Monday, 31 January 2011

BlogalongaBond and the Death of John Barry

The Incredible Suit had the genius idea of hosting a blogathon in which various bloggers would write about a Bond film every month from now until the release of the next sequel.

Find out more about the heinously titled "BlogalongaBond" here and here.

We kick off with "Dr No", which I always thought was wanting for a classic theme song. I mean "Three Blind Mice" doesn't really cut it. Here's my attempt, entitled "Negative Physician":

In a bizarre twist of synchronicity, as I was about to pimp my silly Bond song on Twitter this morn, I was met with the sad news of the death of John Barry. Barry's work on the music for the Bond movies was as important to the cinematic and cultural impact of said films as the suits, the cars, the chicks and Sean Connery's accent. A sad loss.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Covert Ops: Can't Stop the Signal

So we went to a "Presentation Day" for Universal Studios. Usually it's a manager or two who get to go, but my boss intercepted the email and put me and him on the guest list. We got breakfast and lunch and free popcorn and water and a diary, as if I have anything on this year. They basically played us a showreel of their upcoming films, with a bit of fumbly, kid-in-assembly spiel from some Universal marketing types. And then they showed us a film. A film I was quite excited to see. And it was good.

Here's the absurd part, though: They referred to the presentation as an "Information Day", keeping us posted about coming attractions, but they made us sign Non-Disclosure Agreements which forbid us from even talking about the content of the material we were shown.

It's kinda like getting into Demi Moore in her prime and not being able to tell anyone about it.

What's the point of giving us early info if we're not allowed to spread it? Some of the rough clips we were shown were quite impressive, surely they would want the good word to get out?

Apparently not.

Well fear not, gentle reader, for The Intermittent Sprocket is no slave to the mores of studio-politics! The public has a right to know! If they want a fight, they've got one! You can't handle the truth! Etc!

First off, they showed us a featurette about "___" which looks fucking rubbish. It's made by the geezer who did "_____ ___ ___ _________" fer chrissakes. I don't know what _____ _______ was thinking when he signed up for this one. At least _______ _____ doesn't have to show his face.

They showed a pre-recorded intro for "_______" which was basically just _____ _______ bleating on about "the future of cinema" and all that shit, basically amounting to a self-congratulatory message aimed at the Universal distrubutors, patting himself on the back for putting projectionists out of a job. Scrooge McDick.

There was a clip from "___________", written by _______ ____ (who also featured in the secret film they showed us) and produced by ____ ______, which was surprisingly hilarious in a sick kind of way. It involved ______, ________, ___ _____ and _______, and looked very promising.

We saw an extended, unfinished action scene from "____ ____" which looked just as ridiculous as you'd expect: ____ smashing through _____, dragging a massive ____ behind them and causing all sorts of _____. The most interesting aspect of this was the fact you could see all the cameras at the side of the ____ and observe squibs before they were detonated and all that other sort of "unfinished footage" stuff.

There wasn't much else that really stood out, a few _______ dramas (including a creepy-looking "____ ____" adaptation with _______ __________ going all weird with _____ ____ and stuff), and a couple of rough scenes from "_____", the new film from ___ ______, which featured ____ ________ and ____ ____ doing some sub-Bourne stuff and ______ _____ acting like a slightly less impressive Hit-Girl.

And now for the scoop on this movie:

The film they showed us in its entirety was "____" and it was a fun time. It's not as good as "____ __ ___ ____" or "___ ____", but it's still a good laugh. Lots of typical __-_____ and _____ buffoonery, and some amusing action, too. Why they wouldn't want us to tell people about it is beyond me.

The wording on the non-disclosure agreement was that watertight that they even said we are not allowed to disclose details of art-direction or costume, so I shouldn't even be telling you that _____ ____ wears an "______ _____ ____" T-Shirt for much of the duration of the film.

I will write a full review of "____" when it is closer to release, but just know that I enjoyed it for now.

Can't stop the signal, Mal!

post censored by request of Universal Pictures

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Dilemma: Howard's Way

Ron Howard, as a director, has continually proved himself jack of all trades and master of none. His films are all of varying genres and quality, but even his best work rarely rises above workmanlike proficiency or derivative pastiche. ("Apollo 13", "Backdraft", "Willow")

Here, Ron is trying to climb aboard the free-wheeling improv-comedy bandwagon that Judd Apatow recently joyrode into Hollywood, and the result is at the lower end of his patchy filmography.

