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Posts Tagged ‘James Franco’

I’m hearing a lot at the moment that Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem and The Future Is Bound To Be Better, but even so, I can’t help feeling a bit startled by the optimisim of opening a vast new shopping centre just right now. And yet this is what someone has done: said edifice dominates Oxford city centre like a necropolis for branded goods. The sheer scale of the space seems intended to make one feel tiny, and psychologically bullied into going into a relay outlet to propitiate the trade gods with some kind of financial libation. JG Ballard would have written a novel about it; I went there to watch a movie, of course.

Said cinema is on the roof of the place and is definitely up towards the luxury end of the scale – very much more a winebar than a coffee shop or sweet seller. The staff all seem terribly keen, too, although the decor incorporates different-coloured seats randomly mixed up together (which did my head in) and the place is still so new it has an all-pervading smell of paint. I was left feeling rather nauseated by this, after finding myself unable to hold my breath for the 100 minutes or so I spent watching James Franco’s The Disaster Artist.

the-disaster-artist-poster

Speaking of optimism and pessimism, success and failure, I am struck by the fact that, for all that Hollywood loves making films about the movie business, there are very few films about the making of genuine classic movies. No fictional accounts of how The Godfather came to be, or Lawrence of Arabia, or 2001 (yes, obviously there may be a mileage differential here). On the other hand, they did a movie about the origins of Plan Nine from Outer Space (this seminal production is covered in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood) and a film has now appeared about how Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero overcame the drawbacks of having no discernible talent or experience and made what’s generally considered one of the worst movies of the 21st century, The Room.

The Disaster Artist opens with a sort of ho-ho-ho-ironic-sensibility sequence in which various hip and cool folk come on and talk about their admiration for The Room – one of them is JJ Abrams, who is on very thin ice when it comes to mocking other people’s films, if you ask me. Hey ho. Suffice to say this initial sequence gives the impression that there’s a central joke here which you really have to be in on to fully appreciate the film.

This does not last, however, as the story gets underway and we meet Greg (Dave Franco), a keen wannabe actor unencumbered by talent or presence, and Tommy (James Franco), a bizarre and enigmatic figure who looks like a vampire saxophonist and talks like a Russian Star Trek alien. An unlikely friendship develops between the two, as they bond through playing football very badly and giving impromptu dramatic recitations in crowded restaurants.

Much to the concern of Greg’s family, the duo end up heading off to Los Angeles in an attempt to make it in the movie business. Greg is marginally successful, Tommy is not, and in the end Greg suggests they stop knocking on the door of an industry which seems (quite sensibly) determined to ignore them and make their own movie.

Tommy duly bashes out the script for The Room, a drama about human behaviour, to star and be directed by him, also starring Greg, and co-starring a bunch of other actors who frankly have no idea what they’re letting themselves in for. But as the stresses of movie production increase, can the friendship between the two men survive?

Full disclosure: I have managed to make it well into my fifth decade on this plane of existence without ever actually seeing The Room. What can I say, maybe I’m cursed. I was a little concerned that you actually do have to have seen this legendary yapper in order to really appreciate The Disaster Artist, but I don’t think this is quite the case – obviously there’s a degree of in-jokiness about the whole project, but I still found it to be a very funny and engaging movie.

It is, first and foremost, a story about friendship under pressure – it struck me that there were very faint echoes of Withnail and I in this tale of struggling creative types, and the corrosive effects of bubbling resentment when your friend is more popular and successful than you are. But you’re never in doubt of the genuine friendship and affection between the characters played by the two Francos (perhaps unsurprisingly) and you never completely lose sympathy for Tommy Wiseau, regardless of how outlandishly strange and arbitrary his behaviour becomes.

Normally I would suggest that James Franco goes howlingly, soaringly over the top as Wiseau, were it not for the fact that Tommy Wiseau himself turns up at a couple of points in the film to show just how spot-on Franco’s impersonation of him is. He comes across as not just heroically weird, but weirdly heroic too – if you want a career as a creative person, I suppose you do need the kind of indestructible confidence in your own talent that Tommy has here. But how can you be sure you’re not engaged in making your own version of The Room? It’s a thorny question.

