Black Comedy

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 His youthful bravado has been replaced by a fragility brought on by a recent heart attack.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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Big Bad Wolves (2014)

Israeli Writing/Directing team, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, have provided in this, their second feature, a lavish buffet of dark treats that punctures the concept of machismo and questions whether the punishment can ever suitably fit the crime.

On a bright day in Israel, a Religious Education teacher is kidnapped by two men: one is the father of a recently murdered child and the other a dirty cop looking to solve a spate of similar atrocities. Hidden in the basement of a country cottage and believing themselves to have their man, they devise ways to torture a confession out of their hostage.

The subject matter is bleak, but Big Bad Wolves also manages to be perversely funny. Our torturers take time out from breaking fingers, so one can take a call from their abrasive and interfering mother. This constant switch and bait of the genre could easily derail everything. However, in the hands of Keshales and Paushado, it’s an act of plate spinning that really pays off. The film’s humour sharpens the nastiness before and after rather than providing a welcome reprieve.

Tight scripting, solid performances and a killer ending add up to a film that proves genre filmmaking isn’t limited to the US and Australia.

The Guest (2014)

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest feature since You’re Next is similarly dark-tinged thriller, that is completely self-aware without ever being over indulgent.

The Peterson family are still recovering from the death of eldest son Caleb, who was killed on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Mama Peterson (Sheila Kelley) sits around wistfully thinking about her son, whilst Papa Peterson (Leland Orser) struggles with bureaucracy at his job. The youngest son Luke (Brenden Meyer) is quiet and picked upon by his peers in high school, whilst his big sister, Anna (Maika Monroe) has a problematic relationship with an older boy. What they need is Mary Poppins! What they get is David, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, a former soldier who knew Caleb and wants to fulfill a promise he made to the deceased veteran. Turning up on the Peterson doorstep out of the blue, David slowly, but effortlessly, integrates himself into their lives.

An obvious and joyful throwback to the exploitation thrillers of yesteryear, The Guest is a schlocky, violent midnight movie suitable for any time of day. Start the day the right way with The Guest. As David gets his feet under the table, the family see their luck changing. Did someone say Dad got a promotion? Excellent. Shame about the double suicide of his colleague and their wife, but still… Winning! What’s that, little Luke? You’re getting picked on! Let your new Uncle David take you for a drink.

Not taking into account the skillful direction and killer soundtrack, the key to The Guest’s success is Stevens who manages to flip flop between homicidal maniac and housekeeper effortlessly whilst managing it to make it look incredibly sexy and cool. Coupled with what is becoming a uniformly excellent performance by Monroe, it’s incredibly hard not to fall for this film.

Yes, it’s all absurd. However, don’t think no one onboard is not in on the joke. The Guest knows what it’s doing.

Trifecta of Horror: Leprechaun: Origins (2014), Housebound (2014), Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

Leprechaun: Origins

It’s out with Warwick Davis and in with WWE wrestler, Dylan ‘Hornswoggle’ Postl, in this reboot/reimagining/retooling/retiling of the 90s slasher that spawned sequels no one really cares about. A group of crazy kids go on holiday to a part of Ireland that looks absolutely nothing Ireland. There they’re taken in by two walking stereotypes, who offer them an abandoned cottage to stay at. But saint and begorrah, it be infested with a creature that be after your lucky charms. Turning up the seriousness to 11, Leprechaun Origins has no limericks, no green hats and no fun.

Housebound

Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is in a whole heap of trouble. Having been placed under house detention at her mother’s house, Kylie has to put with her mother’s constant questions, overaffection and, worse still, her conviction that her house is haunted. Initially dismissive, it’s only when Kylie begins to experience things that go bump in the night herself, that she starts to take the issue seriously and delves into the house’s terrible past. Despite the film running longer than the storyline can justify, Housebound is a fairly successful black comedy with some real chilling moments. Fans of early Peter Jackson are in for a treat.

Deliver Us From Evil

We’re in New York and police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is investigating a series of crimes, when he inexplicably joins forces with a… sigh… priest. Cue lots of possessions, jump scares and Joel McHale wearing his hat backwards. This is a travesty in terms of horror, failing to add anything original to the genre. Should you see this in your partner’s Netflix queue, break up with them immediately. Seriously. There is no punchline. Clearly they are thinking about watching this with, which shows a distinct lack of love for you. I’m sorry, but it’s time to go meet someone else. You will get through this, I promise.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

After Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn returns to the material of l’enfant terrible, Mark Millar with Kingsman: The Secret Service, loosely based on Millar’s comic book The Secret Service.

Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a London kid from the wrong of the tracks who is taken under the wing of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a gentlemen spy for a secret service known as Kingsman who set up shop, literally, on Saville Row. Whilst Eggsy tackles his spy training head on, internet tycoon Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson) is traversing the globe looking for the rich and powerful to join his solution for global warming. Spoilers: he’s up to no good. Can Eggsy and Hart stop him before it’s too late?

Based on a script co-written with his usual collaborator Jane Goodman, Vaughn’s Kingsman is an explosive and blackly humorous response to the po-faced spy thrillers such as the Bourne Trilogy (there is no fourth) and Daniel Craig’s Bond. It’s also spectacularly violent, with a key scene set in a Westboro Baptist type church being the most gloriously vulgar and memorable. Anyone raising an eyebrow at Colin Firth being in an action film will be pleasantly surprised as he fights his way through a scene that feels like both The Raid movies compressed down to five minutes.

Whilst the film never lets up, there are some missteps. Kingsman was clearly filmed in the UK, and its apparent in many a scene that steps foot outside the British Isles. Admittedly not the crime of the century, but it does take you out of the film. There’s also a crude joke towards tot eh end that attempts to heighten and satirize the typical conjugal rights ending to a Bond movie, but instead rewrites Eggsy character unnecessarily.

However, these are minor quibbles in a film that for the most part is a blistering, balls to the wall comic book adaptation.

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.