James Franco noteworthy in ‘127 Hours’

Posted Dec. 16, 2010, at 5:40 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

In theaters

127 HOURS, directed by Danny Boyle, written by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 93 minutes, rated R. Now playing, Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.

Nothing in Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is new — if you haven’t heard the story behind it, then you must have been living under a rock, which is so far beyond the height of irony, it’s apocalyptic. Thing is, none of the familiarity surrounding the story steals from the experience of watching the movie itself.

In an odd, voyeuristic way, it actually enhances it.

The film, which Boyle and Simon Beaufoy based on Aaron Ralston’s book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” chronicles what happened to Ralston (James Franco) in 2003 after he slipped in a crevice while hiking. As he fell, he knocked free a boulder that wedged half his arm against the rock wall. He was stuck — for 127 hours — until he had to do the unthinkable and hack off his own arm with the shortest and dullest of blades.

Sound intense? It is. But Boyle’s coup de grace is that even though the outcome of this well-publicized story is known going into the movie, the suspense he builds from it is nevertheless masterful.

As the movie begins, Ralston is a jolt of unstoppable energy. He wakes early, tells no one where he’s going and rushes off to the wilds of Utah, where he plans to do some serious biking and hiking.

Along the way, he meets two young women, Megan (Amber Tamblyn) and Kristi (Kate Mara). He charms them, flirts with them and then takes them on one of the most exhilarating dips into water caught on film this year. When they part company, the women are smitten and ask him to join them later at a party they’re throwing. Ralston agrees, but he doesn’t make it to the party. Fate has other things in store for him.

The scene that involves Ralston falling into the crevice shows us exactly why editor Jon Harris and cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak will be nominated for Academy Awards. It’s a slick sleight of hand that happens so quickly, Ralston is lodged seconds after he slips on the boulder, shakes it loose and is suddenly wedged by it. The rest of the movie is about Ralston’s escape, which is so engrossing, these are the reasons Boyle and Franco will be nominated.

For Franco, nearly the entire movie rests on his remarkable performance. Alone in that crevice, he had to pull audiences into the story not just because his arm was lodged, but because he invites us to consider what we might do if pressed with the same situation. He talks to himself — a lot. He captures on videotape the entire proceedings should he be found dead. He conserves what water and food he has, knowing it soon will run out — which it does. And as his body begins to weaken, the hallucinations come, most of them fueled by all the regrets he has already stacked in his young life.

Meanwhile, Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) is a maestro behind the lens, once again leaning hard on a driving score to give energy where it festers — and also where it doesn’t. Those who saw Boyle’s terrific “28 Days Later” will know the director has the goods to deliver the grisly scene in which Ralston, near death and with nothing to lose, hacks off his arm.

Like the movie itself, the scene is unsettling and realistic. But with that final yank to freedom — when Ralston’s flesh and bones are forever pulled far and away from him — comes a kind of indescribable lift. After six days in hell, Ralston dug deep and found the courage to give himself a second chance at life. Grade: A

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

THE A-TEAM, directed by Joe Carnahan, written by Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, 117 minutes, rated PG-13.

Let’s be frank — more like the “The C-Team.”

Director Joe Carnahan has created a less-than-successful Hollywood action blockbuster based on a once-hot ’80s television show. Give the source, it’s not surprising that his movie is big, dumb, loud, ridiculous, overlong, overstuffed, overwrought and without the sense that evolution has occurred.

At least among some of the suits in Hollywood.

Over the summer, the movie came in second at the box office (the shame!), having lost the top spot to another ’80s throwback — ”The Karate Kid” — which widely was considered to take the lower tier. It didn’t — and for good reason.

In “Kid,” the plot is laced with cliches, sure, but the actors are connected to their characters, something human and real is at stake within its underdog plot, and the fact that it is set in China adds a dimension to the film that the original movie lacked. Visually, “Karate Kid” is something to behold.

In “The A-Team,” the explosions are what’s here to behold — and how often have we seen their many variations? True, the film’s last big set piece is fun to watch since the film’s CGI team obviously smoked one mother of a bong before going berserk behind their computers, but what comes before it is trite and unbelievable. Thirty minutes could have been shaved off this movie and nobody would have noticed. But in this culture of “bigger must be better,” we get all of that padding along with weak quips and stale laughs.

The fact that the movie is a middling piece of mediocrity isn’t without surprise, even if Carnahan is responsible for directing such classics as “Smokin’ Aces,” a movie that left some of us blowing smoke rings into our seats.

Here, he has assembled a solid team of actors, four of whom play Iraq veterans and are members of the A-Team, an elite fighting force of misfits.

There’s Bradley Cooper as Templeton “Face” Peck (he’s all smiles and suntans), Liam Neeson as the cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith (he’s all frowns and furrows), Sharlto Copley as “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock (he’s just annoying) and Quinton “Rampage” Johnson as B.A. Baracus (he’s a softy?).

Apparently to provide a shot of sex appeal, also onboard is Jessica Biel, who struts throughout the movie like a diva on a catwalk. She’s Face’s ex-girlfriend. Bad blood boils between them. Naturally, since she also is a government agent, the uniform she favors most is an impossibly tight leather outfit, which must have left the poor woman fainting from hunger throughout the shoot.

The plot goes like this: The members of the A-Team are framed for counterfeiting. Prison calls, but so does the need to clear their names and reveal the truth. And so they bust out of those prisons and re-connect in an effort to do justice proud. But trouble looms. And daring escapes prevail. Things explode — and then they explode again. Patrick Wilson shows up to be a two-timing nemesis. Arabs of illintent linger along the periphery because that’s what Arabs do in mainstream Hollywood movies. Gandhi is quoted — with levity.

And the world weeps.

Some will question whether the plot has been covered here. It has. We could explore the fact that not a lick of it adds up and that the characters are dishrags up on the screen, but why bother? “The A-Team” is a boring romp that tries to capture the kitschy fun of the television series, but which mostly misses its mark. Sometimes, there’s a whiff that Carnahan made the movie in his sleep.

Here’s an idea — let’s shake him awake so he can face the reviews. Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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