The Disaster Artist doesn’t worry overly about that and instead gets most of its mileage and best moments from its depiction of the making of The Room, which is basically presented as one man’s journey into creative megalomania. There are some very, very funny scenes, and Seth Rogen is good value as the bemused script supervisor attempting to act as the voice of sanity on the production. (Such is The Room‘s notoriety that various big names like Bryan Cranston and Zac Efron turn up in small roles throughout The Disaster Artist.) I share no spoilers, of course, if I reveal that the film concludes with Tommy as outlandishly enigmatic as ever and The Room on its way to becoming a genuine cult movie.

I’ve been fairly unkind about James Franco’s acting at various times in the past (someone I know does not have many kind things to say about his novel-writing, either), but The Disaster Artist is a bit of a triumph for him as both an actor and a director. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that a film as good and entertaining as this owes its existence to one as bad (but still apparently entertaining) as The Room. But there you go. Obviously, the world often doesn’t make as much sense as it should. There’s a time to worry about that, and a time to go and see films, and going to see The Disaster Artist would be a pretty sensible choice.

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Ah, the film career of Jason Statham: or as I always think of it, the gift that keeps on giving. While there is inevitably a shadow over the prospects of Mr Statham’s highest-profile release for 2014, Fast and Furious 7, this year has been a good one for Shirebrook’s most famous son – by which I mean that none of his films has been an Expendables, and one of them (Hummingbird) was genuinely really good. Now, with the Christmas season upon us, we have one last treat featuring the great man (and a supporting cast of actors whom, it must said, once looked set for better things than secondary roles in mid-budget genre movies).

This is not to say that Gary Fleder’s Homefront is by any stretch of the imagination a family-friendly Christmas movie. As you might expect, it is rather too high both in terms of its people-beaten-to-a-pulp quotient and effing-and-jeffing-o-meter for that. A higher-minded friend of mine might even find himself moved to describe it as another ‘dystopian opera of urban pain’ were it not for the fact that much of it takes place in the countryside.

Homefront_Poster

Jason Statham plays, as ever, the Jason Statham Character, who in this film is in his maverick cop incarnation: an uproariously silly opening sequence sees him working undercover with a gang of meth-dealing bikers (crystal meth is so modish these days), before taking them down in a shootout and bike chase that leaves the substance of his wig wholly unruffled.

Thankfully, at this point the film calms down and the action relocates to rural Louisiana, two years later. Following the unelaborated-upon death of his wife, the Jason Statham Character has retired to the remote countryside to raise his young daughter and renovate a rattly old house. Louisiana looks beautiful and for most of the movie, the direction is moody and effective, picking up on the details of small-town life.

One of the neater twists in the script is the way that what looks like a minor character moment actually turns out to be the inciting incident for the entire plot of the film: the local school bully tries to pick on Statham’s daughter and, being her father’s girl, she promptly lamps him. Statham is called in for a meeting with the school counsellor (Rachelle Lefevre), following which the other kid’s parents confront him, so he promptly goes in for a spot of lamping himself.

This does not sit well with the mother of the bully (an almost unrecognisable Kate Bosworth, whose A-list career was a casualty of the great Superman Returns disaster), who realises that her useless husband is not up to the task of restoring the family honour. So she gets on the phone to her brother Gator (James Franco). Gator is the local drugs manufacturer, but it’s his credentials as a general headcase that she’s more interested in. Through his girlfriend (Winona Ryder) he happens to have connections with some of the gangs that Statham, in his former life, was such a nuisance to, which may prove pertinent to the unfolding plot…

Now, it would really be stretching a point to claim that Homefront is anything more than a competently-made mid-range genre movie, but it does a very effective job of balancing the action and thriller beats this kind of film requires with a clever and coherent script that – for the most part – departs from the planet Earth no more than is absolutely necessary. I see the actual screenplay is based on a novel by Chuck Logan, but written for the screen by and up-and-coming young talent named… hang on a minute, let me check my notes… Sylvester Stallone. (Sylvester, huh? Sounds like a bookish, sensitive young chap.) Well, young Stallone me laddo, if you’re reading this, the script for Homefront is really quite good, and you have a great future ahead of you as a screenwriter – but I would still be careful not to get stuck in the action movie ghetto.

