CINEMATIC GRAB-BAG: T2: Trainspotting, Split, & xXx3

Trainspotting
Trainspotting
3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
It’s no fun growing hold. Hair migrates, weight accrues, and you find yourself stuck in bad habits.

Unlike its predecessor, T2: Trainspotting is less concerned with one particular bad habit – heroin – and more with the myriad other ways in which an older, supposedly more mature human being can self-destruct.

It’s been twenty years since the first film, since Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) skipped out on his mates, and Edinburgh, with £16,000 in cash. Now, one marriage down and a lot of jogging later, he’s back and looking for..? Poor, forgiving Spud (Ewan Bremner) is still living in the same apartment; still on the junk, weakly hoping to clean up his act, to pull himself up by his bootstraps, for the sake of his estranged son. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), still peroxide blonde and utterly amoral, is still bitter, however, and looking to set the dogs – see: a stockier, still psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) – on Renton.

The sequel to arguably the most important British film of the ’90s, T2 benefits from an inventive script by John Hedges – one memorable sequence involves a risky visit to an anti-papist pub, an impromptu singalong, and an ingenious bit of larceny – and typically focused, stylized direction from Danny Boyle. That iconic Choose Life monologue may have received a pointed update – “Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares” – but there’s as much elegy on display here as euphoria.

A return to the remote Corrour railway station is sneeringly dismissed by Sick Boy as “nostalgia”, and Spud’s written reminisces do occasionally suggest a Greatest Hits of sorts – as well as sneaking in Irvine Welsh’s potent dialectal prose – but that’s sort of the point. T2 is about what it means to be trapped by memories, by the past – an even more inescapable kind of addiction. Now and then the film plunges into memory, the cast witnessing their younger selves legging it down by the Carlton Street Bridge or, further back still, attending school. It’s a case of Back To School for Boyle, too, as the film’s destructive, loft-based climax brings his directorial debut Shallow Grave

Funny and heartfelt, T2 is vivid and interesting; if not exactly necessary. Its methadone: a decent high, presumably, but nothing to compare to the undiluted stuff. Still, when needle touches groove, though, and “Lust For Life” comes blasting out, it’s not hard to see that it’s guid tae be back.

 

Split
3 Stars (3 / 5)
For a psychological thriller about a kidnapper with multiple personalities, Split holds together surprisingly well.

From a scarily matter-of-fact abduction sequence set within the confines of a family sedan – and the repeated grid of the opening credits – to the brightly-lit, rough-hewn maintenance corridors along which we know captives must eventually flee, M. Night Shyamalan frames a world that’s just subtly off-kilter.

Kevin (James McAvoy, alternately buttoned-up and demented) has 22 other people living inside of him. Several of them just happens to be set on feeding high-schooler Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy, darkly doe-eyed) and her defiant fellow captives to The Beast, a mythical Übermensch.

There’s uptight OCD sufferer Dennis (McAvoy), who happens to do a sterling impersonation of Barry (McAvoy), an expressive fashion designer – or so their shrink, the shrewd, caring Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), suspects. She sees Kevin’s condition as potentially the key to all human potential, and is under no illusions about what Kevin or the prim, trivia-dispensing Patricia (McAvoy) may be capable of.

Even in heels, turtleneck, and cameo necklace, or hooded as naïve, lisping preteen Hedwig – he’s very proud of knowing the word “et cetera” – McAvoy keeps his performance to the right side of grotesque, relying on eyebrows – raised, knitted – and a smile – strained, queasy – to convey the divides in Kevin’s psyche. The sessions between him and Dr. Fletcher have a focus belied by the inherently schlocky nature of the material.

Only in the third act do things spill over into potboiler territory with an apotheosis that’s part Red Dragon, part 10 Cloverfield Lane. Flashbacks to Casey’s dapple-leafed childhood with her hunter father and uncle creates a parallel between hero and antagonist that seeks to reflect on victimhood, brokenness and strength, but which is paid off only obliquely.

Famed though he is for a certain type of ending, Shyamalan’s biggest coup with Split is less a twist than pure and simple surprise – albeit after-the-fact. All in all, it’s more mind than matter, but given the themes at play, it could definitely make for an effective next course of treatment.

 

xXx3: The Return Of Xander Cage
2 Stars (2 / 5)
So, I know you’ve been asking yourself: what exactly has Xander Cage been up to these past fifteen years?

The answer is, not much.

While Vin Diesel may have got somewhat craggier, his extreme-sports secret-agent persona is more or less where we left him at the end of xXx back in 2002. We are tacitly asked to ignore the short film, “The Death Of Xander Cage” – which bridged the gap between the first film and its Ice Cube-starring sequel – in which Vin’s stunt double had that highly identifiable tattoo blasted right off the back of his neck.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage (whoo-hoo) sees Xander – living off the grid when he’s not dry skiing off the top of TV towers – drawn back into the world of “espionage” when his former handler, the glibly monologuing Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), is incinerated by a rogue satellite along with Brazilian striker Neymar, who he’s trying to recruit over a meal of Chinese food.

After dumping the handpicked team of CIA Agent Marke (Toni Collette – blonde hair, ramrod posture, not much else) out the back of an airplane, Xander quickly puts together his own composed of what he calls “the good, the bad, and the totally insane”. They are mostly very pretty (Ruby Rose as a reliably bad-attitude sniper, Nina Dobrev as a flirty, motormouth tech geek) or otherwise superfluous (GoT‘s Rory McCann plays a crash-obsessed getaway driver, Kris Wu a… DJ).

Luckily their rivals in the pursuit of a none-more-generic MacGuffin, Pandora’s Box, includes Donnie Yen who – as showcased in a protracted action sequence incorporating guns, kicking, and lots of smirking – doesn’t require breakneck editing to look bad-ass. This while managing to largely waste the talents of Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, Thai martial artist Tony Jaa, and MMA champion Michael Bisping.

Not so much a film as a marketing exercise, the only things that separate the revamped xXx from Diesel’s other team franchise – Fast & Furious (which he abandoned somewhat more briefly back in 2003) – are the lack of cars, other stars, and a lower budget.

Still, if your inner fourteen-year-old boy is dying to see a zero-G fist fight on a plummeting plane or unconvincingly chase each other on motorcycle jet skis, then Godspeed – in what direction who can say.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs (www.ofallthefilmblogs.blogspot.co.uk). Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist (www.themetropolist.com) and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape (www.ap2hyc.com). Co-host of the Electric Shadows podcast (http://bit.ly/29Pd7RS) and member of the Online Film Critics Society (http://www.ofcs.org).

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