Tuesday, January 24, 2012

127 Hours Review

Imagine being trapped in the middle of nowhere without a single solitary soul to call for aid. No one knows were you are and all you have for nourishment are a few protein bars and a modest size canteen of water. It is dark, lonely, and desolate. You try to stay calm, to tell yourself everything will be alright. That this is not how it is supposed to end. But the seeds of fear have taken root in your heart and you cannot escape the hideous notion that any hope is a lie and these are in fact your final moments on earth before the darkness falls.
Such is the dire predicament faced by the main character in 127 Hours. Directed by Danny Boyle, 127 Hours is based on the real life story of Aaron Ralston, a climber and canyoneer who nearly lost his life after what began as a fun weekened excursion exploring a nebulous sytem of canyons in Utah turned in to a deadly struggle for survival when a climbing miscalculation leads to an errant boulder pinning his arm to a rock wall, leaving the young outdoorsman literally caught between a rock and a hard place.
I really liked this movie a lot. James Franco does an excellent job portraying Ralston's exuberance and what I can probably only describe as a charmingly maniacal zeal for conquering the rigors of the wild. His casual fearlessness is put into harsh persective later in the film when the seriousness of his predicament forces him to come to grips with the extent that being driven by his passions has caused him to neglect the important people in his life.
The filmaker's uncanny use of hallucinatory imagery to illustrate Aaron's struggle to overcome the madness that threatens to claim him as time drags on and he grows more and more desperate is striking and gives the movie a dreamlike, surrealist vibe. The tone is accentuated by Ralston's philisophical ruminations that the boulder had been waiting for him his whole life, ever since it was a burning meteorite flying in orbit millions of years ago. It is really great stuff.
It is a testament to the sheer ability of the talent involved in how they suceeded in crafting a suspensful and engrossing experience out of a story that basically just consists of a man trying to free himself from a boulder. What's more, the vibrant and kinetic way in which the movie is constructed, from the camera angles, to the editing, to the music is truly innovative and unique.
I really don't want to spoil the end, but if you heared it on the news when it happened in 2003, or watched the Dateline episode devoted Ralston's story, I am sure you are familiar with the extreme sacrifice he ultimately made to free himself. Rest assured it is definately not for the faint of heart or those who swoon at the sight of a little blood.
This is a wonderfully compelling story and has all the components of a great movie. Drama, action, suspense, capped off by ultimate triumph in the face of adversity.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Batman #5 Review

I have read a lot of Batman comics over the years. He is my all time favorite superhero and it has been a joy and a thrill to follow the winged avenger in all of his monthly titles and participate vicariously in his fantastic nocturnal adventures.
Throughout the years many comic book writers have tried with varying degrees of sucess to leave their unique stamp on The Dark Knight. Zack Snyder is sure to be one of those writers. Only five issues in to DC's flagship Batman title post new 52 and Snyder has already managed to craft a more epic and emotionally evocative story in a mere hand full of issues then other writers have done on there entire multi issue stint on the character. One can immediately gleen from the gravity and intensity inffused in each line of dialogue and thought square divulginging Batman's innermost feelings that this is a character Snyder has been waiting his whole life to get his hands on. And now having finally been given that chance, us readers are surly the ones reaping the rewards.
That being said, if I had to give an award for best issue yet, I would have to give it to issue number five which hit comic books this past Wednesday, the 18th. Throughout the first four issues, Snyder implies that the city Batman thought he knew on such a complete and intimate level may be in fact concealing a deep trove of dark secrets, particularly the existence of an incredibly secret society called "The Court of Owls" that has existed for many years and supposedly controls all of Gotham from the shadows. Think "The Bilderbergs" except even more dark and secretive, whose only proof of existence lies in the vague lines of an errie children's nursury rythme.
Batman's speculation into the Court's existence proves inconclusive until the end of issue four were he is attacked from behind by a mysterious figure in the dank sewers of Gotham and awakens in an elaborate suberranean maze somewhere in the bowels of the city.
As issue five opens, we see that Batman has been MIA for eight days and those closest to him are growing increasingly sick with worry while doing their best to compensate for the sharp rise in violent crime Gotham has been experiencing in it's protector's absence. The action then cuts to a haggard and exhausted looking Batman who has been fruitlessly navigating the Court's underworld labyrinth for over a week with no food, rest, or water. One of the lenses of his cowl is broken revealing an eye that is half crazed and bloodshot.
The themes of insanity and dehumanization are perpetuated further throughout the issue when, to stay alive Batman drinks water from a fountain he is positive is drugged and begins to hallucinate. Reality itself then seems to come unhinged as questions of what is genuine and what is illusion taunt both Batman and the reader as the maze appears to grow more tormenting and insidious.
Greg Capullo'ss urgent and atmospheric pencil work render The Dark Knight's fractured state of mind perfectly while the vertical and upside down page layouts amplify the overall distortion of reality being depicted. The issue ends in an act of violence so shocking we are left to question if it is real or another layer of mental deception.
Equally stunning, unsettling, and evocative, issue five of Batman was in my opinion, the best yet in what promises to be a truly landmark run on the character. With talented and passionate writers like Zack Snyder and Peter Tomasi, who is currently writing Batman and Robin (also awesome) telling these caliber of stories the future of The Dark Knight in comics looks brighter than ever.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Rise of The Planet of The Apes Review

If you have ever had a pet or grown attached to an animal, then the movie "Rise of The Planet of the Apes" will most likely strike an emotional chord with you as it did me. More than just your run of the mill special effects driven summer blockbuster, "Rise" is a riveting exploration into the lines of seperation that exist between man and primate and how blurry those lines can sometimes become.
Although the film certainly does not skrimp on action and delivers plenty of pulse pounding, effects heavy scenes set in beautiful San Franscisco, it is the devoted yet conflicted relationship between the two main characters, Ceasar and Will, that truly shines and manages to stay with you long after the credits have roled.
A large amount of the credit has to go to Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings Fame who once again donned a motion capture suit, this time to play Caesar, the featured Ape who we see mature from a precocious and mischevious young primate to a venerated freedom fighter of his kind who could probably even give Mel Gibson's William Wallace a run for his money. Simply put, Serkis is incredible. The actor has truly mastered the skill of using his body and facial expressions to maximum effect and it is amazing how much emotion he can convey without saying nary a word. Investment in the character runs so deep that we cannot help but actively participate is Ceasar's emotional journey from his pure exhileration in scaling the California Redwoods, to his lonliness and despair at being caged and seemingly forgotten, to his raw determinatation to liberate he and his kind from their cruel human overlords.
On a whole good performances all around. I kind of snickered when I learned that James Franco was playing a brilliant scientist but he gives a really solid performance and envokes an added layer of empathy once one learns the personal reasons behind his scientific pursuits. The movie also does an exemplary job of hinting at how Apes eventually rose to replace humans as the dominant species of the planet without any obligatory nods to the Heston classic ever overshadowing the origingal story being told.
Aside from being undoudtedly the best prequal to a film franchise ever made this movie just delivers on just about every level and I suppose I can now add "not seeing The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" when it was in theaters to my increasingly long list of personal regrets because it is so damn awesome.