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!

Film #266: All Over Brazil (2003)

alloverbrazildirector: David Andrew Ward
language: English
length: 9 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017
link to the video:

I’ve still got a fairly long list of short films to get through at some point – when trawling for them on the internet, this is one that stood out to me because it’s set in Scotland in the 1970s.

It’s about a kid who likes glam rock and wants to dance around with make-up on (the above image is his fantasy). Of course, his dad, more into football, isn’t OK with this and gets angry. But in the end he lets the kid out with his sister to go see the band he likes, and there’s some kind of reconciliation between them.

Obviously I saw this because it’s gay-interest, and I thought it was a sweet film. It doesn’t really match my experience, though – my parents weren’t like that with me. I daresay my dad would recognize the situation more than me.

I was surprised that the movie was from 2003 – I didn’t realize how much video quality has improved since then. I think this was made for TV (for the BBC), and the quality is accordingly pretty low.

An interesting little snippet or slice of life. What do you think? You can watch it online easily – and tell me what you think.

Film #104: Brave (2012)

brave480Directors: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Language: English
Length: 93 minutes
Watched on: 26 December 2013

I kind of bypassed Brave a little bit when it came out, perhaps because I assumed there would be no subtitled version in the cinemas here. It took me a long time to realize that it was set in Scotland, actually – the information didn’t sink in straight away. Since I’ve been on a quest to catch up on Disney and other animated movies recently, I decided to watch it.

It’s perhaps a good thing that the information hadn’t really sunk in (even despite the fact that I did know it was set in Scotland) – I didn’t really know what the plot was or how it was going to play out. Like other Pixar movies, it’s an original story, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finally found out what the story was. I even feel like the big twist about halfway through was well-enough hidden from me (like, I haven’t even seen any spoilerish gifs on tumblr) that I shouldn’t reveal it now.

The main character in this is a sassy young princess called Merida. Her father, the boisterous king of a small clan in the highlands, is played by Billy Connolly. Her mother is the uptight queen, apparently played by Emma Thompson, concerned at all times with enforcing gender roles and bringing up Merida to be ladylike – she makes her daughter do humiliating things and there is a competition between the firstborns of all the neighbouring clans with Merida’s hand in marriage as the unwilling prize. Merida won’t go along with it, and runs off. She then finds a witch, and, um, antics ensue.

The story is simple and easy to follow, which has always been one of Pixar’s strengths, and there are plenty of comedic sections and serious sections mixed around. A major theme of the movie is gender equality, and the relationship between Merida and her mother is by far the most important (her father is a warrior type with a lot of physicality and an obsession with hunting a bear that attacked him during Merida’s childhood, and mostly lets her be, whereas her mother wants her to do ladylike things and is always meddling in her life). This is refreshing when you compare it to most Hollywood movies, overwhelmingly about father-son relationships, to the point where I’ve seen so many movies where the mother is completely absent. Perhaps a criticism could be that the focus on a princess fits the mold for straight-up Disney movies much better than Pixar movies (leading some to speculate that Disney and Pixar swapped scripts for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph in 2012), but if I remember correctly, there was an unaddressed gender imbalance in other Pixar movies, so it’s nice to see steps made in that area.

In terms of historical accuracy, Brave is not much better than something like Braveheart (in fact, the titles are even similar!), although to compare it to that would be heartless, as it’s a funny and well-made film. This is mainly because it mixes stone castles with warring dark age kingdoms and tartan… other than that it’s not too bad really. The accents are all mostly genuine, Emma Thompson being the main exception, and as a joke, one of the characters uses a strong Doric accent which no-one else can understand. Perhaps one of Brave’s strengths is that it makes me a little homesick and brings out the latent patriotism inside me, although a lot of that is because the arguments between Merida and her mother remind me of my childhood (either having those arguments or listening to them from my siblings), so not necessarily a good thing.

It would be imprudent of me to write this review and not mention Merida’s hair. I get the strong impression that this film was made in order to showcase the animators’ skill at showing such complex hair, just as Finding Nemo was presumably made to showcase water and Sully in Monsters, Inc. was made to showcase fur. This kind of sudden advance in animation technology happens with astonishing regularity with Pixar, so if anything I just wonder what the next advance will be. It happens so frequently that it literally makes other animation studios look terrible and out-of-date by comparison. Here’s to the next movie.

