T2 Trainspotting. Time And Skag Wait For No Man.

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Choose The 90’s. Choose Britpop. Mega-clubs. No social media. No smartphones blurring work & home life. No President Trump. No Brexit. And producer of one of The Sloth’s top 2 favourite films of all time – Trainspotting. So to hear that Danny & Co were planning T2 filled us with a mix of delirious anticipation and outright dread. 21 years on, how can you follow up such an iconic classic?

First and foremost, bearing in mind Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie were skagheads, you’d expect them to now be either 1) dead or 2) reformed and high up the ladder in merchant banking. However that wouldn’t make for a very entertaining film. So instead we find Renton, who has been domiciled in Amsterdam for the past however many years, returning to Edinburgh to track down his old muckers. Sickboy, now known as Simon, is running the dive of his family’s pub but is enterprisingly planning to convert it into a brothel. Spud is still known as Spud and is still struggling with addiction plus supporting an estranged wife and kid.  And Begbie is locked up at Her Majesty’s pleasure, to the relief of the general population of Scotland.

There is a plot. It again involves money and the potential for betrayal. But the plot isn’t really the point. Instead T2 is more an essay on nostalgia and past youth. Which is the right thing to do because can anyone who saw Trainspotting in cinemas the first time round possibly watch T2 without mulling over where the last 21 years has led them? Sickboy accuses Renton of being ‘a tourist in your own youth’. Long held tensions bubble under the surface. Both footage from the original film and echoes of some of its most iconic scenes reappear in T2 – Renton’s manic grin as he tumbles over a car bonnet, the Choose Life speech reworked for the digital age and sounding positively Shakespearean. Stylistically, it bears the same splashy, surreal hallmarks and black humour (watch out for an inspired scene in a Protestant pub) the original practically invented.

Most importantly, the characters are as strong, vibrant and familiar as ever. You know that feeling when you meet a friend you haven’t seen for years and within two minutes it’s like you’ve never been apart? It made us realise how rarely films create truly iconic characters (don’t even think about suggesting anything Marvel or DC Comics related or The Sloth will throw you out of this blog). T2 could have been a train wreck. Pun intended. Thankfully it isn’t. God bless Danny Boyle and all who sail in him.

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Our Kind Of Traitor. (Russian, Old Skool, Quite Scary).

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Mildly interesting fact: The Sloth used to work for the literary agent who represented John le Carré, best-selling author of Our Kind Of Traitor and reputedly an ex-spy, which he never confirms nor denies. We would speak to him on the phone and he was mightily intimidating, which sadly prevented us asking ‘so did you get to use poison tipped umbrellas & stuff?’.

 

Mr Le Carré and his old skool, Cold War thrillers are currently enjoying a field day, what with Putin’s stellar work to re-instigate Russia as Public Enemy Number One.  Most recently with Tom Hiddlesbum’s extended Bond audition in The Night Manager and now Our Kind Of Traitor’s outing on the big screen.

 

Ewan McGregor, in floppy haired ‘dowdy’ mode, plays Perry Makepeace – clearly a random name with no character implications whatsoever. A nice guy and gentleman, Perry is on a weekend break in Marrakech with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris), to try and boost their struggling relationship (see, totally random name). Except it’s not going too well, so when Gail excuses herself to take yet another work call, a frustrated Perry is invited by Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a raucous Russian, to join him and his friends for a drink. Which leads to another drink, which leads to a party at a rich Russian’s house, during which Perry stumbles upon a rape taking place and heroically breaks it up.

 

Convinced of Perry’s good guy status, Dima confides he is a money launderer for the Russian Mafia. Desperate to escape his situation, he gives Perry a memory stick to take back to the UK and hand over to the authorities in exchange for safe passage to the West for Dima and his family. Naively Perry accepts, thinking he’s doing a simple civic duty, but receives a suspicious reception from British Secret Service Officer Hector (Damian Lewis). Against their will, Perry and Gail soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous covert operation to expose corruption between the UK and Russia.