Vince Vaughn plays Ronny, a man who, along with his best friend Nick (The King of Queens), is trying to land a big car manufacturing deal involving making electric cars sound like petrol cars because noise pollution is fucking awesome or something. When he sees Nick's wife with another man, Ronny is presented with the titular quandary: Does he tell his already overstressed friend the truth, threatening his friendship, their marriage and the totally awesome business deal? Or does he keep schtum? The answer is: who gives a shit?

My attitude towards the events in the film can be summed up by my response to the "Noisy Electric Cars" sales pitch: It's stupid, it doesn't make sense, and I can't get behind a character who would think that it was a good idea.

Vaughn is doing his usual thing of just turning up and making things up as he goes along, which is fine when he's playing a likable character. Here he is saddled with a man whose behaviour is so irrationally plot-governed as to deny us any sympathy for his plight. You can just about understand his reluctance to share the secret with Nick, but then he begins to lie to his lovely, warm, caring girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly, aging beautifully and no longer looking unhealthily thin! What? I'm a fan.) about why he's acting so weird, just to create some second-act complications.

We see in the early scenes that Connelly's character is capable and rational, and yet Ronny doesn't dare go to her for counsel? The contrivance that he doesn't want to reveal that he was secretly looking for a spot to propose to her when he witnessed the cuckoldery simply doesn't hold up.

And herein lies the problem. The film is based entirely on contrived and muddled motivations for irrational, unbelievable and unlikable characters. In the quest to further complicate what should've been kept light and breezy, it is revealed that each of the main characters is lying about something, Ronny is a recovering gambler, Ronny and Nick's wife (Winona Ryder) had sex in college and never told Nick, Nick has been going to a massage parlour for a happy finish for months, and Beth (Connelly) is planning to move to Las Vegas or something. This whole mess of unbelievable lies and deceit is thrown around in order to necessitate the films' bloated runtime.

It could be argued that this all serves to make the film more realistic. Life is complicated, people do lie, and there is rarely just one person at fault in crumbling relationships, but the crucial point is that none of this is funny.

Vaughn and Kevin James are funny chaps, but you can't just put them in a plodding, overwrought, contrived, laugh-free script and expect them to make it palatable. Connelly and Ryder are equally watchable performers but they both have thankless tasks here, and Channing Tatum seems to just be doing a Brad Pitt impersonation as Ryder's bit on the side.

The whole thing feels like over-reaching, as if Howard didn't want to just make a comedy, he wanted to bring along some of his ham-fisted Oscar-baiting sensibilities as well. So, instead of a quick and incisive comedy of errors, we get a stodgy, podgy mish-mash of under-done fun and over-cooked, convoluted attempts at drama. With these opposing forces pulling in different directions, the film remains inert and eventually collapses in on itself.

The good points are few: There are a couple of chuckles to be had - mainly from Vaughn's usual verbal diarrhea - but not nearly enough to tide you through the repetitive narrative, it's nice to see Winona Ryder in two major releases this week, and did I mention that Jennifer Connelly is purely radiant? Even when dressed in t-shirt and trackies and playing table tennis? She's not in it enough to make that a recommendation, though.

Ron Howard should probably stick to mawkish award-fodder as, judging by this film, his Happy Days funny-bone has broken.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Black Swan: Dance Macabre

Natalie Portman is going to win the Oscar for Best Actress this year. In "Black Swan", she delivers a performance of unwavering commitment, covering such varied bases as childlike innocence, murderous rage, pitiful insecurity, timid repression, psychological despair, existential confusion and sexual emancipation in a way that seems natural and genuine throughout. It's easily her best performance, and sees her finally pay off on the promise shown in "Leon". Plus, she totally lezzes off with Mila Kunis.

This is the story of a girl named Nina, who is part of some poncey ballet troupe and lives in a tiny apartment with her former-ballerina mother. At first, the film plays like a study of the obsessive drive needed to achieve in the ballet world. We see the daily struggles and routines of borderline self-abuse the dancers go through, the bizarre rituals they engage in, and we witness Nina's uncomfortable relationship with her passive/aggressive oddball mother.

