T2 Trainspotting (2017)

2017 #124
Danny Boyle | 117 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | UK / English & Bulgarian | 18 / R

T2 Trainspotting

At one point during T2, a younger character accuses some of the returning characters of living in the past; that it’s all they talk about. It’s true of the characters, and it’s kinda true of the film itself too: this belated sequel to the era-defining original feels try-hard, like it wants to recapture the verve and inventiveness of its predecessor, but everyone’s now too grown up to do it properly.

Set 20 years on, it reunites the first film’s main characters… and, really, that’s the plot. Obviously other things happen, and the details are important, but that seems to be why the film exists: to get the gang back together for another couple of hours. Is that reason enough to make a movie? I guess everyone will have their own answer to that question. For me, it wasn’t reason enough to justify T2.

(Trivia aside that, frankly, I find more interesting then the film itself: reportedly director Danny Boyle wanted to call it simply T2, if James Cameron would let him — they thought they needed that permission because of Terminator 2 being commonly marketed as T2. But then it turned out that Terminator 2 was never officially called T2, so they were free to do as they pleased. But then internet searches for “T2” were found to still mainly turn up the Terminator sequel (unsurprisingly, let’s be honest), so they settled on T2 Trainspotting so people would know what it was. You have to wonder why at that point they didn’t just call it Trainspotting 2…)

Looking as bored as I felt

Anyway, back to this T2. The meandering plot, such as it is, lacks the grit and realism of the first movie. For example, that ended with a simple betrayal — a guy stealing money while his mates were sleeping — while this ends with a knock-down drag-out fight in a construction site like something out of a low-budget thriller. Visually, too, it’s so clean and pristine. There are some properly beautiful shots, especially of the scenery outside Edinburgh, but I’m not sure that’s in-keeping with the Trainspotting aesthetic. Boyle does at points try to reheat the visual tricks of the first movie, but I didn’t feel it worked. The original’s many stylistic flourishes are now much imitated, but they were fresh back in the day and somehow that freshness still comes across when watched now. By trying to ape ape them, T2 just joins the long line of copycats.

Another key element of Trainspotting was the soundtrack. I don’t know what they were thinking with the music here — it isn’t even close to being as memorable or iconic as the original. Maybe that was the point, to not try the same trick again; but there are still plenty of jukeboxed tracks that attempt to draw attention to themselves, but… don’t.

I felt like this, too

Trainspotting had energy, dynamism, exuberance; it pulsed with life and youth. Its sequel is more sedate, more… middle-aged. Well, so are the characters, so that could work; but they don’t behave like they’re middle-aged — they’re too busy trying to recapture their youth, reliving past glories and past conflicts. The film is doing the same. You could perhaps argue that it’s form mirroring content, but the form lacks the wink at the audience to say “this is deliberate.” Like the characters, it seems unaware of the sad state it’s in. Ultimately, it feels like a slightly unfocused, thematically inconclusive, largely unnecessary postscript.

3 out of 5

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The Tournament (2009)

2014 #46
Scott Mann | 95 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | UK & USA / English | 18 / R

The TournamentThe Tournament is the kind of film where its relative quality is entirely dependent on what you want from a movie. Is it original? Not terribly. Is it clever? Not really. Is it action-packed and kinda fun? Yessir. If you just want to shift your brain into neutral and watch people punch, kick, shoot, stab, chase, and generally fight each other in a slickly-produced fashion, with a solid enough plot that (depending how brain-neutral you’ve gone) might offer an occasional twist… well, you’ve come to the right place.

The plot sees a bunch of the world’s greatest assassins lured to compete in a once-every-seven-years competition to find who’s the best — which, naturally, involves trying to kill each other. Meanwhile, a bunch of shady rich folk gamble on the outcome alongside the tournament’s organiser (Liam Cunningham). Particular interest is added because the last tournament’s winner (Ving Rhames) has been lured back for vengeance against whoever murdered his wife, while another canny competitor manages to shift his tracking device into an unsuspecting vicar (Robert Carlyle). Hilarity ensues! Oh, no, wait — carnage. Carnage ensues.

Also, it’s set in Middlesborough. No, really. You don’t expect a big explosive action movie to be set in Middlesborough, do you? Yet it somehow works. Or, rather, it doesn’t matter. Makes a change from somewhere obvious, at least, and the plain urbanity lends itself well to a few set pieces. It was shot in both the UK and Bulgaria, which probably explains why much of the city stuff looks British, but some (including a couple of churches) has a distinctly foreign feel.

explosive chase involving a double-decker busThe action is the draw, of course, and fortunately the film delivers in spades. The best stuff involves Sebastien Foucan, who you may remember as Bond’s bomb-maker target in Casino Royale’s post-titles sequence; or the 2012 season of Dancing on Ice, if you’re more sequin-inclined. He’s one of the founders of Parkour, and brings all those skills to bear in a duel with a car, amongst other sequences. If you like a well-choreographed bit of action filmmaking then The Tournament’s worth it for that bit alone. The climax, an explosive chase involving a double-decker bus and a motorway, is another highlight.

