Thoughts On: Trainspotting

With T2 Trainspotting debuting in cinemas this weekend, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the decade-defining original.

Narrative

On the surface, Trainspotting is a film about the heroin epidemic of the UK in the 1990s. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that the film is really about an addiction to everything: consumerism, sex and perhaps most importantly, friendship. But rather than portraying addiction in purely destructive light (Requiem for a Dream, Candy) its narrative presents both the good and the bad, making no allusion to its overall stance on the matter.

The script itself is gold, too, having spawned a litany of quotable lines and monologues too numerous to list here. All I’ll say is, choose life.

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Direction

Boyle presents Trainspotting in a way that perfectly reflects the script’s ambivalent stance on drug use. It’s relentlessly upbeat, a tonal constant reinforced by the use of a contemporaneous rock and dance soundtrack and some truly surreal and abstract scenes (toilet dive, anyone?). There’s also Renton’s indifferent voiceover, which adds a certain matteroffactness to the tragedies that unfold on screen.

Characters

The film’s soundtrack, humour, narrative, visuals are all great an’ all, but they’re nothing compared to its characters. Wonderfully penned by Irvin Welsh in his novel of the same name, Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud are some of the finest characters to ever be put on screen. They’re entertaining and amusing each in their own way, and if they’re not relatable (though it’s fair to say most of them are) we can all say that we at least know a Begbie or a Spud in our own lives. Without these characters, the film simply wouldn’t work.

In a few words…

A decade-defining film that captured the zeitgeist like no other.

Oscar Noms: 5 Biggest Best Picture Snubs

Deadpool and Silence are perhaps two of the most notable films snubbed by this year’s Oscars – with the latter picking up just one nod for Best Cinematography. But although debate may endlessly rage on whether or not they should have received a Best Picture nom, they are hardly the first films to narrowly miss out on Academy recognition.

1. The Dark Knight

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Although Batman Begins did much to get the superhero genre back on track, it was the sequel that really showed it had grown up. But despite featuring a darker, more grounded tone and a career-defining performance from the late Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight failed to receive a Best Picture nom at the 2009 Oscars. The snub confirmed many people’s opinion that the Academy doesn’t much care about superhero films. It’s fair to say, though, that The Dark Knight will still be remembered in years to come, even if some of its more recognised contemporaries won’t.

2. Fight Club

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The first rule of Fight Club: you don’t talk about Fight Club. It seems the Academy took the film’s most iconic line a little too literally when they failed to give it a Best Picture nom at the 2000 Oscars. Of course, opinion of the film was a lot different at the time, with notable critics like Roger Ebert trashing it for its apparent glorification of violence and messy second half. Many have since eaten their words.

3. Singing in the Rain

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One of the most famous and recognisable movies of all time, Singing in the Rain deserves its place in film history. Perhaps surprisingly, though, Gene Kelly’s cinematic zenith was overlooked by the Academy in 1953, with The Greatest Show on Earth taking home the award for Best Picture. It seems kind of absurd now to think that Singing in the Rain wasn’t even shortlisted, especially seeing as without it we wouldn’t have La La Land – which has just tied the record for the most Oscar nominations of all time. Oh well, Gene didn’t seem too bothered.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Though some will disagree on Stanley Kubrick’s best film, it’s widely considered that his 1968 does-what-it-says-on-the-tin flick is his true towering achievement. But despite receiving a number of nominations and winning the award for Best Visual Effects at the 1969 Oscars, the film didn’t make the Best Picture shortlist. The snub reflected the critical consensus at the time, with many saying it was too arty to fully be enjoyed. Bold words for a film that’s now considered one of the best ever made.

5. Vertigo

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Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Also like 2001… Hitchcock’s masterpiece was met with mixed review on release. Such a lukewarm reception arguably played a part in the Academy’s overall disregard for the film, resulting in it only picking up two nominations for the Art Direction and Sound Categories. Happily though, Vertigo has since gone on top top countless ‘Best of…’ lists, and serves to remind us that the Academy doesn’t always get it right.

 

Film Haul #2

It’s that time of year again, by which I mean it’s that post-Christmas period where I go out and spend a hefty bit of change on a few plastic discs that show moving images on a screen. Anyhow, here’s what I bought.

Inside Llewyn Davis

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This Coen Brothers drama set in the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene follows an inspiring folk musician as he strives to hit the big time. Will he get the break he needs? Or will he end up as just another dreamer who never quite made it? Seriously, I don’t know: this is one that I actually have yet to watch.

(Review incoming.)

Requiem For A Dream

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Dark and dour, Requiem For A Dream is Aronofsky at his most disturbing. The film follows four characters whose all-consuming addiction not only leads to some pretty dire circumstances, but also to the destruction of their deepest desires. Some time has passed since I last watched this film, yet the sobering impression it left certainly hasn’t faded.

There Will Be Blood

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“I drink your milkshake!” screams Daniel Day Lewis at a snivelling Paul Dano during the film’s epic third act. It’s perhaps the apotheosis of an all-round captivating performance, in a film that’s no less spellbinding itself. Is it worthy of its countless awards and adulation? You bet your oil-filled backyard it is.

