies distinctly stand out in their roles, be it the hulking doorman armed with a massive gun or the dog trainer who has flesh-eating pooches. You can easily tell these antagonists apart. Saulnier film regular Macon Blair (villain in MURDER PARTY, protagonist in BLUE RUIN) is great as Gabe, a staff member who attempts to keep a level-head in spite of the copious amount of death surrounding him.

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GREEN ROOM’s show-stopping performance comes from Patrick Stewart (of all people) as sociopathic, strategic skinhead leader Darcy. Darcy is remarkably calm and calculating in how he wages a mini-war upon the ill-equipped punk band. Stewart’s neo-Nazi leader has a deliberately dialed down way of speaking that somehow makes him even more frightening to watch. If you passed this guy on the street, you wouldn’t look twice because he does not seem like a psychopath. That’s exactly why this “reasonable” club owner makes for such a great villain though.

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Though it relies too heavily on dumb character decisions and the protagonists aren’t exactly interesting people, GREEN ROOM is a lot of bloody fun. The beautiful visuals, intense atmosphere, and gory set pieces make the film worth watching, if you’re into this sort of thing. Patrick Stewart impressively knocks it out of the park as the neo-Nazi main villain and that’s a role I bet you never expected to see him play. The writing also shines through as very smart in places, mostly when “The Ain’t Rights” aren’t being morons. Though I feel this film would have been better with less stupid horror movie victim logic, GREEN ROOM is an entertaining blast of mayhem, violence, and shocks.

Grade: B

CENTURION (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence, Grisly Images and Language

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Directed by: Neil Marshall

Written by: Neil Marshall

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, JJ Feild, Ulrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots

It really is quite unfair how many good films from across the pond get a shitty release in the states. I wish I could say that I went opening night to a multiplex and saw CENTURION on a massively sized screen with a crowd of enthusiastic filmgoers. Unfortunately, this film got a very limited theatrical run and was a VOD offering with little fanfare. Given that Neil Marshall’s DOOMSDAY wasn’t hot among the masses, it makes sense that CENTURION got regulated to a smaller release. This is a shame, because CENTURION is a no holds-barred, kick-ass adventure. The film works wondrously well in spite a couple of pacing problems. Marshall has never been one to skimp on the gratuitous violence. This benefited a dark horror film in THE DESCENT and elevated the goofy fun factor of DOOMSDAY, but in CENTURION things has a more serious tone and the violence echoes sheer brutality of the story being told.

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Based on the legend of the Roman Ninth Legion, CENTURION is primarily about the struggle of a few Roman soldiers trying to stay alive deep in enemy territory as they try to make it back to their base alive. The first twenty minutes cut between Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) and Roman general Titus Virilus (Dominic West). Quintus has been captured by the vicious Picts and Titus is being assigned to entirely wipe out the Picts. The two Roman soldiers soon meet and after an ambush, the handful of survivors are left with some difficult decisions that will ultimately make or break their survival. It certainly makes matters more dangerous that a band of vicious Pict warriors are hunting the remaining group led by a character that can only be described as one mean bitch. Much chaos, suspense, and bloodshed ensues as the band of Roman soldiers face off against their enemies and the harsh terrain.

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There was clearly a budget behind CENTURION. The story plays out on an epic scale. There are plenty of period pieces that feel almost stagey in their sets and costumes. In this film, I bought everything that I saw as a mostly authentic piece of history. It helps that most of the story is set in a vast wilderness that is bleak to say the least. I can’t think of a single moment where I saw a sun in the entire course of the movie. It’s an atmospheric piece of work that proudly states on the poster “History is written in blood.” As far as that blood goes, the film is unabashedly brutal. Severed limbs, decapitated heads, and a whole lot of red bodily fluid flies freely in the battle scenes. A few of these moments (particularly in the first half) show off some iffy blood that looked very CGI and there is one key moment that was ripped off from 300. Other than these hiccups, the film is a bloody blast of action, violence, and gore.

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One surprising element that made CENTURION even more gripping was that I actually cared about most of these characters. The cast consists of some fine actors. Michael Fassbender headlines as Quintus and though he’s proven himself a superb actor by taking on many different types of characters, he’s an absolute badass here. The secondary character mainly comes in David Morrissey (known for his recent work as The Governor in THE WALKING DEAD) and I appreciated that this older Roman soldier was given some depth. British familiars Noel Clarke and Dominic West are welcome additions to the highly capable cast. One moment was clearly included for some exposition and didn’t come off as cheap in the slightest. In fact, this scene (you’ll know it when you see it) dealt with fleshing out these characters very well. The character development makes it all the more devastating when someone bites it in a painful manner.