Film #24: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

director: David Yates
language: English
length: 130 minutes
watched on: 7 Aug

Apparently nightclubs in Edinburgh all open till 5am during August. Festival’s gotta be good for something, at least. Harry Potter comes into it because I trundled down to the local cinema one Sunday afternoon having been out until half 4 or something the night before. So ridiculously late. Anyway, the local cinema has leather fucking sofas instead of rubbishy chairs, and is particularly spacious, and doesn’t cost anything more than the bigger chains. And thus all was well, and I was able to veg out in front of the final installment of everyone’s favourite wizard. The 8th film, ironically. Kinda like Voldemort’s soul…

Basically, I do think is a big issue around the fact that they decided, in the world’s most rubbishly-disguised ploy for money, to split the final book into two films (the official excuse was to fit more of the material into the film). I think both films suffer as a result. Now, the book isn’t the best of the 7, and we’ll come to that, but it follows the most basic of basic narrative structures: build-up, then climax. Here we now have one film which is all build-up, and one film which is all climax. Part 1 does manage to end on a nice cliffhanger, but it’s not a decent climax – and it’s mostly them being broody in a tent. Part 2 ends up being almost completely centred around the one battle. It begins with a relatively feeble amount of build-up, as most of the emotional scenes between the characters have already happened in Part 1.

But anyway, whatever this film is, it’s hard to make it anything better than its source material… which is, well, not that great. My mind might just be clouded slightly by that god-damn epilogue – it is, after all, the note that the book leaves you on – but the whole ending isn’t really that satisfying to begin with, and I think the story suffers by leaving its original setting of Hogwarts right up until the end – the splitting of the films into 2 does mitigate this effect somewhat, however, as the second film now spends much more time in Hogwarts than the equivalent from the book. The whole thing about the Deathly Hallows (which have been more sensibly renamed relics in basically every other language – what the hell is a hallow?) was confusing to begin with, and not translated very well into the film medium in my opinion.

I think the battle between Harry and Voldemort was extended compared to the book… I certainly don’t remember Voldemort grabbing Harry in the book as he does in the film (see the still above), and I’m fairly sure Harry didn’t spout some cheesy homoerotic line at Voldemort right before they plunge… together… off a tall… tower…

As for Snape’s subplot, a lot of people have pointed it out, and it’s a fairly trivial and obvious error: if you spend the entire film series pointing out that Harry “has his mother’s eyes” – and the line is repeated moments before the offending scene – you don’t then cut almost directly from Daniel Radcliffe with bright blue eyes to the young Lily Potter with very dark brown eyes. It’s as if they couldn’t even be bothered. Or is it meant to be some kind of postmodern commentary on the fact that neither of them actually have green eyes?

That said, the awesome quotient was high, and I do remember Professor McGonagall kicking ass on more than one occasion. So I can’t fault it for that. And it was enjoyable. And I can’t wait until it comes out on DVD so that I can watch it as a marathon with any willing participants.

The fact that this movie was released in two parts, while I’m still musing over the subject, actually calls into question why they didn’t do the same with some of the other movies. Or make them all into a mini-series. I mean they could have filmed buckets of extra material in order to create an extended edition or something. Maybe that’s the next money-grabbing plan…

Oh yeah, another musing: why is it not OK (“unforgivable”, indeed) to use the Avada Kedavra curse, yet it’s OK for Julie Andrews to explode Helena Bonham Carter into thousands of little butterflies after delivering her immortal line? The end result is the same, after all: dead witch. I’ll just leave that one there…

Anyway, so that’s the end of the film series… I know I’ll probably anger a lot of hardcore fans by saying this, but my favourite (of both the book and film series) is definitely the 3rd one, Prisoner of Azkaban. I hear a lot of fans complaining that it’s the least true to the book, and while I agree that it makes a few gaping plotholes, it’s the best directed and the most cinematic of all the movies. And of course it has the best source material, which helps somewhat. I’m not so much of a fan of the first two movies, which seem to keep in line with the books better, but have shite scenery and are probably slightly too kids’ movie for my liking.

