Trance [2013] – Movie Review


Trance is a movie fitting to take me back to movie reviews. I don’t hide being a fan of the movie’s director Danny Boyle. His previous offering: 127 Hours (review) was, in my opinion, the best movie of its year – one that included Inception. The movie that made him a household name, Slumdog Millionaire, was excellent as well. Who could forget Latika?

Trance continues in that vein, albeit it being potentially much less award-friendly than the other two. After all, this movie wants to be a blockbuster. It’s the story of Simon (James McAvoy), a worker at a London auction house who gets caught up in a heist of a Goya painting, suffering a blow to the head in the process making him forget where he placed the painting in question. To help him remember, the group of thieves, headed by Frank (Vincent Cassel) enlist the help of a hypnotist called Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) whose skills will be utilized to form a true mind twister of a movie.

For some, the plot that makes up Trance will be considered too complicated. Others might consider it a shallow attempt at a true thriller in the vein of Inception. I found Trance to be transfixing and couldn’t help not be taken into its world. It had been a while that a movie managed to captivate me the way Trance did. Be it Danny Boyle’s excellent camera work on the movie’s intricate scenes, to the twisted build-up that gives you bits and pieces of the story without them being necessarily in the order you prefer, to the pounding music score that goes well with how well Boyle edited his scenes.

In fact, you cannot not appreciate the intricate work that Danny Boyle does on Trance, regardless of what your opinion of the story might be. Those who think the story is too complicated will be thoroughly entertained by how fast-paced the movie is. Those annoyed by the plot will find the directing style lavish. Those, like yours truly, who were enthralled will find it to be the cherry on top of the cake – or it could be the cake itself.

James McAvoy is haunting as the man trying to pay off gambling debts by agreeing to the robbery, perfectly accommodating the changes that the revelations regarding his character demand. He is electrifying with Rosario Dawson who excels as the hypnotist trying to find a place for herself amidst all the men making up the squad of thieves. The duo generates enough heat – both literally and figuratively – to help drive the movie forward.

The more attention you give Trance, the more focused you are on what the characters are doing on the screen in front of you, the more you’ll get to enjoy it. The final climax may be over-reaching and the movie may feel too stuffed and complicated at times. The psychiatric aspect has been, in typical Hollywood fashion, dramatized for the sake of shock. But this remains one of the best offerings 2013 has to give us so far. Trance is a movie you should watch. Nay, Trance is a movie you want to watch. Trust me on this.


Nadine Labaki’s New Movie: Where Do We Go Now (W Halla2 Lawein) – Review

Lebanese cinematic talent has not been given much room to grow. In a country where art is the least concern, cinema has found it especially hard to take off. However, a stream of Lebanese movies has been finding its way to our theaters. Some like Nadine Labaki’s previous movie, Caramel, were a huge hit with viewers. Others were not as lucky.

But the fact remains that the Lebanese audience is hungry for movies that describe its society, its problems, its worries and woes.

And then comes Nadine Labaki’s new movie: Where Do We Go Now, with its Lebanese title: W Halla2 La wein (also in French: Et Maintenant, On Va Ou?)

The premise of the movie is quite simple – and for many Lebanese, worry-inducing for fear of overuse of cliches. The overall basis of the plot is the coexistence of Lebanese Muslims and Christians in one community, sometimes peacefully and other times not. Many, like yours truly, felt the issue was overdone. Maybe not in cinema but in everyday life. Most of us are sick of being bombarded with commentary about the struggles that face our very diverse community. But this is not the case in Where Do We Go Now.

An unnamed village during the later part of the 20th century has its only connection with the outside world in the form of a very rudimentary bridge, around which landmines had been planted and never removed. Even TV reception is very poor to the village and the movie begins with a few youngsters searching for a broadcast signal to set up a TV night for the town-folks. This village is also a religiously divided community where the Church and the Mosque are only a house apart. And more often than not, the people live together happily.

But as it is, and despite barely having any access to news from the outside world, the men of this village start to confront each other in violent ways. Little things that would pass unnoticed cause them to explode, signaling the anger they’ve been bottling in. And it is then that the few women of the village start to devise plots to keep the men busy, entertained and get their minds off being violent. These plans will vary from fake miracles to putting hashish in cakes. But these women will go to every measure possible and break every limit imposed on them by society to keep their town together. And it is for these women, representing a vast majority of our Lebanese mothers, that this movie is so aptly dedicated.

Nadine Labaki, director of the movie and starring as Amal, is astonishing as always. You, really, cannot see her eyes on screen and not be mesmerized. She’s simply entrancing, even when she doesn’t speak. Then how about when she delivers a tour de force performance as one of those women, who happens to be in love with a man from the town’s other religion. But to be perfectly honest, the accolades one ought to give Labaki are not for her acting but for her directing. Never have I imagined a Lebanese movie can turn out this good and she makes it seem effortless. Her camera shots, her focus on details, her keen eye… all of this combine to give you a cinematic experience that will entrance you.

This movie, like Caramel, features mostly unknown faces and all of them deliver as well. It is hard to believe – and yet in retrospect so evident – that such acting can come out of common people that we all meet on the street. Where Do We Go Now is a movie of such epic proportions that these “unknown” actors and actresses (mostly actresses) deliver performances that are so subtly nuanced, so exquisitely flavored and so astonishingly well-done that they would put the best actresses and actors of Hollywood to shame. Yes, I have said it.

The score of the movie is chilling and haunting and wonderfully executed by Nadine’s husband Khaled Mouzanar. The movie also features a few highly intelligent songs, written by Tania Saleh.