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As far as baddies go, the Picts aren’t given much of a personality. This is all with one exception: French actress Olga Kurylenko. She is the aforementioned mean bitch and comes off as the ultimate violent villainess. Her character of the main Pict tracker never speaks a word, but just oozes intimidation. The goriest scenes come courtesy of her.

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The pacing itself takes a little while to gain momentum. The first 20 minutes jumping back and forth from Fassbender and West wander aimlessly. The same issue can also be attributed to the final 20 minutes. The bloody climax is well worth the wait, but there are a series of rushed plot points that follow afterwards. I was interested in what was happening, but not necessarily how quickly Neil Marshall was throwing them out. If less time had been dedicated to the opening and moved instead to the closing, then CENTURION would have been a much stronger film.

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Neil Marshall delivers yet again with CENTURION. This film is unlike his horror flicks and the one campy action sci-fi movie that the man has done before. It’s a (mostly) fast-paced adventure revolving around an ancient legend and dripping with layers of gore. Also props to Marshall for directing excellent coherent fight scenes that didn’t rely on any shaky cam bullshit that so many others rely on. It’s a good time for action fans, gorehounds and history buffs!

Grade: B

NEED FOR SPEED (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Reckless Street Racing, Disturbing Crash Scenes, Nudity and Crude Language

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Directed by: Scott Waugh

Written by: George Gatins

(based on the video game NEED FOR SPEED)

Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Keaton & Dakota Johnson

A sad fact of life is that video game adaptations have a bad reputation. There’s a solid foundation for that too, because most of them are terrible. There are a few exceptions (SILENT HILL) to this rule of thumb, but they seem to be few and far between. NEED FOR SPEED is the newest video-game-turned-movie and one of the worst. There are many reasons why it crashes and burns (see what I did there?), so I will systematically rip this thing apart to scrap metal.

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Tobey Marshall is a born racer behind the wheel of any car. This doesn’t free him and his crew from financial trouble though. They are close to losing their auto body shop. After making a deal with Dino Brewster (Tobey’s rival), the future is looking bright. It all crashes down as a spur of the moment race between Tobey and Dino results in the tragedy. Tobey’s friend is killed and he’s been framed for manslaughter. After serving two years in prison, Tobey’s out on parole and wants vengeance for his friend’s death. He plans on taking down Dino in the biggest race of the country. He’ll need the help of his old crew to get back on the road and get revenge.

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NEED FOR SPEED has problems right out of the gate. The biggest issue is the film’s bloated running time. Scott Waugh and George Gatins seem content to deliver lots of filler. There are plenty of scenes that to stall between car chases. The opening 30 minutes are a massive waste of time and all build to a certain car that could have been covered in a few lines of exposition. 20 solid minutes could have been chopped out of the first quarter of the film. Not to mention the 15 minutes we spend in Detroit later on. This segment is spent watching the crew dick around and attract the unnecessary attention of cops. By the time the California sign (their destination from the start) comes into view, I let out a sigh of relief. The film was (hopefully) nearly over and then a bunch more convoluted junk happened to stretch the time even longer.

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None of the cast deliver anything close to a halfway decent performance. I knew that this film wouldn’t have a pinnacle of acting achievement, but nobody seems to be putting any effort into their roles. The entire plot circulates around the feud between Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper. Both characters are equally as bland. Kudos go to Michael Keaton for already appearing in two shitty movies during 2014. As if his role in ROBOCOP wasn’t bad enough, Keaton sinks to downright embarrassing levels as a dude with colored glasses and a bad goatee. It’s two strikes for Keaton this year and we’re not even into the summer movie season yet.

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If the performances weren’t bad enough, the jumbled tone of the film never seems to decide on what kind of movie it is. The forced comedy relief will appeal to the lowest common denominator. One notable scene of this flick’s sense of humor comes from a long sequence of a guy stripping naked as he quits his job. The entire scene feels like it’s from a completely different movie. There’s also a running gag of a crew member showing up in different (progressively bigger) helicopters when it’s convenient for the plot.

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If the lame so-called humor doesn’t feel dumb enough, the forced dramatic angles are downright insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. NEED FOR SPEED is a film that has one of the most cliché-ridden scenes bound to appear on the big screen all year. I’m talking about a slow-motion death scene complete with a character screaming “Nooooooooo!” and then followed up by a funeral montage with sad music of a woman humming. There’s also a half-assed attempt at romance, which only causes an even more sloppy final product.

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NEED FOR SPEED was built to deliver car races/car chases. The cars do have more personality than the characters after all. Even then, they’re still pretty bland. Nearly all of these vehicle mayhem scenes are too long, just average stuff, and not engaging in the slightest. The final race is the only watchable scene in the entire movie and it took a good portion of two hours to get to that point. It’s not worth wading through all the crap to get to the one tolerable car race in the entire movie.

