Trainspotting 2

Director: Danny Boyle (2017) BBFC cert: 18
There’s a tremendous trepidation in returning to the Edinburgh underworld of Trainspotting twenty one years after the intoxicating original.
How could this long fermenting sequel compete with its predecessor, the defining film of the Britpop era? Trainspotting offered a startlingly stark vision of modern Scotland, a famously ferocious soundtrack and career highs from the actors.
Most sequels offer at best more of the same but bigger, or at worst, cheaper. But I shouldn’t have worried. Danny Boyle has far more ambition. Having allowed the material to seethe and stew, the director cooks up another tremendous prescription of prostitution, pharmaceutical abuse, and violence.

For all the chemistry consumed on screen, the most potent is the one created by the actors. Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle are older, heavier, sadder but not much wiser, as Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.

All the actors bring a maturity to their work, giving their characters a beaten, weary melancholy beneath their desperate bravado. Noticeably missing from the advertising posters is Renton’s old squeeze, Diane. And her appearance in the film played by the gorgeous Kelly Macdonald, is sadly all too brief.
The most notable addition to the cast is Anjela Nedyalkova, playing a Bulgarian prostitute. The last thing this film needs is another extreme character, and the character of Veronika is continually underplayed. She is the calm centre of the dramatic storm.
After a long absence in Amsterdam, Renton returns home to Edinburgh to find his old friends. He has been living off the cash he robbed from his friends at the end of the first movie. Sick Boy has a grand scheme, Spud is still on smack and the psychopathic Begbie is out of prison and out for revenge on Renton.
Boyle uses Irving Welsh’s novel Porno as a starting point. Then filming in his typically high energy, visually dynamic and musically inspired style, Boyle creates an unapologetically abrasive tale of longevity, loyalty and friendship.
Despite topical references to social media and zero hours contracts,Trainspotting 2 understands it won’t capture the youthful zeitgeist the way Trainspotting did.
Instead it drowns in large shots of regret and guilt at their wasted lives. There is a a great deal of nostalgia also, though thankfully not for their twenties, but for their innocent childhoods and unfulfilled promise.
The sharp and funny script mixes bodily fluids with bile filled dialogue. And it chooses to honour the characters by offering sympathy as they disgrace themselves.
This richer and bleaker film speaks as clearly of the desperate disappointment of middle age as loudly as the first film did of youthful hedonism.
Take a deep breath. Choose cinema. Choose first class. Choose Trainspotting 2.

@ChrisHunneysett

American Pastoral

Director: Ewan McGregor (2016) BBFC cert: 15

The directorial debut of Ewan McGregor is an overwrought and underpowered adaption of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Condensing the heavy weight tome to a thankfully brief running time of under two hours reduces the characters to transparent ciphers of key ideas.

While the dialogue retains its bite and humour, the handsome cinematography is at odds with the bleak allegorical tale about the destruction of social innocence and failure of the American dream.

The Scots actor mistakenly casts himself as the lead, a blonde former high school super star athlete known to everyone as ‘Swede’. He’s a now a pillar of the community but one who is singularly unequipped to cope with the fractures in his seemingly perfect life.

The Swede’s troubles are fermented by and reflect the social upheaval of the turbulent 1960s. Jennifer Connelly plays his beauty queen wife, who pointedly swaps breeding livestock for a a life devoted to real estate development. Dakota Fanning is Merry, their stammering daughter who becomes a political terrorist.

There’s madness, seduction, violence and duplicity, but the biggest betrayal is the jarringly imposed suggestion of redemption.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Jane Got A Gun

Director: Gavin O’Connor (2016)

Since winning her best actress Oscar for ballet based drama Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman’s career has been noticeably quiet.

In this small time western with occasional epic leanings, she’s back with a bang as Jane, a pistol packing farmer.

The genre that refuses to go to boot hill is on a decent run. Not just with high profile recent Oscar winners The Revenant (2016) and The Hateful Eight (2016) but also taut tales such as Mads Mikkelson’s The Salvation (2015) and Kurt Russell’s Bone Tomahawk (2016).

Jane Got A Gun is a blend of genre motifs and contemporary hot topics, offering a tale of revenge, rape, infanticide and sex trafficking among ranches, brothels and shoot outs.

Considering its troubled production history it’s remarkable how competent and coherent the finished film is.

In May 2012, it was announced that Natalie Portman would star in the film as the title  Lynne Ramsay would direct. Michael Fassbender was reported as cast in the hero role and Joel Edgerton was cast as the villain.

Scheduling conflicts lead to Edgerton replacing Fassbender and Jude Law stepping into Edgerton’s boots. When director Lynne Ramsey was replaced by Gavin O’Connor, Law was replaced first by Bradley Cooper and then by Ewan McGregor.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji also left the production, and was replaced by Mandy Walker. And rewrites followed.

Jane is saddled with grief, a dirt poor farm and a wounded husband Ham, the underused Noah Emmerich.

Her gun is a mumbling Joel Edgerton who plays Jane’s alcoholic war hero and ex lover.

Their personal chemistry is no more lacking than any other relationship in the film.

Jane employs Dan as protection from Ewan McGregor’s pantomime villain, a notorious outlaw who has vowed to kill Ham.

As Bishop’s scurvy faced posse arrive for revenge, the dead bodies mount up alongside the spare horses.

The familiar narrative has a strong through line, even if some of the scenes fit awkwardly together.

There are some splendidly cinematic sweeping vistas and agreeable rough and rugged design.

But there’s a lack of chemistry and though the climax doesn’t fire blanks, it never quite hits the emotional targets it’s aiming for.