"I want my films to be life affirming, even a film like "Trainspotting", which is very dark in many ways. I want people to leave the cinema feeling that something's been confirmed for them about life".
It was a late night showing in 1994 on Channel Four if my memory serves me, that I was first acquainted with Danny Boyle and his seminal and magnificent debut film, the Coen Brotherseque (thanks Andy Bradford!) multi layered crime farce drama that is "Shallow Grave". A life of fandom was born and two short years later "Trainspotting" entered the zietgeist of my generation and Danny hasn't looked back since.
This blog is my admittedly myopic fan appreciation of a true living cinematic legend and contains all twelve of his currently released films up to and including "T2 Trainspotting" in 2017. Through Danny's vision and that of his regular collaborators Andrew McDonald, John Hodge and so many more, they have produced sublime, life affirming and magical cinema spanning twenty plus years of drama tinged with the blackest of humour, pertinent reflections on society and a vast knowledge on Sean Connery! Ahead of us we have three bags of money, a stolen masterpiece, a tiptoe through the train tracks (or should that be a sledgehammer?) a trip to a far away beach, a life affirming game show, 127 hours stuck with only a camera for company and virus ridden zombies. Oh, and a dreadful trip into space! I'm sure I'll get to love that film one of these days.
In the process, Danny has had a major hand in launching the careers of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Cillian Murphy, Christopher Eccleston, Tilda Swinton and numerous others whilst with John Hodge and the original source materials has produced a vast array of characters that I personally have come to love and indeed grow up with. In addition to the twelve cinematic features appraised here, Danny has also directed numerous TV movies/short films.
Oscar nominated and Oscar winner, Danny also captured the nations heart in 2012 for his directorial expertise with the London Olympics opening ceremony display and is constantly linked with a future Knighthood (Don't do it Danny, you don't need establishment trinkets like these!).
Here, for no particular reason whatsoever is my list of Danny's films in favourite order from 1-12. You may disagree, and I sincerely hope you do, but no violence please. Otherwise I'll have to send Begbie round to yours for a quiet word!
- Trainspotting (1996)
- Shallow Grave (1994)
- 28 Days Later (2002)
- Steve Jobs (2015)
- T2 Trainspotting (2017)
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- Trance (2013)
- Millions (2004)
- 127 Hours (2010)
- The Beach (2000)
- A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
- Sunshine (2007)
Written by John Hodge in what was to become the first of many such collaborations with Director Boyle and funded by both Film 4 International and the Glasgow Film Fund, it's a simple tale of friendship, split loyalties and how a totally unforeseen episode can change and destroy these friendships forever. "Juliet Miller" (Kerry Fox) is a straight ahead, fun loving Doctor whose tangled love life nominally includes her flatmate "David Stephens" (Christopher Eccleston), the aforementioned chartered accountant. They share a flat with "Alex Law" (Ewan McGregor) a journalist who takes nothing, including himself, seriously. The three are firm friends as well as flatmates and this is established immediately after the end of the "Killing Zoe" inspired opening credits, as Juliet, David and Alex interview potential new flatmates for their spare bedroom in their spacious Edinburgh flat. All three are professional, educated and enjoy their young lives, with Juliet constantly avoiding her tangled love life, David's irreverent and sarcastic behaviour belying his staid professional career, brilliantly exemplified when describing himself as the anti-christ to a prospective new flatmate and Alex is the constant joker of the three and never taking anything seriously. After interviewing and accepting "Hugo" (Keith Allen) as their new flatmate, their lives will be changed forever.
All three headline roles were filled with relative unknowns twenty years ago but the success of Shallow Grave propelled all three into highly successful acting careers, particularly Ewan McGregor who continued to collaborate with Danny Boyle on the phenomenal Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary (see both below), then working with Directors of the calibre of George Lucas, Baz Luhrmann, Ridley Scott and Tim Burton. Synonymous as his character "Renton" in Trainspotting, he excels in is first major cinematic role and brings much of the film's dark humour to the surface with his irreverent ways "But Juliet, you're a Doctor. You kill people every day". Tellingly, it's Alex who, in the midst of a spending spree, is the one enjoying his new found freedom, quaffing champagne and smoking cigars. But equally telling is his "Nothing will ever be the same again" pronouncement into his new and expensive hand held camera as he details his new found wealth and life. Each of the three main characters have distinctive character arcs and none is displayed more starkly than Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of chartered accountant David. He's a reluctant conspirator, full of repressed anger and self loathing which is covered by his irreverent and sarcastic demeanour and an absolutely star performance from Eccleston and arguably the best of the three headliners. His explosion of anger and threats to put an unwanted admirer for the affections of his girlfriend into a "fucking bin bag" is another of the film's true highlights. Eccleston would team up again with Director Boyle in 28 Days Later and almost steal the film with a thunderous performance, and he's best known for his Time Lord escapades in Dr Who. However, his portrayal of Trevor Hicks in "Hillsborough" moves me to tears on every watch and shouldn't be overlooked for the master class in dramatic acting that it is. The nominal headline role in the film went to Kerry Fox and whilst not as "successful" as her male co-stars she has a voluminous record of TV and short films to her career credit. As Shallow Grave progresses so too does her femme fatale' persona and an utterly perfect performance to boot.
Supporting these unknown actors in their first cinematic roles is firstly the wonderful Keith Allen as the unfortunate Hugo and Allen returns in Trainspotting in another small cameo role, but a far larger role is filled by Ken Stott as the probing, questioning and laconic "Detective Inspector McCall". Peter Mullan is excellent as "Andy" before re-teaming with the Director on Trainspotting and Colin McCredie plays put upon and constantly ridiculed "Cameron" well. There is also a minor role for writer John Hodge as "Detective Constable Mitchell".
