Trance (2013)

Trance (2013)

Some directors can become very genre-centric, or known for only one recurring idea that they implement in film after film. For some people this is great; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But for others it can become a bit of a drag, as every new film delivers the same basic premise. Look at Michael Bay – he’s maligned for his use of CGI and explosions in near-enough every film he’s put out in the past decade. Then you have directors who switch it up film after film to tackle different genres. Perhaps the most famous example of this right now is Quentin Tarantino – I make no secret of my fanboyism of his catalogue of films. Each of his films has been stunningly different. But having said that… I think there’s another director out there more worthy of the accolade of “most diverse director”. And that would be Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle is the guy behind Transpotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but a handful. In there you have tales of drug addicts, a zombie apocalypse and the story of a guy who gets stuck under a boulder and gradually goes bonkers. Boyle isn’t afraid to tackle different genres. He’s also not afraid to tackle theatrics either, as he was the guy behind the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which many hailed as fantastic (me included). So this brings us to Trance – his latest full length film. A film that I put down as one of the 13 to watch in 2013. So does it live up to my lofty expectations?

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance...

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance…

First things first… I need to deal with the trailer for this film. It’s a trailer I’ve seen jammed in front of many other features recently. Honestly? The trailer is appalling. It actually reduced my hype levels for this film. A lot. It was disorientating, quite boring, and showed way too much narrative for my liking. It almost completely turned me off Trance. And I know some of you feel the same way about it too. Let me put this out there now – discard your thoughts from the trailer. The film is far better than those short teasers would have you believe.

Trance (2013)Trance is a heist story. A heist story by way of hypnotherapy and mind-bending reality augmentation. At its core, Trance follows Simon (James McAvoy), who works at an arts’ auction house. Simon’s not playing by the rules. So when a £20 million+ painting rolls through the auction room and the building is raided by thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel)… well, Simon’s in on the act. It’s an inside job. The only trouble? James misplaces the painting following a blow to the head. Naturally, Franck and his group are not best pleased by this turn of events and try to force the answer out of Simon. When that doesn’t work, they resort to hypnosis by recruiting Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) – a therapist. The film then focuses on Elizabeth trying to extract these concealed memories from James’ head…

But that’s only scratching the surface of what this film offers. Whilst my little synopsis accurately covers the first third of the film, it all goes extremely far into left field and gets pretty damn trippy and mind-bending. Immediate thoughts would point towards Inception and Vanilla Sky as inspirations for this film, but even then you’re not really coming close. What Danny Boyle has managed to do is create a vivid world, filled with believable characters and added this bizarre hypnosis twist in a way that really works.

Trance (2013)

Having said that, the mind-bending sections of this film did actually lose me at one point. I wasn’t sure what I was watching. Was I in reality, or was I in a regression? Maybe this was the point of a certain 10 minute stretch in the latter half of the film, but either way I felt lost. This shouldn’t be the aim of a film – to lose the audience. At all other points in the film I knew exactly what was going on and what was unfolding, but there were definitely sections of “what the hell is happening?”

Now, we need to focus on the acting of the three core players in the film: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. As I mentioned in our Welcome To The Punch review, March is McAvoy season. Indeed, I actually saw him performing on-stage in London this past weekend as Macbeth. He was brilliant, if a little beardy and drooly. And Trance is another big outing for McAvoy. Arguably, Boyle has a good record of launching talent into the stratosphere. Just look at Cilian Murphy – a relative unknown when 28 Days Later was released. The same could actually be said of Ewan McGregor when he was selected for the role as lead in Trainspotting.

Trance (2013)

So, I actually hope that this gives McAvoy‘s career a massive boost. Not that he needs it, but I hope it does. Why? Because this is perhaps the best example I’ve seen of McAvoy‘s acting abilities. Trance really calls upon so many emotions from his character, James. I was sold on every facial tick, mannerism and emotion. A sublime performance. Similarly, Cassel ably plays out his role as the “bad guy” – a solid turn. Much praise has also been lauded on Rosario Dawson here, and it’s entirely merited. She’s an actress that’s already had some fine performances under her belt, but Boyle really brings out another side to her acting abilities, which is great to see.

The successful display of talent on show here is definitely down to Boyle‘s direction and Joe Ahearne and John Hodge‘s script. The film is anything but linear, but the characterisation is rich. One could argue that the film is not as well realised as some of Boyle‘s earlier works and indeed, that middle section got a bit too overwhelming, even for The Phage. There’s also an unexpected amount of gore and nudity (a heavy emphasis on pubic hair, or lack thereof). But then again, this is from the guy that had someone cut his arm off with a penknife and zombies that spewed blood at every turn, so perhaps it’s not that unexpected…

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle - the key to the film's success.

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle – the key to the film’s success.