I suppose I’ll have to find some other way to appease my occasional Harry Potter appetite now… I can’t find the earlier books at all, even though I quite want to read them again. I could always rewatch one of the films. I’ve been reading various articles online about it all, anyway, and I did recently find out that there is a sequel to A Very Potter Musical (which was brilliant and hilarious), although it’s very long. I’ll get around to it eventually!

Game: Lemmings for Mega Drive

finished playing on: 26 May

I’m including a quick note of praise about this port of Lemmings because it’s almost like a new game in its own right. Basically, the Mega Drive (or OK, Genesis, but Sega Mega Drive always had a ring to it in my opinion – but then I guess I’m being obtuse, because it’s always referred to as the Genesis version in the online Lemmings community) had some kind of memory limitation which meant that the maximum width of a level was just over two screens, rather than the ten or so that you could have on the original game. The developers took the levels that couldn’t be adapted down to 2 screens or stripped of extraneous sections and replaced them with brand new ones – 40 in total of the original levels were replaced, I believe. And then they rolled with it, creating 60 brand new levels, including some of the most difficult levels I’ve seen in an official release.

“Just how difficult could they be?” you ask… well, there’s this one, the second-last level in the second-last rating, called “Private Room Available”. Basically, you have to dig one lemming into every single one of the little boxes, and then down the exact centre of the box through the little spike, so that he doesn’t splat. But you also have to not let any other lemmings join him in the box, and if you don’t get him in the exact centre of the box when digging out, it’s possible to accidentally dig through the wall of an adjacent cell and have the adjacent lemming splat. It’s a bitch of a level, essentially, and it was the level that made me ragequit when I first tried the game several years ago. I think I only managed it this time because I worked out how to use savestates on my emulator.

It still makes me shudder when I see it – I think this is partly because it’s still fairly fresh for me; while I do find some levels of original Lemmings hard (Triple Trouble, Steel Mines of Kessel) and indeed shudder-worthy, and I still find ONML quite a challenge, I’ve been playing this game now for what, 16 years? I’m rather desensitised to them now – not so with these levels. I’m not much of a fan of this style of level, where it’s easy to work out what the solution is supposed to be but difficult to pull it off. And it’s always bloody diggers, isn’t it? As if “We all fall down” wasn’t enough.

But anyway, well made port, all things considered, and there are some real gems to be found in the level sets. The final level of the game is a particularly good head-scratcher, for instance.

Film #11: Trainspotting (1996)

director: Danny Boyle
language: English
length: 94 minutes
watched: 23rd April

Danny Boyle is a stylish motherfucker. Perhaps too stylish, because while this film does portray all the horrors of drug abuse… they still come across as having a more exciting life than viewers do. Oh, I can’t even be bothered reviewing this properly, just gonna jump straight for the beating heart of that old “is it glamorising drugs???” chestnut. And my answer is a boring, non-committal “Maybe, maybe not…”. It’s not exactly nice about them, put it that way…

So yeah, I could easily harp on about the complex characters or scene composition, but I can’t be bothered – I’m two months behind on my film reviewing now (even though there are a couple of massive gaps of like 3 weeks). Gotta catch up.

Game: Holiday Lemmings (1994)

aka: Christmas Lemmings
developers: DMA Design
played on: 30/3

I won’t bore you too much with this review. As I mentioned already on the blog, I’m now going around collecting all the Lemmings games that I haven’t yet played, and Holiday Lemmings is right up on the list.

It’s basically another expansion pack (along with Oh No! More Lemmings) to the original game, with exactly the same gameplay, but in a cutesy Xmas graphic style. Except that the Xmas graphics are almost exactly the same as the snow graphics from ONML, but with christmas lights and open fireplaces instead of water and deadly traps.

Let me be quite frank about this game: it’s nowhere near as good as Original Lemmings or ONML. I completed it in an evening, after all, although that’s partly because it’s shorter at 64 levels instead of 100 or 120. But the levels, at that, aren’t of as good quality. For one thing, they’re all in the same graphic style, and are therefore monotonous, but more importantly they’re just all outstripped majorly by the harder levels from the original games, especially ONML, which gets incredibly hard towards the end. That said, maybe I’m biased because I’d just played through the second half of ONML.

I’m quite glad that I played it on the Mac version, though, because it’s the only one to have a speed-up function. I found out recently that this feature was introduced on the Mac version and none of the other ports before it has the function. I can’t imagine playing through some of the more lengthy levels on the PC version; I think I’d die of boredom.