Suffice to say this is an incredible debut film from Danny Boyle and the first of many eminently quotable, tension building, graphically depicted, blackly comedic and career defining pieces of cinematic history. The incidentals, such as the constantly ringing telephone and the haunting, wandering signature piano music of the soundtrack (by Simon Boswell) ratchet the tension from a simple narrative of three friends enjoying life to three antagonists desperate to escape. As with so many of his films, Danny Boyle uses both the soundtrack (with further music supplied by the band Leftfield) and individual songs to great effect. Alongside the closing Andy Williams song "Happy Heart", there is just one further song in the entire film, Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me" but it's used brilliantly as we see our flatmates going about their daily life against the backdrop of the dead body still residing in their flat. Pop culture references also abound and are very much reflective of the mood of the film, with the awful "Lose A Million" game show juxtaposed later in the film with a snippet of "The Wicker Man".
Caustically funny with sporadic bursts of graphic violence (but much is off screen or in the shadows), the film triumphs with so many stand out scenes and three career defining performances from Fox, Eccleston and McGregor. From the chiding of Cameron, to a suitcase full of unexplained money, through a rising body count and the destruction of three friendships, it's also the camera work and angles used by Boyle and Director of Photography Brian Tufano that impress with every re-watching. There are oblique shots between floorboards, a dark and dank loft lighted brilliantly through shards of light and the reflection of the intruder in David's glasses is a joy to behold. As are the numerous sweeping camera shots of the inside of the flat and the spiralling shots upwards of the stairs outside but the "Strip the Willow" scene at a local Charity Dinner has it all, gregarious and drunken young people enjoying their life amidst a rising tide of anger, resentment and sexual tension all stripping away the bonds of friendship. It's a wonderful film and I count myself very lucky to have seen it on it's initial release twenty years ago and I never tire of seeing this beautiful creation time and time again.
But can you do me a quick favour please and answer than damn telephone? Otherwise I might be forced to go and live in the loft.
"Choose a job".
"Choose a career".
"Choose a family".
"Choose a fucking big television".
"Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players & electrical tin openers"
"Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments".
"Choose a starter home".
"Choose your friends".
"Choose leisurewear and matching luggage".
"Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics".
"Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning".
"Choose sitting on a couch watching spirit crushing game shows....stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth"
Those of you hardy souls that read my blogs will already be aware of what a voluminous "Favourite Films of all time" list I have. And Trainspotting is very near the summit and the highest possible praise I can give this masterpiece of a film. But this leaves me, as it often does, in somewhat of a quandary as to how to appraise or review this masterpiece without delving into spoilers or spoil through my own exuberance for a film I have grown up, lived with and adored for eighteen years. Trainspotting truly was a seminal film that spawned it's own culture and a cottage industry of books, t-shirts, slogans and allowed many inferior films to ride on it's coat tails. It reignited and/or gave new light into the careers of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed (to name just two) and as with Shallow Grave, propelled relative unknown actors into the stratosphere and onto glittering acting careers. Trainspotting was also universally reviled on release and lazily tagged with glamourising drug use but this film comes nowhere glorifying or celebrating the use of heroin or the many other drugs used within the narrative. Their use and, more importantly, the effects on the users are horrific, graphic, shown in extreme Tarantino style close up and the aftermath, or "coming down" and needing to "score" again make for painful viewing at times and clearly not in the realm or in the universe of glamourising or glorifying drug use. Under Boyle's direction and using the source material from Irvine Welsh, these horrific and unpalatable scenes are always blended with the macabre, superb humour or supreme surreality which often softens their impact. The film depicts the grim reality of heavy heroin abuse and it's constantly framed in painstaking close up but there is very little celebration of this fact, only the desire to gain more. But in a film concerning the use of heroin there will be casualties, heart ache, heart break and Boyle blends these with humour darker than a piece of Scottish coal and moments of pure joy that will enhance your soul. Returning Director of Photography Brain Tufuno and Editor Masahiro Hirakubo deserve immense credit alongside their Director for blending all these human elements and many many more into a breathtaking film.
Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh and the Oscar Nominated screenplay from John Hodge, Trainspotting is a simple tale of five friends in Edinburgh thrown together around one central character "Renton" (Ewan McGregor) and their daily needs for another "hit" or score. Not all of the friends are heroin users but they all have Renton as the central hub to their lives and similarly Renton becomes the central core of the film to us as he narrates throughout. He is desperate for a way out and constantly battling the demons of his dependency but he's always one hit away from the dark side despite his vaguely sincere plea of "With God's help I'll conquer this terrible affliction". McGregor's performance is pitch perfect in every way. Renton's polar opposite is "Begbie" (Robert Carlyle), a non drug user but heavy drinker and smoker who gets his kicks, quite literally, from sporadic and horrific violence and often on total strangers. The oldest of the friends and nominally a leader of sorts, he's also the least favoured amongst the group and the one best avoided. Carlyle's portrayal of the psychotic and unhinged Begbie is phenomenal and another actor who benefitted from the early tutelage of Boyle. "Sick Boy" propelled a young Jonny Lee Miller to national recognition through his portrayal of a ruthless chancer desperate to feed his habit. Full of illicit ideas and not a little anger, Sick Boy is also the cultural reference point of the film and indeed the narrative, weaving his knowledge of Hollywood films, the James Bond franchise and cultural icons with his drug requirements. He will often quit just to annoy Renton in particular, giving rise to one of the many classic lines of the film about him "He knows a lot about Sean Connery!". "Spud" is an integral part of the group and expertly played by Ewen Bremner, who followed Trainspotting with a wealth of films in the early 2000's (Snatch, Pearl Harbour and Black Hawk Down). Spud has a heart of gold but very little sense! "Tommy" (Kevin McKidd) is another non drug user and happily partnered and along for the ride with his friends.
