Archive for November, 2013

trance (2013)

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer, who, during the sale of a priceless painting, is caught up in a carefully planned robbery perpetrated by Franck (Vincent Cassel). During the course of the raid Simon suffers a head injury and loses his memory, but not before he has hidden the artwork the robbers are targeting. Frustrated, and with no other option, Franck forces Simon to see a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) who must break through the barriers in Simon’s mind to discover the whereabouts of the valuable item.

An adaptation of a UK mini-series of the same name, “Trance”, as befits a film about a fractured memory, is intentionally jumbled and, at times, hard to follow. The line between dream and reality is blurred as the film nudges you toward the truth rather than presenting you with a linear narrative. As a stylistic choice this works for much of the film and is it’s real strength; you really do find yourself being drawn in trying to unravel the puzzle, which stretches far beyond the macguffin of the missing painting.

It is easy to see what drew Danny Boyle to this project, as the labyrinthine set-up enables him to play with multiple genres. Style-wise, “Trance” is pitched somewhere between “Drive” and “Inception”, but where those films felt fresh, “Trance” feels lazy and dated. It is too clean and too choreographed; a mere pastiche of what others have done far better. The old hat vibe is heightened by a soundtrack that seemingly tries to ape the hip retro sound of Winding Refn’s 2011 neo-noir, but is generic and distracting rather than unique and mood enhancing.

The screenplay by John Hodge (working from the original television script by Joe Ahearne) shows exactly why Boyle hasn’t worked with him in over a decade. The majority of the dialogue is as subtle as a brick to the face and just as lacking in wit (the funniest moment in the film is Vincent Cassel’s exasperated single word answer to one of the stupidest questions in cinema history). Most lines were seemingly written with the sole intention of appearing in the trailer, and you are treated to a barrage of on-the-nose cod-philosophising like: “I must remember never to forget…that you are a criminal”, and “To be yourself you have to constantly remember yourself”. Worst of all for a film so reliant on the unravelling of it’s mysteries; the plotting is incredibly contrived and as the layers are peeled away it feels that the twists are there for their own sake, more about servicing some adolescent idea of what’s “cool” than creating an interesting story.

The performances by the strong cast are generally good, although they aren’t helped by the banal dialogue and characters who are essentially little more than cyphers acting in certain ways to propel the twisting plot and wrong-foot the audience.

“Trance” is a film that tries to be subtle, clever and deep but is really just broad, dumb and takes itself too seriously. The mystery at the film’s centre is arresting and enough to keep you interested to the end, but given all the talent involved and what they are capable of, it is hard not to feel disappointed.



Traxx, a Vietnam war veteran working as a police officer, is fired from the force after an incident in a petshop, and becomes a mercenary working his way around South America. Tiring of the relentless violence he returns to the united states in the hope of setting up a successful cookie making business. However, with no real skills in the area of baking, he is soon forced to return to the career he left behind and puts himself up for hire as a “town tamer”.

“Traxx” is an action comedy from 1988 starring tv presenter and announcer Shadoe Stevens as the eponymous hero and is among the pantheon of the truly great “bad movies”.

The tone of the film is absolutely all over the place and you frequently feel as though every new scene is from a completely different movie to the previous one. The first 5 minutes alone feel like 3 completely different films; we flip gun fights to cheesy over the top comedy, from horrific imagery to pop video style dance montages, with absolutely no care for how they all fit together.

The cast generally play this all dead straight, and it is the star Shadoe Stevens who really nails the mood of this film. He plays the titular Traxx as a bizarre cross between a game show host and action star, stopping mid-battle to check out his hair and spewing incongruous one liners with smarmy commitment. He kills absolutely everyone who crosses his path, whether they deserve it or not, an unlikely killing machine engaging in slaughter with a wink and a smile.

“Traxx” is never scared of stretching a joke right to it’s breaking point or throwing the most outrageous imagery into a shot, (the bad guys literally strap a whole team of little leaguers to their car as human shields and that is far from the most bizarre visual in this movie). Director Jerome Gary mostly keeps things disarmingly deadpan and nothing is really played for laughs, which actually makes it funnier as it means ridiculous visual gags appear literally from nowhere, like cinematic non-sequiturs.

The humour itself is either so hokey and hackneyed that you can’t help but groan (“Deeter lost a litre”), or so heinously misjudged and in such bad taste as to leave you open mouthed with awe. If a million monkeys with a million typewriters given a million years would come up with the works of Shakespeare, then a gibbon with a crayon and a bag of weed could probably knock out the script of “Traxx” in a long weekend.

This is a film where the utter ineptitude and lack of care of those involved makes it far greater than the sum of it’s parts. It seems that everyone involved just shrugged their shoulders and said “why not” every step of the way. “Why not kill the main bad guy with a fart?”. “Why not have a creche in a brothel?”. That attitude makes this film unique, an over-the top treasure unafraid of throwing literally any idea, no matter how bad or stupid, at the screen.

“Traxx” really is a must watch film, preferably with a group of friends and a lot of alcohol. Absolutely demented, totally inept, and all the better for no-one involved having any clue what they were supposed to be doing. This truly is one of the great “bad movies”, a dazzlingly awful acid trip, a truly baffling film that gets everything wrong but feels so right. Anyone who takes any pleasure at all in trash cinema should immediately track this gloriously excessive misfire down.

filth (2013)

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized
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When a Japanese student is murdered in Edinburgh, promotion-seeking but troubled detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is given the lead in the case.

