Film #288: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

director: Danny Boyle
language: English and a bit of Bulgarian
length: 117 minutes
watched on: 30 April 2017

This is one of the big ones: one of the films whose release date I’ve been eagerly expecting for months. It was released in the UK back in February, but for once Japan was only about a week behind the release in the US. Perhaps they had to have it subtitled over there!

I was pleased with the overall film, although generally I thought it had elements that didn’t fit, or didn’t gel together as well as the original movie had.

I liked seeing my hometown depicted in such exquisite detail, and the sense of humour appeals to me – it’s very black, and if you don’t laugh at the opening gag, when Renton falls off a fast-moving treadmill, you’re probably not going to laugh at the rest of the movie. And I was in stitches when Kelly MacDonald makes a cameo as a lawyer to ask the Bulgarian girl if she’s vajazzled. Unfortunately (naturally?), it went down like a lead balloon in Japan. I think the guy next to me was sleeping during the film.

I also liked how Franco Begbie was really menacing in this film. He has held a grudge for twenty years against Renton, and upon realizing that he’s back in Scotland, starts to hunt him down. This unfortunately means that all the characters are never together all at once, and the movie feels somewhat episodic as a result, and less focused. And one of the famous publicity shots, of the four characters revisiting the Highlands as they did in the first movie, isn’t actually in the movie.

However, the movie is much more full of Danny Boyle-isms than the last one twenty years ago. Words sometimes appear in the air when characters are talking, or characters draw shapes that appear as sparkling lines. The original Trainspotting didn’t have as much of this stuff. Boyle’s later films like 127 Hours or Slumdog Millionaire have it in droves – it seems to be something he’s developed in the intervening years. There’s also more of the film stopping for a second or two as if to take a photo, which had been present in the original but is overdone here.

For that, and a few other things, like the constantly-appearing train motifs that were more understated in the original, I felt the tone didn’t quite match what I was expecting. That said, I liked the nostalgic aspect of it, even though I’d agree with what some of the characters are saying, that it gets tiresome easily. And as I say, I liked seeing Edinburgh.

I also enjoyed the modernity of a lot of it – for example, there are a lot of glass-walled offices that represent power and money. However, I didn’t much like Ewan McGregor’s updated-for-2017 Luddite “Choose Life” speech, taking potshots at social media and Snapchat. And there was an undercurrent of what could be interpreted as anti-immigrant sentiment – Spud calling himself one of the few natives left in Edinburgh, for example, or Renton clearly put out by the fact that the greeters at the airport are actually from Slovenia. Later they use an EU scheme to try and scam the government out of money.

Despite all those problems, I rate the movie pretty highly. It taps into something deep in my psyche, perhaps. But more than the original, I saw it as a series of scenes that had been haphazardly put together, so it’s not quite up there.

I’d be interested to hear what you think – let me know!

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Stuff I saw in the Festival

A quick roundup of things I saw in this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Two months too late as usual, but here we go…

1. Andy Zaltzman (16/8/11)
Andy Zaltzman is a funny man. But as a political satirist, he suffers the insurmountable problem that topicality can change at any moment, and, to his own admission (while he pointed pointedly at his mocked up “Certified Satirist” award in an attempt to excuse any bad joke that came up), he had had a bit of trouble when the riots in London started a week or so after he’d arrived in Edinburgh, and he had to rewrite half his show to accommodate it. Tellingly, half the jokes were repeats of ones he’d already told on his podcast The Bugle. Anyway, it was great to see him live again, and a barrage of bad dog-themed puns by someone with experience is always much more preferable to seeing newspaper headliners attempting them. It was also the best thing I saw in the festival (spoiler alert).

2. Jay Foreman (18/8/11)
Jay Foreman is losing his touch, I feel. As his show is one of those odd blends of music and comedy, he is tied down somewhat by the expectation that he will perform his old stuff as well as new stuff and his comedy can suffer for that. His theme was something to do with “the Future”, which was basically him moaning about how he’s getting older. Fittingly, his song The Procrastinator has had the lyrics changed to “Who remembers MSN?!” rather than “Don’t go on MSN!” And there was a lovely moment near the start when he sang the first song at breakneck speed when someone walked in late, in order to get them up to speed. He must have been practising at that. Enjoyable, anyway. Perhaps not worth the price tag.

3. “The Truth Explained in Doodles” (18/8/11)
Free stuff is very hit-and-miss sometimes. This particular show, jointly run by a man of diminuitive stature and a young “guest star” comedian, very much had the air of comedians trying to find their feet and find out what works. The short guy (who did actually start riffing about his height later on in the show – I actually thought it’d have been better if he’d kept it as some kind of elephant in the room) started with a really awkward dance thing that didn’t make any sense, and then the main part of the show was conducted via some kind of powerpoint or flash video – I think it was the second, in which case it was very nicely programmed and well thought-out. But there weren’t really any doodles, just cartoony animals that popped up occasionally. As for the other guy, he talked about how embarrassing it is to get caught wanking by your mum, if I remember correctly. He got more laughs, but it felt insanely awkward and inappropriate on certain levels.

4. “International Gay Sampler” (24/8/11)
I actually only got to see half of this, because we had tickets to something else, but the two comedians that I saw – one from Canada and one from the north of England somewhere – were very good and had us in stitches. I kinda regret having to leave… as free stuff goes, this was particularly good.

5. 4 Poofs and a Piano (24/8/11)
I, well, didn’t really enjoy this. I felt strangely outside of its target market, because I swear most of the audience were straight women, and the guys were flirting with presumably-straight guys in the audience to try and make them feel uncomfortable. It had a certain charm, but in general it was just a bit naff – I think that’s the best way I can put it. And that’s partly why I regret leaving the other show to run over to this one. Never mind, though.

6. The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo (25/8/11)
We were lied to about this show – it wasn’t half price and there weren’t any free lollipops. Thieving bastards. Shouldn’t have bothered, really… it was an OK but very studenty theatre production with three actors, and halfway through I started to need a pee really, really badly, which distracted me. It’s basically about a character, who clearly takes after Moss from The IT Crowd, finding his sexual prowess and going to orgies, or something like that. The other two characters were originally presented as together and sexually confident, and by the end of it, it turns out through a very simplistic dramatic irony that they’re the ones who don’t really have it together and are hiding behind smokescreens. The play had a nice visual style to it; there was a box made of electric lights around the stage, and the characters would step out of it to “pause” the play and make a soliloquy or some kind of exposition. It was an effectively told, simple story, but I could take it or leave it, at the end of the day.