In support of these central characters are a wealth of intriguing cameo and support roles and Keith Allen returns after Shallow Grave in a cameo as "Dealer" and the author Irvine Welsh portrays scatty and jumpy "Mikey Forrester" well. Peter Mullan also returns to a Boyle film in the guise of "Swanney" or "Mother Superior". It is his run down, decrepit and hole ridden den in which the drug taking friends often find themselves and Mullan is superb as always. Last but by no means least is the break out performance of Kelly MacDonald as "Diane". Her introduction is perfection itself, as Renton, desperate for some female company spots Diane across the room of the local nightclub and can only stand transfixed and watch in awe as Diane finishes the drinks brought to her by a clearly out of his depth male chancer and walks away without a flicker of emotion. All perfectly framed by Director Boyle with his camera sweeping across the room from a smitten Renton "and with that, Mark Renton had fallen in love". He wasn't the only one!.
A Channel 4 films Production this soon became another Danny Boyle film that was (and remains) eminently quotable and quickly seeped into the public consciousness and became an instant pop culture icon. It's far more than a tale of Mark Renton's life but McGregor's role is central, appearing as he does in both the opening and closing frames of the film. Where Director Boyle excels is to take a horrifying and often repugnant tale and twist it with touches of dark humour as well as utilising a surrealistic bent and nowhere is this more apparent than in Renton's most difficult struggles with his addiction. Trying to go "cold turkey" and a complete withdrawal from drugs, he barricades himself into a sparse room with various supplies and nails the door closed. A minute later, a desperate Renton is seeking a "hit" and after finally securing a substitute drug of sorts he is caught short by the onset of diarrhoea and has no alternative but to use "The Worst toilet in Scotland". But what is initially a disgusting scene of filth and degradation soon becomes a beautifully surrealistic dive into the toilet bowl! Later in the film, and again struggling with a complete withdrawal Renton experiences violent and disturbing hallucinations, of his bedroom moving, sharing his room with his friends and indeed the visitations of the awful consequences that have so far become of some of those closest to him and a Dale Winton hosted game show that hints at the further horrors ahead. It is particularly difficult to watch and one incident in particular is extremely shocking but the quality of the juxtapositions employed by the Director are stunning and indicative of Renton's state of mind. A final insight into the experiences of Renton, and the brilliant presentation of the Director is his violent overdose. As he sinks into a red rug as though being buried, the scene continues with Renton constantly framed by the red rug surrounding him and reminding the audience that he is but a few minutes away from dying. Revived in a hospital and the aftermath is again horrific but the scene takes no more than three minutes and is accompanied throughout by a beautifully quiet and original version of "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed. It truly is a scene that needs to be seen to be believed. But these are just examples of the more extreme situations we see Renton encounter and Boyle really does exploit the horrific scenes to inject a counter narrative, and provide light to the darkest of shades. But it shouldn't be overlooked that the film has so many high (pun intended) points and the nightclub scene mid way through the film is the highest. The night out for all the friends is a veritable feast of sex, or the promise of it, drugs and a huge intake of alcohol. The aftermath for each is very different, from hilarious to exultant or to the depths of desolation but it's Renton who experiences all three but before the morning arrives he's fallen in love and "I haven't felt that good since Archie Gemmill scored against Holland in 1978". It's oblique unless you've seen the film but it's also a wonderful example of the Director telling his story in such a supreme and affecting way. And it's bloody hilarious too!
Supporting all of these superb talents is a soundtrack that is worthy of a place in your music collection all on it's own. Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" opens the film and reflective of the narrative arc the film is closed by Underworld and "Born Slippy". In between is a veritable feast of classic songs from Lou Reed (Perfect Day), Blondie (Atomic), Heaven 17 (Temptation), Blur (Sing), Pulp (Mile End) and Elastica (2:1). Not forgetting Spud's rendition of "Two Little Boys" which may break your heart.
18 years on, Trainspotting remains fresh, vibrant, brilliantly funny, thought provoking and a horrific but beautiful watch. It's one of my favourite films of all time and despite the esteemed competition, Danny Boyle's finest cinematic accomplishment.
Love, fate, destiny and wanting to be accepted in the world for who you are are obvious themes running throughout the film and you'll certainly smile throughout at the antics of the hapless male roles and the domineering portrayals of the female leads. The aforementioned Karaoke scene is a real gem and there are many others but Tod Johnson, prying on his new neighbours and being gently teased by Celine steals the show with the priceless line "You have to understand Ma'am, I watch mainly the biblical channels". Deadpan, awkward, unsure and half smiling - a perfect summation for the film as a whole!
DiCaprio is the film's headliner, playing intrepid traveller "Richard" and during the opening narration (Richard narrates during the entire film) he firmly establishes that he doesn't want the norm of a would be traveller, arriving at his appointed destination, enjoying the tourist trail and moving on. He wants something more, something exotic, something different and amidst his fellow travellers and with both The Simpson's and Apocalypse Now playing on big screens around him he narrates "We all travel thousands of miles to check into a hotel with the comforts of home". Following his arrival in Bangkok he has a chance meeting with "Daffy" (a brilliantly unhinged Robert Carlyle) and they share both a large spliff and their would be dreams of travelling, of "paradise" and the following morning Daffy has left Richard a present, a map of a rare, deserted island off the coast of Thailand. His imagination fired, Richard sets off to find this tropical beach paradise. DiCaprio dominates the screen as the eager and fearless Richard and his narration adds to the telling of his story perfectly. It's not the flawless performances of recent years but it still stands the test of time 14 years on.
