127 Hours Review

This was a film I had looked forward to for a long time. When the reports fist came through of a climber who had been trapped under a rock, and was reduced to cutting off his arm to survive, it seemed like a story of such suffering and triumph that a movie seemed inevitable.

James Franco takes on the role of Arlon Ralston, an extreme sports junkie who takes one wrong move, and ends up with his arm trapped under a boulder. He spends the next five days trying to escape, and in the end it seems that only a pair of pliers and a blunt knife is the only possible solution. Franco is utterly convincing, and considering the selfish nature of his character, we really don’t want to see him hurt.  His charm really comes through in what are essentially Vlogs of the situation, recorded the actually camera Ralston himself used, and we can feel only sympathy for his plight.

127 Hours doesn’t feel like we are being told the story from Aaron’s perspective , but rather some force looking over him. The film often swoops over to other locations, and uses very obtrusive sound to scream the situation into your brain. This is the first soundtrack since Trainspotting I might consider buying.  His hallucinations are outward rather that inner looking, and this really keeps the pace going. Considering this is a movie mostly set in ten feet of rock, anything can happen next. He takes what it such a simply concept, and turns it an exploration of any human being stuck in a jam, without ever losing sight of telling the story.  The broken relationship Ralston keeps thinking back to doesn’t really have an impact on the narrative, but is something we can all relate to.

Danny Boyle is turning into the master of the intro.  From the word go the camera is swooping off all over the world, from a football stadiums to a camera lens.  It feels much more like Boyle’s early work, and has a nineties-feeling, indie edge that only adds to the grittiness.  This is more Shallow Grave than Slumdog Millionaire.

I have waited for this movie for eight years, and it has kicked off 2011 to a great start.  Those of you that can’t bear the sight of blood may want to watch half of it through your fingers, but Danny Boyle has gone back to his roots to pull off a classic, and this should have been his first Oscar.

10/10

The Way Back Review

The Way Back follows seven Gulag escapees and a Polish woman as they trek from Siberia to India to escape communist oppression. It is a film of human beings getting swallowed up by nature, with no way to beat it except to struggle on.

And my goodness does nature look beautiful. An easy mistake to make with a film like this is to assume that you can just point a camera at the natural world, and create instant cinematography. This is not the case, and Director of Photography. Russell Boyd must be commended for capturing the wonder and danger of planet Earth. Kudos must go to the location manager for finding such incredible spots across the continents. For a film about walking, there are plenty of little moments that keep it alive. Be it a deer stuck in mud, eating snakes, or snow masks made of hastily cut wood, what could be so monotonous is always fascinating.

And yet what is strange about the film is despite the subject matter, it isn’t actually that harrowing. There is the odd image of rotten teeth and septic feet that are wince inducing, but it never quite gets as awful as it could be. The start is horrific, and after the first few nights in the Gulag I was expecting something much stronger. Instead the journey is arduous, but seemingly bearable for most of its participants.  Some of the moments by the lake are actually rather pleasant, and it’s only when things get to the desert that their trek really gets nasty.  There iso doubt these people suffer, but perhaps they get swallowed a little too much by the landscape; their pain becomes a little oblivious.

This would ruin the film utterly, were it not for the strength of the actors, who are fantastic across the board.  Jim Sturgess provides a solid role as Janusz, and is an actor to keep your eye on for the future. Ed Harris as strange American Mister Smith has grown into a grizzled old man that we always knew we would. Colin Farrell as the psychotic Russian prisoner Valka is wonderful, both terrifying and vulnerable at the same time. The others are a little mix and match, but all have at least one great scene.  You really care about the characters, and the fact they don’t go through the blender as much as potentially possible isn’t boring but a relief.

If judged as a gripping movie about the Russian Gulags, or the horror of war, then after the first twenty minutes you might be solely disappointed. Strangely, The Way Back celebrates beauty and friendship, not suffering, and despite lacking realism, is a wonderful piece of fiction.

