Saturday, April 15, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

Deep down, I'm not sure I ever believed we would actually get a sequel to Trainspotting until, miraculously, twenty years later we actually did get a sequel. It was something that had long been rumored over the years, but it never seemed like it would actually materialize. It was a prospect I looked forward to as I really did love these characters and was curious to see what had happened to them. Perhaps not getting a sequel until now was fitting. It feels like enough time has passed that checking in with them again would be a worthwhile time. Much to my surprise, it turns out that it actually was worthwhile too. 

The film starts with Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) returning to Edinburgh after living in Amsterdam for the past twenty years. After a visit to his family home, he goes to visit Spud (played by Ewan Bremmer), who he discovers is not doing well and still struggling with heroin addiction. His visit to Sick Boy (played by Jonny Lee Miller), who is now addicted to cocaine, running a local bar and running a blackmail scheme on the side, goes even less well as Sick Boy is still sore at Mark for stealing $16,000 from him and Begbie and running off. Begbie (played by Robert Carlyle) has staged an escape from prison after being denied bail and has returned home as well, intending to resume his criminal ways. Meanwhile, Sick Boy devises a scheme with Mark and his girlfriend Veronika (played by Anjela Nedyalkova) to turn the second level of his bar into a brothel. The three become partners in crime to try and raise the funds to make the necessary renovations to the second level, recruiting Spud (who has recently lost his job and family to his heroin habit) to help as well. Meanwhile, it's only a matter of time before the hot-headed Begbie finds out Mark is back in town and wanting the money he stole back.    

While it's not as good as the first, director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge manage to craft a solid follow-up to the first film that takes a good hard look at the original film's characters twenty years later. Mark, Sick Boy and Spud all have plenty of regrets and are trying to find a way to move ahead in their lives despite past mistakes with mixed results. Sick Boy is trying to keep the bar he inherited from his aunt afloat despite being in a terrible neighborhood with very little in the way of a customer base. This has lead him to a blackmailing scheme with his girlfriend Veronika to try and make ends meet, while also having other schemes in process including a pot grow house in the basement of the bar. He's also nursing a pretty serious cocaine addiction which is not helping. Mark has returned to Edinburgh from Amsterdam trying to find some direction in his life after suffering a serious heart attack (on a treadmill, in a health club, which we see in the opening scene of the film). Poor Spud has lost everything to his heroin addiction, losing his job, his girlfriend and his young son. It's only when he's drawn into Mark and Sick Boy's latest scheme that he manages to start to put his life back together as well as find a desire to do that. And then there is Begbie, who is eager to return to his criminal ways after breaking out of prison and wants his son to join in, but his son would rather go to school for hotel management. Boyle and Hodge manage to juggle all these plot lines quite well, making this film much more of an ensemble film than the previous film. They also frequently make nods to the original film as characters reflect on their past mistakes. Renton even revisits his famous "Choose Life" speech, updating it for today's world in a rant that starts out playful before descending into painful regret and sorrow at what his life has become. 

The acting is also quite good in the film, with the cast of actors more or less picking up their characters twenty years later. It really does feel like the same characters too. Sometimes with late in the day sequels, the characters don't feel quite right even though it's the same actors playing them. In this case, I really did feel like I was seeing Mark, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie again. It probably helps that we have the same director and writer returning as well, but they all managed to recapture their characters quite well. Ewan McGregor manages to recapture Mark Renton well, showing the man weighted down by the regret and mistakes that have dominated his life. While he managed to successfully kick heroin, his running away at the end of the first film continued to reverberate consequences that he is now left to deal with. Jonny Lee Miller also does great at recapturing Sick Boy, who has lost the confidence he had as a young lad and is now just trying to make things work the only way he knows how. Ewan Bremmer really tugged my heart strings as poor Spud, who seemed to be left behind by his friends and while he's glad to see his best mate Mark back, he's still mad at him for leaving. Still, it was nice to see Spud start to pull his life together again as the film went on and Ewan Bremmer did a good job portraying the struggles of his character and making him sympathetic. Robert Carlyle returns as Begbie, probably the one character who hasn't grown at all and is still the same violent, crazy nutter he was in the first film, just older and a little slower. One can only wonder why Mark, Sick Boy and Spud ever had anything to do with this guy, which this film does shed a little light on, actually.

