127 Hours

Ummm...some help please.

When I first heard Danny Boyle would be directing a film based on Aron Ralston’s true story about being trapped in a crevasse that would be called 127 Hours, my first thought was, “Please, God, don’t let him direct it in real-time!”

I’m not a fan of Boyle’s hyper visual style.  I thought his Slumdog Millionaire was the most overrated film of recent memory and the worst Best Picture Oscar winner in many moons.  But even as a naysayer, I can’t deny he’s become one of the premier auteurs for the “ADD-Hey-Mom-Look-at-Me!” generation that’s grown up on reality shows.  With Ralston’s harrowing true story, Boyle has finally found riveting subject matter to match his out-of-control eccentricities behind the camera.

The film begins in traditional head-throbbing, loud, over-edited Boyle fashion as Ralston (James Franco, excellent in an essentially one-man-show) heads out of town for a weekend of rock-climbing and hiking through Utah’s Blue John Canyon.  After a chance encounter with the lovely Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, Ralston once again heads off on his own and eventually falls down a crevasse with a rock that crushes his arm.  Thankfully Boyle is not so hapless as to fail to realize that the natural beauty of the setting, the vast expanse of “wilderness” and Ralston’s singular drama should be the focus.  When that focus hones in on one man’s dire predicament, Boyle enters a whole new ballgame.  It becomes a film where silence is golden, and the noises that arise (the sound of Ralston screaming, rocks being chiseled, bones cracking, thunder rolling) evoke an “in-the-moment” jolt to the audience.

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The Bizarre Appeal of Slumdog Millionaire

The increasing commercial success and critical accolades for Slumdog Millionaire continue to perplex and baffle me. When I originally saw the film in early December, I gave it a mixed review to be kind. In truth I loathed the film and found it morally repugnant, but with all the awards being showered on it, it made me question whether or not I missed something or totally misinterpreted the message.

For me the film was a simplistic love story wrapped around a contrived “rags-to-riches” plot device with character development done with a hacksaw, headache inducing visuals and editing, and an exploitative view of an exotic third-world locale. Yes, it had some interesting moments, and I certainly can see how on a surface level the colorful slums of Mumbai might appeal to Westerners thinking they were receiving some sort of lesson in Indian culture. The film’s cockeyed (and misguided) optimism certainly has struck a cord in these troubling times. But I can’t fathom all the undying love people have been proclaiming for Danny Boyle’s silly opus. Continue reading

A Review of “Slumdog Millionaire”

CAPTION:  How long will it be before Dev Patel and Freida Pinto bust out a Bollywood-style dance number?

Not Even Bizarrely Plausible, 8 December 2008
5/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A young call center worker from Mumbai with a rough-and-tumble past named Jamal (a likable Dev Patel) becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in the hopes that his true love (the beautiful Freida Pinto) will see him on TV and come back to him for good. Much of Slumdog Millionaire is done in flashbacks as the audience learns the personal story behind each of the questions. For some strange reason the filmmakers want us to think a person like Jamal wouldn’t normally know the answers to these random trivia questions, but he does because of his unique life story, see? Well, it’s a mildly interesting central conceit that quickly falls apart. At one point, a policeman questioning Jamal remarks that his story is “bizarrely plausible.” I wish I could say I felt the same. Continue reading

Home Movies Wrap Up Winter 2008

Is it just me, or is the 2008 movie season getting off to one of the worst starts in recent memory in terms of the quality of films?  While Hollywood jams the multiplexes with Oscar nominated films I’ve already seen and their Z-level garbage not good enough for year-end or summer releases, I decided to catch up with some films recently released on DVD.  Sadly, these films made 2007 seem not so hot either.  They include a historical epic, a horror remake, and a sci-fi flick that range in quality from “it’s so bad it’s good” to “transcendentally awful.”  I should’ve just seen There Will Be Blood for the fourth time and called it a day.

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Elizabeth - The Golden Age (Widescreen Edition)

Her Majesty!!!!!!!, 10 February 2008
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

It’s really not so odd that director Shekhar Kapur would wait nine years and then craft a loud, bombastic sequel to his only claim to fame, the lavish period drama “Elizabeth” which rightfully launched the career of uber-actress Cate Blanchett, in an attempt to resurrect his own floundering career. It is rather odd that Blanchett, a consummate actress of incalculable range, seems to never turn down a script, including this dud of a sequel to the film that first allowed her to shine. The oddest thing, however, is that the completely uncalled for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is actually quite entertaining and might’ve received higher praise had the intrusive music score not induced such a numbing headache.

