“Trance” – Hypnotically intense…

Now I have to say that I have rarely been awarded the opportunity to be all alone in the cinema. More often than not it would be a tell-tale sign of a substandard film, but this time I could probably attribute the poor attendance to the fact that it was in fact The-Saturday-Before-Easter – so, I take it, people tend to be rather busy with other things… Not me though, especially before noon. I managed to carve out a two hour long opening in my otherwise busy holiday schedule; the fact I’m posting it on Monday afternoon should testify perfectly to my utter lack of time, thank you very much…

In any way, I really wanted to write something about “Trance” as I have been waiting for this film for a while now. Yes, for once in my life I get to see a movie before it opens in the US, so I’m feeling right now as though I was making the news… which feels awesome, by the way. I just watched the first Danny Boyle’s film since he made “127 Hours” (that I somehow missed and I have only my PhD to blame for it; no bother though, I shall rectify that scathing abnormality soon enough) and quite frankly, I find it very difficult to talk about it without revealing too much. Yep, it’s one of <makes quotation marks in the air> those films. And there’s nothing bad about that, on the contrary, I found “Trance” extremely pleasurable – as much as this film can be pleasurable at all. It was, however, extremely intense and made for really good entertainment.

Trance-Poster

Being conscious of the fact that “Trance” can be ruined by telling too much about its story, I shall only summarize it briefly. Ok, so it turns out (and I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether these things are true or not) that high profile auction houses have certain very specific procedures as to how to handle potential robberies. In the event of an event, there’s always a guy whose sole job is to grab the highest value item (or items) off the stage, put it in a fancy bag, and assisted by security personnel put the item in a safety drop-box that would be out of reach of those pesky opportunist thugs, who wanted to acquire a work of art through non-traditional means of robbery.

“Trance” is a story about that guy, a man called Simon (James McAvoy; if “Trance” was made ten years ago, Ewan McGregor would have definitely taken his place here as it looks like a part written for him). Right, so an event happens, Simon follows his routine, grabs a painting that was just sold for some 27 million pounds, puts it in a baggie, but never reaches the drop point, because the robbers are fully aware of this procedure and one of them (Vincent Cassel) intercepts the bag before Simon gets the chance to finish his job. Not only that, Simon suffers a major head trauma while trying to be a hero (which one should not be when faced against a fella with a shotgun), ends up in a hospital and loses all recollections of what had actually transpired during the heist. Meanwhile, Frank (Cassel) discovers that the bag that was supposed to contain the painting, is empty. Well, not empty per se, because the frame is there, but the actual piece of art is nowhere to be seen. Therefore, the baddies decide to grab Simon and force him to remember what he had done with it in any way possible. Following fruitless attempts at torture they decide to ask a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to ‘enter’ Simon’s mind and help him navigate through his misplaced memories. Thus, the stage is set to embark on a crazy and intense journey full of twists, turns, lies, half-truths, dead ends and detours, which would finally question the reality (“Inception” much?) of the story and force us to re-examine what we know about the characters and their motives.

There, I think I didn’t reveal too much. I guess you could learn as much from watching the trailer alone. Anyway, “Trance” turned out to be a solid piece of butt-clenching edge-of-your-seat cinema that oozes suspense and radiates thrills. It’s very much a Danny Boyle movie with all of his stylistic signatures. The film is shot beautifully and the way the camera plays with light (also a signature of Boyle’s team) serves perfectly to elevate the surreal atmosphere of the story.

Yes, the story. Using “Welcome to the Punch” as an example I managed to disclose how I feel about movies that require prolonged explaining to actually make sense. Now I feel I need to expand on my theory about (too) convoluted storytelling.

Movies with complex multi-layered plots can be broken down into several categories of:

– plots that require explaining and are explained by a character

– plots that require explaining but aren’t explained at all (David Lynch says hello)

– plots that don’t require explaining but are explained nevertheless (that includes most B-
class movies where the baddie feels compelled to reveal how he played the protagonist
even though we didn’t care in the first place)

 

Out of those three, “Trance” belongs definitely to the first category, because of how the plot is handled and laid out by one of the characters in the run up to the climax, about which I should probably say a few words, but still haven’t made my mind about; because I fear I would spoil too much. Nonetheless, at this point I think the category of ‘plots that require explaining and are explained by a character’ can be broken down further according to the respective impact the explaining provides. In that we have:

– A plot that when explained helps the viewer connect the dots and reveals the mind-
blowing twist,

– A plot that when explained shows the viewer the dots that he never noticed, connects
them and makes the viewer admire the meticulously designed twist, but a mild sigh is
only registered,

– A plot that when explained shows the viewer the dots that have been impossible to see
due to poor storytelling, connects them and reveals a twist that no-one gives a rat’s ass
about; awkward silence ensues,

– A plot that when explained makes s**t up on the spot, hopes for the viewer to buy it,
which the viewer refuses to do, and as a result the viewer leaves the cinema in utter
disbelief that he actually spent his hard-earned money to see a steaming pile of bulls**t
like that; rage follows.

Now, I would personally hope that in a perfect world I wouldn’t need one of the characters to break the story down for me. But it’s definitely not the case and no viewer is perfect, thus a film like “Trance” – being so complex and all – actually required a scene like that to make the climax mean anything at all. And if I had to fit it into one of the aforementioned subcategories, I would be torn between the first and the second one of them, but after a thorough consideration (I spent nearly two days trying to stitch that review together) I think “Trance” offers a twist that I couldn’t anticipate (I got some parts right), but my mind was left unblown – maybe mildly shaken. When it comes to ‘connect the dots’ part it’s really difficult to judge Boyle’s efforts here, because without an explanation certain bits and bobs would remain out of place, as well as certain facts would never be revealed, but the solution to the “Trance” puzzle was laid out well enough for me to buy it. It was not quite a case of connecting the dots, but actually noticing the trail of bread crumbs that was laid out in the open the whole time, but I kept neglecting the odd-positioned pieces of evidence and discarded them as irrelevant only to be told that I was being fooled from the start.