Basically there’s a lot of building in this game compared to the previous ones, I found. Not all the levels are bad, granted, but there were more than enough times when I reached a level whose only challenge was having to build multiple long bridges to make me get angry when I reached them. I would have liked more simple puzzles – I think my favourite level was one called “Steel Block Party” which fitted on one screen.

Oh, and the other thing is that the 1994 version of the game includes all the levels from the 1993 version as well (32 levels from each), but they come after the 1994 levels, so the end effect is a set of levels which peaks in the middle and suddenly goes back to being really easy again. This was very annoying.

The other thing that I’m not sure whether to like was the music, which was just the ONML tracks. You see, there was a 1991 and 1992 version of Xmas Lemmings too, which were 4 level demos – I’ve played these, and the Christmas music becomes quickly jarring and annoying, and that’s when you’re not playing it over and over. I think I went over this with Lemmings 2, where I turned off the music on the Polar tribe because I became sick of Rudolph and Frosty very quickly. So I think this was probably a good move. Except that it just detracts from the tone.

Also, I remember seeing somewhere that they took out traps from the game because it’s Christmas and they wanted to be nice at Christmas and not kill any lemmings. This is a lame excuse for what’s probably a memory saving device, and a lame memory saving device because it leads to monotonous levels without traps, where the only hazard in the environment is falling off the bottom of the screen. And since many of the levels seemed to have been hacked together at short notice, relatively few of them had been given a proper decking out with the Christmas lights, making most of them look very bland.

So anyway, I’m glad I played it, but I much prefer the originals.

Game: Lemmings 2: The Tribes (1993)

developers: DMA Design
length: 120 levels
box art Roughly, this is my way of saying “I do more than just books and films”. Sadly, the rest of it tends to be Lemmings. I really wear my obsessions on my sleeve, don’t I? Well, anyway, I’m honestly surprised that I’ve gone this far without playing Lemmings’ sequel, The Tribes. I’m not even sure why – I’ve had a capable DOS emulator for the past few years, so I’ve definitely been able to play it. I reckon it’s because I could never get the sound to work before; having never had a PC, I never learnt the standard way of installing things on DOS, which involve a separate setup program and a choice of soundcards. And if you don’t pick the right one, no sound for you. DOSBox can emulate them all, but you still have to pick it.

Anyway, having already played through about 5 of the titular tribes (almost half the game, since there are 12 tribes of ten levels each) before finding this out, I found it a bit annoying that I hadn’t found out before. Anyway, Lemmings 2 is a big departure from the style and feel of the original Lemmings (unlike the previous “Mission Pack” sequels of Oh No! More Lemmings and Xmas Lemmings), although it still captivated my attention, because they’re still, well, Lemmings that I’m guiding round the screen. But it was in such a different way that it was almost unrecognisable.

You see, in Lemmings, there were 8 skills. Same 8 skills in every level, don’t change, always the same. In Lemmings 2, there are about 60. It’s quite a jump. Each level has a different set of up to 8. And as you can imagine, this can get quite confusing.
There are a lot. It reeks of the developers getting excited after the success of the original and piling in as much as they can (one might note that Lemmings 3, which is even less-played than this game, dispenses with the idea of skills almost altogether, suggesting that they thought they went too far, perhaps). Sure, some are interesting skills. The pouring skills are fun to work out, for instance, and there are a few interesting new ways of making explosions or digging. And some are, admittedly, welcome, such as horizontal building, always frustrating to try and reconcile in the original game. At the same time, there are a few that seem very pointless. Why have a Stomper when we already have Diggers, for instance? What’s the point in Attractors – is it just so that people don’t have to use Blockers anymore? Because they’re quite annoying, really.

But that frustration was part of what made Lemmings special. The fact that you had limitations on what skills you have made sure that you had to work out certain strategies for when you play the game. The fact that there were so few skills meant that you could experiment at length with their interactions. Lemmings 2 doesn’t truly have either of these factors to it. You can experiment with the interactions between skills, but only when the levels cough them up together. The game does provide practice levels, but I’m hardly about to waste my time playing through those.

