Saturday, 29 January 2011

127 Hours

Danny Boyle, 2010
BBFC rating: 15

Self-surgery is quite an ordeal for someone with the training, skills and equipment to carry it out - as recorded in this case report of a surgeon who, stuck in the Antarctic and faced with death as the alternative, removed his own appendix. Included are extracts from the surgeon's diary:
An oppressive feeling of foreboding hangs over me ... This is it ... I have to think through the only possible way out: to operate on myself ... It’s almost impossible ... but I can’t just fold my arms and give up...
I didn’t permit myself to think about anything other than the task at hand. It was necessary to steel myself, steel myself firmly and grit my teeth...
I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst...
But even this looks controlled and safe compared to the 'operation' Aron Ralston carried out on himself five days after his arm became trapped under a huge boulder down a crevice in the middle of a desert. He had to deliberately break both bones in his forearm before cutting through the muscle, blood vessels, tendons, nerves and probably various other tissues that would be very painful to snip using a blunt penknife. 127 Hours, as its title implies, tells the story of what happened over that period. Now the story above might make you wince in sympathetic agony, imagining the horror of being faced with the choice between that and death yourself. Or you might agree with Michael Legge (I usually do; his blog is brilliant, the best written by a comedian that I know of) who has a less sympathetic take on the scenario:
The whole way through the film your head can't help shouting "YOU STUPID FUCKING PRICK" constantly. Who the fuck does these things? Who invented extreme sports? Why is smashing yourself to bits thought of as a rush? Isn't Batman on the Wii enough? 127 Hours is a true story about a man who likes going into the middle of the desert, WHERE NO ONE CAN FIND HIM, and climbing deep down into tiny crevaces hundreds of feet into the rock. WHAT A CUNT. I hate him. When he falls, traps his arm and spends six days going insane until he cuts his own arm off, it was all I could do to stop myself standing up and shouting "THERE YOU GO, YOUNG MAN. YOU DESERVED THAT..."
I can see his point.

As Ralston waits to die - slim chances of rescue slipping away - he remenisces about an ex-girlfriend, played by Clémence Poésy (seen recently in Harry Potter and Heartless), whose presence would brighten any film. Like The King's Speech, this is a true story so its narrative and conclusion are unlikely to surprise anyone. The only mystery is how Boyle is going to make it interesting. Which he does, with brass knobs on. It's certainly more interesting than reading interviews with Ralston himself, who seems to largely blather on about fate and Gaia and spirituality and other such drivel. 127 Hours is totally gripping, in part because of the memory sequences and the hallucinatory sections (which play out much like the cold turkey scenes in Boyle's Trainspotting). But it's also remarkable just how enthralling the footage of a man stuck under a rock manages to be. 

Friday, 28 January 2011

The King's Speech

Tom Hooper, 2010.
BBFC rating: 12A (on appeal)

For anyone who doesn't already know, The King's Speech depicts the relationship between King George VI and his speech therapist over the period in which he ascends to the throne and the start of the second world war is declared. The reason Bertie (as he is known to his familiars and, to his chagrin, the therapist) needs the therapist is his stammer, which has destroyed any previous attempts he's made at public speaking (whether in person or on the radio).

It's interesting for being one of few films to have its initial rating overturned on appeal. Given a 15 certificate at first for language, its rating was dropped to 12A after the producers challenged the BBFC. The key line from the second decision, I think, is "The strong language is not aggressive and not directed at any person". This is the difference between The King's Speech and Made in Dagenham; the producer of that film complained about its 15 certificate, too, but the BBFC's decision on that film notes that "Generally the uses [of 'fuck'] occur as part of heated exchanges between characters, occasionally they are angrily directed." It's the intent and the subject of the speech that matters. And Bertie is expressing only his own frustration, about his inability to express himself, at himself.

Colin Firth is expected to win the Oscar for this performance, and he indeed wholly convincing - as he was in last year's A Single Man. And, like that film, The King's Speech is a self-contained piece, as narrowly focused as the poster picture above, which perfectly achieves its aims. However, it's weirdly insubstantial, especially given the gravitas of its subjects. Possibly this is because, as Andrew Collins points out, there is not a surprise in its entire length. And  it's not a film I would ever bother seeing again; nor is it one that needs to be seen at the cinema. But it's good while it lasts.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Love and Other Drugs

Edward Zwick, 2010.
BBFC rating: 15.

In Love and Other Drugs Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a university drop-out from a family of doctors who is hired as a trainee drug rep by Pfizer. His job largely consists of trying to persuade medics to drop Prozac in favour of Zoloft, while his principle leisure activity is seducing countless women. Sometimes the two parts of his life overlap. He gets involved in an unlikely love triangle with Maggie (a client's patient, played by Anne Hathaway) and an ex-military rep from a rival pharma firm. Meanwhile, there are rumours about a forthcoming drug for erectile dysfunction. Suiting perfectly his work-life balance, Viagra is the drug he was born to push. But might Jamie also be coming round to the idea of being a one-woman man? And, if so, is Maggie - who has a degenerative neurological condition as well as a feisty attitude - willing to be that woman?

So there's an interesting story underlying Love and Other Drugs. Unfortunately the film doesn't seem to quite be sure of what it's trying to do. On the one hand it's a romantic comedy, according to which Jamie must both grow up and overcome a series of obstacles to win Maggie's affection and fidelity. On the other, it's a sort of expose of the nepotism and corruption in the relationships between the medical and pharmaceutical industries in the United States. It's also trying to sensitively portray Maggie's dealing with and learning about Parkinson's disease. And it manages all of these with some limited success, but as a result it seems uneven. I found it difficult to settle into a mode of watching it, often not knowing quite the point of each scene until it was over (if at all). It's a shame this project wasn't handed to Jason Reitman (director of Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air), who is a master of this sort of material, managing to court the emotive, the comedic and the profound without fully committing to any, but without selling any of them short either. That's something that Love and Other Drugs fails to achieve.