Film Reviews For The Cine-Literate

Current Reviews

T2 Trainspotting

For his sequel to the outlandish “Trainspotting” (1996), director Danny Boyle updates us, 20 years later, on the lives of his four Scottish louts in “T2 Trainspotting.” The first film was a wild ride through the Edinburgh underclass and drug scene whose reputation has grown over the years as a landmark shocker in British cinema for its tawdry subject matter and its disjointed, often frenzied, storytelling. It also transformed the careers of its four leads.

Besides Ewan McGregor as Mark Fenton, “Trainspotting” introduced Jonny Lee Miller (as Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson), Ewen Bremner (“Spud” Murphy) and Robert Carlisle (Francis “Franco” Begbie), as, respectively, a handsome street hustler, an unremitting junkie, and a living temper tantrum. All are longer in the tooth in “T2” but they retain their individual natures 20 years on.

Mark has returned home after 15 years living a semi-normal life in Amsterdam to deal with the death of his mum. Simon runs a shabby saloon and makes a living off sexual blackmail using a Bulgarian tart Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud has lost a wife and family to his habit and contemplates suicide. Franco is doing a 25-year stretch in the slammer and has just been denied parole.

Though Spud, the mildest of the original crew, has no bone to pick with Mark, both Simon and Franco—once they learn that Markie’s back in town—want revenge after he ran out on them with £16,000 from a big drug sale. It doesn’t take long for the one-time mates to drift back into each other’s orbit. Mark re-bonds with Spud after saving his life and re-connects with Simon over their boyhood pasts, while furious Franco escapes from prison to get back at Mark.

What people remember from the original “Trainspotting” was its pell-mell pace, with the boys constantly running away from authorities or themselves, getting beaten up, or beating themselves up, often shot in jump cuts accompanied by pounding music. It also became notorious for a wretch-worth toilet scene that few can put out of their mind. Boyle’s anarchic style—which also contained moments of reflection and macho humor-- became a model for subsequent tales of wayward British youth.

Boyle, who went on to make such diverse films as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours,” and “Steve Jobs,” here revisits his rollicking early style, and there are no surprises when the four lads revert to their old ways, becoming, as one character says, “tourists in their own youth.” They have “grown” little in two decades.

There is some leavening of their coarseness in “T2 Trainspotting”: more family life is depicted, with even out-of-control Franco is given some domestic moments with his wife and son, and the Bulgarian is a true wild card, a street-wise young woman who assesses the four as the little boys they are. There are lovely set pieces, too, as when Simon and Mark exult over their longtime soccer passions, or when the two demurely suit up to apply for an EU business loan, a visit way out of their comfort range. What doesn’t change is their language: for those with sensitive ears, the dialogue is a constant stream of obscenities, a few of which cannot help but turn out funny. If you ever had a yen for any of these blokes in the original movie, or you want to get down with some Scottish sleaze, this is your picture.

(The film runs 118 mins. and earns a hard “R” rating with violence, some skin, and ripe language.)
(March 2017)

Photo Credit: The boys are back in “T2 Trainspotting,” from left to right: Spud (Ewen Bremner), Fenton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Photo by Jaap Buitendijk courtesy of Sony Pictures

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes’ well-received “The Sense of a Ending” won the Man Booker Prize
as the best English-language novel of 2011. It is an internal work told from the
perspective of Tony Webster, a somewhat unreliable narrator, who finds a piece of his past interrupting his unremarkable life. Whether such a novel can work as a film is a good question, and the just-released British movie that takes it on makes a decent effort.

The film version also revolves around Tony (Jim Broadbent), a well-meaning
divorcee and retiree whose ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) remains a close friend and confidante. He is content running a vintage camera shop and is still involved in the life of his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), a lesbian very pregnant with her first child. The arrival of a lawyer's letter triggers a major flashback by informing Tony that one Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer) the mother of a his college lover, Veronica, has bequeathed him some documents, including a diary.

The flashbacks—they are interspersed with present day scenes-- takes him back to his 1960s school days and his involvement with the intellectually gifted Adrian (Joe Alwyn) and Veronica Ford (Freya Mavor), at whose family home he spends an awkward weekend. During their university days, their relationship ends, and Tony (played by Billy Howle as a young man) receives word from Adrian informing him that he is dating Veronica. Tony replies to Adrian in a vindictive letter only to learn later that the sensitive young man has written a diary and committed suicide.

Back in the present day, Tony wonders if his letter triggered Adrian’s death and
seeks to learn what happened to his old flame through Adrian’s diary. He is able to reestablish contact with the older Veronica (now played by a reserved Charlotte Rampling), but a distance remains between them. His daughter delivers a grandchild, but his attempt to re-connect with Veronica fails, though he does learn a shocking revelation about the Ford family. This most English of material is crafted by Ritesh Barta, an Indian director who tasted commercial success with his first feature made in Mumbai, “The Lunchbox” (2013). Some of that film’s lovingly contained passion is evident in this film, and a calculated underplaying seems right for what is a restrained domestic mystery. Barnes’ novel, however critically accepted, displayed, for this reader, a dry, unsympathetic mood, principally because of its indecisive narrator. The script of “Sense of an Ending,” written by playwright Nick Payne, has the benefit of being delivered by a fine ensemble of English actors who give a palpable feel and rounded life to Barnes’ characters. Some of them are barely used, like Mortimer and Matthew Goode (in a cameo), but especially distinctive is the great Jim Broadbent as Tony.

Unlike the irresolute protagonist of Barnes’ novel, Broadbent offers an avuncular
presence of a decent chap who, though perhaps undistinguished, tries to do his best with his lot given the questions he tries to deal with. Broadbent is so readily
sympathetic on the screen that he inevitably lends sympathy to a person who is trying to find answers about his life. His principal female co-stars, Walter and Rampling, give him an added dimension as a man either worthy of such sympathy (Margaret)—or not (Veronica).

This movie is an exemplar of what the British might call a prototypical muddling through— not flashy but still fulfilling.

(The film is rated PG-13 and runs 108 mins.)
(March 2017)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Rampling (left) and Jim Broadbent confer in “The Sense of an Ending”; Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky.