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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite having the opportunity to see Darren Aronofsky's absolutely
extraordinary masterpiece Black Swan at this year's past Toronto
International Film Festival, I did regret missing out on Danny Boyle's
127 Hours. The film was one of the few to emerge from the festival with
momentous Oscar buzz, and even a bit of controversy over a specific
scene late in the film that was causing people to faint in theatres.
The film chronicles the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a recklessly arrogant mountain climber whose arm gets crushed under a boulder during a trip through Utah canyon country. With no one coming to save him, he must decide whether he will die or fight for survival.
The logline and description may not sound like much, but 127 Hours delivers one of the most riveting and incredibly emotional experiences I have had in a theatre in some time. I was unsure Boyle and his crew could top their Oscar-winning work in Slumdog Millionaire, but this film improves upon it in every way possible. Because of all the talk about "the scene", the majority of people will know how the film ends well before they even consider seeing it. But everything leading up to Aron's life-altering decision is absolutely amazing and the stuff of pure filmmaking magic.
From the very beginning up until the very end, you know you are in the hands of some truly special filmmakers, specifically Boyle. Everything in the film seems to have a pulse and a life of its own, whether it is the hyper kinetic editing, the lush and gorgeous cinematography, the often epic score, the thought-provoking writing or just the general style of the film. Where other movies pay very little attention to the little things, Boyle and company seem to have amped up the quality in the majority of those areas, and made a film whose elements very much complement each other. I could not believe the short running time at first, but they pack so much in and the film moves at such an aggressively energetic pace, that you barely have time to slow down and breathe once the film really gets moving.
One of the unique things that really stood out for me was the use of flashback throughout the film. Ralston spends a lot of time thinking about what brought him to this life changing moment, and it is rather interesting how Boyle handles these thoughts. They act specifically as our way into Ralston's life and his character dynamic, but they never seem to overtake the bigger picture of his being pinned by the rock. They work rather brilliantly as asides, as mere stylishly and crazily edited set pieces (a naked party in the back of an SUV is a particular standout). They are among the film's few scenes of character interaction, and help the audience adjust deeper and deeper into Ralston's mindset. It aids the film in being an even greater experience of authenticity. His hallucinations are done in very much the same way, but do not work nearly as great as these off-the-wall scenes do.
The lengthy cast list may not suggest it, but the film is really just the James Franco show. We only get fleeting and stylishly edited glimpses of him at first, but after the boulder comes down, the film becomes a deeply focused, claustrophobic and devastatingly candid character piece driven almost exclusively by facial movements and reactions. 2010 has been a year of transformations by actors, and Franco's turn as Ralston is no different. The camera gets right in his face and shows us the gritty reality of his predicament, and Franco is eerily authentic in his portrayal. You can see the gradual exhaustion and desperation taking its toll on him; you can see the visible fear on his face as he faces life or death. Not many actors are able to drive a film by mainly interacting with themselves and the static objects around them, but Franco delivers in spades at every turn. Whether he is being devastatingly hilarious or dead serious, he still manages to ensure the realism and intensity of his performance never changes. You will be unable to take your eyes off this riveting portrayal at any time.
While it pains me to have to point out the film's small amount of imperfections (even with the attention to detail), it is only because I cannot wrap my head around the film being absolutely flawless. This is an incredible piece of cinema, but there are a few special effects, musical and editing choices made that are simply baffling. I understand the point and logistical ideas around some of them, but some just stand out as odd. Why point out the insects that inhabit Ralston's surroundings, and then make them so CGI'ed that they look visibly fake? Why throw in the out of place tunes to help try and convey his emotions? I know I am pulling at strings, but there were at least a handful of elements that seemed out of place and made the film slightly less than perfect. It just seems these extra steps easily could have been made to make the film even more pristine.
