Archive for February, 2017



Talk about getting the band back together! T2 Trainspotting (the title, according to director Danny Boyle, evolved out of speculation about what the characters themselves would want the film to be called) is a thoroughly justifiable “late” sequel that honours the original impeccably. I got way more than I was expecting; indeed, half a day later, I’m still floored.

It’s as though Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle have been getting together, in character, in Edinburgh, once a month since the original, ground-breaking Trainspotting, or that their characters Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie have simply been alive since then, so true, consistent, authentic and well-conceived are these twenty-year later performances. Like in real life, these people have changed, but they’ve also stayed the same.

The plot isn’t particularly important, but involves the four re-convening in Edinburgh around Sick Boy’s lonely and unprofitable pub which he inherited from an auntie. None of them are happy with what Renton (McGregor) did two decades ago, but Begbie (Carlyle) is particularly pissed off.

The film is hysterically funny. A set-piece about halfway through, involving a bit of robbery, is a masterpiece of building, rolling, cascading comic storytelling, combining visual, aural, narrative, meta, scenic, verbal, physical and intellectual gags told with absolute precision. Doyle has lost none – not a single jot – of his wild stylistic imagination, deploying dreamscapes, visual metaphors, unbelievably perfect snatches of song, different stocks and grains, miniature cameras, human-scale VFX and plenty of footage from the original film to tie them together perfectly, in tone, structure, style and feel. Trainspotting inspired a million imitators, but there has never been a film that captured its unique energy… until this one.

It feels wrong – cheap – to call T2 a sequel. It is a fully realised, artfully motivated catch-up with beloved characters from one of the undeniable classics of cinema. You’ll need to have seen the original to make sense of this one, and to love it immediately, as I did. It may sound grandiloquent, but it is Doyle, McGregor, Bremner and Carlyle’s best work for… twenty years.


With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:




JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

Oscar Preview 2017

Posted: February 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Instead of a written assessment of this year’s nominations, check out my Oscar Preview and Predictions on SKIPI TV!

Your comments always welcome.


**** (out of five)

You’d need to have a cold stone heart – or, I suppose, prejudicially racialist views – to dislike Hidden Figures, the true story of black women working as “computers” at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful, rather incredible story, full of triumphant moments and performed by a perfect cast.

Yes, these highly talented mathematicians were called “computers” – before we called machines computers – because they made computations, in the same way accountants account and actors act. Not all of the details of the story are this revealingly accurate – the white characters, for example, are all composites of real people – but the astounding and goosebump-inducing achievements made by the three central characters are all historically cOrr ect and profoundly inspiring.

Empire’s Taraji P. Henson plays the central character, Katherine G. Johnson, a bona-fide math prodigy-genius who rose to essential prominence during the “space race” and beyond. She’s terrific, and more than ably supported by Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, both of whom also delivered major damage to ceilings for black people and women within this bastion of astronomical ambition.

Theodore Melfi directs unobtrusively, letting the story and performers shine, but admirably restrains from underlining, and thus undermining, the story’s Big Moments. Like its fellow nominee for Best Picture at the Oscars, Lion, this is the tasteful version of a story that could have been ruined by a heavy hand, a bombastic score or too many studio notes. The true story is monumental enough.


Luke Treadaway as James Bowen, with Bob as Bob.

***1/2 (out of five)

Okay, this is what happened: James Bowen, a young Englishman from a broken home who had spent part of his youth in Australia, found himself in the serious predicament of living on the streets of London with only a guitar and a heroin habit. He busked for chump change and half-eaten Pret A Manger sandwiches and searched for dry ground at night. He tried multiple times to kick the habit by enrolling in a state-sponsored methadone program, each time relapsing.

During his last chance with the program, when he was showing more determination, staying off the gear and sticking with the methadone, his case-worker took a little pity on him and arranged for him to occupy an unused council flat. While there, he met a beautiful, free-spirited girl and a stray ginger cat. The girl, based purely on a vibe, named the cat Bob.