8/10

A Serbian Film Review

Now it has been out for a while, A Serbian Film has not really lived up the controversy, and seems to have fallen by the wayside. The plot follows a retired porn star named Milos as he gets involved in one last production, with dire consequences.  This film is disgusting, and extremely violent. But I refuse to accept it is shocking. Much like the other big “gross out” film of the year, The Human Caterpillar it is simply all too ridiculous to actually have a real emotional impact. The fact that the BBFC have decided to cut over four minutes from it has only added to the needless controversy. Again, I’m being honest when I find it confusing to imagine what has been cut- there is nothing we haven’t seen before.

The most surprising aspect of A Serbian Film is how well made it is. The cinematography and direction are good, and Srdjan Todorovic as Milos gives a passionate, if over exuberant performance as Milos. There are a couple of nice moments, and some really creepy scenes.  But anyone with a good interest in horror can list of dozens of much more interesting titles. This certainly is not a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Salo.

There really isn’t a great deal to say about the movie, which considering its supposed films is a big disappointment.  Overall, if you are a gorehound you will check this out, and not be disappointed. But wait till DVD at most. This is not a classic of the genre, and certainly not cinema’s zenith of controversy and shock.

5/10

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Review

Having watched the original short film only two weeks before (see link below), Rare Exports was top of my list to see this Christmas. The plot follows a young boy as he and a group of Finnish hunters get embroiled with a large corporation that releases an evil Santa from his mountain prison.

It’s true madness from start to finish. This turns out to be the film’s greatest strength. Elves, magic, and Santa are dealt with absolute sincerity, and what could have been such a goofy movie keeps the illusion of the situation going. For a movie about Father Christmas, surely no bad thing.

The acting is great from the whole cast, but special praise should go to Onni Tommila as Pietari the young boy. His charming and engaging performance is crucial for the film to work, and keeps the slower parts from getting boring or odd.

Although some critics have said the ending is a little lacking, the final showdown with evil Santa provides a very satisfactory conclusion.  It brings together a lot of themes from throughout the piece, and although I don’t want to give anything away, keeps true to the characters being hunters.

This film does have a dark soul, and is very strange indeed. However, Rare Exports has created some wonderful scenes, and is in its own way, beautiful. You won’t leave the cinema scared, but roaring with laughter, and very much looking forward to Christmas.

8/10

Top Ten Title Sequences

Here is a list of my favourite title sequences. Some of the films on the list aren’t that great, but have a really engaging beginning. They are in no particular order, and I tried to think outside of the box to an extent.

Se7en (1995)

This can be found on many lists, but I feel its place is more than deserved.  It draws the viewer in to the world of John Doe with the images and font, whilst introducing the feeling of the cold dark city with the music. It won’t be a surprise to learn there isn’t much hope to come…

Mean Streets (1973)

God I hate how Dirty Dancing stole this song. This intro not only sums up the decade and the friends’ relationship, its breather with Keitel at the start lets us get to know him separately, and introduces us to the guilt he will feel throughout the film.

Donnie Darko (2001)

For what could be quite a light start, the eerie music, strange font and empty mise-en-scene are very unnerving. Once the music kicks in however, it is a flight straight back into the eighties.

Shallow Grave (1994)

Apologies I could only find the trailer for this movie. The actual intro is a boom through Edinburgh, and the setting up of Danny Boyle’s career. You’ll have to find it to see for yourself!

White Heat (1949)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4664705584023836427#

Each individual part is not so great in itself, but brought together (especially with the music), there is something just so fantastically epic. A brilliant film as well.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

This intro basically sums up the movie as a whole, especially Voight’s character. Another fantastic song, all I want to do when I watch this is watch the whole film again.

Spun (2002)

Just for its amazing cover of Number of the Beast alone. Very 2002, but just a good music video in itself.