The film tries especially hard to make the escalation from playground clash of egos to full-auto matter of life and death seem half-way credible, and it succeeds up to a point. Unfortunately the story not only requires Statham to keep a massive personal arsenal under his bed (somewhat at odds with the careful nature of the character on this occasion), but also to have detailed files on all his past cases lying unsecured around the house, so this is at most rather qualified success.

Anyone hoping for another instance of Mr Statham really stretching himself as a performer, a la Hummingbird, is probably going to be disappointed, too. The closest thing to an innovation in his characterisation here is making him a single parent, and even here one is inevitably reminded of his relationship with Catherine Chan in last year’s Safe. This is yet another movie which ducks the possibility of giving Statham an actual on-screen romance, although there are hints of something potentially on the cards with Lefevre’s character. In the end it really just boils down to Statham doing his usual thing with his usual facility – the hard-man-code-of-honour-soft-side-no-nonsense-wise-cracking-one-liner thing. The fights are good this time, as are the one-liners (the best one comes at the end of a three-against-one fight and goes: ‘When I get home tonight, I’m going to tell my daughter a story. And this is how it ends:‘ *KER-THWOK*).

A definite plus to the movie, however, is the presence of James Franco as the chief antagonist. Franco’s not the most obvious choice of opponent for Statham, and I’ve been fairly rude about his acting on occasion in the past, but he manages to give Gator a dead-pan quirkiness that lifts him above the level of the stereotyped bad guy he could very easily have been. He’s an oddly likeable character, initially at least, even though the film also makes it quite clear that in many ways he’s an irredeemable scumbag.

But there isn’t anything particularly outstanding about Homefront – it’s a film of extremely modest ambitions that manages to hit the targets it sets itself in a highly polished and competent way. It’s a Jason Statham action thriller. It’s a pretty good Jason Statham action thriller, with a relatively sensible plot and decent performances. But it still doesn’t transcend the limits of the genre in any meaningful sense worth mentioning. I had a good time watching it, but then I would – and I suspect that in a few years time I’ll struggle to remember which scenes were in this one, as opposed to The Mechanic or Parker. A solid movie, but basically meat-and-potatoes stuff for Mr Statham and his fans.

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Normally, approaching the seventh film in a series I would expect to be entering distinctly Oh God Not Another One territory – let us not forget, even the mighty Bond and Star Trek franchises had quality control issues round about that point. With Rupert Wyatt’s new movie, however, all bets are off and my trepidation sprang from an entirely different source. This is, of course, because Wyatt’s movie is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a new take on one of my very favourite SF series (regular readers will be in no doubt as to my affection for this particular branch of simian cinema).

The movie is trading heavily on the Apes brand in some ways, but it’s really something new and startlingly different. Our story opens in a peculiar world dominated by apes and their strange society – the apes in question being human beings and the society being a market-driven western democracy. Chief human this time around is Will Rodman (James Franco), a neurological researcher trying to develop an effective therapy for Alzheimers, which his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from, despite the scepticism of the heartless suit he works for (the suit is played by David Oyelowo).

A fairly major lab setback forces Rodman to start again, almost from scratch, and leaves him the unwilling paterfamilias of an infant chimpanzee (Andy Serkis – no, really), the child of one of his lab apes. It soon becomes apparent that his mother’s exposure to the therapy has affected young Caesar’s development, giving him a vastly boosted IQ for a start. The problem is that he’s no longer merely an ape, but neither does he have a place in human society.

