Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: T2: TRAINSPOTTING (2017) and DIAMOND CARTEL (2017)

(US/UK -2017)

Based on Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel, Danny Boyle's 1996 classic TRAINSPOTTING is one of the key works that defined 1990s cinema, and since Welsh's sequel Porno was released in 2002, the chatter surrounding the possibility of Boyle directing a big-screen version was almost constant. Lots of things delayed it--coming up with a good script, everyone's availability, Boyle and star Ewan McGregor having a bit of a falling out--but the timing was right, everyone was available, and Boyle and McGregor hugged it out and put their grievances to rest, finally making the cumbersomely-titled T2: TRAINSPOTTING a reality. Despite the hype and Boyle's post-SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE Oscar clout, Sony only got T2 on 331 screens in the US at its widest release. There is the issue of "Why a sequel? And why now?" but for a while, T2 manages to coast on goodwill, a plethora of callbacks for fans, and the genuinely fun "Hey, the band's back together!" vibe that will put a smile on the face of any TRAINSPOTTING fan. The film opens with Renton (McGregor), having a mild heart attack in an Amsterdam gym, 20 years after fleeing Edinburgh with the money he made in a drug deal and screwing over his mates. Divorced and facing his own mortality, Renton decides to visit Edinburgh, where his buddies are still a sorry lot: Spud (Ewen Bremner) can't hold down a job, was left by wife Gail (Shirley Henderson), and is back on skag; Simon, aka "Sick Boy" (Jonny Lee Miller) is hooked up with Bulgarian prostitute Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) on sex tape blackmail plots where they lure prominent local figures to a cheap hotel to get them in compromising positions, usually involving Veronika wearing a strap-on; and the ever-volatile Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison after taking the fall for the first film's climactic drug deal, and denied parole again after attacking his attorney during a jailhouse visit.

Renton manages to get Spud off heroin, and while Simon isn't happy to see him, they eventually make amends and are soon teamed up on a scam with Veronika to secure government funding via an EU business loan to turn Simon's failing bar, inherited from his aunt, into a "sauna" that will be a front for a brothel. Begbie, meanwhile, breaks out of a prison hospital and makes his way to Edinburgh. Simon runs interference, telling him Renton's in Amsterdam and stashing him away in a stolen merchandise warehouse until he can score a fake passport to get him out of town. It should be no surprise that Begbie eventually stumbles into Renton, and it's here where T2 starts losing its way. The camaraderie between Renton, Simon, Spud, and new addition Veronika drives the opening hour and while it never quite scales the heights of its predecessor, it's still nostalgic fun watching these actors play these characters 21 years later (one sequence where Renton and Simon crash a Protestant Sectarian lodge party to swipe ATM cards--all with 1690 as the PIN--and end up improvising a raucous drinking song called "No More Catholics Left" is one of the funniest scenes of the year). But Begbie's pursuit of Renton dominates the second hour, and the pace turns sluggish as T2 becomes a bland revenge thriller that TRAINSPOTTING never found necessary, and it comes about simply because Boyle and returning screenwriter John Hodge (not using much of Porno's story, by the way) have backed themselves into a corner and decided that a commercial revenge thriller is as good a way as any to wrap things up. It's nice seeing and hearing all the TRAINSPOTTING sights and sounds--Henderson, Kelly Macdonald, James Cosmo (as Renton's dad), and Welsh himself (as Mikey Forrester) all make brief return appearances, as does Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life"--but Renton's updated "Choose Life" monologue, now namedropping Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and reality TV, seems forced, phony, and too FIGHT CLUB-ish. And why aren't the police looking for Begbie? T2:TRAINSPOTTING is worth seeing and is by no means a bad movie, but Boyle's and Hodge's tired plot developments in the dull, draggy second half are all the proof one needs to determine that this is a sequel no one really needed. However, let that not be a deterrent to Carlyle and Miller trying to get a green light for PM2: PLUNKETT & MACLEANE. (R, 117 mins)

(Kazakhstan - 2017)

The most singularly depressing film experience of 2017 so far and quite possibly one of the ten worst movies I've ever seen, DIAMOND CARTEL is something that doesn't even seem real, even as it's unfolding before your eyes. Directed and co-written by Salamat Mukhammed-Ali, a music video vet in his Kazakhstan homeland as well as the former frontman for the Kazakh rock band Epoch, DIAMOND CARTEL makes Albert Pyun's landmark "Gangstas Wandering Around an Abandoned Warehouse" (© Nathan Rabin) trilogy look like the work of Akira Kurosawa by comparison. It tells a story that's incredibly convoluted at best and (more likely) utterly incoherent at worst, as Aliya (Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova), a table dealer at an Almaty casino, runs afoul of her boss Mussa (Armand Assante) after she's cleaned out by a high roller and the floor boss never intervened. Mussa, a former Soviet general-turned-ruthless Kazakh crime lord, forces Aliya to become a hit woman, taking out his enemies under the tutelage of Ruslan (Alexev Frandetti), one of his soldiers who's been in a love triangle with Aliya and her childhood sweetheart Arman (Nurlan Altayev) since they were kids. Mussa is also in a turf war with Hong Kong triad boss Khazar (Cary-Hiroyuka Tagawa), the kind of lunatic who keeps a guy in a cage, over a $30 million diamond, with additional power plays coming from Mussa associate Catastrophe (Serik Bimurzin) and his henchman Cube (Murat Bissenbin). This all leads to flashbacks, followed by flashbacks within flashbacks, entire scenes played out against some embarrassingly bush-league greenscreen, some crummy CGI that wouldn't cut the mustard in a 20-year-old video game, some really sappy melodrama between Aliya and Arman, and shootouts and cartoonishly over-the-top carnage that look like outtakes from THE MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE.

