Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie Review: 127 Hours

After helming 28 Days Later (and winning an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire), Danny Boyle returns to a numerical movie title in 127 Hours, the true story of climber Aron Ralston. Anyone who goes into this movie knows the story of Ralston who went canyon climbing in Utah and accidentally fell in a chasm, getting his right arm pinned beneath a boulder. The story of sheer survival is highlighted by the fact that Ralston had to amputate his own arm to free himself from his predicament. All of these facts are known in advance but that doesn't take away from the brilliance of Boyle's direction and the career performance of James Franco.

Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara play supporting roles as hikers who befriend Ralston (Franco) before his climbing mishap. They are merely bit players in the James Franco show however. For most of the movie Franco is stationary in the chasm and we slowly witness the toll that the 127 hours of survival take on his character. Boyle does a good job of transitioning to Ralston's memories and various personal reflections on his life so we as an audience don't totally feel trapped in one spot. One signature elements of Boyle's direction is highlighted in the way Boyle focuses on Ralston's water bottle. As we see Franco waiver physically and emotionally we become more and more concerned with how much water is left in his water bottle. Boyle does an amazing job of putting a camera in the bottle so we can see exactly how much water is being consumed. Another directorial trick comes towards the end of the movie during the arm-cutting sequence. When Ralston tries to cut through a nerve (yes it's as nasty as it sounds), Boyle plays a lone quick guitar strum to emphasize the nerve being hit. Through these cinematic visual and audio effects, Boyle completely brings the audience into the chasm with Ralston and we're all along for the thrilling and terrifying ride.

The middle portion of the movie does feature a few dull spots and I actually found myself fighting the urge to doze off a bit (I attribute this to the 10:15 start time of the movie I saw and the red wine I drank before hand). I managed to stay awake for 98% of the film though and I must say that I now view James Franco in a much different light as an actor. He's gone from mediocre stints as the Green Goblin to one of the best young actors working today (great performances in The Pineapple Express and Milk). 127 Hours is his Cast Away and he should definitely be nominated for Best Actor. He joins Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network) as the front runner for the award in my mind. 4.5 our of 5 JRs for one of the best movies of the year. We should see Boyle being nominated once again for another gem in a stellar resume.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

I've read all the books. I know how this is all going to end. Part of me keeps wishing these were not the last two Harry Potter movies ever to be made. After seeing the first part of the two-part 7th and final installment of J.K. Rowling's literary creation, part of me think it's time for Harry, Ron and Hermione to step down.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves remained remarkably faithful to the book throughout Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 which results in a mixed bag of cinematic fare. After the death of Albus Dumbledore (seriously if you don't know this spoiler then you won't be watching this movie) in the 6th film, the overall tone of the series turns even darker in the final installment. The movie is set completely outside the walls of Hogwarts and focuses on the three main characters and their search to destroy several Horcruxes (objects that contain pieces of Lord Voldemort's soul). The first and last quarter of this movie are excellent and feature fast-paced action and killer special effects. You can really appreciate how far the Potter series has come and how it has entered the realm of other classic sci-fi / fantasy films. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have all grown nicely into their leading roles.

The problem with the movie as a whole though is the middle two quarters (half) of the story. We find Harry, Ron and Hermione milling about in the woods and camping out several times with some heavy plot exposition. It's all really REALLY boring and completely takes the wind out of the film's sails that was built up so nicely in the opening act. Kloves even decided to put in an awkward spontaneous dancing scene with Harry and Hermione that was not in the book. I found myself losing interest during this middle portion of the film and thankfully was treated to an outstanding final sequence that almost made up for the central snooze fest in the woods.

I suppose my criticism of this movie (barely 3.5 out of 5 JRs) stems mostly from the source material. The first part of the final book is rather boring at times and that transitions to the screen during a faithful adaptation. I feel that Yates has mastered the sinister portrayal of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters and I wish more of the book focused on that evil side of the story. I'm hoping that Part Two of The Deathly Hallows improves upon this film and that the Harry Potter series can get the cinematic send off it deserves. As it stands, The Goblet of Fire is still my favorite Harry Potter movie (and book).