T2 Trainspotting

ho0000410721 years since the seminal original film, Danny Boyle reunites his cast to provide us with a sequel that is different, but just as worthy of praise.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh for the first time since he double crossed the group and stole their money. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) runs a number of underworld money making schemes, whilst Spud (Ewan Bremner) is still a scag head and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is devising a way out of prison. The group as a whole are facing the disappointment and demons of growing up.

The first hour is genius. Boyle is just as inventive as ever. His camera seems to race at a 100mph and he includes inventive freeze frames, writing on the screen and cuts back to the original film and footage of the group as boys. The use of the original film and references back to imagery and locations from it are worked in extremely well, both as a neat nod to fans and as a framing device for the characters regrets and fears.

The second hour is not quite as perfect. Begbie, still one of the scariest men on screen, is marginalised slightly from the main plot and as a whole, whilst it’s great to see these characters again, it’s not totally clear why we need to see them. Every time you want to see the characters let loose, an Iggy Pop song or a “Choose Life” speech is cut short or filled with bile and regret. But, these men are 20 years older and when it comes together at the end it feels right.

A deserving sequel to the classic original.

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Moonlight

ho00004174Moonlight is a stunning film whose power creeps up on you throughout the course of its three act structure. The story of a gay black man growing up in Miami is littered with exceptional small roles and is told with zero bombast or violence. We follow Chiron at three different ages in his life as he struggles with growing up in an environment where homosexuality is a weakness to be hidden.

Played by Alex Hibbert as a young boy, he is guarded and trying to escape his drug addict mother. He finds himself drawn to a surrogate father, who just happens to be a drug dealer. Both Naomie Harris as the addict mother and Mahershala Ali as surrogate father Juan are in career best turns. Ali, in perhaps the films strongest performance leaves an indelible mark on Chiron and his final scene in the film is unforgettable.

Portrayed as a teenager by Ashton Sanders we see a gangly youth trying to survive the jungle of school, hiding as best he can for fear of a beating. Finally as an adult, Trevante  Rhodes portrays Chiron as a man who has fully hidden his true self in a portrayal of the only role model he ever had. His reconnection with an old school friend (Andre Holland) is emotionally charged and cathartic.

 

 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

ho00004102The 3rd xXx film arrives 15 years after the original and 12 years after the Ice Cube led sequel and features Vin Diesel returning to another franchise he once dropped. The extreme sports aficionado Cage returns to save the world, making bad puns and looking “dope” whilst he’s at it.

When a film is knowingly aiming for lightweight action cheesiness does that mean we should lower our expectations? Whilst no one would expect an airtight plot from a film that opens with football superstar Neymar Jr being recruited by Samuel L Jackson for the xXx program, it should not be too much to ask for some exciting action sequences and a few laughs. Unfortunately, there is not too much of anything to get excited about with the film mostly just trying to resemble Diesel’s other franchise money spinner. Including the ridiculous male fantasy that all women like to wear implausibly little clothing and swoon over any man who happens to have muscles or DJ.

All the best moments come from the multicultural cast. Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in the same film is particularly nice to see. Whilst Jaa is underused. Yen does get to show off some of his finer martial arts skills.

Split

ho00004099James McAvoy is excellent in M. Night Shyamalan’s first return to form in just over a decade. McAvoy plays Kevin, a person with split personality disorder and throughout the course of the film shows us eight of twenty-three people held within one body. He is at turns creepy, menacing and funny.

Kevin kidnaps three young girls (Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) in preparation for the arrival of “The Beast” and the film spends the majority of the time in their basement prison as they attempt to get free. Taylor-Joy’s Casey decides that entering into discussions with Kevin’s various alter egos is the correct approach in seeking their freedom. This is due to previous trauma in her childhood that we see in really unsettling flashbacks. Her conversations with 9 year old Hedwig provide a counterpoint to these with humour and one fantastic dance number.

Shyamalan has not been this good for some time. After a string of intriguing and in some cases brilliant films with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village he created a series of poor (Lady in the Water) to downright awful films (The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth). The return to smaller scale and a story with slight paranormal edges has worked its charms. Fans of his earlier films will be especially happy with the final moments.

Hacksaw Ridge

ho00004104Based on the true story of  Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) this is a World War 2 film that is well acted with some particularly effective battle scenes that ultimately left me cold. Doss was a heroic conscientious objector who went to war as an army medic refusing to carry a gun into battle. It is a tale that should be awe inspiring, but I just found myself disconnected from the characters involved.

Mel Gibson’s 5th directorial feature seems to cover his two main calling cards of violence and religion. Set in two distinct halves, the first part of the film shows glimpses of Doss’ home life, his drunk World War 1 veteran father, his religious beliefs, his courtship of Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) and Boot Camp. The second half is the war film with scenes rivalling Saving Private Ryan for visceral action and viscera. Some of the injuries on show could easily upset a weak stomach.

