Danny Boyle has reached a point in his career where he makes it all look easy.
"127 Hours," based on the true story of Aron Ralston, is a difficult piece of material to turn into a compelling theatrical experience, no matter how much the idea of his story might engage people automatically. Ralston was a canyon climber, an outdoorsman who loved to push himself by driving to remote locations alone and exploring. During one such expedition, he slipped on a loose rock, fell into a canyon, and the rock fell on him, pinning his arm to the wall. He was forced to spend 127 hours there until his eventual fate, and the film traces that experience.
So, yes… to answer the obvious question, much of the film is just James Franco by himself at the bottom of the canyon. But even saying that, it doesn't really explain the experience, and that's because the script by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy is very smart, very emotionally direct, and the ways they open up the by-nature claustrophobic situation are all in service of allowing us to share Aron's experience in some small way. James Franco is a big part of why it works, and to explain why I think "127 Hours" is so special, I sort of have to drag another film into the conversation by comparison.
I'm not a fan of "Buried," which Lionsgate will release on September 24, and when I saw it at Sundance, I remarked on how I respect the effort even if I don't like the end result. That's the movie that is almost entirely set inside a coffin where Ryan Reynolds has been buried alive, and as hard as Reynolds and the director work, I just didn't buy it. It's a lot of energy in service of a script that never really made me believe the premise or the peril.
Danny Boyle has reached a point in his career where he makes it all look easy.
James Gunn has made the ultimate Troma movie with his new deranged superhero black comedy "Super," and I say that with all the mixed feelings that would suggest.
To be honest… it made me kinda gooshy.
I don't love Troma movies. I get the appeal, but for the most part, it's too corny, too gross, too lowbrow for me. I can't laugh ironically, so I can't really laugh. Just doesn't do it for me. I've seen most of the Troma "classics," and I certainly respect that Lloyd Kaufman built this legendary exploitation house out of pretty much nothing. I really like that James Gunn got his start with Troma and that he's definitely continued to fly his freak flag long after getting over the walls of Hollywood. So if anyone was going to finally make an authentic Troma film that just happened to star real recognizable movie stars, it was going to be him.
You're going to hear a lot of comparisons between this film and "Kick-Ass," but they were chasing totally different goals. "Kick-Ass" is about a bunch of deeply broken people, but they do manage to become heroes of a sort, and Matthew Vaughn's film traded heavily on the iconography of superhero cinema so far in an affectionate way. "Super" is something else entirely, more akin to a "Taxi Driver" with dick jokes than any other superhero film. It's a sad film, with waaaaaaay more religion than you might expect, and it grapples with some wild shifts in tone.
I consider John Carpenter a friend, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say that.
What you're about to read isn't a particularly hard-hitting piece of journalism. I've written two films that John's shot in the last few years, "Cigarette Burns" and "Pro-Life." Both were for the "Masters Of Horror" series. My writing partner and I have talked to him about various other potential projects to make, and we're all three determined that we're going to figure out what the right film is, and as soon as we do, we're going to make it.
This is just me talking to John about his return to the bigscreen, something that's long overdue, and him being uncommonly kind. I'll be there Monday night to see "The Ward," and I'm speaking as a longtime fan when I say that I hope it's awesome and a complete return to form.
No pressure... right?
This conversation took place via phone one day last week, as I was sitting at home at my desk. Phone rang, I turned on the recorder, and... well, this happened:
John Carpenter: Is this the legendary and blindingly handsome Drew McWeeny?
Drew McWeeny: Rumor has it that this is John Carpenter, legendary horror film filmmaker.
I haven't read Ned Vizzini's novel, so I can't judge it, but I can judge the movie that was adapted from it, written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the couple behind "Half Nelson" and "Sugar."
Those are both very good movies.
This is not.
Earlier in the day, I saw the new animated film "The Illusionist," which several people walked out of over the relatively brief running time of 80 minutes. I was a little surprised by that, frankly, and mentioned it on Twitter, leading to a long conversation back and forth between several different groups of people I know about the entire idea of walking out on movies. Some claim to never do it, other said they'd do it but wouldn't review the movie at all. Some debated when it's appropriate. The funny part about all of that is that I don't walk out on movies. Not often. The last one was, I believe, "Miss Congeniality" in its theatrical opening weekend, however long ago that was.
