Art House

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Let’s be upfront about this. T2 Trainspotting was never going to be better than its twenty year old predecessor. It would be impossible to think that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge could recapture the magic of 1996. It could never emulate the soundtrack, the t-shirts, the parodies, the ‘Choose Life’ posters… It was a moment never to be replicated.

But there was an opportunity.

When we first meet Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he’s no longer the human drinking straw he once was. Long after stealing £16,000, he’s returning to Edinburgh after hiding away in Amsterdam. His youthful bravado has been replaced by a fragility brought on by a recent heart attack. He’s home and he wants to make amends. This, of course, means having to face up to his friends for his past crimes. Friends who aren’t doing so well since his little misdemeanour. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has broken out of prison after 20 years inside. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) runs a failing pub, whilst blackmailing businessmen with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud (Ewen Bremner) is depressed, separated from his family and very much still on the drugs. Any happy endings you may have imagined for them two decades are go are like tears in the rain, to paraphrase a certain android.

Seeing the four lads on screen is special. There’s an elation that was never captured in Irvine Welsh’s literary sequels (on which this one is loosely based). They may all be a bit creakier and softer than they use to be, but It feels like they’ve never been away. Perhaps the film’s biggest strength in this regard is Bremner as the put upon Spud. From beginning to end, he is without doubt the heart of the film and, in a parallel universe somewhere, he would be the lead of T2 and not Renton.

However, as hinted at earlier, that feeling doesn’t last for long. The literal heroin chic of Trainspotting has dissipated, making way for the bloated spread of middle age. Whereas the original had a rawness to it that shook you by the throat, T2 feels very much like an exercise in style over substance. Honestly, there are only so many Dutch angles a film needs to have. That’s not to say Boyle’s flourishes should be ditched, they just distract from what we’re here to see. This is story about the past, about misgivings, about regrets and its best moments are the simplest.

Renton, in his childhood bedroom, wants to play a record but can’t allow himself that pleasure, taking the needle off just as Lust for Life kicks in. At an 80s themed nightclub in town, Renton and Sick Boy – dressed as they were twenty years ago – try to recapture their youth amongst people trying to emulate a youth that wasn’t theirs. In a sense, the past Renton and Sick Boy want is not what they had. Begbie, impotent and unimportant, relives the times he was feared through Spud who has taken to writing down his junkie history. This is when T2 feels most honest about what it’s trying to say: we refuse to look forward by trapping ourselves in the past.

Like its characters, T2 also appears to be reminiscing a little too much. There was always going to be nods to the first film; The first trailer practically screamed at us to remember when wearing sunglasses with yellow lenses was the height of fashion to someone somewhere. However, it feels like there’s a lack of confidence in how long T2 can stand on its own two legs without the support of the first film. So, we’re constantly reminded of THAT run down the street, THAT Underworld song, and even THAT toilet. It feels unnecessary, which is odd given that, to be fair, as Sick Boy points out: ‘Nostalgia is what you’re here for.’ And yet, was anyone asking for an origin story to Renton’s iconic ‘Choose Life’ speech? No, me neither.

Other issues come in the form of Veronika. In the original book T2 was based on, Porno, Veronika was originally Nikki, a uni student and part time escort. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with Nedyalkova’s performance, I just struggle to understand why the proactive Nikki was replaced with the passive Veronkia who serves no real purpose for a large part of T2’s running time aside from being an object to be lusted after by Renton and Sick Boy. Not even a third act revelation extends her character much beyond sex object. It just tops off what has been, sadly, a rather mediocre event.

Stylish to a fault, but with a strong cast and killer soundtrack, T2 is sadly not the follow up hoped for. Perhaps it can be too late to go back.

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Excess Flesh (2016)

Jill (Bethany Orr) is average in every way from her height, her looks to her weight. There’s a chance that Jill could live a fairly average life, free from drama, if it wasn’t for her flatmate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry; she’s hot, she’s sexy and she can eat whatever she wants without putting on weight. Jill idolises her and she knows it, calling out Jennifer on the slightest things and immediately apologising and bending the frumpy flatmate to her will. When Jennifer’s putdowns become too much, Jill snaps and holds the model hostage, putting her through a series of humiliating exercises centred around her eating and good looks.

This feature length debut from Patrick Kennelly follows in the same footprints of Jimmy Webber’s Eat; being a body horror that hangs its narrative off eating disorders and the people who develop them through trying to establish some sort of control. Jill gorges on pop tarts and corn chips, much like Jennifer. Both women purge themselves of their ‘sins’ through vomiting, and yet it is Jill who always comes out the worst. Jennifer gets the men she wants, she gets the clothes she wants, she has the friends she wants. Jill’s trophy cabinet includes a nosey neighbour, and a potential lover who scurries off between Jennifer’s legs eventually.

