Tag Archive: Biographies


Wittgenstein1

To appropriate the right visual aid for reading this review, some quick stage directions are in order. Imagine me on a darkened stage. I vacillate between older and younger versions of myself seemingly at random and my outfit changes from period appropriate dress to garish, brightly colored costumes. Occasionally, I shall be joined by a martian with a xylophone. The stage props shall be bare yet ever-changing. And you shall see me slowly shaking my head back and forth as I try to make sense of the highly experimental film, Wittgenstein, from queer cinema icon Derek Jarman which explores the life of the titular Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. If you are able to keep these images in mind as you read this review, you may perhaps have a sense of where I’m coming from although methinks that I write in vain.

Every once in a great blue moon, a truly experimental and/or art-house film comes along and reminds me how much I take most cinematic conventions for granted. Whether it’s the works of Luis Buñuel or Todd Haynes (ooh boy. Poison was a weird ass movie) or David Lynch (Eraserhead, I’m looking at you), certain directors love to give a giant middle finger to the established norms by which films are made. I was not familiar with the ouevre of Derek Jarman before this film (just his standing in queer cinema circles), but if Wittgenstein is any indication, Jarman springs from the same mold of these innovative and visually minded filmmakers. Wittgenstein is lacking in anything resembling a plot and it’s inherent assumptions that viewers are intimately aware of all aspects of Wittgenstein’s philosophy and life can make it hard to follow, but the film establishes Jarman as an aesthetically blessed artiste if not the greatest storyteller.

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For those not familiar with Ludwig Wittgenstein (and let’s face it, unless you’re a philosophically minded intellectual, you probably aren’t), Wittgenstein is arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century. His work on the philosophy of science and linguistics is probably the most important thing to happen to philosophy since Immanuel Kant and Hegel (although apparently Wittgenstein hated Hegel [so do I]). And Wittgenstein is Jarman’s wryly comic look at Wittgenstein’s life. This ranges from his childhood in one of the richest families in all of Europe as a child prodigy to his adult years where he gave away his entire inheritance and became one of the most celebrated philosophers of his day. A homosexual, Wittgenstein was plagued with personal turmoil his whole life and a crippling sense of self-doubt which Jarman also explores.

I went on that whole opening rant about how to envision the review for this film because that is more or less how Jarman structures the movie. And Jarman’s visual style is without question the most interesting aspect of the film. Wittgenstein is set up like a stage play. The actors perform against stark black backgrounds in tight confines. The sets are often no more than one or two probs and the actors (except for adult Wittgenstein) tread around in bright, anachronistic costumes. In one scene, Wittgenstein (Karl Johnson) and John Maynard Keynes walk back and forth in the rain to simulate a far longer walk to maintain the theatrical illusions. The only difference between the film and a stage play is that a stage play could not handle the rapid cuts and set changes that Wittgenstein so seamlessly integrates. And although I still have absolutely no idea what the fuck the martian was about, Wittgenstein never failed to impress aesthetically.

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Do not take my enjoyment of this film as an endorsement that the rest of my readers will like this movie. Although I appreciated the film’s visual style, I was still often at a loss for what was actually happening, and except for the moments that dealt with Wittgenstein’s and Keynes’ homosexuality, the film rarely made an emotional impact. It felt as cold and detached as Wittgenstein himself often was (the man likely had an undiagnosed form of Aspergers). Still, for fans of queer cinema as well as the most outre realms of art-house cinema, Wittgenstein is deserving of a watch. You may find yourself at a loss for the film’s goals or even its central tenets, but it’s fervent visual inspiration and those moments where Wittgenstein actually discusses philosophy make it an intellectually rewarding trip through art, madness, and brilliance.

Final Score: B

How much goodwill can a film earn just through the sheer strength of its performances alone? Without Christian Bale, The Fighter would have been a terribly mediocre boxing movie that simply rehashed every sports underdog cliche known to man. Without Colin Firth’s incendiary performance, The King’s Speech would never have been a Best Picture contender, let alone won. Sometimes I question whether I adore There Will Be Blood as much as I do because of the beautiful cinematography and the haunting tale of the spiritual rot of rampant greed or simply because Daniel Day Lewis gives arguably the greatest performance in the history of cinema (it’s probably a little of both). The exception to this rule is the Rob Marshall musical Nine which despite have 6 Academy Award winning actors/actresses in it was a nearly unwatchable piece of garbage. 1999’s Girl, Interrupted (adapted from the memoirs of the same name) is a film chock full of splendid female performances but abysmal pacing and an unfortunate tendency for melodramatics made it fall short of being a truly great film.

