“127 Hours” review

Consider what a miracle “127 Hours” is.

Based on the true story, it is a ridiculously entertaining film that works on the smallest of scales. It’s essentially a one-man show. The one man being James Franco as the adventurous young man Aron Ralston, and the show being his struggle to free himself when a boulder pins his arm in an isolated Utah canyon. Where some movies operate on a scale with dozens of varying sets and characters to tell their story, “127 Hours” almost entirely takes place in one little crevice with one character. That it never bores us and often captivates us is the miracle.

The director, Danny Boyle (helmer of “Trainspotting” and recent Oscar darling) is famous for his kinetic visual style, and the way he applies that style to whatever story he’s tackling. And so it’s no surprise that his direction for “127 Hours” is absolutely remarkable. His great accomplishment is the way that he displays through visceral technique what Aron is going through. Boyle uses cinematography and sound effects to achieve a feeling that other directors would simply explain with dialogue. He evokes more emotion with the tilt of a camera angle than most movies do in their entire running time. To put it plain and simple, the sheer style and vibe that this movie carries is invigorating, fresh, and exciting.

Franco’s performance as Aron Ralston is a stunner. He’s in virtually every frame of the film, so its safe to say the movie makes-or-breaks on his work. But after years of promising work in stuff like “Milk” and “Pineapple Express”, “127 Hours” is his grand delivery, on the long-held promise of an amazing actor. He goes through the full emotional spectrum in this film, from upbeat to frustrated to lethargic to awed to determined in a matter of seconds. He’s brilliant, and is cemented here as a force to be reckoned with.

Another thing of note is the dazzling cinematography. They capture the vistas of isolated Utah with the beauty and clarity of a nature documentary, and the landscape feels like a character in and of itself. A.R. Rahman’s guitar-and-percussion-oriented score provides a propulsive, energetic beat for the film to follow.

“127 Hours” is an emotional and visceral dazzler. The film stirred feelings in me that I haven’t felt at the movies in ages, provoked thoughts that I hadn’t considered. The story behind it is a testament to the human spirit, and the film a testament to pure movie magic. A

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” review.

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“These are dark times, there is no denying.”

These are the words that open “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I”, and these are the words that begin the final lap in this five-billion-grossing juggernaut of a franchise. The three protagonists, Harry, Ron and Hermione, are no longer in the magical academy that served as the location of the first six films, Hogwarts, but are now on the run from the evil Lord Voldemort and his forces.

To prepare for the inevitable duel between Harry and Voldemort, Harry and his friends plan on finding and destroying Horcruxes, which are little pieces of Voldemort’s soul contained in everyday objects. The hope is that it will weaken him, and make the odds more in Harry’s favor. While in the woods, the trio all face various doubts about their future as friends, their roles in this large-scale conflict, and the future of the world they live in.

This of course means this is a more moody, reflective and emotional “Potter” than we’re used to, and this means that many people will be put off. As for me, watching the characters that have been slowly developed for 9 years face challenges and doubts was very compelling stuff. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” is a compelling, emotional, occasionally heartbreaking film, that just so happens to belong to the biggest franchise in cinema history.

The lead actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are all the best they’ve ever been. It is nothing short of a miracle that they have grown into their roles the way they have over the course of ten years, since filming on the first one began. Emma Watson in particular has really developed as an actress, look for the scene where she must erase all her parents’ memories in order to preserve their safety.

The greatest feat of the “Potter” series has been its balance between the subtle and the spectacular, and no clearer is this on display than in “Deathly Hallows”. It says a lot when in a $300 million dollar blockbuster, the quiet moments are just as memorable as the action set pieces. Take for example a scene in which during a moment of frustration and sadness, Harry leads Hermione in a spontaneous dance to a Nick Cave song. It’s a sign of how far they’ve come, both as friends and as people, and may be the most simply beautiful moment in all the series. That’s not to discredit the action in this film, which although somewhat rare, is impeccably filmed and simply put, gets you really freakin’ pumped.

“Deathly Hallows: Part I”‘s greatest weakness is that it never feels like its own complete, coherent story arc – but that’s a bit redundant, isn’t it? Some lines are poorly delivered, some visual effects approach cartoonishness, but in the grand scheme of things, in the great, grand vision of “Harry Potter”, it doesn’t really matter much.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” is more than just another entry in this nine-year-running series; it’s a mature, emotional, brooding but ultimately sweeping film. It nails a blend of emotion, character and spectacle, and showcases just how far a once-kid-friendly endeavor has come. To quote Ron, it’s brilliant. A-

“Unstoppable” review

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Consider me not a fan of Tony Scott.