127 Hours is not just a film it is an experience. It is only in limited release now, but I can only hope that audiences everywhere will get the opportunity to see the movie. It is an amazing movie centred around an absolutely incredible, legendary performance. Watching Franco bare his soul on-screen is practically a cleansing experience. I went in with high hopes, and left with a huge smile on my face. It is authentically emotional, and in a year merely punctuated with a handful of amazing movies amongst a sea of filth, it more than just stands out. It is quite simply, unforgettable.
I came into this movie with high expectations. Danny Boyle, who brought
us 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE had a lot to live up to with
the quality of prior movies, and he did not disappoint. He brought the
challenge of creating an interesting movie based on our main character
being immobile to life, and captivating it was. Being stuck with our
main character the entire duration of the film was anything but
tedious, as we follow the thoughts of canyoneer Aron Ralston (James
Franco) as he gets trapped under a rock while exploring the beautiful
sights of Utah. The camera does a fabulous job taking us everywhere a
wandering mind might migrate in a situation such as this.
The human connection element was most fascinating, as we wonder what we would do if placed in a similar situation. We are really "with" Ralston on his journey, as we see him discover a reason to live and how his life perspective changes, not just how to get free from his predicament. The film manages to stay optimistic and warming, despite the frustration and angst felt by Ralston and viewers. And we certainly thank Boyle for some of the lighter moments that temper the severity of the situation.
The film does not shy away from tough choices and certainly keeps it "real" during the entire run, especially during the critical climax scene. Despite being stuck in place the movie is fascinating at the pace with which it moves and keeps the audience's attention from start to finish. So while Ralston loves living on the edge, we see Boyle create this movie in a similar fashion, metaphorically speaking, as the intensity and gripping nature of Ralston's circumstances comes alive and sucks us in.
In the movie Aron Ralston sets off on a typical weekend excursion being outdoors and with nature. During his journey he befriends a couple of female hikers who are somewhat lost and looking to get back on their way. He shows them the ropes of the canyons and they set off home. Little do they know that their friend will need their help just moments later. Becoming trapped under a rock, Ralston now is faced with the challenge of keeping himself alive while trying to break loose from the rock's firm grasp. As Aron works on a solution, we see him wonder about the party he's been invited to just hours earlier, think about how his has ignored his family, wonder about where he left his Gatorade, which would keep him hydrated longer, do a live interview featuring himself on camera, and drink his own urine.
I think the part of the movie that moved me the most actually occurred after the climax, where we see Ralston, broken, desperate, and willing to end his lone-wolf mentality for good. The emotions felt during the last 5 minutes signify human triumph, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit. Incredible movie, a definite must-see 9/10 stars
Sometimes (even oftentimes) in the world of film criticism, the word
"triumphant" is thrown around. It's often used to describe a film,
perhaps more often a performance. I've certainly used it; it's a term I
like to pull out when a film seems to go beyond the call of duty. When
it's more than art, entertainment, or a combination of both. When the
story, images, and characters pop off the screen and go with you, and
the lasting impression left on you means something more than having
killed a couple hours in a big, dark room with a bunch of strangers.
Now, after watching 127 Hours, I feel I've never used "triumphant" in
the correct critical context before.
James Franco's performance is simply astounding. He, as an actor, is triumphant because his character is, and because he delves into what it means to be bringing this incredible story to life on the big screen for mass consumption. This is a tough role - Franco is basically putting on a one-man show, and he does so elegantly. We feel Aron Ralston's pain because Franco feels his pain and shows it in every line of his face, verbalizes it with every sigh, and lets it control him even as he battles to take control back and find a way out of his dire situation.
It's pure, masterful art. Franco is simply flawless. Trapped by the boulder, much of his performance lies in his facial expressions, and he is able to deftly switch from desperation to comedy to a brutal will to survive, all while being barely able to move. I've rarely been so impressed by an actor's work; Franco is wholly deserving of the Oscar.
Danny Boyle's kinetic, energetic direction is a perfect match for Franco's easy-going goofiness, and even when the film becomes grounded in the narrow canyon where Ralston was trapped, Boyle always keeps things interesting. He and co-writer Simon Beaufoy weave flashbacks and hallucinations into Ralston's dilemma to great, heart-breaking effect, and the premonition that drives Ralston to finally dive whole-heartedly into amputating his own arm is breath-taking in its tenderness.
