Reviews – New movies opening January 27th – Sing, Trainspotting 2 & Hacksaw Ridge

T2 TRAINSPOTTING (UK/18/117mins)
Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald.
THE PLOT: Twenty years after he stole his friends’ money and vanished, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, Immediately saving Spud (Ewen Bremner) from a suicide attempt and reuniting with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) seems to be going well, but what Renton does not know is that Sick Boy has a plan for revenge, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has just escaped from prison, and has not forgotten whose fault it is that he ended up there in the first place.
THE VERDICT: Twenty years, it has been twenty years since Renton dived into the worst toilet in Scotland, and Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ was played everywhere all the time. ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is another film like ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’; a film that fans of the original didn’t really need, but now that it’s here, are going to have a lot of fun with.
Many of the original cast of ‘Trainspotting’ return; Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Kelly Macdonald and James Cosmo are all back for this new instalment, and all are on fine form, reprising the roles they originated twenty years ago. Robert Carlyle perhaps comes off the best of the bunch, making Begbie a character that has not changed, learned or grown from his time in prison, and is just as angry and violent as he was before. Ewen Bremner makes Spud the emotional heart of the film, since is he so likeable and so lost, and newcomer to the franchise, Anjela Nedyalkova holds her own as Veronika, although it is clear from the outset where her character is headed.
Frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge has penned the screenplay for ‘T2 Trainspotting’, and obviously has fun with looking back on the past, when Renton and his friends had their whole lives ahead of them and, with their “Choose Life” mantra, believed they were more enlightened and evolved than the rest of the world. It is interesting to see what has happened to the characters over the years between the films – Renton is an accountant at a small business but knows this, as well as his marriage, will not last. Begbie is in prison, Sick Boy is extorting money from anyone he can, and Spud has never managed to get out of the trap of being a junkie, not for long anyway – but almost too much of the film is spent trying to tie these strands together before the real story can get underway. In this way, ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is rather similar to ‘Trainspotting’, while took a while to get moving as well. There is a fascination with nostalgia in the film that works for characters who never really managed to move on and get their lives together, and it gives Spud something to do until the main story figures out where he fits. The dialogue is strong, and the characters endearing, but a stronger story overall, and less focus on trying to make the characters fit in Edinburgh again would have made for a stronger film.
As director Danny Boyle brings the actors back to their characters of the past. Few of them seem to have moved on at all, and it is easy for them to fall back into old rhythms with old friends. Nostalgia tints the entire film, and Boyle obviously has fun with throwing in clips from the first film to tie everything together, but while this is a strength of the film, there are times when this becomes almost too much for ‘T2 Trainspotting’ to take on and still move forward with a new story in its own right. The soundtrack to the film is a lot of fun, however, as are some of the visual touches in the film, which feel old fashioned, but in the right way.
In all ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is a sequel we did not need, but now that it has arrived, is a delight for fans of the original film. The nostalgia factor of the film is fun, but often a little heavy handed, and although the performances in the film are strong, ‘T2 Trainspotting’ does struggle with the same lack of focus that plagued the first film. Still, it’s good to know that Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie made it through, and it is good to spend time with these elitist misfits once more.
Review by Brogen Hayes

DENIAL (UK | USA/12A/109mins)
Directed by Mick Jackson. Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Timothy Spall, Mark Gatiss.
THE PLOT: In 2000, writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) found herself defending her work on those who deny the Holocaust, when self-proclaimed historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) took a defamation case against her the UK. Since in the UK, those accused of libel are presumed guilty until proven innocent, Lipstadt and her team found themselves in the unusual and confounding position of having to prove that the Holocaust actually happened.
THE VERDICT: Written for the screen by David Hare – whose last cinematic outing was the Kate Winslet film ‘The Reader’ – and directed by Mick Jackson who, after ‘The Bodyguard’, has not directed a film for the big screen since ‘Volcano’ in 1997, ‘Denial’ is a new take on a courtroom drama. While it is almost impossible to tell this true story without stepping into court, ‘Denial’ has the unusual focus of defending history in terms of a libel case.
The cast of ‘Denial’ features Rachel Weisz, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall, and they all do well with their roles in the film. Weisz makes Lipstadt a powerful and outspoken woman, Scott does well with making solicitor Anthony Julius a rounded and tenacious character, Tom Wilkinson plays barrister Richard Rampton as a gentler and softer character, who is an intimidating and smart force in the courtroom, and Timothy Spall, although he has plenty of chances, never truly makes David Irving out to be a buffoon, or on the wrong side of history, more a misguided man whose opinions and views are outdated, racist and often wrong, but he has the courage to stand by his convictions.
David Hare’s screenplay focuses on the courtroom drama at the heart of the story, although there are times when the film journeys to Auschwitz and the US for the sake of research and making the story more interesting in the telling. The central conceit of the film – how do you prove something that every right thinking member of society knows to be true, and has been proven before – is a fascinating one, and it is in the proving that the story and drama of the film emerges. There are strong lines of dialogue throughout the film, and the balance between the human frustrations of the defence team, and their professionalism gives steadiness and credibility to the film.
As director, Mick Jackson does best when he is directing the courtroom scenes. These are tense and well constructed, and in making Deborah Lipstadt the incredulous heart of the film, the audience roots for her, and for her telling of the truth to win the day. There are times when the pacing of the film drops however, and although the central idea of the film is a fascinating one, the film ends up as another courtroom drama; a format that we have seen many times before.
In all, ‘Denial’ has a fascinating idea at its heart; how do you prove that the truth is true? The cast do well in their roles, but in not being able to move ‘Denial’ out of the courtroom, it ends up being a well acted but familiar, if solid and engaging, story.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

