[The Works of Danny Boyle]

I haven’t written about the other National Theatre Live broadcasts I’ve seen this year — they may be shown at the cinema, but they aren’t films — but I did want to mention Frankenstein. SIFF Cinema made a weekend of it, showing three days of double features from Danny Boyle as well as both filmed versions of the play.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller & Benedict Cumberbatch, switching the roles of Victor and the Creature from night to night, Frankenstein has been an extremely popular production both at the National and in broadcast around the world. There are plenty of reviews all over the web from people who know far more about theatre than I do, but I will say that I thought the device of telling the story from the point of view of the Creature was quite effective.

The first version I saw had Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but Cumberbatch was quite obvious casting after his success with “Sherlock Holmes”*. Both characters are men who fancy themselves gods. Miller is also a more physical actor, so he was a more natural choice for the Creature.

All the same, it was interesting to see that switched up two days later, with a more poetic Creature & a more physical Victor. I’m glad I got the chance to see both. The rest of the cast was also marvelous, particularly Naomie Harris as Elizabeth.

All of this was a great excuse to have a weekend of Danny Boyle films, and the perfect opportunity use up my last batch of SIFF Cinema vouchers. Win win!

Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave I have all seen before on DVD, but it was great to see them all again on the big screen. 28 Days Later in particular benefited from being shown in the theater; the epic shots of an empty London deserve the big screen.

Sunshine is the only selection I’ve seen in the theater before, and is one of the very few scifi films that I love. I was disappointed that the presentation was on Blu-ray rather on film; the image pixelated in some scenes, which is one of the many ways that digital projection drives me up a wall. All the same, it’s better to see Sunshine on Blu-ray in the theater than at home on my 32 inch TV. So it goes.

Millions is the only feature I hadn’t seen before, though I have read the book. It’s Boyle’s family film and is just ridiculously charming. So is the book 🙂 (Also, it was charming in spite of the fact that I recently saw James Nesbitt in “Jekyll”, and so he makes me a little nervous.)

They also ran two of Boyle’s short films, which was a treat even in low resolution. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise stars Timothy Spall as a vacuum cleaner salesman / force of nature, and Strumpet is a magical, a modern fairy tale starring Christopher Eccleston and Genna G as two talented people who find greater scope for their art in each other, only to clash with the forces of the music industry.

*I didn’t actually like “Sherlock Holmes”, though that is a post for another day and perhaps another blog.

[127 Hours]

Yes. 127 Hours is the movie where James Franco cuts off his arm. Let’s talk about that in these first two paragraphs and get it out of the way. It was horrible. I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn’t watch most of it, but even the audio was enough to make me lightheaded and break out in chills. I cannot remember physically reacting to a graphic scene in any way close to that before, though granted, I don’t see the Eli Roth-esque torture porn movies that the rest of America seems to be nuts for. So it goes.

The only explanation I have for my reaction is that I knew that this was what Aron Ralston had actually gone through. Not only that, but rather than the two minutes the amputation takes on screen (and it certainly felt longer, even just listening), it took him an hour. The film has so firmly put you in his position, feeling the despair & isolation that drove him to this ultimate act of survival, that you can’t help but go through it with him in this very small way of cinema.

Anyway. That two minutes is not the point of the film. On Twitter I made the comparison to Up in the Air, which on the surface appears to be a ridiculous link, but stay with me here. Both films are about guys who use their apartments as little more than launch pads before taking off on their next adventure. They have perfectly nice, average families, at least insofar as we can see, but they resist connections to them. In fact, though they’re well-liked on a surface level, they both avoid closer relationships with people, and certainly deny any semblance of need.

The point of it all is that when you’ve built up a world where you are wholly self-reliant, where you either have no one to check in with or where you opt out of doing so, the biggest step you can take is asking for help. It’s why, instead of wanting to cheer at the end, like the crowd we were told of in New Jersey, I wanted to go off somewhere and have a good cry.

As far as the Real Review sorts of things go, the direction is constantly interesting, with active cuts and occasional triptych framing. I had wondered *how* the core time trapped in the canyon would be handled, but having recently seen Buried I was perhaps less concerned if it *could* be done. In contrast to Buried, which keeps us in the box for the entire film, 127 Hours grants us the same brief reprieves Ralston had: memories, dreams, and fantasies of escape. Within the canyon, there is room for a greater variety of angles than one might expect, and Ralston’s video messages shot by Franco also change things up in a great way.

Franco, by the way, is fantastic. Danny Boyle did a Q&A at our screening, and said that Pineapple Express is what sold him on the casting, which delights me to no end. It’s because in addition to the obvious drama, the role needed someone comic, who could be a charming person alone on camera for the majority of the film, providing brief moments of relief for the audience.

On a final and random note, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of references to faith in the script. Ralston talks to himself, to his mother via the camera, and to the boulder, but not to any sort of a god. I don’t know what the real Ralston believes, but as an atheist I feel a stronger connection to a guy who says “please” and not “please, god.”

[Last of 2008]

* Let the Right One In. Fantastic. Seriously. Go see it.

* Angel. I hated it. I went because of the director & because it was free, but I could not stand the lead character. Nor could I stand everyone else’s adoration of her. See 8 Women instead.

* Quantum of Solace. The crap reviews are all crap. It rocks. Also, Mathieu Amalric is the villain. How is that not awesome?

* Slumdog Millionaire. I have to be honest — I am not quite getting the showers of awards on this. It’s a formula film. A formula by Danny Boyle, and therefore formula with quite a twist & gorgeously filmed, but a formula just the same. It’s good, but in danger of acquiring the label “overrated”.

* Milk. This was actually more effective the second time. The first was a rough cut, though, so.

* Wild Child. Fascinating film about the wild boy of Aveyron, though it made me grateful for the Internet so I could learn What Happened Next.

* Frost/Nixon. I keep forgetting this was a Ron Howard film, because its Peter Morgan screenplay (adapted from Morgan’s play) is such a strong voice. (He wrote The Queen & The Deal, both of which also starred Michael Sheen, there as Tony Blair.) It’s excellent.

* The Godfather Part II. I hadn’t seen it before, so getting to see the restoration in the theater was amazing. I might almost like it better than Part I, thanks in no small part to the flashbacks with De Niro’s Vito, but I need to see both of them many, many more times to be sure.

… and I think that’s 67 in the theater this year, which is not as good as last year, but still Not Bad. I’ll probably want to see a few more of the end-of-year award contenders before I do my wrap-up. I am sure you are all waiting with bated breath.

[Everything else]

* I saw Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix while recovering from jet lag, so I don’t have anything useful to say about it, except that Neville rules. I’m going to try to catch it on IMAX, if I have time.

* The advantage of not seeing a lot of genre films is that when something like Sunshine comes along you miss all the references and enjoy it on its own merits. Which were mighty. Sure, the science makes no sense and the ending has the hint of cheese. Doesn’t matter. The film is *gorgeous*.

* I do go in for some popcorn films, and as such, The Bourne Ultimatum was by far the three-quel I was most looking forward to. Worth it, as it delivered fully on its promise of awesome.

* Then, to the surprise of no one more than me, I caught a free screening of Superbad. What the trailers don’t tell you is that it’s all about the relationship between Seth & Evan, and their angst about going off to different colleges. It is funny and sweet and crass (particularly Seth) and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. In that, I thought I would only like it for my strange affection towards Michael Cera, but I wound up laughing kind of a lot. So there.

…and now we are caught up. Yay!