Overall, T2 Trainspotting is a different beast from the original film, as it perhaps should be. As the first film was very much of the '90's, this film very much feels part of 2017. The characters are older, have grown and changed and it only makes sense that the feel of the film would change with it. But never once did I feel like I wasn't catching up with Renton, Sick Boy or Spud and in this day and age of the "nostalgia" sequels, that's saying something. They nailed it and created a solid follow-up to the classic original. It's not Trainspotting, but then again it never should have been anyway. 

Friday, April 14, 2017


I still vividly remember the first time I saw the film Trainspotting. From it's eclectic and thundering soundtrack, indelible performances and some of the most inventive visuals I had ever seen in my tender sixteen years of life, this film was unlike anything I had seen before and I loved it all the more for it. I also credit it more than any specific government sponsored program as the ultimate deterrent towards taking hard drugs (namely heroin, but I avoided the lot of it because of this movie and the effects it had on it's characters). Now, twenty years later, there are still entire parts of the film that are forever burned into my brain. 

The film focuses on a group of twentysomething friends, most of whom are heroin addicts, in Edinburgh, Scotland. They consist of Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (played by Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (played by Ewan Bremmer), Tommy (played by Kevin McKidd) and Begbie (played by Robert Carlyle). The film focuses on their various misadventures, with an unflinching focus on the heavy drug use, especially by Mark, Sick Boy, and Spud, as well as the consequences of their addictions. The film follows the characters, primarily focusing on Mark, as they not only give into their addictions but also the misadventures they get up to in between. There are also a couple of times in the film that Mark decides he's going off heroin with mixed results. 

The film was directed by Danny Boyle from a script by John Hodge and the two managed to produce a film that, for all it's unflinching views of drug addiction and poverty, is a film absolutely filled with life. The film kicks off with the thumping Iggy Pop song "Lust for Life" as Mark and Spud flee from the cops, accompanied by the now iconic "Choose Life" narration by Mark and it absolutely sets the tone for the entire film. The film manages to mix in some more surreal moments in with the startling realistic ones, including Mark diving headfirst into "the worst toilet in Scotland" to retrieve a pair of opiate suppositories he had scored or a moment later in the film when he takes his latest dose of heroin and literally sinks into the floor, dramatizing what the character is feeling on the drug. It's these flourishes by Boyle that are part of what made the film so memorable for many as well as their contrast with the darker parts of the film. 

The performances in the film are quite strong as well. Ewan McGregor leads the cast in the film that was his first big breakthrough as an actor. His natural charisma made it east to like Mark, even when we probably shouldn't. Jonny Lee Miller likewise makes a good turn as Sick Boy, the James Bond obsessed friend of Mark. The two share an interesting friendship as the two seem to try and show the other one up as much as actually being friends, something Mark comments on in the film. Ewan Bremmer is a bit of the comic relief of the film as the goofy Spud, who tries to do right but seems to have the worst luck. Bremmer does a good job portraying Spud, making him a sympathetic character you can't help but feel for when things go wrong. And then there is Robert Carlyle as Begbie, who is a force of nature in this film as the career criminal Begbie, whose drug of choice is alcohol (as opposed to the heroin the others take) and frequently picks fights in the local bars with little regard for the consequences. I sometimes wonder why the others hung out with him since Begbie is such a loose cannon and it's not something the film explains that well, except perhaps they got a thrill seeing what crazy thing he did next.

There was some criticism directed towards Trainspotting around the time of it's release for, as they claimed, glamorizing taking heroin and other heavy drugs. This is something I found surprising and still do after re-watching the film as it the film never shies away from showing the consequences of heroin abuse. It leads to misery and even death. I suppose if one only looks at the surface, with the flashy visuals and thumping soundtrack, it can seem that way. But if you really watch the movie, it's pretty grim in parts and never sugarcoats what hell a long term drug habit can unleash on a person's life and health. If watching the scene of Mark's detox from heroin and the hell it is for his character isn't enough to scare a person off trying any of those heavy drugs, then nothing ever was going to. 

For a film with such heavy and dark subject matter, Trainspotting still remains a favorite because it's also so full of life, from it's eclectic and well picked soundtrack, a charismatic and memorable performance from Ewan McGregor (as well as the entire cast for that matter), and memorable direction from Danny Boyle and a strong script from John Hodge. Unlike some other drug themed films (such as Requiem for a Dream), I've always been able to revisit and enjoy Trainspotting. It's a unique film that finds the right balance between humor and pathos, but never steps away from the stark reality of it's characters at the same time. More than anything, that's what's made it so memorable to me, all these years later.