Trainspotting 2 (2017)

Danny Boyle

I’ve watched this film twice now. The first time intentionally and the second because it was the last film to sell out on a busy labour day weekend. I’m happy for the second viewing though because it really elevated my appreciation for this film a lot.

Since then I’ve been chatting about the film to people since and it’s been surprising how many haven’t seen the original trainspotting. It doesn’t seem like it has continued to be as popular with younger viewers as it initially was. Perhaps, probably, because once upon a time every share house in Melbourne (and I’d assume most western countries) had a copy of this film on DVD (as well as, it seemed, Human Traffic, Requiem for a Dream and The Fifth Element all share house staples in the late nineties and early 2000’s). Trainspotting’s popularity then seemed to be driven by it’s cheap and ready availability on DVD. I guess with the decline of DVD it’s not so much a classic by default anymore.

That aside the first film was and is amazing. It’s so hateful, so full of venom. A visceral exploration and part romanticisation and, simultaneously also damnation of heroin culture, Scotland, and post-punk, all contrasted with the rise of brash 90’s commercial culture. The first film is an iconic chain of events which are collected in a series of scenes which only forms into a loose narrative in the third act of the film to provide culture.

The author of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh (who cameos as Mikey Forrester in both films), wrote a sequel to his first novel in 2002 entitled Porno. The same characters from the first novel reunited and hatched a scheme to get rich off the porn industry. It’s a good book and great character sequel to the events of the first novel but I think everyone assumed that it was unfilmable because of the high level of sexual content, and more recently, because with the collapse of the porn industry no one really expects to get rich off of amateur porn.

I was suspicious of a sequel when it was announced. There have been enough unwatchable late in the game sequels. Dumb and Dumber 2 and it’s mean spiteful nature is perhaps the worst example though Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull and it’s sheer clumsiness and stupidity is a pretty close second while later instalments of Die Hard simply seem unnecessary.

On my first watch, of trainspotting 2 it took until almost three quarters into the film before my suspicion and distrust eased off and I began to enjoy it. Trainspotting 2 is the same characters and uses the basic setup of the novel Porno minus the get rich amateur porn storyline. It’s much different to the first film however because it relies upon narrative to tell a story of its characters rather than simply detailing their chaotic self-destructive lifestyles. For me at least the narrative ambition of trying to say what had happened to the characters and their city and how they felt payed off.  Not only did I get over my mistrust but I came to love this film and what’s more it made value the first all the more.

This film doesn’t try twist or ignore the events of it’s predecessor, to create a new franchise or hide how old the actors are or how out of touch their characters are with youth culture. Bald spots are actually shown off. The mile a minute pop-culture dialogue between Johhny Lee Miller’s Sickboy and Ewan MacGregor’s Rentboy is still entertaining but not so much biting and funny now as self-deprecating, rueful and almost sad. In terms of these two characters, who were central to the first film, this second film examines them in a culture and stage of life where they are beyond punk and heroin and the irony of post-punk and are instead middle aged and merely low level and not very successful criminals rather than rebels happily wasting their potential.

The film updates it’s ‘choose life’ manifesto and takes subtle jabs at online culture, nostalgia, a conformist society and gentrification but just as all the characters are leery of younger generations ironically enjoying their own youth culture (in music and fashion) so too they are cautious now in attacking what is new.

Meanwhile the real surprise and main story of the film centres around Ewan Bremmer’s character of Spud and Robert Carlyle’s Begby and it’s in showing more of the backstory of one and the shattered dreams and despair of the other that the film really transcends itself and become not just good but a genuinely great film is so amazing in how much it treasures and loves its predecessor and the lives of the characters.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Jean Rhys

Considered a colonial interpretation of as well as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is a well-written and constructed book which uses it’s Caribbean setting to provide a gothic landscape and setting for the sins of the father and a ghost in the attic. Rhys draws influence from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier in creating this sense of fear and unease in her setting and I found that it was this tone that was the most interesting part of the book.