Shit soon starts to get weird though, as the pressure to succeed where her mother failed begins to take its toll and, when Nina lands the lead in "Swan Lake", threatens to send her completely batshit crazy. Do you think she keeps it together?

Darren Aronofsky last made "The Wrestler", and this is another back-stage peek at a world of performance and mystique. Shot in the same grainy-cam hand-held style, the film could almost have been "The Wrestler" with chicks in tights substituting for dudes in tights. This is not what Aronofsky goes for. He decides instead to use the obsession with performance at the cost of all else as not a chance for a simple, honest character study, but as a springboard into psychological exploito-body-horror mental-vision.

As Nina's grip on reality slips, so does the film's. Aronofsky ushers us into a cinematic hall of mirrors, bombarding us with twisted reflections and grotesque imagery at an ever increasing tempo. This is where the film will lose a lot of people. The shift from creeping dread to abject hysteria is pitch perfect, but may still make many an audience member cry "Stop that! It's far too silly!".

Personally I relished the balls-out lunacy of every bizarre development, and can even forgive the over-use of slasher movie orchestra stabs to make sure you jump at the scary parts, simply because there were enough genuinely unsettling surprises on offer.

Heavy on themes of obsession, duality and loss of identity, the film needed a higher calibre of actors than your usual psycho-thriller and the ensemble smash their parts to pieces. In a positive way.

Alongside Portman, Vincent Cassel delivers a world-class slimeball as the ballet director, an arch-manipulator and possible sexual predator who drives his players to distraction with unattainable goals, favouritism, endless rehearsal drills and being French. The cad.

Winona Ryder gives solid support as the bitter former ballet-star that Portman replaces, Barbara Hershey is twee yet terrifying as Nina's smothering mother, and Mila Kunis rinses away any notion that she will always be Meg from "Family Guy" with a performance of guileless joviality and simmering sensuality. It's a double-edged turn that could've derailed many actresses, but Kunis balances the different aspects with aplomb and emerges a star. And she's about the cutest damn thing on the planet.

Sparing plot details, this is a high-class B-Movie, swinging between earthy documentary style, exploitative erotica, Cronenbergian body-horror and Argento-esque psychedelic terror with dizzying speed and skill. A ripping good wheeze.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Chico and Rita: Jazz. Nice.

Why is it that only non-english-speaking countries understand that animated films can be for grown-ups? Here's a picture which contains sex, nudity, drink, drugs, murder and latin jazz, and it's a flipping cartoon! That's not to say this is some sensationalist splatter-porn be-bop monstrosity. Far from it. This is a warm, optimistic, colourful, vibrant tribute to undying love and undying love for music.

Chico is an elderly shoe-shiner, living in poverty and solitude, who takes us through multiple flashbacks to his heyday as a be-bop/jazz/latin/whatever pianist in Havana in the long long ago. He meets Rita, a beautiful singer, and they form a bond that will cross decades and borders before they can be happy.

The animation has an identity all of its own, seeming both hand-drawn and digitally manipulated, with a lovingly rendered sketchy quality and an attention to detail rarely seen. Every location is brilliantly evoked, from Cuban dives and concert halls to New York clubs and Vegas motels, and the characters are personified perfectly in mannerisms and physicality.

In Rita, we are presented with possibly the sexiest cartoon character since Jessica Rabbit; all sultry curves, smoky eyes and smouldering shimmies, but some may cry foul when, during a post-coital piano-jam, she goes full-frontal whilst Chico keeps his pants resolutely belted up.

The soundtrack is, of course, very important here, and if you are a jazzer, you will find much to love. Personally, I subscribe to the Vince Noir school of thought that jazz is just for science teachers and the mentally ill, but even I found my toes tapping here and there and my soul lifting with some of the softer numbers.

It is in the marriage of music and image, and the representation of the all-consuming love that the music inspires in the characters, that the film truly soars. Along with the aforementioned nude piano session, where Rita begins to improvise a melody for some ivory tickling Chico just sussed out, there is a scene in a deserted bar where Chico bangs the keys whilst the barman uses bottles for percussion and Rita dances like she's possessed. These two scenes alone are the best depictions of the unifying power of music since the piano-shop scene in "Once".