Richard is accompanied to the remote island by "Francoise" (Virginie Ledoyen) and her boyfriend "Etienne" (Guillaume Canet) and these are by far the largest of the supporting roles. Their time together is sweet natured, full of fun and excitement as they approach the mythical island paradise, however the one they find is anything but a paradise and they are not the only inhabitants once they reach their destination. Already established on one part of the island is a mixed nationality commune of fellow thrill seeking travellers but since their arrival they have made a fully functioning home and relish their remote, untouched and idyllic life. "Sal" (Tilda Swinton) is the group's nominal Leader but very definitely it's familial Matriarch and dominant personality and Swinton is excellent throughout. Stand out cameo performances within the commune come from "Bugs" (Lars Arentz-Hansen) and particularly "Keaty" (Paterson Joseph) with his two pillars of life being the two C's "Christianity and Cricket!".
There is much to admire in this, Boyle's fourth cinematic offering. The first two acts are sublime as it depicts an idyllic, remote and virtually independent life. Director of Photography Darius Khondji (Se7en, Panic Room, Midnight in Paris) expertly frames the wide expanse of the beach and surrounding island well and it truly becomes a character in it's own right. A Danny Boyle staple of sweeping and long drawn out panning shots are brilliantly in evidence too. The night time scene with Richard and Francoise, with accompanying title song from All Saints, is the film's stand out moment and whilst this narrator baulks at that particular song, it is still an affecting and brilliant scene. As is their earlier scene together, again at night but this time considering their place on the earth and the possibility of life on other planets. It perfectly encapsulates one of the film's central themes of being human, enjoying life and striving for the seemingly impossible, of an idyllic and self determining existence. However, the film's third Act falls flat for me but that is not for the want of trying from the Director. Here again he excels with superb references to pop culture classics of yesteryear with clear allusions to Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter but the computer game mock up Richard experiences is, although referenced, clunky, without real merit and should have been left on the cutting room floor. A major flaw in the third Act but considering I wasn't the target demographic 14 years ago (and clearly not now!) this is but a small gripe in an overall engrossing film.
There is a close up shot of an eyeball and the faint sound of a person breathing before we cut to an overhead shot of a naked man in a hospital bed attached to various tubes. We cut to another close up, this time on the man's face as he slowly awakens and begins disconnecting the tubes. He now peers through the blinds of the window into the dishevelled and untidy corridor outside of his door, which he opens with a key he finds on the floor. He shouts a faint "Hello" before we cut to the same man, now dressed in a green hospital gown as he stumbles around the eerily silent and empty hospital building. He repeats a faint "Hello" before trying the telephones but they clearly aren't working and he now shouts a more distressed and anguished "HELLO". After leaving the hospital building we cut to two shots of the distressed man, one from below and a second from above, with the stationary white ambulances starkly juxtaposed against the matchstick figure in green.
Further edited shots of the man follow him on his walk through the deserted streets, from the Houses of Parliament to the London Eye with one shot in particular standing out (picture opposite), from on high and again framing a matchstick figure all alone. The haunting musical soundtrack (Godspeed You Black Emperor by East Hastings) is the only sound to be heard and it continues to build to a crescendo as the man collects numerous discarded £20 notes from the streets. With the music continuing we cut to a long shot of the man juxtaposed against the beautiful early morning sunrise and St Paul's Cathedral before cutting to a brilliant signature shot of the entire sequence as the distressed man continues his lonely walk against the background of a large billboard and a smiling lady behind him.
After setting off a car alarm the man picks up a newspaper and the headline reads "EVACUATION". The wonderful yet haunting music continues to build as we follow the man into a deserted Piccadilly Circus and the reality hits him as The Statue of Eros is cordoned off and the barriers swamped with notices pleading for information on lost family members. Unable to comprehend the enormity of the situation, and as the music comes to an end, he begins to walk away. We cut to the man, entering a church.......
The man in question is "Jim" and he's brought to life admirably by a wonderful Cillian Murphy who continued with the Danny Boyle trend of a headlining actor who would go onto become a fully fledged Hollywood star. Roles in all three Christopher Nolan inspired Batman films followed, as did a brilliant performance in Nolan's seminal film Inception and between these hugely successful franchise films Murphy also reunited with Boyle on 2007's "Sunshine" (see below) and was truly outstanding in the underrated 2011 low budget thriller "Retreat". But here as Jim, Murphy excels as he tries to make sense of the emptiness around him, of the devastation and heartbreak and of course, the virus ridden zombies that just love to attack at night! Fearing he was all alone, Jim is rescued by "Selena" (an excellent Naomie Harris) and "Mark" (Noah Huntley) who in the film's only real exposition heavy scene describe to Jim the utter devastation the outbreak of the virus has wrecked on civilisation and the dire consequences should they come into contact with any of the walking dead and virus infected zombies. This brief scene in particular continues a key theme that permeates the film as Boyle blends the horror narrative of virus infected zombies with excellent directorial touches of light and shade, shadows and particularly reflections, as well as darkly comedic humour. The scene is bathed in shadows and reflections, a constant theme of the film, but the humour is raised by the inclusion of the classic Giraffe/Lion joke, which pleased this 42 year old teenager immensely!
Although ostensibly a zombie horror film it is also somewhat of a buddy/road trip film as our survivors seek refuge, a way out and survival from the horrors that surround them. It is in this respect that our main supporting roles are cast, with "Frank" (Brendan Gleeson) and "Hannah" (Megan Burns) as survivors and a Father/Daughter family unit. Gleeson is superb as always but it's Megan Burns as the belligerent, cheeky yet determined to survive Hannah who excels. With refuge seemingly found in a northern outpost patrolled by a motley crew of sweary and on edge soldiers, by far and away the stand out supporting role is portrayed by a returning Christopher Eccleston as "Major Henry West". Calm and self effacing on the surface but mentally unhinged and subtly terrifying, Eccleston is superb and almost steals the film from Murphy's performance as Jim.