And then there’s the wind skills: the ones like magic carpets, hang gliders and goddamn twisters that are affected by your subsequent use of the Fan tool. Essentially, you have to guide them as well as simply giving them the skill. One of Lemmings’ strengths is that you give the lemming the skill by clicking on it once and leaving it to do its business. They’re not the only controllable skills, either: how about a superman, archer or roper (aka Lazy Man’s Builder)? You have to either guide these with your mouse or tell them where to shoot. And that can be annoying when other lemmings are approaching fast.

Anyway, all these skills kept getting too much for me, and there were plenty of times when I frustratedly had to turn to a guide for help, not knowing what the hell X or Y skill does, or unable put two and two together because of the unfamiliarity of the system. And in the worst cases, finding a solution that seemed too difficult to be true and then finding out that it was indeed the intended solution. But those truly difficult levels were rare, unfortunately. Much of the game didn’t pose me an enjoyable enough challenge. A lot of it was what seemed to me to be fake difficulty, too, especially where you have to rely on controlling the wind and whatnot.

Even then, when I went to the Classic levels, which would presumably be more like the original (all the levels use only the original skillset – including skills like Blockers and Diggers that I don’t think were really used anywhere else, and Builders, that were unfortunately rare in lieu of Stackers, Platformers and Ropers, all of which are easier to use), it turns out the game’s programmed in slightly different ways, so that there are enough differences in how one assigns skills and how far lemmings can fall that it becomes infuriating. Why on earth can the lemmings fall more than half a screen height now, for instance, and what is the point of them getting knocked out when they get close to the splatting distance? And aargh, why can’t you assign a builder to someone when he’s near another builder? It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but this makes all the difference in some levels, particularly in a certain Classic level where you have to use builders to slow the crowd down – easily done in the original but here you have to carefully place your mouse so that you don’t accidentally try to select a builder, which would be impossible in the original.

OK, that probably made no sense. Whatever. There are good points about this game, anyway, like the fact that you can now have levels that are taller than they are wide (which I suppose gives the higher splatting distance context), and the fact that it’s divided into themed levels by “tribe” of lemmings (there’s a really tenuous storyline, something like you have to get the gold medal in all the levels in order to collect the gold medallion and lead them to safety… yeah…). Some are kinda funny, like the Space tribe (easily the best graphically, and with at least one of the most challenging levels), whose music is the theme from 2001, or the Highland tribe, with ginger lemmings.

The tribes are a bit too short, however and the music can be repetitive for some of them (do we really have to listen to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer over and over during the Polar tribe??), although this has both good and bad points – the levels build up in difficulty quite fast, so there’s a very sharp learning curve, especially if you’ve never played Lemmings before. Some of the final levels don’t really feel like final levels, as well, although some quite definitely do.

The graphics are quite annoying, too. Instead of Lemmings’ organic feel, this game is divided into blocks, and the walls and surfaces are, more often than not, flat and straight (although this varies a bit by tribe). This makes levels feel repetitive. I can tell why this is; presumably it’s easier to code, and it helps with all the skills that require a flat surface. But the original coped with this fine. It’s also a lot more difficult to tell what’s a block and what isn’t, as there are often harmless objects in the field, which the original avoided almost completely. So sometimes the lemmings walk straight past things that you were expecting to have to bash through.

Finally, before I whine myself to death, one more thing: the game has abandoned the original’s targets, taking 60 lemmings into the first level of each tribe and taking forward the lemmings from one level to the next. Instead of a target of 50%, say, you pass the level if you get even a single lemming to the exit. You’ll only get a bronze medal for your efforts, but there the damage is done: you’re also not told how much you need to get for a gold medal on each level; on most levels it’s 100%, but on a select few you’re allowed a small number of losses, usually when exploders are involved. The whole system of getting medals for your efforts is reflective of what my cynical self will now complain is the norm in the modern gaming industry – achievements and achievement seeking. You’re meant to get gold on every level in order to get the Good Ending, the game chastising you if you haven’t yet got gold on any one level. And to date, I have only one level left without a gold medal: the last level in the Sports tribe, named “Take Up Archery”. And “Take Up Archery” can go fuck itself with an arrow.

So yeah, didn’t like the game, but it has a small number of excellent levels and kept me engrossed. I’ll stick to the original. And the original sequels: ONML is a fantastic game as well.