Trance is another resounding success for Danny Boyle. It has its flaws, it’s not perfect, but as a whole it works in a cohesive manner. It works not only because of Boyle‘s direction and an interesting script, but because of McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson. McAvoy in particular appears to be at the top of his game right now. The trailers for Trance may have dampened my enthusiasm for the film, but this was eradicated within the first 15 minutes. What prevails is an intriguing, thought-provoking film with more twists and turns than a helter-skelter. It’s definitely a film that demands to be seen more than once, that’s for sure.

So although Tarantino is probably at the forefront of your mind for taking on wildly different films nowadays, you’ve probably got to look to Danny Boyle for the truest example of this. His back catalogue includes rom-coms, drama, action and horror. Many of them being seminal examples of the genre. Where does Trance fit into this list? Well, it sits highly in his back catalogue. It may not be the shining example of a thriller in decades to come, but it’s one you definitely can’t predict. And who doesn’t love the unpredictable?

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Thirteen of the Best for 2013

Gaze into the Phage's Ball...

Gaze into the Phage’s Ball…

Happy New Year one and all! We’ve all managed to survive the armageddon and hopefully survived the welcoming in of 2013 last night. So now you have just one question on your lips about the year ahead right? What are the best films of 2013! No? You’re telling me you want to know if you’ll get that promotion / girl / boy / revenge? Well, I’m afraid I’m just going to answer the query about some of the biggest films to come in 2013. Last week we had a retrospective look back at 2012 with the 1st Annual Phagee Awards and now, like Janus – the namesake of January, we’re going to look forward to what’s to come. So I’ve picked thirteen films for 2013 that should be on your radar. Whilst I hope they’re all going to be hits… I can guarantee they’ll be an interesting watch, for better – or worse.

1) 14th February: A Good Day To Die Hard

2013 Die Hard 5

Yes, Bruce Willis will once again be donning a dirty vest and reprising his role as the unluckiest man in the world: John McClane. We cannot wait for this film. Film Phage are massive fans of the others in the franchise, so we’re eager to see what happens in the fifth. Sure, Die Hard 4 can’t hold a candle to Die Hard: With A Vengeance, but it was still great fun and we’re hoping for more of the same. The only worry? Having John McClane Jr. (aka Jack McClane, aka Jai Courtney) running around with him. Whilst we’re sure Courtney will do an admirable job… we still wish it was Tom Hardy in that role. We can dream right?

2) 27th March: Trance

2013 Trance

This one’s coming in low and hard, because I don’t think many people even know that Danny Boyle‘s latest film will be hitting cinemas in the Spring. This is the guy that brought you Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but four of his eclectic movies. Whilst he’s not released too many details, we know it has James McAvoy at its lead and deals with art, ripping off gangsters and hypnosis, which leads to a reality-bending story where you don’t know what’s real from what’s resulting from the trance. It all sounds ludicrously trippy and we’re looking forward to having our minds warped.

3) 12th April: Oblivion

2013 Oblivion

Whilst nerdy gamers worldwide may be rejoicing in the premise of a live action retelling of the Oblivion video game, that’s not the case. No, this is a post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. Whilst Cruise has been known to produce a dud once every so often, he’s a pretty bankable actor and only commits to promising films. This film puts Cruise as an engineer who returns to a war-ravaged Earth (we’ve been at war with aliens) and discovers a secret that turns the whole war on its head. Sure, Cruise has dabbled with aliens in the less-than-well-received War of the Worlds, but we’re excited by this. It has great potential.

4) 26th April: Iron Man 3

2013 Iron Man 3

Don’t tell me you couldn’t see this making my list? We’re massive Marvel fans at Film Phage and can’t wait for Robert Downey Jr. to don the red and yellow suit once more. Whilst it’s great to have Sir Ben Kingsley as a menacing Mandarin, we’re also very curious about Guy Pearce‘s role. If it’s true to the Extremis comic-book storyline then his character should have a nice meaty role. Pearce has impressed us in 2012 with his slimey performance in Lawless and we couldn’t help but like him in Lockout too. This could potentially be Downey Jr.‘s last outing as Iron Man in his own dedicated film, so we’re hoping that if it is – he goes out with a bang! We also get this a week before the US… which makes it even better.

5) 24th May: The Hangover Part III

2013 Hangover Part 3

The Hangover was a breath of fresh air for the comedy film world. It was rude, bombastic and totally absurd… it was great. So when Part II reared its head in 2011… well, we were all a bit disappointed. It was near enough a copy-and-paste of its predecessor. However, The Hangover Part III is promising to turn the concept on its head, with the guys (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) coming to the aid of Zach Galifianakis‘ Alan. At least, that’s what the rumours are indicating… we’ll see for sure come May.

6) 7th June: After Earth

2013 After Earth

When Will Smith releases a film, the world raises its head and takes notice. He, like Cruise, has released some dud movies, but he’s another incredibly bankable actor and generally has a fantastic number of releases under his belt. In After Earth we see him reunited on-screen with his son Jaden Smith, which is great… but isn’t the reason we’re excited about this. The film also marks the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the director’s chair some 3 years after the disaster that was The Last Airbender. All we really know is that it sees Big Willy crash land on a planet that’s not been inhabited by humans for 1000 years. We just hope that “the twist” isn’t that he’s time travelled and this IS Earth… A bit like Planet of the Apes, but without the damn dirty apes.

