Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cat's Away 2: The spotting of many trains

This is the third night of Cat's Away 2, the second time in the past two months I'm marathoning movies while my wife is out of town.

The "sticker shock," so to speak, of checking the runnimng time of Silence only after Monday evening had crept past the 8:30 mark got me more interested in checking the running times of my planned Tuesday night double feature: Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting.

While the total minutes for the original left me breathing a sigh of relief -- a very reasonable 94 -- the sequel kind of gut-punched me, clocking in at 113 minutes. Making for a total of 207 minutes, which is just shy of three-and-a-half hours. Ah, 1996. I miss the days when movies didn't have to be bloated and could do everything they needed to do in an hour-and-a-half.

Yet despite the knowledge of a viewing task that was nearly an hour longer than the one I undertook the night before, which I barely got through, I did not deviate from my plan of picking up T2 at the Hoyts kiosk at lunch on Tuesday.

Did I start any earlier?

Not much.

In fact, it was 8:33 when I started the original Trainspotting -- just seven minutes before my actual start time of 8:40 for Silence. And it almost didn't happen.

See, I had always been planning to watch my never-watched BluRay copy of Trainspotting, purchased back in the U.S. I'd gotten it shortly after my most recent viewing of the film in 2011, which reinforced my love for it in a big way. I brought it with me to Australia because I knew we had access to region-free BluRay/DVD players here, which would play our American DVDs. And so far it has been playing them -- most of them.

Trainspotting was about the fourth I've encountered that would not play due to a region mismatch. Suddenly, the whole double feature was in doubt.

Fortunately, quick thinker that I am, I checked to see if it was playing on one of our two streaming services, Stan and Netflix. Stan was the first I tried, and lo and behold, there it was.

My third viewing of Trainspotting reinforced even further my love for it. As I was watching I couldn't help taking notes on numerous little details I appreciated, which I will rattle through as quickly as I can:

1) I love how the first hit of heroin we see Mark Renton take is so overwhelming that he's collapsed onto his back before he's even exhaled the smoke from the drag he took before he took the hit. That's some good shit.

2) I certainly knew who Peter Mullan was when I watched Trainspotting in 2011 -- after all, he's Sid in Children of Men. But I didn't notice myself noticing that he's in this movie until this viewing.

3) The toilet dive is still my favorite. I love how it escapes into pristine waters and beautiful music as he swims down to get the suppositories.

4) I love the little detail that Renton's hand gets hit by a thrown mug during the riot Begbie starts in the pup after tossing his mug from the balcony. Renton is in the balcony, meaning he'd likely be clear of collateral damage, but that mug hits his hand anyway. It's a good, possibly unintended metaphor for the collateral damage of heroin use.

5) I liked Spud's little talk about his girlfriend's position on why they are waiting to have sex. He says there relationship is "principally going to be defined as physical" going forward, which is why she wants to start it more chastely. That's as good a description of the reasons for withholding sex at the start of a relationship as I've ever heard.

6) I sometimes forget how much light comedy there is in this movie. I tend to think of it as defined by things like the horror of the baby's death -- which was as horrible as it always is -- but it's a really funny movie. There's even a fair bit of gross out comedy, as with the episode with Spud's soiled sheets.

7) I was reminded that Renton stealing Tommy's sex tape sets in motion a chain of consequences that results in Tommy's death. And Renton never owns it. For a protagonist, he sure is oblivious to the hurt he causes in the world.

8) I had forgotten from previous viewings how much Renton's parents try to do right by him. I tend to think of Trainspotting as a world where the adults make no more impression than the adults in Peanuts, with their tuba-sounding voices. But I'm wrong about that.

9) One funny thing I noticed is that Renton is reading a book called "Monty," or with the word "Monty" on the front, and his open book is partially eclipsing a shot of Begbie. Robert Carlyle would star in a movie called The Full Monty just a year later.

Unfortunately, the good vibes soured when I started watching the sequel, which is frustratingly not called Trainspotting 2, or even T2: Trainspotting, but T2 Trainspotting, without the colon. I don’t know if they were trying to invoke the Terminator series or not, but whatever they were doing toward whatever end doesn’t work, and you just have a silly looking title.