The Tournament sets out to provide action thrills, and those it delivers better than some more well-known examples of the genre. If it isn’t all that intelligent or original then that barely matters — it could be dumber and more derivative; again, there are worse instances among better-known movies. My score errs on the generous, then, but some overlooked films need the encouragement.

4 out of 5

24: Redemption (2008)

Extended Edition

2008 #86
Jon Cassar | 98 mins | DVD | 15

24: RedemptionRemember the ubiquitous Writer’s Strike in the US? It must be about a year ago now, but its effects are still being felt — Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon’s rule-breaing internet musical, made during the strike, is about to hit region-free DVD in the US (albeit on DVD-R and only from Amazon.com); plenty of second-year shows are getting canned, probably because their truncated first years didn’t allow time to get decent audiences (that’s one excuse anyway); and 24’s seventh season, kicking off in January 2009, is a year late. Which allowed them to make this in the meantime.

The setup is simple: Jack Bauer’s trekking round the world, currently holed up with an ex-army buddy (played by the ever-excellent Robert Carlyle) in the African nation of Sangal where said buddy has set up a school. Yes, Jack Bauer is living a life of peace. But then Bad Men turn up wanting the kids for child soldiers, and within the hour they’re attempting a military coup — this is still 24 remember, the action all takes place “in real time”. What’s Jack to do? Why, return to his old One Man Army self, of course — if he can’t stop the coup, he sure as hell can save those kids! Meanwhile, it’s inauguration day for America’s new female (black? 24’s been there and done that — twice) President…

For a Fox action series, off screens for almost 18 months and undoubtedly designed as a starting point for new viewers, Redemption (not that that title’s seen on screen) has a surprisingly slow build up. That’s no bad thing — this is a story after all, not a 90-minute shoot-out — but there are times when one feels it should get a wriggle on. This is likely where most, if not all, of this extended version’s new material was added. There’s almost 15 minutes added to the running time here, though some is surely due to a 5-minute credit crawl that must be much longer than the TV version’s. Having not seen the broadcast edit I can’t comment on what new scenes, shots or lines are added, but there’s no greater violence or thematic density than 24 usually produces so I imagine what was cut was cut for time alone.

That said, Redemption certainly tackles its fair share of issues — primarily, the use of child soldiers, and the US involvement (or lack of) in African genocides. It’s certainly admirable and worthwhile for such a popular series to bring these important issues to the attention of a mass audience who might otherwise ignore, or at least not be aware, of them, but they’re still included in a “mainstream American action series” way — that’s to say, they’re ultimately a reason for a shoot-out. There’s also some subtle political commentary, such as the UN Peacekeeper stationed at the school being a coward who runs away at the first sign of violence… and then betrays them to boot! Of course, just because it’s unsubtle doesn’t make it wrong, but Blood Diamond this is not. Whatever the politics, the action sequences — and, once things get going, there are a few — are all carried out with 24’s usual panache.

Is this a suitable jumping-on point for newcomers? Yes, quite simply. It’s several years since the last season and Jack’s in a very new part of this life. Some old faces crop up and there are some backstory references, but these are more nods for returning fans than anything important. Everything you need to know for this story is contained herein, and fortunately that doesn’t involve great slabs of exposition about previous seasons. On the other hand, it fails as a standalone movie. While the main plot — Jack defends school — is kicked off and wrapped up in the space between the title and the credits, there are several US-based plot threads that aren’t even close to being resolved. These are clearly designed to flow on into season seven — presumably they’re either elements bumped from the early episodes up into the movie, or a fleshing out of information that would’ve just been exposition before.

It’s hard not to conclude that Redemption would’ve been better without the US scenes. They add nothing to the main action in Africa and they’re all quite flatly directed, forcibly reminding you that this is just a TV movie by being worse than most TV these days. Their one true benefit is an ending that juxtaposes the new President’s inauguration speech with the civil war beginning in Sangal, which, consciously or not, underlines the hypocrisy at the heart of America.

As a standard season-opening episode of 24, coming on the back of the weakest-yet sixth season, it may well have earned itself an extra star. Judged as a standalone film, however, I fear it has to be just

3 out of 5

Thinking “but that’s not a film”? Then please have a read of this.

Trainspotting (1996)

2007 #29
Danny Boyle | 90 mins | DVD | 18 / R

Trainspotting

Choose great direction.
Choose iconic images.
Choose a great soundtrack.
Choose a brilliant cast.
Choose a career-making performance from Ewan McGregor.
Choose a witty script.
Choose realism.
Choose drugs.
Choose sex.
Choose a condom, for the first time on screen.
Choose swearing.
Choose violence.
Choose drink.
Choose Scotland.
Choose Trainspotting.

5 out of 5

Choose Film4 tonight, Thursday 2nd April 2015, at 10:55pm.