Sunday, 31 March 2013


Danny Boyle. Now officially a national treasure and icon. Before, he was just the man who made Ewan McGregor do things such as swim up through the worst toilet in the world... Now he's the bloke who made James Bond help the Queen to parachute out of a helicopter to open the Olympics.

Prepare to have yet another reason to worship at the alter of Danny.

His latest is one of those films where words are wholly inadequate to either describe what takes place or to convince you to take a seat and watch what unfolds without giving anything away. Trance is one of those manic movies - a "lean forwards in your seat and readily play 'guess the direction of the next plot twist' type of experience." Try and picture The Sixth Sense on steroids dating The Usual Suspects whilst fantasising about Inception and you will be ready to describe Danny Boyle's newest celluloid conundrum.

From the get-go, all seems to be familiar territory for those who have followed the films of Boyle. Flashes of his back catalogue are all present and correct - the stylised kinetics of The Beach, the catchy tunes of Trainspotting, the constant character reveals of Shallow Grave, the time-jumping framing of Slumdog Millionaire - all these previous sum parts make up a brand new whole to enjoy.

All seems straight forward with the opening salvo of McAvoy breaking the fourth wall and explaining directly to the viewer the challenges facing anyone thinking of trying to steal high-priced art. A quick flashback shows how easy it was to do a "snatch n grab" - all you needed was brawn and balls back in the day. As we, and he, find out, you still need those qualities but a whole lot more to pull off a heist nowadays. Here McAvoy emulates Boyle's original protege (McGregor) from Shallow Grave - all Scottish charm and smirks with an unhealthy dose of hysteria when the shit hits the fan. It's after this that things really do get intense, intriguing and immersive.

By saying that there's twists aplenty does ruin the possibility of the viewer letting it all just appear on their radar as the film makers intended. Knowing that there's a twist makes the audience purposely look out for it rather than have it unfold before their eyes but Trance constantly changes the ground under your feet so that even if you think that you're that clever, you will not be able to spot anywhere near half of them that present themselves during its 101 minute running time. Not unlike an Ocean's 11 plotline, the heist has several things going on simultaneously that only fall into place when all (well, mostly) is revealed just before the end credits roll. And just before that, all manner of clues and hints that were vaguely present before, become relevant and eye-opening as the secrets are viciously torn apart. Those "blink-an-you'll-miss-em" clues suddenly start to fall into place as the domino's, the cast and the walls of perception fall one-by-one.

Of course, plotline's alone do not a fantastic film make. Cassel and Dawson are superb in their roles as both victim and victor (depending on which part of the twist is being unveiled) and Boyle lets his eye and camera deliver angles and accents that only help add to the blissful confusion. Who else could make the M25 and other roads look like a red neon sign to the Devil from up above?

Brilliant and baffling in equal parts, this is Boyle back on form that anyone will love. Just like he has done on all of his efforts in the varied fields he's attempted, this is a top notch example of how a genre film can be. Go see, then see again. And then once more for the hell of it.

UK release date: 29.03.13
Certificate: 15

Monday, 18 March 2013


Type casting - a double edged sword. It keeps you in business and helps with the mortgage repayments but on the other hand it can propel you away from your fans and box office receipts as they see you again and again deliver the same ol' same ol'.

Since his cult raise to fame with TV's under-rated classic show Arrested Development, Jason Bateman seems to be stuck in the role of "put upon average Joe." This was perfectly shown in his Horrible Bosses role as out of the criss-cross would-be murderers, Bateman's was the most normal.

So, if it ain't broke...  Director Seth Gordon reunites with his 2011's  Horrible Bosses star to explore the all-too-real world of identity theft. Of course though, this being Gordon who's cut his teeth on the likes of Modern Family, The Office and Community, facts and seriousness aren't included here on the menu.

Instead, what we are given is what feels like a poor man's combination of Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Midnight Run. Now, on paper, that sounds like a match made in heaven - both being fantastic comedies of their generation that have stood up against the ravages of time. But here in practise, the result is less-than-impressive.

