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

 

Side Effects (Spoilers)

Side-Effects

Side Effects (Dir. S. Soderbergh), unfortunately, feels like nothing more than that – an annoying, added portion of something you think may be good.

If you have watched Michael Clayton or The Constant Gardener, then you will be extremely let down by Side Effects, which struggles to live up to the aforementioned films level of ingenuity.

The substantially basic narrative is barely aided by a solid performance from Jude Law, playing the films protagonist, whilst the rest of the cast seem to be taking a medication that induces ‘wooden performances’. The films lead lady, Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), is nothing more than a two dimensional role, even though the character (as do many other characters in the movie) has so much more room for manoeuvre but is let down by a poor narrative.

Side Effects gives the audience no emotional connection whatsoever to any character in the film. Let’s use The Constant Gardener as an example. With a similar plot, The Constant Gardener delivers a level of emotion because the films hero, Ralph Fiennes, is fighting to reveal a pharmaceutical companies exploitation of millions of Africans, and trying to stop drug testing that is killing them; he is fighting a good cause, and he is a likeable character. In Side Effects, Dr. Banks (Jude Law) is struggling to prove that Taylor did indeed consciously kill her own husband, and has framed it all on the drugs she was taking. As the film whirlwinds through his very brief, home made investigation, we are given tiny spits of scenes where the film strains to give some emotionality to the characters, but, instead, just leaves you frustrated. It doesn’t focus on how Banks has hit rock bottom in his life, losing everything, but instead, show you what the audience has already worked out half an hour before, that she murdered her husband for money.

Banks is a likeable character, but there is nothing more to him than that, he is just ‘Okay’.  What was needed was for more time to be spent focusing on him, instead of on Taylor (which is what the first half of the film does).

If the film had added an element of emotion into the story line, there might have been some connection, which could have lead to this film getting near a level of smart. But, unfortunately, it has wasted what could have been an interesting plot and leaves you with nearly two hours lost forever and £3.80 shy.

Ben

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)

Nil By Mouth

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

 

Django Unchained (Spoilers)

‘Django Unchained’ is quintessential Quentin Tarantino. In his typical fashion he bursts open chests and spews out guts, whilst maintaing a conventional and (what I would describe as) an overly simplistic narrative. This may sound like the key ingredients for a classic B-Movie, and, it is, but as Tarantino has shown time and time again, he can pull it off.

‘Django Unchained’  accompanied by its Academy Award winning director, has a fantastic array of actors, Christopher Waltz, Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, just to name the leads. Most notable in this beautifully explicit film is Waltz, playing a German bounty hunter by the name of ‘Dr. King Schultz’ (which has lead to him to be nominated for an Oscar). Schultz, quick witted and eloquent, captures the audiences attention from the start with his mysterious and humorous persona; he is immediately ‘likeable’.

Django (the D is silent), played by Foxx, does not have the most complex character to play in the film, yet is able to show his versatility as an actor. Django moves from being a broken and crippled slave, to a free man engulfed by the determination to free his wife from the ironically named ‘Candie Land’. It is not until Schultz’s death and Django is on his way to the ‘LeQuint Dicky Mining Co.’ that we really see him personify the myth that Schultz recites earlier in the film.

The introduction of DiCaprio welcomes the beginning of the final chapter in the movie. His character, Calvin Candie (owner of ‘Candie Land), is despicable, even though he holds the same talent for romantic language as Schultz. They are both parallel and contrasted at the same time. This element causes the upmost friction between the two; they put on an act when they first meet and at the dinner table, both of them pulling facades to get what they want (Candie wants money and Schultz wants Django’s wife’s freedom). Their relationship is interesting from start to finish. Even after Candie forces Schultz to pay $12,000 for Django’s wife and her freedom, it seems as though the trio are free. It is only when Schultz’s and Candie’s personalities colide together that Django and his wife are really thrown in the deep end.

To top the film off, the introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Candie’s head servant, Stephen,  encapsulates all the comedic and yet highly serious points that the film makes. He is a black man, yet constantly pokes fun at the other black people at Candie land and it adds a fantastic level of comedy to the film through a serious issue.

The film can be seen as a critique of many issues, but mostly of America’s prehistoric views on race and equality. By introducing a German as deuteragonist is a clear showing of the advancement of European thinking; Schultz not only hates the slave trade, but who is (until he trains Django) the only one who can bring American criminals to justice. For example, the whole town of Daughtery do not even know that their own elected man of law, the town sheriff, is a fugitive. It is Schultz, a German, who is aware of the sheriff’s identity. The point is reiterated again as a clan raid is humiliated by not being able to see through their hoods. They are rendered ‘blind’, and their blindness gets them killed. Who by? The European and the black man.

Away from any allegories, the film is fantastic and highly recommended to any Tarantino fan, and anyone who enjoys comedy, action, blood and guts and fantastic acting all in one film.

 

WATCH IT

 

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

When it comes to comedy, no body does it quite like the dynamic duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Their disgustingly graphic sketch show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show: Great Job is a car crash of cheap public television formats mixing with projectile vomiting, pubic hair and John C. Reilly; and it works. The show lasts for 15 minutes and is shown on Adult Swim world-wide. The duo take their show and perform it live in front of uncontrollable audiences. They have also created a number of other shows, including animation ‘Tom Goes to the Mayor’ and ‘Check it Out With Doctor Steve Brule’ just to name a couple. So, the most obvious next step was to make a feature film.

With their array of contacts in the Hollywood system, (John C. Reilly, Steven Spielberg, Jeff Goldblum, Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell to name a few), and their close ties with Ferrell’s ‘Funny or Die’, the money was raised and the filming began to the absolute ecstatic joy of the fans.

The months went past and Tim and Eric started their promotional campaign for the movie. One of their most successful was the ‘Billion Dollar Movie Pledge’, where the fans and stars would pledge to see the movie with ‘at least one member of their family’ and not to illegally download it.

As we moved closer to the release date, we were treated to some teasers from the movie, such as the ‘Shrim’ healing centre advertisement in classic Tim and Eric style.

And then it arrived. And the critics fell on it like vultures; and they did not hold back. The torrent of bad press could not have been more of a worse start for the film. All over the web, including fans, could not hold back on how awful they thought the film was. But I did not believe these hurtful accusations and continued in my belief that the film would be a ‘Great Job’.

Unfortunately, they blew it.

The movie started so similarly to the fantastic ‘Awesome Show’ that gave me the belief that the movie could truly be as good as the TV show. But as the main bulk of the story started, it flumped like a deflated party balloon. There was the occasional ‘hmph’ of a laugh, but it never amounted too much more. Their unique comedy style seemed to have been over blown to fit into a feature format, and their gags seemed forced and un-natural. Some of the best moments in the film came when actors such as Reilly and Ferrell were acting together, and the same with Galifiankis. There was not enough focus on plot or narrative in the film to really drive the film forward, but instead would try to use comedy instead, and if the comedy doesn’t work, then neither will the film.

At points, it was almost embarrassing to watch when the punch lines failed to deliver, and you know they are struggling to look for material when Tim has to turn to the camera and explain a joke to the audience.

There are, however, the odd classic Tim and Eric comedy moments, such as the ‘Shrim Healing Centre’, the sex scene in the mall, and the pair running through the desert. But that is it.

In my opinion, they need to stay to TV sketch shows because they know exactly what they are doing.

If you are a fan of everything Tim and Eric, do check this film out, because there are still enough charms in the film to not dishearten you to much, but if you are not, stay well away from this.

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