The moment I started watching this, I realized how anachronistic it felt to see these characters outside of their original moment of glory. That may be the film’s point, but it bums me out. Certainly, this film is not going for keeping its characters in a state of arrested development from when we first saw them 21 years ago. That’s a logical strategy in a sequel, even a delayed sequel – yeah, you might touch on issues of aging, but you want the same essential dynamics and character traits to exist, or else you can’t be sure the film will be a hit. T2 doesn’t really seem to care about being a hit, but it doesn’t commit to developing these characters into something fully different and unexpected, either. It’s a bit of a study in half measures, as it seems to show a curious amount of indecision about whether to repudiate the past and give us something new, or to nostalgically, sentimentally recreate it.

The sentimental part of T2 really threw me. Over the years I’ve been struggling with whether to consider the word “sentimental” a negative term, and have often conflated it with “nostalgic,” which is not necessarily the same thing. I love nostalgia and I am sometimes sentimental about that nostalgia, and I do think of myself as a sentimental person. But this type of sentimentality really doesn’t work for me. It’s a real tone changer. Even when the original Trainspotting is horrifying us, it’s also fun – it’s kind of the definition of a movie that’s fun even though it is not always “fun,” if you follow me. The sequel is never really fun, and that’s in part because it gets pretty lugubrious over some of its plot developments. Boyle makes what I think is really a misguided decision by showing us dialogue-free flashback imagery of the friends as children, something we never even saw in the first film. The only reason I can think of is to do the extra work of making us care for these characters.

The fundamental misunderstanding is that we do care for these characters, without that – in fact, without knowing much of their back story at all. Trainspotting pulls off the trick of having us love these guys even though we don’t know that much about how they came to this moment in time, and even though they are often doing things that are reprehensible, either actively so or passively so. We only know or care about what we know or care about in that moment -- so in a way, the film is actually having the same effect on us as heroin has on them. Everything is in the now. Consequences don't matter. 

I suppose Boyle would say his point is that when the heroin stops, as it does for most of these characters, what you're left with is the consequences you were able to delay confronting before now. So, we do see how these characters grow (or don't grow), change (or don't change). And we may not like some of the things that happen to them. We didn't like some of the things that happened to them when we originally saw them, but they made sense in the context of that world. Now that it's a different world, it may make less sense, or seem less preordained. But I kind of liked how the fact that the baby had died, or that Renton inadvertently killed his friend Tommy, were never really pondered in the original. That we have to address these openly in the dialogue this time around, and linger on them, is an unwelcome cold bucket of water in the face -- but more importantly, does not feel true to something essential about the original.

I guess it kind of goes back to how we rarely want to see what happens to characters after their "happily ever after." When a movie ends happily for characters, we know that doesn't mean guaranteed happiness for the rest of their days. There's still sickness, death, betrayal, loss of love, failure, all the other things that complicate any "happy ending" in any life. Things certainly didn't end happy for most, if any, of the characters in the first film, but I still don't want to see what happened to them after that. Because T2 exists, I had to.

I also thought the film was a bit of a failure in its design details. The choices to replace the iconic songs of the original were, to use a fairly generic term, "lame." The soundtrack was one of the film's true weaknesses, as it continued to fail me over and over again. Perhaps it too was meant to be the "lame, grown up" version of that score from the original, but it doesn't work for the same reason that the other decisions all feel flat. I guess, just because some of these choices may have been intentional doesn't mean I like them any better.

Okay, I feel like I've got more to say but this post has stretched on all day, and now I need to start Wednesday's movie -- which has more than a three-hour running time just by itself. 

1 comment:

Don Handsome said...

I liked T2 a lot more than you. It does not match the original in quality at all, but the thing I *REALLY* admired it for is that it has its characters pondering in old age those stupid choices they made when they were kids. You seem to object to this, but i thought it at least made for a interesting and worthwhile sequel.

Thanks again though for sharing this film festival. Cats Away might be my favorite film festival.