As mentioned earlier, Girl, Interruped is the true story of Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) who is sent to a mental institution in the late 1960’s after a failed suicide attempt. With little to no direction in life and a pariah in her home, Susanna is essentially forced into the hospital with little to no say in the matter. Despite her suicide attempts, Susanna is easily the most sane person in the hospital where she is placed in the same ward as Wizard of Oz obsessed Georgina (Carnivale‘s Clea Duvall), self-inflicted burn victim Polly (Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss), withdrawn Daisy (Brittany Murphy) who suffers from an eating disorder (among other more significant problems), anorexic Janet, and sociopathic but charismatic Lisa (Angelina Jolie). While Susanna is initially drawn to the rebellious and magnetic Lisa and joins her in many of her little revolts against the system, tragedy eventually hits the group and Susanna is forced to re-evaluate exactly why she’s in this hospital in the first place and what she needs to do in order to get well.

Since she won her only Oscar for the film, it should come as no surprise that Angelina Jolie stole the show. Way back when I reviewed her Oscar-nominated role in Changeling, I puzzled over how Jolie could have ever won an Oscar because nothing in her career had impressed me, and not even her performance in Changeling which I thought wasn’t powerful enough for such a complex part. I obviously hadn’t seen Girl, Interrupted yet. She is able to flip between seductive charm, terrifying anger, and heart-wrenching grief like the mental pinball sociopath her character is. She oscillates between so many different modes and and emotions, and she never seems less than 100% genuine in any of them. If this remains the single greatest performance of her career, she should remain happy that she could ever have a high like this because nothing else I’ve ever seen from her has come anywhere close. Winona Ryder was fantastic as well, and I’ve long been of the opinion that if you want the role of a young, neurotic adult/teenager, she was the perfect choice. Watching Susanna’s emotional development throughout the film is one of its strong points, and Winona is responsible for much of the power. Clea Duvall and Brittany Murphy were also strong in their smaller roles.

However, despite the strength of the performances (and they were truly superb), the writing itself just couldn’t keep up with the talent on display. The film ultimately tries to subvert the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest rebellion against the stern psychiatric community that is in vogue for most mental hospital films, but the film doesn’t do a convincing enough job at the end to sustain that theme. It spends much of the first two acts of the film gleefully showing Susanna finding her voice after her depression by bucking authority alongside Lisa, and while Lisa is obviously unhinged from the beginning, the movie never really makes me buy anything more than that Susanna is depressed, not some borderline personality disorder. About 3/4 of the way through the film, Susanna suddenly begins to view the people at the mental hospital as sympathetic comrades rather than some vestige of a society intent on keeping women down (which is how much of it is played at the beginning). I want to buy that these people helped cure her depression but the film didn’t do a good enough job of showing how that exactly came to be. I imagine the book goes into more detail about what led to Susanna’s recovery (and the author is a vocal critic of the film) so perhaps I should consider reading it in the future.

Matters were only compounded by the film’s inability to go more than ten minutes without turning a scene into something artificially sweet and trite. The film’s truest moments are painful and almost too raw to watch (Lisa bullying Daisy, Polly suffering a break down over her own lack of an ability to be loved because of her burns, Susanna’s last night in the ward), but far too often, it seems exceedingly obvious that scenes most likely weren’t in the original book as they lack the grit and hurt that permeates the rest of the film. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare this film to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest yet again, but even Cuckoo’s Nest subverted its own rebellious message when it ends with the essential lobotomization of Nicholson’s Randal McMurtry. Girl, Interrupted tries to combat that image from the very beginning, but its attempted cynicism at first is immediately drowned out by its disappointingly naive optimism at the end that seems to go against much of the darkness that preceded it.

For all fans of powerhouse acting, this is must see, and even Angelina Jolie’s most adamant detractors will be forced to recognize just how passionate and intense she is in this film. It also serves to re-affirm my theory that Winona Ryder could have been a much bigger star had it not been for her personal problems. The movie has its share of flaws, but it remained interesting through out and though I may nit-pick at its thematic inconsistencies, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Films with strong female casts are a discouragingly rare find, but Girl, Interrupted has great female performances coming at you from all sides. I wish it had been a little more raw and intense, but even with its problems, Girl, Interrupted is a movie guaranteed to make you think.