And yet just a few hours after that conversation, I found myself seriously debating getting up and walking out of "It's Kind Of A Funny Story," an agonizingly phony piece of work that struggles to be a sort of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" for teenagers, but which ends up regurgitating platitudes in place of any genuine insight or emotion. There's a musical number about 2/3 of the way into the film… seriously… where the patients of this mental hospital imagine themselves doing "Under Pressure," complete with Zach Galifianakis done up in glam rock gear and lip-synching to David Bowie… seriously. And I was so embarrassed, so uncomfortable with the total lack of recognizable human behavior in the film that I strongly debated getting up and leaving. I even considered writing a whole piece about the idea that I don't walk out of films, but I had to walk out of this one.
It's been a preposterous amount of time since Mark Romanek's last film, "One Hour Photo" was released, and in that time, he's flirted with making various big-budget studio dramas. In the end, though, both circumstance and opportunity conspired to bump Romanek off his last almost-movie, "The Wolf Man," which is a very good thing, indeed, because if he'd made that film, he would not have been available to make this film, and that would have been a loss.
"Never Let Me Go," adapted by screenwriter Alex Garland from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a marvel of economy in storytelling, spare and solemn and heartbreaking, and Romanek has brought the film to luminous life, carefully constructing his film so that much of what is left unsaid is made clear through his visual representation of a world running down, rot at the edge of things. I've seen people tying themselves in knots trying to discuss the film without giving any spoilers away, but that seems silly to me. The film certainly gives you all the information you need right up front, and there's no "twist" to protect. If you're overly nervous about knowing anything about the movie, then just know that I recommend the film with one caveat: this movie will not hold your hand. Whatever reactions you have to it will be earned, not spoon-fed.
The movie posits an alternate version of our world where cloning technology was created in the '50s, and by the late '70s, when the film begins, it has been perfected. An entire generation of clones is being raised for spare parts for a world that has made the collective ethical decision to treat these walking organ farms with the illusion of freedom, while never actually acknowledging their humanity. You can't, after all, because if you do think of them as human, then what right does anyone have to their organs or tissue or blood or bone? If they are more than the sum of their spare parts, then they aren't spare parts at all.
There are a number of working filmmakers right now whose work I approach with excitement and anticipation, which is part of the fun of something like the Toronto International Film Festival. When I look at the list of films playing, I look not only at the film or the title or the synopsis, but the filmmaker. Movies like "22nd Of May" and "Cold Fish" and "I Saw The Devil" made it onto my list of films to see this week because of who directed the films more than anything specific I read in the descriptions of the movies. There are only a few filmmakers who I consider truly world-class right now, though, guys whose every move demands attention. That doesn't mean I'll always love their work, but it does mean that their careers so far have convinced me that they approach film in a way that few of their peers can.
Darren Aronofsky is one of those filmmakers. He wasn't always. I liked "Pi" when I first saw it, and I think it's a great no-budget film with some real ambition. I don't think it all adds up in the end to a complete film for me, but first films are all about establishing a voice, and that voice was interesting enough to follow. "Requiem For A Dream" is amazing filmmaking, but it's so unrelenting in its efforts to disturb and punish the viewer that it's one of those films I've never revisited. I can't imagine seeing it again. I absorbed all the horror the first time, and I don't know that I ever want to invite that back into my head.
For me, things really turned a corner with "The Fountain," a film I love dearly even as I acknowledge that it is an acquired taste. I think the film is burnished to such a lovely finish that it leaves many viewers outside the experience, and that's a shame. It certainly felt like Aronofsky was polishing his aesthetic approach from film to film, and that technique came to a head with "The Fountain," a film that was a huge professional struggle for Aronofsky. It may have been an emotionally and personally draining process for him, something that seemed to be the case when I saw him at the end of that production, but the end result changed him as a filmmaker, and for the better, I'd say.