It’s a common complaint that women are bombarded with perfection on a daily/weekly/minute-to-minute basis by images hawking the ‘perfect’ look. Jennifer is a personification of this trend, screaming and spitting in Jill’s face constantly to fornicate off but also be her friend. The metaphor is obvious but Kennelly doesn’t seem to want to hide behind symbolism. He wants you to understand in simple terms where he’s coming from and his eventual destination. At least, he does at the beginning. After a deliberately slow start that allows the viewer to settle down into the world of Jill and Jennifer, with it’s parties, sex and burritos filled with corn chips, Kennelly leads them into a room where food is god and the believer’s flesh is weak.

This is a very angry film that vomits flames at society. Through stylised camerawork and lighting, Kennelly’s paints a world where consumption of all kinds is the key to happiness. Witness Jill vomiting in slow motion before ending in a moment of orgasmic pleasure. Listen as Kennelly ramps up the sound so you hear every bite of red velvet cake. It’s a horrific blend of sight and sound. And yet, at times, the film gets too caught up in its own vitriol and the narrative drag at times. It’s a minor complaint, but Excess Flesh could do with losing the occasional dream sequence to speed things along.

Excess Flesh is a fetid example of body horror; whose message is obvious but it’s intentions are good. It’s squalid and vicious and guaranteed to make you feel nauseous. If you’ve ever watched Girls and prayed there would be an episode when Hannah finally snapped, this is that episode.

Hillbilly Horror Show Vol.1 (2014)

‘Nuttier than a squirrel fart’ runs the tagline of Hillbilly Horror Show Vol. 1, hinting at the kind of humour you can expect in this horror anthology. If you find the smell of rodent methane funny that is. However, despite a title that suggests copious amounts of sons of the earth gory humour a la Redneck Zombies, Hillbilly Horror Show is actually a platform for independent filmmakers to show off their talent through various shorts.

Host Bo has salacious feelings towards his ‘sister-cousin’, whilst Cephus is a tongue-tied type whose indecipherable mutterings can only be translated by cousin kisser Bo. They

deal out the kind of puns that would make the Crypt Keeper sigh as they make their way through a collection of DVDs they’ve purportedly found on the side of the road.

What of the shorts themselves? Well, as anthology aficionados will understand, you take the rough with the smooth if you’re going to get to the end. With Hillbilly Horror Show, despite there only being four shorts on offer, the rough outweighs the smooth.

First up is Frankie and the Ant, a two-hander between two shady types on their way to a hit. The strongest of the four, it also suffers from being derivative, feeling like one of those Tarantino rip-offs in the 90s, and a ripping a joke wholesale from Fargo. That said, I could have stayed in this world for longer than it allowed me to. As soon as it gets going, it comes to an abrupt end.

An animated short about two skeletons entering a form of duel entitled Doppelganger is our next film. Whilst technically rather brilliant, it unfortunately just left me feeling cold. In addition, when you stack it up against the other shorts, it feels out-of-place, like it shouldn’t be introduced by two grown men and a woman in a bikini.

Amused is a wordless chase through the woods, as murderous men sporting rictus grins vehemently pursue a woman. Despite it’s musical score that suggests otherwise, very little happens as our heroine moves from one set piece to another. On a positive note, the scenery looks lovely.

The Nest is a love note to the eco-horrors of yesteryear, such as The Swarm, Dogs and others. In the middle of Nowheresville, USA, a diner owner is selling her own brand of highly addictive honey. Meanwhile, the town’s bovines are being chewed up and spat out by something not human. Are the two things connected? Of course. Will it enthrall, surprise and astound you? Maybe. Taking up the majority of Hillbilly Horror Show’s running time, The Nest looks great, but is dampened by questionable performances and special effects. It could be argued that this is deliberate to fit in with the tone of the films it acknowledges, but even so, it’s not worth the run time.

A problem that runs across all four shorts, regardless of quality, is that they each keep their end credits within the ‘horror show’, as opposed to being left till the end. As such, the whole caboodle comes across as the patchy result of someone throwing a bunch of YouTube movies onto iMovie and hoping no one will notice. We’re not saying the filmmakers don’t deserve their dues, but think about how long you’d last with ABCs of Death if each letter was followed by its production credits, instead of being rounded up for the end. Would it make Ti West’s M section any more tolerable? Didn’t think so.

Hillbilly Horror Show VOL. 1 will certainly appeal to some (but not many). Perhaps those who are willing to negate quality horror for bikinied bosoms may wish to take the plunge.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw (2015)

In 1994, an elephant by the name of Tyke was due to perform at the Circus International of Honolulu, Hawaii. Instead she trampled and killed her trainer, severely injured her groomer and managed to get out of the arena where the event was being held. From there, she roamed the streets for 30 minutes in clear distress. Pursued by the police, she was shot 86 times before finally dying, propped up against a car, in a novelty hat and surrounded by the gaze of several weeping bystanders. The owner of the elephant, who employed the trainer said that she had never done anything like this before.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw would kindly beg to differ.

Built around a number of talking heads and archival footage, this new documentary follows Tyke from the moment she was taken in Africa to her life in the circus, to her demise. The film’s narrative makes it clear that there were always warning signs. Like 2013’s Blackfish, which focused on SeaWorld’s attitude towards its main attractions, it becomes apparent that she had done things like this before, if not to the violent extent that would see her life being ended. It’s a powerful piece of work which is let down somewhat by the inclusion of the full video that shows not only Tyke’s death, but the brutal crushing of her trainer. Whilst its understandable why the filmmakers included the footage, it unfortunately cheapens the movie and makes it feel voyeuristic.