Final Score: B+

A quick comment before I jump into the meat of this review. I’m at my mom’s tonight and may or may not be there tomorrow. We have real internet at my mom’s, and I used that time to watch one of the movie’s on my Netflix Instant Queue. But beyond the obvious convenience of having that option for my movie watching pleasure, there’s one other thing that will make writing this particular review much easier than it’s been writing them at my dad’s with dial-up internet. At my father’s, I actually write the reviews in Open Office and then copy and paste them here on wordpress for fear that I’ll get kicked off the internet while I’m in the process of writing the review and lose half of my review, and then I spend like 40 minutes fighting with the internet to try and find the pictures that I use for all of my reviews. Fortunately, that isn’t a problem at my mom’s, and the whole scenario is just much less stressful. Anyways, back to my review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece ,1987’s The Last Emperor.

The Last Emperor is the true story of Pu Yi, the man who was the titular last emperor of China. Crowned at the unbelievably early age of three, Pu Yi would spend most of his life locked behind the massive walls of the Forbidden City, which served as both his palace and his prison. The film, in a well-implemented non-linear fashion, tells the story of Pu Yi’s years as the Emperor of China, his time as a political refugee after the Empire is dismantled, and his time in a Red Chinese re-education camp. This biography is set against an absolutely stunning and authentic recreation of turn of the century (and eventually mid-century) China.

I’m not normally a huge fan of historical epics and I generally think that biopics are just a cheap way for producers and directors to try and win Oscars. I think Lawrence of Arabia and Gone With the Wind are two of the most over-rated films of all time. If a director wants to impress me with a film like this, he has to do something really different. He has to go that extra mile. Maybe I should have known this film was going to be special when I saw that it was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. When I see his name, I don’t think historical epics. I think weird movies about sex and politics like The Dreamers. From top to bottom, Bertolucci gave this film the attention to detail and lavish production that it required while simultaneously delivering one of the most personal and tragic historical epics of all time. It can truly stand along side classics like Schindler’s List.

For a film that spans a man’s entire life of 60 odd years and lasts nearly three hours long, The Last Emperor never once felt like it dragged on or had become an indulgent bit of self-serving and pretentious film making. The film creates such a stark and provocative contrast between the nearly mystical sense of wonder and awe from the film’s Eastern beginnings and the later crushing Western influence that pervades every scene. The costuming and set design are practically unparalleled, although I think the film might have actually shot inside the Forbidden City itself. If you consider yourself at all lacking in your knowledge of Chinese history of politics, this film also serves as an entertaining refresher course in pages of history that are now mostly forgotten.

Ultimately though, what sets this film apart from the rest of the pack isn’t the pageantry or the production values. It is the fact that is an incredibly tender and intimate portrait of Pu Yi, a character full of surprising complexity and heart-wrenching tragedy. You see the entire span of the emperor’s life. You see him as a spoiled and abrasive child who has no right to be on the throne. You see him as a teenager starting to learn more of life and wanting to experience so much more than the walls of his palatial jail. You see him learn at the wing of his Scottish tutor played by the legendary Peter O’Toole. You see him as a grown man who has lost everything he knows but clings desperately to his imperial pride in the face of inevitable destruction. Lastly, you see him as an old man who has been forced to accept his role as a normal, average citizen in communist Russia. At every point, Bertolucci subverts your expectations of Pu Yi (unless you’re familiar with the actual history) and creates such a tragic lead that he could have came straight out of Shakespeare. Pu Yi has quickly become one of the most interesting and thought-provoking historical figures that I have studied in some time.

If you can handle that film is nearly three hours long, you need to just go ahead and watch this one. Normally, I am ambivalent at best towards films that win Best Picture at the Oscars. However, having just gone over the other movies from that year, I can definitely say that this is, if not the best, at least at the very tip top of the mountain. This was an exceptional achievement in film making, and it really sets Bernardo Bertolucci apart as a premier auteur in the realm of high-brow cinema.

Final Score: A

 Every once in a while a movie comes along that captures the current cultural zeitgeist in a way that is perhaps beyond description until history has had proper time to settle. All the President’s Men, Boyz N the Hood, Do the Right Thing, Wall Street. All these films captured some essential essence of the time that they were made in a way that makes them a living, breathing look back into our past that works just as well as any history book. There had never been a film about some great accomplishment of my generation. There had never been a film that really defined what it was like to be young, intellectual, and part of the millennial and digital generation. That all changed when The Social Network came out. Despite being the first major film to chronicle the millennial generation finding its voice, it also serves as an essential commentary on what social relations are like in the digital age and was easily one of the best films of 2010.

