Thursday 17 August 2017

Film reviews: T2 Trainspotting Cert: 18; Now showing

Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle in T2
Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle in T2

It feels like yesterday. Noel Gallagher sipping champagne in 10 Downing St. The charts awash with Britpop. "Cool Britannia" in full swing as London and Manchester vied for the UK's cultural capital. Danny Boyle's Trainspotting, a masterful, unorthodox and hilarious 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Edinburgh heroin saga, reflected the zeitgeist from the big screen.

You can't really blame Boyle and writer John Hodge (who loosely adapts Welsh's 2002 sequel, Porno) for a dash of misty nostalgia as they go about this follow-up, but T2… takes it a little far. You're never more than a few minutes away from a reference - narrative, visual, musical - to the original, some of which (re-shoots, re-enactments) slightly smack of desperation.

It needn't have been the case as there's plenty here to work with both in terms of plot and the fresh, spry aesthetic Boyle has devised.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned from Amsterdam, where he fled with the loot pinched from his former accomplices. Of them, Sickboy (an ageless Johnny Lee Miller) is running a crumbling family pub, hoovering coke and scamming rich men in honey traps with the help of Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Renton goes in on a new brothel project with the couple. Meanwhile, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still recovering from heroin addiction after, sadly, it is revealed the money Renton left him went on smack. As for the psychopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle), he has escaped from prison and is rabid for revenge on Renton.

The grim druggy undertow of the original is absent, with regret and redemption providing trickles of pathos amid the capers and carry-on. A worthy postscript.

★★★★

Hilary A White

Denial Cert: 12; Now showing

The manner in which legal dream team Anthony Julius and Richard Rampton chose to fight this landmark courtroom battle automatically means that Mick Jackson's film of the battle cannot play out like a standard courtroom drama.

It's history not fiction so it lacks suspense, there are no emotive witnesses or testimony of any kind and no jury faces to zoom in on. However, David Hare writes the story and characters well, and the performances are excellent. And two decades on the principle at stake, about free speech and whether there really are two sides to every story - both of which need to be aired - remains remarkably pertinent.

In her 1993 book American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) called controversial historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) a Holocaust denier. He sued her for libel. In the UK, the system demands the person being sued prove their innocence.

Lipstadt was up for the challenge and engaged Julius (Andrew Scott) the man who got Princess Diana her divorce settlement. Master of the understated, he engaged barrister Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and they set about undermining Irving's credentials rather than engaging with his claims. The film focuses on the legal arguments and the relationships, and does so well. It's a fraught topic and a difficult line to tread. They manage it and the performances make the film.

★★★★

Aine O'Connor

Hacksaw Ridge Cert: 16: Now showing

A bunch of US GIs climb up to an Okinawa clifftop. Behind them is a soapy, golden-hued, opening hour of romance, bashful smiles and army base salutes. In front of them lie extravagant levels of gore as bayonets skewer guts, limbs get shredded and choking black smoke billows about.

Ah, it's yourself, Mr Gibson.

Yep, in ways Hacksaw Ridge is as "Mel Gibson" as it gets - mutilation, unshakable religious faith, human sacrifice. And yet somehow this biopic of a valiant WWII medic is oddly pedestrian and cliched for the controversial director who made such endurance feats as The Passion of the Christ (2004) and the thrilling Apocalypto (2006).

Andrew Garfield is Desmond Doss, a goody two-shoes in small-town Virginia. When not protecting mum (Rachel Griffiths) from his alcoholic dad (Hugo Weaving), he's sweet-talking nurse and future wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). Unable to stand by and watch the Axis powers' march, he enlists for army training under Vince Vaughan's faintly ridiculous sergeant. Desmond is rounded on when he refuses rifle training on the basis of being a pacifist. Respect is finally earned in hellish battle as he risks his life to drag the injured out of the rat-infested killing fields.

Garfield bounds like a puppy before morphing into a gurning, muck-stained gyroscope in the grisly third act. Of the largely antipodean supporting cast in this US-Australian co-production, only Palmer and Weaving really stand out.

★★★

Hilary A White

Cameraperson Cert: Club; Now showing in IFI

With hard-hitting fare such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Citizenfour on her CV, cinematographer and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson is a noteworthy name in investigative documentary filmmaking. It's been this way for much of her 15 odd years at the coalface of the genre. It is therefore only right and proper that she take a breath for a moment to release a filmmaker's equivalent of a B-sides and rarities volume, something to anthologise her work to date before a new chapter can perhaps commence.

That is the feeling you get from this multi-award winner, anyway. What begins seeming like a random series of clips from various locations and subjects - Darfur, Sarajevo, Washington DC, to name a few - slowly takes shape. You come to see that Johnson is arranging images of lightning strikes, tribal dances and hidden reactions alongside powerfully candid, sometimes harrowing, interview snippets. We get a striking film essay about beauty, injustice and humanity, some of which makes for unforgettable viewing. Absorbing stuff.

★★★★

Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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