Caesar’s growing self-awareness coupled to his alienation and attachment to the Rodmans eventually leads to trouble with the law and Will and his girlfriend (Freida Pinto) are forced to place him in a local ape shelter. The fact that the shelter is operated by Brian Cox (whom you may recall as the bad guy from The Bourne Supremacy, X2, Troy, etc) and Tom Felton (whom you may recall as the bleach-blond kid at Hogwarts) should tip you off as to the kind of establishment this turns out to be. Caesar’s intelligence does not prepare him for the brutality of his new life, but – characteristically – he rapidly adapts to it and is soon planning a break for freedom, not just for him but for all the inmates…

Most people, I expect, will have two starting points when it comes to talking about this movie – either the last attempt at an Apes reboot, directed by Tim Burton and released almost exactly ten years ago, or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is the original movie this most closely resembles. That said, the resemblance is not a particularly strong one – while the Burton excrescence didn’t reference any of the original films, the whole look and style of the film made it very clear it was wholly in their thrall. Rise, on the other hand, would only need a few fairly minor changes in order to operate as a wholly original independent movie.

Possibly aware of this, the writer-producers have opted to shotgun the movie with what felt like dozens of references to the cast, characters, and stories of the original films, some of which are very obscure indeed – I’m not even sure I spotted them all myself. (That said Pierre Boulle, Rod Serling and Paul Dehn aren’t credited, which struck me as a little cheeky.) The subtle ones work best – when Tom Felton is required to recycle dialogue from the original series the effect is wearying rather than iconic. On the other hand, this does set up a moment which manages to be quintessentially Apes-y and yet also wholly and satisfyingly original: it certainly had your correspondent horripilating in his seat.

What’s slightly unexpected about this film is what a small-scale and relatively personal story it tells, and the story is that of Caesar rather than Rodman. With the first act completed, all Franco gets to do is to drive around trying to keep up with a plot that doesn’t really centre on him any more (Freida Pinto is even more ornamental). By this point Andy Serkis has already stepped into the spotlight and proceeds to dominate the rest of the film.

While Wyatt’s direction is good, this film really belongs to Serkis, the other ape performers, and the motion-capture techies at Weta: the special effects in this movie are truly astounding, creating each ape as a separate individual with his or her own personality. The creation of convincingly photorealistic apes is flawlessly done, and yet the wizardry still permits Serkis’s remarkable and deeply moving performance to shine through.

As with The Lord of the Rings, the action sequences of the movie are immaculately done but it’s the character interactions and performances that really make the film work. You should probably be aware that the action stuff is really only limited to the final act of the film, and given the promise of man-on-simian conflict and genuine ape-ocalypse which the title suggests, I think it would be remiss of me not to mention that the film doesn’t really go down this route. That’s not to say that the status quo is unchanged come the end of the film: it’s quite clear that the balance of power may well be undergoing a signficant alteration very soon, but they’re leaving that for the sequel. I would have appreciated a little more of the darkness and fatalism that ran throughout the original series.

In fact, my only real grumble about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it does suffer a little from reboot syndrome: rather like Batman Begins, it painstakingly puts everything in place for a follow-up which will contain all the cool stuff you really want to see in this kind of movie, but the problem is that as a result this movie seems ever so slightly underpowered in its climax and resolution. Deferring many potential good bits to a potential sequel is a slightly annoying thing to do, but the overall quality of this film means Wyatt and his associates get away with it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes may on some level be only an exercise in setting up targets to be knocked down at some indeterminate future date, but it does so with such aplomb that you emerge looking forward to seeing how they’re going to do it. A superior blockbuster and a worthy (if slightly iconoclastic) addition to the series.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published June 13th 2002:

A conversation, c.1980 :

Me:Dad, dad! Can we go to the pictures?’

My Father:Why, what’s on?

Me:The new Spider-Man film!

[This was actually Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge, a Spidey-versus-evil-kung fu American TV movie starring Nicholas Hammond that somehow got itself a theatrical release in the UK.]

My Father:What does Spider-Man do in it?