The Social Network is the true story (though certain parts have been dramatized and fictionalized for the screen) of the founding of social networking giant, Facebook. It also serves as a character study of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who founds the company not out of any desire to be rich and famous but out of a sense of intellectual superiority and bitterness about his lack of real friends. The film also chronicles two law suits that have been brought against Mark Zuckerberg. One of the lawsuits is by his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who put up the initial investments for Facebook but is later screwed out of his share of the company when Facebook explodes. The other lawsuit is from Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (Armie Hammer), twins who believe that Mark stole the idea for Facebook from them. The movie deftly juxtaposes scenes from the depositions of these two cases against the events as they happened in the past.

The Social Network was directed by David Fincher, of Fight Club and Zodiac fame. It was scripted by Aaron Sorkin, most famous for The West Wing. Between the two of them, this was probably the most sharply scripted and expertly directed film of 2010. Aaron Sorkin manages to turn so much technobabble and computer jargon into something that is digestible and followable by the audience while simultaneously not insulting the audience’s intelligence by dumbing things down. David Fincher makes a movie that is primarily nerds sitting around their computers talking about code and programming into something that is very tense and actually quite exciting. He keeps the sense of timing and pace nearly perfect throughout the whole film. The scene that cuts back and forth between drunk frat boys partying and Mark and Eduardo setting the stage for the birth of Facebook is just a brilliant bit of editing and direction.

When I first became familiar with Jesse Eisenberg, I always thought of him as a poor man’s Michael Cera. That changed a little bit when I saw The Squid and the Whale a couple years ago which is one of the best family dramas of the 2000’s, but he didn’t really do anything after that to really impress me. Having now re-watched this movie and having seen The King’s Speech just a couple weeks ago, I stand behind the assertion that I believe Jesse Eisenberg gave the best male performance of 2010. Mark was an incredibly complex character and Jesse filled his performance with the kind of nuance that you expect from an old pro not a kid in his 20’s. He’s going to be someone to watch if he continues to choose choice roles like this. Andrew Garfield was also fantastic as Eduardo Saverin, a character that is perhaps the most sympathetic in the entire film. I’m not sure how I feel about him being cast as the newest Spiderman, but at least I know that he’ll be able to give a great performance.

If you were born after the year 1980, you will watch this film and devour it. It was a movie made for our time and it is made with our voice (even if the actual people that made it are much, much older). I’m not sure if older audiences would be able to appreciate just how important of an event The Social Network is, but I hope to god they at least respect the artistry that went into creating it. This film was so much better than The King’s Speech, and while I still believe that Winter’s Bone was probably the best movie of 2010, I would have much rather seen The Social Network win Best Picture at the last Oscar’s because it would have been an incredibly symbolic event, a passing of the torch to the work of my generation.

 Final Score: A+

Politically speaking, I am an unreformed liberal. I’m a radical civil libertarian and my views on economic issues can be considered most similar to European socialism. So a film whose primary hero is a British woman performing illegal abortions in the 1950’s sounded like something that I could really get behind. And while, I found the pro-choice message of the film to be very courageous and the performance of its lead to be absolutely fantastic, the movie was ultimately quite dull and by the half way point of the film, I had picked up my history of the Oscar’s book and was only paying about half-attention to the movie because it had lost me.

Vera Drake is the story of the titular main character (played flawlessly by Imelda Staunton) who is a maid in 1950’s England, and also a loving wife and family woman. However, in her spare time and for no monetary reward at all, she helps women abort unwanted pregnancies by intentionally inducing miscarriages. At this point in England, abortions are still illegal and eventually the police become aware of her activities, and the film becomes a morality tale about the way that a woman’s life can be ruined simply because she was simply trying to help out those in need.

Before I saw this film, my primary exposure to Imelda Staunton’s fantastic acting ability was through her role as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films where she gives perhaps one of the best performances in the entire series if not “the” best performance. Well, now I’ve seen her in another light, in a role that couldn’t be further from Umbridge. She just gives an incredibly under-stated, yet powerfully emotional performance as the lead role. And when her life starts to fall apart, she can’t comprehend how what she did was in any way wrong, and the transformation from this cheery, positive woman to someone whose life is practically over is just heart-breaking and possibly the only redeeming aspect of the film besides its message and theme. Her performance is simply transcendental, and I can’t make up my mind whether or not she should have beat Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby at that year’s Oscar’s. Since I consider Swank to be one of the best female actresses of her generation, consider this a testament to Staunton’s acting chops.