Also impressive is Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography. Instead of letting the confined space limit their camera techniques, they tackle every possible angle, often bringing the audience uncomfortably close to the action. Shots through the bottom of Ralston's water bottle mark time and heighten the sense of urgency. The addition of home movie-style footage brings Ralston even closer to the audience; when he expresses his delayed gratitude to his family, you'll likely find yourself thinking about the last time you told your parents how much you love them. It's a great device, and is put to best use in one of the film's funniest scenes, when Ralston interviews himself Gollum-style. The combination of the dark humor, varied cinematography, and Franco's impressive facial dexterity pitch the scene perfectly; it's a lighter moment that is nevertheless grounded in the gravity of the situation.
Complementing and combining Chediak and Mantle's beautiful shots is Jon Harris's dynamic editing. The use of split-screen is particularly brilliant, put to use in innovative ways throughout the film: the bookend sequences mark Ralston's departure from and return to society, and the technique in general represents the multiple facets of a seemingly simple tale. Yes, when it comes down to it, 127 Hours is a film about a mountain climber who gets stuck under a boulder and has to cut off his own arm. But it's so much more than that. It's about a man overcoming the physical, emotional, and intellectual strains of an unthinkable situation. It's about responsibility, love, and the will to live. Above all, it's about the triumph of the human spirit, show more clearly and beautifully here than in any other film I can think of.
I started loving this film within the first few seconds. 127 Hours
begins immediately with the sound of Fresh Blood's "Never Hear Surf
Music Again" ("There must be some f*%#ing chemical, chemical in your
brain, that makes us different from animals, makes us all the same."
etc...) just as featured in the 1st trailer. That not-ripped-off
euphoric feeling (how many times have you seen a trailer with a perfect
song/music and then felt betrayed that it wasn't in the film later...
yeah, me too) carried on all the way through the rest of the film.
The film has an energetic start with a split screen showing office-bound commuters/workers going along their daily drudge while our lead, x-treme biker/hiker/climber Aron Ralston (played to perfection by actor James Franco) packs his gear (unfortunately not finding his Swiss Army knife which might have made a lot of difference to him later on) for a trek into Blue John Canyon country in Utah. While on his way he has a brief fun climbing/diving/swimming interlude with two female hikers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He then heads off on his own and at about 20 minutes into the movie takes a tumble with a small boulder that ends up pinning his right arm against the side wall of the thin crevice of a canyon. And that is where we are with him for the next "127 hours" (but only 1 hour of screen time) that it takes him to get loose.
I'm not going to spoil that resolution here, although most will likely hear about it anyway before seeing the movie. An obvious clue that he survives is given by the screen credit early in the film that says it is "based on the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston". The guy must of survived if he wrote a book about it right? Well, you can survive in many ways and not all of them leave you whole (both mentally and physically).
Director Danny Boyle brings a lot of the key Oscar-winning players of the Slumdog team back for this new film. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, soundtrack composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (this time paired with Enrique Chediak) are chief among those. As an added bonus, from the director of the toilet-diving cam in Trainspotting, we now have the "desperately thirsty character saves his own urine so it can be filmed while drunk through a tube"-cam in this movie.
At the Toronto Film Festival's 2nd screening of the film, Boyle was there to take questions from the audience and his enthusiasm and excitement about the film were infectious. Tidbits included his talking about their 6 days of location shooting followed by a sound-stage recreation of the canyon based on 3D scanning imagery. Boyle also praised actor James Franco and emphasized how every time we see him in a new film he is stretching his talents and abilities, unlike many lead actors who are just basically playing themselves in various different situations.
Boyle said that for an audience to watch what would otherwise be deemed "unwatchable" you either had to be making a schlocky/not-to-be-taken-seriously horror movie OR you had to make the audience completely identify with the character to the extent that they would believe that they themselves would have done the exact same thing to save themselves if they had to. Well, Boyle succeeds in making you believe it.