If you think it's strange seeing established actors like Assante and Tagawa in something like this, then take a deep breath because it gets worse: shot from 2011 to 2013, the Kazakh-financed DIAMOND CARTEL began life as THE WHOLE WORLD AT OUR FEET before some tweaking, re-editing, and dubbing was done to transform it into its current state. The newly-christened DIAMOND CARTEL actually made it into a handful of US theaters in April 2017, courtesy of the Sony-owned indie The Orchard and goth record label Cleopatra. Former Francis Ford Coppola associate and current right-wing propagandist Gray Frederickson--who got an Oscar as one of the producers of THE GODFATHER PART II and was nominated for an Oscar for producing APOCALYPSE NOW, but most recently shepherded the faithsploitationer PERSECUTED and Dinesh D'Souza's AMERICA: IMAGINE THE WORLD WITHOUT HER--is listed among the producers. The supporting cast includes Michael Madsen and Tiny Lister as a pair of criminals fencing a diamond, and they get a bullet in the head about 45 seconds after they're introduced. There's also '90s B-movie martial arts icons Don "The Dragon" Wilson (BLOODFIST) and Olivier Gruner (NEMESIS), both badly dubbed even though they're speaking English, as well as erstwhile BLOODSPORT villain Bolo Yeung, cast as an assassin named "Bulo."

Peter O'Toole (1932-2013)

But what really makes DIAMOND CARTEL something special (and by "something special," I mean "a total shit show") and gives it the ghoulish feeling of slowing down to rubberneck a car crash, is the presence of a frail-looking and horrendously dubbed Peter O'Toole in what ended up being his final film, released four years after his death in 2013. O'Toole turns up about 70 minutes in as "Boatseer" (his character is called "Tugboat" in the credits, but hey, whatever), a crusty old sea salt who agrees to help Aliya and Arman flee Mussa, only to get his throat slashed by Ruslan for his trouble (this takes place offscreen, and there's a cut to an obvious O'Toole double lying face down). The eight-time Oscar nominee looks confused and his hands are tremoring, and the voice he's been given sounds like Pinhead in HELLRAISER. It's no surprise to see guys like Assante (who's embarrassingly bad) and Madsen (who hasn't given a shit in years) in something like this, but it's almost unbearably, soul-crushingly sad to observe an obviously ailing O'Toole suffering through this demeaning sendoff. Why was he here? Who let this happen? Never mind the fact that his appearance here looks less like a hired gun acting gig and more like caught-on-camera elder abuse, but the sight of the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA legend in DIAMOND CARTEL is so jarringly unreal that it's like seeing Daniel Day-Lewis turn up in BIRDEMIC. O'Toole is only in this for five minutes, but it's the kind of posthumously-released cinematic swan song that belongs in the same class as a washed-up Errol Flynn co-starring with his 17-year-old girlfriend in the pro-Castro CUBAN REBEL GIRLS, Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Boris Karloff in four Mexican horror films released two to three years after his death in 1969, and John Carradine in 1995's JACK-O, his appearance consisting of unused footage from another project inserted into a straight-to-video horror movie released seven (!) years after his passing in 1988. Though Wilson and Gruner (as well as all the Kazakh actors) are also dubbed with all the care and precision of a GODZILLA movie, the actual voices of Assante, Tagawa, Madsen, and Lister all remain intact, though it sounds like they've been run through some kind of reverb-heavy Zandor Vorkov voice modulator. DIAMOND CARTEL is the kind of half-assed, slipshod clusterfuck where even the English speaking actors' words don't match their lip movements. Hey, I get it...working actors have to work and maybe this was the best offer Assante had on the table at the time, and he and the others likely figured they'd get paid and nobody would ever see it (frankly, I'm more curious what Gray Frederickson's excuse is). But Peter O'Toole? Even the most devoted O'Toole completist superfan has nothing to gain by enduring this amateurish fiasco. Do yourself a favor and watch any Peter O'Toole movie but this one. (Unrated, unwatchable, 100 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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