I really wanted to like this film. I had read a lot of great things about it, and I support the sort of message its laying out there. It just needed some serious editing and something to make it feel more alive and to emotionally invest me more in these characters’ lives. If you’re a fan of great acting, you should give this one a twirl because Imelda Staunton is simply amazing. If you’re pro-choice, you should also consider watching it. However, I can’t recommend this to everyone and I probably won’t watch it again at any point in the foreseeable future.

Final Score: B

Well, way back when I started reviewing all of the movies that had been nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, I said something dumb that isn’t true. I thought that The King’s Speech, this year’s Best Picture winner, was the last Best Picture nominee to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray. Well, I’m an idiot. The last film is actually True Grit and it doesn’t even have a release date yet, so that shows how much I know about movies. So, once I finish up reviewing the first nine films that were nominated for Best Picture (I still have Inception, The Social Network, and True Grit to go), it will be a while before I actually get around to that one. My bad. So, without further ado and any more of my inane ramblings, let’s jump into my review of the good but not great The King’s Speech.

The King’s Speech is the true story of Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the Duke of York who will eventually become King George VI of England on the verge of World War II. Prince Albert has a serious problem however. He has an uncontrollable stammer that has plagued him his entire life, and even when talking with his family and loved ones, he can barely spit a sentence out. Speaking in public is as frightening to him as stepping out of a foxhole in a firefight would be to a normal person. Yet, it is his duty as a member of the royal family to be a symbol of strength for his people, so he enlists the help of an unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help him get over his stammer and lead his people in a time of need.

This movie absolutely reeks of award bait. Biopic. Check. Period piece. Check. Inspirational. Check. Involves a person with a disability. Check. You’ve seen this movie before. The parts might be different. The players might not be the same. And people might talk with a funny accent. But at the end of the day, you’ve seen practically the same story over and and over again. The only scenes in the film that to me have any freshness or real life are the scenes between “Bertie” and Lionel at Lionel’s office. The acting chemistry between Firth and Rush is absolutely superb and they play off of each other fantastically.

This film was carried beyond its source material by acting that can only be described as mesmerizing. Colin Firth was, simply put, spell-binding as King George VI. This performance wasn’t quite as good as his role in A Single Man, but since I consider that to be the second best performance of the ’00’s behind Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, don’t take that as an insult. I still haven’t made up my mind about whether he did a better job in this than Jesse Eisenberg did in The Social Network, but do not doubt that Colin Firth is simply put one of the finest actors of his generation. I imagine it won’t be long at all until he is Sir Colin Firth. Geoffrey Rush is actually tied in my mind with Christian Bale for the best supporting performance of the year. He plays Lionel with just the right charm and stubborness that you would expect from a common man that helped to cure a king. He’s brilliant and every scene with the two of them is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise conventional film. Helena Bonham Carter now officially has my vote for best supporting actress however as her role as the Queen. She is such an under-appreciated talent and its a shame that she still hasn’t gotten the major recognition she deserves. She is a rare breed of female actress that can play an astonishingly wide range of roles as well as anyone else.

The movie wasn’t great. It was good, quite good, and grounded in absolutely stellar performances, but this was not the Best Picture of last year. It was in fact, far from it. However, that’s a running theme I have with films that win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. They very rarely pick the film that I actually thought was the Best Film of the year to win, and they often reward directors for some of their least stellar work when they finally decide to recognize them (Scorscese, the Coens, etc.). Should you watch this film? Absolutely. If you love fine acting and an inspirational story, this movie will not disappoint. Just don’t go in with your hopes too high.

Final Score: B+

Ever since Rocky climbed up the steps of the Philadelphia Public Library, there has been something about the under dog story that has enchanted movie-goers ever since. Seeing somebody who is put down, not expected to succeed, up against insurmountable odds, and seeing him succeed fulfills a certain amount of catharsis and escapism that everybody needs to feel every once in a while. Generally speaking (Rocky being the most notable exception), a lot of these under dog stories are based off true events because the story might be too happy and escapist if it were fictional. So, 2010’s The Fighter, while not necessarily being a great film, serves as another fine entry into the classic under dog genre.