HACKSAW RIDGE (Australia | USA/16/139mins)
Directed by Mel Gibson. Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving.
THE PLOT: Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) enlists into the army during World War II, even though he is, as he says, a “conscientious collaborator”. Doss will not pick up a weapon during his training, which almost gets him court marshalled, but when he is stationed to the Battle of Okinawa as a medic, his tenacity and strength mean that he accomplishes something truly incredible, and becomes the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour.
THE VERDICT: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is Mel Gibson’s first film as a director since ‘Apocalypto’ in 2006, but fans of his style will be pleased to know that Gibson has retained his usual flair for depicting violent events unflinchingly, while telling a story about a most unusual man.
Andrew Garfield leads the cast as Desmond Doss, and although his accent veers a little toward Forrest Gump at times, Garfield makes Doss a charming and tenacious character. Other than his religious beliefs and his love for Dorothy (Teresa Palmer, we do not learn much about the character, but it is just enough for Garfield to make him the heart of the film. Vince Vaughn takes on a strange role as Sergeant Howell, and while he tries to make the character tough and imposing, it is hard to resist the urge to giggle, perhaps Vaughn is too adept at comedy to make this role truly work. Hugo Weaving makes Desmond’s father Tommy a damaged and vulnerable man, who covers his pain in violence and rage. It should come as no surprise that Weaving is tremendous, nuanced and subtle in this role, as is Rachel Griffiths in her smaller role as Doss’ mother. The rest of the cast features Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh and Milo Gibson.
Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight’s screenplay makes sure to underline the hardships that Doss went through before even getting to the battlefield in Okinawa, from a violent childhood to being constantly berated, mocked and beaten during his basic training. Although these story elements are necessary for the audience to understand the character, there are times when each new element of the story feels drawn out and overly long, and prevents the audience from truly engaging with the character on the screen. The dialogue in the film is fine, although nothing special, and the tension toward the end of the film is carefully built.
As director, Mel Gibson manages to give each of the characters their own charm, even the bullying sergeant and Doss’s alcoholic father get their moments of humanity and kindness, and the performances in the film are well crafted and carefully constructed. The film struggles through the first two acts, since they feel overly long, before getting to the savage, violent and gory battle in which Doss distinguished himself. Gibson seems to take pleasure in flinging body parts are gore at the screen, and showing the realities of combat front and centre, although the more squeamish in the audience may find these images nauseating and overly graphic. The story of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is well told, although there are times when brevity could have made the film less of an ordeal to get through, and the manipulative soundtrack could have been dialled back a notch.
In all, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is the story of a remarkable man and the extraordinary feat of saving 75 wounded men from a violent battle, but less scattershot gore and a tighter edit could have turned ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ from a good film to a great one.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

SING (USA | UK | Japan/G/108mins)
Directed by Garth Jennings. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly.
THE PLOT: Koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) fell in love with theatre when he was a young kid. Now the owner of his own theatre, Buster is in serious financial trouble, but comes up with an idea to fill the house to capacity; a singing competition! After auditions, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), Mike (Seth MacFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson) and Meena (Tori Kelly) are selected to compete, but it is only a matter of time before Buster’s debts catch up to him.
THE VERDICT:  On paper, ‘Sing’ may sound like a sweet and novel idea for a film, the trouble is that the film ends up turning into a kind of cute animated version of ‘The X Factor’, complete with animals and coloured squid, but a film that is surprisingly lacking in heart and, for a film about singing, soul.
The cast of the film features Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly, all of whom have proven their skills at singing, as well as their skills as voice performers. All of this is well and good, but Sing never manages to be as engrossing as it should be, and the audience has a hard time rooting for the characters, even though the roles are well performed.
Garth Jennings’ screenplay has all the ingredients to make a sure fire hit; anthropomorphic animals, hit songs and true underdog tales for the audience to root for – a bankrupt koala, an elephant who can sing but is painfully shy, a pig who never realised her dream of being anything more than a harried mother and a cocky mouse who believes the world owes him – but although each character is given a little back story, it is not enough for the audience to empathise with them, especially since we already know they are all going to get over their fears because… well… that’s what creatures in these kinds of films do.
As directors Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet never manage to round the characters out on screen, even though they are performed by wonderful actors and singers. Songs used in the film often try to take the place of genuine emotion and fail, and making the characters animals only serves for the film to feel like a mash up between ‘The X-Factor’ and ‘Zootropolis’, but not quite as good as either. The animation of the film looks good, but the audience may wish to spend more time exploring the world of the film, rather than sticking around for one-dimensional characters to sing their songs and get their moments of glory. As well as this, at 108 minutes long, the younger audience members may find themselves shifting in their seats, especially since the final act is mainly made up of songs and a rather convenient redemption story.
In all, ‘Sing’ never manages to shake the feeling that it was meant to be a lot better than it is. Mashing up a hit TV show with animated, anthropomorphic animals may sound lime a winner, but ‘Sing’ ends up being as familiar as the songs by Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Elton John and Leonard Cohen that make up the soundtrack. Oh, and ‘Sing’ has one of the strangest uses of “Golden Slumbers” by The Beatles ever seen on screen.
Review by Brogen Hayes