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Blu Tuesday: Trance, Welcome to the Punch and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Trance”

WHAT: With his gambling debt piling up, art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) teams up with a group of thieves to steal a Francisco Goya masterpiece. But during the robbery, Simon suffers a blow to his head, and in order to figure out where he stashed the painting, the gang’s leader (Vincent Cassel) hires a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to dig deep into Simon’s psyche and help jog his memory.

WHY: Adapted from the 2001 TV movie of the same name, “Trance” is so thinly plotted and riddled with gaps in logic that it’s to the credit of director Danny Boyle and his cast (including a surprisingly good Rosario Dawson) that they’re able to keep things interesting. Though Boyle masks a lot of the script’s problems with some nifty visuals and the same kinetic energy prevalent in his other films, the frantic pace only lasts so long before the story grinds to a halt, suffocated by a never-ending series of twists and red herrings that makes it almost impossible to discern what’s real. That’s obviously the point, but by the time the movie arrives at its climactic ending, it becomes one twist too many, and instead of a brilliant mind-bender, it feels like a cheap trick written by someone trying to outdo “Inception.” The movie is ultimately saved by Boyle’s ingenuity and some strong performances, but for a film with such a unique premise, “Trance” should have left a more lasting impression.

EXTRAS: There are six production featurettes (including one on the making of the film), deleted scenes, a retrospective on director Danny Boyle and the short film “Eugene.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Welcome to the Punch”

WHAT: After failing to capture master thief Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) several years earlier, detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is given a second chance to bring down the elusive criminal when Sternwood returns to London following his son’s death, only to uncover a much deeper conspiracy within his own police department.

WHY:Welcome to the Punch” has garnered a few comparisons to Michael Mann’s cat-and-mouse thriller “Heat,” but the movie pales in comparison. Though it boasts a similar visual style to a lot of Mann’s films, the tension is almost non-existent, and despite an interesting dynamic between McAvoy’s cop and Strong’s robber, it’s never fully explored, nor does it have the same allure of seeing Hollywood heavyweights like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off. This is a movie in dire need of a better script, because not only does it lack personality, but it’s too complicated for its own ogod – a tangled mess of half-baked ideas and telegraphed plot twists that never properly explains anything. It’s a generic crime thriller in just about every way, and although it looks great and features a couple of nifty gunfights, the film is ultimately a case of style over substance, and one that its top-notch British ensemble is unable to rescue.

EXTRAS: The single-disc release is a little light on bonus material, but it does include a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Graceland”

WHAT: Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) has worked as the driver for Congressman Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias) and his family for eight years, but when a plot to kidnap the corrupt politician’s daughter results in her accidental death, the kidnappers hold Marlon’s daughter ransom instead, forcing him to hide the truth from his employer in order to ensure her safe return.

WHY: Though it’s a bit of a slow burn even at 84 minutes, writer/director Ron Morales’ Filipino crime thriller is a tense morality tale with an unexpectedly dark center. The movie deals with the type of subject matter that you don’t normally see in the average Hollywood kidnapping flick (after all, it takes place in the Philippines, where child prostitution runs rampant), and while Morales could have easily exploited that for shock value, he handles the more unsettling material with dignity. The acting is a little patchy at times, and the film could have benefited from a stronger lead (Reyes just doesn’t have the range required for such an emotionally demanding role), but the story is so engaging that it’s easy to forgive some of its (obviously budgetary) shortcomings. The 11th hour twist may not be as shocking as it’s intended to be, but “Graceland” is still a mostly satisfying foreign thriller that deserves to be seen.

EXTRAS: Drafthouse Films rarely disappoints with their Blu-rays, and this release is no different, with an audio commentary by writer/director Ron Morales, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a 16-page booklet.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Twixt”

WHAT: Washed-up author Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) arrives in the small town of Swan Valley as part of a publicity tour for his latest witchcraft novel, only to get caught up in a murder case involving a young girl (Elle Fanning) whose mysterious death could serve as the inspiration for his next book.

WHY: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once celebrated as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, Francis Ford Coppola’s downward spiral over the years is a Hollywood mystery. If you thought his work from the past two decades was bad, however, then just wait until you get a load of “Twixt,” because it’s a cinematic abomination of the highest order that features some truly terrible acting (Val Kilmer, take a bow) and even worse special effects. It’s amazing that the same man responsible for masterpieces like “Apocalypse Now” and the first two “Godfather” movies could be responsible for something so amateurish, but even the most curious film aficionados should steer clear of “Twixt,” because it’s complete and utter garbage. Coppola reportedly got the idea for the movie in a dream that he had while on vacation in Istanbul, but between its uninspired story and clumsy ending, he should keep any future dreams to himself.

EXTRAS: There’s only one special feature on the disc, and it’s a 37-minute documentary by Coppola’s granddaughter, Gia, about the making of the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“New World”

WHAT: After the head of the Goldmoon syndicate is killed, three candidates emerge to take control of the leadership. But when police chief Kang (Choi Min-sik) uses undercover operative Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) as a pawn in his scheme to turn the men against one another and bring the criminal group down from the inside, Ja-sung must decide where his real loyalties lie.

WHY: The Korean film industry has really blossomed over the past ten years or so, churning out a series of excellent movies in that time. Though “New World” isn’t as great as cult classics like “Oldboy” or “I Saw the Devil” (which writer/director Park Hoon-jung also wrote), it’s a solid gangster thriller that’s clearly been influenced by recent entries in the genre, namely “Infernal Affairs” and “The Departed.” There’s no gangster counterpart to Ja-sung’s cop in this story, but Park still wrings plenty of suspense out of the premise. The acting is also top-notch across the board, especially from Choi Min-sik (of “Oldboy” fame) and Gwang Jang as one of the syndicate’s high-ranking leaders. Like most films from the Asian market, however, “New World” is about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, and as a result of its sluggish pacing, what could have been a superb movie is merely a good one.

EXTRAS: The only extras included are a short making-of featurette and a photo gallery.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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