Me:He climbs up buildings, throws his web over people, slides down a lift shaft! It looks great!

My Father:Oh, I suppose so…

A conversation, c.2002 :

My Father:Hey, hey! Let’s go to the pictures!

Me:Why, what’s on?

My Father:The new Spider-Man film!

Me:What does Spider-Man do in it?

My Father:He climbs up buildings, throws his web over people –

Me:Does he slide down a lift-shaft?

My Father:Not in the trailer I saw. Can we go? Can we can we can we?

Me: (remembering the rubbish Hammond film and feeling rather guilty about forcing him to see it) ‘Oh, I suppose so…

Well, there’s the cycle of the generations writ large for you. Actually I needed no persuasion whatsoever to go and see this movie: one of the most exciting and overdue developments in mainstream cinema over the last few years has been that Marvel Comics and their characters have finally begun to punch their weight on the big screen: recently we’ve had Men in Black, Blade, and X-Men, and within the next year we’ll see Ben Affleck in Daredevil and Ang Lee’s take on the Hulk. And obviously, a Spider-Man movie, done right, has the potential to be a fantastic movie.

Sam Raimi’s film falls roughly into two acts. The first of these is the story of overlooked nerd Peter Parker (a tremendously likeable Tobey Maguire) whose life is transformed after he’s bitten by a genetically engineered spider. His delight and excitement as he discovers, one by one, the different powers this gives him is utterly irresistible, and the story is told with the same self-mocking humour that characterised the original comic-books. But along with the powers come responsibilities and drawbacks (not least Peter’s new inability to climb out of the bathtub unassisted) and Peter is in for a harsh lesson…

The Spider-Man origin story is the finest in all superherodom, essentially a fable concerning guilt and loss and redemption, and Raimi tells it near perfectly: so much so that you barely notice the radical re-conception of one of Spider-Man’s signature powers. The actual effects set-pieces are a long time coming but well worth the wait, and you really don’t mind such are the warmth of the performances and wit of the script.

Of course, every hero needs a villain to contend with and Spider-Man spends the second act of the film doing battle with the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe, displaying a hitherto-unseen talent for manic hamming), a millionaire weapons designer driven insane by exposure to experimental performance-enhancing drugs. To be honest this part of the movie is slightly less impressive, being more formulaic superhero stuff. But the characterisation and energy continue unimpaired and the various bouts between hero and villain are visually startling. Most impressive of all is the ending, which isn’t your standard blockbuster fare, but is entirely in keeping with the source material.

Spider-Man is a treat: not only the most faithful and impressive comic-book adaptation yet, but a genuinely terrific film in its own right (much better than The Dragon’s Challenge, anyway), with great performances (apart from Maguire and Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst is great as the love interest, James Franco does a slow burn as Peter’s best friend and Cliff Robertson is just right as Spidey’s Uncle Ben), fantastic visuals, and a wonderful script from David Koepp. Hugely entertaining and pretty much not to be missed – go see! Go see!

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 22nd 2004:

[Following a review of Thunderbirds.]

Oh well, onto a movie I can confidently describe as a success in all departments: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, currently mounting a serious challenge for the title of all-time box office champion. Readers with long memories and short attention spans may recall I was rather impressed with the original when it came out just over two years ago – something not diminished in the slightest by this second instalment.

Two years on from the events of the first movie – which are helpfully recapped in another stylish title sequence – things have changed a bit for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his amazing friends. The lad himself is juggling responsibilities as Spider-Man and Pizza-Delivery Boy and not making a very good job of it, his love interest Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is mixing occasional interludes of dangling-in-jeopardy with a successful acting career, and his best friend Harry (James Franco) is now a suit at his dad’s old corporation, and obsessing over Spider-Man (who he believes killed his father). Basically, being a super-hero is making Peter incredibly miserable as his work and relationships are constantly suffering. Does he really still want the gig?