And let’s talk about the script. What an ingenious way to tackle the subject at hand. Not only did Nadine Labaki not fall to any cliche known to us as a Lebanese community, but she managed to introduce them in a subtle comical way that would make us laugh at ourselves for uttering or doing them in the first place. The script is so strong it will turn you bipolar. Yes, lithium is advised to be taken at the door while going in. Why? Never have I laughed so hysterically one moment and just wanted to cry the other. And then after being utterly devastated, it brings you back to laughter. The movie plays with you like a ping pong ball. And you cannot but love every moment of it.

I was talking to my friend Elia the day before we went to watch Where Do We Go Now, which happened to be the day it won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, and she said: “Elie, I’m very cautiously optimistic about this. I’m not letting my expectations overreach because I don’t want to be disappointed.” Well, I’m pretty sure Elia agrees with me on this: Where Do We Go Now brings out things in you that you didn’t even know you had. It brings out the best in you, as a Lebanese, sitting in that cinema chair for ninety minutes. And you need the best of the best to do that. Nadine Labaki, you deserve more than the few minutes of applause the people in the movie theater gave you. You deserve a full blown standing ovation. You have done the impossible. Again. Lebanese cinema has no excuse but to overreach for excellence now. And this movie deserves an Oscar win. Cheers to our mothers.

Sophie’s Choice – Movie Review

I have been intrigued by this movie ever since I read a newspaper article about how great Meryl Streep was in it. The fact that it was also referenced many times on The Big Bang Theory doesn’t hurt either and I recently got the opportunity to watch it.

Sophie’s Choice tells the story of Sophie (Meryl Streep), a Polish Catholic and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. As part of her new life in the United States, Sophie falls in love with Nathan (Kevin Kline), an American Jew. The relationship is abusive at times and great at other times, but through the good and the bad, Sophie sees Nathan as her reason to live. The movie is told via a narrative by the older self of the character Stingo, a writer who decides to take up residence in the same house where Sophie and Nathan live. Soon enough, Stingo befriends the couple and starts to fall for Sophie as she starts telling him her life in flashbacks.

Sophie’s flashbacks are the most interesting part of the movie. They reveal the intricate details that have made Sophie who she is in the movie’s present time. They reveal her darkest secrets, the truths she chose to keep hidden, and most importantly, the gut-wrenching choice she was forced to make, one that will shake you to your core.

To say Meryl Streep was great in it would be an understatement. Meryl Streep is an acting Goddess. There isn’t any role that she doesn’t nail to a point where further nailing cannot take place anymore. She works with the Polish accent perfectly and even throws in some German dialogue there for good measure. When Sophie gazes into the distance, looking at her past, the gaze goes right through your soul.

The movie, however, I felt was overstretched. It runs for over 150 minutes and sometimes drags on. I thought the focus on the relationship with Nathan became borderline obsessive sometimes. The flashbacks, which are the best part in my opinion, are interspersed throughout the movie and sometimes feel underdeveloped. I definitely wanted to see more of them. Moreover, you could easily consider the movie as a vehicle for Meryl Streep to shine. The other actors in it are simply accessories for her character’s weaknesses and strengths to get across.

Overall, Sophie’s Choice is a movie that solidifies what most of us already have in our head, that Meryl Streep is, simply, the best.

Citizen Kane – Movie Review

Citizen Kane

This 1941 movie is said to be the best movie ever made. It is the first feature film of Orson Welles, who was 24 years old at the time and who also portrays the main character.

The movie’s plot is given in fast points in the first five minutes in what I thought was an interesting part, a documentary about the life of late Charles Foster Kane. It is then revealed that Kane’s last word was “rosebud”. So the documentary’s team decides to suspend release and they set forth to investigate what Kane meant by that word.

Charles Kane was a poor child born to a family who owns a boarding house in Colorado. Adopted by a rich man, he soon turns rebellious against his guardian and does not seek any of the many riches bestowed upon him – except a newspaper acquired through foreclosure. Soon enough, Kane turns this newspaper into an empire, with the main goal of fighting for the voices of those whose voices have been suppressed. Kane marries the niece of the US president and soon enough, his pursuit of power begins.

Welles delivers a chilling performance as the man who makes himself by himself and then takes it all away, brick by brick, watching everything tumbling down around him. His wife leaves him soon after she finds out about his affair. Later on, she dies in a car accident with his only son. He marries the singer with whom he had the affair and she ends up leaving him too. Soon enough, the vastness of the empty castle (Xanadu) he builds for himself doesn’t even compare to the emptiness he feels inside and he spends the remainder of his life wishing upon the memories of when he literally had nothing except his snow sled, his childhood – the only time where he was really happy, deeply addressing the issue of “does money buy you happiness?”

While watching the movie, you cannot but be drawn to the intricacy of the details. The cinematography is exquisite, the sound editing, etc… are all top notch. It’s no wonder why this movie was thought to be twenty years ahead of its time. The story itself is also a representation of American Capitalism at the time and it is executed really well.

At the time of its release, Citizen Kane was not recognized, awards-wise, as much as we bestow upon it today. It might have been for political reasons. It is said that Charles Foster Kane is a biographical representation of real life newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, who had his ways around Hollywood and sought out to stop the movie from being released.

But now to the million dollar question… is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made? I would say no. Ask me what is the best movie ever made and I would say I don’t know. Sure, Citizen Kane is revolutionary in every movie aspect but many movies have also been revolutionary. However, it remains a fine example that being showered with awards does not necessarily mean the movie will linger in people’s memories. The Hurt Locker anyone?