The film deals with immigration and racism without ever seeming preachy or patronising, and manages to feel like an epic even within its hour-and-a-half runtime.

The one draw-back may also be the film's strong point, and that is in the basic simplicity of the plotting and the lack of development of the central relationship. Chico and Rita get together and fall out repeatedly throughout their lives with little to no logical explanation, and their love never really transcends the appearance that they just both like music on some kind of molecular level. I'm sure I could be accused of being curmudgeonly, but I never fully understood why they kept getting back together beyond that was what they were supposed to do.

Visually and aurally, "Chico and Rita" is a treat and the story is simple, yet largely effective. Check it out, if only to remind yourself that animation doesn't have to be about cute animals with celebrity voices.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Catfish: Real or No Real?

You know the internet? You know how it's, like, totally taken over our lives and that? Well, here's a film that's kind of about that, and the potential dangers it represents.

Honestly, I think it's probably best to see this film without any prior knowledge of the events it documents. When I was watching it unfold, I kept wishing I didn't already know how it turned out so, if you don't already know what the crack is, please stop reading after the following paragraph:

Catfish is a funny, moving, thought-provoking documentary about a young photographer who forms a Facebook relationship with a family he has never met. The film documents the early days of this relationship and then his eventual decision to meet the family in person and the revelations that entails.


So, the initial big talking point about "Catfish" is the question of authenticity. Is it real, or staged? I must admit, in the early scenes of Nev the hip New York photographer and his film-maker friends, I was unconvinced. There is a stagey, self-conscious quality which may set your suspicions simmering from the outset. Once the big reveal takes place, however, my disbelief was replaced with the notion that nobody could fake this. These people aren't actors, are they? There's no way you could create a story with such intricacy and detail. It is such a heartbreaking absurdity that it simply must be true, right?

The revelation I speak of is, of course, that the family in question is in fact just one middle-aged woman, Angela, creating multiple Facebook accounts and adding layer upon layer to her e-delusion of striking up a relationship with the young photographer.

The scenes revolving around this revelation are both hilarious and tragic. When Nev realises that Megan (the pretty eldest daughter of the family, who he has apparently been phone-sexing for a while) has been sending him MP3s ripped from YouTube and passing them off as her own recordings, his reaction is a priceless combo of disbelief, amusement, embarrassment and anger. This discovery leads to a pathetically simple bit of cyber-sluething that sees the whole charade begin to crumble.

The trio decide to pay the "family" a surprise visit and see what's real and what's balls, and what follows is a cringe-inducing, borderline-exploitative trip into a housewife's multiple life.

This presents us with a very modern conundrum: the riddle of privacy and safety on the internet. Do we know anything about the people we meet online? How much do they know about us?

The film is riddled with omnipresent internet references: YouTube, Facebook, emails, Google and Google maps all help the narrative move along, serving to hammer home the notion that the interweb has sidled into our lives in a huge way, whilst many of us still don't understand the possibilities and dangers it can bring.

Nev and his camera-toting entourage make for mainly agreeable company on this electro-personal odyssey, but some may find their NYC hipster attitudes a little aggravating and glib. There are moments when it feels kind of like watching a road movie about The Strokes, but any sense of Nev's voyueristic detachment from events is confounded by his obvious hurt and confusion in a final confrontation where housewife Angela speaks to him in Megan's voice.

"Catfish" is worth a look for the fascinating questions it raises about our technologised (Is that a word? It is now.) way of life, for a touching story about trust, hope, deceit and innocence, and for the undoubtedly endless pub-arguments about whether it was all as big a hoax as the one perpetrated within its narrative.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Green Hornet: Quite a Film

A script from the minds behind "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express"? A troubled production which saw comedy martial-arts mastermind Stephen Chow briefly in the director's chair? Source material best known for a brief, campy TV show featuring Bruce Lee? A replacement director best known for home-made mind-benders like "Eternal Sunshine"? However this turned out, it was never going to be an ordinary superhero movie, was it?

As it turns out, it's quite a film.

Quite a film in that it is quite funny, quite entertaining, quite exciting, and quite silly, but never really anything more than quite.