Although this sounds like the set-up for yet another gritty urban police procedural, that could not be further from the truth. The story here is very much secondary, and the lead character pays even less attention to his investigation than the film does. Instead, this is a character study, a window into the life of the self destructive, bigoted and hedonistic Robertson. While many would have treated this with some seriousness, writer/director Jon S. Baird (working from a novel by the legendary scottish chronicler of debauchery Irvine Welsh) has crafted an irreverent and demented pitch black comedy, mining laughs from the degradation and depravity on show.

As befits a film derived from one of Welsh’s first person narratives, the action is very much viewed through Robertson’s eyes, his “rules” being the only ones that apply as he repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to wink knowingly at the viewer. The film is blessed with Welsh’s way with words and the dialogue is crisp and funny, while maintaining the earthiness of the original prose, but this is not a film that stands in awe of it’s source material. Baird has remembered that in the visual medium of film it is best to show, not tell, and the film is a deranged visual treat. Character introductions are interspersed with cutaway visualisations of Robertson’s thoughts and our unreliable narrator’s hallucinations are presented as matters of fact, as disorienting for the viewer as they are for Robertson himself.

McAvoy is simply outstanding in the lead role, playing against type as a repulsive boil on the behind of society. It is a testament to his performance that he can convey the charisma of the man, necessary for so much of the film to make sense, while never letting you lose sight of how truly repugnant he is; a damaged sociopath hiding behind drooping eyelids and a slimy smile. <any of the best scenes come when Robertson is completely in control, playing his “games” and manipulating others to his whims, yet McAvoy is able to turn his performance on a pin, going from raging at a colleague to suddenly showing an immense vulnerability when confronted with a grieving widow. He flips from from magnetic to repellent, from irredeemable to pitiable, all the while maintaining a likability that makes you not just care, but actually root for this despicable character. McAvoy stretched himself here and found that he was made of elastic, able to contort into any shape required for the film to work.

The supporting cast is equally strong, and it is hard to find a weak link. Eddie Marsan is an absolute delight as a put-upon “friend”, possibly the last person who genuinely cares about Robertson, rewarded with the systematic destruction of his life. Jim Broadbent is also outstanding in a small role as Robertson’s psychiatrist and the personification of his illness, clearly having a whale of a time revelling in an outrageously over the top performance.

“Filth” is incredibly sure-handed; funny and outrageous while still being grounded in reality; touching and sad without ever being mawkish. The end product is a well performed, superbly crafted film, swimming with sharp yet crude dialogue, all the better for being as completely unapologetic about it’s excesses as it’s main character.


A French province is terrorised by attacks from an unknown beast, sending ripples of fear throughout the country. A sceptical Knight and his Native American companion arrive to investigate the strange happenings, but find themselves unprepared for the dark reality behind the fantastical stories.

Loosely based on a genuine folk legend, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” makes little attempt at historical accuracy. Primarily an action/adventure, with elements of horror, mystery, native american mysticism, primitive steampunk and even a healthy dose of completely anachronistic kung-fu, this is certainly a film with eclectic influences.

Director Christophe Gans works hard to achieve a slick stylised feel, loaded with slo-mo, swooping crane-shots and stylish zooms. The film is genuinely gorgeous, with Gans’ kinetic camera gliding through picturesque locations and magnificently appointed sets. At times the camera trickery is overdone or unnecessary, leading to a cheesy or comical feel. When a distant scream leads to a zoom in on a character’s reaction, followed by a slow motion walk to the window, it simply feels hokey, while a close up on a characters face as he is propelled backwards through a wall feels so unneeded that it takes you out of the moment completely. While it is admirable that Gans made so much effort to make every shot exceptional, at times it feels like he is simply trying too hard.

The camerawork is supplemented by quite a bit of CGI, most of which works fairly well. However, there are the occasional moments when it is poorly realised, a sword that extends into a bladed whip being a notable example, severely detracting from a battle scene that really should have been among the film’s highlights.

Much of the first hour is given over to developing the relationship between the Knight, Fronsac, and Marianne, the Count’s daughter, a romance that never quite clicks and wouldn’t be missed if it were excised from the film completely. Too much time is spent setting the scene and for a good portion of the film substance is secondary to a dawdling trundle through the lavish costumes, sets and scenery. However, it all really clicks into gear when the mystery of the beast begins to be unravelled and the last hour is a breath-taking thrill-ride of action set-pieces and unlikely plot twists.

The cast are generally solid, with Samuel Le Bihan finding a nice balance between likeable oafishness and nobility as Fronsac. It is a shame that Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are not given more to do in supporting roles, although Cassel makes the most of his screen time with a nuanced, creepy turn while Bellucci is enigmatic yet alluring as a mysterious courtesan.

While it takes a while to get going, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is an enjoyable period romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While over-stylised and too reliant on cliched plotting, you would have to be very hard of heart not to take at least some pleasure from it’s bizarre mish-mash of styles, especially when it finds it’s groove in a rip-roaring second half filled with highlights.