His films are the absolute epitome of style over substance. And considering that he only does action movies and thrillers, normally I would be fine with that, but Scott’s style gets really annoying, really fast. He fails to realize fast-paced cutting and shaky camera-work does not comprise any sort of energy, it’s just showy and annoying.

Which is why I’m very surprised that all of these elements play to the advantage of his latest movie, “Unstoppable”. In it, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine play train conductors that must do whatever they can to stop a runaway train from obliterating a good deal of southern Pennsylvania (see, most of the cars are loaded with explosive chemicals).

“Unstoppable” is a movie that, like the locomotive it revolves around, gradually builds up momentum and pace as it goes on. It’s a tautly paced, constantly entertaining actioner, and a damn-near perfect example of the three-act plot structure.

Washington and Pine are the principal leads in this movie, and the dynamic between the two is very entertaining to watch. It’s a familiar “old guy-new guy to the job” type deal, but their performances make it work. It’s also something of a pleasure to see Chris Pine, as he hasn’t been in a film since his breakout role as Kirk in the “Star Trek” reboot. Also Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, and the ever-reliable Rosario Dawson are all decent in their various supporting roles.

The whole cast as a whole, however, does something of a miracle: Making a cliched script seem new, urgent, and exciting. Mark Bomback’s script is inarguably the film’s greatest weakness, because of how rehashed and predictable it can be at times. There’s no doubt the movie draws you in for its whole duration, but you can still guess virtually every beat this movie hits.

Overall, “Unstoppable” is a predictable, but thrilling and compelling thriller. It does what all great popcorn flicks do: Make you not want to get up from your seat even once. It overcomes its flawed script to achieve a kind of momentum and energy that’s, well, unstoppable. Pun intended.

3

“Due Date” review

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“Due Date” sports two of the most hilariously mismatched leads in a recent major motion picture. Zach Galifianakis; wild, clumsy, bearded, disheveled, and Robert Downey Jr; composed, handsome, dry, sarcastic. These differing personalties are the foundation of “Due Date”, the latest comedy from “Hangover” director Todd Phillips.

Downey plays Peter Highman, a strung-out guy who just wants to get home to California, to see the birth of his child. Enter Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring actor who is heading to California to pursue his dream in Hollywood. However, when the two are booted off an LA-bound flight, their only option of getting there is to rent a car and drive. Given that they cannot stand each other, chaos ensues.

“Due Date” is, to put it bluntly, a very, very funny movie, although in a somewhat messy fashion. It basically takes every joke it can, most with differing sensibilities (some dark humor, some slapstick), crams it into a 100-minute feature and sees what sticks. Due to the fantastic chemistry between the two leads, most of them do. Although many hilarious moments in “Due Date” revolve around some sort of broad physical humor, the best jokes are much more dark in humor: When Peter loses his temper and lays a young child out in the stomach, when Ethan inadvertently brews his father’s ashes into a coffee cup, etc. The movie pushes some boundaries with its humor, something I really appreciated and found to be comedically rewarding.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are both excellent in this movie. Galifianakis in particular has perfect comic timing, but one scene in this movie thoroughly impressed me: Look for the scene set in a rest-stop bathroom. In that scene alone, Zach goes through a full cycle of emotions that leaves you laughing, wincing, and by the end crying. No joke. “Due Date” is both a reminder of his great comedic talent, and an eye-opener to his dramatic talent.

Where “Due Date” triumphs unexpectedly, was in both giving Ethan and Peter an appropriate amount of comic outlandishness, but making them feel real, better yet: making you feel for them. There’s no doubt there are many moments where the characters are idiotic, annoying, or just plain cruel. But the leads make them feel like real people reacting in a situation, which makes the more all the funnier and in some cases, all the darker.

“Due Date” is no masterpiece. The fact that some subplots are built up and resolved in a moment’s time is somewhat frustrating, some jokes fall very flat. But who am I to deny the pleasures of 100 minutes of sheer comic insanity, with two actors I love and some genuinely touching moments? “Due Date” is a more than worthy and in some ways superior follow-up to the funniest movie of last year, and one of the most entertaining movies 2010 has had to offer.

35