Movie Review: Trainspotting (1996)


Title: Trainspotting
Release Date: 23 February 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Production Company: Channel Four Films | Figment Films | Noel Gay Motion Picture Company
Summary/Review:

While I’d never been tempted to try heroin, watching harrowing depiction of heroin users and their struggles with addiction in Trainspotting in the 1990s made it clear that I never would.  Unlike and after-school special, the movie is honest about the pleasure of the heroin high while also showing the grim realities of low-income lives in Edinburgh they are trying to escape.  Despite all this, the movie is also funny, stylish, and has a banging soundtrack.

Ewan McGregor (who looks impossibly young now) plays Mark Renton, a heroin addict in a friend group that includes the slimy Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), the dumb but kind Spud (Ewen Bremmer), the sociopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who drinks a lot but rails against doing drugs, and Tommy (Kevin McKidd) who is athletic and into clean living.  The movie is episodic, dealing with Rentons efforts to go cold turkey, an overdose, and finale that is basically a short heist movie.  Renton also forms a relationship with Diane (Kelly Macdonald), a girl he picks up at a dance club not realizing she is a teenager.

I was intrigued by the end of the film having a parallel to A Clockwork Orange when Renton admits that he is not a good person but he lives in our society and we’re going to have to deal with him.  Stylistically this is a fantastically made film that brought Danny Boyle to worldwide attention.  It also made McGregor a star and was the debut film for McDonald.  Even Robert Carlyle (who is a decade older than the rest of the main cast, I never figured out why Begbie is hanging out with younger people) got a career boost for his terrifyingly evil portrayal.  As noted above, the soundtrack is amazing with a mix of glam rock, Britpop, and 90s club music.

It’s definitely a movie that holds up to my good opinion from watching it decades ago.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: The 39 Steps (1935)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The 39 Steps
Release Date: 6 June 1935
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Summary/Review:

The 39 Steps is one of the many great movies I watched in my film studies class in high school.  I remember liking it but I didn’t remember anything about the movie other than the famous moment when the chambermaid’s scream is drowned out by a train whistle. The movie stars Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, an ordinary person who gets caught up in international intrigue.  The movie is a template for many spy stories and thrillers to follow, but I’m impressed by how fresh and original it seems.

The movie starts with Hannay attending a music hall performance of Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson) when shots are fired in the theater and panic ensues.  Hannay meets Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) in the crowd and take her home for protection. Annabella confesses that she is a spy being chased for assassins because she is trying to stop the theft of valuable British military intelligence. In the morning, Hannay wakes up to Annabella stumbling into his room with a knife in her back, clutching a map of Scotland with Alt-na-Shellach circled.

The bulk of the film involves Hannay traveling to Scotland to find the spies and clear his name of Annabella’s murder. He falls into and out of trouble as he’s pursued both by the police and the spies.  Hannay doesn’t really have a plan but he’s good at improvising and has a good sense of humor.  Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), a woman who identifies Hannay to the police on multiple occasions, eventually ends up handcuffed to him by the spies in disguise.  Their scenes together, while fully in the thriller genre, also seem to be protypical tropes of the romantic comedy (and also kind of remind me of Frank Capra’s 1934 comedy It Happened One Night, which I’m going to have to rewatch to make sure).

The 39 Steps is an excellent thriller with great comic moments, inspired acting performances, and directorial innovation from Hitchcock.  It’s definitely worth a spot on lists of Hitchcock’s best movies and the best movies of all time.

Rating: *****

Book Review: The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Scotland

Author: Janice Galloway
Title: The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Publication Info: Normal, IL : Dalkey Archive Press, 1994.
Summary/Review:

The narrator of this novel is Joy, a 27-year-old women who works as a drama teacher and is struggling with depression, anorexia, and alcoholism. The accidental death of the married man who was her lover prompts a breakdown which leads to her spending time in a mental institution (where she doesn’t get much help).  The fractured narrative uncovers both the events of her traumatic events and the societal expectations of women that have lead to her current state.  This is a challenging book to read, both due to the raw emotions of an honest appraisal of depression, and the stream of conscious style of writing. One feature Galloway uses is adding snippets of text to the margins as if Joy is annotating the novel.  It took me waaaaay too long to finish reading this book, but I’m glad I did because it is a powerful story of mental health issues that are too often hidden.

Recommended books:

  • In Transit by Brigid Brophy
  • Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Brave (2012)


TitleBrave
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Production Company: Walt Disney Picture / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Pixar’s story of a rebellious Scottish princess is another instant classic.  Merida enjoys a life where she can spend her time on horse riding and archery and has no interest in her parents’ expectations that she marry a suitor from of the kingdom’s three clans.  The story is very familiar, and one true to life to feudal societies, but it is all a frame to the much more relatable struggles of a her girl with her mother.

Seeking to change Queen Elinor’s mind, Merida asks the help of a hilarious witch – er, wood carver – whose tricky solution is to literally transform Elinor into a bear.  Girl and bear then must face various challenges together that bring them closer together and better understand the other’s point of view.

