Posts Tagged ‘Ewen Bremner’

There’s probably a way to talk about — hell, there’s probably even a way to make — a movie like this one without resorting to grandiose hyperbole, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s begin, then, with a bit of theorizing —

Conventional “wisdom” has it that Marvel’s super-heroes are human, fallible, down-to-Earth, while DC’s tend to be more mythical, aspirational, larger-than-life. There are a million and one exceptions to this unwritten “rule,” of course — probably enough to negate it entirely — but as films have replaced comics as the public’s preferred “delivery mechanism” for capes n’ tights adventures, that line of thinking has carried over : Marvel’s doing better than DC at the box office, folks say, because audiences want heroes they can relate to.

Allow me to call bullshit on that right now and offer up an alternate take : I think the public subconsciously clamors for heroes that offer something that’s by and large missing in the real world. Stop right now if you don’t want to read a review that veers into the socio-political arena, otherwise proceed —

Consider : for all of Marvel’s unquestionable success at the box office in the aughts and into the teens, with their venerable Iron Man franchise leading the charge, the most bankable hero over that same period has still been Batman — and what do Iron Man and Batman have in common? Well, they’re both rich, that’s for sure, but they’re also both, basically, assholes. Iron Man is a self-obsessed asshole and Batman’s a self-pitying asshole, but they’re assholes nonetheless — and they rose to the top of the Hollywood heap at a time when rich, self-obsessed and/or self-pitying assholes were in rather short supply on the world stage. The national and international political situation was (relatively) stable and the leader of the free world was a calm, cool, collected, articulate guy who had a larger-than-life, for some even a heroic, aura himself.

Needless to say, that’s all out the window now, and the dominant figure on the worldwide geo-political stage is, go figure, a rich asshole who’s both self-obsessed and self-pitying. We don’t need fictional characters like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark anymore, we’re stuck with a dude who embodies the very worst elements of both in the real world. Now, I humbly suggest, is the time for heroes who embody not what we are but what we hope to be.

Enter Patty Jenkins. Enter Gal Gadot. Enter Wonder Woman.

It makes perfect sense, in a way, that it would be a female hero who’s first out of the gate to capture the public’s imagination in the so-called “Age Of Trump” — after all, women were the first wave of what’s quickly come to be known as “The Resistance,” marching by the millions in cities and towns across the world just a few days after Old, Orange, Fat, and Stupid was sworn into office. They’d had enough of this guy even before the Russia scandal hit, his travel bans blew up in his face, his corrput-to-the-core cabinet took up their posts, and his tax cut for the rich cynically sold as “health care reform” stalled out. They knew in advance — and subsequent events have proven them correct — that their reproductive rights were about to be under assault, that their health care choices were going to be taken out of their hands, that they’d be shunted aside in the new government, and that their voices were doomed to go unheard. But rather than let that get ’em down, they took it upon themsleves to show everybody the way forward. They were ready to lead the charge — if not in Washington, then out on the streets.

Popular culture being a reflection of the overall zeitgeist, then, it’s plain as day why Wonder Woman has exceeded all expectations at movie theater ticket windows. But why has it conquered critics’ hearts just as surely?

Easy answer : like a lot of women that I (and, I’m sure, you) know, it’s a film that’s unafraid to roll up its sleeves and get to work. Oh, sure, the slow-mo-heavy, music-video-influenced visual template established by Zack Snyder for the so-called “DCEU” is still present and accounted for here, but director Jenkins establishes her own tone from the outset, with precocious young Diana (played by the heart-stealing Lilly Aspell) running carefree through the island of Themyscira and unafraid to dream of bigger and better things even though she lives in paradise. That sense of striving to be all you can be and then some is at the heart of this flick and never wanes, and that’s what makes Wonder Woman the most truly mythic super-hero movie since Richard Donner’s Superman. I think even Marvel knew they were beat this time out as they conspicuously took a pass on engineering the kind of “whisper campaigns” that they’ve utilized so effectively against DC productions (“hey, you — influential internet critic — here’s a free ‘Captain America’ t-shirt and baseball cap, say nice things about our movies and bad things about theirs and if you’re ever in LA we might even hook you up with a one-day studio floor pass”) in the past.

