127 Hours the new film from Slumdog Millionaire’s Academy Award-winning writer-director duo Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle feels like it was made in the titular time frame. The movie is choppy and fast-paced like the adventures of its daredevil protagonist Aron Ralston who amputated his own arm after an accident in the cavernous regions of Moab Utah in 2003. This kinetic style of filmmaking (similar to how Slumdog was produced) succeeds in artistically recreating the horrific events of those five painful days but prevents the audience from developing an essential emotional connection with the character and renders the movie limp with more style than substance.
The story begins with Mr. Ralston’s (played adequately by James Franco) ritualistic preparation for intense outdoors activities. He ignores his mother’s phone call (and it’s clearly not the first time he’s done this) so he can begin his extreme expedition that much faster. This selfish attribute is true to the character and foreshadows his eventual arc but Boyle stumbles around with irrelevant narrative detours involving a pair of female thrill-seekers and a barely-seen sister and ex-girlfriend. These subplots are ultimately counter-productive and feel out-of-place.
Instead of providing the character’s backstory through a traditional prologue we learn about Ralston’s past through his own sleep/food/water-deprived hallucinations while he’s stuck beneath a boulder at the bottom of a canyon. In this grim ill-fated state the audience is supposed to feel remorseful and on a basic level of human compassion we do. However it’s difficult to sympathize with a character as arrogant and narcissistic as Ralston who admits that he’s brought this situation on himself.
In terms of craft Boyle is at the top of his game. Aron’s spiritual breakthrough is dramatized by surreal visual sequences that deliver the most moving imagery in the entire film. His use of sound effects particularly enhanced the harrowing experience as do the realistic prosthetics used to depict his bloody sacrifice.
Though the film has the tension and suspense that made similarly-themed survival tales like Castaway and Rescue Dawn moving it lacks an introduction that builds a bond between audience and character debilitating the effect of Aron’s eventual triumph. Many will rejoice when they see Ralston emerge from his mountainous prison a wiser and more appreciative man but there’s never much reason to root for him throughout the picture unless you’re simply hoping for a happy ending.
After making a sparkling debut in 2004 with his first feature film the slacker comedy Napoleon Dynamite offbeat writer-director Jared Hess seemed poised for a fruitful career as an earnest more accessible alternative to hipster auteur Wes Anderson. But he stumbled a bit with his sophomore effort the uneven Mexican wrestling flick Nacho Libre despite Jack Black’s desperate mugging for laughs. And he falls apart completely with his latest comedy the crude maddeningly insipid Gentlemen Broncos.
It’s a shame too because Gentlemen Broncos held so much potential. Its trailers promised a lively battle of wits between a pompous sci-fi author played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and the teenage protege (Michael Angarano) from whom he plagiarized his latest bestselling novel. It could have been Hess’s Rushmore. But what the trailers don’t tell you is that Clement plays merely a supporting role in Gentlemen Broncos and that his character Dr. Ronald Chevalier virtually disappears after the film’s splendid setup. Clement is by far the best part of the film and when he isn’t on the screen the story devolves into an increasingly irksome blend of manufactured quirk and lame sight gags. Hess’s sense of humor has regressed to sub-adolescent levels with Gentlemen Broncos. Defecating snakes breast-puncturing blowdarts and jars of human testicles are just a few of the lowbrow delights that await the brave soul who attempts to make it through a viewing. When Clement returns at the end of the film and mounts a quixotic attempt to rescue it from the mire his heroic effort is sadly for naught: The disastrous fate of Gentleman Broncos was sealed long before.