This post apocalyptic zombie horror from Danny Boyle spawned numerous imitators after it's release in 2002 including a loose follow up "28 Weeks Later" and even illusionist Derren Brown's 2012 TV show "Apocalypse". This certainly wasn't the first film to explore themes of virus carrying zombies either but what sets this apart from it's predecessors or indeed its imitators is the love story at the core of the film, of two disparate individuals thrown together in the midst of a horrifying situation and despite their selfish individual intentions for survival they seek solace in one another and a strong faith that human kind can prevail. The Director, along with his two leading actors in Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris deserve great credit for keeping this narrative strand at the heart of the story despite the chaos surrounding them. As alluded to previously, the film is bathed in shadows and reflections and these are both highly effective and a source of the film's building tension and suspense, as is John Murphy's haunting soundtrack. The choice of East Hastings' song during Jim's lonely walk through the streets of London is an inspired inclusion, as is the inclusion of "Abide With Me" which is deeply personal for me and deeply affecting on the screen.
Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle also deserves immense credit for capturing the early morning sunrise shots and the vast amount of overhead and slow panning shots in the film's opening segments, as well as the overhead shots of the single car travelling on a deserted motorway and our survivors walking along a similarly deserted train track. With the aforementioned shadows and reflections there is much to admire in and around the main narrative story. If there's one small bone to pick it would be the inclusion of the shopping scene mid-way through the film. It's good but it's not needed, and only a minor flaw in an otherwise gripping and shocking zombie film, with a love story twist!
A brilliant life affirming morality tale blended with the blackest of humour (and "Ding Dong" Leslie Phillips!), supported by surrealistic saints and a wonderful soundtrack. It's a joy of a film and clearly Danny's most personal to date which is dedicated to both Annie Teresa Meheran and Patrick Francis Boyle, and if you're not crying by the end you have a heart as hard as granite!
But all is not lost. The nods to Alien are obvious (on-board "Mother" controlling the ship, fracturing relationships and mental breakdowns, the change in the ship's mission, an unwanted intruder and the initial dinner scene to name but a few) and there are a number of other homages to many other classic science fiction films too. But specific to Sunshine there are some fantastic scenes that impress, especially the vision of Mercury as it passes by the sun, the reflections that bathe the film at times and mirror the characters slow descent into mental turmoil, the space walk merged with split screen visuals and extreme close ups inside the helmets is a delightful segment and the exploration of the spaceship "Icarus I" with it's subliminal imagery is the film's real high point. Would it be churlish to suggest that one particularly loathsome character's demise is also a high point, or would that be damning the film further with faint praise? Despite being underwhelmed by the film overall, these are genuine high points and worthy of praise, as is Director of Photography Alwin Kuchler's excellent realisation of the occasional outside shots of space and particularly the claustrophobic atmosphere within the spaceship. The film's soundtrack is also a particular high point with composer John Murphy's collaboration with the band Underworld.
I'm sure in the years to come I'll come to appreciate this film more but I can't help feeling underwhelmed and utterly bemused by it's final act. That said, it tackles the central issues of religion, faith, the future of humanity and nods towards the all pervasive climate change. Rather tellingly, and shortly after the release of Sunshine Danny Boyle was quoted as saying "When I was making Sunshine, it suddenly struck me: No director has gone back into space, with the exception of the franchise directors. If you look at the record, you'll find that's true. I now know why". After completing Sunshine, Danny also confirmed he was finished with the science fiction genre and would not return, citing it as a "spiritually exhausting experience".
The film was also a huge triumph for collaboration across the board with a constant Anglo/Indian partnership in all areas with Boyle co-directing with renowned Indian Director Loveleen Tandan, Simon Beaufoy adapted the original novel "Q & A" by Indian writer Vikas Swarup and albeit a largely Indian cast, the headline role fell to Dev Patel, an English born actor more renowned for his TV role in "Skins" and has since excelled in another TV role "The Newsroom" and on the big screen in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The cast list for this multi award winning film is vast however there are principally three headline roles but each of these was filled with three actors per role as this wonderful bitter sweet love story tracks their journey from childhood to late teens, and the winning of a vast life changing amount of money for "The Three Musketeers".
The self proclaimed Musketeers are listed here from youngest to oldest, with firstly "Jamal" (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda and Dev Patel), "Salim" (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and Madhur Mittal) and "Latika" (Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar and Freida Pinto). Jamal and Salim are brothers, with Salim slightly older but far more dominant, steely and worldly wise than his younger sibling. Whilst escaping yet another horrific day within the Juhu slums the boys encounter Latika, completely alone in the world and resolve to be the three musketeers with lofty dreams of living a normal life in a big house and far removed from their slum existence. The principal supporting players in the huge cast are "Police Inspector" (Irrfan Khan) and his bully boy interrogator "Sergeant Srinivas" (Saurabh Shukla), the slimy and somewhat deliberately unlikeable TV Presenter "Prem" (Anil Kapoor), "Maman" (Ankur Vikal) and vile crime boss "Javed" (Mahesh Manjrekar).