It was a crazy scene outside the Ryerson tonight when a truck pulled up, packed with pole dancers, Pilsner, and the stars of the movie "Fubar II." By the time they wrapped up a noisy rock and rap set and made their way up the red carpet, the theater was already filling up with rowdy fans who were there to witness history as, for the first time ever, a Canadian film opened the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Programmer Colin Geddes took the stage to introduce the film and had to yell over the cheering fans who were riled up to an amazing degree, energized and vocal. He brought out the filmmakers behind the short film that he referred to as "the opening band" for the evening, and then brought out director Michael Dowse, who seemed sort of dazed and amazed by the energy in the room. He thanked his producers, introduced a few people in the audience, and then brought out, to an insane standing ovation, Terry and Deener.
I've never seen the original "Fubar," and it sounds like that was more a matter of what sort of distribution deal was signed for the film than any sort of issue of quality. To be honest, I'd never even heard of the film until I saw the announcement that the sequel, "Fubar II," was set to open this year's Midnight Madness programming. As it turns out, you don't need to know the first film at all to enjoy the second film. If anything, it makes me want to hunt down the first film now so I can see how it all began. But "Fubar II" is a self-contained comedy that stands on it own successfully, and it is also one of the most surprising things I've seen in a theater this year.
I've been prepping for Toronto for the past two weeks, working at it like the OCD freak that I am, and it's only now, at the end of my first day at the fest, that I finally feel like I'm ready.
Well… I don't feel completely unprepared. Which is as close to "ready" as I'm going to get.
What does that mean to you here on the blog? What should you expect from Motion/Captured for the next week?
How does 35 reviews sound to you?
Last year, when I was at the fest, I didn't have a press badge. Even so, there was a ton of coverage here on HitFix between what I wrote and what Greg wrote. I think we offered up a pretty great glimpse of what was available at the festival in 2009, and I was happy with our coverage.
Not satisfied, though, and this year, I'm determined to do something I've never quite accomplished at any festival I've ever attended, no matter how hard I've tried. I'm going to try to publish something on every single one of the films I see.
I'm armed with a brand-new Macbook Pro, a busy-but-human schedule that has some writing time built into it, and a fairly detailed breakdown of where every screening is, where the nearest wi-fi can be found, and where I'm going to grab quick easy meals to keep myself going.
I can't believe I'm seeing this one tomorrow. It's my first film in Toronto when I get off the plane. I think Mark Romanek has been sadly underemployed making features so far, and I'll say this for him... he's getting faster. It was 17 years between his first film, "Static," and his second film, "One Hour Photo." This time, it's only been eight years. I'll expect at least one more film from him now before the world ends in 2012, and that makes me very happy, indeed.
In all seriousness, he's an amazingly smart guy in conversation and a huge lover of cinema, and as beautiful and memorable and important as his video work is, I know he's tried with features. He's had at least three movies implode as he worked on pre-production, big movie star movies, so it's a thrill to see that he's made something that people are responding to strongly. Even if people dislike it, they seem to be reacting and not just indifferent, and I imagine that's the worst thing a filmmaker can imagine... total bland indifference.
I love the novel this film is based on. I didn't know Kazuo Ishiguro's work at all until "Remains Of The Day" came out as a film, and I went back and read the book, amazed that it wasn't written by a manor-born Englishman, but instead by a Nagasaki-born Japanese artist who was raised in England in the '60s. That outsider's perspective informs all of his work, and it gives everything he writes this profound melancholy that imbues each line, each word, each moment.
Wow. Just as I'm gearing up to start posting some of the Toronto coverage we've already been working on here at HitFix for you, this shows up in my inbox. I can't believe I'm going to enjoy the lunacy of Fantastic Fest this month... that it's already been a year since the last one.
And with every single announcement, it sounds like this year's Fantastic Fest just keeps getting more and more... well... fantastic. Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren and "RED"? The ActionFest award-winning film "14 Blades"? The Bill Pullman events alone sound so geektastic that they just became a can't-miss, and that Indian film sounds... well, I'll let you read it for yourself.
Check this out:
"Fantastic Fest, the largest genre festival in the U.S., is excited to announce additional films to its mind-blowing roster of features & shorts. Highlights of this announcement are the US premiere of the hyper-stylized action film Bunraku, a sneak preview of Darren Bousman’s terrifying new horror-thriller film, Mother’s Day (featuring a bravura performance by Rebecca DeMornay), and the world premiere of Agnosia, the latest film from Fantastic Fest 2005 Alumnus Eugenio Mira.