T2 Trainspotting: a return to a dark path

Sequel to 1996 hit plays it safe, falls short of its predecessor

A lot of care went into T2 Trainspotting. What holds it back is a strong sense of sentimentality, which prevents it from going as far down a dark path as it could have. The gritty reality of drug addiction takes a backseat to slapstick comedy, coupled with elements usually found in romantic comedies.

T2 Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, and starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller, is the sequel to the 1996 hit Trainspotting. The original cast returns to Edinburgh to pick up where they left off—living fast, getting in trouble and going straight down to rock bottom.

Although a genuinely funny film, some audience members might not enjoy how some serious subject matters are addressed. The tone of the film is reminiscent of Trailer Park Boys in that it brings dark humor to serious issues. It could have been a dreary experience given the presence of drug use, relapse, depression and death. However, it ops for a good time, and viewers should expect a comedy.

T2 is a self-aware film, with many references to the original source material, sometimes so much so that it seems preoccupied with its predecessor’s success.

Under all the jokes, pop music and surprising amount of slapstick humor, T2 could be seen as a decent film about relapse into addiction. When things are going good for the characters, the film is a fun time. It’s a night out with your best friends, it’s choosing life and loving it. When things aren’t going so well, the film takes an emotional dip, as all hope seems to be lost. Whereas the first film was timeless because of how it handled the seriousness of heroin addiction—the sequel does not delve deep enough into the topic. T2 plays it safe.

The original film dealt with addiction in a way that hadn’t been done before, and so comparing T2 to Trainspotting is unfair. But T2 is so rooted in the last film that viewing the first is practically mandatory. Yet, this film does not match up to the 1996 classic.

However, despite the shortcomings that keep T2 from being a classic itself, there are some moments which are truly great, such as when Simon reminisces with Mark about the first time they got high—a beautifully heart-breaking moment when two young men effectively destroy their lives for good.

Once the film finally comes to an end, it is clear this is a story about redemption more than relapse— but while T2 accurately depicts relapse, it does not fully delve into the subject.


American Honey: Chasing American dreams in a hopeless place

One of cinema’s leaders in social realism, Andrea Arnold, returns with an American Indie classic

As the blockbuster season finishes and award season begins, American Honey, the fourth feature film by Andrea Arnold, emerges as an early favourite for number one movie of the year, winning the Cannes prix du jury.

An intimate American road trip movie about a few disenfranchised youths, American Honey provides a fun, sometimes horrifying look at people who aren’t often seen in cinema. It is a simple film in terms of plot, yet it is very complex in terms of character development. It is realistic without being cynical, and sympathetic to its characters without romanticizing the lower-class hero. American Honey is a special film with characters who are not romanticized as heros.

The film follows Star (Sasha Lane), an 18-year-old who is taking care of her dirtbag boyfriend’s two children. A chance encounter at a KMart with Jake (Shia LaBeouf)—in the role he was born to play—opens the door for her to escape her troubled domestic situation. She decides to go across the country with Jake and his ‘crew,’ a merry band of magazine-selling misfits. An intense romance quickly develops between Star and Jake, to the disapproval of their boss, Krystal (Riley Keough). From here on, there is not much plot—it is a mixture of a mundane work-a-day lifestyle and spring break.

Typically Arnold’s films deal with characters trapped in a society packed with symbolism related to a constant desire to be free in nature. ‘The Crew,’ as they are referred, move aimlessly around the country selling magazines while singing along to songs about making money. Star is quickly accepted by the group as one of their own, yet she still seems to not fit in completely. She is an outsider within outsiders.

Viewers who aren’t familiar with Arnold’s work should note going in that she is not a director interested in finite conclusions or plot-based stories. Rather, she is more preoccupied with observing people in the margins of society. Some viewers have been put off by the open-ended nature of her endings as well as the idleness of her plot lines, and American Honey is no different. However, the brilliance of this film is not the end of the road, but the journey itself. This is a road trip movie with no destination, because there cannot be a destination. In fact, Star’s journey is effectively just a circle which ends where it started.

While the cast, besides Lane, is entirely white and mostly heteronormative, interested viewers should be aware that this is not a nostalgic Americana love letter to the past. American Honey is a very critical look at a country built on classism—one which ignores its poor, never granting even a small hope of escaping the cycle of poverty. The film can be described as an epilogue for the American Dream.

American Honey comes to Montreal theatres on Oct.14. It will be playing at Cinema Du Parc and the AMC in limited release. 

Grade: A (4.5/5)


The Cinéclub Film Society starts the Halloween season early

Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will be screened and accompanied by live music

For those interested in getting into the spirit of Halloween a little early, the Cinéclub Film Society of Montreal has a solution. On Oct. 7 and 8, the Cinéclub will be screening a double feature of Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Be warned: this is not a normal vintage screening. While the Cinéclub usually holds screenings at Concordia’s downtown campus, this event will be held at the Gothic-style W. P. United Church in Westmount. Each screening will feature live music, including a cello, piano and theremin. Period costumes will also be on hand for the purists, along with popcorn and drinks. In keeping with the Cinéclub’s tradition, both films will be projected onto a screen.

The silent films being showcased are two hallmarks of German expressionism as well as cornerstones of the horror genre. Nosferatu (1922), directed by the great F. W. Murnau, is the vampire movie. Considered to be the first vampire film ever made, Nosferatu is known for its use of shadows. Count Orlok’s shadow moving up a staircase is one of cinemas most iconic scenes.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), directed by Robert Wiene, tells the story of the psychopathic Dr. Caligari, the director of an insane asylum who hypnotizes sleepwalkers into killing victims. While Nosferatu is known for its vampires and striking shadows, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari features incredible set design. The film has more of a resemblance to a series of gothic paintings than to a modern-day horror movie. The camera captures the many shadows painted on the sets, creating some of the most memorable expressionistic visuals to come out of the horror genre. Both films will be presented with English intertitles.

