TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Graphic Heroin Use and Resulting Depravity, Strong Language, Sex, Nudity, and some Violence

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Directed by: Danny Boyle

Written by: John Hodge

(based on the novel TRAINSPOTTING by Irvine Welsh)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald & Peter Mullan

In 1996, Danny Boyle blew the sensibilities of European and American audiences with this little film. In many ways, TRAINSPOTTING seems like the 90’s equivalent of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and that’s some high praise. Based on Irvine Welsh’s acclaimed novel, TRAINSPOTTING centers on a group of junkies through the poverty-stricken areas of Scotland. Though it could be an unbearably bleak experience, there’s a dark sense of humor thrown into this film that keeps things from getting too depressing. TRAINSPOTTING pretty much lives up to all the acclaim I’ve been hearing about for years.

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Renton is a heroin addict struggling to get clean with his junkie buddies. This proves to be a more difficult task than he originally imagined as hardships, failed attempts at romance, and sheer temptation keeps dragging him through the ins-and-outs of addiction. He’s not alone as his motley crew of mates (which includes dim-witted Spud, crooked Sick Boy, clean-cut Tommy, and psychopathic Begbie) all navigate through various ups-and-downs that life generally throws at everyone (love, death, financial hardships). The key difference is that this group’s ups-and-downs also involve criminal activity, constant use of heroin and a whole lot of tragic circumstances.

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The plot of TRAINSPOTTING isn’t simply about the viewer following around a group of addicts, because the film takes plenty of shifts throughout the storyline. These plot points range from downright heart-breaking to darkly hilarious. Sometimes, they’re a blend of both. However, the characters are what really sell this film. Though the movie mainly focuses on Renton (a star-making performance from Ewan McGregor), the entire cast is filled with colorful individuals. Spud (Ewen Brenner) is an idiot who finds himself in horrible situations (one scene involving dirty bed sheets is hilarious and stomach-churning), but there’s a genuine sympathetic side to him. Jonny Lee Miller is slightly underused as Sick Boy, but makes the most of the screen time he’s given. Then there’s Robert Carlyle as Begbie. This psychotic character is much like the Irish version of Joe Pesci’s gangster in GOODFELLAS. He’s funny during one scene and terrifying in the next.

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Danny Boyle uses a lot of various editing tricks (crisply connecting different scenes with different characters), colorful visuals, an awesome soundtrack (I plan on playing these songs on my iPod for the foreseeable future), and a gritty atmosphere. There’s this almost indescribable dirty quality to the film that lends so much to the nature of the story being told. This is especially present during key moments, including a toilet scene near the beginning. The mix of humor and serious drama works out well in keeping the film from getting too damned bleak and unpleasant, but not so much to negate the devastating blow of heartbreaking moments. Danny Boyle and the cast tackle all the controversial subject matter with unapologetic glee.

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If there is any complaint to be had with TRAINSPOTTING, it would be that the pacing varies from place to place. The film begins in a rapid fire way that had me wondering if these 94 minutes were just going to fly by and leave me wanting a little more. However, the film slows down significantly as the plot proceeds. One might argue that it almost gets down to a crawl in a stretch involving Renton and Begbie stuck in the same apartment. This being said, the movie never lost my attention or did anything that could be considered a fault in my eyes. The ending is so satisfying that it left me completely happy. This is a pretty amazing topsy-turvy flick about drug addiction, criminal activity, and friendship.

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It’s no wonder that TRAINSPOTTING became such a hit upon its release! You cannot necessarily narrow this film into one clear category. Shocking, depraved, compelling, disturbing, darkly hilarious, and downright awesome! There’s not much else that I can say about TRAINSPOTTING that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t seen this flick yet, go buy it now (it’s one you’ll want to own in your collection, that is if you don’t already have it)!

