BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, and Sean Bott

Aron Ralston cut his own arm off to escape a boulder that pinned him against a canyon wall.  That much we know.  The rest, drawn from his hallucinatory recounting in his autobiography and combined with some creative liberties from a passionate filmmaker, is a story waiting to be told.

It’s interesting to think how certain directors would handle different source material.  A story like this could tell how Aron recovered after his ordeal, or it could show his ordeal.  If you’re looking for the gooey easy way out, the former is your best bet, but Danny Boyle isn’t going for the easy way out.

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REVIEW: Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay & play)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, and Sandra Oh

To know what you’re going through when you begin Rabbit Hole, know that the comedy is often found at grief counseling.  Yes, this is black comedy, or it pretends to be for a little while.

Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire, the same man who wrote the play, Rabbit Hole offers little new in the now commonplace “dead kid” genre.  It weaves in and out through its 85 minutes on a journey to nowhere.  This is the point.  Grief puts life on hold for Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart.)  It doesn’t stop them from aging or any other miraculous time warp commonly associated with the term “rabbit hole.”  It simply keeps them miserable.

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REVIEW: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, and Sean Bott

Aron Ralston cut his own arm off to escape a boulder that pinned him against a canyon wall.  That much we know.  The rest, drawn from his hallucinatory recounting in his autobiography and combined with some creative liberties from a passionate filmmaker, is a story waiting to be told.

It’s interesting to think how certain directors would handle different source material.  A story like this could tell how Aron recovered after his ordeal, or it could show his ordeal.  If you’re looking for the gooey easy way out, the former is your best bet, but Danny Boyle isn’t going for the easy way out.

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REVIEW: Tangled

Tangled
Directed by: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Written by: Dan Fogelman (screenplay), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (fairy tale)
Starring: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, and Ron Perlman

You’ve seen this place before.  The polished forests, trickling streams, song birds chirping in a synchronized melody- you’re in Hell, only this time it looks more polished.

That may be a bit hyperbolic to describe Tangled, the latest Disney princess delusion to sweep children up on waves of fantasy and take them to a perfect world that will never exist.  The images are distinctly old school, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White.  These days, though, Pixar is the bulk of Disney animation, and their technical and story wizards work behind the scenes (the company’s John Lasseter serves as producer) to salvage this movie from destroying itself.  It’s not a bad pairing at times, with beautiful images and story-telling subversion that are well above this movie’s call.

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REVIEW: Unstoppable

Unstoppable
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, and Kevin Dunn

If you explain the basic concept of this movie (man v. physics) or any of the countless others it borrows from, people may think it sounds dull.  In the movies, time is one of the biggest perpetuaters of suspense and conflict.  Diffuse the bomb, rescue the falling citizen, stop the train- we’ve seen it all and then some when it comes to race against the clock movies.  In the hands of a Hitchcock it can be a deadly, precise cinematic weapon.  Tony Scott also knows how to utilize it with his series of fast cuts and unnerving suspense, and his characters are always racing against some kind of clock, but I don’t need to say that he’s no Hitchcock.

Here, Denzel Washington (returning from Scott’s only just-forgotten The Taking of Pelham 123) plays Frank, a 28-year blue collar railway veteran getting ready to endure a forced retirement.  By his side is newbie Will (Chris Pine), a typically spunky up-and-comer who got this job because of who he knows at the top.  Time makes another appearance here in this attempted generational conflict.  Mediating this conflict in a command center is Connie (Rosario Dawson), who helps Will and Frank against the orders from her corporate masters.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Ralph Fiennes

And so it begins to end.  Almost ten years after Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and his journey began lighting up the silver screen with J.K. Rowling’s magical prose, billions have been made, and countless fans have been enraptured.  The Potter franchise will always be known first as a literary milestone, as it well should be.  To their credit though, these movies aren’t half-bloody bad.

Guiding this now well-known journey to the finish line is the steady artistic hand of director David Yates, who has been with the series since the fifth film.  Giving Hogwarts the dark tonal shift necessary to keep up with the ever-darkening plot was a task he more than lived up to.  In the fifth and sixth films, the setting is another character in the movie.

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REVIEW: Due Date

Due Date
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, & Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakias, Michelle Monaghan, and Jamie Foxx

Watching Zach Galifianakias’ Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring actor, act out a scene given to him by Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.)with  amateurism and then turn it into an emotionally-charged turn reminded me of Mulholland Dr. The comparisons with that 2001 masterpiece and this forgettable buddy comedy should end there, but they don’t.  A lot of Todd Phillips’ latest is a hallucinatory road trip filled with drugs, car wrecks, and bizarre tonal changes.  Take my advice, stick with David Lynch.

Phillips could’ve done anything after he sailed away with the box office last summer with The Hangover.  Instead, he decided to recycle his use of Galifianakias as the awkward, sympathetic idiot and pair him with Robert Downey Jr for a road movie based on Plains, Trains and Automobiles.  It’s an appealing match-up ripe with potential, almost none of which is utilized.  The two actors at the center were almost given too much freedom to be themselves, letting their personalities fill in the (many) blanks the script left out both plot-wise and on the laughing front.

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