Seth Rogen has shed poundage in order to play Brit Reid, a typically Rogenesque layabout who, after the death of his newspaper-editor father, decides to do something worthwhile with his life. Rogen doesn't stretch himself here and has adapted the character of the Green Hornet to fit his persona. If memory serves, the Hornet was originally the brains of the outfit and Kato was the muscle. Here, the Hornet is a bumbling doofus and Kato is his ass-kicking carer. This will undoubtedly cause aficionados to take umbrage and alienate those who can't stand Rogen's usual schtick, but I found it an amusing and diverting partnership.

Both the Hornet's and the movie's secret-weapon is Jay Chou as Kato. Softly spoken in endearingly broken English and continually exasperated by Rogen's mugging, Chou is the perfect foil. And that's before he starts running around bashing people up like some kind of high-kicking Tasmanian Devil. He may not be Bruce Lee, but he has a damn good crack at it.

Cameron Diaz shows up, for some reason, in a role that only serves to cause friction between the leads as they both attempt to woo her in a severely under-developed subplot. Cristoph Waltz is great value, if also underused, as a perpetually insecure villain, Tom Wilkinson phones in a brief stint as Rogen's dad, recent amputee Jimmy Franco has a fun little cameo early on, and former John Connor Edward Furlong has a depressingly convincing two-scener as a meth-head.

The biggest surprise and, potentially, disappointment is Michel Gondry's direction. It is a far cry from his usual visual insanity, but he does bust out a few novel visual tics. The disappointment comes when, time after time, just when you think he's about to let fly with some truly bat-shit stylings, he seems to pull back. So we get a couple of 3D "Hardest Button to Button"-style shots in one fight, but then that's it. Our heroes escape a villainous trap and the stage is set for some chaotic construction-site carnage, but they just run over a hill and get away. Truth be told, the action and spectacle, like the film itself, never quite take off.

There is an inherent directionless quality to the narrative, born from a detachment between Waltz's crime-boss and the heroes. They don't seem to even know of each other's existence until fairly late on in the film, robbing a lot of urgency from proceedings. Plus, the aforementioned subplot involving Diaz's character never fully merges with the main event, leaving it and her feeling tacked on and distracting. Kudos for not having the lone female presence in the film be a sappy love-interest who gets captured at the end of the second act, though.

The "Hornet" property comes fitted out with one of the finest theme tunes of all time, which Tarantino magpied into "Kill Bill vol.1". The frantic, crazed, tongue-in-cheek bumbling of the theme would've fit perfectly with the tone of this piece, so it is a frustrating mystery as to why it is only used once in the whole film, making room for James Newton Howard's largely unremarkable score.

All this being said, I was always going to enjoy a superhero film where the crime-fighting duo burst into a rousing rendition of "Gangsta's Paradise" on their first night on the streets. It's this level of amiable but not hysterical silliness that sustains "The Green Hornet" through a few slumps on the way to a satisfyingly chaotic and destructive finale. It's quite good.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

How to Become a Projectionist: Episode III: Part 1

(following the current trend for splitting blockbuster finales in half, episode 3 will be presented in two parts.)

So I meet the projection team.

They both have the same name.

We meet in a restaurant across the street from the cinema, the general manager makes the introductions, and we set off to another site for my first day of training.

The projection manager (PM) is driving, and I vaguely remember listening to maybe Queen or The Beatles, and a Mitch Hedburg live show on different days.

The PM is a big, slightly nervous lad with glasses and amusing facial hair on his childish face. He doesn't strike me as the managerial type.

The other projectionist is a little angry ginger man with an evil sense of humour. He will eventually take over as my manager when the PM moves on from our cinema.

It would be fair to say I like them both pretty much straight away.

So we get to this other cinema (remember, the site we will eventually work at is still a work in progress at this point) and get taken into a staff area. I think someone is sitting in there, watching "Family Guy" on a tv/dvd player. I think "this is the life". "Family Guy" has not gone shit yet.

Walking through the bowels of a cinema is like being backstage at a theatre. The first time is a moment of wonder; a peek behind the curtain. We are led down long, high corridors, decorated with faces and titles from movies of the recent past, heading toward a single door.

We pass through the door and I take my first steps into a projection booth.

It is noisy and gloomy. The constant yammer of the machines is overpowering.

The booth seems wide and vast, with many different levels and platforms. I think there are eight projectors puking light out of the room through little windows, but the rest of the space is dim and unlit save for a desk near to the door.