The Cinéclub Film Society is dedicated to preserving Montreal’s film culture. The group has been active in the city since 1992 and, in association with the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, they screen classic films throughout the year. The group is one of the last outlets for Montreal cinephiles to experience film on actual film, as colloid projections become increasingly difficult to find. Anyone interested in attending this or any of the Cinéclub Film Society’s events is guaranteed to have a one-of-a-kind experience not found in the average cinema.

The W.P. United Church is located at 4695 de Maisonneuve West, near Vendome metro. Tickets cost $14 ($9 for students) and can be purchased online or at the door. The screenings start at 7:30 p.m. but event organizers recommend arriving early, as the church pews fill up fast. You can visit the Cinéclub Film Society’s website for more information.


Blair Witch: A return to the Black Hills Forest

While not fully living up to the original, Blair Witch still has frights and fights

Hidden under the title of The Woods during production, Blair Witch is the latest sequel to The Blair Witch Project (1999), a film that is considered one of the pioneers of found-footage horror. While this new instalment is a significant upgrade from the catastrophe that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), viewers should still not be expecting a classic this time around.

Fans of the original should be advised to leave their expectations for another Blair Witch at home, as this instalment feels like a fan fiction that somehow managed to become a feature film. The filmmakers did make the effort to continue the found-footage tradition and even staged the film in its original location. However, the shaky camera style quickly becomes distracting and the woods somehow feel smaller than in the original film.

The story is painfully straightforward. James, the brother of Heather (who disappeared in the original), finds newly discovered footage on YouTube that he thinks features his sister. This opens up the possibility that she could still be alive. He decides to round up his three closest friends to go investigate, reluctantly bringing along the two people who found the footage for guidance. What follows is the typical, predictable filler of character conflict that leads to the group splitting up for no good reason, a flurry of jump scares and some mediocre deaths, which all lead up to the abandoned, decrepit house from the original.

Blair Witch manages nothing new, despite having an acre of potential. photo: Chris Helcermanas-Benge/© Lionsgate

There are many fatal flaws that plague the film, the biggest being that there is never a sense that these characters have any kind of chance of making it out alive. It resembles a one-sided fight between a wolf and six blind lambs. Moreover, rather building up any kind of substantial suspense, Blair Witch is just a basic monster movie shot exactly like Cloverfield (2008). The monster in this movie being an amalgamation of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Slender Man, and a self-aware forest. Worst of all, there really is not much of a point to the film. It fails to build on the original, all the while being predictable just like every other horror movie made in the last 10 years.

However, for all of Blair Witch’s faults, it must be said that the third act inside the house is well worth the price of admission. This is where the film finally jumps into top gear. It is the kind of scary that will keep most viewers frozen in their seats. There really isn’t a logical reason for the characters to go into the house, but the movie needs to go inside more than its characters do. While the ending is not something that will stick with many people, the sequence is a genuinely fun time. If I were to compare the film to anything, it would be to a rollercoaster ride. There is a lot of time spent waiting for something to happen, then a few bumps to get your attention, and finally a sudden rush that slows down right before you’re let off.

Those who are looking for something new should stay away, but anyone who enjoys a fright should check it out.

Stars: 2.5


Dekalog: The human condition, dissected

A Polish masterwork makes a stop by Montreal’s Cinéma du Parc

This September, Cinéma du Parc will be showcasing Krzysztof Kieślowski’s newly restored 1989 Polish TV drama Dekalog, a miniseries which presents a timeless look into ageless aspects of the human condition. Janus Films has finally delivered a restoration to this masterwork that will now be screened for a month at Cinéma du Parc in collaboration with the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

Filmed in 10 separate hour-long segments, Dekalog is a quintessential European epic in cinephile circles alongside the likes of Sátántangó (1994) and Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).

But rest assured it does not demand to be viewed like a regular TV show. Despite being a television series,  it functions as 10 individual short films. Each part is connected by theme only, not by linear narrative structure. At Cinéma du Parc, each ‘episode’ is screened during five two-hour blocks over the span of three weeks.

The miniseries’ director is two-time Oscar nominee Krzysztof Kieślowski.

It is also worth noting that while the series is themed around the Ten Commandments, a strong or weak connection to religion is not required to enjoy these works. The themes serve only as inspiration to 10 intimate portrayals of everyday life.

A two-time Oscar nominee, the late Kieślowski is a giant in Polish cinema. He holds the distinction of being one of the most revered directors of his time, with Sight and Sound naming him the second greatest director of the modern day in 2002. Kieślowski’s prime years were in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in which he directed, in addition to Dekalog, the Three Colors Trilogy films (1993-1994) and The Double Life of Veronique (1991). Despite being remembered for his narrative works, Kieślowski cut his teeth in the field with 21 documentary credits to his name before his transition into auteur cinema.

The screenings should serve as a welcomed alternative to those starved for an art house cinema fix in the wake of the summer blockbuster season. It also presents a great introduction to the style of European Art Cinema and even post-Cold War Eastern European Cinema as many of the episodes, such as Part V: Thou Shalt not Kill (1990), feature allusions to anxieties of a post-Cold War society. 

Cinéma du Parc will be releasing their scheduled list of screenings each week on their website.

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