Seen at the Ryerson Theatre, Toronto Sept. 13, 2010. 2nd screening of 3 at TIFF 2010.
You may be dying but the world moves on. That is the naked truth about
our existence and the main allegory written in the stimulating visual
experience provided by Danny Boyle in his latest film. 127 Hours is a
wonderful metaphor for solitude and for the importance of what life
means at an individual level. It enhances the indescribable experience
of having a family, friends and love, but most of all cherishes the
meaning of human contact. Solitude is perceived as being bearable and a
lot of times needed but seldom is viewed as being fulfilling. Only when
the epiphany pops into our minds, we realize what we have been missing.
It is a common and frustrating fact. Nonetheless, Danny Bolyle's
achievement allows a new and fresh take on this theme. The director
shows the audiences that life happens when they least expect. And truth
be told, there is a bright place for those who abandon their
egotistical "independence" and start sharing the events that life
Telling a story about a man who is stuck in the same place for such an extensive period of time is definitely not easy. Danny Boyle described the picture as "an action movie in which the hero doesn't move" and he certainly took the challenge. With this in mind, two main conclusions can be withdrawn from Boyle's work: 1) He was able to maintain the action dynamic and the viewers engaged through a series of devices that allow them to be interested not only on the hero's present condition but also in his past and, quite possibly, his future. The mind behind Trainspotting entered the psyche of his new hero and gave it a shape and a texture that transformed the general perception. The empathy towards the character grew and from that moment on the audience grabbed the hook. He was able to dissect James Franco's character thoughts and desires in a moment of extreme physical and psychological agony.
2) It was extremely hard to be inventive in such scenario and some techniques proved to be tiresome. In certain moments during the movie, Danny Boyle seemed to be trying to hard when having a simpler approach looked like to be more successful. He stylized the action in a way that doesn't always work even considering that he established his filmmaking style from the very beginning.
With regards to the main performer, it is only fair to praise James Franco's enactment. It is a truly astonishing tour-de-force that will probably be mentioned during the Oscar nominations. He's not only charming and witty but his personality fills the screen with such a great talent. It is very gratifying to observe his evolution according to the character's state of mind.
127 Hours is a quite remarkable achievement. There's the ability to pick up a true straightforward story about survival and courage and enhance it through a sheer composition of good sense without falling on the old American cliché. This story does not try to be epic or monumental. It tries to be honest and true. And we, as viewers, don't feel cheated or slapped across the face, and that is really all we could ask for.
As demonstrated by his ability to earn acclaim in everything from
zombie films ("28 Days Later") to foreign coming-of-age love stories
("Slumdog Millionaire"), Danny Boyle has an extraordinary gift as a
filmmaker and in "127 Hours," he channels it into an extraordinary
story of human willpower. This could have easily been a compelling but
plain and ordinary documentary on the Discovery Channel or National
Geographic about a man pinned under a boulder who miraculously
survives. Boyle, however, transforms it into a powerful statement about
the will to live and where that motivation truly comes from.
"127 Hours" does not simply prove the point that humans will do whatever it takes to survive in dire circumstances. In fact, I might argue 9 of 10 people wouldn't do what Aron Ralston (James Franco) does in this film. Anyway, Boyle makes it his mission to use Ralston's incredible true story -- one that told at face value would probably just elicit gasps -- to alter our perspective on living.
What's obvious is that none of the impact of "127 Hours" is possible without Franco. A film about a man trapped in a crevice for more than five days needs a heck of a lead actor and Franco, despite few dramatic credits to this point, proves beyond capable. Although boredom might set in for some during this film given its plot, the believability of Franco's performance remains constant and irrefutable. He possesses the fun-loving and care-free charisma of Ralston then slowly breaks that shell and shows his human fragility.