Here sits a computer with a program running the projectors on its screen. It says how long each show has left to run, when the next show starts, which projectors are active, which are off, everything you could need to know.

I think this is going to be easy.

We get to the job at hand. Lacing films.

Deep breath...

Films sit on a big platter, and must be fed from the centre of the print through a contraption which we refer to as a "Brain Unit" which slots into the middle of the platter like a nucleus. The print is then threaded around and through various rollers and bobbins until being passed through the gate at the front of the projector. The length of film at the start of the print is called the "leader" and is often made up of scrap or "gash" film. When lacing, ensure the frame is aligned with the aperture immediately before the turn of the intermittent sprocket. The film goes through the gate upside-down, as the lenses reverse the image, and then feeds back to the platter via the rewind arm which is timed to take up any slack. The soundtrack, visible as a turquoise bar on one edge of the print, must be on the side nearest you as it goes through the projector, and must be on top of the print as it rewinds onto the platter. As it passes through the projector itself, the print must have a loop above the gate before the intermittent sprocket turns, and after the intermittent. The loops must be about large enough to fit two fingers in. Before lacing, the gate must be removed and cleaned, and the runners which hold the film in place must also be cleaned. Air hoses can be used to remove dust. You must check the film is positioned properly on all rollers to avoid scratching the print. When the film starts, sound must be checked through the monitors, and focus and rack must be checked on screen.

Everybody getting this so far?

It's not as complicated as it sounds.

So we spend a couple of days lacing the shows at this site. It's mostly fine, but there are more than a few late starts while I try to make sure I don't destroy every film in the place.

I should point out that I am the only inexperienced projectionist on the squad, so I think I benefit most from these Jedi training sessions.

One of the things that sticks in my head is that each of the prints is labelled with the title of the film on masking tape. A member of the projection team has lovingly decorated each and every label in the manner of the film it related to. I remember "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" being particularly calligraphic and colourful.

I'm not sure if it registers, but there is no surer sign that these people have a lot of free time on their hands.

This becomes more apparent as, after each run of films is laced and started, we all just sit around the little desk and talk bullshit for an hour or so until the whole routine begins again.

After a few days of this, it is time for us to venture to the site we will come to call home. Well... work. We are given luminous jackets and told to wear steel-toed boots. There may be hard hats.

The site is nestled in amongst several other buildings, twisted in on top of itself like some squatting stone monster.

It's a building site. I'm sure we're supposed to open in about a week, but from the looks of things it will take months. Will I be able to hone my projection skills in time? Will the building even be finished? Find out soon...


Conviction: We're Not Worthy

(I was unusually hungover when I watched "Conviction", so this may be a particularly grumpy and humourless review)

Sam Rockwell? Hilary Swank? Intense drama? Sounds good?

It's not.

"Conviction" is the true story of a woman who trained as a lawyer in order to free her wrongfully imprisoned brother. Swank is the woman, Rockwell the brother. When he is accused of a murder he didn't commit (or did he?), the stage is set for a drama of truly TV movie proportions.

"Conviction" is one of those "worthy" films that comes weighed down with aspirations of truth, profundity and awards success and, in spite of solid performances from Swank and Rockwell, cannot attain any of its goals.

This is ponderous, slow, stilted film-making. The story spans twenty years, glossing over large periods and major events, and manages to feel both deathly dull and strangely hurried at the same time. The drama is also a peculiar combination of overwrought and undersold; here's a film where every other scene involves someone either crying or yelling or smashing something up, and yet the emotion never actually connects until the moderately touching finale.

Rockwell is as watchable as ever, but is landed with a muted character who simply switches between "lovable rascal", "suffering innocent" and "angry psycho" at various intervals, never really becoming more than a plot device.

Swank too, struggles manfully to bring life to the stock character of the noble everywoman struggling for justice in an uncaring world, but she is blessed with none of the sass of, say, "Erin Brockovich", or the fragile poise of Angie in "Changeling".

Juliette Lewis crops up for a stand-out two-scener as a white-trash "witness" to the murder, and Minnie Driver puts in another solid, if unremarkable turn as that other great staple: the reliable, long-suffering best friend.

