Trance (Spoilers)

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It’s been a couple of days now since I saw Trance (Dir. D. Boyle), and it’s grown on me. At first, the films glossy, abrupt and impersonal textures lead to a feeling of being unattached to the story. However, the complex plot, with its many twists and turns, lead the film through its plastic, TV-movie-esque facade and deliver it into a clever and believable (but not totally surprising) twist ending.

The plot reflects the style in which Trance has been filmed; it is unbelievable and at some point, ridiculous. The narration direct to camera at the start of the film from Simon, gives a feeling that we are about to watch a feature episode of the BBC’s Hustle. Together with the fact that a group of hardened criminals would allow a psychiatrist (Elizabeth, played by Rosario Dawson) to take up partnership with them is absurd. These two elements make the film feel childish from the start; they appear as a naive attempt to move the plot forward for the purpose of the twist at the end.

But if you allow yourself to go along with the illogical plot, you will be rewarded with a fast-paced and treacherous journey leading to an explosive ending.

If you want to watch a similar take on ‘reality vs illusion’ style film, check out Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Dir. M. Gondry) and of course the fantastic Inception (Dir. C. Nolan).

 

Ben

 

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Julien Donkey-Boy

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When presented with a Dogme 95 certificate at the beginning of a film, you know you are in store for an epileptic journey, both visually and narratively. And Julien Donkey-Boy does not fail to deliver. An alarming story that delves into the darkness of a disordered family, living in a nameless neighbourhood, schizophrenic Julien happily glides along, naively accepting his father’s brutality and his siblings underlying mental illnesses.

The visual style for the film (mostly following the rules of the Dogme 95 movement) is essential in the aid of telling the story. The frantic camera manoeuvres and and the use of natural lighting throw you into the berserk mind of Julien. In his house, the camera moves sharply to reflect the families broken state, whilst the scenes with Julien and his blind friends resemble its calming and benign nature, the camera adopts a less agitated disposition.

The proximity in which the camera can reach the characters during ferocious scenes supports in intensifying them, such as the scene where Julien is being told by his father to ‘slap his own face, then maybe he’ll wake up’. The handheld camera technique moves like the point of view of another character, and throwing the audience into the brutal situation.

The character performance’s are just as essential and tantalising. The film brings together Werner Herzog, Ewen Bremmer and Chlöe Sevigny, who’s realistic performances push the characters to their limits. Herzog, who plays the families father, is a man who craves an almost fascist sense of order. It is this order that you could blame is the families misfortune. Even though Julien (Bremmer) has a mental illness, his sister and brother are both equally as corrupt. She (Sevigny) is having a baby by her brother Julien. She seems sound of mind, despite the fact that she is having a child by incest; it is more of an absolute attack against the father’s dictatorial sense of control.

In a strange sense, Julien is the most free. His disability gives him the ability to socialise and to act outside the bounds of his father’s control. His friends are blind, and all of them live relatively free and happy lives (even, for example, when they talk about death), compared to that of Julien’s family.

If you are a fan of Dogme 95, then you should definitely check out Julien Donkey-boy. This is dittoed if you are a fan of any of the aforementioned actors, as their performances are fascinating.

Ben

Nil By Mouth (Spoilers)

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When you’re at the bottom, things can only get better, right? Wrong, at least if we follow the pessimistic view of Gary Oldman’s directing debut, Nil By Mouth.

Centered around an unstable South London family, Nil By Mouth is swarming with disjointed characters, shots and mise-en-scene, and grotesque dialogue, which ultimately confines the viewer into a violent and filthy world. It is in this world that we see the disastrous lives of Ray (Ray Winstone), Valerie (Kathy Burke), Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) and the people around them.

From the first shot we are bombarded with packed visuals, zigzagging lines, people move negatively across space and often blocking of our point of view. This is the method that is followed throughout the film. The claustrophobic, smokey scenes filled with juxtaposed, non-linear objects not only promotes a sense of disorder but also an unsettling nausea. This can be reflected not only by the films audience, but its characters alike. Each character is deprived of control; control over themselves, their loved ones, and even the environment around them. This is where the conflict in the film derives from, each character needing to gain control for whatever reason it may be. For Ray, it is control over his wife. For Valerie it is control over herself. Both are unobtainable.

