Thursday, January 13, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

By Eric Jessen 1/13/2011

Might it have been a ground breaking film or a snuff nightmare? The showiness and overly beautified style of Danny Boyle's last film Slumdog Millionaire, cut and structured for the reality TV viewer with a short attention span, bleeds through in Boyle's new film 127 Hours. But what made Slumdog a two hour music video and poverty merely a road block for teen love doesn't overshadow the inherent messages in Aron Ralston's unbelievable story.
Who hasn't met a Ralston once in their life? He eats protein bars, drinks gatorade and gets high on testosterone and exhilaration. But this is the story of young exuberance being literally brought down to earth. The strength of Boyle's film is in showing how Ralston, played exceptionally well by James Franco (which will certainly earn him a best actor nomination), must come to terms with profound loneliness, and perhaps learn the idiocy and selfishness of his careless attitude, boasting to para-skying-bungee-mountain-biking friends about dances with death at the expense of his loved ones.
The issue with 127 Hours is Boyle's need to force the redemptive value of Ralston's experience in place of brutal honesty. Ultimately in showing Ralston's realization that he needs companionship to survive the movie screams Humanity too loud. The flashbacks of Ralston's shining moments in life feel too much like Kodak moments. The music by A. R. Rahman (who worked with Boyle on Slumdog) often feels too cute, as well as clips of old commercials for Juicy Fruit and Gatorade. The inevitable dismemberment scene which looms over the entire film is the only time Boyle truly challenges the audience and forces it to endure the horror of Ralston's experience. It is also the only time the cloud of Boyle's grinning technique is lifted.
A film portraying the nihilism and cruelty of the world was possible here. But not in the stomach of Danny Boyle. And perhaps for the better. The realities of Ralston's experience as well as the hardships of the world may be too unbearable to stand. The sensationalism of violence and perversion in film will never be as unwatchable as the truth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mom and Mom, the King and the Kids

By Eric Jessen January 1st, 2011

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Since its conception film has been the people's medium. Giving the people what they want, violence and particularly sex have been the basis for the vast majority of movies. (It's no mystery why Pauline Kael gave her books titles like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and When the Lights Go Down.) But similar to the general population I'm not sure the film industry fully understands homosexuality. Hollywood has yet to learn how to effectively do gay sex. So it came as no surprise the new film The Kids Are All Right, portraying the modern American family – two moms and a donor – couldn't resist giving one of its lesbian main female characters a proper heterosexual fucking, doggy-style and the works. What saves The Kids Are All Right is at least for the first hour it doesn't take itself too seriously. Don't be fooled by the title. This film doesn't purport to be “progressive,” and the subtextual message about the legitimacy of multiple mom or dad families isn't shoved down our throats. The Kids Are All Right makes room for some tickling satirical humor. Whole Foods shopping, green obsessing, California liberals are this film's punching bag if an easy and tired one.
Just as satirizing upper-middle class couples dining-out conversations over a bottle of wine about composting and yogurt stopped being cute, The Kids Are All Right took its inevitable serious turn. This is where it becomes an extremely cliched family drama. The Julianne Moore mom feeling that she's not appreciated is portrayed in a scene where the Annette Bening mom is too busy for the bathtub because of a work related phone call. And when Mia Wasikowska as the prudish daughter finds out one of her moms slept with her donor dad she lets out her anger by getting drunk at a party and attempting to suck face with her equally prudish and possible homosexual best friend.
As the title indicates the kids end up all right, and mom and mom do too. What else could we expect from the people's medium. As long as they go home feeling like they learned something.

The King's Speech (2010)

On the conveyor-belt of British films The King's Speech is this year's fit for the store front. Between the British people's old-fashioned respect for royalty, effeminate sensibility and insecurity, dry humor and pride in stubbornness and perseverance, the inevitable Academy Award Best Picture nominee is the sum of its parts. Colin Firth's King George VI overcoming his stammering is only as uplifting as its subject matter is propped up to be. Perhaps brought on by one too many contrived life affirming, confidence assuring nods by the King's speech therapist (played to type by Geoffrey Rush) in the final minute, The King's Speech depresses rather than uplifts and diminishes one's faith in the state of creativity and independence in film.