T2 Trainspotting

(UK 2017)

“You’re a tourist in your own youth.”

—Sick Boy

“Face your past. Choose your future.” That’s what the poster for T2 Trainspotting says. Perhaps it should say, “Paybacks are a bitch,” something Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) finds out pretty quickly when he returns home to Edinburgh after 20 years in Amsterdam following his little fuckover at the end of Trainspotting. Ostensibly back to make amends and settle his debt, Renton knows that forgiving and forgetting isn’t so easy—or smooth. Truth be told, he probably didn’t expect it to be.

Renton finds Spud (Ewen Bremner) unemployed, still struggling with heroin, and literally killing himself—like, alone with a plastic bag over his head in his dingy apartment. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is a full-fledged douche, complete with a failing bar—the Port Sunshine—that he inherited from his aunt, a blackmail sex scam he runs on the side with a Bulgarian partner—Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), whom he fancies as his girlfriend—and a seriously unflattering coke habit. Oh yeah, he’s still bleaching what he’s got left of his hair. Neither is stoked about Renton showing up, but Sick Boy is clearly more bitter than Spud. He has a plan to get even.

Soon, however, Renton and Sick Boy are up to their old tricks, nightclubbing, tripping, and yes, thieving. In one of T2‘s best scenes, they head somewhere outside Edinburgh and hit a pub that looks more like an American VFW hall. It’s some weird open mic night for a crowd of Protestant Unionists who are rabidly anti-Catholic because of history. Explaining it all to Veronika in the car before the heist—the plan is to pickpocket as many ATM cards as they can get their hands on—Renton calls them “relics.” After a successful mission, the bouncer won’t let them leave until they perform a number. What they come up with is brilliant.

The fun and games come to a grinding halt when Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s serving a 25-year prison sentence and is denied parole because of his anger management problem, breaks out of jail and runs into Renton. He loses his shit in yet another great scene. Renton gets away for the moment but Begbie is on his trail, which leads him to a sketchy business partnership. Will history repeat itself?

I was skeptical when I heard director Danny Boyle was making a sequel; I guess I thought Trainspotting didn’t need a follow up. T2, which is loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, lacks the youthful vigor of the original and frankly isn’t as cool. How could it be? It wouldn’t exist without Trainspotting; it’s got flashbacks and obligatory references, some more clever than others, throughout. Kelly Macdonald has a fun cameo, Renton’s “Choose Life” monologue is updated, that toilet makes a brief appearance, and there’s a nice remix of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” at the end (and yes, we know it’s coming).

Still, T2 stands on its own. It’s fueled by nostalgia and revenge, which in this case turns out to be a rather interesting combination. T2 has more of a conventional plot, and it’s oddly fascinating. The dialogue is every bit as wickedly sharp as before. These boys have grown up—they’ve turned into sad men because they’ve chosen unfulfilled promise and disappointment (to use Renton’s words). Now they have to deal with it, which isn’t what I imagined them doing in 20 years—if they even lived, which they most definitely have. Surprise! We all know someone like this, right? I would see T2 again.

At a post screening discussion, Boyle said he really made an effort to connect to the original. He succeeded, in a good way. As for the title, he said it’s an homage of sorts to Terminator director James Cameron, whom the characters would simultaneously want to honor and piss off.

With Shirley Henderson, Scot Greenan, Pauline Lynch, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Irvine Welsh

Production: Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films

Distribution: TriStar Pictures

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh moderated by Richard Roeper

117 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.t2trainspottingmovie.com

https://www.facebook.com/T2TrainspottingMovie/?brand_redir=490630094455946

Elle

(France 2016)

Director Paul Verhoeven’s Elle doesn’t sound like a comedy: the central event of the film is a rape—a bloody, violent one at that. In fact, it’s the very first scene. Strangely, the opening credits warn us that what we are seeing is “a French comedy.” Really? I guess that explains it!

Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is raped in her dining room by a man in a ski mask while her green-eyed cat watches, detached and seemingly bored. China is smashed, furniture is toppled, blood is shed. After he leaves, Michèle cleans up the mess and resumes her life, ordering sushi delivery—a “holiday roll,” no less.

