Two brilliant British films we saw at SXSW that you should check out this year

Lots of films screen at South by Southwest; which ones should you keep an eye out for in theaters?

“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s ode to car chases and 1990s music is, as critic Joe Gross puts it, “an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time, and a cinematic high-five to the movies that made Wright the absurdly talented music-n-film dork he is today.” It stars Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx and will be in theaters in August.

REVIEW: The insanely fun ‘Baby Driver’ celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

“T2 Trainspotting”: The gang is back in this sequel to Danny Boyle’s cult classic. Boyle says the film is, in part, about how badly men age; Joe Gross says it delivers exactly what fans of the original film could want. The movie opens in Austin on March 24.

REVIEW: ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original

Three movies at SXSW that treat music very differently

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Movies. Music. They’re at the core of the South by Southwest Conference and festivals, and music plays a big part in several movies that screened this year. Or, in one case, music is supposed to play a big part…

“Song to Song”: The SXSW opening night movie is out of tune with the Live Music Capital of the World. The Terrence Malick film was billed as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene,” but as critic Joe Gross puts it, “It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way ‘Star Wars’ is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.” But hey, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and the rest of the cast look great.

Michael Fassbender on the red carpet for the world premiere of ‘Song to Song” at the Paramount Theatre.

REVIEW: The gorgeous ‘Song to Song’ has little to do with music or Austin

“T2 Trainspotting”: Music was integral to 1996’s “Trainspotting”; the sequel, which was this year’s SXSW secret screening, features “a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.”

REVIEW: ‘T2 Trainspotting is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original

“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s latest film stars Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver obsessed with music. “From Beck and Young MC to Carla Thomas and T-Rex … ‘Baby Driver’ is an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time.”

REVIEW: The insanely fun ‘Baby Driver’ celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas



SXSW: “T2 Trainspotting” is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original


Confession: I was one of those guys.

I saw “Trainspotting” five times in the theater. I took myself. I took my girlfriend. I took two different roommates. A friend and I saw it for the second or third time each. His reaction: “I am not sure I could take much more movie.” Yes, this.

It was the music that did it — I couldn’t get over the music supervision. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” as Renton runs down the street. Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as Renton sinks into the floor, overdose overtaking him. Pulp’s “Mile End” in the hall of the crappy flat. New Order’s ’87 remix of “Temptation” vaguely centering the film as set in the late 1980s. Underworld’s “Born Slippy” making your heart race as Renton steals the money. Like many, many people of my generation, I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit addicted.

With every frame of “T2 Trainspotting,” which was the secret screening at this year’s South by Southwest, you know that director Danny Boyle knows this. This couldn’t be a cash grab; the original meant too much to too many people. If they were going to do this, it had to mean something.

Which it does.

We catch up with our antiheroes quickly. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison, pinched for the deal that went down 20 years ago. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now going by his given name Simon, is running a pub and side-lining as a pimp and blackmailer. Spud (Ewen Bremner, wonderful as always) is still a mess, a junkie on and off for decades. And Renton (Ewan McGregor) is in Amsterdam, jogging on a treadmill when he hits the floor, hard. It is the sprawl of a man who has just had a coronary event, the sort that makes one take stock a bit.

So it’s time for Renton to visit a gentrified Edinburgh for the first time since he absconded with 16,000 quid that he and his cohorts were supposed to split four ways.

He stops off to visit his da (he missed his mother’s funeral, which is never a great look). We see him in his old room, still covered in trains. He drops the needle on a record for a half-second (“WHOMP-B-“) then lifts it again. We know it’s “Lust for Life,” we know it would be both cliche and too heavy to break it out now. It’s all we needed to hear.

A plot comes together — after all, the moment Begbie gets out of prison, he is going to be pretty angry. And absolutely nobody is all that thrilled with Renton. He did, after all, steal from his best friends. But now that we’re together, isn’t opening a brothel — um, a sauna — a good idea? What could go wrong?

But none of these men have matured, not one. It’s not even a question of reverting to your former self when you are around old pals — Renton’s been gone for years and he is the same guy who thinks he knows more than he actually does. No wonder Simon and Renton throw down.

No wonder Spud, poor Spud, the sort of who looks at old photos of the old crew, screams at him about the money Renton left him, which promptly went into his arm: “You ruined my life!”

