Wednesday, November 24, 2010

127 Hours Review

There’s a pivotal scene in Danny Boyals’ “127 Hours” when our protagonist Aron Ralston (James Franco) gets his arm pinned between a rock and is unable to move it. Up until this point Ralston has been in complete control. He has been mountain biking and hiking on rocks like it’s no big deal but now he has lost control. He doesn’t scream or yell for help at first. He just sits there silently in shock and disbelief. Un aware of the hard times ahead of him.

Imagine being trapped in a narrow canyon for five days, with little food and water. That’s the hell that the real life Aron Ralston had to go through in April 2003. By now you’ve probably heard something about it. In particular the part where he had to cut off the wedged arm with a dull knife in order to survive.

This is an inspiring story but one has to think how it could be made into a full-length movie and be a great one at that. But somehow, with an excellent cast and crew Boyal has pulled it off. Like in his other movies, like the good but overrated “Slumdog Millionaire” and before that the wonderful apocalyptic horror “28 Days Later” Boyal is able to make a sleek and fast paced movie but at the same time a beautifully shot one, conveying a peaceful tone. “127 Hours” may be one of the most thrilling and graceful adventure/dramas to come out this year. There are no car chases, gunfights or special effects. Just a man, a canyon and his thoughts. And the fact that it’s true makes it even better. Other wise it could be looked at as gimmick cinema.

Though none of this would be possible without a strong performance and James Franco nails it. A problem I have always had with Franco in past movies like all three  “Spider Man” films he has always felt so reserved and limited. In “127 Hours” he feels so natural and makes Aron likable and fun as well as complex. And it’s a true testament to his skill considering it’s him on screen for most of the movie.

Boyal wastes no time to get us into the action. In the opening scene, we see that Aron is restless and always on the move. He wakes up before the sun comes up and ignores the calls he is getting. Once he gets there, we see one beautifully shot and exhilarating scene after another. Like Aron riding his mountain bike off trail on the orange canyon rocks of Blue John Canyon in Utah. Then he runs into two cute girls who are lost and turns on the charm (sort of) and leads them to an underground pool. This first half of the movie is very upbeat and energetic. It sort of makes you want to get up and do more hiking.

However, when the accident does happen the fun and energetic tone switches to shear eeriness and terror. But the film by no means drags. Boyal keeps the camera up close to Arons body. Showing him at all different angles, putting the camera at the point of view of the water he has little of. You can feel every emotion he feels, like him daydreaming about having an ice-cold beverage or trying to soak up the little bit of sunlight and warmth that shines through the canyon for fifteen minutes a day.

As the days go on Aron gets delusional, imagining his friends and family are down in the cave with him or imagining a gig inflatable Scooby Doo. He uses a video camera as a sort of confessional, which provides some great dialogue. We find out that he is selfish and tends to push people away. He didn’t even tell anyone where he was going.

 When the arm-cutting scene does come you’re expecting it but you don’t expect how it is going to look and Boyal shows every painful detail. Aron has to dig around and pull for a long time. It made for a very graphic and intense climax.

If there’s any point that “127 Hours” puts across, it’s that everyone needs help once in a while, no matter what you do or how smart you are. Aron thought he was this expert out doors man but at the end, he shouts, “I need help!” something I’m sure he’s rarely said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the deathly Hallows Review

Here it is, the final battle between good and evil. The final confrontation between the young wizard, Harry Potter, and the dark lord Voldemort.

Well, Part 1, that is.  The producers decided to split the conclusion to “Harry Potter,” one of the most popular book series and movies of all time, into two separate movies, because I guess everybody involved with this franchise hasn’t made quite enough money yet. The beauty of splitting it into two parts is that once you’ve seen the first half of something you just have to come back and see the rest. So Potter fans will have to wait another year before they can see the two wizards’ final duel.

From a technical standpoint there’s nothing really wrong with David Yates’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One.” Like the previous films it’s visually stunning. The directing by Yates really evokes the dark and chilling tone. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the script by Steve Kolves is faithful to the books. “Deathly Hallows” looks exactly like the other Harry Potter films. Even with David Yates and Mike Newell switching off as directors for the last few films, they’ve kept the movies almost identical to each other.