7) 14th June: Man of Steel

2013 Man of Steel

Although Batman’s done and dusted, Christopher Nolan‘s dabbling with the DC superheroes isn’t over. With Zack Snyder in the director’s chair, and Nolan as producer, we see the return of Superman. Whilst the trailers have been suitably vague, we’re excited to see what they’ll do with this franchise. Could it be the next Green Lantern, or will he be the new Dark Knight… or a Light Knight. With laser eyes, who can fly… and spin the world backwards. How they manage to ground such a ludicrously powerful hero will be interesting. Because as we know, all Hollywood cares about nowadays is making heroes “gritty” and “realistic”. We’ve high hopes for Henry Cavill though – he certainly looks the part, and with the main villain touted as Zod (another superpowered guy), we’re expecting fireworks.

8) 21st June: World War Z

2013 World War Z

This could be fantastic… but it could also be awful… This film worries us and excites us in equal measures. I’m a massive fan of Max Brooks’ original book by the same name. It’s utterly fantastic. But the Brad Pitt-led film deviates heavily from the concept of the book (an oral retelling of a war against a plague that turns people into zombies – told by the survivors). Instead, this film opts to follow Pitt -who works for the UN, during an onslaught in Pittsburgh. The trailer looks a bit of a mess, with the zombies somehow forming a tidal wave – they move like a liquid. An odd choice. I’d rather we saw the runners from 28 Days Later… but we’ll see how this turns out. We’re curious, to say the least.

9) 12th July: Monsters University

2013 Monsters University

Finally we get the follow up to 2001’s Monsters Inc., which is one of my favourite animated movies. We’re hoping that Monsters University goes beyond what was done back then and creates a truly funny and imaginative film. The original gang is back, so we can look forward to seeing Sully (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) in their University of Fear days. We know that they weren’t necessarily friends back then, so it’ll be an interesting plot. Let’s just hope the sequel / prequel is at least as good as the original so that it doesn’t sully (ha – that’s his name!) what was a great original film.

10) 26th July: The Wolverine

2013 The Wolverine

The most popular X-Man reappears on-screen this year – once again courtesy of Hugh Jackman. This one should be interesting. Apparently it’s going to skip over X-Men Origins: Wolverine and actually pick up from where X-Men: The Last Stand left off. Very interesting. Incidentally, it’s set in Japan and sees Logan coping with his losses and dealing with his life. Naturally, he’s going to have to pop those claws too to deal with some samurais. We’re also intrigued to see whether this somehow links in with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which should feature Wolverine quite prominently. Hugh Jackman‘s signed on for it, so we shall see…

11) 20th September: Elysium

2013 Elysium

This is probably our most anticipated film on the list. Why? Because we’re seeing Neil Blomkamp returning as the writer and director. Who’s he? Only the guy behind District 9 – one of our favourite films. We’re still waiting on District 10 though – get on it Neil – we want to know what happened to Wikus! Why else should this be great? 1) the actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley, 2) the story: rich folks live on a spacecraft, poor folks live on the wrecked Earth… and Matt Damon‘s going to equalise it! We’re very, very excited.

12) ??th October: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

2013 Sin City 2 A Dame To Kill For

2005’s Sin City was a beautiful piece of cinema. In every sense. It was pulpy, gritty and looked sublime. It was Robert Rodriguez at his best, adapting a great Max Miller story. Can he do it twice? Well we’ve got a hell of a lot of the cast back for events that are set just before the original film. That means Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen etc. It’s a shame Bruce Willis doesn’t figure in this story, as his character was great. But hey – if we’ve got more of Mickey Rourke‘s Marv back up there smashing things, then we’re happy. It also features some bizarre cameos… Lady Gaga anyone?

13) 30th October: Thor: The Dark World

2013 Thor The Dark World

Rounding out our list of the thirteen most anticipated films is everyone’s favourite Norse God: Thor. Yes, Chris Hemsworth will be back at his ripped best and fighting a new evil… one that isn’t just Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki again! Hurrah! This time we’ll see him squaring off against Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith in what should be a refreshing new angle – not all God vs. God again, or Thor landing on Earth in the middle of nowhere doing his best impression of Crocodile Dundee… minus “y’call that a knife?” routine. Oh, and again… UK beats the US release by one week. We may have lost the battle for Wreck-It Ralph, but we’ve not lost the war yet my friends.

And that’s it – just a selection of thirteen of our picks of films to watch in 2013. We’ve not even touched on the new Fast & The Furious movie, which again has Dwayne Johnson in it, so it should be pretty good. Then there’s Gangster Squad, the eventual release of Wreck-It Ralph, and Spielberg‘s Robopocalypse. But hey – it’s thirteen films for 2013… I’ll do more films next year. Probably fourteen. If the world doesn’t end this year either.