Sunday, January 16, 2011

So... How Were Those Movies?, Part 1

If you're a long-time reader here at the Tower you'll know that my first instinct upon watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a book, etc. is to compose my thoughts into a lengthy piece. That's fun for me, but as a consequence it means that I rarely ever get anything into print in a timely manner (if at all) to aid people in their decisions of what to see. So instead, I'll try to give some quick thoughts on the four movies from last week's list that we've seen so far. In short, they're all quite good and all worth seeing, but for very different reasons.

127 Hours

Directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting)
Starring James Franco (Milk, Spider-Man, "Freaks and Geeks")

127 Hours is a retelling of the true-life tale of Aron Ralston who got his right arm trapped by a large boulder while climbing alone in a slot canyon near Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Because he hadn't told anyone specifically where he was going, he was ultimately forced to amputate his own arm after being trapped there for the titular 127 hours.

Danny Boyle's direction is a little over-the-top at times. It's such a simple story that he must have felt the need to jazz it up with some camera tricks. Unfortunately they're for the most part distracting without adding anything useful to the film. Add in an overwrought score by A.R. Rahman (he did the Bollywood-infused Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack), and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

Considering that the majority of the movie consists of Aron trapped by himself in the canyon, you'd better get an enjoyable acting performance out of your lead. I'm pleased to say that James Franco is up to the task. Equal parts gritty, touching, and humorous, Franco's performance overcomes the rest of the movie's faults and is the main reason to see this. Even if you're not a fan of anything that you've seen him do in the past, there's a good chance you'll like this.

For all of the faults in the direction and music, they both come together wonderfully in the climactic scene where Ralston is forced to hack his arm off. If you are at all squeamish about blood, you may want to close your eyes here. For those of you with iron stomachs, enjoy 127 Hours at its best. Recommended.

The King's Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper ("John Adams")
Starring Colin Firth (Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary, "Pride and Prejudice"), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shine, Elizabeth), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Harry Potter's 5, 6, & 7, Sweeney Todd), Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential, The Hurt Locker)

Who would have thought that you could make a compelling movie about a British royal and his st-st-stuttering speech impediment? I'm pleased to say that The King's Speech is an outstanding piece of film-making. With so many great actors in one place, it's almost inevitable that this would be good. It doesn't disappoint.

Colin Firth's speech patterns are simply amazing as he slips into the tightly wound persona of the man who would become King George VI. It's difficult to portray royalty with any degree of sympathy, but Firth does it here with aplomb. The tension as he prepares to deliver his pivotal speech signalling the start of Britain's involvement in World War II is gripping. Hooper does a smart thing here and takes a back seat, unlike Boyle in 127 Hours, letting Beethoven to do much of the work for him.

For me, the real star here is Geoffrey Rush as the King's unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue. It's good to see Rush get back to real quality acting, as opposed to just acting like a pirate. He delivers a performance that balances both the assertiveness and obeisance that one would need in order to work with a royal at a personal level.

If you have any misgivings about the subject matter because you think it would make for a boring movie, forget about it. I had very little in the way of expectations going in, and it completely blew me away. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's Oscar Preview Weekend!

As we do every year, this coming weekend is our annual Oscar preview movie watching blitz. We typically hop on a bus to a theater-rich part of town and watch 3 or 4 movies in one go. Does anybody have thoughts on more movies we should add to our list of options?

Our current list is:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
True Grit

All of the above are currently receiving an 8.4 or higher on IMDb, which would easily place them within the Top 250 of all time should those numbers hold. Granted there is a skew toward movies from the Internet age since people don't have a tendency to go back and rate older films, but that's still impressive.