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127 Hours (2010)
A life-affirming near-death experience
5 February 2012
A hiking and climbing trip in the mountains of Utah goes wrong for rock-climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) as a loose boulder falls and crushes his arm against the rock wall. Equipped with a half-empty bottle of water, a digital camera, some rope and a (very) dull blade, Ralston must take stock of the situation and figure out a way to escape.

The film is tight, pacey and not nearly as boring as it could have been in the hands of a more literal director. Danny Boyle and co. infuse every scene with energy, wowing viewers with panoramic cinematography and drilling the hard truths home when the time comes.

Ralston gets his arm trapped a mere 15 minutes in and from then on it's Man vs. Rock. Boyle brings his distinctive brand of energy to the potentially static set-up, with an unpredictable and often inspired soundtrack and the surreal tangents so successfully employed in his early classic, 'Trainspotting'. Though Ralston himself may not move, his mind wanders through old memories and viewers are transported with him.

Boyle has a talent for finding the life-affirming elements hidden deep within grim situations and '127 Hours' is nothing if not an exercise in hope and determination. Franco tracks Ralston's fight over the days with a sense of realism that brings the climber's plight into sharp focus, ensuring that there is much more to this film than limb-hacking.

The premise is handled well and the cast and crew know the strengths of the story; the scenery is beautiful and the human elements are as familiar as they are sad, brave and ultimately liberating. When the time comes, having accompanied Ralston through his trials and setbacks, you will be there with him when the helicopter lands.
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Immortals (2011)
(Not Very) Immortals still better than average
20 November 2011
Fans of Gerard Butler and his suicidal crew of macho, manly men in 300 may feel short-changed with Immortals.

The epic warfare of the former is replaced with a dreary 'quest' condemning viewers to a bland Lord of the Rings lite, in which a bland troupe of good guys find a magic bow (called the Bow of Epirus, which you will frequently forget because you just want to see people fight, dammit). Then they lose the bow. Then they find it, then lose it, then find it. Gripping. I spent a lot of the time praying for a bearded Scotsman to run up shouting 'Sparta!' as he kicks Theseus down a big well.

However it does have its pluses, so enjoy (deep breath):

Mickey Rourke being a big scary badass who grumbles life into the film; skillful editing and slo-mo in a suitably super-human battle between Gods' and Titans (though the Gods look like flamboyant OC characters); some genuine gasp-moments including a rather basic castration technique; the sudden and vicious Minotaur fight (although nothing more than a hollow exploitation of the myth).

However, you have seen most of that sh*t X 1,000 in 300.

A simple proposition really: recycled story parts told against beautiful backgrounds with the odd exceptional fight and Mickey Rourke killing things like a boss.
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Pandorum (2009)
An assured 21st century collage of sci-fi horrors
20 September 2011
'In space no one can hear you scream' intoned the Alien tagline way back in 1979, like some kind of spaceman rapist with Bad Ideas. Pandorum is more a case of 'In spaceship, savage spear-wielding freaks can hear you scream. So don't.'

Pandorum is a solid sci-fi with a tight 108 minute runtime, starting with a first-half rehash of clueless protagonists realising that they are not on holiday in Hawaii and wait, what was that sou -- 'OH SH** WHAT THE F***, SHOOT THE LITTLE B******S!'. The well-worn premise is invigorated by assured performances from Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as LT. Payton and Corporal Bower respectively, who are in turn helped by an unobtrusive script that is several light years ahead of Michael Bay back on Earth, with his borderline mentally-retarded fireball obsession.

'Alien' marks an early influence in the genesis of Pandorum, and Ripley's ghost hovers over the film as little space engineers and scientists scuttle through the dim corridors and engine guts of the mysterious spaceship Elysium. The film can be read as a successful synthesis of its influences, from the Cube start-point of confused protagonists waking up in a strange environment to the Event Horizon island madness that threatens to derail Bower and Co.'s attempts to get Elysium up and running in the final third.

And this huge spaceship, despite drifting in space, drives the plot forward at several points. Elysium is a citadel of hibernating people, launched from a predictably effed-up Earth with the sole intention of reaching Earth II (Tanis) so that the human race can continue to do the dirty and smoke post-coital cigs on the other side of the galaxy.

As with the more recent, and inferior, Predators film which follows a similar sci-fi riff with similar all-round competence, the plot struggles to maintain momentum towards its conclusion. Plot points feel forced towards resolution within the small time-frame and, though twists are reliably well-handled by director Christian Alvart and crew, the actual twists are pretty well-established film devices.

Pandorum is a strong sci-fi horror that goes some way to redressing the decade-long lobotomy that has been the Modern Blockbuster. Unfortunately the film bombed upon release back in 2009, cutting short talks of a trilogy.

In its skillful direction, strong acting and intriguing CGI savages however, Pandorum as a stand-alone film is an example of what can be achieved with studio productions. If only other people would kindly watch this rather than encouraging the recent rashes of big, friendly robots and square-jawed superheroes.
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