Things don’t get any better when a freak accident with an experimental fusion generator – er – fuses brilliant scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina on fine form) with four malevolent cybernetic tentacles. Restyling himself Doctor Octopus, he sets out to recreate the experiment, no matter what the risks to the city. But he needs Harry’s co-operation to do this, and Harry’s price is the head of Spider-Man…

After a couple of Affleck- and Bana-shaped wobbles last year, Spider-Man 2 should put Marvel Comics’ film division back on course for world domination. This is thanks to a production in which performances, script, and direction all come together to produce a film which is thrilling, moving, and funny in all the right places. The style of the original film is continued seamlessly, with several gags and motifs re-used (Bruce Campbell pops up again in another wittily-performed cameo).

Where it surpasses its predecessor is in its freedom to just pick one story and follow it through, rather than combining the Spidey origin with various Goblin-related clashes. And it’s a very human and personal story, very much focussed on the troubled personal life and guilty conscience of Peter Parker. While people are probably going to go to the cinema to see Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus duking it out on the sides of buildings – and the battles themselves are terrific, the villain impressively realised – this isn’t really at the heart of the story. Given this it’s a shame the climax boils down to a rather generic special effects set-piece that only loosely ties in to the themes of the script. (And if anyone knows how Spider-Man finds out where Doctor Octopus’ lair is, I’d love to hear from them.)

But never mind. The performances of the cast are every bit as memorable as the special effects. Normally in a superhero movie you’re glancing at your watch when the lead character’s in secret-identity mode, but Maguire manages to be utterly engaging as Peter Parker (and seems to be quite a good sport about the achey breaky back problems which nearly cost him the role). Dunst is fairly touching, even if Franco seems ever so slightly over-wrought in a slightly one-note part.

All this just adds into the overwhelming impression of supreme confidence this movie gives off: it’s not afraid to go from quite sombre personal moments to offbeat visual humour, to include wild directorial flourishes, or even to run the risk of seeming camp and goofy. It’s also not afraid to shake things up and plan for the future: the relationships and situations of the main characters at the end are very different from how they stand at the beginning, and while it’s fairly obvious who one of the villains of Spider-Man 3 will be, the script also plants seeds for at least two others somewhere down the line.

It shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise if I tell you that Spider-Man 2 is going to be the biggest film of the summer. But it may if I add that the success is thoroughly warranted by a film which mixes thrills, jokes, maturity and heartache to absolutely winning effect. Highly recommended.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 4th May 2006: 

Hello again everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column that’s looking to new horizons. As you may have noticed, as far as mainstream cinema goes we are currently becalmed in the post-Oscar, pre-Memorial Day boonies. This is the time of year when the studios traditionally wheel out the fare which they can’t see having much success while there’s anything more substantial or heavily promoted about: mid-budget thrillers and action movies, horror, offbeat drama and comedies. (There’s another patch like this in the autumn when we here in the UK tend to receive any blockbusters that seriously tanked across the Atlantic.) Quite which of these categories Kevin Reynolds’ Tristan + Isolde falls I’m not entirely certain, but I’m positive it does trip up somewhere along the line.

Culture vultures will of course recognise this as the title of one of Richard Wagner’s grand Teutonic operas, but then again culture vultures almost certainly have better things to do than read 24 Lies A Second. Bearing this in mind, I shall refrain from showing off my in-depth knowledge of the Bayreuth maestro — suffice to say I do a mean summarisation of the plot of the Ring cycle. In any case this is, sadly, not a musical, just a fairly earnest adaptation of the original legend — greenlit, I would suspect, in the wake of the mega-success of Lord of the Rings, the Wagnerian connections of which are fairly well-known.

We find ourselves in the Dark Ages, with a divided Britain cruelly oppressed by the powerful Irish. (Any historical irony present in this scenario is steadfastly ignored by the movie which has its mind on nobler things.) The barons of Albion gather to forge an alliance and free themselves, but – as is traditional – a traitor amongst them has sold them out and the Irish crash the party looking for a fight. (You will, I hope, note that I too am steadfastly ignoring the opportunity to make cheap jokes based on dodgy ethnic stereotypes.) Orphaned in the scrap is Tristan, son of the leader of the Jutes, but he is adopted by the Cornish baron Marke (Rufus Sewell). Ten years later Tristan has grown up into James Franco, who you may recall from the Spider-Man franchise, and very strapping he is too. Equally strapping is Isolde, the lovely daughter of the Irish king – played by Sophia Myles, whom you may recall from the first Underworld, the big-screen Thunderbirds, and, retroactively speaking, this Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who.