Yet remarkably, Boyle leaves a substantial thumbprint on the film, much of which he shares with co-writer Simon Beaufoy, also of "Slumdog." Because the story is so straightforward, Boyle recognizes imagery and perception provide his only means of creativity. He shows us inside the tube of Ralston's water backpack, water bottle and other close-ups, all of which seem unnecessary, but they establish images which we will come to think about with a different perspective as the film wears on, such as when Aron drinks his own settled urine out of the water pouch. Boyle uses the same process shot, but suddenly we don't see it the way we did earlier and they become more meaningful than tedious.
This subtly effective technique can also be found in the beginning and ending shots of the film. It seems completely random that Boyle would open with crowded streets of people as if he's tricked us and really made "Slumdog 2," but the image gains significance after experiencing Ralston's journey.
"127 Hours" will not be kind to people who don't take lightly to seeing blood outside of the "shoot 'em up" genre. Many of these people will leave the film thinking all they got was shock value, but of course there's much more to it. Despite the "how will he survive?" plot, a substantial amount of time is placed on flashes to memories Aron thinks of regarding his family, fantasies and of course, regrets. Boyle beautifully shows us that although survival seems an inherently selfish thing, much of that motivation and will to live comes from other people, even total strangers. Aron thinks a lot of the girls (Kata Mara and Amber Tamblyn) he hiked with just hours before the accident though otherwise he'd have likely forgotten them.
The build-up and catharsis of Aron's story might not be the most powerful and uplifting based-on-true-story you've witnessed, but "127 Hours" clearly surpasses expectation in terms of the message it sends and the impact it leaves. With it, Boyle solidifies his place as one of those filmmakers you must always have an eye on and Franco emerges as a relatable everyman with above-everyman-grade talent.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Danny Boyle has always been an indie favourite, consistently producing excellent films in many different genres. However, his films never enjoyed the box-office reach they deserved. That is, until his 2008 surprise blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire broke all expectations. It was a film that would then allow Danny Boyle to create whatever film project he wanted, with presumably whatever budget he needed. This is a dream situation for any director, but instead of taking the opportunity to direct a massive budget film, he writes and directs, 127 Hours. The film, which tells the incredible true story of Aron Ralston, could be handled in incredibly different ways. Luckily, Boyle's film about a man having to cut off his own arm doesn't leave you feeling depressed, but rather it is energetic and life-affirming. The film doesn't tone down any of the difficult aspects, in fact it throws them right in your face. However, what makes this film so fantastic, is that Boyle's style matches Ralston's view on life and explanation for surviving the awful ordeal. The film begins at a furiously kinetic pace, one you would be hard pressed to find in an action film. It is a jolt to the senses and it sets the perfect mood for the film. It is not making light of a terrible situation but rather putting you in the mind set that Aron Ralston was in before the accident occurred. What makes this directorial decision so important is the fact that without understanding the kind of person he was, we couldn't understand how he survived the awful ordeal he was in. This is what makes Boyle perfect for the material, where another director would most likely go very minimalist, Boyle goes all out in terms of style, without ever losing the emotional connection. Boyle's stylistic choices heighten emotional integrity where as other directors' use of style is often just visual stimulation. As important Boyle's direction was to making the film great, if it were not for James Franco's performance as Aron, the film would have failed. Franco gives one of the strongest performances of his career, if not his best. His performance could very easily have become showy and overly dramatic, yet Franco was smart enough to restrain himself until the moment called for dramatics. It would be a real shame to forget the unsung heroes of this film, the two directors of photography; Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle. As the film features, for the most part, one man on screen for the duration, Boyle decided to make the visuals into their own characters. To do this, he employed two fantastic directors of photography to make the visuals competing characters. As the film progressed, remembering the incredibly impressive shots became harder and harder, to a point where I lost count. The film features some of the most memorable shots of Boyle's career, many of which leave you wondering how they possibly accomplished them. Danny Boyle has made a career of films about men who are pushed to their absolute limits, yet the films always leave you feeling better than when you arrived. He does not muddy his films with sentimentality or out of place scenes to make the audience feel better, but his films still leave you feeling an energy for life. It is his talent of finding the strength within people and his natural ability to present it to us that makes his films so powerful. 127 Hours is one of the rare films that leaves an audience in their seats during the credits, and for many, even after the credits are done their scroll.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A reckless young climber gets stuck in a canyon. For him to get out
requires him to somehow cut off his own arm. And unless you're complete
unaware of the story, you already know the sequence of events that will
be covered during the runtime of this movie. James Franco does his best
with a non existing script and Boyle manages on occasion to give the
movie some thrust with his MTV video style direction. But it soon all
wears off. There's just not much of story here and watching 90 minutes
of something so thin and predictable, just doesn't work. The movie Open
Water came to mind. And that is not a good thing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
127 HOURS starts out badly and never recovers. All we know about this
guy Ralston is he's racing a bicycle across Utah trying to get
somewhere or other 45 minutes quicker than anyone before. Suddenly for
no reason he's on foot, still racing, and meeting two girls. He loses
sight of his goals and sets about impressing the girls involving them
in irresponsible behavior jumping around the sharp and dangerous rocks
of Moab, Utah.