The great wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts School of Magic, Professor Dumbledore, has been killed. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has become very powerful and is now on a personal journey to track down and kill Potter. In the opening scene Voldemort and the other “death eaters” discuss the whereabouts of Potter and how Voldemort needs to be the one to kill him.

This is by far one of the better openings in any of the “Harry Potter” movies, because it opens not with Harry doing something but with the other side plotting against him. Plus it’s the biggest scene Voldemort has in the entire movie, which is a shame because he has become one of the more interesting characters. We know mostly everything about Harry but now we want to learn a little more about the dark lord.

Elsewhere Harry (Daniel Radcliff) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) set out on a dangerous mission to find the Horcruxes (the secrets to Voldemort’s immortality) and destroy them, while dodging off attacks by death eaters and other minions of the dark lord. This is the only movie so far that has taken place outside of Hogwarts. It’s a nice change because it shows us how Harry and his friends are growing up and will no longer need to go to wizard school.

 Like in the other movies Radcliff, Watson and Grint all do a great job with material that sometimes gets a little corny. At the same time I found this story a little less interesting than the ones before. It was basically just one big game of cat and mouse. Harry and his friends would go from one place to another, fighting off people or finding another clue to another Horcrux. Plus I found the length of the movie pretty daunting.

But despite its length, “Harry Potter” fans will certainly enjoy the film. Much like “Star Wars” the “Harry Potter” series has created a vast world of imagination, creativity and wonder. While “Deathly Hallows” may not be a major cinematic achievement it still brings author JK Rowling’s masterpiece to life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Unstoppable" Review

Tony Scott’s new film, “Unstoppable,” is one of those right-here-right-now, race-against- the-clock action/thrillers. There’s some central event happening, like a hostage taking or in this case, a runaway train. Then there are different groups of people all over the place communicating with one another, trying to solve the problem.

 These types of premises make for somewhat entertaining movies but not memorable classics. You see it once (in theaters) and enjoy it but later on you forget you’ve ever seen it. “Unstoppable” is a fun ride but it’s not going to hold up.

The movie takes place all over Pennsylvania. Chris Pine from “Star Trek” plays Will, a young na├»ve train conductor. It’s his first day on the job and he is paired up with veteran engineer Paul (Denzel Washington). Paul knows the ropes and doesn’t take too kindly to Will at first, especially since he’s being forced into retirement. As a result, the two end up bickering throughout most of the movie.

As far as acting went there weren’t any surprises. Washington gave his usual wise, tough, caring performance you see in all his movies. Pine played the typical know-it-all rookie. It was a huge step down from playing Captain Kirk.

The two think it’s going to be a typical day. That is until they find out that a massive unmanned train loaded with toxic cargo is speeding through residential areas, stopping anything in its path. Together, along with the train station manager and the train company execs, Paul and Will must try to fight this seemingly unstoppable train. But who is director Scott kidding?  We know the train is stoppable, but that’s not what the movie is about.

The main problem with “Unstoppable” was lack of character development. It was so rushed; They had all these character but there was no time to establish them. So when tragic things happened (such as people dying), you didn’t care.

Paul and Will did have some backstory, but like much of the movie it was textbook. Paul is a widower with two daughters whom he can’t quite connect with. Will has a wife and son, but because of a restraining order he’s now allowed to see them. And only a really big crisis, like a runaway train, can bring the two families back together. Shocker, huh?

The directing by Scott was very fast paced and extravagant, full of explosions, crashes, fast moving vehicles, sparks flying, objects flying, bodies flying. On the one hand this makes for an exciting thrill ride. And I got to give props to Scott for not converting it into 3d.

On the other hand, it sort of felt like Scott was trying too hard. I don’t think the camera ever stood still for more than two seconds, even when there were close ups of the actors. It was like Scott was on a sugar high the whole time. After a while the constant quick cutting and moving cameras became a little too overwhelming. Especially in a scene when a smaller train attempts to stop the runaway one by pulling in front, while a helicopter flies above carrying a marine who is trying to get on the train. That’s when I kind of wanted them to stop the ride and let me get off.