In addition to a satisfying story, this movie also has a ton of humor, including the comical body movements of characters like King Fergus, Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers, the aforementioned witch, and Elinor’s efforts to learn to be a bear.  It’s also beautifully animated and I was stunned when freezing the movie how lifelike the scene appeared.

If you are like me and haven’t seen Brave up until now, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Rating: ****1/2

Album Review: Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers


Album: Cocoa Sugar
Artist: Young Fathers
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fee Fi
  • In My View
  • Turn
  • Tremelo
  • Wow
  • Wire

Thoughts:

Critics call the music of the Scottish trio Young Fathers genre-defying, or that Young Fathers are their own genre, and I’ve seen the music of Cocoa Sugar described as art-rap or rap deconstruction.  Whatever you call it, Cocoa Sugar is an excellent collection of dense, lo-fi, rock/rap/electronic folk music.  Take a listen and discover it for yourself.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson


Author:Bill Bryson
TitleThe Road to Little Dribbling
Narrator: Nathan Osgood
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio, 2016.
Previously Read by the Same Author: A Short History of Nearly Everything, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Notes from a Small Island, In a Sunburned Country, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, The Mother Tongue, The Lost Continent, Neither Here nor There, At Home: A Short History of Private Life,
Made in America, and One Summer: America, 1927
Summary/Review:

This is a follow-up to Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island with Bryson officially becoming a citizen of the UK to once again travel from end to end of the island nation.  This time he follows “The Bryson Line,” the longest distance between any two points on the British mainland without crossing open water. The book is full of Bryson’s awe of the natural beauty and cultural history of Britain, mixed with a sad nostalgia for what made Britain great when he first arrived decades go in the era before austerity.  Bryson fills his travel narrative with arcane, yet fascinating, facts about the places he visits as well as his crankier moments when he encounters poor service or obnoxious people.   Bryson fans will enjoy another humorous and erudite addition to his oeuvre, although new readers should probably seek out an earlier book as an entryway.
Rating: ***1/2

Song of the Week: “Low” by Young Fathers


Young Fathers is a hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, Scotland.  Their sound is described as psychedelic with comparisons to De La Soul (which is a good group to compared to imo), but I found their sound unique with classic soul and electronic sounds strengthening the mix.  Check out “Low” below, the track brought to my attention by the most recent episode of All Songs Considered.

 

 

If you have a new sound you’d like to share, let me know below in the comments.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 25: Edinburgh/Durham/York


I began Valentine’s Day 1998 in Edinburgh by checking my bags at the railroad station. There were coin-op lockers there, but no self-service as security regulations required having my bags checked by a man with a long wand that whistled like a radio between stations. I asked him what he was looking for, and he told me plastic explosives. I wanted to ask him what he would do if he found plastic explosives – a lose/lose situation I imagined – but decided this was not the best place to ask lots of questions.

Along the streets, a mob of Socialists were canvassing the crowd to sign petitions. I wasn’t paying much attention to the news at the time, but apparently the UK & USA were planning to invade Iraq because Sadaam Hussein was making chemical and nuclear weapons. I guess the Socialists were successful in holding off the invasion for five years.

I visited Edinburgh Castle which sits impressively atop a former volcanic promontory. I found myself disappointed because the castle, while scenic, was less interesting than Stirling Castle. Even the free CD audioguides didn’t help much. Information overload if anything. I suppose that since I had Stirling Castle pretty much to myself and Edinburgh Castle was packed with fellow snap-happy tourists made a difference too.

I sadly departed Edinburgh having only scratched the surface of what this wonderful city has to offer. I took the train south to England making a day-stop in Durham. Due to security concerns, the left luggage at the station was closed so I had to haul my bags with me through the town. The advantage is that it forced me to stroll slowly through the lovely town and along the River Ware Wear. A fun bit of art along the river depicted “The Last Supper” carved into several tree trunks. The image only appears when one views it from a particular point.

The highlight of Durham and my reason for being there is Durham Cathedral. Bede the Venerable is interred here for starters. It’s an amazing work of architecture especially when one sees it used for it’s designated purpose: worship. I attended the Evensong service where the choir boys sang like angels. Quite a beautiful experience.

I continued by train to York where I spent the night at the York Youth Hotel. I took a scenic walk of the city and then returned to the hostel which had its own built-in bar. There I met a young Norwegian woman named Ann Katrin who was visiting York with a group of friends for the Viking Festival. We hit it off well and drank several bottles of Hooch, which despite it’s colorful name was merely hard lemonade.

After the bar closed we went to the hostel lounge where people were watching the Winter Olympics on tv. I had the surreal experience of watching the game of curling for the first time while buzzed on Hooch. Ann Katrin and I stayed up very late talking about things ranging from Irish crooner Daniel O’Donnell to the existence of God. I ended up very tired and cranky, which was kind of a rotten ending to a good night.

Edinburgh Castle

The hilltop location of Edinburgh Castle lends it a stunning prominence.

River Ware

The beautiful River Ware Wear in Durham.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper sculpture in Durham (I see an otter in attendance).