Everything plods along inexorably, before resolving in a pleasantly understated manner which still leaves the resounding feeling that an achievement such as spending twenty years working on getting your brother out of jail deserves a more interesting and powerful film than this perfunctory exercise.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

127 Hours: Mostly Armless

This is the story of Aron Ralston.

Enjoys: long walks in the desert, mountain-biking, climbing, listening to music, having wacky adventures in the wilderness.

Would like to meet: huge massive boulder for existential journey of self-discovery and potential self-mutilation and dismemberment.

Hey, kids! It's that one where Jimmy Franco chops his own arm off!

It's not really a spoiler to say that, seeing as it is a true story and it only happened about seven years back. Plus it's the only real reason anybody wants to see this film. "It'll make you faint!" "It's the most gruesome thing mankind has ever conceived!" "He's got an arm off!" Etc.

Franco plays Ralston, an outdoorsy douche who gets his hand trapped between a boulder and a canyon wall and must attempt first to survive and then to escape.

That's about it.

It shares a similar claustrophobic set-up with last year's Ryan Reynolds-in-a-box flick, "Buried", but whereas "Buried" was a tight action-thriller in a confined space, director Danny Boyle treats the conceit here as a ticket into Ralston's increasingly addled psyche.

We see flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations of Ralston's past and even his future, all shot in grainy, arty Boyle-o-rama, and as his mind becomes more unhinged, so does the editing and imagery. Boyle overdoes a few editorial tics here and there, but overall it is visceral and vital cinema.

The big surprise here is how funny the film is, displaying a lightness of touch completely at odds with the potentially bleak and harrowing situation. Much of this is down to Franco.

Franco is simply awesome. It's a similar kind of performance to Reynolds' in "Buried", but whereas Reynolds was continually dealing with plot developments, Franco gives us what is essentially a 90 minute character piece. He makes Ralston simultaneously likable and a little repellent, smug but earnest, self-aware but stupid, innocent yet wily, and lots of other contradictory statements. It's a great performance and, come Oscar time, expect to see the scene where Ralston interviews himself on an imaginary talkshow in the "Best Actor" nominations reel.

"But what about the arm-chopping?!", I hear you cry. Well, it is gruey, but it's nothing you haven't seen worse than in a "Saw" film or summat. It is, however a remarkably intense sequence that is foreshadowed and built up to almost unbearably tense effect. Boyle presents the chopping like a frenetic action sequence, all jagged edits and pounding music, as if our hero is finally knuckling down to kick some ass. His own arm's ass.

It's a peculiarly exhilarating scene, almost as if we go through the cathartic operation with him. We want that bastard arm off! And when it finally is, the relief is palpable.

There are moments where you may find yourself questioning whether Ralston REALLY talked to himself that much, or pondering the authenticity of Ralston's account (he finds video footage of the two hotties he was guiding before boulder-gate, pauses a nice wet-t-shirt cleavage shot and then decides against cracking one out? Come on!), and the flashbacks and psychological images don't really reveal much, but these are quibbles that get squished under a mighty rock of quality.

My personal complaint is that, after going through all this shit and having something of an epiphany that he might just be a selfish cock-knocker, we find out that Ralston is still an outdoorsy douche to this day, but he must be even more insufferable now because he does it all with only one arm. Or a robotic claw or something. So he didn't really learn anything.

So see it for an intense and inventive excursion into a slightly dickish man's long, dark tea-time of the soul, and a near-perfect one-man show by the one-time Harry Osborne.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Happy New Year

Apologies for my recent absence (as if you noticed), Christmas was one of those peculiar times when there's nothing much to write about and no time to write it. I hope you all had a nice time whether you celebrated or not.

Normal service will resume shortly, but first there are a couple of shameless plugs to be done.

Just before the new year, I took part in a survey of UK film blogs over at Faded Glamour, attempting to compile the top 50 films of 2010. Check out the results HERE.

The nominations for the 2011 Blog Awards are closing in just over a week, so get your votes in quick-smart! Apparently you have to nominate at least three blogs, so they can't all be The Intermittent Sprocket, unfortunately. Go HERE and tell them what you like reading.

Now that's out of the way, welcome to 2011 and please remain seated as an actual post will be along shortly. A review post featuring BOULDERS! JIMMY FRANCO! and MUTILATION!