 

This kind of film rarely gets made anymore because it assumes a modicum of intelligence from the viewer. Yes, the plot might be a trifle perplexing in places – The Sloth isn’t convinced we would unhesitatingly accept USB’s from the Russian Mafia – but it has an impressive underlying anger, railing against the willingness of governments to turn a blind eye to blood money. Controlled and understated, it’s far less glossy and far more downbeat than The Night Manager and will probably suffer for comparison, although personally we can’t help feeling the former now seems a little pantomime. With an unusually introspective turn from McGregor, balanced with a roaring performance from Skarsgård, it might not be the very best of the numerous Le Carré adaptations, but it’s still worth a look.

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Son Of A Gun. Use (A Lot Of) The Force.

son_of_a_gun_posterThe Sloth has been a big fan of Ewan McGregor since he first burst onto our screens in Shallow Grave and the magnificent Trainspotting. Since then he’s not always made the best role choices, in our humble opinion, so we were very excited by the prospect of him returning to ‘edgy’ and ‘Scottish’ in Son Of A Gun.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) is entering an Australian prison for a minor crime. Young, smart and a first time offender, he’s prime meat for the assorted Neanderthals and sexual predators that come with prison territory. Finding himself cornered in the showers in an attempted rape, help fortunately comes to hand from Brendan (Ewan McGregor, in his natural Scottish accent for once), an intelligent master criminal who is alpha dog in the prison pecking order. Realising JR also shares his love for chess, Brendan takes him under his protective wing.

But not for long. Being an intelligent master criminal type, Brendan is planning a jailbreak. A properly good one, with guns and helicopters and suchlike. Wooo! And being a newly paid up member of Brendan’s gang, lucky JR gets to bust out with him. Now you’d presume, once you’re back on the outside, you’d be more than happy with a trip to the pub, but no. Once a master criminal, always a master criminal, so Brendan is soon planning another, final heist to which JR will be getting involved.

Son of A Gun isn’t subtle. It’s full of macho, breast beating characters with tattoos and steroid-pumped muscles doubtless called things like Johnny Five Knuckles. There are obligatory Russian gangsters and ten foot high literal references to chess games / making moves / checkmates etc. But it doesn’t pretend to be subtle. It crashes erratically across the screen in a violent flurry of bullets, veers off temporarily to explore a love interest (Alice Vikander) for JR, then twists through a myriad of double crossings. With decent performances across the board and Ewan transferring his obligatory charisma to The Dark Side, if you’re in the mood for an immoral, blood and guts action thriller, you could do a lot worse.

UK release 30 January 2015

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August: Osage County. Mommy Dearest.

August-Osage-County-PosterWow, this was shouty and intense. After watching August: Osage County The Sloth had to have a soothing cup of green tea and lie down with a wet flannel on our forehead.

Based on a stage play, it follows a period in the lives of the Weston family, who put the deranged in disfunctional. The supposed head of the family is alcoholic Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd). We say supposed because his authority is somewhat doubtful once we meet Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), a prescription drug addicted matriarchal monster and possessor of an acid tongue that shrivels grown men. No doubt worn down by said tongue, Sam shortly disappears, presumed drowned. And so the rest of the Weston clan return to the family home for his funeral.

Over the next couple of days we meet feisty daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts, wonderfully grey-haired and potty-mouthed), who is separating from husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and argues ferociously with mother Violet about anything and everything. Dippy daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) arrives, trailing her latest flashy, sports car driving new boyfriend. Completing the offspring is sensible daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who harbours a secret passion for her hapless cousin Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch, for once putting a tight lid on his charisma). Bringing up the rear of this female overload is Aunt Mattie (Margo Martindale), a venomous partner-in-crime to her sister Violet.

With the house bursting at the seams, emotions running high and Violet off her head, tensions escalate to boiling point. Allegiances are made and lost, family skeletons tumble out of closets and we wonder how on earth no-one has actually punched anyone. Then they do.

The stage play roots are very evident. Bordering on the melodramatic, it’s undoubtedly an act-oors film. If you want naturalism, this isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to watch a dribblingly delicious cast get their teeth stuck into something juicy, fill your boots. Just don’t have nightmares about mama Violet.

UK release 24 January

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