Review Roundup - Chasing the Dragon


Fraudulent sequels made decades after an original movie (or series) are one of my least favourite kinds of release. There's usually huge amounts of hype ... followed by a period of denial, regret, and self imposed amnesia. Remember this? It's back! Just older and more lacklustre! Once in a while a film maker will have retained all their marbles into later life, but these magic moments are the exception to the rule. Trainspotting is still Danny Boyle's greatest directorial effort, something that holds up - perhaps looking better than ever today. It's awful, it's funny, and it's engaging. But despite a lot of unease about a follow up, I tried to look at the positives. The sequel book did take place some years later, and everyone involved in adapting it to the screen seemed to be back. But whether this succeeds or is just another failed attempt to recapture past glories needs closer examination. The results are pretty uneven.

There's a balancing act at work throughout here, just has there was in 1996. Depressing human drama, black comedy, and moments of genuine horror were all woven together to create a pretty unique piece of work - all wrapped in Scottish dialects and jukebox sounds. The characters and their depraved antics had a certain level of humour and a certain amount of raw grime. It was part music video, part economic satire, and much more. Jumping forward 20 years later some things have changed more than others - both in terms of how the story is told and the ensemble of lowlifes at its centre. But while many elements have been retained there is a creeping sense that not all the cylinders are still firing like they used to. 

The plot does manage to maintain a certain sense of continuity of course, and we soon find out where the likes of Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie have been for all this time. Conveniently the latter finds himself out of prison just as Mark returns to the UK after a fresh start in Amsterdam, and soon a tale of revenge, regret and realisation begins to unravel. The music isn't quite as catchy, the pacing isn't quite right and the characters feel a bit out of place coming back into this world. Things feel stilted, and a bit tired; though parts of that are appropriate for the themes being explored. There are some genuinely interesting moments of introspection and there's a good amount of humanity here and there. It never goes through the motions for the sake of it, but there are a lot of winks to the fans that come off as unnecessary.

Everyone remembers Iggy Pop, Choose Life and Born Slippy. So unfortunately these elements are recycled and remixed to remind you this is a follow up to older film. An instrumental version of Perfect Day is thrown into a sentimental montage and the whole story is full of longing for days gone by. Remember when young unknowns made amazing independent films? There are meditations on ageing and poignant thoughts on wasted youths. It's an interesting idea but not everything works, and like the screen adaptation of Filth the moments of levity and the moments of darkness don't quite mesh together properly. It doesn't look quite right either, with the original dirtiness of Brian Tufano's cinematography having been replaced by the high contrast colours of Anthony Dod Mantle.

Part of this is due to the fact that the original protagonists once sat in an enclosed three act space. The story being told (on the big screen at least) had an ending, which has now been undone for various reasons. Do we really need to dig up all of this and explore how things went for these characters? This isn't a major blockbuster franchise of course, but there was always a worry that someone was doing this for brand awareness reasons rather than creative ones. The sequel novel had a title that was never going to be used, but the one they went with is pretty awkward to say the least. That feeling runs through the whole film, which tries to adapt parts of Irvine Welsh's story but also tries to be a movie sequel full of callbacks and nostalgia bait - in both a meta sense and in terms of audience participation.

Ultimately the ideas about ruined childhoods and friends turned enemies is an interesting idea, but trying to force all the new plot threads and themes into the original story retroactively never really works. They even recall the scene which explains the title of the story, something that was previously left unexplained on screen. The moments where Begbie considers his position as a father and Spud begins to grow into a writer are interesting, but it never feels essential. Despite good performances and interesting reveals it feels a bit disjointed (most notably in a subplot about Viagra that feels appropriate but never goes anywhere). It's not a total failure but it's not a successful revival by any means, so it's really just a case of too little too late. There's an overriding lack of energy and no tangible, single minded driving force to it all. It just sort of is, which isn't a good enough reason to whole heartedly recommend it.


FREE FIRE (2016)

Ben Wheatley's idea for a smaller, more personal, more character driven action thriller was a great idea - and the cast he assembled was also looking really good. I was down for this for Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy alone. Two groups of crooks trapped in an abandoned factory after a shady deal involving stolen assault rifles goes awry; that sounds recipe for success. However despite the grittiness and the odd assortment of characters in the ensemble, this never really reaches the heights that I was expecting for a few major reasons. The first is the setting, which while at first is a key ingredient to any small scale story soon becomes dark and confusing. Characters crawl about on the floor for long stretches just trying to stay alive, firing guns and yelling at one another.

But this is hardly compelling stuff by itself, and they never really develop as it progresses. It becomes really patience testing more than once as they stumble around firing at each other blindly. The action itself is also a big let down. A lot of the time there is no sense of geography, and where everyone is and who is firing at who just becomes a confusing mess. There are some great moments, particularly once the double crosses become apparent. The cast for the most part is also on fine form, it has a nice mixture of dangerous and eccentric players. A set piece involving several badly injured characters trying and reach a phone is a stand out moment. It's got some great tension building and the grimy visuals are pretty nice on the whole. But it's never enough and it feels like a let down; at best they missed the target.