Film Club: ‘127 Hours’
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The critics of the KPBS Film Club of the Air weigh in on the new Danny Boyle film, "127 Hours."
The new Danny Boyle film "127 Hours" (currently playing throughout San Diego) is up for discussion on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
"127 Hours" is based on the memoirs of Aron Ralston, a young man who had his arm stuck under a boulder and had to resort to extreme measures to resolve his dilemma. I have to admit that I much preferred the book's title of "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." That perfectly sums up the film. But I suppose after the success of Boyle's "28 Days Later," some executive decided that having a number in the title was the way to go. Whatever.
The film is a nice showcase for the appealing talents of James Franco, who plays the eternally positive Ralston. Not even getting his arm trapped against a canyon wall seems to phase him a whole lot. The fascination of the film is to watch how Ralston tackles his problem. Along the way, though, he also reassesses who he is and why he's where he is.
Boyle does a good job of keeping us trapped with Ralston but opening it up enough so that we do not get bored. The energetic cutting helps as well. The music, however, begins with vitality but soon grows overpowering and heavy-handed.
"127 Hours" (rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images) is a grueling experience but it's worth the endurance test. Listen to our KPBS Film Club discussion.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Welcome back, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is the KPBS film club of the air. My guests are Beth Accomando, I can't talk today. Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, and Anders Wright. And we move on now to a movie called 127 hours. Of many people have already been familiar with the plight of hiker Aaron Ralston, he is the man who I said found himself between a rock and a hard place in the Utah wilderness a few years ago. [CHECK AUDIO] the desperate decision Ralston had to make to amputate his own arm to free himself from a bolder and save his life. In this scene from the film, Aaron, played by James Franco, parts ways with two female hikers he's been spending time with in the slot canyons of Utah. Here it is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Aaron Ralston cycling away with limbs in tact, so far in the movie, 127 hours, this is directed by Danny boil, and Anders, you know, hearing the story bind this film, it seems like almost an impossible movie to make. How does director Danny boil pull it off?
ANDERS WRIGHT (film critic for City Beat): Well, I think what he does well, and I think a good decision is after Ralston gets trapped by this bolder, we spend almost the entire rest of the movie in the canyon with him. And he doesn't rely on sort of flash backs and other scenes in his life. In fact, when those things occasional happen, I think we get pulled out of the action. Of but for the most part, he stays with Franco. And it's really Franco's show, more than anything. But staying in this little tiny claustrophobic space with this guy who basically cannot move is what makes it work.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Beth, did it work for you.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I thought it worked well. I mean, there was a film, Buried, which was also this claustrophobic trap setting and I think in some ways this one pulled off that sense of being trapped better than that one did. But you do get these flash backs and things that pull you out of his location, but I think what was good about them is they seemed logically motivated by his mental state and things that were going on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was gonna ask you Beth, but I'm not considering your taste in films so Scott, is this a hard movie to watch.
SCOTT MARKS: Oh, it sure is.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but for a different reason.
SCOTT MARKS (film critic for emulsioncompulsion.com): This is ten minutes of story, and 90 minutes of -- there's nothing going on here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's what it sounds like.
SCOTT MARKS: He just has the camera, again, Hollywood's [CHECK AUDIO] superfluous camera moves that basically say, I have nothing else to show you. And then you sit here and wait, and people have been fainting at the end when he amputates his arm? Are you kidding me? Have these people never seen a horror film.
BETH ACCOMANDO: But I think it's a completely different crowd that goes, people that go to horror -- no, I mean, I think there are people who would go to a film like this who maybe have never seen a Romero film or torture porn or saw or something like this. So to some people, and the thing is, because you're so invested in this single character, and that's what this is all leading up to, I think that's what's so upsetting to some people.
SCOTT MARKS: It's like Barry Moore.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is Barry Moore.
BETH ACCOMANDO: No, buried. Of.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, buried more.