Mazin and Eeten's screenplay tries to recreate the mis-matched road travellers of Steve Martin vs John Candy (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and Charles Grodin vs Robert DeNiro (Midnight Run). What doesn't help the wanna-be's Bateman vs McCarthy is the reason that they're thrown together in the first place on their cross-country road-trip. McCarthy's fraudster willingly goes with her mild-mannered mark from her Florida home where he has tracked her down, to his in Denver to help him keep his job that she's put in jeopardy. So we have to believe that the woman who has stolen his entire life wants to now save it.  This just doesn't sit right despite the obvious nods to McCarthy being a broken heart that does what she does for friendship, so the storyline becomes irrelevant and thus the jokes are left to fend for themselves. Which doesn't really help them. Or the audience that much.

There are some nice touches thrown in here and there, but that's Identity Thief's problem - it's too sporadic for what should have been a balls-to-the-walls all-out comedy. Even with some humorous cameos - Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet, The Office's Ellie Kemper and Robert Patrick as a Terminator 2-esque bounty hunter -  their appearances, and the laughs they add, are both fleeting and quickly forgotten.

Let's just hope the Horrible Bosses 2 sequel that Gordon and Bateman are in pre-production on doesn't hold back like this outing did.

UK release date: 22.03.13
Certificate: 15

Saturday, 2 March 2013


The genre of horror has dramatically changed over the years - originally  they were all about fear and suspense, whereas now it seems that the key factor is gore and how grizzly the deaths can be.

Recently, the likes of The Woman In Black has gone back to the "good old days" where mounting tension and off-camera scares are pushed to the fore to create the desired effect from the audience. This movement towards old school continues with an unlikely source - the director of the violent and kinda-gory vengeance trilogy (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.)

Director Park Chan-wook brings to this Western tale of a family and its secrets a very Asian flavour, bringing to mind the creepier moments of the likes of the Ring, The Eye and The Grudge franchises. Just like those cult classics, every image seems to have been contemplated and dissected before it's inclusion in the final film. Nothing it seems has been left to chance in either those films or here too. Imagery is key. For story purposes and for fear-inducing purposes.

The point here is fear caused primarily by uncertainty - of what's happening and of what some of the characters will do next. Imagine the various family members of say The Munsters, Beetlejuice or The Addams Family - condense them into just a handful of characters, and then mix in a decidedly 18 certificate feel and you will be someway to realising the Stoker family. Chan-wook, along with his (alien-to-him) English-speaking cast has delivered some of the more weirder individuals to be placed upon the silver screen in recent memory. This, along with striking visual imagery and a book ending of the film with the same scene, helps the events that unfold take on a certain "troubling dream-like" quality. The opening credit sequence starts this off with its imaginative placing and removing of the names not unlike those of Night Watch where the images upon the screen - Mia Wasikowska standing by the roadside - affects the words and their visibility. This use of imaginative imagery also shows such striking dissolves as Nicole Kidman's brushed hair blending into a field of wind-swept grass, and Wasikowska's tiny frame walking along the middle of a highway followed by her just discovered Uncle Charlie in his open-top Jag, into her walking up her driveway still followed by the ever-increasingly strange Uncle Charlie in his open-top Jag.

Kidman, who is no stranger to sexually-charged but emotionally-fragile roles (think of Dead Calm,  The Others and To Die For) nails it as the recently widowed Evelyn who becomes more-and-more enamoured with Mathew Goode's Uncle Charlie. Goode delivers the perfect amount of smiles and uncomfortably long stares towards Wasikowska's just-turned-18 and greiving daughter - India - who seems to be channeling a mixture of young "angsty" Winona Ryder within the looks of a young Claire Danes. Running throughout the entire Stoker, as with these three characters, nothing is at all what it seems.

With its swings-and-roundabouts plotline of just exactly who Uncle Charlie is and his connection to the recently widowed Evelyn and emotionally-closed down India, the film boasts a not-too obvious story arc that has a great but disturbing flashback in it that breaks the mainstream cinema taboo of killing children which still doesn't fully shed light on events that will unfold afterwards.

Intriguing, interesting, inventive, imaginative and incestious, Stoker is a rare breed of film that mixes its horror with thriller and adds dysfunctional family as well just to create a more heightened emotion to it all. You'll never view distant family members in the same light again.

UK release date: 01.03.13
Certificate: 18