Blanchett, of course, is terrific, and doesn’t seem to mind that the screenwriters have turned her signature character into a woman with split personalities: a raving love-scorned woman in private who constantly crumbles under pressure, and a powerful monarch who commands the wind and becomes a divinity to her people in public. Elizabeth has no character arc here like she did in the original film that saw her mature from frightened princess to calculating queen. The sequel suffers from this lack of development for its titular historical icon, but Blanchett rules the madhouse with an iron fist, chewing the scenery when necessary for dramatic effect and maximum entertainment value.

The sequel also suffers from too much focus on a silly love triangle involving Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh (an uninspired Clive Owen), and one of her ladies in waiting (a ravishingly gorgeous but ultimately lifeless Abbie Cornish). The rest of the film covers events that were already treated in a more respectful and quietly powerful manner in HBO’s miniseries starring Helen Mirren. These include Elizabeth’s divisive relationship with Mary Stuart (a blistering Samantha Morton doing an entertaining bit of over-acting), and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, whose sinking is done up in a rock opera style that serves as a guilty pleasure to watch.

Meanwhile, director Kapur, who never saw an overhead shot, candlelit scene, or 360 degree crane movement he didn’t love, uses his bigger budget to ridiculously grand effect creating immaculate set designs populated with over the top costuming and epic pageantry. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is completely unnecessary, but despite some of its stunning ineptitude, it turns out not to be a colossal waste of time and will entertain those who will allow it to bludgeon them. Where the first film was a smart period piece inspired by “The Godfather”, the silly sequel is a dumb art-house film inspired by obnoxious action flicks. Blanchett, who hopefully will become more selective in her roles as she ages, oddly seems at home in both. I’m not sure if that’s the mark of a great actress or a desperate movie star.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0414055/usercomments-141

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Halloween - Unrated Director's Cut (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)

Dreary Rehash from Zombie, 11 February 2008
5/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*The following is a review of the unrated director’s cut:

Say what you will, but Rob Zombie is a director of considerable technical talent who knows how to frame tension-filled scenes, utilizes rock music as another character in his films, and shock audiences with his juxtaposition of pristinely photographed shots and extreme quick-cuts of brutality. Why he would decide to do a remake of the original “Halloween” is anyone’s guess. Granted his original works have been far from masterpieces, but with such innate skill, one wonders what Zombie would be able accomplish as a for-hire genre director. Instead he continues to wallow in the muck of the horror film gutter and debase his audiences through the display of his own sick obsessions.

The actual remake portion of the film (the last 45 minutes) is fairly well done and probably would’ve worked had Zombie not made the three teenage girls stalked by Michael Myers such annoying and unsympathetic characters. The “chase” scenes are well staged and Zombie throws in some decent scenarios not found in the original. The climax is an entertaining combination of classic 80’s style horror where you are screaming at the female lead for being so stupid and modern horror grisliness where you feel sick to your stomach after enduring it.

Zombie leads up to this with 45 minutes of wildly offensive exposition giving us details on Michael Myers’ life we never cared to know. Part of the thrill of the original was the mystery behind Myers’ insanity. Zombie plays up the “tortured childhood” aspect in his signature white-trash-nightmare style and makes the adult Myers too superhuman to be truly feared. It’s a calculated gamble to add this new layer, and it doesn’t pay off. In the end, “Halloween” is perfectly watchable for horror buffs, but why would anyone waste their time with Zombie’s monster of a movie when they could just sit down with the original?

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0373883/usercomments-779

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Sunshine

Messy Space Opera Implodes, 11 February 2008
3/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

At some point in the future scientists discover the sun is dying and send a team of non-characters on an obvious suicide mission to, well, I guess stop the sun from dying. Yes, the plot of “Sunshine” is that dumb. What’s amazing is how dead serious it is all treated by director Danny Boyle. This is one of those sci-fi films where characters stand around talking lots of technical jargon designed to trick viewers into thinking the plot is plausible, and then get overly emotional and start yelling when the mission goes horribly awry.

Boyle has always been one of those directors with an obnoxious visual style (lots of hand-held camera work, an obsession with bright whites and golds, and quick-cuts) who somehow manages to tell decent stories. The zombie melodrama “28 Days Later” and the kids flick “Millions” were good in-spite of Boyle’s nauseating cinematography. “Sunshine” has no such luck as the story never makes any sense. While it does boast some amazing space visuals of the craft hurtling towards the sun, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in a dozen other sci-fi flicks. The special effects, when not subverted completely by Boyle, make the film marginally watchable.

The film eventually devolves into “emo” nonsense and has a pointlessly tacked-on horror element thrown in at the last minute for no apparent reason other than Boyle clearly ran out of ideas. “Sunshine” is one of those rare films where I had absolutely no idea what was going on most of the time, but I could see the hideous ending coming from a mile away.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0448134/usercomments-536