Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring James Franco, Clemence Poesy, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams.
THE PLOT: April 2003, and Aron Ralston (Franco) is an athletic young man who likes nothing better than to head out into the wilds and take on Mother Nature. Only this time, Mother Nature bites back, a solo mountain-climbing expedition in the sprawling Bluejohn Canyon in Utah involving a fall that results in Aaron’s right arm being wedged solid behind an 800Ib chalkstone boulder. It would take Ralston five days – or 127 hours, to be precise – to finally realise that his only escape was to hack off his own arm with a blunt penknife.
THE VERDICT: One of this year’s main Oscar contenders, even before it was seen, 127 Hours boasts a life-affirming true story, a hip and happening director, a dashing leading man just about ready for his awards close-up, and a water cooler moment that could make even Gunther von Hagens faint. Franco does a fine job, and Boyle does a Boyle job. No more, no less. RATING: *** MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
Directed by Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden. Starring Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoe Kravitz.
THE PLOT: Having admitted himself into a mental ward after a year of contemplating suicide, 16-year old Craig (Gilchrist, coming across as though he could be Justin Long’s little brother) immediately wants out, having been put on the adults floor – where, thankfully, they’re more Kramer crazy than knife-you crazy. The forlorn Bob (Galifianakis) offers to hold his hand, and the self-harming Noelle (Roberts) offers up what might just be his first real kiss. Just about everyone seems to be a Dan Clowes creation.
THE VERDICT: Turning up on a few end-of-year’s Criminally Overlooked lists in the US, the latest offering from husband and wife team Fleck and Boden (Half Nelson, the straight-to-DVD Sugar) is another understated but quietly overwhelming affair. Thankfully, this is no earnest Boy, Interrupted. It’s Scott Pilgrim vs The Cuckoo’s Nest. With Zach Galifianakis. Somehow, it works… RATING: ****
Directed by Tom Hooper. Starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon.
THE PLOT: Firth plays George VI, Duke of York, a reluctant king (his brother, Edward, opting for Wallis Simpson rather than the crown), and one who was burdened with the task of rallying his people against Hitler just as radio had become the drug of the nation.
Only trouble is, Georgie boy has a stammer. And it’s playing havoc with his confidence.
On the plus side, he also has a strong, practical wife (Carter) by his side, and a maverick Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush), on the case.
THE VERDICT: Just the sort of English period film that critics – especially American ones – and award committees love. Especially American ones. Released in the US in December, Firth has already received fourteen best actor gongs in the US, and is nominated for another five. With six more nominations pending. Yep, The King’s Speech is an Oscar-baiting production all right. They might as well have called it The M-M-M-M-Madness of King George. Doesn’t quite deserve all the hoopla, to be honest. RATING: ***
Directed by Paul Haggis. Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy.
THE PLOT: Based on the 2008 French hit Anything For Her, Crowe plays Pittsburgh prof pop John who suddenly finds his domestic bliss turned upside down when his wife (Banks) is convicted of killing her boss. Convinced she’s innocent, John battles for her freedom, but eventually realises that the only way out might be a breakout.
THE VERDICT: It’s taken a little time for the general public to catch up with all the beleaguered journalists who have had to deal with Russell Crowe down through the years, but it would seem that his particular brand of abrasive, superior-verging-on-fascist charms have finally seeped down to the ground floor. Which may explain why no one turned up for this hackneyed thriller in the US. I like the fact that this noted Method actor seems to think that every character he plays now must be a disheveled, overweight, overbearing arse. Saves time. RATING: *
Directed by Dominic Sena. Starring Nicholas Cage, Christopher Lee, Robert Sheehan, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham.
THE PLOT: Cage and Perlman are the 14th century Crusaders given the task of transporting a suspected witch (Foy) to a remote abbey where the demon spirit – and therefore the plague that’s crippling the nation – will be exorcised. Along for the ride are a priest (Moore), a forlorn knight (Ulrich Thomsen), an itinerant grifter (Graham) and a bullish young lad (Sheehan).
THE VERDICT: Methinks we might have another Wicker Man remake on our hands, as the rampaging Cage jumps onboard yet another hocus pocus freakout. There was no press screening, so, chances are, this sucks the big one. It is, after all, directed by the man who gave us the Cage-led Gone In 60 Seconds. RATING: *
THE THORN IN THE HEART (France/IFI/86mins)
Directed by Michel Gondry. Starring Suzette Gondry, Jean-Yves Gondry, Michel Gondry, Sasha Allard, Paul Gondry.
THE PLOT: A documentary by the often great Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Green Hornet) charting the life of his Aunt Suzette, largely by revisiting the many village primary schools she taught at around France from the 1950s onwards. It’s also a portrait of a family, as Suzette’s sometimes difficult relationship with her live-in son, Jean-Yves (the metaphorical thorn of the title; think Daniel Johnson without the muse. Or the music), throws up some tantrums and tears.
THE VERDICT: On the surface, a light and somewhat shapeless documentary, gradually, The Thorn In The Heart gets under the skin. The mother-son relationship isn’t quite Grey Gardens, but there’s real pain here, and it gives the rose-tinted trip down memory lane a neat counter-balance. Gondry keeps his trademark flights of fancy limited to a dash of animation and using Jean-Yves’ beloved model railway to take us from station to station, as we visit yet another old village school. RATING: ***