Usually when people escape a shitty relationship they take their books and their CDs. They might even stuff a couple of posters under their arms and run off with the Blu Ray player. At the very worst they’ll sneak into their ex-partners house when they’re at work and nab the cat. Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), though, has other ideas... Directed by Danny Boyle, you wouldn’t be completely off your nut to expect decent things from Trance. From Trainspotting to Shallow Grave to 28 Days Later to Slumdog Millionaire to the amazing opening Olympic ceremony that had this homesick Londoner in tears, he has an incredibly robust CV. But then Trance rears it’s weird, deranged head. First things first, I was incredibly entertained by Trance. But I can’t call it a good film. In fact, it’s pretty fucking awful. It’s a colossal mess. It’s nasty, it’s bitter and it’s trashy...which is why I probably found it so perversely entertaining. Part of me thinks that Trance is a reaction to Kerry Fox’s character in Shallow Grave. In that film you have a scheming, manipulative woman who is outwitted by an equally scheming, manipulative man. But even though they’re equally dastardly, you can’t help but root for the Ewan McGregor character. But why? He’s greedy, he’s a coward and he’s completely lacking in moral fibre. So why should we root for him over a woman with the same kind of characteristics? Do we somehow believe that women should be above such avarice? Or is there some kind of misogyny going on? Are we so insecure that we can’t abide the fact that a woman could be smarter or more devious than a man? Perhaps. But Danny Boyle atones for his vaguely misogynistic treatment of women in Shallow Grave by having the female lead get away with everything in Trance. She takes the male characters to the cleaners and gets to take home an expensive Goya. But is this a satisfying role reversal? Not really. The character is painted in broad strokes and her ability to manipulate the minds of others is so strong that she could almost be considered a super hero/super villain; she doesn’t seem human - she’s more like a character out of X-Men. One of the most egregious things in Trance is the ending. Elizabeth has got away with the expensive painting and she’s screwed over all the men in her life, including Franck (Vincent Cassel), a mid-level hood. The expensive painting was his prize and he’s understandably upset that someone else has it. But Elizabeth offers a solution. If Franck just picks up the ipad she’s sent to him by courier, he can forget that it ever happened. All he has to do is press an app called ‘Trance’ and she’ll erase it from his memory. This scene is stupid for many reasons. Firstly, it’s way too cute. Elizabeth, speaking through the video on the ipad, is perfectly filmed. Really? Did she do this or herself? Or did she hire a professional, Academy Award level crew to film her message? The lighting and the camerawork are all perfect. And then you have Franck standing there like an idiot. Ooh, I’m attracted to this woman but she screwed me over and I really want that painting back but I want to be able to escape the torment of not having it. Shall I press the Trance app? Yeah, I think I will. No, wait! No I won’t. I won’t touch it. But it hurts so much. I can put an end to the pain. Yeah, let me press it. But I want the painting so much! I can’t do it. But I’m in agony. I can have peace. But I want the painting! *THE END* The thing that surprised me the most was just how bad James McAvoy is. His overacting in this film is insane. A couple of times he does this evil look. It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s like some weird Tourette’s tic. Or he’s just pooed himself and he likes it. I never knew that he was quite so hammy. But not knowing anything about the film before going to see it, I was quite surprised at just how fucked up it is. At the beginning it seems like something of a lightweight caper film. Oh, there’s an art robbery and various shenanigans are going to follow. But then an hour and half later James McAvoy is driving around in a car with a rotting corpse in it. And then he’s shooting people in the penis and strangling women to death. [insert evil McAvoy smirk] Something else James McAvoy’s character likes is a pube-free, little girly vagina. Yep, he’s so turned on by Renaissance nudes that he likes his women to be hair free. Cue graphic shots of Elizabeth’s hairless mound. He becomes so obsessed with this baby smooth pussy that he begins getting jealous for no reason and starts beating Elizabeth up. So to try and stop him from killing her, she gradually puts him in a trance and makes him forget her and their