Well, what follows is extremely convoluted and rather implausible, and heavily reliant on coincidence and people casually popping back and forth across the Irish Sea apparently by rowing boat. But here goes anyway: the King of Ireland promises Isolde’s hand in marriage to his chief legbreaker. She is not pleased. But before nuptials can take place said legbreaker pops over to Cornwall to terrorise the natives a bit. But the Cornish have had enough and fight back. Legbreaker dies but not before stabbing Tristan with poisoned blade. Cornish people think Tristan is dead and push him out to sea in burning rowing boat. Boat does not sink but washes up on coast of Ireland where – what are the chances! – Tristan is discovered and secretly nursed back to health by Isolde. Rumpy pumpy ensues. She does not tell him her name in case he gets caught and rats her out. King of Ireland discovers killer of chief legbreaker is somewhere on the loose in Ireland. Isolde warns Tristan to push off still thinking she is trapped in arranged marriage. He goes back to Cornwall in different rowing boat. Separated young lovers brood for a bit. King of Ireland decides to stir British up a bit by making them compete for Isolde’s hand and big wad of cash, thinking this will destroy their unity. Tristan comes up with plan to derail this scheme by winning contest on Marke’s behalf then splitting the prize between all the British leaders (Marke still gets princess). Despite attempts to fix contest by Irish this plan succeeds but – alas! – too late Tristan realises who Isolde really is. Isolde marries Marke as planned, thus ensuring peace between Britain and Ireland (sh’yeah right!). More rumpy pumpy, between Marke and Isolde this time. Tristan looks tortured and noble (or possibly suffers from wind a lot – Franco’s performance makes it difficult to tell)…

…and all this in just the first half! No wonder they had to cut all the songs out. Anyway things progress along fairly predictable lines – conflict of duty and true love, guilty passion, treachery, machiavellian machinations, tragedy, big siege, you know the sort of thing. There is, so far as I can tell, only one proper joke in the whole thing, and not an especially funny one. It does take itself rather seriously, but it at least is rather less cheesetastic than Reynold’s previous swashbuckling opus Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. Historical anachronisms are kept down to an acceptable minimum for the most part, as are silly costumes (that said Rufus Sewell does turn up to his wedding wearing what appears to be a chain-mail beanie). That ‘+’ in the title might suggest this is a radical and bold reimagining for a modern audience, but it’s all a bit dour and naturalistic for a movie pitching for the Rings crowd. At least it’s better filmed and performed than the terribly similar Sword of Xanten which you may have caught knocking around not long ago.

To be honest, even at two hours this film feels rather rushed and busy, and, crucially, the central romance never really ignites – this despite the fact that virtually the first thing Isolde does on meeting Tristan is to take all her clothes off and start rubbing herself up against him, Dark Age folk presumably being less inclined to beat about the bush (so to speak). What little sympathy the couple generate is solely down to Myles’ performance, who is a radiant screen presence with definite star quality. Franco’s a bit of a charisma black hole, though – he broods well but that’s about it. Noteworthy also is Myles’ Irish accent, which for once does not suggest an upbringing in County Leprechaun. Sadly all the British characters stick with velly proper RSC English – clearly America is not yet ready for the wonders of the Cornish accent, and come to think of it, given his origins on the map Reynolds thoughtfully provides, Franco should be Scouse!