I think that my review stopped making sense long ago, so I think I’ll wrap it up. Over all, “Trance” is a very solid flick and it is certainly evident that Danny Boyle is back in shape to make more fantastic movies. It’s definitely a movie that needs to be watched twice: once to be fooled and carried through the surreal world of Simon’s mind; and the second time to focus on finding the bread crumbs. Anyway, it is well worth watching and a trio of Cassel-McAvoy-Dawson (whose part was more carnal than I would ever expect) makes an effort to suck the viewer into the maze that “Trance” is – without a shadow of a doubt.

 

“Welcome to the Punch” – An awkward open-handed slap at best…

So, Olympus has fallen in the States. That’s cool and all, but what about us – poor European souls living across the pond? We want to watch some action too, you know. Not always, but every once in a while… and I can’t really wait until mid-April for Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman to give me what is rightfully mine.

I needed my fix now, so I decided I would go and see “Welcome to the Punch”. Nothing would go wrong, now would it? Yet, I have to say, as much as I appreciated the effort, this flick left me in a state of unfulfillment  I feel I’m about to go on a rant, but I promise I’ll make it short(ish). I mean, it’s not a bad movie, not at all. But it’s not great either; far from it. But first things first…

movies-welcome-to-the-punch

“Welcome to the Punch” is a British cop thriller about, well, a British cop Max (crispy with a dark twist, James McAvoy) who – back when he was fresh, young and over-ambitious – once let his arrogance get the best of him and, while trying to catch a baddie, Jacob Sternwood, (stone-cold Mark Strong) who had just about pulled a heist of the century, not only allowed him to flee with an obscene amount of cash, but also walked away knee-capped and humiliated by him. Fast-forward a couple years; Max is now a brooding, cynical detective who by enlarge has given up on normal life. Wherever he goes, the shadow of his past failure follows him closely, be it in a form of nasty remarks from his colleagues at the station or as physical pain still present in his injured leg. All of a sudden, Sternwood’s adult son is found shot in the stomach as a result of some shady deal gone wrong and Jacob decides to come back from his refuge in order to see about his family , which gives Max a chance to meet his nemesis once more and settle the score once and for all. What he doesn’t know, however, is that while doing so, he would find himself right in the middle of something much bigger and that his personal vendetta would have to wait a little.

Now, did I mention that I actually like European cinema? That’s because I do. I like how action movies can be made in a way that doesn’t desperately want to be a cheap Hollywood knock-off. And in that regard “Welcome to the Punch” is definitely a good flick. The characters are nicely cut out, the ambiance is dark and shady, the acting is convincing… But sadly, the film lacks severely when it comes to a story. And we all know that a good action flick needs a gripping story-line that bolts you into your seat. Otherwise the film comes across as sloppy and amateurish. And, well, it does…

I don’t want to say here that the script is dumb or anything to that effect, but honestly, a good action movie needs a dose of healthy cliché to look believable. I didn’t mind the over-the-top-I-can-have-a-dark-side-too James McAvoy, because I genuinely like the guy and he actually managed to get me on board with his performance. Even Mark Strong (as Jacob Sternwood) was more or less OK for me with his villain persona of post-face lift Vinnie Jones. It’s the direction where the movie suffered the most, in my opinion. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that Eran Creevy is not the most seasoned of directors. He clearly borrowed a bit from the veterans of the genre, though I found it more pleasurable than irritating. Although his framing and approach at action sequences go down really well and amplify the noir feel of the film, he clearly didn’t have a clue about how to tell the story without losing the plot in the process.

 

It actually takes a bit of thought to come up with a reliable way of selling a story that has at least three different narratives in it, multi-faceted characters, good old cop drama bingo and a vital twist. You can’t just show me things and say that they’re important. It’s a cardinal sin to present me with the clues and commence a monologue that will explain everything. If you need your characters to verbally explain what is going on, then I think you’re not making a good use of the imagery. The viewer needs to figure things out on his own, you know, and it kind of kills all the fun when you point your finger towards the important details. The story quickly turns out to be too convoluted to be paced reasonably and I simply stopped caring after some time. Not that I didn’t follow, far from it. I just didn’t have the time that’s necessary to develop a bond with the protagonists. And whenever the pieces eventually fell into place, the story was too fizzed-out to make a half decent splash. Like I said – sloppy.

Perhaps “Welcome to the Punch” would have made a better TV show than it was a movie. I believe that it takes more skill, than what Eran Creevy had in his toolbox, to pull off a show like this. I’m sorry but he’s no Martin Scorsese and “Welcome to the Punch” is not “The Departed” or “Ronin”. It is, on the other hand, a half-decent action flick. We all know that all the action with no story is not the way to go in this day and age, but going all the way up to ‘all the action and a complex story in one box’ is just as well a recipe for a disaster, and I hold the director responsible for all of this.

“Welcome to the Punch” tried to run before it learned to walk – that’s the nicest way I can call what I think about this movie. While the action is there and the actors are making a real effort, whatever they tried to come up with got shot in the head and splattered unceremoniously on the screen by a story that could have been either a tad simpler or paced a bit slower (there’s nothing wrong with making your movie longer), so that we could see everything we needed to see. Instead, I was told a story about people who told me a story about other people that I didn’t really know or cared about. And that’s just wrong.

Rant over.