relationship. Surely this would be enough. No, no it wouldn’t. As compensation she plants an idea in his head - he’ll steal a painting and deliver it to her. It’s a neat enough idea but the script is too weak to pull it off. For a little while I thought it was going to be a genuinely decent film. I know my wife was hating every second that Rosario Dawson opened her mouth, but the initial trance scenes were entertaining. It’s like a detective story, only the mystery is trapped in your head. But then the film degenerates and becomes a crazy guilty pleasure. Would you like graphic cock violence with your gential close-ups? Yes, please! I think I could drink a six pack and have the most amazing time watching this film. There are certainly one or two howlers. In one scene Elizabeth passes three bullets to James McAvoy...into his mouth...and no one notices! Okay, they’re having a romantic kiss before they get killed. But can you really walk around with three bullets in your mouth without anyone noticing? ‘What have got in your gob there?’ [Jangle, jangle] The unintentional hilarity even extends to the movie poster. It features a multi-coloured James McAvoy screaming at the viewer. Is this the frustration we’re going to feel when viewing the movie? Or is it outright anger? But to me it looks like a Technicolor shit arranged into James McAvoy’s visage. Yes, Danny Boyle did a dump and this is what happened...and it’s kind of amazing. Hmm. Shall I hit the ‘Trance’ app and forget everything that happened? But the film is so much fun! But it’s such a piece of shit as well! I should just erase it from my memory. But the McAvoy smirk is so amusing! No, don’t let it take up precious room in your head. Get rid of it! But James McAvoy shoots someone in the penis!
I can’t help but feel that there’s a much better film trying to escape the story of Pain and Gain. There are so many ways that this twisted tale tells of the corruption of the American Dream and the greed that lies at the heart of man. Combine this with the fact that the antagonists are bodybuilders and you have all kinds of layers to explore; the decision to chose the surface over depth and the perversion of trying to climb the ladder of success by stealing someone else’s life. You could make an amazingly layered movie here. Or you could fill it with penis jokes. Filmed by Michael Bay, I was under no illusions that this was going to be a complicated, multi-textured look at modern day avarice, but I still can’t help but feel a sense of disappointment. Not that Bay does a bad job with the film. After all the shit he’s made, here, finally, is a genuinely entertaining movie. But that’s all it is - an amusing two-hour diversion full of titties and knob gags. Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a musclebound crook who lands a job at the Sun Gym in Miami. He excels in his position, boosting membership and making his clientele very happy. There’s nothing he won’t do to help business - he’ll even wax the body hair off of fatties. But a fire burns in him. He wants more. He wants more money. Lugo is kind of a half dunderhead and half genius. His criminal plans are idiotic but yet he’s still able to pull off something remarkable - he’s able to kidnap a man, torture him and steal all of his assets and move into his house without raising any suspicions. He’s the next evolutionary step of Dirk Diggler. Dirk was a 100% dumbass while Lugo is hovering around the 60% range. One of the funniest scenes is when the gang first tries to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Dressed in ridiculously skimpy army fatigues that show off all their muscles, they approach their target’s house but then run away like frightened children once they spot that a family gathering is taking place. All the while ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Coolio is playing in the background. And then when the gang finally do grab Kershaw they’re dressed in alien and samurai outfits. They look completely idiotic. Up to this point, the film is silly and amusing, but then once the torturing takes place, you kind of have to question the tone of the movie. In reality, the real victim, Marc Shiller, was abused and tortured for a whole month. Sure some dark humour can be had with this but the real-life ordeal was incredibly brutal. Here the edge is taken off of it. Kershaw is portrayed as an annoying prick and it kind of feels like the filmmakers want you to feel sympathy for the criminals. How does that work? They kidnap the guy, they get him to sign away all of his money and property, and then they try and kill him. How can you have any sympathy for these guys? The simple fact is, you can’t. And then Michael Bay’s