There are three main highlights that are worth a viewing. Vince Vaughn’s role as the Boot Camp Sargeant is scene stealing and funny stuff. The battle scenes are particularly tense and very well put together. Andrew Garfield, for the second film this month, puts in a stirring performance as a man led by his faith. However where it fails is creating the camaraderie between troops and building relationships that lead us to feeling a sense of loss or victory when characters are lost and saved.

 

Jackie

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Jackie Kennedy is arguably the most famous and iconic First Lady in American history. This biopic attempts to show us the woman she was not by charting her life, but by showing us how she attempted to preserve her husbands legacy in the days following his assassination.

The film starts with a journalist (Billy Crudup) arriving at the Kennedy estate and Jackie (Natalie Portman) advising him that she will have full editorial control over what he writes, just in case what she says isn’t what she means. What follows is a series of jumps back and forth between moments in time leading up to and following the assassination of JFK.

Jackie is a mesmeric film. Time is non-linear. Everything is funnelled through Jackie’s perspective and this is a woman who is both spiralling out of control at the loss of her husband and filled with steely determination at providing a memorable funeral for the President and thus lodging him in history forever.

Natalie Portman who is in nearly every shot is exceptional. Able to show Kennedy in both public and private personas across an extreme emotional spectrum. The film would fall apart without her and it is spectacular with her.

Trainspotting

4b3dbe9a0ab3e1610dc7b5e696c99db6Danny Boyle’s masterpiece re-released a week prior to the sequel’s appearance on the big screen is still as immediate and visceral now as it was 21 years ago on release.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a heroin addict and he implores us to choose life whilst telling us the story of his attempts to get clean. The film is hilarious, intimidating, deeply upsetting and always running at breakneck speed, which is how we meet our main character.

I first saw this on VHS when I was 16 and repeat screenings since then have changed my outlook on this classic film. It was always bleak and never glamourised drugs but watching again as a parent it feels bleaker than ever. Even so, there is hope and its kinetic frenetic energy feels perfect for the subject matter. If you haven’t already seen it you must treat yourself to one of the all time best British films in preparation for the return of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie.

Lion

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An emotionally powerful story of an Indian boy called Saroo, separated from his family and home, adopted to Australian parents and 25 years later searching for home.

This film has many great things in its favour and is really worth a watch. The cinematography and score are fantastic, both beautiful and heart wrenching. The lead role of Saroo is played perfectly by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as a boy and man respectively. The story itself takes in the perils of the streets of Calcutta for homeless children, family and identity.

And for those of you who read my reviews this far I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t think I managed more than 10 minutes at a time without crying!

The Bye Bye Man

ho00003542The Bye Bye Man is a supernatural horror film that sets up all the necessary genre tropes but somehow fails to deliver a satisfying ending that pays off on any of them.

Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and his best friend John (Lucien Laviscount) move into an off campus house at their university. The sort of house no teenager in a horror film has any right to be moving into; large, creepy, cold and apparently on the edge of woods. An old bedside table bears the warning “don’t think it, don’t say it” repeatedly and etched into the base of the draw the words “The Bye Bye Man”. A force of evil so strong that once spoken gets into the heads of all those who heard the name.

The film sets up some interesting plot threads. Elliot’s parents died in a crash when he was young, and we are informed he and his brother have a strong bond as a result. His best friend John apparently looked out for him and no one talks of the crash. There is a series of flashbacks set in the 60’s that seem to show the last occurrence of the Bye Bye Man and a widow who may be able to offer more information. And the Bye Bye Man appears to feed on fear and have a hound from Hell. All of these threads seem to be offering the possibility of some connection between the past and present or the origin of the malevolent spirit. But none of it is resolved, nor does it matter. Essentially it just boils down to some teenagers minds playing tricks on them and them falling apart. Whilst of course leaving enough space for a franchise.

The one truly positive aspect would be the creepy Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2) as the Bye Bye Man although his CGI hound is much less impressive.

 

Why Him?

ho00004006When Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) meets his prospective son in law Laird (James Franco) he can not understand why his lovely daughter would choose him. A foul mouthed, tech millionaire, impulsive man-child with no filter. The culture clash and Laird’s desperation for approval result in some very funny comic moments.

Franco is very good as the foul mouthed free spirit who says whatever comes into his mind whilst Cranston is the perfect straight man foil. The secret weapon to the film though is Keegan-Michael Key as “estate manager” Gustav who is a Cato-esque butler with an outrageous accent. Especially when he has to remotely operate a Japanese toilet that Ned is unable to operate.

Written and directed by John Hamburg who wrote the screenplay to Meet the Parents with Jonah Hill having a story credit and Ben Stiller as producer, you can see the comic expertise on offer has helped craft an hilarious film.