As the film proceeds, we learn a lot about Michèle. She’s the daughter of a famous mass murderer approaching parole. She’s a ballbusting owner of a video game company. Her staff, entirely young and male, either wants to sleep with her or murder her. Her son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), is totally whipped by a shrew (Alice Isaaz) who’s pregnant with a baby that clearly isn’t his. Her ex-husband (Charles Berling) is involved with a younger yoga instructor (Vimala Pons). Her mother (Judith Magre) is a high maintenance piece of work who carries on with men a third her age. Meanwhile, Michèle is having an affair with with Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her business partner (Anne Consigny).

Things get dicey when Michèle develops a thing for her neighbor, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), a handsome banker married to a devout Catholic (Virginie Efira) who apparently won’t fuck him. Their flirtation messes with her head as she tries to figure out who raped her. She’s surrounded by men, and every one of them is suspect.

David Birke’s screen adaption of Philippe Djian’s novel Oh… is, in a word, warped. Elle plays with power, desire, sex, and of all things sympathy. Consistent with its character—a constant switcheroo you don’t know whether to trust or look away from—it’s not a sad affair. To the contrary, it’s daring, thrilling, irreverent, and totally fun. It shouldn’t work—I found myself questioning whether I should enjoy the film as much as I did—but it does. The execution of both the plot and the characters is clever—and Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography, which nicely illustrates the psychological drama here, is flawless. If nothing else, Elle is a visually stunning film.

Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” plays at various points in Elle, suggesting a lot of contradictory things. I took it as ironic more than anything. Elle is not for everyone, but it’s a powerful statement for those who can handle it—the perfect film for Valentine’s Day.

With Lucas Prisor, Raphaël Lenglet, Arthur Mazet, Hugo Conzelmann

Production: SBS Productions, Pallas Film, France 2 Cinéma, Entre Chien et Loup, Canal+, France Télévisions, Orange Cinéma Séries, Casa Kafka Pictures, Proximus, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Filmförderungsanstalt

Distribution: SBS Distribution

130 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

http://sonyclassics.com/elle/

Gold

(USA 2016)

“The taste of it on your tongue, the feel of it on your fingers—it’s like a drug.”

—Mike Acosta

Not everything gold glitters; such is the case with Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, his first film since the acclaimed Syriana over a decade ago. Matthew McConaughey is Kenny Wells, a redneck businessman running his collapsing mining company from a smoke-filled tavern in Reno, Nevada, in 1988. Acting on little more than gut and some pawn shop cash from hocking gifts he gave his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) in better days shown as the movie opens, he abruptly heads to Indonesia to track down geologist Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) to find a gold mine.

Their first meeting doesn’t go well at all. Looking like he stepped out of Banana Republic when it was a safari store in the ’80s, Acosta is shrewd, rugged, and quite experienced. Balding and sweaty Wells, with his jagged teeth and paunch, is sloppy and desperate. He reads as broke. Unimpressed, Acosta passes when Wells suggests they partner up—until the latter raises $200,000 for the proposed venture. After a series of miscalculations and mishaps (including a bout with malaria), they hit the jackpot in the middle of a jungle. Suddenly, the same banks and big investors that turned up their nose at Wells before want in on the action.

Gold isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not the impressive work it wants to be. The pace is fine, but the plot twists are unsurprising if not downright predictable. The problem is that I’ve seen this story before, and recently: mainstream films like The Big Short (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-big-short/), The Wolf of Wall Street, and American Hustle deal with the same themes in a similar manner. I’ve seen McConaughey be the same character, too. The curious statement “inspired by a true story” after the opening credits is the cue to something I found disappointing: Gold is a fictionalized account of a true story, changed enough that I guess it can’t claim to be “based on” reality. I’m not sure where that line is drawn, but it turns out much of the story is made up (http://www.financialpost.com/m/search/blog.html?b=business.financialpost.com/news/mining/gold-the-movie-about-the-bre-x-mining-scandal-that-isnt-about-bre-x&q=Bre). Plus, it’s never a good sign when the music in a film—here, artists ranging from Orange Juice to New Order and Joy Division to the Pixies and a new song by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse—elicits the most enthusiastic response from me. Overall, meh.

Also starring Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Rachael Taylor, Joshua Harto, and Timothy Simons

Produced by Boies/Schiller Films, Black Bear Pictures, and Highway 61 Films

Distributed by TWC-Dimension

121 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C

http://gold-film.com