This is a film without any really big names, but there are lots of faces you may recognise in it. Rufus Sewell does an extremely decent job as Marke, and there’s a solid turn from a wigged-up Mark Strong as a treacherous Glastafarian (possibly not precisely the correct name for his tribe, but you get the gist). It doesn’t completely fall down in any department, and in some – art direction, cinematography, fight choreography – it’s quietly rather impressive. But it never really hooks the audience or involves them in the story. It’s watchable enough, but I doubt it will linger long in the memory. A few enormous women in horned helmets belting out tunes might have made all the difference.

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You know, it’s a terrible thing to have to admit to, seeing as he’s practically been crowned the modern-day answer to Michael Powell, but more often than not I just don’t get Danny Boyle films. Even 28 Days Later, which is probably my favourite from the oeuvre, isn’t something I fully appreciated the first time I watched it. This isn’t a very fashionable thing to admit to, but normally I’d rather see a film starring Jason Statham than one directed by Danny Boyle.

Alas, my man J’s latest opus, The Mechanic, hasn’t shown up in Oxford yet – no Machete, and now no Mechanic, clearly the local film-bookers don’t appreciate knuckle-headed action movies – and so I went to see Boyle’s 127 Hours instead. This is another of those films gathering a bit of a buzz around it ahead of the awards season, so it has to have something about it, right?

James Franco plays Aron Ralston, in the true story of what happens to people who go outdoors by themselves too often. Ralston starts the film as an energetic and rather annoyingly cocky young man who opts to spend his weekend canyoning in a remote part of Utah. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a slip and ends up with his arm pinned under a rock, with very limited supplies, no contact with the rest of the world and the knowledge he hasn’t told anyone where he is. After 127 hours – see what they did there? – he uses a penknife to hack his arm off at the elbow and walks back to get some no-doubt urgently-required medical assistance.

Sorry if I spoiled the movie for you there. Everyone knows where this film is going, surely? Certainly my own experience of it was tinted from the start by my anticipation of what was going to happen: Something Bad was going to happen to Franco’s character, which would eventually lead to him doing Something Arguably Even Worse to himself.

Except it isn’t quite like that in the end. The sequences before and after the canyon are really just an extended prologue and epilogue to the meat of the film, which is Franco, his arm trapped, trying to come to terms with what’s happening and find a way out. It’s one character, with very limited mobility, in the same location for most of this film.

My issue with Danny Boyle as a director is his over-fondness for intrusive stylistic and cinematographic fireworks. When this suits the particular story he’s telling, the results can be extraordinary, but all too often he seems to be cramming them in just because he likes them, not because they’re appropriate to the subject-matter. Luckily, this story is crying out for that sort of thing. Even so, Boyle is relatively restrained and doesn’t go too far down the route of out-of-canyon dream sequences and flashbacks – instead, doing things like sticking the camera in odd places, such as inside Franco’s water bottle and so on.

Franco himself is excellent. In the past I have occasionally been sniffy about some of his performances (‘looks like he has wind throughout’ was, I believe, my considered opinion of his turn in Tristan + Isolde), but he’s utterly mesmeric here. Very quickly he wins your sympathy entirely, especially as he comes to realise what his predicament says about him as a person, and the final moments where – his former shell of cocky independence in smithereens – he cries out desperately for help are desperately moving.

Franco as Ralston, from near the start of the movie. Obviously.

Somewhere in there, of course, is the arm-hacking-off moment, which I for one enjoyed with my teeth clamped firmly around the strap of my backpack. It’s a deeply, deeply harrowing thing to watch, and Boyle doesn’t shy away from the full queasy ick of it. That said, the film does manage the remarkable feat of taking you to a place where Ralston’s decision seems wholly rational and you can even imagine yourself doing the same thing – self-mutilation really does seem like the least worst option in the situation.

While it doesn’t feature a balding ex-diver with a wandering accent taking off his shirt and kicking people in, 127 Hours is still a superb movie. It reminded me a lot of Touching the Void, another almost-unbelievable tale of human survival against the odds. The story is unforgettable, the direction does it full justice, and there’s a monumental performance from the lead actor. One to watch and marvel at, while you’re resolving never to set foot out of your house alone again.

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