In the 'better late than never' category, I watched '127 Hours' last night. To say I was underwhelmed would be putting it mildly.
As nearly everyone knows the film is based on a true story of a man rock climbing in a deserted area in Colorado, meets an unfortunate series of, um, rock climbing events and ends up in a shallow ravine with his arm under a rock. After, well, 127 hours or so, he cuts the offending arm off with a rusty nail and sashays away. Well, okay, perhaps not 'sashay' but he does get away and back to safety and civilization. And in the process learns, I think, that everybody needs the love and support of other people. Or maybe he learns to always leave a note as to where he's going, even if it's to the store to buy some yams. Or maybe he learns to never leave his Swiss Army Knife at home. Or maybe he learns to buy American. I'm not sure what he learns but he apparently learns something.
First of all, unlike the real story of this guy (I watched him on Dateline one night), I couldn't have cared less. There is absolutely no exposition or 'backstory' for this guy. We don't don't know who he is, what he's about, what his loves and fears are, we don't know squat about him. He just ups and runs off on a bike one day and falls in a ditch. And then spends the rest of the movie halucinating about a life we know nothing about. Finally, he gets all sassy and cuts his arm off.
I am not now nor have I ever been terribly impressed with James Franco as an actor. For me, he's always been sort of the 'poster boy' for generation X. There's a detachment to his work, emotionally, that I find appalling in the intimate confines of film making. You could turn this film into a drinking game. Every time Franco changes expressions everyone has to take a drink. I'm guessing the entire room would be stone cold sober by the end of the movie.
And I'd be curious to know what executive watched this film and said to himself, "You know, after seeing this, I'm thinking James Franco is a perfect choice to host the Oscars."
Yes, there is some drama, in a wincing sort of way, when he finally gets around to sawing his appendage off. And, like The Alamo, this comes as no surprise when he does finally get around to it. We're all waiting for the 'cut off the arm' moment. In fact, we're all waiting forever, it seems like. And then, when he does cut the damned thing off, instead of feeling the rush of catharsis, instead we look at our wristwatches and calculate the time to the credits rolling. We think, "Well, okay, the arm is gone. Now they've got no choice but to end this thing." But, no. After he leaves the arm back at the ranch, he staggers around in the badlands for another half hour or so looking for an ambulance.
Danny Boyle has directed the whole fiasco like an MTV video, clearly not trusting the attention span of his audience. And then, shockingly, tries to add a moral lesson at movie's end.
Aside from his 'Naked Lunch' style flashbacks and his chance meeting with two Rubenesque female hikers early in the film, it's essentially a one-man show. But it's kind of like watching your accountant in a one-man show. Franco is a dismal choice for the role. Physically, he's the right age, the right stature, whatever, but his performance lies somewhere between David Duchovny in his most emotionally bereft X Files period and a badly scripted Olive Garden commercial in which a gaggle of thirty-somethings sit around a table and laugh for no apparent reason as salad and bread is being passed around.
The whole device of using the camcorder to record his thoughts and water-deprived ravings is interesting for about a minute and a half but it's been done to death starting as far back as Beckett's 'Krapp's Last Tape.' The good thing, I suppose, is the driving club music throughout. It has a good beat and is easy to dance to, is what I kept thinking.
I also noticed (my wife, Angie, and my buddy John were watching it with me) that once Boyle gets to the only dramatic moment of the film, the actual amputation of the arm, everyone turns away anyway. It's kind of like stepping out to smoke a cigarette the moment before Oprah finally asks, "So, tell me, why did you decide to drown all 36 of your wife's inlaws?"
Eventually, as I said, he gets out of the ditch and wanders off armless. It's at this point that I learned losing your arm also makes you deaf because he can't hear anybody for the rest of the movie. See, this is why I love going to the cinema, to learn things like this.
The movie, staying true to its MTV genesis, begins and ends with a sixties, Don Knotts in 'The Love God,' split screen motif with a kind of blinking computer font over it all. This made me feel very hip for watching it. Sort of as if I were in on a happenin' new webisode.
This film was one of ten Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. And Franco was nominated for Best Actor. This made me idly wonder why 'Saved By the Bell' never got an Emmy nomination.
On a wholly different note, Angie and I are off to purchase a new computer today. The one I'm writing on now, the circa' 1954 model complete with dilithium crystals to run it, is about to be retired. I wrote some good scripts on this thing but finally had to look into getting a new one when it started calling me 'Dave.'
See you tomorrow.