 

Pitch-perfect casting across the board certainly doesn’t hurt matters any, either : Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are straight-up magnificent as Amazon Queen Hippolyta and head warrior Antiope, respectively; Chris Pine is suitably charming and charismatic as Steve Trevor, the guy who ushers Princess Diana into the world of men and their stupid-ass wars (specifically World War I — and those who doubted the wisdom of this film’s period setting certainly seem to have gone silent); Trevor’s sidekick trio portrayed by Said Taghamaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Spud himself, Ewen Bremner, are the best one-note ciphers Hollywood has cooked up in ages; Lucy Davis shines in what probably read as little more than a dead-end comic-relief role in Allan Heinberg’s screenplay; Danny Huston is fantastically menacing as German General Ludendorff; Elena Anaya injects a welcome dose of pathos and quiet pain into her turn as his evil chief chemist, Dr. Maru; David Thewlis tackles what ends up being a dual role with skillful aplomb that sees him turn on a dime in convincing and utterly naturalistic fashion —and you, dear reader, probably care about none of them.

And why the hell should you? This is Gal Gadot’s show all the way. Stunningly beautiful, impossibly athletic, undeniably classy, as gracefully elegant in battle as she is at a formal ball, this is star-making stuff all the way. At once accessible yet “other,” she understands us mere mortals — if not our ways — instantly, and hopes for so much more from us. I hesitate to drop wretched, pretentious terminology like “it’s amazing to see someone so fully committed to a role,” but, well — it’s amazing to see someone so fully committed to a role. It can’t be easy to play an honest-to-goodness freaking goddess, but Gadot steps into the part as if she were born for it. Prepare to be blown away.

Needless to say, if you’re getting performances this good out of this many actors, you’re doing something right as a director, but Jenkins — who, if you’ll remember, walked away from Marvel mid-way through helming Thor : The Dark World — showcases much more than a deft handling of her cast : her pacing, her action-scene staging, her expert use of light and shadow, and her command of the visual language audiences have come to expect from blockbuster productions are all executed with supreme, yet hardly flashy or ostentatious, confidence. Simply put, she knows what she’s doing so thoroughly that she doesn’t feel any particular need to tell you how good she is at this — she just shows you instead.

Okay, yeah, the flick’s third act has come in for a certain amount of criticism, not all of it undeserved, but most of that boils down to amplified dissatisfaction with the cut-rate CGI that literally screams “we’ve already blown our production budget!” and really does let the side down a bit. The film’s tone doesn’t nosedive, the performances don’t waver, the story doesn’t let up — it’s just that the FX suck. In my own view, dwelling on this to the extent that so many folks have just shows the paucity of today’s watered-down critical “environment,” but what they hell — they do have a point, just nowhere near as large a one as they think.

In the final analysis, then, maybe Wonder Woman comes up just a hair short of being the long-sought-after perfect super-hero film — but that doesn’t mean she’s not the perfect heroine for our times.

Okay, I’m showing my age here, but for members of the so-called “Slacker Generation” and/or “Generation X” (take your pick), I would submit that there was an entirely unofficial (as was our wont) “Holy Trinity” of films that came out in our early twenties that spoke directly and immediately to us in a way that pandering, condescending trash that Hollywood marketers were aiming in our direction (I’m looking at you, Reality Bites) could only hope to — three flicks that captured the (not to be too grandiose) zeitgeist of the times; the flavor, immediacy, and ethos of the “now” that went on, as all things do, to become just another “then.”

The goofy thing about this “Big Three” is that only one of them actually featured characters who were our age at the time, but whatever, we’ll get to that in short order. For now, the rundown : Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction came first and was (and remains) the biggest of the bunch.  I don’t think anyone — even the film’s detractors — would debate that. It was a genuine large-scale cultural phenomenon, it solidified its auteur as one of the spokespeople of his (our) generation, all that. It was huge. It was groundbreaking. It was bigger than its own hype, and its hype was considerable. It was The Real Deal.

Next up came perhaps the most unlikely of the bunch : Joel and Ethan Coen were bona fide heroes for “20-something” cinephiles in the 1990s, but Fargo catapulted them to the top of Hollywood’s “A-list” by finding a way to be “mass-audience-friendly” without compromising its creators’ idiosyncratic vision. Again, it was a fairly massive cross-cultural sensation, but its sensibilities were very much of a piece with the “slacker” set’s view of life, or at least life as we perceived it to be at that time. Which may or may not have been an accurate perception, but that’s entirely — or at least almost — beside the point. It was really cool, and being cool was what it was all about — even if it was  uncool to admit that.

The third and final member of the triumvirate, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, was Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the bad-attitude, gleefully nihilistic runt of this particular celluloid litter. More punk than grunge, more gut-punching than gut-spilling, this flick swapped out the sudden and shocking gross-out violence of its two just-barely-forebears in favor of shocking gross-out bodily -function gags, it knew — hell, wallowed in — its place in the gutter, and it came out of nowhere (okay, Scotland) to hit its audience like a jolt of the”white lightning” its junkie protagonists would no doubt be familiar with provided they were actually, ya know, real people.