The Hateful Eight 

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The Hateful Eight sees Tarantino pick up where he left off with Django Unchained and continue his own bloody take on the spaghetti western. As long as you can stick its slow burn, the eventual payoff will most definitely be worth it. Looking forward to watching this one again – though I think I might need a few hours spare if I’m to watch it in one go!

Sicario 

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We all knew Denis Villeneuve was good at his job. His 2015 flick, Sicario, only confirmed it. He’s not the only star here, though, and some well-worked performances by Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin do much to bring home its hard and heavy narrative. There’s a lot more going on in Sicario than it may initially seem, and repeat viewings are needed to truly appreciate its message. Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem…

Westworld – Season 2 Predictions

For a opening season that had more twists and turns than a twisty-turney thing, it was nice for Westworld’s finale to end on a clean and clear note. But even though it answered a lot of questions that had been brewing over the course of the season, it also offered up a multitude of possibilities for the 2018 follow-up. Without further ado, then, here are five predictions for Westworld, season 2.

(Spoilers for season 1 ahead… obviously.)

1. Captain Bernard

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It seemed as if his Ford was handing over the reigns to Bernard during their talk in the chapel in the final episode. It would make also make a lot of sense: Ford giving control of the park to what is now a living, breathing, thinking copy of his old friend Arnold. But things are unlikely to be so simple, and Bernard’s ascendancy to power – whether he wants it or not – will likely be one of the main areas of tension during the next season.

Likelihood: medium

2. Returning characters

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Elsie, Stubbs and the Man in Black are all characters who were seen to be injured or in danger, but never outright killed. TV rules dictate, then, they are still alive and will make an appearance next season. In fact, Ed Harris (TMIB) has even said he’ll be returning in 2018; and Shannon Hoodward’s Elsie also looks extremely likely as the show’s creators have been keen to tease her return through various soundbites and videos. Also, the show kinda needs these characters to return, given the amount of humans who met their timely end during the finale…

Likelihood: high

3. Conflict between the board

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At the end of the finale we see TMIB smiling with glee after he gets shot in the arm by a host. Why? Finally Westworld had become real and was no longer a game – what he’d always wanted. Of course, the Delos board are going to want to roll back the hosts and restore order in the park. Naturally, this will cause a divide between TMIB and the board, and will likely be one of season 2’s main areas of conflict.

Likelihood: high

4. Samurai World

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Again, the existence of other parks is something that was hinted at during the finale. We know for a fact that there’s a Samurai world and there may indeed be others. But if we’re going to see any of them, it will most likely be Samurai World. How much time we’ll spend in the park, though – will it take the place of Westworld? will we flick back and forth between the two? – remains to be seen.

Likelihood: medium 

5. Ford lives

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Ford definitely dies at the end of Season 1, there’s no doubt about that. Or did he? See, some have speculated that the great magician pulled one final trick by having Dolores shoot a manufactured copy of himself. Conversely, some believe Dolores actually shot the real Ford, but that he will live on through a host version of himself. Either of these scenarios could well be true – after all, he was seen to be manufacturing another host during episode 7’s thrilling climax – but it’s far more likely that we’ll only get to see Ford through a series of flashbacks and vignettes.

Likelihood: low

Thoughts On: Rogue One

After stuffing myself silly over the past week or so, I thought I’d finally get off my arse and give my thoughts on the new Star Wars flick.

Narrative

Rogue One follows the story of rebel fighter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her quest to retrieve the nascent Death Star’s blueprints. However, the revelation that Erso’s father (Mads Mikkelsen) is the galactic mega-weapon’s lead engineer makes things that much more complicated. What ensues is a tale of trust and sacrifice that attempts to fill an intriguing hole in the Star Wars story.

Perhaps the main concern I had going into this film was whether or not it’s a story that needs to be told? By the time it was over, I happily had an answer. Sure, it doesn’t feel like a tale that absolutely must be put on the big screen, but through solid writing and well-executed performances, Rogue One manages to justify its place in the franchise.

(On a side note, even though I don’t think the film is absolutely necessary, die-hard Star Wars fans will undoubtedly love it and will get far more of the references that flew straight over my head.)

Direction

As with The Force Awakens, Rogue-One successfully pulls off the feel of a lived-in universe. Ships are dirty, robots are grubby and the whole thing just feels like it was smeared with oil and sprinkled with dust. It’s exactly what you want a Star Wars film to look like.

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The film’s darker tone is made clear from the start

It’s a little darker in tone than its record-breaking predecessor, though, as is made apparent from the opening scene. That’s not to say you’ll want to tie a noose from your bedroom ceiling as soon as you get home, but it’s easily one of the more grounded entries in the series – it’s essentially the Casino Royale of the Star Wars franchise.

Characters

Despite scant character development, the majority of the cast serve their role well. Whether it’s the comic cynicism of defective android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), the stoic tenacity of hero Jyn Erso or the unhinged volatility of Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), each character is interesting to watch – if not especially unique.