Casino Royale (2006)

Bond had to get somewhere on this list, and this for me was the best of the intros. Again feels a bit dated for something so recent, but is still gorgeous to look at.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

This is rather cheesy, but nicely sums up the film, and brings home what has happened without the use of exposition.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Most musicals have pretty good intros, but this one is just so simple and effective it edged out the competition.

There is a great deal of room for debate on this, so any thoughts post below!

Top Twenty Films For a “Film Education”

Here’s my list of the top twenty “film education” movies- that is to say not my favourites, or even those I particularly like.  Instead, this is what should be watched for a full breadth of the cinematic world.

All these movies have been analysed to a far greater depth than I can manage in this article, so there will only be a very brief description to each one. I also tried to pick films that will speak for themselves in regards to their selection, although there might be a few surprises.

2001: A Space Odyssey– Kubrick had to get on this list somewhere. Enough said.

Bicycle Thieves– One my favourites (as cliché as that is), this film not only shows us different sides of Italian culture but the birth of modern European cinema.

Breathless– In my opinion this film has dated rather badly, but only because it has influenced so many people. If you like 90’s cinema, especially Tarantino, this has to be viewed.

Casablanca– Noir had to get on this list somewhere, and this is probably the most famous. Not to mention a brilliant film anyway.

Citizen Kane– Often regarded as the greatest movie of all time, although it is not mine the technical achievement for the time is quite astonishing.

It’s A Wonderful Life– OK it gets a little schmaltzy, but the plot is pretty original for its day. The phrase “ultimate feel good film” is wheeled out far too much, and here is the perfect reason why it shouldn’t be- IAWL has long since claimed the title.

Night of the Living Dead– Although it has spawned a thousand awful knock-offs, I doubt there is a single Western horror director who has not seen this film.

North by Northwest– Hitchcock is The Beatles of cinema, and I mean that as a compliment. A dominant force that you can’t ignore.

Pulp Fiction– The first American independent film to really make it big, Tarantino is one of the few men in Hollywood who can do what he wants, and it’s all thanks to this.

Salesman- Looking back at this documentary now, we see the birth of reality television. Still utterly engrossing.

Star Wars– If you grew up in the West anytime between 1970-1994 this film will have affected your life in some way.

Taxi Driver– American New Wave at its finest, Scorcese mixes the best of other titles on this list and makes it his own.

The Birth of a Nation– I really hate to put this on the list, as its racist subject matter is repulsive. But it invented (or at least showed for the first time) many cinematic techniques. Shows that not all good art has a worthy moral message.

The Godfather Part 2– Number two on IMDB at the time of writing, not only stunning to look at, but a huge influence on the rise of the mafia in popular culture.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly– Westerns may have died off in recent years, but this is the genre at their peak.

The Great Dictator Classic Chaplin. The fact those two words create images in your head explains why it made the list.

The Seventh Seal– I am a big Bergmann fan, and this is European cinema at its greatest; just beautiful art.

The Shawshank Redemption– A great film, and number one in the IMDB top 250, an incredible achievement considering its original low box office figures.

Toy Story- A little bit of a cop out as I couldn’t pick an animated movie, this is the point where old became the new in the purest sense. Still hold ups today in every way.

Yojimbo– A flaw of the list is the lack of World cinema as a whole; this will have to plug the gap for now, but expect another list in the future!

God, that was tough.
The missing man here is Steven Spielberg- if I’m honest there wasn’t one of his films I could pick as really definitive, so Jaws is this list’s honourable mention.

Or maybe Metropolis, Tokyo Story, or even a Un Chien Andalou. A kung-fu or exploitation flick. And we haven’t even touched on Cuba, Spain, Korea….And where is Marilyn?

The only point I can really make is just take on any recommendations that you can, film is a continuing expanding universe of the imagination that can only enrich regardless of quality.

That said, I would love to hear your opinions on this, so please comment below!

The 405 Article- Is Gorno the Slipknot of Cinema?

An article from a while back that I don’t think I posted.