Grade: A

BRAVE (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell

Written by: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi

Voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Steve Purcell, Patrick Doyle & John Ratzenberg

Disney’s animation department has been upping their game recently (e.g. FROZEN and WRECK-IT RALPH). It’s highly ironic that Pixar (which used to be the biggest game in town as far as family entertainment went) has recently hit a decline in the quality of their films. In the last three years we’ve seen a bad sequel to an already iffy movie (CARS 2) and an iffy prequel to a good film (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY), but there’s at least been one semi-original effort. This was 2012’s BRAVE. It may have a somewhat creative plot, but the story strictly adheres to many ideas that proved somewhat successful in previous Disney efforts. In this sense, the film is a bit of a mash-up of other (in some cases, better) films. Pixar still appears to have some magic left, because this blended combination works pretty well as a good family entertainment.

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Set in medieval Scotland, the story follows Merida, a young princess bound to living by the traditions set forth by her ancestors. Despite Merida’s urge to break free and form her own destiny, Queen Elinor is bound to keep her daughter on the path of becoming a proper princess. Neither seem willing to hear each other out and their relationship, which was once so strong, has become strained. Merida sabotages a competition to find her suitor and the kingdom is thrown into disarray. Desperate for a way out of the impending marriage, Merida seeks the help of a bumbling witch, who casts a spell to change the queen. Unfortunately, Merida wasn’t specific enough and Elinor turns into a bear. With a limited amount of time, Merida and Elinor (who is now in the body of a bear) must mend their broken relationship in a dangerous journey to break the spell before it turns permanent.

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Taking visuals into consideration, BRAVE is a beautifully animated piece. Pixar has come along way from the humans in TOY STORY. Even though TANGLED and FROZEN both bear some similar resemblance to the designs in this film, BRAVE seems to have a more amazing three-dimensional aspect to the characters. Another notable point is that Merida does not bear the typical resemblance of what one might describe as a “Disney princess.” She sports a mess of tangled hair, lots of freckles, and is more active than most of the other Disney females. To put it bluntly, she might be seen as a physically active ginger wearing princess clothes. I respect this portrayal completely and think it’s refreshing. More Disney films, cartoons, and live-action movies in general might consider adopting more unconventionally beautiful (e.g. real-looking) people. Not to harp on it, but that’s a really admirable thing about BRAVE.

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The use of a kingdom in Scotland and myths that surround that location make for another refreshing thing in a kid’s film. I wish more family films would explore other folklore and legends that haven’t been used much. This doesn’t completely excuse the frequent use of clichéd plot developments and a few scenes that could have been cut or replaced to make a better film though. In essence, we’ve seen the formula of a rebellious princess taking a journey to correct a mistake and we’ve seen the idea of a person being transformed into a bear in order to learn a lesson in the 2003’s mostly forgotten BROTHER BEAR (of all things). A good portion of the story does follow a by-the-numbers telling of this fable, but there are some surprisingly great things that pop up too.

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One seemingly small detail comes back in a very clever and smart way in the last half. I’m not sure if most kids will catch exactly what it means in terms of the plot, but it was really cool to see things tie up in a smart way. There is a dark animal antagonist that may scare the crap out of younger viewers and I applaud Pixar for not dumbing it down. Sometimes, family entertainment needs a darker side to the danger, which only makes the conclusion that much more satisfying (e.g. the cruel villain in UP). In essence I might compare BRAVE to RATATOUILLE in the story being told is aimed at more mature audiences, but children will get a kick out of the more cartoony parts. It has silly moments, but the film is also complicated in points.

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BRAVE is not Pixar’s best film, but it is far better than some of their other earlier efforts (A BUG’S LIFE and CARS) too. It feels much more like an older Disney movie than a full-on Pixar film, which could be seen as something good or a bad. Despite the clichés and overly familiar points, this somehow works out very well in other aspects that haven’t been tackled as much (especially in family oriented fairy tale films). It is because of these skillful touches that BRAVE works far more as a whole than as a sum of its parts!

Grade: B

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