Soon after leaving the girls, he's still jumping around like a jerk when the ground gives way; he slides, and his forearm is stuck under a very heavy rock. He makes a courageous and focused effort to free himself, but eventually (as you know) he'll cut off the arm to save his life. (These scenes are no more graphic than necessary.)
We are supposed to get to know Ralston through his many flashbacks. Unfortunately, his life was apparently no more interesting than that of a cigar store wooden Indian -- not much there.
We're initially given nothing to make us care about Ralston, later we learn nothing much, and by movie's end he's still a blank slate.
Danny Boyle uses a few cheap tricks such as turning the volume up seriously loud on the background music when something (supposedly) interesting happens. In truth this is pure "What do I do next syndrome" following his truly excellent "Slumdog Millionaire." In Slumdog, he grabbed our emotions over-and-over with one brilliant scene after another. Herein, nothing.
I saw this film under perfect conditions at my childhood neighborhood theater, now the restored AFI SILVER, one of America's finest movie houses. Comfortable seats, extra legroom, giant screen, THX stereo. A good movie would have made it great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just like the infamous Confused Matthew I'm feeling confused about this
movie. Why does it get so high of a score?
I knew right from the start this movie was going to be an awful experience. I knew right from the start it had two ingredients that would kill this movie for me. Firstly it is based upon real event, and an interpretation of real events is always such a delight to witness. And secondly it was about a guy talking to himself for ninety five percent of the movie. To me even one of those two reagents is a no go.
But alas I was in a way dragged in to see it, nothing I could do about it. And the reason I hated this movie so much wasn't because of the two constructs established, but a third I wasn't aware of before a movie ended. If it hadn't been for the third thing I wouldn't even waste my time on writing a review.
And the third thing is: it tries to convey a wrong message, and does so poorly!
There is a fundamental difference between being a loner and being an idiot. And our beloved protagonist played by Jim Franco is exactly both. But the funny thing is that the movie blames all his misfortunes not on him being an idiot, but rather on him being a loner.
I am a cynical loner myself. You could argue about my level of intelligence, but in all of my individualism I would never go mountain or cave climbing alone, without telling my relatives my exact route, estimated times of arrival at each checkpoint, and bringing both a long- range mobile phone and GPS along with a massive amount of supplies with me.
And that anti-hero of ours does neither of those things! And what does he blame it all on? Ooh, he's a lone hero, he doesn't need anyone. No, no, he's not stupid, he's just a loner. Ugh, what a load of bull.
And the way they shove this idiotic notion in our faces is anything but subtle. That's why as I said earlier it tries to convey a wrong message poorly. That's about it when the movie becomes a total pile of steaming junk, culminating at the end. Else I could at least let them score a point for telling an idea, albeit a wrong one in a right way.
This movie is nothing more than another piece of societal propaganda, preaching and forcing their morals and values on us, the individuals. But don't believe a word I say without proof. Watch it and judge for yourself, but approach it very carefully, as such movies are dangerous.
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