An obsessed archaeologist named Kale (Luke Goss) is hidden away in the hills of the desert researching a Native American tribe that mysteriously disappeared. With the help of a well-meaning Indian historian (Russell Means) Kale discovers that a creature destroyed the tribe and he inadvertently unearths the remnants of the monster. Along with Goss the monster traps a rag-tag group of people including an alcoholic female sheriff (Emmanuelle Vaugier) a grizzled rancher (M.C. Gainey) a wise-cracking dude (Charlie Murphy) and others. To their horror this creature is a ruthless and cold-blooded killer who picks them off one by one. Although there are some character actors doing what they do best--especially Means as the wise and haughty Native American grandfather--in general the acting is pretty mediocre. Vaugier tries to do more with her role as the outcast alcoholic who's trying to hold onto her job as the local sheriff but ultimately it's one note. As is Goss as the obsessed scientist desperately trying to bring some veritas to his performance. Actually the very weirdly-shaped creature is the best actor of the bunch and that's not saying much. Matthew Leutwyler made a splash with his zombie comedy musical Dead and Breakfast and tries to follow up with Unearthed. He has assembled a competent special effects team to create one helluva creature--not your usual garden-variety monster here. This creature spits balls of acid which turn into worm-like things that burrow into people's skin. The creature also seems to have claws for hands and needles that come out of his skeleton. Nice image huh? Good thing Unearthed has such a scary villain because this film otherwise would be dullsville.
We meet our lovers in the Bahamas. Jared (Paul Walker) is a dive bum looking for his big break. Samantha (Jessica Alba) Jared's devoted girlfriend is happy handling sharks at the Atlantis resort and living with her man in a trailer on an idyllic beach. Wouldn't we all? Except maybe the shark part. When Jared's best bud Bryce (Scott Caan) shows up with a new girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott) things get a little dicey. It starts off when the four divers discover a legendary shipwreck rumored to contain millions in gold. Soon visions of wealth and greed are swimming in their heads. But also nearby on the ocean floor is a sunken plane full of cocaine. Uh-oh. The friends make a pact to keep quiet about both discoveries so they can excavate the shipwreck and claim it before a rival treasure hunter Bates (Josh Brolin) can beat them to it. Of course their plan goes awry as plans are wont to do. The nefarious smugglers looking for their underwater stash are lurking about. So Bryce and Amanda come up with a new plan of their own. You know nothing good is going to come of this.
Into the Blue is a perfect vehicle for its four lead hotties especially Walker. He's at best when he doesn't have to say too much and can just stand there looking buff and beautiful. At least Walker has played it pretty smart with his career up to this point. He's so far resisted trying on an accent and doing a period drama content being the pretty boy who makes action movies such as The Fast and the Furious and its sequel. And that's just fine by us. As his sultry paramour Alba--who's having quite a year with Sin City and Fantastic Four under her belt--isn't required to do much either but look stunning in her scantily clad wardrobe. She'll no doubt be the reason most of the male population will flock to see this. But when it comes down to protecting herself from the bad guys she can also wield a pretty mean machete. Her Sam has got a lot of guts evoking images of her character in the ill-fated TV show Dark Angel. Rounding out the cast is Scott (Alba's Dark Angel co-star) as the lanky Amanda a squirrelly girl with her own agenda and Caan as the snarky Bryce. The Ocean's Eleven actor is great at playing the hothead you want to slap for being so clueless but who grows on you nonetheless.
Into the Blue tells us that there is $6 billion worth of buried treasure in the world's oceans just waiting to be discovered with a major portion of it buried near the Bahamian islands. If that isn't enough incentive to just chuck everything go live in the Bahamas and be a treasure hunter then feasting your eyes on the scenery in this movie just might do the trick. After helming Blue Crush in lush Hawaii director John Stockwell--who's definitely a sucker for surf and sand as well as the word "blue" in the title of his films--gets his feet wet again in Into the Blue. Really wet. Shooting a film in which three-quarters of it is underwater was an arduous task especially on the actors who all had learn how to free dive which is snorkeling in deep water for extended periods of time. But much like its obvious inspiration The Deep Into the Blue is really all fluff without much substance. It's just a giant excuse to watch beautiful people frolicking in beautiful backdrops with sharks drug dealers and action sequences thrown in for good measure. And you know that really isn't such a bad thing.