This Film 4 supported triumph is in both Hindi and English languages with corresponding subtitles and follows a non-linear narrative weaved between the Musketeers very young, adolescent and late teen lives and each of these individual narratives are merged or segued throughout and often brilliantly as, for example, we see the young brothers jump from a train and age a number of years before their dusty descent ends. But the film continues in the same vein throughout it's near two hour runtime but principally it's blended from the largely incidental TV game show forward to Jamal's intensive and often brutal interrogation and back to the brother's grim and desperate hustling as young children in the vast maze like slums of Juhu in search of the basic necessities of food and water. Here in the brother's youngest years is where their desperate plight is heartbreakingly portrayed as older brother Salim constantly protects his younger sibling from as many of the horrors of their subsistence life as possible. Seeking to purely survive the brothers often have to beg, borrow and steal as they make their way through the overcrowded slums and rubbish tips and against a dispiriting and violent backdrop. Their mid-teen years are depicted as developing hustlers and coming to terms with their surroundings but always mindful of the horrific violence that lurks around every corner before, again through clever editing and blending of the twisted timeline narrative, we see Jamal in the adult world as a "Chai-Wallah" or tea maker and errand boy in a Call Centre whilst his older brother continues to make his way in life as a street hustler and in the pay of a local gangster. Separated from Latika, Jamal applies for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and his life will never be the same again. The game show itself is an exact recreation of the show that hooked umpteen millions of UK viewers for so many years and with Jamal under interrogation for cheating, there is a nod to the (in)famous real life "coughing Major" and collusion to de-fraud controversy of 2001 when the Police Inspector asks Jamal if he had a "coughing accomplice in the audience". Again, to my eyes the game show itself is merely a sideshow to the film's main themes of fate, destiny, love and kinship but during the eerily well re-created game show scenes Jamal is understandably nervous and straight acting despite the adoring crowd however as the narrative unravels, the reasons for this become ever clearer.
Eight Oscars, wonderful central performances, the sublime camera work of Anthony Dod Mantle, a twisted narrative that engages you time and time again and an Indian infused soundtrack that compliments the film perfectly, what more excuse do you need to see this triumph for Danny Boyle?
In another Film 4 supported film, the opening fifteen minutes go by in a blur of split screen montages, hand held camera footage and cleverly realised photo's taken by "Aron Ralston" (James Franco) as he prepares to leave his apartment on 25th April 2003 for a weekend of mountain biking and canyon climbing. Ignoring the messages on his answer phone, unable to find his swiss army knife and leaving a kitchen water tap dripping (see a pattern developing here?) he arrives at Utah's Canyonlands National Park and makes firm friends with two fellow climbers and adrenaline junkies, "Megan" (Amber Tamblyn) and "Kristi" (Kate Mara). Aron promises to attend their party the following night, but it's a party he's destined not to make as he falls into a deep crevice and is firmly stuck and unable to escape. His 127 hours starts now.
Aron Ralston is an experienced climber and well equipped (aside from adequate water supplies and the aforementioned swiss army knife) but using the surrounding boulders he calmly sets about the task of trying to free himself and taking stock of everything he has with him. During this excruciating experience and totally alone he relies on the non essential items such as his camera, watch and his hand held camera to which he narrates constantly. Here are three brief examples:
"It's 3:05 on Sunday April 27th 2003. This marks 24 hours of being stuck in Blue John Canyon".
Ralston continues to confirm his name, the name and address of his parents and requests the finder of the camera and it's tape to pass it to his parents. He also describes his injuries but is cut short by falling sand above him and screams for help.
"It's Monday. Bummer all day. I tried to set up this pulley all morning but it didn't work".
Ralston goes on to describe the ideal scenario for his escape but although all means are impossible he retains his dark sense of humour and half smiles throughout before adding "oh, and eight burly men to do all the hauling". He's low on water and his body is physically breaking down.
"Good Morning Everyone!. It's 7 o'clock here in Canyonland USA. And this morning, on the boulder, we have a very special guest. Self proclaimed American Super Hero. Aron Ralston!".
Ralston is self mocking and in the style of a TV Talk Show host he plays both "himself" and the host as we cut between the hand held camera and that of the Director, brilliantly depicting both Ralston's state of mind and his retained sense of ridiculous humour. There is dark comedy mixed with real sadness and deep frustration as he desperately misses his parents and his life. Near to tears, he's starkly aware that no-one knows where he is and that with his water running out he is close to death. He repeatedly apologises to his parents and longs to see them again someday, whereby he'll make up for neglecting their love and attention.
127 Hours was fully deserving of the six Oscar Nominations it received in 2011, for Best Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score and Original Song. Despite losing in every category, the film remains a stellar achievement of a true life tale of adventure, solitude, survival and redemption.
"Simon" (James McAvoy) is a young art auctioneer who is professional and diligent yet deeply in debt, principally to "Franck" (Vincent Cassel) who in the film's opening scene cashes in that debt by stealing Goya's "Witches in the Air". Franck is aided by fellow criminals "Nate" (Danny Sapani), "Dominic" (Matt Cross) and "Riz" (Wahab Sheikh). Their job is complete and Simon's debt is paid. Or is it? Again, the film's opening narration with it's telling statement "No piece of art is worth a human life" and it's clever use of "To Camera" narration from Simon (including him simply staring silently straight at the camera or with a half smile) challenges the audience to think again and to look much, much closer. With a cast of only 16 main characters and many of these are purely incidental sideshows to assist the narrative, it falls to McAvoy (Welcome to the Punch and 2014's Filth) and Cassel (A Dangerous Method and the excellent Black Swan) to nominally headline the film but it's the next ex Mrs Stephen Blackford who is the film's true star. Rosario Dawson casts a spell on me in every film she appears, from 2002's Spike Lee directed classic 25th Hour, both Sin City comic book noir thrillers, Kevin Smith's excellent sequel to Clerks and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 homage to Grindhouse Cinema, Death Proof. Here she portrays "Elizabeth" a Harley Street hypnotist charged by the nefarious criminal gang with locating a stolen artefact and takes both a top heavy male only cast and an already twisted narrative and twist both still further in a sublime performance.
