Monthly Archives: April 2013

Film Review: Trance

To avoid beating about the bush, Trance is a total mindfuck.  In the wake of what was apparently Danny Boyle’s most cherished project thus far – the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, of course – he has returned to the filmic world with a headspinning tale of deception, buried memories, and guys getting shot in the tunk.  (As you do after taking the ‘Queen’ skydiving.)  Beginning with a seemingly simple tale of hypnotherapy that rapidly spirals out of control into something much more unsettling, Trance is not easy to embrace at first.  It’s a prickly and volatile watch; one which darts along at a jittery speed and taunts the viewer to try and keep up with its ever-shifting array of ideas.

To settle his excessive gambling debts, art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) cooks up a deal with criminal kingpin Franck (Vincent Cassel).  With Simon as an inside man, Franck and his cronies attempt the heist of a £25,000,000 Goya painting, but when the canvas itself goes AWOL, Simon comes under heavy fire from the snarling syndicate.  The problem is, after taking a pretty nasty crack to the noggin during the caper, his mind is wiped of the events surrounding the heist.  Cue the employment of hypnotherapist Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to try and coax Simon’s memories back from the brink.  But what is eventually unearthed goes far, far beyond a single shady dealing, and the mysteries only begin to pile up further.

The finished product is perhaps best compared to a film such as Inception, with its high-wire “all-in-your-head” concepts, but Trance is much more slippery.  Detached and treacherous to the point of appearing quite cold at times, the tension and confusion is cranked up with every passing minute, until Boyle finally decides to unscrew the gasoline in an explosive display to match last summer’s fireworks.  A lot of viewers may be put off by Trance‘s unapologetically brusque nature, but it’s definitely worth sticking with, because it overflows with enough intrigue to keep it rattling in your mind for hours afterwards.  Boyle revels in grotesque imagery and none-more-black comedy, which comes in handy whenever the plot becomes overly sticky or claustrophobic.

Visually, it’s a treat: coated in steely silvers and inky blacks, the London represented here slants between a flashy, luxurious sprawl and a noirish world of shadows.  It’s the perfect playhouse in which to let loose McAvoy and his paranoid cohorts, all of whom share the same inherent relationships with greed, fear, and lust.  With most of these characters so cagey and tight-lipped, the performances are suitably calculated: McAvoy himself plays the jumpy, paranoid Simon to a tee, while in a neat surprise, Cassel steals the show as the syndicate’s menacing (but importantly, not monstrous) leader.

Trouble is, such a threatening atmosphere results in the characters not being all that likeable, though whether or not that adds to the ambiguity of the whole story is up for debate.  At least until the grand denouement, a number of the central figures come across as nothing less than unsympathetic, occasionally flat enigmas, wrapped up in an ever-shifting plot which never pauses to catch its own breath.  Consequently, there are frequent moments when Trance seems rather joyless: a glassy-eyed creation a little too proud of its own cleverness.

Yet, to return to Christopher Nolan once more, there are elements of Memento in Trance’s veins too, and as the whole picture gradually unpeels, there are heady shocks to be found.  It’s not consistent in its quality, and it could do with shading its world a little more thoroughly, but you can’t deny the intelligence and bravura behind this film.

7/10

It might be harder to swallow than his other recent outings, but Boyle’s latest is impossible to ignore.  Instead, it plays the long game, keeping its cards close to its chest until its explosive final third.  Amid all the confusion – and frustrations – of its mind-bending structure, Trance plays hard, fast, and sinister.

12/04/13

Advertisements

Album Review: Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

2011’s insular, hypnotic The Year Of Hibernation found Idaho musician Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) in a childlike state of withdrawal.  Recorded while closeted away in Powers’ own bedroom, songs such as Cannons and 17 were lo-fi documents of a man occupied by his own expansive imagination.  Its follow-up, Wondrous Bughouse, is just as fascinated with its author’s inner visions, but a huge progression in terms of production (courtesy of Ben H. Allen III) has resulted in the coaxing of these daydreams into much glossier projections, which are dazzling in their widescreen aesthetic.  True to its cover art, Wondrous Bughouse represents a step into a wider, more vivid world for Powers and his music.

That said, the impetus behind the project remains similar.  Here we have a strong collection of wonky earworms, set to psychedelic soundscapes in the vein of groups such as MGMT.  Ultimately, it tends to lean towards abstraction rather than immediate gratification, with a number of its songs stretching beyond the five-minute mark thanks to extended instrumental interludes and outros, but thanks to the vulnerability conveyed by Powers’ trembling (if divisive) voice, Wondrous Bughouse rarely seems too self-absorbed to be rendered inaccessible.

After two-and-a-half minutes of humid synth burbles, the album bursts into majestic life with the achingly beautiful Mute.  Coming off like Mercury Rev spliced with Arcade Fire (and a touch of ’80s film grandeur), Powers constructs a celestial tower of sound, layering the components atop one another like a precariously-tiered cake, until the whole thing disappears from view.  A driving rhythm propels swelling synths and clanking effects forwards, threatening to drown out Powers’ delicate vocals before he rises with a triumphant crescendo several minutes in.

There are equally dazzling moments of transcendence to be found in the bughouse: a syrup-thick bassline nudges the languorous plod of The Bath into action, allowing it to flower into a poignant climax of piano notes, while elsewhere, Pelican Man recalls the nonsensical strut of I Am The Walrus with a circular, Beatles-y stomp.  Raspberry Cane, meanwhile, is as delicious as its title suggests: a wide-eyed, warm march of which The Flaming Lips would be proud.

Yet amid all the sonic sparkle, there is something dark at the core of all these colourful arrangements: a suppressed sense of melancholy which is glimpsed at during the moments in which Powers tries his hardest to quell them.  “You’ll never die / You’ll never die / You’ll never die” he croaks at the heart of Dropla, the album’s glittering centrepiece.  As keyboards drip and Christmas bells rustle in the distance, Powers seems to be singing from a hospital bed, hallucinating about maids in scrubs and an “angel of state” ready to seize an ill-gotten inheritance.

It’s not quite cynicism, but there are definitely shadows encroaching upon this – supposedly utopian – territory.  Attic Doctor is a dizzy merry-go-round which sounds like queue music for a surrealist theme park ride (think Chessington’s Bubbleworks as you tune in), bequeathed a creepy undertone thanks to lyrics like “the doctor puts on a face to tell her she couldn’t have babies”.  Consequently, the overriding tone of the album is hard to pinpoint, with Powers’ musings flipping from the joyous to the unpleasant to the absurd, sometimes within the parameters of a single song.  Although this makes the record a tough one to love at first, it offers much in the way of rewards upon repeat listens.

Taken in its warped, wacky entirety, Wondrous Bughouse is a dizzying, enveloping listen, masking its dark heart with bright textures and sugary melodies.  It does run the risk of becoming cloying, with no real release from its heavily-scented grip until the closing moments of Daisyphobia, but fuelled by such a wild sense of imagination, it’s hard to resist falling under its spell.  A truly strange and striking collage of psych-pop noise.

8/10

“Living in a 3D world / Where the clock is in control…”

09/04/13