SCOTT MARKS: I like Barry more too. This one doesn't have the story telling, Danny boil, this is a feel good film about a sports guy who saws his arm off.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I think that's what's unique about it, it's not this kind of grim, bleak, oh, my God, he had to cut off his own arm to get down there. What's interesting about this guy, he falls down this canyon, gets under this rock, and he doesn't really go through this -- [CHECK AUDIO] I'm emptying out my back pack, I'm gonna look and see what's in here, what can I do, he's an engineer, and he's like, okay, what can I do to get myself out, and he starts picking away at the rock with this tiny pen knife of that's what I thought was interesting, is what does this guy do once he's trapped there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It sounds though like what's happening in the movie is a little thin until it gets to the point where he cuts his arm off.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Well, no, I don't think so. What it comes down to is this, he's spending five days there, trying to figure out not just how to get out of there, but sort of he's traying to figure out himself. [CHECK AUDIO].
BETH ACCOMANDO: Oh, no.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Is that, look, you know, it's not that he's a bad person or anything, but we all have things in our lives that we regret or we wish we'd handled differently, or phone calls we wish we'd returned, but none of us sort of go out into our daily lives thinking, hey, today's the day I'm gonna get my hand trapped under a bolder is I'm gonna spend five days there trying to sort it out. What he really does is he comes to terms with things about his life that he would, could change if he were to get the opportunity to get out of there. But that's really what this movie is about in a lot of ways of it's not about a guy cutting off his arm, [CHECK AUDIO].
SCOTT MARKS: Let me ask you something. If this story happened where the guy got out, and he doesn't cut off his arm, would we be talking about a movie called a hundred and 27-hour? No, the whole reason for his expense is cutting off his arm.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Well, that's like saying, if [CHECK AUDIO] that's why it is --
SCOTT MARKS: But it's boring.
BETH ACCOMANDO: No no no.
ANDERS WRIGHT: I disagree, the movie's not called the guy who cut off his arm to get out. It's called a helped and 27 hours because that's what it is. You're talking about the time he has there, and the experience he has. That's what it's supposed to be.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And on a certain level, for this guy, cutting off his arm almost isn't that important. He's a guy who manages to take [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How is the amputation handled though?
SCOTT MARKS: It's armless.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A lot of people are commenting about the fact that they can't watch it, these scenes are too gruesome [CHECK AUDIO].
BETH ACCOMANDO: But he doesn't really show, it's actually it's more of the sound.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was gonna ask about the sound.
BETH ACCOMANDO: The bone breaking and cutting --
ANDERS WRIGHT: It's like a wish bone.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And actually, the most difficult thing, I think for me personally, was the fact that he had such a tiny little tool to try and use. Of because the thing is, if he had had some big old honking knife that he could have just whacked through the bone, quickly and easily and gotten out, it would have been in some ways easier.
ANDERS WRIGHT: This is like a cheap leather man knock off.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but to see, you get the shot where he taps the bone with this tiny little pen knife, and it's at that point where you go, okay, he's gonna have to do something pretty brutal.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But they do something interesting with the music and the sound, right? To sort of, like, augment or enhance the screams that this man has during the movie.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Screams didn't bother me.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Danny boil has always used music very, very intricately with his films and I think that's the same case here.
SCOTT MARKS: And don't worry, by the time the movie's over, you have a nice happy song at the end, and you walk out feeling good. This is feel good. It's false, nothing in it seems true to me. [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wanted to end it on that, James Franco is a busy man these days, he's performance in Howl, we talked about on the film club last month. Obviously this is a very different role. Do you think it's good casting? Obviously, Scott, you liked his performance.
SCOTT MARKS: Yeah, he's a great actor. [CHECK AUDIO].
ANDERS WRIGHT: Giant terrible movies. And started trying to be a serious actor, and it's paying off for him. It's good.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you, Beth?
BETH ACCOMANDO: No, I think he's very good. And I mean, considering he's on screen by himself almost the entire film.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, basically it's his show.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And he holds your interest, he's a good actor.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, 127 hours is currently playing in area theatres.
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