weird homophobia rears its head. The gang takes Kershaw to a warehouse full of sex toys. So everyone seems to be waving a giant dildo around. In reality it was just a regular warehouse. I’m not quite sure why Bay feels the need to shoehorn as many yucks into the film as he can. This sequence isn’t improved at all by stupid, low-brow humour. This is the sequence when you’re supposed to finally realise how horrid and despicable these people are. The humour is far more successful in sequences such as the aborted hospital assassination attempt. Somehow Kershaw manages to avoid being killed and then becomes the gang’s target when he turns up at a Miami hospital. There’s just one problem...the gang can’t find their way around the hospital and can’t locate his bed. The humour here is entirely appropriate - these guys are morons. But it’s very disappointing that the film decides to stray so far from the truth of the real life events. One of the gang is turned from a 140 pound weakling into The Rock! And then the murder of Frank Griga (a Hungarian immigrant made good) is portrayed as almost accidental when he was actually beaten to death because he tried to fight back from a kidnapping attempt. And then you have a completely random action scene where The Rock steals money from an armoured vehicle and then gets his toe shot off. It’s clear that Bay is uncomfortable going so long without having any action and so he decides to insert this sequence. Again it makes the criminals look like bumbling, loveable lugs. Oh, look at this buffoon. Look at the scrapes he gets into! And then another gang member has a bent penis and continues to steal money so that he can pay for his dick injections - he has erectile dysfunction. Again, this is kind of amusing but it’s not the truth at all. The gang kept on stealing because they were greedy pigs. The film even goes so far as to have Kershaw personally apprehend Lugo at the end. This is Hollywood bullshit of the highest order. The victim did not take down the bad guy and a nice, clean revenge was not had. But despite all these problems, I still enjoyed the movie on a base level. I kind of think, though, that my enjoyment was in spite of Michael Bay rather than because of him. The story is so outlandish and ridiculous that I’m just pleased its out there, even if its in a highly bastardised form. And even though he often flies wide off the mark, occasionally Bay gets something right. A great piece of dark humour occurs after the Griga murder. Adrenaline pumping after the killing, Lugo decides that he has to ‘get a pump’ and so begins furiously lifting weights. This is what the film needed more of. It needed less dick jokes and more of this ridiculous, clueless narcissism. These guys weren’t loveable buffoons. They were evil, selfish assholes. They were constantly focusing on themselves - so much so that other people were just barriers to the wealth they wanted to acquire. Their victims were just bodies to be thrown aside like used dumbbells once they’d successfully got their pump.
The product placement in the Bond films is getting completely out of control. I could handle the lingering shots of Omega watches and the ever changing car manufacturers (although having Bond drive a standard Ford saloon in Casino Royale was a little sad - it was like he was going on a business trip to Milton Keynes), but now every last thing is dripping with commercialisation. Oh, what’s this, Bond’s in a chase sequence on a train? Let’s drop some Volkswagen Beetles in there and let’s be sure to mention them by name just in case the idiots watching the film don’t know what they are. And what fine beverage shall we give Bond when he needs to unwind? Er, some Heineken. Is this the fucking Champions League all of a sudden?
There’s a particularly egregious moment when one of the MI6 agents is trying to relax after an attack on M. He stands there in the MI6 HQ and swigs some Heineken. Really? Really?!? Somehow that’s more unbelievable to me than Bond falling into some icy water with a bad guy, killing him and then not drowning or freezing to death after seemingly being underwater for about ten minutes.
Commercialization aside, though, Skyfall is a pretty strong entry in the Bond franchise. It doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of Casino Royale and GoldenEye, and I probably prefer Licence to Kill as well if we’re talking about relatively modern Bond films, but it’s a pretty solid movie.
However, I did leave the film with a slight sense of disappointment, as Skyfall has a couple of amazing, breathtaking moments that are some of the best things I’ve ever seen in a Bond movie - I just wish they were able to permeate the whole film.