We also get to see some fan favourites return, and although their appearances are only fleeting, they are arguably some of the most enjoyable.

In a few words…

Rogue One is a competently constructed spin-off that successfully affirms its place within the Star Wars saga.

Finale Review: The Walking Dead – Season 7 (ep. 8)

Technically, the episode is a mid-season finale, but for all intents and purposes we’re just gonna call it a season finale.

Ah, The Walking Dead. Just like one of its many walkers, it’s a show that just won’t seem to die. And with the introduction of one of TV’s most anticipated villains, for once it has good reason not to. Happily, we get to see quite a bit of our fucked-up friend in season seven’s mid-season finale, Hearts Still Beating.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Couple o’ pros:

   1. Negan

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There’s our favourite psychopathic monster!

Any time Jeffery Dean Morgan‘s grinning, oft blood-soaked visage graces the screen you’re know you’re in for a treat. Clean-shaven and ostensibly softened by suburban comforts, it initially seems as if the ol’ psychopath might have changed his ways. After all, he spared kill Carl after he broke into the Saviors’ compound and gunned down two of his men, and even brought him back to Alexandria – how nice. But thankfully, we finally get another strong dose of the foul-mouthed, bat-swinging nutter we all know and love. Negan really is what the doctor ordered.

   2. Getting the gang back together

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It was going to happen eventually: reuniting the ol’ gang. Yeah,  Carol’s still MIA, and Glenn is… well, y’know; but the eventual reunion was a much needed moment for the episode and the season. Also, Rick gets his mojo back – and about bloody well time.

Couple o’ cons:

   1. Slow start

The first half of this mid-season finale drags. There were times when I found my attention wandering, leaving me to wonder if the episode was actually supposed to be a mid-season finale. In retrospect it’s easy to see why things were initially a little slow, as much of it was setting up the back half of the episode; but that still doesn’t mean it was especially enjoyable to see things initially trudge along at the speed of a walker with one leg. Thankfully, the second half successfully shifts things into high gear.

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Having watched the whole thing, this scene makes a little bit more sense

   2. Poor writing

Yeah, we all know The Walking Dead doesn’t have the best writing on TV. But for a mid-season finale, the script didn’t feel as tight as it should’ve been. There were some scenes early on that just seemed out of place or even contrived – most notably the pictorial ‘fuck you’ that Rick and Aaron come across, only for it later to be misinterpreted by the Saviours. Again, the second half was thankfully a lot more cohesive.

Best moment:

Finding out that Spencer did have guts after all.

In a few words…

For an end of season finale, Hearts Still Beating wouldn’t have quite scratched the itch. For a mid-season finale, it just about satisfies.

Thoughts On: Hail Caesar

For a film focused on the golden age of Hollywood, Hail Caesar eschews many of its standard conventions. That’s by no means a bad thing, as the Coen brothers latest release is one of 2016’s most affecting flicks.

Narrative

Hail Caesar isn’t a film that’s too concerned with plot. Sure, it has some semblance of one, with a Hollywood fixer (Josh Brolin) forced to resolve the abduction of one of the studio’s biggest stars (George Clooney), but as many critics have already said, the film is primarily a love letter to the golden age of cinema – specifically, 1950s Hollywood.

Plot aside, there are quite a few isolated gems here. Whether it’s Channing Tatum‘s wonderfully camp ‘No Dames’ musical vignette or Scarlett Johansson‘s visually delightful synchronised swimming sequence, there are many moments that will have you grinning like an idiot in appreciation of whatever nostalgic spectacle is being played out.

It’s just a shame that the stuff in between ends up feeling like filler. Would that it were so simple…

Direction

Tonally, Hail Caesar is hard to put a finger on. Zany, cooky, goofy are all adjectives that apply, yet it’s never specifically one of these things. And when it comes to thinking of a non Coen Brothers film that Hail Caesar resembles, Seven Psychopaths is the closest I can think of – even that comparison is a little off.

But apart from the film’s offbeat sensibility, what’s particularly striking is just how colourful it is. Even scenes that would ordinarily be cold and dark are imbued with a warm and vibrant hue – most notably, the submarine scene. Not only does this reflect just how vivid the vast majority of films were back then, but it also serves to show the playful fondness the Coen brothers have of vintage cinema.

Characters

There are so many big names here that it’s hard to keep track. But with the exception of Clooney and Brolin, very few are given that much screen time, with Jonah Hill making a brief appearance for just one scene. It’s not necessarily a gripe, though it would’ve been nice to see a little bit more of one or two characters.

Despite Hail Caesar’s all-star cast, though, its Alden Ehrenreich‘s Hobie Doyle who truly shines bright here. He is easily the film’s most charming character, a quality perfectly affirmed when he playfully wins over fellow moviestar Carlotta Valdez (and us), by turning a string of spaghetti into a miniature lasso. Also, I see what you did there, Coens…

In a few words…

While not for everybody, Hail Caesar is a charming and goofy homage to the golden age of cinema.