No wonder they end up screaming over Tommy, dead of AIDS-related complications 20 years ago.

No wonder Renton  and Simon end up mansplaining George Best to one of Simon’s hookers before Renton beds her, because of course he does. No matter how much we love them, these men are pathetic.

Boyle knows that he cannot replicate the original’s zeitgeist-capture. It simply couldn’t happen. So he doesn’t flinch from it, opting to use some of the same techniques to tell a deeper story of — as the director put it after the screening — how badly men age (emotionally, not physically, though it should be noted that while the male leads have definitely put on a few years, Kelly McDonald, the only one of the old crew who became an actual adult, does not seem to have aged a day).

Fragments are used as memories — we see two seconds of the first movie here, a second there. The music cues, so crucial to the original, are dealt with here cannily — a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.

As one character literally says, “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here.” Yes, sure. But this isn’t a retread. Everyone is older, nobody is wiser.  Men aging badly, indeed.


Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor host “T2 Trainspotting” secret screening at SXSW

Director Danny Boyle and star Ewan McGregor hopped on stage at an absolutely jammed Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Sunday night to host the (not quite secret) SXSW secret screening of Boyle’s “T2 Trainspotting,” the sequel to the groundbreaking 1996 film.

The movie itself was an emotional wipeout, a kinetic snapshot of iconic characters 20 years on: Mark Renton (in Amsterdam for lo these many years), Sick Boy (now a pimp known by his given name, Simon), Franco Begbie (in prison for a looong time) and Spud Murphy, who still struggles with his addictions.

When Renton returns to Edinburgh for the first time in decades, it is time to look up old flames and settle some scores.

Then again, as Boyle noted in the Q&A afterward, moderated by Austin director Richard Linklater (who has been all over the place this SXSW), the movie is mostly about “how badly men age.

“Women age much more sensibly,” Boyle said. Men just sort of hang on to things, and when they hit middle-age, they start spending a whole lot of time looking back and only vaguely looking ahead at what’s next, he said.

Boyle also noted how “bizarre” it was to see these four actors (McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle) click back into character and chemistry.

McGregor noted that he started work on the film about a week after everyone else and since the film’s mantra was, as Boyle put it, “This better not be (expletive),” McGregor was nervous that he wasn’t going to lock in to Renton.

But he ran into Bremner (Spud) at a meal break, who told him not worry, that once he got on set, Renton would be “right there.” Which he was.

If there is one theme to the film, Boyle said, it’s that “time doesn’t care about you.”




Watch: Six movies to keep an eye on before summer hits

“Fifty Shades Darker”

Holiday movies, summer movies — we all know about those. But what about movies that come out early in the year?

Here are a few we’re looking forward to in the next few months:

Jan. 13

“Sleepless”: A remake of the French thriller “Sleepless Night,” Jamie Foxx and T.I. are corrupt Las Vegas cops who are searching for a kidnapped child, who happens to be the son of one of the cops. No! Sleep! Till … finding a kidnapper!

Feb. 10

“Fifty Shades Darker”: Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in this sequel to 2015 epic “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which is one of the funniest movies of this decade (probably not intentionally).

March 3

“Logan”: James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in his final turn as the legendary Marvel Comics mutant Wolverine. Based loosely on the comic book miniseries “Old Man Logan” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, “Logan” concerns an aged Wolverine in the post-apocalyptic future. Many mutants are dead; somehow Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier is still alive. The trailer was terrific, complete with striking, melancholic use of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.”

March 10

“T2 Trainspotting”: Reportedly based loosely on “Porno,” Irving Welsh’s 2002 sequel to “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyles’ “T2” takes place 20 years later (probably around 2008 or so). “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family” has morphed into “Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself.” We are keeping our fingers crossed.

April 28

“The Circle”: Based on the 2013 sci-fi novel by Dave Eggers, “The Circle” stars Emma Watson as a new employee at a very Facebook-ish (and increasingly creepy) company called the Circle. With Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt and Bill Paxton.

May 5

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”: And here we have the unofficial kickoff to the summer blockbuster season, part two of Marvel/Disney’s smash hit space opera-via-superheroes story of ragtag adventurers at the cosmic end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The whole gang is back: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, (Baby) Groot and Rocket Racoon.

Ready for more? Read my full preview of 24 movies coming in early 2017.