The Fighter is the true story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer who is suffering from an extended losing streak and is on the verge of his career falling apart due to disappearing from the radar. Mickey is trained by his older brother Dicky (Christian Bale in an Oscar-winning performance), who was a semi-successful boxer in his hey-day but has descended into self-destructive drug abuse. The film focuses as much on the dysfunctional relationship between the various members of this family including the brothers controlling mother Alice (Melissa Leo in an Oscar-winning role), the veritable army of daughters, and Mickey’s new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) as it focuses on the comeback story of Mickey’s career. The film offers a pretty harrowing and heart-breaking look at the way the drug problem tears apart families.

The films story isn’t something you haven’t heard before and it left more bored on occasion and waiting something more interesting to happen. However, this is a performance film where there are several performances that if you’re a fan of great acting, this movie is a must watch. This is easily Christian Bale’s best performance since American Psycho. He is terrifyingly accurate in his portrayal of the junky brother. He looks, acts, and just radiates the part. He inhabited the character and just became Dicky. Melissa Leo was great as the mother, but I was actually much more impressed with Amy Adams performance as Mickey’s girlfriend. She should have won the Oscar in my opinion. Mark Wahlberg was also great, but this wasn’t as good as his performance in The Departed or Boogie Nights.

I can recommend this film to any body who likes a good sports movie, or if you’re a serious Christian Bale fan, then you definitely need to watch it. I’m sure that if the Academy was still only nominating 5 films a year for Best Picture instead of the current 10, this one wouldn’t have received a Best Picture nomination, but it’s still worth a watch. I’ll probably forget a lot of things about this film years from now, but Christian Bale’s incendiary performance will stay with me for a long time.

Final Score: B

The only Best Picture nominee from this year’s Academy Awards that hasn’t been released on DVD yet is The King’s Speech, and it comes out like either next week or in two weeks. So, I’ve finally decided to make a special attempt to watch every film that was nominated for Best Picture at last year’s Academy Awards and put them at the tip top of my Netflix queue (well at least be interspersed with my Cowboy Bebop DVD’s that are coming in). So there will be  larger than normal number of films that came out in 2010 that will be reviewed for a short period of time on this blog. However, I’ll still be watching the stuff in order from my list as well, but this is a nice little way to make this blog a little more relevant, and so the movie to start off this year’s Academy Award series is none other than Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours.

127 Hours is based off the incredible true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco). Aron is a guy into extreme sports, particularly mountain climbing and “canyoneering” in fairly extreme areas, in this film’s case a particularly dangerous spot of land known as Blue John’s canyon in a remote desert in Utah. While out on this particular hike, Aron misjudges the stability of a rock in one of the many crevasses in the canyon. He puts too much weight on it and it falls, causing both Aron and the rock to plummet to the bottom of the canyon, where the rock becomes re-lodged between the two walls and traps Aron’s hand in the process. What follows is the story of how Aron survived the next (title drop) 127 hours and the decision he ultimately comes to, cutting his own arm off in order to escape and survive.

A film about a man being stuck between a literal rock and a hard place for over 5 days probably doesn’t sound like the most entertaining film ever made. This film is able to succeed because after a certain point, once Aron’s body has entered a state of nearly complete shock and his hold on sanity is slowly starting to go, the film becomes a sort of psychological head-trip through Aron’s emotions and general state of mind as he has to deal with a fairly unspeakable horror. One of the really cool things about director Danny Boyle is how well he’s able to make such a diverse set of films, from zombie apocalypse pictures like the 28 Days Later movies to poverty (Slumdog Millionaire) and now this harrowing tale of survival. If I were grading this film purely on its cinematography, it would get an A+. The camera work in this film was just breathtakingly beautiful and Danny Boyle did an exceptional job of using the camera as a tool to make you more emotionally in sync with the characters. Although really, just the beautiful Utah desert and canyons might have been worth the price of admission alone. It’s easy to see why, despite this terrible incident, Aron Ralston continues to canyoneer to this day.

This is basically a one-character picture (you see and hear from other individuals but at the end of the day, no one matters but Aron) and as such, this movie would have been a big old bomb if James Franco wasn’t up to the task. Thankfully, as always, he was able to deliver. Franco won the Best Actor award at the Independent Spirit Awards, and while this performance wasn’t as good for me as Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, this was still one hell of a power-house performance. I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, but I’ll tell you what, Colin Firth had some seriously stiff competition this year in the Best Actor category. Of course, I thought he should have won the 2009 awards for A Single Man, but that’s another story for another day.

