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Mondays with Schobie: A Macabre Modern Classic Returns



Winning an Oscar for Best Director is all well and good, but I don’t think Scotsman Danny Boyle moved into the rarified realm of true Big-Name Directors ™ until July 27. That was the night he unleashed his crazed vision of the Olympics opening ceremony to the world. Broadcasting live from London, it was a wild bit of pomp, circumstance, and interesting musical selections—everything from the Sex Pistols to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. (It should be noted that NBC cut to a commercial just as the Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” began rumblin’.)

I found it all a bit confused, while also a pretty fantastic spectacle, and easily more memorable than any other opening ceremonies I’ve ever seen. (The persecuted Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, subject of the very good recent documentary "Ai Waiwei: Never Sorry," wrote an insightful piece for the Guardian comparing the ceremonies in London and Beijing: “In London there were more close-ups—it didn’t show the big formations. It had the human touch.”)

What a strange, fun diversion, and what a fascinating figure Boyle is. Case in point: “Shallow Grave.” His big-screen debut has finally returned to home video (is that a dated way to put it?) in a gorgeous, deluxe Criterion Collection Blu-ray that should bring the film—a solid success in America upon release—a whole new audience. (Interestingly, MGM released the film on DVD in 2000, with an odd, horror-film cover, but it went out-of-print. I always kicked myself for not picking it up.)

It’s not the most original of stories, really: Three roommates find a suitcase of money (you’ll see how), and, well … I hate to say much, other than to say that it’s clearly a cinematic descedent of the Coen Bros.’ “Blood Simple,” along with the great “Treasure of Sierra Madre.”

If you’ve seen “Grave” before, the memories rush back quickly, starting with the opening credits, set to Leftfield’s throbbing “Shallow Grave.” More thoughts:

• It’s fun, if a bit startling, to see how young Ewan McGregor looks. While Ewan clearly became the bigger star, it’s nice to see how busy Christopher Eccleston is these days, especially since he steals the movie; he’s just been cast as the villain in “Thor 2.”

• There is no better scene of the three roommates’ inherent cruelty than the visit from prospective roommate Cameron. Alex (McGregor) picks apart his lack of “presence, charisma, style, and charm,” sending Cameron running, and the roommates laughing. They’re like the co-op board from hell. 

• What became of Kerry Fox? I see a lengthy resume online, but I wonder if she ever had the chance to bite into something as meaty as her role here.

• The new roommate, Hugo? Played by Keith Allen, also known as the father of Lily Allen, and the cowriter of New Order’s “World in Motion.”

• One of the Blu-ray’s most fun features is also its shortest: a kinetic teaser for “Trainspotting” that was created to tie in with “Grave”’s video release. Talk about a solid debut and and follow-up …

It’s tack-sharp, wonderfully sour film, and I applaud the Criterion folks for rightly calling attention to this modern classic. It ranks highly in the Boyle oeuvre, without question. How high? Without further ado, my top-to-bottom Boyle breakdown:

1. “Trainspotting”: Boyle’s one true classic, and a film that had a profound impact upon yours truly.    

2. “127 Hours”: My pick for the best film of TIFF 2010, “Hours” came in at No. 6 on my top ten list for that year.

3. “Shallow Grave”: See above.

4. “Slumdog Millionaire”: A joyous film that does not feel as fresh as it did years ago—but how could it?

5. “28 Days Later”: I wonder if “Days” feels as sharp now as it did upon release … It’s certainly proven to be an influential bit of modern horror.

6. “Sunshine”: A fascinating, gorgeous film that I’ve never loved quite as much as I felt I should.

7. “The Beach”: An underrated movie that had the misfortune of arriving at the tail-end of Leo-mania. It does have one major flaw, changing the far superior ending of Alex Garland’s book for something altogether more “meh.”

8. “Millions”: A sweet, solid, unmemorable film.

9. “A Life Less Ordinary”: Even Boyle’s worst film has its moments, and a great soundtrack. (Every Boyle movie has a great soundtrack.)

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