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Not much was to be expected from a Disney adaptation of a racing video game, but this film failed on every basic level (save for one watchable moment that saves it from an F grade). The road NEED FOR SPEED rides lasts far too long, constantly weaves into unnecessary dramatic territory, and is riddled with plot-holes. It’s not a pleasant experience for the viewer and I certainly can’t imagine fans of the game being pleased with this. Avoid it at all costs!

Grade: D-

FILTH (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Drug Use, Language and some Violence

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Directed by: Jon S. Baird

Written by: Jon s. Baird

(based on the novel FILTH by Irvine Welsh)

Starring: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Shirley Henderson, Jim Broadbent, Emun Elliott, Iain De Caestecker & Pollyanma McIntosh

Every once in a great while, I come across a film that I honestly don’t know what to make of upon viewing it. I simply don’t know what hit me. FILTH is a dramatically heavy, comic, and disturbing ride in the life of a mentally unwell Scottish detective. Based on a novel by the controversial author of TRAINSPOTTING (which was also adapted into the acclaimed movie by Danny Boyle), this story doesn’t wholly translate into one specific genre category. Sometimes, it’s a twisted dark comedy that fully embraces the lunacy of its protagonist. Other times, it’s a hard film to watch based purely on the depressing material being presented. FILTH is one that might not garner acclaim from the masses. It’s simply not made for everybody, but there is a definite possibility of it turning into a future cult classic. If one were to mix parts of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE with a cop drama and add a hint of TRAINSPOTTING, then you’d have the sort of idea to what FILTH is!

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Bruce Robertson is as manipulative as they come. Sporting the prestigious title of Detective Sergeant in the Scotland police department, Bruce has his eye on the prize. This being a hefty promotion that may (in his mind) drive his estranged wife back to his arms. Of course, to ensure he gets this promotion, Bruce has to get his hands a little dirty. He’s narrowed down the flaws and strengths of every officer in the running. Through a series of under-handed schemes, he begins to exploit their personal problems and turn them against each other. Bruce is also assigned to a high priority murder investigation and on a lesser note, a mission to identify a prank caller harassing his best friend’s wife. Unbeknownst to anybody, Bruce is also steadily flying off the deep end of sanity and becoming more unstable as he goes along.

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FILTH is not a date movie. In fact, this is probably the last film you want to watch with your significant other. The main character is unlikable from the onset, but the narrative does a surprisingly well-done job of getting the viewer to sympathize with just how damaged he is from the inside. The other characters, with one exception, are never focused on individually. We see everything through Bruce’s lens, but the other actors and actresses playing the side characters give excellent work in coming off as real people who happen to be in this mentally unhinged man’s life. One heartfelt moment where a co-worker of Bruce’s is showing that she cares about him and McAvoy breaks down emotionally in front of her was touching beyond belief.

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Besides McAvoy, Eddie Marsan steals every scene he’s as Clifford Blades, Bruce’s timid best friend. I felt for this guy during the entire time. I’ve known people like Clifford and Marsan gives this pushover a real life on the screen. Jim Broadbent also makes a welcome appearance as Bruce’s doctor, who shows up once in person and multiple times in the increasingly more deranged hallucinations that Bruce suffers. That’s another point that should be brought up. FILTH goes off the deep-end in surreal images throughout. We get supposed narrations from Bruce’s wife, a few day-dreams inside his mind, and some creepy (yet humorous) hallucinations that grow in severity. The story is grounded in the real world. Looking out of the eyes of Bruce, we see just everything he’s thinking and it’s rarely a pretty sight.

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Some of the arguable flaws with the film come in the fact that Bruce can be just plain unpleasant to watch. Personally, I developed a love-hate relationship for this character. The idea that you might be able to overlook the filthy exterior of this damaged man and see inside is part of the reason why FILTH will work so well for a certain percentage of the audience. Bruce curses like a sailor, abuses drugs constantly, and is sexually manipulative. It is only in the final moments of the film that we wholly realize just how out of control he is and the impact that his debaucheries have left on the people around him. One reveal near the ending felt a little too familiar in the fact that we’ve seen it in many other movies and books. You’ll know it, when you see it. This plot-point did wind up working in this film’s favor though.

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Whether one will take it as a dark comedy of dire circumstances or a tragedy with a sense of humor, FILTH is unique and a great film. It can be downright ugly to watch at points and the character of Bruce might leave many with a bad taste in their mouths. For those willing to stray out of lovable (or hell, even likable) protagonists and venture into truly dark territory, this will satisfy your cravings for something out of the ordinary. Entertaining, bleak, darkly hilarious, and shocking all the way through, FILTH is almost perfect in nearly every way. If one can forgive some familiar plot points and the sheer dirty nature they might feel whilst watching the movie, this comes highly recommended for those looking for a difficult piece of visual fiction!

Grade: A-

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