The film slowed down at times, and there were points when I was wondering how accurate of a job that Danny Boyle did really showing what was going on in Aron’s head and what parts were just stuff he did to make it look cooler or more theatrical. I would actually be really interested to see more of a documentary type feature about the real true story of Aron Ralston. However, this was still a pretty fantastic picture. I’ll tell you what though, the scene where the actual dismemberment occurs was a little bit more than I could take. It was pretty damn graphic, but it was used tastefully and for dramatic purposes. I can thoroughly recommend this film to everyone as long as you have the stomach to handle the more intense scenes.

Final Score: A-

When I was in middle school, our teacher for one of my classes (It’s been so long that I can’t remember which one) gave us an assignment to read a biography of our choice for the class. Being the over-achiever that I used to be, I chose a book that was probably a little too advanced for me at the time in The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley. Picking that particular book for that particular assignment turned out to be one of the most fateful decisions of my life. It was love at first sight, and I’ve read and re-read that book more times than I can count, and I always get something new and meaningful from it each time. Malcolm X is one of the most important and one of my favorite political figures in the history of this country. So, it should come as no surprise that when Spike Lee, the master of the urban film, decided to make a biopic about Minister Malcolm starring none other than Denzel Washingto (perhaps the finest black actor of his or any generation) as Malcolm X, the final product was a spectacular film.

The film chronicles the life of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little. From his father’s murder at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan to being a street hustler in New York City to going to prison for burglary to his conversion to Islam while in prison to his time as the most fiery and effective minister in Elijah Muhammed’s Nation of Islam to his betrayal by the Nation for being to popular to his conversion to true Islam whilst on the Hadj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and finally to his tragic assassination just before his 40th birthday. I would normally complain about the film’s 3 and 1/2 hour length but if ever a man lived an evolving and constantly transforming life, it was Brother Malcolm, and you need to understand the totality of his life to fully appreciate who he was, what he was about, and the greatness of the man that was taken from us too soon.

As spectacular as Spike Lee’s direction is (although perhaps there could have been some editing here and there to scenes that maybe ran a bit too long), this film could only ultimately succeed if the man playing Malcolm X gave a five star performance. Well, Denzel gave the performance of his career. I’ve never seen Scent of a Woman, so I can’t necessarily disparage the Academy’s decision to hand the Oscar to Al Pacino, but his performance would have to have been just one of the best performances ever to beat Denzel in this movie. He becomes Malcolm X. He is fiery, passionate, full of seething anger, and yet charming and likeable at the same time. He delivers those speeches denouncing the white man so well, it almost made me to start to hate myself even though (growing up in a family with black foster brothers and sisters that I am as close to as my biological family) I don’t think I have a racist bone in my body. He sells that fire and passion. It makes you wonder why anybody ever listened to the “turn your other cheek” and “forgive and forget” of other black civil right leaders. This performance is much better than the two performances he actually won Oscar’s for, namely Glory and Training Day.

The film is fully of many (considering its epic length) little moments that let you know exactly what kind of man Malcolm was. Some of my favorites are Malcolm’s trip to Mecca and seeing him interacting and loving and worshiping among people of all colors and races, pretty much any time he gives a speech (I could just listen to Malcolm X’s speeches all day), and when he calls and proposes to his wife, Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett), over the phone. However, my favorite moment in the whole film is when a member of the Nation has been brutally beaten by the police for no cause. Malcolm marches right into police head quarters and stares down the racist cops and gets to see his man despite their trying to fight it. When the man has to be taken to the hospital, Malcolm organized a march of his people and others following him to the hospital. A race riot is about to break out (while the Muslims stand calm and collected waiting for Malcolm’s orders) when you find that the beaten man will live. Malcolm gives the order to disperse simply by waving his finger and the crowd breaks up. He was so charismatic, so liked, so powerful that he just had to point and hundreds of people did what he said. It’s amazing.

This is one of the movies, like Schindler’s List, that should be requierd viewing in all high schools. It’s thought-provoking and brings the kinds of message that a mainstream public education will never bring. Yeah, the movie is probably way too long. 3 and a half hours is a really long time to sit still. But, it’s worth it. There are few films that are this powerful, and there are few characters in our nation’s history with the kind of bravery, intelligence, and wit that Malcolm X brings to the table. Reading the book changed my life. Maybe, watching the film could change yours.

Final Score: A