The setting, the tone and the writing I liked but as usual I personally just didn’t find the themes of power struggles between men and women very compelling. A glimpse into the history of creole and the islands was an interesting bonus but, even so, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book unless perhaps it was to someone who was interested or a fan of its influences. That said I read it fast for a uni subject with a massive book list and I do still wonder what I missed and may re-visit one day. That probably won’t happen any time soon as the shelf of books waiting to be read is fast outgrowing those I’ve read. As it is this one may have to join the stack of classics which I haven’t appreciated and, in that, at least Rhys will have good company with Dickens and George Eliot.

Don’t panic: Douglas Adams and the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy

Neil Gaiman

Perhaps the most disappointing book I read last year. As a biography of a person this book is dull. It is full of information and would be valuable for completest fans of Douglas Adams and his work. There are detailed break downs of all the Hitchhiker radio and tv episodes as well as a behind the scenes insights into the making of Dr Who episodes Adams worked on and, of course, a comprehensive list of the various incarnations of The Hitch-hikers Guide in the many varied forms it has taken

As for the author, well, according to this book there isn’t much of a story to Douglas Adams. He seemed to have been blessed with a genius sense of humour, sense of invention and imagination. The most interesting sections relate to how Adams worked within the BBC in the eighties. He was chaotic, often very late and always unorganised. Unfortunately, Gaiman seems to try to stretch these sections and, at times, the writing begins to resemble the cheap unauthorised biographies of celebrities which themselves are often extended Wikipedia entries.

Its as if this book needed to be combined with something else like, for instance, the history of the BB or radio serials or perhaps the nature of adaptation. Gaiman suggest that the creation of Hitchhikers Guide was a result of impulse, spontaneous wit and the pressure of a deadline. In turn to try and summate that spark in the flowery elaborate style of Gaiman’s feels anachronistic.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to say if this book might have been better if it had been written by someone other than Gaiman, who, is not at fault per se but is perhaps too close to the subject and unwilling to allow that large parts of Adam’s life were boring or uneventful. But, again, this book is invaluable as a source of information on the history of the Hitchhikers guide. It’s simply does not or cannot provide an interesting story about the man behind the work.

Southern Bastards – Vol. 1: Here Was a Man

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

I’d heard a lot about this book. Well, actually no, not a lot to describe it but just general buzz around it. Eisner winner, good word of mouth and I’d known about and been attracted to the title for quite a while. This, the first issue, is good and perhaps even great. Volume 1 delivers enough to warrant the buzz though it seems too that this is also a kind of prelude to what this series is ultimately about which is, I’m guessing revenge, the sins of the father and ownership of places and communities.

It’s hard to say much else without spoiling the story and as I haven’t read the next volume yet I don’t know just how important these initial events are. It seems though that this series is seeking to create a history around a place. This idea of place is also emphasized in the intro by Jason Latour where he talks about his love/hate relationship with the South. As someone from country Australia the feelings he expressed rang familiar and inclined me to like the book more than I might have. The idea of the southern gothic is threaded through the story and the books explores the idea of our birth place and what it means in relation to identity and how we may seek to revisit a place and/or attempt to reject its meaning.

Again, it’s hard to judge the series off this, the prelude first volume. Having read this far I know that I still really like the title and that it relates well to the content. This is a graphic novel grounded firmly in reality, there’s a good amount of violence and the art is suitably rough but full of detail and though I was going to say the story shines stronger perhaps the art sits on an even level in its stylistic choice.

Very keen to get more volumes of this series.

 

Carmilla (1897)

Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is said to be the first vampire novel. It pre-dates Bran Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and Stoker is said to have taken influence from it. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and uses the minimalist spare style you’d expect from his vocation. From what little I know of him Le Fanu was a workmanlike author intent on writing ghost stories for money. The novel is interesting in its use of using the young female character Lauraas the protaganist and the allusion to lesbian sexuality between her and the vampire Carmilla. It is also interesting that it’s style has not dated as badly as other novels of the time.

This is said to be the beginning of a different perception of the vampire myth. The start of the vampire being a representative fear of the aristocracy. Until Carmilla vampires had been represented as poor shambling zombie-like monsters.

