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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: 127 Hours

Toronto 2010: Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' looks to come in from the cold

September 12, 2010 |  7:30 am

Of the many subgenres in which Hollywood and the indie film world dabble, few have gone off a cliff, as it were, more than the outdoor survival movie.

The film industry has long had a knack for moving audiences with stories of outdoor enthusiasts facing a daunting natural enemy, from Bunuel's "Robinson Crusoe" to Curtis Hanson's "The River Wild." Just a decade ago, "Cast Away," "Vertical Limit" and "The Perfect Storm" were global blockbusters (if not exactly great films).

But many of the outdoor survival movies of late -- "Into the Wild" and "The Road" come to mind -- have been box-office disappointments. It's not entirely the movies' fault. As human enemies began to seem more fearsome in the aughts, nature seemed less villainous. (Also not helping was the fact that as the decade wore on the outdoor-adventure craze that took hold in the 1990s began to cool down.)

Which may be why there's no better director than Danny Boyle to kick-start a comeback for the subgenre. Boyle is one of the most kinetic directors working today; if there's a filmmaker who can make the battle against the outdoors seem less flat or cliched and get people interested in a genre they've long abandoned, it's him.

Bringing new energy to the outdoor-survival film is pretty much what the "Slumdog Millionaire" auteur attempts in "127 Hours." The movie is based on the true story of canyoneering enthusiast and self-styled outdoorsman Aron Ralston (James Franco), who after nearly a week fighting the elements while pinned under a rock in a remote part of Utah, amputates his own arm to set himself free and survive.

After a teary screening in Telluride last weekend, the film had its official unveiling for hundreds of members of the media and movie industry in Toronto on Saturday. An hour-long delay and a move to a new theater set the crowd on edge, and Boyle himself turned out to crack a few jokes and appease the audience. But when the lights finally went down, all was forgotten.

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Telluride 2010: Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' cuts an impressive swath

September 4, 2010 |  4:00 pm


Many tears were shed at the world premiere screening of “127 Hours” at the Telluride Film Festival on Saturday afternoon. But few in the audience of some 500 cried harder than Aron Ralston, the hiker who famously cut off his right forearm and is the subject of director Danny Boyle’s new movie.

Boyle has described the film, which Fox Searchlight is releasing on Nov. 5, as an action movie in which the hero doesn’t move -- a reference to how Ralston (played in the film by James Franco) was pinned by a falling boulder in an isolated canyon and was forced to amputate one of his limbs in order to survive.

But as Boyle has proved throughout his filmmaking career -- his last film, “Slumdog Millionaire,” which premiered at Telluride two years ago, not only won the Oscar for best picture but also for directing, cinematography and editing -- he can take a scene that at first glance looks unfeasible to film and make it both visually kinetic and emotionally moving. Christian Colson, who produced “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours,” said Ralston’s tale “was a story that on paper felt impossible to tell as a movie.”

Boyle appears to have taken that as a challenge.

In “127 Hours,” Boyle’s cameras (he used two cinematographers, Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak) never stop moving. They soar over the desolate Utah canyons where Ralston was stuck for all those hours. They swim through the water bottle as he drinks his last drink. They penetrate his arm, as Ralston’s knife stops when it hits bone. They enter a duffel bag that Ralston has put over his head to stay warm in the 44-degree chill, the bag’s nylon shell becoming a miniature movie screen in which Ralston briefly revisits the world he has left behind and might never see again.

Most directors would have cut away from Ralston to focus on the building rescue effort, but Boyle doesn’t. Franco is in virtually every second of the movie. As he becomes increasingly dehydrated, he starts to hallucinate, and it is after one such hallucination -- in which Ralston thinks he might be seeing a son who is not yet born -- that Ralston decides to take dramatic action and cut himself out.

In making the movie, Boyle knew that if the audience averted its eyes when Ralston ultimately broke the bones in his arm and severed a tangled mass of tendons, muscle and nerves with a dull knife, “127 Hours” would have failed. Although one member of the Telluride audience apparently passed out during the graphic sequence, very few looked away. Ralston, who was attending the screening with his wife, was visibly moved throughout the film, but the tears really started flowing when he watched the reenactment of his primitive surgical procedure. The relief in the theater was palpable -- if there’s such a thing as quiet cheering, there it was.

“It’s like we all just went through what I did,” Ralston told the audience after the screening’s conclusion. Even though “127 Hours” takes some dramatic liberties (a flash-flood scene, in particular), the movie was “all very accurate and real,” Ralston said.

“This is insane,” are the first words Ralston speaks as soon as he is trapped by the large falling rock. His situation was doubtless that. Yet even crazier is that Boyle has made Ralston’s tale spellbinding — truly an action movie in which the hero doesn’t move.

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: James Franco as Aron Ralston in "127 Hours." Credit: Chuck Zlotnick / Fox Searchlight

Preview review: Danny Boyle spends '127 Hours' with James Franco

August 25, 2010 |  3:48 pm

127H-06688 It was only two years ago that "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the Academy Awards, claiming eight Oscars, including one for best director Danny Boyle. That's a fact, it seems, Fox Searchlight doesn't want audiences to forget.

The new teaser trailer for "127 Hours," Boyle's first film after "Slumdog," opens by hyping the director's many credits: "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later," "The Beach." Set to music with a strong drumbeat, the trailer's opening definitely has a "Slumdog" vibe to it -- lots of fast-paced edits, wide shots of impressive scenery. "This fall," the preview touts, Boyle "takes us on a ride beyond our imagination -- and it's true."

That journey? It follows Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), the mountain climber who infamously got trapped under a boulder in Utah in 2003 and was forced to cut part of his arm off to escape a near-death situation.

We've heard that a majority of the film deals with Ralston's frightening predicament, and the loneliness and desperation he deals with over the 127 hours he's pinned under a rock. (And is perhaps thematically similar to the upcoming "Buried," in which Ryan Reynolds plays a U.S. contractor who gets buried alive in a coffin in Iraq.) But you might not realize that, having only watched the movie's trailer.

Indeed, most of the footage we see from the movie is, we'd imagine, not in line with the film's larger tone. As Ralston, Franco comes across as an offbeat adventurer -- a dude unafraid to take risks in the dangerous outdoors, who manages to chuckle even after taking a painful-looking fall off of his bike. He's believable in this playful goofball/stoner type of role, especially when he charms the socks off of two cute girl hikers (Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn) in need of a guide.

Watching his performance evolve as the story goes to a much darker, introspective place is something we're looking forward to. But what has us more perplexed is how Boyle will deal with the rest of the movie, which -- as far as we can tell -- seems to take place largely inside the crevice of a rock canyon. We're hoping that the film will take us that deep inside Ralston's mind, too.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: James Franco in "127 Hours." Credit: Chuck Zlotnick / Fox Searchlight.


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