Caring for Bob gave James a purpose, and in order to fulfil it, he learned to care for himself – a little. He hung on tight to getting clean, but was still shambolic in life, ruining small opportunities. But Bob the Street Cat was the endless purveyor of luck – spoiler alert – and, through the simple act of looking cute on James’ shoulders as he busked or sold copies of The Big Issue, attracted cash, a newspaper story, a book deal, and now this rather excellent movie. Needless to say, James is no longer living on the streets.

But if that’s not enough, here’s the kicker: Bob plays himself in the movie (and extremely well).

Luke Treadaway is very good too, as are Ruta Gedmintas (who starred opposite Treadaway in You Instead (2011)) and Joanne Froggatt as his sympathetic case-worker. Indeed, all the supporting actors are strong, although much of the screen time is simply Treadaway and Bob. Prolific journeyman director Roger Spottiswoode seems to have found new spark in his seventies, keeping the vibe gritty and authentic, which is in itself remarkable for a film about a young man and a cat. He doesn’t shy away from needles, dealers, and the effects of addiction, and Treadaway – reflecting what I understand of the real Bowen – never looks quite clean, even when he’s clean. The film also offers what feels like an authentic glimpse into the lives of the “aspirational homeless”, including fascinating scenes inside the London Big Issue office that gave me massive respect for that magazine and all who work for it. Obviously not a movie for young kids, A Street Cat Named Bob is tough and tender, and a massive, welcome February surprise. I loved it.


James Bowen with Bob.


****1/2 (out of five)

You may have heard that Manchester By The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s Oscar-nominated third feature as writer/director, is very sad. What you may not have heard is that, for the vast majority of its running time, it is very, very funny.

Lonergan, an established playwright as well as filmmaker, can write, and he can write killer dialogue. Manchester By The Sea has an intricate, complicated, extremely well-crafted structure, a thematically rich story covered with depth and sensitivity, but it also boasts absolutely wonderful back-and-forth banter that is always witty and sometimes hilarious. It is a far funnier movie than many of the “comedies” released over the last few years.

That banter mainly – though not exclusively – occurs between Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Patrick’s dad (Kyle Chandler – the name is weirdly co-incidental), Lee’s older brother, has died from his chronic heart condition, and he and Lee are coming to terms with their grief and each other, as Lee has been named Patrick’s guardian in his brother’s will. They get along, terrifically in fact, but Lee has other grief in his not-too-distant past, the kind shredded and studded with suffocating guilt, and he is spiky and disoriented, removed slightly from the real world, ajar and adrift. Instant fatherhood was not on his agenda, but somehow he has to make it work, not only because he loves his nephew, but also because his brother, by all accounts an extremely decent man, was very much his best friend.

I had the strange impression that Manchester By The Sea may be composed of endless scenes of a dreary mope, but that is so not the case. Besides the many fire-cracker scenes between Affleck and Hedges (both are superb), and similarly excellent scenes involving Affleck and Michelle Williams as his wife, C.J. Wilson as his brother’s best friend, and many other inhabitants of the titular Massachusetts town, all played by excellent actors, there are scenes that simply follow Patrick’s storyline, leaving Lee off-screen, doing his own thing. It is a wider, broader, bigger film than its marketing may suggest, crackling with energy, pace, and dramatic heft.

It is also stunningly beautiful. The seaside locations are exquisitely shot by Jody Lee Lipes; Massachusetts is rendered simultaneously realistically – cold, old, ornery – and somewhat idealistically, the bounteous water and highway-side forests sparkling with crisp winter light. The music – a combination of original compositions by Lesley Barber and well-used classical pieces – is bold and rich, edging the visuals into poetic mini-montages that consistently punctuate the very human drama. The production design, while never drawing attention to itself, is flawless. I know Massachusetts very well, and this is Massachusetts.

Manchester By The Sea is a great film. It is thoroughly involving, deeply moving, and sparkles with humanity. Highly recommended and my favourite of the big Oscar contenders for 2016.