Oldman has taken a negative approach not only to father figures in Nil By Mouth, but also to men. The abundance of negative male characters outweighs the positive female characters, and as the film procedes a clear divide is found. Valerie leaves Ray after he brutally attacks her whilst she is pregnant and kills her unborn baby. Alone, and totally out of control (including himself), Ray destroys his and Valerie’s home in a drunken rage. He reminisces about his abusive, alcoholic father, as he slowly starts to realise he has become him. Valerie moves in with her mother, Janet (Laila Morse) and grandmother, Kath (Edna Doré), where she is taken care of. The film reaffirms the importance of maternal strength, and the safety and comfort that is joined to that. Oldman mentions this in a short interview available by the following link – http://tinyurl.com/a9bbjno

The film is a masterpiece of acting and cinematography, and what I would regard as British gem.

Ben

 

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

There has been a small ripple of dislike towards The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, which I believe are wrong.

The film, the first in a trilogy from Peter Jackson, has taken a similar structure to LOTR debutant, The Fellowship of the Ring. It starts slowly, allowing each character gain a personality, whilst the narrative steadily unfolds around them.

From the outset, we can see that this will be a tale that revolves around choice, especially that of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the films narrator and protagonist. What really drives the plot is the diversity between the three leads characters – Baggins – the quintessential timid, non-hero, thrust into an adventure, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) – wise and experienced, and Thorin (Richard Armitage) – Proud and abrupt. It’s this mix of personalities that move the film and creates believable conflicts and narrative movement.

Freeman plays a young Bilbo Baggins fantastically. His performance clearly shows an understanding of the development that Baggins goes through from a timid hobbit towards a brave and clever traveller.

Thorin’s character is the most unlikable. He is head strong, proud and driven towards one goal, most of the time at the cost of his own safety and the tiny troop of dwarfs following him. However, Armitage took on this role understanding this, and has managed to make the audience understand Thorin’s recklessness and emote to it.

My only qualm with the film is the element of humor. Unlike the LOTR trilogy, there is now an element of unnecessary one or two line quirks. For example, Gandalf and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) joke about Gandalf’s attire for a meal. And that is it. It goes against the more slap stick comedy we see in the film, that is mainly provoked by the 8 dwarfs.

What is clearly different, and may be what sways audience opinion of the film, is the element of underlying narratives. The goal of the film is to reach The Lonely Mountain and reclaim the Dwarf’s home. There are, however, three main underlying narratives that run bellow this. One is a mysterious necromancer, one is a giant Orc determined to kill all Dwarfs, and another is that of the Ring. With three secondary narratives not yet showing any relation to the first, but only hindering the movement of the characters, does mean there is an advanced plot and story line. This is something that could possibly frustrate and annoy some audience members due layered plot not usually found in blockbusters.

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey is all I expected it to be – a story and character building film. It is pulled off in classic Jackson style, but doesn’t feel like it can live up to the legacy that LOTR left. Should it be compared to the former trilogy? Perhaps not, but it is impossible to escape a comparison.

4/5

Ben

The Master

I went to see The Master last night at the Empire Newcastle and just wanted to say how awesome I thought it was. It was great to see Joaquin Phoenix in a ‘traditional’ acting role again; it’s safe to say his performance gripped the entire theatre. Both Phoenix’s character Freddie and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Lancaster Dodd were inspiring yet greatly flawed, and it was the relationship between the two of them that drove the story forward with such a pace. Not to say the supporting roles weren’t beautifully cast also, Amy Adams in particular was fantastic. Director Paul Thomas Anderson and Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr have a real eye for grace in their partnership and a great ambition to create fascinating cinematography. Anderson’s use of long, single take shots both heightened the drama in a number of scenes but yet again proved the casts commitment and talents. How Phoenix can hold a pose for that long without blinking is beyond me. The art direction in the film was stunning also, both costumes and set design capturing the 40s and 50s wonderfully. I definitely recommend you get down and see it immediately before it’s taken out of circulation by another million showings of Twilight. 

Dave.