My favourite moment is when Bond fights an assassin in front of an open window in a tall skyscraper. These days the impulse is to get in close with the camera and have lots of fast cuts. But Mendes keeps the camera static and distant. And the scene is lit with the garish electric lights from a huge advertisement on the building opposite, meaning that the characters are cast in silhouette (it ends up looking like something you’d imagine seeing in Blade Runner). As they fight the camera ever so slowly moves in. It turns an incredibly routine fight scene into something beautiful and poetic. And kudos too to Mendes for the sense of vertigo he instills when the bad guy is finally dangling off the side of the building. My legs actually began to feel weak, so convincing was the effect.
I also really enjoyed the scene where Silva (Javier Bardem) attacks the inquiry that M is attending. Dressed as a cop, he manages to walk straight in. I actually really thought that he’d kill M in this scene but Silva wants to take too long to enjoy the moment and fluffs his opportunity. But it’s still a great scene and drips with tension.
And it’s pleasing to have a villain whose only objective is personal revenge. Silva is a former MI6 agent with a serious mummy complex and is distraught when M gives him up so that she can stop some of his shady shenanigans. His only aim is to kill M, although he doesn’t mind collateral damage.
Silva kind of reminds me of a mixture of Roger Moore and Hannibal Lector. The charm and the smoothness are pure Rog, but the creepiness, the mind games and psychosis are Lector-ish.
Silva’s introductory speech suggests that he wasn’t always a bad guy. He tells a story about some rats on an island. In order to get rid of them, he says, you put some coconut inside a drum and allow the rats to go inside and get it. One by one they get trapped, until they have no other option but to eat themselves. But then when you have two left, you let them go. However, they’ll never eat coconut again as they no longer have a taste for it - their nature has been changed. Which is what Silva is suggesting happened to him. That his work for MI6 has changed him and he’s no longer the person he used to be.
There’s also some humour to be found when Silva tries to sexually intimidate Bond. Silva caresses 007 and then begins to unbutton his shirt. Bond counters by saying that this isn’t the first time that this has happened to him and therefore remains cool during the whole exchange.
But it’s kind of amusing to me that even the bad guys now want to fuck Bond. It only used to be the ladies, but now Daniel Craig is so well-established as the buff, beefcake 007 that even the men want a piece of him. I think this is now two out of three Bond films where Craig has been tied to chair by a bloke and has either been fondled or had his genitals abused.
But with Skyfall we’re ever so slowly getting back to the old-style Bond movie. Bond actually shags three different women in this film (what a guy!) and both Q and Moneypenny make an appearance. Pretty soon Bond’s going to be slapping around bald-headed guys and fighting sharks.
Although having said this, Bond does actually go toe to toe with a komodo dragon in this film, which suggests the traditional Bond movie creep is even further upon us than I thought. Oh, and seeing as I just mentioned that Bond shags three ladies in this film, I must applaud the person who had the bright idea of having fireworks immediately follow the scene where Bond nails Moneypenny. Bravo, sir, bravo! Roger Moore would be proud!
The least successful part of the film is the final sequence. Bond takes M to Scotland to his abandoned family home Skyfall. He knows that Silva will find them but at least they’re isolated enough that there won’t be any collateral damage.
The final action sequence is a tad bland and by the numbers. Silva and his men attack Skyfall and mercenaries are blown up and killed by improvised explosives like they’re in Home Alone or The A-Team.
The film only rekindles its interest once Silva has his clutches on M. He puts his hands on her and begs her to shoot them both. It’s a very intense scene that is only rendered somewhat underwhelming because Bond turns up at the last second and throws a knife into Silva’s back, killing him. It’s somehow the most anticlimactic movie death I’ve seen in a long time.
But then Bond films often have this problem. They often start off strong but then descend into huge gun battles that lack the colour of everything that came before. Thankfully Skyfall saves itself by killing off Judi Dench as M and neatly setting up the next movie. It would have been sad if a strong Bond film like this would have ended up with simply a knife in the back.