Published in 1897 this is a surprisingly readable book. Leagues ahead of Frankenstein from earlier in the 19th century and arguably more interesting to read than Dracula. It’s not even the proto-type vampire novel you perhaps expect. Instead it an almost very matter of fact ghost story. It doesn’t establish the vampire rules, I think that comes with Dracula, and probably benefits from being read by the modern reader who automatically attributes these rules into a story which doesn’t state them but into which they easily fit.

Batman 8: Superheavy (2016)

Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be reading in the new 52 DC universe. I’ve tried a few different series and they’ve been a bit hit and miss. Some of the continuation is confusing for me as well. I thought I could read the core batman series by itself and have a good understanding of what was happening in the universe but it seems as if events in Detective Comics and Batman Eternal have an effect in this story line. It seems as though to understand Batman 8 you have to read the Endgame story line which collects events just as the A Death in the Family story line collected different strands from various New 52 books.

Edit: No, I actually missed reading Batman 7: Endgame. It’s not that confusing at all. This is the continued effect of trying to buy more books in stores rather than online and totally forgetting what I do and don’t own. I brought Batman 6 twice, forgot, and then skipped to this, Batman 8.

Even so this book is still readable. (Even after skipping a book… so credit to them). Snyder and Capullo are still trying to make their mark and do something different even after having created such iconic new batman tenants as the court of owls and the Joker of A Death in the Family and the origin story of Zero Year. I think in some of their origin work they tried too hard to be different, particularly some of the art and colour choices, but here despite similar bold colour work they are more on track and succeed more consistently than they have in the past several volumes which have been hit and miss and suffered particularly when Capullo hasn’t supplied the artwork.

Batman 8 is set shortly after zero year, I think. So the idea and evolution of Batman is still young. The events of Endgame have meant that Bruce Wayne no longer wants to be Batman and so Commissioner Gordon steps into the role, if not the suit (at least as we know it) of Batman. It’s a controversial move but one that I don’t mind as it allows Snyder to play with new gadgets and explore ideas which would be impossible, canonically, to do in an actual Batman book. As it is Snyder and Capullo have finally walked the fine line of balancing the unusual art colour palate, bringing Batman into a contemporary setting and involving new ideas and stories methods within and sometimes outside of the restrictions of the character, setting and genre. I loved their first three batman volumes and my interest has lessened since Zero Year. This book I liked and am again looking forward to catching up on other volumes as well as branching out to Batman Eternal and Detective Comics.

I’m still not sure which title to follow in the DC’s New 52 but I’m glad Snyder is continuing to do such interesting work on this their lead book.

Dead Snow (2009)

Tommy Wirkola

I re-watched this film at the start of 2017. It was around this time I started keeping track of what I was watching and reading. Mainly because I was bored and housebound. I had wondered if perhaps some sort of pattern might emerge in my media consumption. Or, if nothing else, I might start to understand what I kept coming back to and perhaps what I should concentrate on in the future.

As far as I can remember I’ve only seen this film twice. The first time was circa 2004 when I hired it from a video store in Preston. It had a little more novelty then. Though consuming foreign indie film was much different as well.

*edit: the films wasn’t released until 2009. I had moved back to near Preston and was hiring videos from a different but similar store.

Twelve years (actually eight) later this sort of idea of the double hinged camp horror film has been fairly well mined and yet this film still holds up well. The zombies look great, it’s all shot perfectly and the acting is fine. The plot is bare and doesn’t try to do anything other than play as expected. Group of friends travel to remote location, a ghost story signposts coming horror, said ghost(s) materialise and kill and terrorise until what is left of the group can turn on and destroy the ghosts.

For the budget this is a good film and I respect how well they executed a flimsy concept. Still I don’t think I’ll watch this a third time. Though still I’m curious about the sequel even as everyone campily combines Nazis into their speculative/sci-fi/horror stories. It’s true there’s nothing more evil then a Nazi. It’s depressing though seeing true evil so easily defeated by sexed up bumbling Norwegian teens. Even Bed knobs and Broomsticks treated the concept more seriously.