Here’s the thing about all three of these films, though — sure, they’ve aged, but I would contend that each of them has aged pretty darn well, and what’s more, they all stand on their own just fine. Okay, yeah, Fargo has spawned a spin-off TV show that seemed like a clever enough idea for one season then quickly out-stayed its welcome with two, but come on : no one was clamoring for a sequel to any of them. But when Irvine Welsh, upon whose novel Trainspotting was based, went back to the well for both sequels and prequels on the printed page, you knew it was probably only a matter of time before Boyle followed suit on the silver screen.

And so he did. 2017 has seen T2 Trainspotting hit British cinemas first, and then make its way over to this side of the pond so that we can all see what became — or is now becoming — of Mark “Rent-Boy” Renton (played, of course, by Ewan McGregor), former “Sick Boy” Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), “still just” Spud (Ewen Bremner), and the one and only Begbie (Robert Caryle), who is generally answering to the name of Franco now, but is probably, if you care to believe it, even more psychotic than ever. So, yeah, the band’s back together — but do they still sound any good?

That’s the question those of us who love the original have been nervously asking ourselves, but as it turns out we needn’t have worried — too much. Oh, sure, there are some stylistic “call-backs” to the first film that have clearly been inserted purely for nostalgia’s sake, but Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge address that right in the script fairly early on, and besides, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is one of the major themes underlying this entire enterprise. The circumstances of all our principal characters may have changed, but whether or not any of them have really moved on is open for debate : Mark’s been living in Amsterdam, but his illusion of middle-class normalcy is in the midst of falling apart around him when he makes his return home; Simon is trying to make it as a low-rent blackmailer with his Bulgarian girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedlaykova) as bait since the pub he inherited isn’t exactly doing bang-up business; Spud’s still a smack-shooting mess who’s barely surviving (and very nearly doesn’t right out of the gate here in the only scene that can rival its progenitor for sheer “eeewwww” factor); and Begbie — well, shit, he’s in prison. Where else would he be?

Okay, yeah, everyone wants payback — in cash and blood — from Mark for ripping them all off last time around, but once that particular hurdle is overcome (alright, one person can’t let go of his grudge no matter what; bet you can guess who) everyone falls back into their traditional roles with disturbing ease : Mark and Simon, ever the scammers and schemers, are undertaking to pull off their most audacious hustle yet but can’t trust either each other or, crucially, themselves, while Spud does all the dirty work without complaint, not exactly happy to be along for the ride, but along for it all the same. All the leads get back under the skin of their characters effortlessly, but there are a few intriguing wrinkles added into the mix that prevent the film from devolving into either pure navel-gazing self-examination or a “retro-for-its-own sake” thematic and narrative cul-de-sac. Spud, for instance, has a hitherto-untapped creative side that may just hold the key to his salvation, and Mark and Simon may both be getting played by a third party who’s even better at the con game than either of them. So fear not, we’re not just running in place here, even if old habits (including, at least for one scene, heroin) do die hard.

Admittedly, “big questions” abound here (all of us 40-somethings wonder just how we got here, but how much more unanswerable does that become when you probably never expected to make it this long in the first place?), but that doesn’t mean we can’t have ourselves a good time just the same — Begbie’s prison break (oops! Spoilers!) and Mark and Simon’s fleecing of a pub packed to the gills with drunken loyalists are all kinds of way-off-color fun, so sure, there’s enough bat-shit lunacy to remind us of just what sort of people we’re (still) dealing with here — there’s just less of it. These guys are middle-aged, after all, and maybe that’s the message Boyle and company are really aiming to address at the end of the day : whether you figured you’d be around to see it or not, whether you can make peace with it or not, whether any of it makes any more sense than it used to or not, age comes to us all. It’s gonna deal with you regardless of whether or not you can deal with it. So, ya know, worry about it all you want, I suppose — just not all the time.

Or do. It’s your call. Your choice. But I would say choose to look back on the past — even immerse yourself in it every now and then — without wallowing in it. Choose to accept your fate without being resigned to it. Choose to make of things what you can, while you can. Choose to go for one more big score even if you fall short, one more crazy night even if it might be your last, and one more stupid risk just because it’s there to be taken. Choose to reject happy endings, sad endings, or endings of any sort for as long as you can; to remind yourself of why your old friends bring out the best and worst in you at the same time; to resist going quietly while you can still make a little bit of noise. Choose to buck against inevitability even if it’s inevitable that you’ll buckle, to keep on dreaming no matter how small your dreams become, and to give a well-deserved middle finger to anyone who stands in your way. Choose T2 Trainspotting for the most unexpectedly — maybe even accidentally — life-affirming film you’ll probably see all year, and choose to love it, every minute of it, just as much for what it is as for what it reminds you of.