"We blow this and IBM will own the next 50 years like a Batman villain"
Based on the biography "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson and excellently adapted for the screen with yet another effervescent screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Moneyball and A Social Network), one word perfectly encapsulates this wonderful film from Danny Boyle - control. The picture painted on screen, from his earliest memories and formative years as an orphan is of Steve Jobs craving control of every possible event and outcome and this becomes immediately evident as soon as the film introduces him as the epicentre of the launch of the Apple Macintosh Computer in 1984. The film as a whole follows a traditional three Act structure but the movie itself is anything but traditional, commencing with Black and White Television stock footage of Arthur C Clarke surrounded by huge computers in a "Computer Room" as he describes a vision of the future and "computers in every home", with the film climaxing 14 years later in 1998 and Steve Jobs taking to the stage at the launch of the iMac Computer against the backdrop of a huge screen with images of Arthur C Clarke, Albert Einstein, Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Alan Turing and lastly, Pablo Picasso.
In the two hours in between, Danny Boyle interweaves real life stock footage of the day capturing the rise, fall and rise again of Jobs, his association with Apple and cleverly using flashbacks during each Act to fill in the missing back story to an incredible tale of loss, determination, a pig headed refusal to comply with perceived wisdom and fractured human relationships of a man determined to grasp, and retain, control of all areas of his life and career. Spoilers aside, this fantastic film is all this and so much more, with enormous credit due to Aaron Sorkin for another poetic, balletic and often pulsing screenplay, composer Daniel Pemberton for an eclectic and Act specific musical composition and of course to Danny Boyle for bringing together so many intricate details and weaving them together in such an engaging and beautifully affecting manner. Aside from the excellent performances from a stellar cast list ranging from Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlberg and Jeff Daniels (all further explored below), what impresses me repeatedly on re-watching this often claustrophobic gem is that the three Act structure actually works, they are distinct pieces every time even though they contain the same rotating characters in a similarly veined narrative structure as grievances are aired, revenge taken, relationships strained to breaking point and occasionally apologies given. Cleverly, we never see Steve Jobs in the public role that made him famous to many, that of the avuncular and gregarious on stage speaker extolling the virtues of his new product. Each and every Act is the claustrophobic, hemmed in atmosphere back stage as Jobs prepares to take the stage before a new product launch across the 14 year period of 1984 to 1998. And what impresses me the most is that Jobs is portrayed as a particularly distasteful and unlikeable character in nearly every human interaction (bar his relationship with the human "soul" of the film and confidant Joanna Hoffman - first picture below), yet I'm still engaged and rooting for, and agreeing with Hoffman in the film's final Act, for Jobs to redeem and engage with his human side before it's too late.
Originally scheduled to be directed by David Fincher, the parallels with his film The Social Network are stark: A singular driven creator of a machine that has a need for absolute control. An acrimonious split from an original business and creative partner but with whom he retains a grudging respect. And more importantly, an insular and unlikeable character that is far more interested in machines than human beings. But whereas Fincher's portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is of the absolute creator of his product, Boyle's Steve Jobs admits in one of many frank exchanges that he "plays the orchestra" relying on the geniuses that surround him and his ideas and from the first Act of this drama onward, he is played incredibly well by Michael Fassbender. Despite the countdown to his stage entrance in every Act of the film Fassbender portrays the besieged and harassed Jobs brilliantly, flowing from one argument filled interaction to another with a bubbling intensity which is only seemingly assuaged but the calming influence of the film's heart beat, soul and only real human emotionally, his Marketing Executive and close personal confidant "Joanna Hoffman" (Kate Winslet). Both Fassbender and Winslet were nominated for Oscars in 2016 for their respective portrayals but it's arguable that Winslet provides the more striking role even set against the titular role from Fassbender. In a film full of machines, mechanics, algorithms and fractured relationships, Winslet's Hoffman beats to a more human drum, performing a real task of course of keeping Jobs "on point" and ready to take the stage but more importantly showing heart and soul and a pragmatism that really comes into it's own in the film's final Act and her imploring of Jobs to re-connect with his daughter before all maybe lost.
In every Act, whether it's the initial launch of the Apple McIntosh in 1984, Jobs creation of the NEXT Cube four years later or the iMac in 1998 he has to deal with a merry go round of five people before taking the stage each and every time. "Chrisann Brennan" is brilliantly portrayed by Katherine Waterston as Jobs' former girlfriend and mother of his daughter Lisa. Jobs' flat refusal to acknowledge his daughter and the possibility of his being the father is horrifically played as he falls back on algorithmic probabilities of Chrisann and who she has probably slept with and therefore the chances that Lisa may not be his daughter. Already worth over £441M in stock in 1984, Chrisann and Lisa are living on welfare and whilst addressed as the film covers the Acts, the scene on the rooftop at the film's denouement where this pays off with Jobs finally heeding Hoffman's warning and reconciling with his daughter and ending 14 years of uncertainty and recriminations. Indicative of the film as a whole is Jobs' relationship with "Steve Wozniak" (Seth Rogen), co founder of Apple and to whom Jobs has given a "free pass" for life for their initial joint creation. Their interactions in every Act are tense and direct, specifically so their final encounter, but the initial two are in keeping with the film with the characters walking and talking as they go (a theme of the film). Wozniak is enraged by the slight of the free pass and is simply seeking recognition of the "Apple 2" design but the theme of control again is evident as Jobs won't refer to this at a launch of another product and refuses to to cede control of his "end to end" system method. Rogen here produces another career highlight of a performance, albeit in a high profile cameo role, finally publicly admonishing his friend as he's "tired of being Ringo when I know I'm John" and pointedly "It's not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time". Another member of the original Apple team is "Andy Hertzfeld" and is subtly portrayed in a timid, shy performance by the excellent Michael Stuhlbarg. Another cameo role but an important one with a gem of a retort to Jobs' frustration that "the universe was created in a week" to which Hertzfeld replies "one day you'll have to tell us how you did it". Journalist "Joel Pforzheimer" (John Ortiz) interviews Jobs throughout the film but the final cameo role falls to the brilliant Jeff Daniels as "John Sculley", the CEO of Apple. In a nuanced performance, Daniels is outstanding as the ebullient celebrating friend before the 1984 launch despite his cutting remark to Jobs that "no-one sees the world like you do" before a bombastic firing of Jobs in a flashback and a mournful, regretful yearning in 1998 that history and events could have been so different for them both.
