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Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was my film of the year for 2009 – a potent and punchy roller-coaster ride of a film that made everything for months after­wards seem quaintly old-fashioned. His new film, 127 Hours, doesn’t break the mould to quite the same degree but does fea­ture sim­il­ar styl­ist­ic effects: mess­ing with time and struc­ture, split-screens, dom­in­eer­ing soundtrack, etc.

The new film is also an adapt­a­tion of pre­vi­ously exist­ing mater­i­al, Aron Ralston’s mem­oir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and once again Boyle has col­lab­or­ated with screen­writer Simon Beaufoy (notori­ous in New Zealand for The Full Monty). Ralston (played by James Franco) was an engin­eer by trade but an out­doors­man by inclin­a­tion and he loved to roam the Utah canyons on bike and on foot. In 2003 he fall into a nar­row rav­ine and his right arm was trapped by a boulder. He was there for five days before real­ising that the only way he was going to walk out was if he left the arm behind.

There were sev­er­al moments on Friday night where fel­low audi­ence mem­bers were forced to look away – unne­ces­sar­ily it turns out as the most gory moments are hin­ted at rather than shown and Glenn Freemantle’s sound design does more than enough to let you know what’s going on between the dull knife and Ralston’s flesh – but it’s Ralston’s psy­cho­lo­gic­al jour­ney that’s most important.

While I was impressed by the beau­ti­ful Utah visu­als (and Franco’s ener­get­ic and com­mit­ted per­form­ance) this time around I wasn’t con­vinced that Boyle’s cine­mat­ic fire­works were entirely appro­pri­ate for the story he was try­ing to tell. A good, inter­est­ing, worth­while (and at the Embassy very noisy) film.

Astonishingly, it took no less than ten cred­ited writers to pro­duce the fin­ished script for Gnomeo & Juliet – not least ori­gin­al play­wright William Shakespeare who prob­ably should have a word with his agent. Two feud­ing fam­il­ies of gnomes live side by side in sub­urb­an Stratford-upon-Avon. Like the toys in Toy Story they only come to life when their humans aren’t look­ing but unlike Toy Story the voices are drawn from British film and tele­vi­sion cul­ture: ven­er­able Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Patrick Stewart along­side brit­com stal­warts Matt Lucas and Stephen Merchant plus com­plete non sequit­urs like Dolly Parton, Hulk Hogan and Ozzy Osbourne.

You have to admire it’s campy com­mit­ment (every scene a dif­fer­ent Elton John song!) but I found its relent­less verbal and visu­al pun­ning exhaust­ing rather than entertaining.

In the 22 years between When Harry Met Sally and No Strings Attached we’ve gone from “men and women who are attrac­ted to each oth­er can’t be friends” to “men and women who have sex with each oth­er can’t be friends” and there you have the decline of Western civil­isa­tion in a nut­shell. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are two attract­ive young people try­ing to have a simple sex-only rela­tion­ship in present day Los Angeles. Of course, this is a Valentine’s Day rom-com so there has to be the usu­al quota of meet-cutes, wacky room­mates, embar­rass­ing exes, etc., as well as a last minute dash across town to pre­vent a dis­astrous … you get the picture.

Director Ivan Reitman has noth­ing to prove after Ghostbusters but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t even try – gags fall flat and everyone’s tim­ing is slightly off. No Strings Attached attempts the same sort of sexu­al frank­ness as last year’s Love and Other Drugs but is dis­ap­point­ingly coy about nud­ity which seems a bit hypo­crit­ic­al really.

In Fair Game, Sean Penn and Naomi Watts play real life couple Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, who were almost des­troyed by the Bush Administration in polit­ic­al retali­ation after Wilson revealed one of the President’s big­ger lies in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Plame was a highly regarded CIA oper­at­ive – so far under­cov­er that only Wilson and her par­ents knew what she did for a liv­ing. Wilson was a former Ambassador for the Clinton admin­is­tra­tion and no friend to the neo-cons who were determ­ined to re-make the Middle East to their own dubi­ous specifications.

Essentially a cine­mat­ic ver­sion of an exten­ded Vanity Fair art­icle, Fair Game depress­ingly reminds us how evil that mob of cret­ins were and how dark those times. Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) oper­ates his own cam­era and can’t seem to keep it still but everything else about the film is more than accept­able, par­tic­u­larly screen­writer Jez Butterworth’s insist­ence on treat­ing his audi­ence like reas­on­ably well informed adults.

Interestingly, the print of Fair Game at Readings was the poorest I’ve seen com­mer­cially in Wellington in nearly three years while the digit­al present­a­tion of 127 Hours at the Embassy was simply stun­ning. That’s no reflec­tion on Readings who main­tain con­sist­ently high present­a­tion stand­ards but they can only work with what they’ve got – dirt, scratches, flick­er and digit­al sound drop-outs all marred a film that deserved better.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 February, 2011.


  • mafalda says:

    About 127 hours, I also had mixed feel­ings about Boyle’s ‘cine­mat­ic fire­works’ as you call them… but I must admit they worked one me. I got anxious about ‘will he sur­vive?’ des­pite I knew the answer! I think they aim to really make you feel the adren­aline, which plays a key role in Ralston’s life and survival.

    • Dan says:

      Like most of Boyle’s recent work I’ll give it a second go. My feel­ings about the style may have been affected by the ear-splitting Embassy volume. Maybe an even­tu­al home view­ing will work bet­ter for me.

      And I cer­tainly enjoyed it, I want to reas­sert that.

  • Ethan Tucker says:

    Dan, love the reviews, but I hope you’ll for­give me for point­ing out that it’s Reading sin­gu­lar rather than plur­al or pos­sess­ive. Now excuse me while I move on to chas­tising my Auckland friends for their inex­plic­able ref­er­ences to a pos­sess­ive “Hell’s Pizza”… Yes, my life is a whirl­wind of giddy highs such as these.