However, it’s an emotional journey for the viewer and, like others before it, raises issues about animal rights and despite how far we’ve come, how much further we still have to go.

Nightcrawler (2014)

‘There’s something of the night about him,’ a phrase once synonymous with a certain member of the British Government and which can easily be applied to Lou Bloom, the nervy, boggle eyed sociopath in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Bloom, in a brilliant performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a gurning loner, who we first meet trying to steal wire fencing from the side of a train line. He awakes at the crack of dawn to find new job opportunities that will allow him to utilize the self-improvement/managerial patois he distills from online courses.

Becoming an eyewitness to a police rescue introduces Bloom to the world of nightcrawling, wherein amateur camera crews peddle their newsworthy footage of crime scenes to the highest bidder. With the success of some bloody footage, Bloom manages to get his feet under the table at the local news studio and sets his sights on its morning news director, Nina (Rene Russo) Seemingly comfortable to sell to only one station, Bloom evolves into an overconfident cameraman, who values the importance of getting the right shot, regardless of the methods used to obtain it.

Gyllenhaal is on fire as Bloom, managing to straddle that line between deeply unlikeable and utterly pitiful. His overwrought monologues are a particular highlight. Witness him as he spits out his verbal diarrhea to Rick, his put upon ‘intern’ played brilliant by Riz Ahmed. To Bloom, they’re passages of gold that enrapture his audience. To everyone else, they’re fluctuate between boring and deeply violent.

Nightcrawler is a beast of a film, which latches onto the jugular. Gilroy has crafted a stunning piece of work that, like Bloom himself, fascinates and unnerves in equal measure. Put simply: You need to see this film.

The Editor (2014)

Once upon a time Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks) was the greatest editor the world had ever seen. He had the skills. He had the women. He had everything. But now, after nearly losing his mind and actually losing some of his fingers, he’s reduced to working on schlocky exploitation thrillers, and being ridiculed by the cast and crew. Life takes a further turn for the worse when he becomes the prime suspect to a series of gruesome murders. As he fights to prove his innocence, he’ll encounter tenacious detectives, nudity, alternate dimensions, nudity, black gloved killers, and more nudity. Welcome to the world of Astron 6’s The Editor.

Those familiar with Astron 6’s previous work, such as Father’s Day and Manborg will already know what they’re in for with this bloody slab of Giallo inspired lunacy. Directed by Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy – who also wrote it along with star Conor Sweeney – The Editor ticks off all the tropes we’ve come to expect from 70s European horror. Bad hair, sexy women, rocking soundtracks, overdubbing and sometimes woeful translations. This is a slick looking film that reminded us of Berberian Sound Studio as much as it did The Bird with The Crystal Plumage.

However, as we’ve mentioned before, you can’t just ape a genre, dust your hands off and say you’re done – Death Proof we’re looking at you – there’s got to be some sort of heart behind. And thankfully, with The Editor it’s the little things that make it fun, such as the running joke that this all-American tale is actually nearer to Italy and the overblown red herrings that point the finger at everyone. Like a blood splattered Naked Gun, you don’t have to have an encyclopedia sixed knowledge of the genre to get the joke.

With each new film, the boys at Astron 6 prove their love for filmmaking and storytelling. Here, The Editor shows what they can do with a big(ish) budget. It’s bold, it’s confident and we can’t wait to see what else they come up with.

Frank (2014)

Frank Sidebottom was the alter ego of Chris Sievey. Or more correctly, Chris Sievey was the alter ego of Frank Sidebottom. Frank, with his cheap suits, nasally voice and, oh yes, his oversized Papier Mâché head, will be unfamiliar to audiences outside of the UK. Something which is likely to change with the release of Frank, Michael Fassbender’s latest; directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Co-written by Jon Ronson, a member of Frank’s original entourage, Frank takes its inspiration from the man from Timperley (that’s a town in Cheshire for those of you not in the know), but pins it down with a large fictional nail. Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon; an office worker with desires to be the next big singer songwriter. His ‘big break’ arrives when he is asked to play keyboards for Soronpfbs; a band consisting of extroverts, mutes and mad people. All of whom idealise Frank (Michael Fassbender); their softly spoken perma-masked lead singer.

Fassbender is superb as the titular Frank, seemingly more emotive whilst wearing the mask and having to say his facial expressions out loud. Maggie Gyllenhaall plays his aggressively violent and emotional sidekick. Immediately mistrusting of Jon, this is one of Gyllenhaal’s best performances since Secretary.

‘You’re just gonna have to go with it,’ says Don (Scoot McNairy), the band’s manager, when Jon questions him about the logistics of wearing a mask 24 hours a day. A statement that becomes the film’s mantra. You’re either going to accept the next 90 minutes or your not. If you do, you’re letting yourself in for a heart-burstingly warm film that touches on the deconstruction of fame, the idea of identity and chasing after your band mates with a shovel.