Fassbender's portrayal of Jobs is of course the key to this wonderful film. Living in his own bubble of creativity against an outside world of unrequited love, mistrust and being far more interested in machines than the human beings he surrounds himself with, he interestingly describes himself as "poorly made" as an excuse for his behaviour and even a Caesar analogy with his enemies surrounding him at every turn. His desire for control seeps through every pore of Fassbender's brilliant performance and perfectly encapsulated by Chrisann's tearful proclamation of "Things don't become so because you say so", and another shining example of the superb screenplay writing of Sorkin and helmed by Boyle in a highly recommended film in his cannon of already much vaunted body of cinematic work.
"It's just nostalgia. You're a tourist in your own youth!"
I try, where possible, to always insert a pithy but still relevant opening tag line to all of my film reviews and here this is brilliantly apt. For this film is dripping with nostalgia, and brilliantly so at times with the faint flashbacks inserted from the original 1996 film and re-workings of many of the film's iconic musical tracks with The Prodigy remix of "Lust for Life" being the stand out. But "a tourist in your own youth" is such a great line! And a prescient marker for the film as a whole, for this hugely and eagerly awaited follow up to the zeitgeist film of the late 1990's is in 2017 a mirror to growing old, of middle age, broken relationships and existential angst. Certainly to this writer and may be more of us than we care to admit to. As "Renton" (Ewan McGregor) pointedly exclaims in frustration to his childhood best friend "Simon" or "Sick Boy" (Jonny Lee Miller), "I'm 45 and I've got fuck all" it's clear that many of my favourite cinema characters growing up are back on the big screen, but they're different, older, and that must mean that I am too. In the lead up to the release of the film I listened to so many podcasts and read so many reviews that often commenced with "I'm a child of the 90's" or "I had a Trainspotting poster on my wall" and other self regarding pish. Well guess what? I'm a child of the 90's too and until 5 short months ago I still had my original Trainspotting poster on my kitchen wall, scaring new unenlightened visitors and small children alike! As you may have read above, I revere and adore the original Trainspotting film and was 24 when it was originally released. I've seen the original more times than I care to remember and like so many other self proclaimed fans, it was simply wonderful just to see these characters back on the big screen again. Your appreciation of a film or any piece of art is often in the shape of what you bring to it in the first place and after having seen this film three times since it's late January 2017 opening my opinion has changed somewhat. On the first showing I left the cinema a rather disappointed man. Yes I saw the themes of dislocation, of growing old, of mid life angst and of fractured friendships and relationships but being the fan of the original I guess I wanted more of the same heart pumping chaos that pervades the original. I enjoyed the nostalgic flashbacks inserted, Renton and Simon's hilarious escape from an overly religious Orange Order Lodge and their ode to George Best as described to Simon's "girlfriend" "Veronika Kovach" (Anjela Nedyalkova). On my second and third viewings of the film I settled rather more into the triumphant return of "Spud" (Ewen Bremner) and his escape from certain death and redemption as the film's real heart and soul this time and "Begbie" (Robert Carlyle) and his final comeuppance! I just selfishly wanted more from a film and characters that I'd waited 21 years to see again but softened my own attitudes with further re-viewings.
With a new and updated soundtrack that is growing on me with every listen and based again on both the original source material from Irvine Welsh and adapted by long time collaborator John Hodge, Anthony Dod Mantle deserves enormous praise for his cinematography and with Director Boyle, blending the old and new, the flashbacks into the present day in a visually stunning film which just loses it's way in the final Act before a beautiful ending in Renton's old bedroom. No further spoilers or hints, just a simple question:
"So what have you been up to..........for the past 20 years?"
"Renton" (Ewan McGregor) Since making off with the loot in 1996, Renton has seemingly made his life in Amsterdam with a successful career, a wife and raising two children. Drawn back home to Edinburgh, all is not quite as it seems and painted large on his face as his bemused expression shows upon arriving home. The old place has grown up too and a brief exchange with an Eastern European "Greeter" at Edinburgh Airport states this writ large. Has he come home to make amends for 21 years ago? Whether or not this is the case, Spud is pleased to see him, Simon is definitely going to make him pay one way or the other. Oh, and Begbie is looking for him!
"Sick Boy" (Jonny Lee Miller) Now running his Aunt's pub, but ostensibly nothing has changed in Sick Boy's life as he's still on the fringe's of an illegal life with his addiction to cocaine and growing cannabis as well as being a pimp and a blackmailer. His oldest and best friend has returned to his life and returned £4,000.00. But he's still intent on making him pay!
"Spud" (Ewen Bremner) "First there's an opportunity. Then's there's a betrayal". Still an addict. Still in love with Gail and finally the film's stand out hero. And incredibly pleasing it is too!
"Begbie" (Robert Carlyle) Another powerhouse performance showing all the angst of a madman desperate for release from prison to wreck his revenge on Renton.